Friday, August 3, 2012

ATG - Sui generis (Revisited)

by John C. Mavrovitis [1]

The Hellenic Communication Service (HCS) Website published an article entitled Alexander the Great — Sui Generis (hereinafter referred to as Sui Generis). It was originally written in 1983, in Greek, by Nicholas Martis, and translated for publication on the website by Professor Nina Gatzoulis. [2] A virtually identical text can be found at the Pan-Macedonian Association’s Website. [3] Sui Generis consists mostly of excerpts from Martis’ book, The Falsification of Macedonian History [4] (hereinafter referred to as The Falsification).

This criticism of Martis’ work does not arise from a desire to participate in current controversies surrounding the origin of ancient Macedonia’s people and kings, or whether Macedonians were Greek or not, or what the geographic limits of the Macedonian state were. Answers to these questions are contested by reputable academicians whose research and judgments are presented in scholarly journals and books, and critically evaluated by their peers. Neither is this an attack on, or defense of Alexander the Great. Nor is it to take a side on the current argument about the use of the name, Macedonia. It is enough that contemporary politicians on either side of the arguments exploit conflicting historical claims to distract their constituents from far more urgent matters.

The purpose of this article is to contest Martis’ questionable scholarship and propagandistic rhetoric.

The first quotation used in Sui Generis is taken from text close to the end of Arrian’s history, and is part of a long peroration. A better translation, by Aubrey De Sélincourt, is as follows: “… never in all the world was there another like him [Alexander], and therefore I cannot but feel that some power more than human was concerned in his birth; …” [5]

Arrian, a highly educated Greek from Bythnia, lived in the first and second centuries A.D. and wrote one of the early histories of Alexander. His served as military officer and government administrator; was a historian; and occupied the pagan priesthood of Demeter and Kore in his native city. [6] A warrior and member of the Roman elite, he was sympathetic to Alexander’s military success.

A.B. Bosworth analyzes the peroration in his
From Arrian to Alexander, [7] summing up his evaluation as follows: “Arrian’s work ends in a carefully contrived panegyric, extended and fulsome (vii. 28. 1-30. 3).” [8] The superlatives Arrian used to describe Alexander’s virtues are bountiful, and he offered extended apologies to excuse the hero’s less desirable qualities.

One can, incidentally, make anything one wants of Alexander by choosing supporting quotations from one or another historian, biographer, scholar, and even modern day historical novelist. Perhaps that is why the phrases “The Search for Alexander” and “In Search of Alexander” are so often used. Ulrich Wilcken makes this comment:

“Ever since he emerged from a somewhat backward Macedonian nation to claim much of Greece and Asia as his own, Alexander the Great has exercised a secure hold on the human imagination. The nature of this attraction is a complex phenomenon. It is enough to say that there are many Alexanders, perhaps as many as there are those who profess a serious interest in him.” [9]

J.B. Bury and Russell Meiggs state:
“Alexander, like Caesar and Napoleon, invites partisanship. In modern times he has become a philosopher king, a military adventurer; a dedicated Hellenist more Hellenic than the Hellenes; a half-civilized Macedonian; a generous idealist; a ruthless tyrant.” [10]
The next quotation in Sui Generis is from De Alexandri Magni Fortuna aut Virtute, one of the orations in Plutarch’s Moralia. [11] Martis uses this wildly exuberant quotation as evidence that Alexander excelled as a philosopher. Peter Green puts forward the position that many contemporary scholars hold about the De Fortuna. He terms it a “rhetorical treatise,” and explains, “… Plutarch wrote it when very young, as an exercise [emphasis added] devoted to proving the highly dubious proposition that Alexander, by his deeds, showed himself a true philosopher of action. By the time he came to compose the Life, Plutarch had discreetly abandoned this unprofitable paradox; …” [12]

A.B. Bosworth wrote: “… it is to be hoped that his [Plutarch’s] rhetorical extravaganza in the first treatise, On the Fortune or Virtue of Alexander, will no longer be taken as the basic explanatory text for Alexander’s treatment of subject peoples.” [13]

Later in
Sui Generis Martis employs another quotation from De Moralia. It contains what Alexander is alleged to have said to Diogenes about his intention to merge nations, civilize continents, and convey Hellenic justice and peace. It is a myth, nothing more. Peter Green’s assessment of De Moralia, quoted above, applies. [14]

Martis includes a reference in
Sui Generis to President Clinton’s writing — without any citation; and an assertion “that the Romans were the first to name Alexander ‘Great’,” — without any citation; and the statement: “Chateaubriand wrote ‘If someone was compared to a god, that was Alexander’”— also without citation. To be taken seriously, an author is obligated to provide his reader with citations for both paraphrases of and direct quotations from source material. How else can the veracity, applicability, and import of material presented in support of an argument be reasonably judged?

The questions that follow (there could be more) are asked to make the general point that Martis’ references are inexplicit.

- What is the source for the Montesquieu quotation?
- What is the source for Pavlos Tzermias quotation from Voltaire? What is Tzermias himself using as a source for Voltaire?
- What is the basis for the assertion that: “Buddhists consider Alexander equal to God?” Buddhism is often described as a non-theistic religion. Are we to accept Alexander as God based on this assertion? What is the point?
- Martis writes: “All attest to the fact that Alexander’s ambition was to civilize and not to conquer.” Who is “all”?

Other arguments put forward by Martis deserve scrutiny. Take for example the paragraph about Alexander’s visit to Jerusalem. Little more need be said than that most scholars believe the story told by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in his
Jewish antiquities, is not true. To quote Green: “… the tradition that Alexander made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem is mere pious legend.” [15] Bury and Meiggs write: “Josephus … records a visit by Alexander to Jerusalem, but since there is no other mention of the visit in our surviving sources we can dismiss it as patriotic fiction.” [16]

Martis’ most egregious attempt to substitute mythology for historical fact is in what he attributes to Alexander as “Alexander’s speech at Opis in 324 BC, otherwise known as Alexander’s Oath …” He writes:

“The main points which he made in this speech are as follows:

• Now that the wars are over, I wish you to find happiness through peace.
• May all mortals live from now on in harmony, as one nation, for the sake of common prosperity.
• Consider the world as your country, with common laws, governed by men of merit, regardless of race.
• I do not distinguish between Greeks and barbarians, as do the narrow-minded.
• I am not interested in the country or race of origin of people.
• I only distinguish people according to their virtues.
• To me every virtuous foreigner is Greek and each non-virtuous Greek is worse than a barbarian.
• If you are ever faced with differences, do not resort to arms, but resolve them peacefully. If need be, I can act as your arbitrator.
• God should not be viewed as an authoritarian ruler, but as our common father.
• As for myself, I consider all persons, black or white, as equals.
• I wish you to be my partners and not just members of our commonwealth.
• As far as I am able, I shall see to it that all my promises come true.
• Regard this oath as a symbol of love. [17]

Martis offers no source for the Oath in
Sui Generis, nor, incidentally, is one cited by the Pan-Macedonian Association Website, nor can a reference for it be found on any of the myriad websites that have copied and published the Oath as historical fact. The Oath is substantially the same on all websites, though some have introduced minor changes. (See below for the source Martis claims in The Falsification.)
In The Falsification, Martis describes a feast given by Alexander at Opis:

“There he invited in a supranational banquet military officers from all the units, and monarchs, maharajahs and notables from every tribe and in one banquet he joined East and West. Alexander mentions the name of his own god, Zeus, but he swears with the others to ‘the god father of all humanity’. He says he had a vision hat behind the local gods there was a great omnipotent god who moves the universe.” [18]
Arrian was the only one of the five secondary historians generally used as sources for Alexander studies (Diodorus Siculus, Flavius Arrianus, Justin, Plutarch, and Quintus Curtius Rufus) who wrote about the feast at Opis. [19]
“To mark the restoration of harmony, Alexander offered sacrifice to the gods he was accustomed to honor, and gave a public banquet, which he himself attended, sitting among the Macedonians, all of whom were present. Next to them the Persians had their places, and next to the Persians distinguished foreigners of other nations; Alexander and his friends dipped their wine from the same bowl and poured the same libations, following the lead of the Greek seers and the Magi. The chief object of his prayers was that the Persians and Macedonians might rule together in harmony as an imperial power.” [20]
In his book, Martis writes the following about the Oath: “This oath is given by Zolakostas in his book Alexander the Great, Precursor of Christ (p. 235, in Greek text), who quoted the 3rd book of Pseudo-Callisthenes and the philosopher Eratosthenes.” [21]

The Oxford Classical Dictionary entry for Pseudo-Callisthenes is: “Pseudo-Callisthenes, the so-called Alexander-Romance, falsely ascribed to Callisthenes, survives in several versions, beginning in the 3rd cent. AD. It is popular fiction, a pseudohistorical narrative interspersed with an ‘epistolary novel’, bogus correspondence …” [22] Is this really the source for the Oath? It is not found in Penguin Classics Edition of The Greek Alexander Romance. [23]

Eratosthenes of Cyrene (c.285-194 BC) was a mathematician, literary critic, chronologist, philosopher, poet, and geographer. His works are for the most part lost. [24] However Strabo, who lived in the first century B.C., wrote that Eratosthenes documented a source that told of Alexander’s predilection to welcome men of fair repute regardless of their origins. [25] That sentiment, whatever its source, is the substance of what Eratosthenes transmitted to us through Strabo of his knowledge of Alexander.

The Oath has no basis. It is not documented by ancient historians or biographers, and is not consistent with what happened at Opis: a mutiny on the part of Alexander’s Macedonians. Waldemar Heckel and J.C. Yardley provide an excellent summarization of the events at Opis.
“At Opis, on the Tigris River, Alexander prepared to dismiss a large number of his Macedonian veterans, bringing into the camp at the same time new recruits from the Iranian satrapies known as Epigoni. This, although it was not the only cause of discontent, triggered an angry reaction within the camp, one which Alexander suppressed by arresting and executing the most outspoken of the mutineers, as well as by offering words of conciliation. The appeal for ‘concord’ (homonoia) gave rise to the idea that Alexander was trying to promote a ‘Brotherhood of Mankind’, an idea which has been thoroughly discredited and is discussed today as a mere footnote to Alexander scholarship. Here we are confronted not with dreams of unity but with the reality of opposition within Alexander’s army.” [26] [Emphasis added.]
W. W. Tarn was one of the most highly regarded Alexander scholars of the early twentieth century. In his Alexander the Great [27] he portrays Alexander as a philosopher-warrior-king ennobled by the concept of the “Brotherhood of Man.” Tarn projected near Judaic-Christian values into Alexander’s motivations. More recent scholarship has all but demolished Tarn’s notions.

Following are quotations from the writings of five scholars about the events at Opis.

H.G.L. Hammond : “Alexander did not let his victory dwindle.” The victory is probably that over his mutinous Macedonians. For the most part Hammond’s prose is a paraphrase of Arrian. He adds very little analysis of the banquet at Opis, except for the comment: “Alexander ‘prayed especially for concord and for the sharing of rule between Macedonians and Persians’” [28]

A. B. Bosworth: “Alexander had acts of his own to expiate. He had deliberately played on the deep hostility between Macedonian and Persian and the deliberate promotion of Persians had inflicted a profound shock on the rank and file. To salve the wounds he held an enormous banquet of reconciliation, allegedly attended by more than nine thousand guests. … but on this occasion the preferences shown to the Macedonians was emphatic and significant. … The prayer indicated that both peoples figured in Alexander’s imperial projects and that they should coexist peacefully. There was no deeper hint that he envisaged a hybrid master race fused from both nationalities or that he saw humanity as a brotherhood under his universal rule.” [29] [Emphasis added.]

Ulrich Wilcken: “The actual prayer makes it most plain that the ideal which was before him was simply the fraternisation [sic] of Macedonians and Persians. There is no trace whatever of Alexander’s treating all mankind as one brotherhood.” [30] [Emphasis added]

Peter Green: “There is no hint here of that international love-feast, that celebration of the Brotherhood of Man [emphasis added] which at least one scholar61 has professed to find at the banquet at Opis. Persians were placed firmly below Macedonians in order of precedence, and other races, again, below them. When Alexander made his famous prayer at the feast for ‘harmony [homonoia] and fellowship [koinonia] of rule between Macedonians and Persians’ he meant precisely what he said, and no more — nor is there much doubt which race he meant to be senior partner.” [31]

Ernst Fredricksmeyer: “Within this monarchy … the Macedonians were to be the leading component, but all subjects would be equal with respect to Alexander as their absolute master.” [32]

This paper has focused on
Sui Generis, as presented on the HCS Website, and on pages 56 through 71 of The Falsification (only fifteen pages of the two hundred and one page book). The content of these pages is sufficient to bring into serious question Martis’ other publication on the HCS Website, The Participation of Ancient Macedonians in the Olympiads and their Contribution to Greek Cultural Heritage, [33] and the balance of The Falsification.

I conclude that Nicholas Martis’ understandable passion for Macedonia, the region whose people he clearly served with distinction as a patriot, soldier, professional, and government official, led him into an unfortunate and wrongheaded set of arguments in his presentation of Alexander the Great. His assessment of Alexander is one-sided, exaggerated, and supported by quotations taken out of context from a wide variety of sources, most without citation. He advances a chauvinistic glorification of Alexander the Great with assertions that convey a romantic mythology of Alexander. The work is an encomium so inflated that it casts doubt on the credibility of the rest of the case Martis makes for a Hellenic Macedonia in The Falsification. [34]

In Sui Generis Martis writes: “Mankind today needs a positive projection of Alexander’s deeds …”

I suggest that mankind needs and deserves truth, as much of it as can be determined through thorough, systematic, dispassionate, and scientific inquiry.


- Arrian. The Campaigns of Alexander. [Harmondsworth, Eng., Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1971.
- Borza, Eugene N. In the Shadow of Olympus: The Emergence of Macedon. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992.
- Bosworth, A. B. Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
- From Arrian to Alexander: Studies in Historical Interpretation. Oxford
- New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press, 1988.
- Bosworth, A. B., and Elizabeth Baynham. Alexander the Great in Fact and Fiction. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
- Bury, J. B., and Russell Meiggs. A History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great. 4th ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1975. Reprint, 1977.
- Green, Peter. Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C.: A Historical Biography, Hellenistic Culture and Society; 11. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
- Hammond, N. G. L. The Genius of Alexander the Great. London: Duckworth, 1997.
- Heckel, Waldemar, and John Yardley. Alexander the Great: Historical Texts in Translation, Blackwell Sourcebooks in Ancient History. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004.
- Hornblower, Simon, and Antony Spawforth. The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 3rd ed.Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
- Martis, Nicolaos K. The Falsification of Macedonian History. Translated by John Philip Smith. 1985 ed. Athens: Nicolas Martis, 1983.
- Plutarch, Frank Cole Babbitt, W. C. Helmbold, Phillip De Lacy, Benedict Einarson, Edwin LeRoy Minar, F. H. Sandbach, Harold North Fowler, and Harold F. Cherniss. Plutarch's Moralia, The Loeb Classical Library; 197, 222, 245, 305-306, 337, 405, 424-425, 321, 426, 406, 427, 470, 428-429. Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press; W. Heinemann, 1927.
- Pseudo, Callisthenes, and Richard Stoneman. The Greek Alexander Romance, Penguin Classics. London, England; New York, NY, USA: Penguin Books, 1991.
- Strabo, Horace Leonard Jones, and John Robert Sitlington Sterrett. The Geography of Strabo. 8 vols, The Loeb Classical Library. London; New York: W. Heinemann; G.P. Putnam's sons, 1917.
- Tarn, W. W. Alexander the Great. Boston,: Beacon Press, 1956.
- Wilcken, Ulrich, and Eugene N. Borza. Alexander the Great. New York: Norton, 1967.


1 - I am neither an academic, nor in any way a specialist in classical or Macedonian history. The study of Classical, Hellenic, Roman, and Byzantine history, and of the history of Greece, Bulgaria, and the Balkans is my hobby in retirement. My father was a Greek Macedonian born not far from Argos Orestikon, in Mavrohorion, Kastoria, and I am proud of my heritage.
2 - Martis, Nicholas. Alexander the Great - Sui Generis. Retrieved February 21, 2005, from the Hellenic Communication Service Web site at:
3 - See:
4 - Nicolaos K. Martis, The Falsification of Macedonian History, trans. John Philip Smith, 1985 ed. (Athens: Nicolas Martis, 1983), 20-71.
5 - Arrian, The Campaigns of Alexander ([Harmondsworth, Eng., Baltimore]: Penguin Books, 1971), 398. Translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. Rev. with a new introduction and notes by J. R. Hamilton.
6 - A. B. Bosworth, From Arrian to Alexander: Studies in Historical Interpretation (Oxford New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press, 1988), 17.
7 - Ibid., 135.
8 - Ibid., 155 (See pages 134-156 for the full discussion.)
9 - Ulrich Wilcken and Eugene N. Borza, Alexander the Great (New York: Norton, 1967), ix.
10 - J. B. Bury and Russell Meiggs, A History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great, 4th ed. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1975; reprint, 1977), 515. The comments found here are worth the reader’s time.
11 - Plutarch et al., Plutarch's Moralia, The Loeb Classical Library; 197, 222, 245, 305-306, 337, 405, 424-425, 321, 426, 406, 427, 470, 428-429 (Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press; W. Heinemann, 1927).
12 - Peter Green, Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C.: A Historical Biography, Hellenistic Culture and Society; 11 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 445.
13 - A. B. Bosworth and Elizabeth Baynham, Alexander the Great in Fact and Fiction (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 6.
14 - Green, Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C.: A Historical Biography.
15 - Ibid., 266.
16 - Bury and Meiggs, A History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great, 546, note 8.
17 - Martis, Nicholas. Alexander the Great - Sui Generis. Retrieved February 21, 2005, from the Hellenic Communication Service Web site at:
18 - Martis, The Falsification of Macedonian History, 68, 69.
19 - But for fragments, the original sources for the Alexander story all have been lost.
20 - Arrian, The Campaigns of Alexander, 366.
21 - Martis, The Falsification of Macedonian History, 69.
22 - Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth, The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 1270.
23 - Callisthenes Pseudo and Richard Stoneman, The Greek Alexander Romance, Penguin Classics (London, England; New York, NY, USA: Penguin Books, 1991).
24 - Hornblower and Spawforth, The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 553.
25 - Strabo, Horace Leonard Jones, and John Robert Sitlington Sterrett, The Geography of Strabo, 8 vols., The Loeb Classical Library (London; New York: W. Heinemann; G.P. Putnam's sons, 1917). Book I 4.9
26 - Waldemar Heckel and John Yardley, Alexander the Great: Historical Texts in Translation, BlackwellSourcebooks in Ancient History (Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004), 266.
27 - W. W. Tarn, Alexander the Great (Boston,: Beacon Press, 1956).
28 - N. G. L. Hammond, The Genius of Alexander the Great (London: Duckworth, 1997), 190.
29 - A. B. Bosworth, Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 160, 161.
30 - Wilcken and Borza, Alexander the Great, 221.
31 - Green, Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C.: A Historical Biography, 456. Green’s footnote #61 at page 561 refers to Tarn, Proc. Brit. Acad. 19 (1933), 123-66 = MP, pp. 243-86, cf. his Alexander the Great, vol. II, pp. 440 ff.
32 - Fredricksmeyer, E. (1997) ‘Alexander and the Kingship in Asia’, in Bosworth and Baynham, Alexander the Great in Fact and Fiction, 166.
33 - See:
34 - In his book, The Shadow of Olympus, Eugene N. Borza, the eminent scholar of Macedonia writes: “The most blatant account is that of Martis (The Falsification of Macedonian History). This book, written by a former Minister for Northern Greece, is an polemical anti-Yugoslav tract so full of historical errors and distortions that the prize awarded it by the Academy of Athens serves only to reduce confidence in the scientific judgment of that venerable society of scholars.” Eugene N. Borza, In the Shadow of Olympus: The Emergence of Macedon (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992), 91n.

(March 2005)


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