Posts Tagged With: Persepolis

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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Catching Up: 23rd June 2019

Reporting the arrival of a new book about Alexander will never not be exciting. Therefore, I am delighted to mention the lately published Alexander the Great from Britain to Southeast Asia by Su Fang Ng.

Unfortunately, this is an academic book, so while it is no doubt of the highest quality, it is also of the highest price – £90 (hardback).

I am very lucky in that I am a member of the London Library, which if I ask it would hopefully purchase a copy but otherwise, it’s a shame that Su Fang Ng’s knowledge will be pretty much limited to university students and teachers.

You can read more about the book at the Oxford University Press’s website here

***

Popculture reports a rape allegation against President Donald Trump. Author E. Jean Carroll,

… recalled [Trump] talking “about himself like he’s Alexander the Great ready to loot Babylon” as they tried to decide the best gift for the woman Trump was shopping for.

Caitlynn Hitt, Popculture

Alexander visited Babylon twice – once in late 331 BC, following the Battle of Gaugamela, and then again in May-June 323. In 331, the Macedonian king gave his soldiers leave to enjoy themselves but not to loot the city. That would come when they arrived in Persepolis at the end of the January 330.

In 323, the army returned to Babylon in an orderly fashion (in contrast to its ‘march’ across Carmania) and kept its discipline until Alexander’s death on 10th/11th June. Without an established heir to take over command, order started to break down. But this did not lead the Macedonians to turn on the city, however, only each other. The situation was eventually rescued by the ruthless actions of Perdiccas.

***

The Conversation has a long and fascinating article on how ‘Neoliberalism has tricked us into believing a fairytale about where money comes from’. You can read it, here. The writer mentions Alexander several times, most notably when she says that he,

… is said to have used half a ton of silver a day to fund his largely mercenary army rather than a share of the spoils (the traditional payment). 

Mary Mellor, The Conversation

Alexander certainly used mercenaries but to the best of my knowledge they were never in a majority in his army. I don’t have any figures to hand but I am quite intrigued by the question of how many mercenaries he did use so will commit myself to seeing if I can find out this week.

In regards the use of spoils – of course, Alexander did use spoils to pay his men but certainly not as often as some other generals would have done.

***

An interesting article in The National Herald looking at the history of the antagonism between the West and Iran. The writer observes,

The Macedonian conqueror of Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan and Punjab was called Alexander the Great not because of his military achievements, because he took the title of Great from Darius III the Great.

Aakar Patel, The National Herald

To the best of my knowledge, no one calls Darius III the Great. Given his record, why would they. The writer is surely thinking of Darius I. On that point, I have never seen anyone compare Alexander to Darius I. I can only wonder where he got the idea that Alexander’s sobriquet is lifted from Darius rather than his success in battle from.

The first known person to call Alexander the Great was a Roman playwright named Titus Maccius Plautus (254 – 184 BC) in a play named Mostellaria. From what I know of the play, Alexander is given the sobriquet on account of his deeds but I will try and find out more and report back.

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The Carving of the World

The headline reads ‘Vandals paste ‘butcher’ sign on Alexander the Great statue’. You can read the full report here.

Was Alexander the Great a butcher? In answering this question we have to be careful that we don’t do so with a twenty-first century mindset.

The reason for this is simple. If we impose our morality on Alexander we learn nothing about him and only a little – that is not good – about ourselves. Alexander lived, after all, in the fourth century B.C. not the twenty-first A.D.

So what about in terms of fourth century B.C. morality? Was he a butcher? I don’t have a firm answer to this yet, but at the moment I am leaning towards yes. There was no international law that stated what was and wasn’t acceptable in combat back then but there were definitely times when Alexander and his men went too far (e.g. the destruction of Thebes and terrorising of the civilian population in India) in the prosecution of campaign war aims.

No one should be insulted by Alexander being called a butcher. He was a king and a general. That was always going to involve bloodshed. Always. And sometimes, he would go too far. If one wishes to know the real Alexander, one has to accept that this happened.

But also that more happened, or rather, didn’t happen because on other occasions Alexander reigned his men in; prevented blood from being spilt. For example, which was the last city to be sacked before Persepolis? Gaza. Between them, Alexander passed through Pelusium, Memphis, Babylon and Susa without allowing the cities or their citizens to be harmed. He could easily have put any or all of these cities to the sword. His men would have been delighted if he had.

And by-and-bye, though our focus is always naturally on Alexander the conqueror, it is also worthwhile remembering that his life involved more than fighting. We get a glimpse of it in the sources – for example, his love of medicine, of literature, and of philosophy. You may call Alexander a butcher if you like, and in a way, you would not be wrong, but if you do, or if you insist upon its primacy as a way of understanding him you run the very real risk of missing out on the other facets of his character instead revealing only your own prejudices.

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Alexander: March/Spring Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

337
Spring Philip orders Alexander back to Pella (Peter Green*)

336
Spring Parmenion and Attalus lead the Macedonian advance army into Asia Minor (Livius, Peter Green)

335
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)

334
March – April Alexander crosses into Asia Minor; beginning of his anabasis (Peter Green)
NB
Michael Wood*** dates the crossing of the Hellespont to May
The
Landmark Arrian dates the crossing to Spring

333
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]’

332
Spring The Persian Fleet disintegrates (Livius)
January – September The Siege of Tyre continues (Michael Wood)

331
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)

330
Spring Alexander orders the royal palace in Persepolis to be burnt (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander finds the body of Darius (Landmark Arrian)

329
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)

328
Spring Alexander campaigns in Bactria and Sogdia (Michael Wood)
Spring The Sogdian Rock is captured (Michael Wood)

327
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)
Spring
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)

326
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)

NB
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)

325
Spring – Summer Journey down the Indus River (Michael Wood)
Spring Alexander defeats the Brahmins, Musicanus, and Sambus (Landmark Arrian)

324
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)

323
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)

Notes

  • This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know!
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Alexander: January / Winter Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

334/333
Winter Alexander conquers Caria, Lycia, Pamphylia and Phrygia (Landmark Arrian*, Livius)
Winter Alexander son of Aeropos arrested (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander subdues Pisidians (Landmark Arrian)

333/332
Winter Alexander asks Tyrians permission to sacrifice to Herakles in Tyre (Landmark Arrian)
332
January (?) Byblos and Sidon submit to Alexander (Peter Green**)
January-July The Siege of Tyre (Livius, Michael Wood***)
NB Landmark Arrian says that the siege took place between winter and summer

332/331
Winter Alexander into Egypt (Landmark Arrian, Wood)
Winter Alexander is informed that the Persian Navy has been defeated in Aegean (Landmark Arrian)
Mid-winter Alexander visits Siwah (Wood)

331
January Alexander in Heliopolis and Memphis (Livius)
January Alexander founds Alexandria (Wood)
NB Landmark Arrian says Alexandria was founded in ‘winter’
331/330
Winter Alexander takes Susa (Landmark Arrian)

330
Winter Macedonian army enters Persia (Wood)
20th January Battle of the Persian Gates (Livius)
30th January Alexander arrives at Persepolis (Livius)
Jan-May Alexander at Persepolis (Livius)
NB Wood agrees that the Battle of the Persian Gates and Alexander’s arrival in Persepolis both took place in January but doesn’t give the specific date of either event; Green places the sack of Persepolis in January but only with a question mark next to the date

330/329
Winter Spitamenes’ second revolt takes place (Landmark Arrian)

329
January Alexander approaches Kabul (Wood)

329/328
Winter Alexander at Zariaspa (Green, Livius, Wood)
Winter Alexander gives orders for Bessos to be mutilated (Landmark Arrian)

328/327
Winter Alexander at Maracanda (Livius)
Winter
Alexander is based at Nautaca (Livius, Wood)
Winter While in Nautaca, Alexander appoints new satraps (Landmark Arrian)
Winter The Rock of Sisimithres is captured (Wood)
Winter After the Rock of Sisimithres falls, Alexander returns to Zariaspa (Wood)
Winter Callisthenes refuses to perform proskynesis to Alexander (Landmark Arrian)

327/326
Winter Alexander stops at Maracanda and Nautaca (Livius)
Winter Hephaestion to the Indus via Khyber Pass (Wood)
Winter Alexander enters the Swat Valley and campaigns there (Wood)
Winter Macedonians at Nysa [where they get drunk en masse] (Wood)
Winter Alexander attacks the Massaga (Wood)

326/325
Winter Alexander campaigns against the Mallians and is badly wounded. His men are unsettled until they see him alive (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Mallians and Oxydrakai submit (Landmark Arrian)

325
January Alexander campaigns against the Mallians and is wounded (Livius)
NB Wood has the Mallian campaign taking place in December
325/324
Winter Alexander reunites Nearchus and Craterus in Carmania (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander Return to Persepolis (where he orders Orsines to be executed (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander visits Pasargadae where he orders Cyrus the Great’s tomb to be restored (Landmark Arrian)

324
January Alexander meets Nearchus in Carmania (Green, Livius)
January Alexander returns to Persia (Wood)
January Alexander’s second visit to Persepolis; also visits Pasargadae (Wood)

324/3
Winter Alexander requests divine honours for Hephaestion (Livius)
Winter Alexander campaigns against Cossaeans (Landmark Arrian, Livius)

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

***

Notes

  • This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know.
  • As can be seen, I have noted where The Landmark Arrian, Livius, Michael Wood and Peter Green have disagreed on the dates; these notes, however, are not comprehensive. My focus has been on recording what each author has said rather than synthesising the dates.

Alternative/Modern Names
Nautaca – ‘Uzunkir near Shakhrisyabz’ (Wood)
Nysa – Jelalabad
Zariaspa aka Bactra – Balkh

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The Sons of Dionysus

Cause we like to partyyyy

In the summer of 325 B.C., Alexander lead his men across the Gedrosian Desert. According to Arrian (VI.24) ‘[t]he result was disastrous’. When their provisions ran out, the men started slaughtering their pack animals. When their water skins ran dry, they themselves began to fall by the wayside.

Did Alexander make his army cross the desert as a punishment for its mutiny at the Hyphasis River? Perhaps, but I am not so sure. Arrian says that he chose the route

… because, apart from Semiramis on her retreat from India, no one, to his knowledge, had ever before succeeded in bringing an army safely through.
(VI.24)

It is debatable as to whether this is true or not. Arrian says that Semiramis came out of the desert ‘with no more than twenty survivors’. Hardly an army. He also implies that Cyrus the Great crossed the desert. He too survived, with ‘an army’ – all seven of it.

Alexander, therefore, saw an opportunity to outdo Semiramis and Cyrus both. This is far more consistent with his character than believing he wanted to punish his men*.

* Arrian also notes that Alexander took the desert route in order to stay in touch with Nearchus’ fleet and obtain supplies for him.

Diodorus
(XVII.106)
Whatever reason Alexander entered the desert, when he left it, he came into a country named Carmania. It was ‘a well-populated’ land, one that was free and fertile. There, Alexander let his army rest before continuing. When the march did resume, the men wore ‘festive dress’. Alexander himself ‘led a Dionysian comus, feasting and drinking as he travelled’.

Diodorus gives no further details about Carmania. It is not hard to imagine, however, that this celebration was a very bittersweet one, perhaps here the men drank to forget as much as to remember (as at Persepolis).

Arrian
(VI.27)
For the first and last time, Arrian is more descriptive about a celebration than Diodorus. On the flip side, he does not believe what he has read. He describes the Carmanian episode as ‘improbable’. It is not mentioned, he notes, either by Ptolemy or Aristobulos, or, indeed by ‘any other writer whom one might consider to give reliable evidence’.

So what has he read? What does he say? That-

  • Alexander rode through Carmania on a ‘double-sized chariot’
  • Which ‘he reclined [in] with his intimate friends’
  • While they listened ‘to the music of flutes’ (perhaps a favourite instrument – we saw flutists at Persepolis, yesterday)
  • As Alexander relaxed, his men ‘accompanied him making merry’
  • Provisions never ran out – the Carmanian people provided everything along the way that the Macedonians needed
  • This journey was a conscious imitation of Dionysus’ thriambi (triumphs) which he led after conquering India

At Dium and Persepolis, sacrifices to the gods formed part of the celebrations. On the authority of Aristobulos, Arrian says that Alexander also held sacrifices in Carmania. On this occasion, he offered them for his own conquest of India and safe passage across the Gedrosian desert. And as before, there were also games – athletics and literary.

Curtius
(IX.10.24-29)
Arrian’s ‘improbable story’ is Curtius’ statement of fact. Alexander ‘decided to imitate [Dionysus’] procession’. Orders were given

… for villages along his route to be strewn with flowers and garlands, and for bowls full of wine and other vessels of extraordinary size to be set out on the thresholds of houses.

Alexander and his friends wore garlands and listened to the music of flute and lyre. About them on their ‘cart’ lay scattered ‘golden bowls and huge goblets’.

It wasn’t only Alexander who travelled in this way. Wagons were joined together so that they became moving tents (‘some with white curtains, others with costly material’) in which ordinary soldiers could relax.

That’s what Curtius says Alexander did. But what is his’ opinion of it all? Has he calmed down from his rabid description of sex in Babylon and Thaïs at Persepolis?

No.

Alexander’s imitation of Dionysus was an example of ‘his pride soaring above the human plane’.

As such it was a deeply irresponsible act.

For seven days, the army marched drunk and in a state of disorder. It was

… an easy prey if the vanquished races had only had the courage to challenge riotous drinkers – why, a mere 1,000 men, if sober, could have captured this group.

I don’t think Curtius has ever been near a group of riotous drinkers. If he had, he would know that they would not prove as easy to subdue as he thinks!

Be that as it may, despite the Macedonians ‘sheer recklessness’ (for Carmania had not yet been subdued – that’s a fair point) fortune favoured Alexander and his men and ‘turned even this piece of disgraceful soldiering into a glorious achievement!’.

Plutarch
(Life 67)
According to Plutarch, the Carmanian march ‘developed into a kind of Bacchanalian procession’. It lasted for seven days, during which Alexander feasted continually. He and his friends reclined on a ‘dais’ pulled by eight horses.

‘Innumerable wagons’ followed them. There’s no mention of white curtains here, but ‘purple or embroidered canopies’.

While Curtius says that the soldiers decorated their wagons ‘with their finest arms’, Plutarch states that no weapons or armour were to be seen.

Something that was able to be seen were men ‘drinking as they marched’ while ‘others [lay] sprawled by the wayside’.

Plutarch agrees with Arrian that musicians were present. In fact, ‘the whole landscape resounded with the music of pipes and flutes’. And more – ‘with harping and singing and the cries of women rapt with divine frenzy’. Hopefully, for the men’s well-being, they did not have any snakes with them.

Plutarch adds that more than just drinking was involved on this march. He says that ‘all the other forms of bacchanalian licence attended this straggling and disorderly march, as though the god were present’.

After a week, Alexander arrived at the Palace of Gedrosia. There, the army was rested and was permitted to celebrate another festival. One day, ‘after he had drunk well’, Alexander watched a dancing and singing competition in which his favourite eunuch, Bagoas, was competing.

Bagoas won. He sat beside the king. The Macedonians applauded him

… and shouted to Alexander to kiss the winner, until at last the king put his arms around him and kissed him.

This is an interesting end to the chapter. Bagoas, after all, represented a world that the Macedonians did not approve of and, if he had the kind of influence over Alexander that the Orsines Affair (Curtius X.1.26-38) suggests, a power that they could not have appreciated. Yet, there they are treating him in a playful manner. My belief is that Curtius exaggerated Bagoas’ role in Orsines’ downfall, and I think this scene provides indirect evidence of that.

Carmania in Short
Reason To give thanks for being alive
Duration One week
Outstanding Features That anyone was still alive to celebrate it
Result A nice moment for Bagoas

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Thaïs’ Torch Song

I know a girl, a girl called Party, Party girl

Diodorus
(XVIII.72)
We all know what happened at Persepolis: Alexander got drunk and allowed Thaïs of Athens to persuade him to burn the royal palace down in revenge for the destruction wrought by the Persians when they invaded Greece 150 years earlier.

Diodorus adds a few details to this outline. The party was part of a celebration, which included ‘costly sacrifices to the gods’ and games ‘in honour of his victories’.

He says that when Thaïs rose to speak, ‘the drinking was far advanced’. I take this to mean that it had been going on for a long time rather than that Alexander, for example, was blind drunk, otherwise I doubt he would have been physically able to lead the ‘triumphal procession’ that ended with the palace being torched.

Either way, the only other details that he gives us are that the feast was a rich one and that female musicians were present. For when Alexander led the guests out of the palace, they followed, singing and playing flutes and pipes.

***

Arrian
(III.18-19)
As we have discovered over the last couple of days, Arrian is not your go-to man for anything involving fun. His account of the nine-day festival at Dium was perfunctory and he simply ignored the jauntier side of the Macedonian’s one month stay in Babylon.

Things do not improve here in Persepolis. Arrian says nothing at all about the Macedonian celebrations and implies that Alexander alone was responsible for the decision to burn the royal palace.

The reason for these omissions, and – by-the-way, the absence of Thaïs’ name – may stem from the fact that Arrian took his account of what happened in Persepolis from Ptolemy Lagides, her lover, who would obviously have had no interest in reminding anyone of her part in the affair.

Having said that, Ptolemy was not Arrian’s only source, and I very much doubt that Aristobulos – who treats Alexander so favourably – would have identified his king as being solely responsible for the debacle.

But even if he had (and he is supposed to have lived in Alexandria in later years so maybe had to think about keeping Ptolemy sweet) what of other writers? The only explanation I can offer is that Arrian did indeed know about Thaïs’ involvement but simply decided to trust Ptolemy’s account. King’s don’t lie, after all.

***

Plutarch
(Life 38)
Plutarch builds upon Diodorus’ picture of what happened. He explains that Alexander ‘happened to get involved in a rowdy drinking party with his companions’. I have to trust that the translation is accurate but with the best will in the world, I really can’t imagine Alexander just ‘happening’ to join a party.

Anyway, ‘[s]ome women’ were present. They ‘had come in a drunken revel to see their lovers’. As we’ll see in the long quote from Curtius, below, he is talking here about the courtesans who lived with some of Alexander’s generals.

Rather than talk further about Thaïs, here is a link to my post on this chapter of Plutarch’s Life, which I wrote for my Tumblr blog. I’ll now move on to Cutius as the rest of Chapter 38 is taken up with Thaïs’ speech and its consequences.

***

Curtius
(V.7)
Yesterday, we saw Curtius write like an ‘outraged’ tabloid journalist with his hyperbolic description of Babylon’s sexual depravity*. Today, we do not find him any less annoyed.

He admits that ‘Alexander had some great natural gifts’ but snaps that ‘all these were marred by his inexcusable fondness for drink.’

At the very time that his enemy and rival for imperial power was preparing to resume hostilities, and when the conquered nations, only recently subdued, still had scant respect for his authority, he was attending day-time drinking parties at which women were present – not, indeed, such women as it was a crime to violate, but courtesans who had been leading disreputable lives with the soldiers.

And that’s how we know that Curtius was the Roman equivalent of a tabloid journalist. He liked being outraged and considered that it was acceptable to ‘violate’ some women**.

As Curtius’ blood pressure rises, he refers to Thaïs as ‘the drunken whore’. Now, drunk she may have been, but a whore she was not; at least, not in the commonly understood sense. Whores, by which I mean common prostitutes, offered sex. They trod the streets with messages like ‘follow me’ cut into their shoes and that was that. You got no more than their bodies from them.

Courtesans, by contrast, were well educated women who may have slept with their clients but were hired also – or principally – for their companionship, their intellectual and artistic skills. Now, I don’t know what word Curtius used to describe Thaïs but if he used the Latin for ‘[common] prostitute’ he was either ignorant of her true profession or purposefully ignoring it in order to put her down. Given his low of view of women as described above, I suspect the later is the case.

Curtius goes on to say that the Macedonians were ashamed of what Alexander (and presumably, Thaïs) did and that the king, after sleeping off his drunkenness also regretted his actions. This is in accord with what Plutarch says.

* I am aware that Babylon had a very bad reputation in terms of the sexual conduct of its people but Curtius could always have used more sober or neutral language. He is a historian not a moralist

** Here I have to recognise that Curtius may simply be referring to the fact – if so it was – that courtesans had no protection from rape under the law. Such would appear to be the case in respect of prostitutes according to this Wikipedia article. But even if there is only stating a legal fact we may still question the overall tone of his writing which is negative

Persepolis in Short
Reason Celebrate Alexander’s war victories
Duration Short – perhaps one night?
Outstanding Features Ended with one less royal palace in the world
Result Ptolemy sitting at his desk many years later, thinking “… no, I really can’t put that in. Is there any party that is safe to mention??”

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Alexander: December and Winter Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

336
Nov-Dec Alexander wins Greek support for war against Persia (Livius)

335
Nov-Dec Alexander holds festivals in Dion and Aegae (Livius)

334/333
Winter Alexander conquers Caria, Lycia, Pamphylia and Phrygia (Landmark Arrian*, Livius)
Winter Alexander son of Aeropos is arrested (Landmark Arrian)
Winter The Pisidians harass Macedonian army but are subdued (Landmark Arrian)

333
Dec (?) Darius tries to negotiate with Alexander (Livius)

333/332
Winter Alexander asks Tyrians if he can enter the city to sacrifice to Herakles; he is denied access (Landmark Arrian)
Winter The Siege of Tyre begins (Landmark Arrian)

332/331

Winter Alexander enters Egypt (Landmark Arrian, Michael Wood**)
Winter Alexander founds Alexandria (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander visits Siwah (Landmark Arrian)
Green suggests that the foundation of Alexandria could have taken place in April
Winter Alexander is informed of the Persian navy’s defeat in the Aegean (Landmark Arrian)
Mid-winter Alexander visits Siwah (Wood)
Green has Alexander’s visit take place in early Spring

331
Early Dec Alexander takes Susa unopposed (Peter Green***)
15th Dec Abulites surrenders Susa to Alexander (Livius)
22nd Dec Alexander leaves Susa (Livius)

331/330
Winter Alexander reaches Persia (Wood)
Winter Alexander takes the Susian Gates (Green)
Winter Alexander takes Susa (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander subdues the Ouxioi (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander passes the Persian Gates and enters Persepolis (Landmark Arrian)

330/329
Winter Spitamenes’ second revolt is put down (Landmark Arrian)

329/328

Winter Alexander at Zariaspa (Green, Livius, Wood)
Winter Bessus is mutilated ahead of being executed (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Bessus is executed (Green)

328
December Spitamenes is captured (Livius)

328/327
Winter Alexander in Maracanda and Nautaca (Livius, Wood)
Winter Alexander captures the Rock of Sisimithres (Wood)
Winter Alexander returns to Zariaspa (Wood)
Winter Callisthenes objects to Alexander’s attempt to introduce proskynesis (Landmark Arrian)
Winter In Nautaca, Alexander appoints new satraps (Landmark Arrian)

327/326

Winter Hephaestion to the Indus River via the Khyber Pass (Wood)
Winter Alexander enters the Swat Valley (Wood)
Winter Alexander at Nysa (Wood)
Winter ‘The Dionysus episode’ (Green) i.e. Macedonian army gets drunk en masse
Winter Alexander attacks the Massaga (Wood)
Winter Alexander campaign in the Swat Valley (Wood)

326

December Alexander campaigns against the Mallians (Wood)
December Siege of the Mallian city  (Wood)
The Landmark Arrian gives the Mallian campaign as happening during the winter of 326/5

325
December Satraps punished for wrong-doing (Green, Livius)
December Alexander joins up with Craterus in Carmania (Livius)
December Macedonian army reaches Hormuz (Wood)

325/324
Winter Alexander joins up with Craterus and Nearchus (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander orders the restoration of Cyrus the Great’s Tomb (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Orxines is executed (Landmark Arrian)

324/323
Winter Alexander requests divine honours for Hephaestion (Livius)
Winter Alexander campaigns against Cossaeans (Landmark Arrian, Livius)

***

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

***

Notes

  • This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know.
  • As can be seen, I have noted where The Landmark Arrian, Livius, Michael Wood and Peter Green have disagreed on the dates; these notes, however, are not comprehensive. My focus has been on recording what each author has said rather than comparing it to the others.

***

Modern Names
The Mallian city – Multan
Nysa – Jelalabad
Zariaspa aka Bactra – Balkh

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Decay Sets In

Justin’s Alexander
Book XI Chapters 10-15
Part Three
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 Ten
We ended the last post on a high, with Alexander showing his respect for the Persian royal women.

Unfortunately, we begin this post on a low as Justin pinpoints the aftermath of the Battle of Issus as the moment when Alexander first allowed himself to be seduced by Eastern riches and beauty. The Macedonian king was ‘seized with admiration’ of Darius’ ‘wealth and display’. As a result ‘… he… began to indulge in luxurious and splendid banquets’.

Justin also says that it was at this time that Alexander ‘fell in love with his captive Barsine* for her beauty’. In 327/6 she would give him a son, Hercules. If this sounds very romantic, Justin’s reference to Barsine indicates that he considered Alexander’s love for her to be part of his degeneration.

Justin gives a more positive view of Alexander when he describes how the latter appointed Abdolonymus as king of Sidon. He says that Alexander put Abdolonymus, rather than a Sidonian nobleman, on the throne ‘lest they should regard his favour as shown to their birth, and not as proceeding from the kindness of the giver’.

* Daughter of Artabazus

Chapter Eleven
We can’t have too much of a good thing, though, and it is Alexander the manipulator who now returns. In some style, too. Justin relates how his mother, Olympias, ‘confessed to her husband Philip, that “she had conceived Alexander, not by him, but by a serpent of extraordinary size” and that, in consequence of this, Philip had disowned Alexander and divorced her. Alexander visited Siwah, therefore, ‘anxious to obtain the honour of divine paternity, and to clear his mother from infamy’.

To make sure both his wishes were satisfied, the king sent messengers ahead of him to tell the priests ‘what answers he wished to receive’. Upon his arrival, they duly hailed Alexander as the son of Ammon and, for good measure, told his friends ‘that “they should reverence [him] as a god, and not as a king.”‘

Justin says that the announcement of his divinity increased Alexander’s ‘haughtiness’ and brought about ‘a strange arrogance… in his mind, the agreeableness of demeanour, which he had contracted from the philosophy of the Greeks and the habits of the Macedonians, being entirely laid aside.’

Chapter Twelve
In the period that followed, Darius tried to buy Alexander off by offering him money, territory and ‘one of his daughters” (perhaps Stateira II as she was the oldest of the two) hand in marriage. Alexander rejected these overtures. He didn’t want money, he wanted the whole Persian empire. And it was no use offering part of the empire and Stateira II to him as he already possessed both. Alexander told Darius ‘”to come to him as a suppliant, and to leave the disposal of his kingdom to his conqueror.”’

Clearly, Alexander had no time for Darius. I would hesitate to say that this was due to his post-Siwah haughtiness, however; he would certainly have given the same reply at any other point of his life – but this did not influence his treatment of Darius’ family. Thus, when the Great King was informed (by an escaped eunuch) that ‘“his wife [Stateira I] had died of a miscarriage’ he was also told ‘that Alexander had mourned for her death, and attended her funeral’. Importantly, given who Stateira I was, the eunuch gave Alexander’s motive for his behaviour as ‘kindness of feeling’ rather than love, for ‘Darius’s wife had been visited by him but once, though he had often gone to console his mother and her little daughters’.

Following the events of Siwah, this is a very welcome return to nobility for Alexander. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. When Darius thanked him for his kindness towards Stateira I, and made an offer of more money, land and a daughter’s hand in marriage in order to end hostilities between them, Alexander rather proudly – as it seems to me – replied that he had no need of the Great King’s thanks. Nothing,

“had been done by him to flatter Darius, or to gain the means of mollifying him, with a view either to the doubtful results of war, or to conditions of peace; but that he had acted from a certain greatness of mind, by which he had learned to fight against the forces of his enemies, not to take advantage of their misfortunes…”

I find it impossible to read ‘from a certain greatness of mind’ without imagining Alexander looking down his nose at Darius.

Chapter Thirteen
As the Macedonian and Persian armies lined up to fight the Battle of Gaugamela, Alexander gave his men another inspirational speech. Unsurprisingly, and wisely, he met the issue of superior Persian numbers head-on. Don’t be alarmed that the Persian army is greater in size than our own, he told them, Darius is only fighting with more human beings. We are fighting with more men. If nothing else, that is a neat turn of phrase.

Chapter Fourteen
This chapter covers the Battle of Gaugamela, its aftermath and Alexander’s subsequent march to Susa and Persepolis. Justin’s treatment of the new Great King is limited to a comment about how bravely he fought at Gaugamela,

Alexander… made the most hazardous efforts; where he saw the enemy thickest, and fighting most desperately, there he always threw himself, desiring that the peril should be his, and not his soldiers’.

and an acknowledgement of his kindness towards the mutilated Greeks to whom he gave permission to return home from their Persian exile.

Chapter Fifteen
Alexander comes to the fore in an indirect manner here. Justin recounts how Darius was found mortally wounded after being attacked by ‘his relatives*’. Before dying, he commended Alexander once again for his kindness to his ‘mother and children’. He had proved himself ‘a prince, not… a foe’.

Upon reaching Darius’ body, Alexander,

… contemplated with tears a death so unsuitable to his dignity. He also directed his corpse to be buried as that of a king, and his relics to be conveyed to the sepulchres of his ancestors.

So, after the blows done to Alexander’s reputation during the course of these chapters – specifically, the beginning of his medising after Issus and the arrogance that came from being declared son of Ammon – we are able to end on a positive note, one which reminds us of what we have known since the first post in this series – Alexander’s respect for history, and adds something new – his respect for Persian religious practices and fallen enemies.

* i.e. Bessus

Impressions
The clouds are definitely gathering around Justin’s Alexander. If it doesn’t seem like it that is only because Justin prioritises telling Alexander’s story rather than dwelling on the on-going impact of the latter’s decision to adopt a Persian lifestyle. It is interesting, though, that Justin still finds time to give an account of some of Alexander’s more positive actions – it would have been very easy for him to exclude them – think of the way Ptolemy is supposed to have suppressed the role of Thaïs’, his mistress, in the destruction of the royal palace at Persepolis – but no, there they are for us to see and appreciate. Can we say that this is proof that Justin was not wholly antagonistic towards Alexander?

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Fire and Ice

The Nature of Curtius
Book Five Chapters 6-13
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Six
Persepolis and Beyond
Upon their arrival in Persepolis, the Macedonians tore the city apart in their desire for loot. Many Persians were killed while others chose to kill themselves and their families before the invaders could get them.

The violence got so out of hand that Alexander had to issue an order to his men ‘to keep their hands off the women and their dress’. He didn’t order an end to the murder and plunder, though, that was legitimate retribution to ‘appease the spirits of their forefathers’.

Alexander arrived in Persepolis in January. In April, ‘at the time of the Pleiades’, he set out to subdue the Persian interior. Along ‘with 1,000 cavalry and a detachment of light-armed infantry’, Alexander marched through heavy rains towards his targets.

The Macedonians must have been high up because their road was ‘covered with permanent snow’. The soldiers trudged through it loyally but the ‘desolation of the terrain and the trackless wilderness terrified’ them. They thought they had reached the end of the world.

Curtius says that the soldiers ‘clamoured to go back before daylight and sky also came to an end’. But Alexander did not give in. And neither did he criticise his men. Instead, he dismounted his horse and continued on foot. Where the ice blocked his way, he simply smashed it apart with an axe.

It’s impossible to imagine how scared the Macedonian soldiers must have been – here they were at the end of the world and still yet the king went on! There was no question of a mutiny, though. The men were inspired by their king’s example to pull out their axes and follow after him.

Presently, signs of civilisation were spotted. There were ‘flocks of animals wandering here and there’ and ‘scattered huts’. On seeing the Macedonians, the natives killed their weak and infirm and fled to the mountains. Before long, however, Alexander managed to persuade them to return to their homes.

He was less clement to other natives and spent some time ‘ravaging’ their territory. Finally, Alexander met to ‘a bellicose people’ called the Mardians who lived in mountainside caves. Curtius makes them sound like cavemen. The tribe lived off the meat ‘of domesticated or wild animals’ and their women had shaggy, unkempt hair. The hemline of their clothes ended above the knee and they wore a sling around their heads that served as both ‘a head-dress and a weapon’.

The Mardians were used to a rough life and liked fighting but they were soon subdued by Alexander’s men. One month after leaving Persepolis, the king returned there in triumph.

Chapter Seven
The Royal Palace is Torched
We now come to Curtius’ account of the burning of the royal palace at Persepolis. Like Diodorus*, he places the blame for its destruction on the shoulders of Ptolemy’s mistress, Thaïs. It was Alexander, however, who threw the first torch. ‘Large sections of the palace had been made of cedar’ so the fire quickly took hold and spread.

The Macedonians in their camp outside the city saw the blaze and thought an accident had occurred. They rushed into Persepolis carrying pails of water. Seeing their king throw wood onto the blaze, however, they realised what was happening and joined in.

That was the end of the royal palace. The birthplace of kings and laws, of military strategy and terror; from it came armies that bridged the Hellespont (Xerxes I in 480 B.C.), and dug tunnels through mountains**. No more, though. Future kings would build their palaces elsewhere. For Curtius, Persepolis would be lost – not even ‘marked by the Araxes’ – which flowed past rather than through it.

* See this post for Diodorus’ account of the burning of the royal palace

** I’ve not been able to find out what Curtius is referring to although I think it might be another Herodotus reference? If you know, please leave a comment below!

Chapter Eight – Thirteen
These chapters focus on Darius’ last days. At the start of Chapter Eight we find him in Ecbatana. From then on, Curtius has very little to say about the Great King’s surroundings. The following, however, is of note –

Chapter Eight

  • (Darius’ rallying speech to his men)

Chapter Nine

  • Nabarzanes urges Darius to temporarily abdicate in order to allow a new king to make a fresh start in the fight against Alexander. He says that victory is possible as the east – Bactria and India are mentioned as well as the Sacae – is still under his control

Chapter Ten

  • Bessus and Nabarzanes decide to assassinate Darius. They are confident they can replace him as their territory (which amounts to a third of Asia) contains its best fighting men

Chapter Eleven

  • (Patron* warns Darius that Bessus and Nabarzanes are plotting against him)

* Leader of the Greek mercenaries

Chapter Twelve

  • When the Persians set up camp, the men put down their weapons and head off in groups to nearby villages to collect supplies. Curtius describes this as being their ‘usual practice’, though I doubt a larger army would do this!

Chapter Thirteen

  • Alexander chases Darius across country, being guided along the way by deserters
  • Reaching the Persian convoy, he has trouble finding Darius who has been hidden in a covered wagon
  • A Macedonian named Polystratus goes to a spring to quench his thirst. While drinking from it, he notices the wounded animals who had been pulling Darius’ wagon.
  • Polystratus wonders why the animals had been wounded rather than just driven off when he hears cries from within the wagon…

There is a lacuna in the text and Book 5 ends here

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