Polyaenus called himself a Macedonian!

AncientsPolyaenus called himself a Macedonian!

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Polyaenus called himself a Macedonian … and made a clear distinction between Macedonians and Greeks! He lived in Rome but obviously he was very aware of his Macedonian origins. Probably for purpose to (mis-)use the “fame of Alexander” for himself. Because Alexander the Great had quite a few “fans” back than in Rome.

Who was Polyaenus the Macedonian?

Polyaenus (also known as Polyenus or Polyaenus the Macedonian) was a Macedonian rhetor, lawyer and writer in Rome.

He was born around 100 AD in the Roman province of Bithynia in Asia Minor, possibly in the city of Nicaea (today known as İznik, Turkey). His family was of Macedonian descent.

Around 161 he worked in Rome as a rhetorician and lawyer. This means that he must have lived there for a long time, so that he was granted Roman citizenship. He spoke and wrote Latin as well as Greek.

Since when he lived in Rome and how he received Roman citizenship is not known.

Information about his life can be found in the Suda, a Byzantine lexicon from around 1000 AD, some scattered fragments and in the forewords to his work Strategemata (Stratagems).

Polyaenus – Στρατηγήματα – Stratagems

Polyaenus‘ only surviving work is his Stratagems (Στρατηγήματα), a collection of military stratagems, which he dedicated to the Roman emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, when they set out on a war against the Parthians, in 163 AD (known as the Roman–Parthian War of 161–166).

The Stratagems was first printed in a Latin translation, executed by Justus Vulteius, at Basel (Suisse), in 1549. The first edition of the Greek text was published by Isaac Casaubon, in Lyon (France), 1589; the next by Pancratius Maasvicius, Leyden (Netherlands), 1690; the third by Samuel Mursinna, Berlin (Germany), in 1756; the fourth by the Greek Adamantios Korais, Paris, 1809. The work has been later translated into English by R. Shepherd, London, 1793; into German by Seybold, Frankfurt, 1793–94, and by Blume, Stuttgart, 1834.

Polyaenus’ Greek text was translated into English in 1793 by R.Shepherd, who hoped that the Stratagems would help the British generals who were at that time establishing the British Empire in India. Shepherd’s translation is antiquated and inaccurate in parts, and therefore many changes have been made in the version we use here, although the screenshots we use are from the translation by Shepherd.

The collection of his work is arranged in 8 books, which contain descriptions of over 800 stratagems, even though parts of some of the books have been lost. Some of the material, especially in book 8, seems to be added more for entertainment than of any practical military value. Book 8 includes hints on such topics as how to woo a tyrant’s daughter and how to force your relatives to give you money.

He also wrote several other works, all of which have perished by the time. The Suda has preserved the titles of two of his works, “On Thebes” (Περὶ Θηβῶν) and “Tactics”, in three books (Τακτικά). Joannes Stobaeus (from Stobi in Macedonia) makes a quotation from a work of Polyaenus, Ὑπὲρ τoῦ κoινoῦ τῶν Mακεδόνων (For the koinon of Macedonians), and from another book entitled Ὑπὲρ τoῦ Συνεδρίoυ (For the Synedrion).

I, who am by birth Macedonian!

The main statement we focused here was made by the author already in the preface of his Stratagemata. More exactly, in the second sentence he made this statement, claiming “a national right on the Macedonian victory over the Persians!”.

I, who am by birth Macedonian, and have therefore as it were a national right to victory over the Persians, have determined not to be entirely useless to you at the present crisis: and were my constitution robust and hale as it has been, you should not want in me convincing proofs of a Macedonian spirit.

On pages 144 and 145 from Polyaenus’s work, Stratagems of war, translated by R. Shepherd we read that Polyenus clearly distinguished between Macedonians and Greeks.

Alexander, when in Hyrcania, having been informed that his character and conduct were aspersed both by the Macedonians and Greeks, assembled his friends, and told them; the situation of his affairs at home required him to send letters to Macedonia, and inform his subjects, that he should certainly return within three years: and he desired his officers at the same time to write letters to their respective friends, to the same purport; wich to a man they all did.

Also on page 146 we find a proof about the distinction he made. Shepherd translated the passage of Book 4 chapter 3 verse 24 somehow different, as we will see:

24 In Macedonia and among the Greeks, Alexander’s court of justice was plain and simple; but among the barbarians, in order to strike them with the greater awe, it was most splendid and imperial. In Bactria, Hyrcania, and India when he heard causes, the apparatus and formality of his court were as follows. The pavilion was large enough to contain a hundred tables; and was supported by fifty pillars of gold: and the canopy was adorned with various gold ornaments. Stationed round the pavilion within were, first, five hundred Persians, dressed in purple and white vests: and next to those an equal number of archers in different dresses of yellow, blue, and scarlet. Before those stood five hundred Macedonians, with silver shields, the tallest men that could be picked out. In the middle of the pavilion was a golden throne, on which the monarch sat to hear causes: attended on either side by his guards. Round the pavilion on the outside were ranged a number of elephants, and a thousand Macedonians in Macedonian habit. …

Shepherd, in contrary to the original words of Polyaenus, translated the words “In Macedonia and among the Greeks” wrongly. In the original Greek version we read:

ἐν μὲν τοῖς Μακεδόσιν ἢ ἐν τοῖς Ἕλλησι (en mén toís Makedósin í en toís Éllisi)

So the correct translation is “Among the Macedonians and among the Greeks”, as we can read in the following excerpt taken from Attalus.org:

24 Among the Macedonians and among the Greeks, Alexander’s court of justice was plain and simple; but among the barbarians, in order to strike them with the greater awe, it was most splendid and imperial. In Bactria, Hyrcania, and India when he heard causes, the apparatus and formality of his court were as follows. The pavilion was large enough to contain a hundred tables; and was supported by fifty pillars of gold: and the canopy was adorned with various gold ornaments. Stationed round the pavilion within were, first, five hundred Persian bodyguards [melophoroi], dressed in purple and white uniforms: and next to those an equal number of archers in different uniforms, yellow, blue, and scarlet. Before those stood five hundred Macedonians, with silver shields, the tallest men that could be picked out. In the middle of the pavilion was a golden throne, on which the monarch sat to hear causes: attended on either side by his guards. Round the pavilion on the outside were ranged a number of elephants, and a thousand Macedonians in Macedonian costumes. …

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