Posts Tagged With: Philotas

Honours Even

In this post I continue my look at Ptolemy I King and Pharaoh of Egypt by Ian Worthington. For an explanation of this series, visit the first post here.

Four

… killing Cleitus was a grave error… It was hardly the act of a great general or king: the personal honor that had driven his [i.e Alexander’s] campaigns, and which he expected of others, had long since evaporated.
(p.48)

Worthington is certainly right to call Alexander’s murder of Black Cleitus in 328 BC ‘a grave error’. However, I don’t see the relevancy of this act to Alexander’s status as a general. Great generals become so by winning battles and wars. They don’t become great by behaving  virtuously.

Worthington is on more solid ground when he says that Cleitus’ murder was not the act of a great king. I could not agree more. Kings should be just and merciful to their subjects. Even – especially – to ones who provoke them during drunken quarrels. Of course, they shouldn’t really be getting drunk in the first place.

However, that’s by-the-bye; as usual, I have put in bold the part of the passage that really stuck out for me when I read it.

Worthington presents here the Achillean Alexander: a man driven by ‘personal honor’ who expected others to be similarly honourable. But while I agree with this understanding of the Macedonian king’s character. I question Worthington’s assertion that by the time he killed Cleitus, Alexander’s honour ‘had long since evaporated’.

When? How? The only incident that I can think of that really speaks to this is the Philotas Affair, which took place two years earlier in the summer/Autumn of 330 BC.

But while Philotas’ downfall took place in very murky circumstances that do not reflect well on any of the people who played a major role in it (I think here especially of Hephaestion, Craterus and Coenus who pressed for and conducted the torture of Philotas) I don’t get the impression that it fatally undermined Alexander’s honour.

Had it done so, I think he would have been more concerned about the Macedonians’ supposedly ‘mutinous’ thoughts when they began to ‘pity’ Philotas after his death (see Curtius VII.1.1-4). Instead, the king risked further alienation from his men by bringing Alexander Lyncestis, and the brothers Amyntas and Simmias to trial.

Perhaps the Macedonians were not so fussed about Alexander Lyncestis but Amyntas and Simmias were close friends of Philotas. Their trial would only have put the Macedonians in mind of Philotas whom they now pitied – something that, had he been truly afraid of their ‘mutinous remarks’, Alexander would surely have wanted to avoid. Curtius calls the Philotas Affair and trial of Alexander Lyncestis a time of crisis. It was certainly a difficult time for the king, but not a crisis. Curtius is talking Alexander’s difficulty up for the sake of his narrative.

I’m open to other suggestions on what Worthington means in this passage, but as matters stand, it seems to me that like Curtius with Philotas et al he is simply overstating the effect of Cleitus’ murder on Alexander for the sake of his narrative. The king never lost his honour. It was certainly battered and bruised over the years but even at his death Alexander was acting honourably, and was loved by his men.

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Shields and Public Shaming

The Global Times frames an article on Europe’s future within the context of Macedon’s and Greece’s past. It writes,

In the 4th century BC Macedonia, a Greek-speaking kingdom of Northern Greece, under the leadership of Phillip II, set out to unify the Mediterranean world. Macedonia’s quest for hegemonic stability brought it into a direct conflict with old established Hellenic powers like Thebes, Sparta and most of all Athens.

The ancient Macedonians did not speak Greek. As I understand it, their tongue was a Greek dialect (which could not be understood by the Greeks).

During Philotas’ trial, Alexander asks Parmenion’s son if he will give his defence using his ‘native language’. When Philotas replies that he will speak Greek, Alexander uses this to score a nationalist point against him (see Curtius VI.9.34-36). Ironically, the reason why Philotas decides to use Greek is because he wants more people to understand him.

Rather than use the word ‘unify’, which for me suggests that Philip wanted to make all peoples equal under his rule, I would say simply that he wanted to conquer them. I have to admit here I am no expert on Philip’s foreign policy so what I say could be wide of the mark; however, I don’t get the impression that Philip was an idealist. He was in the business of winning power. Had he lived longer, maybe that would have changed – we’ll never know.

Macedon never came ‘into direct conflict’ with Sparta. In fact, both Philip II and Alexander left the Spartans alone. Not because they were afraid of the Lacedaemonians but because the latter were militarily and politically irrelevent. There was simply no need to waste time subduing them.

The article concludes

Germany must lead Europe without being hubristic toward other EU states. When Alexander the Great, Phillips’s heir, won his first battle against Persia, he dedicated his triumph to Athens and adorned the Parthenon with the shields of the Persian generals.

The exact truth of this statement depends upon which of the sources you read and trust.

Plutarch (Life of Alexander 16) states that the Macedonian king sent 300 shields (‘captured from the enemy’) to Athens. He writes

… over the rest of the spoils he had this proud inscription engraved: Alexander, the son of Philip, and the Greeks except the Spartans won these spoils of war from the barbarians who dwell in Asia’.

Arrian says that Alexander sent 300 panoplies to Athens as

… an offering to the goddess Athena… with the following inscription: Alexander, son of Philip, and the Greeks (except the Lacedaemonians) dedicate these spoils, taken from the Persians who dwell in Asia

If we follow Plutarch, the article is right to say that shields were sent, though not necessarily from ‘Persian generals’.

Was this a humble gesture on Alexander’s part? It is hard to say as Plutarch doesn’t give the king’s motive for sending them.

The article says that Alexander dedicated his victory at the Granicus to Athens. Plutarch doesn’t say this, and Arrian disagrees. He states that the panoplies were sent as ‘an offering to… Athena’. That makes sense; they were going to the Parthenon, after all.

Sending the panoplies as ‘an offering to… Athena’ sounds like a very humble gesture. However, as the notes to my Penguin Classics edition of Arrian point out, Greeks only played a small part in the Macedonian victory. And note what Alexander says about the Spartans. This inscription – and therefore the spoils – have less to do with humility, therefore, and much to do with propaganda (as my notes suggest) and public shaming. These two things are not evidence of hubris but neither are they good examples of behaviour for Germany or anyone else to follow.

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

Torture in Curtius (3)

Concluding my look at Curtius’ use of the word ‘torture’ in his history of Alexander. In this post, I look at its usage in the context of the Pages’ Plot.

Read other posts in this series here

  • Book VIII contains 2 references to torture
  • Book IX contains 1 reference to torture

Book VIII.8.20
The fate of the conspirators in the Pages’ Plot

… Alexander closed the meeting and had the condemned men transferred to members of their own unit. The latter tortured them to death so that they would gain the king’s approval by their cruelty. Callisthenes also died under torture.

Book VIII.8.22
Callisthenes’ fate

Callisthenes was a man of the finest character and accomplishments who had restored Alexander to life when he was determined to die after the murder of Clitus. Alexander had not merely executed him but had tortured him as well – and without trial.

Book IX.7.8-9
Rebellion among Greek settlers is quelled

[The Greek guards] decided that Boxus should be executed immediately, but that Biton should be tortured to death. As the torture-irons were already being applied to his body, the Greeks for some unknown reason rushed to arms like madmen and, when those who had been ordered to torture Biton heard the uproar, they abandoned their task, fearing that the cries of the rioters were intended to stop them.

Here are my observations based on the above quotations. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section

  • In the first six books of Curtius’ history (stopping just before the Philotas affair) the word ‘torture’ is used eight times and in seven different ways. The Philotas affair adds seven more contexts for its use. The Pages’ Plot, however, adds just one (being the reference to an aborted attempt to torture someone):
    • 2 reference to torture being carried out (VIII.8.20, VIII.8.22)
    • 1 reference to torture having been carried out (VIII.8.20)
    • 1 reference to individual motives for torturing during the act (VIII.8.20)
    • 1 reference to an aborted attempt to torture someone (IX.7.8-9)
  • VIII.8.20 On the one hand, returning traitors to their units for punishment makes perfect sense. Of all the soldiers in the army, their fellow unit members would have been the ones most let down by their actions. Let them, therefore, carry out the punishment due. On the other, it also seems to be a very cunning and manipulative action by Alexander: By having the men execute the condemned, he ensures that if there are any more among them who are having second thoughts about his leadership, they are now part of his ‘tyranny’ in a way they weren’t before having taken part in the execution of the rebels. In this light, the return of the traitors and their executions becomes a kind of psychological warfare carried out against anyone still against him.
  • VIII.8.22 Curtius has a very idealistic view of Callisthenes that was not shared by everyone. I would see his description of the historian as another example of his propensity to exaggerate.
  • IX.7.8-9 Biton certainly had a lucky escape. Why did the Greeks rush ‘to arms like madmen’? As I see it, there were two factions in Zariaspa, where this action took place, at the time – the loyalists (those for Alexander) and the rebels (who wanted to return to Greece). The rebels were led by a man named Athenodorus and were the dominant force. Biton was also a member of the rebels. He had a ‘personal rivalry’ with Athendorus and this led him to kill him. Afterwards, Biton tried to persuade ‘most of the people’ that he acted in self-defence but they weren’t convinced. Nevertheless, when ‘Greek soldiers’ tried to kill him, Biton was saved by a mob – surely inspired by his supporters. Biton then bit the hand that fed him by conspiring ‘against those responsible for saving him’. This time, he was arrested, and about to be tortured when the Greeks rose up in arms. I would have suggested that they were inspired by Biton’s supporters (which is what the torturers thought) again except for the evidence of what happened next. We know this because Biton was taken away from the torturers and brought before the people. Curtius says that the sight of him ‘brought about a sudden transformation of their feelings’. Prior to that moment, then, they had been happy for him to be tortured and, no doubt, executed. Having been twice saved from death, Biton finally took the hint and left the city. As for the people, I can only imagine that their actions were informed by the general unrest of that time. It is not hard to imagine members of either party being inspired to take up arms to fight their rivals. Blood had already been spilt, after all, with soldiers from the rebel party killing loyalists in the initial uprising.

As I come to the end of this little survey of Curtius’ use of the word ‘torture’ I now ask myself what I have learnt from it.

The first thing is that Curtius uses the word much more broadly than I would have guessed without reading his text. In the first six books of his history, he makes 8 references to torture using it in 7 different ways. The Philotas Affair contains 17 references overall with the word being used in 11 different ways – 7 of which are new. The Pages’ Plot contains just 3 references but 4 different contexts. Of course, only 1 of those is new. However, that is still 15 different ways in which he uses the word throughout his book. I would love to be able to make some searingly original and profound insight into Curtius’ literary method but I’m afraid what is most in my mind at the moment is a simply appreciation of how flexible the English language is! Curtius will have to wait.

The second thing I have learnt from this exercise is that Curtius is certainly not shy when it comes to discussing torture. Unlike Arrian and Plutarch, he mentions it a lot (specifically with reference to Philotas) and graphically. In contrast to Arrian who omit any reference to Philotas being tortured and Plutarch who passes quickly over it, we find in Curtius Philotas being ‘racked with the most cruel tortures… fire and beatings’ his body swellling ‘with weals’ and Hephaestion, Craterus and Coenus not only interrogating him but striking their former colleague ‘in the face and eyes’ with their spears.

Is there a need for Curtius to be so graphic? It’s hard to say. My instinctive reaction would be to reply ‘no, he is simply being sensationalistic’ but this is not a judgement I can readily make as I don’t enough about Curtius’ society to know where he was coming from. For all I know, in comparison to other writers of his time, he was writing in a restrained manner.

The third lesson I take away is simply how bloody (literally) dangerous it was to fall into the hands of your enemies. From the Greek captives tortured by the Persians (V.5.5-6) to Philotas’ fate after receiving Alexander’s right hand and what can only be described as Alexander Lyncestes’ (and Callisthenes’ – according to Curtius, anyway) judicial murder.

As an adjunct to the above, I might add I now have a new appreciation of the importance of rhetoric and the right appearance in the ancient world. I’m now sure that Alexander didn’t want Amyntas and his brothers to be acquitted anyway but they certainly didn’t do their chances any harm by the way they spoke and the way Polemon wept before speaking. The same goes for Biton who ended not having to speak at all. What this reminds me of is the importance of meaning in antiquity. The world was full of it – much more so than today. It’s easy to forget that.

Insofar as one can enjoy reading and writing about torture writing the posts in this series has been enjoyable as well as eye opening. I’d be lying though if I said that it wasn’t a aspect of ancient life that I am also happy to close the book on as well.

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Torture in Curtius (2)

Continuing my look at Curtius’ use of the word ‘torture’ in his history of Alexander. In this post, I focus on its usage in the narrative of the the Philotas Affair.

Read other posts in this series here

  • Book VI contains 14 references to torture
  • Book VII contains 3 references to torture

Book VI.8.15
They spoke with one voice, but was their motive good or bad?

… the decision was unanimous that Philotas should be interrogated under torture to force him to name his accomplices in the crime.

Book VI.9.9
Alexander speaks to the assembly during Philotas’ trial

When the matter was still uncorroborated, Cebalinus reported it, undeterred by fear of torture…

Book VI.9.31
Coenus challenges our perception of what makes for an act of mercy

[Coenus] picked up a stone which happened to be lying before his feet to throw at Philotas – from a wish to save him from torture, many thought…

Book VI.10.29
Philotas speaks in his own defence at his trial

[Philotas said] ‘If you think torture to be more reliable than oracles, I do not refuse even this method of exposing the truth.’

Book VI.11.9
The trial is delayed

The king returned to the assembly and adjourned the hearing to the following day, either to subject Philotas to further torture in prison or to conduct a more thorough investigation of the entire episode…

Book VI.11.10
Justice or revenge?

The general feeling was that Philotas should be stoned to death according to Macedonian custom, but Hephaestion, Craterus and Coenus declared that torture should be employed to force the truth out of him, and those who advocated other punishment went over to their view.

Book VI.11.13-19
Philotas is tortured

The torturers laid out before Philotas’ eyes all the instruments used to inflict pain. Philotas, on an impulse, asked: ‘Why hesitate to execute your king’s enemy, a confessed assassin? What need is there for interrogation under torture? I planned the crime; I wanted it to succeed.’ Craterus insisted that he also make his confession under torture. Philotas was seized, blindfolded and his clothes stripped from him, while all the time he invoked the gods of his country and the laws of humanity – to no avail, for their ears were deaf. He was racked with the most cruel tortures: not only was he a condemned man but his torturers were personal enemies trying to please the king. Though subjected both to fire and beatings – no longer to make him talk but as punishment – he managed at first to keep not only from screaming but even groaning. But his body began to swell with weals and he could not bear the blows that cut to the bone. He promised to tell them what they wished to know if they put an end to the torture, but he wanted them to swear on Alexander’s life that the interrogation would be terminated and the torturers removed. On being granted both those terms Philotas said: ‘Craterus, say what you want me to say.’ Craterus was annoyed that Philotas was mocking him and he recalled the torturers. But Philotas began to beg for time to get his breath back, after which he was prepared to tell all he knew.

Book VI.11.20
Under Macedonian law, the family of an accused could also be executed

In the meantime word of the torture of Philotas had got around, and this spread panic among the cavalry, the men from the best families and especially those closely related to Parmenion.

Book VI.11.21
Curtius states a fact we still need to remember today

Whether Philotas told the truth or whether he lied from a wish to deliver himself from torture is debatable, for the end in view of both those who confess the truth and those who lie is termination of the pain.

Book VI.11.31
the crime referred to below is that of leading Dymnus’ conspiracy

Once again they applied the instruments of torture, now themselves also using their spears to strike him in the face and eyes, and they extracted from him a confession to this crime as well.

Book VI.11.33
Philotas tries to save his father’s life

[Philotas said he] made haste to execute the plan while he still had the prize in his hands. If they did not believe his father took no part in it, he did not refuse further torture, even though he could no longer endure it.

Book VI.11.35
Demetrius brazens it out

With vigorous protestations and with the confidence which he felt showing in his expression, [Demetrius] denied any plot against the king, going so far as to demand torture for himself.

Book VI.11.36-38
More conspirators revealed

… Philotas’ eyes shifted round, falling eventually on one Calis who stood close by. Philotas told him to come closer and, when Calis showed agitation and refused to come over to him, he said, ‘Are you going to permit Demetrius to lie and me to be tortured again?’ Calis was left speechless and pale. The Macedonians began to suspect that Philotas wished to incriminate the innocent, for the young man had been named neither by Nicomachus nor by Philotas himself under torture but, when he saw the king’s officers around him, Calis confessed that he and Demetrius had planned the crime. Thereupon all those named by Nicomachus, when the signal was given, were stoned to death in the traditional Macedonian manner.

Book VI.11.40
What price truthfulness

While Philotas denied the crime his torture was thought cruel, but after his confession he no longer won pity even from his friends.

Book VII.1.10
Alexander uses the Philotas Affair to eliminate past enemies (Alexander Lyncestes) as well as present, supposed, ones (Amyntas etc were close friends of Philotas)

After Lyncestes’ body was removed, the king had Amyntas and Simmias brought in. (The youngest of the brothers, Polemon, had fled on hearing of the torture of Philotas.)

Book VII.2.4
What happened to Polemon

[Polemon] was a young man in the early bloom of youth, and when the cavalry had been alarmed at Philotas’ torture, he had been carried away by the spreading panic.

Book VII.2.33-34
Curtius on Parmenion and Philotas

At the age of seventy [Parmenion] performed the duties of a young commander, often even those of a common soldier. He was a shrewd tactician and a good fighter, well-liked by his officers and more popular still with the rank and file. Whether such qualities made him covet royal power or only brought him under suspicion of doing so is debatable, for even when the affair lay in the recent past and a verdict was more attainable, it was uncertain whether Philotas, broken by the cruellest tortures, actually told the truth about matters which could not be verified or simply resorted to lies to end his torment. 

Here are some of my thoughts based on the above quotations. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section.

  • Curtius continues to use the word ‘torture’ and its variants in a variety of ways. My break down:
    • 3 references to a desire for someone to be tortured (VI.8.15, VI.11.10, VI.11.13-19)
    • 1 reference to individual motives for torturing during the act (VI.11.13-19)
    • 1 reference to someone acting without fear of torture (VI.9.9)
    • 2 references to someone wanting to save another person from torture (VI.9.31, VI.11.33)
    • 3 references to a willingness to undergo torture to prove a point (VI.10.29, VI.11.33, VI.11.35)
    • 1 reference to the possibility of torture being carried out (VI.11.9)
    • 2 references to torture being carried out (VI.11.13-19, VI.11.31)
    • 3 references to the fear of torture (VI.11.20, VII.1.10, VII.2.4)
    • 1 authorial statement on the value or otherwise of torture (VI.11.21 see also VII.2.33-34)
    • 2 references to torture having been carried out (VI.11.36-38, VII.2.33-34)
    • 1 reference to how the Macedonians viewed torture (VI.11.40)
  • In the last post I noted that Curtius uses the word ‘torture’ eight times in the first six books of his history (up to the Philotas Affair), and that he does so in a variety of ways. As you can see above, this continues to be the case. Of the eleven different contexts in which he uses the word during his account of Philotas’ downfall, seven are new. The ones we saw before are the references to a. someone being willing to undergo torture to prove a cause/point, b. to torture being carried out, c. to the fear of torture and d. to torture having been carried out
  • VI.8.15, VI.10.29VI.11.10VI.11.13-19VI.11.31 are all  indicative of torture being an established part of the Macedonian legal process
  • VI.9.31 At first glance, Coenus’ actions appear to be very merciful. Cruelly, Alexander refuses to let him throw the stone. But this is because he wants Philotas to be able to give his defence. Parmenion’s son does so. Afterwards, Coenus’ attitude has changed.
    At VI.11.10 we se him teaming up with Hephaestion and Craterus to declare that Philotas should be tortured into revealing the truth of his treachery. Whose side is Coenus really on?
    Well, immediately before describing how Coenus picked up the stone, Curtius writes that ‘although [Coenus] had married a sister of Philotas, he attacked him more fiercely than anyone’.
    Where Curtius writes ‘although’ I would say ‘because’. Coenus knew very well, just as the fleeing cavalrymen did, that his close ties to Philotas might put him under suspicion of treachery as well. That’s why he attacked him, and that’s why he spoke up with Hephaestion and Craterus. The suggestion that Coenues wanted to stone Philotas ‘to save him from torture’ seems to me mere wish fulfilment.
  • As I mentioned above, we see in VI.11.10 how Hephaestion, Craterus and Coenus all call for Philotas to be tortured into confessing to plotting to overthrow Alexander. Theirs was something of an unholy alliance: in Chapter 47 of his Life of Alexander, Plutarch talks about how Hephaestion and Craterus ‘often came into open conflict’ (as a result of a, frankly, petty jealousy towards each other’s friendship with Alexander).
    The saying is ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ but clearly not applicable here. I don’t think either Hephaestion or Craterus had anything to fear from their connection to Philotas – it was strictly professional. Their actions may, therefore, be attributed either to a genuine desire to see justice done, to take revenge on Philotas for his crime out of love for Alexander or simply to impress the king. Curtius believes the latter reason to be the case. I think both men were too close to want or need to impress him. I suspect they acted out of malevolence (see how they strike him with their spears) but also a desire to justice to be done. Their love for Alexander would have demanded that.
  • VI.11.21 represents an unexpectedly sober moment for Curtius. It’s the kind of thing I expect Arrian to say! Which is the case with Philotas? Personally, I think he was innocent of the charges against him. He died because of his character rather than actions. And though Alexander bears the chief responsibility for Philotas’ unfair death, Philotas’ enemies within the army – especially Hephaestion, Craterus and (if to a lesser extent) Coenus – also share in his guilt.
  • VI.11.40 is an example of how quickly Macedonian minds could be changed (See also VII.2.3,7 and how quickly the assembly turns in favour of Amyntas, Simmias, and Polemon). Given the fact that prisoners could be executed on the spot (poor Alexander Lyncestes’ fate [VII.1.9]) even before their trial had finished, appearing before the supposedly formal assembly must have been more like facing a mob, sometimes.
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Torture in Arrian and Plutarch

Part 2 Torture in Curtius (I)

This week, the American Senate published a report into the use of torture by the CIA following the 11th September attacks in 2001. You can read about it at The Daily Telegraph here.

The report got me thinking about how often torture is mentioned by the Alexander historians and in what context. As I have Arrian’s, Curtius’ and Plutarch’s books in e-book format I typed ‘torture’ in to the search field to see what came back. Here is what I found.

Arrian
Arrian only mentions torture twice, and both times in connection with the same incident (in VI.30). In the winter of 325 B.C., Alexander reached Pasargadae, on his way back to Babylon from the Hyphasis River. There, he stopped to visit the tomb of Cyrus the Great.
CyrustheGreatTombMuch to his distress, Alexander found that the tomb had been ‘broken into and robbed’. Aristobulos was given orders to restore it.

The desecration of the tomb was all the more vexing for Alexander as it was supposed to be under permanent guard by the Magi. Alexander

… had the Magi who guarded the monument arrested and put to the torture, hoping to extort from them the names of the culprits; but even under torture they were silent, neither confessing their own guilt nor accusing anybody else.

In consequence of this, Alexander was obliged to release the prisoner.

What comes out most strongly when reading this passage is the matter-of-factness of it all. Alexander suspected the guard of wrong-doing, had him arrested and tortured, then released him. End of story.

For his part, Arrian makes no judgement regarding whether he thinks the torture justified or not*. Given that he is not afraid to criticise Alexander on other occasions when he thinks him in the wrong I take Arrian’s silence to be acceptance of what happened. It’s possible he doesn’t care to make a comment but would that be his style?

* I note the use of the word ‘extort’ which is a pejorative one but as I don’t know the original Greek word used it is hard to comment on it

Plutarch
The word ‘torture’ appears three times in Plutarch’s Life of Alexander, and in connection with two separate incidents – the Philotas Affair and Pages’ Plot.

Chapter 49

… Philotas’ enemies brought innumerable accusations against him. He was arrested, interrogated and tortured in the presence of the king’s companions, while Alexander himself listened to the examination from behind a curtain.

Plutarch spends hardly any more time on what happened to Philotas than Arrian did on the Magus but does reveal something of Philotas’ suffering and who at least one of the companions mentioned above was. As he hid behind the curtain, Alexander

… heard Philotas uttering broken and pitiful cries and pleas for mercy to Hephaestion…

This is the reality of torture that Arrian omits. For his part, Alexander is unmoved. In fact, Plutarch has him criticise his old friend.

… [Alexander] exclaimed, ‘Ah, Philotas, if you are so weak and unmanly as this, how could you involve yourself in such a dangerous business?’

I suppose from Alexander’s point-of-view it is a fair question. Whether or not Philotas was really guilty, though, is entirely another matter. That, however, is an issue for another post. To go back to Chapter 49, Plutarch notes that Philotas’ execution and his father, Parmenion’s murder, by Alexander caused the king to become ‘dreaded by many of his friends, above all by Antipater’.

The viceroy had particular reason to worry – not so much because of Parmenion’s and Philotas’ death – but because Alexander also took this opportunity to finally execute Alexander Lyncestis, whom he had held under arrest for the last three years on suspicion of treachery.

This Alexander was Antipater’s son-in-law and had been arrested in Asia Minor but I think Alexander did not want to risk executing him there in case doing so caused a confrontation with Antipater. Now, the viceroy approached the city of Aetolia to make an alliance with them.

Chapter 55
Plutarch does not tell the full story of the Pages’ Plot. As Curtius does, and we’ll come to him in the next post, I won’t go into the details here. In Plutarch’s version, it appears that after the Pages’ conspiracy was discovered Alexander’s agents learnt that (its leader) Hermolaus had asked the court historian, Callisthenes, ‘how he might become the most famous of men’ to which Callisthenes had replied ‘By killing the most famous of men’.

Callsithenes spoke most unwisely. He may have been Alexander’s historian but was not liked in the court. He was proud and vain. This had lead him to refuse to do obsequience to the king when he had demanded it*. That in turn gave his enemies the opportunity to slander him.

If Callisthenes had gone no further with Hermolaus perhaps he might have got away with his loose tongue. Instead, Plutarch says that Callisthenes encouraged Hermolaus to assassinate the king. This, too, came to the agents’ attention.

The conspirators were tortured to see if more evidence against Callisthenes could be uncovered. However,

… not one of Hermolaus’ accomplices, even under the stress of torture, denounced Callisthenes. Indeed, Alexander himself, in the letters which he immediately wrote to Craterus, Attalus and Alcetas, says that the youths had confessed under torture that the conspiracy was entirely their own and that nobody else knew of it.

This was not enough to save Callisthenes’ life. The conspirators were executed and Callisthenes arrested. His eventual fate depends on who you read but the different accounts all end one way – with his death. For the record, Plutarch doesn’t say that he was tortured.

As for the Pages, though, Plutarch gives no further details regarding their torture.

* This was especially damaging as he had apparently promised Hephaestion of all people that he would bow to the king. If this is true, he had made Alexander’s best friend look stupid in front of Alexander – an intolerable insult

***

So, there we are, and I have to say that I was quite surprised by the scarcity of references to torture in Arrian and Plutarch.

Luckily for me, although that is probably not the right word to use, I know that the word crops up quite a few times in Curtius. Well, he is supposed to be interested in the lurid side of Alexander’s life.

Another surprise was that Arrian does not mention it with reference to Philotas at all. Philotas’ supposed treachery is mentioned but Ptolemy – Arrian’s named source for the story – says that Parmenion’s son was put on trial, accused with ‘irrefutable proofs’, and then shot. I wonder if he glossed over what happened out of embarrassment over Philotas’ and Parmenion’s treatment.

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Alexander: November / Autumn Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

336
Nov-Dec Corinth. Alexander wins Greek support for war against Persia (Livius)
Nota Bene
Peter Green* states that this takes place in late summer

335
Nov-Dec Alexander holds festivals in Dion and Aegae (Livius)
Nota Bene
The Landmark Arrian** states that the Aegae festival takes place in Autumn

333
c. 5th November The Battle of Issus (Livius)
Nota Bene
Peter Green suggests that the battle took place in September-October
The Landmark Arrian states that the battle took place in Autumn
Michael Wood*** places the battle in November but doesn’t give a specific date

332
Alexander’s legendary visit to Jerusalem (Livius)
Alexander arrives in Egypt (Livius)
c. 14th November Memphis. Alexander is (possibly) crowned pharaoh (Peter Green)
Nota Bene
Livius states that Alexander visits Memphis in January 331 B.C.
The Landmark Arrian and Michael Wood state that Alexander entered Egypt in winter

330
Alexander in Drangiana (Livius)
The Philotas Affair (Livius)
Alexander in Ariaspa (Livius)
Parmenion is assassinated in Ecbatana (Livius)
Nota Bene
Peter Green has the ‘march to Drangiana’ and Philotas affair take place in or after ‘Late August’
The Landmark Arrian states that the Philotas Affair and Parmenion’s assassination take place in Autumn
Michael Wood states that the Philotas affair and Parmenion’s assassination take place in October

326
Macedonian fleet begins its journey down the Hydaspes River (Livius, Green, Wood)
Birth and death of Alexander’s and Roxane’s first son (Wood)
Nota Bene
Peter Green has the fleet’s journey beginning early in November
The Landmark Arrian states that the fleet sails down the ‘Hydaspes-Akesinos Rivers’ in the Autumn

* Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography (University of California Press 1991)
** The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010)
*** 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.

At the moment, Livius‘ chronology is the one by which I test the others. That may change; I’ll note it if it does.

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The Kiss of Life

V. Proskynesis
(IV.12-13)
Read the other posts in this series

… Callisthenes… without prostrating himself, walked up to Alexander and offered to kiss him. Alexander, at the moment, was talking to Hephaestion, and did not trouble to observe whether or not Callisthenes had properly performed the act of obeisance, but one of the Companions – Demetrius, son of Pythonax – mentioned the fact that he had omitted to do so before going up for his kiss. Thereupon Alexander refused to allow him to kiss him.
…..‘Well then,’ Callisthenes exclaimed, ‘I must go back to my place one kiss the poorer’

Arrian’s source for this anecdote is Chares, Alexander’s chamberlain. We know this because Plutarch names him as such when telling the exact same story (Life of Alexander Para 54).

Plutarch’s account also includes a postscript that may also have come from Chares. In it, he describes how a ‘rift… developed’ between Alexander and Callisthenes as a result of the latter’s refusal to prostrate himself before the king. As a result of this,

… it was easy for Hephaestion to be believed when he said that Callisthenes had promised him that he would do obeisance to Alexander and had then broken his word.
(Para 55)

When I first read this, it seemed to me that Plutarch was implying bad faith on Hephaestion’s part; or, to put it more baldly, that he was lying. When I read ‘to be believed’ I heard straight after ‘even though no such thing happened’.

We know from the Philotas affair that Hephaestion was not beyond acting maliciously (see Curtius VI.11.15) but whether he is lying here I can not say. A feeling about a text – especially one that is a translation – is really not enough to convict a man.

What I would say is that the postscript, if true, definitely provides proof that Hephaestion was not above manipulation. We should not be shocked by this. Indeed, we should not even be surprised: manipulation of one kind or another is part and parcel of all political systems and people’s lives. The polite word for it is persuasion. The real question is whether it is done honestly and for a good cause.

Was Hephaestion honest?
As we have no proof that Hephaestion lied when he said that Callisthenes had broken his word we are bound to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that – at the very least – he believed he was telling the truth (if we go any further we risk slandering Callisthenes).

Was Hephaestion’s cause good?
Callisthenes appears to have been a rather proud man, perhaps one who was easy to dislike; Hephaestion’s actions, though, were more likely inspired by the fact that the court historian belonged to the rival traditionalist party – that is, those who opposed the king’s adoption of Persian customs and dress.

To us, supporting the progressives in Alexander’s court, that is, those who stood alongside the king in his efforts to draw Greek and barbarian together, seems a straight forward decision. Such an inclusive policy is in perfect accord, after all, with dominant ideology of our own age. However, the matter is more complicated than that. It is not at all clear that Alexander intended Greeks and barbarians to be equal* (any more than it is clear in our age that some who profess to believe in equality really believe in any such thing).

Personally, I think Hephaestion’s cause was not only good but necessary. Callisthenes had shown disrespect to the king and for the sake of Alexander’s authority this needed to be made known. If it wasn’t, Callisthenes’ power would continue to rise and Alexander’s, in however small a way, would fall.

***

Why did Arrian not include Plutarch’s ‘postscript’? It could be that he didn’t know of it. If it came from Chares, though, maybe he omitted the story because it portrayed Hephaestion in what might be seen as a bad light. Up till now, the son of Amyntor has been portrayed in a wholly complimentary way. If that continues, I would definitely see this as an act of suppression.

* I’m thinking here of Badian’s reply to Tarn’s essay ‘Alexander the Great and the Unity of Mankind‘ in Historia 7 (1958)

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Divide and Rule

IV. Joint-Command of the Companion Cavalry
(III.27)
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Alexander split the Companions into two separate divisions and appointed, respectively, Hephaestion son of Amyntor and Cleitus son of Dropidas to command them.

The appointment of Hephaestion and Black Cleitus as joint-commanders of the Companion Cavalry was necessitated by the death of its previous leader – Philotas.

Waldemar Heckel takes a cynical view of Hephaestion’s appointment, calling it ‘a blatant case of nepotism involving a relatively inexperienced officer’. This is why, according to him, Hephaestion was only given command of half the Companion Cavalry.

For his part, Arrian is quite clear about why Alexander split the command between the two men. ‘The reason for this step’, he says,

was that he did not think it advisable that one man – even a personal friend – should have control of so large a body of cavalry – especially as the Companions were the most famous and formidable of all his mounted troops
(III.27)

Arrian’s view makes perfect sense. Philotas was dead. Whether or not he died a traitor or an innocent man doesn’t matter; he was dead and Alexander had to consider the possibility that the next commander of the Companion Cavalry might take advantage of his men’s anger and grief at the loss of his predecessor, and use it to launch a second conspiracy.

The way Arrian presents the story, Alexander split the Companion Cavalry to protect himself against treachery even from Hephaestion. Given what we know of their friendship, it seems hardly creditable that Alexander should have such a fear, but who knows what the state of his mind after the Philotas affair was. Maybe he really was sufficiently unnerved to want to guard against every – no matter how unlikely – eventually.

Either way, I am not convinced by Heckel’s assertion a. To the best of my knowledge, Alexander was not given to acts of nepotism b. Hephaestion was not ‘a relatively inexperienced officer’. How could he having been part of the expedition since its beginning?

***

What do the other historians say about Hephaestion’s appointment? Actually, nothing. Unless I have missed a reference (do let me know if I have!), Arrian is the only person to mention it. That is a little surprising as the division and the reason for it were surely very significant matters.

***

Finally, the absence of this information from the other historians suggests to me that it comes to us via Ptolemy and the royal diaries, where it would have been recorded. As a general himself, Ptolemy would have been perfectly aware of the importance of Alexander’s decision to split the Companion Cavalry and recorded it accordingly.

 

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The Fatal Macedonian

Justin’s Alexander
Book XII Chapters 5-10
Part Five
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 Five
In the last post, we saw how Alexander ‘easternised’ and tried to guide his friends and the army towards doing the same. Justin’s exact words are that Alexander ‘desired’ that his friends adopt Persian dress (Chapter 3) and ‘permitted’ his men to marry barbarian women (Chapter 4).

To my mind desired and permitted are positive words. But there is no doubt that Justin himself regarded these developments as a bad thing. He says that Alexander only ‘permitted’ his men to marry barbarian women so that he did,

not appear to be the only person who yielded to the vices of those whom he had conquered in the field

and he talks about Alexander acting ‘as if he gave himself up to the customs of those whom be had conquered.’ (my emphasis).

At the start of Chapter 5, Justin repeats the assertion (made in the previous chapter) that what angered the Macedonians was not simply that Alexander had taken on Persian mores but that in doing so he had ‘cast off the customs of his father Philip and of his country.’

It might have been better for Alexander to row back on his innovations and proceed thereafter more slowly and with greater caution – although in an inherently aggressive society such as his that is debatable – but instead, he turned inwardly against his men for the first time.

Justin describes the king as showing ‘a passionate temper towards those about him, not with a princely severity, but with the vindictiveness of an enemy’. He states that Philotas’ and Parmenion’s execution came about as a result of their criticising the king’s behaviour.

Parmenion’s and Philotas’ executions drove a wedge between the king and his men. What he has done to the ‘innocent old general and his son’, they said, we must expect to happen to ourselves.

What was Alexander’s response? Did he reassure his men that this would not happen*? No. He manipulated them into writing letters home, letters which he then took possession of and read. On doing so,

… he put all those, who had given unfavourable opinions of his conduct, into one regiment, with an intention either to destroy them, or to distribute them in colonies in the most distant parts of the earth.  

It’s one thing to adopt foreign customs, but quite another to treat his own men so badly. The Justinian anti-Alexander propaganda machine is getting into its stride now.

* In the same way he reassured Philotas’ relatives that they would not be punished along with him by repealing the law which allowed for the relatives of a condemned man to be executed as well (Curtius 6.11.20)

Chapter Six
Propaganda it may have have been, but true it also was*. And that was Alexander’s problem – he made these rods for his own back. For example, the king’s murder of Black Cleitus after the latter ‘defended the memory of Philip’ during a drunken party.

To his credit, though, Justin doesn’t simply say ‘Alexander got drunk and killed Cleitus out of pride’. He also relates the king’s regret, his attempt to kill himself, his continued remorse and realisation of how dreadful he must now appear to his men. In the end, Alexander was saved from his grief by his men, and Callisthenes, in particular. The wedge between them, it seems, was not unbridgeable.

* I’m giving Justin the benefit of the doubt here as Curtius (7.2.35-38) and Diodorus (XIII.17.80) also mention the incident.

Chapter Seven
… and yet, still Alexander persisted with his desire to be treated as if was a Persian monarch. Thus, though admittedly with hesitation, ‘he gave orders that he should not be approached with mere salutation, but with adoration’.

Black Cleitus’ death had not lessoned the opposition of the Macedonians. Callisthenes refused to prostrate himself to the king. And, having saved Alexander’s life, now lost his own to him. I wonder if that is why Justin made sure to mention the historian’s role in saving Alexander’s life as it now makes the his death all the more poignant – and bitter.

Several Macedonians died because they refused to indulge Alexander’s whim. But they did not die in vain; at least, not completely – Justin states that while the ‘custom of saluting their king was… retained by the Macedonians, adoration [was] set aside’.

In the Daedalian Mountains, Alexander received the submission of Queen Cleophis. Justin adds tartly that she ‘recovered her throne from him by admitting him to her bed’.

Curtius (8.10.35-36) also mentions Cleophis, though he only says that – according to some – it was simply her beauty that won her back her throne. He recognises, however, that at some point, she did give birth to a son which she named Alexander.

The Notes to my edition of Curtius cite A V Gutschmid (n.68) who said that Cleophis was a Roman invention*. I can well believe it. Even if Alexander did not abstain from sex, as Plutarch suggests (with the exception of Barsine), the respect he had for women surely makes the scenario given by Justin unlikely.

* An allusion to Cleopatra VII

Chapter Eight
The end of this chapter marks the end of Alexander’s eastward journey. Worn out by the constant travel and war, the Macedonian army begged their king to take them return home. Rather surprisingly (to me, anyway) given the antagonism between them since his adoption of Persian dress and customs, Alexander agreed to the men’s request.

Chapter Nine
This chapter covers more of Alexander’s battles, including the occasion when the king leapt into the city of the Sigambri* where he fought ‘alone against thousands’ until he was felled by an arrow. Typically, the ‘curing of the wound caused him more suffering than the wound itself.’

* Or, the Mallian city (See Arrian 6.9-12 and Plutarch Para. 63); Curtius calls it the City of the Sudracae (9.4.26-33; 9.5.1-21). Diodorus deals with the assault in VIII.17.98-99 but it isn’t clear to me from his narrative where the city was located

Chapter Ten
Alexander had returned to Babylon, where,

many of the conquered people sent deputations to accuse their governors, whom Alexander, without any regard to his former friendship for them, commanded to be put to death in the sight of the deputies.

I can’t decide whether Justin means this statement to be taken positively or otherwise.

On the one hand, a just judge should not be thinking of friendships when trying cases.

On the other, I do get the impression that when Justin says the governors were put to death ‘in the sight of the deputies’ Alexander was using the executions as a means of intimidation. But again, perhaps that was a good thing for him to do.

Justin concludes with a brief reference to the Susa Weddings. Alexander, he says, married Stateira II. He had his leading men marry

… the noblest virgins… in order that the impropriety of the king’s conduct might be rendered less glaring by the practice becoming general.

This is the third time Alexander has acted along these lines*. Given the king’s pride, I think it is better to take this statement as Justin’s opinion rather than of fact.

* After asking and permitting his friends and army to wear Persian dress and marry barbarian women, as described above

Impressions
The storm clouds have definitely broken. And yet, Justin still mentions aspects of Alexander’s behaviour that could be taken positively. I have to give him credit for that. What the above chapters have really brought home to me is the fact that the Macedonian army’s estrangement from its king – in Justin’s eyes – was wholly connected to their love for Philip. I am not used to thinking of Philip II as a king beloved of his men.

One last point – Justin’s narrative contains a number of errors. For example, his assertion that Parmenion and Philotas were executed after criticising Alexander’s adoption of Persian dress and customs, and that Parmenion was tortured before being killed. A list of the mistakes are for another post; for now, I just wanted to acknowledge them here lest anyone thought they weren’t in my mind.

 

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Death in a Cold Climate

The Nature of Curtius
Book Seven Chapters 1-3
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter One
Old Scores Are Settled
Following Philotas’ execution, Alexander Lyncestes was put on trial and executed. Alexander Lyncestes’ brothers had been killed by Alexander III in the purge following the latter’s accession to the throne. Alexander Lyncestes had saved his skin on that occasion by being ‘the first to salute Alexander as king’. Now, however, stage fright overtook the Lyncestian and rendered him unable to give a defence of himself. Curtius presents his death as little less than a summary execution during the trial.

The chapter continues with the trial of Amyntas and Simmias (the sons of Andromenes) who were charged with being part of Philotas’ conspiracy and as well as with other minor misdemeanours. Despite the fact that a third brother, Polemon, had deserted after hearing about Philotas’ torture, Amyntas was able to put up a very good defence.

As with the trial of Philotas, those of Alexander Lyncestes and Andromenes’ sons all took place indoors.

Chapter Two
Parmenion’s Downfall
The trial of Amyntas and Simmias was halted when guards brought in Polemon who had just been caught. Amyntas took his brother’s arrival in hand and succeeded in winning over not only the Assembly but Alexander, too. As a result, the trial ended with all the brothers’ acquittal.

After the trial, Alexander turned his thoughts to Parmenion. He ordered the general’s friend, Polydamas, to ride to Ecbatana with three letters – two for Parmenion (one in Alexander’s name and one written as if by Philotas*) and one for the other generals there. The latter contained the order to murder his friend.

Knowing how quickly rumour could travel, and how fatal it would be for him if Parmenion were to hear of Philotas’ death, Alexander ordered Polydamas to make haste. When the latter left the Macedonian camp, therefore, he did so on camelback**. In order to shorten their journey, Polydamas and his Arab guides (or guards) rode across ‘stretches of arid desert’. After ten days, they arrived in Ecbatana.

The letters were handed over to their recipients. The next day, Parmenion was stabbed to death in a grove.

* Presumably to make sure that Parmenion was distracted while the generals unsheathed their weapons

** And, Curtius says, dressed as an Arab. As Arabia was not on Polydamas’ route, perhaps this is an example of Curtius not knowing his geography (see below) or of him knowing that Arabs did indeed travel across the desert between Drangiana and Media.

Chapter Three
Mountain Bound
With Parmenion’s death, the Philotas Affair was finally over. Alexander now struck camp and led his army out of Drangiana and into Arimaspia – the land of the Euergetae, the Benefactors, whose kindness had once saved the army of Cyrus the Great.

Four days into his march across Arimaspia, the king learnt that Satibarzanes had returned to Aria. Rather than go back to confront the traitor himself, Alexander sent his friend Erygius along with Caranus, Artabazus and Andronicus to do so for him.

As for Alexander, he stayed in Arimaspia long enough to reward the natives for helping Cyrus, before proceeding to Arachosia. There, he subdued the natives (‘whose territory extends to the Pontic Sea’ Curtius says, inaccurately*) and met Parmenion’s soldiers who had been brought out as reinforcements. There was no backlash between them.

With his army now strengthened, Alexander moved on to the land of the Parapamisadae – ‘a backward tribe, extremely uncivilized even for barbarians’. Their country ‘touches Bactria to the west and extends as far as the Indian Ocean in the south’. In Alexander’s day, Bactria lay due north ( and Aria to the west) while Arachosia and the Oreitae stood between the Parapamisadae and the ocean.

Curtius writes that Paropamisus** is such a cold and barren land few trees grow there, and there is ‘no trace… of birds or any other animal of the wild’. It seems that even the sun rarely comes that way for the ‘overcast daylight, which would be more accurately called a shadow of the sky, resembles night and hangs so close to the earth that near-by objects are barely visible’.

The cold caused the Macedonian army great suffering as it trudged eastwards. Men suffered from frost-bite, snow-blindness and exhaustion; those who stopped to rest became too stiff to get up again.

Alexander did his best to help his men, and he lifted them up and supported them with his own body. ‘At one moment he was at the front, at another at the centre or rear of the column, multiplying for himself the hardships of the march’. That is why, despite all, they loved him so much.

Presently, the army came to ‘a more cultivated area’ where it set up camp.

The soldiers needed to rest – before them lay the Caucausus Mountains (i.e. the Hindu Kush)

In one direction it faces the sea that washes Cilicia, in another the Caspian, the river Araxes and also the desert areas of Scythia. The Taurus range, which is of lesser height, joins the Caucasus, rising in Cappadocia, skirting Cilicia and merging into the mountains of Armenia. Thus interconnected in a series, these ranges form an unbroken chain, which is the source for practically all the rivers of Asia, some flowing into the Red***, some into the Caspian, and others into the Hyrcanian**** and Pontic Seas.

Obviously, Curtius’ geography is inaccurate. What the above quotation shows, however, is how much smaller the world was for him. That’s not something I dwell upon often enough so I record it here as much for my benefit as anyone else’s.

Curtius says that the Macedonian army crossed the Caucasus in seventeen days. Along the way, it passed the ‘rocky crag’ where ‘Prometheus was bound’. At the foot of the Caucasus Alexander decided to build a new city.

* The Pontic Sea is the Caspian. In Alexander’s day, and surely afterwards?, a number of countries separated Arachosia from the Pontic. For example, Drangiana, Aria, Parthia and Hyrcania.

** Curtius doesn’t give us the name of the Parapamisadae’s land; ‘Paropamisus’ is what Diodorus calls it

*** The Persian Gulf

**** The Hyrcanian, Caspian and Pontic Sea are, of course, all one.  The Notes suggest that Curtius is ‘mistakenly’ talking about different parts of the same water

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