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The Mutiny at Opis


Detail of the Alexander mosaic, found in Pompeii. National Archaeological Museum, Naples (Italy). In August 324, Alexander's soldiers revolted: they were discontent because of their king's orientalism. The Greek author Arrian of Nicomedia describes this event in section 7.8-9 and 7.11 of his Anabasis.

The translation was made by M.M. Austin.

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On arriving at Opis [1], Alexander called together the Macedonians and declared that he was discharging from the campaign and sending back to their country those who were unfit for service because of age or wounds suffered. The presents he would give would make them an object of even greater envy at home and would encourage the other Macedonians to take part in the same dangers and hardships.

Alexander spoke these words with the clear intention of pleasing the Macedonians, but they felt Alexander now despised them and regarded them as completely unfit for service. It was not unreasonable for them to take exception to Alexander's words, and they had had many grievances throughout the expedition. There was the recurring annoyance of Alexander's Persian dress which pointed in the same direction, and the training of the barbarian 'Successors' in the Macedonian style of warfare,[2] and the introduction of foreign cavalry into the squadrons of the Companions. They could not keep quiet any longer, but all shouted to Alexander to discharge them from service and take his father on the expedition (by this insult they meant Ammon [3]).

When Alexander heard this -he was now rather more quick-tempered and eastern flattery had made him become arrogant towards the Macedonians- he leaped from the platform with the leaders around him and ordered the arrest of the most conspicuous troublemakers, indicating to the hypaspists the men for arrest, thirteen in all. He ordered them to be led off for execution, and when a terrified silence had fallen on the others he ascended the platform again and spoke as follows. 

'Macedonians, my speech will not be aimed at stopping your urge to return home; as far as I am concerned you may go where you like. But I want you to realize on departing what I have done for you, and what you have done for me. Let me begin, as is right, with my father Philip. He found you wandering about without resources, many of you clothed in sheepskins and pasturing small flocks in the mountains, defending them with difficulty against the Illyrians, Triballians and neighboring Thracians. He gave you cloaks to wear instead of sheepskins, brought you down from the mountains to the plains, and made you a match in war for the neighboring barbarians, owing your safety to your own bravery and no longer to reliance on your mountain strongholds. He made you city dwellers and civilized you with good laws and customs. Those barbarians who used to harrass you and plunder your property, he made you their leaders instead of their slaves and subjects. He annexed much of Thrace to Macedonia, seized the most favorable coastal towns and opened up the country to commerce, and enabled you to exploit your mines undisturbed. He made you governors of the Thessalians, before whom you used to die of fright, humbled the Phocians and so opened a broad and easy path into Greece in place of a narrow and difficult one. The Athenians and Thebans, who were permanently poised to attack Macedonia, he so humbled (and I was now helping him in this task [4]) that instead of you paying tribute to the Athenians and being under the sway of the Thebans, they now in turn had to seek their safety from us. He marched into the Peloponnese and settled matters there too. He was appointed commander-in-chief of all Greece for the campaign against the Persians, but preferred to assign the credit to all the Macedonians rather than just to himself [5].

Such were the achievements of my father on your behalf; as you can see for yourselves, they are great, and yet small in comparison with my own. I inherited from my father a few gold and silver cups, and less than 60 talents in the treasury; Philip had debts amounting to 500 talents, and I raised a loan of a further 800. I started from a country that could barely sustain you and immediately opened up the Hellespont for you, although the Persians then held the mastery of the sea. I defeated in a cavalry engagement the satraps of Darius [6] and annexed to your rule the whole of Ionia and Aeolis, both Phrygias and Lydia, and took Miletus by storm.

All the rest came over to our side spontaneously, and I made them yours for you to enjoy. All the wealth of Egypt and Cyrene, which I won without a fight, are now yours, Coele Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia are your possession, Babylonia and Bactria and Elam belong to you, you own the wealth of Lydia, the treasures of Persia, the riches of India, and the outer ocean. You are satraps, you are generals, you are captains. As for me, what do I have left from all these labors? Merely this purple cloak and a diadem.' [....]

When he had finished Alexander quickly leaped down from the platform, retired to the royal tent and neglected his bodily needs. For that day and the day after he would not let any of his Companions see him. On the third day he invited inside the élite of the Persians, appointed them to the command of all the squadrons, and only allowed those who received the title of 'kinsmen' from him to kiss him.

As for the Macedonians, they were at first struck dumb by his speech and waited for him near the platform. No one followed the departing king, apart from the Companions around him and the bodyguards, but the majority were unable to decide what to do or say or to make up their minds to go away. When they were told what was happening with the Persians and Medes, that the command was being given to Persians and the oriental army was being divided into companies, that Macedonian names were being given to them, and there was a Persian squadron and Persian foot-companions and other infantry and a Persian regiment of Silver Shields, and a Companion cavalry together with another royal squadron, they could not endure it any longer.

They ran in a body to the royal tent, cast their weapons down in front of the doors as a sign of supplication to the king, and standing before the doors shouted to the king to come out. They were prepared to hand over those responsible for the present disturbance and those who had raised the outcry. They would not move from the doors by day or night until Alexander took pity on them.

When this was reported to Alexander, he quickly came out and saw their humble disposition; he heard the majority crying and lamenting, and was moved to tears. He came forward to speak, but they remained there imploring him. One of them, whose age and command of the Companion cavalry made him preeminent (he was called Callines) spoke as follows. 'Sire, what grieves the Macedonians is that you have already made some Persians your "kinsmen", and the Persians are called "kinsmen" of Alexander and are allowed to kiss you, while not one of the Macedonians has been granted this honor.'

Alexander then interrupted him and said 'I make you all my "kinsmen" and henceforward that shall be your title.' At this Callines stepped forward and kissed him, and so did everyone else who wished. And thus they picked up their arms again and returned to the camp amid shouts and songs of triumph.

Alexander celebrated the occasion by sacrificing to the gods he normally sacrificed to, and offering a public banquet. He sat down and so did everyone else, the Macedonians around him, the Persians next to them, then any of the other peoples who enjoyed precedence for their reputation or some other quality. Then he and those around him drew wine from the same bowl and poured the same libations, beginning with the Greek seers and the Magians. He prayed for other blessings and for harmony and partnership in rule between Macedonians and Persians.  It is said that there were 9,000 guests at the banquet, who all poured the same libation and then sang the song of victory.

Note 1:
Not far south of modern Baghdad.

Note 2:
This unit was created in 327 and had recently arrived at Susa.

Note 3:
The Egyptian god; Alexander believed him to be his father (text).

Note 4:
This refers to the battle of Chaeronea in 338.

Note 5:
This refers to the Corinthian league.

Note 6:
This refers to the battle of the Granicus river.

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