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amyntoros
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Post by amyntoros »

athenas owl wrote:Arrian, in talking about the Mallian campaign says that they knew Alexander was on his way, but were caught unaware, because like so many they did not expect him so soon. These were people who had gathered in that city precisely because they were aware that Alexander was gunning for them. ... ...

... I hate to disparage the use of the word "innocent" here, because they were defending their territory from an invader. Something I am very sympathetic, too. However, without knowing what you are talking about, someone might read what you wrote and assume that Alexander fell upon a city that had no idea that they were in danger. Well, they were caught unaware, but only because Alexander, as he was wont to do, got there before he was expected.

Not that that excuses Alexande, for those that need an excuser. But it is in some context. He had a specific target, one he viewed as a threat and conveninetly, for him, they were not prepared at that moment.
Am a little uncertain as to your point, I'm afraid. The people fled to this city for "refuge", i.e, a place of safety, and they were not expecting Alexander to follow/find them because of the topography, therefore they were outside the walls and without weapons. Thus they were innocent of his approach and most likely innocent of what he would do if he found them unarmed. If they had been protected by the city walls and armed then it would have been a "battle." As it stands it was a slaughter. No excuses from me. Alexander wanted them dead and their lack of preparation for battle made no difference. This wasn't an "I will steal no victory" situation. It was what it was.

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Post by Paralus »

It was reported to Alexander that a tribe of independent Indians known as the Cathaei was, among certain others, preparing resistance in the event of an invasion and calling for the support of its neighbours...The effect of this report was to put Alexander on the move against the Cathaei without an instant's delay. (Arr 4.22)
In the event - meaning there was no invasion necessarily planned of this area. There was now. Red flag; bull; game on.

The fate of their town, Sangala, we know.
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Post by Semiramis »

athenas owl wrote: Semiramis, thank you. That's the point I'm trying to make. There was slaughter in war then. Conquest was the norm. Again I don't excuse it, but I do not need to. Those long dead victims do not need my defense. But I am not going to use their dead shades to advance my modern views either.
There is slaughter in war now... And conquest hasn't died. ;) Did you like the last part of my story? Disgusted by killings.. turns to non-violence... all that cute stuff? :) I'm going to come out and admit that I don't believe it's humanly possible to divorce oneself form one's modern views when discussing anything including ancient history. There is no Archimedean point of view.

I'll also come out and admit that in all honesty, I don't tend to be appalled by the figures of Alexander's killings. The reason is that I believe Alexander is called "Great" is because he took over and extended the the Achaemenid empire.

There is no empire without conquest. No conquest without war. No war without killing. No war where only ones dying or enslaved are those who "deserve" it while the "innocent" are spared. Alexander has been celebrated by empires (and their education systems) from the Romans to the British to the French mostly because of his effective use of organized violence to subjugate people. Now, if one admires his "achievements" one can't be squeamish about his treatment of Indian tribes. On the other hand, if one is prepared to question the entire concept and motivations of empire, that's a whole another story. :)

The reason why I don't tend to focus on specific acts of Alexander's violence is because they were rarely gratuitous or sadistic for a conquerer. The vast majority of his actions can be explained as motivated by gaining power, eliminating resistance and spreading terror - the simple day to day workings of an empire.
athenas owl wrote:I hate to disparage the use of the word "innocent" here, because they were defending their territory from an invader. Something I am very sympathetic, too. However, without knowing what you are talking about, someone might read what you wrote and assume that Alexander fell upon a city that had no idea that they were in danger. Well, they were caught unaware, but only because Alexander, as he was wont to do, got there before he was expected.

Not that that excuses Alexande, for those that need an excuser. But it is in some context. He had a specific target, one he viewed as a threat and conveninetly, for him, they were not prepared at that moment.
I'm not sure foreknowledge of an invasion makes the invaded any less "innocent"? To bring a modern day example, one of my Iraqi friends was a child in her home country during the one of the Gulf Wars. She said they could watch the bomber planes take off on TV from air bases in a neighbouring country. From that they could calculate when the bombers would reach Iraq, so when to go down to the basement in expectation of an air raid. Now, had their house been unlucky enough to be destroyed, their owning a television wouldn't make them any less innocent, right?
Paralus wrote:Neat sophistry about Arrian’s numbers does little to disguise the butcher's attitude which pervades the campaign in India. The short list given was exactly that: short. Much more might have been included.
I think the general disregard for human life and the level of brutality that is even more apparent in Alexander's Indian campaigns simply stems from the length of the entire campaign. Possibly the resulting frustration of both the troops and officers. Perhaps, a breakdown in discipline in the ranks? Meaning that even if Alexander wanted to be less brutal, he wouldn't get his troops to listen. But the decision to march through Gedrosia suggests to me that Alexander himself didn't put too much value on human life at this stage, including those of his own troops.
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Post by amyntoros »

Semiramis wrote:I think the general disregard for human life and the level of brutality that is even more apparent in Alexander's Indian campaigns simply stems from the length of the entire campaign. Possibly the resulting frustration of both the troops and officers. Perhaps, a breakdown in discipline in the ranks? Meaning that even if Alexander wanted to be less brutal, he wouldn't get his troops to listen. But the decision to march through Gedrosia suggests to me that Alexander himself didn't put too much value on human life at this stage, including those of his own troops.
Although agreeing with much in your post, I just have to pick up on the above. (Sorry. :) ) You're not the first to say this - I recall something similar in another post not that long ago. I can't say that I support this reasoning. First of all, the implication that the Alexander didn't have control over his men's actions seems highly unlikely. After the "mutiny" at the Beas I doubt that Alexander would have tolerated anyone continuing "not to listen" to him. The implication that he had lost control of his army at this stage isn't supported by anything else in the sources unless one chooses to believe that the trek through Gedrosia was a "punishment."

And there's this other thing that bugs me. Suggesting that the brutal slaughters might have been independent action by the army and not approved by Alexander is tantamount to excusing him for what happened. "Oh, it wasn't Alexander. He wasn't so bad. It was his soldiers who wouldn't follow his commands." Hmm, this would mean that even when making Alexander look good in one respect he ends up looking bad in another. A man who is considered by many to be the greatest conqueror of all time and he had lost control of his army. Whatever next? :wink:

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Post by Paralus »

Nothing like lobbing a couple of observational hand grenades and watching the reaction.

It was never just about the numbers. The actions are the thing. The “butchering” (Arrian’s word) of populations after cities and towns fell became the norm. As Amyntoros has noted, the actual numbers aren’t particularly important, what became of the people is.

What occurred at the close of the battle of the Hydaspes must have been a bloodbath. Battle over and the Indian infantry enclosed in a concentrated killing zone with their elephants and Craterus and his units up from “base camp” to kill the escapees: this was annihilation of what had ceased to be a fighting force. The only thing that had come close was the “no quarter” given the Greek mercenaries at the Granicus.

Alexander is not, of course, alone. His Chilliarch, Perdiccas, learned well. After Alexander’s death the Greeks settled in the garrison cities of empire revolted and organized themselves into an army intending to march home again. Perdiccas delegated Pithon to put it down. By sortition he gave him 3,000 Macedonian infantry with orders to collect further forces from the satraps. Pithon, whom Antigonus later found a rather credulous creature, must have been easy to read. Perdiccas made certain to tell the Macedonians that no matter what their commander organized, the Greeks were not to survive the outcome (and so join Pithon). Having given and taken oaths to escort the defeated Greeks back to their cities, the Macedonians, remembering their orders, fell upon the Greeks when they were amongst them and unarmed. They slaughtered them and took their baggage.

Diodorus gives the Greek numbers as 20,000 foot from memory. Both a timely reminder of who's the boss and the removal from the gaming board of Pithon's supposed army.
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Post by alejandro »

Hi all,
Semiramis wrote:The reason why I don't tend to focus on specific acts of Alexander's violence is because they were rarely gratuitous or sadistic for a conquerer. The vast majority of his actions can be explained as motivated by gaining power, eliminating resistance and spreading terror - the simple day to day workings of an empire.
Great line! I totally agree. Sometimes we forget that the guy was not the average Joe, but a conquering machine. If he was “programmed” to conquer, one cannot really be “surprised” if he resorted to the standard tools of the trade: killing, raping, slaughtering. Actually, what almost every source highlights is that he was surprisingly less reliant on them than other conquerors.
Semiramis wrote:I think the general disregard for human life and the level of brutality that is even more apparent in Alexander's Indian campaigns simply stems from the length of the entire campaign. Possibly the resulting frustration of both the troops and officers. Perhaps, a breakdown in discipline in the ranks? Meaning that even if Alexander wanted to be less brutal, he wouldn't get his troops to listen. But the decision to march through Gedrosia suggests to me that Alexander himself didn't put too much value on human life at this stage, including those of his own troops.
I’ll side with Amyntoros here (paying back your previous wink, Amyntoros! :wink: ). I believe that he was fully aware of all these operations. Again, nothing surprising here: another example of his conquering pothos. I don’t think that he was “less cruel” before India, it’s just that different scenarios demanded different “conquering solutions”. After all, Thebes, Tyre and Gaza "solutions" were quite similar in style to the Indian one: strike with full force and create a reputation to disencourage others to revolt.
Paralus wrote:Alexander is not, of course, alone. His Chilliarch, Perdiccas, learned well. After Alexander’s death the Greeks settled in the garrison cities of empire revolted and organized themselves into an army intending to march home again. Perdiccas delegated Pithon to put it down. By sortition he gave him 3,000 Macedonian infantry with orders to collect further forces from the satraps. Pithon, whom Antigonus later found a rather credulous creature, must have been easy to read. Perdiccas made certain to tell the Macedonians that no matter what their commander organized, the Greeks were not to survive the outcome (and so join Pithon). Having given and taken oaths to escort the defeated Greeks back to their cities, the Macedonians, remembering their orders, fell upon the Greeks when they were amongst them and unarmed. They slaughtered them and took their baggage.
Indeed Perdikkas learned the lesson well. But again, is it surprising? At the end of the day, Peithon did turn up to be an unreliable ambitious brat, so Perdikkas’ actions did achieve his goals: denying a potential (and somewhat erratic) rival the means to challenge his hegemony. I don’t see here any contradiction. The logical path was followed: conqueror (or wannabe conqueror) uses all means available to achieve his ultimate goal (conquest).
The key point, I think, is to notice that the idea of “killing innocent people” DOES NOT ENTER the mind of the conqueror: whether innocent people are killed or not does not matter to the conqueror, except in terms of side-effects (eg, if they could be sold as slaves or if there are political considerations that suggest a different solution). The presence of “innocent people” is just another feature of the “theatre of war” that the conqueror has to negotiate, just as the rain or the terrain or the heat. Their deaths or not are irrelevant from his perspective.
Now, WE DO care about innocent people, but that is a COMPLETELY different story. 8)

All the best,
Alejandro
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Post by Paralus »

alejandro wrote:If he was “programmed” to conquer, one cannot really be “surprised” if he resorted to the standard tools of the trade: killing, raping, slaughtering. Actually, what almost every source highlights is that he was surprisingly less reliant on them than other conquerors.
Until India where, as both traditions report, "butchering" and "slaughter" became the norm. Earlier in the campaign they are remarked upon as more isolated incidents and, in the case of Thebes, explained away.
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Post by Semiramis »

Alejandro,

I've loved your posts in this thread, especially the last one. I agree with pretty much everything except this:
alejandro wrote: I don’t think that he was “less cruel” before India, it’s just that different scenarios demanded different “conquering solutions”.
To both alejandro and amyntoros,

Here I'm going with Parauls, that the Indian campaign was more brutal than the rest. This is the reason why I bring up troops discipline. Certainly not to excuse Alexander of any massacres. My take on empiring ambition (Alexander's or anyone else's) are probably clear by now. :)

If there is more brutality than normal, there must be some factor in India that was different from his other campaigns. Breakdown in discipline is a possibility and given the length and hardship of the entire campaign (starting from Macedonia), even likely IMHO. There's no reason to think that Alexander or his generals were immune from this type of frustrations or desensitization themselves.

Of course, Alexander’s official sources wouldn’t mention such a thing if it did happen. What government admits lack of morale and discipline in the army during war? I imagine any such account would’ve been hushed up as early as Alexander's return from India.

The other explanation for the comparatively high level of butchery in India is that he had just started enjoying the killings at this stage, or losing his mind (I’m not entirely sure these two are mutually exclusive). But seeing that it’s usual in wars for atrocities to worsen in scale and savagery the longer they last, I’m going with the first explanation.

So, amyntoros, how about a redistribution of the bold type font then? :wink:
semiramis wrote:I think the general disregard for human life and the level of brutality that is even more apparent in Alexander's Indian campaigns simply stems from the length of the entire campaign. Possibly the resulting frustration of both the troops and officers. Perhaps, a breakdown in discipline in the ranks? Meaning that even if Alexander wanted to be less brutal, he wouldn't get his troops to listen. But the decision to march through Gedrosia suggests to me that Alexander himself didn't put too much value on human life at this stage, including those of his own troops.
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Post by amyntoros »

Hi Semiramis,

On the "butchery" in India, I'll stick with my earlier take on it - that there was little else that could be done with the defeated when the army was so far from home. Taking and keeping huge numbers of the enemy captive involved time, expense, and manpower and, unlike in the west, there was no system in place for putting people into slavery. I know it's only my opinion, but it makes more sense to me than believing there was a breakdown in discipline. Alexander dealt strongly with such issues - remember the men taken out of the line and put into a disciplinary division because they made complaints in their letters home? And how, when back in the west, the men first refused to sign up to have Alexander pay their debts because they feared his offer was just a device to find out who had overspent? Therefore, IMO, there's no way they would have disobeyed his order to take captives in India if such an order was given. I agree, however, that the strains of the campaign may have made the army more inclined to brutality, but Alexander would have understood this also, and may even have felt the same way. I think that whatever killing there was it took place with his approval or because of his direct orders.

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Amyntoros

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Post by marcus »

amyntoros wrote:On the "butchery" in India, I'll stick with my earlier take on it - that there was little else that could be done with the defeated when the army was so far from home. Taking and keeping huge numbers of the enemy captive involved time, expense, and manpower and, unlike in the west, there was no system in place for putting people into slavery. I know it's only my opinion, but it makes more sense to me than believing there was a breakdown in discipline. Alexander dealt strongly with such issues - remember the men taken out of the line and put into a disciplinary division because they made complaints in their letters home? And how, when back in the west, the men first refused to sign up to have Alexander pay their debts because they feared his offer was just a device to find out who had overspent? Therefore, IMO, there's no way they would have disobeyed his order to take captives in India if such an order was given. I agree, however, that the strains of the campaign may have made the army more inclined to brutality, but Alexander would have understood this also, and may even have felt the same way. I think that whatever killing there was it took place with his approval or because of his direct orders.
I wouldn't necessarily disagree with this, Amyntoros. You know how I always like to find appropriate parallels in Medieval history? ... well ...

1191 - Richard I ("Coeur de Lion") has 2,000 captured Moslems at Acre. He wants to march on Jerusalem, but knows that Saladin is out there with possibly 100,000 men (or even twice as many) who want nothing more than to stick the head of any westerner on the end of his spear. Richard can't leave the prisoners in Acre, because if they became free they'd threaten the crusaders' hold on Acre, and also because he doesn't have the manpower to leave behind sufficient guards. He can't take them with him, because he doesn't have the resources to guard them as well as his more vital baggage train (and he'd also have to feed them!).

Sooooo ... he comes to an arrangement with Saladin to ransom them. Saladin doesn't come up with the goods by the appointed time (for what reason doesn't matter). Richard therefore has every single one of his prisoners beheaded, leaving him free to march on towards Jerusalem. It was ruthless and brutal; but it was a war, and you can totally understand Richard's reasoning :?

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Post by Paralus »

marcus wrote: It was ruthless and brutal; but it was a war, and you can totally understand Richard's reasoning
Yes, one can. It's what happens in war on occasion. And that was one occasion.

The point of difference here being the murdered civilians. The agreement to allow mercenaries to depart and then surround and murder them - whatever pretext the sources give of them escaping away into the night. The "sick" left behind for instance who were all summarily run through. The inhabitants of towns - not necessarily combatants - that are dispatched wholus-bolus when towns fall. There is an attitude in this campaign. It was displayed at the Persian Gates too where some 25-40,000 (depending on source) were entrapped and essentially wiped out. They were, at least, combatants.

Unlike the early part of the campaign one could remark (and I think more than one has) that at the end of almost each section of the Indian campaign that "the town fell and the by now expected slaughter began".

In any case, whatever the reasons, it occurred. And it was regular. Whatever purpose it served it was - demonstrably - not one of pacifying the "natives". The Macedonians were not ever destined to hold these fractious and rebellious Indian provinces.

The fierce hatred and resentment that must have smouldered like a decent vindaloo in the Assaceni and Malli would not have been something that I would like to have lived with as the local Macedonian "harmost".
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Post by marcus »

Paralus wrote:The point of difference here being the murdered civilians. The agreement to allow mercenaries to depart and then surround and murder them - whatever pretext the sources give of them escaping away into the night. The "sick" left behind for instance who were all summarily run through. The inhabitants of towns - not necessarily combatants - that are dispatched wholus-bolus when towns fall. There is an attitude in this campaign.
Indeed. And hardly without precedent and copy, throughout history; which is, I suppose, where the question of whether Alexander was more or less bloody than others comes in. There is no doubt that he was ruthless, whatever the apologists might say!
It was displayed at the Persian Gates too where some 25-40,000 (depending on source) were entrapped and essentially wiped out. They were, at least, combatants.
Again, indeed, as indeed at the Granicus. According to Plutarch the Greek mercenaries there asked for quarter and Alexander refused to give it to them; while Arrian doesn't even mention that, merely that they were surrounded and massacred - fair game, perhaps, especially with the charade(?) of pan-Hellenism to justify the slaughter.

I've just been checking Arrian on the Persian Gates, and I have to say that there's no mention that the Persians there attempted to surrender, or asked for quarter. So if Arrian is to be believed on both counts, both instances shouldn't really be compared with the Indian massacres; although possibly Arrian didn't want to admit that a plea to surrender was ignored? (The Persians at the Persian Gates were also fighting in the Persian heartland, defending the route to their religious capital - I would be surprised if they had at any point asked for quarter.) Interestingly, it is Plutarch again who states that Alexander ordered the inhabitants of Persepolis (and the prisoners) to be slaughtered ... which tallies much more with the Indian situation.

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Post by athenas owl »

I was going to stay away from this thread, because I walk away feeling like I have to defend some apologia that I actually do not hold.

Anyone ever hear of the War of the Three Kingdoms in China? From about 184 to 280, give or take? Estimated population before, 56 million, after 16 million. I got into this whole numbers thing becuase of Engels and also because elsewhere someone was going on about how the 20the century had seen slaughter never before imagined in our history.

Like I am wont to do, I raised my internet hand and said something to the effect that technically more have been killed this past century because there were more of us to slaughter. The pointing out the above war which in modern day numbers would have approached a billion people. I was accused of being cold-hearted and an apologist! Realyy what I was doing was just pointing out that the premise of their argument was flawed and a better example might hold more validity.

So here is my manifesto on Alexander. To steal Marcus' word "He was a nasty of piece of work", as most likely every other warrior/king/ whoever was in that to ours. I can understand why there is a reaction to Alexander the parfait knight and all that. But because I do not choose to condemn I feel often that I am viewed as an apologist and my motives called into question because I ask about numbers. And context...that evil boogeyman.
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Post by marcus »

athenas owl wrote:So here is my manifesto on Alexander. To steal Marcus' word "He was a nasty of piece of work", as most likely every other warrior/king/ whoever was in that to ours.
Did I actually say he was a "nasty piece of work" at any time? Gosh, I hope not - there are quite a few about whom I'd say that, but I'd be surprised if I ever used that phrase to describe Alexander. Fair enough if I did, though. :wink:

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Post by Theseus »

I am a little skittish on posting in this heated topic, but I never really was one to bite my tongue. :lol:
I think most will agree that Alexander was by far no saint. He knew what he was doing and what his men were doing. He was no fool either.There is a reason he conquered as many as he did and there is a reason his enemies feared him. You can't take over countries by being "nice and pleasant", it just wont work. I do feel he was not as cruel as other conqueror's and did have some compassion, but when the time called for it he could be ruthless, he needed to be.

I have to add that I really enjoy discussing these things here , regardless if we all agree or not. None of my friends or family are interested in ancient history so it's great being here. :D
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