« IndietroContinua »
Not only did the great lords gather about the king as their natural head, but they were proud to regard themselves as his personal servants, and formed the household, which was known as the therapeia in Hellenistic times. Earlier kings had adopted the practice of bringing to court noble children, to be the companions of the prince, and to form an order of royal pages; so no doubt Greek language and culture had been disseminated among them, and perhaps this was at first the main object. But in Alexander's time they were a permanent part of the king's household, and were brought up in his personal service, to become his aids-de-camp and his lords in waiting as well as his household brigade of both horse and foot guards, and perform for him many semi-menial offices which great lords and ladies are not ashamed to perform for royalty, even up to the present day.
I will add but one more point, which is a curious illustration of the position of the Macedonian kings among their people. None of them contented himself with one wife, but either kept concubines, like all the kings in Europe, and even in England till George III., or even formally married second wives, as did Philip and Alexander. These practices led to constant and bloody tragedies in the royal family. Every king of Macedon who was not murdered by his relatives was at least conspired against by them. What is here, however, of consequence, is the social position of the royal bastards. They take their place not with the dishonored classes, but among the nobles, and are all regarded as pretenders to the throne.
I need not point out to the reader the curious analogies of mediæval European history. The facts seem based on the idea that the blood of kings was superior to that of the highest noble, and that even when adulterated by an ignoble mother, it was far more sacred than that of any subject. The Macedonians had not indeed advanced to the point of declaring all marriages with subjects morganatic, but they were not very far from it; for they certainly suffered from all the evils which English history as well as other histories can show, where alliances of powerful subjects with the sovereign are permitted.
Thus Alexander the Great, the third Macedonian king of his name, stood forth really and thoroughly in the position assigned by Herodotus to his elder namesake a Greek man in pedigree, education, and culture, and king of the Macedonians, a position unknown and unrecognized in the Greek world since
the days of that Iliad which the conqueror justly prized, as to him the best and most sympathetic of all Hellenic books. Let us add that in the text, which Aristotle revised for him, there were assertions of royalty, including the power of life and death, which are expunged from our texts. He had the sanction of divine right, but what was far more important, the practical control of life and death, regarding the nobility as his household servants, and the property of his subjects as his own, keeping court with considerable state, and in every respect expressing, as Grote says, the principle l'État c'est moi.
A very few words will point out what changes were made in this position by his wonderful conquests. Though brought up in considerable state, and keeping court with all the splendor which his father's increased kingdom and wealth could supply, he was struck with astonishment, we are told, at the appointments of Darius' tents, which he captured after the battle of Issus. When he went into the bath prepared for his opponent, and found all the vessels of pure gold, and smelt the whole chamber full of frankincense and myrrh, and then passed out into a lofty dining tent with splendid hangings, and with the appointments of an oriental feast, he exclaimed to his staff: "Well, this is something like royalty." Accordingly there was no part of Persian dignity which he did not adopt. We hear that the expenses of his table- he always dined laterose to about £400 daily, at which limit he fixed it. Nor is this surprising when we find that he dined as publicly as the kings of France in the old days, surrounded by a brilliant staff of officers and pages, with a bodyguard present, and a trumpeter ready to summon the household troops. All manner of delicacies were brought from the sea and from remote provinces for his table.
In other respects, in dress and manners, he drifted gradually into Persian habits also. The great Persian lords, after a gallant struggle for their old sovereign, loyally went over to his side. Both his wives were oriental princesses, and perhaps too little has been said by historians about the influence they must have had in recommending to him Persian officers and pages. The loyalty of these people, great aristocrats as they were, was quite a different thing from that of the Macedonians, who had always been privileged subjects, and who now attributed to their own prowess the king's mighty conquests. The orientals, on the other hand, accepted him as an absolute monarch,
nay, as little short of a deity, to whom they readily gave the homage of adoration. It is a characteristic story that when the rude and outspoken Casander had just arrived at Babylon for the first time, on a mission from his father Antipater, the regent of Macedonia, he saw orientals approaching Alexander with their customary prostrations, and burst out laughing. Upon this Alexander was so enraged that he seized him by the hair and dashed his head against the wall, and there can be little doubt that the king's death, which followed shortly, saved Casander from a worse fate. Thus the distinction pointed out by Niebuhr would lead Alexander to prefer the orientals, whom he had conquered, and who were his absolute property, to the Macedonians, who were not only constantly grumbling but had even planned several conspiracies against him.
There was yet another feature in Alexander's court which marks a new condition of things. The keeping of a regular court journal, Ephemerides, wherein the events of each day were carefully registered, gave an importance to the court which it had never before attained within Greek or Macedonian experience. The daily bulletins of his last illness are still preserved to us by Arrian and Plutarch from these diaries. In addition to this we hear that he sent home constant and detailed public dispatches to his mother and Antipater, in which he gave the minutest details of his life.
In these the public learned a new kind of ideal of pleasure as well as of business. The Macedonian king, brought up in a much colder climate than Greece, among mountains which gave ample opportunity for sport, was so far not a "Greek man" that he was less frugal as regards his living, and had very different notions of amusement. The Hellene, who was mostly a townsman, living in a country of dense cultivation, was beholden to the gymnasium and palestra for his recreation, of which the highest outcome was the Olympic and other games, where he could attain glory by competition in athletic meetings. The men who prize this sort of recreation are always abstemious and careful to keep in hard condition by diet and special exercising of muscles. The Macedonian ideal was quite different, and more like that of our country gentleman, who can afford to despise bodily training in the way of abstinence, who eats and drinks what he likes, nay, often drinks to excess, but works off evil effects by those field sports which have always produced the finest type of man-hunting, shooting, fishing-in fact
the life of the natural or savage man reproduced with artificial improvements.
Alexander took the Macedonian side strongly against the Greek in these matters. He is said to have retorted upon the people who advised him to run in the sprint race at Olympia, that he would do so when he found kings for competitors. But the better reason was that he despised that kind of bodily training; he would not have condescended to give up his social evenings, at which he drank freely; and above all he so delighted in hunting that he felt no interest in athletic meetings. When he got into the preserves of Darius he fought the lion and the bear, and incurred such personal danger that his adventures were commemorated by his fellow-sportsmen in bronze. He felt and asserted that this kind of sport, requiring not only courage and coolness but quick resource, was the proper training for war, in contrast to the athletic habit of body, which confessedly produced dullness of mind and sleepiness of body.
This way of spending the day in the pursuit of large game, and then coming home to a late dinner and a jovial carouse, where the events of the day are discussed and parallel anecdotes brought out, was so distinctive as to produce a marked effect on the social habits of succeeding generations. The older Spartans had indeed similar notions; they despised competitions in the arena, and spent their time hunting in the wilds of Mount Taygetus; but the days for Sparta to influence the world were gone by, and indeed none but Arcadians and tolians among the Greeks had like opportunities.
It would require a separate treatise to discuss fully the innovations made by Alexander in the art of war. But here it is enough to notice, in addition to Philip's abandonment of citizen for professional soldiers, the new development Alexander gave to cavalry as the chief offensive branch of military service. He won all his battles by charges of heavy cavalry, while the phalanx formed merely the defensive wing of his line. He was even breaking up the phalanx into lighter order at the time of his death. So it came that the noblest and most esteemed of his Companions were cavalry officers, and from this time onward no general thought of fighting, like Epaminondas, a battle on foot. Eastern warfare also brought in the use of elephants, but this was against the practice of Alexander, who did not use them in battle, so far as we know.
I believe I was the first to call attention to the curious analogies between the tactics of Alexander and those of Cromwell. Each lived in an age when heavy cavalry were found to be superior to infantry, if kept in control, and used with skill. Hence each of them fought most of his battles by charging with his cavalry on the right wing, overthrowing the enemy's horse, and then, avoiding the temptation to pursue, charging the enemy's infantry in flank, and so deciding the issue. Meanwhile they both felt strong enough to disregard a defeat on their left wing by the enemy's horse, which was not under proper discipline, and went far away out of the battle in pursuit. So similar is the course of these battles, that one is tempted to believe that Cromwell knew something of Alexander. It is not so. Each of these men found by his genius. the best way of using the forces at his disposal. Alexander's Companions were Cromwell's Ironsides.
In one point, however, he still held to old and chivalrous ways, and so fell short of our ideal of a great commander. He always charged at the head of his cavalry, and himself took part in the thickest of the fight. Hence in every battle he ran the risk of ending the campaign with his own life. It may be said that he had full confidence in his fortune, and that the king's valor gave tremendous force to the charge of his personal companions. But nothing can convince us that Hannibal's view of his duties was not far higher, of whom it was noted that he always took ample care for his own safety, nor did he ever, so far as we know, risk himself as a combatant. Alexander's example, here as elsewhere, gave the law, and so a large proportion of his successors found their death on the battlefield. The aping of Alexander was apparently the main cause of this serious result.
Modern historians are divided as regards Alexander into two classes, first, those like Grote, who regard him as a partly civilized barbarian, with a lust for conquest, but with no ideas of organization or of real culture beyond the establishment of a strong military control over a vast mass of heterogeneous subjects. Secondly, those like Droysen, who are the majority, and have better reasons on their side, feel that the king's genius in fighting battles was not greater than his genius in founding cities, not merely as outposts, but as marts, by which commerce and culture should spread through the world. He is reported to have disputed with Aristotle, who wished him to