Alexander the Great – Racial Fusion Theory

by Robert Hamilton

Alexander the Great

The focus of this essay will be upon the actions of Alexander, in his later career 331 to 323 BC, as they pertain to what is now known as the ‘Racial Fusion’ theory. Through an analysis of these aspects of Alexander’s reign I will be illustrating the strengths and weaknesses of this theory,  as an explanation of the true motives of Alexander at this time. Was Alexander setting out to create a new race of ‘Alexandrian’ subjects by combining Macedonians with Persians? Or was he merely initiating policies for the pragmatic running of his new empire?

Alexander came to Gaugamela as a leader of a Greek expedition, the commander-in-chief of the League of Corinth’s invasion of the Persian Empire, but once he was militarily successful he faced a different challenge. How to maintain control of this much larger empire?  As a king of a relatively minor territory in Macedon, Alexander conquered the mighty Persian Empire and immediately faced logistical challenges in terms of controlling territory and population with a vastly smaller number of Macedonians. Alexander’s initial use of existing power structures, which is confirmed by his reappointment of satraps, and Persian nobles, in many of the conquered cities, like that of Mazaeus in Babylon.[1] Artabazus was made satrap of Bactria in 329; Arsaces was appointed satrap of Areia around the same time – and these appointments made practical sense.[2]  Alexander, remember, was short of money when he began the Persian expedition and the satraps collected the tributes for Alexander.[3] The satraps were often kept in check by a garrison of soldiers under a Macedonian captain. These actions speak of a pragmatic attitude to ruling a vast kingdom and clearly show that Alexander was not merely a Macedonian tyrant, who only had Macedonians in positions of power.[4] Did Alexander respect and love the Persians in the same way that he professed those feelings for his Macedonian companions? Most likely not, although respect may have been earnt over time, it was far more likely to be an expedient solution for an under resourced and inexperienced ruler.

The fact, that Alexander began adopting a mixed oriental dress is seen as another example of a policy of ‘racial fusion’, and is understood by most scholars as a means of forging a visible legitimate linkage with the Achaemenid rulers who had preceded him in the rulership of these lands. Was Alexander also, intentionally, creating a new blended costume to launch a new Macedonian/Persian and ‘Alexandrian’ race? The evidence for this is inconclusive but again we are informed, by Arrian, of the resistance to this new mode of his attire, by his Macedonian companions.[5]

One of our ancient sources, Arrian, tells us about the issue of proskynesis – for the Persians it was the physical act of falling on one’s knees before a social superior.[6] This form of obeisance was not traditionally practiced by the Greeks, as they reserved their own form of proskynesis for the worship of their gods, and the non-uniformity of behaviour by Alexander’s Greek and Persian subjects meant that there had to be two distinct courts.[7] Alexander desired, according to stories told by Arrian, that all his subjects performed proskynesis before him.[8] The Macedonians saw the acts of prostration by the Persians as a form of behaviour that belittled them as men.[9] One interpretation of Alexander’s desire to create equality between the two cultures is that it could be viewed as an example of so-called ‘Racial Fusion’. Uniformity of protocol, and etiquette, within Alexander’s court would have been a very visible sign of whether there was unity within his empire, and therefore stability. Alexander, also according to Arrian, considered that his conquests had raised him to the level of a divinity and that he deserved this recognition. However, in 327 Alexander was forced by the continued resistance by his Macedonian soldiers, to abandon his quest for this uniformity in courtly behaviour.

Arrian also tells us about the mass marriages, carried out in the Persian style, imposed upon Alexander’s companions in Susa in 324, involving Persian brides and Macedonian grooms. These arranged unions can be seen as a strategy to legitimise the fusion of Persians and Macedonians under Alexander, the new Lord of Asia.[10] Plutarch and Curtius, in their record of the speeches made,  speak of a uniting of two imperial peoples but A. B. Bosworth, in his article, “Alexander and the Iranians”,  tells us that these are ideas of their own time, first century AD, and not of Alexanders.[11] Arrian states, that in addition to Alexander’s own weddings to the daughters of Darius and Ochus, eighty companions were wed to Persian noble women, and gifts were presented to some ten thousand Macedonian soldiers who had already married Asian women.[12] If these figures are correct, then this could be construed as social engineering on a large scale. If Alexander had not died soon after ,and these marriages had been honoured and sustained, they weren’t, then the creation of a new blended race would have been well on its way.[13] Alexander could then have gathered the children of these mixed marriages to be his bonded denizens for his future armies.[14]

Curtius tells us, that Alexander in 327, gathered together thirty thousand native boys to use them as soldiers and hostages.[15] This indicates that Alexander desired a local army and this was later shown to be true, as Arrian informs us, that Macedonian troops, the old and wounded, were to be replaced by the Epigoni at Opus, and that these Persian soldiers, these ‘Successors’, had been trained and equipped in the Macedonian military tradition.[16] Thus, in the military, Alexander was fusing the best of Macedonian tactics and weaponry with the fresh blood and increased numbers of the Persian populace. Arrian goes on to report, that the Macedonian forces were furious with Alexander and mutinously refused to go on with Alexander’s wishes, calling on him to “discharge every man in the army.”[17] Once again Alexander met fierce resistance from his Macedonian comrades to any policies involving ‘racial fusion’. In response, Alexander executed the ring-leaders of the mutiny and in recorded speeches, by Arrian and Plutarch, challenged the men to leave him and go home and “tell them, I say, that you deserted him and left him to the mercy of barbarian men…”[18] They were shamed, and  did not desert their leader, and were then brought together with the Persians, and Alexander, to celebrate a reconciliation.

Continued in Roman and Greek History by Robert Hamilton

 

©Robert Hamilton

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arrian, Campaigns of Alexander, (trans – Aubrey De Selincourt), Penguin Books, London, Revised Ed, 1971.

Austin, M. M, The Hellenistic World from Alexander to the Roman Conquest, 2nd Ed, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2006.

Badian, E. A King’s Notebooks, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology Vol. 72, Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1968.

Badian, E. The Ring and the Book, Zu Alexander de Grosse Festschrift d.gr.G.Wirth Amsterdam : A. Hakkert, 1988.

Bosworth, A. A Missing Year in the History of Alexander the Great, Journal of Hellenic Studies Vol. 101, London : Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, 1981.

Bosworth. A. B. Alexander and the Iranians, Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol 100, 1980.

Brunt, P, Persian Accounts of Alexander’s Campaigns, Classical Quarterly Vol. 12, no. 1, new series., London : Oxford University Press, 1962.

Brunt, P, The Aims of Alexander, Greece and Rome Vol. 12, Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1965.

Carney, Elizabeth, Donnelly, Alexander and Persian Women, American Journal of Philology Vol. 117, no. 4, Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Cartledge, Paul, Alexander the Great – The Truth Behind the Myth, Macmillan, London, 2004.

De Mauriac, Henry. M, Alexander the Great and the Politics of Homonoia, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 10, no. 1, Philadelphia, 1949.

Fears, J. The Stoic View of the Career and Character of Alexander the Great, Philologus Vol. 118, Berlin : Akademie-Verlag, 1974.

Gershevitch, Ilya Cambridge History of Iran: The Median and Achaemenian Periods Vol. 2, Ch. 8, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Hammond, N. G. L. Kingdom of Asian and the Persian Throne, Antichthon Vol. 20, Sydney : Sydney University Press, 1986.

Oost, Stewart, Irvin, The Alexander Historians and “Asia”, Dell, Harry J. Ancient Macedonian Studies in Honor of Charles F. Edson Ch. 18, Thessaloniki : Institute for Balkan Studies, 1981.

Tarn, W. W. Alexander’s Hypomnemata and the World Kingdom, Journal of Hellenic Studies Vol. 41, London : Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, 1921.

Taylor, Lilly, Ross, The ‘Proskynesis and the Hellenistic Ruler Cult, Journal of Hellenic Studies Vol. 47, London : Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, 1927.

Thomas. C, Alexander the Great and the Unity of Mankind,  Provo : Classical Journal Vol. 63, no. 6, Classical Association of the Middle West and South, 1968.

 



[1] Gershevitch, Ilya Cambridge History of Iran: The Median and Achaemenian Periods Vol. 2, Ch. 8, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1985. P – 438, 450, 464.

 

[2] Bosworth, A. A Missing Year in the History of Alexander the Great, Journal of Hellenic Studies Vol. 101, London : Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, 1981. P -17.

Cartledge, Paul, Alexander the Great – The Truth Behind the Myth, Macmillan, London, 2004. P – 174.

 

[3] Brunt, P, The Aims of Alexander, Greece and Rome Vol. 12, Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1965. P – 207.

 

[4] Brunt, P, The Aims of Alexander, Greece and Rome Vol. 12, Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1965. P – 214.

 

[5] Arrian, VII: 8.

[6] Austin, Michel, The Hellenistic World from Alexander to the Roman Conquest, 2nd Ed, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2006, P- 40 (author’s notes).

 

[7] Arrian, IV:10.5-12.5.

Taylor, Lilly, Ross, The ‘Proskynesis and the Hellenistic Ruler Cult, Journal of Hellenic Studies Vol. 47, London : Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, 1927. P- 53.

 

[8] Arrian, IV:10.5-12.5.

 

[9] Gershevitch, Ilya Cambridge History of Iran: The Median and Achaemenian Periods Vol. 2, Ch. 8, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1985. P – 457.

 

[10] Oost, Stewart, Irvin, The Alexander Historians and “Asia”, Dell, Harry J. Ancient Macedonian Studies in Honor of Charles F. Edson Ch. 18, Thessaloniki : Institute for Balkan Studies, 1981. p -267-282.

 

[11] Bosworth. A. B. Alexander and the Iranians, Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol 100, 1980, P – 11.

 

[12] Arrian, VII:4.4-5.

[13] Carney, Elizabeth, Donnelly, Alexander and Persian Women, American Journal of Philology Vol. 117, no. 4, Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996 p. 579.

 

[14] Gershevitch, Ilya Cambridge History of Iran: The Median and Achaemenian Periods Vol. 2, Ch. 8, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1985. P – 483-4.

[15] Curtius, VIII: 5-1.

[16] Arrian, VII: 8-9.

[17] Arrian, VII: 9.

[18] Arrian, VII: 9-11..

 

[19] Bosworth. A. B. Alexander and the Iranians, Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol 100, 1980, P – 2.

[20] Arrian, VII:12.

[21] Arrian, VII: 12.

[22] Bosworth. A. B. Alexander and the Iranians, Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol 100, 1980, P – 1.

[23] Bosworth. A. B. Alexander and the Iranians, Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol 100, 1980, P – 14.

 

[24] Hammond, N. G. L. Kingdom of Asian and the Persian Throne, Antichthon Vol. 20, Sydney : Sydney University Press, 1986. P – 83.

 

[25] Diodorus, XVIII.4.1-6.

[26] Diodorus, XVIII.4.1-6.

[27] Tarn, W. W. Alexander’s Hypomnemata and the World Kingdom, Journal of Hellenic Studies Vol. 41, London : Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies, 1921. P – 17.

Badian, E. The Ring and the Book, Zu Alexander de Grosse Festschrift d.gr.G.Wirth Amsterdam : A. Hakkert, 1988. p. 607.

Badian, E. A King’s Notebooks, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology Vol. 72, Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1968,  p. 183-4.

 

[28] De Mauriac, Henry. M, Alexander the Great and the Politics of Homonoia, Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 10, no. 1, Philadelphia, 1949. P – 107.

 

[29] Thomas. C, Alexander the Great and the Unity of Mankind,  Provo : Classical Journal Vol. 63, no. 6, Classical Association of the Middle West and South, 1968. P – 258.

 

 

[30] Plutarch, De Alexandri Magni Fortuna aut Virtute I 328C-329D.