Alexander, the great administrator?

 Book Three sees several changes in Alexander’s administrative choices and style. To date, most of the officers installed by Alexander as he marched through Ionia and the Levant have been Macedonians friends or trustees. The exceptions in the first two books, such as Queen Ada who had surrendered Alinda and “adopted” Alexander (1.23.7-8), stand out because they are so different from his other appointees. Starting with Egypt, though, we begin to see him implementing a structure that separated duties, oftentimes leaving locals or natives in charge politically while trusted assistants were in charge of the military. Alexander rewarded loyalty, even if the allegiances had been to Darius (such as Phrataphernes 3.23.4) or to his opponents (Andronikos, in charge of Greek mercenaries facing Alexander 3.24.4-5).


One possible reason for the change in appointments is that Alexander moved from areas that had, at least at one time, a favorable history with the Greeks and into more hostile territory. Alexander seems to take a pragmatic approach toward Egypt and Persia. Was he setting an example by leaving much of the administration intact in areas that peacefully surrendered in order to minimize resistance, at that locale in addition to the areas he campaigned next? It’s not as if those surrendering had much choice since Darius had fled, but Alexander’s actions might have helped influence the ease in transition. “You’re welcome to govern yourself, to some extent, as long as you submit to me” seems to be the message.  


Such a message would not have been lost on the Greeks back home or in Alexander’s employ in Asia. After Darius’ forces had been defeated at Gaugamela, Alexander effectively dissolved the forces from the League of Corinth. If the Persian campaign was sincere as retribution, the Greek troops would not have been needed beyond the breaking of Darius’ defense except for possibly garrisons or related security. But then the Greeks never seemed to play an important role in Alexander’s invasion from the start. Did Alexander trust the Greeks? Other than the cavalry from Thessaly, I don’t recall seeing troops from the south of Macedonia taking important roles in the invasion. Athens had the capability of contributing a fleet the size Alexander cobbled together (and maybe more) but he didn’t seem to want to rely on the Athenians during the invasion. He clearly didn’t trust Sparta, nor did they trust him. The Theban revolt that Alexander suppressed in 335 BCE (1.1.7-8) may have just been the tip of the iceberg of unsteady relations with the Greek cities. The money sent to Antipatros for a “war with the Spartans” highlights continuing tensions in Greece (3.16.10).


There seems to be another issue in administration that Alexander had to deal with at some point—what to do with the older generation of Macedonian leaders (and their influence) who had been Philip’s chosen men. Unlike the League of Corinth that was needed more for propaganda purposes, Alexander required the full support of Philip’s appointments in order to defeat Darius. When a plot against Alexander allegedly included Parmenion’s son Philotas, most likely for his failure to report it, Alexander used this opportunity to execute his commanding general. The resulting shake-up in command of the Companions adds another layer of checks and balances as spelled out in 3.27.4. The splitting of cavalry command into two leaders follows the dividing trend Alexander started in Egypt: he raises his long-time friend Hephaistion to the level of hipparch at the same level as Kleitos (who saved Alexander’s life at the Granicus River). Arrian attributes the division to not wanting “one man, not even his dearest friend, to have charge of so many horsemen” (also see note 3.27.4b). Since Hephaistion wasn’t qualified for such a position, his sole promotion would not been palatable to his troops. Splitting the command was necessary in a practical sense, and as pointed out in Appendix E §8, Plutarch says there was still resentment over this move. Where previous assignments had split the governance between locals and Macedonians, his moves after Guagamela add a generational layer to this division of power. Parmenion had been a faithful general for both Philip and Alexander, but his sphere of influence (he was more than 40 years older than Alexander) must have been viewed by Alexander as a threat.


What did it take to lose Alexander’s trust? Hapralos, a friend since boyhood, tested this question several times. Harpalos had proved his loyalty when exiled due to his closeness to Alexander—Philip sent several of Alexander’s close friends away after the clash between father and son at Philip’s wedding to Eurydike/Cleopatra. Alexander constantly rewarded his friends, giving Harpalos control of the treasury. Harpalos repays this trust by fleeing to Megara just before the battle of Issus, which Arrian also terms an “exile.” Yet Alexander promised no harm would come to Harpalos if he would return to his employ. Harpalos evidently believed Alexander enough to return so I think Alexander’s hierarchy of trust presents itself in at this point. Loyalty to him was the primary requirement but there couldn’t be a perceived threat from that individual, either. Alexander lack in seeing Harpalos’ potential threat to flee again must have been offset because of their long friendship. The clemency granted Harpalos stands in marked contrast to Alexander replacing his appointed satrap of Syria for failing to prepare for the march inland to his satisfaction.


One question, among many, not addressed here but something I wonder about is why Alexander was adamant in his desire to capture Darius alive, or am I reading Arrian correctly on this point? Alexander may have wanted the legitimacy of the ruler’s mantle passed from Darius to him. I don’t see Darius growing old in Persia or in exile, though, since Alexander seems to embark on a steady eradication of anyone he believes is or could be a threat. Instead, I imagine the peaceful handing over of the title and Darius meeting an unfortunate end when the opportunity arose. Obviously this is speculation, but I don’t see how Alexander would have left Darius live for very long after formally assuming power. The upside of Darius fleeing and the chase after Bessos resulted in Alexander pacifying and solidifying his control over the eastern part of Persia within
a short period of time. This is a campaign he probably would have had to make at some point but Alexander, seizing opportunities presented to him, took advantage of the situation and solidified power in Persia quickly.


All quotes are from The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander, translation by Pamela Mensch.

01. July 2011 by dwightgreen
Categories: Arrian-Alexander, Commentary | Tags: , | 1 comment

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