Posts Tagged With: Ptolemy I Soter

Heckel on Hephaestion in 328 B.C.

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.
(Arrian IV.16)

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!

Objective
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’.

Geographic Range
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.

Conclusion
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

 

Categories: On Alexander | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Master of the Battle and Green Field

VI. Division 
(IV.16)
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…
(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’

All-in-all

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

The Sons of Dionysus

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.
(VI.24)

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.

Diodorus
(XVII.106)
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).

Arrian
(VI.27)
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.

Curtius
(IX.10.24-29)
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?

No.

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!’.

Plutarch
(Life 67)
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

Categories: Humour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thaïs’ Torch Song

I know a girl, a girl called Party, Party girl

Diodorus
(XVIII.72)
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.

***

Arrian
(III.18-19)
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
(Life 38)
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.

***

Curtius
(V.7)
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??”

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Babylon. The Friendly City.

Tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 19 Alexander’s fifth regnal year

Our second celebration took place in Babylon, October 331 B.C. Alexander had just defeated Darius III for the second and decisive time at Gaugamela and, by so doing, inherited his empire.

Diodorus (XVII.64) reports that following the battle, the new Great King went to Arbela where he found food and treasure. He might have tarried there for longer but was worried about Babylonia being polluted by the unburied Persian bodies on the battlefield. To prevent any harm coming to his men he ‘immediately’ resumed his advance upon the capital city.

There, Alexander was greeted with open arms by the Babylonians. Indeed, the whole Macedonian army was greeted happily. The men were given lodgings and much food and drink.

It would be nice to think that the Babylonians were acting out of the kindness of their hearts but we should not fool ourselves. Their actions were much more likely informed by a desire not to be slaughtered. Even if they had never heard of Thebes, they would have known that conquering kings were not always merciful ones.

And then there is Babylon’s reputation as a licentious city. Maybe in the back of many people’s minds was the thought that, if we can persuade these strangers not to kill us, maybe we can persuade them to pay for sex instead. For more on that point, see Curtius below.

As for Diodorus, the only other comment he has to make about Alexander’s first visit to the city is that he stayed for thirty days ‘because the food was plentiful and the population friendly’.

***

Yesterday, we saw how Arrian’s account of the celebration at Dium was short and rather unenthusiastic. Today, his account (III.26) of Alexander’s visit to Babylon is equally stiff.

Alexander, he says, approached the city cautiously. In fact, ‘in battle order’. To be fair, if the Babylonians had not formally surrendered this was a wise thing to do. He would have looked pretty stupid had he just rolled up to the city only to be met by an armed force (not that the risk of this stopped him from being ever-so-casual in Carmania, as we’ll see in two days).

As it turned out, all was well that ended well; the Babylonians streamed out of the city, handed gifts over, and gave their home ‘with the citadel and all its treasures’ into Alexander’s hands.

Party time?

Well, maybe. But we’ll never know from Arrian. He focuses on the religious and political dimension of Alexander’s visit. The king ordered the rebuilding of the temple of Bel (‘destroyed by Xerxes’). This was also a political act as Bel was ‘the god held by the Babylonians in the greatest awe’. Alexander was intent on winning hearts and minds to his cause.

Arrian also states that it was in Babylon that Alexander ‘came into contact with the Chaldeans’ (n. ‘priests of Marduk’) and gave them a place in his counsels. The Chaldeans, of course, would go on to play a vital role in Alexander’s life when he returned to Babylon in 323 B.C.

In between of these religious acts, Arrian also mentions a number of political (and military) appointments. Once they are completed, he has Alexander resume his onward journey. And once again, I am forced to imagine Ptolemy sitting at his desk thinking “Babylon… Babylon… mmm, we had a good time there… probably too good a time. Better not mention anything about that, either.”

***

Despite Arrian’s deficiencies, it is Plutarch who lets the side down for the second day running. At least yesterday he mentioned the weeping statue. Today, he says nothing at all about Babylon. The nearest he comes to it is at the start of Chapter 31.

After Alexander had subdued the whole region which lay [on the west] side of the Euphrates, he resumed his advance against Darius.

And that’s your fun-destroying lot.

***

Fortunately, Curtius (V.1.36) comes to the rescue. And how. He is positively frothy mouthed with disgust at Babylon’s vices. And in the best hypocritical tabloid journalist fashion, rather than refuse to give publicity to that which he hates, he shares every last detail with us. Well, not every last but enough so that we can share his rage and he, ahem, can get more readers.

There is no doubt that some of the things Curtius mentions are rather unorthodox. Unlike dear Quintus, however, I have no qualms about detailing them so that more people will read this post. So, let’s look at what he says.

On Babylon

[The] moral corruption there is unparalleled

It’s ability to stimulate and arouse unbridled passions is incomparable

On Babylonians

Parents and husbands permit their children and wives to have sex with strangers, as long as this infamy is paid for

Babylonians are especially addicted to wine and the excesses that go along with drunkenness

Women attend dinner parties. At first they are decently dressed, then they remove all their top-clothing and by degrees disgrace their respectability until (I beg my readers’ pardon for saying it) they finally throw off their most intimate garments. This disgusting conduct is characteristic not only of courtesans but also of married women and young girls, who regard such vile prostitution as ‘being sociable’

At this point, I fear that I may be held responsible for the moral degradation of my younger or more impressionable readers. Even now, they are probably looking up last minute offers on flights to Babylon for Christmas. But here’s the thing. The city no longer exists. And neither, to all intents and purposes, did Babylon in Curtius’ time. We don’t know when exactly he wrote his history of Alexander, but it is not likely to have been earlier than the middle of the first century B.C., by which time Babylon had been in ruins for nigh on two hundred years. Curtius’ anger makes no more sense than you or me writing about the Georgians and getting annoyed at their sexual practices. Sometimes, you have to take a deep breath and let go. This Curtius appears to have been unable to do.

Having said that, when he adds “I beg my readers’ pardon…” a part of me is nodding my head slowly and thinking Yeah, right… Anything for the fame.

As manipulative or genuinely enraged as Curtius might be, his words do give an insight into what the Macedonians might have got up to in Babylon. Drink and sex. Lots of.

Further to what Diodorus says, Curtius claims that the Macedonians stayed in Babylon ‘revelling in… dissipation’ for thirty-four days. He criticises Alexander for undermining ‘military discipline [there] more than in any other place’ and states that thanks to its licentious behaviour the army

… which had conquered Asia would doubtless have been weakened for any subsequent confrontations, if it had had an adversary.

It did. Ariobarzanes at the Persian Gates the following year. And guess who won. Curtius has his explanation for this, of course.

To lesson the effects of the damage [Alexander’s army] was continually refurbished with reinforcements.

Uh huh. And it was nothing to do with the general wear and tear of war and campaigning.

Babylon in Short
Reason Letting hair down after winning the Persian Empire
Duration A whacking 30 or 34 days
Outstanding Features Pure partying. No apparent religious element
Result Collective liver failure and spike in births nine months later

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A Happy and Holy Time in Dium

Ain’t no party like a Dium party

It’s Christmas week and The Second Achilles is in a hard place. How can the blog mark the occasion when the Birth of the Saviour (sorry, Ptolemy) will not happen for another three hundred years?

It’s time to be creative. If the reason for Christmas is beyond our scope to discuss, perhaps there is a connection to be found with Alexander in her associated practices.

As luck would have it, there is, and it comes in the idea of celebration. Christians celebrate the Birth of Jesus. Macedonians were also fond of celebrating. Yes, I know that the Tenuous Links Society would be very interested in the connection I have just made but it’s Christmas week so you’ll have to forgive me!

On that basis, in the next four posts I will look at four celebrations mentioned by the Alexander historians (starting off with Diodorus each time). In this post, I’ll begin with Dium; tomorrow, Babylon; Christmas Eve, Persepolis and on Christmas Day, Carmania.

***

Dium
Diodorus XVII.16
In the Autumn of 335 B.C. Alexander returned to Macedon after a successful campaigning season during which he had secured his northern borders and successfully brought the Greek city-states to heel.

Once home, he began preparations for the projected invasion of Asia Minor. Two important questions that needed answering were ‘[w]hen should the campaign be started and how should he conduct the war?’ (D. XVII.16).

Parmenion and Antipater tried to persuade Alexander to delay any action until he had produced an heir only for the king to retort that it would be a disgrace to ‘sit at home celebrating a marriage and awaiting the birth of children’ (Ibid). Alexander won the argument and preparations for the invasion continued.

That October, Alexander went to Dium to celebrate the Olympian Games. These are not to be confused with the Olympic Games. The Olympian version were instituted by Alexander’s predecessor, Archelaus (r.413-399 B.C.)*.

Held ‘in honour of Zeus and the Muses’, the Olympian Games involved ‘lavish sacrifices’, ‘dramatic contests’ and, of course, a lot of eating and drinking.

Best of all, from the point of view of the party goer, if not the catering staff (i.e. servants and slaves), the festival lasted nine days.

To re-enforce the fact that not only were they engaged in a sacred activity but that time itself had, in a sense, become sacred, Alexander named ‘each day after one of the Muses’ (Ibid). Call me cynical, but I somehow doubt that the average Macedonian cared very much about the sacrality of the time and place in which he stood at that moment. Not when there was more wine to be had.

* I took the term ‘Olympian Games’ from Peter Green Alexander of Macedon 356-323 B.C. University of California Press 1992. Arrian also uses it – see below.

***

In our own day, America has a reputation for doing things bigger than anyone else. Well, I suppose Americans do live in a vast country so have to fill the space somehow, but, of course, the USA was not the first nation to go large. Egypt did with her monumental statues, and in Dium, in his own way, so did Alexander.

Before the Games started, he ordered a huge tent to be built, one that could hold a hundred couches. The notes to my copy of Diodorus* state that ‘Agathocles’s Hall of the Sixty Couches was one of the wonders of Sicily (Book 16.83.2)’ so you can see that Alexander was not only going large but determined to smash records to smithereens. Start as you mean to go on.

My favourite pubs are those that look homely and comfortable. Macedonians liked anything that reminded them of how great they were. How the tent must have done that! No wonder Alexander took it with him when he left for Asia Minor. It was a brilliant propaganda tool as well as a place to get sozzled.

* Loeb Classical Library 1963

***

Among the guests at the banquet in the great tent were ambassadors from the Greek cities. Imagine what they thought of the tent. We may be sure that Alexander’s invitation to them to attend was not simply, or even an, act of kindness but a way of intimidating them – and through them, their cities.

If Diodorus has got all his facts right, Alexander was the perfect host. He circulated among his guests, distributed ‘to his entire force sacrificial animals’ as well as anything else they needed. I am happy when my friend buys me a pint. I think I would probably have fainted for joy in Dium.

***

Arrian (I.11) offers a more sober account of what happened that Autumn. While he confirms that Alexander did indeed offer

… to Olympian Zeus the form of ceremonial thanksgiving which had been in use since the time of Archelaus.

and also celebrated ‘the Olympian Games’, he states that the games took place at Aegae. Now, it’s true that he doesn’t say where the thanksgiving to Zeus took place, so maybe it was at Aegae at the same time as the Games but that isn’t the impression I get.

He also states that Alexander ‘according to some accounts, held games in honour of the Muses’ (Ibid). I take this to mean that Ptolemy and Aristobulos don’t mention the fact. Why would they not? Well, we don’t know. It might be the Games never happened; it might also be that neither Ptolemy nor Aristobulos regarded the Games as relevant to their narrative.

Arrian’s account is perfunctory. I feel he is only mentioning what happened because he has to. Once the words are down, he immediately moves forward to the next subject. Rather miserably, that is

… a report… that the statue of Orpheus son of Oegrus of Thrace, had been constantly sweating.

Happily, however, Aristander was able to give the omen a favourable interpretation.

There are a number of possible reasons for Arrian’s desultory account of the events at Dium. The worst is that his main sources were misery guts who didn’t like fun. In Christmas week, however, we are not having that. I am choosing to believe that Ptolemy would have very much liked to have waxed lyrical about the partying that went on but thought for the sake of decency and professionalism that he better not.

Plutarch is even worse than Arrian. He neither mentions acts of thanksgiving to Zeus nor the Olympian Games. In Chapter 14 of his Life of Alexander, he says simply that when the Macedonians ‘set out’ for Asia Minor, ‘… the statue of Orpheus at Libethra… was observed to be covered in sweat’. He confirms Aristander’s positive interpretation of the omen.

Dium In Short
Reason Thanksgiving/Honour of Zeus and the Muses
Duration Nine Days
Outstanding Features A ten almost big enough to cover Alexander’s ego
Result Lots, and lots, of headaches (+ a happy and grateful army)

Categories: Humour | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

David Hogarth on Alexander’s Influence

III.

The conventional view is that Alexander’s empire was short-lived.

And, let’s be honest, on this occasion, the conventional view is correct: officially, the Argead empire lasted just over twenty years, from 331 B.C., when Alexander defeated Darius III at the Battle of Gaugamela to c.310/09 B.C. when Cassander had Alexander IV assassinated.

If we are being generous we could bring the date down to 306-04 B.C. when Antigonus, Ptolemy, Cassander and Lysimachus finally declared themselves kings of their respective realms; however, the point remains.

But while Alexander’s political world did not long outlive him, his influence endured for many more years. It may even be said to be still alive today; I’ll come to that in a moment.

What has brought Alexander’s legacy to mind is reading Philip and Alexander of Macedon by David Hogarth, which I finished a few days ago. A few pages before the end, Hogarth considers the ways in which Alexander influenced several important empires. Despite, or perhaps because of, their obviousness I had not thought of them before. Here’s what he says.

If we look to the means which Alexander adopted in his last months to advance his great aim, we perceive that in conception he anticipated the cardinal cause of the provincial success of the Roman Empire. For he saw that universal conquests could not be accomplished, still less retained, with the strength of a single mother-people, but that the one half the world must be enlisted to conquer and hold the other half.

Had he lived to subdue North Africa, we may be sure that Moors and Numidians would have been found fighting under his banners in Spain and Gaul, and Spaniards and Gauls in Italy. His mixed army of Europeans and Asiatics, organized in Babylon in the spring of 323, was no more than the predecessor of those Gaulish and German legions which brought Emperors to Rome.

When the historian finds Alexander punishing with drastic severity Viceroys of his own race whom he believed, wrongly or rightly, to have outraged alien faiths and extorted provincial money, his thought will pass on to Tiberius and the quinquennium Neronis. When he sees Persians and Bactrians set high in a Macedonian empire, he thinks of Trajan the Spaniard, Elagabalus the Syrian, Maximin the Goth, and Philip the Arabian. The so-called Epigoni – those Oriental youths trained in the Macedonian manner, who were brought to Susa to be enrolled – recall the heirs of client kings, educated perforce in the Eternal City, and those children of the camps, who were the backbone of the legionary system.

Hogarth adds that it is only in the Susa Weddings that Alexander and Rome part ways, for nothing ‘so artificial ever entered into the policy of the most cosmopolitan of the Italian emperors.’

Susa aside, he notes

… that a “mixed” empire, with an Asiatic centre, successively Seleucid, Parthian, and Persian, survived Alexander’s death by fully a thousand years.

What about today?

Well, just over 2,300 years later, Alexander’s aim of bringing together a diverse range of people under one banner is happening as we speak in Europe.

Of course, the European Union is not an empire and never will be*; as and when its members achieve total political union, one country will not have control over all the others though some may dominate proceedings; however, just as the EU contains many peoples, men and women from all over the union are able to join its key institutions.

I think that Alexander would definitely have appreciated the trans-national army-of-sorts that already exists in NATO, and the requirement for anyone who wanted to climb the ladder in EU politics to follow in the footsteps of the Epigoni and relocate to Brussels and/or Strasbourg.

The children of the camps are no more. For now. If in the future, however, we start sending men and women into space to start colonising new planets the children of their camps will surely grow up to be their guards and successors. In a less bloody fashion, one hopes, than those who succeeded Alexander with so much damage to his legacy in the short term.

* May it never seek to oppress any other nation or people as well

Previous Posts on Philip and Alexander of Macedon

i. A Country Ancient and Modern
ii. General Ronald Storrs and Cardinal Francis Bourne

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Selected Search Enquiries

The following are all enquiries that lead people to this blog.

“who was the successor of philip iii arrhidaeus”
Philip III Arrhidaeus didn’t have a successor; at least, not an Argead one.

When Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C., Arrhidaeus was declared king. To that end, he was given the regnal name of Philip III. A few months later, Roxane gave birth to a son; he was named Alexander IV and became Arrhidaeus’ co-ruler. Because he was an infant, and because Arrhidaeus had a mental impediment that made him unable to rule by himself, the two were placed under the regency of Alexander’s general, Perdiccas. They would spend the rest of their lives being controlled by others.

Philip III Arrhidaeus was assassinated in 317 B.C. and Alexander IV in c. 310 B.C. Their successors were those of Alexander’s generals who declared themselves to be kings of their respective territories a few years later:

Antigonus Monophthalmus and Demetrios Poliocetes (Joint kings) – Asia Minor – 306
Cassander – Macedon – 305-304
Lysimachus – Thrace – 305-04
Ptolemy – Egypt  – 305
Seleucus – Babylon and the east – 305

I have used used Robin Waterfield Dividing the Spoils as my principle source for these dates. Other scholars give different dates, albeit only slightly. For example, Heckel in Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great says that Ptolemy became king in 306 or 305.

“alexander and bagoas sex”
Yes, Alexander probably very likely had sex with Bagoas, but there was more to a eunuch’s life in antiquity than satisfying his master’s sexual desire. The Encyclopaedia Iranica describes eunuchs as being,

… castrated males who were in charge of the concubines of royal harems, [eunuchs] served in the daily life of the court, and sometimes carried out administrative functions.

For more, click here.

“”what if darius iii survived lived””
In my opinion, if Darius had survived his arrest and abduction by Bessus he would either have been executed by Alexander in order to secure his succession as Great King or been allowed to rule in a subordinate capacity, as happened with Porus.

Although in Diodorus XVII.54 Alexander suggests that he would indeed have let Darius rule under him, I think he would have executed his predecessor. Darius was too obvious a rallying point for Persians and therefore too dangerous to be allowed to live.

However, had Darius lived and been given kingship over, say, Persia, I could see him becoming a major player in the Successor battles, remaining king of Babylon and the east and interfering in the west as suited him.

“which battle did alexander kill cleitus”
Alexander didn’t kill Black Cleitus during a battle but after a quarrel during a drunken party in Maracanda in the Summer of 328 B.C. According to Arrian (IV.8) it started when some sycophants claimed that Alexander’s achievements outstripped those of certain gods. Cleitus angrily rejected this assertion. This did not put off the flatterers, though, for they then claimed that Philip II’s achievement had been ‘quite ordinary and commonplace’ (ibid). Cleitus defended the late king and taunted Alexander for saving his life at the Battle of the Granicus (334 B.C.). Alexander tried to strike Cleitus, but was held back. He then took a spear and ran Cleitus through with it.

Curtius, Justin and Plutarch all tell the story slightly differently but in the same setting and, of course, same result.

Arrian IV.8-9
Curtius VIII.22-52
Plutarch Life of Alexander 50-51

“haephestion was cremated source”
To the best of my knowledge no source says explicitly “Hephaestion was cremated”. However:-

Arrian VII.15 – States that a ‘funeral pyre’ was built for Hephaestion
Diodorus XVII.115 – Refers to the building of Hephaestion’s pyre. Chapter 116 begins ‘After the funeral’ implying that it took place. However, the Greek word ‘pyra’ which is translated here as pyre could also mean ‘monument’. But even if it doesn’t, what about Diodorus XVIII.4 which suggests the pyre – whether to cremate Hephaestion on or a monument – wasn’t built at all?
Justin XII.12 – Refers to a monument to Hephaestion being built.
Plutarch Life of Alexander Chapter 72 – Refers to Hephaestion’s funeral. No mention of cremation.

See my post “Hephaestion’s Remains – Update” here

Categories: Searching Alexander | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

From Cats to Flowers, Kings to Poets

Linked to Alexander (4)
More Links Here

30th October 2014
Local cats get national attention with calendar
Alexander the Great… cat from NWF Daily News

31st October 2014
When the Greeks Ruled Egypt
Good to read something about the Ptolemies

31st October 2014
Letter: Alexander wasn’t ‘great’
From the Daily Freeman newspaper

31st October 2014
Homer truths in high places: plant-hunting on Mount Olympus
Robin Lane Fox goes flower hunting

More Alexander
Why not visit this blog’s Tumblr page? I have started a series of short blog posts on Plutarch’s Life of Alexander. Click here to read more.

Are you a fan of Mary Renault? We are reading her Alexander trilogy over at Facebook.

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Among the Wounded

III. The Battle of Gaugamela
(III.15)
Read the other posts in this series

About sixty of Alexander’s Companions were killed; among the wounded were Coenus, Menidas, and Hephaestion himself.

I am intrigued by the translation ‘and Hephaestion himself‘ (my emphasis). If it reflects what Arrian wrote, the ‘himself’ cuts Hephaestion off from Coenus and Menidas. It is as if Arrian mentions them for one reason – I believe their rank, unless they had another connexion to Alexander that I am not aware of – and Hephaestion for another – undoubtedly his friendship with the king, which Arrian has already firmly established.

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Arrian doesn’t mention any particular source for the information he provides. This is in contrast to i. his account of Alexander at Troy where he writes that ‘[o]ne account says that Hephaestion laid a wreath on the tomb of Patroclus’. Of course, Ptolemy or Aristobulos could be that ‘one account’ but if they are it does seem strange that Arrian doesn’t name them, and ii. the anecdote of Sisygambis’ mistake, which Arrian specifically says doesn’t come from Ptolemy or Aristobulos. Can we, then, make any deductions regarding who the source of the Gaugamela quote might be?

I think Arrian got his information from Ptolemy but that Ptolemy used a source common to himself and Diodorus and Curtius, the other two Alexander historians who mention Hephaestion in this context. My reason for saying this is because all three accounts are very similar. Here is Diodorus’ version.

Of the most prominent group of commanders, Hephaestion was wounded with a spear thrust in the arm; he had commanded the bodyguards. Perdiccas and Coenus, of the general’s group, were also wounded, so also Menidas and others of the higher commanders.
(XVII.61)

And here Curtius’,

Hephaestion suffered a spear-wound in the arm; Perdiccas, Coenus and Menidas were almost killed by arrows.
(IV.16.32)

So, all three accounts state that Hephaestion was injured. Diodorus and Curtius add the detail that he was stabbed in the arm with a spear. All three accounts also state that Coenus and Menidas were injured. Diodorus and Curtius, however, tell us that Perdiccas was among the wounded.

This is why I think Arrian’s source is Ptolemy. In the first years of the Wars of the Successors, Perdiccas was Ptolemy’s mortal enemy. I think Ptolemy excluded him from his memoir as a form of payback. If he wrote his memoir after 310 B.C., over ten years after Perdiccas died, it was a very petty form of payback but that’s beside the point.

On the issue of Ptolemy’s pettiness, could that be why he doesn’t give Hephaestion’s injury – he’ll mention him if he has to, but he’ll go no further than that.

I’m against this idea. If we are going to have a go at Ptolemy, we might also ask ‘if he didn’t want too much attention given to Hephaestion, why did he bother to mention him at all?’ Could it be that actually, Ptolemy simply wasn’t interested – as a matter of course – in dwelling on people’s injuries*? He was a soldier, after all.

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One final point. If Ptolemy, Diodorus and Curtius all used the same source, who could it be? Cleitarchus is the obvious name to mention here but I wonder. I doubt Cleitarchus could have got his information from the Macedonian veterans living in Alexandria at the close of the fourth century B.C. If any of them had fought at Gaugamela near Hephaestion et al I doubt they would have had time to observe them.

Rather, I imagine that Ptolemy took his information directly from Callisthenes’ war reports and/or the royal diaries, which he obtained after stealing Alexander’s body. These would have have confirmed to him what he already remembered learning after the conclusion of the battle in 331 B.C.

* Excluding Alexander. If what I say is correct, Arrian will only mention specific injuries when the narrative demands it or when his source is someone other than Ptolemy

Categories: Hephaestion Amyntoros | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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