Alexander the Great Sources and Outline



The works on Alexander by contemporaries and near - contemporaries have not survived. Of the five major accounts which do survive, that of Diodorus (book XVII), written in the first century bc, is the earliest. Q. Curtius Rufus almost certainly wrote in the first century ad and was known to Tacitus; if he is the Curtius Rufus of Tac. Ann. XI. 20 – 1, he was active in the second quarter of the century and held office under Tiberius and Claudius: he wrote, in Latin, a highly rhetorical history of Alexander in ten books (I – II are lost, and there are lacunae in what survives). Plutarch (first/second centuries ad) wrote a life of Alexander (the Roman parallel is Caesar; in this and the following chapter, references to Plutarch without further specification are to the Alexander), and his Moraliainclude two essays On Alexander the Great’s Good Fortune or Good Qualities (which will be cited as De Alex. Fort. i/ii). Arrian, from Nicomedia at the east end of the Propontis, was active in the first half of the second century ad and held office under Hadrian: he saw himself as a second Xenophon, and hence his history of Alexander was entitled Anabasis (references to Arrian without further specification are to this); he also sought to celebrate Alexander the second Achilles as Homer had celebrated Achilles. Among his other works was the Indike, written in an imitation of Herodotus’ Ionic Greek, which provides information about India and an account of Nearchus’ voyage from the mouths of the Indus to the Persian Gulf in 325. In Justin’s epitome of Pompeius Trogus (Latin, c.200 – 400 ad: cf. p. 332; in this and the following chapter, this will be cited simply as Just.), books XI – XII are devoted to Alexander.

Arrian’s narrative has generally and rightly been regarded as the best. He was not a penetrating historian, and his reasons for trusting his preferred sources are na ï ve (cf. Arr. I, preface). Partly because of his ‘Homeric’ aim (for his aim of celebrating Alexander as earlier Greek writers had celebrated their heroes see I. 12. ii – v), he was too willing to see nothing but good in Alexander and to minimise Alexander’s difficulties; but his sources were men who had served under Alexander, and were as well placed as any to know the truth even if it might not always suit them to tell the truth. These were Ptolemy (FGrH 138), a life - time friend of Alexander and eventually a major officer, who after his death took possession of Egypt and founded the Ptolemaic dynasty there, and Aristobulus (FGrH 139), who held lower positions and had strong botanical and geographical interests; Arrian also used Nearchus (FGrH 133), the commander of Alexander’s fleet in 326 – 325. Curtius has some material in common with Arrian; but much of the material in Diodorus, Curtius and Justin comes ultimately from a common source, probably Clitarchus (FGrH 137), who is not known to have served under Alexander himself but who wrote before the end of the fourth century: he had a taste for the sensational, but preserved a considerable amount of detail, not always favourable to Alexander. Plutarch, as always, used a variety of sources. Admirers of Alexander have been particularly disposed to accept Arrian’s account; on the other hand, it would be dangerous to assume, as some revisionist historians have been tempted to do, that what is favourable to Alexander must be distorted by bias and what is unfavourable must be truthful.

Early writers whose accounts have been lost include Aristotle’s nephew Callisthenes (FGrH 124), who accompanied Alexander in some sense as official historian, but who was put to death after the ‘conspiracy of the pages’ (cf. p. 413); Chares (FGrH 125), Alexander’s chamberlain, who wrote about episodes at Alexander’s court; and Onesicritus (FGrH 134), Nearchus’ helmsman, who wrote a fictionalised account modelled on Xenophon’s Cyropaedia. A ‘source’ of an altogether amazing kind is the Alexander Romance, falsely attributed to Callisthenes. Three very different Greek versions survive, and versions in Latin and in various eastern languages added further elaborations: Alexander’s adventures include ascending into the sky in a basket borne by eagles and descending into the sea in a diving - bell. Towards the other extreme (in the opinion of some

scholars), one of the sources cited for the end of Alexander’s life (cf. p. 399) is a diary, the ephemerides (FGrH 117). Views of this have ranged from an official journal of the whole campaign, underlying much of what Arrian obtained from Ptolemy, to a hellenistic fabrication, fraudulently ascribed to Alexander’s secretary Eumenes (on Eumenes cf. p. 416). A recent study suggests that it may actually be the work of Eumenes, not an official record or covering the whole campaign, but an account written up to emphasise Alexander’s drinking habits and to show that Hephaestion’s and Alexander’s deaths were due to natural causes.

Accession and Consolidation

When Philip was killed, in July 336, Alexander (cf. ill. 30), not quite 20 years old but already with military experience, was the obvious successor, though after Philip’s marriage to Cleopatra he and his mother Olympias had quarrelled with Philip. Antipater presented Alexander to the soldiers as the new king. Two princes from Lyncestis and Amyntas the son of Perdiccas III, whom Philip had left alive, were officially blamed and put to death; Cleopatra and her infant daughter were killed, and so too was her uncle Attalus, who had gone with Philip’s advance force to Asia Minor.

In response to rumours of rebellion in Greece Alexander marched south. Mountaineering was needed to by - pass opposition in the pass of Tempe (Polyaenus Strat. IV. 3. xxiii), but after that the Thessalians acknowledged him as archon for life in succession to Philip, and next the Amphictyony at Thermopylae recognised him; when he camped outside Thebes the Thebans acknowledged him and the Athenians, who had been in touch with Attalus, sent protestations of loyalty. Finally, at Corinth a congress of the League appointed him as commander of the Greek war of revenge against Persia (Diod. Sic. XVII. 3 – 4, Arr. I. 1. i – iii, Just. XI. 2. iv – vi, 3. i – ii, Plut. 14. i – v).

Ill. 30 Bust of Alexander the Great. ©The Trustees of the British Museum


First, however, Macedon’s other European neighbours had to be dealt with. Leaving Antipater in Macedon, Alexander campaigned first in Thrace as far as the Danube and then in Illyria. He was successful, but at one point he was dangerously trapped in Illyria (cf. p. 408), and rumours that he had been killed encouraged revolt in Greece – in particular, by Thebes, proposing ‘to liberate Greece and overthrow the tyrant of Greece’, supported by Demosthenes with Persian money and hoping for support from various Peloponnesian states too. All too quickly, Alexander arrived outside Thebes, and captured the city; Arrian blames the general Perdiccas for attacking prematurely, and the Greeks in Alexander’s army for the worst of the violence, but Diodorus does not. The episode was treated as rebellion by a member state of the League of Corinth, and was referred to the League’s synedrion, with the result that, with the exception of the fifth - century poet Pindar’s house, the city was destroyed. Like Sparta’s occupation of Thebes in 382, the destruction of Thebes shocked the Greeks (cf. Polyb. IX. 28. viii, 34. i). Thebes’ place as the headquarters of the Boeotian federation was taken not by another city but by the sanctuary of Poseidon at Onchestus, to the north - west of Thebes. As for Athens, Alexander first demanded the surrender of the backers of Thebes, but was eventually satisfied with the exile of Charidemus, who joined the Persians (Arr. I. 1. iv – 10, Diod. Sic. XVII. 8 – 15, Plut. 11. v – 13, cf. his Dem. 23, Phoc. 17, Just. XI. 2. vi – x, 3. iii – 4; for the Athenians cf. pp. 378 – 9). In fact some other Athenians went to fight for the Persians also.

Alexander against Darius

In 336 Philip had sent Parmenio and Attalus to Asia Minor, and Parmenio was now left in command. They had landed at Ephesus in 336 and had won considerable support from the Greek cities, probably among the islands as well as on the mainland (cf. pp. 408 – 9); but in 335 Memnon of Rhodes (on whom see pp. 364 – 5) led a Persian counter - attack, and Parmenio lost most of his gains and withdrew to Abydus to await Alexander’s arrival (Diod. Sic. XVII. 7).

Alexander came in 334. Like Agesilaus in 396 (cf. p. 243), he represented the Greeks’ war against the Persians as a continuation of the war against Asia begun with the Trojan War: he sacrificed on the European side of the Hellespont at what was said to be the tomb of the Trojan War hero Protesilaus; he sacri-ficed again while crossing and on landing in Asia; and he then went to Troy, sacrificed there and honoured the tomb of Achilles (Lysimachus, one of his tutors, had encouraged him to see himself as a second Achilles: cf. p. 416) (Arr. I. 11. v – 12. v, Diod. Sic. XVII. 17. ii – 18. i, Just. XI. 5. vi – xii, Plut. 15. vii – ix). Some texts allege that Alexander was in touch with Rome (Strabo 232. V. iii. 5, Plin. H.N. III. 57, Memnon FGrH 434 F 18. ii): the Romans are said to have made a dedication at Delphi after their capture of Veii in the 390’s (Diod. Sic. XIV. 93. iii – iv, Livy V. 28. i – v), but contact between Alexander and Rome is probably the product of later wishful thinking (cf. Arr. VII. 15. v – vi, rejecting an alleged Roman embassy to Alexander in 323 – with a good reason, the silence of the best sources, as well as a bad one, that republican Rome would not have sent envoys to a foreign king).

Map 9 The Persian Campaign of Alexander the Great


The Persians had not challenged Alexander’s crossing of the Hellespont. Memnon advised a scorched - earth strategy, but Arsites, the satrap of Dascylium, did not want to see his estates ruined, so Alexander had to fight his first major battle at the River Granicus, which flows into the south - west of the Propontis. Our sources give two very different accounts, which may be different attempts to conceal an initial defeat (cf. p. 404), but in the end Alexander was victorious, fighting in what was to be his standard order in a major battle, with infantry in the centre, Thessalian cavalry on the left, and himself attacking with the Macedonian cavalry from the right. Several Persian leaders were killed; but the campaign almost ended at this point: Clitus ‘the black’ was just in time to lop off the arm of a Persian who was about to bring his sword down on Alexander’s head (Arr. I. 13 – 16, Diod. Sic. XVII. 18. ii – 21, Just. XI. 6. i – xiii, Plut. 16). At Dium in Macedonia Alexander commissioned statues of Macedonians who had fallen in the initial attack (Arr. I. 16. iv, Just. XI. 6. xii – xiii, Plut. 16. v); to Athens he sent three hundred Persian panoplies, to be dedicated with the inscription, ‘Alexander son of Philip and the Greeks except the Spartans imagesdedicated theseimages from the barbarians living in Asia’ (Arr. I. 16. vii, Plut. 16. xviii): the campaign was both an expansionist venture of the Macedonian kingdom and a Greek war of the League of Corinth.

Alexander was now free to receive or exact the allegiance of both Greeks and barbarians in western Asia Minor. Memnon was now placed in charge of the Persian defence, and sent his wife and children to Darius as hostages: he held out in Halicarnassus, and after the outer city had fallen to Alexander he took to the islands of the Aegean. Alexander, inferior at sea and perhaps short of funds, disbanded his fleet (apart from the Athenian ships, kept as hostages) and talked of defeating the Persian fleet by capturing all its harbours (Arr. I. 20. i, cf. 18. ix, Diod. Sic. XVII. 22. v – 23. i). This was a risk, since Memnon was still at large in the Aegean, and he might have taken the war back to Greece and caused enough trouble to force Alexander to return, but it paid off (Arr. I. 17 – 24. iv, Diod. Sic. XVII. 21. vii – 28, cf. Just. XI. 6. xiv – xv, Plut. 17. i – iii).

In 333 Memnon won over Chios and Lesbos (having to besiege Mytilene) and received envoys from the Cyclades – but he then died. Our sources claim that his death seriously harmed Darius’ cause, but he could have achieved more if he had made for the Greek mainland. He was succeeded by his nephew Pharnabazus and by Autophradates, who had some successes, but their mercenaries were summoned to join Darius’ army, and in the meantime Hegelochus assembled a new fleet for Alexander and in 333– 332 recovered the Greek cities (Arr. II. 1 – 2, 13. iv – vi, III. 2. iii – vii, Diod. Sic. XVII. 29, Curt. I V. i. 34 – 7, v. 14 – 22, Plut. 18. v).

Alexander in the winter of 334/3 followed the coast of Asia Minor to Side and then turned inland to Gordium, the old capital of Phrygia. There a waggon was fastened to a plinth, and it was said that whoever undid the knot would become ruler of Asia: Alexander either removed the pin or impatiently cut through the knot. He then continued to Tarsus in Cilicia (Arr. I. 24. v – 29, II. 3 – 4. vi, Curt. III. i, iv, Just. XI, Plut. 17. iv – 18. v). He had proceeded through Asia Minor, but can hardly be said to have conquered it. Antigonus Monophthalmus (‘the one - eyed’) was appointed as satrap of Phrygia at the beginning of 333 (Arr. I. 29. iii; Lydia, wrongly, Curt. IV. i. 35) and retained that position to Alexander’s death and beyond. Our sources do not tell us much about what happened except in the vicinity of Alexander, but in 332 Antigonus and others were to defeat contingents which had escaped from Darius’ army after Issus (Curt. IV. i. 34 – 5, v. 13), and later he took control of Pamphylia and Lycia, in the south of Asia Minor (cf. Diod. Sic. XVIII. 3. i, Curt. X. x. 2).

In 333, when Alexander was delayed by a fever, Darius took a large army to the plain of north - western Syria, and in the autumn, while Alexander took the coastal route through the Syrian gates, Darius, impatient or misinformed, took an inland route towards Cilicia and reached the coast in Alexander’s rear. Alexander turned back to fight in the coastal plain of Issus, where Darius could not benefit from his larger numbers: once Alexander was clearly winning, Darius fled, abandoning his chariot, his shield, his bow, his cloak and his family – and Alexander surprised his men by giving the family appropriate royal treatment (Arr. II. 4. vii – 13. i, Diod. Sic. XVII. 30 – 8, Curt. III. v – xiii, Just. XI. 8 – 10. v, Plut. 18. vi – 21, 24. i – iii). Others captured on the Persian side included a number of Spartans and renegade Athenians (Arr. II. 15. ii, Curt. III. xiii. 15, with different names). Also among the captives was Barsine, a daughter of Artabazus and widow of both Mentor and Memnon, who later bore Alexander a son, Heracles. In 310 Heracles was produced as a possible king, but in 309 he was killed (Curt. X. vi. 10 – 12, cf. Just. XIII. 2. vi – vii, Diod. Sic. XX. 20. i, 28. i – ii). After the battle we have the first of three alleged offers of terms by Darius to Alexander, this time an alliance and the ransom of his family, an offer which Alexander rejected (Arr. II. 14, Diod. Sic. XVII. 39. i – iii [where Alexander suppresses Darius’ actual offer and publicises a fake, more obviously worthy of rejection], Curt. I V. i. 7 – 14, Just. XI. 12. i – ii).

Darius retired to the centre of the empire to prepare for another encounter. Alexander did not immediately follow him, but this should not surprise us: not only did he complete his plan of denying the Phoenician fleet any bases on land, but it would be natural for a man brought up in the Greek world to complete the conquest of the empire’s Mediterranean provinces before pushing further east. In 332 (when the Greeks at the Isthmian games voted to congratulate Alexander) he moved southwards along the coast of Syria, where the other cities submitted but Tyre, on an island just off the coast, did not. For seven months Alexander besieged the city, building out a mole from the mainland on which to set up his machines. He finally broke down part of the city wall on the seaward side, with rams mounted on ships, and entered with great slaughter. The other city which had to be taken by a siege, lasting two months, was Gaza, on a mound a short distance inland: after its capture its governor was dragged round the city behind Alexander’s chariot, as in the Trojan War Hector was said to have been dragged behind the chariot of Achilles (Arr. II. 13. ii – 27, Diod. Sic. XVII. 39. iii – 49. i, Curt. I V. i. 1 – 26, ii. 1 – v. 9, vi, Just. XI. 10. vi – xiv, Plut. 24. iv – 25). After the siege of Tyre Alexander is said to have received and rejected a second letter from Darius, offering the land west of the River Halys, i.e. western Asia Minor (Curt. I V. v. 1 – 8, Just. XI. 12. iii – iv).

Egypt had spent much of the past century and more in revolt against the Persians: the satrap surrendered without fighting, and Alexander was welcomed as a liberator. He founded his first Alexandria on the coast, on the west side of the Nile delta, and in the winter of 332/1 he visited the oracle of Ammon in the Libyan desert. In 331 he returned to Tyre, on the way putting down a revolt in Samaria. He delayed for some time, perhaps expecting Darius to come to Syria to fight, but eventually moved eastwards (Arr. III. 1 – 7. i, Diod. Sic. XVII. 49 – 52, Curt. I V. vii – viii, Just. XI. 11, Plut. 26 – 7; Samaria Curt. I V. viii. 9 – 10, Joseph. A.J. XI. 297 – 345). Darius is said to have made a third offer, this time of all the land west of the Euphrates: Parmenio said that if he were Alexander he would accept, and Alexander replied that if he were Parmenio he would accept (Arr. II. 25. i – iii [wrongly attached to the siege of Tyre], Diod. Sic. XVII. 54, Curt. I V. xi, Just. XI. 12. ix – xvi, Plut. 29. vii – ix).

Darius made his preparations in Babylon, and to force Alexander to approach by way of the Tigris Mazaeus, the satrap of Syria, burned the crops in the Euphrates valley. Darius waited for Alexander at Gaugamela, preparing a battlefield on which he would be able to use his large numbers. The battle was fought on 1 October (Plut. 31. viii with his Cam. 19. v); and, as at Issus, Alexander was more effective at exploiting a gap in the Persian line than were the Persians at exploiting a gap in his line. Darius fled through the mountains to Ecbatana (Arr. III. 7 – 16. ii, Diod. Sic. XVII. 53 – 61, Curt. IV. ix – xvi, Just. XI. 13 – 14. vii, Plut. 31 – 3).

Alexander proceeded to Arbela, where he found Darius’ treasures but not Darius; to Babylon, where Mazaeus, who had commanded the right wing in the battle and then had withdrawn in good order, surrendered to him and in return became Alexander’s first Iranian satrap; and to Susa, where again there was no resistance. As he continued through the mountains to Persepolis, his route through the Persian Gates was blocked by Ariobarzanes, the satrap of Persis, but he was shown a more difficult route which enabled him to attack Ariobarzanes from the rear. The palace at Persepolis was destroyed, either as a deliberate act of revenge for the Persians’ destruction of Athens in 480 or as the climax of a celebration which got out of hand (Arr. III. 16. iii – 18, Diod. Sic. XVII. 64 – 73. i, Curt. V. i – vii, Just. XI. 14. viii – xii, Plut. 35 – 8; on the destruction of Persepolis cf. pp. 416 – 17). Meanwhile the last round of opposition to Alexander in Greece occurred. If not before Gaugamela, before the news of Gaugamela had reached Greece, Agis of Sparta, who had been in touch with the Persian commanders in western Asia Minor, led a Greek rising and attacked Megalopolis; but late in 331 or early in 330 he was defeated and killed by Antipater (cf. p. 386).

Winter kept Alexander in Persepolis and Darius in Ecbatana. In spring 330 Darius withdrew to the east, and Alexander advanced to Pasargadae and then (according to Arrian) to Ecbatana. There the League of Corinth’s war of revenge was officially ended, and the Greeks serving as allies were discharged (but many re - enlisted as mercenaries). He then divided his forces, leaving Parmenio behind with a part, and Harpalus to take charge of the treasures (Arr. III. 19; but in Curt. V. xiii. 1 – 3 Alexander by - passed Ecbatana to pursue Darius, and Diod. Sic. XVII. 74. iii – iv, Curt. VI. ii. 15 – 17, Plut. 42. v, cf. Just. XII. 1. i, link the discharge of the Greeks with Darius’ death). With a smaller and lighter force Alexander went in pursuit of Darius, but about July/August, before he could catch up with him, Darius was first arrested and then stabbed to death by Bessus, the satrap of Bactria, who had commanded the Persian left wing at Gaugamela. Alexander gave Darius a royal funeral, and from this point increasingly represented himself as a legitimate King of Asia (Arr. III. 20 – 2, Diod. Sic. XVII. 73. i – iv, Curt. V. viii – xiii, Just. XI. 15, Plut. 42. v – 43: cf. p. 417).

After Darius’ Death

Bessus now claimed to be King (Artaxerxes V), so the pursuit of Darius turned into the pursuit of Bessus; but Artabazus, brother - in - law of Mentor and Memnon, refused to follow Bessus and joined Alexander. Satibarzanes, satrap of Aria, submitted but afterwards rebelled, so Alexander turned south - east from Hyrcania to deal with him: his capital Artacoana was captured, and an Alexandria founded at the present - day Herat, but Satibarzanes caused further trouble when Alexander moved on and was finally killed in 329 by a force which Alexander detached to deal with him (Arr. III. 23 – 8; versions of a significantly different narrative in Diod. Sic. XVII. 74 – 81, Curt. VI. ii – VII. ii). Alexander then surprised Bessus by travelling through the Hindu Kush to Bactria while it was still winter (330/29). Bessus withdrew into Sogdiana, north of the Oxus (Amudar’ ya); Alexander pursued him, and Bessus was abandoned to Alexander by Spitamenes: a special court of the Medes and Persians was convened to condemn him for the murder of the King (Arr. III. 28 – 30, Diod. Sic. XVII. 81 – 3, Curt. VII. iii – v, Just. XII. 5. ix – xii).

Alexander proceeded to the Jaxartes (Syrdar’ ya), beyond which were Scythians (it was still believed, as it had been believed by the Persians in the sixth century, that all the northern peoples from the lower Danube to this region were Scythians). On the river he founded Alexandria Eschate (‘remotest’:

Khodjend) – which in recent times has commemorated another hero, under the name Leninabad. But Spitamenes rebelled, besieged Maracanda (Samarcand) and annihilated a force sent to defend it. Alexander now encountered his first serious local resistance since Tyre and Gaza in 332: he had to reorganise his cavalry in units which could be used independently in guerrilla warfare, and he received reinforcements in 329/8. Campaigning here continued through 328, but eventually Alexander gained the upper hand and Spitamenes was killed by his followers. In Arrian’s account, in 327 Alexander had mountaineering successes at the Sogdian Rock, with a heavy snowstorm and capture by ‘winged mountaineers’ who climbed above the stronghold, and at the Rock of Chorienes, and he went back through the Hindu Kush. Early in 326 he captured Aornus (probably Pir - sar, despite recent challenges to the identification), the most spectacular of his mountain achievements, and then reached the Indus (Arr. IV). This version produces a very empty 328 and a very full early 327, so we should probably prefer the alternative. In this second tradition, instead of the Sogdian Rock and the Rock of Chorienes the same stratagems are used against the Rock of Arimazes and the Rock of Sisimithres, in the summer of 328, before Alexander’s return to Maracanda and the killing of Clitus (below); in 327 Alexander leaves his winter quarters too early and suffers casualties from a snowstorm before proceeding to Aornus and India (Diod. XVII. lacuna – 84 – 86. iii [cf. XVII. table of contents], Curt. VII. vi – VIII. xii. 3, Metz Epitome [another text in the Clitarchan tradition, available only for this part of the campaign], cf. Plut. 58. iii – iv).

Since the death of Darius Alexander had had increasing trouble with leading Macedonians and Greeks. In autumn 330 Parmenio’s son Philotas was said to have withheld news of a conspiracy, for which he was executed, and emissaries were sent to kill Parmenio too. As legitimate King of Asia Alexander was increasingly using Asiatic troops, retaining Asiatic satraps and adopting aspects of Persian costume and manners: at Maracanda in autumn 328 Clitus ‘the black’ mocked Alexander in the course of a drunken argument, and the argument ended with Alexander’s killing Clitus. In 327 Alexander married Roxana, daughter of Oxyartes of the Sogdian Rock (Arrian) or of Chorienes, a satrap who submitted to Alexander after the episode of the snowstorm (preferable restoration in Curtius, supported by the Metz Epitome – but some editors have restored Oxyartes). He then attempted to introduce the custom of proskynesis (prostration) to the European side of his court, but abandoned it after opposition, particularly from Callisthenes; and after that Callisthenes was condemned as instigator of the ‘conspiracy of the pages’ (cf. pp. 413, 421 – 3).

From the Indus Alexander moved on to its tributary the Hydaspes (Jhelum), beyond which a king called Porus was waiting to resist him. He managed to get his men across the river, and in the last of his major battles defeated Porus – but Porus, unlike Darius, was a worthy foe who did not flee when defeated, and he was reinstated as a vassal ruler. India was perhaps believed to be the easternmost part of Asia, and there were reports of a large kingdom, ripe for conquest, between the Indus and the Ganges. Alexander wanted to conquer this and go on to the end of Asia; but his men were demoralised by the thought of the large kingdom, by diarrhoea caused by the unfamiliar fruits, by the rain and mud of the monsoon season, and by the ever - growing distance from home. At the easternmost tributary of the Indus, the Hyphasis (Beas), in the autumn, the army mutinied, and Alexander had to give way. After building twelve large altars, he turned back to the Hydaspes and, using newly built ships, made his way to the mouths of the Indus. On the journey Coenus, who had been the army’s spokesman at the Hyphasis, died; and Alexander was seriously wounded when he risked his life to spur on the army in an attack on the town of the Malli. In the summer of 325 they reached the Ocean and were startled by tides the like of which are unknown in the Mediterranean, and they made their base Patala (Bahmanabad) (Arr. V. 1 – VI. 20. i, Diod. Sic. XVII. 86. iii – 104. ii, Curt. VIII. xii. 4 – IX. x. 2, Just. XII. 7. iv – 10. vi, Plut. 59 – 66. ii).

After exploring the mouths of the Indus, Alexander set out to return to the central cities of the empire. Craterus was sent by an inland route with the veterans; Nearchus was to sail to the Persian Gulf; and Alexander went with the rest of the army through the desert of Gedrosia (the Makran), to respond to the challenge of what was reputed to be difficult and to explore the coast and make preparations for the fleet. The journey through the desert proved all too difficult and led to heavy losses; Alexander and the survivors reached Pura in late 325 or early 324, and spent several days celebrating their deliverance (Arr. VI. 28. i – ii rejects, and cites the silence of Ptolemy and Aristobulus on, stories of a Bacchic revel; but if the stories were true these authors could have chosen to suppress them). In Carmania, near the mouth of the Persian Gulf, they were joined by Craterus and made contact with Nearchus, and the army continued via Pasargadae and Persepolis to Susa (Arr. VI. 20. ii – VII. 4. i, Diod. Sic. XVII. 104. iii – 107, Curt. IX. x. 3 – X. i. 16, Just. XII. 10. vii, Plut. 66. iii – 68. i).

The Final Year

Many must have thought that Alexander would not return alive, so it is not surprising that he found it necessary to assert his authority. Various commanders were summoned and arrested for misconduct, and some were later executed; the treasurer Harpalus fled to Greece with mercenaries and money (cf. p. 383). Nicanor was sent with orders to be proclaimed at the Olympic games that all Greek cities were to take back their exiles. There were also various festivities. Alexander and many of his officers married Persian wives (in Alexander’s case, two); ordinary soldiers had their liaisons recognised and their debts paid. There was a parade of 30,000 epigonoi (‘successors’), young orientals who since 327 had been undergoing training in the Macedonian style of fighting. During the summer of 324 Alexander went to the Persian Gulf, and then to Opis on the Tigris and to Ecbatana. At Opis (Arrian: in the alternative tradition Alexander seems still to be at Susa) he announced his intention of sending the European veterans home. This led to a mutiny; Alexander disbanded the army; the army asked for pardon and obtained it, and there was a great banquet of reconciliation; but Alexander persisted with his plan. Craterus was sent back with the veterans, while Antipater, who had been in charge in Macedon but had fallen out with Olympias, was to join Alexander (Arr. VII. 4. ii – 13, Diod. Sic. XVII. 108 – 110. vii, Curt. X. i. 17 – iv with lacunae, Just. XII. 10. viii – 12, Plut. 68. ii – 71).

In the autumn of 324 Hephaestion, the man closest to Alexander, died, apparently as a result of excessive drinking: this was a great blow to Alexander. In 323 he moved to Babylon: he had plans for expeditions into Arabia and to explore the Caspian, and there was talk of wilder schemes. Envoys came from Greece to pay Alexander divine honours, and there are allegations of embassies from more distant places including Rome (on which cf. p. 393). But there were various unfavourable omens. On 29 May Alexander was taken ill after a party, and on 10 June he died, not quite 33 years old. A pamphlet in the Alexander Romance (III. 31) alleged a plot by Antipater and his son Cassander to poison him – but it is not clear that slow poisons were available. The ephemerides gave an account of Alexander’s last days, stressing his drinking habits and blaming his death on an incidental illness. Aristobulus denied his drinking habits, claiming that he went to parties only out of consideration for his companions. Probably the ephemerides are near enough to the truth: Alexander’s hard fight-ing, hard living and hard drinking had weakened him, and a chill which a fitter man would have survived proved fatal. He left two sons, Heracles, born to Barsine in 327 (cf. p. 394), and Alexander, to be born to Roxana shortly after his death. It was said that he was asked on his deathbed who was to succeed him and replied, ‘the best’ or ‘the strongest’ (Arr. VII. 14 – 30, Diod. Sic. 110 – 18 with a lacuna, Curt. X. lacuna – v, Just. XII. 13 – 16, Plut. 72 – 7).


General books on Alexander include Bosworth, Conquest and Empire; Green, Alexander of Macedon; Hamilton, Alexander the Great; Lane Fox, Alexander the Great; Stoneman, Alexander the Great. Collections of studies by different authors include Bosworth and Baynham (eds.), Alexander the Great in Fact and Fiction; Griffith (ed.), Alexander the Great: The Main Problems; Roisman (ed.), Brill’s Companion to Alexander the Great; and ‘Alexander the Great’, G & R 2 xii 1965, fasc. 2.

For general discussion of the sources see Bosworth, From Arrian to Alexander; E. Baynham, ‘The Ancient Evidence for Alexander the Great’, in Brill’s Companion (above), ch. 1. For commentaries on the surviving sources see Atkinson, Commentary on Q. Curtius Rufus’ Historiae Alexandri Magni; Atkinson and Yardley, Curtius Rufus, Histories of Alexander the Great, Book 10 (introduction, translation, commentary); Bosworth, Historical Commentary on Arrian’s History of Alexander; Hamilton, Plutarch, Alexander: ACommentary; Yardley and Heckel, Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus, i. Books 11 – 12: Alexander the Great (introduction, translation, commentary). For Diod. Sic. XVII the Loeb edition (vol. viii, by C. B. Welles) contains some notes. The ‘fragments’ quoted from the lost sources are translated in vol. i of Robinson, The History of Alexander the Great, and discussed in Pearson, The Lost Historians of Alexander the Great. A translation of the Metz Epitome, by J. C. Yardley with commentary by E. B. Baynham, is forthcoming in the Clarendon Ancient History Series. On the ephemerides (diary) of the end of Alexander’s reign see Bosworth, From Arrian to Alexander, ch. 7. On the Alexander Romance see Stoneman, The Greek Alexander Romance (translation with introduction and notes).

A. B. Bosworth, ‘Plus ç a change … Ancient Historians and Their Sources’, Cl. Ant. xxii 2003, 167 – 98, uses Curtius as a test case to argue that historians followed their sources faithfully, presenting what they found in their own way but not irresponsibly adding material. The opposite had been argued for Curtius by P. McKechnie, ‘Manipulation of Themes in Quintus Curtius Rufus Book 10’, Hist. xlviii 1999, 44 – 60. Bosworth, ‘Mountain and Molehill? Cornelius Tacitus and Quintus Curtius’, CQ 2 liv 2004, 551 – 67, explores the use of Curtius by Tacitus but rejects identification with the senator of Ann. XI.

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