Darius’ Letter

Darius’ letter to Alexander in Arrian, book 2, and the reply Alexander gave, shows the reader a lot about the character of each of these powerful men. It also serves to demonstrate the political standing at that precise point in Alexander’s campaigns both in the eyes of Alexander and Darius. The thing that stands out most overtly from these two letters is how much the two men disagreed about the events of the past; one is left to wonder whether this battle was, as Alexander claimed prior to this, ‘a legitimate war for the sovereignty of Asia.’ Was it instead a war caused by these gross misunderstandings in each other’s behaviour?

The political position of the countries prior to Alexander’s invasion is one such point of dispute. Darius’ letter seems to imply that Persia and Macedonia were once allied and Darius seems to claim that Alexander abused this friendship by not coming to visit him on the occasion of his coronation. According to Alexander’s letter, however, Darius began the ‘quarrel’ between him and Alexander through actions like supporting men who wanted to overthrow Philip, Alexander’s father, and feeding false information to Greek cities under Macedonian rule. Alexander claims that Darius’ people invaded Thrace and corrupted his friends, he even goes as far as to accuse Darius of assassinating his father, although there has never been much support for this theory in ancient times, or since. Alexander’s view of the two nations’ pre- war state was that Darius’ ancestors wreaked havoc in Macedon, which obviously contradicts Darius’ assertion of friendship between the nations. There is no evidence of an alliance between Phillip and Artaxerxes like he claimed, and this in a well-documented time in history. The invasion of Phillip against Artaxerxes son, Arses, that Darius claims was unprovoked was actually revenge because Persia had aided an attack against Phillip in 340BC.

Another point that the two leaders viewed differently was the current status of each party. Darius addressed both Alexander and himself as ‘king’ in his letter which Alexander took great exception to. He declared that he is ‘lord of… Asia’ and Darius must not address him as an ‘equal’, We can learn from Alexander’s letter that he considered himself massively superior to Darius. He wrote about how he ‘defeated’ Darius’ generals (at Granicus) and Darius himself (at Issus) and repeated that Darius should fear him. Alexander demanded courage from Darius, to come and claim his wife and daughter back in person if he wanted them, to stand and fight for his throne if he dared. Darius did indeed try to defend his empire one more time at Gaugamela, surrounded by his bodyguards, but when Alexander got the upper hand he fled and didn’t stop running until he died.

It is clear to see from these letters how vastly different each leader’s view on things was and how they disagreed on almost everything down to who began the war, to who was responsible for the death of Darius’ predecessor, Arses. From the letters we can see that this discord is based on grievances more ancient than Alexander’s conquests, and is based also on the behaviour of each leader’s ancestors.

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