The Date of Alexander's Birth

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The Date of Alexander's Birth

Post by hiphys » Thu Sep 12, 2019 6:24 pm

Reading A. Chugg, Concerning Alexander the Great. A Reconstruction of Cleitarchus (2015), I found an interesting piece of information. In the chapter "The Date of Alexander's Birth", he writes: "Hence we can say that Alexander was born on 20th July 356 BC in the JULIAN CALENDAR (capital mine)". I wonder whether it's true, but, in this case, when commemorating Alexander's birthday in our time, we have to add ten days to this date, because we use currently the Gregorian calendar. In this calendar July 20th becomes July 30th. Isn't right? But this date it is no-where to be found.

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Re: The Date of Alexander's Birth

Post by Alexias » Sun Sep 15, 2019 8:13 pm

Hi, sorry no one else has replied, but there was a long discussion on this here viewtopic.php?f=2&t=3711&p=35332&hilit= ... ble#p35295. I don't pretend to understand the intricacies of calculating dates, or how reliable the sources are, for example, calculating the date of Philip's death based on the length of Alexander's reign gives a date in October, but that seems an improbable date for Philip to be starting an invasion, and I would think a date in June more likely. That would mean Alexander was not yet 20, but was in his twentieth year. So I haven't got a clue basically.

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Re: The Date of Alexander's Birth

Post by Jeanne Reames » Sun Sep 15, 2019 10:51 pm

FWIW, some decades ago, Ernst Badian went over to the Harvard astronomy department, and asked them to calculate when the 6th of Loos would have been, in 356. Turns out it was July 19th. (This is somewhere in a footnote in one of his 200+ articles, ha. I'd thought it was in his "Greeks & Macedonians" but can't find it. If anybody DOES stumble over it, please tell me where it is!)

But that assumes one buys the 6th of Loos date for ATG's birthday in the first place. Despite the connection to the burning of Artemis's temple, I figure it's as likely as anything, so I raise a toast to him on July 19th each year. But since the Greeks weren't big on birthdays (as opposed to the actual birth DAY), who knows?
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Re: The Date of Alexander's Birth

Post by sean_m » Wed Sep 18, 2019 10:15 am

Yes, if its one of the events in his life recorded in Babylonian sources, you can just pop the date into MesoCalc http://baptiste.meles.free.fr/site/mesocalc.html but Greek calendars are complicated and late writers like Plutarch may have already tried to convert between systems and changed the data in their source :(

If I were going to celebrate an anniversary, I would pick Gaugamela where he became king of the world on 1 October 331 BCE.
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Re: The Date of Alexander's Birth

Post by hiphys » Thu Sep 19, 2019 5:18 pm

Thanks for the replies, and particularly for Alexias' link.

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Re: The Date of Alexander's Birth

Post by Jeanne Reames » Fri Sep 20, 2019 8:51 pm

Exactly, Sean. It's a muddled mess. Pick a date, any date.... (Not quite, but.) Well, any date except July 20. ha.
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Re: The Date of Alexander's Birth

Post by Taphoi » Tue Oct 08, 2019 7:04 pm

It is not really muddled. It is just complicated. I will try to explain.
1) 6th Hecatombaeon means six days after the New Moon - that is the way Macedonians kicked off months.
2) NASA publishes a list of ancient Lunar eclipses which happen at Full Moon - exactly one half month from New Moon
3) Therefore it is easy to calculate when the New Moons happened in 356BC, because a month is 29.53 days (i.e. time between New Moons)
4) The New Moon happened on 15th July 356BC (Julian Calendar)
5) The NASA calculations are better than any old Harvard calcs, so we should go with 20th July (Julian) for Alexander's birthday
6) The offset between the Julian calendar and the Gregorian Calendar varies at a rate of 3 days in every 400 years
7) The Julian and Gregorian Calendars were made to coincide in the time of Constantine the Great (for arbitrary Church reasons)
8] We are currently at about +13 days in the Gregorian relative to the Julian
9) We were at about +10 in the time of Pope Gregory when the Gregorian was implemented.
10) In Alexander's time we were at -5 days, so Alexander was born on 15th July in our Calendar.
11) The Gregorian uses virtually exact astronomical years. The Julian doesn't.
12) If you want to celebrate REAL anniversaries of events that happened a long time ago you have to use the Gregorian or you will be days out
13) Plutarch is almost certainly right about Alexander's birthday because both he and Justin say that Philip was told of his victory in the Olympic chariot race at the same time he heard of Alexander's birth. We know that the Olympic festival climaxed at the 2nd Full Moon after the Summer Solstice, which was 30th July (Julian) in 356BC. The chariot race took place a few days previously, so the two events probably happened in the same week.

Best regards,

Andrew

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Re: The Date of Alexander's Birth

Post by Jeanne Reames » Thu Oct 10, 2019 6:13 am

Andrew, from what I understand, the Harvard folks already allowed for all those issues. They looked at the new moon in July of 356, as Badian asked, and calculated 6 days from that, arriving at July 19th. No need to worry about various calendars if you're starting with the new moon using our modern calendar. The rest is needless detail that all current astronomical ephemerides can cut right through.

Again, I won't argue with the Harvard guys. Badian went to them with the specific details, "What was 6 days from the new moon in the ancient month of Loos [modern July] in 356." Pretty straightforward. I don't think anybody's gone to NASA with the those exact details, but I'd be real surprised if they came up with different math. Ephemerides are pretty straightforward.

The question isn't the math. It's whether we trust the 6th of Loos date. I'm inclined to, but I recognize the historiographic issues involved, which are quite real.
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Re: The Date of Alexander's Birth

Post by Taphoi » Thu Oct 10, 2019 12:01 pm

Hi Jeanne,
NASA’s Table states that there was a Lunar Eclipse at 10:16 on 30th July 356BC (Julian Calendar and Universal Time). Greece is about 2 hours ahead of universal time, so that would be about midday there. Lunar Eclipses happen at Full Moon, by definition. There are 29.53 days between one Full Moon and the next (synodic month). Therefore there are half as many days (14.765) between a Full Moon and the preceding New Moon (this is not absolutely exact due to slight eccentricity of the Lunar orbit, but it is certainly accurate to within an hour or two). Hence the New Moon at the start of Loios in Macedonia or Hekatombaion in Attica occurred pretty close to 5pm local time on 15th July 356BC. Hence 15th July (Julian) was 1st Loios (Macedonian) and 6th Loios was 20th July.
The Harvard calculations were probably performed in the 1950s using the old 3-body Earth-Moon-Sun approximations. Notoriously inaccurate and definitely not as good as NASA’s modern computational models, which take into account many subtleties.
The only significant contrary evidence regarding Plutarch’s date is Arrian’s “calculation” that Alexander lived 32 years and 8 months, which he got by adding up the fact that Alexander came to the throne when he was “about 20” and a more exact duration of 12 years and 8 months for Alexander’s reign. Clearly, if you add a value rounded to the nearest number of years to a value rounded to the nearest number of whole months, you get a value that is still only accurate to the nearest number of years. Plutarch’s dates are actually impeccable: for example, he gives 26th Boedromion for Gaugamela, which is the correct Lunar calendar date (we can check this using the eclipse 11 days before Gaugamela). This is just a horrible example of the 20th century “Arrian uber alles” mentality, so I am pleased that you have seen through it.
Best regards,
Andrew

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Re: The Date of Alexander's Birth

Post by sean_m » Fri Oct 11, 2019 10:03 pm

Synchronizations and Plut. Vit. Al. 3.5-9 ... there are a lot of them in Greek historical writing (eg. Herodotus has matched pairs of land battles and sea battles on the same day, most of us suspect that they were really 'within a month or so of one another'). Its always a good idea to be careful when you just have one source for a fact, although I hope anyone reading ancient history knows that things are just not as certain as in 20th century history!

It is a shame that we are missing the first two books of Curtius Rufus, there is a good chance that he had stories about Alexander's birth and childhood.
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Re: The Date of Alexander's Birth

Post by Taphoi » Fri Oct 11, 2019 11:38 pm

We do in a sense have the material in the first couple of books of Curtius. He is basically doing a Latin abridgement of Concerning Alexander by Cleitarchus of Alexandria, whereas Diodorus Siculus did a much more condensed epitome of Cleitarchus in his Book 17. So the first few chapters of Diodorus 17 give us some idea of what was in the lost books of Curtius. It is however quite likely that Plutarch took his date for Alexander’s birth from Cleitarchus. There is evidence that Cleitarchus used Timaeus of Tauromenium for some of his dates and Plutarch seems to use the same source for his date for Alexander’s birth. So you are probably correct that the same information on Alexander’s birth was Latinised by Curtius, who also found it in Cleitarchus. But never mind that it is not preserved in Curtius, because we have it from Plutarch anyway😊
An important point is that Plutarch’s (or Cleitarchus’s or Timaeus’s) date for Alexander’s birth means the king was born when the Sun was in the constellation of Leo the lion (i.e. his star sign was Leo). This is why Alexander is strongly associated with lions and why he wore his hair in a style that imitated a lion’s mane. He was the original Lion King. For example, we have the story in Plutarch that Philip dreamt that Olympias’s womb was sealed with a lion and we have the information that lion statues guarded Alexander’s catafalque. If we reject Plutarch’s date, as numerous 20th century historians have done, in the futile cause of upholding the supposed infallibility of Arrian, then we lose this insight into Alexander’s motivations. We know from the Cleitarchan sources that he was told as a child that he was descended from Zeus via Achilles on his mother’s side and again from Zeus but via Heracles on his father’s side. Add to this that he thought of himself as the future Lion King because of his auspicious birth and you can see why he felt that he was fated to do remarkable things.

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Re: The Date of Alexander's Birth

Post by sean_m » Sat Oct 12, 2019 10:15 am

That is not how Plutarch works though ... he read a lot and combined it idiosyncratically (we can debate how much he read directly and how much through 'sourcebooks' and collections of 'best bits', and how much he bothered to re-read as he was writing his Alexander and how much he cited from memory). He uses some reliable sources and some things which were too good to check. And even if we knew what source he was using for this particular detail, we would not know whether that source had 'improved' it so it synchronized with the other events, or calculated it by looking through a chronicle for the date of one of those events not knowing that the synchronization was not exact.

I agree that its plausible that Arrian calculated Alexander's age at death based on "he was about 20 when he became king and reigned for 12 years and 8 months."
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Re: The Date of Alexander's Birth

Post by sean_m » Sat Oct 12, 2019 10:34 am

Oh! I checked Arrian Anabasis 7.28.1 and he says that Alexander's age at death comes from Aristoboulos (so from a primary source, but not from a culture where people have to give their age and birthday several times a month).

"The Regnal Years of Philip and Alexander" by N. G. L. Hammond is not so interested in birthdays but note 16 seems to side with Plutarch on Alexander's birthday https://grbs.library.duke.edu/article/view/3531
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Re: The Date of Alexander's Birth

Post by Taphoi » Sat Oct 12, 2019 11:42 am

I am not disputing that Plutarch used multiple sources, but they included Cleitarchus (to a significant extent). There is specific evidence that Plutarch used Cleitarchus here. Hammond shows that he used a date derived from Timaeus and Timaeus was used by Cleitarchus (there are a couple of fragments of Cleitarchus which show that). All this is in Chugg's book refenced at the beginning of this thread and in great detail with all the interlinked strands of evidence and references.
Arrian, Anabasis 1.1.1 (probably also from Aristobulus) says that Alexander was "about twenty" when he came to the throne (which is correct because it was 27th September [Julian] and Alexander was twenty years two months and seven days old). He reigned twelve years eight months and fourteen days. It looks like Aristobulus only knew his approximate age when he came to the throne. Either Aristobulus or more likely Arrian obviously added the approximate age at accession to the more exact reign length. This is clear, else Arrian would have given his exact age at Alexander's accession. At the very least you have to infer that Arrian made some kind of mistake and Plutarch's heavily corroborated date of birth shows clearly that Arrian/Aristobulus made the obvious mistake of adding the ~20 to the 12 and 8 months.
Best regards,
Andrew

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Re: The Date of Alexander's Birth

Post by Taphoi » Sat Oct 12, 2019 12:06 pm

sean_m wrote:
Wed Sep 18, 2019 10:15 am
If I were going to celebrate an anniversary, I would pick Gaugamela where he became king of the world on 1 October 331 BCE.
If you want to celebrate the anniversary of Gaugamela/Arbela, it is on 26th September (Gregorian).
If you want to celebrate Alexander's birthday, it is on 15th July (Gregorian) but you will need 2375 candles :D
If you want to celebrate the anniversary of Alexander's accession, it is on the Autumnal equinox (usually 22nd or 23rd September Gregorian).
If you want to commemorate the anniversary of the day he was pronounced dead, it is on 5th June (Gregorian).
Best wishes,
Andrew
Last edited by Taphoi on Sat Oct 12, 2019 5:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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