Alexander the Great...Good or Bad King, or neither? An Essay

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Xenophon
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Alexander the Great...Good or Bad King, or neither? An Essay

Post by Xenophon » Fri Oct 05, 2012 3:31 am

I hope that Pothosians will find the following Essay of interest and perhaps even thought provoking.
Almost all of what follows is open to debate, and I hope that will occur, and that ‘spin-off’ threads will emerge about the various matters referred to.

Firstly, let us consider Alexander’s role as King. We do not know much about his predecessors beyond Philip, but the evidence suggests that Macedonian Kings were ‘absolute’, not ‘constitutional ( epigraphical evidence etc). Since the ‘Macedonian Phalanx’ was only created c. 360 BC by Philip, or just possibly Alexander II his brother, it follows that there cannot have existed a large Assembly of ‘Makedones/citizens’ with ‘traditional’ rights such as ‘election’ of Kings or to act as jury in major treason trials. The King acted alone, sometimes influenced by the nobles around him - his ‘hetairoi’/companions or ‘philoi’/friends ( the latter term more often used in the Successor states ). Despite the fact that various branches of the Temenid/Argead dynasty ruled Macedon for some 300 years, until the last was exterminated by Cassander , dynastic rivalry was rife, and few Macedonian Kings died in their beds, including Alexander’s father Philip.

There seems to have been no ‘constitution’, for succession was not always by primogeniture, or any other institution. Rather a sort of pragmatic inheritance followed, with a King sometimes nominating an adult son that he thought best rather than any constitutional inheritance by the eldest son. This was in part due to the Macedonian Kings practise of polygamy, carried out for political reasons, and ensuring that there were always plenty of potential heirs. The downside was that through intermarriage many families could claim ‘Royal’ descent, and that relations between rival princes who were half-brothers was intense, with Royal wives each seeking to promote their son’s interests, so as to influence the selection of an heir by the King. If, through sudden death of the King, a child should become King, then usually an Uncle was selected as ‘Regent’ – with of course the temptation to displace the child/nephew and assume the crown himself. Indeed, this was how Alexander’s father Philip came to the throne. The King also commanded the Army, with no fetters on his absolute authority (unlike e.g. the Spartan Kings); owned vast tracts of land including all conquests/’spear-won’ land, and owned all the natural produce – timber, gold, silver etc. Thus Macedonian Kings were fabulously wealthy by Greek standards, and with that wealth came power – through gifts, bribery and so on. To ordinary ‘Makedones’, such a powerful figure seemed almost a God, and indeed Kings could be granted ‘divine honours’ after their death. The King was seen as an intermediary between the people and the Gods, and thus had a religious function, and was expected to provide for them, lead them in the acquisition of wealth through War, as a proper ‘Hero-King’ should, and protect Macedon. By the same token, with many branches of the Argead family in existence, not to mention other noble families, each with a loyal local following, rivalry for the intensely prestigious role of all-powerful King was intense. Assassination, murder, polygamous marriage, dynastic alliance, hostages and treachery all played a part in this rough-and-tumble primitive form of politics. Small wonder that Macedonian Princes, like Alexander III, tended to be paranoid.....

Once the National Army of Macedon, that is, the Companion cavalry and Phalanx, had evolved by Philip’s day into a professional army, if unified, it represented an all-powerful factor, which occasionally asserted itself in times of great stress. We first hear of this after the catapults of the Phocian Onomarchus inflicted Philip’s one and only major defeat in 353 BC. The Army was distinctly reluctant to campaign the next Spring, and Philip found himself ‘deserted’ by his army, shaken by their losses the previous year. Only with great difficulty and much cajoling, appeals to their manhood, flattery etc did Philip persuade the Army to take the field. On another occasion, there was a near mutiny over arrears of pay that Philip bravely faced down. Fear and money, then, were the stressors that could unite the Army to defy their ‘revered’ King who held absolute power – including life or death – over them. Alexander too would encounter exactly the same stressors – fear, of the vastness of India and its rumoured thousands of elephants, at Hyphasis; and money/wealth and status and demobilisation at Opis two years later.

The Army then, if unified in purpose, was the only institution in the Macedonia of Philip and Alexander that could openly defy the King’s absolute powers. At the same time, the King also needed to fear rival families and factions, who might act secretly to replace him. Worse still, these could be, and were, supported and encouraged by external enemies such as Persia or Athens .

The circumstances preceding Alexander III’s accession must await a post another day, and we pass on to what he did following his acclamation by Alexander the Lynkestian, before those of the Army present. This was a surprise, for the three sons of Aeropus were possible rivals to Alexander the Great for the now vacant kingship, and the other two were implicated in Philip’s murder/assassination. Accordingly, as a prime mover in helping Alexander and his ‘faction’ grasp the succession he was spared....for a while. Alexander set about avenging his Father, as a dutiful son should, and was expected to. He also had all his rivals and personal enemies such as Attalus and his faction ‘bumped off', and perhaps his half-brothers except Arhiddaios ( for obvious reasons) for no more is heard of them after this – and no-one objected or questioned that this was anything other than normal and expected.

Later still, in 330 BC, he was capable of arresting and having killed Parmenion and his ‘faction’, including his friend Philotas, son of Parmenion, on the flimsiest of evidence – a case of ‘getting in your retaliation first’ as the infamous motto of a British Rugby team put it. Incidently, I don’t believe there was an “Assembly of the Makedones” who ‘elected’ Kings or acted as ‘jury’ in cases of High Treason, for all, including camp followers, servants and batmen were summoned to this meeting, according to Curtius VI.8.23. He goes on to add that by ‘ancient custom’ the Army could ‘pass judgement’ – but as we have seen, the ‘Army’ as such didn’t exist before c.360 or so, and Curtius’ validity is immediately undermined because he goes on to say that the ‘common people’ exercised this function in peacetime, even over the King’s wishes – an absurdity if ever there was one.

In fact the Army had no more say in guilt or innocence than a firing squad or an incited lynch mob. The same was also true of the ‘paides’/pages conspiracy three years later, if in fact the the Army was summoned on that occasion ( there are doubts in the sources). In each of the three instances referred to Alexander needed the tacit approval of the only powerful institution that could conceivably thwart him – the Army. By addressing them, and having them take part in executions, he implicated them in his murders and co-opted them to his ‘side’, in instances where powerful other ‘factions’ might conceivably seek to get the Army to back them – his rivals for the throne, the soldiers loyal to Parmenion and Philotas, and the powerful noble families of the executed ‘paides’/hostages respectively.

Alexander was dependant on the Army following him, and needed to retain their loyalty. In this he came close to ultimate failure. The aims of Alexander’s invasion of Persia were twofold – to plunder its riches, and to conquer land. In this King and Army were united. Whether Alexander secretly intended to displace the Great King at the outset is uncertain, but as his successes mounted he certainly acquired that aim. To govern Egypt, he had to be seen to be a ‘legitimate’ Pharoah, which Persia’s Great Kings never bothered to do, and suffered many rebellions as a result. Hence the visit to Siwa and the priests proclamation of him as ‘Son of Ammon’and thus legitimate ‘God-Pharoah’ of Egypt. Similarly, Alexander had to become a ‘legitimate’ Great King to be accepted by Persians –hence the Persian customs – dress, hunting lions from chariots, proskynesis, appointing Persian Grandees as Satraps etc. After all, Alexander the ‘Lord of Asia’ could hardly govern it as a foreigner sitting in far-away Pella. And this is where King and Army parted ways, for the Army wanted nothing more than to take their looted wealth – slaves, money etc home. Alexander not only paid off the debts of those soldiers in debt, but when the 10,000 veterans were discharged, they received full arrears of pay – at 4 obols per day – including their journey-time home, but also a gratuity of one Talent ( 26 kg of gold), roughly 25 years pay, a pittance even so compared to Alexander's overall wealth. [Arrian VII.12] This made the veterans fabulously wealthy, especially when their own loot is added in. The Army’s yearning to go home first manifests itself after the death of Darius, but Alexander persuades them to carry on until at the Hyphasis, afraid of bigger and bloodier battles against countless Indian foes and elephants, they refuse to go further, and cannot be persuaded by the King to do so, despite the ‘reverence’ they have for their King. Alexander saves face by announcing unfavourable omens, and the Army turns back. At Opis, when Alexander discharges the 10,000 veterans, general resentment rings out at the realisation that Alexander intends to stay in Asia, and that the Army must stay with him. They demand that all should go home, and Alexander counters with increased ‘Persianisation’ of the Army, something he knows they resent, and upon this realisation the troops relent. Still, the bond between King and Army is seriously weakened by these latter two rifts.

Alexander then, is an absolute ruler, and whilst ‘bad’ by modern standards – mass murderer, killer of even those closest to him through paranoia or genuine self-defence, rapist, pillager and thief on the grand scale, by the standards prevailing at the time, such behaviour may be regarded as normal. The Army certainly saw him as Heroic Warrior King and benefactor, hence ‘good,’ but in the end were not pleased at his ‘betrayal’ of his role as Macedonian King in favour of his becoming Pharoah of Egypt and Great King of Persia, so to them, in the end, he was a mixture of 'good' and 'bad'.

What the Macedonians at home thought is another story, to be addressed another time.....

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Re: Alexander the Great...Good or Bad King, or neither? An E

Post by chris_taylor » Fri Oct 05, 2012 4:08 pm

Xenophon wrote:I hope that Pothosians will find the following Essay of interest and perhaps even thought provoking.
Almost all of what follows is open to debate, and I hope that will occur, and that ‘spin-off’ threads will emerge about the various matters referred to.
Good line of reasoning. And a lot of info in it, too.

My only suggestion is to sharpen the deductive reasoning by summarizing your premise in the opening paragragh: "A good king is defined (a) by comparison to the standards of his time ... (b) by how he was viewed by those whose lives depended on him ..."

It will help to separate discussion over "What constitutes a good king?" from discussion over whether Alexander fulfilled a particular definition or not.

Well done :)

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Re: Alexander the Great...Good or Bad King, or neither? An E

Post by agesilaos » Fri Oct 05, 2012 5:55 pm

Alexander, is obviously a good king...he's dead, vive la revolution!
When you think about, it free-choice is the only possible option.

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Re: Alexander the Great...Good or Bad King, or neither? An E

Post by Speriwulfaz » Wed Dec 19, 2012 7:40 pm

First of all, I've heard Macedonia compared to the Homeric Greek kingdoms of the Mycenaean era. In essence it was feudalism, with the king constantly trying to maintain his power over the nobles. The conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles, I believe, is a great parallel.

Second, Alexander was a terrible king in many ways. Even though he conquered more than any other Hellenic king before him (though he wasn't a Hellene himself, technically) he failed to provide any sort of care for the provinces that he conquered. He simply replaced the Persian satrap with a Macedonian one and went on to conquer other places. During the early stages of his campaign this might have been acceptable, for he needed to conquer the coastal ports and defeat Darius as soon as he possibly could. However, after his defeat of Spitamenes he could've easily spent some time back in his provinces administrating if he wasn't so hell-bent on winning the Homeric glory that he craved so intensely. The only reason he went back at all is because his troops forced him to.

Another reason that he was a terrible king was that he spent virtually no time planning for his succession. Despite the relatively unstructured system of succession mentioned by Xenophon, every Macedonian king with any sort of skill, including Philip II, put a lot of time into maintaining his kingdom and his dynasty. By the time of his death his only son Alexander IV was an infant, and of course his soon-to-be Diadochoi wanted the crown for themselves.

So despite the fact that he was one of the greatest generals to ever live and that he was very personally brave, Alexander was a terrible king, certainly worse than his father. Then again, the kings before Philip were much worse than either of them. :P
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Re: Alexander the Great...Good or Bad King, or neither? An Essay

Post by qawsedrf » Thu Jul 07, 2016 9:34 am

I would go for neither. He was a human, it is more than just surely. He was not bad. He was not a king. His contribution into the world`s history is obvious and undoubtful as long as he is still spoken about after so many centuries passed after his death, spoken of and written upon.

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Re: Alexander the Great...Good or Bad King, or neither? An Essay

Post by ancientboy » Mon Aug 15, 2016 11:48 pm

First thanks for such a wonderful article.

In my opinion, I would say Alexander was a hero. Reason being that in the long run, he has truly shown us that what one man can achieve.

I believe that in the long run, even guys like Genghis Khan or tyrants in history were actually great kings in their own right.

Except Calligula ;)

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Re: Alexander the Great...Good or Bad King, or neither? An Essay

Post by The Yearning of Atum » Fri Dec 02, 2016 5:21 am

A few things -
Where does the rapist allegation come from? Alexander was often remarked as being incredibly restrained in sexual appetites (Plutarch even explicitly compliments Alexander at one point on not forcing himself on Roxana, as many other kings would have done), which is one of the reasons his eventual complete lack of restraint in alcohol is all the more surprising. It's speculated that his relationship with the eunuch Bagoas may have been one of purely physical attraction, but even then, it's described how Alexander's forces shouted at him to kiss the boy because he continually refused to do so. And that was when he was drunk.
Second, 'mass murderer' is rather harsh. He was a general. He fought wars, and according to Plutarch and other ancient sources, fought them honorably, and I don't imagine the view on murder while at war has changed much in the modern day. You wouldn't call a modern veteran a slaughterer - why should an ancient warrior be viewed any different?
Pillager and thief, I'll agree with, though as you said, by the standards of the time such a thing was perfectly acceptable, but 'murderer of even those closest to him' is, while possibly true when one looks at Cleitus the Black (though this was while the king was incredibly drunk - one of the worst moments of his spiral into alcoholism), not supported by your essay. You mention at one point that it is possible that Alexander assassinated his half-brothers, though this is only due to their disappearance from history, which can be attributed to countless other things. I'm not saying it's wrong, it's certainly possible, but a suspicion isn't enough to label someone as a 'murderer of even those closest to him.' I'd really recommend using the murder of Cleitus the Black for that allegation, as it is a very scandalous story.
All in all, interesting article. Needs some work, and at times it comes off rather biased, but all in the all the main thing wrong with it is the rapist allegation - it comes off slanderous and completely uncharacteristic of the Alexander history describes to us.
In my personal opinion, Alexander was great at what he did, and that was conquer. I think that, if he had lived longer and had more time to prepare his son for the throne, his empire could have lasted longer than it did (the aforementioned restraint in sexual appetites is part of the reason why his son was so young when he died - Alexander waited quite a long time to have a child). As a person, I think he was the best he could be in the world he was born into. He was extremely well educated, extremely courageous, extremely ambitious and extremely skilled. He is described as being honorable in combat, and taking brief breaks in his campaigns to speak with and learn from the philosophers and wise men of the lands he visited ("If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes"), and was clearly, til his later Persian scandals and alcohol-fueled mistakes, well beloved by his army and the people of the time. He did what he set out to do - the impossible - and forever cemented himself in history as one of time's most incredible stories.
In the end, whether he was a good or bad king is too vague a question. You must address other aspects first.
Was he a good leader? Yes - Alexander was incredibly charismatic, an excellent general, and capable of convincing his army to march into battle against outnumbering foes countless times.
Was he a good warrior? I think this one is rather obvious.
Was he a good man? Debatable, though the historians of ancient times clearly believed him to be, and when compared to other kings, who faced far less stressful situations than he, he's practically an angel. He was certainly philosophical, and undeniably a genius in various fields, though his morals, while in some situations reported to be quite spotless, grew incredibly questionable later in life.
Was he a good ruler? Hard to tell, really. He never took much time to do so - it was always onto the next horizon, out to the next land to conquer. In this way, no, he was a terrible ruler. But perhaps he imagined there'd be time enough to rule after the wars were won. Perhaps if he'd been given more time in life he would have proven to be quite a just ruler. As it is, it was never his priority, and not what he is now remembered for.
So, was Alexander a good king?
He was never a king.
Solomon, Marcus Aurelius, Rurik, Augustus - these are the men we remember for being kings.
We do not remember Alexander for being a king.
We remember him for being Alexander.

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Re: Alexander the Great...Good or Bad King, or neither? An Essay

Post by Xenophon » Sat Dec 03, 2016 3:34 am

Alexander then, is an absolute ruler, and whilst ‘bad’ by modern standards – mass murderer, killer of even those closest to him through paranoia or genuine self-defence, rapist, pillager and thief on the grand scale, by the standards prevailing at the time, such behaviour may be regarded as normal.”

Firstly, it must be pointed out that in Alexander’s day, and throughout history, women, especially non-noble women (noble women were considered valuable for various reasons, mostly political) were seen as ‘inferiors’, and as such required to be submissive to men, and as chattels. Alexander, for example, habitually rewarded his troops with money and women ( see e.g. Plutarch 24). Like all powerful men of his time, Alexander probably took for granted sex with whomever he pleased whenever he liked, and so was a 'rapist' by modern standards. He casually took as his mistress Barsine, wife of Memnon. One wonders how she felt about sharing a bed with her husband’s enemy, who before dying of an illness was a real thorn in Alexander's side – it would hardly have been consensual, especially at first, even if she came to stoically accept her lot ( She apparently bore him a son, Herakles, born 318 BC, but it is possible Herakles was a later 'pretender') so Alexander hardly “waited quite a long time to have a child”).. Plutarch says, while extolling Alexander’s virtues, that he refrained from indulging his passions with Darius’ wife and children, but this is simply untrue. Darius’ wife Stateira was captured, along with Darius’ mother Sisygambis after Issus around November 333 and died in childbirth in September 331. Darius cannot have been the father of the baby. Would she have consented to share Alexander’s bed while her husband still lived? Darius’ children, his son Ochus (5 or so) and daughters Barsine (around 6) and Dryeptis ( around 4) and Sisygambis ( aged around 65 or more) were safe for the time being. Alexander honoured Sisygambis as a ‘mother,’Ochus is never heard of again and is presumably disposed of as a potential threat, while as soon as they grew up, Barsine, renamed Stateira II, was married to Alexander and Dryeptis to Hephaestion at the mass weddings at Susa in 324 BC. Both became widows quite quickly (323 BC). Stateira was possibly pregnant when she was murdered along with Dryeptis by Roxane, likely aided and abetted by Perdiccas, following Alexander’s death.[Plut Alex 77.6] At Susa, Alexander took a second Persian ‘Royal wife’, Parysitis, daughter of Artaxerxes III. (Alexander seems to have been 'hedging his bets', for many Persians regarded Darius as a usurper of the house of Artaxerxes). She too is never heard of again after Alexander’s death. Alexander bedded every ‘Royal female’ he could, sooner or later. Few if any of these women consented to sharing Alexander’s bed, and indeed they were not given a choice. Even Roxanna, whom Alexander supposedly loved, was forcibly married to him at age 16 for political reasons – the usual cementing of an alliance.

By any modern definition each and every case qualifies as rape.

Nevertheless, as I said, at the time all this was acceptable ‘normal’ behaviour.

As to ‘mass murderer’a number of unprovoked and unjustified massacres are reportedly carried out by Alexander, and the degree of reality of these are debated both by ancient sources and modern scholars, depending whether they view Alexander as good or bad. For example Cleitarchus appears to have invented several ‘massacres’ duly reported in later sources ( such as the massacre of 80,000 Brahmin priests at Sindimana – Arrian records that Alexander executed the priests, but makes no mention of this unlikely number). Several examples however are pretty well undisputed. There is the massacre of the Greek mercenaries after they surrendered at Granicus, supposed to be 20,000, but this is the total of all ‘mercenaries’ including non-Greeks, and having stated they were “massacred to a man,”Arrian records 2,000 taken prisoner! In truth, probably several thousand were massacred – to discourage Greeks from entering Persian service. There is also the massacre of the Branchidae, whose city was destroyed man, woman and child. This story stems from Kallisthenes, and seems to be accepted by all later sources ( though some passed over it without comment). Out of increasing frustration, Alexander’s massacres of civilians and prisoners of war accelerated in India, for example at the siege of Massaga, after the death of their leader, the Indian ‘mercenaries’ surrendered, agreeing to serve Alexander. Following a rumour that they intended to desert, Alexander massacred them all. There are many other massacres and part massacres recorded, and the above merely gives a couple of examples and is not intended to be all-inclusive.

This is not to mention the inevitable massacres following sieges, or the countless unrecorded smaller massacres.

Today, the mass murder of surrendered prisoners and civilians in war is totally unacceptable, and considered ‘war crimes’ but again, not in the past.

'Murderer of even those closest to him'”, I think, is not limited to his half-brothers or to Cleitus the Black, the man who had saved his life at Granicus. Alexander owed his position as King mostly to Parmenion, and many of Parmenion’s relatives and friends attained high command as a reward – his youngest son Nicanor became commander of the Guard Hypaspists, his son-in-law Coenus commanded a phalanx battalion while another relative named Nicanor became admiral of the navy made up of Macedonia's Greek allies. Parmenion's friend Amyntas and his brother Asander were placed in key positions. Parmenion's oldest son Philotas was made commander of the Guard Companion cavalry, Parmenion himself became Alexander's second in command, the same position he had held under Philip.

In the East, toward the end of 330 BC, Philotas was accused of conspiring against Alexander, on fairly flimsy evidence, tortured, tried and executed. According to Plutarch, Philotas had been a childhood friend of Alexander [Alex. 10.3]. Some modern Historians such as Badrian believe that it was Alexander who conspired against Philotas, but as Heckel and others have pointed out, the evidence suggests that it was Hephaestion and others who were guilty of this – Hephaestion even personally took part in the torture of Philotas. Neverthless, Alexander went along with this so his childhood friend was judicially murdered. Then, because Parmenion had loyal troops under command, two assassins were sent to kill the old General before he could hear of his son’s death. Parmenion was completely innocent and murdered out of expediency. Even if Alexander was paranoid about Parmenion and his powerful family, that is no excuse for the ruthless murders.

No-one denies that Alexander achieved a great many things. Today we see all the middle East/Asia coloured in as being Alexander’s empire on a map, but he certainly didn’t conquer all this territory. The vast bulk he didn’t even visit. Rather he conducted a mighty ‘Razzia’/raid across Asia, but could hardly be said to have ‘owned’ any territory beyond that which his troops occupied, settled etc.

As to the rest of your excellent post, all I will say is that your prejudices and bias are showing! :wink:

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Re: Alexander the Great...Good or Bad King, or neither? An Essay

Post by The Yearning of Atum » Sat Dec 03, 2016 4:45 am

A good response, but your allegation that Alexander was a rapist is still unfounded. As I said, his chasteness was legendary, and a primary characteristic of his personality, displayed both when he was described as refusing gifts of men and women as sexual partners from foreign kings and deriding them for thinking him base enough to accept such an offer, his long reluctance in courting Bagoas, and refusal to force himself upon his wives. You've yet to provide any concrete evidence of him being a rapist, instead saying 'Like all powerful men of the time, Alexander probably took for granted sex with whomever he pleased whenever he liked...' It's not very fair to assume someone is a rapist simply because other men of their time were, especially when that person is such a unique one as Alexander the Great. Alexander took partners, yes, and is described, at one point, as having a harem, though his use of this harem is described as being incredibly scarce and his sexual activity with his partners incredibly limited. The assumption that Alexander raped Stateira simply because she died in childbirth and Darius could not have been the father is also unfounded and exactly that - an assumption. We can not assume that Alexander forced himself on women simply because he was a king of ancient times and we find the likelihood of consent unlikely - we have no idea of the specifics of their relationship at the time and rape is simply uncharacteristic of the Alexander presented to us by the ancient historians. I mean no offense, but so much of your reasoning is based on assumptions. 'Alexander probably took for granted sex with whomever he pleased...' 'Ochus is never heard of again and is presumably disposed of...' 'Stateira was possibly pregnant...' Despite this, you state much of it as fact. Again, we know nothing of their relationships. We can not assume the relationship of two people simply based on the standards of the time and what we, as centuries-detached observers viewing the situation with a lack of proper information, deem the logical choice. Lastly, 'few if any of these women consented to sharing Alexander's bed' is absolutely stating this as fact without knowing in the slightest whether or not they actually did. No one knows. All we know is the reputation of Alexander contradicts this, and we lack sufficient evidence other than standards of the time (which Alexander was often noted as defying, eventually to the chagrin of Greece) and our own hypotheses. Therefore, it's unfair to deem him a rapist.
Also, Heracles was born only four years before Alexander's death, so I think my point that Alexander waited most of his life to have a child still stands.
Again, good response, and I mean no offense. I just don't want people walking away with the idea, 'Oh, Alexander's just another disgusting puppy-kicker of history - aren't the ancients sickening?'

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Re: Alexander the Great...Good or Bad King, or neither? An Essay

Post by the_accursed » Mon Dec 05, 2016 1:47 pm

qawsedrf wrote:I would go for neither. He was a human, it is more than just surely. He was not bad. He was not a king.
The Yearning of Atum wrote:So, was Alexander a good king? He was never a king. Solomon, Marcus Aurelius, Rurik, Augustus - these are the men we remember for being kings. We do not remember Alexander for being a king.
Alexander was a king.
There is no truth in history.

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Re: Alexander the Great...Good or Bad King, or neither? An Essay

Post by hiphys » Mon Dec 05, 2016 5:58 pm

Hi, Yearning of Atum!
I want to strike a blow for your last post. You said the charge of rapist for Alexander isn't proved and you are right. Instead there are many proofs in ancient sources to uphold the opposite point of view. 1) Plutarch (Vita Alex. 22, 4-5) writes "When he [i.e.Alexander] knew that two Macedonian soldiers under Parmenio raped the wives of some mercenaries, he told Parmenio to put them to death (if found guilty), as brutes born to destroy mankind, and added he never looked at Darius' wife and never wanted to see her, and even he didn't want to hear someone praising her beauty". Plutarch again in another passage of the some work of his (id. 42, 9-10) writes Alexander tried to help a soldier to win the love of a woman "with convincing words or gifts, because she isn't a slave". The slaves naturally were treated as objects or beasts by all the freemen (and Alexander among them). There are also in Athenaeus (The Deipnosophists 13, 603 b) and Plutarch (Moralia, 179 d - 180 f) many other passages showing how Alexander respected the feelings of friends. Of course we don't know whether these anecdotes were true or fake, but I think no one would invent a story without some truth in what he said.

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Re: Alexander the Great...Good or Bad King, or neither? An Essay

Post by Xenophon » Mon Dec 26, 2016 10:40 am

The yearning of Atum wrote:
“A good response, but your allegation that Alexander was a rapist is still unfounded. As I said, his chasteness was legendary, and a primary characteristic of his personality, displayed both when he was described as refusing gifts of men and women as sexual partners from foreign kings and deriding them for thinking him base enough to accept such an offer, his long reluctance in courting Bagoas, and refusal to force himself upon his wives. You've yet to provide any concrete evidence of him being a rapist”
Hiphys wrote:
“You said the charge of rapist for Alexander isn't proved and you are right.”
I must once again emphasise that we are talking in modern terms. Perhaps a definition wouldn’t go amiss. In modern terms, ‘Rape’ may be defined as having sexual relations with a person without their consent, or by force which may be threatened or implied, or even by fraudulent means.

Before continuing, let me concede I cannot provide any ‘concrete evidence’ or ‘proof’, because there simply isn’t any. There could not be without the evidence of the women themselves that they did not consent, and since none of them have a voice in a misogynist and male-dominated past, that cannot happen.

But that does not by any means make Alexander innocent of rape, in modern terms.

There is another form of evidence called ‘circumstantial evidence’ as opposed to direct, i.e. the circumstances surrounding the matter. I’ll come back to this below.

Hiphys wrote:
“Plutarch (Vita Alex. 22, 4-5) writes "When he [i.e.Alexander] knew that two Macedonian soldiers under Parmenio raped the wives of some mercenaries, he told Parmenio to put them to death (if found guilty), as brutes born to destroy mankind, and added he never looked at Darius' wife and never wanted to see her, and even he didn't want to hear someone praising her beauty".
There is a very good reason not to allow the rape of the wives of mercenaries not to go unpunished – it is bad for discipline, and could lead to fights between Macedonians and mercenaries. It is the second part that is curious. Alexander is denying that he had relations with Stateira, wife and sister of Darius, saying he wouldn’t even look at her. It would seem that he was pre-empting any plea that the soldiers merely did as he did. Is he also saying he didn’t dare look at her, for fear of giving in to temptation? Methinks Alexander “protesteth too much.”!

Digression: As all Pothosians will be aware, our sources broadly fall into two traditions – the ‘good’ sources, broadly based on Callisthenes official propaganda, possibly the ‘Royal Diaries’, and the accounts of sympathetic sources such as Ptolemy and Aristobulus, for example. The other tradition is the ‘vulgate’ tradition via Cleitarchus which portrays Alexander ‘warts and all’. It is a popular story, particularly in Roman times. It contains lurid details, a convincing, but probably incorrect psychological portrait, and fantasy stories. Today the ‘good’ sources tend to be preferred, with details added by the ‘vulgate’ tradition, and as an antidote to parts where the ‘good’ tradition glosses over Alexander’s wrong-doings. This of course leads to contradictions. But sometimes a source will contradict itself, despite belonging to just the one one tradition or the other.....

Let us consider Plutarch for example. He dutifully reports Alexander’s virtues, some of which Hiphys has referred to. One of these is Alexander’s moderation in drinking (!) [Plut 23]. Plutarch reports he was only there for the conversation, which is clearly the ‘official line’, but it is evident that Plutarch does not really believe this, because in the same paragraph he reports Alexander sleeping in until after mid-day and sometimes all day – the marks of a habitual drunk. ( not to mention Alexander’s drunken rages such as that which led to the murder of Cleitus [Plut 50]), all contradicting the ‘official’ propaganda of moderation. In fact, as has been observed, Alexander displayed many of the classic symptoms of alcoholism.

With Alexander’s women, let us take a closer look at the case of Stateira, wife and sister of Darius, and reputedly the most beautiful woman in Asia, whom Alexander apparently could not bear to look at ! The truth is somewhat different. Captured after Issus, along with her Mother/Mother-in-law Sisygambis, and her three young children, what became of them? Sisygambis and the young children are left behind in Susa, to be educated in Greek. [D.S. XVII.67], but significantly Stateira is not. Alexander must have taken her with him. Further proof of this is that Curtius later says when she died suddenly, it was because of the hardships of travelling in the baggage train – evidently it was common knowledge that Alexander brought her with him. [Curt. 4.10.18-19]. This is a rather implausible story, a “cover-up” for the real cause of death, for while a servant girl or camp-follower walking all the way might so die, a Queen in a carriage would not. Plutarch tells us that Alexander, "esteeming it more kingly to govern himself than to conquer his enemies,[Plutarch,Alexander 21.7. and Curtius III.12] sought no intimacy with Darius' wife” – which is an obvious lie. Why take her along otherwise?

That Alexander treated her as bedmate is proven by her real cause of sudden death in 331 BC, roughly two years after her capture. She died of complications in pregnancy – childbirth according to Plutarch [Pl. Alex. 30.1], miscarriage according to Justin [Just. 11.12]. The father can only realistically have been Alexander.

Could Stateira plausibly have abandoned Sisygambis and her children to become Alexander’s mistress? Could the wife/sister of Darius have agreed to become Alexander’s mistress while her husband still lived and while Alexander was pursuing him in order to kill him? The circumstantial evidence is compelling. She could not have done so willingly, and must have been induced to.

The fate of Stateira was a sad one, to die as a result of Alexander’s surely unwanted sexual attentions, knowing he was pursuing her husband/brother to his death ( in 330 BC). One can only feel pity for her.

Those circumstances make Alexander a rapist by the modern definition above. Nor was Stateira the only victim, simply the one we have most circumstantial evidence for. As I have mentioned previously, Barsine wife of Memnon was also a prisoner almost certainly compelled to share Alexander’s bed and may have borne him a son, Heracles. And of course there were also forced marriages. Barsine /Stateira II, daughter of Darius as soon as she came of age, and Parysitis, daughter of Artaxerxes III, neither of whom could have validly consented to share Alexander’s bed.

If my reasoning is cautious, using words like ‘probably’ and ‘presumably’, it is because we cannot know various things for absolutely certain. As for Alexander’s reputation, you naively repeat what is obvious ‘official propaganda’ ( see above), and demonstrably false.

Having said all that, applying the standards of today, we should remember :
"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there", as L.P. Hartley wrote.

Perhaps to contemporaries Alexander did seem a paragon of virtue, showing mercy to his enemies, being magnanimous to Darius’ family etc but by and large it was cultivated and calculated, for example by showing magnaminity to Darius’ family, and ‘taking them over’ Alexander was declaring to the world that he was Darius’ legitimate heir, now claiming his rights.

But even to contemporaries, applying the standards of the time, Alexander was guilty of much wrong-doing, including IIRC, being accused of debauchery after Babylon..

One of my points is to show that we should not apply our own standards, but rather those of the time, to determine if Alexander was ‘good’ or ‘bad’, or neither.......

Alexias
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Re: Alexander the Great...Good or Bad King, or neither? An Essay

Post by Alexias » Mon Dec 26, 2016 9:57 pm

Xenophon wrote:One of my points is to show that we should not apply our own standards, but rather those of the time, to determine if Alexander was ‘good’ or ‘bad’, or neither.......”
Yet the whole point of your posts is that you are judging Alexander by modern standards.
But that does not by any means make Alexander innocent of rape, in modern terms.
Surely it is irrelevant to judge Alexander's kingship by modern standards, and unjust as he would have been utterly unaware of modern standards of behaviour. Rape, statutory of not, was a small part of kingship. It is however, a large part of the moral leadership which has been imposed on modern political leaders. What you should be doing is defining what the expectations of a good king were by Alexander's contemporaries and whether or not Alexander met those standards. You can then define how modern kingship (or leadership) differs from ancient kingship and judge whether Alexander still meets the criteria for a good leader.

Ancient kingship had three main functions: defender, priest and judge. Alexander excelled as defender of his people, their land and provider of their wealth. He was also meticulous in his performance of his priestly duties, the people's intermediary with the gods and thus the provider of their luck. As Macedonian judge he had no codified set of laws to work from, he just had custom, the expectations of his subjects, the current circumstances and his own morals to rely on. Sometimes he erred on the side of harshness, sometimes leniency. But overall was he a bad king? I suspect the Macedonians would not have thought so.
There is a very good reason not to allow the rape of the wives of mercenaries not to go unpunished – it is bad for discipline, and could lead to fights between Macedonians and mercenaries. It is the second part that is curious. Alexander is denying that he had relations with Stateira, wife and sister of Darius, saying he wouldn’t even look at her. It would seem that he was pre-empting any plea that the soldiers merely did as he did. Is he also saying he didn’t dare look at her, for fear of giving in to temptation? Methinks Alexander “protesteth too much.”!
There is a third option: Alexander was trying to hide the fact that he wasn't interested. It was post-Issus that Barsine allegedly became the first woman he slept with.

I think you need to look at the timeline in relation to Stateira. The pothos detailed time line gives the following:

333 BC
November - Battle of Issus: Alexander defeats Persian King Darius III; Alexander captures Persian Royal family
Autumn - Parmenion captures Damascus: capture of Barsine, widow of Memnon and future mistress of Alexander and possibly mother of his first child, Heracles
332 BC
January-July [August] - Siege of Tyre
Spring [Summer 331 BC] - Statira, wife of Darius III, dies in childbirth
331 BC
October 1 - Battle of Gaugamela (Arbela): final defeat of Persian King Darius III
December 15 - Alexander enters Susa

Alexander did not enter Susa until two years after capturing the Persian Royal family. Sisygambis and the children of Darius cannot therefore have been 'left behind' at Susa while Statira accompanied Alexander. They were left behind at Susa because Darius was dead and Alexander had no further use for them as a bargaining tool.

By the above chronology, it is possible that Statira was pregnant with Darius's child, and much of her pregnancy would have been spent stationery at Tyre. If the army moved on when she was about to give birth, she may well have died in childbirth, or as a result of travelling too soon after giving birth. Ancient wagons, no matter the number of cushions, would have been bumpy as they were unsprung, and a litter might have been impractical.

As far as Barsine is concerned, she would not have had any choice in the matter of her first two husbands, Mentor and his brother Memnon either. Marriage for love is largely a modern concept. And she would surely have counted herself fortunate to have become Alexander's property, rather than having been passed to the army who would have had little tolerance for a Greek mercenary's widow. This is unlikely though given her high status, but Alexander's treatment of Barsine cannot have been below the standards of his own time, or her father Artabazos and her brothers would not have surrendered to Alexander in 330 BC and then been given a position of trust if their loyalty was in doubt. That Heracles was not born until a couple of years after this might even be used to argue that Alexander did not sleep with her until after he had obtained her father's permission.

Alexias
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Re: Alexander the Great...Good or Bad King, or neither? An Essay

Post by Alexias » Tue Dec 27, 2016 12:14 pm

Alexander did not enter Susa until two years after capturing the Persian Royal family. Sisygambis and the children of Darius cannot therefore have been 'left behind' at Susa while Statira accompanied Alexander. They were left behind at Susa because Darius was dead and Alexander had no further use for them as a bargaining tool.
Apologies, that should have read 'Darius was defeated'.

hiphys
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Re: Alexander the Great...Good or Bad King, or neither? An Essay

Post by hiphys » Wed Dec 28, 2016 10:09 am

Thank you, Alexias, for your post: you said exactly what I wanted to reply to Xenophon. But let me add some words about ancient sources. Most recently Alexandrian historians don't divide ancient sources in two schools anymore, but like best to test each element as they turn up. A "good" source could contain corrupted elements, and "vulgate" could bring us news that are interesting for us but completely neglected by "good" sources. A good example for a balanced judgement of Alexander is this book: Thomas R. Martin - Christopher W. Blackwell, Alexander the Great. The Story of an Ancient Life, Cambridge University Press 2012.
Best wishes

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