Posts Tagged With: Sisygambis

32. The Battle of Issus

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘… about one hundred thousand [Persian soldiers] were killed (including more than ten thousand cavalry), such large numbers that Ptolemy the son of Lagus, who was with Alexander at the time, says that when the party in pursuit of Darius met a ravine in their path they could cross it over the bodies of the dead.’
(Arrian II.11.8)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

Following his victory at Issus, Alexander left Asia Minor once and for all and entered Phoenicia. I end my series of posts on Alexander in Asia Minor with an image of his route through the region, the famous Naples mosaic, a painting of Sisygambis’ equally famous mistake, and a bust of Ptolemy – one of Arrian’s main sources for his account of Alexander’s expedition. I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts!

Alexander’s Route Through Asia Minor
The famous Alexander Mosaic from Pompeii (now in Naples). In it, we see Darius fleeing, possibly at the Battle of Issus
Sisigambis pays homage to Alexander after mistaking Hephaestion for the king
Ptolemy I Soter

Credit Where It’s Due
Map of Alexander’s route through Asia Minor: University of N. Carolina
The Alexander Mosaic: Livius
Sisigambis mistakes Hephaestion for Alexander: Wikipedia
Ptolemy I Soter: New World Encyclopaedia

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Some Weekend Reads

An article on the Ekathimerini website looks to the past in order to make sense of the present. If you would like to know about Alexander, fake news, and the end of ancient Athenian democracy then click here.

I have no comment to make about the current situation vis-a-vis North Macedonia, Greece, Russia et al but I will say that I did not like the description of Philip II as a ‘a Trump-level warlord’. Donald Trump is not a warlord, and you can be sure that if he was, he would not be one of the same level as Philip.

Philip II was as skilled a diplomat as he was a general. He deserves better than to be compared to Trump.

Also, I am still trying to work out how the writer can blame Alexander for an example of fake news that happened after he died and as a result of the actions of another person. Stratocles used Alexander to achieve his aim.

So Alexander is an eerie symbol in the name conflict. Hopefully, the Macedonian kings’ disdain for democracy will not prevail in the region.

As above, it’s Stratocles’ name that should appear here but it has to be said, Alexander did engage in fakery when it suited his interests – think of how he forged one of Darius’ letters to him.


Alexander and Hephaestion make a list of National Geographic‘s Top 10, Red-Hot (no less), Power Couples here. Our lack of knowledge regarding what we know of their relationship means that you can take Alexander’s and Hephaestion’s inclusion in this list as seriously or not according to your preference. That aside, the caption provided with the image of the two contains a couple of interesting statements:

  1. ‘Many historians believe the two were lovers but ended the amorous side of their relationship when it was time to marry and start a family.’ I have never read a historian who believed that this was the case. If it is true, though, why did no one tell Bagoas?
  2. Hephaestion and Alexander ‘were said to look so much alike, that some couldn’t tell them apart.’ Some needed to open their eyes – just like Sisygambis did when she mistook Hephaestion for Alexander because he was the taller of the two and better looking.


Read a very short history of the Vergina Star at Neos Kosmos here.


Who is to blame for the conflict between North Macedonia (formerly the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) and Greece? Philip II and Alexander III, apparently:

The ultimate source of the problem – or at least the justification for the problem from the Greek perspective – has to be laid at the feet of Philip II of Macedon and, even more squarely, at those of his son Alexander the Great. If father and son hadn’t literally put Macedon on the map, modern day Greeks wouldn’t have been able to claim copyright over the place name. (my emphasis)

If I read this correctly, the writer is saying that Macedon did not exist before Philip and Alexander’s time, that they created it. Well, he said with a sigh, it’s an argument. At first glance, it also looks like a lunatic assertion but let’s not assume that the writer has lost his senses. What is he really saying? For me, the rest of the article does not shed any further light on the matter so it’ll have to remain an open question for now. If you would like to read the full article (at the History News Network website) you can do so here.


Greek Reporter‘s list of the Top 10 archaeological finds in Greece over the last decade puts the Amphipolis tomb at Number One. You can read the complete list here. One quibble: Alexander died in Babylon, not Baghdad; the two are separate places.


Hello to anyone visiting this blog from my Alexander Facebook page. If you have any comments regarding the North Macedonia links, please leave them here, not on Fb. Because the Greece-North Macedonia dispute can inflame tempers and lead to unpleasant ‘discussions’, I delete any comments relating to it there.

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Among the Wounded

III. The Battle of Gaugamela
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.


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.

And here Curtius’,

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

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.


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

Protector of Men

II. Sisygambis’ Tent
(Arrian II.13)
Read the other posts in this series

Alexander… entered the tent accompanied only by Hephaestion… Darius’ mother, in doubt, owing to the similarity of their dress, which of the two was the King, prostrated herself before Hephaestion, because he was taller than his companion. Hephaestion stepped back, and one of the Queen’s attendant’s rectified her mistake by pointing to Alexander; the Queen withdrew in profound embarrassment, but Alexander merely remarked that her error was of no account, for Hephaestion, too, was an Alexander – a ‘protector of men’.

Hephaestion’s second appearance in Arrian’s text is, perhaps, one of his most famous. It is the moment when not only is he mistaken for Alexander, but is then confirmed as another Alexander by the king himself.

But note that the translator, J R Hamilton, has Alexander say that Hephaestion is ‘an Alexander – a ‘protector of men” (my emphasis). This is not quite the same as saying that Hephaestion is his alter ego.

When I noticed this, I immediately went to the other Alexander historians to see what form of words they used in their accounts of the same scene.

Justin records Alexander’s visit to the royal women’s tent (here) but does not mention Hephaestion. Plutarch quotes a letter from Alexander to Parmenion in which he says,

‘… I have never seen nor wished to see Darius’ wife… I have not even allowed her beauty to be mentioned in my presence’.
(Para 22)

So far, so unhelpful. Fortunately, Curtius’ and Diodorus’ accounts are of great interest. Not only do they record Alexander’s and Hephaestion’s visit to the royal women’s tent, but after Sisygambis’ mistake, they have Alexander say to her,

‘My lady, you made no mistake. This man is Alexander too.’
(Curtius III.12.17)

“Never mind, Mother. For actually he too is Alexander.”
(Diodorus XVII.37)

Not ‘an Alexander’ but ‘is Alexander’. The difference is only two letters but they throughly alter the meaning of the phrase. Arrian represents Alexander as punning on his name; he does not tell Sisygambis that Hephaestion is him but that he – Hephaestion – is a protector of men like him. Curtius and Diodorus, however, have Alexander saying that Hephaestion is him – that he is his ‘second self’ as the note in Diodorus says.


The disparity between Arrian, Curtius and Diodorus leads us to ask which version of Alexander’s comment is correct? Actually, neither might be. In the passage preceding the above quote, Arrian tells us that the anecdote is not mentioned by Ptolemy or Aristobulos and that he does not record it as being ‘necessarily true’. However, he doesn’t give a reason for saying this.

In his notes to John Yardley’s translation of Curtius, Waldemar Heckel takes the matter a little further by suggesting that the anecdote was invented by Cleitarchus.

Livius would probably agree with him. They say that Cleitarchus,

… sometimes sacrificed historical reliability to keep the story entertaining and to stress the psychological development. Therefore, Cleitarchus’ History of Alexander contains many errors (some serious).

If the story of Sisygambis’ mistake is fictional, I imagine Cleitarchus invented it in order to show how good a man Alexander was in order to show how far he fell after replacing Darius III as Great King – all part of the story’s ‘psychological development’. Hephaestion’s appearance in it, therefore, is no more than a means to an end.


For us, it is a shame if one of Hephaestion’s (most famous) appearances in the histories must be considered a fiction. However, even if it is, the fact that Cleitarchus chose to use the chiliarch bears witness to the latter’s special status with Alexander. Bearing in mind that Cleitarchus was writing within living memory of both men, had Hephaestion been other than the man of the anecdote, it would have fallen flat on its face when Cleitarchus read his work to his audience.

For this reason, perhaps, after consulting other histories, Arrian says that though he doesn’t think Cleitarchus’ anecdote ‘necessarily true’, it does seem to him to be ‘credible enough’. For a moment, I feel as if we have come within touching distance of the historical Hephaestion son of Amyntor but held back from reaching him by the invisible chains of time and an Alexandrian writer’s literary conceit.

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

Alexander, Slicer of Knots

Justin’s Alexander
Book XI Chapters 6-9
Part Two
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 Six
When deciding upon a title for the first post in this series, I considered ‘Alexander the Pragmatist’ as that seemed to be a key feature of his early kingship. I eventually decided against it as I didn’t think Alexander could be fully described by one word alone.

Nevertheless, his pragmatism was an important element of his rule, and we shall see it more than once today. For example, Justin reports that as the Macedonian army advanced through Asia, Alexander exhorted his men not to destroy the land – as it was their property.

Having mentioned this, Justin allows himself for a brief moment to be in awe of his subject. The Macedonian army was a small force consisting of just 32,000 infantry and 4,500 cavalry. Justin remarks,

Whether, with this small force, it is more wonderful that he conquered the world, or that he dared to attempt its conquest, is difficult to determine.

Another example of Alexander’s pragmatism then follows. He entered Asia not with an army comprised of ‘robust young men, or men in the flower of their age’ but veterans, ‘masters of war’. Further to this, Justin says that none of the officers were under sixty.

He is exaggerating the age of Alexander’s army. But why would he do so? I wonder if it is an attempt to rationalise the magnitude of Alexander’s achievement, one that – in his opinion – was surely beyond the power of young men to attain.

Having said that, it’s true that Alexander began his expedition with much older men riding alongside him – Parmenion, for example, and perhaps Erygius? He knew the value of experience.

In his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it account of the Battle of the Granicus River, Justin notes that Alexander’s ‘conduct’ – his bravery – was as much responsible for the Persian defeat as ‘the valour of the Macedonians’. And again, ‘the terror of his name’ is said to have played as large a part in defeating Darius’ lieutenants as his weapons did.

Chapter Seven
A further example of Alexander’s pragmatism begins this chapter. On hearing of Alexander Lyncestes’ alleged treachery, the king doesn’t have him executed but put under arrest. He knows that he is still close to Macedon to avoid trouble from the pro-Lyncestian faction there.

Another feature of Alexander’s character that we saw in the first post was his respect for history, albeit when it suited him. Here, he is not so much selective about what he says but particular in his interpretation.

Justin reports that Alexander took Gordium,

… not so much for the sake of plunder, as because he had heard that in that city, in the temple of Jupiter, was deposited the yoke of Gordius’s car; the knot of which, if anyone should loose, the oracles of old had predicted that he should rule all Asia.

Alexander searched for the ends of the knot but was unable to find them. Unwilling to give up (and risk his army being unsettled by the bad omen), he simply cut the through the knot and announced that he had undone it. He had certainly put, as Justin puts it ‘a forced interpretation on the oracle’. Most importantly, though, it was accepted.

Chapter Eight
Justin says that Alexander ‘crossed Mount Taurus’ (to reach Cilicia) because he feared its defiles. This is certainly not the witness of Curtius.

We move on to the severe illness that afflicted Alexander after he went to bathe in the Cydnus River, and which left him gravely ill.

With a little kindness, we might say that having been warned by Parmenion that Philip of Arcanania meant to poison him, the king was very brave to trust his doctor’s medicine. I suspect Justin is right, though, when he says that ‘Alexander, however, thought it better to trust the doubtful faith of the physician, than to perish of certain disease.’

Chapter Nine
Issus. As the Macedonian and Persian armies approached each other, Justin reports Alexander as being concerned by the small size of his force versus the huge one opposite him. He calmed his nerves by recalling the ‘powerful people he had overthrown’ and marched on.

That was fine for Alexander, but what about his men? Justin notes that to stop them worrying, the king decided a. not to avoid giving battle (so as to not give the men time to panic), and b. to stop and start as they marched towards the Persians to enable his men to get used to what lay before them.

As you might expect, he also encouraged his men with a stirring speech, or rather, several – one tailored for each nationality represented.

He excited the Illyrians and Thracians by describing the enemy’s wealth and treasures, and the Greeks by putting them in mind of their wars of old, and their deadly hatred towards the Persians. He reminded the Macedonians at one time of their conquests in Europe, and at another of their desire to subdue Asia, boasting that no troops in the world had been found a match for them, and assuring them that this battle would put an end to their labours and crown their glory.

Alexander the manipulator at his finest.

One thing that is on my mind though is, did he really intend to stop his eastward expedition after Issus (presuming he thought that there would be no further fighting between it and Babylon?) or was he simply lying?

Following the Battle of Issus, Justin takes us into the Persian royal women’s tent where he describes Alexander as being ‘touched with the respectful concern of the princesses for Darius’. His sympathy for, and the help he subsequently gave to, Sisygambis, Stateira I, Stateira II and Drypetis is undoubtedly a high point in Justin’s treatment of him.

Again, I come away from the book with a sense of Justin’s being on the whole positive towards Alexander. He does describe the Macedonian king as doing some negative actions but they are not dwelt upon. I rather feel at the moment that the real story of Justin’s attitude is to be found between the lines rather than it what he says upfront.

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Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The Nature of Curtius
Book Five Chapters 2-3
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Two
Laying Siege to the Uxians
From Babylon, the Macedonian army made its way into Sittacene. Like Mesopotamia, it was also a fertile land ‘producing rich quantities of provisions of all kinds’. Despite having stopped for a while in Babylon, Alexander now tarried here, holding competitions to decide who should fill a command he had newly created – that of chiliarch*.

That was not the only change Alexander made to the organisation of his army. For the first time, he broke the link between it and the land. Previously, the Macedonian cavalry had been formed along tribal lines. This meant that the commander of each cavalry unit came from the same place as his men. That now ended. From now on, the commanders would be whoever Alexander decided to appoint*.

The king also made a change to the procedure for alerting the men that camp was about to be struck. Before, a trumpet blast had been used to provide the appropriate signal but the camp’s general ‘noise and commotion’ made it impossible to hear.

Alexander’s solution was to turn to nature. A pole would be raised. At the top of it, presumably on a platform, or in a metal bucket, a fire would burn and be the signal that it was time to pack up. During the night the fire would be visible to all; during the day time, the smoke that the fire created would be the signal.

From Sittacene the Macedonian army marched towards Susa. Alexander was met just outside the city by the son of Abulites, its satrap. The young man guided Alexander to the Choaspis River which, Curtius reports, ‘reputedly carries fine drinking water’. There, Abulites himself met his new master. He handed over gifts of ‘dromedaries*** of outstanding speed’ and elephants.

The chapter ends with a neat little detail which shows how far removed the Persian royal family had become from the land which they ruled. After being sent purple fabric from home, Alexander passed it on to Sisygambis so that her grand daughters (Stateira II and Drypetis) could be taught how to make clothing. Sisygambis rejected the gift angrily ‘for to Persian women nothing is more degrading than working with wool’. Such was her offence that Alexander came in person to apologise.

* chiliarchs had responsibility for 1,000 men. Hephaestion, among others, would later hold this office

** From what Curtius says, it seems that the organisation of the cavalry unit remained tribally based

**** Camels

Chapter Three
The Susian Gates are closed
The Persian royal family were left in Susa. Four days later, Alexander reached the Pasitigris River. This river, Curtius says, comes out of the Uxian mountains where ‘it rushes down-country for fifty stades in a rocky channel between well treed banks’. In the plains, however, it is perfectly navigable and so Alexander had no problems crossing it and entering the territory of the Uxians.

As the Pasitigris continued on its genteel way to the Persian Gulf, however, Alexander’s life was about to get considerably more difficult. His target was the Uxians’ satrap, Medates, whose city lay beyond a defile. Some natives told Alexander of a secret path across the mountains that would take him to a high point behind the city. The king despatched Tauron, the brother of Harpalus, to take the path. He himself entered the defile.

Upon reaching the opposite or far end, the Macedonians made use of the local trees to make protective coverings for the men who were ‘bringing up the siege towers’. Once they had arrived, the siege began in earnest. However, Curtius says that the ‘whole terrain was sheer crag, with boulders and stones impeding access’. As a result of this, the Macedonians ‘had to battle with the location as well as the enemy’.

In the larger context of Alexander’s life, the Uxian siege is a minor event. The city was neither very big nor particularly significant. Despite this, Alexander only took it thanks to Tauron. One enemy could be managed, two, however, was too much and the natives withdrew to their citadel.

The Uxians’ begged for mercy. Perhaps embarrassed by his failure to take the city himself, and wanting to teach the Uxians a lesson, Alexander denied their request. Despite this, the Uxians still survived. And they did so using a ploy that any child would recognise. Getting nowhere with their ‘father’, they went to their ‘mother’ instead. At first, Sisygambis declined to intercede for them, but after many pleas, her heart melted and she asked Alexander to relent. He not only did so, but gave the Uxians very favourable terms.

Following the siege, Alexander split his army in two between himself and Parmenion. The general was ordered to enter Persia by marching across its plains. Alexander would do so by passing through the Susian Gates.

Unfortunately, the Gates were held by the only Persian officer to give him a really severe test during his expedition – Ariobarzanes.

Ariobarzanes had 25,000 men under his command and the advantage of the high ground. Thus, when the Macedonians approached the Gates from a narrow defile, Ariobarzanes’ men were able to rain rocks and stones down on them with impunity.

The Macedonians tried to climb up the walls of the defile to confront their enemy but the rocks were too unstable. As hands grasped them they came free sending the men tumbling down. There was nothing for it, Alexander had to retreat.

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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

Artemis in the Air

The Nature of Curtius
Book Three Chapters 11 – 13
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Eleven
A Ridge with a View
The Battle of Issus got underway. Upon seeing that Darius was trying to surround his army, Alexander ‘ordered two cavalry squadrons to maintain a position on [a] ridge’ overlooking the battlefield. It appears from Curtius’ text that they remained there for the rest of the battle.

The battle effectively ended when, fearing that he was about to be captured by Alexander, Darius fled. Before doing so, he threw ‘off his royal insignia so they could not betray his flight’. The consecrated eagle on his chariot had already been left behind, now he divested himself of the hawks attacking one another.

We should not be surprised by Darius’ actions. When he cited tradition as his reason for refusing to split his army up, Codomannus proved himself to be a man living in the shadow of past Persian Great Kings rather than their worthy successor. His willingness to shed the marks of his kingship simply takes his unworthiness to sit upon the Persian throne one step further; it proves that he was their shadow.

Once Darius fled, the Persian army quickly followed. Some of the men returned to their camp through the pass, while others began the journey back to Persia. These latter took different routes with some crossing the plains and others travelling across the ‘sequestered mountain passes’. Alexander was also on the move – doing his best to chase the Great King down.

Chapter Twelve
Altars by the Shore
Thanks to horse relays, Darius escaped. Thwarted, Alexander made his way to the Persian camp. That night, as he banqueted with his ‘most intimate friends’ a loud cry issued from the Persian royal family’s tent. The women were lamenting what they believed to be the death of their king.

When Alexander visited them the next day, Sisygambis –  the Queen Mother – made her famous mistake when she paid homage to Hephaestion thinking him to be the king instead of Alexander who was standing next to him.

Later, Alexander ‘consecrated three altars on the banks of the river Pinarus to Jupiter, Hercules and Minerva’. I can only wonder why he chose to carry out the sacrifice next to the river.

Chapter Thirteen
Snow Outside Damascus
Alexander’s journey now takes a back seat as Curtius follows Parmenion to Damascus. He had been sent there to retrieve the Persian royal treasury.

While Parmenion was still on the road, the governor of Damascus decided to surrender. He sent a message to Alexander to that effect.

Parmenion intercepted this message. After reading it, he ordered the messenger to return to Damascus – presumably to inform the governor that his surrender had been accepted.

On the way back, though, the messenger escaped from his Macedonian escort, and it seems he did not return to his master, for on seeing Parmenion approach, the governor thought his offer to surrender had been turned down.

Anxious to avoid a fight, he ordered his porters to march out of the city before sunrise carrying the royal treasury. It was a cold and windy morning. Upon a moment, the weather turned; it began to snow.

To protect themselves against the porters put on ‘the gold-and-purple-embroidered clothing’ that they had been carrying along with the money and other valuables.

In Chapter Ten we saw how Alexander pointed out those in the ‘enemy line’ who were wearing gold and purple. Curtius says that these clothes belonged to ‘high-ranking men and… distinguished women’. Perhaps the men’s clothes belonged to the same men that Alexander had pointed out to the Illyrians and Thracians.

The porters’ actions were in absolute contravention of Persian protocol, but ‘the king’s misfortunes meant that even the dregs could flout his authority’.

Upon seeing the richly clad men approach him, Parmenion mistook them for soldiers and prepared for a fight.

Fortunately for all concerned, however, the porters had good eyes. Despite the snow, they saw the Macedonian force in front of them; and as soon as they did, they dropped their loads and took to their heels.

Rather than pursue them, the Macedonians set about recovering the treasures – reaching into bramble-bushes and sinking their hands into mud in order to reach it.

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The Death of Alexander

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 116-118 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Mystery in Palace as Prisoner Sits on Royal Throne
Alexander Lost in Swamps
King Found: Diadem Worn By Oarsman
* Inside: A round up of all recent omens
King Falls Ill Following Party
Alexander Dies

The Story
Chapter 116
Hephaestion’s funeral was now over. For relief, Alexander ‘turned to amusements and festivals’. To the world it looked like ‘he was at the peak of his power and good fortune’ but Fate had other ideas and immediately that the festivities began ‘heaven… began to foretell [Alexander’s] death’.

Diodorus gives the example of two omens that portended this. The first involved a native who was kept in chains. One day, as Alexander was receiving a massage, those chains suddenly fell off. The native – presumably a prisoner of some sort – ran away from his guards and entered throne room. There, he took Alexander’s clothes and diadem and put them on before sitting down on the throne itself.

Upon being told what had happened, Alexander ‘was terrified’. He went to the native and asked him what he was about. The man made no reply. Alexander turned to his seers and asked them to interpret what had happened.

Diodorus doesn’t give their response but it was clearly negative to Alexander as it made him order the native’s execution in the hope ‘that the trouble which was forecast by his act might light upon the man’s own head’.

Once the native had been taken away, Alexander retrieved his clothing ‘and sacrificed to the gods who avert evil’. This pious act, however, was not enough to remove his worry about what the incident portended.

We have seen once or twice before how Alexander could have his mind changed with absurd ease by those underneath him. Diodorus gives an example of this when he described how the king decided to stay outside Babylon (Chapter 112 here). Curtius gives another when he tells how Bagoas poisoned Alexander’s mind against Orsines (10:1:24-38).

It now happens again. Diodorus says that Alexander ‘recalled the predictions of the Chaldaeans’ and became angry ‘with the philosophers who had persuaded him to enter Babylon’. In consequence, he renewed his respect for the Chaldaeans and argued ‘railed’ at anyone ‘who used specious reasoning to argue away the power of Fate’.

Diodorus’ second omen came when Alexander was exploring the swamps around Babylon. His skiff became separated from the royal party. Upon a moment, it passed underneath some tall reeds, which caught Alexander’s diadem and threw it into the water. One of the oarsmen ‘swam after it’. Upon retrieving the ribbon, the oarsman placed it on his head for safe keeping.

Alexander was lost for three days and nights. Presently, he put his diadem on again. When he did so, the skiff came out of the swamp. What did it all mean? Alexander went straight to his soothsayers to find out.

Chapter 117
The seers told Alexander to ‘sacrifice to the gods on a grand scale’ and quickly. Before he could do so, however, the king was ‘called away by Medius… to take part in a comus’.

At the party, Alexander ‘drank much unmixed wine in commemoration of the death of Heracles’. He filled ‘a huge beaker’ and drank it in one go; suddenly, ‘he shrieked aloud as if smitten by a violent blow’. The king’s Friends came forward and took Alexander back to his quarters.

The royal physicians ‘were summoned’ but they could do nothing to take away the pain. Alexander ‘continued in great discomfort and acute suffering’.

After a while, he realised that he was dying. Alexander removed his ring of office and gave it to his chiliarch – Perdiccas. ‘His Friends asked: “To whom do you leave the kingdom?”‘ Alexander replied, simply, ‘”To the strongest.”‘ He then prophesied ‘that all of his leading Friends would stage a vast contest in honour of his funeral’.

At an unspecified point after speaking these words, Alexander died. He had reigned for ‘twelve years and seven months’ and ‘accomplished greater deeds than any… who had lived before him [or] who were to come later’.

Diodorus concludes the chapter with an acknowledgement that some historians believe that Alexander was poisoned. As this is so, ‘it seems necessary for us to mention their account also’.

Chapter 118
This chapter, therefore, is a coda of sorts to the main story, which is now finished.

Diodorus turns to Antipater. He served as Alexander’s ‘viceroy’ in Macedon while the king was abroad. During this time, he ‘was at variance with… Olympias’. That seems a very polite way of putting it.

To begin with, Antipater didn’t take Olympias seriously because Alexander ignored ‘her complaints against him’. Later, however, ‘as their enmity kept growing’ and Alexander ‘showed an anxiety to gratify [Olympias] in everything out of piety’ Antipater became worried.

When Alexander killed Parmenion and Philotas ‘terror’ entered Antipater’s heart. But not only his, also ‘all of Alexander’s Friends’. Antipater’s son, Iolaus, was Alexander’s wine-pourer. The viceroy gave him a poison to administer to the king.

If Alexander was poisoned, how come nobody wrote about it afterwards? Diodorus doesn’t ask this question out loud but clearly has it in mind. He that, following Alexander’s death, Antipater ‘held… supreme authority in Europe’ and after him, ‘his son Cassander’. Their power, therefore, was why ‘many historians did not dare write about the drug’.

Diodorus has no doubt, however, that Cassander is guilty; he cites the murder of of Olympias and rebuilding of Thebes as proof of his hostility to Alexander.

Finally, Diodorus turns to Sisygambis – whom he calls Sisyngambris. She mourned Alexander’s death deeply. In fact, her grief was so profound that she stopped eating. Five days later, she died ‘painfully but not ingloriously’.

Why did the native run to the throne and take Alexander’s clothing and diadem? In Chapter 66 (which I covered here) we saw how Alexander upset a eunuch when he used one of Darius’ tables as a footstool. In the Footnotes for this incident, we are told ‘that the throne was a symbol of divinity in the Orient, and that a king’s clothing, bed, and throne were affected with royal and divine mana’. Thus, in the Footnotes for Chapter 116, it is said that the man ‘may have regarded [the throne] as a sanctuary, or at least as a place of refuge’. Obviously, he saw the clothes and diadem as having similar protective powers.

By-the-bye the Footnotes also state that it is possible that the native may have simply held the clothes rather than put them on. Either way, the story echoes that of the woman with the haemorrhage who knew that if she could only touch Jesus’ clothing she would be healed (This story features in all three synoptic gospels – Lk 8:40-56, Mk 5:21-43, and Matt 9:18-26).

In regards the story of the diadem, I recall reading elsewhere that by placing it on his head, the man was, according to tradition (?), declaring himself king. Well, of course he wasn’t in reality – he was just trying to stop the ribbon from getting wet – but Alexander’s religious belief did not permit him to believe that interpretation alone. Not without divine confirmation, anyway.

I speak under correction, but I am sure that the man who went after the diadem is elsewhere identified as Seleucus – perhaps as a result of his own later assertion that he rescued it. His reason for doing so? It added legitimacy to his kingship.

In Chapter 116, Diodorus says that Alexander was ‘terrified’ by the implications of the native man’s actions. And that, even after sacrificing, he remained troubled. After escaping the swamp, the king returned to his seers for their interpretation of the diadem incident. We are clearly dealing with a very religiously motivated man, here. And yet, no sooner has Alexander been told what to do by the seers, he allows himself to be distracted by Medius. Is that really likely? Did Alexander’s religious beliefs weigh no more than an invitation to join a drinking party?

I would certainly like to believe that Alexander’s last words – including his answer to the question of to whom he left his empire – were really spoken by him. I question his response ‘to the strongest’, though, as in the circumstances it just seems a little too Homeric an answer – if that is possible – for him. I know that the Macedonians did not practice primogeniture but why would he not say ‘to my son’?

As for his prophecy, isn’t it too eerily accurate to be true? Perhaps Alexander was just thinking of the funeral games – as normally understood – that he knew would be held for him.

All this is moot, however, if he was unable to speak as Arrian states. But Alexander could have spoken before he lost his voice. Or, perhaps, afterwards if only in whispering rasps?

I don’t think I can say anything here that does justice to the question of whether or not Alexander was poisoned but here are my thoughts, anyway.

In case you are wondering how Antipater – in Macedon – was able to give Iolaus – in Babylon – the poison: As I understand it, Cassander travelled from Macedon to Babylon around this time. In this scenario, he just took the poison with him.

It is very interesting that Diodorus says that all of Alexander’s Friends were terrified by the demise of Parmenion and Philotas. This is not the impression I get from Curtius who has Craterus speaking out very harshly against Philotas. Neither does Curtius have Craterus being in a party of one – others supported him in his hostility. Were they speaking out of fright? Far more likely that it was out of the knowledge that they were doing away with a rival.

Having said that, I am sure some were worried by what had happened; I think, though, that Diodorus is simply exaggerating.

I would like to test Diodorus’ explanation of why historians did not write about Antipater and Cassander being responsible for Alexander’s death. For example, I can understand why Cleitarchus might suppress the information. He lived in Alexandria and Ptolemy, Egypt’s ruler, was Cassander’s ally during the Successor Wars.

I think Olympias is the source of the allegation that the Antipatrids killed her son? If so (or even if not) I wonder who was the first person to write it down after her.

I accept that Cassander was anti-Argead, but I wonder if we could equally say that his murder of Olympias and rebuilding of Thebes were less to do with his hatred of Alexander and more about carving out a place for an Antipatrid dynasty in the new world that Alexander’s death had created.

Finally, one would have to be a very heartless man not to be affected by Sisygambis’ end. She had every reason to hate Alexander but came to love him more dearly than life itself.

The king died. Clouds [were in the sky]image


  • The above photograph of the Babylon Astronomical Diary that refers to Alexander’s death comes from the British Museum
  • The translation of the text is from Livius
Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hephaestion’s Funeral

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 114, 115 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Hephaestion’s Funeral Pyre Built
Cost Borne By Cities and Officials Alike
Ammon: Hephaestion Should Be Worshipped

The Story
Chapter 114
Alexander waited until he had finished dealing with the embassies before beginning the preparations for Hephaestion’s funeral. When he did, he ‘threw himself’ into the work with ‘such zeal’ that the funeral ‘not only surpassed all those previously celebrated on earth but also left no possibility for anything greater in later ages’.

The reason for Alexander’s effort was that he ‘had loved Hephaestion most’ of all his Friends. Diodorus notes that Craterus ‘had a rival claim’ to Alexander’s love and recounts how a companion had once said to the king that he loved Craterus no less than he did Hephaestion. To which, Alexander replied ‘that Craterus was king-loving, but Hephaestion was Alexander-loving’.

Diodorus also recalls how, upon their first meeting after the Battle of Issus, Sisygambis, Darius III’s mother, mistook Hephaestion for Alexander and was ‘distressed’ after being told her mistake. The king, however, put her at ease, “Never mind, mother.” he said, “For actually he too is Alexander.”

‘Hephaestion enjoyed so much power and freedom of speech’ as a result of his friendship with Alexander that he was not only able to weather Olympias’ biting tongue but put her in her place when writing back to her. “Stop quarrelling with us and do not be angry or menacing. If you persist, we shall not be much disturbed. You know that Alexander means more to us than anything.”

Hephaestion’s funeral had to be paid for. To ensure that it was, Alexander ordered every city in the region (Babylonia?) to contribute a sum according to their ability. He also proclaimed that the sacred fire in every Asian city should be quenched until the funeral was over.

According to Persian custom, the sacred flame was only ever put out when the king himself died. Alexander’s order, therefore, was treated by Persians as a bad omen – a foretelling of his death. Diodorus notes that there were other signs that Alexander was near his end, which we will come to in chapter 116.

Chapter 115
Diodorus tells how each of Alexander’s ‘generals and Friends [sought] to meet the king’s desires’ and make images of Hephaestion ‘in ivory and gold’ and other valuable materials. The Footnotes say that these ‘were probably medallions or small images to be worn in wreaths’.

In order to make Hephaestion’s funeral pyre, Alexander tore down one of Babylon’s walls ‘to a distance of ten furlongs’. He then levelled the space created using baked tiles. The pyre was ‘square in shape’, and ‘a furlong in length’ on every side.

Alexander ‘divided up the area [of the pyre] into thirty compartments’. I assume this means the pyre comprised of thirty sections otherwise am not sure what he means. The roof of each section of the pyre was held up by palm tree trunks.

Once the pyre had been built, Alexander ‘decorated all the exterior walls’. Here is Diodorus’ description of them.

Ground (First) Level
‘[G]olden prows of quinqueremes… two hundred and forty in all’ were placed here. Statues of ‘kneeling archers, four cubits in height’ were placed on the ships’ catheads, while ‘[a]rmed male figures five cubits high’ were positioned on the deck. Red felt banners filled the space between them.

Second Level
Torches, fifteen cubits tall ‘with golden wreaths about their handles’ were placed here. On top of the torches were ‘eagles with outstretched wings looking downward’ – presumably at the snakes at the base of the torch, which were looking up.

Third Level
A carving of a ‘multitude of wild animals being pursued by hunters’.

Fourth Level
A centauromachy, ‘rendered in gold’.

Fifth Level
Statues of lions and bulls ‘alternating [and] also in gold’.

Sixth Level
This ‘was covered with Macedonian and Persian arms, testifying to the prowess of the one people and to the defeats of the other’.

Diodorus states that on ‘top of all stood sirens, hollowed out and able to conceal within them persons who sang a lament in mourning for the dead’. I assume – hope – that these people were not on the pyre!

The pyre must have been huge. Diodorus says it was over 130 cubits in height – 191 feet according to this calculator. And what about the cost? Again, huge – in excess of 12,000 talents. Alexander had no trouble in paying for it, though, for as well as the special tax on the cities, ‘[a]ll of the generals… soldiers… envoys and even the natives rivalled one another in contributing to the magnificence of the funeral’.

When all was done, Alexander issued a decree that Hephaestion should be sacrificed to ‘as god coadjutor’. Around the time he made this decree one of his Friends, a man named Philip, returned (from Siwah?) with a message – ‘a response’ – from Ammon: ‘Hephaestion should be worshipped as a god’. Pleased with this news, Alexander made the first sacrifice. Afterwards, he ‘entertained everybody handsomely’. The good times were here again, though they would not last.

Is it significant that Alexander concluded his diplomatic work before beginning the preparations for Hephaestion’s funeral? I can’t decide if it was a form of displacement activity or an example of Alexander being a good ruler. Actually, now that I think about it, I expect he had no choice – he had to wait for the ships and statues to be built.

Alexander’s response to Sisygambis recalls the quotation attributed to Aristotle (by, according to Wikipedia, Diogenes Laëtius) that “A single soul dwelling in two bodies”.

NB: Diodorus covers Alexander’s meeting with Sisygambis in Chapter 37. If you would like to read my post on it, you can do so here.

Hephaestion’s use of the royal ‘we’ in his letter to Olympias is fascinating, but what does it mean? For all I know, that was how Macedonians in the fourth century B.C. wrote. If so, it would mean nothing. But if they didn’t, Hephaestion’s choice of words would say an awful lot about his character.

A negative reading would be that his friendship with Alexander had made him proud and arrogant. A positive one would say it shows how intimate Hephaestion was with Alexander. They were not only one body but one voice, too.

According to the CLIO History Journal, catheads are ‘large timbers projecting on either side of the prow, which also served as guards for the leading oars’.

According to Ancient History,'”Centauromachy” refers to the battle between the Centaurs and Lapiths of the Peneus Valley, in Thessaly.’ Wikipedia adds that this tale typifies ‘the struggle between civilization and barbarism’.

Diodorus makes no reference to Alexander actually asking Ammon whether or not he may worship Hephaestion as a god, though we know – from Arrian – that that is what happened.

Ammon’s message is recorded differently by Plutarch and Arrian. According to the Footnotes, they confirmed that the god recommended that Hephaestion be ‘honoured as a hero’. Arrian adds that this was after Ammon refused ‘to allow [Hephaestion] divine worship’.

It’s interesting that Diodorus (main source: Cleitarchus who spoke to Macedonian soldiers) confirms that Ammon gave permission for Hephaestion to be ‘worshipped as a god’ (Possibly silly question: is this the same as him actually being deified?) while Arrian (main source: Ptolemy, Hephaestion’s fellow officer, and Aristobulos: a junior officer in Alexander’s army) says that Ammon refused to let this happen.

Why the discrepancy? I’m tempted to say that Ptolemy and/or Aristobulos, for whatever reason, did not want people to get too big a view of Hephaestion.

Unfortunately, we are missing the portion of Curtius’ History of Alexander which covers the period of Hephaestion’s funeral. So, what does Plutarch say? First of all, he used Ptolemy, Aristobulos and Cleitarchus. Plutarch would have been aware, therefore, of the divergent traditions. In his Life of Alexander, he states that Ammon commanded Alexander ‘to honour Hephaestion and sacrifice to him as a hero’ (Penguin Classics 2011 para 72). No mention of god-worship. Should we privilege Plutarch’s account as he would have had no/less reason to suppress the truth in the way that Ptolemy and Aristobulos might have done?

Speaking of the truth, who’s to say that the Macedonian soldiers that Cleitarchus spoke to were speaking it?

hephaestions_pyreThis picture comes from and is the (C) of Andrew Chugg at

Alexander’s Agony Column
i. O My King
I am having difficulty accepting Hephaestion as a god, what should I do?

Dear Shy

ii. O My King
I was hoping you would help me. This is an agony column after all.

Dear Shy
If I ever find out who you are I will cause you a great deal of agony.

iii. O My King
Understood. Am worshipping now.

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

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