Posts Tagged With: Perdiccas

The Opportunists

After Alexander died, his generals met to discuss the succession.
(all references from Curtius)
Perdiccas suggested that they wait to see if Roxane gave birth to a son (X.6.9), while Nearchus said that Heracles, Alexander’s son by Barsine, should be made king (X.6.11). Ptolemy, however, dismissed both ideas. He said that the generals should rule together with decisions taken by majority vote (X.6.15). Aristonus spoke next – Alexander had given Perdiccas his ring so it is Perdiccas who should lead them (X.6.17).
The Assembly agreed with Aristonus but before the meeting could be concluded, Meleager spoke up. Perdiccas should not be allowed to rule them as he will seize power! he said, No, authority should be given to the people – i.e. the infantry (X.6.23). 
After this interjection, Meleager stormed off – to start looting the royal palace with his supporters. He had not got far, however, when an unnamed member of the rank and file changed history by suggesting that Arrhidaeos, Alexander’s brother, should be made king. The Assembly approved this idea and the order to bring Arrhidaeos was given (X.6.24; 7.1.-6).
Foiled in his plan, Meleager acted quickly to do the next best thing – to spite Perdiccas – and brought Arrhidaeos to the Assembly (X.7.7).
Opportunists all… almost
  • Perdiccas voted for Roxane because as the most senior officer in the army he had control of her.
  • Nearchus voted for Heracles because he had married Barsine’s daughter, and so was Heracles’ brother-in-law.
  • Ptolemy wanted the generals to rule because he knew no one man could rule the empire and because he himself was very popular with the men – very useful if the generals could not reach a consensus and needed a ‘nudge’ in the right direction.
  • I don’t know enough about Aristonus to know why he chose to support Perdiccas. It may be that he genuinely thought that Perdiccas should be their leader on account of Alexander giving him his ring or maybe Perdiccas had promised him a reward for his loyalty. In 321/0, Aristonus was given command of a mission to defeat the kings of Cyprus who had allied themselves with Ptolemy.
  • Meleager’s suggestion that the phalanx was Alexander’s successor was an irresponsible and ridiculous one; it was surely no more than a brazen attempt to grab power by Meleager himself. If this is correct, it is ironic that his plan was undone by a member of the infantry. But if we can fault Meleager for his lack of subtlety, we can’t fault his persistence. Though if he really turned to Arrhidaeos just to spite Perdiccas, he was a shallow and mean minded man.
Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

And the Loser Is…

If there was such a thing as the Bad Luck, Old Chap award and it had a category for antiquity, I would definitely nominate –

Serves Alexander with distinction,
Could have been the man to whom Alexander left his empire,
Falls under his horse and dies early in the Wars of the Successors (Diodorus XVIII.30).

Serves Alexander loyally,
Forms an effective team with Hephaestion in India,
Is deserted by his friends after failing to clear a disused canal (a canal!) (Diodorus XVIII.33)
And is assassinated after failing – wait for it – to cross a river (Diodorus XVIII.36).

Sometimes, it’s just not meant to be.

Categories: By the Bye, Humour, Of The Moment, Random Posts | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Images of Alexander

In this post, I would share a few pictures of Alexander from my Pinterest page (link in the sidebar).

I chose representations of him from the Fourth Century B.C. to the First A.D.

Fourth Century B.C.
As you can see, it is a bust of Alexander in profile. I chose it for three reasons.

Firstly, the view is in profile. Most pictures of Alexander are done face or side-on so the look in profile immediately made the picture stand out.

Secondly, the fact that the bust has been so firmly sliced (or was it meant to be like that?) down the back gives the image a very vulnerable appearance. One minute Alexander is there; the next, gone.

Thirdly, I really like the way the sculptor has him looking upwards – staring into the distance, wondering what is out there, how he might find it (and, perhaps, how he might conquer it). That’s Alexander – always looking to what lies just beyond.
Third Century B.C.
This next picture is a personal favourite of mine, as it shows Alexander looking very heroic, and, I have to say, lush, too. However, do you see the line along the bottom of his neck? I am wondering if the body originally belonged to someone else and Alexander’s head was placed on it. Also, notice the object that he is holding in his left hand. I can never look at this photograph without wondering what that is.


Second Century B.C.
Two centuries after his death, Alexander still retains his leonine (or just plain shaggy) head of hair, tilting head and liquid looking-into-the-beyond gaze. This head also seems to represent Alexander as a young man as it has a freshness and vitality to it that he surely did not possess in his later years.


We move on either to the First Century B.C. or First Century A.D. and a mosaic that was found in Pompeii. Does it deserve its place on this list? The man on the left is said to be Alexander but I don’t think we know for sure. The woman on the right might be Stateira II or Roxane.

As for Alexander, he looks very tanned here. I don’t know if the artist intended to show him that way, but it certainly seems a more realistic representation than the reconstruction of his skin colour, below. By contrast, Stateira II/Roxane has very pale skin – perhaps meeting a Roman ideal of how women’s skin should look?


Added Extras
The Alexander Sarcophagus never belonged to Alexander. It was once thought to have held the body of Abdalonymus, the gardener-made-king but according to Wikipedia, that has been disproved.

Whoever the sarcophagus was meant for, it is an expertly sculpted coffin. Below, you can see a picture of a Macedonian cavalryman, identified as Perdiccas. Amazingly, after 2,300 years some of the original colour still remains…


… and it no doubt inspired the reconstruction of Alexander’s colour scheme (You can tell it is him by his lion-helmet).

Alexander here is surely much too pale skinned for someone who spent a great deal of his life outdoors but what about the colour of his clothing? Whether it is realistic or not, it is certainly very striking (and let’s not even talk about the Persian soldier’s trousers).

I suppose the purpose of the reconstruction is to bring us closer to Alexander. I have to admit, though, I find him more in the more idealistic portrayals. Perhaps I am more interested in the heroic Alexander rather than the realistic one. But if the real Alexander is in both, I’m sure that doesn’t matter.


Categories: Finding Alexander | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Perdiccas: The Great Betrayer?

Over on my Tumblr page I am currently writing a read-through of the eighteenth book of Diodorus Siculus’ Library of History – his account of the wars of Alexander’s successors. Today’s post covers the twenty-fourth and fifth chapters of the Library. You can read it here.

While writing the post I was very struck by the fact that Antipater and Craterus were not only surprised but ‘dumbfounded’ when Antigonus Monophthalmus informed them that Perdiccas intended to marry Alexander’s sister, Cleopatra, as a means to make himself king of her brother’s empire.

I’m not surprised by their shock. Perdiccas, after all, was the man to whom Alexander gave his ring of office on his deathbed (Diodorus XVII.117; Curtius X.5.4). The dying king must, therefore, have trusted Perdiccas to ensure that if it were possible for an Argead (e.g. his as yet unborn son) to inherit the throne his deputy – Hephaestion’s successor – would be able to make it happen. And if Alexander thought that, then surely the other generals did, too. It seems that Antipater and Craterus certainly did. Yet here Perdiccas was, all of a sudden, aiming to make himself king.

The title of my post is ‘Perdiccas’ Betrayal’. If there is an ounce of truth in Diodorus’ words I can’t think of how anyone could have betrayed Alexander more. For he betrayed him not only personally but surely by encouraging those other generals who were not so loyal to the idea of an Argead succession but who, had Perdiccas remained faithful to the late king, might have swallowed their ambitions all the same.


Of course, there is an objection to my dim view of Perdiccas, and it is sourced in the texts. According to Diodorus, Alexander was asked to whom he left his kingdom. He did not say ‘his son’ but ‘to the strongest’ (D. XVII.117) or ‘to the best man’ (Curtius X.5.5). My objection to this is that a. Arrian(VII.26) – taking his cue from Ptolemy and Aristobulos – says that Alexander could not speak at the end of his life and b. It would make no sense for Antipater or Craterus to be surprised by Perdiccas’ betrayal if they knew that Alexander wanted ‘simply’ the strongest or greatest man to inherit his throne rather than his son.

  • As visitors to this blog may have noticed, I have been very remiss in updating The Second Achilles for a while now. For this, I apologise; I am in a busy stage of life but have to admit I haven’t used my time as well as I could have to publish posts here. Within the time that I have I would like to change that. I’m not sure how I will yet, but one idea is to write short posts like this one giving my thoughts on Diodorus as I write the read through. If you find short posts like this one helpful, or not so, do feel free to let me know in the comments box or via e-mail
Categories: Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Quintus Curtius Rufus, The Wars of the Successors | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

The Shadow Story

I am currently reading The Hunt for Zerzura by Saul Kelly, which tells the story of the interwar desert explorers who criss-crossed the Egyptian desert in search of the lost oasis of Zerzura.

They never found Zerzura but did manage to map a great deal of previously unknown territory. These maps eventually ended up in the hands of both the Axis Powers and British armies after the outbreak of the Second World War.


There is much I could say about the book and the people involved in the exploration, but in this post I just wanted to highlight a comment made by ‘The Director of Military Intelligence, Brigadier Freddie de Guingand’ (p.187) regarding the contribution made to the desert war on behalf of Britain and her allies by the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG).

The LRDG was founded by one of the desert explorers, Ralph Bagnold, with orders ‘to make trouble for the Italians, and later the Germans, anywhere in Libya’ (p.136).

As the war progressed, the LRDG’s role also developed so that its commanding officer, Guy Prendergast could say that it

… found itself more and more in the position of ‘universal aunts’ to anyone who has business in the desert behind the enemy lines. An increasing stream of Commandos (European and Arab), L. Detachment, I.S.L.D., G(R)., bogus Germans (BUCK), lost travellers, ‘escape scheme’ promoters, stranded aviators, etc., has continued to arrive at SIWA needing petrol, rations, maintenance, information, training, accommodation, and supplies of all kinds.


In 1942, spying was at the top of the LRDG’s list of priorities as a 24-hour watch was kept on the Via Balbia, ‘Rommel’s main line of communication’ (p.187). Every vehicle and man that passed this way was noted and a report sent back to Cairo. The information sent by the LRDG’s observers was important as it

… enabled Military Intelligence in Cairo to check the Axis vehicle figures it was getting from Enigma so as to arrive at a reasonably accurate figure, in particular of the number of serviceable tanks, which Rommel could put in the field.

I’m sure I don’t need to say why it was important for the British army to know how many tanks the Desert Fox had at his disposal. And, indeed, this information was not just important but absolutely critical to the British war effort. So much so that de Guingand

… later maintained that the road watch was the LRDG’s most valuable contribution in the fight against the Axis in North Africa.

The raids behind enemy lines, the harassment of enemy forces, the soldiers ferried about, aviators rescued – no doubt all were valuable works but the most important thing that the LRDG did was lie down on the ground for hours on end and jot down names and numbers. That’s quite a thought.


Reading the above passage made a deep impression on me as it brought home once again how an army simply does not win its battles only on the battlefield. That may be where the greatest amount of glory is won but clearly, without the efforts of those behind the (battle) scenes, the ultimate outcome of any clash of arms has the potential to be a lot less certain.

Over the last few months, this thought has lead me to consider Hephaestion’s role as Alexander’s chief-logistics officer. I might now also consider who else served him in an equally unglamorous but perhaps vital way.

One person does immediately spring to mind: Eumenes, his chief war secretary. I might also mention Perdiccas who worked with Hephaestion on the logistics side. And then there is Chares, Alexander’s Royal Usher when the king was taking on Persian dress and customs and so a link between the traditional and progressive factions at court. Also, Leonidas and Lysimachus, the king’s tutors. Leonidas is well known but Lysimachus (not to be confused with the general of that name) perhaps less so. Alexander considered him important enough to rescue at great risk to his own life when the old man’s strength failed him during a brief campaign against arabs in Anti-Lebanon (Plutarch Life 24).

I’m sure I could go on but, hopefully, you already see my point – the chief story of Alexander’s life is definitely the battles, sieges and brave deeds he did, but there is definitely another – even if more shadowy – story to tell alongside that one. I must thank Saul Kelly (and, ultimately, Brigadier Freddie de Guingand) or reminding me of this in his excellent book.

Categories: Of The Moment | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Road to Marakanda – Spring 328 B.C.

In the Spring of 328 B.C., the Macedonian army campaigned in Bactria and Sogdia. The native people had closed the gates of their forts to Alexander and needed to be reminded who was in charge.

I say ‘the Macedonian army’ quite deliberately for it does not appear as if Alexander himself took part in the operation.

At least, not according to Arrian. He recounts how, after leaving Zariaspa, the Macedonian king put Attalus, Gorgias, Polyperchon and Meleager in charge of subduing Bactria, and Coenus and Artabazus (together), Hephaestion, Perdiccas and Ptolemy in charge of subduing Sogdia.

As for Alexander himself, he

… proceeded with [the rest of the army] in the direction of Marakanda, while the the other four commanders carried out offensive operations.

It is possible that he attacked Sogdian settlements along the way, but the fact that Arrian distinguishes between Alexander’s actions and those of his four commanders suggests to me that Arrian didn’t think so.

This passage has been on my mind for a while for it seems quite strange that Alexander would choose to miss an opportunity to win take part in a military operation.

Did he see the ‘offensive operations’ as no more than a bit of mopping up, and so unworthy of his attention?

The fact that Alexander had to split his army into as many as nine divisions, excluding his own, would suggest that the threat posed by the Bactrians and Sogdians was no small matter, if anything, the reverse.

Perhaps he had business to take care of in Marakanda? Arrian doesn’t mention any. However, the city had been put under siege twice by Spitamenes the previous year (Arrian IV.5,7). I am guessing, therefore, that Alexander wanted to assign new men to the garrison (Curtius VII.10.11*) that had held it over the winter. This, of course, is a job that could have been done by one of the king’s generals – Hephaestion, for example, whom some scholars tell us was not a particularly good soldier.

At first sight, the other sources are not helpful in working out what Alexander was up to in the Spring of 328 B.C. Plutarch covers the period of the Bactria-Sogdia campaign in Chapters 50-58 of his Life but says nothing about the army’s military operations. The same is the case with Justin (who covers the same period in XII.7 of his epitome). Diodorus might have done but unfortunately, the relevant section of his account has been lost.

That leaves us with Curtius. After bringing Alexander out of his winter quarters at Zariaspa (VII.10.13-16), Curtius appears to confuse the early 328 campaign with another set of events** before having Alexander build some cities and move on to the Sogdian Rock.

This most famous siege took place in 327 B.C. It appears, therefore, that Curtius has misdated it. Thus, at the start of Book Eight, he follows in Arrian’s footsteps by describing how Alexander divided his army into three (between himself, Hephaestion and Coenus***) and with his men ‘once more subdued the Sogdians and returned to Maracanda’ (VIII.1.7) (my emphasis]).

So, if Curtius is to be believed, Alexander did take part in the campaign before reaching Marakanda. And, I have to admit, that seems the more believable version of events.

However, if asked to chose who I believe – him or Arrian – I’m not sure that I wouldn’t stick with Arrian. Curtius can be such an unreliable historian.

As already mentioned, he gets the date of the Siege of the Sogdian Rock wrong. After bringing Alexander to Marakanda, Curtius has him speak to Derdas, whom he sent into the territory of the Scythians over the Tanais River the previous year (VII.6.12) as well as ‘a deputation of that people’ (VIII.1.7) who offered him their allegiance and the hand of the king’s daughter. Arrian, by contrast, places these events in Spring, while Alexander was still in Zariaspa (A IV.15).

As can be seen, Curtius appears to have a particular problem with accurate dating. In this light, I wonder if his account of Alexander’s actions in Sogdia at VIII.7 could be a reference to Alexander’s Autumn 329 campaign against the Sogdians, subsequent arrival in Zariaspa and meeting with the Scythians per Arrian.

And yet… and yet… As you can see, I am Hamlet-like in my indecision! The reason for this is that I just can’t think of a convincing reason why Alexander would not have joined the campaign while he was on his way to Marakanda.

Actually, there is one possible reason – injury and/or ill health. The previous year, Alexander’s leg was broken by an arrow (A III.30); he also suffered a slingshot blow to the head and neck (A IV.3) and a severe bout of dysentery but surely he would have recovered from the worst effect of these by Spring 328?

* Curtius says that Alexander left a 3,000 strong garrison in Sogdia. I take it that some even if not all of them stayed in Marakanda
** The Notes in my edition of Curtius say he could be thinking of the rebellion of Arsaces in Aria and Barzanes in Parthia and their capture by Stasanor
*** I don’t count this as an error on Curtius’ part – it could be him ‘telescoping’ the story in order to focus on the principle player(s) in it

Categories: Arrian, Finding Alexander, On Alexander, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Alexander: March/Spring Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

Spring Philip orders Alexander back to Pella (Peter Green*)

Spring Parmenion and Attalus lead the Macedonian advance army into Asia Minor (Livius, Peter Green)

Early Spring Alexander campaigns in Thrace and Illyria (Peter Green)
NB The Landmark Arrian** dates this campaign to Spring (as opposed to Early Spring. This applies to all similar references below)

Spring Alexander razes Thebes; Greek cities submit (Landmark Arrian)

March – April Alexander crosses into Asia Minor; beginning of his anabasis (Peter Green)
Michael Wood*** dates the crossing of the Hellespont to May
Landmark Arrian dates the crossing to Spring

March – June Memnon’s naval offensive (Livius)

Early Spring
Memnon dies (Peter Green)

Spring Alexander arrives in Gordion where he undoes the famous knot (Landmark Arrian)

Spring (Possibly late spring?) Alexander passes through the Cilician Gates having taken Pisidia and Cappadocia (Landmark Arrian)

NB With reference to the death of Memnon, referred to above, the Landmark Arrian dates it to ‘Spring’ 333, during the Persian navy’s fight against the Macedonians. Contra Livius (below), it adds that after his death, and in the same year, the ‘Persian naval war falter[ered]’

Spring The Persian Fleet disintegrates (Livius)
January – September The Siege of Tyre continues (Michael Wood)

March Alexander visits Siwah (Livius)
NB Peter Green dates Alexander’s Siwah visit to ‘Early Spring’

Spring Alexander resumes his march towards Darius (Landmark Arrian)

Spring Alexander orders the royal palace in Persepolis to be burnt (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander finds the body of Darius (Landmark Arrian)

Spring First crossing of the Hindu Kush (Michael Wood)
NB Peter Green dates the crossing to ‘March – April’

Spring Alexander pursues Bessus across Bactria/Sogdia (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Bessus is betrayed by his officers and handed over to Alexander (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander quells an uprising along the Jaxartes (Tanais) River (Landmark Arrian)

Spring Alexander campaigns in Bactria and Sogdia (Michael Wood)
Spring The Sogdian Rock is captured (Michael Wood)

Early Spring Alexander marries Roxane (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the wedding to Spring

Early Spring The Pages’ Plot (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the Pages’ plot (and Callisthenes subsequent arrest/possible death) to Spring

Early Spring Callisthenes is executed (Michael Wood)
Spring Pharasmanes and Scythians seek an alliance with Alexander (Landmark Arrian)
The Sogdian Rock is captured (Livius, Peter Green, Landmark Arrian)
Spring The Rock of Chorienes is captured (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Craterus eliminates the last rebels (following Spitamenes’ death in the Autumn of 328) (Landmark Arrian)
Late Spring Second crossing of the Hindu Kush (Michael Wood)

Early Spring The Aornos Rock is captured (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the capture of the Aornos Rock to Spring

Early Spring Alexander meets Hephaestion and Perdiccas at the Indus River, which the reunited army then crosses (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the crossing of the Indus to Spring

Early Spring Alexander reaches Taxila (Michael Wood)

The Landmark Arrian lists the sequence of events following Alexander’s capture of the Aornos Rock slightly differently to Michael Wood:
Wood Siege of Aornos > Alexander meets Hephaestion & Perdicas at the Indus > Macedonians cross the Indus > Alexander arrives in Taxila
Landmark Arrian Siege of Aornos Alexander sails down the Indus to Hephaestion’s and Perdiccas’ bridge > Alexander visits Nysa > Alexander receives Taxiles’ (‘son of the Taxiles he met in the Indian Caucasus’ the previous summer) gifts > Alexander crosses the Indus > Alexander meets Taxiles

Spring Battle of the Hydaspes River (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Bucephalus is buried (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander founds Nicaea and Bucephala (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Abisares submits to Alexander (Landmark Arrian)

Spring – Summer Journey down the Indus River (Michael Wood)
Spring Alexander defeats the Brahmins, Musicanus, and Sambus (Landmark Arrian)

February – March Alexander’s journey to and arrival in Susa (Peter Green)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates Alexander’s arrival to Spring. It adds that after his arrival he purged the corrupt satraps, held the mass wedding ceremonies,and forgave his soldiers’ debts/awarded ‘gold wreaths to officers’; this did not, howeverm stop tensions rising ‘over Alexander’s moves to integrate the army’
March Alexander meets Nearchus in Susa (Livius)
March Susa Marriages (Livius)
March Alexander issues the Exiles’ Decree (Peter Green)
March Alexander issues the Deification Decree (Peter Green)
Spring Alexander explores lower Tigris and Euphrates (Landmark Arrian)
Spring The 30,000 epigoni arrive in Susa (Peter Green)

Spring Alexander returns to Babylon after campaigning against the Cossaeans (Peter Green)
Spring Bad omens foreshadow Alexander’s death (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander sends ‘spoils of war to Greece; he is hailed as a god by Greek envoys
Spring Alexander makes preparations for an Arabian campaign (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander orders ‘extravagant’ honours to be given to Hephaestion (Landmark Arrian)

*Peter Green Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography (University of California Press 1991)
** The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010)
***Michael Wood In the Footsteps Of Alexander the Great A Journey from Greece to India (BBC Books 2004)


  • This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know!
Categories: Chronology of Alexander's Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Heckel on Hephaestion in 328 B.C.

In his entry for Hephaestion in his Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great (Wiley-Blackwell 2009 pp.133-6) Waldemar Heckel makes a number of contentious statements about the son of Amyntor, his character and military skills. One in particular has been on my mind since I read it before Christmas. Heckel writes,

[i]n the spring of 328, when the army was divided into five parts, [Hephaestion] commanded one contingent (A 4.16.2) in a mission that appears to have done little more than win back several small fortresses to which the rebellious natives had fled.

At first glance, this statement tells us something about the 328 B.C. campaign rather than Hephaestion but in my opinion Heckel uses it to unfairly denigrate Hephaestion’s abilities as an military officer.

Before I give my reasons for saying this, let’s look at the passage from Arrian that Heckel cites,

Four officers – Polysperchon, Attalus, Gorgias, and Meleager – were left in Bactria with instructions to destroy all natives who had refused submission and to keep a sharp look-out for any further trouble… Alexander himself, after crossing into Sogdiana, divided his remaining strength into five, one division to be commanded by Hephaestion, another by Ptolemy, son of Lagus, a third by Perdiccas, a fourth by Coenus and Artabazus. The fifth he took over himself and proceeded with it in the direction of Marakanda, while the other four commanders carried out offensive operations as opportunity offered, storming the forts where some of the native tribesmen were trying to hold out, or receiving the voluntary surrender of others.
(Arrian IV.16)

So, how does Heckel seek to denigrate Hephaestion?

He does so by minimising the importance of the campaign in terms of the objective (it was about no more than the capture of a few ‘small fortresses’), the number of men involved (five divisions) and its geographic range (Sogdia).

By doing so Heckel implies that the campaign made no great contribution to Hephaestion’s standing as an officer. This allows him to still refer to Hephaestion as ‘relatively inexperienced’ when he and Perdiccas travel to the Indus River to build a bridge for the Macedonian army to cross – even though it is now 326 and the son of Amyntor has been with the expedition since its start in 334 and involved in all its major battles and movements!

When Heckel says that the mission involved no more than ‘win[ning] back several small fortresses to which the rebellious natives had fled’ he makes it out to be no more than a footnote in the story of Alexander’s expedition.

However, I would suggest that there are no minor campaigns when one is seeking to end an insurrection across two countries (see below). That the 328 campaign was more than just capturing a few forts is certainly suggested by the length of time the mission took to complete. As Heckel says, it started in Spring. He goes on to state that it ended in summer. Two, three months to break into a few forts?

Number of Men Involved
Heckel says that Alexander split the army into five. To be fair, this is true – but only to a point. That is because Alexander had already divided the army in Bactria. As Arrian tells us, he gave Attalus, Gorgias, Polyperchon and Meleager orders to pacify that country.

Ultimately, if the Bactria commanders all had sole commands, the Macedonian army ended up being split into no less than nine parts across two countries. And all for the sake of a few ‘small fortresses’.

Geographic Range
As Arrian makes clear, the 328 campaign took place in Bactria and Sogdia. The Bactria commanders’ orders were not, in my opinion, materially different to those of the Sogdia commanders.

For his part, Heckel does not say outright ‘the campaign only took place in Sogdia’ but that he wants us to think that it did is implied by his reference to the army only splitting into five rather than six – nine depending on whether the Bactria commanders were given sole commands.

In 328 B.C., Alexander was faced with a crisis of control. Two countries had risen up against him. If he was to put the rebellion down, he not only needed to divide his army but place each division under the command of a man who he knew would be able to lead it bravely, intelligently (especially important after the Pharnuches fiasco the previous year) and strongly. One of the commanders he chose for that job was Hephaestion. Amyntoros’ speciality may have been in non-military missions (as Heckel notes) but his appointment to a sole command for this one proves to me that he knew how to lead as well. I have great respect for Waldemar Heckel’s writing but I don’t agree with his assessment of the 328 campaign or its denigration of Hephaestion.

The Other Sources

  • Curtius (VII.10.13) appears (see below) to refer only briefly to 328 Spring-Summer campaign. He says nothing about the Macedonian army being split up and states that Alexander ended the insurrection in just three days.
    Having said that, the notes to my Penguin Classics edition of Curtius’ History suggest that his insurrection may actually be a reference to ‘the activities of Arsaces of Aria and Brazanes, who opposed Phrataphernes in Parthyaea’, and which Arrian covers at IV.7. If that is so, his account is wrong, for as the notes point out – Arsaces and Brazanes were brought to Alexander (in chains during the winter of 329/8). The king did not go after them.
  • Alexander’s Bactrian-Sogdian campaign is missing from Diodorus’ account of his life due to a lacuna in the manuscript.
  • Plutarch does not discuss the Bactrian-Sogdian campaign.
  • Justin (XII.5) refers to Alexander city building in Bactria and Sogdia but says nothing about his campaigning there


Categories: On Alexander | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Master of the Battle and Green Field

VI. Division 
Read the other posts in this series

Alexander… after crossing into Sogdiana, divided his remaining strength into five, one division to be commanded by Hephaestion, another by Ptolemy, son of Lagus, a third by Perdiccas, a fourth by Coenus and Artabazus. The fifth he took over himself…
(Arrian IV.16)


Alexander arrived in Bactria in the Spring of 329 B.C. hot on the trail of Bessus. After a brief stop in Zariaspa to give his men time to recover from their crossing of the Hindu Kush, the Macedonian king led his army north. The chase ended on the Sogdian side of the Oxus River when Bessus was betrayed by his officers and handed over to Ptolemy*.

The capture of Bessus did not signify the end of Alexander’s presence in Sogdia or Bactria. Not long later, what appears to have been a multi-tribal native army, or armed force (Arrian III.30), attacked Macedonian foragers. Then, natives who lived in settlements along the Jaxartes (aka Tanais) River (A IV.1-4) rebelled against their new overlords. ‘They were joined in this hostile move by most of the people of Sogdiana… [and] some of the Bactrians’ (A IV.2). It would take Alexander nearly two years to pacify Bactria and Sogdia. It would never know peace, however.

After putting down the rebellion along the Jaxartes River, Alexander decided to cross the Jaxartes to attack some Scythians who had gathered there hoping to ‘join in an attack upon the Macedonians in the event of a serious rising’ (A IV.4), and suffered the loss of 2,300 men at the hands of a joint Scythian-native force led by Spitamenes who had decided to rebel against him (A IV.5-6).

Amidst all these events, Alexander was wounded twice and suffered a serious bout of dysentery. Operations continued until winter, which Alexander spent in Zariaspa.


The following Spring, Alexander led his men out of the city to deal with native settlements who had closed their gates to the governor. The unrest was so widespread Alexander was forced to divide his army up in order to deal with all the trouble.

Responsibility for bringing Bactria to heel was divided between Attalus, Gorgias, Meleager, and Polyperchon. I presume they acted independently of one another at this time but the text isn’t clear.

As for Sogdia, as we see from the quotation at the top of the post, the army was divided into five between Alexander himself, Hephaestion, Ptolemy, Perdiccas, and Coenus and Artabazus.

By-the-bye, the Sogdian operation is only the second time that Arrian has mentioned Hephaestion in the context of a military operation (the first being at [3] below). Here is a quick reminder of his previous appearances-

  1. I.12 During the visit to Troy
  2. II.13 In Sisygambis’ tent when she mistook him for Alexander
  3. III.15 Casualty list following the Battle of Gaugamela
  4. III.27 Given joint-command of the Companion Cavalry
  5. IV.12-13 Talking to Alexander the night Callisthenes failed to bow to the king

I don’t mention this in order to suggest that Hephaestion was not a good soldier. The picture we have of him in Arrian is Arrian’s own after Ptolemy and Aristobulos and such other sources as he has cared to use.

If anything, the grant of an independent command shows that Alexander clearly trusted his friend’s military capabilities. The times were simply too dangerous for the king to be handing divisions of his army over to friends just because they were friends.

Once the commands had been handed out, the

… four commanders carried out offensive operations as opportunity offered, storming the forts where some of the native tribesmen were trying to hold out, or receiving the voluntary surrender of others.
(A IV.16)

When these were completed, the generals returned in Marakanda. Hephaestion did not stay long, for Alexander sent him back out to ‘to plant settlements in the various towns’ (Arrian IV.16)

So, one minute a general, the next a settlement planner. Hephaestion was definitely a man of diverse talents. And we may talk of him as being very talented because his name crops up again and again when Alexander requires some kind of non-offensive operation to be completed.

For example,

332 Summer ‘Hephaestion conveys the fleet and the siege-equipment from Tyre to Gaza’
331 H. receives ‘a young Samian named Aristion, whom Demosthenes had sent in an effort to bring about a reconciliation with Alexander’
330 H. part of the ‘consilium’ that decided Philotas’ fate
328/7 H. collects ‘provisions for the winter’
327 Spring ‘Hephaestion and Perdiccas… sent ahead into India with a substantial force to act as an advance guard’


Alexander used him regularly for non-military operations: the founding of cities, the building of bridges and the securing of communications.

All the above quotes, including the last one, come from Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great by Waldemar Heckel (Wiley-Blackwell 2009) pp. 133-4. The final quote above ends ‘[these] constitute Hephaestion’s major contribution’. Obviously, Heckel has no great opinion of Hephaestion as a general. In my opinion, Arrian proves him wrong.

For the record, Heckel describes the five pronged operation in Sogdia as being ‘a mission that appears to have done little more than win back several small fortresses to which the rebellious natives had fled’ (ibid). I must emphasise that I don’t speak from a position of expertise here but I can’t believe that Alexander would feel the need to divide his army up for such a minor task.

* Or directly to Alexander – see Arrian III.30

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The Flawed Brilliance of Alexander

Justin’s Alexander
Book XII Chapters 11-16
Part Six
Other posts in this series

For this post I am using this translation of Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus

Chapter Eleven
During Alexander’s expedition, his men, when not fighting, had somehow managed to get themselves deep in debt. Following the Susa weddings, Alexander paid that debt off in its entirety. It cost him twenty thousand talents to do so. One can only wonder how the men had managed to spend that much. Either way,

[Alexander’s] munificence was highly prized, not only for the sum given, but for the character of the gift, and was received not more thankfully by the debtors than by the creditors, exaction being as troublesome to the one as payment to the other.

Once the debts had been paid, Alexander proceeded to discharge his older veterans. Despite the kindness that their king had just showed them, the remaining men complained (during an assembly) that the discharge should be on the basis of service not age.

Justin describes the men as speaking to Alexander not only with ‘entreaties’ but also with ‘reproach’. Rather sulkily, they bid him to ‘“carry on his wars alone, with the aid of his father Ammon, since he looked with disdain on his soldiers.”’

In reply, Alexander oscillated between berating his men and speaking to them ‘in gentler terms’. When neither approach worked, he leapt down from his dais and personally arrested the ringleaders.

Chapter Twelve
His next action was to commend his Persian soldiers for their loyalty and enrol a thousand of them into his bodyguard as well as a number of auxiliaries into the regular army.

This cut the Macedonians to the quick, and they went to Alexander ‘beseeching him with tears “to content himself rather with punishing than ill-treating them.”’ Their pleas worked and Alexander released more veterans.

It is really striking, in this and the previous chapter, how fraught Alexander’s relationship with his men is. One minute they are friends, then enemies, then friends again. It’s as if their relationship has lost its foundations and has become a matter of shifting sands. And why? I think because of the army’s profound tiredness and Alexander’s perennial desire to get his way.

Justin notes that it was around of what we call the Opis Mutiny that Hephaestion died.

Alexander mourned for him longer than became his dignity as a king, built a monument for him that cost twelve thousand talents, and gave orders that he should be worshipped as a god.

Chapter Thirteen
Alexander returned to Babylon ‘from the distant shores of the ocean’. On the way, he was warned by the Magic’“not to enter the city,” for that the “place would be fatal to him.”’. As a result, the king took a diversion to an uninhabited city called Borsippa ‘on the other side of the Euphrates’.

There, however, the philosopher (and professional flatterer) Anaxarchus persuaded him to go to Babylon after all.  Anaxarchus argued that “if things were fixed by fate, they were unknown to mortals, and if they were dependent on the course of nature, were unchangeable.” Que sera, sera.

I am always rather suspicious when I read of about-turns like this. Alexander was not a puppet. He did what he wanted – even in matters of religion* – not what anyone else would have him do. Still, who knows what mental state he was in after Hephaestion’s death; perhaps this did make him more open to influence?

In Babylon, Alexander rested and resumed ‘the entertainments which had been for some time discontinued’ (no doubt as a result of Hephaestion’s death). One night, at a party given by an officer named Medius, the king collapsed in such extreme pain that he asked for someone to kill him.

His friends reported that the cause of his disease was excess in drinking, but in reality it was a conspiracy, the infamy of which the power of his successors threw into the shade.

* For example, when he took part in the attack of Tyre (Arrian 2:27) and crossed the Tanais (aka Jaxartes Arrian 4:4) despite Aristander’s warnings that the omens were against him

Chapter Fourteen
Justin blames Antipater for Alexander’s death. This chapter has a lot to say about Antipater but less about Alexander. I can’t move on, however, without recording what Justin tells us concerning the poison used to kill the king.

The strength of this poison was so great, that it could be contained neither in brass, nor iron, nor shell, nor could be conveyed in any other way than in the hoof of a horse.

Too strong for metal but able to be safely transported in a hoof. Perhaps Justin was tired when he wrote this.

Chapter Fifteen
Justin has been critical of Alexander. But he allow shim to die in a a noble fashion. Meeting his men for the last time, Alexander

… not only did not shed a tear, but showed not the least token of sorrow; so that he even comforted some who grieved immoderately, and gave others messages to their parents

Alexander, Justin says, was as prepared for death as he was for battle. Can any higher praise be given? Once the last soldier had left, the king asked his friends if they would find another like him. When they did not reply,

he said that, “although he did not know that, he knew, and could foretel, and almost saw with his eyes, how much blood Macedonia would shed in the disputes that would follow his death, and with what slaughters, and what quantities of gore, she would perform his obsequies.”

Finally, the royal friends did speak, and they asked Alexander who should succeed him.

He replied, “The most worthy.”

This response meets with Justin’s whole hearted approval. He says that,

Such was [Alexander’s] nobleness of spirit, that though he left a son named Hercules, a brother called Aridaeus, and his wife Roxane with child, yet, forgetting his relations, he named only “the most worthy” as his successor; as though it were unlawful for any but a brave man to succeed a brave man, or for the power of so great an empire to be left to any but approved governors.

Unfortunately, as Justin recognises, this nobleness opened the door for the wars that followed.


Six days after Medius’ party, Alexander gave his ring to Perdiccas. This act at guaranteed that there would at least be a transitional government while the identity of the next king was decided.

Chapter Sixteen
Justin sums up Alexander by paying him a number of compliments.

He was a man endowed with powers of mind far beyond ordinary human capacity.

[Olympias] certainly bore in her womb a conception superior to mortality… by no one’s influence was she rendered more illustrious than that of her son.

[As king, Alexander] inspired his soldiers with such confidence in him, that, when he was present, they feared the arms of no enemy, though they themselves were unarmed.

Justin also mentions the omens of Alexander’s ‘future greatness’ that were seen at his birth and acknowledges his unbeaten record as a general. Finally, he concludes, when Alexander died,

[h]e was overcome at last, not by the prowess of any enemy, but by a conspiracy of those whom he trusted, and the treachery of his own subjects.

Before starting this series of posts, I had a picture of Justin as being uniformly negative towards Alexander. That was the impression I got after reading From Tyrant to Philosopher-King.

However, while Justin does not hesitate to mention Alexander’s major fault – his medising – and his minor ones – his manipulativeness, for example – it is also true to say that he is very complimentary about the Macedonian king. No where is this more seen than in the last two chapters above.

It is possible, of course, that I have misread what Justin wrote, or that the translation I have used is not an accurate one, but assuming that neither is the case, I finish this series with a sense of Justin’s fairness and ability to recognise Alexander’s good whenever he sees it.

As for the mediaeval writers who used Justin to denigrate Alexander; well, I’m not going to criticise them., even though it seems to me (after reading the Epitome) that their reading must have been rather selective. The fact is, we know from other sources that Alexander did medise.

One last point – in case Justin has expressed any further opinion of Alexander in the other books of his Epitome and you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned it/them here, it’s because I have only read Books 11 and 12. If you know of any other statements of Justin, though, feel free to mention them in the comments below.


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