Posts Tagged With: Tigris River

20th September 331BC: A Blood Red Lunar Eclipse

We are now in the countdown to the anniversary of the Battle of Gaugamela, which took place on 1st October 331BC.

For me, the start of the countdown is always the anniversary of the lunar eclipse that Alexander and his Macedonian army witnessed after crossing the Tigris River.

The eclipse took place on 20th September, ten days before the battle. Arrian reports it in a very matter-of-fact way. He tells us that after crossing the Tigris, Alexander rested his men. When the eclipse happened, Alexander sacrificed to the Moon, Sun and Earth. Afterwards, Aristander prophesied that the eclipse was a sign that the showdown with Darius would take place that month and that Alexander’s sacrifices showed that he – the Macedonian king – would triumph. The End.

Curtius gives a much more sensational account of what happened. He begins with an account of the actual eclipse.

First the moon lost its usual brightness, and then became suffused with a blood-red colour which caused a general dimness in the light it shed.

Curtius IV.10.2

As the moon turned blood red, the Macedonians, who were already anxious at the impending battle with Darius, were

… struck… with a deep religious awe which precipitated a kind of panic. They complained that the gods opposed their being taken to the ends of the earth, that now rivers forbade them access, met everywhere by desolation and desert. The blood of thousands was paying for the grandiose plans of one man who despised his country, disowned his father Philip, and had deluded ideas about aspiring to heaven.

Curtius IV.10.2-3

According to Curtius, the Macedonians were so spooked that they were on the verge of mutiny. Trouble was averted, however, by Alexander’s Egyptian priests who – although they knew the real reason for the eclipse – told the rank and file that the eclipse indicated a Macedonian victory in the battle ahead. This calmed the Macedonian soldiers’ nerves. ‘Nothing exercises greater control over the masses than superstition’ (C. IV.10.7) Curtius adds with a sneer, which is funny coming from a Roman.

What to make of the two accounts?

Arrian’s is so short and to-the-point that it would be tempting to see him as glossing over what really happened that night, something that Curtius is more than happy to reveal. Curtius’ account, however, is too sensational to be regarded as the gospel truth.

I have no problem believing that the Macedonians viewed the eclipse with a ‘religious awe’. They were a very religious people and saw meaning in natural events as a matter of course. Of course an event as profound as an eclipse would make a big impression on them.

Is it likely that the eclipse would cause them to panic? On the one hand, if they generally regarded eclipses as negative events, I don’t see why not; on the other, I don’t know how ancient Macedonians regarded eclipses so don’t have the knowledge to make a judgement one way or the other.

I am less convinced by the idea that the Macedonians complained that the gods opposed their onward movement, ‘that now rivers forbade them access’, and that ‘desolation and desert’ met them everywhere. And I disbelieve entirely that the Macedonians turned again, even if only briefly, against Alexander in the way that Curtius suggests.

The reason I don’t believe the Macedonians felt that the gods turned against them is that, once calmed by the Egyptian priests, they followed Alexander east without a murmur until the death of Darius. If they really believed this early that the gods – the gods! – were now against them, I would expect to see them turn against Alexander much earlier than India. As it is, when they did start to pine for home, it was because the Great King was now dead and they simply saw no need to go any further east. The anger of the gods did not come into it. Neither did they at the Hyphasis River.

I don’t know what Curtius means by ‘rivers forbade them access’ given that they had just easily crossed the Tigris. Similarly, the idea that they were ‘met everywhere by desolation and desert’ is too much hyperbole. Sure, they had crossed a desert but at no great cost to them either as an army or individuals. Curtius’ statement sounds more like the kind of thing that the Macedonians would say as the crossed the Gedrosian Desert on the way back from India.

Finally, if the Macedonian soldiery really believed that the ‘blood of thousands was paying for the grandiose plans of one man who despised his country’ they would have hated Alexander, not followed him to the ends of the earth, and then rebelled against his wishes with tears in their eyes. This is more hyperbole – more of Curtius adding to what he knows for the sake of his story. Similarly in regards the Macedonians’ view of Alexander’s beliefs regarding his divinity. He had only just visited Siwah a few months earlier. Surely he had not yet come to any settled view regarding who he was? Curtius’ statement here is so specific it seems to me to belong to a different time, maybe a few years later, after Alexander had time to ponder what had happened and arrive at an answer, which Curtius now brings back to the eve of the Battle of Gaugamela for the sake of an exciting narrative.

The Lunar Eclipse
Arrian III.7.6
Curtius IV.10.1-8

Categories: Arrian, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Death of a Friend

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 109, 110 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander: Greek Exiles May Return Home
The New Ten Thousand
* King retires 10,000 Macedonians from his army
* Retirees owe 10,000 talents; king settles the debt
Persians Promoted; Macedonians Revolt
* Alexander Faces Revolt Down
Peucestas arrives with more Persian Soldiers
Alexander Goes Sight Seeing
Hephaestion Dies

The Story
Chapter 109
In the summer of 324 B.C., the Olympic Games were held at Olympia, and Alexander had it announced there that all Greek exiles ‘except those who had been charged with sacrilege or murder’ could return home.

Perhaps at the same time, he also released ten thousand of his oldest soldiers from service, and, upon learning that many were in debt, paid their creditors out of the royal treasury.

Diodorus mentioned in the last chapter (yesterday’s post here) how the Macedonian army became ‘frequently unruly when called into an assembly’.

One day, the men harangued the king again. This time, he responded in kind. Leaping down from the platform, Alexander ‘seized the ring-leaders of the tumult with his own hands, and handed them over to his attendants for punishment’.

Unsurprisingly, this increased the tension between the king and his army. But rather than conciliate, Alexander simply appointed Persians to ‘positions of responsibility’. This cut the Macedonians to the quick and they begged Alexander to forgive them. He did but not quickly or easily.

Chapter 110
We enter a new year. During it, ‘Alexander secured replacements from the Persians equal to the number of these soldiers whom he had released’. 1,000 of the new recruits were assigned to the bodyguard at court.

This year, too, Peucestes arrived out of the east (After and/or as a result of (?) saving Alexander’s life at the Mallian city – read here – he had been made satrap of Persia) with 20,000 ‘Persian bowmen and slingers’. These were integrated into the army.

By 324, there were now ‘sons of the Macedonians born of captive women’. How many? Diodorus says about 10,000. This figure is appearing a little too often for my liking. Anyway, Alexander set aside sufficient money so that the children could be given ‘an upbringing proper for freeborn children’. This included a suitable education.

Alexander now left Susa. Crossing the Tigris river, he came to a village called Carae. From there, ‘he marched through Sittacenê until he arrived at a city (?) called Sambana. After resting for a week there, he set out for ‘the Celones’ reaching them three days later.

It is not clear to me what exactly the Celones is – a group of settlements? A region? Neither Diodorus nor the Footnotes make it clear. What is clear is that Alexander met a people descended from Boeotians who had been deported there by Xerxes I. Despite never having been back to Greece, they had ‘not forgotten their ancestral customs’ still keeping Greek as one of their languages and continuing ‘Greek practices’.

After spending several days in the Celones, Alexander set off once more. His purpose now was ‘sight-seeing’ and he left ‘the main road’ so that he could enter Bagistanê, a country ‘covered with fruit trees and rich in everything which makes for good living’.

Next on the itinerary was a land of wild horses. In days of old, Diodorus says, 160,000 horses grazed here. In 324 B.C., however, they only numbered 60,000. I wonder if, as he looked out on the horses, Alexander thought about Bucephalus. I expect so.

Alexander stayed amidst the horses for thirty days. Finally, however, it was time to leave. And now, he came to Ecbatana in Media. Citing unnamed sources, Diodorus gives Ecbatana’s ‘circuit’ as being 250 stades. As the capital of Media, its storehouses were ‘filled with great wealth’. But was there also something else there, something rather less pleasant to the king? Namely, Parmenion’s tomb. If it was, I wonder if he acknowledged it.

Alexander remained in Ecbatana ‘for some time’. While there, he held ‘a dramatic festival’ and ‘constant drinking parties’. During the course of one of these, Hephaestion took ill; not long later, he died.

Diodorus describes Alexander as being ‘intensely grieved’ by his friend’s death. I don’t think you will read a bigger understatement than that this month let alone today. Presently, however, he recovered enough to order Perdiccas – Hephaestion’s replacement as chiliarch – to transport Hephaestion’s remains to Babylon where Alexander intended to ‘celebrate a magnificent funeral for him’.

Comments
Diodorus states that the Macedonian soldiers who were in debt owed ‘little short of ten thousand talents’. That’s on average, one talent each. The Footnotes refer to Curtius’ ‘astonishment’ at this figure, and I have to share it. I can’t believe that during the course of the expedition they would have had the opportunity to spend so much money.

The Footnotes also state that the mutiny described in Chapter 109 is the Opis Mutiny ‘continued from chap. 108’ although the way it is described there, it is as if Diodorus is talking about the Macedonian army’s behaviour in general rather than a mutiny that took place in a specific place and on a particular date. (Note also that Diodorus has the mutiny take place in Susa rather than Opis).

It seems rather surprising that Alexander is able to bring his men to heel by doing something that on the face of it should disillusion them further. I can only imagine that the Macedonians did not look at the matter as a case of ‘they are taking our jobs, we want them back’ but as ‘this race is usurping ours in the king’s affections; we must show him we love him in order to win him back to our side’.

An interesting note – the Footnotes say that of ‘all Alexander’s generals [Peucestas] showed the greatest willingness to conciliate the Persians’

The ‘main road’ to which Diodorus refers is – according to the Footnotes – the main Baghdad-Hamadan route which connects Mesopotamia to Iran.

The Footnotes also confirm the name of the horse country – Nysa (from Arrian). Can we say that it is an indication of Alexander’s love of horses that he stayed so long there?

If Didorus is to be believed, Hephaestion died a Macedonian’s death – as a result drinking too much. I am sure, though, that the alcohol simply weakened his resistance to whatever illness did kill him. Otherwise, I must resist the temptation to complain about the brevity with which Diodorus treats the death of such an important figure.

Here’s to all the Macedonians who died
after a little much of the glorious red stuff

ancient_greek_amphora(Except Black Cleitus. Still not polite to mention him)

This picture comes from Warwick University’s article on Drinking in Ancient Greece

 

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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