Parmenion – Birth in camera, death in the spotlight

Parmenion led Philip’s advance force in Asia Minor. Parmenion’s son Philotas was the commander of Alexander’s Companion Cavalry; his son Nikanor led the Hypaspists; Parmenion held the left wing at Issus and Gaugamela, as well as the military governorship in Syria during the siege of Tyre. In 330 Alexander ordered the execution of Parmenion.

This is most of what we know as fact about Parmenion, arguably the greatest general of his age, architect of Philip and Alexander’s greatest victories.

Unraveling the mystery of where Parmenion came from will further the study of Alexander. Scholars have placed his birthplace from Thessaly to Upper Macedonia, to Lower Macedonia to Paeonia and inevitably use this “fact” as the cornerstone for their theories on Alexander’s behaviour throughout his reign. Now, as thousands of years ago, Parmenion’s actions and personality and influence are seen to affect Alexander’s decision making processes. Yet without knowing more about Parmenion himself, the logic that follows is inherently flawed.

Two aspects of the Alexander history pop out in this vein. The first is that Parmenion plays the literary foil to the brilliant young king in all of the histories. This works because, in some ways, it is true. Alexander is young, dashing, impetuous; Parmenion is old, wise, cautious. There are not two men, other than perhaps Antipatros and Alexander, who make such a marked contrast while both excelling at the same profession. Due to his success, his position under Philip and, depending on who you believe, his loyalty to Alexander or his indispensability to Alexander,1
Parmenion was a prominent enough figure to balance the aura that surrounds Alexander.2 Thus whenever Parmenion said this or that or contradicted the king, it may well be accurate, but it may also be that he represents a faction within the Macedonian Kingdom that would otherwise be passed over.

The second is that the murder of Parmenion and execution of Philotas stem from different motives depending on where Parmenion was from and his relationship with Alexander. If Parmenion was from Upper Macedonia and had a major devoted following and hesitated to join and was dragging his heels, then Alexander may have resented him and wanted to eliminate his influence. If Philotas was truly that insufferable and belittling Alexander’s accomplishments, and Parmenion was resented, outside of the Lower Macedonian Aristocracy, then Alexander may have attacked the son to get at the father. However if he was from Lower Macedonia and simply getting old–not resented, then it may be (as I claim) that Alexander’s inner circle attacked Philotas, not to get at Parmenion, but to get at higher ranks. Parmenion died from this because Alexander could not let him go free after killing his son; there was just too great a chance he would rebel. I could continue spinning situations for quite some time, but the above gives the general idea of the range that these theories can take.

In the end, Parmenion’s influence on the Macedonian army, his decision making, his place in society and ultimately his death rest in some measure on his birth, a “fact” that has not yet been sufficiently argued.


1 There is some suggestion that Parmenion had to be bribed to join Alexander with positions for his sons and then only joined reluctantly.
2 My own claim is that the Parmenion portrayed in the Alexander histories is a mouthpiece and representative of the aristocracy or some large portion therein.

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