Posts Tagged With: T E Lawrence

Why Did Spitamenes Fail To Defeat Alexander?

A few days ago I attended a talk by Dr. Neil Faulkner on the theme of Lawrence of Arabia’s War, which he gave in support of his new book on this subject.

Several times during the talk, Faulkner made points about T. E. Lawrence that immediately connected the latter to Alexander. For example, both had dominant mothers and both were inspired by heroic figures of the past (for Lawrence it was the Crusaders, for Alexander, Achilles).

To them I would add that both benefitted from deep friendships; that neither held the natives of the countries they were in with contempt, and both were not just fighters but explorers.

However, it was one other statement of Faulkner’s that really stuck out, and that is that one reason why the Arab Revolt succeeded when many insurgency movements of the past had failed, was because they had guns. Guns allowed them to do greater damage from a safer distance before escaping.

In the past, Faulkner said, if you wanted to kill someone, you had – generally speaking – to get up close to them so that you could jab them with your spear or slash with your sword.

Of course, one could use a javelin or sling but the former could only be thrown once and the latter had a slow rate of fire in comparison to a gun. Plus, the use of these weapons greatly increased your chance of being killed before being able to make your escape. And that was vital to the Arabs’ success. Not only because they lacked numbers but because they were in the fight as much for the loot as the promise of their own nation. Killing was no good if they died and could not take booty home with them.

When Faulkner started talking about the role of the gun, I immediately wondered if that was a reason why Spitamenes’ insurgency against Alexander failed. Thinking about it now, I would say it is one reason, but not the only one.

Spitamenes had another problem – he lacked the necessary tactics. When I read him in Arrian, he comes across as an insurgent trying to fight in a traditional manner. For example, he puts Maracanda under siege (IV.4), he captures a Macedonian fort (IV.16); he fights Andromachus’ and Caranus’ detachment in a set-piece battle (IV.5-6), takes on Craterus directly (IV.17), and fights another set-piece battle against Coenus (IV.18).

On all these occasions, he only comes off best when his opponents are either incompetent (the Macedonian detachment) or after using guile instead of brute force (the Macedonian fort). When he tries to fight in the traditional manner, he loses. And in the end, this cost him his life.

Spitamenes was not an incompetent commander – his decision not to fight a close-quarters battle against the Macedonian detachment but instead make use of his horses shows that, and he was adept at melting into the countryside when required to; however, his tactical ability had not caught up with the exigencies of his insurgent operation. And for me, this is the key thing; had Spitamenes superior weaponry he would still have needed to improve his strategy in order to use it effectively. If he didn’t, all the guns in the world wouldn’t make a difference. For Alexander would have had them and he certainly knew how to adapt.

 

Categories: Arrian | Tags: , | 2 Comments

General Ronald Storrs and Cardinal Francis Bourne

II.

David Hogarth portrays Alexander as having very little respect for his religion.

As a boy, he had treated cavalierly even the Pythia. As a man, he refused to listen when a soothsayer forbade his venture across the Sir Daria; he committed palpable fraud with the auspices to save his dignity at the Sutlej; and replied with scornful sarcasm to the last warnings of the prophets of Bel.
D G Hogarth “Philip and Alexander of Macedon” p. 195)

But he does not tell the whole story.

It is true that Alexander was very unkind to the Pythia, dragging her to the shrine so that she could prophecy for him (Plutarch Life 14) on a day when it was illegal for her to do so. And while he did indeed ignore Aristander who told him that the omens were against him, he only did having respected an earlier injunction against crossing the Sir Daria (i.e. the Tanais/Jaxartes), and, I should add, after being continually provoked by the Asian Scythians on the other side of the river (Arrian IV.4).

As for the events at the Sutlej (Hyphasis) river – Neither Curtius, Diodorus, Justin, nor Plutarch mention Alexander sacrificing there following the Macedonian army’s revolt. Arrian does (V.29) but there is nothing in his words that should make us suspect that Alexander fixed the result in order to save face.

If there was fraud on the banks of the Hyphasis river it was in the gigantic altars that Alexander set up. Curtius (IX.3.19) says that he wanted to create a ‘fraudulent wonder’ while Plutarch (Life 62) refers to them as ‘a number of ruses and deceptions’. Arrian (V.29) describes the altars ‘as a thank-offering to the gods’. Whichever way we look at them, though, is a moot point, as they were not what Hogarth was talking about.

The nature of Alexander’s response to the (Chaldaean) prophets’ warning not to enter Babylon on pain of death depends on who we read.

  • Arrian (VII.16) records Alexander as quoting Euripides to them: ‘Prophets are best who make the truest guess’, which is not what I would call ‘scornful sarcasm’.
  • Diodorus (XVII.112) says that Alexander, at first, paid heed to the prophets before being turned against them by Anaxarchus and the Greek philosophers. When that happened, ‘he came to despise all prophetic arts, and especially that which was held in high regard by the Chaldaeans’. How could Alexander change his stance so quickly? I would suggest he was still emotionally vulnerable after Hephaestion’s death.
  • Plutarch (Life 73) says that Alexander ignored the Chaldaeans’ warning but there is no mention of sarcasm by him.
  • Justin (Epitome XII.13) follows Diodorus in having Alexander listen to the Chaldaeans before – under Anaxarchus’ influence – deciding to ignore them. To be sure, he does say that Anaxarchus persuaded him ‘to slight the predictions of the Magi as fallacious and uncertain’ but would this have happened if Alexander had not been in a vulnerable state?

Contrary to how it may seem I am still enjoying reading David Hogarth’s Philip and Alexander of Macedon. The inspiration for this post, however, was not his book but a copy of the Westminster Cathedral Chronicle from February 1935, which I read yesterday. It contained an obituary of Cardinal Francis Bourne of Westminster diocese who died on 1st January that year. The obituary was supplemented by numerous photographs, of which was this one:

image

As the text says, we see in the photograph Cardinal Bourne speaking to General (Ronald) Storrs. He is of interest to me because of his connection to T E Lawrence. The two men served in the Middle-east, for a while working at the same time out of Cairo during World War One. Like Lawrence, Storrs was a classicist.

In May 1916, Sheriff Hussein decided to begin the Arab revolt agains the Ottoman empire. He asked the British for money to help pay for it*. Storrs, along with David Hogarth* took some (not all – the British wanted to make sure the revolt began before they gave the rest) of the requested funds to Sheriff Hussein.

On 28th December 1917†, Storrs was appointed Military Governor of Jerusalem** – the first, he said, since Pontus Pilate††! This was not the only occasion when the Bible was to be remembered. When General Allenby entered Jerusalem, he did so through the Jaffa Gate and on foot out of respect for the city’s status as a holy city in Christianity, Judaism and Islam†††. In 1936 Storrs acted as one of the pall bearers at T E Lawrence’s funeral.

***

With that all said, you may be wondering how I got from General Storrs and Cardinal Bourne to Alexander the Great in the first place. Well, seeing the General and Cardinal put me in mind of Alexander and Aristander. That’s all I might have written had I not read the passage from Hogarth’s book above earlier today, which led to this rather longer – and I fear, convoluted, post.

* Jeremy Wilson Lawrence of Arabia (Atheneum New York 1990) p.286

** And Kinahan Cornwallis, also a member of the Arab Bureau

*** ibid, p.487

† Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies

†† Wikipedia

†† Wikipedia

See also
i. A Country Ancient and Modern
iii. David Hogarth on Alexander’s Influence

Categories: Books, Of The Moment | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

From Zin to Scythia

Last Thursday, I visited the British Museum to hear Dr Sam Moorhead speak about the The Wilderness of Zin, which was published by the Palestine Exploration Fund (PEF) in 1915.

It’s authors were T E Lawrence and his (second, after D G Hogarth) boss at Carchemish, C L Woolley. The book’s purpose was to discuss the men’s search for evidence of the Israelites’ forty year sojourn in the wilderness of Zin (the Negev desert) after their flight from Egypt.

As it happened, Woolley and Lawrence found no proof of the Israelites’ presence there. To the best of my knowledge, no archaeologist ever has. Maybe the events depicted in the Old Testament are mythical or archaeologists are just digging in the wrong places or even the right places but wrong depth.

Whatever the answer, Woolley and Lawrence were not greatly incommoded by their failure. This is because their work was in fact a smokescreen. The real purpose of the expedition was to survey the desert on behalf of the War Office. This work was done by the third member of the party, Captain S F Newcombe.

The wilderness of Zin was in Ottoman territory, so had never been mapped before by the British. The reason why the War Office wanted – needed – it to be surveyed was because war was looming and Britain feared that the Ottoman empire might take up arms on the side of Germany.

If it did, Britain would need to know the lay of the land in order to defend her territory in Palestine (and, I should think, be able to attack the Ottoman’s?)

***

The PEF mission recalls to mind Derdas’ mission into Scythia in the summer of 329 B.C.

That year, Alexander reached the Tanais (aka Jaxartes) river in Sogdia. He was not in the best of health having suffered a broken leg fighting a Sogdian armed force that had massacred Macedonian foragers.

While he recovered from his injury, Alexander received a deputation of Scythians from the far side of the Tanais. Arrian calls them European Scythians as the country on that side of the river was believed to be part of Europe.

The Scythians came in peace, and Alexander made peace with them… for now. Once the meeting was over, he gave instructions to one of his Companions – Derdas – to accompany the Scythians back to their homes and, once there, to ‘conclude formally a pact of friendship’ with them.

This sounds all very reasonable and in keeping with Alexander’s policy of using diplomacy where possible in order to fulfil his objectives (recall how he tried to reach a diplomatic solution after Thebes’ rebellion in 335 B.C.).

However, Derdas also had a secret mission:

… to gather information about Scythia – its geographical peculiarities, the customs of its people, their numbers and military equipment.

Now why would Alexander want to know all that? I’m sure you’ve already guessed. Arrian spells it out. Alexander, he says, intended

… to found a city [i.e. Alexandria Eschate] on the Tanais… The site, he considered, was a good one; a settlement there would be likely to increase in size and importance, and would also serve both as an excellent base for a possible invasion of Scythia [as well as] a defensive position against raiding tribes from across the river. (my emphasis)
(Arrian IV.1)

***

Curtius repeats Arrian’s claim that Alexander founded Alexandria Eschate with a view to using it as both a barrier and springboard to invade Scythia (VII.6.13).

However, his account of Derdas’ mission is a little more aggressive than Arrian’s. According to Curtius, Derdas wasn’t sent over the river to conclude any pacts of friendship. Rather, he was sent to ‘warn [the European Scythians] not to cross the river Tanais without the king’s order’ (VII.6.12).

***

Derdas’ mission took nearly a year and he returned to Alexander in Spring 328 B.C. This reflects the length of time it took for Lawrence and Woolley to publish their report on their expedition to Zin.

After returning from Palestine, they had to work fast to write their report – the man in charge (?) of the expedition, Lord Kitchener, wanted it to be published ASAP in order to maintain the fiction that the expedition had been about the search for the Israelites.

Lawrence completed his contribution to the text before the end of 1914. By the end of the year he was working for the Arab Bureau in Cairo (under David Hogarth). As I understand it, Woolley completed the report and saw the book to the press before following in Lawrence’s footsteps to Egypt.

  • The Wilderness of Zin is online here
  • The PEF’s new edition can be found here
Categories: On Alexander | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Country Ancient and Modern

I.

I have just started reading Philip and Alexander of Macedon by D G Hogarth. This book was first published in 1897 and so represents a Victorian (or Victorian’s) view of Alexander and his father.

I’m reading the book for two reasons.

One To find out what the Victorian view of Alexander was. As Philip and Alexander predates World War One I am imagining that its view of war, for example, might be more ‘positive’ (if that is the right word to use). Hogarth’s view of the Persians in relation to Alexander will also be interesting to see. Will his Alexander be to his subjects what Britain in the late Victorian period was to hers?

Two I would like to learn more about David Hogarth. I first discovered him in my reading about T E Lawrence; Hogarth was Lawrence’s boss during the 1910 archaeological season at Carchemish. The two would meet again during the Arab Revolt. Last week, I attended a talk on Lawrence at the British Museum. There, the speaker described Hogarth as a man ‘in desperate need of a biography’. If I can read more of his works, including, of course, his autobiographical ones, maybe I will jot down a few words about him.

T.E._Lawrence;_D.G._Hogarth;_Lt._Col._Dawnay T E Lawrence (L), D G Hogarth (centre), Lt. Col. Alan Dawnay (R)

***

It isn’t in my mind to do a ‘read through’ of Philip and Alexander but as and when I come across any information or insights I will be sure to share them.

On that note, I already have something I would like to mention. In his Prologue The Man of the Age Hogarth dismisses Connop Thirlwall’s idea that Philip was ‘”great, not for what he was, but for what it was given him to do!”‘. Philip, Hogarth replies, was not ‘a blind tool of heaven’ but could see clearly ‘the faults of a dying order’. His response was to evolve

… the first European Power in the modern sense of the word – an armed nation with a common national ideal.

I had to catch my breath when I read that as I am used to thinking of the nation state rising in the Middle Ages. Thinking about it, though, I can see the sense in what Hogarth is saying. If he is right, I wonder if we can call Alexander’s empire an E.U. of the east. I shall keep that thought in mind.

Picture credits
T E Lawrence, D G Hogarth and Lt. Col. A Dawnay: Wikipedia

See also
ii. General Ronald Storrs and Cardinal Francis Bourne
iii. David Hogarth on Alexander’s Influence

Categories: Alexander Scholars | Tags: , | 2 Comments

T E Lawrence and Alexander

Many thanks to @AliceMartha for her permission to publish these photographs of T E Lawrence’s clothing and camera, which she took on a recent trip to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Feisal asked me if I would wear Arab clothes like his own while in the camp… I agreed at once, very gladly; for army uniform was abominable when camel-riding …
(T E Lawrence, quoted on Wikipedia)

Another reason why Lawrence wore arabic dress is because it enabled him to fit in better with his hosts. As soon as I saw TEL’s clothing I thought of how Alexander adopted certain forms of Persian dress in order, not so much to ‘fit in’ with his subjects, but to fit them in to his new order. For the plan to work, though, it had to be accepted by the Macedonians. Unfortunately, that acceptance never came.

Tel_arabclothing
T E Lawrence was a good photographer. As I recall, he owned several in his lifetime – the first being given to him by his father, who was also a keen snapper. Perhaps slightly tangentially, seeing the camera below put me in mind of some of the unsung heroes of Alexander’s army, namely, his surveyors; the men who gathered the knowledge of the new lands they were exploring during the thirteen or so years of Alexander’s expedition.

Lawrence said that the happiest years of his life were spent on the archaeological dig at Carchemish in northern Syria (carried out between 1912-14) under Leonard Woolley. One can only wonder how Alexander’s surveyors looked back on their days of exploration. I hope it was with wonder.

Tel_camera
By the way – I recently discovered that D G Hogarth, Woolley’s successor at Carchemish, also wrote a biography of Alexander and Philip II. I found the book while looking for another in the library (it’s nice when that happens). If I can find it again, I will certainly give it a read.

Categories: Of The Moment, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

T E Lawrence: To “S.A.”

T E Lawrence (1888 - 1935)

T E Lawrence (1888 – 1935) (Wikipedia)

I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
and wrote my will across the sky in stars
To gain you Freedom, the seven-pillared worthy house,
that your eyes might be shining for me
When I came.
T. E. Lawrence Dedicatory poem to The Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922)

Read more Sunday Art and Poetry posts here

Categories: Art, Poetry | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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