Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Campaigns of Alexander: They “do not remain there entirely of their own will”

We had a lively conference call on Arrian’s The Campaigns of Alexander Monday evening and once again I will recommend participating in the Reading Odyssey programs, even if it is only to listen to the conference calls (which you can do with the latest one at this link). In this call we had an interesting “side topic” discussion on people left behind to populate and garrison certain cities.

Many times in Arrian’s text Alexander leaves mercenaries, injured and old soldiers, and trusted companions to man and control a city. During the soldiers’ revolt at the Hyphasis River, Koinos highlights the disappointment or resistance against this forced action (from 5.27.5): “Of the other Greeks, those who have been settled in the cities you founded do not remain there entirely of their own will”.

We’ll never know all of Alexander’s intentions when he left Macedon, including how far east he intended to go in subduing Asia. My guess about his quest for an unlimited empire developed as circumstances drove him east, first to capture Bessos and then to subdue the eastern regions of Persia…but it can only be a guess.

Arrian never gives us the reaction of the people left behind, although many must not have liked it--hints of Alexander's death leads many of them to leave Bactria and Sogdiana. Not to mention how quickly these men in certain regions revolted or deserted after his real death. It’s clear the troops expected to return home at some point if Koinos’ speech was representative of their feelings. One factor that muddies the water was Alexander’s disposal of most of the royal property before leaving Macedon. From Plutarch’s Life of Alexander (translation by John Dryden):
However narrow and disproportionable the beginnings of so vast an undertaking might seem to be, yet he would not embark his army until he had informed himself particularly what means his friends had to enable them to follow him, and supplied what they wanted, by giving good farms to some, a village to one, and the revenue of some hamlet or harbour-town to another. So that at last he had portioned out or engaged almost all the royal property; which giving Perdiccas an occasion to ask him what he would leave himself, he replied, his hopes. "Your soldiers," replied Perdiccas, "will be your partners in those," and refused to accept of the estate he had assigned him. Some others of his friends did the like, but to those who willingly received or desired assistance of him, he liberally granted it, as far as his patrimony in Macedonia would reach, the most part of which was spent in these donations.

There are several ways to spin this disposal in addition to the surface explanation of leaving finances in order before departing. Alexander may have expected to return with the Persian treasury so anything wanted could be reacquired. He may not have intended to return, setting up his rule in Persia, but would allow soldiers to return if they so wished. Or some other option or combination. In any case, the revolt at the Hyphasis River included the request of the soldiers to return home. Alexander would provide them with an example of being careful what you wish for.

Note: Cross posted at Reading Odyssey, with changes. Check out the main site and programs for 2012, including Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as well as Herodtus’ Histories.

1 comment:

Dwight said...

A comment left at the Reading Odyssey by James Romm, the editor of the Landmark edition of The Campaigns of Alexander:

One episode that throws light on this question is the revolt of the Greek troops in Bactria in the months after Alexander's death. Some 20,000 walked away from their posts, as soon as they thought they had the opportunity, and tried to get back to the Aegean. They didn't make it, as explained in my "Ghost on the Throne,: due out next month.