A.B. Bosworth, Alexander and the East: the Tragedy of Triumph. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. Pp. xvi + 218, incl. 10 maps and figures. ISBN 019 814991-3. UK£32.50.
Department of Classics, University of Cape Town
Bosworth is a towering presence in Alexander studies with two volumes in print of his magisterial commentary on Arrian's History of Alexander, a major monograph on Alexander's exploits, a series of studies on Arrian and numerous other publications.[] Alexander and the East offers a series of studies, with the focus on the period 329-25 B.C., which includes the invasion of Bactria and Sogdiana, the war in the Punjab and Alexander's journey down the Indus, conspiracies real and alleged, and mutiny.
In a field where eminent historians such as Droysen, Berve, Tarn, Schachermeyr and Badian, have both added to our understanding and multiplied uncertainties, Bosworth has advanced our knowledge and challenged innumerable orthodoxies. In Alexander and the East originality and brilliance abound, and Bosworth is as controversial as ever. Of course, as Bosworth says, 'even where explicit evidence exists, we may find a . . . cycle of acceptance and scepticism' (p. 186), as scholars dispute whether what appears as source testimony can be taken at face value. Thus, for example, Bosworth in a lengthy appendix (pp. 186-200) returns to the question whether Alexander had any reliable information about the Ganges and its peoples: Tarn's case that he had no such information, was refuted by Meyer, restated by Tarn, rejected by Schachermeyr, and again carefully defended by Robinson.[] Bosworth presents a compelling case for believing what the sources appear to attest, that Alexander received information on the Ganges. The report given to Alexander by Phegeus (Curtius 9.1.36 and D.S. 17.93.1) was in my view referred to by Cleitarchus and was in essence historical.
As ever, Bosworth is good at relating the strategic narrative to geographical realities: in this case he makes sense of the story of the journey down the lower Indus and across the Makran by relating the chronological and climatic references in the sources to what we know about the pattern of the monsoons (esp. p. 176 sq.), and setting out the implications.
On the scale of the disaster in Gedrosia Bosworth very properly repeats his point that, while Plutarch states that barely 25 per cent of those with Alexander survived the crossing of the Makran (Alex. 66.4-5), the figures given for the number of Macedonians at Opis in 324 are too high for Plutarch's casualty rate to be correct for the Macedonian contingent (p. 180). This line of argument must be understood in the context of Bosworth's controversial earlier work in which he sought to demonstrate that Alexander's campaigns had a profound and lasting deleterious effect upon Macedonian manpower. After 331/0 Alexander received no reinforcements from Macedonia, and this might be attributed to a serious shortage of manpower.[] Thus in 325 Alexander had little prospect of receiving further Macedonian reinforcements and would have had to protect the Macedonian troops he had from unnecessary wastage. Bosworth's assumptions about the pattern of reporting of the arrival of reinforcements and his relative neglect of the regeneration factor evoked criticism from Badian.[] Bosworth has softened his position, in that in Alexander and the East he states that 'there had been no large-scale reinforcement since the winter of 331/0' (p. 180). But in this context Bosworth is not concerned with Macedonian demography. He argues that, while the losses among the combatants were probably far less than Plutarch's figure suggests, the casualty rate among the non-combatants and those considered dispensable probably was horrendous and the impact of this marauding army upon the native population must have been disastrous.
Bosworth's concern throughout the book to expose the horrors of Alexander's campaigns against those who offered resistance and to demonstrate that 'the history of Alexander is the history of waste' (p. 30) is a challenge to heroizing accounts. Ironically some readers may miss the challenging nature of Bosworth's approach and see it as politically correct.
New combinations so often produce new insights and prompt new questions. Bosworth's originality here is in comparing surviving accounts of Alexander's campaigns with Cortés' account of the reconquest of Mexico, plus Francisco López de Gómara's edited version of Cortés' account, and the independent account by one of Cortés' junior followers, Bernal Díaz del Castillo.[] The exercise illustrates how the perspective can alter the record, and how literary allusion can colour the narrative. Thus, for example, Cortés on his march on Tenachtitlan attacked two rock fortresses, and in Gómara's account of the second episode Cortés warned the Indians that his men 'were equipped with wings to fly': Bosworth shows that this must be a deliberate echo of the story of Alexander's assault on Ariamazes' Rock in 328 (pp. 37-8). Díaz shows that Cortés' capture of the fortress was far less heroic than Gómara affected.
Bosworth develops this parallelism in a valuable way by focusing on the rôle of the interpreter/mediator. For Cortés the critical link with the Indian population was the captive Doña Marina, whose very real linguistic skills were clearly, as Bosworth shows, eclipsed by her rhetorical and political skills. Reality was mediated by the interpreter (esp. pp. 124-5 and 161-2). Now Arrian tells us that the Oxydracae surrendered, apologized that they had been dilatory in submitting, and were willing to give themselves up to one who claimed divine parentage, as they had been free ever since Dionysus penetrated into India (Arrian 6.14.2). The Mexican parallel suggest that we should suspect that the Oxydracae were briefed on the rhetoric that would find acceptance with Alexander. In this way myth grew as a factor in the rhetoric of imperialism and 'the creation of belief' (pp. 98f.) in Alexander's divine nature received further impetus.
The book is virtually free of typograpical errors. East and west appear to be confused on pp. 171 and 179. Those familiar with the problems of identifying many of the sites that feature in this chapter of Alexander's campaigns may be surprised to see Eggermont's publications missing from the bibliography,[] though Bosworth deals with some of Eggermont's ideas in Conquest and Empire.
In all this is a very readable and worthwhile book, a very welcome addition to scholarship on Alexander history.
[] A.B. Bosworth, A Historical Commentary on Arrian's 'History of Alexander': Books 1- 3 (Oxford 1980); A Historical Commentary on Arrian's 'History of Alexander': Books 4- 5 (Oxford 1995); Conquest and empire: the reign of Alexander the Great (Cambridge 1988); From Arrian to Alexander (Oxford 1988).
[] W.W. Tarn, 'Alexander and the Ganges', JHS 43 (1923) 93-101; E. Meyer, 'Alexander und der Ganges', Klio 21 (1927) 183-91; W.W. Tarn, Alexander II (1948) 275-85; F. Schachermeyer, 'Alexander und die Ganges-Laender', Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Kulturgeschichte 3 (1955) 123-135; T.R. Robinson, 'Alexander and the Ganges', AHB 7 (1993) 84-99.
[] A.B. Bosworth, 'Alexander the Great and the Decline of Macedon', JHS 106 (1986) 1-12; Conquest and Empire (Cambridge 1988), esp. 266f.
[] E. Badian, 'Agis III: Revisions and Reflections', in I. Worthington (ed.), Ventures into Greek History (Oxford 1994), esp. 259-268.
[] Editions include H. Cortés (tr. & ed. A. Pagden), Letters from Mexico (New Haven 1986); F. López de Gómora (tr. & ed. L.B. Simpson), Cortés: the Life of the Conqueror by his Secretary (Berkeley 1964); B. Diaz del Castillo (tr. A.P. Maudslay), The True History of the Conquest of New Spain. 5 vols. (London 1908-16).
[] P.H.L. Eggermont, especially Alexander's campaigns in Sind and Baluchistan (Leuven 1975).
1 A.B. Bosworth, A Historical Commentary on Arrian's 'History of Alexander': Books 1- 3 (Oxford 1980); A Historical Commentary on Arrian's 'History of Alexander': Books 4- 5 (Oxford 1995); Conquest and empire: the reign of Alexander the Great (Cambridge 1988); From Arrian to Alexander (Oxford 1988). 2 W.W. Tarn, 'Alexander and the Ganges', JHS 43 (1923) 93-101; E. Meyer, 'Alexander und der Ganges', Klio 21 (1927) 183-91; W.W. Tarn, Alexander II (1948) 275-85; F. Schachermeyer, 'Alexander und die Ganges-Laender', Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Kulturgeschichte 3 (1955) 123-135; T.R. Robinson, 'Alexander and the Ganges', AHB 7 (1993) 84-99.