When Alexander was young, Aristotle preached the ill effects of alcohol while dealing with anger. The fall of 328 BC revealed how prone he was to alcohol-related mishaps with the death of Cleitus the black.
Who was Cleitus the Black
Calanus was the son of Dropidas and also a brother to Lanike who was the nurse of Alexander the Great. He was the satrap of Bactria and Sogdiana, and also a general in Philip’s army which he continued even in Alexander’s force.
He was known as Cleitus the Black, due to confusion with another Cleitus in the army who was then designated as Cleitus the white. Although he was black skinned as most Macedonians were dark skinned, the name was not designated to his skin.
What was Alexander’s relation with Cleitus the black
Alexander had a long-standing relationship with Cleitus, the satrap of Bactria and Sogdiana. He kept the region safe while Alexander continued his quests in the east. Apart from being his satrap, Cleitus was also one of Alexander’s oldest friend. He was an experienced general under Phillip II and fought alongside Alexander in many battles. Also, Cleitus’s sister Lanike was a nurse to Alexander as an infant, who in turn respected her as a mother. Legendary accounts also tell us about the time Cleitus stopped a Persian who was about to kill Alexander in the battle of Granicus. Alexander owed his life to him after that. Famous Greek painter Apelles celebrated this brave act by commemorating a painting after Cleitus.
However, the relationship became tense in the years that followed. Several conflicts between the two friends surfaced on issues of war strategies and leadership. Cleitus began holding serious doubts and grudges against his king. One night in 328 BC, this conflict took a serious turn for the worse.
The Banquet in Maracanda
The army was in Maracanda for the time. Alexander hosted a banquet that night in the honour of mythological Greek heroes Pollux and Castor. These legends are immortalized into stars for their heroic deeds. There are conflicts on the matter of what happened on that night pertaining to different historical accounts and sources. Therefore any truthfulness of the record is unclaimed. The party carried on in full swing along with heavy drinking and music.
Alexander had ordered certain modifications to his army ranks were Cleitus was given the charge of 16,000 captured Greek mercenaries who had fought in the Persian army earlier for the fight against steppe nomads. He knew that this would take him away from Alexander and could soon be forgotten and on top of that, the idea of leading a rag tag unit of second rated soldiers in a foreign land had already made him furious.
In the party many of his drunken soldiers proclaimed Alexander as God because of his victories in battle and his unmatched valor. According to Plutarch, a poet accompanying the army recited one of his compositions which made fun of the commanders of the Macedonian army who were overpowered by the enemy on the battlefield. This offended a lot of officials and they retaliated to the poet in loud objections. However, this didn’t effect Alexander and he ordered the poet to continue. After some time, someone from the camp babbled that Phillip had accomplished nothing as compared to Alexander and that Alexander was much of a King than Phillip ever was.
As drunk as he was, Cleitus began to lose it over the irresponsible banters. He protested all these claims and openly accused Alexander of being unworthy when he introduced barbarians or Persians into the Macedonian army and elite fold. He was happy that the fallen Macedonian soldiers were not there to tolerate such disgrace and answer to the now very much Persian aristocracy in the Macedonian army. Cleitus claimed that Alexander would have been nothing if it wasn’t for the soldiers who slaved away and gave their lives in order to bring him the world while he swathed in self-obsession and disowned his own father to be the son of a God.
Alexander charged towards his old friend shouting curse words in Greek and warned him of dire consequences if he didn’t shut up. Being insulted and doubted by one of his commanders in front of his troops was something Alexander couldn’t tolerate. Cleitus’s friends tried to calm him down and take him away. All the effort went futile when Cleitus shouted that Alexander owed him for saving his life in the battle of Granicus. Owing someone for their life becomes the greatest debt which can never be matched. Cleitus gifted Alexander a second chance at life. Alexander could always save his life in return but that deed would always be subordinate to Cleitus’s. Alexander came second to none and any indication that he did obviously enrage him to hell.
He ordered his guards to seize Cleitus. They didn’t do anything because their king was heavily drunk. According to Plutarch, while leaving, Cleitus did his last mistake and quoted a line from a Greek play Andromache at Alexander: “Things are run badly in Greece”. This act further accused Alexander to be worthless. Alexander lost it. He hurled a spear into Cleitus’s chest. Cleitus died right there. Several accounts by Plutarch, Callisthenes and others talk about this moment.
What happened next?
Alexander regretted what he did almost instantly. He pulled the spear out of his friend’s body and tried to stab himself. His troops stopped him. After that, he confined himself to his quarters and refused any food or company for several days. To atone for his deeds, Alexander performed sacrifices to Dionysus, god of wine and violence. Several scholars were called upon to counsel the king out of his misery. In the end, the philosopher Anaxarchus told him that he did the right thing by preventing anarchies that could have prevailed through Cleitus. A good king holds on to his superiority which should never be questioned.
His words brought Alexander out of his stance of regret and resume his kingly duties and his earthly ambitions. However, his actions from that night and Cleitus’s death are believed to haunt Alexander for the rest of his life.
This was one one of the extreme examples oh deeds while he was drunk. He was famous for organizing drinking competitions and lavish parties, being a regular drinker. Many scholars have pointed to this drinking habit as a potential cause of his death, as he collapsed after drinking a glass of wine before dying two days later. He had many such atrocious deeds during his drunk phases, He is accused to having ordered his soldiers to burn and pillage the capital city of the Persian Empire as a revenge for the burning of Athens by Xerxes in such a similar drinking party. It is even said that he continuously called for wine even while on his death bed. So even being such a great warrior and Emperor he could not let go of drinking addiction and has a left a mark on his character with such atrocious deeds in a drunk conditions.