Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Campaigns of Alexander, Book Seven: Be gone, all of you!

”I was now going to send back those of you who are unfit for war, to be envied by those at home. But since you all wish to go, be gone, all of you, and report, when you get home, that Alexander, your king, who conquered the Persians, Medes, Bactrians, and Sacae, who subjugated the Ouxioi, Arachosians, and Zarangians, who acquired the lands of the Parthians, Khorasmians, and Hyrcanians as far as the Caspian Sea, who crossed the Caucasus beyond the Caspian Gates, and Oxus, the Tanais, and the Indus, too, which none had ever crossed by Dionysos, and the Hydaspes, the Akesinos, and the Hydraotes, and who would have crossed the Hyphasis had you not shrunk back, and who burst into the Great Sea by both outlets of the Indus, and who traversed the Gedrosian desert, which none had crossed with an army, and along the way acquired Carmania and the land of the Oeitae, the fleet having already sailed from India to Persia—tell them, why don’t you, that when you returned to Susa you abandoned him and departed, turning him over to the safekeeping of the barbarians you had conquered. Such a report may win you renown from men and will, no doubt, be holy in the sight of god. Now go!”

- 7.10.-5-7, The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander, translation by Pamela Mensch

This may prove to be my favorite Book in Arrian’s work on Alexander even though Arrian inserts himself quite liberally in the text (and that may be some of the appeal). With this post I want to look at Alexander’s increasingly erratic behavior and the mounting tension between him, his officers and his troops.

The replacement of many satraps (and execution of some) drive home Arrian’s point that Alexander had “become quicker to accept accusations as wholly trustworthy and to impose severe punishments on those who were convicted even of minor offenses, on the assumption that in the same state of mind they might commit serious ones.” (7.4.3) We are a long way from the trust Alexander placed in Philip of Acarnania’s medical advice (2.4) despite charges from other trusted advisers. Did Alexander hope to make these satraps and their abuse of power an example? The high-profile exception to this distrust was Alexander’s leniency toward the Egyptian satrap Kleomenes. Alexander looked away when Kleomenes’ enriched himself at the expense of Greece and other areas (see footnote 7.23.6b), and offered to fully pardon him if Kleomenes appropriately honored the dead Hephaistion.

The troops appear to distrust both Alexander and his officers—at several points the tension between the levels of command surface in this Book. Alexander attempts the generous gesture of paying off his soldiers’ debts but they do not trust him—they believe, given his recent behavior, that the offer is a test to find out who was extravagant or living beyond their means. Only when Alexander changed the procedure so that monetary help was anonymous did most of the soldiers take advantage of the offer. Commissioning thirty thousand adolescents from non-Macedonian areas, training them in the Macedonian arts of war and calling them the Epigonoi (“offspring”, implying replacements) isn’t going to win Macedonian supporters to your cause. Such moves left Macedonians feeling vexed and distressed at the perceived slight. (7.6.1-3) Just like Alexander’s adoption of Persian court symbolism, the resentment over the introduction of the non-Macedonian troops was going to cause plenty of friction.

Alexander appears to have known his actions would be contentious but part of the reason for the direction he followed seems to include winning support of the Persian upper classes. The “fifth hipparchy” he created contained a division of the sons of Persian nobles as a way to win their support, whether through providing favors or holding their sons hostage (or some combination of the two). When decommissioned troops are to go home to Macedonia, he orders that children of any mixed marriages (Macedonian soldiers and Persian wives) are not to go home with them (7.12.2), an acknowledgement that Persian arrangements would “introduce strife into Macedonia”.

At Opis, instead of accepting decommission of older and unfit soldiers, the Macedonian troops revolt and call for immediate release of all Macedonian soldiers so Alexander can “wage war by himself along with his ‘father’” (7.8.3), a mocking reference to his proclaimed descent from Ammon. A common theme for the Macedonian veterans has been the feeling of disrespect from Alexander…but they haven’t seen anything yet. Alexander wades into the crowd and orders thirteen of the ringleaders executed. Following that up, Arrian gives Alexander his greatest speech in the book. Alexander calls their bluff and says they are free to leave if they want to but wants them to keep in mind a few things. First Alexander praises his father Philip and what he did for them, civilizing them and training them to master those around them. Alexander’s praise of his father stands in marked contrast to his reaction of the taunts of Kleitos (back in 4.8) but then Alexander claims his accomplishments trump those of his father. Alexander lays out some of the accomplishments but says they were all for his people—he hasn’t benefited any more than they have. He highlights the wounds he has received and reminded the soldiers of his generosity, then closes with this post’s opening quote.

By itself the speech might have shamed his men into compliance, but Alexander spends the next three days alone and then accepts only Persian officers into his presence, compounding the Macedonians' sense of alienation. This is too much for the Macedonians, who end the Opis revolt by rushing to the palace and begging forgiveness. The tension between Alexander and the troops appears to have been resolved, at least temporarily. Right before Alexander’s death, though, the mistrust between soldiers and leaders surfaces again. The men do not trust the reports of Alexander’s sickness from the top officers (just as they had not believed their messages after Alexander’s punctured lung in India), forcing their way into the palace to see him as he is dying. As pointed out here and other summaries of this period, the mistrust does not bode well for troop cohesion after Alexander’s death.

Even with the increasing tension and mistrust between troops and leaders and Alexander’s erratic or impulsive behavior, his plans and accomplishments show a continuation of his previous achievements and underscore a mature view of what it would take to govern and protect the empire. Upon the return to Persia, Alexander subdues some of the surrounding tribes that had not submitted to him. Up to the days before his death he pushes ahead with an invasion of Arabia. His engineering projects in the area were meant to simultaneously improve the empire while providing increased military advantage. The plans for establishing permanent sea routes show some of the ways Alexander intended to maintain and run his empire.

Unfortunately Arrian does not include major events fitting in with the increased tension between leader and subjects (although there are some missing passages in Arrian’s text that may have discussed these events). During this period, Harpalos, Alexander’s friend and treasurer, returns to Greece with a sizeable fortune. Harpalos had fled earlier, although was reconciled at Alexander's prodding, so he may be viewed as flighty (pun not fully intended). Why flee after the return of Alexander to Persia? Was he seeing a change in Alexander, especially after the purge of satraps? Or was he simply escaping before Alexander found out about his profligate lifestyle during his absence? Also missing is mention of the Exile’s Decree that increased animosity with the Greeks, which would prove to be an animating factor (along with Harpalos’ money) in Greek revolts after Alexander’s death.

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