Posts Tagged With: Sudracae

The Fatal Macedonian

Justin’s Alexander
Book XII Chapters 5-10
Part Five
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 Five
In the last post, we saw how Alexander ‘easternised’ and tried to guide his friends and the army towards doing the same. Justin’s exact words are that Alexander ‘desired’ that his friends adopt Persian dress (Chapter 3) and ‘permitted’ his men to marry barbarian women (Chapter 4).

To my mind desired and permitted are positive words. But there is no doubt that Justin himself regarded these developments as a bad thing. He says that Alexander only ‘permitted’ his men to marry barbarian women so that he did,

not appear to be the only person who yielded to the vices of those whom he had conquered in the field

and he talks about Alexander acting ‘as if he gave himself up to the customs of those whom be had conquered.’ (my emphasis).

At the start of Chapter 5, Justin repeats the assertion (made in the previous chapter) that what angered the Macedonians was not simply that Alexander had taken on Persian mores but that in doing so he had ‘cast off the customs of his father Philip and of his country.’

It might have been better for Alexander to row back on his innovations and proceed thereafter more slowly and with greater caution – although in an inherently aggressive society such as his that is debatable – but instead, he turned inwardly against his men for the first time.

Justin describes the king as showing ‘a passionate temper towards those about him, not with a princely severity, but with the vindictiveness of an enemy’. He states that Philotas’ and Parmenion’s execution came about as a result of their criticising the king’s behaviour.

Parmenion’s and Philotas’ executions drove a wedge between the king and his men. What he has done to the ‘innocent old general and his son’, they said, we must expect to happen to ourselves.

What was Alexander’s response? Did he reassure his men that this would not happen*? No. He manipulated them into writing letters home, letters which he then took possession of and read. On doing so,

… he put all those, who had given unfavourable opinions of his conduct, into one regiment, with an intention either to destroy them, or to distribute them in colonies in the most distant parts of the earth.  

It’s one thing to adopt foreign customs, but quite another to treat his own men so badly. The Justinian anti-Alexander propaganda machine is getting into its stride now.

* In the same way he reassured Philotas’ relatives that they would not be punished along with him by repealing the law which allowed for the relatives of a condemned man to be executed as well (Curtius 6.11.20)

Chapter Six
Propaganda it may have have been, but true it also was*. And that was Alexander’s problem – he made these rods for his own back. For example, the king’s murder of Black Cleitus after the latter ‘defended the memory of Philip’ during a drunken party.

To his credit, though, Justin doesn’t simply say ‘Alexander got drunk and killed Cleitus out of pride’. He also relates the king’s regret, his attempt to kill himself, his continued remorse and realisation of how dreadful he must now appear to his men. In the end, Alexander was saved from his grief by his men, and Callisthenes, in particular. The wedge between them, it seems, was not unbridgeable.

* I’m giving Justin the benefit of the doubt here as Curtius (7.2.35-38) and Diodorus (XIII.17.80) also mention the incident.

Chapter Seven
… and yet, still Alexander persisted with his desire to be treated as if was a Persian monarch. Thus, though admittedly with hesitation, ‘he gave orders that he should not be approached with mere salutation, but with adoration’.

Black Cleitus’ death had not lessoned the opposition of the Macedonians. Callisthenes refused to prostrate himself to the king. And, having saved Alexander’s life, now lost his own to him. I wonder if that is why Justin made sure to mention the historian’s role in saving Alexander’s life as it now makes the his death all the more poignant – and bitter.

Several Macedonians died because they refused to indulge Alexander’s whim. But they did not die in vain; at least, not completely – Justin states that while the ‘custom of saluting their king was… retained by the Macedonians, adoration [was] set aside’.

In the Daedalian Mountains, Alexander received the submission of Queen Cleophis. Justin adds tartly that she ‘recovered her throne from him by admitting him to her bed’.

Curtius (8.10.35-36) also mentions Cleophis, though he only says that – according to some – it was simply her beauty that won her back her throne. He recognises, however, that at some point, she did give birth to a son which she named Alexander.

The Notes to my edition of Curtius cite A V Gutschmid (n.68) who said that Cleophis was a Roman invention*. I can well believe it. Even if Alexander did not abstain from sex, as Plutarch suggests (with the exception of Barsine), the respect he had for women surely makes the scenario given by Justin unlikely.

* An allusion to Cleopatra VII

Chapter Eight
The end of this chapter marks the end of Alexander’s eastward journey. Worn out by the constant travel and war, the Macedonian army begged their king to take them return home. Rather surprisingly (to me, anyway) given the antagonism between them since his adoption of Persian dress and customs, Alexander agreed to the men’s request.

Chapter Nine
This chapter covers more of Alexander’s battles, including the occasion when the king leapt into the city of the Sigambri* where he fought ‘alone against thousands’ until he was felled by an arrow. Typically, the ‘curing of the wound caused him more suffering than the wound itself.’

* Or, the Mallian city (See Arrian 6.9-12 and Plutarch Para. 63); Curtius calls it the City of the Sudracae (9.4.26-33; 9.5.1-21). Diodorus deals with the assault in VIII.17.98-99 but it isn’t clear to me from his narrative where the city was located

Chapter Ten
Alexander had returned to Babylon, where,

many of the conquered people sent deputations to accuse their governors, whom Alexander, without any regard to his former friendship for them, commanded to be put to death in the sight of the deputies.

I can’t decide whether Justin means this statement to be taken positively or otherwise.

On the one hand, a just judge should not be thinking of friendships when trying cases.

On the other, I do get the impression that when Justin says the governors were put to death ‘in the sight of the deputies’ Alexander was using the executions as a means of intimidation. But again, perhaps that was a good thing for him to do.

Justin concludes with a brief reference to the Susa Weddings. Alexander, he says, married Stateira II. He had his leading men marry

… the noblest virgins… in order that the impropriety of the king’s conduct might be rendered less glaring by the practice becoming general.

This is the third time Alexander has acted along these lines*. Given the king’s pride, I think it is better to take this statement as Justin’s opinion rather than of fact.

* After asking and permitting his friends and army to wear Persian dress and marry barbarian women, as described above

Impressions
The storm clouds have definitely broken. And yet, Justin still mentions aspects of Alexander’s behaviour that could be taken positively. I have to give him credit for that. What the above chapters have really brought home to me is the fact that the Macedonian army’s estrangement from its king – in Justin’s eyes – was wholly connected to their love for Philip. I am not used to thinking of Philip II as a king beloved of his men.

One last point – Justin’s narrative contains a number of errors. For example, his assertion that Parmenion and Philotas were executed after criticising Alexander’s adoption of Persian dress and customs, and that Parmenion was tortured before being killed. A list of the mistakes are for another post; for now, I just wanted to acknowledge them here lest anyone thought they weren’t in my mind.

 

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The Power and the Glory

The Nature of Curtius
Book Nine Chapter 1-4
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter One
The Indian Interior
Alexander celebrated victory over Porus with ‘a sacrifice of animals to the Sun’. He had much to thank Helios for as the god had ‘opened up to him the limits of the east’.

Later, Alexander told his men that the Indian strength had been ‘shattered’ and all that was left was ‘rich plunder’. His next decision showed that he now considered the end of the expedition to be nigh – Alexander gave instructions for ‘ships to be constructed so that after completing his expedition across Asia he might visit the sea at the world’s end’.

The ships were built using wood from trees in mountainside forests. As the Macedonians cut the trees down, they disturbed ‘snakes of extraordinary size’. Curtius says they also sighted rhinoceroses on the mountains.

Back at the Hydaspes, Alexander founded two cities on either side the river. They were named Nicaea and Bucephala* (after his horse, Bucephalas).

From the Hydaspes, Alexander now ‘crossed the river** and marched into the interior of India’.

At this point, Curtius pauses for a moment to give us a few more details regarding India’s geography. He tells us that its ‘climate is healthy’, with ‘plentiful supplies of spring-water’ and shade thanks to the ‘almost interminable tracts of countryside [which] were covered with forests’. These woods were comprised of ‘tall trees that reached extraordinary heights’.

Curtius mentions one particular tree that had branches ‘like huge tree-trunks [which] would bend down to the ground where they would turn and rise once more, creating the impression of being not a branch rising up again but a tree generated from an independent root’. This is the Banyan tree, which Diodorus also mentions (see here).

Lest we get too comfortable with the idea of India, however, Curtius has a warning for us – ‘large numbers of snakes’ also lived in the country. They ‘had scales which emitted a golden gleam and a venom of unique virulence’. In fact, it was so potent a bite would lead to instant death. Fortunately, Alexander was able to obtain the antidote from natives.

From all that Curtius has told us about India it doesn’t sound like the kind of place that would have a desert. Nevertheless, he says that it was after Alexander had crossed one that he came to the Hiarotis River***. I suspect Curtius’ definition of ‘desert’ is as flexible as his geography.

The Hiarotis was flanked by trees ‘not found elsewhere’. Wild peacocks also lived there. Leaving the river behind, Alexander attacked various tribes, including one whose city was ‘protected by a marsh’. It did not prevent the Macedonians from storming it.

Presently, Alexander came to Sophites’ kingdom. He submitted to the king and (during a banquet?) told Alexander about how fierce his people’s hunting dogs were. To prove it, he had four attack a captive lion. As they bit it, an attendant tugged at one of the dog’s legs. He didn’t let go. So the attendant ‘proceeded to cut off the leg with a knife’. But still the dog did not let go. The attendant, therefore, cut the dog in another part of its body – to no avail. It held firm. Finally, the attendant slashed at it. The dog died holding onto the lion.

Leaving Sophites, Alexander marched to the Hyphasis River.

* Although, see Chapter Three below where Curtius states that Nicaea and Bucephala were founded after his return to the Hydaspes from the Hyphasis River

** I presume that Curtius means Alexander crossed the Hydaspes once again as he has not given any indication of the Macedonians having left it after the founding of the two cities

*** aka the Hydraotis

Chapter Two
The Hyphasis River
For two days, Alexander wondered if he should cross the Hyphasis at the point he had now reached. On the third day, he decided to do so.

The difficulty he faced was that the Hyphasis was very broad and ‘was obstructed with rocks’. While considering the matter, Alexander also discussed the river and what lay beyond it with a local client king named Phegeus whom he had ordered to join him.

Phegeus told Alexander that if he crossed the Hyphasis, he would have a twelve day journey until he came to the Ganges River. Crossing the Ganges would bring him to the Gangaridae and Prasii people who were ruled by a king named Aggrammes who had a mighty army at his disposal.

Phegeus quoted figures of 20,000 cavalry, 200,000 infantry, 2,000 chariots and 3,000 elephants. Incredulous at these figures, Alexander got a second opinion from Porus. He confirmed them but said that Aggrammes was a second rate monarch.

In the end, what concerned Alexander most was neither the size of Aggrammes’ army nor his elephants but ‘the terrain and the violence of the rivers’ – Phegeus must have told him of these during their conversation. He also doubted his soldiers’ commitment. Having grown old as they marched east, would they follow him ‘over rivers that blocked their path, over all the natural obstacles confronting them?’.

To find out, Alexander called his men together for an assembly during which he urged them to follow him east.

Chapter Three
Coenus Speaks for the Men
The assembly at the Hyphasis River continued with Coenus giving Alexander the army’s response. They had had enough. Alexander withdrew angrily to his tent. Three days later he emerged and gave the order for twelve giant altars to be built before they began the journey west.

Leaving the Hyphasis behind, Alexander marched to the Acesines River. There, Coenus died. Of natural causes? Or perhaps the victim of an angry king?

Back at the Hydaspes River, Alexander founded Nicaea and Bucephala for either the first or second time (see chapter one, above) and received reinforcements for the army. The ships that he had ordered to be built (chapter one again) were now ready and so the journey south to the Indian Ocean began.

Chapter Four
Foreboding
The Macedonian fleet sailed as far as the point ‘where the Hydaspes joins the Acesines’. From there, the ships entered the ‘the country of the Sibi’ who claimed descent from Alexander’s ancestor, Herakles.

Alexander marched inland to attack various tribes. One tribe placed 40,000 men on a river bank to stop the Macedonians from crossing it. They failed. After attacking another city, Alexander sailed round its citadel which was ‘protected by three of the largest rivers in India (the Ganges excepted)’ – the Indus to the north and ‘the confluence of the Acesines and the Hydaspes’ to the south.

The fleet sailed through the confluence down a narrow channel created by silt. At the meeting point of the Hydaspes and Acesines, the waters crashed against each other angrily, creating sea-like waves. So violent were these that two of the Macedonian ships were sunk and others beached. Alexander’s ship might also have gone down but for the efforts of his oarsmen. The ship still ran aground, but was at least safe.

The Macedonian army marched on. When it met a large joint Sudracae and Mallian force, the soldiers began to complain. ‘Alexander… had not terminated the war, only changed its location.’ And what if they destroyed the latest army to meet them? ‘Gloomy darkness and a never-ending night brooding over the deep’ awaited them, and ‘… a sea filled with shoals of savage sea-monsters… stagnant waters where dying nature had lost her power.’*

Alexander met his men, pacified them and defeated the joint Sudracae/Mallian army.

* The ellipses in this quotation are in the text

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