Posts Tagged With: Plataea

Arrian I.9.1-10

In This Chapter
Arrian discusses the scale of Thebes’ defeat

Arrian lists three reasons why the defeat of Thebes ‘shocked the rest of Greece’ as well as those involved:

  1. The size of the city
  2. The ‘sudden violence’ of the Macedonian attack
  3. The unexpectedness of the attack to both conquerors and defeated

Arrian compares the defeat of Thebes to a number of other military disasters, and explains why they were not as shocking:

  1. Athens’ defeat in Sicily during the Peloponnesian War (431-404). The massacre of thousands of men was a disaster for Athens but It Wasn’t As Bad As Thebes because it happened ‘far from home’ and involved mainly allied troops rather than citizen soldiers. The city of Athens itself was unaffected.
  2. Athens’ defeat at Aegosptami (405). Although this defeat led to the city’s ultimate defeat in the Peloponnesian War, IWABAT because only the Athenian fleet was destroyed. Yes, the city suffered damage in consequence but this was restricted to (a) ‘the demolition of the Long Walls’, (b) the surrender of the rest of the fleet and (c) the loss of their empire. Athens herself survived and quickly rebuilt.
  3. Sparta’s defeats at Leuctra (371) and Mantinea (362). Arrian describes these as shocking defeats for Sparta but only because they were unexpected, not on account of the numbers killed – therefore, IWABAT
  4. The Boeotian and Arcadian assault on Sparta under Epaminondas (370/69). As with (3), this was a shock because of its unexpectedness rather than on account of its its scale – therefore, IWABAT
  5. Sparta’s capture of Plataea (427). This, Arrian says, was ‘no great calamity’ because the city was not a big one and only a limited number of people were captured (the notes to my copy of Arrian say that 200 Plataeans were executed)
  6. Athens’ capture of Melos (416) and Scione (421). The capture of both these cities lead to a massacre of the defeated people. However, this WABAT because it was ‘more a source of shame to the perpetrators than any great surprise to the Greek world in general’.

In contrast, the following made Thebes’ defeat worse:

  1. The ‘impetuous irrationality of the revolt’
  2. The speed of the city’s defeat
  3. The general massacre that took place during the battle
  4. The ‘total enslavement’ of the populace

All this was so bad that Thebes’ defeat was put down to ‘divine anger’ – The city was paying the price for past betrayals; namely,

  1. of the Greeks during the Graeco-Persian War
  2. for its capture of Plataea ‘at a time of truce’
  3. … and enslavement of the Plataean people
  4. for the destruction of the battlefield where Persia had been defeated once and for all
  5. for voting to destroy Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War

Alexander did not decide Thebes’ ultimate fate himself. Instead, he left it to his allies. Naturally, having been the victims of Thebes in the past, they were not kind in their judgement. It was decided (a) to raze the city, (b) to parcel the land out among themselves, (c) to garrison the Cadmea (to prevent any attack on the new land owners?) (d) to put the population into slavery, and finally (e) to rebuild Orchomenus and Plataea, both of which had been destroyed by Thebes.

Alexander rubber stamped the allies decision, although he did exempt Pindar’s house from destruction and exempted priests and priestesses, ‘guest-friends’ of his father, and any Theban who had lobbied on behalf of Macedon in the city from being enslaved.

Why was the Macedonian attack unexpected? Well, remember that as Arrian has it, Alexander did not immediately attack the city upon his arrival. He wanted the Thebans to come to their senses. The attack only began after Perdiccas’ unauthorised assault on the palisades. This, of course, may be what happened in Ptolemy’s propaganda rather than in real life.

I said above that Alexander did not decide Thebes’ fate. It could not have suffered so grievously, however, without his approval, even if it was only implicitly given. Is he to be condemned for allowing Thebes to be destroyed? Well, even in antiquity, the destruction of Thebes was regarded as an atrocity.

The destruction of Thebes was no doubt intended to send a very harsh message to the rest of Greece – revolt at your peril – but in this it was not successful. Four years later, Sparta rose up against Macedon at the Battle of Megalopolis and in 322, following Alexander’s death the year before, Athens tried to win its freedom at the Battle of Crannon.

Read previous posts in this series here

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Paul Cartledge on the Oath of Plataea

Paul Cartledge’s talk at the Hellenic Centre (on 12.11.13) in London, which I wrote about here. Unfortunately, it does not include the Q and A at the end.

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Paul Cartledge at the Hellenic Centre in London

Last night I visited the Hellenic Centre in London for the first time to hear Professor Paul Cartledge speak on the subject of the oath of Plataea. The event was sponsored by the Hellenic Society, which  hosted a talk on Alexander by Robin Lane Fox (and which I wrote about here) a few months ago. It is a real privilege and joy to be a member of the society and attend talks by these great scholars. I hope that one day I can follow them to Greece. By the bye, I don’t think you have to be a member of the Society to attend the talks – I wasn’t when I went to the RLF one – so if you see one that you are interested in get in touch with the Society to find out if you can go along.
Cartledge’s talk was recorded so I imagine (as with Lane Fox’s) it will appear on-line soon. As and when it does, I shall post a link or ’embed’ the video on this blog. I didn’t take any notes last night, so instead of writing a report here are three things that made an impression on me, and which are still on my mind.
When Xerxes crossed the Hellespont in 480 BC his passage was impeded by violent weather. It even destroyed the temporary bridge he had constructed to facilitate the crossing. Enraged, Xerxes ordered the sea to be whipped and branded, and for fetters to be thrown into it.
To you and me today this sounds like absurd behaviour, comical even. In 480, though, Xerxes’ actions were deadly serious. The ancients regarded the seas – as well as many other parts of the natural world – as being gods. For them, Xerxes wasn’t impotently lashing the sea, but demonstrating his authority over a divinity. And even more than that, he was treating the god of the Hellespont like a slave – for branding was a punishment for misbehaviour by slaves. Talk about hubris.
In light of the above, I no longer think Xerxes absurd but blasphemous. Indeed, his action really rather takes my breath away. People say that Alexander became a megalomaniac towards the end of his life but at least he loved the gods.
This is as trivial as (α) is serious. During his talk, Cartledge referred to ‘Byzantion, later called Constantinople, which some today call Istanbul’. This happily called to mind Patrick Leigh Fermor’s preference for calling Istanbul Constantinople in A Time of GiftsBetween The Wood and the Water and The Broken Road!

Speaking of Leigh Fermor, have you read this good news about his headstone?
During the post talk Q and A a questioner asked Cartledge what he thought of the famous quotation that the Battle of Marathon was a more important event in English history than that of Hastings. Cartledge didn’t agree with that. In his view, history is not a linear sequence of events, there is no thread that connects us to the ancient Greeks and Romans. In his view, we appropriate history and take from it what interests us. I agree with him – to a point (I don’t mean this in the Lord Copper sense). Yes, we fashion history in our own image. This can be seen very clearly today with many historians’ emphasis on gender relations and how ‘ordinary’ people lived. However, isn’t western morality founded on the Jewish Law? And doesn’t our legal system originate – at least in part – from the Roman code of law? Unfortunately, I just don’t know enough to answer these questions. If the answer was ‘yes’ to either one, though, it would show that there is a point of connection between us and those who came before.
As you can see below, Cartledge’s book is titled After Thermopylae. This, he said, was the publisher’s title. In 2006, Cartledge wrote a book about Thermopylae itself. It sold 20,000 copies. In hardback. Why? Because of a certain film titled 300, which came out in the same year… Next year, the sequel to 300 is released. It picks up what happened, as you might guess, after Thermopylae…! I applaud Paul Cartledge’s publishers for their Odyssean cunning!

Paul Cartledge After Thermoplylae

Paul Cartledge After Thermoplylae, and this writer’s glass of wine

Following the talk, I bought a copy of Cartledge’s book, above, which he kindly signed for me. I mentioned Patrick Leigh Fermor to him and was treated to a short discourse about how the word ‘Istanbul’ has (or may have?) Greek origins. I was bucked by his friendliness and preparedness to share his knowledge.
Having spoken to the man himself and got my book signed all that was left to do was swig my (unmixed) wine. This I did with aplomb and made my way home, a very happy man.
NB (Is there a Greek version of Nota Bene?) As at the Lane Fox talk, I learnt how to pronounce one or two ancient Greek words.
Nike Nee – kay
Venus Veh (short e) – nus
Ares A (short a) – res
Plataea Pla – tee – a

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