The Nature of Curtius
Book Ten Chapter 1-10
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The Best Laid Plans
According to Diodorus, Nearchus and Onesicritus rejoined Alexander while the latter was resting in Salmus, a seaside town in Carmania. Curtius says that the two men brought report ‘based partly on hearsay and partly on their own observation’ of an island ‘close to the river-mouth [of the Persian Gulf] which was rich in gold but without horses’ – a very practical concern. As for the sea, they said, it ‘was full of monsters [with] bodies the size of large ships’. These were only repulsed by ‘strident’ shouting.
Nearchus’ and Onesicritus’ next report was based purely on hearsay. The natives, they said, had told them that the Red Sea in India was named after King Erythus rather than because of its colour*. They added that off the (Indian?) mainland, there was an island ‘thickly planted with palm trees’ on which stood a ‘high column’ dedicated to Erythus. The island was a mysterious and dangerous place. Ships that travelled there to trade and search for gold ‘had never been seen again’.
After hearing Nearchus’ and Onesicritus’ report, Alexander told them to proceed up the Persian Gulf until they came to the Euphrates, which they should follow to Babylon.
At this point, Curtius breaks off to give Alexander’s future plans for imperial expansion. Africa was his first target, ‘because of his enmity to the Carthaginians’. After ‘crossing the Numidian deserts, he would set his course for Gades, where the pillars of Hercules were rumoured to be’. Then would come Spain and from there, Epirus.
With these plans in mind, Alexander gave the order for trees on Mt Libanus to be felled and a new fleet to be built.
The chapter ends with Alexander receiving a letter from an agent in Europe informing him that while he was in India, Zopyrion, the governor of Thrace, had been lost at sea during an expedition against the Getae. This had led another tribe, the Odrysians, to rebel. It appears there was also trouble in Greece as well but we do not know any more as the text breaks off at this point.
* Curtius first revealed this information in Book 8 Chapter 9
The Mutiny at Opis
The narrative resumes with Harpalus’ flight from Babylon and his subsequent death*. Following this, Alexander issued his Exiles Decree. You can read more about it at Livius.
Curtius does not really draw a connection between the Harpalus affair and the Decree but if – as Livius suggests – it was intended as a way for Alexander to increase his control of the Greek cities it may have been inspired by the fact that before being expelled from Athens by an assembly of the people Harpalus had been welcomed by her ‘leading citizens’.
The chapter continues with the Mutiny at Opis. This arose after Alexander ordered 10,000 (according to Diodorus and Arrian) veterans to be sent home and 13,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry to be kept in Asia. Upon hearing this, the army suspected that the king intended ‘to fix the royal seat permanently in Asia’. This lead to the mutiny. The rest of the chapter covers the army’s rebellion and Alexander’s speech condemning its behaviour.
* Harpalus was a longtime friend of Alexander. Medically unfit to serve in the army, the king had made him his treasurer. But Harpalus abused his position by hiring courtesans and embezzling money. When Alexander returned from India, Harpalus feared that he would be brought to account for his crimes and so fled to Greece.
The Mutiny at Opis, Cont’d
The next day, Alexander not only denied his men an audience but gathered his Persian troops together and, through an interpreter, told them they were now full members of his army. ‘Asia and Europe are now one and the same kingdom… you are both my fellow-citizens and my soldiers’. Unfortunately, the text breaks off during Alexander’s speech.
This chapter ‘begins’ with Alexander being berated (by one of the ringleaders of the revolt being led off to execution?*) for allowing the condemned men to be executed in a foreign manner and ‘by their own captives’. Alexander, however, is unswayed.
Another lacuna ends this chapter, and as the notes state, we lose a whole series of events, ranging** from ‘the arrival of Persian soldiers to replace the discharged Macedonian veterans’ to Medius’ dinner party and Alexander’s collapse.
* This is suggested by a quotation within the notes
** I should say ‘probably ranging’. As we don’t have the text we don’t know if Curtius includes all the events that the notes mention.
The Death of Alexander
After the initial ‘weeping and… beating of breasts… a still silence like that of desert wastes’ falls over the royal quarters as the Macedonians give thought to the critical question – what next?
Babylon Conference Begins
The Successors meet to decide who will be their next king.
The Babylonian Conference Breaks Down
The Successors’ meeting degenerates into ‘a mutinous uproar’ between the supporters of Alexander’s brother, Arrhidaeus and those supporting the cause of Roxane’s unborn child. When Arrhidaeus’ supporters break into Alexander’s bed chamber those supporting Roxane’s child are forced to flee. They leave Babylon and head ‘towards the Euphrates’. At this point, the Macedonian army seems cleanly divided between the infantry, who support Arrhidaeus, and the senior officers/cavalry, who support Roxane’s child.
Arrhidaeus asks Perdiccas to accept Meleager (leader of the infantry faction) ‘as a third general’*. Perdiccas does so and peace between the infantry and cavalry is restored.
* After Craterus and Perdiccas
Perdiccas proposes a purification ceremony to heal the wounds caused by the recent violence. The ceremony involves ‘cutting a bitch in two and throwing down her entrails on the left and right at the far end of the plain into which the army was to be led’. He then uses the ceremony to extract and execute 300 of Meleager’s supporters.
Perdiccas Divides The Empire Among the Successors
As well as accounting for who-got-what*, Curtius notes the conspiracy theories surrounding the manner of Alexander’s death. The chapter, and book, then concludes with the removal of Alexander’s body from Babylon to Memphis by Ptolemy**. Later, Curtius says, it was transferred to Alexandria ‘where every mark of respect continues to be paid to his memory and his name.’
* For more about the Division of the Empire and Wars of Successors, see this series of posts
* Curtius presents Ptolemy’s action as being normal. This despite the fact that in Chapter 5, he has Alexander ask for his body to be taken to ‘Hammon’ ( – Ammon i.e. Siwah?)