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Quotes: Diodorus Siculus, Robin Waterfield – The Library, Books 16-20 Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Successors


He is, for instance, the earliest surviving historian by over a hundred years to cover the career of Alexander the Great.

Empires fall as well as rise.

The reason history is a brilliant teacher, to Diodorus’ mind, is that one can read about the successes and failures of others, and learn from them, without having to suffer oneself.


He ruled Macedon for twenty-four years. In the course of his reign, starting with the most meagre resources, he made his kingdom the greatest power in Europe; the Macedon he inherited was enslaved by the Illyrians, but he made it the master of many great peoples and cities.

Philip returned to Thessaly, subdued the tyrants, and demonstrated the depth of the goodwill he felt for the Thessalians by giving the cities back their freedom. That is why, in the years that followed, not only Philip, but also, later, his son Alexander, always had the support of the Thessalians.

So Philip met his end. In a reign of twenty-four years he had made himself greater than any other contemporary king, with an empire of such a size that he counted himself worthy to be enthroned among the twelve gods. He is famous for having made himself king despite having started with the most meagre resources for such an enterprise; for having made his kingdom the greatest in the Greek world; and for having increased his empire more through his skill as a diplomat and his geniality than through his military valour. Philip himself is said to have been prouder of his skills as a strategist and his diplomatic successes than of his abilities on the battlefield, on the ground that while the army as a whole was partly responsible for his successes in battle, the credit for those which were the result of diplomacy was his alone.


In just a few years, Alexander achieved great things. In fact, thanks to his intelligence and courage, there is no other king, of all those whose memory has been preserved from ancient times, whose accomplishments come close to those of Alexander.

Sieges, battles and military successes in general are more commonly due to Fortune than ability, but when a man who has been raised to power shows pity to those he has defeated, this is due entirely to the cast of his mind.

No one could have done more to honour a man after his death than Alexander did for Hephaestion.

“To the strongest!” And he added – the last words he ever spoke – that his funeral games would take the form of a great contest among all his foremost Friends.

The numbers given by Diodorus for Alexander’s initial forces are held to be more accurate than those found in other writers.

Robin Waterfield. Explanatory notes

Archaeology has uncovered the layer of ash from Alexander’s burning of the palace, revealing it to have been probably a premeditated act, not a piece of drunken foolishness. For one thing. the palace had been carefully cleared of valuables before it was burnt. It looks as though Alexander focused on destroying buildings associated with Xerxes, the invader of Greece; he was being true to his mission of avenging the Persian invasion of 480.

Robin Waterfield, Explanatory notes

Plutarch agrees that Alexander could not swim.

Robin Waterfield, Explanatory notes

If there had been a plot to murder Alexander, the killers would have been more organized. The chaos that followed Alexander’s death suggest that no such plot existed.

Robin Waterfield. Explanatory notes


They started by making a casket of hammered gold, the right size to accommodate the body, and they filled the inside of it with aromatics which had the property of both imparting a sweet smell to the corpse and preserving it. On top of the casket was laid laid of gold, which was a perfect fit and covered the upper rim of the chest. Over the casket was draped a magnificent piece of purple cloth, embroidered with gold, beside which they placed the dead man’s weapons. Their intention was that the overall appearance should reflect what he had accomplished in his lifetime.

Next, they brought up the carriage that was to transport this casket. It was topped by a golden vault, the surface of which was studded with precious stones, and which was eight cubits wide and twelve cubits long. Under the roof, running along the whole length of each side, was a rectangular golden beam, on which were carved the heads of goat-stags. From the beams hung golden rings, with diameters of two palms, and through them was threaded a brightly and variously coloured festoon, of the kind that might be used in a parade, that hung down from the rings. On the ends of the beams were network fringes furnished with bells that were large enough to ensure that the sound would be heard from a long way off as the carriage approached. On each corner of the roof, where the sides met, there was a golden Victory bearing a trophy. The colonnade on which the vault rested was of gold, with Ionic capitals. Set back from the colonnade was a golden net, made of strands twined as thick as a finger, on which were fixed four painted panels at the same height as one another, with each panel occupying an entire side.

The first of the panels had a chariot in relief, in which Alexander was sitting, holding a magnificent sceptre in his hands and escorted by two units of the Household Guard, one consisting of Macedonians and the other of Persian Apple-bearers, with their shield-bearers in front of them. The second panel showed the elephants that used to follow the Household Guard, accoutred for war and with mahouts mounted in front and Macedonians, armed in their usual fashion, behind. The third had cavalry squadrons made to look as though they were engaging in combat, and the fourth had ships in battle formation. Golden lions flanked the entrance to the vault, with their gaze turned towards people as they entered. Climbing its way gradually up the centre of each column all the way to the capital was a golden acanthus. On top of the vault, in the middle of the roof, exposed to the open air, there was a stylized palm tree, bearing a large golden olive wreath, which shone with a bright and scintillating light when struck by the sun’s rays, so that from a long way off it looked like a flash of lightning.

The bed of the chariot, under the vault, was fitted with two axles on which four Persian-style wheels revolved, the felloes and the spokes of the wheels were gilded, while the part that made contact with the ground was made of iron. The projecting parts of the axles were golden and had the foreparts of lions on them, each gripping a spear in its teeth. Halfway along each axle was a rod which was ingeniously inserted inside the vault so as to allow it to remain stable even when shaken or passing over uneven ground. The carriage had four shafts, and each shaft had four rows of yokes, with four mules harnessed to each yoke, making a total of sixty-four mules, every one selected for its strength and height. Each mule wore a golden crown, golden bells hung down either cheek, and around their necks were collars studded with precious stones.


So ended the life of Olympias, the most eminent woman of her time. She was the daughter of Neoptolemus, the King of Epirus; the sister of Alexander, who campaigned in Italy; the wife of Philip, the most powerful ruler had ever been in Europe; and the mother of Alexander, the scale and glory of whose achievements have never been rivalled.

Disaster leaves one no choice but to be cautious, out of fear of what might happen next, but success encourages men to be totally careless, because they have already met with good fortune.

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