Posts Tagged With: Polyperchon

The Road to Marakanda – Spring 328 B.C.

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

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

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

As for Alexander himself, he

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Master of the Battle and Green Field

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once the commands had been handed out, the

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

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

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

For example,

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


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

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

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

* Or directly to Alexander – see Arrian III.30

Categories: Hephaestion Amyntoros | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Broken Roads and Men

The Nature of Curtius
Book Five Chapters 4-5
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Four
The Susian Gates are forced open
The whole business of the Siege of the Susian Gates reads like a more challenging version of the Uxian siege. We have seen how on both occasions the defile worked against Alexander (albeit in different ways). Now, just as a guide showed Tauron the way to Medates’ town, Alexander found another guide to take him through the mountains to Ariobarzanes’ camp.

Before setting Alexander on his way, Curtius gives us a run down of Persia’s topography. Enclosed by mountains on one side and the Persian Gulf on the other, the country contains a fertile and ‘extensive plain’. The richness of the soil comes from the Araxes River which ‘encourages a greater growth of vegetation’ than any other. Persia, Curtius says, has a ‘healthier climate’ than anywhere else in Asia. It’s easy to see how civilisation was able to form there.

It all sounds very splendid. For Alexander, though, it was also very far off. His guide had warned him that the path to Ariobarzanes’ camp would be a difficult one, and so it proved. Along the way, they encountered ‘impossible crags and precipitous rocks that time and again made them lose their footing’, then there were the snow drifts and the fear that darkness in enemy country brings.

Despite these difficulties, and lingering suspicions over the guide’s loyalty, however, Alexander and his men reached the top of the mountain path. There, they divided in two with Alexander ordering Philotas, Coenus, Amyntas and Polyperchon to take an easier path, while he himself – accompanied by his mounted bodyguard – proceeded along a higher route.

The king met no difficulties until lower down when the road became interrupted by a chasm. What remained of it was blocked by tree branches. That night, the wind howled all around them.

The next day, Alexander wiped out a Persian outpost. With Craterus, who had brought the main part of the Macedonian army back through the defile, and Philotas et al, he attacked Ariobarzanes’ base. The battle was hard fought with Ariobarzanes managing to break through the Macedonian centre but to no avail.

From what Curtius says, it appears that that at one part Ariobarzanes fled from the battlefield and tried to enter Persepolis, only to be turned away. He then went back to the Susian Gates and fought alongside his men until being killed.

Chapter Five
For Shame
Alexander had won the Gates but was still wary of the country. Not because there might be Persians about, but because it was broken, and there were ‘deep ditches with steep sides’ on either side of the road.

While on the road, a messenger from Persepolis arrived with a letter from Tiridates, the ‘guardian of the royal moneys’. Come quickly, he said, before the people pillage the treasury.

Alexander set off with his cavalry and, after a night long journey, arrived at the river Araxes. There, the Macedonians demolished some nearby villages to make a bridge.

It is here that Curtius says Alexander met a colony of mutilated Greeks, placed here by the Persians for their amusement. The Notes suggest that the story is a fiction, included to remind the reader ‘of the past atrocities of the Persians’.

Alexander offered to send the men home, but after a debate they elected to stay. Shame, and a desire to keep the wives and children they had found in Persia won the day. Accepting this, Alexander gave them money, clothing, sheep, cattle and seed-corn to till and sow.

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The Macedonian Army’s Formation

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 56, 57 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Oversleeps
Macedonian Army Forms Up Against Persians

The Story

Chapter 56
That night, Alexander lay in his bed pondering the size of the Persian army and the ‘decisive nature of the impending battle’. Whichever army was the strongest would win the day, and win everything. But which would triumph? Alexander didn’t know and this uncertainty kept him awake until the early hours of the next day when his concern finally gave way to sleep.

Dawn came and went and Alexander slept on. This pleased his Friends who thought ‘that the king would be all the keener for the battle’ if he woke up well rested.

However, as the sun continued its rise in the east, Alexander continued to sleep. Parmenion used his authority as Alexander’s second-in-command to order the Macedonian army ‘to make ready for the battle’. The other Friends, meanwhile, entered Alexander’s bed chamber to try and rouse him. After some effort, it seems, they succeeded.

The Friends were astonished at Alexander’s ability to rest for so long. How could he be so unconcerned? Alexander replied that Darius ‘had freed him from all anxiety by assembling all his forces into one place’. This day would decide everything, ‘and they would be saved toils and dangers extending over a long period of time’.

No doubt after completing his toilette and eating, Alexander called his officers together and gave a rousing speech. By now his army was ready to move. He lead it towards the Persian line. As at the Granicus River and Issus, the cavalry rode ahead of the infantry.

Chapter 57
Diodorus dedicates this chapter to giving an account of the formation of the Macedonian army and a brief explanation of how it approached the Persian force.

Cavalry from Right to Left

  • Royal Squadron under Black Cleitus
  • Friends under Philotas son of Parmenion
  • Seven squadrons also under Philotas son of Parmenion
  • Peloponnesians and Achaeans under Erygius of Mitylene
  • Phthiotes and Malians also under Erygius of Mitylene
  • Locrians and Phocians also under Erygius of Mitylene
  • Thessalians under Philip

Diodorus states that Alexander placed Cretan archers and Achaian archers ‘next’ to the Thessalians.

Infantry from Right to Left

  • Silver Shields under Nicanor son of Parmenion (behind the Royal Squadron, Friends and seven squadrons)

Diodorus classes the following as battalions

  • Elimiotes under Coenus
  • Orestae and Lyncestae under Perdiccas
  • Unidentified battalion under Meleager
  • Stymphaeans under Polyperchon
  • Unidentified battalion under Philip son of Balacrus
  • Unidentified battalion under Craterus

The Persian army was much larger than the Macedonian; to prevent the enemy from outflanking him, Alexander ‘kept his wings back’ from the front line. His response to the threat posed by the scythed chariots was to order the infantry to clash their shields when the chariots approached in order to scare their horses into turning back.

If that didn’t work, the men were told to simply move to one side and allow the chariots to pass through the gap. The horses and their riders would then be sitting ducks (my phrase not Alexander’s!) for Macedonian sling and spear.

As usual for the king, Alexander himself rode on the right wing with the royal squadron.

Finally, Diodorus says that Alexander moved the army forward in an oblique (i.e. slanted) line – he wanted to get to the Persians first and ‘settle the issue of the battle by his own actions’.

First of all – I have had to guess at one or two of the proper nouns above. Apologies if you see any incorrect ones (let me know in the comments if you do and I’ll amend the post).

The story of Alexander oversleeping is a very good one. The fact that he couldn’t sleep for worry shows his humanity in a very simple and perfect way.

For me, Chapter 57 is notable for who it omits to mention for as much as who it does. For example, where is Hephaestion? He may have been Alexander’s closest friend but it seems that – according to Diodorus – at Guagamela he was not yet senior enough to command a battalion of the Macedonian army.

I was a little surprised that Diodorus didn’t give Parmenion’s location. It appears from Chapter 60, however, that he was fighting on the left wing next to the Thessalian cavalry. Being Alexander’s deputy he was probably in overall charge of the left wing.

Those of you who know Alexander’s army well will have noticed an anachronism in Diodorus’ desciption of it. According to the Footnotes, ‘Silver Shields’ only came into use as a term to describe the hypaspistae (Shield Bearers) during the diadoch period. It originated from the ‘introduction of silver and gold trappings in 327′ presumably on the soldiers’ shields.

From Alexander’s Crusade by Professor Tufton Frobisher-Smythe (OUP 1902)
The Battle of Gaugamela is sometimes referred to as The Battle of Arbela in deference to the village of that name, near which Alexander and Darius III clashed. However, Gaugamela is the more accurate name as that is where the two armies actually were.

That the battle should be called The Battle of Gaugamela is highlighted in certain early manuscripts of Arrian’s history where he refers to an another battle that really did take place at Arbela even as Alexander and Darius were fighting one another a few miles away. The combatants were a number of Macedonians and Persians. Arrian writes,

“The men on both sides were stragglers. Messengers had previously come from the main army of both kings and told them to make for Arbela ‘as that is where all would be decided’. So they did. Of course, the messengers meant Gaugamela but the men did not realise this. Thus, when they arrived outside Arbela and saw each other both assumed that the enemy in front of them were the sole survivors of a mighty battle that had already taken place. That there were no bodies nearby did not occur to anyone as reason to doubt this assumption. As a result of this mistake, the stragglers decided to fight each other for the honour of their late kings and country. The Macedonians won and claimed the Persian Empire for themselves. They were very disappointed when messengers from the main army reappeared to tell them what had happened at Gaugamela.”

An undeniably curious episode that no other ancient historian mentions. Did it really happen? Or was Ptolemy (or Arrian for that matter) drunk when he wrote it?

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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