- Perdiccas voted for Roxane because as the most senior officer in the army he had control of her.
- Nearchus voted for Heracles because he had married Barsine’s daughter, and so was Heracles’ brother-in-law.
- Ptolemy wanted the generals to rule because he knew no one man could rule the empire and because he himself was very popular with the men – very useful if the generals could not reach a consensus and needed a ‘nudge’ in the right direction.
- I don’t know enough about Aristonus to know why he chose to support Perdiccas. It may be that he genuinely thought that Perdiccas should be their leader on account of Alexander giving him his ring or maybe Perdiccas had promised him a reward for his loyalty. In 321/0, Aristonus was given command of a mission to defeat the kings of Cyprus who had allied themselves with Ptolemy.
- Meleager’s suggestion that the phalanx was Alexander’s successor was an irresponsible and ridiculous one; it was surely no more than a brazen attempt to grab power by Meleager himself. If this is correct, it is ironic that his plan was undone by a member of the infantry. But if we can fault Meleager for his lack of subtlety, we can’t fault his persistence. Though if he really turned to Arrhidaeos just to spite Perdiccas, he was a shallow and mean minded man.
Posts Tagged With: Ptolemy I Soter
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.
Ptolemy was not in [Parmenion’s or Antipater’s] league, and even under Alexander was never a general, but it is possible that because of his relationship with Alexander, Philip had him on the Macedonian left wing with the young heir.
Even under Alexander, [Ptolemy] was never a general…
In yesterday’s post, I said that I disagreed with this idea. How can I say that, though, when – as I must admit – I don’t know how a man became a general in Philip’s or Alexander’s army.
But, does anyone?
Ian Worthington is quite sure that Ptolemy was not a general. Frank L. Holt, in Into the Land of Bones, is of a different opinion. Here are some quotes from his book,
Out of the one shaft flowed a fatty substance so strange that the Macedonian general Ptolemy summoned his king and the royal soothsayers.
… the work progressed under the supervision of three Macedonian generals: Ptolemy, Perdiccas, and Leonnatus.
Subsequently, a few of Alexander’s surviving generals felt free to proclaim themselves kings… Ptolemy in Egypt…
So, who’s right? I suspect both and neither. We don’t know; we just don’t know for there is no text that tells us how it happened. This leaves historians free to make up their own minds.
In respect of Ptolemy, Holt says yea, while Worthington says nay. And me? Well, after joining the Royal Bodyguards (Arrian III.27) Ptolemy certainly joined the upper ranks of the Macedonian army. Not long later, he was granted his first independent command (Arr. III.30). In India, he was put in charge of special missions by Alexander (Arr. IV.29) and led a division of the army during the march home (Diodorus XVII.104). These are all the kinds of jobs that I would expect a general to undertake; therefore, while I admit the fragility of my position, I believe whole heartedly that Ptolemy was a general.
Just over a year ago, I wrote this post in which I disparaged the idea that Ptolemy I Soter could be responsible for the claim that Alexander forced his men to shave after almost losing an unnamed battle (but perhaps that of Issus) when a Persian soldier realised he could kill Macedonian soldiers more easily by grabbing hold of their beards and throwing them to the ground first.
I happened to return to the issue in April this year, here. A few months on, I still maintain that the idea of Alexander almost losing a battle because of his men’s beards is nonsense.
However, I have come across evidence to suggest that there really was a tradition that Alexander made his men shave in case their beards were used against them by their enemies.
I haven’t made an exciting new discovery. If you know your Plutarch, you will know which text I am about to quote. It comes from his Life of Theseus. In Chapter 5, Plutarch tells us about a tribe called the Abantes who were experts at close-order combat. He writes,
… in order to deny their enemies a hand-hold on their hair, they cut it off. No doubt Alexander of Macedon understood this, too, when he gave orders to his generals, so we are told, to have the beards of their Macedonians shaved, because these offered the easiest hold in battle.
I wonder: Plutarch’s assertion seems a very reasonable one. Could he be representing a true tradition and St Synesius, not so much a fake one, but a tradition that saw the original information – perhaps Ptolemy’s – embellished to the point where fiction overtook reality?
I was never fond of the Macedonians long hair in Oliver Stone’s Alexander film. As far as I was concerned, only barbarians had such flowing locks; depicting the Macedonians with them was just another absurdity in a film that already had several.
However, He Has A Wife You Know may just have put me right. In this post, the author focuses mainly on beards, but links both them and long hair when he writes,
For the Greeks facial hair, and in particular beards, denoted masculinity. Find any Greek vase depicting Greek men and you’ll witness this simple rule, beardless males are youths, those with beards are men. For a society that prized masculinity as highly as it did the very symbol of that was something quite sacred, beards weren’t to be messed with.
I have to be a bit careful here as I really don’t know much about Macedonian social customs. For all I know, the Macedonians liked having long hair and beards but did not attach the same significance to them as Greeks did.
However, while they formed a distinct society to the men down south, the two did share some important customs (e.g. religion) so it is not beyond the realms of possibility – perhaps we may say it is very likely – that they both looked at long hair and beards in the same way, too, as masculinity was definitely very important to both. If so, I owe Oliver Stone an apology.
And that is the beauty of the internet. It helps you to learn, to write, to discover, to correct, and ultimately, to improve.
The Canadian edition of The Huffington Post has published an article on the value and possibilities offered by sharing. It begins badly, improves a little before descending back into error.
The headline claims that “Alexander the Great Would Probably Have Used Uber”. He would have done no such thing. Alexander was not interested in sharing. He declined to share power with Darius III (e.g. Diodorus XVII.39, Justin XI.12) and got angry when Hermolaus stole the chance of glory from him during a hunt (Arrian IV.13, Curtius VIII.6.7). Alexander could be a very generous man but he was the king and acted like it.
The second paragraph reads,
Enter the Library of Alexandria. As Alexander the Great consolidated his control of the ancient world, he tasked Ptolemny Lagides (one of his leading generals) with “collecting all the worlds’ knowledge” and then sharing it with scholars, royalty, and wealthy bibliophiles throughout the world. At its peak, the library of Alexandria contained over 400,000 manuscripts.
“Enter the Library of Alexandria”. As the first paragraph begins ‘In the third century BC…’ we are now under the impression that this is when Alexander lived and the Library was formed. In fact, both were products of the fourth century B.C.
I don’t know if Alexander himself ordered the Library to be built or if it was Ptolemy I’s (not Ptolemny) idea, but I do know that Alexander did not order (‘tasked’ in the ugly modern parlance) the son of Lagus to build up the Library’s collection of books and share it with others.
During his stay in Egypt, Alexander ‘designed the general layout of the new town’ (Arrian III.2) but there is no record of him assigning posts for particular institutions.
Having said that, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence so he may well have said to Ptolemy ‘When we return, you will be in charge of the Library…’ but I think this possibility can be rejected because in 331, when Alexandria was founded, Ptolemy was still a junior officer. It would be nearly two years (late 330 B.C.) before he would become one of Alexander’s ‘leading generals’, after replacing a soldier named Demetrius in the Royal Bodyguard. Before then, his greatest claim to fame was the fact that it was his lover, Thaïs, who incited Alexander to burn down the Royal Palace in Persepolis. This happened in early 330.
By-the-bye, I don’t think that the librarianship would have gone to a soldier, anyway. As the library was part of a greater institution which included a temple, I believe a priest was its ultimate head – I am open to being corrected on this, though.
So much for Alexander ordering Ptolemy to build the library and share its knowledge. But could the latter have decided to share its books ‘with scholars, royalty, and wealthy bibliophiles throughout the world’ anyway?
Once the Library became operational*, Ptolemy’s policy was either to buy books or seize those on ships arriving in Alexandria. They would then be copied, and it would be the copy that was given back to the owner. If scholars wanted to study the originals, they had to come to Alexandria. To the best of my knowledge, the books never travelled abroad.
Why did Ptolemy pursue this policy? In Dividing the Spoils Robin Waterfield says,
Ptolemy’s intention fell little short of an attempt to monopolize Greek literary and scientific culture.
This isn’t a surprise. Knowledge, as they say, is power, and Alexander’s successors were all about amassing as much power as they could and holding onto it with extreme tenacity. They were selfish, yes, but the years following Alexander’s death were also a fight for survival. Kill or be killed. And perhaps, just perhaps, Ptolemy genuinely believed that Alexandria was the best place for these books to be. Given how unstable Greece and the Near East was, but how little Egypt suffered in the Wars of the Successors, he was probably right.
Finally, the article claims that the at its peak the Library held ‘over 400,000 manuscripts.’. We don’t know how many books were kept there but it is possible that the Huffington Post writer has short-changed the Library slightly. In Dividing the Spoils, Robin Waterfield states that it ‘is possible that [the Library] came to hold well over half a million rolls’ (this doesn’t mean it had 500,000+ individual books in its possession. Waterfield notes that one book could take up multiple rolls).
It seems to me that the writer of The Huffington Post article has fictionalised Alexander for the purpose of his article. His by-line invites readers to ‘become a fan’. I am sure he is second to none when writing about his specialist subject of technology, but my support for him would be stronger if he leaves classical history alone until he has done more revision. His profession demands much more than he has given his readers.
* Presumably no later than 313 B.C. when ‘Alexandria became Ptolemy’s administrative capital… [on] the tenth anniversary of his regime’ (Ibid p.136)
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
Warning! In this post I reveal the answers to a quiz I held on The Second Achilles‘ Tumblr page on Monday. If you would like to play the game, visit click here and here as the answers to the quiz are below.
Hello to anyone who is visiting this blog from her Tumblr page. Below you will find the answers to Monday’s little quiz plus some extra comments by me.
Before getting to them, I must apologise to anyone reading this who would have liked to have to taken part in the quiz but saw the answers before following the links above. I should have mentioned the quiz on the blog on Monday but didn’t. I will certainly do so in the future.
Without further ado, let’s ‘name that officer‘.
The man injured alongside Alexander and then by the Indian chief was, of course, Ptolemy. For two bonus points I asked which Alexander historian(s) I used for the story and what happened next. My source is Arrian. Here is how he describes the incident, and what happened next.
Alexander’s next objective was the territory of the Aspasians, Guraeans, and Assacenians… Attacking the first of [the] towns which lay on his route, [Alexander] had no trouble in driving in the force which was stationed outside, and compelling the men to take refuge within the defences; but during the operation he was wounded in the shoulder by a missile which pierced his corselet. The wound was not serious, as the corselet prevented the missile from going right through his shoulder. Ptolemy, son of Lagus, and Leonnatus were also hurt.
… after a long march [Alexander] reached on the second day the town where the governor of the Aspasians was. The natives were no sooner aware of his approach than they fired the town and made their escape to the hills, with Alexander’s men in hot pursuit all the way. Many were cut down before the rough hill-country enabled them to shake off their pursuers.
During the pursuit, Ptolemy, son of Lagus, actually spotted the chief of the Indians of this district: he had already reached a hill and was trying to get away with some of his guards. Ptolemy, though he had a much inferior force, nevertheless rode for him; but it was too steep and too rough going for his horse, so he dismounted, gave it to a man to lead, and continued to chase the Indian on foot. Seeing him coming, the Indian and his guards turned to face him. They met; and the chief struck Ptolemy in the breast with his long spear, which pierced his corselet but did not penetrate his body. With a blow clean through the Indian’s thigh, Ptolemy laid him flat, and began to strip him, whereupon his guards, seeing that their chief was down, turned and fled. Other Indians, however, on the neighbouring hills, grieved at the sight of their leader’s body being carried off by the enemy, came hurrying down, and a fierce struggle ensued over the corpse. By then Alexander and his cavalrymen, now dismounted, were not far from the hill; they joined in the melee and finally succeeded in driving the Indians into the hills and getting possession of the body.
(Arrian Book IV.23-24)
Apart from Ptolemy’s heroism and very traditional action of stripping the Indian chief of his armour, what made a strong impression on me when I read this passage was the similarity between his and Alexander’s injury. The Macedonian king was struck by a missile, which pierced his corselet but which did not go through his body. If there was a chance of that happening, I presume the missile was a spear of some description. Well, fast forward and we find Ptolemy also being struck by a spear, which also pierced his corselet, but which did not enter his body. This one, however, did not penetrate his flesh. Was Ptolemy using an injury he received on this occasion to create a(nother) link between himself and the late king, and perhaps even to prove himself in a sense greater than him by saying ‘he was injured but I wasn’t’?
That’s Ptolemy, now let’s ‘name that nationality‘.
Firstly, in case you are wondering why I didn’t ask readers for the woman’s actual name, it’s because Arrian doesn’t provide it.
As for her nationality, the woman was Syrian. The bonus questions asked the reader to name Arrian’s source for the story and, again, to say what happened next. The source is Aristobulus. As for what happened next – the simple answer is that the young men’s plot unravelled. Here is how Arrian described all that happened.
… on the night in question Alexander sat up drinking until dawn. This may have been pure chance, though Aristobulus has a different explanation. According to him, there was a certain Syrian woman with the gift of second sight, who kept following Alexander about. He and his friends used to laugh at her; but, as time went on and everything she foretold in her trances turned out to be true, Alexander began to feel differently. He no longer found her a figure of fun, but let her come to him whenever she wished, by day or night, and on many occasions allowed her to watch over him while he slept.
This woman, in one of her prophetic trances, met him as he was coming away from his potations. She begged him to go back and drink the night out, and Alexander, convinced that there was something more than human in the warning, took her advice. So the boys’ plot fell through.
Epimenes, one of the guilty ones, also, like Hermolaus, had a bosom friend, Charicles, son of Menander; and to him, on the following day, he told the whole story. Charicles told Epimenes’ brother, Eurylochus, who went to Alexander’s tent and passed everything on to Ptolemy son of Lagus, of the King’s Guard, who, in his turn, told Alexander. Alexander ordered the arrest of all the boys whose names were given him by Eurylochus. Questioned under torture, they admitted their guilt, and at the same time implicated certain others as well.
(Arrian Book IV.13-14)
There are two things I would like to highlight here. Firstly, Alexander’s trust in the woman. She was not only permitted to enter into his presence whenever she wished, but even to watch over him while he slept. He really must have trusted her very deeply indeed. Secondly, notice how Ptolemy informed Alexander of what Eurylochus told him straight away. Compare that to Philotas’ vacillation. This story takes place after Philotas’ downfall so it would not surprise me if Ptolemy had Parmenion’s son in mind when he went to see Alexander.
In his entry for Hephaestion in his Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great (Wiley-Blackwell 2009 pp.133-6) Waldemar Heckel makes a number of contentious statements about the son of Amyntor, his character and military skills. One in particular has been on my mind since I read it before Christmas. Heckel writes,
[i]n the spring of 328, when the army was divided into five parts, [Hephaestion] commanded one contingent (A 4.16.2) in a mission that appears to have done little more than win back several small fortresses to which the rebellious natives had fled.
At first glance, this statement tells us something about the 328 B.C. campaign rather than Hephaestion but in my opinion Heckel uses it to unfairly denigrate Hephaestion’s abilities as an military officer.
Before I give my reasons for saying this, let’s look at the passage from Arrian that Heckel cites,
Four officers – Polysperchon, Attalus, Gorgias, and Meleager – were left in Bactria with instructions to destroy all natives who had refused submission and to keep a sharp look-out for any further trouble… Alexander himself, 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 and proceeded with it in the direction of Marakanda, while the other 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.
So, how does Heckel seek to denigrate Hephaestion?
He does so by minimising the importance of the campaign in terms of the objective (it was about no more than the capture of a few ‘small fortresses’), the number of men involved (five divisions) and its geographic range (Sogdia).
By doing so Heckel implies that the campaign made no great contribution to Hephaestion’s standing as an officer. This allows him to still refer to Hephaestion as ‘relatively inexperienced’ when he and Perdiccas travel to the Indus River to build a bridge for the Macedonian army to cross – even though it is now 326 and the son of Amyntor has been with the expedition since its start in 334 and involved in all its major battles and movements!
When Heckel says that the mission involved no more than ‘win[ning] back several small fortresses to which the rebellious natives had fled’ he makes it out to be no more than a footnote in the story of Alexander’s expedition.
However, I would suggest that there are no minor campaigns when one is seeking to end an insurrection across two countries (see below). That the 328 campaign was more than just capturing a few forts is certainly suggested by the length of time the mission took to complete. As Heckel says, it started in Spring. He goes on to state that it ended in summer. Two, three months to break into a few forts?
Number of Men Involved
Heckel says that Alexander split the army into five. To be fair, this is true – but only to a point. That is because Alexander had already divided the army in Bactria. As Arrian tells us, he gave Attalus, Gorgias, Polyperchon and Meleager orders to pacify that country.
Ultimately, if the Bactria commanders all had sole commands, the Macedonian army ended up being split into no less than nine parts across two countries. And all for the sake of a few ‘small fortresses’.
As Arrian makes clear, the 328 campaign took place in Bactria and Sogdia. The Bactria commanders’ orders were not, in my opinion, materially different to those of the Sogdia commanders.
For his part, Heckel does not say outright ‘the campaign only took place in Sogdia’ but that he wants us to think that it did is implied by his reference to the army only splitting into five rather than six – nine depending on whether the Bactria commanders were given sole commands.
In 328 B.C., Alexander was faced with a crisis of control. Two countries had risen up against him. If he was to put the rebellion down, he not only needed to divide his army but place each division under the command of a man who he knew would be able to lead it bravely, intelligently (especially important after the Pharnuches fiasco the previous year) and strongly. One of the commanders he chose for that job was Hephaestion. Amyntoros’ speciality may have been in non-military missions (as Heckel notes) but his appointment to a sole command for this one proves to me that he knew how to lead as well. I have great respect for Waldemar Heckel’s writing but I don’t agree with his assessment of the 328 campaign or its denigration of Hephaestion.
The Other Sources
- Curtius (VII.10.13) appears (see below) to refer only briefly to 328 Spring-Summer campaign. He says nothing about the Macedonian army being split up and states that Alexander ended the insurrection in just three days.
Having said that, the notes to my Penguin Classics edition of Curtius’ History suggest that his insurrection may actually be a reference to ‘the activities of Arsaces of Aria and Brazanes, who opposed Phrataphernes in Parthyaea’, and which Arrian covers at IV.7. If that is so, his account is wrong, for as the notes point out – Arsaces and Brazanes were brought to Alexander (in chains during the winter of 329/8). The king did not go after them.
- Alexander’s Bactrian-Sogdian campaign is missing from Diodorus’ account of his life due to a lacuna in the manuscript.
- Plutarch does not discuss the Bactrian-Sogdian campaign.
- Justin (XII.5) refers to Alexander city building in Bactria and Sogdia but says nothing about his campaigning there
Read the other posts in this series
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…
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  below). Here is a quick reminder of his previous appearances-
- I.12 During the visit to Troy
- II.13 In Sisygambis’ tent when she mistook him for Alexander
- III.15 Casualty list following the Battle of Gaugamela
- III.27 Given joint-command of the Companion Cavalry
- 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.
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.
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
Cause we like to partyyyy
In the summer of 325 B.C., Alexander lead his men across the Gedrosian Desert. According to Arrian (VI.24) ‘[t]he result was disastrous’. When their provisions ran out, the men started slaughtering their pack animals. When their water skins ran dry, they themselves began to fall by the wayside.
Did Alexander make his army cross the desert as a punishment for its mutiny at the Hyphasis River? Perhaps, but I am not so sure. Arrian says that he chose the route
… because, apart from Semiramis on her retreat from India, no one, to his knowledge, had ever before succeeded in bringing an army safely through.
It is debatable as to whether this is true or not. Arrian says that Semiramis came out of the desert ‘with no more than twenty survivors’. Hardly an army. He also implies that Cyrus the Great crossed the desert. He too survived, with ‘an army’ – all seven of it.
Alexander, therefore, saw an opportunity to outdo Semiramis and Cyrus both. This is far more consistent with his character than believing he wanted to punish his men*.
* Arrian also notes that Alexander took the desert route in order to stay in touch with Nearchus’ fleet and obtain supplies for him.
Whatever reason Alexander entered the desert, when he left it, he came into a country named Carmania. It was ‘a well-populated’ land, one that was free and fertile. There, Alexander let his army rest before continuing. When the march did resume, the men wore ‘festive dress’. Alexander himself ‘led a Dionysian comus, feasting and drinking as he travelled’.
Diodorus gives no further details about Carmania. It is not hard to imagine, however, that this celebration was a very bittersweet one, perhaps here the men drank to forget as much as to remember (as at Persepolis).
For the first and last time, Arrian is more descriptive about a celebration than Diodorus. On the flip side, he does not believe what he has read. He describes the Carmanian episode as ‘improbable’. It is not mentioned, he notes, either by Ptolemy or Aristobulos, or, indeed by ‘any other writer whom one might consider to give reliable evidence’.
So what has he read? What does he say? That-
- Alexander rode through Carmania on a ‘double-sized chariot’
- Which ‘he reclined [in] with his intimate friends’
- While they listened ‘to the music of flutes’ (perhaps a favourite instrument – we saw flutists at Persepolis, yesterday)
- As Alexander relaxed, his men ‘accompanied him making merry’
- Provisions never ran out – the Carmanian people provided everything along the way that the Macedonians needed
- This journey was a conscious imitation of Dionysus’ thriambi (triumphs) which he led after conquering India
At Dium and Persepolis, sacrifices to the gods formed part of the celebrations. On the authority of Aristobulos, Arrian says that Alexander also held sacrifices in Carmania. On this occasion, he offered them for his own conquest of India and safe passage across the Gedrosian desert. And as before, there were also games – athletics and literary.
Arrian’s ‘improbable story’ is Curtius’ statement of fact. Alexander ‘decided to imitate [Dionysus’] procession’. Orders were given
… for villages along his route to be strewn with flowers and garlands, and for bowls full of wine and other vessels of extraordinary size to be set out on the thresholds of houses.
Alexander and his friends wore garlands and listened to the music of flute and lyre. About them on their ‘cart’ lay scattered ‘golden bowls and huge goblets’.
It wasn’t only Alexander who travelled in this way. Wagons were joined together so that they became moving tents (‘some with white curtains, others with costly material’) in which ordinary soldiers could relax.
That’s what Curtius says Alexander did. But what is his’ opinion of it all? Has he calmed down from his rabid description of sex in Babylon and Thaïs at Persepolis?
Alexander’s imitation of Dionysus was an example of ‘his pride soaring above the human plane’.
As such it was a deeply irresponsible act.
For seven days, the army marched drunk and in a state of disorder. It was
… an easy prey if the vanquished races had only had the courage to challenge riotous drinkers – why, a mere 1,000 men, if sober, could have captured this group.
I don’t think Curtius has ever been near a group of riotous drinkers. If he had, he would know that they would not prove as easy to subdue as he thinks!
Be that as it may, despite the Macedonians ‘sheer recklessness’ (for Carmania had not yet been subdued – that’s a fair point) fortune favoured Alexander and his men and ‘turned even this piece of disgraceful soldiering into a glorious achievement!’.
According to Plutarch, the Carmanian march ‘developed into a kind of Bacchanalian procession’. It lasted for seven days, during which Alexander feasted continually. He and his friends reclined on a ‘dais’ pulled by eight horses.
‘Innumerable wagons’ followed them. There’s no mention of white curtains here, but ‘purple or embroidered canopies’.
While Curtius says that the soldiers decorated their wagons ‘with their finest arms’, Plutarch states that no weapons or armour were to be seen.
Something that was able to be seen were men ‘drinking as they marched’ while ‘others [lay] sprawled by the wayside’.
Plutarch agrees with Arrian that musicians were present. In fact, ‘the whole landscape resounded with the music of pipes and flutes’. And more – ‘with harping and singing and the cries of women rapt with divine frenzy’. Hopefully, for the men’s well-being, they did not have any snakes with them.
Plutarch adds that more than just drinking was involved on this march. He says that ‘all the other forms of bacchanalian licence attended this straggling and disorderly march, as though the god were present’.
After a week, Alexander arrived at the Palace of Gedrosia. There, the army was rested and was permitted to celebrate another festival. One day, ‘after he had drunk well’, Alexander watched a dancing and singing competition in which his favourite eunuch, Bagoas, was competing.
Bagoas won. He sat beside the king. The Macedonians applauded him
… and shouted to Alexander to kiss the winner, until at last the king put his arms around him and kissed him.
This is an interesting end to the chapter. Bagoas, after all, represented a world that the Macedonians did not approve of and, if he had the kind of influence over Alexander that the Orsines Affair (Curtius X.1.26-38) suggests, a power that they could not have appreciated. Yet, there they are treating him in a playful manner. My belief is that Curtius exaggerated Bagoas’ role in Orsines’ downfall, and I think this scene provides indirect evidence of that.
Carmania in Short
Reason To give thanks for being alive
Duration One week
Outstanding Features That anyone was still alive to celebrate it
Result A nice moment for Bagoas
I know a girl, a girl called Party, Party girl
We all know what happened at Persepolis: Alexander got drunk and allowed Thaïs of Athens to persuade him to burn the royal palace down in revenge for the destruction wrought by the Persians when they invaded Greece 150 years earlier.
Diodorus adds a few details to this outline. The party was part of a celebration, which included ‘costly sacrifices to the gods’ and games ‘in honour of his victories’.
He says that when Thaïs rose to speak, ‘the drinking was far advanced’. I take this to mean that it had been going on for a long time rather than that Alexander, for example, was blind drunk, otherwise I doubt he would have been physically able to lead the ‘triumphal procession’ that ended with the palace being torched.
Either way, the only other details that he gives us are that the feast was a rich one and that female musicians were present. For when Alexander led the guests out of the palace, they followed, singing and playing flutes and pipes.
As we have discovered over the last couple of days, Arrian is not your go-to man for anything involving fun. His account of the nine-day festival at Dium was perfunctory and he simply ignored the jauntier side of the Macedonian’s one month stay in Babylon.
Things do not improve here in Persepolis. Arrian says nothing at all about the Macedonian celebrations and implies that Alexander alone was responsible for the decision to burn the royal palace.
The reason for these omissions, and – by-the-way, the absence of Thaïs’ name – may stem from the fact that Arrian took his account of what happened in Persepolis from Ptolemy Lagides, her lover, who would obviously have had no interest in reminding anyone of her part in the affair.
Having said that, Ptolemy was not Arrian’s only source, and I very much doubt that Aristobulos – who treats Alexander so favourably – would have identified his king as being solely responsible for the debacle.
But even if he had (and he is supposed to have lived in Alexandria in later years so maybe had to think about keeping Ptolemy sweet) what of other writers? The only explanation I can offer is that Arrian did indeed know about Thaïs’ involvement but simply decided to trust Ptolemy’s account. King’s don’t lie, after all.
Plutarch builds upon Diodorus’ picture of what happened. He explains that Alexander ‘happened to get involved in a rowdy drinking party with his companions’. I have to trust that the translation is accurate but with the best will in the world, I really can’t imagine Alexander just ‘happening’ to join a party.
Anyway, ‘[s]ome women’ were present. They ‘had come in a drunken revel to see their lovers’. As we’ll see in the long quote from Curtius, below, he is talking here about the courtesans who lived with some of Alexander’s generals.
Rather than talk further about Thaïs, here is a link to my post on this chapter of Plutarch’s Life, which I wrote for my Tumblr blog. I’ll now move on to Cutius as the rest of Chapter 38 is taken up with Thaïs’ speech and its consequences.
Yesterday, we saw Curtius write like an ‘outraged’ tabloid journalist with his hyperbolic description of Babylon’s sexual depravity*. Today, we do not find him any less annoyed.
He admits that ‘Alexander had some great natural gifts’ but snaps that ‘all these were marred by his inexcusable fondness for drink.’
At the very time that his enemy and rival for imperial power was preparing to resume hostilities, and when the conquered nations, only recently subdued, still had scant respect for his authority, he was attending day-time drinking parties at which women were present – not, indeed, such women as it was a crime to violate, but courtesans who had been leading disreputable lives with the soldiers.
And that’s how we know that Curtius was the Roman equivalent of a tabloid journalist. He liked being outraged and considered that it was acceptable to ‘violate’ some women**.
As Curtius’ blood pressure rises, he refers to Thaïs as ‘the drunken whore’. Now, drunk she may have been, but a whore she was not; at least, not in the commonly understood sense. Whores, by which I mean common prostitutes, offered sex. They trod the streets with messages like ‘follow me’ cut into their shoes and that was that. You got no more than their bodies from them.
Courtesans, by contrast, were well educated women who may have slept with their clients but were hired also – or principally – for their companionship, their intellectual and artistic skills. Now, I don’t know what word Curtius used to describe Thaïs but if he used the Latin for ‘[common] prostitute’ he was either ignorant of her true profession or purposefully ignoring it in order to put her down. Given his low of view of women as described above, I suspect the later is the case.
Curtius goes on to say that the Macedonians were ashamed of what Alexander (and presumably, Thaïs) did and that the king, after sleeping off his drunkenness also regretted his actions. This is in accord with what Plutarch says.
* I am aware that Babylon had a very bad reputation in terms of the sexual conduct of its people but Curtius could always have used more sober or neutral language. He is a historian not a moralist
** Here I have to recognise that Curtius may simply be referring to the fact – if so it was – that courtesans had no protection from rape under the law. Such would appear to be the case in respect of prostitutes according to this Wikipedia article. But even if there is only stating a legal fact we may still question the overall tone of his writing which is negative
Persepolis in Short
Reason Celebrate Alexander’s war victories
Duration Short – perhaps one night?
Outstanding Features Ended with one less royal palace in the world
Result Ptolemy sitting at his desk many years later, thinking “… no, I really can’t put that in. Is there any party that is safe to mention??”