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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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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

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
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.
Restored ‘those of the Arcananians who had experienced exile because of Philip’.
Persuaded by a citizen (?) named Aristarchus to expel the Macedonian garrison in the city and adopt a democratic form of government.
Expelled the Macedonian garrison from the Cadmeia (citadel) and refused to ‘concede to Alexander the leadership of the Greeks’.
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.

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.

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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