This paper proposes a new way of looking at Alexander’s eastern cities. Previous scholarship has understood the eastern foundations in one of two ways, each of which is connected to a more general conception of Alexander’s historical legacy. The first view sees the cities as centers for the promulgation of Greek culture, beacons of civilization in a dark and barbarous Asia. The oldest and perhaps the most influential proponent of this view was Plutarch, who insisted that “savagery was extinguished among those living in the cities.” (Mor. 329a) This was endorsed by many scholars in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some of whom favorably compared Alexander’s “civilizing mission” to the European colonial project. W.W. Tarn (1948: 437-41), Robin Lane Fox (1974: 481-85), and N.G.L. Hammond (1980: 273; 1997: 199) have been some of the most important proponents of this view.
The second interpretation of Alexander’s eastern foundations sees them as military installations or garrisons. Its adherents argue that the cities were not about spreading culture because Alexander, far from being a benevolent conqueror who cared about the condition of his new subjects, was a selfish adventurer interested only in his own power, glory, and prestige. This more cynical view has been advocated by A.B. Bosworth (1988: 245; cf. 1996: 3 n.6), Frank Holt, (1988: 80), and Waldemar Heckel (2008: 97, 122), among others.
I argue that both these interpretations explain certain aspects of Alexander’s eastern cities, but that neither is comprehensive or conclusive. I therefore ask the reader to consider a new view. My argument is that the cities were centers for the forcible resettlement of Greek mercenaries, and that their foundation was inspired by Alexander’s interaction with the Achaemenid tradition of deporting Greeks from the western frontier of the Persian Empire. This view is meant to supplement rather than replace the two more common interpretations, and I do not claim that it accounts for everything that the cities were meant to accomplish. But the idea that the eastern foundations were meant to solve a problem that existed in Greece, rather than in Bactria or Sogdiana, has received very little discussion in previous scholarship, and the possibility that their creation was a result of Alexander’s interaction with a Persian tradition has been overlooked. I explain how Alexander was exposed to this tradition, how he was influenced by it, and how he utilized it. I hope by doing so to expand and enrich our understanding of the eastern cities.
My paper is divided into four sections. First, I briefly review the evidence for Greeks forcibly settled in Alexander’s eastern cities – a survey that closes with the reports of mass desertions of Greek mercenaries from Bactria after Alexander’s death (Diod.17.99.5-6; Curt. 9.7.1-11). In the second section, I ask why Alexander would have wanted to forcibly relocate such a large contingent of soldiers from Greece to the distant east, and I examine the role of mercenaries in the armies of his Greek enemies. The third section turns to the episodes of Achaemenid deportation of Greeks such as the Barcaeans (Herod. 4.165), Milesians (6.18), and Eretrians (6.119) from the western frontier of the Persian Empire. Finally, I examine Alexander’s exposure to the Persian deportation tradition, and the effect that this may have had on his eastern foundations.