Posts Tagged With: Stateira II

Images of Alexander

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

Alexander’s Sexuality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decay Sets In

Justin’s Alexander
Book XI Chapters 10-15
Part Three
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 Ten
We ended the last post on a high, with Alexander showing his respect for the Persian royal women.

Unfortunately, we begin this post on a low as Justin pinpoints the aftermath of the Battle of Issus as the moment when Alexander first allowed himself to be seduced by Eastern riches and beauty. The Macedonian king was ‘seized with admiration’ of Darius’ ‘wealth and display’. As a result ‘… he… began to indulge in luxurious and splendid banquets’.

Justin also says that it was at this time that Alexander ‘fell in love with his captive Barsine* for her beauty’. In 327/6 she would give him a son, Hercules. If this sounds very romantic, Justin’s reference to Barsine indicates that he considered Alexander’s love for her to be part of his degeneration.

Justin gives a more positive view of Alexander when he describes how the latter appointed Abdolonymus as king of Sidon. He says that Alexander put Abdolonymus, rather than a Sidonian nobleman, on the throne ‘lest they should regard his favour as shown to their birth, and not as proceeding from the kindness of the giver’.

* Daughter of Artabazus

Chapter Eleven
We can’t have too much of a good thing, though, and it is Alexander the manipulator who now returns. In some style, too. Justin relates how his mother, Olympias, ‘confessed to her husband Philip, that “she had conceived Alexander, not by him, but by a serpent of extraordinary size” and that, in consequence of this, Philip had disowned Alexander and divorced her. Alexander visited Siwah, therefore, ‘anxious to obtain the honour of divine paternity, and to clear his mother from infamy’.

To make sure both his wishes were satisfied, the king sent messengers ahead of him to tell the priests ‘what answers he wished to receive’. Upon his arrival, they duly hailed Alexander as the son of Ammon and, for good measure, told his friends ‘that “they should reverence [him] as a god, and not as a king.”‘

Justin says that the announcement of his divinity increased Alexander’s ‘haughtiness’ and brought about ‘a strange arrogance… in his mind, the agreeableness of demeanour, which he had contracted from the philosophy of the Greeks and the habits of the Macedonians, being entirely laid aside.’

Chapter Twelve
In the period that followed, Darius tried to buy Alexander off by offering him money, territory and ‘one of his daughters” (perhaps Stateira II as she was the oldest of the two) hand in marriage. Alexander rejected these overtures. He didn’t want money, he wanted the whole Persian empire. And it was no use offering part of the empire and Stateira II to him as he already possessed both. Alexander told Darius ‘”to come to him as a suppliant, and to leave the disposal of his kingdom to his conqueror.”’

Clearly, Alexander had no time for Darius. I would hesitate to say that this was due to his post-Siwah haughtiness, however; he would certainly have given the same reply at any other point of his life – but this did not influence his treatment of Darius’ family. Thus, when the Great King was informed (by an escaped eunuch) that ‘“his wife [Stateira I] had died of a miscarriage’ he was also told ‘that Alexander had mourned for her death, and attended her funeral’. Importantly, given who Stateira I was, the eunuch gave Alexander’s motive for his behaviour as ‘kindness of feeling’ rather than love, for ‘Darius’s wife had been visited by him but once, though he had often gone to console his mother and her little daughters’.

Following the events of Siwah, this is a very welcome return to nobility for Alexander. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. When Darius thanked him for his kindness towards Stateira I, and made an offer of more money, land and a daughter’s hand in marriage in order to end hostilities between them, Alexander rather proudly – as it seems to me – replied that he had no need of the Great King’s thanks. Nothing,

“had been done by him to flatter Darius, or to gain the means of mollifying him, with a view either to the doubtful results of war, or to conditions of peace; but that he had acted from a certain greatness of mind, by which he had learned to fight against the forces of his enemies, not to take advantage of their misfortunes…”

I find it impossible to read ‘from a certain greatness of mind’ without imagining Alexander looking down his nose at Darius.

Chapter Thirteen
As the Macedonian and Persian armies lined up to fight the Battle of Gaugamela, Alexander gave his men another inspirational speech. Unsurprisingly, and wisely, he met the issue of superior Persian numbers head-on. Don’t be alarmed that the Persian army is greater in size than our own, he told them, Darius is only fighting with more human beings. We are fighting with more men. If nothing else, that is a neat turn of phrase.

Chapter Fourteen
This chapter covers the Battle of Gaugamela, its aftermath and Alexander’s subsequent march to Susa and Persepolis. Justin’s treatment of the new Great King is limited to a comment about how bravely he fought at Gaugamela,

Alexander… made the most hazardous efforts; where he saw the enemy thickest, and fighting most desperately, there he always threw himself, desiring that the peril should be his, and not his soldiers’.

and an acknowledgement of his kindness towards the mutilated Greeks to whom he gave permission to return home from their Persian exile.

Chapter Fifteen
Alexander comes to the fore in an indirect manner here. Justin recounts how Darius was found mortally wounded after being attacked by ‘his relatives*’. Before dying, he commended Alexander once again for his kindness to his ‘mother and children’. He had proved himself ‘a prince, not… a foe’.

Upon reaching Darius’ body, Alexander,

… contemplated with tears a death so unsuitable to his dignity. He also directed his corpse to be buried as that of a king, and his relics to be conveyed to the sepulchres of his ancestors.

So, after the blows done to Alexander’s reputation during the course of these chapters – specifically, the beginning of his medising after Issus and the arrogance that came from being declared son of Ammon – we are able to end on a positive note, one which reminds us of what we have known since the first post in this series – Alexander’s respect for history, and adds something new – his respect for Persian religious practices and fallen enemies.

* i.e. Bessus

The clouds are definitely gathering around Justin’s Alexander. If it doesn’t seem like it that is only because Justin prioritises telling Alexander’s story rather than dwelling on the on-going impact of the latter’s decision to adopt a Persian lifestyle. It is interesting, though, that Justin still finds time to give an account of some of Alexander’s more positive actions – it would have been very easy for him to exclude them – think of the way Ptolemy is supposed to have suppressed the role of Thaïs’, his mistress, in the destruction of the royal palace at Persepolis – but no, there they are for us to see and appreciate. Can we say that this is proof that Justin was not wholly antagonistic towards Alexander?

Categories: Justin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 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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Earth and Water

The Nature of Curtius
Book Four Chapters 11-16
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter 11
Tears and Hard Ground
On the eve of the Battle of Gaugamela, Alexander received another letter from Darius. In it, the Great King offered further concessions to him in order to end the war between them. These included – once again – Stateira II’s hand in marriage but this time all territory west of the Euphrates River. Alexander was warned that taking the whole empire would be ‘fraught with danger’ and that it would be difficult to control.

Why did Darius think Alexander might respond to this letter any more positively than his last?

A few days earlier*, Stateira I had died. Upon being informed, Alexander wept copious tears for her, and he gave his permission for her funeral to be carried out in the ‘traditional Persian fashion’.

In the confusion following Stateira’s death, a eunuch** belonging to the Persian royal family escaped from the Macedonian camp and made his way to Darius’ tent. There, he told the Great King how Alexander had cried for his late wife, having treated the royal women with the utmost respect since capturing them following the Battle of Issus.

It was this insight into Alexander’s kindness that gave Darius the confidence to send his letter.

Unfortunately, the seeds did not fall on fertile ground and Alexander dismissed Darius’ offer. “‘He generously gives me the land beyond the Euphrates,'” Alexander said, contemptuously, “‘[but] I am already across the Euphrates and my camp stands beyond the boundary of the land he generously promises me as dowry!'”

The ambassadors were allowed to return to Darius. They did so, and told him that ‘battle was imminent’.

* The following account comes from Chapter 10

** Curtius gives his name as Tyriotes

Chapter 12
Mist and Sun
As the Macedonian army marched towards Gaugamela, a strange event happened. ‘Intermittent flashes in the bright sky, of the type seen on hot summer days [and which] had the appearance of fire’ were seen. The Macedonian soldiers thought ‘that they were flames gleaming in Darius’ camp, and that they had negligently advanced among enemy outposts’. This caused a general panic to occur.

Realising what was happening, Alexander stopped the march and told his men to ‘lay down their arms and rest’. While they did so, he reassured them that the Persians were still a long way off and that they were in no danger.

As it happens, however, they were, for Mazaeus and his cavalry party were on a hilltop overlooking the camp. Curtius says that if he ‘had struck while [the Macedonians] were still panicking a terrible disaster could have been inflicted’ on Alexander’s army. But he didn’t. Although he had 3,000 horse with him Mazaeus would have known he was hopelessly outnumbered. So, he stayed put ‘content not to be under attack’.

To go back to the flashes of light for a moment, I presume from the Macedonian soldiers’ reactions they thought they were seeing the reflection of the sun on the Persians’ armour and weaponry and that this meant they had drawn too close to their enemy. It makes a lot more sense that fiery flashes of light across a blue sky.

Whatever the cause of the flashes, they unnerved the Macedonians enough to make Alexander call a halt to the proceedings for the day and set up a fortified camp.

The next day, Mazaeus withdrew from the hilltop. The Macedonians took his position. From their new vantage point they had a good view of the battlefield. It was a humid day, however, and a mist descended. While it wasn’t heavy enough to obscure the plain before them, ‘it did render it impossible to see how [the Persian] forces were divided and organized.’

Presently, the mist lifted and the two armies were revealed to each other. Both shouted their war-cries ‘and the woods and valleys round about rang with a terrifying noise’.

Chapter Thirteen
Spikes in the Ground
This chapter is concerned mostly with the Persian and Macedonian armies preparation for war, so is of little interest to us. It does conclude, however, with a sole horse rider galloping out of the Persian camp and towards Alexander. His name was Bion and he was a deserter. He warned the Macedonian king that Darius had placed iron spikes in the ground where he thought the Macedonian cavalry intended to ride during the battle. I don’t recall any similar practice at the Granicus River or Issus and if memory serves, Alexander himself never employed such a tactic. Perhaps he thought it would undermine his glory.

Chapter Fourteen
Empire and Prison
Alexander encouraged his men with a bold speech. He spoke, as it were, to two people – the brave and non-brave.

To the brave, he made the land out to be a place of triumph, where they had won great victories (e.g. at the Granicus River and Issus) or had passed through as victors (e.g. the Cilician Mountains, Syria and Egypt).

To the non-brave, however, the land was represented as an enemy. You have come so far, he said, that ‘all those rivers and mountains [are] a barrier’ behind you. If you want to go home, you are going to have to fight.

Darius also spoke of barriers. Not natural ones, though; that would have been difficult having wrought so much destruction upon the land as part of his defensive operations. Instead, the Great King asked his men to be living barriers that would save the lives of their families who waited behind them.

Chapter Fifteen
The Eagle
The Battle of Gaugamela was in full bloody flow when Alexander’s guards caught sight of ‘an eagle gently hovering just above the king’s head, frightened neither by the clash of arms nor the groans of the dying’.

Aristander – dressed as a priest and with a laurel-branch in his hand – pointed the eagle out to the soldiers as it maintained its station saying (or, more likely, shouting, if he really was there) that it was ‘an infallible omen of victory’.

Up till now, the Macedonians had been in a state of terror. Upon being alerted to the eagle’s presence, however, they became ‘fired with tremendous enthusiasm and confidence for the fight’. This confidence increased when Darius’ charioteer was killed.

Dominos now started to fall. The charioteer was mistaken for Darius. The Persian Cavalry let out a huge cry. This unsettled the entire Persian army. The left-wing folded and the army started to retreat. The Macedonians gave chase. The battle ended and a massacre began.

Chapter Sixteen
A Bridge Too Far
Darius fled to the Lycus River (the modern day Greater Zab). Crossing it, he contemplated destroying the bridge behind him. But although he knew that would prevent the Macedonians from pursuing him, he decided not to do as it would also condemn many of his men to death.

In the hours that followed, however, the Persian soldiers themselves either caused the bridge to collapse or surely came close to doing so as they ‘overloaded’ it in their haste to flee the battlefield. So desperate were they that not only did men attempt to wade across the Lycus – with some being carried away under the weight of their armour – but they also trampled over each other in order to reach the other side. It was an ignominious end to the battle of empires.

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As the Crow Flies

The Nature of Curtius
Book Four Chapters 5-10
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Five
Offering the impossible
After making good his escape from Issus, Darius wrote to Alexander offering him the hand of his daughter Stateira II and Asia Minor west of the Halys River.


This map comes from Celtia

Do not hesitate to accept this deal, Darius warned him, as fortune never stands still. Darius then told Alexander that his (Alexander’s) fear was that

… like the birds wafted up to the sky by their natural lightness, Alexander would also be carried away by the vanity of his youthful mind – nothing was more difficult than keeping control of great fortune at his age.

To press home his point, Darius warned Alexander that he had ‘many other lands in his power, and… would not always be vulnerable to attack in a narrow pass.’

In his response, Alexander told the Persian messenger ‘that Darius was promising him property which was not his to give’. As for the ‘property’ that remained in Darius’ hands – Alexander dealt with that by giving a sinister version of Ruth 1:16. Wherever he goes, Alexander told the herald, I can follow. Finally, Alexander swapped Darius’ avian metaphor for an aquatic one. The Great King, he told the messenger, ‘should stop trying to frighten with rivers a man whom he knew to have passed over seas’.

Chapter Six
Alexander’s Investment
After leaving Tyre, Alexander’s next major action was a two month siege of Gaza. From the Book of Ruth we fast forward to Matt. 7:24–27 and Luke 6:46–49 and the parable of the house built on rock. When Alexander inspected Gaza, he found it to be akin to the house built on sand in that there was a lack of rock and stone underneath it. So, he ordered his men to undermine the city by digging shafts and tunnels.

While the digging was going on, Alexander carried out a sacrifice. During it, he was struck by a clod of earth dropped by a passing crow. Avian metaphors could be ignored, but not avian actions. What did this one mean?

Aristander’s reply was very unwelcome. The omen predicted ‘that the city would be destroyed’ but that ‘there was also [a] danger that Alexander would sustain injury’. Aristander therefore advised his king to ‘take no initiative that day’. Reluctantly, Alexander agreed.

Events conspired, however, to plunge him into action. Seeing the Macedonians withdraw, the Gazans decided to launch a sortie against them. During the counter-attack, Alexander was shot in his shoulder by an arrow.

Alexander was still recovering from this injury when he undertook another earth-moving project. Gaza stood on a mound (or hill?). To reach its walls, Alexander ordered the construction of a mound. Tall siege towers were rolled up it. The towers were so high the Macedonians were able to fire missiles down into the city.

What did for Gaza, though, were the shafts and tunnels. The shafts that Alexander had ordered to be dug caused the city walls to collapse. Led by their king, the Macedonians poured into the city. It was quickly taken and its governor, Batis, would soon die by being dragged round Gaza’s walls just as Hector’s body had been dragged in front of Troy all those years ago.

Chapter Seven
The fall of Gaza opened Egypt up to Alexander, and it welcomed him with open arms. After settling the country’s administrative affairs he made his famous trip to Siwah. Curtius vividly describes the difficult journey to the oracle of Ammon. Alexander and his small company of men rode through ‘vast stretches of naked desert’ which disoriented the eyes. Curtius refers to the fact that ‘no tree was to be seen [nor] a trace of cultivated soil’. In a ‘vast sea’ of shifting sand dunes this made locating oneself impossible.

Worse was to come when the Macedonians ran out of water. The men’s throats ‘were dry and burned’. Suddenly – perhaps in recompense for causing Alexander such trouble at Tyre – ‘clouds shredded the sky and hid the sun’. The temperatures cooled. Presently, ‘high winds… showered down generous quantities of rain’ which the men collected with the skins and by opening their mouths to the sky.

‘After four days in the desert wastes’, Alexander and his men were met by ‘a number of crows’ which guided them the rest of the way to Siwah. What is it about crows and Macedonians?

Curtius only gives us some specific details about Siwah Oasis. He says that Ammon’s shrine ‘is so well screened on all sides by encircling tree branches that the rays of the sun barely penetrate the shade’ and that the oasis woods ‘are sustained by a wealth of fresh-water springs’.

Curtius also adds that the oasis’ climate is ‘amazingly temperate… providing a healthy atmosphere’. He also tells us about the Water of the Sun – the fountain that (to this day) gets cooler towards midday and hotter at night. For more about the fountain and Siwah, here is what I wrote when I read Diodorus’ account.

Chapter Eight
According to Curtius, Alexander founded Alexandria after his visit to Siwah. At first, he wanted to build the city on the island of Pharos but following an inspection of its ‘natural features’ he decided to locate it on the mainland instead. It appears that Pharos was too small for ‘a large settlement’.

Chapter Nine
Out of Date Tactics
We pick the story up again with Alexander now in Mesop0tamia, on his way to Gaugamela for his final showdown with Darius III.

On hearing that Alexander was approaching, Darius ordered his general Mazaeus to ‘lay waste and burn’ the ground in front of the Macedonians. Mazaeus did as he was ordered but the time for such a policy had long since passed. Alexander had greater trouble crossing the fast-flowing Tigris than he did with provisions.

After giving Mazaeus his orders, Darius marched to the Boumelus River* where he pitched camp. Before him was a wide open plain – the perfect battlefield for his large army. It was a little uneven, though, so the Great King ordered the ‘protrusions in the flat land to be levelled and any higher ground to be completely flattened’.

* The modern day Khazir

Chapter Ten
The Dangerous Eclipse
As we have seen in this series, natural phenomena have played a significant role in the account of Alexander’s journey. In the early hours of 20th September 331 B.C. they played their most important part yet. That night, the moon became pale and then ‘suffused with a blood-red colour’.

The Macedonians observed the eclipse with fear in their hearts. The gods are against us, they said, the rivers forbid access, the moon loses her strength, everywhere is ‘desolation and desert’. And why is all this happening? Because of

… the grandiose plans of one man who despised his country, disowned his father Philip, and had deluded ideas about aspiring to heaven.

‘Mutiny’ Curtius says gravely, ‘was but a step away’. As the Notes say, he is exaggerating but there was ‘clearly already an undercurrent of resentment against Alexander because of his pretensions about Jupiter Ammon’. That, however, is for another post. In this one, we may say that Alexander called his generals and officers together before ordering his ‘Egyptian seers’ to tell him what the eclipse meant.

The Egyptian priests knew exactly what had caused the eclipse. Very smartly, however, they told the Macedonian soldiery (as opposed, I presume, to Alexander et al) that

… the sun represented the Greeks and the moon the Persians, and that an eclipse of the moon predicted disaster and slaughter for those nations.

Their interpretation was accepted and the soldiers’ anxiety eased. Now, they just had a battle to win.

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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

The Good, the Bad, and the Seven Day Party

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 106, 107 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Macedonian Army Arrives in Carmania
Macedonians Enjoy A Seven Day Road Party
Caranus: Was he Right To Kill Himself?
A Royal Wedding in Susa!

The Story
Chapter 106
Whatever the state of Alexander’s mental health, he made it through the Cedrosian desert. The Macedonian army arrived in Carmania, a ‘well-populated country’ and one that contained ‘everything needful’ for a good time. Which is exactly what the Macedonians proceeded to have as they passed through it.

First of all, though, Alexander let his army rest. That should probably be in inverted commas. When they resumed their march, the men walked ‘in festive dress’. As for Alexander, he ‘led a Dionysiac comus, feasting and drinking as he travelled’. Happy days.

But all good parties must come to an end, and when you wake up the next day, you are liable to do so with a headache. Alexander’s was a particularly bad one – he discovered that ‘many of his [satrapal and military] officials’ whom he had left in charge of various cities and regions had been abusing their power.

Alexander began punishing the offenders. Word of this got around. Some of the guilty ‘revolted against the king’s authority’, others stole money and fled. Hearing of this, Alexander ‘wrote to all his generals and satraps in Asia, ordering them… to disband all their mercenaries immediately’.

Alexander’s next stop was a seaside city named Salmus. There, he rested. One day, while he watched ‘a dramatic contest in the theatre’, Nearchus’ fleet put in to port. The sailors came straight to the theatre where they received a rapturous welcome from the audience.

They gave a report of their voyage to Alexander. The sailors spoke of ‘astonishing ebbings and flowings in the Ocean’, of ‘many large and unsuspected islands… along the coast’ and – most spectacularly of all – ‘an encounter with a large school of incredibly large whales’. The Cedrosians would have been very jealous.

The sailors were enamoured towards the animals. They spoke of their fear that their ships would smash against them, and of how they shouted, blew their trumpets, and beat their shields to make such a loud noise that the whales took fright and dived to deeper water.

Chapter 107
Having received the report, and – hopefully – after giving the sailors a little time to rest, Alexander ordered them to continue their journey to the Euphrates. He and the army left Salmus on foot and started the long trek to Susianê.

They reached it without incident. On the border, an Indian philosopher named Caranus (aka Calanus), who had travelled west with Alexander, fell ill. He was 73 years old and had never been ill before. Knowing that ‘he had received the utmost limit of happiness both from nature and from Fortune’, and – perhaps – perceiving that his illness was terminal, Caranus decided to end his life.

He asked Alexander to build a pyre for him. The king tried to talk him out of killing himself but Caranus’ mind was set. When pyre was finished, he ‘cheerfully’ climbed onto it. The pyre was then lit, and he died.

Diodorus reports that while some who watched him die ‘marvelled at his fortitude and contempt for death’, others ‘thought him mad’, while others still regarded him as ‘vainglorious about his ability to bear pain’.

Caranus was given ‘a magnificent funeral’. When that was done, Alexander resumed his journey and in due course arrived in Susa. There, ‘he married Stateira’ and had Hephaestion marry Drypetis. Diodorus concludes the chapter by saying that Alexander ‘prevailed upon the most prominent of his Friends to take wives also, and gave them in marriage the noblest Persian ladies’. And that is all Diodorus has to say about the famous Susa Weddings.

Did Alexander really hold a seven day party? The Footnotes say that neither Ptolemy or Aristobulos refer to it. On the other hand, both Alexander and his father ‘were fond of the comus in general’.

One of my images of Alexander is of a great general but, frankly, rubbish administrator. He simply wasn’t interested in that sort of thing. The corrupt satraps and generals seem to bear that out. However, upon learning of their deeds he did punish them rather than leave them in place. Having said that, he should never have given Harpalus any position of authority or reinstated him when he abused Alexander’s trust.

And who was the official to whom Alexander said, after Hephaestion died, he would not punish him for any wrong-doing he might do in the future if he honoured Hephaestion? Was that Harpalus? I can’t remember and can’t find it on the ‘net. I don’t know if that is a true story so will have to try and find out.

It seems to me that what we have with Caranus is an early example of a very topical issue – assisted suicide. Plus ça change. Alexander’s initial opposition to Caranus’ request makes sense in terms of his outlook on life. He lived for glory, something that he could never attain enough of. Life, for him, would never reach a point where he could say ‘I have had my fill’. Caranus’ outlook was, by contrast, rather less ambitious.

Of course, there is the story (told by Arrian) that when close to death, Alexander tried to commit suicide by throwing himself into the Euphrates river (only to be dissuaded from doing so by Roxane). But Alexander only wanted to kill himself in order to make it appear that he was the son of Ammon. Only Alexander could turn suicide – the ultimate act of self-abnegation – into an act that confirmed his greatness.

Inevitably, along with the debate between those for and against the assisted suicide there were the unhelpful opinions of no few people regarding Caranus, which they should really have kept to themselves.

Diodorus’ representation of the Susa Weddings joins the list of important events that he writes all too briefly about.

Somewhere in the crowd,
Thaïs had to admit she was really quite


This picture can be bought on (German) eBay

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Across the Pasitigris and into the land of the Uxii

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 67 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Leaves Susa
Royal Family Left Behind – Will Learn Greek
Madetes Puts Up Brief Fight in Uxiane

The Story
We are not told when exactly Alexander left Susa (just that it happened ‘after’ the throne incident) but he must have done so in a timely fashion as Diodorus makes no mention of the king having been distracted by Susa’s riches. So much for Darius’ plan.

Something that Diodorus does mention, however, is that when the Macedonians left Susa, the Persian royal family stayed behind. Alexander may have thought that the road ahead would be too difficult and too dangerous for them. At the same time, he certainly had an eye on the family’s political future as he appointed teachers to teach the family Greek.

Upon leaving Susa, the Macedonian army marched towards the Tigris River, reaching it four days later. By crossing it, the army came into the territory of the Uxii. There, Alexander was confronted by ‘passages guarded by Madetes, a cousin of Dareius’.

As the cliffs were sheer, it appeared that Alexander had no choice but to attack Madetes directly. Just then, a ‘Uxian native’ – perhaps a guide who had been hired/forced to take them through Uxiane – stepped forward and said he knew a way up the cliff ‘to a position above the enemy’.

Alexander sent a detachment with the guide while he lead a direct assault on Madetes’ position. The Macedonians attacked in waves and the battle was in full flow when, to the Persians’ surprise, they saw the ‘flying column of Macedonians’ above them. Rather than wait to be attacked on two fronts, the Persians fled. The pass was taken and the cities of Uxiane soon followed.

As the title of this post indicates, for Tigris we should read Pasitigris, which today is the Karun River. That information comes from the Footnotes and Livius. Wikipedia also adds that the Pasitigris – under its older name of Pishon – was also one of the four rivers that flowed through the Biblical paradise of Eden, which, whether one takes the story of Adam and Eve literally or not, is quite a thought.

There seems no question to me that the assault on Madetes’ pass was a battle well won. I have to admit, though, I have little enthusiasm for the episode. I think that is one part the result of Diodorus not spending much time on the incident and one part the fact that Madetes runs away really quickly. At least Darius stood and fought for a while.

Persian Royal Family’s End of Term Report Card

‘Tries hard in her language studies. One day, I hope to persuade her to stop saying ‘Alpha is for Alexandros’ in a wistful fashion and move on to beta…’
Stateira II
‘Spends too much time arguing with her sister as to whether Alexander is better than Hephaestion.’
‘Winds her sister up by saying ‘if Alexander and Hephaestion are one person then so are we and you can’t disagree with yourself’. A one woman logic free zone.’
‘Refuses to leant Lambda until Sparta joins Alexander’s Hellenic League. Like the Spartans, must try harder.’

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“He too is Alexander”

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 37, 38 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Darius Escapes Alexander’s Pursuit
Sisygambis Mistakes Hephaestion for Alexander
Alexander Restores Royal Family’s Dignity

The Story

Chapter 37
Alexander kept up his pursuit of Darius until late into the night. Diodorus says that the Macedonian king and his cavalrymen rode for two hundred furlongs before turning back to his camp.

Unfortunately, the Footnotes do not say how long a Greek furlong is so it is hard to put Alexander’s ride into context. Google tells me that one furlong today is 201 metres. This website gives two hundred furlongs as the equivalent of twenty-five miles. If that is how far Alexander travelled, it is quite a distance given their earlier exertions. I realise, though, that this is a big if.

Alexander arrived back at his tent around midnight. After a bath to wash off the day’s blood and grime, he sat down to dinner.

As he ate, the Persian royal family were informed that Alexander had returned to camp ‘after stripping Dareius of his arms’. The women broke down in tears at this news. They were joined by the other captives, and the noise became so loud that Alexander had to send Leonnatus to the royal family’s tent ‘to quiet the uproar’.

Leonnatus assured the women that their lord was still alive ‘and that Alexander would show them… proper consideration’. The queens were calmed by this news. In their relief, they ‘hailed Alexander as a god’.

By the time he had bathed and finished eating, Alexander could only have had time for a few hours rest for at daybreak he was up again and on his way to see the royal family.

Alexander entered the queens’ tent with several of his Friends, including Hephaestion. Diodorus states that both he and Alexander ‘were dressed alike’ but that ‘Hephaestion was taller and more handsome’.

This lead Sisygambis, Darius’ mother, to assume that Hephaestion was Alexander and so ‘did him obeisance’. Some of Alexander’s Friends ‘made signs to her and pointed to Alexander’. Realising her mistake, and no doubt blushing with embarrassment, Sisygambis turned to the king.

I am quite certain that another king – in fact, many other kings – would have punished Sisygambis for her error but Alexander was cut from a different cloth. “Never mind, Mother,” he said, “For actually he too is Alexander.”

What did Alexander mean by this? The Footnotes say that his response ‘recalls the proverbial Greek definition of a friend as a “Second Self”‘. This makes ‘he too is Alexander’ seem hardly more than a poetic way of saying ‘he is my friend’.

We would not be doing the two men justice, however, if we did not qualify the nature of their friendship. An opportunity to do that will come in Chapter 47. If you have a copy of Diodorus to hand, you might also look at Chapter 114.

I shall leave of discussing either until the appropriate post. For now, I would say that when Alexander called Hephaestion by his own name he was indicating that theirs was a very personal friendship (for the avoidance of doubt, I don’t think he was indicating that they were lovers).

Chapter 38
Diodorus now provides a list of what Alexander did for Sisygambis. He…

  • ‘[D]ecked her with her royal jewelry’
  • ‘Restored her to her previous dignity, with its proper honours’
  • Returned her servants to her, giving her even more
  • Promised to provide (I presume) dowries for Stateira II’s and Drypetis’ marriages
  • Promised to treat her grandson (Ochus) as his own son and ‘show him royal honour’

Alexander called Ochus to him and kissed him. Ochus ‘was fearless in [his] countenance’. Turning to Hephaestion, Alexander ‘remarked… that at the age of six years the boy… was much braver than his father’.

Ochus’ mother, Stateira I was not forgotten about.  Alexander promised her ‘that she would experience nothing inconsistent with her former happiness’.

The royal women cried with joy for Alexander’s kindness towards them. Diodorus says that the king ‘won universal recognition throughout his own army for his exceeding propriety of conduct’. I wonder if this included the men who had dragged the other Persian women by their hair or stripped them naked and hit them with their spear butts.

Diodorus concludes the chapter by applauding Alexander’s actions. ‘Most people are made proud by their successes… and becoming arrogant in their success, are forgetful of the common weakness of mankind’. Alexander, however, had wisdom. ‘[L]et him continue to receive in future ages… the just and proper praise for his good qualities’. Amen to that.

As facetious as it is, I am glad that even Alexander knew what it was like to have a noisy neighbour. If only ours could be as easily dealt with!

I am not sure what ‘stripping Dareius of his arms’ means. It isn’t literally true – Darius escaped Issus with his own weaponry and had access to more. It isn’t true in terms of the Persian army: whether or not Darius escaped by riding over the bodies of his men, as Ptolemy fancifully states, many Persians escaped. Perhaps it is simply a metaphor for the Persian army’s defeat?

I note that when Alexander visits the queens’ tent he speaks first to Sisygambis, and it is she who does obeisance to him. I wonder if this means that in the Persian hierarchy the Queen Mother was more senior to the Queen herself?

Diodorus says that Alexander assured Sisygambis ‘that she would be his second mother’. Surely she is his third after Olympias and Ada!

Ten Reasons Why Hephaestion Could Not Be Alexander Today

  1. He’d get done for credit card fraud
  2. Hephaestion’s size makes him a natural defender, Alexander’s clearly a striker
  3. Their clothes wouldn’t fit
  4. Their girlfriends wouldn’t understand
  5. One Man One Vote
  6. iTunes doesn’t have joint accounts
  7. Arguments would lead to an existential crisis
  8. Inadvertent minesweeping in the pub
  9. Hephaestion would say tomato
  10. They would have an extra man advantage in tag team wrestling
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