Posts Tagged With: Tyriotes

Torture in Curtius (1)

Last post here

In this post I continue my look at the number of times and contexts in which torture is referenced by the Alexander historians. Today, it is the turn of Curtius. In contrast to Arrian and Plutarch who barely mention it at all (twice and three times respectively), Curtius does so on thirty-eight occasions.

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Due to that high volume of usage, and the fact that I will be quoting all the relevant passages, I have decided to split this post into three. The next will look exclusively at torture in the context of the Philotas Affair. The third will look at references to torture made by Curtius in connection with the Pages’ Conspiracy and the rebel Biton.

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As you may be aware, the first two books of Curtius’ history have not survived. I’ll begin, therefore, in Book III with Alexander settling his affairs in Lycia and Pamphylia before moving on to the city of Calaenae in Phrygia.

Actually, due to the uneven spread of word usage, Book IV will be the start point. From IV.8.10-11, I’ll continue on to VI.8.14, just before the first use of the word in connection with the Philotas Affair.

The Spread:

  • 0 in Book III
  • 4 in Book IV
  • 2 in Book V
  • 2 in Book VI

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Book IV.8.10-11
contains a reference to a number of criminals being tortured for their crimes

Alexander marched with all possible speed to avenge [Andromachus’] murder [by the Samaritans], and on his arrival the perpetrators of the heinous crime were surrendered to him. He appointed Memnon to replace Andromachus, executed the murderers of the former governor, and handed over to their own subjects a number of local rulers, including Aristonicus and Ersilaus of Methymna, whom they tortured and put to death for their crimes.

Book IV.10.27
Here we see the word ‘torture’ being used in a metaphorical sense by Darius III

[Darius said to Tyriotes,] “… You are not going to tell me, are you, what I most suspect and fear to put into words – that members of my family have been violated, something which would be worse than any kind of torture for me and, I think, for them?”

Book IV.10.30-33
Here we see Darius warning Tyriotes the eunuch that if he lies he will be tortured. Tyriotes, who is telling the truth, stands his ground, effectively saying to the Great King ‘bring it on’.

Tyriotes swore by the gods of his country that no violence had been offered the queen, that Alexander had actually lamented her death and wept as much as Darius was doing then, but these declarations served only to revive an anxious suspicion in the mind of the adoring husband, who inferred that Alexander’s grief for a captive must have derived from his having had sexual relations with her. Accordingly, keeping only Tyriotes back and dismissing everybody else, he said to him (without tears now but with a sigh): ‘Tyriotes, do you see that lies will not do? The instruments of torture will soon be here, but for heaven’s sake don’t wait for them if you have any regard for your king. Surely he did not dare to do… what I want to know yet fear to ask… he being a young man and her master?” Tyriotes offered to undergo torture, calling the gods to witness that the queen had been treated with propriety and respect.

Book V.3.12
Afraid of being tortured, the Uxians break into the Macedonian camp and ask Sisigambis to intercede with Alexander for them

… daunted by the added fear of torture, they sent men to Darius’ mother Sisigambis, by a secret path unknown to their enemy, to ask her to use her influence to mollify the king.

Book V.5.5-6
contains a reference to torture having been inflicted upon the Greek captives

When he was not far from the city, the king was met by a pitiful group of men whose misfortune has few parallels in history. They were Greek captives, some 4,000 in number, whom the Persians had subjected to various kinds of torture. Some had had their feet cut off, some their hands and ears. They had been branded with letters from the Persian alphabet by their captors, who had kept them to amuse themselves over a long period by humiliating them.

Book VI.5.3
As with IV.10.27, we see torture being used as a figure-of-speech here

Given a friendly welcome, Artabazus said: ‘Your majesty, I pray to heaven you may prosper with unending good fortune. Everything here brings me happiness but I am tortured by this one thought, that my declining years make long enjoyment of your kindness impossible for me.’

Book VI.6.31
contains a reference not to torture per se but an experience being as like it

The woods crackled as they burned, and the parts that the soldiers had not fired ignited as well and started to consume everything near them. The barbarians tried to escape their agonizing torture if the flames died down anywhere, but wherever the fire had left a passage stood their enemy.

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Here are my observations based on the above quotations. Feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section

  • Curtius uses the word ‘torture’ and its variants in a different way on all but one occasion. Here is my break down
    • 1 reference to torture being carried out (IV.8.10-11)
    • 2 reference to torture used as a metaphor (IV.10.27, VI.5.3)
    • 1 reference to the threat of torture (IV.10.30-33)
    • 1 reference to a willingness to undergo it to prove a cause (IV.10.30-33)
    • 1 reference to the fear of torture (V.3.12)
    • 1 reference to torture having been carried out (V.5.5-6)
    • 1 reference to another experience being like torture (VI.6.31)
  • Perhaps ironically, the reference to torture being carried out (IV.8.10-11) has hardly any impact at all. This is because Curtius makes no mention at all of what was done to Aristonicus and Ersilaus of Methymna et al before they died.
  • IV.10.30-33 and IV.8.10-11 show that torture was regarded as an acceptable part of the interrogation process and punishment for convicted criminals in the Macedon/Near East and Persia respectively
  • V.5.5-6 suggests that in Persia torture was not confined to the legal process but that prisoners-of-war (perhaps anyone under the control of another person?) could be tortured if the master so wished it
  • VI.6.31 is definitely uncomfortable to read but makes too little impact due to the impersonal nature of the passage. It is hard to get emotionally invested in the fate of a people described only as ‘the barbarians’.
  • V.5.5-6 also lacks names but at least we know the nationality of the people concerned. For me, this is the most horrible passage for although Curtius does not describe the actual torture, we see very clearly the result of it.
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Earth and Water

The Nature of Curtius
Book Four Chapters 11-16
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter 11
Tears and Hard Ground
On the eve of the Battle of Gaugamela, Alexander received another letter from Darius. In it, the Great King offered further concessions to him in order to end the war between them. These included – once again – Stateira II’s hand in marriage but this time all territory west of the Euphrates River. Alexander was warned that taking the whole empire would be ‘fraught with danger’ and that it would be difficult to control.

Why did Darius think Alexander might respond to this letter any more positively than his last?

A few days earlier*, Stateira I had died. Upon being informed, Alexander wept copious tears for her, and he gave his permission for her funeral to be carried out in the ‘traditional Persian fashion’.

In the confusion following Stateira’s death, a eunuch** belonging to the Persian royal family escaped from the Macedonian camp and made his way to Darius’ tent. There, he told the Great King how Alexander had cried for his late wife, having treated the royal women with the utmost respect since capturing them following the Battle of Issus.

It was this insight into Alexander’s kindness that gave Darius the confidence to send his letter.

Unfortunately, the seeds did not fall on fertile ground and Alexander dismissed Darius’ offer. “‘He generously gives me the land beyond the Euphrates,'” Alexander said, contemptuously, “‘[but] I am already across the Euphrates and my camp stands beyond the boundary of the land he generously promises me as dowry!'”

The ambassadors were allowed to return to Darius. They did so, and told him that ‘battle was imminent’.

* The following account comes from Chapter 10

** Curtius gives his name as Tyriotes

Chapter 12
Mist and Sun
As the Macedonian army marched towards Gaugamela, a strange event happened. ‘Intermittent flashes in the bright sky, of the type seen on hot summer days [and which] had the appearance of fire’ were seen. The Macedonian soldiers thought ‘that they were flames gleaming in Darius’ camp, and that they had negligently advanced among enemy outposts’. This caused a general panic to occur.

Realising what was happening, Alexander stopped the march and told his men to ‘lay down their arms and rest’. While they did so, he reassured them that the Persians were still a long way off and that they were in no danger.

As it happens, however, they were, for Mazaeus and his cavalry party were on a hilltop overlooking the camp. Curtius says that if he ‘had struck while [the Macedonians] were still panicking a terrible disaster could have been inflicted’ on Alexander’s army. But he didn’t. Although he had 3,000 horse with him Mazaeus would have known he was hopelessly outnumbered. So, he stayed put ‘content not to be under attack’.

To go back to the flashes of light for a moment, I presume from the Macedonian soldiers’ reactions they thought they were seeing the reflection of the sun on the Persians’ armour and weaponry and that this meant they had drawn too close to their enemy. It makes a lot more sense that fiery flashes of light across a blue sky.

Whatever the cause of the flashes, they unnerved the Macedonians enough to make Alexander call a halt to the proceedings for the day and set up a fortified camp.

The next day, Mazaeus withdrew from the hilltop. The Macedonians took his position. From their new vantage point they had a good view of the battlefield. It was a humid day, however, and a mist descended. While it wasn’t heavy enough to obscure the plain before them, ‘it did render it impossible to see how [the Persian] forces were divided and organized.’

Presently, the mist lifted and the two armies were revealed to each other. Both shouted their war-cries ‘and the woods and valleys round about rang with a terrifying noise’.

Chapter Thirteen
Spikes in the Ground
This chapter is concerned mostly with the Persian and Macedonian armies preparation for war, so is of little interest to us. It does conclude, however, with a sole horse rider galloping out of the Persian camp and towards Alexander. His name was Bion and he was a deserter. He warned the Macedonian king that Darius had placed iron spikes in the ground where he thought the Macedonian cavalry intended to ride during the battle. I don’t recall any similar practice at the Granicus River or Issus and if memory serves, Alexander himself never employed such a tactic. Perhaps he thought it would undermine his glory.

Chapter Fourteen
Empire and Prison
Alexander encouraged his men with a bold speech. He spoke, as it were, to two people – the brave and non-brave.

To the brave, he made the land out to be a place of triumph, where they had won great victories (e.g. at the Granicus River and Issus) or had passed through as victors (e.g. the Cilician Mountains, Syria and Egypt).

To the non-brave, however, the land was represented as an enemy. You have come so far, he said, that ‘all those rivers and mountains [are] a barrier’ behind you. If you want to go home, you are going to have to fight.

Darius also spoke of barriers. Not natural ones, though; that would have been difficult having wrought so much destruction upon the land as part of his defensive operations. Instead, the Great King asked his men to be living barriers that would save the lives of their families who waited behind them.

Chapter Fifteen
The Eagle
The Battle of Gaugamela was in full bloody flow when Alexander’s guards caught sight of ‘an eagle gently hovering just above the king’s head, frightened neither by the clash of arms nor the groans of the dying’.

Aristander – dressed as a priest and with a laurel-branch in his hand – pointed the eagle out to the soldiers as it maintained its station saying (or, more likely, shouting, if he really was there) that it was ‘an infallible omen of victory’.

Up till now, the Macedonians had been in a state of terror. Upon being alerted to the eagle’s presence, however, they became ‘fired with tremendous enthusiasm and confidence for the fight’. This confidence increased when Darius’ charioteer was killed.

Dominos now started to fall. The charioteer was mistaken for Darius. The Persian Cavalry let out a huge cry. This unsettled the entire Persian army. The left-wing folded and the army started to retreat. The Macedonians gave chase. The battle ended and a massacre began.

Chapter Sixteen
A Bridge Too Far
Darius fled to the Lycus River (the modern day Greater Zab). Crossing it, he contemplated destroying the bridge behind him. But although he knew that would prevent the Macedonians from pursuing him, he decided not to do as it would also condemn many of his men to death.

In the hours that followed, however, the Persian soldiers themselves either caused the bridge to collapse or surely came close to doing so as they ‘overloaded’ it in their haste to flee the battlefield. So desperate were they that not only did men attempt to wade across the Lycus – with some being carried away under the weight of their armour – but they also trampled over each other in order to reach the other side. It was an ignominious end to the battle of empires.

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