Academic journal article Antichthon

Alexander, Combat Psychology, and Persepolis

Academic journal article Antichthon

Alexander, Combat Psychology, and Persepolis

Article excerpt

ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.

'What men will fight for seems to be worth looking into'

H.L. Mencken

Historians have long studied warfare, albeit within a selective framework that includes dates, places, and the description of tactics. Moreover, explanations of 'why' and 'how' conflicts occur seldom deviate from the political or the long term strategic outlook. It is only recently that we have come to qualify the effect war has on combatants and civilians alike, and how actions and choices in war can also be explained by the stresses to which participants are exposed. Studies such as Jonathon Shay's Achilles in Vietnam and Lawrence Trifle's From Melos to My Lai in part demonstrably link such psychological trauma with the destructive and savage actions undertaken by soldiers in the conflicts of every epoch.1 It seems reasonable, therefore, that our growing understanding of combat psychology in the twentieth century A.D. may help us unravel problematic events in history, or at least provide a new way to approach old questions.

To that end, let us return to my opening quotation which is taken from the beginning of Anthony Kellert 's investigation into combat motivation of soldiers.2 Kellett's work focuses on the factors that motivated soldiers in the principal conflicts of the twentieth century A.D. Clearly, not all the points that he raises are applicable to a study of events two thousand years ago. However, some of the underlying principles of his arguments are relevant to wars of any period. This should not surprise. Soldiers are human beings, and certain psychological patterns, such as the responses to and causes of boredom and the stress and trauma involved in prolonged exposure to combat conditions, if I may look ahead to two of this article's main suggestions, are problematic for commanders regardless of where and when a war took place. By utilising modem insights into 'what men will fight for' I intend to venture again into what Edmond Bloedow, following Ernst Badian, has called a 'Primal Pit of Historical Murk' and try to make sense both of Alexander's delay at Persepolis and the destruction of the Palace there.3

Two traditions describing the events at Persepolis appear in the sources. The first, based on Clitarchus (Diodorus 17.72.1-6, Curtius 5.7.3-6, Plutarch Alex. 38, and Athenaeus 13 p.576e), details how the burning is suggested and encouraged by Thais, Ptolemy's mistress, during a drunken revel. The second tradition, in Arrian (3.18.10-12) and Strabo (15.3.6), probably derives from either Aristobuhis or Ptolemy, both of whom were at Persepolis and in a position to know or at least to leam the reasons for Alexander's actions.4 Unfortunately, Arrian 's narrative at this point becomes brief and lacks detail; we simply learn that the palace was burnt.

The principal difference between the two accounts is Arrian's omission of the drinking party and any mention of Thais. The omission is usually interpreted to mean that the fire can be designated a policy decision, not a meaningless drunken act.5 Some scholars speculate that Ptolemy was Arrian's source and that he deliberately left out any reference to Thais. Other scholars suggest that Clitarchus' account is little more than dramatic invention - an opinion supported by Quintilian (Instr. Or. 10.1.74), Cicero (Brut. 42) and Strabo (11.5.4), all of whom describe Clitarchus as an author who included 'outright lies in order to produce a more brilliant account'.6 In this way one source is discredited in order to allow an argument to be developed based on the remaining evidence. Unfortunately, no one has been able categorically to dismiss either tradition. The most we can surmise is that the Clitarchan narrative is probably largely rhetorical, although we must acknowledge that it may have been difficult for Clitarchus to have invented the entire episode. Consider, for example, Bosworth's argument that Clitarchus was writing around 310, a time when Thais could have held considerable influence in the Ptolemaic court. …

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