Posts Tagged With: Thebes

The Carving of the World

The headline reads ‘Vandals paste ‘butcher’ sign on Alexander the Great statue’. You can read the full report here.

Was Alexander the Great a butcher? In answering this question we have to be careful that we don’t do so with a twenty-first century mindset.

The reason for this is simple. If we impose our morality on Alexander we learn nothing about him and only a little – that is not good – about ourselves. Alexander lived, after all, in the fourth century B.C. not the twenty-first A.D.

So what about in terms of fourth century B.C. morality? Was he a butcher? I don’t have a firm answer to this yet, but at the moment I am leaning towards yes. There was no international law that stated what was and wasn’t acceptable in combat back then but there were definitely times when Alexander and his men went too far (e.g. the destruction of Thebes and terrorising of the civilian population in India) in the prosecution of campaign war aims.

No one should be insulted by Alexander being called a butcher. He was a king and a general. That was always going to involve bloodshed. Always. And sometimes, he would go too far. If one wishes to know the real Alexander, one has to accept that this happened.

But also that more happened, or rather, didn’t happen because on other occasions Alexander reigned his men in; prevented blood from being spilt. For example, which was the last city to be sacked before Persepolis? Gaza. Between them, Alexander passed through Pelusium, Memphis, Babylon and Susa without allowing the cities or their citizens to be harmed. He could easily have put any or all of these cities to the sword. His men would have been delighted if he had.

And by-and-bye, though our focus is always naturally on Alexander the conqueror, it is also worthwhile remembering that his life involved more than fighting. We get a glimpse of it in the sources – for example, his love of medicine, of literature, and of philosophy. You may call Alexander a butcher if you like, and in a way, you would not be wrong, but if you do, or if you insist upon its primacy as a way of understanding him you run the very real risk of missing out on the other facets of his character instead revealing only your own prejudices.

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Alexander: March/Spring Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

337
Spring Philip orders Alexander back to Pella (Peter Green*)

336
Spring Parmenion and Attalus lead the Macedonian advance army into Asia Minor (Livius, Peter Green)

335
Early Spring Alexander campaigns in Thrace and Illyria (Peter Green)
NB The Landmark Arrian** dates this campaign to Spring (as opposed to Early Spring. This applies to all similar references below)

Spring Alexander razes Thebes; Greek cities submit (Landmark Arrian)

334
March – April Alexander crosses into Asia Minor; beginning of his anabasis (Peter Green)
NB
Michael Wood*** dates the crossing of the Hellespont to May
The
Landmark Arrian dates the crossing to Spring

333
March – June Memnon’s naval offensive (Livius)

Early Spring
Memnon dies (Peter Green)

Spring Alexander arrives in Gordion where he undoes the famous knot (Landmark Arrian)

Spring (Possibly late spring?) Alexander passes through the Cilician Gates having taken Pisidia and Cappadocia (Landmark Arrian)

NB With reference to the death of Memnon, referred to above, the Landmark Arrian dates it to ‘Spring’ 333, during the Persian navy’s fight against the Macedonians. Contra Livius (below), it adds that after his death, and in the same year, the ‘Persian naval war falter[ered]’

332
Spring The Persian Fleet disintegrates (Livius)
January – September The Siege of Tyre continues (Michael Wood)

331
March Alexander visits Siwah (Livius)
NB Peter Green dates Alexander’s Siwah visit to ‘Early Spring’

Spring Alexander resumes his march towards Darius (Landmark Arrian)

330
Spring Alexander orders the royal palace in Persepolis to be burnt (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander finds the body of Darius (Landmark Arrian)

329
Spring First crossing of the Hindu Kush (Michael Wood)
NB Peter Green dates the crossing to ‘March – April’

Spring Alexander pursues Bessus across Bactria/Sogdia (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Bessus is betrayed by his officers and handed over to Alexander (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander quells an uprising along the Jaxartes (Tanais) River (Landmark Arrian)

328
Spring Alexander campaigns in Bactria and Sogdia (Michael Wood)
Spring The Sogdian Rock is captured (Michael Wood)

327
Early Spring Alexander marries Roxane (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the wedding to Spring

Early Spring The Pages’ Plot (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the Pages’ plot (and Callisthenes subsequent arrest/possible death) to Spring

Early Spring Callisthenes is executed (Michael Wood)
Spring Pharasmanes and Scythians seek an alliance with Alexander (Landmark Arrian)
Spring
The Sogdian Rock is captured (Livius, Peter Green, Landmark Arrian)
Spring The Rock of Chorienes is captured (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Craterus eliminates the last rebels (following Spitamenes’ death in the Autumn of 328) (Landmark Arrian)
Late Spring Second crossing of the Hindu Kush (Michael Wood)

326
Early Spring The Aornos Rock is captured (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the capture of the Aornos Rock to Spring

Early Spring Alexander meets Hephaestion and Perdiccas at the Indus River, which the reunited army then crosses (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the crossing of the Indus to Spring

Early Spring Alexander reaches Taxila (Michael Wood)

NB
The Landmark Arrian lists the sequence of events following Alexander’s capture of the Aornos Rock slightly differently to Michael Wood:
Wood Siege of Aornos > Alexander meets Hephaestion & Perdicas at the Indus > Macedonians cross the Indus > Alexander arrives in Taxila
Landmark Arrian Siege of Aornos Alexander sails down the Indus to Hephaestion’s and Perdiccas’ bridge > Alexander visits Nysa > Alexander receives Taxiles’ (‘son of the Taxiles he met in the Indian Caucasus’ the previous summer) gifts > Alexander crosses the Indus > Alexander meets Taxiles

Spring Battle of the Hydaspes River (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Bucephalus is buried (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander founds Nicaea and Bucephala (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Abisares submits to Alexander (Landmark Arrian)

325
Spring – Summer Journey down the Indus River (Michael Wood)
Spring Alexander defeats the Brahmins, Musicanus, and Sambus (Landmark Arrian)

324
February – March Alexander’s journey to and arrival in Susa (Peter Green)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates Alexander’s arrival to Spring. It adds that after his arrival he purged the corrupt satraps, held the mass wedding ceremonies,and forgave his soldiers’ debts/awarded ‘gold wreaths to officers’; this did not, howeverm stop tensions rising ‘over Alexander’s moves to integrate the army’
March Alexander meets Nearchus in Susa (Livius)
March Susa Marriages (Livius)
March Alexander issues the Exiles’ Decree (Peter Green)
March Alexander issues the Deification Decree (Peter Green)
Spring Alexander explores lower Tigris and Euphrates (Landmark Arrian)
Spring The 30,000 epigoni arrive in Susa (Peter Green)

323
Spring Alexander returns to Babylon after campaigning against the Cossaeans (Peter Green)
Spring Bad omens foreshadow Alexander’s death (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander sends ‘spoils of war to Greece; he is hailed as a god by Greek envoys
Spring Alexander makes preparations for an Arabian campaign (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander orders ‘extravagant’ honours to be given to Hephaestion (Landmark Arrian)

*Peter Green Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography (University of California Press 1991)
** The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010)
***Michael Wood In the Footsteps Of Alexander the Great A Journey from Greece to India (BBC Books 2004)

Notes

  • This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know!
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The Xbox Alexander*

A couple of days ago, I watched this live stream of Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris by JHNPlays. My contribution to the stream was a few bad jokes in the comments box and to make poor JHN mess around with his audio connection when the reason I couldn’t hear anything was because of my laptop (mea culpa, JHN!).

While watching the live stream it occurred to me that the life of Alexander would make excellent material for a video game. I know that strategy games featuring him already exist**, but I’m thinking of one in the style of the Assassin’s Creed or Mass Effect franchises. These choices represent my preference for open world gaming, but I’d also consider a First Person Shooter (or in this case, Stabber) à la Call of Duty.

In an FPS game, the player could take part in a series of battles, sieges or assaults against targets of varying design and difficulty (Alexander’s Balkan campaign being the easiest level and Tyre being the hardest).

An open world game could see the player play the part of a Macedonian officer who goes on a series of adventures, the outcome of which will determine the success or otherwise of Alexander’s expedition.

For example, one adventure could be a mission to track down Pausanias’ ally (or enemy, depending on how the script was written) who intends to kill Alexander at the same moment as Pausanias assassinates Philip II. Another could see the player play a member of the Macedonian garrison at the Cadmeia in 335 BC; he would be required to find a way out of the citadel in order to help Alexander defeat the Theban rebellion. There could also be an adventure based on the crossing of the Hindu Kush (passing Prometheus’ chains along the way for a little mythological engagement) or on Alexander’s visit to India.

The suggestions I have outlined above stay close to the historical record, but there’s no reason why the game developer couldn’t take a leaf out of the Alexander Romance‘s book and create a more fantastical adventure.

We could explore the ocean depths with the Macedonian king…

Alexander_Submarine

 Picture: British Library

Or visit strange new races, such as the Blemmyes, whose heads were on their faces.

Alexander_encounters_the_Blemmyae_-_British_Library_Royal_MS_20_B_xx_f80r_(detail)

Picture: Wikipedia

Or pull out our swords and fight off deadly dragons.

Alexander dragons

Picture: Bensozia

For more mediaeval images from the Alexander Romance, do take a look at Bensozia. So often, and unfairly, the Middle Ages are dismissed as being a period of violence and ignorance, but in actual fact – for all the wars, disease and violence that was happening – many good happened at that time as well, as these beautifully illustrated manuscripts show.

Back to my game; while I have to admit I would prefer one that focused on the historical record I would not be averse to seeing anything that brought Alexander to life in a new and imaginative way, one that would give gamers the opportunity to help Alexander secure his empire and enable them to discover a little more about the man behind the legend as they went along.

* Or PS4, PC, Wii – I chose Xbox as the word sounded nice when set against Alexander’s name

** For example as an ‘expansion pack’ for Total War 

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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
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King of Macedon

Justin’s Alexander
Book XI Chapters 1-5

Part One
Other posts in this series

According to Charles Russell Stone in From Tyrant to Philosopher-King, Justin’s Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus ‘defined Alexander for many writers in England’ (p. 8) during the Mediaeval period. 

According to Stone, Justin’s influence was negative as ‘the first Roman histories to reach medieval England emphasized [Alexander’s] worst qualities and most egregious behaviour’. In this short series of posts, therefore, I thought I would look at this translation of the Epitome to see what exactly Justin said.

Chapter 1
Macedon is in turmoil. Philip II has been assassinated and his twenty year old son, Alexander, has been declared king. What hope does he have to keep his country together? The army, which he needs in order to rule, is divided between those who mourn Philip’s death and those who – having been conscripted into it – now hope that they may win their freedom.

Meanwhile, Philip’s friends are looking nervously over their shoulders. They fear a revengeful Persia, and rebellion by Greeks and barbarians in Europe alike. They believe that if all three turn against Macedon at the same time, their attack will be ‘utterly impossible to resist’.

Enter Alexander. He takes his place before a public assembly, starts to speak, and… not only calms his listeners’ nerves, and not only gives them hope for the future, but fills them with ‘favourable expectations’ for what is to come.

Justin does not quote Alexander’s speech, or put words into his mouth, but we can tell what kind of speech it was from his comments. Firstly, it was humble, for Alexander spoke with ‘modesty’. Secondly, it was restrained, for Alexander ‘reserved the further proofs of his ability for the time of action’. Thirdly, it was manipulative, for in granting ‘Macedonians relief from all burdens’ (i.e. tax breaks?), Alexander put them in mind of Philip, the beloved king they had just lost.

Chapter 2
The first hint of Alexander’s ruthlessness comes at the start of this chapter. After Philip II’s cremation, the new king ordered the murder of anyone connected to his father’s assassination. He also made sure to remove anyone who could rival his claim to the throne. Justin cites Caranus*, the son of Philip’s last wife, Cleopatra Eurydice, as being one such victim. Someone who was allowed to live, however, was Alexander Lyncestes, son of Aeropus**. His brothers (Heromenes and Arrhabaeus) were both executed for conspiracy but Alexander Lyncestes was permitted to live as he had been the first person to acclaim Alexander as king.

* Heckel in Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great asserts that Caranus did not exist

** Not Alexander the Great’s brother as Justin says

Chapter 3
Upon hearing of rebellion in Greece, Alexander marched south. He stopped first in Thessaly and,

exhorted the Thessalians to peace, reminding them of the kindnesses if (sic) shown them by his father Philip, and of his mother’s connexion with them by the family of the Aeacidae

We are used to thinking of Alexander the general but less so of Alexander the diplomat. On numerous occasions, however, he used diplomacy to win the support of his enemies. On this occasion, his plan worked to perfection. The Thessalians made him their ‘captain-General’ and gave him ‘their customs and public revenues’.

Accepting these, Alexander marched on to Athens. They had already submitted to him. Nevertheless, upon meeting their ambassadors, the king ‘severely [reproved] them for their conduct’. Most importantly, as far as Athens was concerned, he did not attack them.

Justin reports that Alexander then marched to Thebes ‘intending to show similar indulgence, if he found similar penitence’. But he did not. Once the city had been taken by force, Alexander asked his Greek allies what should be done to it. This sounds very democratic except that Alexander’s allies had all been mistreated by Thebes in the past. They were only ever going to vote for one course of action now. It’s hard not to imagine Alexander knowing this, and simply using the allies as a way of tearing down the city without getting his own hands dirty.

Chapter 4
During the deliberations, Cleadas, a representative of Thebes was permitted to speak for the survivors. He appealed to Alexander’s sense of history by pointing out that his ancestor, Herakles, had been born there and that his father had spent part of his youth in the city. Justin has nothing to say about the use of Philip but regards the mention of Herakles as an attempt to appeal to Alexander’s superstitious nature.

Neither worked and Thebes was razed. Thereafter, the land was divided up and the survivors sold into slavery. Feeling sorry for them, Athens permitted Thebans to enter their city. But Alexander had prohibited this, and he gave the city an ultimatum: War or hand over a number of generals and orators who had been leading rebels. Not only did Athens persuade Alexander not to open hostilities against them, however, but it also managed to persuade him to withdraw his demand for prisoners.

Again, we could view this as Alexander being clement but in reality it is far more likely that he let the matter go because he wanted to get on with his preparations for the war against Persia.

Chapter 5
Before leaving Macedon, Alexander completed his purge of the royal court to make sure no one rebelled against him while he was gone. Justin says that it was at this point that Attalus (uncle/guardian of Cleopatra Eurydice) was murdered.

Alexander also ‘divided’ all Argead land in Macedon and Greece between his friends, ‘saying, “that for himself Asia was sufficient.”’. On the one hand, this sounds very foolhardy. Or perhaps, brave. Why did he do it? Justin gives no clue but it is possible or likely that Alexander was actually trying to raise much needed money for his expedition.

Having rejected the Cleadas’ appeal to history, Alexander now showed his respect for it. Approaching the shore of Asia Minor, he follow in the footsteps of kings of old by throwing a ‘dart’ (i.e. a javelin) into the sand. In doing so, he symbolically claimed Asia for oneself.

Wading ashore, Alexander then turned to the gods. He sacrificed ‘praying that “those countries might not unwillingly receive him as their king.”’. More sacrifices would be carried out at Troy.

Overall Impression
Positive. It’s true, we’ve seen Alexander act manipulatively and ruthlessly but Justin does not have much to say about these moments. In fact, the first five chapters of his Epitome are largely free of comment by him. If there is a ‘stand-out’ moment it is, for me, in chapter one where he describes the outcome of Alexander’s appearance before the public assembly.

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Alexander: September / Autumn Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

335
Livius c.12th September Thebes is razed to the ground after rebelling against Alexander’s rule
Peter Green* places the fall of Thebes in ‘early Spring’
The Landmark Arrian** says simply that it took place in Spring

333
Livius and Peter Green (September) Alexander falls ill after going to bathe in the Cydnus River in Cilicia. Parmenion sends word to him warning that Philip of Arcanania, the only royal doctor prepared to treat the king, has been bribed by Darius III to kill him. Alexander takes Philip’s medicine anyway and went on to make a full recovery
The Landmark Arrian places Alexander’s illness in the Summer of 333

332
Livius (September – November) The Siege of Gaza
The Landmark Arrian and Michael Wood*** both state that the Siege of Gaza took place in Autumn

326
Michael Wood (early September) Mutiny at the Hyphasis River
Livius (September) Macedonian army starts construction of fleet of ships
Michael Wood (Autumn) Macedonian Army returns to the Hydaspes River
The Landmark Arrian (Autumn) Alexander begins journey down the Hydaspes and Acesines Rivers.

325
Livius (15th September) Nearchus ‘starts on his voyage’ [i.e. from Pattala, down the Indus River and into the Indian Ocean en route to the Euphrates River]
Livius (September) Alexander crosses Gedrosia
Peter Green (‘? September’) Macedonians cross the Gedrosian desert
The Landmark Arrian (Autumn) Nearchus ‘prepares his fleet’. Subjection of the Oreitae. Many Macedonians die during crossing of Gedrosian desert

* Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography (University of California Press 1991)
** The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010)
*** In the Footsteps Of Alexander the Great A Journey from Greece to India (BBC Books 2004)

This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know.
At the moment, Livius‘ chronology is the one by which I test the others. That may change; I’ll note it if it does.

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The Death of Alexander

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 116-118 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Mystery in Palace as Prisoner Sits on Royal Throne
Alexander Lost in Swamps
King Found: Diadem Worn By Oarsman
* Inside: A round up of all recent omens
King Falls Ill Following Party
Alexander Dies

The Story
Chapter 116
Hephaestion’s funeral was now over. For relief, Alexander ‘turned to amusements and festivals’. To the world it looked like ‘he was at the peak of his power and good fortune’ but Fate had other ideas and immediately that the festivities began ‘heaven… began to foretell [Alexander’s] death’.

Diodorus gives the example of two omens that portended this. The first involved a native who was kept in chains. One day, as Alexander was receiving a massage, those chains suddenly fell off. The native – presumably a prisoner of some sort – ran away from his guards and entered throne room. There, he took Alexander’s clothes and diadem and put them on before sitting down on the throne itself.

Upon being told what had happened, Alexander ‘was terrified’. He went to the native and asked him what he was about. The man made no reply. Alexander turned to his seers and asked them to interpret what had happened.

Diodorus doesn’t give their response but it was clearly negative to Alexander as it made him order the native’s execution in the hope ‘that the trouble which was forecast by his act might light upon the man’s own head’.

Once the native had been taken away, Alexander retrieved his clothing ‘and sacrificed to the gods who avert evil’. This pious act, however, was not enough to remove his worry about what the incident portended.

We have seen once or twice before how Alexander could have his mind changed with absurd ease by those underneath him. Diodorus gives an example of this when he described how the king decided to stay outside Babylon (Chapter 112 here). Curtius gives another when he tells how Bagoas poisoned Alexander’s mind against Orsines (10:1:24-38).

It now happens again. Diodorus says that Alexander ‘recalled the predictions of the Chaldaeans’ and became angry ‘with the philosophers who had persuaded him to enter Babylon’. In consequence, he renewed his respect for the Chaldaeans and argued ‘railed’ at anyone ‘who used specious reasoning to argue away the power of Fate’.

Diodorus’ second omen came when Alexander was exploring the swamps around Babylon. His skiff became separated from the royal party. Upon a moment, it passed underneath some tall reeds, which caught Alexander’s diadem and threw it into the water. One of the oarsmen ‘swam after it’. Upon retrieving the ribbon, the oarsman placed it on his head for safe keeping.

Alexander was lost for three days and nights. Presently, he put his diadem on again. When he did so, the skiff came out of the swamp. What did it all mean? Alexander went straight to his soothsayers to find out.

Chapter 117
The seers told Alexander to ‘sacrifice to the gods on a grand scale’ and quickly. Before he could do so, however, the king was ‘called away by Medius… to take part in a comus’.

At the party, Alexander ‘drank much unmixed wine in commemoration of the death of Heracles’. He filled ‘a huge beaker’ and drank it in one go; suddenly, ‘he shrieked aloud as if smitten by a violent blow’. The king’s Friends came forward and took Alexander back to his quarters.

The royal physicians ‘were summoned’ but they could do nothing to take away the pain. Alexander ‘continued in great discomfort and acute suffering’.

After a while, he realised that he was dying. Alexander removed his ring of office and gave it to his chiliarch – Perdiccas. ‘His Friends asked: “To whom do you leave the kingdom?”‘ Alexander replied, simply, ‘”To the strongest.”‘ He then prophesied ‘that all of his leading Friends would stage a vast contest in honour of his funeral’.

At an unspecified point after speaking these words, Alexander died. He had reigned for ‘twelve years and seven months’ and ‘accomplished greater deeds than any… who had lived before him [or] who were to come later’.

Diodorus concludes the chapter with an acknowledgement that some historians believe that Alexander was poisoned. As this is so, ‘it seems necessary for us to mention their account also’.

Chapter 118
This chapter, therefore, is a coda of sorts to the main story, which is now finished.

Diodorus turns to Antipater. He served as Alexander’s ‘viceroy’ in Macedon while the king was abroad. During this time, he ‘was at variance with… Olympias’. That seems a very polite way of putting it.

To begin with, Antipater didn’t take Olympias seriously because Alexander ignored ‘her complaints against him’. Later, however, ‘as their enmity kept growing’ and Alexander ‘showed an anxiety to gratify [Olympias] in everything out of piety’ Antipater became worried.

When Alexander killed Parmenion and Philotas ‘terror’ entered Antipater’s heart. But not only his, also ‘all of Alexander’s Friends’. Antipater’s son, Iolaus, was Alexander’s wine-pourer. The viceroy gave him a poison to administer to the king.

If Alexander was poisoned, how come nobody wrote about it afterwards? Diodorus doesn’t ask this question out loud but clearly has it in mind. He that, following Alexander’s death, Antipater ‘held… supreme authority in Europe’ and after him, ‘his son Cassander’. Their power, therefore, was why ‘many historians did not dare write about the drug’.

Diodorus has no doubt, however, that Cassander is guilty; he cites the murder of of Olympias and rebuilding of Thebes as proof of his hostility to Alexander.

Finally, Diodorus turns to Sisygambis – whom he calls Sisyngambris. She mourned Alexander’s death deeply. In fact, her grief was so profound that she stopped eating. Five days later, she died ‘painfully but not ingloriously’.

Comments
Why did the native run to the throne and take Alexander’s clothing and diadem? In Chapter 66 (which I covered here) we saw how Alexander upset a eunuch when he used one of Darius’ tables as a footstool. In the Footnotes for this incident, we are told ‘that the throne was a symbol of divinity in the Orient, and that a king’s clothing, bed, and throne were affected with royal and divine mana’. Thus, in the Footnotes for Chapter 116, it is said that the man ‘may have regarded [the throne] as a sanctuary, or at least as a place of refuge’. Obviously, he saw the clothes and diadem as having similar protective powers.

By-the-bye the Footnotes also state that it is possible that the native may have simply held the clothes rather than put them on. Either way, the story echoes that of the woman with the haemorrhage who knew that if she could only touch Jesus’ clothing she would be healed (This story features in all three synoptic gospels – Lk 8:40-56, Mk 5:21-43, and Matt 9:18-26).

In regards the story of the diadem, I recall reading elsewhere that by placing it on his head, the man was, according to tradition (?), declaring himself king. Well, of course he wasn’t in reality – he was just trying to stop the ribbon from getting wet – but Alexander’s religious belief did not permit him to believe that interpretation alone. Not without divine confirmation, anyway.

I speak under correction, but I am sure that the man who went after the diadem is elsewhere identified as Seleucus – perhaps as a result of his own later assertion that he rescued it. His reason for doing so? It added legitimacy to his kingship.

In Chapter 116, Diodorus says that Alexander was ‘terrified’ by the implications of the native man’s actions. And that, even after sacrificing, he remained troubled. After escaping the swamp, the king returned to his seers for their interpretation of the diadem incident. We are clearly dealing with a very religiously motivated man, here. And yet, no sooner has Alexander been told what to do by the seers, he allows himself to be distracted by Medius. Is that really likely? Did Alexander’s religious beliefs weigh no more than an invitation to join a drinking party?

I would certainly like to believe that Alexander’s last words – including his answer to the question of to whom he left his empire – were really spoken by him. I question his response ‘to the strongest’, though, as in the circumstances it just seems a little too Homeric an answer – if that is possible – for him. I know that the Macedonians did not practice primogeniture but why would he not say ‘to my son’?

As for his prophecy, isn’t it too eerily accurate to be true? Perhaps Alexander was just thinking of the funeral games – as normally understood – that he knew would be held for him.

All this is moot, however, if he was unable to speak as Arrian states. But Alexander could have spoken before he lost his voice. Or, perhaps, afterwards if only in whispering rasps?

I don’t think I can say anything here that does justice to the question of whether or not Alexander was poisoned but here are my thoughts, anyway.

In case you are wondering how Antipater – in Macedon – was able to give Iolaus – in Babylon – the poison: As I understand it, Cassander travelled from Macedon to Babylon around this time. In this scenario, he just took the poison with him.

It is very interesting that Diodorus says that all of Alexander’s Friends were terrified by the demise of Parmenion and Philotas. This is not the impression I get from Curtius who has Craterus speaking out very harshly against Philotas. Neither does Curtius have Craterus being in a party of one – others supported him in his hostility. Were they speaking out of fright? Far more likely that it was out of the knowledge that they were doing away with a rival.

Having said that, I am sure some were worried by what had happened; I think, though, that Diodorus is simply exaggerating.

I would like to test Diodorus’ explanation of why historians did not write about Antipater and Cassander being responsible for Alexander’s death. For example, I can understand why Cleitarchus might suppress the information. He lived in Alexandria and Ptolemy, Egypt’s ruler, was Cassander’s ally during the Successor Wars.

I think Olympias is the source of the allegation that the Antipatrids killed her son? If so (or even if not) I wonder who was the first person to write it down after her.

I accept that Cassander was anti-Argead, but I wonder if we could equally say that his murder of Olympias and rebuilding of Thebes were less to do with his hatred of Alexander and more about carving out a place for an Antipatrid dynasty in the new world that Alexander’s death had created.

Finally, one would have to be a very heartless man not to be affected by Sisygambis’ end. She had every reason to hate Alexander but came to love him more dearly than life itself.

The king died. Clouds [were in the sky]image

:’-(

  • The above photograph of the Babylon Astronomical Diary that refers to Alexander’s death comes from the British Museum
  • The translation of the text is from Livius
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Omens of Defeat

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 10 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

Headlines
Thebes Blows Hot; Greece Has Cold Feet
Omens for Thebes Do Not Look Favourable
Thebans Remain Optimistic Despite All

The Story
Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that in writing about chapters 8-14 yesterday, I missed out Chapter 10. As with Chapters 3 and 4 of Book 17, Ch. 10 digresses from the main narrative (Alexander’s march to and destruction of Thebes) so I have separated the two in order to keep the main narrative flowing. I have a feeling I’ll be doing this quite a bit in the future.

So, what happens in Chapter 10 that is important enough for Diodorus to break off telling us about Alexander’s march to Thebes? Actually, its the gods.

Before introducing them, though, Diodorus gives us another example of the great neighbourliness of the Greek city-states towards one another. In Ch. 8 we saw how some Greek cities sent soldiers to Thebes only for the soldiers to delay their arrival there in order to see how the battle with the Macedonians went before intervening. Now, we learn why other cities did not send any soldiers at all.

Diodorus explains that while Greeks ‘were distressed’ at ‘the seriousness of the danger hanging over’ their neighbours, they ‘had no heart to help them’. The reason for this is that – notwithstanding their distress – the Greeks felt that Thebes ‘by precipitate and ill-considered action had consigned itself to evident annihilation’.

Diodorus now comes to the matter of the gods’ ‘intervention’ in the affairs of men. This occurred through a serious of omens predicting Thebes’ downfall. Here is a list of the omens and their interpretations.

Omen Light spider web in the temple of Demeter. The web was very large being the size of a himation (a type of cloak) and ‘shone iridescent like a rainbow’. Diodorus states that this omen occurred three months before Alexander’s arrival at Thebes and that two oracles were associated with it, one at Delphi and another at Thebes.
Meaning The web ‘signified the departure of the gods from’ Thebes. Its iridescence ‘meant a storm of mixed troubles’.

Omen Statues in Thebes’ market place started to perspire and became covered in large drops of moisture. Diodorus says this happened immediately upon Alexander’s arrival outside Thebes
Meaning The sweating ‘was the sign of an overwhelming catastrophe’

Omen A marsh at Onchestus started to emit ‘a sound very like a bellow’
Meaning none given

Omen At Dirce ‘a bloody ripple ran along the surface of the water’
Omen Blood stains appeared on the roof of a temple at Delphi that had been dedicated by Thebes
Meaning Diodorus does not refer to either omen individually but says that ‘the appearance of blood in many places foretold a vast slaughter throughout the city’

As so often happened in antiquity, the Thebans did not heed the gods’ warnings. Quite the reverse, ‘they were… carried away with enthusiasm… [and] indulged their nobility of spirit bravely rather than wisely, and plunged headlong into the total destruction of their country’.

Comments
The one thing that really strikes me about Chapter 10 is the mention of the sweating statues. Belief in the ancient Greek gods has long since died but at least one of the phenomena associated with it remains with us – as the occasional news story about statues of the Blessed Virgin and Saints in Catholic churches sweating tears or blood indicates. Regardless of the cause of the sweating it is interesting that it has remained a valid mode of expression for whoever is behind it.

One last point – the Footnotes say that Thebes did not dedicate the Delphic temple referred to by Diodorus.

In the Theatre This Week
Omen, Where Art Thou?
Blood on a Hot Stone Roof 

Demeter’s Web

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The Fall of Thebes

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 8, 9, 11-14 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

Headlines
Alexander Dead: Exclusive Report
[Correction: In yesterday’s paper we reported that Alexander III, son of Philip II had died; this has been proved incorrect by the sight of him outside our city. The man responsible for this unfortunate error has been executed]
Thebes Falls: Many Dead, Captured
Demosthenes’ Swords: A Futile Gesture by a Worthless Man – Comment by Aeschines

The Story
After our detour into Asia Minor yesterday we return to Greece and her neighbours today. At the beginning of Chapter 8, Diodorus explains that upon subduing the Greek city-states, Alexander entered Thrace to deal with the tribes there who had risen up against him. Once that had been done, he marched west to Paeonia and Illyria. He was still fighting there when he received word ‘that many of the Greeks were in revolt’. If I read Diodorus correctly, Alexander immediately broke off his Paeonian/Illyrian campaign and headed south to confront his new enemies.

Diodorus focuses his narrative on Thebes. Determined to recover their freedom, the Thebans put the Macedonian garrison in the Cadmeia under siege. They built ‘deep trenches and heavy stockades’ to ensure that no ‘reinforcements [or] supplies’ could be taken in. Messengers were sent to other Greek cities – Diodorus names Arcadia, Argos and Elis – to ask for their help. An appeal was also sent to Athens.

For his part, Demosthenes sent weaponry to Thebes. However, while various cities sent soldiers, these did not enter the city but hung back to see which way the war with Macedon went.

When Alexander arrived at the city, the Thebans held a vote to determine how to proceed. The hawks got their way and the council voted unanimously to fight. Outside the city gates, Alexander made no move. He could not imagine that ‘a single city would… dare to match forces’ with his army. Diodorus says that the king had 30,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry ‘all battle-seasoned veterans’.

In Diodorus’ opinion, had the Thebans come to terms with Alexander, the king would have let the city have whatever it wanted because he was more interested in beginning his war against the Persian Empire. Sadly, ‘… he realized that he was despised by the Thebans, and so decided to destroy the city utterly…’

The Destruction of Thebes

Phase 1 Alexander invited any Theban who wished to ‘enjoy the peace… common to all the Greeks’ to leave their city and join him. The Thebans retorted ‘that anyone who wished to join the Great King and Thebes in freeing the Greeks and destroying the tyrant of Greece should come over to them’.

Phase 2 Being called a tyrant angered Alexander intensely. Diodorus says that he ‘flew into a towering rage’. He began building siege engines and preparing for battle.

Phase 3 After only three days preparation, Alexander was ready to begin his assault of Thebes. He divided his army into three divisions:

  • One to attack the palisades in front of the city
  • One ‘to face the Theban battle line’
  • One to be kept in reserve

The Thebans set up the defence of their city in this way:

  • Cavalry were stationed behind the palisades
  • Enfranchised slaves, refugees and resident aliens were placed at the city walls
  • Thebans were stationed in between the palisades and city walls to fight the Macedonians about Alexander

Phase 4 The battle cry went up and the Macedonian army approached the city. Both sides showered each other with missiles.

Phase 5 Hand-to-hand fighting followed the deadly rainfall. The Macedonians fought in phalanx formation. Diodorus says that while the Macedonians were numerically superior, the Thebans were stronger due to their ‘constant training in the gymnasium’.

The battle was long and bloody. The Macedonians were encouraged to ‘not… be unworthy of their previous exploits’ while the Thebans were reminded of the parents, wives and children whose lives depended on them. Great play was also made of Thebes’ past military successes, for example, at the Battle of Leuctra and Mantineia.

Phase 6 ‘At length Alexander saw that the Thebans were still fighting unflinchingly… but that his Macedonians were wearying’. He brought his reserve into the attack. This move reaped immediate results and many Thebans were killed.

Phase 7 And yet, the city was not ready to surrender itself into Alexander’s hands. Theban soldiers shouted that the Macedonians were ‘openly’ confessing to be their inferiors. Indeed, Diodorus suggests that they drew strength from having to fight the fresh Macedonian soldiers.

Phase 8 As the battle raged, Alexander noticed a postern gate ‘that had been deserted by its guards’. He ordered Perdiccas to break into the city through it. He and ‘a large detachment of troops’ broke the gate down and entered the city without being seen.

Phase 9 Once the Thebans realised that their defences had been compromised, they withdrew into the city. Unfortunately, their retreat was disorganised. Cavalrymen trampled over infantry before, in their haste to escape the Macedonians, falling off their horses and onto their swords.

Phase 10 At the same time as the Thebans were retreating, the Macedonian garrison in the Cadmeia broke out and fell upon the enemy. The Thebans’ disorder allowed the garrison soldiers to carry out ‘a great slaughter’ of men.

Phase 11 The fight for Thebes was violent even by the standards of the time. Diodorus informs us that the Macedonian army was ‘enraged’ by the Theban proclamation (phase two, above). They yelled curses and slew ‘all whom they met without sparing any’. Despite the wrath being visited upon them, the Thebans continued to defend their city. None would be ever seen ‘begging the Macedonians to spare his life’ and neither ‘did they in ignoble fashion fall and cling to the knees of their conquerers’.

Phase 12 As the Macedonian army rampaged through the city, all her buildings were pillaged and ‘[e]verywhere boys and girls were dragged into captivity as they wailed piteously the names of their mothers’. ‘[C]hildren and women and aged persons who had fled into the temples were torn from sanctuary and subjected to outrage without limit’

It is worth remembering that the Macedonian army did not fight the Thebans alone. Diodorus says that other Greeks did so alongside them; he names Thespians, Plataeans and Orchomenians as well as some others. In the Footnotes, we learn that, Justin added Phocians to that list. Conversely, Plutarch and Arrian only name the Phocians and Plataeans.

Aftermath
6,000+ Thebans were killed in the battle.
30,000+ Thebans were captured and sold into slavery (earning Alexander 440 talents of silver).

Once the battle was over, Alexander buried the Macedonian dead – over 500 in number. He then held a meeting with the representatives of the Greek cities in his army to discuss what should be done with Thebes itself. Now was the time for score settling. Destroy it, some of the representatives said; after all, Thebes allied herself to Persia during the Greek Wars. Other reasons were also given but Diodorus does not name them. A vote was taken and it was agreed that the city should be razed to the ground. Here is what the meeting decided:

  • Raze Thebes
  • Sell all prisoners
  • Outlaw Theban exiles from Greece
  • Prohibit all Greeks from sheltering Thebans

Comments
Diodorus covers Alexander’s Thracian campaign in a matter of lines. Fortunately, Arrian is on hand to tell us more about it in the first chapter of his account of Alexander’s life. I wonder why Diodorus treats it so briefly. Did he not regard it as being important? Was that why he wrote only briefly about the Battle of Chaeronea?

Something else that Diodorus fails to tell us much (actually, anything) about is why the Thebans revolted. Again, Arrian fills in the gaps. According to him, an anti-Macedonian party managed to persuade the Thebans that Alexander had died.

With friends like these… Nothing says cynical more than the actions of the Greek cities who sent soldiers to Thebes’ aid presumably with orders not to actually enter the city until they knew which way the fight was going. Diodorus makes no issue of this rather unsatisfactory state of affairs so I suppose it was an accepted part of ‘helping’ your neighbour back then, but really; no one could have liked it, could they?

Reading Diodorus’ account of the fight for Thebes has not been the easiest experience. By modern standards, it was a very nasty affair, indeed. Credit has to go to the Thebans for fighting so well. On a different occasion, perhaps Alexander would have treated them more leniently afterwards. If only they had not insulted him.

Perdiccas at the postern gate reminds me of an incident much later on in Alexander’s career, which I have been reading about lately. During his Sogdian campaign, Alexander laid siege to Cyropolis. As his men assaulted the city, Alexander noticed a dry river bed running out of it. The tunnel through which the river (during winter) ran was large enough for a man to crawl through. So, that’s exactly what Alexander and a few others did. Once again, Arrian covers that story. The Footnotes here say that Perdiccas may have carried out a similar manoeuvre at Halicarnassus.

Speaking of the Footnotes, they also note that whereas Diodorus states that Perdiccas broke through the postern gate during the fighting, Arrian (citing Ptolemy as his source) says that it happened at the outset and that Perdiccas acted without Alexander’s authorisation. Ptolemy also states that Perdiccas was badly injured during the assault, which Diodorus does not. I’ve seen this incident cited as proof that Ptolemy was bad-mouthing Perdiccas, although if he was writing his book in old age he would have no need to. Could it be evidence that Ptolemy wrote his narrative between 323 – 321 B.C.?

Unintended Consequences

  • The price of slaves must have plummeted due to the sudden influx of so many onto the market
  • The cost of building a must also have decreased thanks to all the Theban rubble that was now available
  • The Greek economy must have suffered at least a little due to Thebes’ fall. It was an important city and surely contributed a great deal to the wealth of the country.
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The Greek Response to Alexander’s Accession

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 3 & 4 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

Headlines
Greece Rejects Alexander’s Authority
Alexander’s Charm Offensive Wins Greek Submission
Alexander Appointed War Leader

The Story
Yesterday, we looked at what happened to Attalus after Alexander became king of Macedon. Today, we turn to Greece.

Chapter 3
Athens
Philip’s death was met with great joy. Despite having been defeated at the Battle of Chaeronea two years earlier, ‘the Athenians were not ready to concede the leading position among the Greeks to Macedon’. Given that they had the talented orator, Demosthenes, agitating against their northern rivals this is no surprise.
As we saw yesterday, Athens made common cause with Attalus. At the same time as the city was talking to him, it also ‘encouraged many of the [Greek] cities to strike for their freedom’. No wonder Alexander was ‘seriously worried’ at this time.
Aetolia
Restored ‘those of the Arcananians who had experienced exile because of Philip’.
Ambracia
Persuaded by a citizen (?) named Aristarchus to expel the Macedonian garrison in the city and adopt a democratic form of government.
Thebes
Expelled the Macedonian garrison from the Cadmeia (citadel) and refused to ‘concede to Alexander the leadership of the Greeks’.
Arcadia
Diodorus says that ‘alone of the Greeks [Arcadia] never acknowledged Philip’s leadership nor did they now recognize (sic) that of Alexander’. The Footnotes confirm that he is confusing Arcadia with Sparta.
Peloponnese ‘… the Argives and Eleians and Lacedaemonians, with others, moved to recover their independence’.
Elsewhere Diodorus says that ‘[b]eyond the frontiers of Macedonia, many tribes moved toward revolt and a general feeling of unrest swept through the natives in that quarter’. He means, of course, the tribes of Thrace, Paeonia and Illyria. We will meet them again in the next day or two.

So, as you can see, Alexander’s reception among the Greeks was universally bad. According to Diodorus, no one at all accepted his authority. What was his response? Persuasion and diplomacy; fear, and force.

Chapter 4
Persuasion and Diplomacy

Alexander marched to Thessaly where he reminded the Thessalians ‘of his ancient relationship to them through Heracles’. He spoke ‘kindly words’ and made ‘rich promises’. Both had their desired effect and the Thessalian League duly recognised Alexander’s ‘leadership of Greece’.

After winning ‘over the neighbouring tribes similarly’, Alexander marched from Thessaly to Pylae, where he asked/made the Amphictyon League recognise him as the leader of Greece. It did.

Alexander then met Ambraciot ambassadors ‘and, addressing them in friendly fashion, convinced them that they had been only a little premature in grasping the independence that he was on the point of giving them voluntarily’. I wonder if he managed to keep a straight face while saying this.

Fear and Force
Alexander’s next destination was Boeotia and the city of Thebes. Knowing that the Thebans would not accept him as quickly as the Thessalians et al had done, he marched to their city ‘in full battle array’. The Thebans panicked. Diodorus doesn’t actually say what happened next but as the destruction of the city took place later (we will come to it in Chapter 14) we know that on this occasion the Thebans did the smart thing and made peace with the Macedonian king.

The Thebans panicked when they saw the Macedonian army outside their city. Athens did not wait until Alexander made his way to Attica before doing the same. Their panic began when they learnt that he had passed into Boeotia. Alarmed by the speed of Alexander’s advance, Athens brought all her property into the city and made plans to rebuild the city walls. Recognising her limited ability to resist, Alexander, however, the city sent envoys to Alexander to beg his forgiveness ‘for [the] tardy recognition of his leadership’.

One member of the party sent to Alexander was none other than Demosthenes. Like Attalus, though, he got cold feet and at Cithaeron turned back for home. If there is uncertainty as to why Attalus decided against challenging Alexander, there can be no doubt regarding Demosthenes volte face. It was written in all his screeds against Alexander and Philip II. There was another reason, too: Diodorus says that the orator had ‘received large sums of money’ from Darius III. He, of course, would not be happy if he heard that Demosthenes had made peace with the Macedonian king.

Having put the fear of himself into the Athenians, Alexander settled things amicably with the envoys. This allowed him to get on with the really important business of calling ‘a meeting at Corinth’ to ask the assembled Greeks to ask them to appoint him as their ‘general plenipotentiary’ and promise to join his war of revenge against Persia. This was done and he returned to Macedon.

Comments
Diplomacy is never something that I think about in relation to Alexander of Macedon but as his response to the Greek rejection of his authority shows, he knew how to charm and persuade just as much as he did to fight a battle. As I sit here writing these words, I still can’t quite believe that he did not have to resort to arms at least once during this period. Unfortunately for Thebes, he soon would, but even then, blood was only spilled after Alexander attempted to resolve the dispute diplomatically.

Something else that I never associate with Alexander is fear; Diodorus’ mention of it at the start of Chapter 3, therefore, is very notable. It reminds me that he – Alexander – did not always act quickly, either. While in Asia Minor, he vacillated a great deal over whether to confront Darius or build up his forces (Plutarch, 17).

Although it has been interesting to learn about the Greek response to Alexander’s accession, it pales next to the insight into the king’s emotional state at the start of his reign and in Asia Minor. The reason for this is obvious – it makes him a man, someone I can relate to, rather than simply The One Who Conquered All. To see Alexander as a man who tripped over from time-to-time doesn’t diminish his achievement but puts it into context and, I think, makes it all the more remarkable.

Classifieds
FOR SALE: A house between a rock and a hard place. Contact: Demosthenes
WANTED: A new Greek ‘pen friend’ for a Persian Great King. Prepared to Pay Handsomely
FOR SALE: A rusty sword. Contact: Any bored Macedonian soldier

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