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Alexander, Combat Psychology, And Persepolis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 May 2015

Gary Morrison*
University of Canterbury


‘What men will fight for seems to be worth looking into’

H.L. Mencken

Historians have long studied warfare, albeit within a selective framework that includes dates, places, and the description of tactics. Moreover, explanations of ‘why’ and ‘how’ conflicts occur seldom deviate from the political or the long term strategic outlook. It is only recently that we have come to qualify the effect war has on combatants and civilians alike, and how actions and choices in war can also be explained by the stresses to which participants are exposed. Studies such as Jonathon Shay's Achilles in Vietnam and Lawrence Tritle's From Melos to My Lai in part demonstrably link such psychological trauma with the destructive and savage actions undertaken by soldiers in the conflicts of every epoch. It seems reasonable, therefore, that our growing understanding of combat psychology in the twentieth century A.D. may help us unravel problematic events in history, or at least provide a new way to approach old questions.

Research Article
Copyright © Australasian Society for Classical Studies 2001

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1 Shay, J., Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (New York, Toronto 1994)Google Scholar. Trifle, L.A., From Melos to My Lai: War and Survival (London, New York 2000)Google Scholar. All dates in this paper are B.C. unless otherwise stated. All translations are my own although the appropriate Loeb or Penguin volumes were utilised and what I have used often reflects agreement with these translations.

2 Kellett, A., Combat Motivation: The Behaviour of Soldiers in Battle (Boston 1982, repr. 1984)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; the quotation from H.L. Mencken appears at xiii.

3 This is a subject that has received extensive scholarly attention. A good summary of different interpretations of events is provided by Bloedow, E.F., ‘That Great Puzzle in the History of Alexander: Back into “The Primal Pit of Historical Murk”’, in Ch. Schubert, and Brodersen, K. (eds.), Rom und der griechische Osten (Stuttgart 1995) 2341Google Scholar. For more recent discussions and an up to date Bibliography see Bosworth, A.B. and Baynham, E.J., (eds.) Alexander the Great in Fact and Fiction (Oxford 2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Bosworth, A.B., A Historical Commentary on Arrian's History of Alexander 1 (Oxford 1980) 329Google Scholar, implies Ptolemy is the source, but is far from explicit.

5 A point we will return to later; for now note Badian, E., ‘Agis III: Revisions and Reflections’, in Worthington, I. (ed.), Ventures into Greek History (Oxford 1993) 258-92, at 284Google Scholar; and Flower, M., ‘Alexander the Great and Panhellenism’, in Bosworth, and Baynham, (n.3) 96-135 at 114Google Scholar.

6 Fox, R.L., Alexander the Great (London 1973) 263Google Scholar, speculates that Ptolemy surpressed Thais’ involvement, but note Atkinson, J., ‘Troubled Spirits In Persepolis’, in: VogelWeidemann, U., Scholtemeijer, J. (eds.), Charistion C.P.T. Naude (Pretoria 1993) 5-15 at 6Google Scholar, and Borza, E.N., ‘Fire From Heaven: Alexander At PersepolisClassical Philology 67 (1972) 233-45 at 235CrossRefGoogle Scholar n.12. For a brief discussion on the two traditions, including references to comments on dramatic invention, see Bosworth, A.B., ‘Introduction’, in Bosworth, and Baynham, (n.3) 1-22 at 1314Google Scholar. For more on Clitarchus see Prandi, L., Fortuna e Realtà dell’ Opera di Clitarco, Historia Einzelschriften 104 (Stuttgart 1996)Google Scholar; and Pearson, L., The Lost Histories of Alexander the Great (London 1960) 212–42Google Scholar; esp. 212 ff. and 218 ff.

7 See Bosworth (n.3) 13 and n. 40; also Bosworth, A.B., Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great (Cambridge 1988) 297Google Scholar; Pearson (n.6)218 ff. (on Thais), 226-242 (date of Clitarchus’ History); Prandi (n.6) 66-71 (biographical reconstruction).

8 See Kellett (n.2) 167-199 on beliefs values and commitments—why soldiers support a military mission. Not all points are relevant but one should consider the underlying principles of the discussion on ‘Patriotism and Ideology’ (167 ff.), ‘Revenge’ (191 ff.), and that on how goals define the end of a war (251).

9 Specifically Alexander's efforts to ‘liberate’ the Greek cities from Persian rule dominate the advance through Asia Minor (e.g. Diod. 16.9.1; 17.24.1). This is part of the crusade motif: Persians are expelled from the Greek world in revenge for the events of 480, see Bosworth (n.7) 250 ff. Note also the sending of 300 Persian panoplies to Athens (Arr. 1.16.7). For a recent discussion on Alexander and Panhellenism see Flower (n.5) 96 ff.

10 Badian, E., ‘Agis III’, Hermes 95 (1967) 170-92 at 181 ffGoogle Scholar; Badian (n.5) 259 ff.

11 Arr. 3.16.10; Badian (n.5) 267-8; Bosworth (n.7) 88.

12 Diod. 17.65.1; Arr.3.16.10; Curtius 5.1.40.

13 As in Kellen (n.2) 177-89 quote p.181. See also Lewy, G.America in Vietnam (New York 1978) 159Google Scholar who makes some interesting observations with regard to this point based on the experiences in Vietnam. Tritle (n.l) 79 ff. comments on the stresses on those waiting at home and illustrates an important link between waiting families and the sons, husbands, and brothers away fighting.

14 The treasures at Persepolis and Pasargadae were vast (Diod. 17.70.2, 70.5, 71.1; Curtius 5.6.2, 6.9). The Persian forces in the heartland were significant as well: (Arr. 3.18.2; Diod. 17.68.1; Curtius 5.3.17). It made strategic sense either to eliminate or to gain control over some of these resources. See the comments of Burn, A.R., ‘Notes on Alexander's Campaigns 332–330’, JHS 72 (1952) 90CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 Following Badian (n.5) 280; Borza (n.6) 237 n25.

16 Badian (n.10) 189; (n.5) 287-8.

17 Aeschines 3.165. See Badian (n.5) 272, 289 ff.

18 Borza, E.N., ‘Alexander's Communications’, in ArchaiaMakedonia 2 (1977) 295303Google Scholar.

19 Alexander's presence there into the spring would have been confirmed by requests for pack animals (Curtius 5.5.9; Diod. 17.71.2).

20 See Hallock, R.T., Persepolis Fortification Tablets (Chicago 1969) 365440Google Scholar, Tablet Numbers PF1285-PF1579; specific examples which correspond with the months Alexander was trapped include: PF1355, PF1356, PF1432, PF1370, PF1398. Snow in the highlands around Persis is discussed by Engels, D.W, Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army (Berkeley, Los Angeles 1978) 73 ff.Google Scholar; Borza (n.l 8) 298: the pass to Susa however is not mentioned. Badian does acknowledge that snow was not an insurmountable obstacle for Alexander: (n.5) 281.

2 Alexander left Patala for Susa in late August 325 (Arr. 4.21.2). Nearchus meets Alexander near Susa in March 324 (Pliny Nat. Hist. 6.100) while Alexander was still travelling to the city (Arr. Indica 42.7-8). See Bosworth (n.7) 139-140.

22 Cawkwell, G.L., ‘The Crowning of Demosthenes’, CQ 19 (1969) 173 ffCrossRefGoogle Scholar. based on Aeschines 3.133, 165. Lock, R.A.The Date of Agis Ill's War in Greece’, Antichthon 6 (1972) 1527CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Badian (n.5) 272 ff. especially 276 ff. where he revises his date from 331 to 330. Some authors still persist with 331 see Bloedow, E.F., Loube, H.M.Alexander the Great “Under Fire” at Persepolis’, Klio 79 (1997) 341-53, especially 350CrossRefGoogle Scholar. An important point in determining the battle's date is identifying when Antipater despatched the first reinforcements after Megalopolis. There are two possibilities: first the reinforcements that reach Alexander in June near Ecbatana. These may be dismissed however as they were recruited in Cilicia (Curtius 5.1.41; 5.7.12). Second those that reached Alexander as he was about to enter the Drangiane in August 330. These men were specifically sent by Antipater from Greece (Curtius 6.6.35). Considering the significance of Agis Ill's war I doubt if Antipater would have released any soldiers until after he had secured victory at Megalopolis, although because of Alexander's levy requirements there would be minimal delay between the battle and the departure of these men. Furthermore Bosworth (n.7) 267, has shown that Macedonian reserves were probably depleted by this time. Therefore Antipater was probably forced to hire temporary loyalty from potentially hostile neigh-bounng peoples such as the Illyrians. Once Megalopolis was secured the newly recruited yet potentially troublesome soldiers were removed from the region: they were despatched to Asia. How long this journey to Alexander took is difficult to establish. Assuming that the reinforcements used the royal roads and moved between the main cities (Sardis, Babylon, Susa, Ecbatana etc.), and using the travel times that are available to us (e.g. three months from Greece to Susa [Hdt. 5.53-54]; one month from Ecbatana to the Drangiane [Strabo 15.2.10] and the table of Alexander's march rates at Engels [n. 20] 153 ff.) we can concur with Badian's argument, (n. 5) 276, that they must have departed Greece by April; i.e. a journey time of four to five months. A more specific travelling time cannot be determined because the exact route that the reinforcements took is uncertain. If, for example, the soldiers knew early enough that they had to go through Media they could have travelled across northern Mesopotamia to Arbela, and then used the same route as Darius (Arr. 3.16) to Ecbatana. This scenario would have reduced the travel time significantly to approximately four months or perhaps even slightly less. On the other hand if their final destination was unknown they probably had to travel to Babylon and then on the main trade route between Babylon and Ecbatana. A worst case scenario could have meant they went as far as Susa which may have resulted in some backtracking to find a suitable pass through which they could cross to Ecbatana (Diod. 19.19.2—indicating a travel time of approximately forty days). In this scenario, which we must consider unlikely since officials in Babylon should at least have known that Parmenio was now based in Ecbatana (Arr. 3.19.7), the upper estimate of five months travel time may be slightly short, five and a half months could be closer. Numerous variables of course make any conclusions speculative. Nevertheless four to five months does seem a reasonable estimate of the travel time. This in turn means that April 330 is the latest possible date for the battle of Megalopolis.

23 Borza (n.6) 240 n.41; Lewis, D.M., Sparta and Persia (Leiden 1977) 57Google Scholar n.51.

24 See Millar, M.C., Athens and Persia in the Fifth Century B.C. (Cambridge 1997) 116Google Scholar ff. The tablets confirm that express messengers travelled in a group (e.g. PF1320, PF1321) and that rations were issued daily: see Hallock (n.20) 6, 365-440.

25 Hdl. 5.53-54. Note also Alexander's actions after the death of Philotas. They too provide possible insight into how fast messages could travel. Curtius (7.2.15) informs us that Polydamas was sent to kill Parmenio and that: ‘speed is of the essence for you to outrun the swift pace of rumour’ (Velocitale opus est qua celeritatem famae antecedas). Strabo tells us that they took eleven days to complete a journey of thirty or even forty days (15.2.10). Therefore despite the desire for urgency it still took possibly as long as a third of the normal travel time to cover the distance between Phrada and Ecbatana. Finally see Lewis (n.23) 57 n.50 on the distribution of an edict by Antiochus IV.

26 Curtius informs us that this campaign started about the setting of the Pleiades (Curtius 5.6.1 2) or April 7 in the year 330. See Bickerman, E.J., Chronology of the Ancient World (London 1968) 143Google Scholar; Jones, T.B., ‘Alexander and the Winter of 330/29 B.C.’, CW 28 (1935) 124 ffGoogle Scholar.

27 Bosworth (n.4) 28.

28 See Bosworth (n.7) 197.

29 Diod. 17.17.3-5 and battle descriptions e.g. Arr. 1.14.1 ff. Also see Bosworth (n.7) 259-71.

30 Arr. 5.25.2 ff. Presumably the Macedonian forces were the most loyal of all his soldiers, although it is noted that the others at this stage were not conscripts but mercenaries (see Diod. 17.74.3-4.).

31 Arr. 5.27.5. Bosworth (n.4) 353 suggests that this passage refers to the Thessalians dismissed from Bactria in 329 and not to the allied forces disbanded at Ecbatana in 330 as Tarn, W.W., Alexander the Great (Cambridge 1948) 2.290Google Scholar, argued. Bosworth is correct, I think, although both show troop dissatisfaction within a year of being at Persepolis.

32 The three passages (Plut. Alex 47; Curtius 6.2.15-4.1; Diod. 17.74.3) refer to the same event. They are all cited to emphasise a point: dissatisfaction and a desire to return home. See also Just. 12.3.2-4.

33 Bosworth (n.7) 97.

34 Bosworth (n.7) 133: ‘The frustration that had been building up in the Macedonian Army since the eve of Gau gamela finally vented itself. Badian (n. 10) 189 discusses rising frustration and on p. 188 he suggests that Alexander's men might not have followed him out of Persepolis.

35 Kellert (n.2) 253 ff.

36 Linderman, G.F.Embattled Courage (New York 1987) 118 ffGoogle Scholar. Linderman comments on the morale problems that the boredom caused.

37 Accepting that messages were reaching Alexander; I have no doubt that they were, but assuming that they were not, the situation could have been even worse. The soldiers would still have known of the war; rumour and gossip would have built upon the scarce information; tensions would probably have been magnified by the silence. Badian (n.10) 188 acknowledges that this could have been a factor.

38 Curtius 6.9.29; let us remember that soldiers are humans with emotions and needs.

39 Diod. 17.71.2; see Borza (n.6) 237.

40 Plut. Alex 24.2. For the importance of wealth to the rest of the Army see Plut. Alex. 24.1; for ‘wealth’ as motivation see Diod. 17.94.3-5. Cf. Balcer, J.M.Alexander's Burning of Persepolis’, Iranica Antiqua 13 (1978) 119-33; esp. 123Google Scholar.

41 See Sancisi-Weerdenburg, H., ‘Alexander and Persepolis’: in ed. Carlsen, J., Alexander the Great: Reality and Myth (Rome 1993) 177-188, esp. 183Google Scholar. In the quotation Curtius may just be using regius in a descriptive sence (‘royal opulence’) but he does normally use the term to describe something that is royal be it a person royal quarters or royal possessions. On two other occasions Curtius uses the phrase vestis regius (Curtius 6.6.13 8.13.21) on both occasions he is specifically referring to the robes of an actual king.

42 Items included precious ornaments gold and silver objects and weapons: see Schmidt, E.F., Persepolis I: Structures Reliefs Inscriptions (Chicago 1953) 1.76, 179Google Scholar; Sancisi-Weerdenburg (n.41) 183.

43 Arr. 3.19.1; Curtius 5.7.12. Diodorus differs slightly in that after the Palace was burnt Alexander went on campaign in Persis before proceeding to Media (Diod. 17.1). The fire however still marked his exit from Persepolis. Note too Hamilton, J.R., Plutarch: Alexander A Commentary (Oxford 1969)Google Scholar: ‘Plutarch appears to place the burning of the palace immediately before the end of Alexander's stay at Persepolis’ (99). Hammond, Contra N.G.L, ‘The Archaeological and Literary Evidence for the Burning of the Persepolis Palace’, CQ 42 (1992) 358-364 at 364CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Bloedow and Loube (n.22) 341-353.

44 Plut. Alex 24.6; Curtius 4.3.1. See also Bosworth (n.7) 65.

45 Kellett (n.2) 242 ff.

46 Keegan, J.The Face of Battle (London 1976) 79-116; esp. 114 ffGoogle Scholar. Kellett (n.2) 201 ff.

47 As in Kellett (n.2) 288.

48 Sancisi-Weerdenburg (n.41) 182.

49 In a sense it is a part of human nature as Thucydides recognised in his discussion of events on Corcyra (3.81 ff). See Tritle (n.l) 130 ff. and 119-123. It is curious (and in contrast to Melos, My Lai and Corcyra) that we do not hear of the civilian population in Persepolis during this day of plundering.

50 Bosworth (n.3) 14.

51 Curtius 6.15-17; Alex. 57; Polyaen. 4.3.10; and Bosworth (n.7) 99 n. 222.

52 Tritle (n.l) 77. Consider also O'Brien, J.M., Alexander the Great: The Invisible Enemy (London 1992) 133140Google Scholar.

53 See nn. 6, 7 and text. Perhaps as Bosworth ([n. 3] 13) suggests, Clitarchus enhanced Thais’ role in order to associate her with pan-hellenic principles: an Athenian woman avenging her city's injuries. Assuming Clitarchus wrote in around 310 Ptolemy could have benefited politically from such a representation since he did try to present himself as the champion of Greek liberty: see Diod. 19.62.

54 See also Badian (n.5) 284.

55 The disagreement with Parmenio (Arr. 3.18.11) can therefore represent either a true conflict over policy or a literary invention to help discredit the old general. Neither contradicts the arguments presented.

56 Or slightly later upon Darius'death; see Diod. 17.74.3; Curtius 6.2.15-16; Justin 12.3.2-3; Plut. Alex 42.3. Cf. Bosworth (n.5) 97.

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