Posts Tagged With: Sparta

Arrian I.9.1-10

In This Chapter
Arrian discusses the scale of Thebes’ defeat

Arrian lists three reasons why the defeat of Thebes ‘shocked the rest of Greece’ as well as those involved:

  1. The size of the city
  2. The ‘sudden violence’ of the Macedonian attack
  3. The unexpectedness of the attack to both conquerors and defeated

Arrian compares the defeat of Thebes to a number of other military disasters, and explains why they were not as shocking:

  1. Athens’ defeat in Sicily during the Peloponnesian War (431-404). The massacre of thousands of men was a disaster for Athens but It Wasn’t As Bad As Thebes because it happened ‘far from home’ and involved mainly allied troops rather than citizen soldiers. The city of Athens itself was unaffected.
  2. Athens’ defeat at Aegosptami (405). Although this defeat led to the city’s ultimate defeat in the Peloponnesian War, IWABAT because only the Athenian fleet was destroyed. Yes, the city suffered damage in consequence but this was restricted to (a) ‘the demolition of the Long Walls’, (b) the surrender of the rest of the fleet and (c) the loss of their empire. Athens herself survived and quickly rebuilt.
  3. Sparta’s defeats at Leuctra (371) and Mantinea (362). Arrian describes these as shocking defeats for Sparta but only because they were unexpected, not on account of the numbers killed – therefore, IWABAT
  4. The Boeotian and Arcadian assault on Sparta under Epaminondas (370/69). As with (3), this was a shock because of its unexpectedness rather than on account of its its scale – therefore, IWABAT
  5. Sparta’s capture of Plataea (427). This, Arrian says, was ‘no great calamity’ because the city was not a big one and only a limited number of people were captured (the notes to my copy of Arrian say that 200 Plataeans were executed)
  6. Athens’ capture of Melos (416) and Scione (421). The capture of both these cities lead to a massacre of the defeated people. However, this WABAT because it was ‘more a source of shame to the perpetrators than any great surprise to the Greek world in general’.

In contrast, the following made Thebes’ defeat worse:

  1. The ‘impetuous irrationality of the revolt’
  2. The speed of the city’s defeat
  3. The general massacre that took place during the battle
  4. The ‘total enslavement’ of the populace

All this was so bad that Thebes’ defeat was put down to ‘divine anger’ – The city was paying the price for past betrayals; namely,

  1. of the Greeks during the Graeco-Persian War
  2. for its capture of Plataea ‘at a time of truce’
  3. … and enslavement of the Plataean people
  4. for the destruction of the battlefield where Persia had been defeated once and for all
  5. for voting to destroy Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War

Alexander did not decide Thebes’ ultimate fate himself. Instead, he left it to his allies. Naturally, having been the victims of Thebes in the past, they were not kind in their judgement. It was decided (a) to raze the city, (b) to parcel the land out among themselves, (c) to garrison the Cadmea (to prevent any attack on the new land owners?) (d) to put the population into slavery, and finally (e) to rebuild Orchomenus and Plataea, both of which had been destroyed by Thebes.

Alexander rubber stamped the allies decision, although he did exempt Pindar’s house from destruction and exempted priests and priestesses, ‘guest-friends’ of his father, and any Theban who had lobbied on behalf of Macedon in the city from being enslaved.

Thoughts
Why was the Macedonian attack unexpected? Well, remember that as Arrian has it, Alexander did not immediately attack the city upon his arrival. He wanted the Thebans to come to their senses. The attack only began after Perdiccas’ unauthorised assault on the palisades. This, of course, may be what happened in Ptolemy’s propaganda rather than in real life.

I said above that Alexander did not decide Thebes’ fate. It could not have suffered so grievously, however, without his approval, even if it was only implicitly given. Is he to be condemned for allowing Thebes to be destroyed? Well, even in antiquity, the destruction of Thebes was regarded as an atrocity.

The destruction of Thebes was no doubt intended to send a very harsh message to the rest of Greece – revolt at your peril – but in this it was not successful. Four years later, Sparta rose up against Macedon at the Battle of Megalopolis and in 322, following Alexander’s death the year before, Athens tried to win its freedom at the Battle of Crannon.

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Arrian I.1.1-13

In This Chapter
Arrian’s account of Alexander’s life is titled Anabasis Alexandrou, which means ‘Alexander’s Expedition’. For this reason, Arrian begins his account of Alexander’s life with Philip II’s murder and Alexander’s accession to the throne of Macedon.

Having established his kingship Alexander marched on the Peloponnese where he asked the ‘Peloponnesian Greeks’ to give him ‘leadership of the campaign against Persia’, a role previously granted to Philip. Everyone except the Spartans, who believed only in leading rather than being lead, agreed.

Arrian mentions in passing that Athens stirred in opposition to Alexander but that his quick arrival put an end to it. Alexander was given various honours by the city and returned home.

Alexander became king of Macedon in October 336BC. Arrian now jumps forward to Spring 335BC and the new king’s campaign to secure Macedon’s northern borders before heading east.

Alexander marched into Thrace where he confronted Triballian and Illyrian forces. In his first battle as king (as recorded by Arrian, of course), Alexander used a very inventive tactic in order to nullify a potentially catastrophic threat.

Alexander and his army came to the foot of the Haemus mountains. Above them stood a rag tag army of locals and ‘independent Thracians’. They had with them carts which they intended to push down the side of the mountain and into the Macedonian army.

Had this tactic worked, it would have thrown the Macedonian army into disarray, making the job of repelling it – perhaps even destroying it – that much easier. Seeing what the enemy intended to do, however, Alexander ordered his men to do one of two things; either (a) part ways so that the oncoming carts simply rolled down empty channels either side of them, or, where that was not possible, (b) lie down with their shields on their backs so that the carts rolled over them. The Macedonian soldiers did both these things and as a result, Arrian tells us, suffered no deaths. With their best chance of defeating the Macedonian army having rolled away, the locals and independent Thracians were easily defeated in the scrappy battle that followed.

Thoughts
How do the other Alexander Historians begin their works? Well, both Diodorus and Justin begin at the same point as Arrian – with Philip’s death and Alexander’s accession to the throne. The first two books of Curtius have been lost so we don’t know where he begins. Only Plutarch tells us anything about Alexander’s early life. In reading it, though, we have to be careful as there is a fair amount of mythologising and propaganda there.

Arrian glosses over the manner of Alexander’s accession and what happened after. In fact, in regards the latter, he has next to nothing to say, which is odd because it is relevant to his focus – a military history of Alexander’s life. For more information, we have to turn to Diodorus.

By the way, Diodorus gives us the first opportunity to ask which of the sources might be more accurate. Diodorus says that when Alexander became king Evaenetus was archon of Athens while Arrian says it was Pythdelus – who is right? Or are these two names for one man?

It isn’t clear from Arrian whether Athens folded after Alexander’s quick arrival at Athens or elsewhere. Diodorus tells us that it happened after the Macedonian king’s arrival in Boeotia, to confront Thebes, which had rebelled against him.

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Shields and Public Shaming

The Global Times frames an article on Europe’s future within the context of Macedon’s and Greece’s past. It writes,

In the 4th century BC Macedonia, a Greek-speaking kingdom of Northern Greece, under the leadership of Phillip II, set out to unify the Mediterranean world. Macedonia’s quest for hegemonic stability brought it into a direct conflict with old established Hellenic powers like Thebes, Sparta and most of all Athens.

The ancient Macedonians did not speak Greek. As I understand it, their tongue was a Greek dialect (which could not be understood by the Greeks).

During Philotas’ trial, Alexander asks Parmenion’s son if he will give his defence using his ‘native language’. When Philotas replies that he will speak Greek, Alexander uses this to score a nationalist point against him (see Curtius VI.9.34-36). Ironically, the reason why Philotas decides to use Greek is because he wants more people to understand him.

Rather than use the word ‘unify’, which for me suggests that Philip wanted to make all peoples equal under his rule, I would say simply that he wanted to conquer them. I have to admit here I am no expert on Philip’s foreign policy so what I say could be wide of the mark; however, I don’t get the impression that Philip was an idealist. He was in the business of winning power. Had he lived longer, maybe that would have changed – we’ll never know.

Macedon never came ‘into direct conflict’ with Sparta. In fact, both Philip II and Alexander left the Spartans alone. Not because they were afraid of the Lacedaemonians but because the latter were militarily and politically irrelevent. There was simply no need to waste time subduing them.

The article concludes

Germany must lead Europe without being hubristic toward other EU states. When Alexander the Great, Phillips’s heir, won his first battle against Persia, he dedicated his triumph to Athens and adorned the Parthenon with the shields of the Persian generals.

The exact truth of this statement depends upon which of the sources you read and trust.

Plutarch (Life of Alexander 16) states that the Macedonian king sent 300 shields (‘captured from the enemy’) to Athens. He writes

… over the rest of the spoils he had this proud inscription engraved: Alexander, the son of Philip, and the Greeks except the Spartans won these spoils of war from the barbarians who dwell in Asia’.

Arrian says that Alexander sent 300 panoplies to Athens as

… an offering to the goddess Athena… with the following inscription: Alexander, son of Philip, and the Greeks (except the Lacedaemonians) dedicate these spoils, taken from the Persians who dwell in Asia

If we follow Plutarch, the article is right to say that shields were sent, though not necessarily from ‘Persian generals’.

Was this a humble gesture on Alexander’s part? It is hard to say as Plutarch doesn’t give the king’s motive for sending them.

The article says that Alexander dedicated his victory at the Granicus to Athens. Plutarch doesn’t say this, and Arrian disagrees. He states that the panoplies were sent as ‘an offering to… Athena’. That makes sense; they were going to the Parthenon, after all.

Sending the panoplies as ‘an offering to… Athena’ sounds like a very humble gesture. However, as the notes to my Penguin Classics edition of Arrian point out, Greeks only played a small part in the Macedonian victory. And note what Alexander says about the Spartans. This inscription – and therefore the spoils – have less to do with humility, therefore, and much to do with propaganda (as my notes suggest) and public shaming. These two things are not evidence of hubris but neither are they good examples of behaviour for Germany or anyone else to follow.

Categories: Of The Moment, On Alexander | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Death of Darius III

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 73 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Subdues Persia
Darius Murdered
Did Alexander meet Darius before the Great King died? We investigate
Spartan Envoys Begin Mercy March

The Story
The destruction of the royal palaces at Persepolis may have satisfied Greek pride but Alexander had no intention of resting on his laurels. Leaving the city, he set about pacifying Persia. Some of her cities were taken ‘by storm’, others by more peaceful means. Once the country had been subdued, Alexander returned to the pursuit of Darius.

The deposed Great King was on his way to Bactria where he hoped to raise another army (although if I read Diodorus correctly, he was travelling there with 30,000 men) when one of his senior lieutenants, Bessus, seized him.

What happened next depends on who you read (and believe).

Diodorus is of the opinion that Bessus murdered Darius. Arriving at the scene of the crime not long later, Alexander found the Great King and ‘gave him a royal funeral’.

According to other writers, however – referred to but left unnamed by Diodorus – Darius was still alive when Alexander found him. He ‘commiserated with [Darius] on his disasters’ and agreed to the dying man’s request that he ‘avenge his death’. Alexander set off in pursuit of Bessus only to call it off after Bessus escaped (over the Hindu Kush and) into Bactria.

Rather randomly, the chapter ends with the conclusion to the Battle of Megalopolis (which I covered here). Having lost the battle to Antipater’s army, Sparta asked for terms. Antipater referred the request to the Hellenic League. Was he acting out of deference to the Hellenic League or fear of Alexander (as Curtius – mentioned by the Footnotes – suggests)?

The League’s council met in Corinth and had a ‘long discussion’ over what to do before deciding on ‘nothing’. Instead, they forwarded the matter to Alexander for his judgement. Deference again, or fear? I agree with Curtius.

Back in Macedon, Antipater took possession of fifty Spartan hostages. As for Sparta itself, perhaps fed up of waiting for someone to make a decision – or, more likely, wanting to influence Alexander’s decision – it ‘sent envoys to Asia asking forgiveness for their mistakes’.

Comments
From the way Diodorus writes, it is as if he thinks Alexander found and buried Darius at the same time. As it happens, though, there is a little bit of disagreement among the Alexander historians as to what happened at this time.

  • Arrian says that Darius died after being killed by Nabarzanes and Barsaentes. Alexander did not arrive in time to speak to him. After finding Darius’ body, he sent it to Persepolis to be buried in the royal tombs.
  • Curtius says that Darius was killed by ‘Bessus and his fellow-conspirators’. Unfortunately, there is a break in the text so we do not know whether he lived long enough to meet Alexander or where his body was sent.
  • Justin As I write this, I don’t have access to a copy of Justin but from the portion of his text quoted in the end notes of my edition of Curtius, I see that he has Darius being found by an unnamed man (for whose name see Plutarch below) and living long enough to talk to him (through an interpreter) but not Alexander. Justin adds that Alexander sent Darius’ body to be buried in the ‘tombs of his ancestors’, which presumably means Persepolis.
  • Plutarch says Bessus murdered Darius, who was found alive by a Macedonian named Polystratus and that he lived long enough to accept some water from him. According to Plutarch, Darius died before Alexander arrived. Thereafter, Alexander sent his body to Sisygambis – in Susa? Plutarch does not tell us her whereabouts.

New TV Show
The H.L. Team
Follow the crazy adventures of a bunch of bureaucrats as they travel the empire helping absolutely no one as they are too scared to even tie up their own sandal laces without asking Alexander’s permission.

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sparta’s Rebellion

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 62, 63 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Memnon Leads Thracian Uprising
King Agis Leads Greek Rebellion
Antipater Settles With Memnon
Battle of Megalopolis: Macedonians Victorious
Agis Dies Heroically

The Story

Chapter 62
With hindsight, we can call the Battle of Gaugamela the decisive encounter between Alexander and Darius. Even though Darius escaped, his defeat brought about the death of the Archaemenid Empire and birth of its Argead successor.

At the time, however, Gaugemala was not seen in such terms. At least, not by the Greeks. Diodorus states that when the Greek cities heard about Alexander’s victory at Gaugamela they ‘became alarmed at the growth of Macedonian power and decided that they should strike for their freedom while the Persian cause was still alive’. For them, Darius was down but not out. Indeed, the Greeks had an expectation that he would send money ‘so that [the Greeks] could gather great armies of mercenaries.’

The first Greek rebellion came from Memnon, governor-general of Thrace. Memnon was ‘a man of spirit’. He ‘stirred up the tribesmen’ of Thrace so well that Antipater was obliged to send the entire Macedonian army north to quell the insurrection.

At some point during the Thracian campaign, Sparta issued a call to arms in defence of Greek freedom. Athens, which ‘had been favoured beyond all the other Greeks by Alexander’ remained still. ‘Most of the Peloponnesians, however, and some of the northern Greeks’ came over to Sparta’s side.

The allied Geek army numbered ‘not less than’ 20,000 infantry and around 2,000 cavalry. It was led by Sparta with King Agis at the head.

Chapter 63
Upon hearing about Sparta’s revolt, Antipater hurriedly came to terms with Memnon and headed south. Along the way he added men to the Macedonian army’s numbers from those cities that ‘were still loyal’. By this means, he brought the army’s strength to ‘not less than’ 40,000.

The two armies met ‘near Megalopolis’, according to the Footnotes. During the battle, King Agis was killed. In contrast to the Persians at Gaugamela, the Spartans kept fighting. The battle only ended when Sparta’s allies fell out of position. At that point (to avoid a rout?), the Spartan army retreated and returned home.

Casualty figures according to Diodorus

  • Spartans + allies ‘more than’ 5,300
  • Macedonians + allies 3,500

The figures above are for deaths only – Diodorus doesn’t give any figures for the numbers of wounded on either side.

Diodorus ends the chapter with an account of Agis’ death. After fighting ‘gloriously’ and receiving ‘many frontal wounds’ the king was escorted away from the battlefield, only to be surrounded by Macedonians. Concerned that his men should live to fight another day, Agis sent them away. As for himself, he gripped his sword, lifted himself up, and began fighting once more.

Upon hearing of the battle, Alexander was less than complimentary to both Antipater and Agis, calling the war a battle of mice, but he must surely have appreciated the nobility of the Spartan king’s demise.

Comments
Chapter 62 begins a new year in Diodorus’ chronology (July 330 – June 329 B.C.). The Battle of Gaugamela, however, took place at the start of October in 331 B.C. Further to this, the Footnotes state that the Battle of Megalopolis ‘probably’ took place before that of Gaugamela rather than afterwards as Diodorus suggests.

Memnon, the governor-general of Thrace is obviously not the same Memnon who fought Alexander at the Granicus River. That Memnon died not long afterwards (see Chapter 29).

Antipater is mentioned in Chapter 62 for the first time since Alexander left Macedon. Alexander left him there to govern the country, and in the king’s absence, to keep an eye on Greece.

If King Agis’ name seems familiar, that is because we saw him in Chapter 48 when he campaigned in Crete. It will be noted that whereas in Ch. 48 Diodorus described Agis as wanting ‘to change the political situation in Greece in favour of Dareius’, his objective was now simply to win freedom from Macedonian rule. Persia’s hoped-for role, it seems, was simply to provide the money for the mercenaries.

Further to the above, the Footnotes also state that no other source mentions Memnon’s revolt. Not only that but Memnon later brought reinforcements to the king ‘and took part in his later operations in the East’.

Spartan Q & A
Why did Sparta lose the Battle of Megalopolis?
It didn’t lose, it defied victory.

Do you wish you could have fought without the help of allies?
Sparta had no allies at Megalopolis, only subordinates.

How great a blow was Agis’ death?
It was a deadly one – for him.

Did it hurt having to seek Persian help?
We never sought, only found.

There is nothing like Spartan pride.
And never will be.

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

The Dark Before the (False?) Dawn

I have just started reading John D. Grainger’s Alexander the Great Failure. Before I even open the book I have to say a word about the title. While it is certainly very dramatic, and will no doubt achieve its aim of getting people interested in what Grainger has to say, it also comes across as rather attention-seeking. That’s a shame as it makes one immediately wary of Grainger rather than open to whatever argument he puts forward.
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I’m going to read and blog the book one chapter at a time. This won’t be an in-depth response to Grainger, though, just some thoughts, questions and comments. Let me know if I appear wary rather than open! Although I am as much ‘for’ Alexander as Grainger appears to be against, I will try and read his book with an open mind.
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Alexander the Great Failure opens with a brief introduction. There, Grainger states that the ‘fundamental facts’ (Grainger, p.xvii) of Alexander’s life are (a) that he was Philip II’s son and (b) a Macedonian. To understand Alexander’s failure, therefore, these two facts ‘need to be considered in some detail’ (Ibid). I already have a problem here as I would add that Alexander’s self-identification with Achilles is also a fundamental fact, as well as his determination to live the life of a homeric hero.
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That aside, looking at Alexander with reference to his father and country makes perfect sense. No one is born in a vacuum. We are all influenced by our families and country. This would also imply, however, that Alexander’s failure was not – entirely – his own but shared with those who made him the man he was. I wonder if Grainger will make this point.
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Grainger begins Chapter 1 in 370 B.C. By-the-bye, the book ends in 272 B.C. – nearly ten years after the death of the last two diadochi, Lysimachus and Seleucus. This makes sense from the point of view that Alexander’s actions led directly to the diadoch wars. Although, did they not have free will? They did not need to fight.
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To go back to the introduction, Grainger confirms that his intention is to show how Alexander’s empire came into being, and how it failed. He accuses Alexander of being no less than ‘one of the world’s great failures’ (Grainger, p. xviii) and of bringing ‘that failure on himself’ (Ibid). But again, Alexander can hardly be held responsible for what the diadochi did. I wonder if Grainger will gloss over their contribution to the ‘misery and death’ that ensued after 323 B.C.?
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As well as blaming Alexander for the deaths of ‘countless thousands of people’ (Ibid), Grainger also blames him for his untimely death. In Grainger’s eyes, Alexander’s death was caused by his ‘arrogance’ (Ibid). At this point I can only assume that he means in the way Alexander exposed himself to injury during his campaigns or perhaps his alleged over-drinking? But did he? And one man’s recklessness could be another’s bravery.
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Grainger also states that Alexander failed because ‘he both refused to provide [an heir] and killed off any man who could be seen as one’ (Ibid). As for the former argument – Alexander IV, anyone? In regards the latter, that turned out not to be true, either.
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That’s the Introduction; let’s jump into Chapter 1. I am definitely grateful to Grainger for taking the time to explain the position of Macedon in the years leading up to Philip II’s accession. He really brings home what a weak country it was.
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To fully demonstrate this, he goes back to the first Macedonian king about whom we have any degree of knowledge – Alexander I (ruled 497 – 454 B.C.) who was forced to kowtow to Darius I during the Persian Wars. Afterwards, he did the same with the Greeks. Later on, Archelaos (413 – 399 B.C.) bowed to the power of the Spartans. His successor, Amyntas III (391 – 370 B.C.), was in turn was beaten about by the Chalcidian League,
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So far so humiliating. Macedon’s weakness in the face of her enemies abroad had several causes. For example, baronial rivalry; a fundamentally unstable royal succession policy (see below); the lack of bureaucratic infrastructure, and lack of national identity. Just like the Greeks thought of themselves as Athenians and Spartans rather than Greeks, it seems many Macedonian subjects – I’m really thinking here of those in Upper Macedon – held themselves to be members of their local community (tribe) rather than as Macedonians. Consequently, their natural inclination was to rebellion rather than conciliation.
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By the time Philip II ascended to the throne in 359 B.C. none of this had changed. The odds on him faring any better than his predecessors, therefore, were very long indeed. Chapter 2 will pick up his story.
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Before finishing, I’d like to go back to the issue of the royal succession, which, as Grainger notes was often a very bloody affair. One reason for this is because Macedon did not practice succession according to the principle of primogeniture. The eldest son (as in Alexander III’s case) might inherit the throne, but if he did he did not do so because of who he was.
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In principle, the king chose his successor and an Assembly ratified that choice. I guess that is why Alexander’s generals gathered round his bed in June 323 B.C. to ask him who would succeed him even though Roxane was pregnant – Did he say Craterus?. But this would imply that Grainger is making too much of Alexander’s ‘refusal’ to provide an heir, as what need would there be for him to do so when he could just designate one?
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I don’t know which side I am on. If Alexander didn’t really need to have an heir, there would have been no need for Parmenion and Antipater to have wasted time urging him to marry and father a son before leaving Macedon.
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Having said that, as is clear from Robin Lane Fox’s biography of the king that Alexander’s refusal even to marry let alone have a child may have been born of political insight: had Alexander married either Parmenion’s or Antipater’s daughters you can bet their fathers would have taken full advantage of their new closeness to the Macedonian throne. And in ancient Macedon, ‘[a]ssassination, murder and civil war’ (Grainger, p. 5) were not only part of the succession process.

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Plutarch at the Granicus

Before beginning his Life of Alexander, Plutarch warns us that he is not concerned with the ‘great exploits and battles’ of the Macedonian king but rather ‘those details which illuminate the workings of the soul’. He can hardly ignore the great moments of Alexander’s life, though… or can he? Let’s find out by looking at his account of Alexander’s four great battles. If you are already familiar with Plutarch’s account, you may want to skip forward to ‘Some Thoughts’ below.
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The Battle of the Granicus River
In chapter 15 of the Life Plutarch tells us that when Alexander left Macedon his army was between 30,000 – 43,000 infantry and 4,000 – 5,000 cavalry in size. We must get used to these figures as he does not provide any more ahead of his account of the Battle of the Granicus, which begins in chapter 16.
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According to Plutarch, ‘Darius’ generals had gathered a large army’. When Alexander arrived at the Granicus, however, it was not the size of the Persian force that alarmed ‘[m]ost of the Macedonian officers’ but ‘the depth of the river and… the rough and uneven slopes of the banks on the opposite side’.
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Tradition was also on the mind of some of his officers for it was not the Macedonian custom to wage war in the current month (Daesius). According to Timothy E. Duff in his Notes, Daesius was roughly our May/June and the custom ‘may have’ arisen out of ‘the need to gather the harvest’. Alexander dealt with this objection by declaring the new month to be the last one (Artemisius) repeated.
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The issue of the month was not the only objection that Alexander had to deal with. The Macedonians arrived at the Granicus late in the day and Parmenion, not unreasonably, counselled against attempting a crossing at such an hour. Alexander was having none of that, though and ‘declared that the Hellespont would blush for shame’ if he held back now.
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Reservations and objections dealt with, Alexander plunged into the river with thirteen cavalry squadrons. Despite the swiftly running water and Persian missiles raining down on him the king and his men made it to the opposite bank – ‘a wet treacherous slope covered with mud’ – where they engaged the enemy.
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Plutarch tells us that as the horsemen fought one another, Alexander was picked out by ‘many’ of the Persian cavalry ‘for he was easily recognizable (sic) by his shield and by the amazingly tall white feathers which were fixed upon either side of the crest of his helmet’.
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The Persians’ attention was not in vain. As the battle raged, Alexander was struck by a javelin. Fortunately, it only pierced the joint of his breast plate rather than him. However, when a Persian nobleman named Spithridates struck him on the head with his sword – splitting the helmet and ‘grazing’ Alexander’s hair – it must have looked like his life was about to come to an early end.
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Fortunately, just as Spithridates raised his sword for the coup-de-grace, Black Cleitus ran him through with his spear. For his part, Alexander killed another Persian named Rhoesaces with his sword. It seems that his helmet not only saved his life but stopped him from being stunned.
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The Macedonian phalanx now made it across the river. Its presence made the difference. Plutarch says that ‘[t]he Persians offered little resistance, but quickly broke and fled’. The rout was not total, however; Darius’ Greek mercenaries – as well trained and disciplined as the phalanx – stood their ground. The mercenaries asked Alexander for quarter. ‘[G]uided by [his] passion’, however, he refused to give it and led a charge against them. During this battle, Alexander lost his horse to a spear thrust.
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Plutarch puts the Persian losses a 20,000 infantry and 2,500 cavalry. As for the Macedonians, he cites Aristobulos who says they lost only 34 men, of whom 9 were members of the infantry. Timothy Duff notes that, according to Arrian, Macedonian losses were ‘somewhat higher’ and that 25 men died in the initial charge. Turning to Arrian, I note that he says (in addition to the 25) ‘rather more’ than sixty cavalry were killed. I am not sure what he means by that. He is more specific in regards infantry saying that ‘about’ thirty died.
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However many Macedonians died, both Plutarch and Arrian agree that Alexander honoured his dead (in part or whole) by ordering his official sculptor, Lysippos, to make bronze statues of them.
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Having paid his respects to the Macedonian dead, Alexander turned to Greece. He was ‘anxious’ for the Greek poleis to share in his victory so had 300 Persian shields sent to Athens with the famous inscription, ‘Alexander, the son of Philip, and the Greeks except the Spartans won these spoils of war from the barbarians who dwell in Asia’. Other plunder – luxury items – was sent to his mother in Macedon.
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Some Thoughts
Plutarch’s account of the battle at the Granicus, its lead-up and aftermath, is very brief and focuses on key moments, which may be summarised, thus:

  1. The Macedonian officers’ reaction on arriving at the river
  2. Alexander Crosses the River
  3. The Persian and Macedonian cavalry engage
  4. Black Cleitus saves Alexander’s Life
  5. The Macedonian Phalanx’s arrival
  6. The Greek Mercenaries’ Last Stand
  7. Alexander honours the dead

Having said that, there is certainly enough here for us to make the following observations.
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Plutarch gives us a fascinating insight into the mind of the Macedonian officers before the battle. And while I can understand why they were worried by the strength of the river and the ‘rough and uneven’ bank on the far side, the idea that they shouldn’t fight because it was the wrong month takes more getting used to. What we appear to be seeing here is a tradition that had lost its reason for being and now got in the way of legitimate progress. When I put it that way it does not seem so alien a moment, after all.
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The other thing that jumps out at me is how quickly the battle concludes. I am guessing this is because the Persians fought in a loose and fundamentally disordered fashion, which was never going to be strong enough to resist the phalanx’s tight formation and superior weaponry (i.e. the sarissa). I can’t wait to read Arrian’s account of the battle for more details.
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What might we say of Alexander? At first glance he comes across as thoroughly impatient in his desire to fight the battle and reckless for crossing the river before his men are ready join him. Is it really impatience, though, if you arrive at the battlefield, and – believing your men to be ready to fight – decide to get on with it?
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As for his recklessness, well, he did not cross the river alone and it is not as if he did so intending to fight the entire Persian army. He must have felt that he had a good chance of cutting into it, if not defeating it, before the rest of his cavalry and infantry arrived. Alexander did not have a death wish.
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So, for patience and recklessness could we not read confidence? After all, it is not as if Alexander was not capable of being patient and careful when need be. A case-in-point would be when he offered Thebes terms in 335 B.C. rather than just go straight ahead and attack the city (See Plutarch, chapter 11).
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The other aspect of Alexander’s character that Plutarch draws out is his ruthlessness in dealing with the Greek mercenaries. Not even I can justify that. The battle was won. Giving the mercenaries quarter would have been not only a merciful act but also a politically clever one.
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Finally, when Alexander sent the 300 shields back to Greece he was surely referencing the Spartans’ last stand at Thermopylae. If so, he was surely engaging in a very sly piece of historical revisionism – giving the shields to Athens makes it seem (to me, anyway) like he was crediting the Athenians for what Leonidas, his men and allies did rather than the Spartans.

Categories: Plutarch | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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