Persians: Trogus on Alexander of Macedon’s acculturation to eastern ways (first century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Persians: Trogus on Alexander of Macedon’s acculturation to eastern ways (first century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 20, 2023, http://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=16330.

Ancient author: Pompeius Trogus as cited by Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus 12.3-4 (link; link to Latin).

Comments: In this passage, Pompeius Trogus sketches out a tale about Alexander of Macedon assimilating to eastern ways (or “Medizing” – link) and, essentially, abandoning his own ancestral Macedonian customs. Much like Curtius Rufus’ somewhat later account of this situation (link), Trogus is extremely negative about the adoption of Persian ways. Trogus emphasizes how deplorable it would be to adopt Persian customs when, the argument goes, it was these very luxurious and effeminate customs that led to the downfall of the Persians in the first place. Obviously this reveals a negative perspective on Persian ways on the part of these authors. But it also gives insights into how ancient Romans (or Greeks) might imagine scenarios of culture contact and the adoption of foreign customs.

Source of the translation: J.S. Watson, Justin, Cornelius Nepos, and Eutropius (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1853), public domain, adapted by Harland.

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(12.3-4) . . . Soon after [his relations with the Amazon Thalestris while in the east], Alexander assumed the attire of the Persian monarchs, as well as the diadem, which was unknown to the kings of Macedonia. It was as if he gave himself up to the customs of those whom he had conquered. To prevent such innovations being viewed with dislike, if he was the only one to adopt them, he wanted his friends to wear the long robe of gold and purple as well. In order to imitate the luxury as well as the dress of the Persians, he spent his nights among troops of the king’s concubines of eminent beauty and birth. To these extravagances he added vast magnificence in feasting. In order to prevent his entertainments from seeming simple and inexpensive, he accompanied his banquets with games according to the ostentation of eastern monarchs. He was very conscious that power is commonly lost, not gained, by such practices.

In these conditions, there arose throughout the camp a general indignation that Alexander had so degenerated from his father Philip as to renounce the very name of his country and to adopt the manners of the Persians whom he had overcome, and overcome due to the effect of just such manners [i.e. these luxurious or effeminate Persian customs were the cause of Persian downfall]. To avoid appearing to be the only person who yielded to the vices of those whom he had conquered in the field, he permitted his soldiers also to marry any female captives, if they had formed a connection with them. Alexander thought that they would feel less desire to return to their country when they had some appearance of a house and home in the camp, and that the fatigues of war would be relieved by the agreeable relations with their wives.

Alexander also saw that Macedonia would be less drained to supply the army, if the sons, as recruits, should succeed their veteran fathers, and serve within the ramparts within which they were born, and would be likely to show more courage, if they passed, not only their earliest days of service, but also their infancy, in the camp. This custom was also continued under Alexander’s successors. Maintenance was provided for the boys, and arms and horses were given them when they grew up. Rewards were assigned to the fathers in proportion to the number of their children. If the fathers of any of them were killed, the orphans nonetheless received their father’s pay. Their childhood was a sort of military service in various expeditions. Inured from their earliest years to toils and dangers, they formed an invincible army; they looked upon their camp as their country, and upon a battle as a prelude to victory. These children bore the title “descendants” (epigoni). Alexander then conquered the Parthians, and a Persian nobleman, Andragoras, was appointed to be their governor. It was from him that the Parthian kings of later times were descended.

Alexander, meanwhile, began to show a passionate temper towards those around him, not with a princely severity, but with the vindictiveness of an enemy. . . [omitted following narrative of further decline].

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