Posts Tagged With: Zariaspa

Torture in Curtius (3)

Concluding my look at Curtius’ use of the word ‘torture’ in his history of Alexander. In this post, I look at its usage in the context of the Pages’ Plot.

Read other posts in this series here

  • Book VIII contains 2 references to torture
  • Book IX contains 1 reference to torture

Book VIII.8.20
The fate of the conspirators in the Pages’ Plot

… Alexander closed the meeting and had the condemned men transferred to members of their own unit. The latter tortured them to death so that they would gain the king’s approval by their cruelty. Callisthenes also died under torture.

Book VIII.8.22
Callisthenes’ fate

Callisthenes was a man of the finest character and accomplishments who had restored Alexander to life when he was determined to die after the murder of Clitus. Alexander had not merely executed him but had tortured him as well – and without trial.

Book IX.7.8-9
Rebellion among Greek settlers is quelled

[The Greek guards] decided that Boxus should be executed immediately, but that Biton should be tortured to death. As the torture-irons were already being applied to his body, the Greeks for some unknown reason rushed to arms like madmen and, when those who had been ordered to torture Biton heard the uproar, they abandoned their task, fearing that the cries of the rioters were intended to stop them.

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

  • In the first six books of Curtius’ history (stopping just before the Philotas affair) the word ‘torture’ is used eight times and in seven different ways. The Philotas affair adds seven more contexts for its use. The Pages’ Plot, however, adds just one (being the reference to an aborted attempt to torture someone):
    • 2 reference to torture being carried out (VIII.8.20, VIII.8.22)
    • 1 reference to torture having been carried out (VIII.8.20)
    • 1 reference to individual motives for torturing during the act (VIII.8.20)
    • 1 reference to an aborted attempt to torture someone (IX.7.8-9)
  • VIII.8.20 On the one hand, returning traitors to their units for punishment makes perfect sense. Of all the soldiers in the army, their fellow unit members would have been the ones most let down by their actions. Let them, therefore, carry out the punishment due. On the other, it also seems to be a very cunning and manipulative action by Alexander: By having the men execute the condemned, he ensures that if there are any more among them who are having second thoughts about his leadership, they are now part of his ‘tyranny’ in a way they weren’t before having taken part in the execution of the rebels. In this light, the return of the traitors and their executions becomes a kind of psychological warfare carried out against anyone still against him.
  • VIII.8.22 Curtius has a very idealistic view of Callisthenes that was not shared by everyone. I would see his description of the historian as another example of his propensity to exaggerate.
  • IX.7.8-9 Biton certainly had a lucky escape. Why did the Greeks rush ‘to arms like madmen’? As I see it, there were two factions in Zariaspa, where this action took place, at the time – the loyalists (those for Alexander) and the rebels (who wanted to return to Greece). The rebels were led by a man named Athenodorus and were the dominant force. Biton was also a member of the rebels. He had a ‘personal rivalry’ with Athendorus and this led him to kill him. Afterwards, Biton tried to persuade ‘most of the people’ that he acted in self-defence but they weren’t convinced. Nevertheless, when ‘Greek soldiers’ tried to kill him, Biton was saved by a mob – surely inspired by his supporters. Biton then bit the hand that fed him by conspiring ‘against those responsible for saving him’. This time, he was arrested, and about to be tortured when the Greeks rose up in arms. I would have suggested that they were inspired by Biton’s supporters (which is what the torturers thought) again except for the evidence of what happened next. We know this because Biton was taken away from the torturers and brought before the people. Curtius says that the sight of him ‘brought about a sudden transformation of their feelings’. Prior to that moment, then, they had been happy for him to be tortured and, no doubt, executed. Having been twice saved from death, Biton finally took the hint and left the city. As for the people, I can only imagine that their actions were informed by the general unrest of that time. It is not hard to imagine members of either party being inspired to take up arms to fight their rivals. Blood had already been spilt, after all, with soldiers from the rebel party killing loyalists in the initial uprising.

As I come to the end of this little survey of Curtius’ use of the word ‘torture’ I now ask myself what I have learnt from it.

The first thing is that Curtius uses the word much more broadly than I would have guessed without reading his text. In the first six books of his history, he makes 8 references to torture using it in 7 different ways. The Philotas Affair contains 17 references overall with the word being used in 11 different ways – 7 of which are new. The Pages’ Plot contains just 3 references but 4 different contexts. Of course, only 1 of those is new. However, that is still 15 different ways in which he uses the word throughout his book. I would love to be able to make some searingly original and profound insight into Curtius’ literary method but I’m afraid what is most in my mind at the moment is a simply appreciation of how flexible the English language is! Curtius will have to wait.

The second thing I have learnt from this exercise is that Curtius is certainly not shy when it comes to discussing torture. Unlike Arrian and Plutarch, he mentions it a lot (specifically with reference to Philotas) and graphically. In contrast to Arrian who omit any reference to Philotas being tortured and Plutarch who passes quickly over it, we find in Curtius Philotas being ‘racked with the most cruel tortures… fire and beatings’ his body swellling ‘with weals’ and Hephaestion, Craterus and Coenus not only interrogating him but striking their former colleague ‘in the face and eyes’ with their spears.

Is there a need for Curtius to be so graphic? It’s hard to say. My instinctive reaction would be to reply ‘no, he is simply being sensationalistic’ but this is not a judgement I can readily make as I don’t enough about Curtius’ society to know where he was coming from. For all I know, in comparison to other writers of his time, he was writing in a restrained manner.

The third lesson I take away is simply how bloody (literally) dangerous it was to fall into the hands of your enemies. From the Greek captives tortured by the Persians (V.5.5-6) to Philotas’ fate after receiving Alexander’s right hand and what can only be described as Alexander Lyncestes’ (and Callisthenes’ – according to Curtius, anyway) judicial murder.

As an adjunct to the above, I might add I now have a new appreciation of the importance of rhetoric and the right appearance in the ancient world. I’m now sure that Alexander didn’t want Amyntas and his brothers to be acquitted anyway but they certainly didn’t do their chances any harm by the way they spoke and the way Polemon wept before speaking. The same goes for Biton who ended not having to speak at all. What this reminds me of is the importance of meaning in antiquity. The world was full of it – much more so than today. It’s easy to forget that.

Insofar as one can enjoy reading and writing about torture writing the posts in this series has been enjoyable as well as eye opening. I’d be lying though if I said that it wasn’t a aspect of ancient life that I am also happy to close the book on as well.

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The Road to Marakanda – Spring 328 B.C.

In the Spring of 328 B.C., the Macedonian army campaigned in Bactria and Sogdia. The native people had closed the gates of their forts to Alexander and needed to be reminded who was in charge.

I say ‘the Macedonian army’ quite deliberately for it does not appear as if Alexander himself took part in the operation.

At least, not according to Arrian. He recounts how, after leaving Zariaspa, the Macedonian king put Attalus, Gorgias, Polyperchon and Meleager in charge of subduing Bactria, and Coenus and Artabazus (together), Hephaestion, Perdiccas and Ptolemy in charge of subduing Sogdia.

As for Alexander himself, he

… proceeded with [the rest of the army] in the direction of Marakanda, while the the other four commanders carried out offensive operations.

It is possible that he attacked Sogdian settlements along the way, but the fact that Arrian distinguishes between Alexander’s actions and those of his four commanders suggests to me that Arrian didn’t think so.

This passage has been on my mind for a while for it seems quite strange that Alexander would choose to miss an opportunity to win take part in a military operation.

Did he see the ‘offensive operations’ as no more than a bit of mopping up, and so unworthy of his attention?

The fact that Alexander had to split his army into as many as nine divisions, excluding his own, would suggest that the threat posed by the Bactrians and Sogdians was no small matter, if anything, the reverse.

Perhaps he had business to take care of in Marakanda? Arrian doesn’t mention any. However, the city had been put under siege twice by Spitamenes the previous year (Arrian IV.5,7). I am guessing, therefore, that Alexander wanted to assign new men to the garrison (Curtius VII.10.11*) that had held it over the winter. This, of course, is a job that could have been done by one of the king’s generals – Hephaestion, for example, whom some scholars tell us was not a particularly good soldier.

At first sight, the other sources are not helpful in working out what Alexander was up to in the Spring of 328 B.C. Plutarch covers the period of the Bactria-Sogdia campaign in Chapters 50-58 of his Life but says nothing about the army’s military operations. The same is the case with Justin (who covers the same period in XII.7 of his epitome). Diodorus might have done but unfortunately, the relevant section of his account has been lost.

That leaves us with Curtius. After bringing Alexander out of his winter quarters at Zariaspa (VII.10.13-16), Curtius appears to confuse the early 328 campaign with another set of events** before having Alexander build some cities and move on to the Sogdian Rock.

This most famous siege took place in 327 B.C. It appears, therefore, that Curtius has misdated it. Thus, at the start of Book Eight, he follows in Arrian’s footsteps by describing how Alexander divided his army into three (between himself, Hephaestion and Coenus***) and with his men ‘once more subdued the Sogdians and returned to Maracanda’ (VIII.1.7) (my emphasis]).

So, if Curtius is to be believed, Alexander did take part in the campaign before reaching Marakanda. And, I have to admit, that seems the more believable version of events.

However, if asked to chose who I believe – him or Arrian – I’m not sure that I wouldn’t stick with Arrian. Curtius can be such an unreliable historian.

As already mentioned, he gets the date of the Siege of the Sogdian Rock wrong. After bringing Alexander to Marakanda, Curtius has him speak to Derdas, whom he sent into the territory of the Scythians over the Tanais River the previous year (VII.6.12) as well as ‘a deputation of that people’ (VIII.1.7) who offered him their allegiance and the hand of the king’s daughter. Arrian, by contrast, places these events in Spring, while Alexander was still in Zariaspa (A IV.15).

As can be seen, Curtius appears to have a particular problem with accurate dating. In this light, I wonder if his account of Alexander’s actions in Sogdia at VIII.7 could be a reference to Alexander’s Autumn 329 campaign against the Sogdians, subsequent arrival in Zariaspa and meeting with the Scythians per Arrian.

And yet… and yet… As you can see, I am Hamlet-like in my indecision! The reason for this is that I just can’t think of a convincing reason why Alexander would not have joined the campaign while he was on his way to Marakanda.

Actually, there is one possible reason – injury and/or ill health. The previous year, Alexander’s leg was broken by an arrow (A III.30); he also suffered a slingshot blow to the head and neck (A IV.3) and a severe bout of dysentery but surely he would have recovered from the worst effect of these by Spring 328?

* Curtius says that Alexander left a 3,000 strong garrison in Sogdia. I take it that some even if not all of them stayed in Marakanda
** The Notes in my edition of Curtius say he could be thinking of the rebellion of Arsaces in Aria and Barzanes in Parthia and their capture by Stasanor
*** I don’t count this as an error on Curtius’ part – it could be him ‘telescoping’ the story in order to focus on the principle player(s) in it

Categories: Arrian, Finding Alexander, On Alexander, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Master of the Battle and Green Field

VI. Division 
(IV.16)
Read the other posts in this series

Alexander… after crossing into Sogdiana, divided his remaining strength into five, one division to be commanded by Hephaestion, another by Ptolemy, son of Lagus, a third by Perdiccas, a fourth by Coenus and Artabazus. The fifth he took over himself…
(Arrian IV.16)

***

Alexander arrived in Bactria in the Spring of 329 B.C. hot on the trail of Bessus. After a brief stop in Zariaspa to give his men time to recover from their crossing of the Hindu Kush, the Macedonian king led his army north. The chase ended on the Sogdian side of the Oxus River when Bessus was betrayed by his officers and handed over to Ptolemy*.

The capture of Bessus did not signify the end of Alexander’s presence in Sogdia or Bactria. Not long later, what appears to have been a multi-tribal native army, or armed force (Arrian III.30), attacked Macedonian foragers. Then, natives who lived in settlements along the Jaxartes (aka Tanais) River (A IV.1-4) rebelled against their new overlords. ‘They were joined in this hostile move by most of the people of Sogdiana… [and] some of the Bactrians’ (A IV.2). It would take Alexander nearly two years to pacify Bactria and Sogdia. It would never know peace, however.

After putting down the rebellion along the Jaxartes River, Alexander decided to cross the Jaxartes to attack some Scythians who had gathered there hoping to ‘join in an attack upon the Macedonians in the event of a serious rising’ (A IV.4), and suffered the loss of 2,300 men at the hands of a joint Scythian-native force led by Spitamenes who had decided to rebel against him (A IV.5-6).

Amidst all these events, Alexander was wounded twice and suffered a serious bout of dysentery. Operations continued until winter, which Alexander spent in Zariaspa.

***

The following Spring, Alexander led his men out of the city to deal with native settlements who had closed their gates to the governor. The unrest was so widespread Alexander was forced to divide his army up in order to deal with all the trouble.

Responsibility for bringing Bactria to heel was divided between Attalus, Gorgias, Meleager, and Polyperchon. I presume they acted independently of one another at this time but the text isn’t clear.

As for Sogdia, as we see from the quotation at the top of the post, the army was divided into five between Alexander himself, Hephaestion, Ptolemy, Perdiccas, and Coenus and Artabazus.

By-the-bye, the Sogdian operation is only the second time that Arrian has mentioned Hephaestion in the context of a military operation (the first being at [3] below). Here is a quick reminder of his previous appearances-

  1. I.12 During the visit to Troy
  2. II.13 In Sisygambis’ tent when she mistook him for Alexander
  3. III.15 Casualty list following the Battle of Gaugamela
  4. III.27 Given joint-command of the Companion Cavalry
  5. IV.12-13 Talking to Alexander the night Callisthenes failed to bow to the king

I don’t mention this in order to suggest that Hephaestion was not a good soldier. The picture we have of him in Arrian is Arrian’s own after Ptolemy and Aristobulos and such other sources as he has cared to use.

If anything, the grant of an independent command shows that Alexander clearly trusted his friend’s military capabilities. The times were simply too dangerous for the king to be handing divisions of his army over to friends just because they were friends.

Once the commands had been handed out, the

… four commanders carried out offensive operations as opportunity offered, storming the forts where some of the native tribesmen were trying to hold out, or receiving the voluntary surrender of others.
(A IV.16)

When these were completed, the generals returned in Marakanda. Hephaestion did not stay long, for Alexander sent him back out to ‘to plant settlements in the various towns’ (Arrian IV.16)

So, one minute a general, the next a settlement planner. Hephaestion was definitely a man of diverse talents. And we may talk of him as being very talented because his name crops up again and again when Alexander requires some kind of non-offensive operation to be completed.

For example,

332 Summer ‘Hephaestion conveys the fleet and the siege-equipment from Tyre to Gaza’
331 H. receives ‘a young Samian named Aristion, whom Demosthenes had sent in an effort to bring about a reconciliation with Alexander’
330 H. part of the ‘consilium’ that decided Philotas’ fate
328/7 H. collects ‘provisions for the winter’
327 Spring ‘Hephaestion and Perdiccas… sent ahead into India with a substantial force to act as an advance guard’

All-in-all

Alexander used him regularly for non-military operations: the founding of cities, the building of bridges and the securing of communications.

All the above quotes, including the last one, come from Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great by Waldemar Heckel (Wiley-Blackwell 2009) pp. 133-4. The final quote above ends ‘[these] constitute Hephaestion’s major contribution’. Obviously, Heckel has no great opinion of Hephaestion as a general. In my opinion, Arrian proves him wrong.

For the record, Heckel describes the five pronged operation in Sogdia as being ‘a mission that appears to have done little more than win back several small fortresses to which the rebellious natives had fled’ (ibid). I must emphasise that I don’t speak from a position of expertise here but I can’t believe that Alexander would feel the need to divide his army up for such a minor task.

* Or directly to Alexander – see Arrian III.30

Categories: Hephaestion Amyntoros | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Alexander: January / Winter Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

334/333
Winter Alexander conquers Caria, Lycia, Pamphylia and Phrygia (Landmark Arrian*, Livius)
Winter Alexander son of Aeropos arrested (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander subdues Pisidians (Landmark Arrian)

333/332
Winter Alexander asks Tyrians permission to sacrifice to Herakles in Tyre (Landmark Arrian)
332
January (?) Byblos and Sidon submit to Alexander (Peter Green**)
January-July The Siege of Tyre (Livius, Michael Wood***)
NB Landmark Arrian says that the siege took place between winter and summer

332/331
Winter Alexander into Egypt (Landmark Arrian, Wood)
Winter Alexander is informed that the Persian Navy has been defeated in Aegean (Landmark Arrian)
Mid-winter Alexander visits Siwah (Wood)

331
January Alexander in Heliopolis and Memphis (Livius)
January Alexander founds Alexandria (Wood)
NB Landmark Arrian says Alexandria was founded in ‘winter’
331/330
Winter Alexander takes Susa (Landmark Arrian)

330
Winter Macedonian army enters Persia (Wood)
20th January Battle of the Persian Gates (Livius)
30th January Alexander arrives at Persepolis (Livius)
Jan-May Alexander at Persepolis (Livius)
NB Wood agrees that the Battle of the Persian Gates and Alexander’s arrival in Persepolis both took place in January but doesn’t give the specific date of either event; Green places the sack of Persepolis in January but only with a question mark next to the date

330/329
Winter Spitamenes’ second revolt takes place (Landmark Arrian)

329
January Alexander approaches Kabul (Wood)

329/328
Winter Alexander at Zariaspa (Green, Livius, Wood)
Winter Alexander gives orders for Bessos to be mutilated (Landmark Arrian)

328/327
Winter Alexander at Maracanda (Livius)
Winter
Alexander is based at Nautaca (Livius, Wood)
Winter While in Nautaca, Alexander appoints new satraps (Landmark Arrian)
Winter The Rock of Sisimithres is captured (Wood)
Winter After the Rock of Sisimithres falls, Alexander returns to Zariaspa (Wood)
Winter Callisthenes refuses to perform proskynesis to Alexander (Landmark Arrian)

327/326
Winter Alexander stops at Maracanda and Nautaca (Livius)
Winter Hephaestion to the Indus via Khyber Pass (Wood)
Winter Alexander enters the Swat Valley and campaigns there (Wood)
Winter Macedonians at Nysa [where they get drunk en masse] (Wood)
Winter Alexander attacks the Massaga (Wood)

326/325
Winter Alexander campaigns against the Mallians and is badly wounded. His men are unsettled until they see him alive (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Mallians and Oxydrakai submit (Landmark Arrian)

325
January Alexander campaigns against the Mallians and is wounded (Livius)
NB Wood has the Mallian campaign taking place in December
325/324
Winter Alexander reunites Nearchus and Craterus in Carmania (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander Return to Persepolis (where he orders Orsines to be executed (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander visits Pasargadae where he orders Cyrus the Great’s tomb to be restored (Landmark Arrian)

324
January Alexander meets Nearchus in Carmania (Green, Livius)
January Alexander returns to Persia (Wood)
January Alexander’s second visit to Persepolis; also visits Pasargadae (Wood)

324/3
Winter Alexander requests divine honours for Hephaestion (Livius)
Winter Alexander campaigns against Cossaeans (Landmark Arrian, Livius)

* The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010)
** Green Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography (University of California Press 1991)
*** 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.
  • As can be seen, I have noted where The Landmark Arrian, Livius, Michael Wood and Peter Green have disagreed on the dates; these notes, however, are not comprehensive. My focus has been on recording what each author has said rather than synthesising the dates.

Alternative/Modern Names
Nautaca – ‘Uzunkir near Shakhrisyabz’ (Wood)
Nysa – Jelalabad
Zariaspa aka Bactra – Balkh

Categories: Chronology of Alexander's Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alexander: December and Winter Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

336
Nov-Dec Alexander wins Greek support for war against Persia (Livius)

335
Nov-Dec Alexander holds festivals in Dion and Aegae (Livius)

334/333
Winter Alexander conquers Caria, Lycia, Pamphylia and Phrygia (Landmark Arrian*, Livius)
Winter Alexander son of Aeropos is arrested (Landmark Arrian)
Winter The Pisidians harass Macedonian army but are subdued (Landmark Arrian)

333
Dec (?) Darius tries to negotiate with Alexander (Livius)

333/332
Winter Alexander asks Tyrians if he can enter the city to sacrifice to Herakles; he is denied access (Landmark Arrian)
Winter The Siege of Tyre begins (Landmark Arrian)

332/331

Winter Alexander enters Egypt (Landmark Arrian, Michael Wood**)
Winter Alexander founds Alexandria (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander visits Siwah (Landmark Arrian)
Green suggests that the foundation of Alexandria could have taken place in April
Winter Alexander is informed of the Persian navy’s defeat in the Aegean (Landmark Arrian)
Mid-winter Alexander visits Siwah (Wood)
Green has Alexander’s visit take place in early Spring

331
Early Dec Alexander takes Susa unopposed (Peter Green***)
15th Dec Abulites surrenders Susa to Alexander (Livius)
22nd Dec Alexander leaves Susa (Livius)

331/330
Winter Alexander reaches Persia (Wood)
Winter Alexander takes the Susian Gates (Green)
Winter Alexander takes Susa (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander subdues the Ouxioi (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander passes the Persian Gates and enters Persepolis (Landmark Arrian)

330/329
Winter Spitamenes’ second revolt is put down (Landmark Arrian)

329/328

Winter Alexander at Zariaspa (Green, Livius, Wood)
Winter Bessus is mutilated ahead of being executed (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Bessus is executed (Green)

328
December Spitamenes is captured (Livius)

328/327
Winter Alexander in Maracanda and Nautaca (Livius, Wood)
Winter Alexander captures the Rock of Sisimithres (Wood)
Winter Alexander returns to Zariaspa (Wood)
Winter Callisthenes objects to Alexander’s attempt to introduce proskynesis (Landmark Arrian)
Winter In Nautaca, Alexander appoints new satraps (Landmark Arrian)

327/326

Winter Hephaestion to the Indus River via the Khyber Pass (Wood)
Winter Alexander enters the Swat Valley (Wood)
Winter Alexander at Nysa (Wood)
Winter ‘The Dionysus episode’ (Green) i.e. Macedonian army gets drunk en masse
Winter Alexander attacks the Massaga (Wood)
Winter Alexander campaign in the Swat Valley (Wood)

326

December Alexander campaigns against the Mallians (Wood)
December Siege of the Mallian city  (Wood)
The Landmark Arrian gives the Mallian campaign as happening during the winter of 326/5

325
December Satraps punished for wrong-doing (Green, Livius)
December Alexander joins up with Craterus in Carmania (Livius)
December Macedonian army reaches Hormuz (Wood)

325/324
Winter Alexander joins up with Craterus and Nearchus (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Alexander orders the restoration of Cyrus the Great’s Tomb (Landmark Arrian)
Winter Orxines is executed (Landmark Arrian)

324/323
Winter Alexander requests divine honours for Hephaestion (Livius)
Winter Alexander campaigns against Cossaeans (Landmark Arrian, Livius)

***

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

***

Notes

  • This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know.
  • As can be seen, I have noted where The Landmark Arrian, Livius, Michael Wood and Peter Green have disagreed on the dates; these notes, however, are not comprehensive. My focus has been on recording what each author has said rather than comparing it to the others.

***

Modern Names
The Mallian city – Multan
Nysa – Jelalabad
Zariaspa aka Bactra – Balkh

Categories: Chronology of Alexander's Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wounds of War

The Nature of Curtius
Book Nine Chapter 5-9
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Five
Alexander against the Mallians
The siege of the Mallian city entered its decisive stage when Alexander jumped into it from the city wall by himself. He did this knowing that his men could not follow – they had overloaded and broken their ladder while climbing up it behind him.

As Curtius notes, Alexander would have ‘uselessly’ sacrificed himself if he had fallen over on landing. In that instance, ‘he could have been overpowered and taken alive before he got up’. But fortune remained on his side. Alexander landed on his feet and started to fight.

To give himself the best chance of survival, Alexander fought next to ‘an old tree whose thickly-leaved branches gave [him] some cover’. He stayed close to it – Curtius says he pressed himself against it – to make sure he could not be ‘encircled’.

Upon a moment, the inevitable happened and an arrow evaded both the tree and Alexander’s shield. It struck him ‘above his right side’. The king fell to the ground. Determined, however, ‘to go down fighting [Alexander] attempted to stand by grasping the overhanging branches [of the tree] with his right hand’.

But the tree had played its part and Alexander ‘sank back to his knees’. Only the timely arrival of some of his soldiers and then the whole army – having broken through the city wall – saved him.

Chapter Six
Alexander Lives – Just
Seven days after being injured, Alexander’s wound was still open. As he lay in his bed, some unwelcome news was brought to him – a rumour that he had died was ‘gaining strength among the barbarians’. This had to be dispelled before it led to revolt.

In order to show the local tribes that he was still very much alive – even if bedridden – Alexander ‘had two ships lashed together and a tent erected in the centre of them’. He, in his bed, was placed in the tent and the boats pushed into the river.

The exercise had the desired effect. The natives saw him knew their hopes of revolt had died. Alexander, meanwhile, was so weak that the rest of the Macedonian fleet was forced to sail ‘some distance’ behind him ‘so that the stroke of the oars would not disrupt his sleep’.

Chapter Seven
A Long Journey Begins
In this chapter we read of a revolt led by (Greek) soldiers whom Alexander had settled around Zariaspa and the duel between Dioxippus and Horratas*.

Neither event is of relevance to us although perhaps we might give an honourable mention to the Greeks who left Zariaspa following their revolt. The Notes record that of those who set out for Greece, 3,000 would make it all the way back. The vast majority, though (‘some 23,000’) would be ‘massacred by Peithon on Perdiccas’ orders in 323 B.C.’

* Diodorus names him as Coragus

Chapter Eight
Alexander and Ptolemy
Alexander continued his journey downstream. Upon entering the territory of the Sabarcae, the Macedonian fleet was seen from by the many villagers who lived near the river bank.

The Sabarcae ‘perceived that the water was entirely covered with boats as far as the eye could see’. This, along with the Macedonians’ shouting, and ‘flashing arms’ terrified them. Indeed, ‘they believed an army of gods was approaching with a second Father Liber’.

The villagers fled to their army. You are insane! They told them, For you are going to fight gods, ‘invincible warriors… beyond number’. The army duly surrendered.

In the territory of King Sambus, the Macedonians undermined his tribe’s ‘strongest city’. When they appeared like moles out of the ground the natives thought their appearance a miracle.

In the city of Harmatelia*, the Macedonians were attacked with poisoned weapons. One of those injured was Ptolemy Lagides. It was only a slight wound but the poison was so strong that he fell gravely ill.

That night, Alexander slept by his friend’s bedside. He dreamt of ‘a snake carrying a plant in its mouth which it had indicated was an antidote to the poison’. Upon waking, Alexander launched a search for the plant. When it was found, he himself applied it to Ptolemy’s wound. The poison subsided. His friend, some say half-brother, was saved.

Diodorus comes into much more (gory) detail regarding the poison. If you are up to it you can read what I wrote about it here

* This name is given by Diodorus rather than Curtius

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The Dry Ocean

The Nature of Curtius
Book Seven Chapter 5
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Five
Northern Bactria
We saw in the last post, how Curtius described Bactria as being comprised of both fertile land and desert country. After leaving Zariaspa, Alexander and his men were obliged to march through the latter in order to reach the Oxus River.

It was a strange and punishing journey. Strange because the Macedonians developed ‘a parching thirst’ before they began to crave water. Punishing because the desert was so hot it was akin to walking through an open air furnace.

In a very evocative passage, Curtius describes how the heat of the sun threw up ‘a misty vapour’ that gave ‘the plains the appearance of one vast, deep ocean’. I have to admit, the only way I can imagine such a scene is within the frame of an Impressionist painting.

The extreme heat forced the Macedonians to travel by night. When they did so by day, the heat sapped their energy until their bodies became burned and their spirits lethargic, ‘unwilling to stop and unwilling to go on’.

Of course, the men tried to alleviate their thirst by drinking from their water skins – they also drank wine and [olive] oil – but this made them bloated to the point of being unable to carry their weapons or even walk. The only way to deal with the problem was by throwing up the water that they had just drunk.

What had happened to the men that made them grow so fat? Reading the passage put me in mind of distressing photographs and video footage of African children with bloated bodies. But their condition has arisen because of a long term problem – famine, made worse by war. The Macedonians were not in the Bactrian desert for more than a few days. I think Curtius is over-dramatising his story here.

Whatever the truth of it, Alexander once again stepped up to the mark. Two scouts who had been sent to look for a suitable camping site returned with water for their sons. Meeting Alexander, they offered him the water instead. Upon hearing that it was for the men’s sons, however, the king returned it to them. ‘I cannot bear to drink alone.’ he said, ‘and it is not possible for me to share so little with everybody. Go quickly and give your sons what you have brought on their account’.

Curtius doesn’t say how long it took the Macedonians to cross the desert, but when they finally arrived at the Oxus River, some were so desperate to drink that they drowned in doing so. And the number of those that did, ‘exceeded the numbers Alexander had lost in any battle’.

As for Alexander himself, he neither ate nor drank but stood at the edge of the camp to welcome his men in as they arrived.

That night, Alexander could not sleep. He had surmounted one difficulty by making it to the other side of the desert, but now faced another – in the absence of trees with which to make a bridge, how would he cross the Oxus?

The answer was six years old. During his Balkan campaign Alexander had stitched his tents together and filled them with hay to turn them into floats*. Now, this time using straw, he did the same again. The crossing took five days but eventually the entire army made it to the other side of the river.

News of Alexander’s crossing rattled Bessus’ allies. Spitamenes led a group of them into Bessus’ tent under false pretences where they arrested him. Meanwhile, the Macedonians met and butchered a Greek colony comprising of the descendants of the Branchidae from Miletus. This clan had betrayed the city to Xerxes I during the Graeco-Persian Wars. Alexander asked the Miletans in his army whether ‘they preferred to remember their injury or their common origin’. The Miletans were divided so the king made their mind up for them.

The Branchidae came out with olive branches but to no avail. They were butchered, and their city razed to the ground. It woods and sacred grove were not only torn down but uprooted. It all sounds really quite disgusting. However, according to the Notes, it may just be a fiction. Let’s hope so.

Alexander met Spitamenes at the Tanais River. There, he took possession of Bessus, who he handed over to Darius’ brother, Oxathres, now a member of his Companions, for punishment.

Bessus would suffer by having his ears and nose cut off. He would be crucified and have arrows shot into him. But to make sure he did not die too quickly, archers would also shoot at carrion birds who might be tempted to pick at his body. Such was Oxathres’ determination to make sure Bessus suffered to the maximum amount possible, he employed one of Spitamenes’ fellow conspirators, Catanes, who was an expert shot, to keep the birds at bay.

* Arrian Book 1

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Loose Tongues and Empty Stomachs

The Nature of Curtius
Book Seven Chapter 4
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Four
Bactria and Beyond
I am accustomed to reading about Alexander’s booziness, not so much about the Persians’. It is with a little surprise, therefore, that we begin this chapter with Bessus and his friends in the middle of a drinking session that, very surprisingly, is also a council of war. ‘Sodden with drink’ Bessus criticised Darius for confronting Alexander

in the narrowest defiles of Cilicia when retreat would have enabled him to lead them on into naturally protected areas without their realising it. There were so many rivers to serve as obstacles and so many hiding-places in the mountains, he said; caught among these, the enemy would have had no chance to escape, much less offer resistance.

As I understand it, Bessus is criticising Darius for confronting Alexander in the ‘narrowest defiles’ when he – Darius – could have retreated to more ‘naturally protected areas’, leading Alexander to follow him without realising what the Great King was doing. Had Darius done this, according to Bessus, the rivers and ‘many hiding-places in the mountains’ would have prevented Alexander from either escaping or offering resistance to the Persian Army.

What confuses me a little is that, while I understand how the presence of rivers might be considered an obstacle to Alexander, I can’t see how mountainous hiding places could be thought of in the same way. Surely they would be ideal for escape and resistance?

Perhaps it was just the drink speaking. Maybe, but if so it didn’t stop Bessus from going on to enunciate his own strategy, which was a fairly sensible one. It was, ‘to draw back into the territory of the Sogdians and to use the river Oxus as a barrier… until strong reinforcements could amalgamate from the neighbouring tribes’.

Bessus was satrap of Bactria and had 8,000 of its men in his army. They ‘faithfully carried out his orders as long as they thought that their intemperate climate would make the Macedonians head for India’. On the day they learnt that the climate had failed to divert their enemy, however, ‘they all slipped off to their villages’.

We aren’t told what Bessus made of this betrayal, only that he crossed the Oxus just as he intended. On the far side he burnt his boats and began recruiting Sogdian soldiers.

Alexander, meanwhile, brought his men out of the Caucasus Mountains in a state of near starvation and, it seems, uncleanliness. In both cases the men made do. Without oil to wash themselves with, they used pressed sesame. And in the absence of grain*, they ate fish and herbs. At least there was fresh water to be had from the mountain streams. When the food ran out, the Macedonians were obliged to start slaughtering their pack animals. This continued until they entered Bactria.

Curtius describes Bactria as being an environmentally diverse country. It is, he says, is both fertile and barren. Where the country is fertile, there is ‘rich soil’, ‘plentiful trees and vines’, wheat crops and grazing grounds.

Where it is barren, nothing grows. In fact, it is desert, and as ever a dangerous desert at that. Winds blow in from the Pontic Sea (i.e. the Caspian) creating sand dunes and destroying the road. People crossing the desert do so by night so that they can use the stars to navigate.

The city of Bactra (aka Zariaspa, modern day Balkh) stood at the foot of the Caucasus – which Curtius calls Mt Parapanisus**. The river Bactrus, he says, follows the example of the Araxes River*** by flowing past Bactra rather than through it.

The chapter concludes with news of a revolt in Greece†, the march of the Scythians to Bessus’ camp and Erygius’ duel with Satibarzanes††, which was won by the Macedonian officer.

*there were grain stores around, but the natives had hidden them too well for the Macedonians to find

** As compared to Diodorus who calls it the Paropanisum

*** At Persepolis

† By the Peloponnesians and Laconians. This revolt concluded with the Battle of Megalopolis between Antipater and King Agis that we saw at the start of Book Six

†† Still only one of three that I know to have taken place during either Alexander’s life or the diadoch period. The other two are Dioxippus vs Coragus (c. 326/5 B.C. My post on Diodorus’ account of it is here) and Eumenes vs Neoptolemus in 320 B.C.

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