Posts Tagged With: Siege of Tyre

Alexander the Hungover Conqueror?

In an article for The Sydney Morning Herald, on how we can say and do things that we regret while hungover as well as drunk, columnist Sam de Brito states that

Alexander the Great (who died of alcoholism) conquered most of the known world, putting endless cities to the sword while hungover.

You can read it here.

First of all, I should say that I don’t know the background to the article: it doesn’t reference any particular event and the heading – ‘Victoria Bitterly divorced’ – appears as no more than a pun on the name of an Australian brewer. Perhaps a high ranking member of the family or company that owns it is going through a messy divorce case.

So far as this blog post is concerned, however, that is by-the-bye as I am going to focus solely on de Brito’s statement regarding Alexander.

***

Firstly, he states as fact that Alexander ‘died of alcoholism’. Actually, the cause of Alexander’s death is not known with any certainty. The Macedonian king might have died of alcoholism but he also might have died of malaria, typhoid or been poisoned. The ultimate cause of his death might just have been natural causes – his body worn out by the damage done to it during thirteen plus years of campaigning. In short, though, De Brito has no grounds to assert that alcohol was the killer.

Secondly, he states that Alexander ‘conquered most of the known world, putting endless cities to the sword while hungover.’

This is the kind of statement that seems reasonable until you actually think about it. Yes, Alexander ‘conquered most of the known world’ but is it very likely that a person could conduct a successful thirteen year military campaign in an inebriated state?

I personally doubt it but let’s say – for the sake of argument – that it is, what of Alexander specifically? de Brito’s charge finds no favour with Plutarch. In Chapter 23 of his Life of Alexander, he states

Alexander was also more moderate in his drinking than was generally supposed. The impression that he was a heavy drinker arose because when he had nothing else to do, he liked to linger over each cup, but in fact he was usually talking rather than drinking: he enjoyed holding long conversations, but only when he had plenty of leisure. Whenever there was urgent business to attend to, neither wine, nor sleep, nor sport, nor sex, nor spectacle could ever distract his attention, as they did for other generals. The proof of this is his life, which although so short was filled to overflowing with the most prodigious achievements.

I am sure Sam de Brito researched his article before filing it so it is unfortunate that he missed this.

***

But perhaps de Brito only had a limited amount of time to write his article and happened to use Curtius instead. If anyone is going to present a picture of a warrior-king slaughtering his way across the world while being slaughtered, it is surely him. Curtius writes,

Alexander had some great natural gifts: a noble disposition surpassing that of all other monarchs; resolution in the face of danger; speed in undertaking and completing projects; integrity in dealing with those who surrendered and mercy towards prisoners; restraint even in those pleasures which are generally acceptable and widely indulged. But all these were marred by his inexcusable fondness for drink.
(Curtius 5.7:1)

de Brito’s article gives the impression that he has read the last sentence in the quotation above and used it as the lens through which he sees Alexander, either in ignorance or dismissal of Plutarch’s words.

***

To be honest, I doubt de Brito has read any of the sources – his allegation comes across as the kind of thing someone who-got-it-from-his-mate-who-was-told-it-by-his-old-man-(probably-while-hungover)-who-knew-all-that-old-stuff would say use.

However, let’s take de Brito seriously and ask what does Curtius have to say about the role of alcohol during the course of Alexander’s career? After all, the above quotation certainly speaks of a man whose life was coloured by it. Does Curtius present Alexander as being hung over during his conquests? Let’s find out.

***

de Brito talks about Alexander being hungover while ‘putting endless cities to the sword’. To get a more representative look at what role alcohol might have played in his career, I have picked ten major military actions that Alexander took part in. Obviously, as Books I and II of Curtius’ have been lost, I am starting with Book III.

The Siege of the Celaenaeans’ Citadel
(III.1.1-8)
After entering Celaenae without any difficulty, Alexander laid siege to its citadel. At first, the Celaenaeans were defiant, but as the days passed, and – presumably – their food and water ran low they offered to surrender if Darius did not send a relieving force within the next sixty days. Alexander agreed, and when no Persians arrived, the Celaenaeans duly surrendered. Two months is plenty of time for Alexander to have got drunk once, twice or maybe sixty times. However, not only does Curtius make no mention of any drinking taking place in the Royal Tent, he says that Alexander left Celaeanae after just ten days. He was a man with a mission and didn’t have time to mess around with alcohol.

The Battle of Issus
(III.7-10)
In the lead up to Alexander’s first confrontation with Darius, we see him stopping in Soli and enjoying a holiday. No doubt he enjoyed a drink there but Curtius does not mention it – neither does he record Alexander drinking at any other point before the start of the battle.

The Siege of Tyre
(IV.2-4)
This siege lasted for six months so Alexander undoubtedly enjoyed a few drinks along the way. And indeed, Curtius does state that ‘excessive drinking’ took place – but by the Tyrians. It occurred after ‘a sea-creature of extraordinary size’ beached itself on the Macedonian mole before slipping back into the sea. The Tyrians interpreted this as a sign of Neptune’s* anger with the Macedonians and the sure failure of their siege so started to celebrate.

* Curtius was a Roman

The Siege of Gaza
(IV.6.7-31)
Part of Curtius’ manuscript is missing here but in the portion we have there is no reference to Alexander drinking at any time during the siege.

The Battle of Gaugamela
(IV.11-14)
From the arrival of the ten ambassadors to the start of the battle at Gaugamela there is once again no mention of Alexander drinking. The night before the battle he stayed up late (IV.13.16) but not to drink – his mind was completely occupied by the fight to come.

The Susian Gates
(V.3.16-4.34)
Neither on the way to the Gates, not despite the humiliation of having to withdraw from them after the Persian boulder ambush, did Alexander turn to drink. Instead, he regrouped, found a new route, and took the fight to his enemy – winning.

The Sogdian Rock
(VII.11.1-27)
Upon his arrival at the Rock, Alexander examined ‘the difficulties of the terrain’ before him. The Sogdian Rock seemed too well protected to be taken and the Macedonian king ‘decided to…’ drink his frustration away? No. ‘leave, but then… was overcome by a desire to bring even nature to her knees’. During the siege, Alexander spent the whole day watching for any sign that his men had successfully completed their ascent. Curtius describes how, when night came and darkness fell, Alexander ‘withdrew to take refreshment’. Perhaps this included a little wine? I expect so but no so much as the king was up before daybreak the next morning to continue his watch.

The Aornos* Rock
(VIII.11.2-25)
At first, Alexander was baffled as to how this outcrop might be taken but soon found help – not from wine but a local guide. When the time came to launch an attack, Alexander was the first to clamber over the makeshift ramp that the Macedonians had built to cover the gap between the rock and surrounding land. The fight was hard fought and when mounting casualties forced Alexander to order a retreat it looked like the Indians had won. But, though forced back, the Macedonians had unnerved them and, two nights later, the Indians tried to flee from the rock. Alexander was sufficiently clear headed to order them to be pursued and cut down.

* Curtius calls it the Aornis Rock

The Battle of the Hydaspes River
(VIII.13.5-27)
When Alexander arrived at the Hydaspes he did not know how to cross its broad expanse without being cut down by Porus’ army, which was waiting for him on the other side. At the Aornos Rock, a guide had shown him the way. This time, he used his own guile – his own clear-headed, no reference to alcohol once again, guile.

The Mallian City
(IX.4.15-33)
Before carrying out what must surely rank as one of the most famous jumps in military history, Alexander had to quell a potential mutiny in the Macedonian ranks. His army had thought that after turning west at the Hyphasis River, they were ‘quit of danger’. Realising that this was not so, they ‘were suddenly terror-stricken’. Alexander met his men’s fear head on and inspired them to follow him into battle once more. Could he have done this while hungover? I doubt it. By now it can go without saying that, there is – yet again – no reference to Alexander drinking at this time.

***

Ten military actions ranging from Asia Minor to India. No direct references to Alexander drinking alcohol let alone being hungover during operations. Curtius accuses Alexander of marring his talents ‘by his inexcusable fondness for drink’, I accuse him (once again) of resorting to sensationalism and exaggeration.

As for Sam de Brito, I am sure he is an excellent journalist, but on this occasion, I can’t help but feel that he trusted to his historical knowledge more than was perhaps wise. Maybe he wrote his article while hungover.

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

Alexander: February / Winter Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

332
The Siege Tyre continues (January – September)(Michael Wood*)

329
Macedonian armies unite in Arachosia (Livius)
NB
The Landmark Arrian** dates the siege of Tyre to winter 333/2 to summer 332
Peter Green*** dates a. the siege of Tyre to January 332 onwards to 29th July that year and b. the march through Arachosia to late August 330 B.C. onwards

326
Hephaestion marches through Gandara to the Indus River (Livius)
Alexander campaigns in the Swat Valley (Livius)
Alexander seizes the Aornus Rock (Livius)
NB
The Landmark Arrian** states that the seizure of the Aornos Rock took place in Spring
Peter Green dates the capture of the Aornos Rock to (winter) 327/6
Michael Wood dates a. Hephaestion’s passage to the Indus River b. Alexander’s Swat campaign to the winter of 327/6 and c. the capture of the Aornos Rock to early spring 326.

325
Journey down the Indus (Michael Wood)
Macedonian fleet damaged at confluence of Acesines and Indus Rivers (Livius)
NB The Landmark Arrian states that the journey down the Indus River took place in Spring

324
Alexander returns to Pasargadae (Livius)
Calanus dies (Livius)
NB
The Landmark Arrian dates Alexander’s arrival in Pasargadae to the winter of 325/4
Michael Wood dates Alexander’s visit to Pasargadae to January
Peter Green dates Alexander’s visit to Pasargadae to January onwards

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

***

Notes

  • This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know
  • Re: “325 Macedonian fleet damaged at confluence of Acesines and Indus Rivers (Livius)” Unless I have misidentified it, this entry actually refers to the trouble that Alexander experienced at the confluence of the Hydaspes and Acesines rivers according to Arrian (VI.4-6) and Curtius (IX.4.8-14)
Categories: Chronology of Alexander's Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alexander: December and Winter Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

336
Nov-Dec Alexander wins Greek support for war against Persia (Livius)

335
Nov-Dec Alexander holds festivals in Dion and Aegae (Livius)

334/333
Winter Alexander conquers Caria, Lycia, Pamphylia and Phrygia (Landmark Arrian*, Livius)
Winter Alexander son of Aeropos is arrested (Landmark Arrian)
Winter The Pisidians harass Macedonian army but are subdued (Landmark Arrian)

333
Dec (?) Darius tries to negotiate with Alexander (Livius)

333/332
Winter Alexander asks Tyrians if he can enter the city to sacrifice to Herakles; he is denied access (Landmark Arrian)
Winter The Siege of Tyre begins (Landmark Arrian)

332/331

Winter Alexander enters Egypt (Landmark Arrian, Michael Wood**)
Winter Alexander founds Alexandria (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander visits Siwah (Landmark Arrian)
Green suggests that the foundation of Alexandria could have taken place in April
Winter Alexander is informed of the Persian navy’s defeat in the Aegean (Landmark Arrian)
Mid-winter Alexander visits Siwah (Wood)
Green has Alexander’s visit take place in early Spring

331
Early Dec Alexander takes Susa unopposed (Peter Green***)
15th Dec Abulites surrenders Susa to Alexander (Livius)
22nd Dec Alexander leaves Susa (Livius)

331/330
Winter Alexander reaches Persia (Wood)
Winter Alexander takes the Susian Gates (Green)
Winter Alexander takes Susa (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander subdues the Ouxioi (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander passes the Persian Gates and enters Persepolis (Landmark Arrian)

330/329
Winter Spitamenes’ second revolt is put down (Landmark Arrian)

329/328

Winter Alexander at Zariaspa (Green, Livius, Wood)
Winter Bessus is mutilated ahead of being executed (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Bessus is executed (Green)

328
December Spitamenes is captured (Livius)

328/327
Winter Alexander in Maracanda and Nautaca (Livius, Wood)
Winter Alexander captures the Rock of Sisimithres (Wood)
Winter Alexander returns to Zariaspa (Wood)
Winter Callisthenes objects to Alexander’s attempt to introduce proskynesis (Landmark Arrian)
Winter In Nautaca, Alexander appoints new satraps (Landmark Arrian)

327/326

Winter Hephaestion to the Indus River via the Khyber Pass (Wood)
Winter Alexander enters the Swat Valley (Wood)
Winter Alexander at Nysa (Wood)
Winter ‘The Dionysus episode’ (Green) i.e. Macedonian army gets drunk en masse
Winter Alexander attacks the Massaga (Wood)
Winter Alexander campaign in the Swat Valley (Wood)

326

December Alexander campaigns against the Mallians (Wood)
December Siege of the Mallian city  (Wood)
The Landmark Arrian gives the Mallian campaign as happening during the winter of 326/5

325
December Satraps punished for wrong-doing (Green, Livius)
December Alexander joins up with Craterus in Carmania (Livius)
December Macedonian army reaches Hormuz (Wood)

325/324
Winter Alexander joins up with Craterus and Nearchus (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander orders the restoration of Cyrus the Great’s Tomb (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Orxines is executed (Landmark Arrian)

324/323
Winter Alexander requests divine honours for Hephaestion (Livius)
Winter Alexander campaigns against Cossaeans (Landmark Arrian, Livius)

***

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

***

Notes

  • This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know.
  • As can be seen, I have noted where The Landmark Arrian, Livius, Michael Wood and Peter Green have disagreed on the dates; these notes, however, are not comprehensive. My focus has been on recording what each author has said rather than comparing it to the others.

***

Modern Names
The Mallian city – Multan
Nysa – Jelalabad
Zariaspa aka Bactra – Balkh

Categories: Chronology of Alexander's Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Conclusions
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

Nature’s Enmity; Alexander’s Victory

The Nature of Curtius
Book Four Chapters 3 – 4
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Three
The Young King and the Sea
In order to build the mole, the Macedonians cut down trees and took rocks from the surrounding countryside. On Mount Libanus they were attacked by Arab peasants. This led Alexander to lead ‘a detachment of light-armed troops’ into Arabia to kill them.

In the summer of 323 B.C. Alexander was planning an expedition into Arabia. His death in June, however, meant that it never happened. This punitive expedition would be his only excursion into that sandy region.

The Tyrians did their best to stop the building of the mole. To do so, they used some familiar materials and some that I hope were less familiar (at least, in a martial context).

The familiar came in the form of ‘rocks and sand’. The rocks were piled into a boat at its stern*, so that the prow ‘stood high out of the water’ – all the better to land the boat on the mole with. The boat was also ‘daubed… with bitumen and sulphur’ so that it would burn more easily.

The boat was then launched towards the mole and set alight. We saw yesterday how the weather set itself against the Macedonians. It now did so again, for as the burning ship drew near, ‘an especially high wind whipped up the sea from its very depths and smashed it against the mole’. The mole collapsed, and Alexander was forced to begin building it again.

Curtius takes this opportunity to give a little insight into how the mole was built. Trees were thrown into the sea first and rocks dropped over them. A second line of trees were then placed on top of the rocks. Earth was then placed over the rocks before another layer of rocks and trees were added ‘thus forming a structure virtually bonded’. Alexander tried to make the wind work for him by directing the mole into the head-wind. This ensured that the front of the mole (guarded by towers) protected the men working behind it.

Meanwhile, the Tyrians were not restricting their attacks to boats. Divers attached hooks to the trees at the base of the mole and pulled them away, again causing the structure to collapse.

It is at this point that Curtius says Alexander was ‘dejected, undecided whether to continue or leave’. Very opportunely, new soldiers from Greece and ships arrived from Cyprus. Encouraged by these reinforcements, Alexander decided to stay and see the job through.

The ships surrounded the city. Alexander intended to attack at midnight. At the appointed hour, though, the weather once more intervened. Thick clouds gathered and ‘a layer of fog’ fell. Then a strong wind whipped up the sea. The ships crashed against one another. Most if not all survived but the attack had to be aborted.

When Alexander renewed his attack the Tyrians employed their more unusual – and wholly unpleasant – weapon. We have seen how they used rocks. Now they poured boiling sand on the enemy soldiers. If only it was just that, for they also boiled excrement and poured that down as well. I suppose desperate times called for desperate measures.

* Stern – rear, prow – front (the starboard is the right hand side of the boat as you look forward, the port the left hand side)

Chapter Four
The Walls Came Tumbling Down
Alexander had had enough. He decided to lift his siege and depart for Egypt. And yet, when push came to shove, he could not bear to leave. It would be a disgrace for him to leave Tyre behind for if he did it would be a ‘witness that he could be beaten’. The city would also be a thorn in his side with its ability to disrupt his supply lines.

So, ‘he ordered more ships to be brought up’. At the same time, ‘a sea-creature of extraordinary size’ – perhaps a whale? – gave nature’s verdict on what would happen next. It rose out of the sea and splashed down on the mole.

The Tyrians took this to be a sign that Poseidon (Neptune to Curtius, of course) was ‘exacting vengeance’ for Alexander’s ‘occupation of the sea’. The Macedonians, however, believed that they were being shown the way to point the mole.

In the end, the Macedonians were proved right. They reached Tyre’s walls, broke through them and stormed the city. Many Tyrians were killed, either in the fighting or by being executed afterwards. They had given the Macedonians their hardest fight since the start of the expedition and now had to suffer the consequences.

Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The man who had it all

The Nature of Curtius
Book Four Chapters 1 – 4
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter 1
The King Without a Crown
In the last post, we saw how Darius lost the Battle of Issus but was able to escape from the battlefield using horse relays. At the beginning of this chapter, Curtius makes the very poignant point that the Great King fled

through terrain which he had filled with armies almost beyond number but which was now deserted – to form one vast and solitary wilderness.

So, having lost the symbols of his kingship when he removed his royal insignia at the start of his flight it was now as if Darius had now lost his very kingdom. The earth had turned its back to him.

And I think that the earth could not have deserted (if you’ll excuse the pun) a more appropriate king. We know from the other Alexander historians that Memnon of Rhodes recommended a scorched earth policy prior to the Battle of the Granicus River, and that while the satraps had rejected his advice, as Alexander mentioned in his response to Darius’ letter, the Persians had form for carrying out such devastating actions*.

And, of course, there is Arsames – the satrap of Cilicia – who did indeed destroy his land upon Alexander’s approach.

Speaking of Alexander’s letter, it led to what must have been a very long journey for Thersippus who was given the responsibility of delivering it. If you have seen the film 300 you will know that messengers were not always treated very well (see the film clip below).

Admittedly, 300 is not your go-to film for an example of historical accuracy but if we jump forward to chapter 2 of Curtius’ book for a moment, what do we find happening to Alexander’s heralds after they entered Tyre to warn the Tyrians to make peace with the Macedonian king? They were killed and their bodies thrown over the city walls and into the sea. This. Is. Tyre!

In Sidon**, Alexander overthrew the king and gave the job of nominating a successor to Hephaestion. He offered the kingship to the two noblemen he was lodging with only for them to turn it down as they were not members of the royal family.

Impressed by their humility, Hephaestion invited them to chose the new king. They turned to a poor gardener named Abdalonymus who was ‘distantly related to the royal family’.

In what must be one of the nicest scenes in any biography of Alexander, the two noblemen visited Abdalonymus as he worked in his garden. There, they told him to take off his rags, clean himself up, and put on the royal clothing they had brought him.

The choice of Abdalonymus as king did not meet with everyone’s approval. So, Alexander summoned him in order to assess his character. How did you endure your poverty? He asked him. Abdalonymus replied,

‘These hands of mine satisfied my needs. I had nothing, but lacked nothing.’

I don’t know anything about Abdalonymus’ later career except that the Alexander sarcophagus may have been made for him.

I wonder, though, if Curtius was telling us something about Abdalonymus’ future when, as the two noblemen greeted him, the king-to-be was described as pulling up weeds. Weeds today, corrupt officials tomorrow***?

* In his letter, Alexander referred to how Xerxes I ‘left Mardonius in Greece so that he could destroy our cities and burn our fields’
** Or Tyre according to Diodorus, who also called Abdalonymys ‘Ballonymus’ (see here)
*** I must also mention the fact that when the noblemen met Abdalonymus he had no idea that Alexander and Darius were contending with one another for control of the latter’s empire. He was wise, humble and aloof.

Chapter 2
Re-Maker of Worlds
In this post, we have seen nature used as a metaphor – for the loss of a kingdom and for wisdom. At the start of the second chapter, Alexander threatens the Tyrian envoys by using what appears to be hyperbole. You think you are safe, he tells them, because you live on an island,

‘… but I am soon going to show you that you are really on the mainland.’

As it happens, the envoys believed him. To its cost, however, the city did not.

Alexander’s prophecy came true in two ways. Firstly, when his mole finally reached the island. And secondly when, over the years, the mole caused the sea to silt up around it to the point where the old city and island city could be completely joined. For images of joined-up Tyre today, see this post.

Alexander’s ability to not only use the land but change it according to his wishes stand in stark contrast to the impotent figure of Darius as he rides through the lonely wilderness.

Alexander intended to build a mole (i.e a causeway) to carry his army to the gates of the city. He was opposed not only by the Tyrians, but also the weather.

For example, Curtius says that a gap of four stades (under half a mile) separated Tyre from the mainland. That gap was assaulted by a strong ‘south-westerly wind, which rolled rapid successions of waves on to the shore’.

Then there was the depth of the sea which, beyond the shoreline, fell into a ‘fathomless’ depth. Although this was an exaggeration, as it turned out, the sea was still deep enough to fill the Macedonian soldiers ‘with despair’ when they saw it.

But Alexander was stronger than their hopelessness, and he got his men to work. The mole soon began to rise out of the sea.

Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: