Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Alexander vs. Parmenion

A good subject for debate, which I’m afraid cannot be settled to everyone’s satisfaction. Too many opinions from too many authors, too many interpretations by the old historians and too many options to choose from. That is basically my conclusion. That is, if you can call that a conclusion.

[picture from the movie by Oliver Stone]

Parmenion was a Paeonian chieftain, who during one of the campaigns led by King Philip II of Macedon, decided to rally to the side of Macedonia. A clever choice from his side no doubt, and the result was even better as he turned out to be a faithful brother in arms to Philip. On many occasions he acted in Philip’s name, like the time he went to Athens together with Antipater and Eurylochus to repeat his king’s terms for the Common Peace in 346 BC. Six years later when Alexander was elected Regent while Philip besieged Perinthus, Parmenion together with Antipater remained in Pella to keep an eye on things. He was the one who ended the Fourth Sacred War, taking Amphissa within three hours. And during the Battle of Chaeronea the same veteran general was probably assisting Alexander’s cavalry upon Philip’s instructions.

All along his many fights, sieges, and diplomatic meetings, Philip largely moved with Parmenion at his side. Yet at the same time, Philip formed a clique with his senior generals, Parmenion, Antipater and Attalus from which Alexander was excluded as they were bound together by several intermarriages (much to Alexander’s dismay as one may imagine and maybe a reason why he held on to his own group of Companions created during the days at Mieza).

Soon after Philip’s death, Attalus is executed to silence a possible claim to the Macedonian throne (his adopted niece had recently married Philip), and when Alexander starts his march to Asia he leaves Antipater behind as Regent while Parmenion joins his forces.

At this point, it is worth considering the extend of Parmenion’s power and influence over the army – a viewpoint that is largely neglected.

Parmenion was a man from the “old” stock, Philip’s foremost general and, let’s not forget, the one who played a highly pivotal role as commander of Alexander’s left wing in his battles at the Granicus, Issus and Gaugamela. What has transpired from ancient authors is that Parmenion disagrees with Alexander’s decisions or plans on several occasions (there may have been more), while no other veteran general has been recorded saying that much. We all will remember Alexander’s words: … yes, I would, if I were Parmenion... The fact that Alexander acted upon his own initiative, brushing Parmenion’s advice aside and coming out victorious from the many confrontations, cannot have gone down smoothly.
Steven English in his “The Sieges of Alexander the Great” draws the picture of an all-powerful Parmenion, a seasoned fighter with a thorough experience. Besides that, the key positions in the army were occupied by his relatives: sons, allies, kindred, friends, etc. It is entirely possible that he saw himself as the successor of Philip. In his eyes, the young and inexperienced Alexander was not a true competitor. Big mistake, of course. He probably didn’t expect Alexander to win all his battles as he did, and maybe he even hoped that the young king would soon be killed – in which case he was well prepared with his own trusted network of men.

Jona Lendering (see Livius site) is even more blunt as he declares that Philotas (Parmenion’s son accused of conspiracy) confessed under the force of torture that he and his father had wanted to kill Alexander in order to rule themselves. I don’t know where he found that statement, but let’s say it is a rather plausible assumption.
Robin Lane Fox (“Alexander the Great”) in turn paints a picture where Parmenion constitutes a serious threat for Alexander. The worrying situation occurs in 330 BC at Ecbatana, where the general controls his king’s supply line with Macedonia while Alexander is fighting in Bactria. Parmenion already in his seventies keeps ignoring Alexander’s orders for three months to come to Gurgan. The fact by itself is strange enough, but just consider that on the one hand Parmenion is sitting on the enormous Persian treasury collected in Susa and Persepolis which Alexander centralized at Ecbatana, and that on the other hand he has an army of 25,000 men strong at his disposal: Thracians, veteran-mercenaries, Thessalian and Paeonian cavalry, plus another 6,000 men Foot Companions who protected the very money transport. Alexander at that time had “only” 30,000 soldiers with him, i.e. approximately the same amount of manpower. In any case, these figures alone are enough to give the King serious headaches and many a sleepless night, no doubt.

Pierre Briant in his book “Alexander the Great and his Empire” has a totally different view, stating that Alexander committed a brutal act when he sent a commando to explicitly murder Parmenion in Ecbatana. He doubts that Philotas was guilty of conspiracy, so it is obvious that he disagrees with Parmenion’s execution. Briant feels that from 330 BC Alexander no longer wanted to tolerate Parmenion’s meddling as his vision of his new world had changed (becoming more Persian).
In any case, the accusations and the trial of Philotas were handled the Macedonian way where every man had his say. Philotas eventually was condemned to death. Under Macedonian law relatives were equally responsible for the crimes committed by any member of their family and this did imply his father Parmenion occupying his key position in Ecbatana and empowered by the Persian treasury and a large army force. Alexander applied the Macedonian law which his generals and soldiers could understand, but he may of course have seized this convenient opportunity to eliminate a possible threat to his person and to his crown.

Personally, I am convinced that in 330 BC Alexander had become a different person from the young king who came to power at age twenty. The years of heavy fighting and sieges, long marches through hostile lands and deserts, river crossings, logistical problems, rivalry and jealousy among his officers, and conspiracies, while he was constantly alert about the moves of his Persian opponent (only in 330 BC King Darius III was captured more dead than alive), etc. were enough elements to change any man. In the process he became the Great King of a huge empire that had functioned for eons according to its own rules and principles. Aware of these differences and oppositions, we owe it to Alexander’s genius that he makes huge efforts to comply with the customs from both east and west.

All along the historical accounts we read how the soldiers from the old Macedonian guard still breathe by the rules of their homeland. These are men who fought with King Philip (and Parmenion), and who became great at his side; men worthy of the great battlefields like those of Chaeronea and Gaugamela. We like to see an army that carries Alexander on hands. They do, yet only to a certain degree, i.e. as long as their king follows the known old proven Macedonian traditions. But once in Bactria and Sogdiana everything changes. There no longer are great battles to be fought, only heavy skirmishes, surprise attacks and guerrilla-wars. The men grow tired – no wonder. Inevitably conflicts arise. His soldiers, even his generals can’t understand how the newly conquered enemy suddenly has to be accepted as friendly mates filling the ranks of their dead comrades. Yet it is clear that Alexander needed to replace those thousands of men left behind on the battlefields, in the newly founded towns, in the strongholds and forts along the way, in the heat of the deserts or in the waters of the many rivers, the wounded men, the invalids, the veterans. The logistics of Alexander’s campaign in Asia are simply beyond anyone’s comprehension even today – so how much could be asked from the simple Macedonian soldier?

Some authors like to throw in the ideal image of Alexander aiming at melting east and west together in order to create an impossible dreamworld. I believe there were limits, even to his ambition. I’m certain that Alexander found the world much bigger and far more different from what he could ever have imagined. He was very much aware of the fact that life in Asia evolved according to rules and values away from those he grew up with. Yet he was a visionary and his visions ran far ahead of his time. Nobody could understand the complex amplitude of his world, I think, nobody except maybe Hephaistion.

Even today, we still struggle to understand …


  1. Yes, it is a struggle to understand the tragic end of his relation with Parmenion - or rather, with Parmenion's son Filotas who causes the tragedy. I for one, am fully convinced that Filotas committed treason in not informing on the attempt to assassinate Alexander, and merited the death sentences that the army passed on him (if after the fact).
    For Alexander it must have been a horrible decision to have Parmenion executed (that is, in clear words, murdered) for purely strategic/military reasons: he sat on the army's retreat route, and would be obliged by family honor to avenge Filotas.
    I don't think Alexander ever forgave himself for it - and knew that nobody would forgive him for it.

    1. I recently have been wondering about Pamenion's loyalty towards Alexander. I am still brooding over the subject that may materialize in an elaborate post in the future.