How Great was Alexander the Great?
Even after more than two millennia, the spectacle of Alexander the Great and his men streaming out of Europe and risking their lives across continents and seas to mingle with the exotic peoples of Africa and Asia appears stupefying. Alexander is generally acknowledged only as the greatest military genius of history but he was far more than that – a philosopher among kings who was a student of the great Aristotle. He knew about the importance of power and might but his uniqueness lies in his fascination also for the vagrant Indian sages. His call for brotherhood inspired not only great rulers such as Asoka and Julius Caesar but also Jesus Christ. No ruler of antiquity has left as great a legacy as Alexander has done. He dreamed of a Brotherhood and amity in a world torn by conflicts. This may forever remain an unattainable goal yet he is the finest symbol of our vision of a United Nations.
‘Putroham Prithivyah‘, ‘I am a son of the earth’, Alexander could have proclaimed, but sadly modern scholarship on him is dominated more by emptyrhetoric on demystification of history than any genuine concern for historical truth. Almost no effort has been made to strike a balance between the wealth of information from the Greco-Roman sources and the priceless Indiandata. As the great king spent his last years in Indo-Iran, his life history has to be based not only on data from the Greco-Roman sources but also on the Indian and Persian accounts. All the extant Greco-Roman accounts were written long after his death and at locations far-away from the main theatre of operations. As a result, even writers such as Arrian, Plutarch or Diodorus were not always familiar with the social mores of the people in question, and many episodes in India and Iran were interpreted unsatisfactorily.
The Palace at Palibothra
As Alexander spent his last years in India and Iran it is essential to have a sound understanding of the culture and history of the peoples he interacted with. He was aware of his unique role in history and had included expert writers in his train yet there is little that is certain. This is due to the inability to stamp out the lies spread by his generals who seems to havepoisoned him, and also a careless interpretation of the geoggraphical setting. E. Badian of Harvard University totally neglected the history and geography of India and Iran and wrote much about Alexander that is not related to ground data. Alexander’s historians made much of his victory over the Indians but does this imply that he had set foot on the Indian capital Palibothra? The Greco-Roman sources do not give us any clue. Badian had no time to look carefully at the true location of Palibothra and blindly accepted the identification of Palibothra at the absurd location of Patna by Sir William Jones. Palibothra, the Indian capital, was famous for its peacocks; Lane Fox writes,
Dhana Nanda’s kingdom could have been set against itself and Alexander might yet have walked among Palimbothra’s peacocks”
Curiously, Arrian wrote that the great Emperor was so charmed by the beauty of peacocks that he decreed the severest penalties against anyone killing it. Where did he come across the majestic bird? Does this fascination lead us to Palibothra? It appears from Asoka’s Edicts that ritual slaughter of the bird (Mayura) was practiced by the Mauryas. After all Justin wrote that he had defeated the Prasii. A closer examination of the histories of India and Iran shows that this is indeed the truth.
Patan near Mes Aynak may have been Palibothra where Alexander came. Justin’s data thatAlexander had defeated the Prasii is not only true, it also calls for a drastic revision of history. While rejoicing the victory over the Indiansat the Palace at Kohnouj, Alexander may or may not have been aware of the hoary antiquity of the place.
Alexander in a Sanskrit Drama
One important factor behind the negative estimate of Alexander’s legacy by modern writers such as E. Badian, P. Green and A. B. Bosworth is that Indian literature does not remember him. But this oft-repeated cliché is false. The Sanskrit drama Mudrarakshasa of Vishakhadatta offers a deeper insight into Alexander’s life. Hoodwinked by the Jonesean bag of lies, even such great scholars as W. W. Tarn and M. Rostovtzeff came to the conclusion that Alexander is ignored in Indian literature. This is very far from the truth. The Mudrarakshasa has been very badly interpreted due to Jones’ discovery of Chandragupta’s capital at Patna which is not supported by a single archaeological relic. This is paraded as truth by A. L. Basham, R. Thapar of the London school.
The Mudrarakshasa which is still very popular in India, has long been foraged for historical clues but due to geographical delusions this has been in vain. The interpretation of the play is in its infancy. No drama can be analysed without first ascertaining the period in which it was composed and the soil from which it arose. Although early writers like Dhundhiraja linked the play with the rise of the Mauryas, modern scholars have generally discarded it as unhistorical. None of the king-names can be found in the annals of Bihar and the frequent mention of Kashmir, Sindh, Hunas, Sakas and other north-western peoples only adds to the unremitting confusion. The learned Sanskrit scholar Sir A. B. Keith remarked,
A curious vagueness besets our knowledge of Vishakhadatta or Vishakhadeva, son of the Maharaja Bhaskaradatta or minister Prithu, grandson of the feudatory Vatesvaradatta. None of these persons are elsewhere known, and for his date we are reduced to conjectures.
Keith is hopelessly wrong. He was was unaware that this curious vagueness stems from one fatal mistake – Jones’ location of Palibothra, Chandragupta’s capital, at Patna. Once this is discarded, there remains no basis for doubting Dhundhiraja’s claim that the play is linked to the rise of Chandragupta. A judicious study shows that Palibothra was in the north-west of India, probablynear Patan in Afghanistan. Keith’s categorical assertion now contrasts sharply with the remark of the famous Orientalist E. Herzfeld that Vishakha (Vaesaka) was an ancient name in Indo-Iran. The name Prthu also fits better in Parthia and figures like Rantivarman, Vatesvara etc. suddenly come to life in the north-west.
It now becomes clear that the prelude to the intrigues in the famous Sanskrit drama Mudrarakshasa, set around Palibothra, is Alexander’s death. In some manuscripts, Chandragupta is absent but his role is taken up by Rantivarma which shows that Chandragupta was Rantivarma or Orontobates.
Without OrontobatesAlexander’s history reduces to a sham, for togetherthey rewrote history. The main stratagem of the play is the theft of a signet-ring, which reminds one of the mysterious way in which Perdikkas produced Alexander’s signet-ring. Crashing gates, poisoning cups, poison-maidens and forged letters feature in the drama, and the same devices appear in Alexander’s history.
Chandanadasa of the Mudrarakshasa was a Ghost of Alexander
The clue provided by the Mudrarakshasa, namely that Qoront-obates was the same as Chandragupta, dramatically changes history Without recognizing the true face of Orontobates it is impossible to understand Alexander. A careful scrutiny of the drama leads to another great surprise. It now appears that Chandanadasa of the play is a ghost of Alexander. Alexander’s name was often split as Alakh-Chandra in India which resembles the name Chandanadasa. In the drama Chandanadasa is described as a phantom moving through the clouds which shows that he is a ghost. His wife and son also remind one of Roxane and her son. Most importantly the great respect shown to Chandanadasa in the drama may reflect Chandragupta’s remorse for bringing about the end of Alexander and belies the contention of E. Badian and P. Green that Alexander was a bloodthirsty villain.
A Princess Between Alexander and Chandragupta
It is mind-boggling to find a princess between Alexander and Sashigupta. Badian writes that in India Sashigupta was a trusted lieutenant of Alexander who proved to be of immense help. But due to his shallow prognosis he did not understand his role in Alexander’s life. ‘Sashi‘ in Sanskrit and other Indian languages stands for ‘Chandra‘ or the moon. H. C. Seth wrote that Sashigupta was the same as Chandragupta but this was denied by H. C. Raychaudhuri whose arguments were totally worthless. Chandragupta was also a Maurya which echoes the name of another friend of Alexander, Moeris, who later turned a foe. Was Moeris also the same as Sashigupta/ Orontobates and Chandragupta? He was a partisan of Porus who was also suspected to be a Maurya by Nilakanta Sastri and others.
When Alexander advanced to Caria, Memnon and the Persians under him had regrouped in Halicarnasus, its chief city. R. Stoneman writes that the legitimate queen Ada had been deposed by her brother Pixodarus who had recently died, and the rule was now in the hands of Orontobates, his son-in-law. Stoneman overlooks that ADA II, the wife of Orontobates was most probably the daughter of Pixodarus whom Alexander wanted to marry in his youth. This princess between Alexander and Orontobates throws light on aspects of Alexander’s life totally missed by writers such as Badian, Green and Bosworth.
The Mudrarakshasa, together with the fact Palibothra was in the north-west reveals thatMoeris,Orontobates, Sashigupta and Oronteswereall names of Maurya Chandraguptawho was once an ally but later turned a foe. Tarn wrote that Orontes of Armenia was not under Alexander’s control. Diodorus’ data shows that Tiridates who handed over the Persepolis treasury was also none other than Orontobates. Sisines who accompanied Alexander may also be the same as Sashigupta or Chandragupta.
Megasthenes Was Bagistanes
Alexander is widely seen as the greatest military commander of history but all his victories were not won in battle. The Cilician Satrap Mazaeus was a collaborator. No wonder he was allowed to mint coins in his name even when Alexander was alive. When he offered to liberate Darius’ mother Sisygambis, she is said to have refused which hints that he was seen as a traitor. Chandragupta is said to have briefed Alexander about the feasibility of unseating the Nanda king. This appears to be linked to Arrians information that Mazaeus’ son Antibelus and Bagistanes, made a similar submission to Alexander. As ‘M’ often became ‘B’, Bagistanes may have beenMegasthenes, Seleucus’ envoy to Chandragupta. He is placed at Patna by most writers but this is baseless. Megasthenes does not mention any city near Patna.
Mithradates II (ό κτιστής) Was Chandragupta
Much has been written on Mithradates VI, the ‘Poison King’ but Chandragupta Maurya was also some kind of a Poison king who is reported to have taken small doses of poison everyday in order to have immunity against poisoning. Was Mithradates VI related to the Mauryas? A careful study implies that Mithradates II (ό κτιστής), king of Pontus, was actually Chandragupta Maurya. Strabo mentions Sandaracurgium (Strab. 12.3.40), and Gangra, the royal residence of Morzeüs (Strab. 12.3.41) but had no idea that Mithradates-II was Maurya Chandragupta who also ruled India. Gangra is an echo of Ganga. Chandragupta’s Suganga Palace on the Ganga, (in fact on the Indus which was the earlier Ganga) was famous. ‘Dunia’ stands for the ‘temporal world’ and A. B. Bosworth has no idea that Mariandynia ruled by Mithradates-II (ό κτιστής) was the Mauryan realm which included Parthia and beyond. Diodorus assigns him a reign of thirty-five years, but it appears certain that he did not hold uninterrupted possession of the sovereignty during that period. The Indian texts, on the other hand, indicate a reign of about 22 years. After the death of Alexander he sided with Antigonus the one-eyed but when the latter had a dream foretelling the future greatness of Mithridates, he decided to put him to death. Mithridates, however fled to Paphlagonia, where he occupied the strong fortress of Cimiata, and gradually extended his dominion over the neighbouring countries. Chandragupta was clearly an ancestor of Mithradates VI Eupator, the famous poison-king. His relationship with the poison kingmakes it almost certain that Alexander was poisoned.
An Altar of Alexander Now Standing Near Delhi
Alexander was keenly aware of the importance of monuments and erected colossal stone altars to record for posterity his presence in northwest India yet nothing survives. Sir Mortimer Wheeler wrote with a touch of sorrow,
And yet it is astonishing how very little actual trace we have of his passing… his material presence has eluded us. It is as though a disembodied idea had come and gone as a mighty spiritual force with little immediate tangibility.
However, it has to be remembered that the survival of relics is often a matter of chance. To the layman the accounts of Arrian, Plutarch and others may appear insignificant in contrast to the lustre of the Taj Mahal or the splendour of the relics of Tutenkhamon but the historian must tread more cautiously. In contrast one is confronted with the spectacular emergence of the pillars of Asoka a little more than fifty years later. If one notes that that Asoka was an Indo-Greek whose native province was also the northwest, it becomes natural to suspect a link between the sudden appearance of his Pillar edicts and the disappearance of Alexander’s altars.
Alexander lives in India. At least one of the Asokan Pillars was a re-inscribed altar of Alexander (Scholia, vol.15, p.78-101). LikeKing Chandra of the magnificent Mehrauli Iron Pillar, he had also subju-gated the ancient Vanga people. Badian had no idea that Gomata was Gotama but due to the Nepalese forgeries even such a great scholar as Tarn missed the crucial hint hidden in the name AlexandriaProphthasia. Prophthasia was linked to Prophets such as Gotama Buddha, Zoroaster and Abraham. This was Kapilavastu. The name of Babylon, which became the holiest city, echoes Kapil or Babil. This adds a new dimension to his call for amity which is the central plank of Buddhism.
The Delhi-Topra Asokan Pillar was an Altar of Alexander
Alexander’s legacy should be sought not only in the Seleucid Empire or the culture of Alexandria but also in the clear Greek imprint on Buddhist religion and art. The rise of Asoka/Diodotus and the resurgence in Indian culture in the 4th century B.C. were largely due to Alexander’s tryst with India.
The Brazen Giant of Greek Fame, with conquering Limbs
Alexander’s spirit lives in theStatue of Liberty at New York. The statue represents Libertas, the goddess of freedom, who holds a torch and bears a tablet of Law. But a plaque at the pedestal is inscribed with a sonnet,
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. …….
Despite this outward expressions of disavowal, the Greek genius looms large over the statue. It was modeled after the ColossusofRhodes: a bronze statue of the Greek Sun-god Helios. But the Colossus of Rhodes is said to have been modeled after Alexander. This was one of the wonders of the ancient world which is reported to have been over 100 feet tall, and like the New York statue stood at a harbour entrance and carried a beacon for the guidance of ships. Although Alexander has been portrayed only as a ‘mighty conqueror’, this is untrue, he was also a great liberator who did not enslave the people he conquered. The Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka has described the exploitive role of both Christianity and Islam in Africa but notwithstanding the bloodletting, Alexander’s voyage had a different effect. He stood for amity and the Golden Age of Buddhism in India started after his voyage.
Alexander and Amon of Siwa
Alexander set great store by the oracles of the priests of the temple of Amon in the fertile Siwa oasis. But why exactly did he make a pilgrimage to the Libyan desert about 500 kilometers west of Memphis? Not much credence can be attached to the gossip that Olympias had actually borne him as a son to Ammon, not Philip, and that Alexander went to Siwa to ‘discover the truth’. Even before Alexander, Zeus Ammon was greatly adored by the Greeks and it is mentioned by Herodotus. It is likely, however, that he wanted a oracle confirmation for his wish to found a city in Egypt in his name (Alexandria) and also the opinion of the priests as to which gods he should sacrifice as his expedition progressed.
The visit to the oracle of Amon of Siwa marks a high point in Alexander’s career. Before this he was a king who was little more than a top general but after being hailed as the ‘son of Amon’ by the priests, he was seen in a messianic light. Plutarch writes that according to his information, Alexander was met by the Siwan head priest who greeted him with the words “O, paidion”, “Oh, my son”, but mispronounced the Greek as “O, pai dios” meaning “Oh, son of god”, much to Alexander’s delight and amazement. After this episode Alexander often consulted the Priests of Siwa on many religious and other issues. Amon may have been a Mitraic deity for Shiva, who was similar to Min, was a Mitra-like god. As Zaehner writes, Mithra was a close counterpart of Indra who in turn shares many characteristics with Shiva. Buddhism appears to have evolved from Shaivism and Mitraism.
Alexander and Hephaestion
The Indian data refutes the contention of scholars such as E. Badian and P. Green that Alexander was a brutal and bloodthirsty dictator. He was a great leader of people. In particular his soldiers greatly respected him and saw him as a superhuman deliverer. F. W. Walbank writes in the Encyclopedia Britannica;
What had so far held it all together was his own dynamic personality. He combined an iron will and ability to drive himself and his men to the utmost with a supple and flexible mind; he knew when to draw back and change his policy, though he did this reluctantly. He was imaginative and not without romantic impulses; figures like Achilles, Heracles, and Dionysus were often in his mind, and the salutation at the oracle of Amon clearly influenced his thoughts and ambitions ever afterward. He was swift in anger, and under the strain of his long campaigns this side of his character grew more pronounced. Ruthless and self-willed, he had increasing recourse to terror, showing no hesitation in eliminating men whom he had ceased to trust, either with or without the pretense of a fair trial.
There is much in his relationship with Hephaestion that is noble and worth emulating, yet this has been underplayed by modern writers who abet the unlimited thirst and tolerance for sensationalfalsehood in today’s media-dominated world. His frenzy after Hephaestion’s death has been given a sexual slant but this is disgusting. He suspected that Hephaestion was poisoned and executed the physician. Bosworth refers to the prevailing ‘heavy atmosphere of distrust and suspicion around the king’, and it is likely that his frenzy was due to his fear that the noose was tighteningon his own neck. Walbank suggests that Alexander’s wish for deification may have been an offshoot of his desire to honour Haephaestion;
In autumn 324 Hephaestion died in Ecbatana, and Alexander indulged in extravagant mourning for his closest friend; he was given a royal funeral in Babylon with a pyre costing 10,000 talents. His post of chiliarch (grand vizier) was left unfilled. It was probably in connection with a general order now sent out to the Greeks to honour Hephaestion as a hero that Alexander linked the demand that he himself should be accorded divine honours.
Walbank overlooks that it was Hephaestion who alone shared his fascination for new religious ideas which had alienated old allies like Cleitus, Callisthenes and perhaps even Parmenio.
Alexander’s Death – A Macbeth-Like Conspiracy?
There is great uncertainty surrounding Aexander’s death. A number of ancient writers hinted that his disgruntled generals poisoned his wine. Although recently some medical studies have claimed that he died of natural causes, namely typhoid fever these conclusions are not based on firm data. The surviving accounts of his death were all written two or three centuries after his death.
The death of Hephaestion, his most trusted friend, had a devast-ating effect on the king. There was a strong suspicion in Alexander’s camp that he was poisoned and Alexander executed Hephaestion’s doctor. It is not impossible that the conspirators decided to eliminate Hephaestion as a tactical ploy to weaken Alexander. His frenzy after the death may suggest that he himself was fearing that the noose was tightening on his own neck – that he was the next target of the conspirators. Poisoning cups, Poison-maidens, crashing gates etc. are important themes of the Mudrarakshasa and the same devices crop up in Alexander’s murder story.
Not long after Hephaestion’s death while he was busy in Babylon with plans to improve the irrigation of the Euphrates and to settle the coast of the Persian Gulf, Alexander fell ill after a prolonged banquet and drinking bout. Ten days later, on June 13, 323 B.C., he died in his 33rd year. Medios who lured him to another party on the night he fell ill is said to be a very close companion, but he remains a shady character. Was he Orontobates?
This seems to be hinted by the presence of the shady Diodotus of Erythrae in Alexander’s diary. Asoka says in one of his edicts that his ancestors were also Devanampiyas or Diodotuses. This implies that Diodotus of Erythrae may have been Orontobates/Chandragupta. As the rise of Chandragupta coincides with Alexander’s fall, it is natural to see a link. This is hinted not only by the Mudrarakshasa but also In an edict Asoka gives the clue that his ancestors were all Devanampiyas, which reveals that they were Devadatta or Diodotus. Thus Diodotus of Erythraewas Chandragupta who may have joined hands with the generals to poison Alexander.
Did Seleucus join hands with Chandragupta to poison Alexander or was it Roxane who joined hands with Perdikkas as the Mudraraksh-asa seems to hint? This would be almost a Macbeth-like conspiracy. The name Macbeth is a variant of Magdabeth. Aristotle’s name has been mentioned in connection with his poisoning but this appears to be false as Orontobates who was Chandragupta/Sashigupta was famous for taking small doses of poison everyday to get immunity.
On the fateful night Alexander wanted to leave a drinking party and retire to his room but then one Medeios came forward and lured him to another party which he promised would be more enjoyable. Was this Medeios a conspirator? Was he Atropates the Satrap of Media, or Peithon? Both of them could have acted in league with Orontobates. Is there any substance in the alleged role of a poison-maiden? Lastly, did Ada II play any part in proceedings?
Alexander was not deified but after his death his body came to be regarded as a holy relic. His soldiers remembered him as a super-human hero. According to the quasi-historical Alexander-Romance his body was placed in a lead sarcophagus and was first transported to Memphis and then to Alexandria. Other sources, however, reported a golden sarcophagus which was later replaced by one made of glass (or alabaster) by Ptolemy X Alexander (107-88). For almost 600 years, his tomb was a pilgrimage place for people coming from all over the world. However at the beginning of the 4th century AD, the tomb vanished and textual references to it also stopped.
In the 19th century, the Egyptian astronomer Mahmud el-Falaki tried to locate the tomb. Basing himself mainly on the Arabic sources, he surmised that the tomb was under the mosque of prophet Daniel, but he had no permission to dig there. Searches made during the 20th century also failed to locate the tomb. It is generally thought that it lies in the Latin Cemeteries, between the ancient Via Canopica (rediscovered by el-Falaki) and Via R1, in modern Alexandria.
The Call for Brotherhood at Opis and the Feast of Mithra/Mitra
Sir William Tarn did not know about Jones’ blunder or that Gaumata was the same asGotama Buddha, yet from his painstaking study had a better grasp of Indo-Iranian history. With great insight he noted that the Brahmins were the bitter opponents of Alexander. He recognized the crucial historical relevance of Alexander’s call for Brotherhood of Man at the banquet at Opis. Describing the banquet he wrote;
… seated all the Macedonians round him, and next to them Persians, and then any persons from the other peoples who took precedence for rank or any other high quality, and he himself and those around him drank from the same bowl and poured the same libations, with the Greek soothsayers and Magi initiating the ceremony. Alexander prayed for various blessings and especially that the Macedonians and Persians should enjoy harmony as partners in the government.
Tarn was severely censured by E. Badian for writing that Alexander spoke about the Brotherhood of Man at Opis. He wrote that the idea of ‘brotherhood of man’ or ‘unity of mankind’ was developed later by the Stoic philosopher Zeno and his successors which influenced Plutarch’s view of Alexander. Although this satisfied an overwhelming majority of scholars, it is an one-sided view which is plainly untrue. The Sanskrit and Pali accounts clearly prove Badian wrong. For Badian Buddhism was a Nepalese phenomenon and the literature of India and Iran does not pertain to the history of Alexander. It does not matter if the Greco-Roman authors did not have any precise knowledge of the Eastern cultures. Plutarch was a very learned scholar who was a priest at Delphi yet his knowledge on the east was scanty. He borrowed much from the writings of the great Asinius Pollio whose work is now lost. Only Justin seems to have had some idea about the Asiatic cultures. Zoroastrianism and Mithraism were catch-words but Greek knowledge about both the religions was less than satisfactory. It is possible that Buddhism was mixed up with Judaism.
How easily history gets distorted due to the carelessness of historians! Badian had no idea that the Opis banquet was held in the month of Mithra and probably on the day of the feast of Mithra where a call for Brotherhood is natural. Sadly the Harvard professor also missed that Alexander sat on a throne that was probably adorned by Gomata who was Gotama Buddha. Incidentally, ‘Brotherhood’ or ‘Maitri’ is a central plank of Buddhism. The history of Diodotus-I / Asoka also makes it inescapable that Alexander had given a call for the Brotherhood of Man.
Alexander, Porus and Human Dignity
Evelin Lindner has recently stressed the role of dignity in creating an atmosphere conducive to world peace. The treatment of Porus by Alexander the Great is a telling evidence of his realization that even a vanquished king has claims to dignity and that humilia- tionultimately negates peace. This was a continuation of the policy of Nebuchadrezzar who shared his table with the defeated Jewish king.
Alexander was the first to conceive the idea of a United Nations. As the last Titan of the Heroic Age, he strove to further righteousness with the sword, but at the end of his career he mellowed and saw the futility of violence. He was a pupil of the great Aristotle but his wisd-om was also tempered by the famous Indian philosopher and playwrig-ht Asvaghosha (Sphines). After his victory over Porus Alexander restored him to his former kingdom. This is a telling evidence of his realization that humiliation negates peace.
In a recent study A. B. Bosworth has discussed Alexander’s actions in India/Pakistan and Central Asia. He turns his eyes away from the Porus incident and focuses only on bloodletting and repres-sion. Like E. Badian he also does not delve back into the geography of Palibothra or the Indian sources. Bosworth’s comparison of Alexander with the Spanish conquistadores in Mexico is a sensational innovation based on a pile of crap. Bertrand Russell writes with far greater acuity;
It was left to the semi-barbarian Alexander to spread Hellenism throughout the Near East, and to make Greek the literary language of in Egypt and Syria and the inland parts of Asia Minor. The Greeks could never have accomplish-ed this task, not for lack of military force, but due to their incapacity for political cohesion.
Russell sates that the political vehicles of Hellenism were often non-Hellenic but it is evident that the Greek genius spearheaded by Alexander so inspired alien nations that a new Hellenistic/Buddhistic creed emerged which finally gave birth to Christianity and Islam.
Alexander and Jesus
Jesus and Alexander both died at the tender age of thirty-three, but there is more to the two great figures of antiquity than just this coincidence. R. Stoneman writes,
‘It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the legends of Alexander are as widely disseminated, and as influential on art and literature, as the story of Gospels’.
This is not accidental -there is a link between the Alexander legends and the Gospels. Jesus or Iśa was Amyntas of Galatia/Iśauria, not Palestine, and his coins show that he was greatly influenced by Alexander’s call for brotherhood. It is this ideal of amity or Homonoia that greatly inspired Jesus Christ. Following Sir William Tarn, A. R. Anderson wrote that Alexander unwittingly “prepared the ground in which Christianity was to grow,” and with great vision described him as a forerunner of Jesus. Indeed many early representations of Jesus portrayed him in the likeness of Alexander. Significantly Amyntas of Galatia also emulated Alexander. Having no clues, Ory Amitay writes,
But Alexander not only kept Herakles’ effigy as his companion. On occasion he even dressed up like him! This intriguing piece of evidence for the strong impression of Heracles on the mind of Alexander comes from a contemporary witness, Ephippos of Olynthos, who testified that Alexander used on occasion to dress up as various divinities.
That Alexander would emulate Ammon or Heracles (wearing the lion skin and holding the famous club) is not surprising, but Ory Amitay is totally at a loss to understand why he emulated Hermes and Artemis. It cannot be an accident that the coins of Amyntas of Galatia depict Heracles’ lion as well as Hermes and Artemis.
Anderson has been ignorantly criticized by E. Badian who saw nothing beyond the Greco-Roman tradition and who failed to recognize the Alexander of flesh-and-blood. Not surprisingly, Ory Amitay who follows Badian is also skeptical of Anderson’s thesis. He shows little understanding or even interest in the historical Jesus. He lays greater stress on the Alexander of myth than the historical Alexander and his elaboration of the links between the Jesus, Alexander and Heracles lacks true insight.
The name Mēn Askaēnos of Amyntas’ deity clearly shows the respect of Jesus Amyntas for Asoka and Hellenistic religion. Jesus was a Jew but Ory Amitay seems to be unaware that he was very different from the Jerusalem Jews who hated him. The very name of Amon (of Siwa) has a message that has been lost on writers such as Badian and Bosworth. Ory Amitay fails to note that Amon in many languages has the sense of peace.
Alexander and Julius Caesar
Next only to Alexander, Julius Caesar ranks as one of the gre-atest heroes of written history. He was also a great admirer of Alexander the Great. He participated in the Roman civil war and irreversibly changed the course of the history of the Greco-Roman world. F. Carotta is absolutely right in claiming that Julius Caesar was a forerunner of Jesus Christ though his idea that the Jesus myth evolved from that of Julius Caesar seems to be far-fetched. As a military leader, Caesar was undoubtedly as great as Pompey but as Ronald Syme writes, his history has been muddied by Roman propaganda instigated by his own ‘son’ Octavian. Unfortunately this deluded Shakespeare whose unsympathetic and false depiction of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra and Mark Anthony has created popular stereotypes which have also deluded many unwary historians. Miriam Tamara Griffin (editor) echoes Syme and holds that the picture of the despotic dictator better fits Augustus, not Julius Caesar. He was a partisan of Marius (as was Pompey’s father) and was seen as a staunch opponent of the Republicans championed by Cicero. He had become a controversial political figure. After the suppression of Catiline’s ‘conspiracy’ in 63 B.C., Caesar, and the millionaire Marcus Licinius Crassus, were accused of complicity. As Toynbee writes neither of them probably had committed himself to Catiline; but Caesar proposed in the Senate a more merciful alternative to the death penalty, which the consul Cicero was asking for the arrested conspirators. In the uproar in the Senate, Caesar’s motion was defeated.
Julius caesar was immensely rich but, like Alexander, he never became addicted to wealth. He also respected non-Roman ways of life and wrote favourably about the religion of the Druids. After taking care of Roman vituperation and some populist stereotypes, Julius Caesar, Cleopatraand Mark Antonyappear as important players in the class struggle underlying the Roman revolution of the 1st century B.C. This class struggle finally sucked up Jesus Christ, a Hellenized Jew. To grasp the hatred of the early Christians against Cicero one has to realize that Jesus was Amyntas of Galatia whose reign came to an end in 25 B.C.
While in Spain Julius Caesar is reported to have come across a statue of Alexander and lamented over the fact that at his age (33) Alexander had conquered the whole world, while he had achieved relatively little. After his victory over Pompey at Pharsalos Julius Caesar went to Egypt to visit Alexander’s tomb at Alexandria. Not unlike Alexander, Caesar’s most amazing characteristic was his energy, intellectual and physical. One does not have to turn to Badian for proof of Alexander’s proficiency as a thinker but in one sense Julius Caesar stands above Alexander. He prepared his seven books on the Gallic War for publication in 51 B.C. when he still had serious revolts in Gaul on his hands, and he wrote his books on the civil war and his Anticatoin the hectic years between 49 B.C. and 44 B.C.
Cassius Dio (155-235 AD) who was consul of Africa in the reign of Septimus Severus, wrote that Augustus came to see Alexander’s body. According to him he touched the nose of Alexander and dama-ged it. Suetonius (69-122 AD) reported that when asked if he wanted to visit the tombs of the Ptolemies, Augustus retorted, “I came to see a king and not dead men”. Augustus adopted Alexander as the symbol of his reign and had fixed his image on his signet-ring.
Alexander and Mithradates VI Eupator
Mithradates VI Eupator greatly respected Alexander. His history has been usually written from the Roman viewpoint but this is unacceptable. By his own admission he was a man of many worlds. A. Mayor writes that he traced his father’s bloodline to the Persian kings and his mother’s family to Alexander the Great. The Persian Princess Barsině whom Alexander knew from his boyhood resided at Pergamon and was related to Mithradates II (ό κτιστής). She had a son with Alexander who was killed. Mithradates VI Eupator cherished a cloak believed to have belonged to Alexander. He probably received it from Cleopatra III wife of Ptolemy VIII of Egypt. Mithradates VI was the worst enemy of Rome but Pliny eulogized him as the ‘greatest king of his era’ but Cicero’s epithet for Mithradates was ‘the greatest king since Alexander‘. After his victory over the Bithynian-Roman alliance led by king Nocomedes, Mithradates set free all the captors just as Alexander had done after his victory over Porus. Even Pompey who took away Alexander’s purple robe after defeating Mithradates himself donned Alexander’s prized robe during his victory procession.
Alexander the non-citizen (Anagarika)
About Aristotle’s influence on Alexander, Bertrand Russell writes, ‘On the whole, the contacts of these two great men seem to have been as unfruitful as if they had lived in different worlds’, but this does not seem to be quite correct. Aristotle’s pragmatic views made little impression on Alexander, but the imprint of Aristotle can be seen in many aspects of Alexander’s life. About the emotional poverty in Aristotle’s Ethics Russell writes;
There is in Aristotle an almost complete absence of what may be called benevolence or philanthropy. The sufferings of mankind, in so far he is aware of them, do not move him emotionally: he holds them intellectually, to be an evil, but there is no evidence that they cause him unhappiness except when the sufferers happen to be his friends.
In many respects Aristotle’s approach is similar to that of the author of the Arthashastra. Aristotle did not visualize an universal state and supported the enslavement of barbarians but Alexander’s view was very different. He was influenced more by eastern ideas. He has been criticized for choosing Babylon as his world-capital but writers such as E. Badian, B. Bosworth or P. Green have not understood the backgro-und of his his strong fascination for Nebuchadrezzarwho also sought to further the Brotherhood of Man. He was certainly aware of the Greek concept of polis and Aristotle’s view of the ideal state, yet coming under the influence of the Buddhist sage Asvaghosa, he embodied not only the Western scientific spirit but also Eastern religiosity. He went far beyond the confines of the polis and had become a world-citizen or Anagarika in the true sense of the word.
The Hellenistic Miracle
Alexander was not a Greek of the Athenian mould but a half-barbarian, a man of many worlds. The Encyclopedia Britannica states,
He ‘overthrew the Persian Empire, carried Macedonian arms to India, and laid the foundations for the Hellenistic world of territorial kingdoms.’,
But the Hellenistic world not only about territorial hegemony. Alexan-der was an universalist who stood far above Roman and Athenian provincialism. Only Asinius Pollio, who was a Roman, spoke against ‘patavinitas‘ or narrow nationalism. The chief motto of the Hellenistic revolution that followed Alexander’s voyage was ‘Brotherhood of Man’ which was dear to Alexander’s heart. Paul Johnson has hazy ideas regarding the background of Christianity yet notes;
But Greece could not, or at any rate did not, produce the ideas themselves. These came from the east, from Babylon, Persia, Egypt, mostly tribal or national cults in origin, later liberated from time and place by transformation into cults attached to individual deities. These gods and goddesses lost their localities, changed their names, amalgamated themselves with other, once-national or tribal gods, and then, in turn, moved westwards and were syncretized with the gods of Greece and Rome: thus the Baal of Dolichenus was identified with Zeus and Jupiter, Isis with Ishtar and Aphrodite. By the time of Christ there were hundreds of such cults, perhaps thousands of sub-cults. There were cults for all races, classes and tastes, cults for every trade and situation in life. A new form of religious community appeared for the first time in history: not a nation celebrating its patriotic cult, but a voluntary group, in which social, racial and national distinctions were transcended: men and women coming together just as individuals, before their god.
The Legacy of Alexander the Great
Kalo hi ayam niravadhi, vipula cha prithvi’, ‘time is without bounds and the world is vast’, wrote poet Bhavabhuti. But even in this infinite expanse, Alexander remains as a shining light. Arrian wrote about his irresistible yarning (Pothos) for the unknown which is undoubtedly true. Despite occasional bouts of drinking and cruelty, he was on the whole magnanimous and probably saw himself as a wise pilgrim in India and Iran. Like many Indian gods, he was not always above sin, but his greatness lies in that even Darius-III’s mother Sisygambis courted death by refusing food after hearing of his death, and that the Prasiia-ns treated his altars with great respect. Sir William Tarn writes with insight;
For when all is said, we come back at the end to his personality; not the soldier or the statesman, but the man. Whatever Asia did or did not get from him she felt him as she scarcely felt any other; she knew that one of the greatest of the earth had passed. Though his direct influence vanished from India within a generation, and her literature does not know him, he affected Indian history for centuries; for Chandragupta saw him and deduced the possibility of realising in actual fact the conception, handed down from Vedic times, of a comprehensive monarchy in India; hence Alexander indirectly created Asoka’s empire and enabled the spread of Buddhism.
Bertrand Russell also wrote that in respect to politics and ethics Alexander and the Romans were the causes of a better philosophy than any that was professed by the Greeks in their days of freedom. Walbank summarizes;
Alexander’s short reign marks a decisive moment in the history of Europe and Asia. His expedition and his own personal interest in scientific investigation brought many advances in the knowledge of geography and natural history. His career led to the moving of the great centres of civilization eastward and initiated the new age of the Greek territorial monarchies; it spread Hellenism in a vast colonizing wave throughout the Middle East and created, if not politically at least economically and culturally, a single world stretching from Gibraltar to the Punjab, open to trade and social intercourse and with a considerable overlay of common civilization and the Greek koinē as a lingua franca. It is not untrue to say that the Roman Empire, the spread of Christianity as a world religion, and the long centuries of Byzantium were all in some degree the fruits of Alexander’s achievement.
The influence of Alexander on Christianity was not only due to the fascination of Julius Caesar and Amyntas for him but also for the great St. Paul (Asinius Pollio) who was profoundly influenced by Hellenistic ideals. Even the Roman emperor Caracalla, who was called “the common enemy of mankind” by E. Gibbon, was a great admirer of Alexander. Although he has been demonized by the leading historians of his day, F. P. Kolb writes that this is largely due to an Augustan bias.