Was the Greco-Persian Wars Manufactured by the Greeks?

The Greco-Persian wars lasted for more than half a century in some respects. Some date the war as being from 499-448 BCE while others date the conflict from 492-448 BCE. Either or, the war itself was a disaster for both sides.

The Greeks, during the war with Persia, even fought amongst themselves in the First Peloponnesian War from 460-445 and then again in the Second Peloponnesian War from 432-404 BCE. For their part, the Persians lost territory during this conflict with the various Greek states and in doing so, lost a sense of supremacy in the region. On a darker note, Persia’s losses also fueled Greek supremacy, which would eventual lead to the rise of one Alexander the Great of Macedonia. Alexander, as we know, would invade Persia and conquer it without hesitation. Nevertheless, it is not the focus of this piece to delve into the various Greek wars or Alexander’s invasion of Persia, but rather look into how and why the Greco-Persian wars started in the first place!

Who and what caused the war that we read about today or see glamorized in Hollywood films? Was the whole thing manufactured by one side?

The Warnings of the Oracle

When Cyrus the Great of Persia defeated Astyages, the last king of the Median Empire in 559 BCE, he inherited a new problem. That problem was the western frontier in what is today the country of Turkey. Beforehand, in 585 BCE, the Medes and Lydian empires made an agreement that the Halys River would be the boundary between the two powers. The king of Lydia at the time was Croesus.

Croesus was famous for his wealth and power throughout Greece and the Near East. With his brother-in-law Astyages now defeated, he felt the need to avenge his defeat. In reality, he saw this as an opportunity to extend his borders. Nevertheless, before Croesus mobilized his forces he sent embassies with many gifts and they asked the oracle of Delphi questions concerning the Persians. The oracle turned to the men and said, “If Croesus attacked the Persians, he would destroy a great empire.” The oracle also suggested to Croesus that he should seek some allies that were powerful to assist him in his war against Persia.

Relief of Persian and Median warriors (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Croesus became overjoyed and overconfident about the news. One would think that Croesus would have understood the part about finding some allies to assist him in this war with Persia as the advice given suggests that Persia’s might was far greater.  Nevertheless, Croesus visited the oracle again and asked how long the Lydian empire would last. The oracle said to Croesus “Wait till the time shall come when a mule is monarch of Media: Then, thou delicate Lydian, away to the pebbles of Hermus: Haste, oh! Haste thee away, nor blush to behave like a coward.”

The mule, a hybrid animal of a donkey and a horse, that is mentioned symbolized none other than Cyrus, for Cyrus was part royalty due to his mother being an Umman-manda princess, while his father Cambyses was a petty vassal king or quite possibly a mere tribal chief in the eyes of Astyages. One can easily base these judgments on ethnicity, but the people we are dealing with were of semi-nomadic stock, and it seems that some had more privileges than others did due to royal status rather than ethnic diversity.

A Critical Error

In 547/46, BCE, Croesus moved his forces beyond the Halys River and entered into the province of Cappadocia. Once there, he sent envoys to Croesus’ camp with a message ordering Croesus to hand over Lydia to him. If Croesus agreed, Cyrus would allow him to stay in Lydia but would have to remove his crown as king and he’d need to accept the title Satrap of Lydia. Evidently, Croesus turned down the invitation and the two armies did battle at a place called Pteria in Cappadocia. The battle took place in the month of November and Croesus was defeated, and he retreated across the Halys River and back into Lydian territory.

Croesus then made a terrible mistake: he decided to disperse his army for the winter, thinking Cyrus would not attack until spring. Then without warning, Cyrus did the unexpected: Cyrus and his forces fell upon the Lydian camps that were in the process of demobilization. They were surprised, routed, and defeated. This was a risky move for Cyrus and his forces, due to the stories of Lydia’s army being superior, even though they did beat them at Pteria. Cyrus may have known that once the Lydian forces demobilized, they would be easier to defeat. In addition, Cyrus it would be riskier to challenge them on their home turf in spring. However, Cyrus put the theory that Lydia was far more superior to the test—and found them wanting.

Relief at Thermopylae, Greece (CC BY 2.0)

Once the routing of the Lydian forces was complete and they were no longer a substantial threat, Croesus fled to Sardis where he took refuge. Many of his supposed allies sent no troops and instead many of the provinces in Lydia seem to have defected over to Cyrus.

The Bath-Gymnasium complex at Sardis, 2nd-3rd century AD, Sardis, Turkey. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Cyrus knew that there was no time to waste and pursued Croesus to Sardis, where he besieged the city and on the fourteenth day the city fell. It was during this time that Sparta sent forces to help Croesus, but once word reached the Spartan forces in Transnet concerning Sardis, they most likely turned back. The word that Sardis fell sent a shock wave throughout the Near East and is said to have been as great a shock as when the news of Nineveh fell in 612 BCE.

Map showing the Greek world during the Greco-Persian Wars (ca. 500–479 BC) (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In addition, the Chronicle of Nabonidus also mentions the fall of Lydia, as it states, “In the month of Nisan, King Cyrus of Persia mustered his army and crossed the Tigris downstream from Arbela and, in the month of Iyyar, [march]ed on Ly[dia]. He put its king to death, seized its possessions, [and] set up his own garrison [there]. After that, the king and his garrison resided there.”

Crushing Rebellion

The conquest of Lydia as a whole was far from over, for there were still many Greek city-states such as the Ionians and Aeolians who were mad about the situation and wanted the same terms that Cyrus gave to Croesus before the battle of Pteria. Cyrus said no, and the revolts began as he left for Ecbatana, for he had other issues on his mind. To suppress the revolts taking place in Asia Minor, Cyrus sent a man by the name of Mazares back with some troops to squash uprisings and enslave those partaking in the rebellion. Mazares did just that for some time until he died of unknown causes.

The next person to take his place and keep the rebellions down was Harpagus. Harpagus put the final stamp on the rebellious situation and placed Persian garrisons in the areas affected to secure the peace. However, it was not easy, for it took four years before the establishment of Persian rule among the populace.

Therefore, what can be learned from this situation involving the Persians and the Greek Lydians is that Croesus was the main instigator of the conflict. Had Croesus not taken up arms over the death of Astyages, war with Persia may not have happened, but as previously mentioned the death of Astyages was an opportunity for Croesus to extend his borders on the gamble that Persia was far weaker then Media.

It Started with Aristagoras

In 499 BCE, citizens who were exiled from Naxos approached Aristagoras, the deputy governor of Miletus (an ancient Greek city on the western coast of Anatolia, near the mouth of the Maeander River in ancient Caria).

Map of Miletus and other cities within the Lydian Empire (CC BY-SA 3.0)

They came to Aristagoras seeking help. They wanted to know if he would supply them with troops to regain their homeland. Aristagoras liked this proposal. What he liked was that if he could take Naxos, he could then become the ruler. Seeing that he did not have the troop strength, he decided to approach the Artaphernes, the satrap of Lydia and brother of Darius. Artaphernes had many troops and a navy at his disposal.

The ruins of Miletus. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The only thing that was missing was the money to fund the military expedition. Aristagoras turned to the exiled men and asked for financial support. Once all had been agreed to, the troops and ships were provided and the expedition to take Naxos commenced.

However, an issue arose. As Aristagoras was approaching the island, Megabates, the naval commander of some 200 ships, got into an intense argument with Aristagoras. Some speculate that Megabates warned the people of Naxos to prepare for their arrival. However, this is not for certain as it could have been someone else.  Once the Persian forces arrived, the city was ready and the Persians were bogged down for four months and they ultimately had to turn back due to a lack of money.

Reconstructed model of a trireme, the type of ship in use by both the Greek and Persian forces. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

After Aristagoras returned home, he had to repay Artaphernes the costs of the military expedition. But he did not have the money and because of this, alienated himself from the royal Persian court. Aristagoras knew that it would not be long before Artaphernes stripped him of his position. Therefore, Aristagoras became desperate and declared war on Persia by inciting his own subjects to revolt. After defeating the Ionians and their allies, the Persians made it clear after the land had been brought back under Persian control that they intended not to harm the economy (as in pillage and ask for war reparations) but to help it re-grow, expand, and to re-establish a relationship with the citizens. After the terms with the citizens and its leaders had been agreed to, King Darius wanted to punish those who aided the Ionians which was Athens and Eretria.

Terracotta female bust, Ionian workshop, found in a tomb, Macri Langoni T 75. 525-500 BC. (Public Domain)

War for the Ages

The significance of the Ionian Revolt was that not only did Aristagoras start a provincial rebellion, he went out of his way, and understandably, and sought outside help in this endeavor. No one was interested in giving aid to Aristagoras at first, except for Athens and Eretria. This would only fuel the fire further, once the Ionian Revolt ended 493 BCE. More important was that the Greco-Persian Wars had now officially begun. The Greco-Persian War was a war for the ages, which came and went in stages. However, its impact continued long after the last one ended in 449 BCE.

Greek hoplite and Persian warrior depicted fighting. 5th century BC (Public Domain)

Men like Alexander the Great would rise up to challenge the mighty Achaemenid Empire. He conquered with such fluidity that he, himself was overcome by its sheer size due to exhaustion and sickness. One could argue that the Greco-Persian War started with Aristagoras in 499 BCE and ended with Alexander the Great in 330 BCE.

 

Top Image: Warrior Model (CC BY-SA 2.0), and an ominous Dark Sky (Public Domain); Deriv.

By Cam Rea

References

Briant, Pierre. From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire. Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 2002.

Dupuy, R. Ernest and Trevor N. Dupuy. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History: From 35000 B.C. to the Present. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1993.

Dupuy, Trevor N. Johnson, Curt. Bongard, David L. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography. New York: Castle Books, 1995.

Ebbott, Mary. Imagining illegitimacy in classical Greek literature. Lanham, Md: Lexington Books, 2003.

Glassner, Jean-Jacques and Benjamin R. Foster. Mesopotamian Chronicles. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004.

Herodotus. The Histories. New York: Everyman’s Library, 1997.

Herodotus, translated by George Rawlinson, edited by Hugh Bowden. The Histories. London: Everyman, 1997.

Who were the Ancient Danites & Danaan? Part II

 

The Danaan and Danites are a mystery people for many historians. Speculated to have been Greek seafarers in the late Bronze Age, they are also closely associated with the Sea Peoples who ravaged the Eastern Mediterranean during the same period. Whoever the Danaan or Danites were, they left a conflicting legacy. Looking to the Bible and its description of ancient events leads to Greek myth, and the truth behind hidden identities.

Notice the similarities between the two names Aikupitiyo and Yakubher? Now compare that to the name Jacob found in New Testament Greek in the book of Matthew 1:2, that is rendered as “Iakob,” thus the plausibility that the name Aegyptus is a variation of the name Jacob found in the Bible becomes potentially clearer in our search of the Danaan identity.

For one name is Mycenaean with Semitic influence while the other is Egyptian with Semitic influence, and when we look to the New Testament Greek, we find a link between the two names. Thus, it is possible that both names are related due to the Semitic influence that both the Mycenaean and Egyptian cultures inherited.

The Song of Deborah

The question we must ask is did the tribe of Dan have a falling out with Jacob? The answer to that question is yes! However, before going further, understand that if we are to look at the story of two brothers, the story is partially false and partially true. The false part of the story is that Dan and Jacob were brothers; according to the Bible, Jacob was Dan’s father. However, and with that said, Dan and Jacob could be considered brothers. In other words, the tribes of Israel were all brothers to one another including the tribe of Dan.

Symbol of the Tribe of Dan (Serpent in the center) (Public Domain)

This is where the story of Danaus and Aegyptus are in relation to the Biblical account of Dan and Jacob/Israel. However, we must ask ourselves what story in the Bible can be related to Danaus and Aegyptus? For that answer, one must look to the book of Judges and focus on the famed “song of Deborah.”

A statue of prophetess Deborah in Aix-en-Provence, France. She was the only female judge mentioned in the Bible.

A statue of prophetess Deborah in Aix-en-Provence, France. She was the only female judge mentioned in the Bible. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The song of Deborah states, “Gilead abode beyond Jordan: and why did Dan remain in ships?” Judges 5:17. The answer to this verse is due to a man named Sisera, found in the book of Judges 5:20, whom the Israelites were at war with. Dan refused to fight and remained in his ships. Dan could either care less or was being cautious as to what was going on and the same can be said for a portion of the Manassehites living in Gilead, according to the verse.

This is where we get the story of Danaus fleeing with his daughters from his brother Aegyptus and sons. As for why Dan fled, one must look to the story of Hypermnestra and her husband Lynceus to find the answer. In this story, one will notice a similar law between the Hebrews and Greeks, and that the names Hypermnestra and Lynceus are a metaphor for places connected to the Bible.

‘The Danaides’ (1903) by John William Waterhouse.

‘The Danaides’ (1903) by John William Waterhouse. (Public Domain)

Law and Marriage

The story of how Hypermnestra allowed her husband to live may be connected to Biblical events that took place. According to Greek law, if a woman had no brothers then the next of kin was obliged to marry her so that the land her father left her stayed in the family. Aegyptus, according to Greek legend, was the brother of Danaus. Aegyptus had fifty sons, Danaus had fifty daughters. If Danaus refused to marry his daughters to his brother’s sons, the inheritance would have gone to someone else, not of the tribe. This Greek law bears great resemblance to the Hebrew law wherein if a woman had no brothers to take over the family’s lands, then she had to marry someone of her kin in order to keep the land within the family. This was also the case with Zelophehad and his five daughters found in the book of Numbers (26:33, 27:3), and in the book of Joshua (17:3).

The Daughters of Zelophehad

The Daughters of Zelophehad (Public Domain)

These five daughters were not married when Joshua presided over Israel and the land was being divided up among the chieftains. The men of Israel were concerned over this, that if these daughters did not marry, then there was a possibility that other men may take them and thus divide up the inheritance. Like the Greek story, one will notice that not only did the daughters of Danaus marry their kin, so did the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 36:11).

Besides the similarities in the law, the Greeks and Hebrews seemed to share their stories. We now focus on the names Hypermnestra and Lynceus. Hypermnestra, according to the story, was the daughter of Danaus. However, her name may be in relation to the name or place known as Gilead. The word “hyper” in Greek means over, above, or exceeding, which is similar to and may have originated from the Hebrew word Gilead. In Hebrew, Gilead can mean, hill, mound, or rugged, you could say. The word Gilead can also be considered “upper Manasseh”, and is the reason is that the land the tribe of Manasseh is allotted extends far north when one looks at a map as to where the twelve tribes of Israel were located.

Mosaic of the 12 Tribes of Israel.

Mosaic of the 12 Tribes of Israel. (Public Domain) Tribe of Dan is top row, third from right.

 

Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North.

Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

One will notice that part of the tribe of Manasseh dwells on the east side of Jordan River where you will find the land of Gilead if you look north. When you compare the two names’ definitions, you see that Hyper means over, as in over a river, as in the Jordan River, and above, as in hilly or mountainous region, like the region of Gilead which means hill, mound, or rugged.

Now the name Lynceus is also interesting, for the name Lynceus in Greek may be derived from lynx or leopard in association with a lion, just as the Hebrew word Laish, which is also a city of the tribe of Dan, and is said to mean “lion,”; “for Dan is a lions whelp,” (Deuteronomy 33:22). It becomes possible that the story of Hypermnestra and Lynceus is a story not about two people, but about how the tribe of Dan refused to join his brothers Jacob/Israel in their fight against Sisera. In addition, it also shows how a part of Manasseh living in Gilead near the Danite city of Laish refused to follow Jacob/Israel and thus allowed the city of Laish to live as it may. This event may have served as the story or background for the famed story of Hypermnestra and Lynceus—that Hypermnestra and Lynceus were tribal brothers and tribal allies who shared interests in opposing Jacob/Israel against Sisera. The Greeks may have viewed the alliance as a marriage, but through tribal relations, and over time the story went from two tribes related through marriage as in terms of having the same founding father, to just two people related.

With that said, it should also be noted that the story concerning Zelophehad and his daughters may have been used as a backdrop in explaining the law when the Danites made it to Greece, and over time that story transformed into the story we have today. Whatever the case maybe, it is plausible that the events and stories that took place in Israel during the time of Judges could have been passed unto the Greeks through the tribe of Dan.

Betrayal and Murder

Let us focus on the other part of the story that many find horrendous, and that is the forty-nine daughters of Danaus murdering their forty-nine husbands on the night of their wedding.

Danaus’ 49 Daughters, the Danaid.

Danaus’ 49 Daughters, the Danaid. (Public Domain)

According to myth, on the wedding night Danaus give instructions to his fifty daughters to murder their husbands. As you have already read, one daughter spared her husband’s life. However, the question that needs addressing is, is there a connection to another story found in the Bible concerning both the forty-nine daughters murdering their forty-nine husbands? According to the book of Judges and during the same time that the tribe of Dan and a part of the tribe of Manasseh turned their backs on their kin, there lived a woman named Jael. In the book of Judges 4:17-22, Jael is not a Hebrew but a Kenite. The name Kenite comes from the Hebrew word qayin, which means smith or metalworker. The Kenites were well-known metalworkers and their craftsmanship was acknowledged from the lands as far south as Arad in Negreb and as far north as Kedesh near Elon-bezaanannim in Naphtali. The Kenites were friends with those of Sisera.

As the story goes, Sisera fled, probably from a lost battle, until he reached an area were the Kenites lived, such as Jael. It was there that she offered him a place to rest his head. Once asleep, Jael killed him with a tent peg through his temple, till it came out the other side and into the ground, as the story says.

The gruesome death of Sisera at the hands of Jael.

The gruesome death of Sisera at the hands of Jael. (Public Domain)

What is fascinating about this story is that the act parallels that of the Greek myth. The only difference between the two is that the Biblical story praises Jael for a job well done and she is showered with blessings, while the Greek story paints the women who murdered their husbands at night as villains and castaways for such an act. What else becomes evident, and something already discussed, is that Dan refused to fight when Sisera arrived, but once Jael ended Sisera’s life the war ended, and the same goes for when the forty-nine daughters of Danaus murdered their husbands while they were asleep; the war between the Danaus and Aegyptus had been settled.

In conclusion, it seems fair to say that there is a possible connection to the Biblical accounts mentioned. So, let us back track briefly. Danaus=Dan, Aegyptius=Jacob, Greek law and Hebrew law on marriage and land grants are nearly the same, Hypermnestra and Lynceus are a metaphor for a people and a city allowed to live, and the women who murdered their husbands are a metaphor for Jael and her actions. It is worth looking into further as there are more scraps and tidbits of information throughout the famed Greek story. However, it will require further investigation, but what has been presented should be considered and weighed – for behind ever myth is a general truth.

If interested in such proposals concerning the Greek-Hebrew connections, see the writings of John R. Salverda.

Top Image: A mosaic in the Jewish Quarter representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, including the Danites (CC BY 2.0) and Danaus’ 49 Daughters, the Danaid. (Public Domain); Deriv.

By Cam Rea

References

Anonymous. The Wesleyan Sunday-School Magazine [Afterw.] the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School Magazine. London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 1873.

Cairns, Ian. Word and presence: a commentary on the book of Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.

Cheyne, Thomas Kelly. Black, John Sutherland. Encyclopaedia biblica : a critical dictionary of the literary political and religious history, the archaeology, geography, and natural history of the Bible. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1899-1903.

Davidiy, Yair. Lost Israelite Identity: The Hebrew Ancestory of Celtic Races. Shiloh-Hebron-Susia-Jerusalem: Russel-Davis Publishers, 1996.

—. The Tribes. Jerusalem: Russell-Davis, 2004.

Gabriel, Richard A. The Military History of Ancient Israel (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003.

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969.

Hard, Robin. he Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology: Based on H.J. Rose’s Handbook of Greek Mythology. London & New York: Routledge, 2004.

Hathom, Richmond Yancey. Greek Mythology. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1977.

Haubrich, William S. Medical meanings: a glossary of word origins. Philadelphia: American College Of Physicians, 2003.

Killebrew, Ann and Gunnar Lehmann, The Philistines and Other “Sea Peoples” in Text and Archaeology (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013.

Pritchard, James B. The Ancient Near East Vol 1: An Anthology of Text and Pictures (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.

Rose, Herbert Jennings. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. London: Routledge, 2005.

Salverda, John R. “The Danaans” [Online] Available at: http://ensignmessage.com/articles/the-danaans/ (accessed 3 March 2010).

Who were the Ancient Danites & Danaan? Part I

 

The Danaan and Danites are a mystery people for many historians. Speculated to have been Greek seafarers in the late Bronze Age, they are also closely associated with the Sea Peoples who ravaged the Eastern Mediterranean during the same period. Other evidence suggests they originated somewhere along the coast of the Levant, or they were an Israelite tribe that fled with Moses during the biblical Exodus from Egypt. Whoever the Danaan or Danites were, they left a conflicting legacy.

The warriors who sacked Egypt for its spoils, or Homer’s Troy may explain the mysterious identity and origins of these people, along with the use of Greek mythologies and the Bible itself. Let us first look at the Bible and its description of the events that took place before delving into the Greek story about Danaus and Aegyptus.

Who are the Danites?

According to the Book of Genesis, Dan was the fifth son of Jacob and was mother Bilhah’s first son. He was the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Dan. In the biblical account, Dan’s mother is described as Rachel’s handmaid, who becomes one of Jacob’s wives. (Genesis 30:1-6). The tribe of Dan fled Egypt with the rest of the Israelites led by Moses during the Exodus.

The Dan tribe's serpent plate

The Dan tribe’s serpent plate (CC BY 2.0)

Afterwards, the Danites along with their Israelite brethren fought and defeated many foes, such as the Canaanites, Ammonites, Moabites and the most troublesome: the Philistines. Dan’s territorial allotment, recorded in Joshua 19:40-46, only gives a list of towns:

The seventh lot came out for the tribe of Dan according to its clans. The territory of their inheritance included:

Zorah, Eshtaol, Ir Shemesh, Shaalabbin, Aijalon, Ithlah, Elon, Timnah, Ekron, Eltekeh, Gibbethon, Baalath, Jehud, Bene Berak, Gath Rimmon, Me Jarkon and Rakkon, with the area facing Joppa.

While verses 42-46 describe settlements, verses 47-48 mention that the Danites left and “went up to fight against Leshem, and took it, and smote it with the edge of the sword, and possessed it, and dwelt therein, and called Leshem, Dan, after the name of Dan their father.” However, verses 40-48 were likely added later. The reason the author of Joshua did not describe borders but provided a list of settlements and a quick mention of their move to the north is that the borders of Dan were constantly changing due to the rift they had with the Philistines, which caused them to pack up and migrate north. However, Dan’s relationship with the Philistines may not have always been hostile.

When the Danites had settled between the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim, a problem arose; their territory was too small. They could not expand north, south, or east, for that was their brethren’s territory. Therefore, they looked west but ran into another problem. Further expansion west was not possible due to the powerful city-states along the coast of southern Canaan. Because of this, the Danites were landlocked.

A mosaic in the Jewish Quarter representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, including the Danites

A mosaic in the Jewish Quarter representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, including the Danites (CC BY 2.0)

The elders of Dan sought a means to acquire more territory. However, Joshua 19:47 suggests that they were not militarily capable on their own to push out the Canaanites along the coast. While the elders probably considered asking their kin to assist them in their endeavor to expand further, the Israelite tribes around Dan had problems of their own. Because of this, they understandably refrained from any military action that could jeopardize their holdings. This would change when the Philistines arrived.

Philistines, or Peleset, captives of the Egyptians, from a graphic wall relief at Medinet Habu. Circa 1185-52 BC, during the reign of Ramesses III.

Philistines, or Peleset, captives of the Egyptians, from a graphic wall relief at Medinet Habu. Circa 1185-52 BC, during the reign of Ramesses III. (Public Domain)

Who are the Sea Peoples?

The Philistines were of Aegean origin, possibly originating from Cyprus or Crete. They were known in Egyptian inscriptions as the Peleset, and were a part of a conjectured conglomerate of sea raiders that Egyptologist Gaston Maspero came to call Sea Peoples. They took part in a large migration/invasion towards the end of the Bronze Age.

The Danites may have joined this conglomerate. While there is no proof that they ever did, the Medinet Habu inscriptions of Ramses III, mention a group known as the Denyen who were defeated by his forces at the Battle of the Djahy (1179):

The foreign countries made a conspiracy in their islands. All at once the lands were removed and scattered in the fray. No land could stand before their arms: from Hatti, Qode, Carchemish, Arzawa and Alashiya on, being cut off at one time. A camp was set up in Amurru. They desolated its people, and its land was like that which has never come into being. They were coming forward toward Egypt, while the flame was prepared before them. Their confederation was the Peleset, Tjeker, Shekelesh, Denyen and Weshesh, lands united. They laid their hands upon the land as far as the circuit of the earth, their hearts confident and trusting: ‘Our plans will succeed!’

Whether the Denyen were, in fact, the Biblical tribe of Dan will remain disputed. However, one could argue from a military and political perspective that the Danites did aid the Philistines against the Egyptians.

Philistine Bichrome pottery, theorized to be of Sea Peoples origin.

Philistine Bichrome pottery, theorized to be of Sea Peoples origin. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

As mentioned, the Danites allotted territory was too small. Their desire to expand was cut short because they had not the military means to go it alone. When the Philistines and company were making their way south, the Danites saw an opportunity. They joined this coalition of marauders, who were possibly led by the Philistines, in an attempt to expand territorially along the coast of southern Canaan around 1179 BCE. However, as this conglomerate made their way south, they attacked the Canaanite city-states subject to the Egyptians and took them. Afterwards, they continued south, where they engaged the Egyptian army at Djahy and were defeated.

One would think that the Egyptians would have executed or enslaved the defeated forces. Even though the Philistines lost the battle, they won the spoils. Instead, Ramses III decided that since he lost his garrison in southern Canaan, he would use the Philistines to regarrison the coastal fortified cities of Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Gaza—not only to secure the land but also to secure the trade route. The Philistines were assigned to govern and protect a stretch of land along the coast 40 miles long (64 km) and roughly 15 miles (24 km) wide.

Outer gate wall at Ashkelon. Original mud bricks of the outer gate structure of Philistine Ashkelon. The bricks are from the middle bronze age, roughly 4000 years ago.

Outer gate wall at Ashkelon. Original mud bricks of the outer gate structure of Philistine Ashkelon. The bricks are from the middle bronze age, roughly 4000 years ago. (Ian Scott/CC BY-SA 2.0)

While the Philistines won the land grab, the tribe of Dan during this ordeal was thwarted twice. Dan’s first setback was the defeat at Djahy (1179 BCE) by the Egyptians.

Sea Peoples in conflict with the Egyptians in the battle of Djahy.

Sea Peoples in conflict with the Egyptians in the battle of Djahy. (Public Domain)

Their second setback was that after the defeat, their allies, the Philistines, were given land and were now the allies of Egypt. With Egyptian backing, the Philistine occupation of southern Canaan denied the tribe of Dan and that of Judah any hopes to expand. Besides the Biblical account, we can look at the Greek account regarding another people who have a similar name.

Who are the Danaan?

According to the Greeks, the Danaan were a branch of what would become the Greek people over time. In Greek mythology, the Danaan originally dwelt next to the Nile River in Egypt. Their founder was a man by the name of Danaus, who was a descendant of Io.

Zeus and Io

Zeus and Io (Public Domain)

Danaus had fifty daughters, and his brother Aegyptus had fifty sons. Aegyptus wanted to marry off his fifty sons to the daughters of Danaus. Danaus gathered his daughters and fled by ship from the marriage proposal offered by his brother, and settled in a place called Argos where they found safety among the Argives. Aegyptus, furious that Danaus had fled, gathered his fifty sons and followed suit only to be repulsed by the Argives once they landed. It is said that eventually, the daughters of Danaus married their cousins—how this happened is unknown.

According to the tale, Danaus gave his daughters daggers at the wedding feast and instructed them to kill their husbands the night of the wedding.

The Danaides kill their husbands.

The Danaides kill their husbands. (Public Domain)

The daughters agreed to this very act— all except one. Her name was Hypermnestra, she was moved by pity, and thus let her husband Lynceus live. She was the only daughter to marry and have a child within her own family, and thus by Greek law, which will discuss shortly, their child inherited not only the spoils of Aegyptus but also the spoils of Danaus.

Woodcut of 49 of the Danaids killing their husbands, while Hypermnestra tells Lynceus to flee.

Woodcut of 49 of the Danaids killing their husbands, while Hypermnestra tells Lynceus to flee. (CC BY 2.0)

What is striking about this story is that it may be three stories made into one, and possibly of Hebrew origin. Let us first begin with the names Danaus and Aegyptus.

The Possible Connection

The name Danaus, which the Danaan tribes are named after, bears a striking resemblance to the Hebrew tribe of Dan, and may possibly be associated with the tribe of Dan due to name and phonetic similarities. The name Aegyptus is of great interest also.

First, one must understand that the Pharaohs of Egypt did not use the term Egypt, it was the Greeks who called them Egypt or in Greek “Aigyptos”. However, it seems that the name Aigyptos was used in reference to the Nile country from which our story first takes place between Danaus and Aegyptus and not Egypt as a whole, which opens another possibility that will be discussed shortly. In addition, many of the near eastern kingdoms and small nations never used the name “Aigyptos” when referring to Egypt, either. instead, nations like Assyria/Babylonia used the terms “Mutsri,” “Musur,” and “Misir” when referring to Egypt, while the Hebrews referred to them as “Mitsrayim” or “Mizraim.” However, the Mycenaean Linear B text mentions the name Egypt/Egyptian twice: the first name is Misirayo, while the second in the text is Aikupitiyo — two names considered by modern scholars to mean the same thing. Both names have major differences, and yet no modern scholar can tell us why Egypt is referred to by these two vastly different renderings of the name.

The first name mentioned in the Linear B text, “Misiryo” is very similar and connected to the Semitic variations of the name already mentioned. However, it is the second name, Aikupitiyo, which is in dispute, since it has no connection to Egypt. Both names seem to be personal names that point to an identity. If Misiryo means “The Egyptian” then the name Aikupitiyo is alien to the land of Egypt and does not indicate that this person is Egyptian. Another solution to this person’s identity can be demonstrated.

Remember the story of Danaus and Aegyptus, both are said to be brothers, and both dwelt by the Nile; both could escape by sea as well, as in the case of Danaus fleeing with his fifty daughters, and evidently so could Aegyptius when he pursued Danaus. With that said, it seems plausible to suspect that both Danaus and Aegyptus lived in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites dwelt. Thus, Danaus represents the Danites, and Aegyptus represents the Israelite as a whole, including the tribe of Dan, for the name Aikupitiyo could very well be a rendering of the name “Jacob”, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.

For further consideration, that the name Aikupitiyo is a rendering of Jacob, one must take notice that the name Jacob is “Ya’aqov” in Hebrew. In Ancient Egypt, a certain Hyksos ruler bears a very similar name, and that name is “Yakubher” also rendered as “Yak-Baal,” and “Yakeb-Baal”.  Notice the similarities between the two names Aikupitiyo and Yakubher? Now compare that to the name Jacob found in New Testament Greek in the book of Matthew 1:2, that is rendered as “Iakob,” thus the plausibility that the name Aegyptus is a variation of the name Jacob found in the Bible becomes potentially clearer in our search of the Danaan identity.

Top Image: A mosaic in the Jewish Quarter representing the 12 Tribes of Israel, including the Danites (CC BY 2.0)  and Philistines (Public Domain); Deriv.

By Cam Rea

References

Anonymous. The Wesleyan Sunday-School Magazine [Afterw.] the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School Magazine. London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 1873.

Cairns, Ian. Word and presence: a commentary on the book of Deuteronomy. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1992.

Cheyne, Thomas Kelly. Black, John Sutherland. Encyclopaedia biblica : a critical dictionary of the literary political and religious history, the archaeology, geography, and natural history of the Bible. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1899-1903.

Davidiy, Yair. Lost Israelite Identity: The Hebrew Ancestory of Celtic Races. Shiloh-Hebron-Susia-Jerusalem: Russel-Davis Publishers, 1996.

—. The Tribes. Jerusalem: Russell-Davis, 2004.

Gabriel, Richard A. The Military History of Ancient Israel (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003.

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1969.

Hard, Robin. he Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology: Based on H.J. Rose’s Handbook of Greek Mythology. London & New York: Routledge, 2004.

Hathom, Richmond Yancey. Greek Mythology. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1977.

Haubrich, William S. Medical meanings: a glossary of word origins. Philadelphia: American College Of Physicians, 2003.

Killebrew, Ann and Gunnar Lehmann, The Philistines and Other “Sea Peoples” in Text and Archaeology (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013.

Pritchard, James B. The Ancient Near East Vol 1: An Anthology of Text and Pictures (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.

Rose, Herbert Jennings. A Handbook of Greek Mythology. London: Routledge, 2005.

Salverda, John R. “The Danaans” [Online] Available at: http://ensignmessage.com/articles/the-danaans/ (accessed 3 March 2010).

Naval Battle of Salamis (480 BCE) ‘The Harder the Salami the Better!’

 

Kaulbach, Wilhelm von - Die Seeschlacht bei Salamis - 1868.JPG

On 29 September 480 BCE, the Battle of Salamis was fought between the Greek city-states – who were seeking an empire of their own – and the already established undisputed heavyweight champion of the known world – who needs no introduction – the Persian Empire! Better known as the Achaemenid Empire in the academic world in case you were wondering and I think you are?

According to that guy named Herodotus, who is still being debated about before the undergraduate academic committee, mentions that 371–378 Greek and 900-1207 Persian ships took part in this mass royal rumble. Themistocles, that political populist over achiever, was an Athenian admiral of the navy. He decided to bamboozle the Persians into thinking they were best buds and the Persians were hooked. Afterwards, he ordered his slave to go to the Persians and tell them that the Greek allies had abandoned their position with their tail between their legs. The Persians were giddy and entered the straits between Salamis and the mainland.

On the morning of 29 September, the Persians crept across the narrow strait. Xerxes, being the great leader he was, watched from afar, like a guy in the back of a Grindhouse theater on 42nd Street in New York City. Understand that naval warfare before this shindig took place consisted of boats ramming into each other at high speeds like a bumper boat competition at the local fair that came around once a year or at the established rundown Fun Parks. It was nothing more than an ancient version of demolition derby that goes bound the barnyard rules of rural America. Once a boat had been successfully penetrated, the process of drowning took place, of course, some likely knew how to swim but that’s another matter for another story. Once nightfall arrived, the Persians lost a third of their bumper boats during the competition and called it quits. Persia’s strategic position had not improved, causing Xerxes to pullout and recall his army, which had reached the Isthmus.
While not a major defeat, it was a setback, one that caused Xerxes many countless nights contemplating and boasting of the should’ve, would’ve, and could’ve scenarios. It was another victory for the Greeks in their march to be more like Persia.

Let’s take a look at those Lecture Hall Totals:

We have 371-378 Greek Allied ships (shame on you Herodotus, you need to work on your arithmetic skills) 900-1207 Persian ships according to the ancients who tend to exaggerate a bit. Modern egghead estimates are still being hammered away day in night and tend to suggest only 300-600 ships took place in the beating.
We have 40 Greeks ships totaled.
We have 200-300 Persians ships totaled.
Body count unknown.
Unknown amounts of blood.
Unknowable amounts of severed limbs.
Chick commanding five Persian vessels (Give a round of applause to Artemisia I of Caria).
No breasts.
No beasts.
Heads roll.
Arms roll.
All action.
Ship slamming fu.
Boarding party fu.
Bodies floating (Thinking of you, Ariabignes) fu.
Swords, daggers, arrows, and splintered pieces of wood to the torso fu.

Two and a half beers!
Cam Rea says check it out.

For more on the story, check out these sources:
Herodotus and the Persian Wars
Ephorus, Universal History
Lazenby, JF. The Defence of Greece 490–479 BC.
Green, Peter. The Year of Salamis, 480–479 B.C.
Burn, A.R., “Persia and the Greeks” in The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 2: The Median and Achaemenid Periods, Ilya Gershevitch, ed.
Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War
300: Rise of an Empire 9film) in case you didn’t already know!

By Cam Rea

Alexander the Great and The Business of War – Part 2

 

“As Persepolis had exceeded all other cities in prosperity, so in the same measure it now exceeded all others in misery.”

Miseries along with poverty, for the people were raped of their land and their self. However, with such great turmoil came lasting hope that those affected would be redeemed. If Alexander felt that unity was close, the inhabitants of the Iranian plateau would not forget the sacking of Persepolis among other distasteful actions before and after.

Famous Alexander Mosaic, showing Battle of Issus. Alexander is depicted mounted, on the left

Famous Alexander Mosaic, showing Battle of Issus. Alexander is depicted mounted, on the left (Public Domain)

[Read Part I]

However, much in the accounts of the sacking and destruction of Persepolis by Alexander may be an exaggeration, but then again, much of it could very well be true, as this was a war of revenge to some extent, due to the Persians supposedly burning down Greek temples during the Greco-Persian War.

Sacrifices to the Gods and Cultural Unity

I only say ‘supposedly’ because the Persians were very respectful of other cultures’ religions. Xerxes himself during the Greco-Persian War was accompanied by not only Magi but also by Greek diviners and specialists. Xerxes even sacrificed a thousand bulls at Ilion to the goddess Athena, and speaking of Athena, he ordered the Greek exiles to make a sacrifice to Athena at the Acropolis. However, this could have been due to Xerxes making alms to his own gods as well as theirs as a sign of respect and sorrow for the burning of the Acropolis—but this still does not answer whether the burning did or did not happen.

A map showing the Greek world at the time of the invasion

A map showing the Greek world at the time of the invasion (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Now, this is just a small showing of Xerxes’ respect towards other cultural beliefs. But it should not go unnoticed, for it does provide a glimpse into events in Greece during the war. The Persian invasion did leave death, destruction, and looting for that is obvious with all nations in war, but one has to be careful suggesting that it was Xerxes’ intent to take direct aim at holy temples with the few sources provided without considering the nature of the Persian respect toward other gods as demonstrated by Xerxes. On the other hand, we have Alexander who invaded under the pretense of a just cause or just war to avenge the Greeks for Persian wrongs. However, if your intention is to invade and conquer, to bring about social harmony through cultural unity, burning down the Persian house is not a great start towards promoting peace.

Persepolis. Limestone. Reign of Xerxes, 486-465 BC

Persepolis. Limestone. Reign of Xerxes, 486-465 BC (CC BY-SA 2.0)

This harmony never materialized, not even during the Seleucid Empire, which controlled most of the former lands of the Persian Empire. Even with many Greek colonists settling in the former lands of the once mighty Achaemenid Empire, they never truly penetrated or absolutely influenced the indigenous peoples of the Iranian plateau with their Hellenistic culture. In time, the Greek settlements looked like mere islands spread out to far from one another to make a true cultural impact in the regions they settled. Many of the tribal societies in Iran and further to the east held on to their traditional ways, and looked at the Greeks settling in their areas as unwanted guests or in the modern sense, illegal aliens.

This demonstrates that Alexander the Greats grand strategy of united racial harmony through Hellenism was not even in the best interest of his successor to his eastern lands, Seleucus, or with the Greeks settling within the eastern lands. Because of this alienation imposed upon the indigenous people on the Iranian plateau, rebellion would soon rise out of this and attack the very masters who preached harmony.

Alexander the Not-So-Great?

The notion of Alexander being Μέγας “Great” is indeed a mistake written by those who romanticized the idea later on, which in turn created an argument based on western ethnocentrism that continues. If there is anything great that can be said about Alexander it surely was not his foreign or domestic policy, but rather his ability to innovate on the battlefield, which was in itself, was a marvel. However, a question remains, why did invade Persia?

Herma of Alexander (Roman copy of a 330 BC statue by Lysippus). According to Diodorus, the Alexander sculptures by Lysippus were the most faithful to his true appearance.

Herma of Alexander (Roman copy of a 330 BC statue by Lysippus). According to Diodorus, the Alexander sculptures by Lysippus were the most faithful to his true appearance. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

A Lucrative Adventure

So why did Alexander invade the Persian Empire? If you said it was in revenge against the Persians, you are right. But there is another reason— and that was money. Alexander invaded Persia not only to get some payback, but also he needed the money and Persia had vast amounts of wealth that could whet his appetite and pay for the armies and debts.

Entry of Alexander into Babylon

Entry of Alexander into Babylon (Public Domain)

The looting began once he was on the move. At Babylon, the amount Alexander confiscated is unknown. But given that it was Babylon, one can assume the amount plundered was indeed great. When he took Susa, he acquired 50,000 talents; Persepolis 120,000; Pasargadae 6,000; Ecbatana 26,000. From these cities alone, 202,000 talents (excluding Babylonia) of gold and silver were now in his hands. From the amount of money taken, Alexander handed out bonuses to his men totaling 12,000 talents, with another 2,000 going to Thessalain soldiers. Moreover, many of Alexander’s men, and including Alexander himself, likely came across gold and silver coins that the Persians had looted from the Greek treasuries during the Greco-Persian Wars. Understand that the amount of money mentioned only pertains to the area of western Iran and a portion of Mesopotamia. Moreover, consider the amount of wealth his soldiers looted during the campaign as many lose coins would have been everywhere. When considering the reminder of his conquests, Alexander may have looted 400,000 talents before he died.

Estimates:

250,000 Talents – looted from Persia

400,000 Talents – total loot during Alexander’s career

A rough valuation of the Talents plundered in dollars:

Persia – $7,000,000,000,000, or $7 trillion

Grand total, including Persia – $11 trillion

When considering the amount taken by his men, the number only increases.

Head of helmeted Athena right. Obverse of a gold stater minted in Babylon during the reign of Philip III or Philip IV of Macedon.

Head of helmeted Athena right. Obverse of a gold stater minted in Babylon during the reign of Philip III or Philip IV of Macedon. (CC BY 2.5)

The Truth Comes Out

The Roman historian Arrian tells us that Alexander set out to conquer Persia as an act of revenge for past wrongs. Alexander addresses this in his letter to Darius stating, “Your ancestors came into Macedonia and the rest of Greece and treated us ill, without any previous injury from us. I, having been appointed commander and chief of the Greek, and wishing to take revenge on the Persians, crossed over into Asia, hostilities being begun by you.” But was it really all about revenge or was there something more to it— is it possible that Alexander needed money?

Most books discussing Alexander’s invasion of Persia tell of revenge as the motivator, of course, due to the Greco-Persian Wars of the past. But it is rather odd that Alexander would all of a sudden decide to mount his horse and lead his army into the lands of Persia even though the war had been over for more than one hundred years.

However, Arrian provides another passage. Alexander gave a speech at Opis 324 BCE when his men mutinied for a second time, the first being at Hyphasis River a few years back. Arrian provides an interesting statement as to why Alexander declared war on Persia: “I inherited from my father a few gold and silver cups, and less than 60 talents in the treasury; Philip had debts amounting to 500 talents, and I raised a loan of a further 800.”

[Top] Gold vessels, Achaemenid; 5th century BC (CC BY 2.0) [Bottom] and with twelve-petaled rosettes - Achaemenid gold, Persepolis, 550-330 BC

[Top] Gold vessels, Achaemenid; 5th century BC (CC BY 2.0) [Bottom] and with twelve-petaled rosettes – Achaemenid gold, Persepolis, 550-330 BC (Public Domain)

Alexander’s father Philip had already set his eyes on Persia and was preparing an invasion force but was assassinated before he could carry out his objective. With his death, Alexander was left with a semi-professional army. They were a paid fighting force paid directly by the king himself.

In order for Alexander to pay for this army if he wished to keep it, either he has to disband a portion to save money, which was unacceptable, or go on the march to save his kingdom. It would seem he had little choice but to save his kingdom and pay the bills by conquering and confiscating from other lands – Persia.

Death of a Man, Death of an Era

It seems reasonable to assume that Alexander used Persia in order to pay for the troops his father left behind. One might think this would be ludicrous but why would it? Alexander was given a well-trained and organized fighting force. His youth may have also played a part, as history has often been written by young people willing to take on a challenge or great risk, since the life expectancy during this period was short. Because of this, Alexander felt that Persia was a grand prize if he could take it. Once he took the Persian Empire, the cold, hard reality soon set in and the new problem was then how to deal with two cultures.

Alexander the Great and physician Philip of Acarnania.

Alexander the Great and physician Philip of Acarnania. (Public Domain)

How unified were the two cultures after the fall of Persia? In a sense, it makes relatively no sense to say “two cultures.” However, for clarity, we shall keep it as two cultures. It was really one culture (Hellenism) versus a smorgasbord of various Oriental cultures.

Those living on the Iranian Plateau did seem to be, for the most part, followers of the Zoroastrian religion, but religion does not indicate ethnic or tribal affiliations and allegiances. Instead, the various tribes that dotted the landscape had many different customs and practices that came with diverse languages. This division of cultures was, in and of itself, a huge obstacle for the Greco-Macedonians. Hellenism would take root and thrive much more in western Asia; whereas, in the east it had little effect. It was present, but not always noticeable. This does not mean that Hellenism in Iran was not present, nor hadn’t an effect on the local population, but rather that it was established, yet minuscule, like the military force assigned to protect the vital trade arteries of the eastern empire.

The unity quickly ended with Alexander’s death. It looked hypocritical of Alexander to promote unity in life, when on death his men asked, “To whom do you leave the kingdom?” and he replied: “To the strongest.” This would not be the case, however. Seleucus and those who ruled after were never able to establish a loyal political base of influential proportions, nor were they capable of centralizing the entire empire effectively, at least not in the east. Furthermore, they never truly penetrated or influenced the indigenous peoples on the Iranian plateau with their Hellenistic culture.

Dr. Richard Frye says, “The Seleucids controlled the main trade routes in Iran but little else.” This may indicate that Alexander controlled not much more after proclaiming the land as his and moving on.

Alexander’s dream became a reality that ultimately overtook him in death. Before Alexander died, he was approached concerning who the successor would be. Alexander replied, “To the best man; for I foresee that a great combat of my friends will be my funeral games.” His statement concerning that his empire went to the “best man” suggests that even he had no confidence in any of his men and why not. Alexander saw himself to be a god; What mortal among them could be his equal? He knew that none of his men could do what he did and that is why he foresaw conflict.

The empire Alexander left was too complex to be governed by one man. Had he lived to be very old his empire may have stayed intact, but this is conjecture. He took on the customs of those he conquered to show love and appreciation for all things eastern but in reality, it was just a political maneuver. Once Alexander died, his Macedonian men divorced their Iranian wives; Cassander, the son of Antipater the general, who supported both Philip and Alexander, murdered Alexander’s widow Roxanna and son Alexander around 310 BCE; and all of the Iranian satraps were removed from power. The Macedonians wanted only revenge and nothing to do with anything eastern, for it was barbaric. However, this did not help, for even the Macedonians fought amongst themselves over the glory and riches Alexander provided as they did at Persepolis in 330 BCE.

Top Image: Detail of the Alexander Sarcophagus located in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. (CC BY-SA 2.5) Gold coins (Public Domain), Deriv.

By Cam Rea

References

Arrian. Anabasis. Translated by Aubrey De Seliucount. England: Penguin Classics, 1958.

Bourne, Randolph. War and the Intellectuals: Collected Essays, 1915-1919. New York: Harper & Row, 1964.

Curtis, John, Nigel Tallis, and Béatrice André-Salvini. Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. Diodorus.

Farrokh, Kaveh. Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2007.

Larson, Jennifer. Ancient Greek Cults: A Guide. New York: 2007, Routledge.

Plutarch. Moralia. Translated by Frank Cole Babbitt. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1962.

—. The Parallel Lives: The Life of Alexander. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Loeb Classical Library edition, 1919.

Stoneman, Richard. Alexander the Great. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2004.

Tarn, William. Alexander the Great. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951.

Ulvog, Jim. “Guess on the Value of All Loot Taken by Alexander the Great.” July 15, 2016. Accessed January 3, 2017. https://attestationupdate.com/2016/07/15/guess-on-the-value-of-all-loot-taken-by-alexander-the-great/.

Yarshater, Ehsan. “Iranian National History.” In The Cambridge History of Iran, Vol. 3 (1): The Selecuid, Parthian and Sasanian Periods, by Ehsan Yarshater, 359-477. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Alexander the Great and The Business of War – Part 1

 

Alexander the Great has gained an immortality in his strong presence in our minds as well as in the history books. Known for a greatness of military genius and diplomatic skills, he conquered most of the known world of his time and brought on a new era of the Hellenistic World. But who really was Alexander, the man?

The intention of this article is not to go into the whole history of Alexander’s invasion and conquest of the Near East, but rather to look at the man himself. In doing so, we will understand why Alexander invaded and will dispel some of the myths about Alexander’s intentions, in turn helping us to understand why the Greco-Macedonian Empire broke apart a little over a hundred years after his death. Nearly all traces of his once glorious empire had been tossed into the ash heap of history.

A bust of Alexander the Great

A bust of Alexander the Great (CC BY-ND 2.0)

The War Business

The army that King Philip II of Macedon left to his son Alexander was semi-professional and a paid fighting force. In order for Alexander to pay for this army, either he had to disband a portion of it to save money, risking much in doing so, or he had to go on the march to save his kingdom. Alexander chooses to save his kingdom at another empire’s expense. Alexander needed to pay the bills and would do so by looting Persia.

He proved what Randolph Bourne once stated; “War is the health of the state.” Alexander was the state, and war was his business. Therefore, revenge was the excuse to avoid personal monetary debt. Besides Alexander’s dilemma in possibly going into debt within a matter of weeks, he also had a rather large personal ego to contend with as well.

Upbringing and Education

Alexander’s ego is said to have been rather massive. His mother had huge expectations for him and led him to believe that he would conquer Persia. If you think about it, the only huge deed at the time in proving one’s destiny was to conquer Persia, for it was the biggest challenge at the time in the known world, at least in the Greco-Macedonian sense. Besides being hounded about his destiny, he also was a competitor from birth, as he would try to outdo his father in combat, being more aggressive in battle and showing absolute courage in the face of danger just to win Papa’s approval. Alexander worried that nothing would be left to achieve beyond the successes of his father, Philip.

Bust of Philip II of Macedon, a 1st-century Roman-era copy of a Greek original.

Bust of Philip II of Macedon, a 1st-century Roman-era copy of a Greek original. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Besides his home life, Alexander was enthralled by the epic poems of Homer and his detailed journeys into war and individual heroism.  These themes fueled the young Alexander’s imagination as he grew, along with the help of his tutor, Aristotle. The works of Homer instilled the romantic rebels of the Greek legends, such as Achilles or even Hercules—who Alexander modeled himself after and who he claimed to be descended from—while Aristotle provided the reasoning in Alexander’s curriculum. Alexander’s father, Philip, taught him war.

Aristotle tutoring Alexander.

Aristotle tutoring Alexander. (Public Domain)

However, once Philip was dead, Alexander set off on his journey and the rest is history. What set Alexander east was due to debt, but had his ego not been so bold and his character not so for risk-taking, history would have been very different. Like Achilles, Alexander died before he accomplished his dream or destiny, but the outcome was necessary. Achilles died at Troy before he could see it fall, but his name lived on, while Alexander died before he could conquer the entire world, but his name is forever etched into mankind’s memory.

Triumphant Achilles dragging Hector's lifeless body in front of the Gates of Troy.

Triumphant Achilles dragging Hector’s lifeless body in front of the Gates of Troy. (Public Domain)

Alexander has indeed left a rather memorable account that has survived down through the ages. However, many do not consider his actions and the consequences that would afflict the Near Eastern region after his death. Therefore, it is important to examine his views about those he conquered.

Upheaval in the Orient

This battle for supremacy over the Orient started when a young Alexander first stepped foot on Persian soil. The readings Aristotle assigned to him when he was a youth were now real and the adventure ahead was unknown. Alexander could only rely on the readings and the philosophers who would later travel with him. As Alexander moved forward with his ambitions, his achievements rocked not only those in the Orient but also those back home, let alone his own men and officer staff, particularly the future Diadochi or “successors.”

Alexander’s dream was to unite east and west, but even this notion of a united east and west is in dispute, due to his prayer that insisted on harmony “between Macedonians and Persians.” In reality, this prayer was nothing more than a shadow in that it favored the Macedonians and Greeks over the Persians. Alexander must have understood that when you are burning down the house you conquered there is going to be little room for unity and trust.

The Persian palace he set on fire; though General Parmenion urged him to save it, arguing, among other things, that it was not seemly to destroy what was now his own property, and that the Asians would not thus be induced to join him, if he seemed determined not to hold fast the sovereignty of Asia, but merely to pass through it in triumph. Alexander, on the contrary, replied that he proposed to punish the Persians in recompense for what they had done in their invasion of Greece; for their wrecking of Athens, their burning of the temples, and for all the other cruel things they had done to the Greeks; for these, he said, he took vengeance.

Ruins of the Palace of Artaxerxes I, Persepolis.

Ruins of the Palace of Artaxerxes I, Persepolis. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Interestingly enough, there were those who felt that Alexander did not do as Aristotle taught him (even though the burning of Persian property would seem fit in what Aristotle would want against the barbarians). It seems that this action may have been a little too much, for Plutarch states:

For Alexander did not follow Aristotle’s advice to treat the Greeks as if he were their leader, and other peoples as if he were their master; to have regard for the Greeks as for friends and kindred, but to conduct himself toward other peoples as though they were plants or animals.

The Great Double Staircase at Persepolis.

The Great Double Staircase at Persepolis. (CC BY 2.0)

Alexander did treat others as Aristotle advised; he just kept it concealed by promising the illusion of unity between east and west— like when the Macedonians were said to have taken Persian wives, but one will see that there is not a trace mentioned of Persian nobles being offered the women of Macedonia for marriage.

When one takes another look at Alexander’s empire after his death, his name is scattered all about the Iranian landscape, as is the Hellenistic culture he brought with him. All things Persian remained in the countryside, unseen and out of mind while Hellenism took root in the urban centers of civilization. The historian Ehsan Yarshater makes the distinction between the genuine Iranian aspects, which later mixed in with the romantic, when he states:

According to genuine Iranian tradition, Alexander destroyed the integrity of the Iranian empire by undermining the authority of its kings and dividing the land among feudatory lords. Further, he ruined fire temples, killed Zoroastrian priests and destroyed their manuscripts, transferring Persian science and philosophy to Rum (Greece). On the other hand, the legendary tale of Alexander, written by pseudo-Callisthenes sometime before the 4th century, was translated into Middle Persian during the 6th century, and its content, with some modifications, was later adopted by the body of Iranian historical traditions. In the Iranian form of the romance, Alexander becomes a son of Dara I and a half brother of his adversary, Dara II.

Alexander the Accursed and the Sacking of Persepolis

Alexander’s conquest of Persia and the sources that speak against him also have labeled him, according to Zoroastrian sources, as gojastak or “the accursed.” These mention Alexander as “the great destroyer” due to the murdering of Magi priests.  It’s written that he “killed the magi … many teachers, lawyers, Herbats, Mobads.” In addition, much of the literature in Persia was burnt during the conquest, including the sacred Avesta text. Alexander’s men burned copies of the original Avesta texts kept at Dez-Nepesi,  the ‘Castle of Inscriptions’ or ‘Fortress of Archives’. From then on Zoroastrian priests would memorize the text and pass on the information through oral tradition, until the Parthian king Vologases I had them written down again.

Ruins of the Tachara, Persepolis.

Ruins of the Tachara, Persepolis. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

If destroying literature was not enough, Alexander also looted the treasury. Thousands of pack animals were utilized in the removal of 2500 tons of gold at Persepolis! A staggering amount. Alexander would take part of the treasury with him to fund the war while depositing the rest in Susa. Adding insult to injury, Alexander also allowed his:

soldiers to plunder, all but the palaces. It was the richest city under the sun and the private houses had been furnished with every sort of wealth over the years. The Macedonians raced into it slaughtering all the men whom they met and plundering the residences; many of the houses belonged to the common people and were abundantly supplied with furniture and wearing apparel of every kind. Here much silver was carried off and no little gold, and many rich dresses gay with sea purple or with gold embroidery became the prize of the victors. The enormous palaces, famed throughout the whole civilized world, fell victim to insult and utter destruction.

Alexander’s men were getting rich quickly at the expense of the locals, but even that was not enough, for many of Alexander’s men turned on one another, and began to kill each other in the name of profit due to one fellow soldier having more than the other. Moreover, the Persian males whom the soldiers encountered were murdered and the women were taken to be made slaves.

Bull capital at Persepolis.

Bull capital at Persepolis. (CC BY 2.0)

The sacking of Persepolis went beyond greed and momentarily resembled a landscape of unbridled nihilism. Alexander had effectively taken Persepolis, a city that he “described it to the Macedonians as the most hateful of the cities of Asia” and rendered it useless after all was looted of its former glory. This was not the official end of Persepolis, but as a city of importance, its light quickly dimmed. However, Alexander gave the city one last “hoorah” in which he held a great funeral party at the people’s expense. “As Persepolis had exceeded all other cities in prosperity, so in the same measure it now exceeded all others in misery;” Miseries along with poverty, for the people were raped of their land and their self. However, with such great turmoil comes lasting hope that those affected will be redeemed. If Alexander felt that unity was close, the inhabitants of the Iranian plateau would not forget the sacking of Persepolis among other distasteful actions before and after.

Gate of All Nations, Persepolis.

Gate of All Nations, Persepolis. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Top Image: Detail of the Alexander Sarcophagus located in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum. Here Alexander fights the Persians at the Battle of Issus. (CC BY-SA 2.5)

By Cam Rea

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