Alexander the Great poisoned by the River Styx

Alexander the Great was killed by a deadly bacterium found in the River Styx, rather than by a fever brought on by an all-night drinking binge in ancient Babylon, scientists believe.

American researchers have found a striking correlation between the symptoms suffered by Alexander before his death in 323BC, and the effects of the highly toxic bacterium.

They have speculated that the Macedonian king, who conquered vast swaths of territory between Greece and India, could have been poisoned with a vial of water from the River Styx in Greece.

The river was the mythical entrance to the underworld but is believed to have been based on a real stream now known as the Mavroneri, or Black Water, which springs from mountains on the Peloponnesian peninsula.

The ancient Greeks maintained that its waters were so poisonous that they would dissolve any vessel, except those made of the hooves of horses or mules.

Alexander fell ill during an all-night drinking party at the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon, in modern Iraq.

He complained of a "sudden, sword-stabbing agony in the liver" and had to be taken to bed, where over the next 12 days he developed a high fever and excruciating pains to his joints.

His condition worsened, he fell into a coma, and is believed to have died on June 10 or 11, 323BC – just shy of his 33rd birthday.

Historians have speculated that his death was brought about by heavy drinking, typhoid, malaria, acute pancreatitis, West Nile fever or poisoning – either accidental or deliberate.

However, experts who have reviewed the circumstances of his death believe instead that he may have died from calicheamicin, a dangerous compound produced by bacteria.

"It is extremely toxic," said Antoinette Hayes, co-author of the Stanford University research paper and a toxicologist at Pfizer Research in the US. "It is a metabolite – one of hundreds produced by soil bacteria. It grows on limestone, and there's a lot of limestone in Greece." In ancient Greek mythology, gods were made to swear sacred oaths on the banks of the Styx by Zeus.

If they lied, the "king of the gods" forced them to drink the river water, which according to legend deprived them of the powers of speech and movement for a year.

"Such a sacred poison, used by the gods, would be appropriate for Alexander, who was already being thought of as semidivine," Adrienne Mayor, a research scholar at Stanford University's departments of classics and history of science who also worked on the paper, said.

"Notably, some of Alexander's symptoms and course of illness seem to match ancient Greek myths associated with the Styx.

"He even lost his voice, like the gods who fell into a coma-like state after drinking from the river."

The Styx's ancient reputation for deadly toxicity bolstered the thesis but it remained unproven, historians said.

"I personally think that Alexander probably died of natural causes – either typhoid or an overdose of the hellebore used to treat his illness – but other views are possible," said Richard Stoneman, the author of Alexander the Great: A Life in Legend.

Originaly posted @ The Telegraph

How ‘Great’ Was Alexander? - Part Three

As Alexander’s army found out, the growing dissatisfaction with its commander was fatal. To take but a few brief examples. In the autumn of 330 at Phrada Alexander had Philotas, the commander of the Companion Cavalry, charged with conspiracy. There is little doubt that there was a conspiracy against the king at this time, but the evidence against Philotas was slight. Despite this, Alexander, in a staged trial before the army assembly (Curt. 6.8.23) had him condemned and then executed by stoning.[32] Alexander did not stop with Philotas’ execution: his father Parmenion was also treacherously put to death on the king’s orders.[33] Parmenion’s reputation was great and he was of course very powerful, however he was just too great a danger for Alexander to allow to roam loose and resentful when questioning Alexander’s growing Asian leanings.

Then in late 328 after a defeat of a Macedonian force by Spitamenes, Cleitus, commander of the Royal Squadron of the Companions and one of Alexander’s closest friends, criticised Alexander’s expansionist plans, his personality cult, and praised his father Philip II. The setting was a drinking party and most of the protagonists had drunk too much, as was the Macedonian wont. Tempers flared, and a furious Alexander again allowed reason to give way to emotion. He grabbed a pike and ran Cleitus through.[34] Finally, in 327, Callisthenes, whose moral victory a short time before in preventing the introduction of proskynesis (see above) had him implicated by the king in the serious Pages’ Conspiracy and then sadistically executed (Arr. 4.14.1-3, Curt. 8.6.24). Our sources indicate that Callisthenes was not part of the Pages’ Conspiracy;[35] all would see, however, that this was how criticism of the king for policies not in keeping with Macedonian custom was punished. It is hardly surprising that the contemporary source Ephippus (FGH 126 F5) says that those present in Alexander’s court lived in a reign of terror. Alexander’s growing paranoia is demonstrated by the events referred to, but he also seems to have suffered increasingly from mood changes and bouts of depression: he was probably, in today’s terms, bipolar.

However, while the men in his army might have understood Alexander’s reasons because they were there, with him, not so those back home who could only see a king moving further away from his roots, further away from the traditions his father had fought to uphold, becoming more of a paranoid megalomaniac with each passing day. Moreover, as has been said but is worth repeating, they did not properly know him since he had ruled at home as king for only a short time before he left, and only a mutiny by his army was making him come back. Bewilderment can only have changed to dissatisfaction, then, human nature being what it is, to resentment at his disregard of them.

Certainly, Alexander changed the mandate of the League of Corinth, switching the invasion of Persia from its panhellenic motive to a personal one, to destroy the Persian empire and beyond. But it was one thing to conquer Asia Minor and liberate Greeks there and defeat the Great King, another to want to take over as ruler for according to Plutarch (Alexander 34) Alexander was proclaimed ‘king of Asia’, presumably by the Macedonians in his army. The Greeks also would be questioning what Alexander was up to — he had needed them for his Asian invasion (hence why he treated their revolt in 336 with moderation), and probably a large number of Greeks did support the campaign given its panhellenic sentiments (Diod. 16.89.2). However, the invasion was no longer for its original panhellenic ideal. The move now was not to establish a Macedonian empire in Asia but a kingdom of Asia and even to move the capital from Pella to probably Babylon, perhaps Alexandria.[36] That his people back home in Macedon did not want this is shown by the measures which Alexander took to keep his army at full strength. According to Arrian (7.8.1, 12.1-2), Alexander was generous with pay and bounties to soldiers in order to encourage those at home to join him in Asia. If his people had been united behind him in further conquest there would have been no need of such apparent generosity. What we are dealing with here are bribes since those at home did not want to follow Alexander’s pothos, and normal pay could not persuade them.

Was Alexander using his own people for his own personal ends now? Philip II risked the lives of his men as well, but for his state’s hegemonic position in international affairs, not for his own selfish reasons or a pothos which might well jeopardise that position of Macedon. Others saw the danger, even from early in his reign. Thus in 335, after the successful termination of the Greek revolt, which broke out on the death of Philip II, Diodorus (17.16.2) says that Parmenion and Antipater urged Alexander not to become actively involved in Asia until he had produced a son and heir. Alexander opposed them for personal reasons: he could not procrastinate at home waiting for children to be born when the invasion of Asia had been endorsed by the League of Corinth! In the end, says Diodorus (17.16.3), he won them over. Then in 331 Darius III offered inter alia to abandon to Alexander all territories west of the Euphrates and to become the friend and ally of the king.[37] Parmenion thought the Persian king’s offer to be in the Macedonians’ best interests, but Alexander refused to accept it (in a famous exchange in which Parmenion is alleged to have said that if he were Alexander he would accept the terms, and a displeased Alexander is alleged to have replied that if he were Parmenion he would, but instead he was Alexander).

The authenticity of this exchange is probably suspect, and in any case it is hardly surprising that Alexander would have refused such an offer given the difficulties of administering the Euphrates frontier (as the Romans would later learn). However, every story has a kernel of truth, and this particular one indicates that at least some of his generals anticipated trouble and were unsettled by Alexander’s cavalier attitude towards the future and especially the succession. The aftermath of his death in 323, the eclipse of Macedonian power, and the ensuing decades of bloody warfare between his successors down to around 301, would prove how unthinking and mistaken he was.

Parmenion’s criticism and resistance to Alexander’s plans led eventually to his execution (see above), but who could believe the reason Alexander gave for it? The same goes for Philotas. And Cleitus’ death at the hands of Alexander is hardly an example of a king able to put reason over emotion; all the more dangerous given his tendency to consume vast draughts of alcohol, which further muddled his thoughts and allowed his paranoia, rage, and emotional turmoil to come to the fore. What must the people back home have thought when they expected their king to return on completing his mission, only to see him move further east, killing his own men in paranoid or drunken (or both) frenzies along his way, ignoring the welfare and best interests of his people, the long-term administration of his empire, and giving no thought to a son and heir?

Here, Alexander fails miserably in what is expected of a king. The chaos revealed in that short-lived compromise in Babylon in June 323, shortly after the king breathed his last, was not solely owing to the personal ambitions of various generals (and one secretary), but the result of Alexander’s neglect of his country and empire. His hyperactivity in putting constant expansion over administration, not to mention not providing an adult heir, cost the empire any unity and chance of surviving him intact. Alexander did not follow a strategy of conquest, consolidation and long-term administration, but was constantly on the move. As a result, and especially as he moved further east, territories behind him revolted almost as soon as he left. This does not show foresight in making and keeping an empire. He misjudged the native peoples as he moved across Afghanistan and into modern Pakistan, thinking that defeated in battle meant conquered.

Consider also the outcome if as a result of his foolishness Alexander had died during the siege of Malli, in the lower Punjab in 326.[38] The nomadic Malli tribe had stolen his horse Bucephalus, and Alexander with his army set off to retrieve it. The Malli offered to return it when faced with the might of a Macedonian army, but Alexander, always thirsty for a fight and thinking little of the consequences, besieged the town. There was no need to do this. At this siege Alexander scaled the wall of the town and found himself suddenly cut off from his men when the scaling ladders broke behind him. Leaping down amongst the enemy he fought on, in the process having his right lung punctured by an enemy arrow and almost dying. He was saved by his men storming the town, who then went on on orgy of murder. Who would have taken over as commander and as king if Alexander had died? Only literary heroes jump into the enemy’s midst as Alexander did at Malli. There was no heir, and the aftermath of his death showed there was no one undisputed leader.

In 327 at Bazeira Alexander was engaged in a lion hunt in a local forest with several others, including Lysimachus (Curt. 8.1.14-16). The king killed a lion, one that was apparently of extraordinary size (magnitudinis rarae; then again, it would have to be in an Alexander story). In the process he rudely treated Lysimachus by taunting him about a wound he received when he had killed a lion in Syria, and no doubt embarrassing him in front of the others. Afterwards the army voted (scivere gentis suae more) that Alexander should never place himself in such danger again (Curt. 8.1.18). In so doing the army must have been remembering the earlier lion hunt involving Lysimachus, who had suffered wounds which almost cost him his life (8.1.15). Regardless of whether the army passed an official vote or merely a motion requesting that Alexander refrain from endangering his life in the future, his men had very real fears of what would happen were he to die. Alexander’s activities at Malli showed how little he heeded his army’s fears and pleas in the pursuit of his own personal gloria.

The adverse reaction of the army towards Alexander and his policies is further re-inforced by the decision on the part of the Macedonian Army Assembly at Babylon after his death to abandon his future plans (Diod. 18.4.2-6, Justin 13.5.7). Assuming these are authentic, they included the invasion of Arabia during the winter and spring of 323/2[39] and the circumnavigation of the peninsula, the construction of 1000 warships in the South-East Mediterranean larger than triremes, the building of six temples each costing 1500 talents, the erection of a memorial to his father to rival the greatest pyramid, and significantly the transpopulation of 20,000 people from Asia to Europe and vice versa for the purposes of racial unity and intermarriage.[40] These projects were abandoned for reasons other than Philip III Arrhidaeus or Perdiccas was incapable of leading the Macedonians on them, as Hammond would argue,[41] but because they represented all that the people did not consider properly Macedonian practices, especially the continuation of racial fusion. In other words, they represented all that the people had come to hate in Alexander.

Alexander’s autocratic nature and its adverse impact on his army have been illustrated many times, but it extended beyond the men with him to the Greeks back on the mainland. One example is his Exiles Decree of 324, which ordered all exiles to return to their native cities (excluding those under a religious curse and the Thebans).[42] If any city was unwilling, then Antipater was empowered to use force against it (Diod. 18.8.4). The context was no doubt to send home the large bands of mercenaries now wandering the empire and which posed no small military or political danger if any ambitious satrap or general got his hands on them. The decree was technically illegal since it clearly flouted the autonomy of the Greek states, not to mention the principles of the League of Corinth, but Alexander cared little about polis autonomy or the feelings of the Greeks. Although the Athenians refused to receive back their exiles (Curt. 10.2.6-7), resistance, to coin a phrase, was futile: Alexander was king, the Macedonians controlled Greece, and the final clause of the decree on coercing Greek cities would not be lost on them. The flurry of diplomatic activity to the king over the decree proves this, even though outright rebellion was not planned at that stage.[43] His death altered the situation dramatically, and only one state, Tegea, actually implemented the decree.[44]

There is no need to deal in great detail with the notion which originates in Plutarch’s treatise on Alexander (see above), and has found its way into some modern works (such as Tarn’s biography), that Alexander pursued an actual policy to promote a unity of mankind. In other words, that Alexander is deserving of the title ‘Great’ for these ideological reasons. The belief is ‘founded’ on such factors as his integration of foreigners into his army and administration, the mass mixed marriage at Susa (324), and Alexander’s prayer for concord amongst the races after the Opis mutiny (also 324). The belief is quite erroneous, and Alexander, as with everything else, was acting for purely political/military, not ideological, purposes. For one thing, it is important to note that in the army foreigners were not peppered consistently amongst existing units, and when this did happen the instances are very few and far between. Thus, a few Persians are found incorporated in the agema of the Companion cavalry (Arr.7.6.4-5), and Persians and Macedonians served together in a phalanx at Babylon (Arr. 7.23.3-4, 24.1), but Alexander’s motive in both cases was military.

While Alexander did use Persians and Orientals in his administration it was always Macedonians and Greeks who controlled the army and the treasury. For example, at Babylon Alexander appointed as satrap the Persian Mazaeus, who had been satrap of Syria under Darius and commander of the Persian right at the battle of Gaugamela. However, Apollodorus of Amphipolis and Agathon of Pydna controlled the garrison there and collected the taxes (Diod. 17.64.5, Arr. 3.16.4, 7.18.1). In a nutshell, the natives had the local knowledge and the linguistic expertise. The conscious policy on the part of Alexander was to have the different races working together in order to make the local administration function as efficiently as possible, and had nothing to do with promoting racial equality.

Then there is the mass wedding at Susa, also in 324, at which Alexander and 91 members of his court married various Persian noble women in an elaborate wedding ceremony (conducted in Persian fashion too), which lasted for five days.[45] The symbolism as far as a fusion of the races is concerned is obvious, but again too much has been made of this marriage: it is important to note that no Persian men were given honours at Alexander’s court or in his military and administrative machinery. Moreover, no Macedonian or Greek women were brought out from the mainland to marry Persian noble men, which we would expect as part of a fusion ‘policy’. A closer explanation to the truth is probably that Alexander could not afford these noble women to marry their own races and thus provide the potential for revolt, something mixed marriages with his own court might offset. That the marriages were forced onto his men (cf. Arr. 7.6.2) is proved by the fact that all apart from Seleucus seem to have divorced their wives upon the king’s death. Once again, however, Alexander seems to have ignored the displeasure of his men, ultimately at great cost to himself and his empire.

Finally, the great reconciliation banquet at Opis in 324 (after the second mutiny),[46] in which Macedonian, Greek, Persian and Iranian sipped from the samecup, and Alexander significantly ‘prayed for various blessingsand especially that the Macedonians and Persians should enjoy harmony as partners in the government’ (Arr. 7.11.9). Yet, inter alia it is important to remember that Alexander had played on the hatred between the Macedonians and the Persians in ending the mutiny, and that the Macedonians were seated closest to him at the banquet, thereby emphasising their racial superiority and power. Moreover, we would expect a prayer to future concord after such a reconciliatio since dissension in the ranks was the last thing Alexander needed given his plans for future conquest, which involved the invasion of Arabia in the near future![47] Thus, we may reject the notion of a ‘brotherhood of mankind’, and divorce it from any objective evaluation of Alexander.

In conclusion, the ‘greatness’ of Alexander III must be questioned, and the historical Alexander divorced from the mythical, despite the cost to the legend. There is no question that Alexander was the most powerful individual of his time, and we must recognise that. For sheer distance covered, places subdued, battle strategy, and breadth of vision he deserves praise. In just a decade he conquered the vast Persian empire that had been around for two centuries, and he amassed a fortune so vast that it is virtually impossible to comprehend. Alexander also improved the economy of his state (to an extent) and encouraged trade and commerce, especially by breaking down previously existing frontiers (of major importance in the hellenistic period), and an offshoot of his conquests was the gathering of information on the topography and geography of the regions to which he went, as well as new and exotic flora and fauna.However, at what cost? Was the wastage in human lives, the incalculable damage to foreign peoples, institutions, livelihoods, and lands, not to mention the continuation of the dynasty at home, the security of Macedon, the future of the empire, and the loyalty of the army worth it?

That Alexander did not endear himself to his own people and that they grew discontented with him, has significant implications for his ultimate objectives and how he saw himself. The move to establish a kingdom of Asia with a capital probably at Babylon is significant.[48] Given his disregard of the feelings of his own people (as evidenced by his lack of interest in producing a legal and above-age heir to continue the dynasty and hegemonic position of Macedon), we can only surmise that his belief in his own divinity and his attempts to be recognised as a god while alive — including the attempt at proskynesis — are the keys to his actions and motives. As Fredricksmeyer has so persuasively argued,[49] Alexander was out to distance himself as far as possible from the exploits and reputation of Philip II since his attitude to his father had turned from one of admiration and rivalry, from one warrior to another, to resentment. He strove to excel him at all costs and he could not handle praise of Philip (the reaction to Cleitus’ taunts about Philip is an obvious indication of this). Military conquest was one thing, but simple conquest was not enough: Alexander had to outdo Philip in other areas. Deification while alive was the most obvious way. Everything else became subordinated to Alexander’s drive towards self-deification and then his eventual and genuine total belief in it.

Therefore, it is easy to see, on the one hand, why Alexander has been viewed as great, but also, on the other hand, why that greatness — and thus his epithet — must be questioned in the interests of historical accuracy.


32. Arr. 3.26-27, Diod. 17.79-80, Plut. Alexander 48-9, Curt. 6.7.1-7.2.38, Justin 12.5.1-8. For discussion of this incident and that involving Parmenion which follows, see Bosworth, Conquest and Empire, 101-103, citing sources and modern bibliography.
33. Arr. 3.27.3-4, Diod. 17.80.3, Plut. Alexander 49.13, Curt. 7.2.11-32.
34. Arr. 4.8.1-9, Curt. 8.19-51, Plut. Alexander 50-52. For discussion see Bosworth, Conquest and Empire, 114-16, citing modern bibliography.
35. Arr. 4.14.1, Plut. Alexander 55.6., Curt. 8.6.24, 8.8.21.
36. On this issue cf. the remarks of Errington, History of Macedonia, 111-14.
37. Arr. 2.25.2-3, Plut. Alexander 29.7-8, Curt. 4.11.1-18.
38. Arr. 6.11.1, Diod. 17.99.4, Curt. 9.5.20. See Bosworth, Conquest and Empire, 135-7, citing sources and modern bibliography.
39. N.G.L. Hammond, Alexander the Great. King, Commander and Statesman2 (Bristol 1989) 300-1 and n.138
40. Diod. 18.4.4.
41. History of Macedonia, 3. 105.
42. Diod. 17.109.1, 18.8.4 (text of the decree, from Hieronymus of Cardia), Curt. 10.2.4, [Plut.] Moralia 221a , Justin 13.5.2. On the background see, for example, Bosworth, Conquest and Empire, 220-8, citing sources and modern bibliography.
43. See further Worthington, ‘The Harpalus Affair and the Greek Response to the Macedonian Hegemony’, Ventures into Greek History. Essays in Honour of N.G.L. Hammond, ed. Ian Worthington (Oxford 1994) 307-30.
44. Ian Worthington, ‘The Date of the Tegea decree (Tod 202): A Response to the Diagramma of Alexander or of Polyperchon?’, Ancient History Bulletin 7 (1993) 59-64.
45. Arr. 7.4.1-8, Diod. 17.107.6, Plut. Alexander 70.3, Justin 12.10.9-10.
46. See above, with note 17.
47. On the whole issue of a ‘unity of mankind’ see further, for example, E. Badian, ‘Alexander the Great and the Unity of Mankind’, Historia 7 (1958) 425-44 and A.B. Bosworth, ‘Alexander and the Iranians’, JHS 100 (1980) 1-21.
48. On this issue cf. the remarks of Errington, History of Macedonia, 111-14.
49. E. Fredricksmeyer, ‘Alexander and Philip: Emulation and Resentment’, CJ 85 (1990) 300-15.

How ‘Great’ Was Alexander? - Part Two

That Alexander’s money and favour proved insufficient and discontent grew are proved by the two mutinies which he faced in 326 at the Hyphasis (Beas) river and in 324 at Opis (on the use of the term ‘mutiny’ see below). In 326 while at Taxila Alexander heard that the Indian prince Porus was defying him, and so marched to do battle at the Hydaspes river. He was successful, and Porus was defeated. Rather than return to Taxila to recuperate and more importantly sit out the monsoon weather, Alexander ordered his men to continue their advance into India. His pothos — personal longing (note again the personal element) — to conquer more territory was frustrated when his men mutinied at the Hyphasis river.[16] Perhaps more than just seventy days of marching endlessly through monsoon rains into more unknown territory was at the heart of the issue. After all, Curtius says (9.2.3) that King Aggrammes (sic) was reported to be waiting at the Delhi gap with a force which included 3,000 elephants. Curtius believed this was true, and we know that the Nanda kings of Magadha had a more powerful state than any of the ones Alexander tangled with so far. Thus, another battle loomed, one in which Alexander’s men had no desire to participate, and they refused to follow him further. Alexander sulked in his tent like his Homeric hero Achilles for three days, but to no avail. His bluff was called and Coenus, representing the views of the men, prevailed. Alexander was forced to turn back, and by late September 326 he was once again at the Hydaspes. Coenus’ defiance of Alexander earned him little in the way of reward as a few days after the Hyphasis mutiny he was found dead in suspicious circumstances (Arr. 6.2.1, Curt. 9.3.20). The coincidence is too much, and, as with others who flouted Alexander (see below), we can see the hand of a furious and spiteful king at work here.

Athough Alexander might try to disguise the lack of advance at the Hyphasis river as due to unfavourable omens (Arr. 5.3.6), no one would be unaware that the real reason was that the army en masse simply did not want to go further.[17] Again needless risk-taking followed: instead of retracing his steps he went for another route, through the Gedrosian desert.[18] Starvation, heat, little water, and flash flooding had their effects, and as the march continued the baggage animals had to be slaughtered for food (Arr. 6.25.2). Plutarch (Alexander 66.4-5) talks of the army reduced to a quarter of its original size; although this is over-exaggeration, there is no doubt that this march was a major logistical blunder on the part of Alexander, and that it unnecessarily cost many lives.

A few years later in 324 Alexander was faced with another mutiny, this time at Opis, not far from Babylon. At Opis Alexander announced that his veteran soldiers and those injured were to be discharged and that he had ordered new blood from Macedon.[19] For some reason the older soldiers saw Alexander’s move as tantamount to a rejection of them and of their capabilities, and the remaining soldiers had no wish to remain and fight with Persians and Iranians. For the second time in his reign Alexander was hit with a mutiny, this time over his orientalising policy. Once again, Alexander sulked in his tent for two days, and then he called his men’s bluff by announcing that Macedonian military commands and titles were to be transferred to selected Persians. His men capitulated at once, and the clash was resolved with the famous banquet, in which Macedonian, Greek, Persian and Iranian sipped from the same cup and Alexander prayed for homonoia or concord (Arr. 7.11.9).[20]

The term ‘mutiny’ for the army’s resistance to Alexander on both occasions has lately been queried. For example, Bosworth has this to say on the Opis incident: ‘This protest can hardly be dignified with the term mutiny that is universally applied to it. The troops confined themselves to verbal complaints, but they were contumacious and wounding.’[21] It is important to look beyond the immediate context of both ‘protests’ to their full implications. The degree to which the men mouthed insults at the king or criticised his behaviour and plans is irrelevant. The crucial point is that in both instances the army as a whole stood fast against the orders of Alexander. This was outright rebellion against the king and commander; refusal to obey the orders of a superior in this manner is mutiny. The 326 incident ended only when Alexander agreed to his army’s demands to turn back. Although Alexander’s bluff was successful at Opis, it was only when he cunningly played on the racial tensions that his men capitulated. Until that time they had stood fast against him, and there is no indication of a change of mood until Alexander adopted the strategy he did. The Macedonians might well have needed Alexander in the far east (cf. Arr. 6.12.1-3), but this did not stop them from defying him when they felt the situation demanded it. Both incidents were quite simply mutinies, and as such votes of no confidence in Alexander as a military commander and as a king.[22]

Alexander’s generalship and actual military victories may be questioned in several key areas. For example, after the battle of Issus in 333 Darius fled towards Media, but Alexander pressed on to Egypt. He did not pursue Darius, as he surely ought to have done and thus consolidate his gains, especially when so far from home and with the mood of the locals so prone to fluctuation, but left him alone. He was more interested in what lay to the south: the riches of Babylon and then Susa, or as Arrian describes them (3.16.2) the ‘prizes of the war’. However, a war can hardly be seen as won if the opposing king and commander remains at large and has the potential to regroup. Alexander’s action was lucky for Darius, then, as he was able to regroup his forces and bring Alexander to battle again almost two years later, at Gaugamela (331). It was not lucky for Alexander, though, and especially so for those men on both sides who fell needlessly that day in yet another battle.

We have also the various sieges which Alexander undertook and which were often lengthy, costly, and questionable. A case in point is that of Tyre in 332 as Alexander made his way to Egypt after his victory at Issus. In Phoenicia Byblos and Sidon surrendered to Alexander, as did the island town (as it was then) of Tyre until the king expressed his personal desire to sacrifice in the main temple there. Quite rightly considering his demand sacrilegious, the Tyrians resisted him and Alexander, his ego affronted and refusing to back down, laid siege to the town.[23] The siege itself lasted several months, cost the king a fortune in money and manpower, and resulted in the slaughter of the male Tyrians and the selling of the Tyrian women and children into slavery. There is no question that control of Tyre was essential since Alexander could not afford a revolt of the Phoenician cities, given their traditional rivalries, as he pushed on to Egypt. Nor indeed, if we believe his speech at Arrian 2.17, could he allow Tyre independence with the Persian navy a threat and the Phoenician fleet the strongest contingent in it. However, there was no guarantee that the destruction of Tyre would result in the Phoencian fleet surrendering to him as he only seems to have expected it would (Arr. 2.17.3). Moreover, laying siege to Tyre was not necessary: he could simply have left a garrison, for example, on the mainland opposite the town to keep it in check. Another option, given that the Tyrians had originally surrendered to him, would have been the diplomatic one: to recognise the impiety of his demand in their eyes and thus relinquish it, thereby continuing on his way speedily and with their goodwill. Ultimately no real gain came from his siege except to Alexander on a purely personal level again: his damaged ego had been repaired; the cost in time, manpower and reputation mattered little.

Alexander’s great military victories over his Persian and Indian foes which have so long occupied a place in popular folklore and been much admired throughout the centuries are very likely to have been embellished and nothing like the popular conceptions of them. A case in point is the battle of Issus in 333. Darius threw victory away at that battle and he was, to put it bluntly, a mediocre commander — the battle might have been very different if Alexander had faced a more competent commander such as Memnon, for example. Alexander was lucky, but this does not come in the ‘official’ account we have of the battle, probably since he told Callisthenes, the court historian, what to write about it.

Luck again is the principal factor in Alexander’s victory at Granicus the previous year (334). His river crossing is commendable, no doubt against that, but against an outnumbered and hastily-levied Persian contingent, and with no Great King present in order to exhort and to lead the troops in person, it comes as no surprise that the Macedonians and their superbly drilled phalanx were victorious. Similarly embellished, perhaps distorted out of all proportion even, is the ‘great’ battle against Porus in India at the Hydaspes river in 326.[24] Alexander effected a brilliant river crossing against his Indian foe, given the swelling of that river by the seasonal rains and melting of the snow in the Himalayas, but in reality the battle was over before it began. Porus was outnumbered and outclassed, and he and his army never stood a chance. However, we would never know this from our sources or indeed from the commemorative coinage which Alexander struck to mark his defeat of Porus, and which are pure propaganda to exaggerate that defeat.[25]

The king’s own men would know. And word would filter through to the Macedonians back home. Alexander’s growing orientalism, as seen in his apparent integration of foreigners into his administration and army, was a cause of great discontent as the traditional Macedonian warrior-king transformed himself into something akin to a sultan. He began to change his appearance, preferring a mixture of Persian and Macedonian clothing, despite the obvious displeasure of his troops (Arr. 7.8.2), and he had also assumed the upright tiara, the symbol of Persian kingship (Arr. 4.7.4). Some saw the writing on the wall and duly pandered to the king. Thus, Peucestas, the Macedonian satrap of Persis, was well rewarded by the king for adopting Persian dress and learning the Persian language (Arr. 6.30.2-3). However, he was the only Macedonian to do so according to Arrian.

Significant also was Alexander’s attempt to adopt the Persian custom of proskynesis — genuflection — at his court in Bactra in 327, and his expectation that his men would follow suit.[26] Proskynesis was a social act which had long been practised by the Persians and involved prostrating oneself before the person of the king in an act of subservience, and thereby accepting his lordship. The custom however was regarded as tantamount to worship and thus sacrilegious to the Greeks — worship of a god or a dead hero was one thing, but worship of a person while still alive quite another. Callisthenes thwarted Alexander’s attempt (Arr. 4.10.5-12.1), something which the king never forgot and which would soon cost Callisthenes his life in sadistic circumstances (Arr. 4.14.1-3, Curt. 8.6.24).

Why Alexander tried to introduce proskynesis is unknown. Perhaps he was simply attempting to create a form of social protocol common to Macedonians, Greeks and Persians. However, he would have been well aware of the religious connotations associated with the act and hence its implications for his own being. It was plain stupidity on his part if he thought his men would embrace the custom with relish, and his action clearly shows that he had lost touch with his army and the religious beliefs on which he had been raised. Evidence for this may be seen in the motives for the Pages’ Conspiracy, a serious attempt on Alexander’s life, which occurred not long after Alexander tried to enforce proskynesis on all. A more likely explanation for the attempt to introduce proskynesis is that Alexander now thought of himself as divine (cf. Arr. 4.9.9, Curt. 8.5.5), and thus proskynesis was a logical means of recognising his divine status in public by all men (see below).

Indeed, Alexander’s belief that he was divine impacts adversely on any evaluation of him. History is riddled with megalomaniacs who along the way suffered from divine pretensions, and the epithet ‘Great’ is not attached to them. Regardless of whether his father Philip II was worshipped as a god on his death,[27] Alexander seems not to have been content with merely following in his footsteps but to believe in his own divine status while alive.[28]

Alexander had visited the oracle of Zeus Ammon in the oasis at Siwah in the winter of 332, shortly after his entry into Egypt, and there he apparently received confirmation from the priests that he was a son of Zeus.[29] From that time onwards he openly called himself son of Zeus as opposed to descendant of Zeus. It is important to stress the distinction since he was technically a descendant of Zeus through Heracles. That sort of association the people would have accepted, but they baulked at Alexander at first setting himself up as a son of a god even though born from a mortal mother. Later, as his megalomania increased, he would believe he was divine while alive. Thus, during the Opis mutiny Arrian indicates that his men mocked their king’s association with Zeus Ammon (Arr. 7.8.3). This took place in 324, so obviously over the intervening years the situation had grown from bad to worse, with little or nothing on the part of Alexander to pour oil on troubled waters.

If anything, Alexander ignored the displeasure of his men if his move to introduce proskynesis at his court in 327, as noted above, was meant to be a means of recognising his divinity. The setback here was soon forgotten as in 326 Alexander was again adamant about his divine status (Arr. 7.2.3). Moreover, Alexander did not restrict his superhuman status to the army with him; by 324 we know from our sources that the Greeks of the mainland were debating his deification,[30] and that there was widespread resistance to it.[31] Evidently his divine status was a serious source of contention amongst his people back home and those with him, yet Alexander ignored it — hardly the mark of a great king, commander and statesman intent on maintaining the loyalty of his troops and indeed of his people.


16. Diod. 17.94.3 ff., Arr. 5.25.2 ff., Curt. 9.3.3-5.
17. See now Philip O. Spann, ‘Alexander at the Beas: Fox in a Lion’s Skin’, in Frances B. Titchener and Richard F. Moorton, Jr. (eds.), The Eye Expanded. Life an the Arts in Greco-Roman Antiquity (Berkeley 1999), 62-74, puts forward the highly unlikely view that Alexander himself encouraged the mutiny because he did not wish to proceed further into India yet had to save face amongst his men. He concludes (p. 69) that the mutiny was a ‘perfect piece of public relations bunkum.’ Coenus would not be alone in disagreeing with this view!
18. On this march see A.B. Bosworth, Conquest and Empire. The Reign of Alexander the Great (Cambridge 1988) 139-146, citing sources and modern bibliography.
19. Arr. 7.8.1-12.3, Diod. 17.109.2-3, Plut. Alexander 71-.2-9, Curt. 10.2.3 ff., Justin 12.11.
20. On the incident see Bosworth, Conquest and Empire, 159-161, citing sources and modern bibliography. See further below for this prayer being mistaken for part of a brotherhood of mankind ‘policy’.
21. Bosworth, Conquest and Empire, 160; on p. 133, Bosworth’s treatment of the Hyphasis mutiny makes it sound like a mere dispute between management and union executive.
22. Bosworth, Conquest and Empire, 160, goes on to talk of the Opis ‘protest’ as a challenge to Alexander’s regal authority, yet continues to deny the term mutiny for it! It should be mentioned that Alexander was never faced with a large-scale desertion as had happened to his father following his defeat by Onomarchus at the Battle of Crocus Field in 352 (Diod. 16.35.2). However, Diodorus states specifically that military defeat not any pothos or orientalising policy had caused this desertion, and he goes on to imply that Philip soon rallied his men. Their loyalty to him stayed assured after this.
23. Arr. 2.1 5 ff.; Curt. 4.3 ff.; Diod. 17.42 ff.
24. On the battle see Bosworth, Conquest and Empire, 126-30, citing sources and bibliography.
25. On this see in detail Bosworth, Alexander and India, 6-21.
26. Arr. 4.10.5-7, Plut. Alexander 54.3-6, Curt. 8.5.9-12.
27. E. Fredricksmeyer, ‘On the Background of the Ruler Cult’, Ancient Macedonian Studies in Honour of C.F. Edson, ed. H.J. Dell (Thessaloniki 1981) 145-56 (arguing for divine honours on Philip ), and E. Badian, ‘The Deification of Alexander the Great, Ancient Macedonian Studies in Honour of C. F. Edson, ed. H.J. Dell (Thessaloniki 1981) 27-71 (arguing against).
28. On this see further below, with E. Fredricksmeyer, ‘Alexander and Philip: Emulation and Resentment’, CJ 85 (1990) 300-15.
29. Callisthenes, apud Strabo 17.1.43, Arr. 3.3-4, Plut. Alexander 27.8-10, cf. Diod. 17.51, Curt. 4.7.25, Justin 11.11.2-12. See P.A. Brunt’s excellent discussion of this visit in the Loeb Classical Library Arrian Vol. 1 (London 1976), Appendix V, 467-80.
30. Athenaeus 12.538b; cf. Hyp. 5.18-19, Diod. 18.8.7, Curt. 10.2.5-7, Justin 13.5.1-6. See E. Badian, ‘The Deification of Alexander the Great’, in Ancient Macedonian Studies in Honor of C. F. Edson, ed. H. J. Dell (Thessaloniki 1981) 27-71, G.L. Cawkwell, ‘The Deification of Alexander the Great: A Note’, in Ventures into Greek History. Essays in Honour of N.G.L. Hammond, ed. Ian Worthington (Oxford 1994) 293-306, and E. Badian, ‘Alexander the Great Between Two Thrones and Heaven: Variations on an Old Theme’, in Subject and Ruler: The Cult of the Ruling Power in Classical Antiquity, ed. A. Small (Ann Arbor 1996) 11-26.
31. Polybius 12. 12b3, [Plutarch] Moralia 219e, 804b, 842 and Aelian, VH 5. 12 show that the Greek states had attempted to resist Alexander’s deification. Demades, who proposed Alexander’s deification in Athens, was later fined ten talents.

How ‘Great’ Was Alexander? - Part One

Why was Alexander III of Macedon called 'Great'? The answer seems relatively straightforward: from an early age he was an achiever, he conquered territories on a superhuman scale, he established an empire until his times unrivalled, and he died young, at the height of his power. Thus, at the youthful age of 20, in 336, he inherited the powerful empire of Macedon, which by then controlled Greece and had already started to make inroads into Asia. In 334 he invaded Persia, and within a decade he had defeated the Persians, subdued Egypt, and pushed on to Iran, Afghanistan and even India. As well as his vast conquests Alexander is credited with the spread of Greek culture and education in his empire, not to mention being responsible for the physical and cultural formation of the hellenistic kingdoms — some would argue that the hellenistic world was Alexander's legacy.[2] He has also been viewed as a philosophical idealist, striving to create a unity of mankind by his so-called fusion of the races policy, in which he attempted to integrate Persians and Orientals into his administration and army. Thus, within a dozen years Alexander’s empire stretched from Greece in the west to India in the far east, and he was even worshipped as a god by many of his subjects while still alive. On the basis of his military conquests contemporary historians, and especially those writing in Roman times who measured success by the number of body-bags used, deemed him great.[3]

However, does a man deserve to be called ‘The Great’ who was responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of his own men and for the unnecessary wholesale slaughter of native peoples? How ‘great’ is a king who prefers constant warfare over consolidating conquered territories and long-term administration? Or who, through his own recklessness, often endangered his own life andthe lives of his men? Or whose violent temper on occasion led him to murder his friends and who towards the end of his life was an alcoholic, paranoid, megalomaniac, who believed in his own divinity?These are questions posed by our standards of today of course, but nevertheless they are legitimate questions given the influence which Alexander has exerted throughout history -an influence which will no doubt continue.[4]

The aims of this paper are to trace some reasons for questioning the greatness of Alexander as is reflected in his epithet, and to add potential evidence dealing with the attitude of the Macedonians, Alexander’s own people, in their king’s absence. It is important to stress that when evaluating Alexander it is essential to view the ‘package’ of king as a whole; i.e., as king, commander and statesman. All too often this is not the case. There is no question that Alexander was spectacularly successful in the military field, and had Alexander only been a general his epithet may well have been deserved. But he was not just a general; he was a king too, and hence military exploits form only a percentage of what Alexander did, or did not do — in other words, we must look at the ‘package’ of him as king as a whole. By its nature this paper is impressionistic, and it can only deal rapidly with selected examples from Alexander’s reign and discuss points briefly. However, given the unequalled influence Alexander has played in cultures and history from the time of his death to today, it is important to stress that there is a chasm of a difference between the mythical Alexander, which for the most part we have today, and the historical.

Alexander died in 323, and over the course of time the mythical king and his exploits sprang into being. Alexander himself was not above embellishing his own life and achievements. He very likely told the court historian Callisthenes of Olynthus what to say about his victory over Darius III at the battle of Issus in 333, for example.[5] Contemporary Attic oratory also exaggerated his achievements,[6] and so within a generation of his death erroneous stories were already being told.

As time continued we move into the genre of pulp fiction. In the third or second century BC Alexander’s exploits formed the plot of the story known as the Alexander Romance, which added significantly to the Alexander legend and had such a massive influence on many cultures into the Middle Ages.[7] Given its life-span, deeds were attributed to Alexander which are unhistorical, such as his encounters with the tribe of headless men, his flying exploits in a basket borne by eagles, and the search for the Water of Life, which ended with his transformation into a mermaid. These stories became illustrative fodder for the various manuscripts of the Alexander Romance — one of the most popular episodes is Alexander’s ascent to heaven, inspired by the myth of Bellerephon to fly to Mount Olympus on Pegasus, which is found in many Byzantine and later art-works, sculptures and paintings. As a result of the Romance Alexander astonishingly appears in the literature of other cultures: in Hebrew literature, for example, he was seen as a preacher and prophet, who even becomes converted to Christianity. In Persian literature he is the hero Sikandar, sent to punish the impure peoples. In the West he appears as a Frank, a Goth, a Russian and a Saxon.

Then there is Plutarch, writing in the late first and second century AD, who has probably done the most damage to our knowing the historical Alexander. In his treatise On The Fortune or The Virtue of Alexander, Plutarch was swayed (understandably) by the social background against which he was writing and especially by his own philosophical beliefs, and he portrayed Alexander as both an action man and a philosopher-king, whose mission was to impose Greek civilisation on the ‘barbarian’ Persians. Plutarch’s work is essentially a rhetorical exercise, but as time continued

The Alexander legend was a ready feeding ground for artists throughout the centuries as well. When Alexander invaded Persia in 334 he detoured to Troy to sacrifice at the tomb of his hero Achilles. This was a stirring story, which became a model for heroic piety in the Renaissance and later periods; thus, for example, we have Fontebasso’s painting of Alexander’s sacrifice at Achilles’ tomb in the eighteenth century. In modern Greece Alexander became both an art-work and a symbol, as seen in the painting by Engonopoulos in 1977 of the face-less Alexander standing with his arm around the face-less Pavlos Melas, a modern hero of the struggle for Macedonian independence.

Thus, we can see how the historical Alexander has faded into the invincible general, the great leader, explorer and king, as time continued, especially in the Middle Ages with its world of chivalry, warriors and great battles: a superb context into which to fit Alexander, even if this meant distortion of the truth, and history subsumed to legend. Indeed, during the Middle Ages was regarded as one of the four great kings of the ancient world. Let us now consider some specific aspects of Alexander’s reign in support of this.

In 334 Alexander III left home for Asia, entrusting to Antipater as guardian (epitropos) a stable — for a while — Greece and Macedon (Arr. 1.11.3). The king also unilaterally made Antipater deputy hegemon in the League of Corinth. Alexander’s ‘mandate’ or prime directive, as inherited from his father Philip II and endorsed by the League of Corinth, was to pursue his father’s plan of punishing the Persians for their sacrilegious acts of 150 years ago and to ‘liberate’ (whatever that meant) the Greek cities of Asia Minor. In other words, a panhellenic mandate. After he had fulfilled it, people quite rightly would have expected him to return home. People were wrong: the king would soon disregard the prime directive for personal reasons, causing discontent amongst the army with him and also, even more ominously, with his countrymen back home.

We have a fair amount of information for events in mainland Greece, especially Athens, during the reign of Alexander, however events in Macedon in this period are undocumented and largely unknown. We certainly cannot say that there was a hiatus in Macedonian history, for Antipater kept Macedon powerful and united while Alexander was absent, so much so that there was economic growth, and education and military training, for example, remained at a high standard.[9] However, appearance is not likely to reflect reality. Macedon in this period may well have been fraught with discontent, and it provides insights into the Macedonians’ attitude to their king and he to them. At the same time a consideration of the Macedonian background also lends further weight to questioning the aptness of Alexander’s title ‘Great’.

Alexander’s military successes throughout his reign were spectacular to a very large degree — and certainly manufactured by the king to be great (see below) — and we should expect his people back home to feel proud of their king at the head of his panhellenic mission of punishment and liberation, and to proclaim his victories to all and sundry. His deeds and the geographical extent of his conquests were certainly known for we have references to them in contemporary Attic oratory.[10] However, the impression which strikes us about the Macedonians themselves is that Alexander was far from their idea of an ideal king. Why might they feel this way? In addressing this, we can begin with the vexed question of Macedonian manpower. Did Alexander’s demands for reinforcements from the mainland seriously deplete the fighting strength of the army under Antipater? Did he make these demands regardless of the pressure under which he was putting Antipater and without regard for the lives of his people and the security of his kingdom from external threat? And if so, how did the people feel and how did they react?

I take as my example the abortive war of Agis III of 331. This is the only Greek attempt at the overthrow of the Macedonian hegemony which we know about from the time Alexander left for Persia until his death, and therefore it is significant. It is impossible to determine the fighting strength of Macedon at this time,[11] and Badian’s most recent discussion of this complex issue, which effectively rebuts the views of others, will no doubt be itself challenged at some point.[12] While Billows and Badian argue that the fighting strength of Macedon was never depleted to the extent that there was a serious manpower problem, numerical accuracy is not the issue here. It has to be said that Agis III had posed no small threat to Antipater, and that the latter’s forces were not at full strength (Diodorus 18.12.2 says that Antipater was short of ‘citizen soldiers’, i.e. Macedonians proper), and he had just sent 6,500 Macedonians to Alexander. Alexander had left Antipater with only 13,500 Macedonians (12,000 infantry and 1500 cavalry), and when the king needed reinforcements the first year he crossed into Asia he had had to resort to somewhat hastily-levied local troops (Arr. 1.24.2). In 332 Alexander needed more men (Diod. 17.49.1, Curt. 4.6.30), this time from the Greek mainland; in 331, 500 cavalry and 6000 infantry arrived after the battle of Gaugamela (Diod. 17.65.1, Curt. 5.1.40), and as late as 324 Antipater had orders to bring more men to him (Arr. 7.12.4). Antipater was never able to rebuild his manpower significantly. Even in the so-called Lamian War, which broke out on Alexander’s death and lasted about a year, he had only 600 cavalry and 13,000 infantry and was forced to recruit soldiers from elsewhere — and we know what a detrimental impact on his forces the desertion of the 2,000 strong contingent of Thessalian cavalry was and how Antipater only just managed to struggle to Lamia for refuge (Diod. 18.12.3-4). Moreover, it was only the timely arrivals of Leonnatus and then Craterus with several thousand Macedonian veterans that saved the day.

Agis III had accepted ten ships and money from Persia to hire 8,000 mercenaries (Diod. 17.48.1, Curt. 4.1.39), with which he occupied Crete, and so in late 331 Sparta was able to mobilise a fairly formidable force. Then in the same year Memnon, the general of Thrace, and in command of a powerful army (Diod. 17.62.5), leagued with some Thracians and rose in revolt, thereby stretching Antipater’s own army further. Antipater had to lead all his army into Thrace to put down this rising (Diod. 17.62.6). This episode shows not only the ever-present danger of external threats to the kingdom’s security but also the need for an adequate army — something denied to Antipater. Although Antipater dealt with Memnon and with Agis successfully, his manpower reserve had been depleted since he had need of a large sum from Alexander (Arr. 3.16.10) to boost his small force of 1500 cavalry and 12,000 infantry (Diod. 17.17.5), and we later find — in 325 — Memnon leading 5,000 Thracian cavalry to Alexander in Asia since Macedon could not then have raised such a large force of cavalry.

Alexander’s money on this occasion had helped to save the day, but money cannot be the answer to solving problems: the king should not have continued to demand troops which could, and did, weaken Antipater’s position. Take the Thracian discontent at this time, Agis’ insurgence, Peloponnesian stirrings, and throw in a potential revolt of the Greek states (as Agis must have intended) and we have a recipe for disaster.[13] These threats would not have been lost on the Macedonians, and we simply cannot imagine they would not have been worried by them.

Perhaps Alexander relied too much on money buying his way out of trouble. Whilst he may be acclaimed for rewarding his men with high pay, various bonuses, remission of taxes in certain cases, cancellation of soldiers’ debts and various signs of royal favour (Arr. 1.16.5, 7.5.1-3, 12.1-2), the argument can be made that such measures were to ensure the loyalty of his men, especially as he pushed further eastwards after defeating the Persians so decisively. And the question is, what happened when money and favour were no longer enough, especially when we consider the ‘down side’ such as the huge numbers of casualties stemming from Alexander’s battles,[14] the numerous demands for reinforcements, and especially the forced settlement from Macedon and Greece to the newly-founded cities at the farthest ends of the world?[15] There was also the worrying news from those who did return home of Alexander’s drunken rages which resulted in him killing — either by his own hands or from false implication in conspiracies — some of those close to him, his paranoia, his orientalism, and even his belief that he was divine as a son of Zeus. Another factor too is that his people back home did not know Alexander as a man and a king: he had only been home as king for about two years before he left his country, and he showed no signs of coming back until his men forced the issue with a mutiny (see below). Macedon needed a king, and Alexander was not there.


1. I thank Professor A.B. Bosworth for his comments on an earlier draft of this paper.
2. N.G.L. Hammond, ‘The Macedonian Imprint on the Hellenistic World’, in Hellenistic History and Culture, ed. P. Green (Berkeley & Los Angeles 1993) 12-23.
3. The first attested reference to Alexander as great is found in Plautus, Mostellaria 775, where Tranio compares himself to Alexander ‘the great’ (magnum) and to Agathocles of Syracuse. The casual, non-explanatory, nature of the exchange here would indicate that Alexander had had this title for some time, and that the audience knew it. Besides, it would be hard to ascribe the start of a tradition to someone like Plautus! When was Alexander saddled with this title? Perhaps during the reign of Ptolemy I, at the time when he kidnapped the funeral cortege of the dead Alexander, which proved so useful in promoting his rule.
4. The most recent biography of Alexander, written by N.G.L. Hammond, is ominously titled The Genius of Alexander (London 1996).
5. See D. Golan, ‘The Fate of a Court Historian: Callisthenes’, Athenaeum 66 (1988) 99-120.
6. See L.L. Gunderson, ‘Alexander and the Attic Orators’, in Ancient Macedonian Studies in Honour of C.F. Edson, ed. H.J. Dell (Thessaloniki 1981) 183-92.
7. See for example R. Stoneman, ‘The Alexander Romance: From History to Fiction’, in Greek Fiction. The Greek Novel in Context, edd. J.R. Morgan and R. Stoneman (London 1994) 117-29.
8. The historical accuracy of this work was attacked by E. Badian in his classic article ‘Alexander the Great and the Unity of Mankind’, Historia 7 (1958) 425-44. See more recently S. Schröder, ‘Zu Plutarchs Alexanderreden’, MH 48 (1991) 151-7 and A.B. Bosworth, Alexander and the East (Oxford 1996) 2-5.
9. On Macedon during Alexander’s absence and especially the disunity, potential and otherwise, cf. N.G.L. Hammond and F.W. Walbank, A History of Macedonia 3 (Oxford 1988) 86-94 and R.M. Errington, History of Macedonia (Berkeley & Los Angeles 1990) 104 and 114-15.
10. Aes. 3.65, Din. 1.34; cf. Hyp. 5.31-32. On the Dinarchus passage see Ian Worthington, A Historical Commentary on Dinarchus (Ann Arbor 1992) ad loc., with references there cited.
11. On troop numbers see the discussion of R. Billows, Kings and Colonists (Leiden 1995) 183-212. Billows believes that Macedon did not face a manpower shortage at this time, although I disagree.
12. E. Badian, ‘Agis ’, Ventures into Greek History. Essays in Honour of N.G.L. Hammond, ed. Ian Worthington (Oxford 1994) 259-68, who is right to stress that precise figures will never be known. For an opposing view see A.B. Bosworth, ‘Alexander the Great and the Decline of Macedon’, JHS 106 (1986) 1-12.
13. Though the Greeks may well have come to accept the Macedonian hegemony, at least while Alexander was alive: see Ian Worthington, ‘The Harpalus Affair and the Greek Response to the Macedonian Hegemony’, Ventures into Greek History. Essays in Honour of N.G.L. Hammond, ed. Ian Worthington (Oxford 1994) 307-30.
14. Professor Bosworth cautions me here on the extent of the casualties. He believes that there was regular attrition, no major disaster (except at the Persian Gates), and that the casualty rate may have been ‘as low as 30%. Nearly 20,000 out of 30,000+ seem to have survived’ (personal letter). Admittedly, in battles using arrows, sarissas, and short swords, the prediction of dead and wounded is impossible, but for over one third of Alexander’s combat troops to have been killed or maimed is hardly a low percentage! If a figure of 30% represents those actually killed, then at least the same number would have been wounded, which for an army amounts to an annihilation.
15. On cities founded by Alexander, see now P.M. Fraser, Cities of Alexander the Great (Oxford 1996) who limits Alexander’s genuine foundations to eight (excluding Alexandria in Egypt).

Historian weeps at groundbreaking Alexander the Great exhibition

The historian Robin Lane Fox was reduced to helpless tears at the opening of an exhibition in Oxford, over the glittering golden diadem of a woman who died more than 2,300 years ago and silver cups and wine jugs last used by Alexander the Great and his father, Philip II.

Lane Fox – an Oxford academic who has not only written widely on Alexander the Great but also led the cavalry charge as an extra and adviser in the recent Hollywood film – described the treasures at the Ashmolean museum, retrieved from the graves and the palace of the king and his ancestors, as "the greatest day of classical exhibitions in my lifetime". He called the diadem of hundreds of golden myrtle flowers and leaves, probably worn by a queen who killed herself to join her husband, Philip II, in the grave, "the single most beautiful object in gold on the planet".

Another diadem of golden oak leaves on display had only been rediscovered in 2008 after it was deliberately hidden with the cremated remains of a teenage boy who may have been Alexander's murdered son.

Only a handful of the jewellery, weapons, armour, sculptures and fragments of architecture has ever been seen by the public anywhere, even in Greece. Some were excavated only in the past few years. Most of the pieces have been brought by Angeliki Kottaridi, curator and archaeologist, straight from her stores in Vergina – a small town situated on top of Aegae, the ancient capital of Macedon. The site has only begun in the last 30 years to reveal its secrets, which include the unlooted tombs of Philip II, of a queen who may have been his grandmother buried covered from head to foot in gold, and of Alexander IV, the last of the line of kings.

Only a fraction of the cemetery (comprising more than 500 burial mounds) and Philip's huge palace have been excavated – enough, Lane Fox said, to suggest it made Buck House "look like a cottage". The building, as proved by the dazzling silver, was the scene of royal banquets on a scale which might have made Cecil B DeMille splutter: the 16 banqueting halls had space on double couches for more than 400 diners, while the court had room for 3,500 seated guests.

Future excavation, and the plans for a major museum to display the extraodinary finds, may depend on what the future holds for the tottering Greek economy.

"Our strength is our past, and our memory," Kottaridi said. "We need Alexander to help us; we need our pride restored again."

Originally posted @ The Guardian