Posts Tagged With: Pellium

Arrian I.1-10 Some Thoughts

Background to the Series
In early 2017, I finished a series of blog posts based on Arrian’s Anabasis. I was happy for I had now written a blog-series based on all the major historians of the great king.

I closed my laptop and asked myself: What next? What must I do to take my love of Alexander to the next level?

Unfortunately, I never resolved that question. Actually, it would more accurate to say that I knew the answer but was not able to see it through. I would have loved to study Alexander more formally and blog about that but the course of my life did not allow it.

As a result, and for over two years, The Second Achilles drifted. I’m afraid to say, so did my reading and study of Alexander. To my chagrin, I became on my Twitter page someone who talked about Alexander using the knowledge he had built up about Alexander in the past rather than one who was using the knowledge he was learning in the present. I did not like that at all. Eventually, the rot set in on my creative Alexander Twitter page as well. To date, it has not recovered, and I don’t know if it will. It was a sad situation to be in – my love for Alexander and his life and times was undiminished but I was simply not doing anything about it. Ideas came, but unfortunately, left just as quickly.

A few weeks ago, another idea came, and this one appears to have stuck: It occurred to me that Arrian – in a manner of speaking – had got me into this rut, let’s see if he can get me out of it. I haven’t read him the whole way through in a long time, let’s do so chapter-by-chapter and see where it takes me.

I am delighted and not a little relieved that three weeks after beginning the series, I have now reached the end of Stage One. Alexander has concluded his Greek campaigns and is now ready to sail across the Hellespont to start to go to war against the Persian Empire.

When I wrote the first post, I didn’t know how I would – or even if I would – divide the series up. I am happy to do so according to Alexander’s various campaigns, though; given his story, it makes a lot of sense. Looking ahead, I think I will continue along the same lines (with the possible exception of his City Sweep: Babylon-Susa-Persepolis).

Arrian I.1-10 Some Thoughts

Arrian presents a very positive image of Alexander as a general. He does this by foregrounding Alexander’s positive qualities (see here) and by suppressing the negative ones (see the comparison between Arrian’s and Diodorus’ Alexander here). He has no time to waste on any ‘other’ type of Alexander; for example, Alexander the youth, or king, or even person: His narrative is wholly geared towards the military leader.

If you would like to know about Alexander the youth or person, you’ll need to read Plutarch’s Life of Alexander; Alexander the king, of course, can still be found in Arrian, but he exists slightly off-centre as the book’s focus is elsewhere.

Arrian’s Alexander is based on the Alexander of his two major sources: Ptolemy and Aristobulos. Having said that, given how focused Arrian is on the military aspects of Alexander’s kingship, and how Ptolemy is supposed to be his source for the same* perhaps we are really reading Ptolemy’s Alexander. I would like to think that actually, we aren’t, that while the Alexander we see in these pages is based on Ptolemy’s version of his king it is substantially Arrian’s. Where Ptolemy’s Alexander ends and Arrian’s begins, though, is a good question.

In the past, I have criticised Curtius’ history of Alexander for being sensationalist, as if written like a modern day tabloid. If that is the case, I think now that Arrian’s Alexander is akin to a Hollywood interpretation of him: Alexander gets into scrapes (e.g. at Mt Haemus and outside Pellium) but just like James Bond or Jason Bourne always manages to extract himself – and with no little panache for the sake of the audience. I have to admit, I have never thought of Arrian like this before; he makes such a thing of how much better he is than other historians that he comes across as rather stuffy and self-important historian rather than a populariser of the man he is writing about.

I said that Arrian suppresses Alexander’s negative qualities. This isn’t completely true. While it is true that he tries to gloss over the Macedonian king’s role in the destruction of Thebes, wait until he delivers his judgement over the destruction of Xerxes’ palace at Persepolis. There, Arrian says it was wrong – no ifs, not buts, just wrong. He is on Alexander’s side, but is not besotted with him.

* I presume on the basis that Ptolemy fought alongside Alexander in the army and became a senior general by the time of Alexander’s death whereas Aristobulos, although he fought, was principally an engineer

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Arrian I.6-1-11

In This Chapter
How Alexander escaped from a pincer movement

Cleitus and Glaucias could not have asked for better luck. Alexander and his army was caught right between them, and what’s more, both could sally forth and begin the final showdown at their leisure: Cleitus was safe behind the walls of Pellium and Glaucias had the advantage of height as offered by the hills that surrounded the city. In addition to that, the woods that covered them gave him a good protection.

In Chapter Four we saw how Alexander used shock and awe tactics in order to defeat the Getae. Outside Pellium, he used the same tactic but in a very different way.

Rather than attack either the city or the hills hard and fast, or simply retreat, and risk being attacked in his rear, Alexander formed his phalanx up to a depth of 122 rows. Then, after ordering silence, he took his infantrymen through a series of manoeuvres. ‘[S]pears upright’, then down and left and right; he marched the phalanx forward at speed, and wheeled it about on both left and right wings. Finally, he put it into a wedge formation and approached Glaucias’ men who were watching from the foothills. Unnerved by the Macedonian display of discipline and power, they fled back into the hills. Alexander allowed his men to beat their shields and issue their battle cry. This added to the Taulantians’ terror. Those who did not flee into the hills made their way into Pellium.

Having nullified the threat of Glaucias for now, Alexander rode away from the phalanx to dislodge some of the Taulantians who held a hill overlooking the pass that was the Macedonians’ only route to safety. On seeing him come, they fled. The Taulantians were not at all keen fighters. Or maybe they were just realistic ones.

The Phalanx forded the river (Eordaicus). Instead of ordering it to continue marching, Alexander lined it up on the other side of the bank – to discourage the Taulantians from pursuing him and picking off the men at the rear.

This, though, is what they tried to do. As the Taulantians rushed forward, Alexander and his cavalrymen charged them. You will not be surprised to read that, according to Arrian, Glaucias’ men did not stand and fight but once more fled.

The Taulantians made one last attempt to claim some scalps but as the last of the Macedonian army crossed the river, Alexander gave the order for catapults and archers to provide covering fire. This was effective. Alexander lost no men in his retreat.

Alexander may have been forced into a retreat but like Glaucias, he was not above an act of opportunism. Three days later, on hearing that the Illyrians and Taulantians were camped outside Pallium ‘in disorderly fashion’, Alexander led a large company of men back over the Eordaicus ahead of the main body of the army. Cleitus and Glaucias had assumed that Alexander had left the area and not bothered to send any spies to confirm this. This was their undoing.

Alexander came crashing down on the Illyrian and Taulantian men. Many were killed in their beds. Others tried to flee; those who did so successfully were forced to dump their weapons on the way. Cleitus locked himself in Pellium. Seeing no hope for the future there, he burnt the city down and snuck away to rejoin Glaucias in the latter’s kingdom.

Thoughts
In the way he used silence and discipline to overwhelm the Taultantians, Alexander showed himself to be a master of psychological warfare. He knew exactly what would get under his enemy’s skin, what would make it panic and flee. Thanks to the brilliant training of his army – for which he would have had to thank his father, Philip – he was able to execute his idea. If the death of Langarus changed the complexion of the Wars of the Successors (see Arrian I.2.1-6 here) this was a ‘battle’ that was won in 359 BC when Philip became king.

Chapter Six marks the end of the Illyrian campaign. In the next chapter, Alexander heads south to deal with Thebes. What do the Thracian and Illyrian campaigns tell us about Alexander? As a general, this:

– He had a tactically creative mind
– He had supreme confidence in the abilities of his soldiers
– He was able to think on his feet
– He was a calm thinker, not given to panicking
– He did not look down on ‘dirtier’ acts, such as acts of opportunism
– He knew the minds of his enemies
– He lead from the front

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