Beta's View: 'It's all about status'
Fresh-faced and barely out of his teens, Beta doesn’t look much like a soldier. That he is one, and that I’m talking to him in Bactra, Afghanistan, some 4000km from his Macedonian homeland, is a powerful testament to the impact of Alexander the Great. Beta is well aware of this – ‘there’s never been a king like him before’ – and seems almost in awe of the charisma of the man: ‘he’s an inspiration to all of us – half of my mates style their hair like him, we all want to be like him.’
His views on Alexander contrast with those of some veterans, like Alpha, and nowhere are the two men so opposed as in their interpretation of proskynesis. On this matter, Beta is emphatic: ‘it’s got nothing to do with religion or worshipping Alexander.’ He highlights all of the instances of Alexander observing traditional religious practice – sacrificing to the gods etc. – and asks ‘why would he suddenly act blasphemously?’
Instead, Beta seeks an explanation in the Persian meaning of the gesture, ‘after all’, he comments, ‘Alexander got the idea from the Persians.’ The Persians, Beta argues, simply perform the gesture as a way of acknowledging the legitimacy of the king – ‘they do it to show that they accept the king's authority and to show their loyalty to him; that’s what Artababazos said isn’t it?’ It’s also a way of showing status, he claims. On the one hand, it shows that there is a big gap between the standing of the king and that of his people, but, on the other, it shows that every subject is on the same level before the king.
Beta is keen to highlight the impact of the former: ‘the way the nobles act around Alexander, sometimes it’s hard to know who the king is. At banquets, they shout him down, they criticise him; they don’t show him enough respect.’ Does this have an impact on how Alexander is viewed by the Persians? ‘It might do – why should the Persians respect Alexander if the Macedonians don’t seem to?
But what of the second aspect of proskynesis in Persia? ‘That’s important too’, Beta says. ‘Ok, we’ve just conquered Persia, but Alexander can’t just ignore the Persians. The important nobles still have lots of support locally, and if Alexander can win them over it means that people like me have to do less fighting.’ In Beta’s opinion, getting Macedonians to perform proskynesis ‘is one way of showing the Persians that they are important.’
The idea has a downside though: ‘most Macedonians don’t like the idea of acknowledging the Persians at all. The nobles especially can’t stomach the idea of being relegated to the same status as the Persians.’ He has one further point to make, which he thinks clinches the argument. ‘At the banquet, people like Leonnatus were laughing at the Persians performing the gesture; that’s hardly a normal reaction to blasphemy. It shows that they think proskynesis is laughable; they rejected the idea because they see it as demeaning.’
The quotations in this article are fictional, but Beta’s argument is based upon that of A. J. Spawforth ‘The court of Alexander the Great between Europe and Asia’ in Spawforth (ed.), The Court and Court Society in Ancient Monarchies’ (2007) and the PhD research of Stephen Harrison. More information about the sources of our information on Alexander's life will be published soon - follow @olympusnews to be the first to hear of new posts!