Posts Tagged With: Roxane

The Haunted Empire

Several months ago, I bought a copy of Ghost on the Throne by James Romm. The sub-title to the book explains what it is about: The Death of Alexander the Great and the Bloody Fight for His Empire.

To date, the only other book dedicated to the wars of the Successors that I have read has been Robin Waterfield’s Dividing the Spoils. As I write these words I am 170 pages into the 322 page long book, and I have to say I am not enjoying it as much as I did Dividing the Spoils. Not because I think Romm is a bad historian but because Waterfield is simply a better write. He has the rare gift of making his text flow easily off the page.

Having said that, Ghost on the Throne is a well written book; it is also very well laid out. Romm not only sub-divides his chapters but gives the latter their own titles so that you know exactly where and when you are in the story.

As for me, I have seen the death of Leonnatus in the Lamian War, and the death of Alexander’s half-sister, Cynnane, as she travelled east to marry her daughter, Adea, to Philip III. Coming up is Ptolemy’s theft of Alexander’s body and the death of the most popular living Macedonian at this time, Craterus.


Out of what I have read so far, two facts mentioned by Romm have really jumped out at me. I think I knew them already but for whatever reason they have made a strong impression on me now.

The first is that only Macedonian kings could marry more than one woman at a time. This was a big shame for Perdiccas – if noblemen could have practiced polygamy, he could have married Nicaea, Antipater’s daughter, and Cleopatra, Alexander’s only full-sister, and put himself in an all but unassailable position if he wished – as he surely did – to make a bid for the Macedonian throne. As it was, he had to pick one with the inevitable result that he would insult the parent of the other.

The second is how – between the cavalry and infantry – utterly divided the Macedonian army was. Even though I know very well what happened after Alexander died – how the infantry demanded that Arrhidaeos be made king while the cavalry decided on Roxane’s as yet unborn child, and the way in which the infantry more or less ran the cavalry out of town before a reconciliation was reached – reading about it again is still astonishing.

The fault line between infantry and cavalry seems to have been absolute. No cavalry or infantrymen joined the other side. How could they have been so opposed to each other? Had the rebellions at the Hyphasis river or at Opis divided them? Or would they have still turned on each other if Alexander had died without ever going to Asia? Whatever the answer, the fact that he managed to hold the two sides together and make sure a brilliant fighting force out of them speaks many volumes for his charisma and intelligence.

Credit Where It’s Due
Front cover of Ghost on the Throne: Goodreads

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Images of Alexander

In this post, I would share a few pictures of Alexander from my Pinterest page (link in the sidebar).

I chose representations of him from the Fourth Century B.C. to the First A.D.

Fourth Century B.C.
As you can see, it is a bust of Alexander in profile. I chose it for three reasons.

Firstly, the view is in profile. Most pictures of Alexander are done face or side-on so the look in profile immediately made the picture stand out.

Secondly, the fact that the bust has been so firmly sliced (or was it meant to be like that?) down the back gives the image a very vulnerable appearance. One minute Alexander is there; the next, gone.

Thirdly, I really like the way the sculptor has him looking upwards – staring into the distance, wondering what is out there, how he might find it (and, perhaps, how he might conquer it). That’s Alexander – always looking to what lies just beyond.
Third Century B.C.
This next picture is a personal favourite of mine, as it shows Alexander looking very heroic, and, I have to say, lush, too. However, do you see the line along the bottom of his neck? I am wondering if the body originally belonged to someone else and Alexander’s head was placed on it. Also, notice the object that he is holding in his left hand. I can never look at this photograph without wondering what that is.


Second Century B.C.
Two centuries after his death, Alexander still retains his leonine (or just plain shaggy) head of hair, tilting head and liquid looking-into-the-beyond gaze. This head also seems to represent Alexander as a young man as it has a freshness and vitality to it that he surely did not possess in his later years.


We move on either to the First Century B.C. or First Century A.D. and a mosaic that was found in Pompeii. Does it deserve its place on this list? The man on the left is said to be Alexander but I don’t think we know for sure. The woman on the right might be Stateira II or Roxane.

As for Alexander, he looks very tanned here. I don’t know if the artist intended to show him that way, but it certainly seems a more realistic representation than the reconstruction of his skin colour, below. By contrast, Stateira II/Roxane has very pale skin – perhaps meeting a Roman ideal of how women’s skin should look?


Added Extras
The Alexander Sarcophagus never belonged to Alexander. It was once thought to have held the body of Abdalonymus, the gardener-made-king but according to Wikipedia, that has been disproved.

Whoever the sarcophagus was meant for, it is an expertly sculpted coffin. Below, you can see a picture of a Macedonian cavalryman, identified as Perdiccas. Amazingly, after 2,300 years some of the original colour still remains…


… and it no doubt inspired the reconstruction of Alexander’s colour scheme (You can tell it is him by his lion-helmet).

Alexander here is surely much too pale skinned for someone who spent a great deal of his life outdoors but what about the colour of his clothing? Whether it is realistic or not, it is certainly very striking (and let’s not even talk about the Persian soldier’s trousers).

I suppose the purpose of the reconstruction is to bring us closer to Alexander. I have to admit, though, I find him more in the more idealistic portrayals. Perhaps I am more interested in the heroic Alexander rather than the realistic one. But if the real Alexander is in both, I’m sure that doesn’t matter.


Categories: Finding Alexander | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Alexander’s Sexuality

The Bay Area Reporter of San Francisco has published an article titled Alexander the Great & Greek Love on its website. You can read it here.

By the standards of most on-line articles concerning Alexander, the article is a really good one; the writer has clearly looked more deeply into the topic than plenty of other journalists. Occasionally, however, he lets himself down.

Paragraph 1
This is an excellent introduction to Alexander. It’s the kind of passage that I wish I had written. I would dispute that Alexander ‘in the West, [is] probably the best-known ancient ruler’. In my opinion that honour belongs to Julius Caesar.

Paragraph 2
Another good paragraph. Unfortunately, it does contain one mistake: contrary to what the writer asserts, Philip II did not ‘subjugate’ Sparta. He threatened the Spartans but never invaded their country. Ultimately, he had no need to do so. On the positive side, the writer makes a nice point about Olympias, one that is always worth remembering: ‘Olympias must have been remarkable, or else little would be known about her’.

Paragraph 3
Again, a good paragraph. The line ‘Philip was assassinated, perhaps by a former male lover’ (my emphasis) stood out for me. Diodorus (XVI.93) says that that a man named Pausanias was ‘beloved by [Philip] because of his beauty’. In English, to be beloved of someone is not necessarily to be their lover, which is perhaps the reason for the writer’s caution in describing Pausanias. However, Diodorus goes on to describe how he – Pausanias – bad mouthed another man of the same name when he – Pausanias the assassin – ‘saw that the king was becoming enamoured’ of them. Pausanias accused his namesake ‘of being a hermaphrodite and prompt to accept the amorous advances of any who wished’. If Pausanias the assassin was not Philip’s lover I don’t think he would have had any reason to speak to the second Pausanias in that way.

Paragraph 4
This paragraph opens with some excellent questions regarding Alexander’s empire that we will debate until the end of time. The writer then states that Alexander ‘married an Afghanistani chieftain’s daughter’. Roxane, of course, was not from Afghanistan. The country did not exist then. She was Bactrian.

Paragraph 5
It’s hard to judge this paragraph one way or the other as the writer dives into history too early and late for me. However, I like very much that he recognises that it is anachronistic to talk of Alexander being homosexual on the grounds that ‘”homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” as social constructs didn’t exist before the 19th century’. For the record, I have no idea when homo- and hetero- sexuality were invented so I take him at his word that it was indeed in the nineteenth century.

Paragraph 6
The writer points out that ‘many writers’ believe Alexander and Hephaestion could not have had a sexual relationship as they ‘were the same age’ (Curtius III.12.16 says they were the same age) and points to evidence in James Davidson’s The Greeks and Greek Love to show that peers could be lovers. He cites Davidson’s example of Harmodius and Aristogeiton. They lived in the sixth century B.C. It would, I suppose, have been more helpful to use an example from Alexander’s own time as times do change but given how slowly this seems to have happened in the past I doubt much changed between the late sixth century and the middle of the fourth.

Paragraph 7
The following two quotations contain the whole of this paragraph. The writers states,

Most ancient sources agree that Alexander was attracted to young men.

This is more than I know. I know that he was certainly attracted to one young man – Bagoas; I am not aware of any others with whom he had an affair. It would be interesting to know who the writer’s source was, or who his sources were, for this statement.

According to Plutarch, Hephaestion was the man whom “Alexander loved most of all.”

This quotation doesn’t appear in my Penguin Classics (2011) edition of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander but I think it comes from Chapter 47. In my edition, the text there reads ‘In general [Alexander] showed most affection for Hephaestion’.

Their relationship was all-encompassing. They drank, hunted, and campaigned together. Hephaestion acted as Alexander’s Chief of Staff. It was most likely sexual. 

Really? It is equally likely that they were simply very close friends. In terms of how the writer sees Alexander’s and Hephaestion’s relationship, I am on his side, but here I think the last sentence is an example of his wish for the two to have been lovers rather than because the facts he mentions prove it to have been so.

Paragraphs 8 – 9
Here, the writer turns to the best ‘evidence’ to my mind for Alexander and Hephaestion being lovers: their imitation of Achilles and Patroclus (Arrian I.12 cf. Plutarch Life 15)who in their day were believed to be lovers. As a side note, I like that the writer acknowledges that Homer doesn’t call Achilles and Patroclus lovers. It’s this attention to detail which really sets the article above any other I have read on Alexander.

Paragraph 10
The writer now turns to the famous moment when Sisygambis mistook Hephaestion for Alexander (Arrian II.13, Curtius III.12.16-17) only for the king to reply “This one, too, is Alexander.” in support of his case that they were lovers. When considering this passage, I feel that I am at the limit of my understanding of what Alexander meant with those words. Was he implying that the two were one as lovers are or was he referring to a very deep and platonic friendship?

Paragraph 11
The writer refers to Bagoas as Darius III’s ‘boyfriend’ which is a wholly inaccurate and misleading way to describe him. Bagoas was a eunuch, a slave. There was no equality between Darius and Bagoas, such as exists between lovers of the same or opposite sex. The writer goes on to say that Bagoas ‘soon found his way into Alexander’s bed’ as if he managed to inveigle his way there. Far more likely that Alexander told or asked him to come to him. Finally, he writes ‘Bagoas’ presence doesn’t rule out physical intimacy between Alexander and Hephaestion. In any case, they remained inseparable.’ Both these statements are surely and certainly true.

Paragraph 12 – 13
This paragraph begins ‘Nothing demonstrates Alexander’s passion for Hephaestion more than his reaction to his death.’ I could not agree more. The writer goes on to give an account of Alexander’s response to Hephaestion’s death, to which I can only say that even if they did not share a bed, if there is an ounce of truth in account, it is proof positive that Alexander loved Hephaestion very deeply indeed.

Paragraph 14
This paragraph begins with the admission that ‘Unless new evidence is uncovered, the exact nature of Alexander’s sexual orientation (to use an anachronistic term) will never be known.’ It concludes,

Nonetheless, a reasonable interpretation of extant sources, studied within the context of the sexual mores of Classical and Hellenistic Greek societies, leads to the conclusion that his erotic feelings were primarily directed at males.

This I disagree with. Alexander had three wives – Roxane, Stateira II and Parysatis. But these were dynastic marriages, one may say; this is true, but what of his mistresses: Barsine, Pancaste/Callixeina, Thalestris, Cleophis and perhaps Thais, later Ptolemy I’s lover? Some of these relationships may be legendary (e.g. Thalestris) but all? I doubt it. My conclusion to all that I have read is that Alexander was sexually attracted to both men and women, and of them both he liked Hephaestion most.

Categories: Of The Moment, On Alexander | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

Alexander: November / Autumn Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography (University of California Press 1991)
** The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010)
*** In the Footsteps Of Alexander the Great A Journey from Greece to India (BBC Books 2004)

This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know.

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

Categories: Chronology of Alexander's Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Flawed Brilliance of Alexander

Justin’s Alexander
Book XII Chapters 11-16
Part Six
Other posts in this series

For this post I am using this translation of Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus

Chapter Eleven
During Alexander’s expedition, his men, when not fighting, had somehow managed to get themselves deep in debt. Following the Susa weddings, Alexander paid that debt off in its entirety. It cost him twenty thousand talents to do so. One can only wonder how the men had managed to spend that much. Either way,

[Alexander’s] munificence was highly prized, not only for the sum given, but for the character of the gift, and was received not more thankfully by the debtors than by the creditors, exaction being as troublesome to the one as payment to the other.

Once the debts had been paid, Alexander proceeded to discharge his older veterans. Despite the kindness that their king had just showed them, the remaining men complained (during an assembly) that the discharge should be on the basis of service not age.

Justin describes the men as speaking to Alexander not only with ‘entreaties’ but also with ‘reproach’. Rather sulkily, they bid him to ‘“carry on his wars alone, with the aid of his father Ammon, since he looked with disdain on his soldiers.”’

In reply, Alexander oscillated between berating his men and speaking to them ‘in gentler terms’. When neither approach worked, he leapt down from his dais and personally arrested the ringleaders.

Chapter Twelve
His next action was to commend his Persian soldiers for their loyalty and enrol a thousand of them into his bodyguard as well as a number of auxiliaries into the regular army.

This cut the Macedonians to the quick, and they went to Alexander ‘beseeching him with tears “to content himself rather with punishing than ill-treating them.”’ Their pleas worked and Alexander released more veterans.

It is really striking, in this and the previous chapter, how fraught Alexander’s relationship with his men is. One minute they are friends, then enemies, then friends again. It’s as if their relationship has lost its foundations and has become a matter of shifting sands. And why? I think because of the army’s profound tiredness and Alexander’s perennial desire to get his way.

Justin notes that it was around of what we call the Opis Mutiny that Hephaestion died.

Alexander mourned for him longer than became his dignity as a king, built a monument for him that cost twelve thousand talents, and gave orders that he should be worshipped as a god.

Chapter Thirteen
Alexander returned to Babylon ‘from the distant shores of the ocean’. On the way, he was warned by the Magic’“not to enter the city,” for that the “place would be fatal to him.”’. As a result, the king took a diversion to an uninhabited city called Borsippa ‘on the other side of the Euphrates’.

There, however, the philosopher (and professional flatterer) Anaxarchus persuaded him to go to Babylon after all.  Anaxarchus argued that “if things were fixed by fate, they were unknown to mortals, and if they were dependent on the course of nature, were unchangeable.” Que sera, sera.

I am always rather suspicious when I read of about-turns like this. Alexander was not a puppet. He did what he wanted – even in matters of religion* – not what anyone else would have him do. Still, who knows what mental state he was in after Hephaestion’s death; perhaps this did make him more open to influence?

In Babylon, Alexander rested and resumed ‘the entertainments which had been for some time discontinued’ (no doubt as a result of Hephaestion’s death). One night, at a party given by an officer named Medius, the king collapsed in such extreme pain that he asked for someone to kill him.

His friends reported that the cause of his disease was excess in drinking, but in reality it was a conspiracy, the infamy of which the power of his successors threw into the shade.

* For example, when he took part in the attack of Tyre (Arrian 2:27) and crossed the Tanais (aka Jaxartes Arrian 4:4) despite Aristander’s warnings that the omens were against him

Chapter Fourteen
Justin blames Antipater for Alexander’s death. This chapter has a lot to say about Antipater but less about Alexander. I can’t move on, however, without recording what Justin tells us concerning the poison used to kill the king.

The strength of this poison was so great, that it could be contained neither in brass, nor iron, nor shell, nor could be conveyed in any other way than in the hoof of a horse.

Too strong for metal but able to be safely transported in a hoof. Perhaps Justin was tired when he wrote this.

Chapter Fifteen
Justin has been critical of Alexander. But he allow shim to die in a a noble fashion. Meeting his men for the last time, Alexander

… not only did not shed a tear, but showed not the least token of sorrow; so that he even comforted some who grieved immoderately, and gave others messages to their parents

Alexander, Justin says, was as prepared for death as he was for battle. Can any higher praise be given? Once the last soldier had left, the king asked his friends if they would find another like him. When they did not reply,

he said that, “although he did not know that, he knew, and could foretel, and almost saw with his eyes, how much blood Macedonia would shed in the disputes that would follow his death, and with what slaughters, and what quantities of gore, she would perform his obsequies.”

Finally, the royal friends did speak, and they asked Alexander who should succeed him.

He replied, “The most worthy.”

This response meets with Justin’s whole hearted approval. He says that,

Such was [Alexander’s] nobleness of spirit, that though he left a son named Hercules, a brother called Aridaeus, and his wife Roxane with child, yet, forgetting his relations, he named only “the most worthy” as his successor; as though it were unlawful for any but a brave man to succeed a brave man, or for the power of so great an empire to be left to any but approved governors.

Unfortunately, as Justin recognises, this nobleness opened the door for the wars that followed.


Six days after Medius’ party, Alexander gave his ring to Perdiccas. This act at guaranteed that there would at least be a transitional government while the identity of the next king was decided.

Chapter Sixteen
Justin sums up Alexander by paying him a number of compliments.

He was a man endowed with powers of mind far beyond ordinary human capacity.

[Olympias] certainly bore in her womb a conception superior to mortality… by no one’s influence was she rendered more illustrious than that of her son.

[As king, Alexander] inspired his soldiers with such confidence in him, that, when he was present, they feared the arms of no enemy, though they themselves were unarmed.

Justin also mentions the omens of Alexander’s ‘future greatness’ that were seen at his birth and acknowledges his unbeaten record as a general. Finally, he concludes, when Alexander died,

[h]e was overcome at last, not by the prowess of any enemy, but by a conspiracy of those whom he trusted, and the treachery of his own subjects.

Before starting this series of posts, I had a picture of Justin as being uniformly negative towards Alexander. That was the impression I got after reading From Tyrant to Philosopher-King.

However, while Justin does not hesitate to mention Alexander’s major fault – his medising – and his minor ones – his manipulativeness, for example – it is also true to say that he is very complimentary about the Macedonian king. No where is this more seen than in the last two chapters above.

It is possible, of course, that I have misread what Justin wrote, or that the translation I have used is not an accurate one, but assuming that neither is the case, I finish this series with a sense of Justin’s fairness and ability to recognise Alexander’s good whenever he sees it.

As for the mediaeval writers who used Justin to denigrate Alexander; well, I’m not going to criticise them., even though it seems to me (after reading the Epitome) that their reading must have been rather selective. The fact is, we know from other sources that Alexander did medise.

One last point – in case Justin has expressed any further opinion of Alexander in the other books of his Epitome and you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned it/them here, it’s because I have only read Books 11 and 12. If you know of any other statements of Justin, though, feel free to mention them in the comments below.


Categories: Justin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thunder in the East

The Nature of Curtius
Book Eight Chapter 1-5
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter One
The Hunt
Rather unfairly, in my opinion, ‘Alexander gained more notoriety than credit from reducing the rock’. Curtius doesn’t say why this was so – did Alexander’s use of deception break a rule of combat? Was it the fact that the siege was not stricly necessary? We can only guess.

Before continuing his counter-insurgency operations, Alexander divided his army into three, naming Hephaestion and Coenus as the commanders of the other two divisions.

As these men took up their commands, a Macedonian ‘regional commander’ named Attinas was on the hunt for Bactrian exiles and Massagetae tribesmen who had destroyed some villages in his area.

Upon a moment, Attinas saw some shepherds ahead of him. They appeared to be driving their livestock into some woods. The rebels could wait – here was an opportunity for easy plunder.

The shepherds disappeared into the woods. The Macedonians followed ‘out of regular formation’ in their desire to grab the livestock. Suddenly, they came under attack, and for the second time, a Macedonian force was wiped out in woodland.

Craterus was in the vicinity but arrived in the wood too late. Nevertheless, he set about massacring the Dahae tribe – killing a thousand in all – thus bringing an end to the insurgency in the area. By-the-bye, Curtius doesn’t name the Dahae as being part of the ambush against Attinas but they had helped Spitamenes kill Menedemus and his men so they were not innocent bystanders.

After subduing the Sogdians once again, Alexander returned to Maracanda where he met Derdas, freshly returned from his expedition ‘to the Scythians beyond the Bosphorus’. Derdas came with promises of allegiance from Scythian kings, and a request that Alexander marry the daughter of one. She would turn out to be Roxane, the eventual mother of Alexander’s only legitimate heir*.

Once Hephaestion had returned to Maracanda, Alexander set off for a royal park in a place called Bazaira. There he reversed the Macedonians recent misfortunes in woods by successfully hunting a lion. Curtius notes the interesting fact that the Macedonian people had the right to ban their king from hunting on foot or alone. Health and Safety in the ancient world?

The latter half of the chapter is taken up with Alexander’s drunken argument with Black Cleitus, which ended with the latter’s death.

Of interest to us here is the the insight that the quarrel gives to how successful Alexander’s counter-insurgency operations had been.

The argument between king and officer began over Alexander’s bad-mouthing of his father. But Cleitus had a second grievance, “‘You assign to me the province of Sogdiana, which has often rebelled and, so far from being pacified, cannot even be reduced to subjection. I am being sent against wild animals with bloodthirsty natures.’

* According to Curtius, Alexander met Roxane for the first time after subduing the Sacae (Chapter 4, below)

Chapter Two
Another Day, Another Defile
In the days and weeks following Black Cleitus’ death, Alexander resumed operations against Bactrian exiles. As part of this, he came to a defile in an area called Nautaca where the local satrap, a man named Sisimithres, had set up a defensive blockade. Alexander met it head-on and smashed his way through it.

Sisimthres and his men retreated to ‘a rocky outcrop’ at the end (?) of the valley, which the defile opened out into. Entering the valley, Alexander found that his way to the outcrop was blocked by a torrent*. He decided to reach the outcrop by creating a mound, and so ‘issued orders for trees to be felled and rocks piled together’.

Alarmed by the sight of the Macedonian earthwork, Sisimithres eventually surrendered. As Alexander continues his operations, we learn another little detail about life in antiquity – it appears the Macedonian horses did not have horse shoes for Curtius describes how their hooves became ‘worn’ on the rocky roads.

* Curtius says that the the Nautacans had tunnelled through the outcrop to create a pathway into their country but that only they knew about it.

Chapter Three
Till Death Do Us Part
This chapter covers the end of Spitamenes’ rebellion against Alexander. In an episode reminiscent of Judith’s assassination of Holofernes, his wife cut off his head. She had become weary of being constantly on the run.

Chapter Four
Fire in the Rain
Alexander now led his men into a region called Gazaba. There, the army was scattered by a fierce thunderstorm. The cold froze men to death in the woods – once more a dangerous place for Macedonians to be – even freezing some to the tree trunks against which they were resting.

Just as he had done on the way to the Caucasus, Alexander went back and forth encouraging and helping his men. Rallied by their desire not to let their king down, the men chopped down trees to make bonfires. There would be so many that one ‘might have thought the wood was one uninterrupted blaze’.

Matters improved on the army’s second day in Gazaba when Sisimithres arrived with pack-animals, 2,000 camels, flocks of sheep, and herds of cattle. ‘Alexander divided these evenly among the men’. In return, once he had ‘ravaged’ the land of the Sacae, the king sent ‘a gift of 30,000 head of cattle’ back to the satrap.

Chapter Five
A New Division
For the briefest moment, Curtius turns towards India. It ‘was thought to be a land rich in gems and pearls as well as in gold’. But the chapter is otherwise given over to an account of the Proskynesis Crisis.

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Persian Women

I recently discovered the very well presented Mani website. Contrary to what the name suggests, it is not dedicated that region of Greece, but the great women of Persia from antiquity to the first millennium A.D.

The site contains some beautiful pictures and there is no doubt that the author loves his country a great deal. It is a shame, therefore, that some of his information is not as accurate as it could be.

For example, in the section on Sisygambis (called here Sissy Cambis), we are told that Darius III’s mother,

was a remarkable Achaemenid woman who fought, resisted and did not surrender to Alexander the Macedonian Tyrant.

The only correct statement in this sentence is Alexander’s name and nationality. Actually, I would accept that Sisygambis was remarkable but only if by that one meant that she was remarkable in her devotion to the king.

That aside, Sisygambis neither fought nor resisted Alexander. Not in war and not when he came into her tent. As for never surrendering to him – what else was her act of obeisance to him?

In my opinion, calling Alexander a tyrant is also debatable. The problem with using that word is that it brings to mind a specific office in antiquity, which Alexander never held. If one wanted to use a pejorative terms, would it not have been more precise and accurate to refer to him as Alexander the Macedonian autocrat?

The article next says that Sisygambis,

… was captured by Alexander after the battle of Issus in 333 B.C.E, along with her beautiful daughter Princess Estatira. Alexander was very much found [sic] of her and had a crush on her according to the Greek Historians!

I’ve quoted this passage in full because I am not sure whether the author is saying that Alexander had a crush on Sisygambis or Stateira II (Estatira). I think it is the latter but am not completely sure. Either way, I am not convinced by the accuracy of the statement.

Assuming the author means Stateira – the Greek historians of whom I am aware do not spend a great deal of time discussing her: Arrian and Diodorus only mention Stateira II in the context of the Susa weddings and Plutarch goes out of his way to describe how Alexander treated the entire Persian royal family with great courtesy. (For the record, Curtius doesn’t mention her at all).

Having said that, we know from Plutarch that Stateira I – Sisygambis’ daughter and Stateira II’s mother – died in childbirth over nine months after being captured by Alexander. If he had a crush on anyone, perhaps it was her. Maybe. We know too little about their relationship to talk about ‘crushes’, if that particular word is even appropriate in the first place.

As well as the above, we are also informed in the articles on Sisygambis, Roxane, and the future of Persia that the Bactrian princess was Darius III’s daughter (in the third article she is simply referred to as being Persian).

This is an unfortunate mistake as in his article on Stateira II, the author acknowledges that Roxane was from ‘from the kingdom of Bactria’, which makes me think he must know that she was not Darius’ daughter.

By-the-bye, the Roxane article also calls Alexander’s son, Alexander IV Aegus, which I’m not sure I’ve seen before. Wikipedia says this is a modern error but I don’t know anything more about it.

I have pointed out some of the mistakes in the above mentioned website so let me emphasise the quality of its presentation and clear love of its subject. The website is very political and so invariably makes some contentious statements. Those aside, the author’s history might well – but for the mistakes I have mentioned – be very accurate.

Of course, I speak as no more than a student of Alexander rather than expert. I make my own mistakes. If the errors on Mani can be ironed out I’m sure it’ll be a top-notch website.

Categories: Of The Moment | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

From Macedonia in Fiction to Crete in Fact

Links to Alexander (2)
More links here

5th August 2014
Historical Fiction can speak very clearly to the present and to the past
The Guardian Book Club – references Mary Renault’s Fire From Heaven

8th – 10th August 2014
The No State Solution
Alexander represents what needs to be destroyed in order for peace to prevail

10th August 2014
Popular Takes on Raksha Bandham
A legendary story of how Roxane used this Hindu festival to help Alexander

12th August 2014
Making Alexander great: creating a hero from zero
The Guardian Book Club on Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy

13th August 2013
USC historian plays with the pieces of an ancient puzzle
“An expert on the Ptolemaic dynasty broadens her studies of Hellenistic Egypt”


There have been numerous stories around the web on the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis. Dr Dorothy Lobel King says what needs to be said best on her blog PHDiva.

The Patrick Leigh Fermor blog has good news about the publication this autumn of not one, but two books about the abduction of General Kreipe by Leigh Fermor and Cretan partisans during the Second World War.

Last Week’s Links

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Plutarch’s Women: The Susa Weddings, Olympias, Roxane & Philinna (Chapts. 70 and 77)

For the other posts in this series click here

The Susa Weddings
Chapter 70 of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander opens with Alexander hosting a drinking contest. Sadly for the winner he was only able to enjoy his prize – more wine – for three days before dying. Plutarch doesn’t give his cause of death but if he had said it was alcohol poisoning I would not have been surprised. It certainly seems to have been the cause-of-death of the other forty one (forty one!) people who are said to have died following the contest.

Immediately after his account of this deadly party, Plutarch gives a brief account of the famous Susa Weddings. On this occasion, we are told, Alexander married Stateira ‘the [eldest] daughter of Darius’ and assigned ‘the noblest of the Persian women to the bravest of his men’. Furthermore, he ‘also invited to a collective wedding-banquet the Macedonians who had already married Persian wives’. It was a very great feast with 9,000 in attendance.

Plutarch does not have anything else to say about the weddings but if you would like to know more, Arrian contains further details. He states that Alexander also married Parysatis, the daughter of Ochus, while Hephaestion married Stateira’s sister, Drypetis; Craterus married Amastrine, daughter of Oxyatres; Perdiccas married an unnamed daughter of Atropates; Ptolemy married Artacama, daughter of Artabazus, and Eumenes married Artacama’s sister, Artonis.

As a result of reading Arrian, what becomes clear to me is that Plutarch’s assertion that Alexander married the noblest women to the bravest men is not all of the story. Let’s take a quick look at the fathers of the brides mentioned above.

  • Darius – Darius III the former Great King.
  • Ochus – Artaxerxes III Ochus, who was Great King between 358 – 338 B.C. Diodorus says Bagoas the eunuch (not the Bagoas whom Alexander was fond of) poisoned him, but according to Wikipedia there is a cuneiform tablet at the British Museum which says Ochus died of natural causes.
  • Oxyatres – Darius III’s brother.
  • Atropates – Governor of Media so a nobleman who remained in Alexander’s service after (?) Darius’ death and performed good service for him.
  • Artabazus – grandson of Artaxerxes II (who reigned 405/4 – 359/8 B.C.). I presume, therefore, that he was a senior member of the Persian nobility?

While I have no doubt that Alexander’s officers were all brave men, Eumenes’ presence in Arrian’s list makes me think that politics was an important factor in Alexander’s decision making regarding which woman was given to which man. After all, as far as I am aware, Eumenes played no significant role in any of the great battles.

One final point – I am surprised that Arrian does not name Perdiccas’ wife. I presume her name was not known to him? Perhaps this is an example of Ptolemy’s alleged bias against Perdiccas?

We now jump forward to the final chapter of Plutarch’s Life – Chapter 77. Alexander has just died following an illness that lasted ten days. Plutarch says that,

[n]obody had any suspicion at the time that Alexander had been poisoned, but it is said that five years afterwards some information was given, on the strength of which Olympias put many men to death…

Now, it’s perfectly possible that in 318 B.C., the truth about what happened to Alexander finally came out.

Or maybe…

In 319 B.C. Antipater died. Before his death, he appointed Polyperchon – rather than his son, Cassander – his successor as Alexander IV’s guardian. This was ‘… to avoid giving the impression that he was trying to set up an Antipatrid dynasty’ (Waterfield Dividing the Spoils p. 73).

This move led to war between Cassander and Polyperchon. For his part, Cassander soon won the support of Antigonus, and (though to a lesser extent) Ptolemy and Lysimachus. Polyperchon, however, was short of friends. He kept going, though, and by 317 B.C. had convinced Olympias to back him.

Could it be possible that this alliance was rooted in a message sent by Polyperchon to Olympias the previous year in which he intimated that Antipater had ordered his sons, Cassander and Iollas, to assassinate Alexander? It would certainly explain why Olympias very vindictively ordered Iollas’ ashes (he died on an unknown occasion between 323 – 317 B.C.) to be scattered.

If Polyperchon did make this allegation ‘five years afterwards’ we can be sure that Olympias would soon connect the dots and fear that just as he had killed her son Cassander would, if he had the chance, kill her grandson. Which is precisely what did, in the end, happen.

For his part, though, Plutarch is sceptical that Alexander was poisoned. He cites the lack of corruption in the king’s body in the day’s following his death as proof of this.

Moving on, at the time of Alexander’s death,

… Roxane was expecting a child and she was therefore held in special honour by the Macedonians. But she was jealous of Alexander’s second wife, Stateira, whom she tricked into visiting her… [w]hen she… got her into her power, she had her murdered, together with her sister, threw the bodies into a well and filled it up with earth. In this crime her accomplice was Perdiccas…

Roxane’s actions are altogether horrible but before we condemn her out of hand we have to ask ourselves what would have happened had Stateira (and Drypetis) lived? Given half a chance, would they have let Roxane alone? Perhaps Stateira and Drypetis were in a weak position as they were Persian and – in the former’s case – had not had time to bear Alexander any children but given their family connections I can’t believe that had Roxane and Perdiccas not murdered them they would have been allowed to slip into obscurity like Bagoas.

Philinna and Olympias
The penultimate reference to a woman is Philinna who Plutarch describes as being ‘obscure and humbly born’. She is mentioned here because she was also Philip III Arrhidaeus’ mother. Plutarch has no more to say about Philinna but one more allegation to make against Olympias. He says that she,

… was believed to have given [Philip III Arrhidaeus] drugs which impaired the functions of his body and irreparably injured his brain.

And that is the end of the book. Plutarch has ended it on a bit of gossip. It should come, I suppose, as no surprise – he has not liked Olympias since the start. Perhaps she really was an unlikable person but I’m not sure she was worse than any of the men.

I have enjoyed reading Plutarch’s Life of Alexander. Thinking about what I have read, I shall always be a little disappointed that he did not deepen his narrative to allow us a little more insight into the character of the women he mentions. I understand that his focus is Alexander and not anyone else – male or female – but it is a shame that they both really just have walk on-walk off parts. I shall always appreciate the Life for reminding me of the existence of obscure people like Philinna, above, and Telesippus but the one thing that has really struck me about the narrative is Plutarch’s deficient treatment of Olympias in the early chapters. He could have treated her better.

Categories: Plutarch's Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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