Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Sources for Alexander the Great

It is usual for an historian to explain something of the way in which he has treated his sources. Footnotes are the usual academic way of doing this, but I find that the constant flicking and back and forth can spoil the flow of a work for a reader. Instead, I have mentioned my sources in the body of the work and how I have interpreted them. But I have done so only when dealing with a contentious issue or when I felt it necessary for one reason or another. I shall make some more general points here.

The career of Alexander was dramatic not only in itself but because of the effects that it had on the political world of the time. The Persian Empire had been the world superpower for centuries, but suddenly it was gone. In its place were created a number of states, each led by one of Alexander’s Macedonian officers leading an army equipped and trained in the Macedonian fashion. The Greek city states had likewise been swept away. They were no longer independent, but were subject to one or other of Alexander’s successors.

At the time most people recognised the profound change that had come over the world because of Alexander. There was a huge appetite for books about him and his career. Several of the men who had served Alexander wrote their memoirs. Among the most important of these was Ptolemy, son of Lagos, who later became Pharaoh of Egypt. He wrote a long, detailed account of his experiences with Alexander. Nearchus, another senior officer, also wrote up his memoirs Oneiscritus was a third.

Nor was Alexander himself retiring about his exploits. He employed the historian Callisthenes to travel with the Macedonian army and write up its exploits in suitably heroic style. The resulting book was entitled “The Deeds of Alexander”. Alexander also employed a geographer named Aristobulous to accompany the army, and he too later wrote a book based on his experiences. Eumenes, the head of the army staff, kept a daily diary. This was not intended for publication and only parts of it ever became public.

All these men were either employed by Alexander or were friends with him. Undoubtedly this coloured their work. They are all complimentary about Alexander. Good deeds are emphasised and treated at length. Events that do not reflect so well on Alexander are either skated over or blamed on somebody else.

Another contemporary book was published by a Greek historian named Cleitarchus. He was from Colophon, but lived most of his life in Egypt. He had travelled to Babylon during Alexander’s lifetime, but seems to have begun his work only after Alexander’s death. He spoke to many men who had served with Alexander, but also to men who had been involved in politics, some of them opponents of Alexander. Crucially for this book he spoke to at least one of the Greek mercenaries who had fought on the Persian side during the Granicus Campaign. All these accounts were included in the biography of Alexander written by Cleitarchus.

But the real problem when it comes to writing about Alexander is that none of these books has survived to the present day. All these books were lost when the Roman Empire collapsed. Instead we have to rely on the works of men who lived later, but who quoted from the contemporary sources or relied on them.

from "Alexander the Great at the Granicus" by Rupert Matthews

Buy your copy HERE

Book Description

8 Aug 2008 Campaign in Context
In this, the third book of Spellmounts Campaign in Context series, Rupert Matthews looks to the first major campaign of Alexander the Great. One of the most famous generals all time, Alexander was just 20 when he led his army into battle at Granicus. Despite his youth and his army being heavily outnumbered, he was victorious, and it was this victory that allowed him to conquer Asia Minor. The course of this key battle remains controversial, owing to conflicting accounts in contemporary sources. As with his previous titles in the series, Rupert Matthews carefully balances the evidence from textual sources with knowledge of the battlefield and reconstructed weaponry in order to explain the events of the battle to the general reader, and the context in which it took place.

No comments:

Post a Comment