At his trial, Socrates made reference to the
Plato was one of these ‘young men of the upper classes who liked to hear the pretenders examined.’
Plato’s family was extremely rich.
In the year 388 BC, when Plato was 30 years old, he inherited some property from a distant relative. A former ruler of Athens had developed this property into a private resort and spa. (The ruler was Hipparchus, son of Peisistratos; he ruled Athens from 528 BC to 527 BC. History books call him ‘the tyrant of Athens.’) It had a large gymnasium, several heated pools for soaking and swimming, luxurious accommodations, and about 3.5 acres of park-like land with olive trees. Hipparchos named this resort after Akademos, an Athenian military hero of the ancient past; he called it Ἀκαδημία, which would be pronounced ‘Academy’ in English. This resort had been passed down from generation to generation for 150 years and, in 388BC, it went to Plato.
At the time, the word ‘academy’ didn’t mean ‘a place of intensive study;’ it was the name that Hipparchos had given to the resort.
Hipparchos took security very seriously. He had made a lot of enemies when he took over Athens. He didn’t want them or their hired assassins to get anywhere near him. He built 30ft high walls all around the retreat with guard towers to watch the walls and make sure no one was trying to climb them. There was one way in, through a guarded gate. It was an extremely secure facility.
The Academy was outside of the main city walls, so it was not officially a part of Athens. It was out of sight and out of the minds of authorities. People could come and go without going through the customs at the gates to the city-state. Plato turned it into a place where people with open minds could gather talk about matters that might get them in trouble if they talked about these ideas in public view. The retreat was to become a meeting place for intellectuals.
People there could discuss anything they wanted. If they thought the established system was flawed, they could analyze it and study the flaws, without having to watch over their shoulders for people coming to arrest them for treason or sedition (as happened for Socrates). If they thought better societies were possible, they would be able to talk about the changes needed to make this reality without having to worry about inciting lynch mobs to kill them (as happened to Pythagoras). At the Academy, people could talk about anything they wanted to talk about.
Plato was not only very rich, he was also politically connected. His family had been one of the leading political families of Athens. He made sure that the Academy kept a low profile and, as long as he did, the authorities left him alone.
The Academy attracted many prominent intellectuals from all over Mediterranean Europe, Africa, and Persia (now called the ‘middle east.’). Its most noted resident, Aristotle, came to the Academy as a student. He stayed on to become its most famous teacher.
Aristotle was born in Stagira, a city-state in the region of , Macedonia, about 350 miles north of Athens. Aristotle was 17 years old when he arrived. At that time, Plato was 60 years old. I can imagine the eager teenager questioning the wise Plato about the ideas of Pythagoras, his memories of Socrates making ‘inquiries’ of the ‘pretenders to wisdom,’ the idea of a sound society (one with δικαιοσύνη), and the tools that practical people might be able to use to create a system capable of meeting the needs of the human race.
Plato passed away at the age of 80 in the year 347 BC.
As long as Plato was alive, the Academy was a safe place. Plato could make sure the authorities didn’t bother people there. The intellectuals gathered there weren’t sure of what was going to happen after Plato was gone however.
At this time, many prominent scholars left. Aristotle was one of them. One of his colleagues at the Academy, Xenocrates, was from the city-state of Assos, in what is now the country of Turkey. He wanted Aristotle to see this area and meet his people. Aristotle went to Assos. (There is some controversy over the details. I found the name of this city-state listed variously as Assos, Atarneus, Atemeus, and Atarneus in different books. I then went to Aristotle’s descriptions and searched for the city with the closest match on Google Maps. I found the city called ‘Mutlu, Turkey, which I believe is the place they went.)
They stayed at the household of a friend of Xenocrates named Hermias. Hermias and Aristotle became very close friends. There is a great deal of controversy over how Hermias gained his position of authority over the city state, but all scholars agree that he had a very high position of authority and, shortly before Aristotle arrived, he was the highest official in the city state. (Something like the ‘president.’) Most scholars indicate that, before Aristotle came into his life, Hermias was a brutal tyrant. That may or may not be true. But all agree that, after spending time with Aristotle, Hermias became a devoted follower of the principles Socrates described in the book ‘Πολιτική’ (often translated, I believe incorrectly, as ‘the Republic.’)
The result was a massive and sudden increase in the wealth and welfare of the city state he controlled. Soon after that, a large amount of surrounding territory made political decisions that put them under the authority of Hermias. (Again, there is a lot of controversy over the details, but no controversy over the result: all scholars I read agreed about the increase in prosperity and the enormous expansion of the area of his political influence. Some say he ‘conquered’ this land, but others contend that people simply wanted whatever he was providing to his people, removed their own leaders, and joined Hermias.)
This was a prelude to what was to happen in a few decades under Alexander. Unfortunately, to the destruction of records that took places later, we don’t have many actual details. I suspect that this kind of success would be important for the story, if it happened, because it would give Aristotle confidence. Socrates had claimed that better societies were possible. The events in Assos, if they played out as historians claim, would have provide a kind of proof that Socrates was right.
Unfortunately, the experiment was short lived.
One of the leaders who lost his land in the expansion was a ruler (who historians today claim was been despotic and brutal) named Artaxerxes III. He hired mercenaries kidnap Hermias and have him brought to Artaxerxes who, reportedly, had him tortured to death. This is thought to have happened in 341 or 342 BC. The power structure in Assos immediately changed and it was no longer safe there for Aristotle. He and the rest of Hermias household left Turkey for the island of Lesbos, in Greece.
Hermias and Aristotle had been very close. He had considered himself a part of the family. He may have considered himself to be partly responsible for what happened to Hermias: if he had not tried the steps Aristotle had recommended, his political domain would not have grown and he wouldn’t have been a threat. On Lesbos, Aristotle married his friend’s only daughter, Pythias.
Aristotle wrote prolifically. When I read his words today, I am in awe of his brilliance. He wrote on a wide variety of topics, but he always brought the same insight to them. He starts with an analysis of objective evidence that could be verified scientifically.
He asked himself ‘What do we know for sure?’
He didn’t start by going over the different opinions about why things worked as they did, analyzing the reputations of the people who had various opinions to determine which was most likely to be right. He started at the beginning, as if no other work had ever been done on the topic. He then worked out what must be happening in botany, biology, anatomy, physics, chemistry, geometry, politics, economics, or sociology for the things we could see with our own eyes to be happening. In each case, he used logic and reason to get from the most basic principles to the conclusions.
Aristotle’s works became the gold standard for every subject he wrote about. For thousands of years thereafter, Aristotle was revered as the great knower. He was the one who understood everything. For an incredible period of time, if people wanted to know how something worked, they would go to Aristotle’s work. It was definitive on almost every topic.
King Phillip of Macedonia was looking for a tutor for his son Alexander. His advisors told him that, if he wanted the best, he had to get Aristotle. He sent messengers to Lesbos to talk to him and offer him a job.
Aristotle politely declined.
Phillip was a tyrant. Aristotle would not work for a tyrant.
Aristotle didn’t actually say ‘no’ directly.
He came up with conditions that he knew that Phillip would never meet. He said he would take the job, but only if Phillip made the changes he laid out. He made extreme demands that the thought Phillip would laugh at. That way, he could decline without having to say ‘no.’ One of these conditions involved slavery, which Aristotle believed was inconsistent with a sound society. Phillip would have to free all slaves in areas under his control. Aristotle wouldn’t allow him to do this by decree however. This would essentially be stealing from the owners of the slaves, who had purchased them in good faith and whose rights should be respected. He would have to buy all the slaves from their owners. If the slaves been removed from their homes or had their property destroyed when they were first enslaved, Phillip would have to return what had been taken and rebuild what had been destroyed.
Aristotle presented a long list of demands, including this one. He wanted numerous reforms to be made, along with the reforms that Hermias had made in Turkey. I don’t think he thought there was any real chance Phillip would actually accept. But Phillip really wanted Aristotle. I can’t think of a more powerful argument for Aristotle’s reputation than the fact that Phillip accepted all his terms.
A deal was made.
In 340 BC, Aristotle headed for Naoussa, the location of his new job tutoring Alexander. When he arrived, Aristotle was 41 and Alexander was 13.
The school at Naoussa
The school where Aristotle taught Alexander, and the stone benches in the shady olive groves where they planned the new society, are still standing. I visited the school and sat on the benches a long time ago, before I knew anything about society, before I had written anything, before I even had any idea who Alexander and Aristotle were.
My father had retired from the military and lived in Athens. I had never really known him. He and my mother hated each other and had stayed together for the kids. ‘Stayed together’ means ‘stayed legally married.’ They were like water and oil, too different to even see each other’s point of view, let alone get along.
My mother was raised in what even Montanans call ‘the sticks,’ in a tiny cabin along a creek in mountains local people call the ‘Crazy Lady Mountains.’ My father was raised in a 7th floor apartment in midtown Manhattan. They met at a USO dance in Denver where my father was in training in the Air Force. My mother had left the misery and poverty of postwar rural Montana to find a husband. She was very pretty and had no problem.
Three months after she met my father they married and seven months after that my sister was born. The math tells me that my mother had had a plan and it had worked perfectly.
My father’s official job title was ‘photo specialist,’ but in reality, he was a spy. He operated the sensitive cameras in the high-altitude planes that flew mostly over Russia, but also over China, Indochina, Korea, and any other place that our government thought of as a threat. The flying work was clandestine and dangerous. The government denied that the flights were taking place. The people on the flights were given cyanide (a silver dollar that was hollowed out had the cyanide; a pin went into it; take out the pin and scratch your skin and you are dead within seconds). He was under orders to use the cyanide in case he got shot down, so the enemy couldn’t present him as proof of spying. The Russians and Chinese were trying to shoot these planes down. My father relied on faith in the superiority of United States technology (which later turned out to be misplaced) and good luck to keep him alive.
Photo specialists could either take the photographs or make prints from the negatives and work with intelligence experts to analyze the prints. The analysts worked in the states. After a tour overseas he was supposed to get an equal length of time in the states, which he could spend with his family. But whenever he was with us, life was a nightmare. When he and my mother got into the same room, I could feel the hatred and resentment. When they got close enough, they would start screaming at each other at the top of their lungs.
My mother was an idealist. She was married. After ‘and they got married’ in all the fairytales came ‘and they lived happily ever after.’ She had gotten to ‘got married.’ Where was her ‘happily ever after?’ This was my father’s job to provide. He could not do this, and this made him defective and worthy of infinite wrath. The hell would last a few days or weeks.
My father would give up and put in for another overseas assignment. They needed him over there. We would take him to the airport, and he would disappear for another year.
He wasn’t allowed to tell us where he was. We wrote to him at an APO address in the states, which is a mail forwarding system that the military has set up to get mail to military personnel without their dependents (and therefore possibly enemies) knowing where they are. After he died, I inherited his papers. I found he spent most of his time in Pakistan, Thailand, and other countries that were within flying distance of the USSR and communist China. Presumably he was taking pictures of missile installations to help military planners figure out where to target nuclear bombs when war broke out.
He was actually a very nice guy if he wasn’t near my mother. But I never knew him growing up. When he retired, he had moved to Athens. I never knew why. He must have thought it would be a good idea to get to know his oldest son and invited me to come spend the summer with him.
I hated Athens. I guess I hate big cities in general. I convinced him to let his apartment go and take me on an extended road trip through northern Greece. We had a VW microbus set up as a camper. I convinced him to let things flow. We would go where the road took us.
We spent most of our time in little villages. I liked life there. The Greeks like to drink a wine called ‘retsina.’ It has a bit of wood resin in it as a preservative and has a resiny taste that a lot of people find unpleasant the first time they try it. But it grows on you. After a while, it is the only wine you want. Each little mountain village had its own wineries and the wines were all different. Each had its bakeries and the breads were all different. The restaurants are outside, shaded by trees and usually along some sort of creek or stream. Like restaurants in most of Europe, they just assume you want wine when you sit down. They bring a carafe of retsina, a basket of fresh local bread, and a bowl of olive oil with feta cheese floating in it to dip the bread into. For the meal, you get meat cooked over a charcoal fire, vegetables cooked in olive oil, and a salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, and black olives dripping with freshly pressed oil and covered with feta cheese. The dollar was strong and the drachma was weak, so everything was very cheap.
The guidebook said that Naoussa was an important place in history. I thought it was worth a few days. I sat on the stone benches where Aristotle and Alexander had sat. I bought retsina and drank it on the benches. A few weeks before, in Athens, we had had dinner with some friends of my father’s. In Naoussa, I got to thinking about something they had said: the world was in terrible shape. Their generation had messed it up for us and now they were too old to do anything about it. It was up to the next generation to fix its problems. They had been looking at me when they said it. They had been talking about me.
There is a lot in northern Greece that I remember. I remember the cool dry nights and the stars, the white wine, and a pretty teenage Greek girl who wanted to do things I did not understand and could not discuss with her, because we did not share a language. I remember that the air smelled like flowers and the restaurants smelled like charcoal and olive oil. I remember that the peasant men always seemed to be sitting around playing cards and drinking retsina, while their wives, who looked like they had lived very hard lives, always seemed to be working. I remember that the pace was very slow and there was time to think things through.
It was a place made for thinking.
I watched local people make charcoal, piling sticks into a mound, covering it with dirt, and then building a fire inside the mound. This must have been the way they made charcoal in Aristotle’s time. They used wooden presses to squeeze the olive oil, probably also unchanged from thousands of years ago. The young Greek girls milked the goats and made feta cheese in their homes. Local grain was ground in stone mills alongside rivers and baked into local bread. Every village had its own wineries, and wine was sold by the carafe out of wooden barrels.
It is easy to imagine that nothing was different in the time of Aristotle. Perhaps he ate at local restaurants that had been in the same place along the same streams where I sat. Perhaps he saw the same sights and smelled the same smells as he made his trip from Athens to northern Greece, on his way to teach a 13 brat (he was the son of a king: what else could he be?) for more money than he had ever made before in his life.
Perhaps he was wondering if he had sold out and should just send a letter to Phillip. He could say that he had some sort of emergency back home and would have to decline the position and return to Lesbos.
But he decided to give it a try.
He sat on the benches of the olive groves in the fragrant Greek air and worked out the future of the world with Alexander. When I read Aristotle’s words, I am still in awe of his brilliance. The young Alexander must have found it impossible to believe his luck: the smartest man who had ever lived was teaching him.
Unfortunately, most records of this era were lost in the book burnings that followed. The censors couldn’t locate every book that Aristotle had written, but they got a lot of them, and they appear to have seized and destroyed most of the little, important documents that would have helped us understand the details of what he and Alexander were doing. Journals, personal letters, and other such things have been lost to history.
We don’t know exactly what was said. I have had to work out what they must have discussed from the surviving works of Aristotle and from what Alexander did after his lessons with Aristotle were completed. Almost certainly, they spent most of their time discussing the nature of societies, the problems that Socrates had identified, and potential ways to create new types of societies, built on some premise other than that of dividing the people into teams to fight other teams over territory.
Alexander did the seemingly impossible. He united more than 500 million people in a new kind of society that stretched over more than 2 million square miles. This included hundreds of ethnic groups with dozens of different languages and cultural backgrounds. He built more highways than had ever been built before in history, including most of the highways that are still in use today in the lands that were a part of his new society.
He built the largest and most complete libraries that had ever existed.
He founded dozens of universities, built around the idea a free and open exchange of ideas, the basic principle of Plato’s Academy.
He introduced new kinds of capital markets.
He created banking and credit systems.
He built 20 master-planned cities from scratch.
The changes he made led to massive increases in production, creating great prosperity which appeared to have brought opportunities to all members of society. In the new system he created, cast and class distinctions weren’t so important as in the system it replaced. People could start with nothing and, taking advantage of the information in the open libraries, the intellectual resources of the universities, and the funding opportunities of the new banking systems, they could make something for themselves.
The changes that Alexander made were unprecedented.
The world had never seen anything like it. If we put it into realistic perspective, we would have to say that nothing like it has taken place since. Alexander did more to advance the human condition than anyone had ever had done and, today, he is one of the few men who are remembered as truly great.
And he did this all in less than 13 years.
He was in a position to alter important variables in the world for exactly 4,753 days.
How did he do it?
It is very unfortunate that the enemies of change are so vigorous and vigilant. There were many, many attempts to destroy the records of the period over the next few centuries and the people behind these activities had a great deal of success. Almost all of the details were lost. All we have left are a few scattered records that weren’t destroyed because they weren’t considered important enough, some that couldn’t be located because they were buried and have since been found, and the remains of the structures he built and devised that were so well made that they couldn’t be destroyed.
We do know this: Alexander didn’t just make a few modifications in the details of the society he was born into. Working with Aristotle, he analyzed the societies that were in place at that time (the same type of society that Socrates had claimed could never be healthy or workable). They examined their structural elements and worked out changes that would cause these structures to operate differently.
Socrates had claimed that the very foundation of Πολιτεία societies (principle of called ‘group territoriality’ when referring to apes and that I call ‘territorial sovereignty’ when it applies to humans) was flawed; you can’t start with that foundation and build something sound.
If you want something sound, you will have to accept that humans are capable of living other ways. You will have to do a scientific analysis of the different possible foundations that can support societies, and find something else.
The societies in the east were built on different foundations. If you look at a map of the area that embraced Alexander’s system, and then switch to satellite view, you will see a lot of brown. These are not rich areas. They are places where little rain falls. A patch of land is not monopolizable (to use Jane Goodall’s term) unless it can produce enough to support a surplus population. In other words, it must produce enough to support both the producers and provide food to the people who are not able to produce because the city-state can’t be defended unless these people devote their lives to building and maintaining the defensive barriers, smelting iron and making steel for weapons, or other activities that have nothing to do with food production.
They had different kinds of societies.
I want to put off a discussion of these ‘other kinds of societies’ until later in the book, when we can get into a situation to understand them better, because we have more evidence about how they worked. But the basic difference between them involves the idea of ‘property.’ The western societies are ‘property based’ societies. Property is another word for ‘a possession.’ Land can be something people posses. It can be owned. The owner determines what happens to it. These societies make very intricate laws that dictate the relationships that people have to specific parcels of land.
The other societies are built more on social relationships. People who live in areas where land can’t practically be owned (because it doesn’t produce enough to feed both the people who collect its production and an army to defend it) must be able to find a way to share the wealth the land produces with others, without getting into constant fights over it. Over long periods of time, the people who live in these areas figure out ways to make this work.
Aristotle and Alexander discussed the meeting of these two cultures. Each had something to offer. The west was innovative, efficient, and extremely productive. It rewarded activities that led to progress and growth. The east showed us that humans don’t have to be competing all the time to survive.
We could get along.
The world is bountiful. It is possible to set up a system where the people of the world share at least some part of the enormous wealth the world provides for us. We don’t have to share it all. But if we share some of it, we can have a tool that we (the entire human race) can use to meet our common needs. We have something that ties us together into a community, rather than just a bunch of people who happened to have been born onto the same planet at the same time.
If Alexander determined that society as a whole would function better in a certain area if a city were there, he would build a city there. It didn’t matter if the specific ‘state’ where that land was located had enough income from other sources to pay the cost of building the city. Other areas had surplus wealth. The basic principle of the chimpanzee society is the monopolization of resources within the group that hold that territory. That is also the basic standard of the western societies. But we don’t have to live like chimpanzees. We can use logic and reason and find systems that work other ways. We can build societies that aren’t intended to benefit one specific team at the expense of the human race as a whole. We can build something where the teams work together for the benefit of the human race.
For more than 2,000 years, military analysts have tried to figure out how Alexander could possibly have gained control of the massive amounts of land he came to control in such a short time. In 13 years, he gained control over 2 million square miles, which is about the area of the lower 48 United States. This land had 500 million inhabitants, significantly more than the current population of the United States.
What kind of military genius could conquer this vast area in a mere 13 years?
Qqq map of alexander’s empire page 206
To see how difficult this task is, consider one tiny part of the land that became a part of Alexander’s community of nations: the rugged and mountainous area now called the county of ‘Afghanistan.’
United States, the largest military power in the world, tried to conquer Afghanistan for more than 20 years. I watched the opening rounds of this war on television. The United States was sending in Abrams tanks that thundered across the desert with their massive guns and uranium based armor plating designed to withstand the largest amour piercing shells the Russians had. The Afghans had horses and flintlock muskets. I remember the TV commentators trying to suppress their laughter. The Afghans could never last. It was a joke. Twenty ears later, United States was forced to admit defeat. It couldn’t conquer this country. Shortly before, the USSR had tried the same thing with the same result. Before that India had tried, and before that the Persians and Ottomans had tried, Even the massive Holy Roman Empire had no success.
The only successful annexation I could find in Afghan history was to Alexander’s empire. He annexed it in passing. This annexation took so little time and effort that historians didn’t even bother to record the events; they weren’t interesting, there were no battles and there was no resistance.
How could this be?
We can find some clues in some of the few documents that survived. Most of the areas where his empire existed used paper for documents. Paper degrades quickly. But some areas used a different system, called ‘cuneiform’ for documents. Cuneiform documents start with a little pancake shaped piece of clay. The author would write with a special stick that represented words as marks in the clay. They would be signed by impressing a metal seal that was unique to the author in the clay. Once finished, it would be baked and become hard. Paleoarcheologists have found large quantities of these documents in various places in Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran, Iraq, and other areas that were within Alexander’s empire. People found them. but they didn’t know what they said or how old they were until very recently.
Translation technology has advanced by light years in the last decade. In the early 2020s, programmers built AI machines that would allow people to scan in a picture of the cuneiform tablet and translate the text into any language it the database. This, together with dating tools that allowed us to determine when the tablets were written, allows us to pin down at least some of the reasons for Alexander’s success.
I will provide a list of references in the resources section for those that are interested in the details. Most of the analysis I have found comes from academic papers and they are pretty hard reading, but this quote will give you a general idea:
When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian empire, he permitted the cities to live according to their own traditions. This was true not only for Greek cities but also for oriental cities. About Sardis (a city in India) it is said that Alexander allowed it to live according to its own Lydian customs.
There were, of course, royal laws which were valid in the entire empire. These laws were mostly concerned financial matters. From the cuneiform sources we now that a diagrama (royal regulation), and ‘edict which the king established’ concerning leasing of a property a ‘royal law concerning depos’ and a ‘law of the king concerning a tax.’ These laws encroached on the autonomy of the cities.
But in the cases which were not affected by these royal laws were administered by local authorities and local laws. In Babylon, the board of the dean and the council of the temple decided in questions concerning property. (From Land Ownership in Babylonian Cuneiform Documents, available in references.)
Large numbers of the cuneiform documents are being excavated at this time and scholars are sorting them out and translating them. The technology needed for this is brand new so this will obviously take a long time to work out. We only have a few pieces of information that come directly from these documents and they indicate, as the quotes above note, that Alexander didn’t conquer the lands that he untied in the traditional sense. He didn’t come in, remove all authority, take all property, and impose his own system on the people. He built a kind of union of people and cultures in a way that allowed them to work together. There were a few overriding laws that were put in place that affected foundational elements of the system, but the superficial parts of the system, and the local laws and rules that affected the normal lives of the people, remained in place.
A few of the cuneiform documents indicate that Alexander introduced some aspects of western cultures into the eastern areas where they were foreign. For example, the Babylonian didn’t have any kind of land ownership at all. (In this way, they were probably a lot like the majority of the pre-conquest American people.) Alexander didn’t impose ownership on them, claim he was the owner, or claim that the land had recently been sold and now belonged to corporations (as conquerors in north America did when they moved into area controlled by natives that didn’t accept ownership). He showed them that they could use ownership as a tool, if they wanted, to help them create prosperity and investment (if people have ownership rights, they have much stronger motivations to improve and invest than non-owners). He clearly understood (as the documents show) that there are different kinds of ownership, including the idea of selling only the right to use the land for a certain purpose for a certain length of time in exchange for fixed payments (called ‘leasehold ownership.’). As the study on cuneiform documents shows, only a small number of the documents that have been found pertain specifically to changes of ownership in the very brief time that Alexander’s rules were in effect, so we don’t have a great many details. But we do have enough information to know that Alexander did not simply move into areas, attack and subjugate the people there, and take their land and wealth for himself.
The Anabasis of Alexander
We have only one document that was written in paper and has survived the book burnings over the centuries that can help us understand what happened. This book was not written at the time of Alexander. It was written 400 years after Alexander was history. However, during the time this book was written, some texts had survived relating to the Alexander and this book, called ‘The Anabasis of Alexander,’ references its information to these other documents.
Most historians discount this book as unreliable because, they say, it contains ‘hagiography and apologia.’ Basically it means they think this book was not written to describe actual events, but to glorify Alexander and rationalize the horrible things that they (the modern historians) think Alexander must have done by providing a counterpoint.
The standard model historians work with holds that conquest involves brutal subjugation. Since Alexander conquered land, he must have been brutal and must have subjugated the people. Modern historians look at examples of conquest, including the conquest of the Americas by Europeans, and see such massive brutality that they can’t imagine anyone doing anything that changes a culture or in any way alters a society for the better without wiping out most of the people and subjugating the rest. When they see a book that tells of the creation of a vast empire that doesn’t involve these activities, they think it must be a lie. Arrian says Alexander didn’t gain control of land by fighting thousands of different rulers and defeating them all. He wasn’t trying to take over the land and put it under his personal control. He was trying, as his lest will and testament said, to
The different political entities he met didn’t fight him, lose, and submit themselves to his control. They met with him, saw that he had something better to offer, and joined him.
The Anabasis contains decryptions of a few battles. There were a few battles. Sometimes, the people in an area wanted to join him, but their governments didn’t want this.
When Alexander encountered places like this, he occasionally had to do battle with government troops in order to help the people gain control of the variables he wanted them to control. The Anabasis describes these battles. None of them appeared to have been very vigorous—at least not by Arrian’s descriptions—and Alexander prevailed quite quickly. You might expect this: if the people want the change, and a massive army is there to help them force their government to accept, the government won’t last very long.
Modern historians seem to want to think that the things Arrian described are impossible and should therefore be considered nonsense. Since there are no other books (all of the rest, including all of his reverences, appear to have been lost in the book burnings) they can claim that they have to be right because the only evidence that conflicts with their claims that Alexander was a cruel and brutal conflict comes from a biased source.
I submit that Alexander was able to add Afghanistan to his empire in passing because he didn’t try to do the same things these other conquerors tried to do. He didn’t try to add the resources of Afghanistan to the resources base under his control. He didn’t approach them with an ultimatum like ‘do what we tell you or we will destroy you.’ His success only makes sense if we accept that he was not trying to do what Ngogo chimps tried to do, or what Russia, England, and the United States tried to do, and subjugate the people of Afghanistan. He had had the good fortune to work with some of the greatest minds the world has ever seen and benefit from centuries of research about the way human societies worked.
They had found a way to get onto a path to better societies.
He was on that path.
As he passed by, he invited the Afghans to join him.
We can only really understand Alexander’s accomplishments unless we look at them in their proper context. Many historians put Alexander at the top of the list of conquerors. I think this misrepresents him totally. He really belongs at the top of the list of progressive humanitarian reformers. This one person came closer to changing the realities of human existence, and putting us on a path to sustainable, peaceful, non-destructive societies, than anyone else either before or after him.
I want to present a few quotes from the Anabasis so you can get an idea of the discussions that traditional historians had such problems with:
On the fourth day Alexander arrived at Ephesus, where he recalled from exile all the men who had been banished from the city on account of their adherence to him; and having broken up the oligarchy, he established a democratical form of government there. When the people of Ephesus were relieved of their dread of the oligarchs, they rushed headlong to kill the men who had brought Memnon into the city. They also led Syrphax, and his son Pelagon, and the sons of Syrphax’s brothers out of the temple and stoned them to death. But Alexander prevented them making any further quest of the rest of the oligarchs for the purpose of wreaking their vengeance upon them; for he knew that if the people were not checked, they would kill the innocent along with the guilty, some from hatred, and others for the sake of seizing their property. At this time Alexander gained great popularity both by his general course of action and especially by what he did at Ephesus.
He also sent Lysimachus, son of Agathocles,150 with an equal force to the Aeolic cities, and to as many of the Ionic cities1 as were still under the Persians. He was ordered to break up the oligarchies everywhere, to set up the democratical form of government, to restore their own laws to each of the cities.
He granted the Solians the privilege of a democratical constitution; and then marched away to Tarsus, dispatching the cavalry under Philotas to march through the Aleian plain to the river Pyramus.
Here, Arrian discusses they way Alexander treats defeated enemies:
When Alexander heard that Meroës was bringing Porus to him, he rode in front of the line with a few of the Companions to meet Porus. He was also surprised that he did not seem to be cowed in spirit, but advanced to meet him as one brave man would meet another brave man, after having gallantly struggled in defense of his own kingdom against another king.
Then indeed Alexander was the first to speak, bidding him say what treatment he would like to receive. The report goes that Porus replied:
“Treat me, O Alexander, in a kingly way!”
Alexander being pleased at the expression, said: “For my own sake, O Porus, thou shalt be thus treated; but for thy own sake do thou demand what is pleasing to thee!” But Porus said that everything was included in that. Alexander, being still more pleased at this remark, not only granted him the rule over his own Indians [Porus was the ruler of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, built around the city state of Jalalpur] but also added another country to that which he had before, of larger extent than the former. Thus he treated the brave man in a kingly way, and from that time found him faithful in all things. Such was the result of Alexander’s battle with Porus and the Indians living beyond the river Hydaspes, which was fought in the in the month Munychion (18 April to 18 May, 326 B.C.).
Obviously, the interactions between Alexander and Porus involved a great deal more than Arrian describes. Arrian is telling readers that Alexander was not like normal conquerors. He didn’t want to take over land for himself to pillage it or force the people to live as he wanted them to live. Porus was a talented administrator. He could continue doing what he did well. He would have to adopt some ground rules and join in the community of humankind that Alexander was trying to build.
Most likely, Alexander’s interactions with Porus were a lot like Aristotle’s interactions with Hermias. At first, Hermias was simply another who had inherited power and was bent on extending it. But Aristotle showed him that he could use his position to make the world a better place. Hermias realized that his own personal power was nothing compared to the good he could do for the human race. Alexander clearly didn’t defeat Porus simply to put him into a position of control over a far larger state then he controlled before, just because he was impressed by Porus’ bearing. The two talked. Alexander convinced him and, from then on,
The End of An Empire
The ‘Anabasis of Alexander’ ends with a discussion of Alexander’s last few days.
Alexander died in the hundred and fourteenth Olympiad, in the archonship of Hegesias at Athens. According to the statement of Aristobulus, he lived thirty-two years, and had reached the eighth month of his thirty-third year. He had reigned twelve years and these eight months.
Arrian presents a long quote from the Royal Diaries which discusses his last 8 days. Modern scholars have gone over it in detail and determined that it describes a man dying of arsenic poisoning.
Arrian discusses the ‘rumors’ that Alexander had been poisoned, from the documents that were available to him and that are not available to us (he lists Cf. Curtius, x. 31; Diodorus, xvii. 117, 118; Justin, xii. 13. They all seem to accept that Alexander was assassinated, with differences involving only the way it was carried out.
The Rest of the Story
Alexander did not have time to name a successor.
His only son was then unborn; his wife gave birth two months after Alexander died. Siculus discusses Alexander’s instructions about how his wealth should be divided:
When he was quitting life in Babylon and at his last breath was asked by his friends to whom he was leaving the kingdom, he said, “To the best man; for I foresee that a great combat of my friends will be my funeral games.” And this actually happened; for after the death of Alexander the foremost of his friends quarreled about the primacy and joined in many great combats.
If something that would be wonderful if it happened has never happened (say the entire known world getting unified in a way that created a true democracy and ended the threat of war), and the people who run the system don’t want the people under them to ever think it might happen, it is easy to convince them that it is impossible.
They can point out that their system is the most advanced that has ever existed (all leaders of systems claim this at all times). It is benevolent, kind, loving, and built on truth, liberty, freedom, and justice. (Again, they all claim this.) The smartest people who ever lived fought for it and were victorious over their evil enemies. (They also all claim this.) If these wonderful people, who are acting under the guidance of a divine creator, couldn’t build it, it can’t possibly exist.
If any claim it can, they can be labeled ‘pie-in-the-sky idealists’ or ‘utopian dreamers.’ They can be told there is no time to worry about useless and impossible things. We have a lot of real problems that are urgent and that we must do everything we can to solve before we can worry about this nonsense. The enemies are just outside the borders. Some appear to be needy civilians, but many of them are spies, trying to cross to find weaknesses and corrupt our perfect system from within. Others don’t hide the fact that they are building enormous armies which are intended to overcome our defenses and destroy us. There are ‘false patriotism’ among us; these people do not really love their country and will use any weakness or vacillation on the part of the people to destroy it. If people think better societies are possible, they may stop contributing what is needed to defense (resist taxes), so any who promote weakness must be rooted out and destroyed. (This is the reason Pythagoras and Socrates were taken out.)
If it has never existed, these arguments make sense. People accept them. It can’t happen. We must forget about it.
But what if it has happened?
Then this argument doesn’t work. People now a better system is possible. They will try to make it happen again. If it has happened, the people who want to prevent it from happening again must alter history. They must make it appear that it didn’t actually happen. To use the word George Orwell coned, they must ‘disappear’ a part of the past, wipe it from people’s minds and then from the past. In the book 1984, Orwell gives an example of ‘disappearing’ a part of the past:
The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. (Oceania is Orwell’s term to represent the British Empire and its colonial progeny; Eurasia is his term for Russia and its allies. Before 1945, England and its colonial progeny were allied with Russia. That year, England and its progeny switched enemies, turning the ones that they had been fighting before into friends and making Russia the enemy. The propaganda department—which Orwell was a part of—was tasked with changing the story to make it appear that England had never really been enemies with Europe, they had only had a disagreement with two European leaders which had since been resolved. They had never really been allied with Russia at all, its leaders were always evil and England had simply found a few decent people who had helped it resolve the disagreement in Europe.)
But where did that knowledge exist?
Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated.
And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ‘Reality control’, they called it: in Newspeak, ‘doublethink’.
Time will do part of the work. If a bad system existed for a time, then a good system existed for a time, then the bad system came back, people will eventually forget the good system. Parents will tell their children about the ‘good old days’ but the children will think of this as just another fairy tale. People will forget. But if there are books and detailed records, these are very dangerous. They need to be destroyed.
Shortly after Alexander was dead, the book burnings began. Poets tell sad tales of these events. In port cities, every ship that docked had to turn over books—on any topic and in any language—to copiers when they arrived. The copiers would make two copies of each book, then return the originals. One of the copies would go to the local library. The other would go to the great library in Alexandria, which was intended to hold a copy of every book in existence. The universities were dangerous. Their entire purpose was to encourage open minded discussion. The universities, including the Academy, were ‘disappeared.’ The academy would probably still be classified as a myth if its foundation had not been discovered.
One of the saddest things about destruction of knowledge is that we don’t really know how much was known before. There are great mysteries of the world. How were the great pyramids built? Almost certainly, the original drawings and engineering specifications were on file at the Library in Alexandria. Now, we have no idea how they did it. How much was known about astronomy and geography? (Plato claims there were regular voyages between ancient Egyptians and a continent on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Did these voyages happen, or is this a myth? What happened during the first 45,000 years of human habitation in Europe, North Africa, and Asia? There are accounts of scholars evicted from the libraries before the torch was set to the stacks of books. They wept. It is hard for us not to weep now too. They almost certainly had insights about the world that we have yet to rediscover.
The purpose of this particular destruction of knowledge appears to have been to wipe out hope. Alexander had (at least apparently) done something wonderful. He appears to have been well on his way to creating a truly egalitarian and democratic system, one without a class of ‘workers’ who must turn themselves into economic slaves and cannon fodder for the benefit of a tiny minority of rulers and wealthy.
The book ‘Possible Societies’ shows that such a system is possible.
The evidence we have, presented above, makes me believe that Alexander was well on his way to creating one when he was assassinated. If they books still existed, we could figure out if this happened, and, if so, how we may be able to make it happen again. Perhaps we will be lucky and some of the cuneiform documents that have been dug up but not analyzed, or are yet to be found, will fill in the gaps. But now we just have a few pieces of the puzzle and all can really do is put them together as best as we can and try to figure out what the fished puzzle look like.