Posts Tagged With: The Lamian War

The Haunted Empire

Several months ago, I bought a copy of Ghost on the Throne by James Romm. The sub-title to the book explains what it is about: The Death of Alexander the Great and the Bloody Fight for His Empire.

To date, the only other book dedicated to the wars of the Successors that I have read has been Robin Waterfield’s Dividing the Spoils. As I write these words I am 170 pages into the 322 page long book, and I have to say I am not enjoying it as much as I did Dividing the Spoils. Not because I think Romm is a bad historian but because Waterfield is simply a better write. He has the rare gift of making his text flow easily off the page.

Having said that, Ghost on the Throne is a well written book; it is also very well laid out. Romm not only sub-divides his chapters but gives the latter their own titles so that you know exactly where and when you are in the story.

As for me, I have seen the death of Leonnatus in the Lamian War, and the death of Alexander’s half-sister, Cynnane, as she travelled east to marry her daughter, Adea, to Philip III. Coming up is Ptolemy’s theft of Alexander’s body and the death of the most popular living Macedonian at this time, Craterus.

***

Out of what I have read so far, two facts mentioned by Romm have really jumped out at me. I think I knew them already but for whatever reason they have made a strong impression on me now.

The first is that only Macedonian kings could marry more than one woman at a time. This was a big shame for Perdiccas – if noblemen could have practiced polygamy, he could have married Nicaea, Antipater’s daughter, and Cleopatra, Alexander’s only full-sister, and put himself in an all but unassailable position if he wished – as he surely did – to make a bid for the Macedonian throne. As it was, he had to pick one with the inevitable result that he would insult the parent of the other.

The second is how – between the cavalry and infantry – utterly divided the Macedonian army was. Even though I know very well what happened after Alexander died – how the infantry demanded that Arrhidaeos be made king while the cavalry decided on Roxane’s as yet unborn child, and the way in which the infantry more or less ran the cavalry out of town before a reconciliation was reached – reading about it again is still astonishing.

The fault line between infantry and cavalry seems to have been absolute. No cavalry or infantrymen joined the other side. How could they have been so opposed to each other? Had the rebellions at the Hyphasis river or at Opis divided them? Or would they have still turned on each other if Alexander had died without ever going to Asia? Whatever the answer, the fact that he managed to hold the two sides together and make sure a brilliant fighting force out of them speaks many volumes for his charisma and intelligence.

Credit Where It’s Due
Front cover of Ghost on the Throne: Goodreads

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Dangerous Roads: Lamia to Babylon

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 111, 112 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Origin of the Lamian War
Alexander Campaigns Against the Cossaeans
* “It won’t bring Hephaestion back” say critics
Alexander Marches to Babyon
Chaldaeans Warn: Avoid Babylon or Die
Alexander Enters Babylon

The Story
Chapter 111
As Hephaestion’s cortege makes its solemn journey to Babylon, Diodorus returns to Greece to describe the origin of the Lamian War.

The Lamian War (323 – 322 B.C.) was the first major battle to take place after Alexander’s death in June 323. It pitted Antipater and Craterus against a joint Aetolian-Athenian army. If you would like to know more about the battle itself, I wrote about it in my read-through of Robin Waterfield’s excellent book Dividing the Spoils here.

For Diodorus the origin of the Lamian War lies in the ‘disturbances and revolutionary movements’ that were taking place across Greece around this time.

These, he says, were caused by the unemployed mercenaries and rogue satraps and military officials who, after being sacked on Alexander’s orders, or having absconded from their governorships, had congregated in Taenarum and formed an army under an Athenian general named Leosthenes to oppose the Macedonian king.

Leosthenes carried out secret negotiations with Athens and gained its support to the tune of 50 talents ‘and a stock of weapons’. He also sought an alliance with Aetolia. The next step would be war.

As Leosthenes made his preparations in Greece, Alexander launched a winter campaign against the Cossaean tribe in Media. The Cossaeans were a mountain people who were ‘outstanding in valour’. That, and ‘the ruggedness of their country’ meant that they had never been conquered by the Persians.

But that record was about to come to an end. While the Cossaeans were still ignorant of the threat approaching, Alexander took control of all the roads into their country. He then launched a lightning strike against the people. Diodorus says that he ‘was superior in every engagement’. Many Cossaeans were killed and many more captured.

The Cossaean campaign took around forty days to complete. The survivors swore fealty to Alexander, and he ‘founded strong cities at strategic points and rested his army’.

Another lacuna in the manuscript appears at this point. As the beginning of the next chapter shows, however, we don’t appear to miss too much.

Chapter 112
Once his army was ready, Alexander began his march to Babylon. He walked slowly, stopping regularly. I can’t remember him doing this before. Was he trying to delay his arrival – and Hephaestion’s funeral – for as long as possible?

Diodorus says that Alexander ‘was still three hundred furlongs’ away from Babylon when Chaldaean astrologers there appointed one of their number – ‘the eldest and most experienced’ of them – to warn the king that if he entered the city, he would die. They had seen his death in ‘the configuration of the stars’. His life could be saved, however, ‘if he re-erected the tomb of Belus [Bel]’ but on no account should he enter Babylon.

Diodorus names the Chaldaean envoy as Belephantes. Either out of humility or nerves, Belephantes did not seek Alexander himself out but delivered the warning to Nearchus. He, in turn, spoke to the king.

Alexander, understandably, ‘was alarmed and more and more disturbed’ by the astrologers’ warnings. Nevertheless, it was only after ‘some hesitation’ – that he passed Babylon by (?) and set up camp two hundred furlongs away.

Alexander’s actions did not meet with Greek approval. Amongst those who tried to talk him about of his self-imposed exile was the philosopher Anaxarchus. They ‘plied [the king] with arguments drawn from philosophy’ and were so successful that not only did Alexander decide to enter Babylon after all but came to hate the all ‘prophetic arts’, especially the Chaldaeans’.

One can only imagine what the Chaldaeans thought as they watched Alexander ride towards the royal palace. The population, however, were very happy at the return of the king. They received the Macedonian troops ‘hospitably’. Woes were forgotten and ‘all turned their attention to relaxation and pleasure’.

Comments
Citing Plutarch, the Footnotes state that Alexander’s Cossaean campaign ‘was intended to solace Alexander’s grief for the death of Hephaestion’. To us, this seems very odd. In a warrior culture, however, it would have made perfect sense.

The story of the Chaldaeans forecasting Alexander’s death is a very intriguing one.

On the one hand, it has every appearance of a tale inserted into a narrative after the event in order to give meaning to it.

On the other, even if one doesn’t believe that it is possible to tell the future using astrology, maybe the story did happen just not in the way that it is presented. In other words, the priests got lucky. Astrology doesn’t work, but by pure coincidence, the stars arranged themselves in such a way as to fit the Chaldaeans’ criteria for the death of a monarch.

Dangerous Roads
Gentle Friendships

foliosociety_maryrenault
Alexander & Hephaestion: Mieza to Elysium

This picture is from the Folio Society’s illustrated edition of Mary Renault’s Alexander Trilogy

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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