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Cleopatra: The Battle of Actium and Her Own Death

What Was the Battle of Actium?

Roman General Agrippa met Cleopatra’s (and Antony’s) army in 31 BC. This battle took place on the Ionian Sea. A lot of bad luck happened for the two lovers. Cleopatra and Antony were outnumbered, about 140 ships to 260 ships. One of Antony’s generals turned traitor, Quintus Dellius, revealed to Octavian Antony’s plans. Not only that, but when the battle turned against them, Cleopatra and her fleets fled. When Antony eventually came to the same revelation as Cleopatra (or perhaps they had a plan prior), he also abandoned his men and fled to safety. Octavian acted as savior and saved the men on ships Antony had lit ablaze, and Antony’s camp was quickly overtaken by Octavian. This battle was the end of the war against Cleopatra (Tyldesley 178-180).


Most of Antony’s men deserted him. He was left feeling as a failure and completely alone. He knew he had lost and had no chance of ever winning against Octavian. Cleopatra soon sent her own form of surrender and requests to Octavian and Antony also tried to assuage the offended leader. Octavian was not pleased, though, and made sure Antony knew he was not accepted back as a citizen and manipulated Cleopatra (“Cleopatra”).

Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII’s Deaths

In 30 BC word was sent from Cleopatra to Mark Antony falsely telling him she was killed. Some speculate she did this to encourage Antony to take his own life and rid herself of the problem associated with him (Roller 145). This was the straw that broke the camel’s back; Antony stabbed himself, and his bad luck continued as he was not instantly killed. His last, dying request was to be brought to where Cleopatra was. It is debated, but he may have been to her and allowed to die in her arms (“Battle of Actium”). The scene as told by Plutarch is quite tragic. After she supposedly would not open the door, but stubbornly had servants tie Antony to a rope that she and two other women pulled up into her chambers, Plutarch describes the following:

And when she had thus got him in and laid him down, she rent her garments over him, beat and tore her breasts with her hands, wiped off some of his blood upon her face, and called him master, husband, and imperator; indeed, she almost forgot her own ills in her pity for his” (77:3).

After Antony’s death, Octavian met with  the grieving Cleopatra. Perhaps she hopelessly tried to convince him to be sympathetic to her, perhaps she tried to seduce him, or perhaps all her hope was lost. Nonetheless, when she returned back to her chambers she did not come out (“Cleopatra”). Evaluating her relationship with Mark Antony, Cleopatra may have really loved him. Her relationship with Julius Caesar was undertoned with her desire to “[assure] her position on the throne and [neutralize] rivals,” but when she met Mark Antony she definitely did not need to indulge in a relationship with him. She was more stable than before and was well off on her own (Roller 82). Plutarch quotes Cleopatra’s speech after Antony’s death:

“Do not abandon thine own wife while she lives…but hide and bury me here with thyself, since out of all my innumerable ills not one is so great and dreadful as this short time that I have lived apart from thee.” (84:4).

So, when Mark Antony died and all hope seemed lost, Cleopatra may have picked a means to kill herself that was still considered dignified. It is thought she killed herself by letting an incredibly poisonous snake, an asp, bite her. She was then buried with Antony; their tomb now somewhere deep in the Mediterranean Sea (Tyldesley 193-6).



After his mother’s dead, Caesarion was assassinated under the orders of Octavian. Mark Antony’s oldest son was also killed by orders of Octavian. In 27 BC, Octavian changed his name to Augustus Caesar and a new era of Rome was born (“Cleopatra”). The other three children of Cleopatra’s were forced to walk through Roman streets in heavy chains as a way to display Octavian’s victory. Surprisingly, Octavia was the one who raised Cleopatra’s and Antony’s twins, Cleopatra Selene II and Alexander Helios, and youngest son, Ptolemy Philadelphus. It is uncertain what became of Ptolemy Philadelphus and Alexander Helios. Their sister, Cleopatra Selene II, went on to marry Juba II of Numidia; Augustus actually granted Cleopatra Selene II with a large dowry, and she went on to have children (Tyldesley 199).  

Thus was the end of the Ptolemy Dynasty. It was killed along with 39 year old Cleopatra VII.


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Cleopatra: Cleopatra, Caesar, and Antony

Cleopatra, Who Was She?

In a way, Cleopatra VII was born into mystery–her mother is an unknown woman with a background still highly debated by scholars. Was she white/Greek? Was she black/Egyptian? Was she royal? Well, since she is classified as a princess, it is safe to assume her mother was royal. Other than that, it is hard to make any clear conclusions on her ethnicity (Tyldesley 29-33). This is mostly due to Octavian ordering most of the statues and portraits of Cleopatra to be destroyed after her death (Tyldesley 58).

Historians believe Cleopatra was a well-liked ruler. She presented herself as a god, much like the rest of her family. She was also the first Ptolemy ruler to learn Egyptian, and she also knew many other languages (Plutarch, Life of Antony, 27:3). Embracing Egyptian culture more so than her ancestors, she had Egyptian-esque artwork of her completed. Cleopatra was a capable, cunning leader who desired to maintain Egypt’s independence and increase its power (Crawford).

The Cleopatras portrayed by Hollywood actors are incredibly beautiful women, but was the authentic Cleopatra as stunning? It is worth noting that Cleopatra came from a long-line of incest. Genetically, incest is sabotage. The Ptolemy family was noted to have buggy eyes and swollen necks. These traits are seen in sculptures and coins from the Ptolemaic Dynasty (“Ptolemaic Dynasty”). Coins of Cleopatra feature a large nose, pointy chin, and fat neck (Tyldesley 54). Perhaps, one of the best descriptions we have of Cleopatra is recorded by Plutarch in the Life of Antony:

“For her beauty, as we are told, was in itself not altogether incomparable, nor such as to strike those who saw her; but converse with her had an irresistible charm, and her presence, combined with the persuasiveness of her discourse and the character which was somehow diffused about her behaviour towards others, had something stimulating about it. There was sweetness also in the tones of her voice; and her tongue, like an instrument of many strings, she could readily turn to whatever language she pleased” (27:2-3).

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She may have been “average looking” to the common Roman or Greek, but there was something uniquely beautiful about her. Maybe she was humorous, optimistic, intelligent, and adventurous. Also, it did help she had the fortune to deck herself out in the finest clothes and jewels. What can be agreed upon, however, is that it is no small feat for a woman to woo two powerful Roman men in order to progress her own reign; first Julius Caesar and then Mark Antony. It is important to note that Cleopatra did not necessarily need these men in order for her to rule, except for the slight involvement of Caesar. Who are these men and how did she win them over?

Julius Caesar

Born in 100 BC, some may say Gaius Julius Caesar was born to lead. He was a political leader as a quaestor, aedile, praetor, consul, and dictator. He was a fine military leader, and defended Rome from nations who threatened it. When Cleopatra first met him he had just defeated his enemy, Pompey, and would go on to secure his position as Rome’s dictator (“Julius Caesar”).  An ancient Roman historian, Suetonius, details Caesar’s physical appearance: “Tall of stature with a fair complex, shapely limbs, a somewhat full face, and keen black eyes” and notes that he was balding, and would comb over his hair to cover his baldness; his bald head was the topic of many jokes (45:1-2).


When he first met the twenty-one year old Cleopatra, he was fifty-two (“Cleopatra”). Cleopatra had so bravely come to him wrapped up in a bed sack, being snuck past guards to meet with him. Julius Caesar, being a man of courage himself, was impressed by her fearlessness (Plutarch, Life of Caesar, 49:3-10). It may be safe to assume that Caesar was sympathetic to Cleopatra’s requests to have her throne returned to her. After all, he desired to rule and lead much like Cleopatra did. What did she do to convince him to give her the throne of Egypt back and why did he have sexual intercourse with her? What is known is Caesar had affairs with many royal women during his life. Nonetheless, none of these affairs proved as potent and tantalizing as the one he had with Cleopatra. He would spend hours with her in Alexandria. When he returned to Rome, he would send for her to stay there. He proceeded to spoil her with gifts. It can also be said that Rome needed a strong Egyptian nation for the resources supplied by it, so perhaps her good fortune was also fueled by Caesar’s own political agenda (Tyldesley 57).

Whatever Cleopatra did to make him fall in love with her, it was sure powerful. However, this love between them was not a strong enough catalyst for him to break Roman tradition and name Caesarion, the child he illegitimately fathered with Cleopatra and his only known son, his heir (Suetonius 52:1). 

Mark Antony

In 83 BC Mark Antony was born. He was a relative of Julius Caesar (Caesar was his mother’s cousin). Although he was an excellent military leader, he was known as a semi-irresponsible, fun-loving man. This drove a wedge between him and other Roman leaders, but it nourished relationships with the soldiers beneath him. Caesar had asked for Antony’s assistance in his conquest of Gaul and later put Antony in political leadership, albeit he was not an adequate politician; nonetheless, Antony was “fiercely” loyal to Caesar. That is probably why, when Caesar was murdered, Antony used his eulogy to speak poorly of the assassins. After a couple of the assassins, Brutus and Cassius, were defeated by the Second Triumvirate, and control of Rome was split between Mark Antony and Octavian, Antony, now around 42 years old, requested Cleopatra come to him in 41 BC to discuss her involvement in the war. He wanted to fine her for supposedly supporting the opposition, but perhaps he merely wanted someone to financially refresh his army (Mark).


Cleopatra, being much too clever, came to the Mark Antony decorated as a goddess; specifically Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Plutarch records in his histories that she came up the Cydnus river in a beautiful boat with violet sails. Ethereal music from harps and wind instruments were playing as it rowed towards Antony. Cleopatra was clothed in wonderful fabrics, lounging about “under a canopy of cloth of gold,” with her servants decorated in luxury (Plutarch, Life of Antony, 26:1-3). Needless to say, Mark Antony was smitten and did not issue Cleopatra a fine. In fact, he granted her much of her wishes, and attempted to live carefree with her. It is said he “joined Cleopatra and the Egyptians in general in their life of luxurious ease until he was entirely demoralized” (Tyldesley 150).

The next and final blog post in the series: Cleopatra: the Battle of Actium and Her Own Death


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Cleopatra: A Biased Stance in the Roman Civil War

Julius Caesar’s Civil War

The Great Roman Civil War, or Julius Caesar’s Civil War, had various causes. One major catalyst was the conflict that developed between Julius Caesar and Pompey. At one point they were allies, being two of the powerful leaders involved in the First Triumvirate, the third being Marcus Licinius Crassus. This alliance was formed in 60 BC in response to a shaky Roman nation in an effort to keep it from falling apart. They banded together for seven years to control Rome (Wasson).

Putting three powerful men together and making them work towards a common goal was sufficiently challenging, but when Crassus died at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 BC, the Triumvirate started to disintegrate. Not only that, but Caesar had married his only daughter to Pompey as an act of friendship, and she died during childbirth the year prior to Crassus’ death (Wasson).  

The Roman senate preferred Pompey’s leadership to Caesar, but Caesar desired power. The senate had already placed Pompey in consulship when Caesar returned to Rome from an excavation. Upon Caesar’s return, a conflict broke out that led to a civil war. One of the most significant battles was the Battle of  Pharsalus in 48 BC, where Julius Caesar defeated Pompey and Pompey escaped to Egypt (Wasson). Pompey did not realize he was running into a trap; it was in Egypt where Pompey died under the orders of Ptolemy XIII. With the death of Pompey, there was not much standing in the way of Caesar claiming the power he wanted. In 44 BC, he was declared dictator of Rome for life (Andrews).

The Roman Civil War Between Antony and Octavian

Caesar’s claim to dictatorship was cut short by his assassination planned out by a gang of Roman senators who never wanted Caesar in leadership. Julius Caesar did on the “Ides of March” (Andrews).


Now Rome was without a solid leader. Another Triumvirate, the Second Triumvirate, was formed to rule Rome, composed of Mark Antony, Octavian, and Marcus Lepidus. It was these three men who defeated Caesar’s assassins, specifically Brutus and Cassius, at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC, and it was Mark Antony and Octavian who had full control of Rome by 36 BC after Octavian expelled Marcus Lepidus out of the Triumvirate under suspicion of rebellion (“Cleopatra” 2009).

Once again, two powerful men were attempting to share control, and, predictably, the tension began to rise. Another outbreak of war occurred, this time between Antony and Octavian. In addition, the Egyptian queen Cleopatra was a definite catalyst for this conflict (“Mark Antony”).

Cleopatra’s Involvement

Cleopatra’s involvement began with the conflict between the Second Triumvirate and Caesar’s assassins. The Second Triumvirate had requested assistance from Egypt, and Cleopatra sent over four legions Caesar had left behind in Egypt. After the Brutus and Cassius were defeated and control of Rome was split between Mark Antony and Octavian, Antony requested Cleopatra come to him in 41 BC to discuss her involvement in the war (“Cleopatra” 2016); this is when their affair began. It was said Cleopatra arrived on the most beautiful ship in the most flattering clothes and won over the favor of Mark Antony (Plutarch 26:1-4). They eventually had three children together and Mark Antony married her according to Egyptian custom (“Cleopatra” 2016).


Mark Antony’s relationship with Cleopatra was his downfall for multiple reasons. For one, Antony was in a politically-driven marriage to Octavian’s sister, Octavia, at the time of his indulgence in Cleopatra. Also, Rome did not honor marriages to foreigners (“Mark Antony”). In addition, Antony had desired military support from Cleopatra and turned away aid received from Octavian. However, the most troubling perhaps was when Mark Antony declared Caesarion as Julius Caesar’s rightful heir and gave Caesarian and his mother more land in 34 BC (“Cleopatra” 2009).

According to Suetonius, Mark Antony wrote a letter to Octavian saying the following:

“What has come over you? Do you object to me sleeping with Cleopatra? But we are married; and it is not even as if this is anything new…What about you? Are you faithful to Drusilla? My congratulations if, when this letter arrives, you have not been to bed with Tertulia, or Terentilla, or Rufilla, or Salvia Titisenia–or all of them. Does it really matter so much where, or with whom, you perform sexual acts?” (Tyldesley 169).

Octavian, indignant and frustrated, accused Mark Antony of tarnishing the name of Rome. Just two years later, the Roman senate revoked Antony’s political positions, and Octavian went to war with the woman who had Antony wrapped around her little finger–Cleopatra (“Cleopatra” 2009). The end of this war will be discussed in the final blog post, Cleopatra: the Battle of Actium and Her Own Death.

Next blog post in the series: Cleopatra: Cleopatra, Caesar, and Antony


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Cleopatra: Becoming a Female Ruler of Egypt

Egyptian and Greek Culture, How Did They Coexist?

Macedonian Greeks found livelihoods in Egypt and were encouraged to settled there, even going as far as to marry Egyptians. Egyptian to Greek marriages were not allowed in other Greek cities. Nonetheless, the Greeks were the ones with protective rights of education, law, and citizenship. The mixed families may give their children and themselves an Egyptian name for personal use and a Greek name for professional life (Tyldesley 20). Since the Ptolemaic Dynasty was Greek in origin, and incest was practiced to maintain a royal bloodline, the rulers were also ethnically Greek. Interestingly, the Ptolemaic rulers merged in with Egyptian culture and customs (“Ptolemaic Kingdom”). For example, these rulers would practice incest. Incest was an Egyptian practice, not a Greek one (Roller 36).

The main reason the Ptolemaic rulers tried to blend in with Egyptian culture was to nurture native Egyptian loyalty. They would build temples dedicated to Egyptian gods, and even merged Greek and Egyptian gods together. The rulers fell into line with the previous Egyptian pharaohs. The Ptolemy family was viewed as divine by the royal subjects. However, Greek influence was seen in the artwork and sculptures (“Ptolemaic Kingdom”). Near the beginning of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, the native Egyptians welcomed the new pharaohs; these leaders had removed the heavy grip of the Persians. The Ptolemies actively encouraged unity between the native Egyptians and the Greeks (Redford).

Rome depended on Egypt for grain, so it had an interest in the nation. It was in the best interest of Rome for the Ptolemaic Kingdom to remain strong. Therefore, the Ptolemies had a very important alliance with Rome (“Ancient Egypt”). However, when Ptolemy XIII broke the trust of the Roman empire by killing Pompey, that is when Rome came to exact revenge on the nation the Ptolemies were ruling (“Cleopatra”).

How Cleopatra and Her Brother Lost the Throne

There was an eight year difference between Cleopatra and her younger brother Ptolemy XIII; Cleopatra was 18 and Ptolemy XIII was 10 when the throne was given to both of them. Having already ruled with her father, Cleopatra was not keen on co-ruling with her brother, and began to usurp his authority. She would only mention her name in official documents, and she made political decisions that went against what her brother and advisors wanted. Specifically, she handed over those who murdered Marcus Calpurnius Bilbulus’ sons, a Roman governor. As a result, a band of political leaders rose up against her, and she fled to Syria. She attempted to obtain man-power to help her take the throne back, but to no success. For now, the Ptolemaic Kingdom was being solely ruled by Ptolemy XIII (“Cleopatra”).

Ptolemy XIII made a fatal mistake in 48 BC, though, when the Roman general and leader Pompey was murdered under Ptolemy XIII’s watch. Some historians say Ptolemy ordered the assassination of Pompey since, at the time, Pompey was on the anti-Caesar side of the Roman civil war. Ptolemy may have thought this act would be a sign of loyalty and friendship with Caesar. However, Julius Caesar was not pleased for a variety of reasons. Although Pompey was an enemy of Caesar at the time, he was still a respected Roman leader and was the husband of Julia, Caesar’s late daughter. Also, the way Pompey was murdered was shocking and shameful for a Roman man (Tyldesley 51). Out of revenge, Julius Caesar came to Alexandria, and Ptolemy XIII fled. Ptolemy is thought to have drowned in the Nile on his way (“Cleopatra”).

How Cleopatra (and Her Other Brother) Regained the Throne

Cleopatra caught word of what happened, and she was told Caesar was rather fond of royal women, having already had many affairs (Roller 61). With a boost of confidence, she went and snuck in to meet with Caesar. According to the ancient historian Plutarch, she rolled herself up in a “bed-sack” and had a friend bring her into the palace. When she got to Caesar, he was so impressed by her boldness that he was captivated by her (49:1-3).


After this meeting, Caesar restored Cleopatra and her other younger brother, Ptolemy XIV, to the throne. Shortly after, approximately nine months, Cleopatra gave birth to a son. This son was supposedly the illegitimate son of Julius Caesar and he was named “Caesarion,” or in other words, little Caesar (Plutarch 49:3-10).

Cleopatra would visit Julius Caesar in Rome with hopes to secure a future for her son and herself. She tried to convince Caesar to claim Caesarion as his heir. However, Caesar refused and named Octavian, Caesar’s grandnephew, as heir instead. A few years later, Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. Cleopatra most likely wanted to ensure her son a throne, so after Caesar’s assassination, it is believed she poisoned her younger, co-regent brother Ptolemy XIV. This resulted in her co-ruling with her son until the end of the Ptolemaic Dynasty (“Ptolemaic Kingdom”).

Next blog post in the series: Cleopatra: a Biased Stance in the Roman Civil War


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Cleopatra: The Ptolemaic Dynasty in Egypt

How Ptolemy I Soter Rose to Power

Perhaps one of the most well-known cities in all of ancient history is the Egyptian Alexandria. Alexander the Great came to Egypt in 332 BC and established the port city of Alexandria 331 BC. He gained Egypt without much of a fight from the current satrap, or local Persian ruler, Mazakes (Redford). Some scholars declare Alexandria was the “most important” of all his created cities (Cartledge 106). Alexandria morphed into a city of art and science, having a library and museum. It claimed the title of the “capital of culture of the entire Greek world” (Cartledge 108).


Alexander’s death left Egypt to be ruled by Ptolemy I, a close acquaintance of the late Alexander (“Ptolemaic Kingdom”). However, Alexander’s once powerful nation started to crumple. Ptolemy I saw this as an opportunity to solidify his reign. He resisted attacks from Perdiccas, another of Alexander the Great’s close generals and ruler of Cappadocia, in the First Diadochi War, and declared himself king of Egypt in 305 BC. This was the beginning of the approximately 300 year rule of the Ptolemaic Dynasty. It is out of this dynasty that rose the famous Cleopatra VII (Redford).


A Brief History of the Rulers of the Ptolemaic Dynasty

The first ruler of the Ptolemaic Dynasty in Egypt was Ptolemy I Soter, soter meaning savior. The 1st Diadoch War was a feature of his rule; it lasted from 322-320 BC; these were the wars between Alexander the Great’s generals, or Diadochi (Redford). After Alexander the Great’s death, the balance of power was shaken and his generals were attempting to disperse the power. Tensions were rising between the leaders as promises were not kept and new alliances and divisions were created. Historians believe Ptolemy I purposely pushed the other generals into the First Diadochi War because he claimed the body of Alexander the Great and bought it to Egypt. Perdiccas had first ordered for Alexander the Great’s body to be buried in Aegae of Macedonia, but Ptolemy I persuaded the corpse convoy to bring it to Egypt and bury it in the temple of Zeus Ammon. After this, Perdiccas assembled an army to attack Ptolemy I in Egypt, but every time he tried to get his men into the city, the Nile would block the way. When Perdiccas failed for the third time to get into Alexandria and his troops started to revolt, he attempted to get military advice from his allies–Peithon, Seleucus, and Antigenes. Rather than giving him advice, they killed him to end this meaningless war. Perdiccas’ allies met with Ptolemy I afterwards to negotiate. The negotiations left Ptolemy I as the ruler of Egypt, Babylonia would be ruled by Seleucus, Peithon would rule Media, and Antigenes would rule Elam (Lendering).


Ptolemy II Philadelphus was the son of Ptolemy I Soter and took over his rule. He co-reigned with his sister, the first Ptolemaic female ruler, Arisone II. The Syrian Wars began during his reign and ended during the rule of Ptolemy VI Philometor (Redford). The main combatants in the Syrian Wars included the Ptolemaic Kingdom and Seleucid Empire. They were fighting over the southern portion of Syria, referred to as Coele-Syria. There were six Syrian Wars in total, each one debilitating the two nations more and more. The first Syrian War (274-271 BC) ended with Ptolemaic control over Coele-Syria. The second Syrian War (260-253 BC) was resolved with the union between the Ptolemaic princess Cleopatra II and Antiochos II, the current Seleucid king. The third Syrian War (246-241 BC) left the Ptolemaic Empire with the most land it would ever claim.  The fourth Syrian War (219-217 BC) utilized Egyptian soldiers and resulted in Egypt maintaining its claim of Coele-Syria. At its end, the Egyptian soldiers organized into the “Egyptian Revolt” and pulled away from the Ptolemaic Kingdom. The Ptolemaic Kingdom reclaimed the land in 185 BC taken from the rebels. The fifth Syrian War was a failure for the Ptolemy Empire, resulting in the loss of Coele-Syria and the marriage of Ptolemy V to Cleopatra I, the daughter of the Seleucid king Antiochos III. The sixth Syrian War ended due to Roman involvement, forcing the Seleucid Empire to leave Egypt alone (“Syrian Wars”). The Roman Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus said the following in his final negotiations to Antiochos:

“The grasping nature of Antiochus has been the cause of his present and past misfortunes. While he was the possessor of a vast empire, which the Romans did not object to, he seized Coele-Syria, which belonged to Ptolemy, his own relative and our friend….We might properly impose a severer punishment on him for his obstinacy in fighting us so persistently, but we are not accustomed to abuse our own prosperity or to aggravate the misfortunes of others. We will offer him the same conditions as before…He must abandon Europe altogether and all of Asia this side of the Taurus, the boundaries to be fixed hereafter” (Appian 38).

There were many Ptolemy rulers prior to Cleopatra VII. The key triumphs of each king’s reign will be summarized. During the ruling of Ptolemy III Euregetes, the Ptolemaic Egyptian Empire was the largest it would ever be. Ptolemy IV Philopator reign was marked by the beginning of rebellions from the people that turned into non-threatening dissatisfaction. In 194 BC, Ptolemy V Epiphanes married the first female Ptolemaic ruler with the name of Cleopatra I. His reign was full of unrest and he died at the hand of his own generals via poison (Redford).

After the death of Ptolemy V, Cleopatra I reigned until she died. Her son, Ptolemy VI Philometor took the responsibility to reign in 175 BC and married Cleopatra II, his sister. It is important to note that incest was a feature of Egyptian culture, Greek culture found incest to not be appropriate for mortal men (Roller 36). They ruled together, and at some points in time reigned with Ptolemy VII, their son. Ptolemy VI also married Cleopatra Thea, his daughter, to protect the Ptolemaic throne. It was he who allowed the erection of a Yahweh Temple. Ptolemy VIII Eurgetes II married his sister (and Ptolemy VI’s widow after he received a mortal injury in the battle of Oinoparas) Cleopatra II, and proceeded to assassinate her son, Ptolemy VII, for trying to usurp the Ptolemaic reign. He also married Cleopatra III, the daughter of Cleopatra II and the niece of Ptolemy VIII. However, Cleopatra II’s civil war drove Ptolemy VIII and Cleopatra III away to Cyprus. After that, Cleopatra II declared herself sovereign queen of Alexandria with the title of Thea Philometor Soteira which means “goddess mother-loving savior.” Ptolemy VIII regained control of Alexandria, but it was a fight that left many dead, and he published an amnesty decree before he died in 116 BC (Redford).

Ptolemy IX Soter II and Ptolemy X Alexander I, the sons of Cleopatra III and Ptolemy VIII, co-ruled from 116-81 BC. During this time, Cleopatra III seemed to exercise more governing authority over the kings. Ptolemy X married the daughter of Ptolemy IX, Cleopatra Berenice III. After Ptolemy X died, Cleopatra Berenice III was the ruler, but not for long. Ptolemy XI Alexander II, the son of Ptolemy X and a unknown woman, married Cleopatra Berenice III and murdered her. His crime did not go unnoticed, and the Alexandrians killed him (Redford).

After the death of Ptolemy XI Alexander II, there was no legitimate male heir to the throne. To solve this, Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysos, the son of Ptolemy IX and an unknown concubine, became the ruler. He married his sister, Cleopatra V, and had the daughter Cleopatra Berenice IV. He also married an unknown woman and had four more children: Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator, Arsinoe IV, Ptolemy XIV, and Cleopatra VII. Cleopatra VII co-reigned with her father and her brothers. However, Ptolemy XIII assassinated the Roman military leader Pompey. This angered Julius Caesar, the current Roman consul and dictator, and he had Ptolemy XIII killed and Alexandria placed under Roman control. Nonetheless, Cleopatra VII was able to seduce Julius Caesar and regain her throne (Redford).

The Ptolemaic Dynasty ended in 30 BC with the death of Cleopatra VII.

Next blog post to read: Cleopatra: Becoming a Female Ruler of Egypt



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Cleopatra: Final Project Introduction

My final project will focus on Cleopatra VII, more commonly known as Cleopatra. Specifically, her leadership, her cunning, and her involvement in Roman affairs. This project will consist of five blog posts: (1) The first blog post will focus on the Ptolemaic Dynasty. This will set the stage for Egypt and the family-line Cleopatra came from, beginning with Alexander the Great and the takeover of Egypt by Ptolemy. The Wars of Diadochi and Syrian Wars both will be briefly touched upon.The blog post will conclude with the birth and early life of Cleopatra VII. (2) The second blog post will focus on how the Ptolemaic Dynasty ruled, and how Cleopatra rose back to power after Ptolemy XIII offended Julius Caesar. (3) The third blog post will dive into her participation in the Roman Civil War. The Roman Civil War will be set-up and described. Her specific involvement will be highlighted. (4) The fourth blog post will describe Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and how Cleopatra got involved with both of them. (5) The last blog post will discuss the Battle of Actium, the death of Mark Antony, and the speculative death of Cleopatra. This final blog post will wrap-up my final project.

Blog post titles in the order they should be read (each title is hyperlinked for ease of navigation):

  1. Cleopatra: The Ptolemaic Dynasty in Egypt
  2. Cleopatra: Becoming a Female Ruler of Egypt
  3. Cleopatra: A Biased Stance in the Roman Civil War
  4. Cleopatra: Cleopatra, Caesar, and Antony
  5. Cleopatra: The Battle of Actium and Her Own Death

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Legionary Life: A Soldier’s Family Life

By: [honorstudent2016]


The time period is first and second century Imperial Rome, specifically 1-150 A.D.. The Roman Empire is continually expanding and gaining more territory, from scorching deserts to humid marshes. Rebellions and revolts are common occurrences, and a constant army is present (Matyszak 6). Soldiers of the Roman army are known for being ruthless, disciplined fighters. However, there is more to a Roman soldier besides life off to war. The family life of soldiers, specifically relationships with parents, “marriage,” and children will be examined.

Leaving Behind Parents

The relationship between soldiers and their parents will be considered, because when a man enlisted in the Roman army, he left his parents behind. There is no question these soldiers missed their families much like modern-day soldiers do. Julius Apollinarius, a soldier in 107 AD, wrote to his father this message: “If you love me, do your very best to write and tell me about your health…as soon as the commander starts granting leave, I’ll come to you at once” (Michigan Papyrus 466). Also, tablets from Vindolanda, which date between 90-105 A.D., have similar messages directed to family members back home.

Although the men decided to leave for the army, they still made correspondence back home to stay close to their families.Homesickness and anxiousness were seen in messages like these. These messages show how Roman soldiers valued their relationships with those they left behind, and longed for their company while they were gone.


The idea of “marriage” is interesting to discuss due to bachelor status being mandatory for members of the Roman army during this time period. Bachelor status may have been enforced to ensure a Roman soldier’s first and utmost obligation is to the Roman army and not to his wife and children. If a man was married prior to him joining the Roman army, his recruitment also declared him a bachelor and granted him a divorce from his wife. If a man was not married before he joined the Roman army, then he must remain unmarried while he is in the army (Matyszak 10).

Nonetheless, Roman soldiers were intimate with and devoted to women (Phang 353-8). After life on the road and in battle, soldiers desired a taste of normalcy. This normalcy included a good washing, having tasty wine, and spending time with a woman. Whether these women were prostitutes, devoted “wives” who lived outside of camp, or both, they were a major part of a Roman soldier’s life (Matyszak 125-6).  The “wife” outside of camp was not a legal wife of the soldier she was devoted to. Nevertheless, she may have followed behind her “husband’s” legion and steadfastly waited until he left the army to marry her legally.

Soldiers were commanded to live a life of singleness while in the Roman army. Nonetheless, soldiers had relations with women. Some of these relations led to more committed relationships that morphed into pseudo-family units, with the “wife” and children following behind the soldier’s camp.

These women who depended on their pseudo-husbands in the army were risking their futures; these risks are presented in the next section.


The topic of children of Roman soldiers will be examined as children are usual accompaniments of romantic relationships between men and women. Soldiers may have left children back home with their divorced wives, or perhaps fathered children while in the army. In Roman society, the father, paterfamilia, was the head of the household and was given ultimate authority (“The Roman Empire”). However, the mother, materfamilia, was with the children more often, and the responsibility of raising good, Roman citizens was on her shoulders (“Women in ancient Rome”).


A carving of a Roman mother nursing a child while in the presence of the Roman father is displayed. Photographed by: Marie-Lan Nguyen (2009), CC BY 3.0,

The women who had a divorce from their husbands received their dowry back in full, which may have either helped care for the children while the father was gone, or enable her to marry another. However, some soldiers fathered children while in the army, and most soldiers claimed fatherhood over the children they fathered outside of marriage. Unfortunately, the mothers and the children did not have legal financial protection if the father was a Roman soldier. If a soldier died without a will dictating where his property should be distributed, the woman and the children would not receive anything. Also, a soldier could legally decide to not take care of the woman and children, especially if she wronged him in some way, e.g. committing adultery (Phang 363-4).

Even though prohibited, soldiers fathered children while in the army. These children were not fully protected under inheritance law and paternity. Although most soldiers accepted and claimed their children, the illegitimate family unit was at his complete mercy.


The Roman soldier had a complex family life. Roman soldiers valued the relationship they had with their parents, still writing to them while away. Varying degrees of homesickness are observed in these messages addressed to those back home. Although the law prohibited Roman soldiers from marrying women, these marriage-like relationships were still formed. The woman who decided to engage with a Roman soldier and wait for him to marry her depended fully on his goodwill. As a result, the children were also in a state of limbo, with no solid future without a legal inheritance from their father.

The rest of the group blog posts will be posted individually. The other posts for this assignment are titled:

“1-150 CE Roman Legion’s Recruitment, Training, & Weaponry” – by [chaoticblackcat]

“For Leisure and When on Leave” – by [berossusofbabylon]


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Alexander the Great: The Journey Back Home

With the Indus River in sight, Alexander the Great has been confronted with the decision to either ignore his men’s requests and push on to India or journey back home. As we write our own version of history, we chose to concede to our men’s wishes and travel back home.

When, Where, and How: Alexander’s Homeward Campaign [BerossusOfBabylon]

The year is 326 BCE. The army stands poised along the western edge of the Indus River, a world away from home. To the East is India, where, to the Hellenes, only Heracles and Dionysus had traveled in the myths (Hamilton). It’s been nearly eight years since we set out from Macedonia to hunt down Darius, and having since claimed his Persian Empire, we decide whether or not to extend this new, unprecedented empire to incorporate the lands beyond Persia’s most eastern extremities. But the men have demonstrated through their uprising the limitations of their ambition. They are who brought us this far, so it seems only fitting that we respect their collective desire to return to their homes—that is, those who don’t remain in our new eastern satrapies to keep our Hellenistic empire intact. So the rugged journey back to Babylon begins.


To return home, we’ll take a southerly route, following the Indus to where it empties into the Arabian sea, then turn west, establishing an Alexandria before passing through the Gedrosian Desert, heading northwest past the Persian Gulf into Persis, then on to Babylon—conquering and founding cities along the way (Strayer). But “…to plan the type of logistical support that may be needed to conduct a campaign, intelligence must first be collected about the over-all climate, geography, and agricultural resources of the opponent’s country” (Engles, “Alexander’s Intelligence” 328).

The same means by which we first navigated into the Persian heartland will be used on the journey home. Luckily, from the beginning, “A great deal of strategic information on the Persian empire and especially its western satrapies was available to the Greek world long before … [our] Asian expedition,” namely historians like Herodotus, Ctesius, and Xenophon (328). Apart from these written sources, “…strategic information might also … [be] obtained from merchants, travelers, artisans, and Macedonian and Greek diplomats to the Persian royal court and satrapal courts,” as well as veterans from past engagements with Persian military forces (328). Along with the Greek diplomats who’ve visited Persia, “…exiles from the Persian Empire to Phillip’s court during the reign of [Artaxerxes] Ochus … [will be] especially important sources of strategic information. All these men held satrapies or high military commands and would all be in a position to have vital strategic information about the entire Persian Empire”reliable sources because these outcast elites will have no reason to withhold information valuable to the empire that threw them into exile (328).

As our knowledge of south-central Asian geography is supplemented by our homeward campaign, “Diplomatic envoys used as spies and sent to countries where future campaigns might be undertaken … [will be] used to obtain strategic intelligence” (329), both of the peoples we intend to assimilate into the empire and the lands wherein they exist. If, like our initial eastward campaign, nations surrender to us before we arrive, arrangements will be “…made by local officials to supply the army and guide its march before it [enters] their territory” (329).

To interact with the native populations of the lands along our homeward campaign, we’ll continue to maintain a small host of translators and greatly reward native guides from the occupied territory for providing accurate information (332). As a precaution, relatives of these guides will be held hostage until Macedonian scouts and skirmishers can be deployed ahead of the army to verify the legitimacy of the informationand all local sources will report to us directly, with no intermediaries save the interpreters, so as to lessen the likelihood of any information becoming distorted (332).

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This is how we’ll make it back to Babylon, growing this unparalleled Eurasian empire along the way. If we can’t bring India under Macedonian rule, at the very least the whole of Asia will be a part of this new Hellenistic world.

Keeping Troops Appeased and Recruiting New Ones – [honorstudent2016]

Ideally, we will replace the troops we retire to keep a constant amount of men at our command. We started the march back home with an estimated 30,000 troops (“Gedrosia”). To replace the veterans, new troops will be recruited in many different ways: recruiting troops from the homeland and troops from conquered regions. A message will be sent back to Macedonia with an order to send able-bodied men, who are not veterans, to this location. However, the more utilized method will be recruiting from nearby conquered regions due to the ease of proximity. I, Alexander the Great, am known for being a conqueror and taking slaves, as seen in the instance of Thebes. However, I am also known for being charming and charismatic, being able to convince people into becoming loyal to me (Allen 221-2). Therefore, there is no question we will take men from conquered groups and turn them into devoted troops. However, we will want to choose the men we can more easily mold into loyal, fighting machines.

I am notorious for the rapport I have built between me and my men. In fact, one of my most famous quotes declares, “Remember, upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.” This doesn’t mean to say I am soft in my approach to ruling over my men. Strict militarian mindsets run in my family, so it is not shocking that I would carry on the ideals of my father, Philip II. Both of us are rigorous generals who revolutionized their armies. I am a stern general who demands loyalty and respect from my men; the troops are to be loyal to me rather than to their hometowns. Disobedience is not tolerated and will be punished (Wasson).

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I do expect tremendous respect from my men, but I also give them respect in return. I live among them, dine with them, fight alongside them, and suffer with them. If water is low, I will not drink. If food reserves are scarce, I will find enough food for all my men. One historical example of this is when my army was traveling through the Desert of Gedrosia and food was low. The scarcity of food inspired the men to take corn belonging to me and “made use of the corn themselves, and gave a share of it to those who were especially pinched with hunger.” Surprisingly, I did not punish them, but rather pardoned them for I understood their dire need. In response to this, I scoured the land for enough food to feed my hungry men (Arrian 5:23). Rather than forcing my men to do my will, I conceded on multiple occasions to their requests. It is not astonishing, then, when I listen when my men rebel and refuse to move forward towards India (Arrian 5:28).  

I am not only empathetic to my men, but I graciously reward my troops, in turn keeping morale high. For example, when I defeated the Persians in 331 BCE, I intercepted Darius’ baggage train and then later invaded his palace and major cities. I shared generous amounts of Darius’ riches with my troops, and urged them to marry the beautiful Persian women (Hodge). That being said, the veterans will either be sent back home to Macedonia, or they will be commanded to go into a newly conquered colony. The veterans who have shown intelligence and bravery will be given positions of authority in newly conquered locations. The men who are especially home-sick will be granted permission to go back home with honor. They will be an example to younger troops of the rewards given to them if they stay and fight valiantly.

Baggage Train & Supplies – [chaoticblackcat]

Baggage Train

A large portion of Alexander the Great’s success also lies with the “rapidity with which he moved” which was a result of “logistical considerations” such as the reduction of the baggage train and the distribution of supplies (Burke 69). The traditional baggage train could vary depending on the army in question. In our case, the baggage train contains a wide range of bodyguards, hostages, servants, seers, physicians, surveyors, soothsayers, engineers, soldiers’ wives, and their children (Engels 11). However, a lot of our advantages come from changes previously made in the Macedonian army that had been implemented by Alexander’s father (Burke 67). Burke wrote of us that “Philip had required his troops to carry their own arms, utensils, and daily provisions; wagons and women were forbidden, and portage servants kept to a minimum” (Burke 69). The mere change of forcing the soldiers to carry their own supplies resulted in a reduction in the amount of pack animals that were needed, which in turn reduced the amount of food required to feed the animals; they are still used to carry big and bulky items (Engels 14). That, coupled with Philip’s reduction of women and servants, led to a cut in the extraneous personnel present in the baggage train (Burke 69).

This cut in the baggage train has played a role in making us “the fastest, lightest, and most mobile force in existence, capable of making lightning strikes against opponents” (Engels 23).The reduction of the baggage train gives us an advantage over the Persian and Greek armies which are delayed by their long and bulky baggage trains (Burke 69). This advantage is so prized by Philip’s son Alexander that he routinely shortens the baggage chain by burning “excess baggage and by eliminating followers” (Engels 23). The need for him to continually prune the baggage train results from the fact that, as his campaigns have grown longer, Alexander has become more tolerant on the restriction of wives; nevertheless, he still tries to limit the members of the baggage train(Engels 12-13).


Detailing the kind of supplies required by the army, the soldiers carry their own “arms, armor, utensils, and some provisions while marching” (Engels 12). The type of arms and armor carried in our army is standard. The primary weapon of our army is a pike eighteen to twenty feet long called the sarissa (Wasson). The change in weaponry—which had been implemented by Philip—also results in a change in shields since the sarissa requires the use of both hands (Wasson). The resulting shield, the aspis, is carried over the shoulder by a sling (Wasson). Both are shown in the image below. In addition, through it is not shown in the picture, we carry a “double-edge sword or xiphos for close-in-hand fighting” (Wasson).

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Though the number of animals was reduced, a few still remain to carry “bulky items such as tents, hammocks, and the ambulance” (Engels 17). However, there is one type of supply that everyone in the army—animal or human—relies on: food. David Engels maintained that our leader Alexander’s success was partly “due to his meticulous attention to the provisioning of his army” and stated that Alexander is constantly ensuring that there are “adequate provisions” for us (3, 18).

How many provisions would we usually require? Engels forms his speculations based upon mathematical calculations with the intent to identify the answer of just how much food would likely have been required. However, Engel’s calculations are considered speculative because estimations are used in his calculations of how much food could have been carried and consumed. His assumptions are based upon what is known in his time period. For example, he estimates that the animals in Alexander’s baggage train probably could carry about 250 pounds each based upon what modern animals were likely able to carry, taking into consideration the fact that insufficient harnesses that were used (15). His consumption rates are based on the known rates required for individuals and he wrote that the minimum ration that is required for each male is three pounds of grain daily and two quarts of water daily (3, 18). The animals likely need nearly three times that amount daily (Engels 18).

Applying the estimated number to the 30,000 troops present during our march from India, it is estimated that we would need a minimum of 90,000 pounds of food daily just to feed the soldiers in the baggage train. The actual number of supplies would likely be higher in order to feed the other members of the baggage train. Unfortunately, the exact number of the other members of the baggage train proves harder to compute than the soldiers. Engels asserts that “any estimate of the numbers of followers” in our army “can only be an approximation” (13). The closest guess Engels can provide is the approximation of one follower for every two soldiers (13). Using this guess, the result is an estimation of 45,000 pounds of required supplies for the miscellaneous members of our baggage train. This grand estimated total of 135,000 pounds of supplies required daily still does not take into account the few pack animals that we employ.

If so much supplies are required but the baggage train is intentionally kept short, how does Alexander continually provision his army? Perhaps the shortened baggage train enables easier resupply due to the fact that there are least mouths to feed (Burke 69). It is an idea supported by Engels (12). This question of supplying the army has been a basis for Alexander’s strategy in the past and it is observed that “when the climate, human and physical geography, available methods of transport, and the agricultural calendar of a given region are known, one can often determine what Alexander’s next move will be” (Engels 119). Alexander’s first step in campaigns involves obtaining intelligence and taking great pains to learn the area’s “routes, climate, and resources”, no doubt in order to calculate the availability of food (Engels 120). It is probably not a coincidence that all of Alexander’s chosen routes have usually passed through populated areas where opportunities for pillaging and foraging for food were readily available (Engels 120).

However, Alexander’s strategy for resupplying his army does not rest solely upon finding what was available. Alexander often makes arrangements prior to the campaigns. These arrangements are sometimes deals “made in advance with local officials, who regularly surrendered” before we invaded their regions (Engels 120). In addition, in areas where it was difficult to acquire supplies we would either “take hostages or establish garrisons” in order to insure the income of supplies (Engels 120).

Such a method can be seen on our trip back from India. We will probably target multiple cities and kingdoms (Arrian 250-252). For example this strategy of using conquered territories resources can be seen when Alexander sails “to the capital of the Sogdoi” where he will “[fortify] another city and [build]other docks, and his damaged vessels [will be] repaired” (251). The conquering of two of the cities in Oxikanos’ domain explicitly describes how “Alexander gave the plunder to the army” (252).

That is a broad overview of Alexander’s usual strategy in regards to resupplying his army during his campaigns. However, this tactic is not always reliable. The question of supplies will become our primary problems during the march through the Gedrosia desert “where there [are] no supplies and even water was often not to be found” (Arrian 258). There is speculation as to why Alexander chose this path for us if he indeed had a habit of choosing paths near available resources. It is possible that our leader was still trying to keep to that code. After all, he sent Theos to survey the coast and found little supplies (Arrian 259-260). That detail combined with the previously outlined methodology leads to the theory that Alexander chose the path through the Gedrosia desert because provisions were more obtainable there, even if it was not sufficient enough to supply us (Engels 141).

The heat and lack of water will have a devastating effect on the army (Arrian 260). Aside from the obvious threat of starvation and dehydration, the desert environment seems to have an effect on the soldiers’ behavior. There will be an incident where Alexander’s men were so hungry that they ate food supplies intended for another division of the army (Arrian 259). In addition, the hunger will drive some of the soldiers to begin killing and eating their pack animals then claiming “that the animals had died of thirst or exhaustion” (Arrian 260). However, both incidents will be treated kindly by Alexander. The army will be forgiven for breaking into the supplies, and Alexander accepted their claims regarding the animals’ deaths (259, 260).

How Will Future Generations Know About the Baggage Train & Supplies of Alexander the Great?

A lot of the studies of Alexander the Great will be, according to Edmund M. Burke, based upon “Diodorus, Arrian, Plutarch, Quints Curtius, and Justin” (67). For example of this, is the fact that all these sources are mentioned by David Engels in the bibliography of his book Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army. Furthermore, Engels will write in his conclusion that “the details of the Macedonians’ logistic system given by Arrian, Curtius, Diodorus, Plutarch, and Strabo form a coherent and consistent pattern from which a meaningful hypothetical model can be reconstructed” (122). However, in regards to the specifics of army, speculative math will likely have to be done in the future based upon figures they have calculated.


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Hannibal and Elephants

In-class Assignment: Hannibal and Elephants

[chaoticblackcat], [honorstudent2016], [berossusofbabylon]

The Most Likely Route and Why – [honorstudent2016]

Rome had met its match when Hannibal utilized war elephants in battle during the second Punic War. Being able to control and use these war beasts in battle gave Hannibal the upper-hand. Nonetheless, the extent of the elephants’ contributions to the Carthaginian army’s success is debated (Rhodan and Charles 363). The Romans were surprised when they caught word Hannibal and his army were crossing the Alps with intention to attack Italy. Publius Cornelius Scipio immediately sent troops over when he received the news of Hannibal’s plans (“Hannibal”). How did Hannibal get these elephants across the Alps and into Italy? What route did he end up taking? These questions are still highly debated amongst scholars.

Polybius may have given a more accurate description of the path Hannibal took because, although he and Livy used the same first-person account, Polybius used the text written by a witness of the march, whereas Livy used a text that was a copy of the original witness’ text. Historians also claim that Polybius has greater knowledge of military circumstances than Livy. For these reasons, Polybius’ account is more favorable than Livy’s in this circumstance (“Hannibal in the Alps”).

The Col du Montgenèvre route, traveling to Cesana Torinese & Oulx from Briançon & Montgenèvre, seems to be the most logical, historically accurate route Hannibal would have taken (see fig. 1). According to, this route meets multiple criteria needed for it to be consistent with historical descriptions given by Polybius: The passage needs to be relatively high in the Alps because Hannibal’s men had to deal with snow; as the route nears Italy, it should head north; the distance should agree with historical sources; the route necessitates sufficient space to accommodate the passage and encampment of tens of thousands of soldiers and a little over three dozen elephants; and near the path, there had to have existed villages or tribes of people Hannibal could have conquered. The Col du Montgenèvre route is the only route that satisfies all these criteria, and the other routes fall short in comparison (Polybius 3: 50-55, “Hannibal in the Alps”).


Figure 1. The possible routes Hannibal could have taken in the Alps are illustrated. The correct route proposed in this article is emphasized in gold (“Hannibal’s Crossing of the Alps”).

How Hannibal Handled the Elephants – [chaoticblackcat] [berossusofbabylon]

There are some scholars (albeit a minority group) who are suspicious of whether or not Hannibal was actually able to bring elephants across one of the ten highest mountain ranges on Earth. But there is ample evidence to support the possibility. Chief among that evidence are the records of the British Alpine Hannibal Expedition under the leadership of British engineer John Hoyte (see fig. 2). In 1959, Hoyte conducted an experimental archaeological expedition wherein he successfully guided an Asian elephant named Jumbo, on loan from a zoo in Turin, from France across the Col du Mont Cenis to Susa, Italy, effectively putting to rest the arguments that Hannibal’s crossing was no more than legend (“The British Alpine”).

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However, Jumbo was most likely not the species of elephant that Hannibal yoked into his trans-Alpine war machine. Extant sources and archaeological evidence suggest that a now-extinct species of African forest elephant would have been the most probable species. While some scholars speculate that Hannibal’s elephants were of the Syrian or Indian variety, this may have been in part due to being “…supposed, mostly from a reference to an elephant named Surus (“the Syrian”) in a fragment of Cato the Elder’s Annales … that one of Hannibal’s elephants may have been Indian” (Charles, “African Forest” 342). The majority of war elephants, however, were undoubtedly African forest elephants.

One of the key pieces of archaeological evidence supporting this claim is cited by Sir William Gowers: “…an admirable representation of an African elephant on a silver coin (date about 220 B.C.) of the Barcid dynasty in Spain—it may have been done from one of the actual elephants which afterwards crossed the Alps. The rider does not look and is not dressed like an Indian” (43). The extant texts support this claim, as well: “…Silius Italicus, writing under the emperor Domitian, seems to be quite aware the beasts were of African origin—witness the phrase “Libyan beasts…” (Charles, “African Forest” 345). Charles goes on to state that “By the time of the First Punic War, the African forest elephant formed an important part of Carthage’s military arsenal” (“African Forest” 339).

But what could it possibly matter which species of elephant Hannibal brought across the mountains? It’s simple: Larger animals require more food, and “…the adult forest elephant generally averages only around half the weight of the two larger varieties [i.e., Indian and savannah African]” (339). That forest elephants were more available in greater numbers to the Carthaginians was logistically fortuitous; if they had employed a larger species, the baggage train would’ve needed to cart twice as much food on a journey that already bordered on the impossible. The smaller breed was essential in executing the crossing.

Accounts of the other myriad obstacles Hannibal’s armies faced appears in the work of the historian Polybius, who notes that there was some difficulty at passing through a particular mountain pass. He wrote that “in three days [Hannibal] managed to get the elephants across but in a wretched condition from hunger” (135). Hannibal might have gotten them over the mountains, but how did he manage it? There are a few factors that probably contributed to the elephants’ cooperation: their extensive training, the food provided by the army, and the presence of their trainers.

The elephants that crossed the Alps probably had been exposed to extensive training that took place prior to the campaign. In two of his published books, John M. Kistler describes the use of elephants in warfare. He writes that training is a long process because most elephants are generally too nervous for warfare, and painstaking training is required to prepare them for combat (War Elephants 9). Based upon the startled way the elephants reacted to the prospect of crossing the river Rhone, shown in the picture below, Kistler speculates that Hannibal’s elephants had not had any previous experiences and had likely been reared by Hannibal since they were juveniles (War Elephants 111). If this was indeed the case, Hannibal would then likely have had a long period of extensive training invested in these particular elephants.

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In addition to an extensive training period, the species of the elephants in question might have contributed to their cooperation. In an article published in The Classical World, Michael B. Charles  and Peter Rhodan describe how a new extinct species of African elephant, the African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) was the one trained by the ancients for warfare (364-365). There is some dispute that Hannibal employed some Indian elephants, but Charles and Rhodan attribute the description of Indian to be more reflective of the type of elephant riders, the eastern mahouts (365-366).

There are two potential approaches that could have been taken to the elephants’ training. In the most extreme case, the training might have involved what to a modern mind would constitute animal cruelty. It is possible that abusive methods, such as those previously used by circuses to train elephants, were used by the ancients. The Humane Society writes that these circus training methods involve beating and starving the elephants in order to achieve human dominance over them. If this is indeed the case, it would be unlikely that the starvation resulting from the trek across the Alps was anything ‘new’ to the elephants.

This idea might sound contradictory to the very idea of a war elephant. How could such supposedly nervous and broken-down animals then become such destructive forces on the battlefield? Certain techniques were known to be used to rile the elephants into action. A BBC documentary entitled Hannibal: The Man, The Myth, The Mystery briefly focuses specifically on the employment of elephants on the battlefield. The documentary discusses how the elephants would be plied with alcohol and deliberately prodded and poked in their ankles until they became angry, at which point they would be pointed at the enemy.This approach seems counterproductive during a march, but such methods might not have been necessary. Kistler notes that most were “only used for carrying supplies in an auxiliary role” implying that training an elephant for transportation was easier than training an elephant for warfare (9).

However, this abuse is an extreme version of the training that might have been used on Hannibal’s elephants. There is another approach that Kistler seems to favor. Kistler compares the ‘tamed’ elephant to being something akin to a human employee, writing that “in exchange for special foods and good scrubbing baths in the river, the elephant will do some work for the humans” (War Elephants 5-6). In this case, the incentive for the elephants to cross the Alps might have less the result of abuse but rather a desire for food. Kistler writes that an elephant would need more than 200-300 pounds of food daily, along with a decent ration of water (War Elephants 11). Due to the sheer amount of what these beasts ate, Kistler suggests that the trainers (the mahouts) would often allow them to go foraging for their own food away from camp, training the elephant to return to the camp “for treats and work” (Animals in the Military 58).

This more lenient approach to training might have played a role in convincing the elephants to cooperate with Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps. Foraging for food would have proven difficult in the alpine terrain of the Alps. The trained elephants might have fallen back on the trained ‘employee and employer’ relationship described by Kistler. They would likely have been given the order samyana (to march) and carried out with the expectation of receiving food as a reward.

Speculation of the nature of training and incentives aside, it is likely that the animals were trained in some way and to the presence of their trainers might have cemented their cooperation. A History Herald article by Yozan Mosig titled “Hannibal’s Elephants: Myth and Reality” describes how the mahouts might have used commands or applied pressure to control the elephants’ movements. Kistler agrees with that method and describes how a mahout would use a hook called an ankhus “to guide the elephant when voice and foot commands were not enough” (Animals in the Military 60). Kistler asserts that the hook could be used in combat when the noises of the battlefield drowned out the mahout’s voice (23). However, it is not hard to see how someone could use it to implement more abusive methods.

Such techniques are best demonstrated in a particular scene when Hannibal tried to cross the river Rhone, prior to reaching the Alps. Kistler refers to the historian Livy’s description of how “one mahout was beating his ’ferocious’ elephant” in an effort to try and persuade her to cross the river (War Elephants 113). She ultimately turned on him and attacked him (War Elephants 113). Kistler believes this scene has an element of truth to it, but he disregards the idea that the entire herd was beaten in order to persuade them to cross (War Elephants 113). He states that it would have been too dangerous a strategy considering it risked losing control of the elephant herd (War Elephants 113). In any case, this scene is a good representation of the constant reinforcement the elephants would have likely endured at the hands of their mahouts during their crossing of the Alps.

There is only one problem with the idea of the mahouts exerting influence over the elephants. Polybius writes that many of the mahouts were drowned during the crossing of the river Rhone (War Elephants111). Kistler states that other mahouts and mahout trainees were likely paired up with the elephants (War Elephants 114). After all, is doubtful that Hannibal would have let the elephants go rider-less. While these trainers probably played a similar role, it is doubtful that their efforts would have been effective as the original mahouts.

However, despite this limitation, the trainers had another technique that might have been used. In addition to the domineering physical presence of a rider, Hannibal’s army likely had a failsafe mechanism to employ in the event of losing control of the elephants. It is mentioned by Charles and Rhodan in their shared article that each mahout carried a hammer and a chisel to drill into the elephant’s skull if the beast ever went out of control (371). It is possible that some of the elephants would have faced this consequence if they proved uncooperative and problematic. Charles and Rhodan write that “according to Livy, [it] was an innovation on Hasdrubal’s part” (371). Considering Hasdrubal was Hannibal’s uncle, it is likely he was familiar with this technique. Essentially, the elephants had little choice in the matter.

Edited and Presented by [berossusofbabylon]






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The Battle of Thermopylae

Background – chaoticblackcat

Persian Emperor Xerxes spent four years preparing the Persian army for the invasion of Greece (Herodotus 415). His preparations included the promised bridge across the Hellespont and a canal through Athos (Cartledge 95-96). Herodotus asserts that “Xerxes ordered the digging of the canal out of a sense of grandiosity and arrogance” (417). However, news of Xerxes’ mobilization reached the Greek mainland, and it became fairly obvious that some form of a unified defense might be necessary (Cartledge 97). A delegation of Greek cities met to consider a “united resistance” and the resulting leaders were the Spartans, primarily due to their military skill and the fact that “they already headed the only non-religious, non-ethnic multistate Greek military alliance then in existence, the Peloponnesian League” (Cartledge 99, 105). However, many Greeks were not part of the resistance and ultimately cooperated with the Persians as Herodotus notes that many “gave the King earth and water” and details how, at the Battle of Thermopylae, a “Malian called Ephialtes” sold info to Xerxes, telling the Persian king “about the mountain path to Thermopylae” (448, 479).  Herodotus also writes that “anyone who claims that the Athenians proved themselves to be the saviours of Greece would be perfectly correct… Once they had decided that their preference was for Greece to remain free, it was they who aroused the whole of Greece (except those places which were already collaborating with the Persians)” (451). However, the Athenians were not present at the Battle of Thermopylae and likely escaped any potential consequences of being associated with its defeat.

Though it was the first major land battle of the Persians’ second invasion of Greece, the dating of Thermopylae has, like most ancient dates, undergone some severe speculation. Dr. Kenneth Sacks, a Professor at Brown University who received a Ph.D. in Ancient History from the University of California, Berkeley, summarizes the arguments in his article “Herodotus and the Dating of the Battle of Thermopylae.” He emphasizes that Herodotus uses “summer as a climatic description only” and not as the specific season we would be familiar with today (238). While it is generally accepted that the battle took place around the same time as the Olympic Games, there is dispute as to the actual dating of the festival partly because of the shortage of available evidence (234).

According to Sacks, the key pieces of evidence that are available limit the Olympic festival to the range of “late July to late September” (235). Sacks writes that the majority of historians would date the Battle of Thermopylae “about ten days after an Olympic festival culminating on the full moon on 19 August” (240). Cartledge is one of the supporters of this theory, believing that the Battle of Thermopylae took place in late August (1). However, Sacks writes that dating the battle in August contradicts the few dating clues that Herodotus does give in his account, such as his hint that “the Persian navy, having sailed into Phalerum nine days after the battle, engaged the Greek fleet at Salamis on the next day” (242). Sacks asserts that those historians who choose to try and maintain Herodotus’s account would likely place the Battle of Thermopylae sometime in September (241).

While the date of the battle might be debated, its location is not, though it must be kept in mind that the topography definitely has changed since the days of ancient Greece. Cartledge emphasizes that despite its modern appearance today, at the time Thermopylae was a narrow pass between mountain and sea (141). Named after the location where it was fought, Greek historian Herodotus asserts that the battleground of the pass of Thermopylae was chosen primarily because “it looked narrower than the pass into Thessaly” which they had previously abandoned (467). Herodotus asserts that the Greek allies judged it to be a good place to make their first stand against the Persians (468).

Present at the battle of Thermopylae and leading the famous elite Spartan force of three hundred was the Spartan King Leonidas who, according to Herodotus, was supposedly a descendent of Heracles (476). He would die on the battlefield (Herodotus 483). He was not the only one. Other Lacedaemonians (the region of which Sparta is capital) who gained fame through their bravery in combat and would die at Thermopylae were Dianeces, Alpheus, and Maron (Herodotus 484). Though they often do not get as much focus as the Spartans, the following were other commanders present at the battle’s final stand: Demophilus, the commander of the Thespians, and Leontiadas, the commander of the Thebans (Herodotus 482, 476). According to Herodotus, the most distinguished Thespian warrior to die in the battle was Dithyrambus (484). The Greek historian also notes that the Persian King Xerxes observed the battle and lived, but he wrote that two of Xerxes’ brothers, Abrocomes and Hyperanthes, did not survive (483-484). Those, however, are just some of the more memorable members of the wide range of combatants present at Thermopylae.

Main Combatants & Casus Belli – (honorstudent2016)

The Greeks’ Armor and Weapons

greeksPictured to the left is an illustration of a Greek hoplite (May et. al). Pictured to the right is an illustration of a phalanx formation (“Battle of Thermopylae”).


Greek soldiers, hoplites, were trained in the spear and infantry, specifically phalanx formation. Hoplites also used swords, termed xiphos, when their spears were of no use anymore in battle.  Characteristic of the hoplite image is the shield–it is circular in shape, made of wood, over 3 feet in diameter, and was coated in bronze and very heavy. These shields were crucial in the formation of the phalanx (“Ancient Greek Warfare”).



Persian (right) and Median (left) soldiers. (Happolati).

The Persians

The Persians had a large army, much larger than the Greek armies. Their weapons included bow and arrow, swords, knives, wicker shields, and short spears. Their armor consisted of scale coats underneath their robes. Persian soldiers also wore what is called “Persian tiaras.” However, it could have simply been a hood or hat pulled over the face to protect against wind, sand, and dust. Herodotus claims they “glittered with gold.” One infamous aspect of the Persian army is the elite group known as “The Immortals.” These soldiers were regarded as the best of the Persian army and were highly skilled and decorated in battle (Herodotus 7:83-84).



Casus Belli: Why the Greeks and Persians were Fighting


A Persian soldier (left) battling a Greek hoplite (right). (Άγνωστος)


To know why Greece was fighting with Persia, one must understand the initial offense. The beginning of Greek distaste for Persia involves the Ionian Revolt in 499 to 494 BCE. The Ionian people had been conquered in 560 BCE by Alyattes II, a Lydian king. He and his successor, Croesus, allowed Ionia to have independent rule of its own people with one exception: to obey Lydia in foreign matters. However, the Ionian people were not going to live in peace for long. Persia, under the rule of Cyrus, took over the Median Empire by utilizing Median rebels. Cyrus then set his eyes on Lydia and tried to inspire the Ionians to rebel, but the Ionians refused. Nonetheless, the Persians conquered Lydia in 546 BCE. Cyrus was not as gracious as Alyattes and Croesus to the Ionians; he held a grudge for them not rebelling against the Lydians. Ironically, Athens encouraged the Ionians to rebel, and the Ionian people listened and began to rebel against the Persian Empire in 499 BCE. Persia, under the rule of Darius I, punished Athens for encouraging the rebellion of the Ionians by invading and attacking Athens (“Greco-Persian Wars”).
Fearing the might and breadth of the Persian army, the Greek-city states decided to team-up to fight Persia, since individually they’d have no hope. In 480 BCE, the Greek city-states were already allied together in an effort to block the invasion of the Persians, now being led by their general and king Xerxes, who succeeded Darius I in 486 BCE (Cartledge 59). Themistocles, the Athenian general at the time, had a strategy to block the Persians army at Thermopylae and the Straits of Artemisium. The Spartan Leader, Leonidas brought his best soldiers and tried to inspire the other fighting Greeks. The Greeks quantified by Herodotus who were involved in this battle included: 300 Spartans, 500 Tegeans, 500 Mantineans, 120 Orchomenians from Arcadia, 1000 Arcadians, 400 Corinthians, 200 Phelioans, 80 Mycenaens, 700 Thespians, 400 Thebens, and 1000 Phocians and Locrians. Herodotus declares there were 2.6 million Persians (7:185, 202, 204) but modern scholars say between 100,000 to 150,000 Persians and 7,000 Greeks (Cassin-Scott).

Other Combatants & Casus Belli – chaoticblackcat

The Other Combatants

Due to its diverse empire, the Persian army varied in its makeup. According to Herodotus, who described the Persian army in great detail, it consisted of Persians, Medians, Cissians, Hyroanians, Assyrians, Bactrians, Sacians, Indians, Arians, Parthians, Chorasmins, Gandarians, Nadicaes, Casians, Sarangaes, Pactyes, Utians, Mycians, Parccanians, Arabians, Ethopians (specifically from the South of Egypt), Libyans, Paphlagonians, Matienans, Armenians, Phrygians, Lydians, Mysians, Thracians, Milyans, Moschians, Tibarenians, Macrones, Mossynoecians, Mares, Colchians, Alarodians, Sasperians, and islanders hailing from islands in the Red Sea (429-433). Herodotus specifically identifies the Median and Cissian contingents and the Persian Immortals as combatants that clashed with the Greeks in the Battle of Thermopylae (478). However, it must be noted that Cartledge makes the claim that most historians today would not believe “the accuracy of Herodotus’s reported figures of 1,700,000 Persian land troops and over 1,200 warships” (109). He speculates that the number was actually close to 80,000 troops and 600 warships and that the maximum description of the Persian army was done for maximum effect (110).

Herodotus describes the Greek army present at Thermopylae to be made up of an elite force of three hundred from Sparta, five hundred from Tegea, five hundred from Mantinea, one hundred and twenty from Orchomenus, and one thousand from other areas of Arcadia (475). There were also four hundred from Corinth, two hundred from Phleious, eighty from Mycenae, seven hundred from Thespiae, four hundred from Thebes, a thousand from Phocis, and every available man from Opuntian Locris (Herodotus 475). However, much like Cartledge’s earlier claim that Herodotus’s count of the Persian army was questionable, Michael A. Flower, a Classics Professor at Princeton University, has a similar question about Herodotus’ description of the Greek army.

In his article “Simonides, Ephorus, and Herodotus on the Battle of Thermopylae,” Flower analyzes the Greek sources referenced on the Battle of Thermopylae, such as Ephorus, Diodorus, Simonides, and Plutarch. He writes “that there are at least two features of Diodorus’ account which some modern scholars have accepted over Herodotus,” and one of them relates to the number of Lacedaemonians who fought at Thermopylae. (367). He writes that in one area of the text Herodotus mentions the famous 300 Spartans and “a total of 3,100 Peloponnesian hoplites,” but Herodotus later contradicts himself by quoting an epitaph which has a record of 4,000 men (367). He says that, based on what Diodorus wrote, it is likely that Herodotus forgot to include “700 Lacedaemonians because they did not stay to perish” in the final stand (368).

Now, in regards to the contingents and the notable roles they played in the Battle of Thermopylae, Herodotus describes a few specific contingents as having played specific roles in the battle. The Thebans and the Thespians are noted for staying behind with the Spartans in the final stand (Herodotus 482). Herodotus also explicitly gives the Phocians credit for guarding the “pass across the mountain” where Xerxes would ultimately break through (480). These groups are often overlooked during discussions of the Battle of Thermopylae, thrown into obscurity by the famed Spartan resistance. In some cases, they might be unfairly maligned.

Herodotus makes a point of noting that the Spartan leader Leonidas recruited the Thebans, led by their Theban commander Leontiadas, because “they were strongly suspected of collaborating with the enemy,” and the Spartan Leonidas was testing whether or not they would commit to the fight against the Persians (475-476). Herodotus claims that the Thebans “did send troops, but in fact their sympathies lay elsewhere” (476).  He also claims that they stayed primarily because they were essentially Leonidas’s captives and surrendered to Xerxes the first chance they got (482, 485).

This claim that the Thebans fighting at Thermopylae were unwilling combatants who had Persian loyalties is disputed by a few modern day scholars. In his article, Flower emphasizes that this is another place where modern scholars prefer the Greek historian Diodorus’ account over Herodotus’ version of events (367). Herodotus states that the Thebans were forced to fight by Leonidas whereas Diodorus indicates that the city of Thebes was overall undecided on where to stand, and the Thebans who fought at Thermopylae were amongst those who were against any alliance with the Persian Empire (Flower 371).

This theory is supported by a professor emeritus from the University of British Columbia’s Department of Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies named J.A.S. Evans who writes that “for the Thespians and the Theban contingent, which belonged to the anti-Persian faction in Thebes, there was no future if the Persians forced the pass; they preferred to stay and fight” (236-237). This theory is supported by a map, acquired from Wikipedia’s article titled “The Battle of Thermopylae,” which shows the Xerxes invasion in red lines. Taking into account the position of the Battle of Thermopylae, one can see that Xerxes did indeed pass through the city of Thebes. For the Thebans fighting, it was the last stand between their city and the Persians.


(Image from Wikipedia’s Article “Battle of Thermopylae”)

The same was likely true for the Thespians, for their city Thespiae was located near Thebes and Plataea (which, according to the map, was the location for another land-based battle a year later). Both the Thespians and Thebans likely stayed behind at Thermopylae because they believed that defeat for them meant the potential loss of their respective cities to the Persian invaders.

Casus Belli

The ancient world’s attitude toward war was very different from what it is today. While now it is considered to be something negative, there was once a time where it was considered noble. Such was the mentality of the ancient Greeks. Paul Cartledge, the professor of Greek history at the University of Cambridge, asserts that war was ingrained into their culture, and military experience was even considered a requirement for Spartan and Athenian citizenship (2-3). However, Cartledge urges that it is important to remember that this attitude was not unique solely to the Greek of the ancient world. To try and capture the ancients’ mentality, Cartledge uses the description provided by Thucydides, a man he names  “Herodotus’s greatest successor as a historian” (90). Thucydides wrote “that there are three factors in ‘all interstate relations’  which contributed to the wars fought during that time” (Cartledge 90). These factors are “strategic concern for a state’s collective security; ideological-psychological concern for its status, reputation and honour; and the desire for economic advantage or profit” (Cartledge 90). The first two factors played a part in producing the war which the Battle of Thermopylae was a part of.

The ancient Greek and Persian spheres came into contact when a few Greek cities on the “Mediterranean margins of the Persian Empire” were conquered by Persia in 540 BCE (Cartledge 17). The Greek of 500 BCE (twenty years prior to the Battle of Thermopylae) were defined by independent “mutually hostile political” cities; the Persian Empire, by contrast, was “the fastest-growing empire in the entire history of the ancient East” (Cartledge 16-17). The conquered cities later revolted against Persia in 499 BCE with the help of the Greek city Athens  (Cartledge 17). This revolt threatened the Persian state’s “ideological-psychological concern for its status, reputation and honour” leading to their first attempt at invading Greece (Cartledge 90). This invasion prompted the Greek’s “strategic concern for a state’s collective security,” and this first attempt to invade Greece ended rather poorly with the Persian defeat at the Battle of Marathon (Cartledge 90, 6).

However, these sentiments remained strong and eventually led to the second Persian invasion of Greece, which the Battle of Thermopylae was a part of. When the Persian King died, the famed Greek historian Herodotus records that he was succeeded by his son Xerxes (405). According to Herodotus, a primary force behind the instigation of war was this new Persian Emperor who, egged on by his cousin Mardonius, called together a meeting of Persia’s leaders and supposedly gave the following speech:

“I intend to bridge the Hellespont and march an army through Europe and against Greece, so that I can make the Athenians pay for all that they have done to Persia and to my father…So on his behalf, and on the behalf of all Persians, I will not rest until I have captured Athens and put it to the touch…If we conquer them and their neighbors—the inhabitants of the land of Pelops of Phrygia—we will make Persian territory end only at the sky,…With your help I will sweep through the whole of Europe and make all lands into a single land” (406-407).

Tactics & Topography – berossusofbabylon

The topography of the Battle of Thermopylae is inextricably tied to the Lacedaemonian’s tactics and, therefore, will be discussed together. When the Greek cities of the greater Peloponnese caught wind of the Persian forces—which, according to Herodotus, numbered in the millions— marching across Europe, they elected to hold their enemy at a pass known to the locals as the “Hot Gates” (Herodotus 467, 470). Local lore held that the sulfurous springs near the pass marked the entrance into the underworld, hence the name, and as if to foreshadow the display of Greek heroism that was to transpire there, an alter dedicated to Heracles had already been erected at the pass (467). As the Greek infantry headed to Thermopylae, “…the fleet was to sail to Artemisium in Histiaeotis, so that each of the two forces would be close enough to learn of the other’s situation” (467).

Meanwhile, to the southeast, Xerxes commanded his vast army across Asia Minor to the eastern reaches of the Aegean, moving northward from Sardis to Ilium (famed city of Homer’s Hector and Priam), where he bridged the Hellespont to the north with nearly 650 penteconters and triremes—large maritime vessels rowed by vertical tiers of between 100-200 oarsmen apiece (419-421). These ships were lashed together and packed with dirt, creating a colossal, floating bridge by which Persian forces could cross the straight, along with their baggage trains, camp followers, yoke-animals, cavalry, and chariots (420-421). From there, Xerxes marched his armies across Thrace, heading west into Macedonia before turning south along the western edge of the Aegean into Thessaly, gathering forces along the way (see figure below). The mountainous terrain allowed for only one viable route for such a vast host: the coastal path leading through the pass of Thermopylae.


Xerxes route out of Ionia, circumnavigating the Aegean (“Battle of Thermopylae”).


The pass itself is situated between a sheer, inaccessible cliff face to the west and an inlet of the Aegean to the east. Between this narrow pass, the Lacedaemonian-led Greek forces bottlenecked the Persian contingents sent against them, blocking Xerxes’ warpath to Athens. Though the Persians outnumbered the Greeks by orders of magnitude, the Greek’s spears—especially those of the Spartans’—were longer (478), and the Lacedaemonians in particular were trained to fight from childhood, having been sent to the Agoge (antiquity’s answer to West Point) at around the age of seven. According to Herodotus, wave after wave of Persian soldiers failed to break the relatively small assemblage of Greek contingents. Herodotus recounts that “The Lacedaemonians fought a memorable battle; they made it quite clear that they were the experts, and that they were fighting against amateurs” (478). Many of the Persians who weren’t impaled at the end of a Spartan lance slipped off the path, falling into the sea to drown, making the topography as much of a weapon for the Greeks as their swords and spears. Another unique tactic employed by the Greeks was to feign retreat further into the pass, restricting the Persians’ maneuverability even further so as to more easily dispatch them before returning to the mouth of the pass.


David, Jacques-Louis. Leonidas at Thermopylae. Oil on canvas. Musee du Louvre, Paris.

However, despite the more advantageous position, better training, and more effective weaponry, the Greek forces failed to foresee the Persians discovering a relatively little-known path used by the region’s goatherds—a trail leading behind the Greeks’ position: The Anopaea (480). Of the possible accounts of how Xerxes discovered the trail, Herodotus favors that featuring the traitor Ephialtes of Trachis, who informs Xerxes of the mountain path. On the third day of the battle, Xerxes deployed his commander Hydarnes to lead Persian contingents along The Anopaea, ultimately flanking the Greek forces on all sides.

By this point, all but the Spartan, Thespian, and Thessalian-captive forces remained because, according to Herodotus’ preferred account, Leonidas ordered the other contingents to return home but refused to leave himself because a Delphic oracle had foreseen that either Lacedaemon would be obliterated by the Persians or that its king would die in battle; Leonidas favored the latter as it would preserve Sparta and win him renown in the process (481). Herodotus illustrates the end of the battle with the Lacedaemonians fighting with their swords when their spears had broken, with their knives when they had lost their swords, and with their hands and teeth when they had lost their knives (483). With Persians on all sides, however, valiant as the Spartans’ efforts may have been, they were inevitably overwhelmed.

Herodotus concludes his account of the Battle of Thermopylae with a story of Demaratus, former Lacedaemonian king exiled to Persia turned advisor to Xerxes, and the secret message he delivered to Sparta—inciting the meeting that led the Greeks to Thermopylae in the first place. The legend has it that Demaratus wrote Xerxes’ decision to invade Greece on the wooden base of a writing tablet, hid it behind wax onto which a decoy message was written, and sent the message back to Lacedaemon (488). According to Herodotus, it was Gorgo, Leonidas’ wife, who suspected there was a secret message behind the decoy, and after deciphering the warning, she passed it along to the other Greek cities, so they might prepare for the advancing sea of Persian soldiers.


  1. “Ancient Greek Warfare.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 8 July 2016. Web. Accessed: 22 Sept. 2016.
  2. Άγνωστος – National Museums Scotland. “Second Persian Invasion of Greece.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 21 Sept. 2016. Image from web. Accessed: 21 Sept. 2016.
  3. “Battle of Thermopylae.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 21 Aug. 2007. Image from web. Accessed: 22 Sept. 2016.
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  5. Cassin-Scott, Jack. The Greek and Persian Wars 500-323 B.C. Osprey, 1977.
  6. Evans, J.A.S. “The ‘Final Problem’ at Thermopylae”. Greek, Roman, & Byzantine Studies vol. 5, no. 4 (Dec. 1967): 231-236. Stewart Library OneSearch. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.
  7. Flower, Michael A. “Simonides, Ephorus, and Herodotus on the Battle of Thermopylae”. The Classical Quarterly vol. 48, no. 2 (1998): 365-379. JSTOR. Web. 21 Sept. 2016.
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  9. Happolati. “Immortals (Persian Empire).” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 6 Sept. 2016. Photograph from web. Accessed: 21 Sept. 2016.
  10. Herodotus.  The HistoriesTranslated by: Waterfield, Robin. Oxford University Press Inc. 1998: New York, NY.
  11. May, Elmer; Stadler, Gerald; Votaw, John; Griess, Thomas. “Classical Warfare: The Age of the Greek Hoplite.” Ancient and Medieval Warfare: The History of the Strategies, Tactics, and Leadership of Classical Warfare. 1984. New Jersey: Avery Publishing Group. Web. 21 Sept. 2016.
  12. Sacks, Kenneth. “Herodotus and the Dating of the Battle of Thermopylae.” The Classical Quarterly vol. 26, no. 2 (1976): 232-248. JSTOR. Web. 21 Sept. 2016.

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