Posts Tagged With: Xerxes I

Babylon. The Friendly City.

Tonight I’m gonna party like it’s 19 Alexander’s fifth regnal year

Our second celebration took place in Babylon, October 331 B.C. Alexander had just defeated Darius III for the second and decisive time at Gaugamela and, by so doing, inherited his empire.

Diodorus (XVII.64) reports that following the battle, the new Great King went to Arbela where he found food and treasure. He might have tarried there for longer but was worried about Babylonia being polluted by the unburied Persian bodies on the battlefield. To prevent any harm coming to his men he ‘immediately’ resumed his advance upon the capital city.

There, Alexander was greeted with open arms by the Babylonians. Indeed, the whole Macedonian army was greeted happily. The men were given lodgings and much food and drink.

It would be nice to think that the Babylonians were acting out of the kindness of their hearts but we should not fool ourselves. Their actions were much more likely informed by a desire not to be slaughtered. Even if they had never heard of Thebes, they would have known that conquering kings were not always merciful ones.

And then there is Babylon’s reputation as a licentious city. Maybe in the back of many people’s minds was the thought that, if we can persuade these strangers not to kill us, maybe we can persuade them to pay for sex instead. For more on that point, see Curtius below.

As for Diodorus, the only other comment he has to make about Alexander’s first visit to the city is that he stayed for thirty days ‘because the food was plentiful and the population friendly’.

***

Yesterday, we saw how Arrian’s account of the celebration at Dium was short and rather unenthusiastic. Today, his account (III.26) of Alexander’s visit to Babylon is equally stiff.

Alexander, he says, approached the city cautiously. In fact, ‘in battle order’. To be fair, if the Babylonians had not formally surrendered this was a wise thing to do. He would have looked pretty stupid had he just rolled up to the city only to be met by an armed force (not that the risk of this stopped him from being ever-so-casual in Carmania, as we’ll see in two days).

As it turned out, all was well that ended well; the Babylonians streamed out of the city, handed gifts over, and gave their home ‘with the citadel and all its treasures’ into Alexander’s hands.

Party time?

Well, maybe. But we’ll never know from Arrian. He focuses on the religious and political dimension of Alexander’s visit. The king ordered the rebuilding of the temple of Bel (‘destroyed by Xerxes’). This was also a political act as Bel was ‘the god held by the Babylonians in the greatest awe’. Alexander was intent on winning hearts and minds to his cause.

Arrian also states that it was in Babylon that Alexander ‘came into contact with the Chaldeans’ (n. ‘priests of Marduk’) and gave them a place in his counsels. The Chaldeans, of course, would go on to play a vital role in Alexander’s life when he returned to Babylon in 323 B.C.

In between of these religious acts, Arrian also mentions a number of political (and military) appointments. Once they are completed, he has Alexander resume his onward journey. And once again, I am forced to imagine Ptolemy sitting at his desk thinking “Babylon… Babylon… mmm, we had a good time there… probably too good a time. Better not mention anything about that, either.”

***

Despite Arrian’s deficiencies, it is Plutarch who lets the side down for the second day running. At least yesterday he mentioned the weeping statue. Today, he says nothing at all about Babylon. The nearest he comes to it is at the start of Chapter 31.

After Alexander had subdued the whole region which lay [on the west] side of the Euphrates, he resumed his advance against Darius.

And that’s your fun-destroying lot.

***

Fortunately, Curtius (V.1.36) comes to the rescue. And how. He is positively frothy mouthed with disgust at Babylon’s vices. And in the best hypocritical tabloid journalist fashion, rather than refuse to give publicity to that which he hates, he shares every last detail with us. Well, not every last but enough so that we can share his rage and he, ahem, can get more readers.

There is no doubt that some of the things Curtius mentions are rather unorthodox. Unlike dear Quintus, however, I have no qualms about detailing them so that more people will read this post. So, let’s look at what he says.

On Babylon

[The] moral corruption there is unparalleled

It’s ability to stimulate and arouse unbridled passions is incomparable

On Babylonians

Parents and husbands permit their children and wives to have sex with strangers, as long as this infamy is paid for

Babylonians are especially addicted to wine and the excesses that go along with drunkenness

Women attend dinner parties. At first they are decently dressed, then they remove all their top-clothing and by degrees disgrace their respectability until (I beg my readers’ pardon for saying it) they finally throw off their most intimate garments. This disgusting conduct is characteristic not only of courtesans but also of married women and young girls, who regard such vile prostitution as ‘being sociable’

At this point, I fear that I may be held responsible for the moral degradation of my younger or more impressionable readers. Even now, they are probably looking up last minute offers on flights to Babylon for Christmas. But here’s the thing. The city no longer exists. And neither, to all intents and purposes, did Babylon in Curtius’ time. We don’t know when exactly he wrote his history of Alexander, but it is not likely to have been earlier than the middle of the first century B.C., by which time Babylon had been in ruins for nigh on two hundred years. Curtius’ anger makes no more sense than you or me writing about the Georgians and getting annoyed at their sexual practices. Sometimes, you have to take a deep breath and let go. This Curtius appears to have been unable to do.

Having said that, when he adds “I beg my readers’ pardon…” a part of me is nodding my head slowly and thinking Yeah, right… Anything for the fame.

As manipulative or genuinely enraged as Curtius might be, his words do give an insight into what the Macedonians might have got up to in Babylon. Drink and sex. Lots of.

Further to what Diodorus says, Curtius claims that the Macedonians stayed in Babylon ‘revelling in… dissipation’ for thirty-four days. He criticises Alexander for undermining ‘military discipline [there] more than in any other place’ and states that thanks to its licentious behaviour the army

… which had conquered Asia would doubtless have been weakened for any subsequent confrontations, if it had had an adversary.

It did. Ariobarzanes at the Persian Gates the following year. And guess who won. Curtius has his explanation for this, of course.

To lesson the effects of the damage [Alexander’s army] was continually refurbished with reinforcements.

Uh huh. And it was nothing to do with the general wear and tear of war and campaigning.

Babylon in Short
Reason Letting hair down after winning the Persian Empire
Duration A whacking 30 or 34 days
Outstanding Features Pure partying. No apparent religious element
Result Collective liver failure and spike in births nine months later

Categories: Humour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fire and Ice

The Nature of Curtius
Book Five Chapters 6-13
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Six
Persepolis and Beyond
Upon their arrival in Persepolis, the Macedonians tore the city apart in their desire for loot. Many Persians were killed while others chose to kill themselves and their families before the invaders could get them.

The violence got so out of hand that Alexander had to issue an order to his men ‘to keep their hands off the women and their dress’. He didn’t order an end to the murder and plunder, though, that was legitimate retribution to ‘appease the spirits of their forefathers’.

Alexander arrived in Persepolis in January. In April, ‘at the time of the Pleiades’, he set out to subdue the Persian interior. Along ‘with 1,000 cavalry and a detachment of light-armed infantry’, Alexander marched through heavy rains towards his targets.

The Macedonians must have been high up because their road was ‘covered with permanent snow’. The soldiers trudged through it loyally but the ‘desolation of the terrain and the trackless wilderness terrified’ them. They thought they had reached the end of the world.

Curtius says that the soldiers ‘clamoured to go back before daylight and sky also came to an end’. But Alexander did not give in. And neither did he criticise his men. Instead, he dismounted his horse and continued on foot. Where the ice blocked his way, he simply smashed it apart with an axe.

It’s impossible to imagine how scared the Macedonian soldiers must have been – here they were at the end of the world and still yet the king went on! There was no question of a mutiny, though. The men were inspired by their king’s example to pull out their axes and follow after him.

Presently, signs of civilisation were spotted. There were ‘flocks of animals wandering here and there’ and ‘scattered huts’. On seeing the Macedonians, the natives killed their weak and infirm and fled to the mountains. Before long, however, Alexander managed to persuade them to return to their homes.

He was less clement to other natives and spent some time ‘ravaging’ their territory. Finally, Alexander met to ‘a bellicose people’ called the Mardians who lived in mountainside caves. Curtius makes them sound like cavemen. The tribe lived off the meat ‘of domesticated or wild animals’ and their women had shaggy, unkempt hair. The hemline of their clothes ended above the knee and they wore a sling around their heads that served as both ‘a head-dress and a weapon’.

The Mardians were used to a rough life and liked fighting but they were soon subdued by Alexander’s men. One month after leaving Persepolis, the king returned there in triumph.

Chapter Seven
The Royal Palace is Torched
We now come to Curtius’ account of the burning of the royal palace at Persepolis. Like Diodorus*, he places the blame for its destruction on the shoulders of Ptolemy’s mistress, Thaïs. It was Alexander, however, who threw the first torch. ‘Large sections of the palace had been made of cedar’ so the fire quickly took hold and spread.

The Macedonians in their camp outside the city saw the blaze and thought an accident had occurred. They rushed into Persepolis carrying pails of water. Seeing their king throw wood onto the blaze, however, they realised what was happening and joined in.

That was the end of the royal palace. The birthplace of kings and laws, of military strategy and terror; from it came armies that bridged the Hellespont (Xerxes I in 480 B.C.), and dug tunnels through mountains**. No more, though. Future kings would build their palaces elsewhere. For Curtius, Persepolis would be lost – not even ‘marked by the Araxes’ – which flowed past rather than through it.

* See this post for Diodorus’ account of the burning of the royal palace

** I’ve not been able to find out what Curtius is referring to although I think it might be another Herodotus reference? If you know, please leave a comment below!

Chapter Eight – Thirteen
These chapters focus on Darius’ last days. At the start of Chapter Eight we find him in Ecbatana. From then on, Curtius has very little to say about the Great King’s surroundings. The following, however, is of note –

Chapter Eight

  • (Darius’ rallying speech to his men)

Chapter Nine

  • Nabarzanes urges Darius to temporarily abdicate in order to allow a new king to make a fresh start in the fight against Alexander. He says that victory is possible as the east – Bactria and India are mentioned as well as the Sacae – is still under his control

Chapter Ten

  • Bessus and Nabarzanes decide to assassinate Darius. They are confident they can replace him as their territory (which amounts to a third of Asia) contains its best fighting men

Chapter Eleven

  • (Patron* warns Darius that Bessus and Nabarzanes are plotting against him)

* Leader of the Greek mercenaries

Chapter Twelve

  • When the Persians set up camp, the men put down their weapons and head off in groups to nearby villages to collect supplies. Curtius describes this as being their ‘usual practice’, though I doubt a larger army would do this!

Chapter Thirteen

  • Alexander chases Darius across country, being guided along the way by deserters
  • Reaching the Persian convoy, he has trouble finding Darius who has been hidden in a covered wagon
  • A Macedonian named Polystratus goes to a spring to quench his thirst. While drinking from it, he notices the wounded animals who had been pulling Darius’ wagon.
  • Polystratus wonders why the animals had been wounded rather than just driven off when he hears cries from within the wagon…

There is a lacuna in the text and Book 5 ends here

Categories: 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

Paul Cartledge on the Oath of Plataea

Paul Cartledge’s talk at the Hellenic Centre (on 12.11.13) in London, which I wrote about here. Unfortunately, it does not include the Q and A at the end.

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Paul Cartledge at the Hellenic Centre in London

Last night I visited the Hellenic Centre in London for the first time to hear Professor Paul Cartledge speak on the subject of the oath of Plataea. The event was sponsored by the Hellenic Society, which  hosted a talk on Alexander by Robin Lane Fox (and which I wrote about here) a few months ago. It is a real privilege and joy to be a member of the society and attend talks by these great scholars. I hope that one day I can follow them to Greece. By the bye, I don’t think you have to be a member of the Society to attend the talks – I wasn’t when I went to the RLF one – so if you see one that you are interested in get in touch with the Society to find out if you can go along.
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Cartledge’s talk was recorded so I imagine (as with Lane Fox’s) it will appear on-line soon. As and when it does, I shall post a link or ’embed’ the video on this blog. I didn’t take any notes last night, so instead of writing a report here are three things that made an impression on me, and which are still on my mind.
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α
When Xerxes crossed the Hellespont in 480 BC his passage was impeded by violent weather. It even destroyed the temporary bridge he had constructed to facilitate the crossing. Enraged, Xerxes ordered the sea to be whipped and branded, and for fetters to be thrown into it.
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To you and me today this sounds like absurd behaviour, comical even. In 480, though, Xerxes’ actions were deadly serious. The ancients regarded the seas – as well as many other parts of the natural world – as being gods. For them, Xerxes wasn’t impotently lashing the sea, but demonstrating his authority over a divinity. And even more than that, he was treating the god of the Hellespont like a slave – for branding was a punishment for misbehaviour by slaves. Talk about hubris.
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In light of the above, I no longer think Xerxes absurd but blasphemous. Indeed, his action really rather takes my breath away. People say that Alexander became a megalomaniac towards the end of his life but at least he loved the gods.
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β
This is as trivial as (α) is serious. During his talk, Cartledge referred to ‘Byzantion, later called Constantinople, which some today call Istanbul’. This happily called to mind Patrick Leigh Fermor’s preference for calling Istanbul Constantinople in A Time of GiftsBetween The Wood and the Water and The Broken Road!

Speaking of Leigh Fermor, have you read this good news about his headstone?
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γ
During the post talk Q and A a questioner asked Cartledge what he thought of the famous quotation that the Battle of Marathon was a more important event in English history than that of Hastings. Cartledge didn’t agree with that. In his view, history is not a linear sequence of events, there is no thread that connects us to the ancient Greeks and Romans. In his view, we appropriate history and take from it what interests us. I agree with him – to a point (I don’t mean this in the Lord Copper sense). Yes, we fashion history in our own image. This can be seen very clearly today with many historians’ emphasis on gender relations and how ‘ordinary’ people lived. However, isn’t western morality founded on the Jewish Law? And doesn’t our legal system originate – at least in part – from the Roman code of law? Unfortunately, I just don’t know enough to answer these questions. If the answer was ‘yes’ to either one, though, it would show that there is a point of connection between us and those who came before.
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δ
As you can see below, Cartledge’s book is titled After Thermopylae. This, he said, was the publisher’s title. In 2006, Cartledge wrote a book about Thermopylae itself. It sold 20,000 copies. In hardback. Why? Because of a certain film titled 300, which came out in the same year… Next year, the sequel to 300 is released. It picks up what happened, as you might guess, after Thermopylae…! I applaud Paul Cartledge’s publishers for their Odyssean cunning!
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Paul Cartledge After Thermoplylae

Paul Cartledge After Thermoplylae, and this writer’s glass of wine

Following the talk, I bought a copy of Cartledge’s book, above, which he kindly signed for me. I mentioned Patrick Leigh Fermor to him and was treated to a short discourse about how the word ‘Istanbul’ has (or may have?) Greek origins. I was bucked by his friendliness and preparedness to share his knowledge.
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Having spoken to the man himself and got my book signed all that was left to do was swig my (unmixed) wine. This I did with aplomb and made my way home, a very happy man.
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NB (Is there a Greek version of Nota Bene?) As at the Lane Fox talk, I learnt how to pronounce one or two ancient Greek words.
Nike Nee – kay
Venus Veh (short e) – nus
Ares A (short a) – res
Plataea Pla – tee – a

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