Parmenion: A man unfairly judged?

This post will differ from the general theme of my blog or the civilization in focus (it’s not Rome or its enemies) but has been a topic have wondered about for a while, especially after reading Alexander the Great by Robin Lane Fox.

We all know Alexander the Great. The main sources of his life come from his companions and generals, chief among them Ptolemy I (who would become the ruler of Egypt and his dynasty would then rule Egypt till Cleopatra died against the Romans).

However, history has been harsh on a prominent individual from that era. Alexander’s most experienced general, Parmenion has not been treated fairly by history. Often shown to be disregarded by Alexander and his companions in Ptolemy and other sources, for being the man to ruin the innovative strategies of Alexander.


Now, Parmenion was the main general of Phillip II of Macedon. Sure there were other prominent leaders such as Attalus and Antipater. He had scored a string of victories with Phillip in ensuring Macedon supremacy on the Greek peninsula. Prior to the assassination of Phillip, Parmenion were stationed in Asia Minor to prepare for the conquest of the Persian Empire with a sizeable force of 10,000.

There were various claimants to the Throne. The first major player to react was Antipater. He marched to Macedon and declared Alexander as King. Parmenion also complied, and even had Attalus killed (whose niece had been a wife of Philip). He realised the necessity of Alexander being the King. In doing so, he did secure a good deal for himself. Many of his family and friend were promoted to key positions within the Macedonian empire.

Without the assistance of and compliance of Parmenion, Alexander may not have ascended the throne as easily as he did.

Now, he along with Antipater had wanted alexander to secure the Greek peninsula and leave a line of succession before heading out to beat the Persians in the name of ‘Greek Liberation’ or Revenge. Take your pick.

The Expedition

With Antipater staying in Greece on Alexander’s orders, Parmenion was the most experienced soldier in the invasion force. According to Ptolemy, Parmenion was always against his commander’s strategy, and there was a general mockery or disregard for his opinion by Alexander and the younger men of the war council, especially those not related to him. Ptolemy also suggests that Alexander never really considered his advice and shunned it.

The most prominent example of that is before the battle of Gaugamela. The older general had suggested a night attack to give an edge to the vastly outnumbered Macedonian forces. Alexander refused it, saying ‘That’s what Parmenion would do’. That is honestly a big slap in the face. While it did prove him right? To completely disregard an experienced person is not good.


However, that’s what the claim of Ptolemy is. Now, his source is a valuable and generally reliable insight into Alexander’s life. Now, it should be understood that he wrote it to praise one of his king, his childhood friend and benefactor (well I mean, Alexander’s riches would have rightly passed down to his officers and military after conquering the rich Achaemenid Empire). So it would be logical in history to praise one and ridicule the other people who played a part.

The question is? Did Alexander really trust Parmenion or did he disregard the old general or was suspicious of his intentions?


The answer is in my opinion would be parts of the first and third option. While its true Antipater is the one who really propelled Alexander to the Throne, Parmenion demonstrated his loyalty and commitment to the line of Philip II, by supporting Alexander and killing his compatriot and fellow general, Attalus. While it was a move that was reciprocated with those close to the general getting key positions, it did show Alexander valued his opinion at the time.

Even still, Alexander was in haste to liberate the Greeks in Asia Minor and punish the Achaemenid Empire. Parmenion and Antipater managed to at least persuade him to leave, after creating a line of succession back home.

During the Persian campaign, Parmenion played key roles in all the major battles fought. Though, the first ‘infringement to Alexander’s brilliance according to Ptolemy’ was the battle of Granicus. Alexander made a bold move in charging, despite Parmenion voicing the need to rest the army. While it did pay off, Alexander did advance fairly cautiously after accepting recklessness. Alexander would split his army, with Parmenion leading one group and Alexander the other. They would capture towns across the Western areas of the Persian Empire. Also, during the winter months of the season, Parmenion would be in command of half the army.

However, during the battle of Issus, that Parmenion using his ‘orthodox’ tactics, held down the Persians to allow Alexander to change the Persians with his companion cavalry. After giving chase, Alexander would return to save the Macedon left under Parmenion. Pretty much the same thing would happen at Gaugamela when was defeated.


Now, some might argue that Alexander would give his old general such impossible tasks, so that if the battle would fail, he can put it on the shoulders of Parmenion. If not, Alexander has this ‘heroic’ personality of saving his men from destruction. Or he would not give him enough men from the centre and right, as he did not trust him.

If we look at the Macedonian tactics, the victories were complete only because the left under Parmenion held the Persians long enough. Only competent generals can hold off numerically superior forces for that given period of time. Even if Alexander did not trust him, within a couple of years of his ascent, he could have easily dismissed the general and continue on. Enough people who have wanted to gain favour and the King had the loyalty of the Macedonian army. Those in key positions, related to Parmenion could have been disposed off.

If Parmenion was not trusted, why would Alexander give him command over an entire section of the army during battle. It’s not that he commanded say the baggage train, he was on the front line itself. And when they wintered, around half the army was with Parmenion. No sane person would keep half his army under the command of someone he could not trust.

This is why, I think the histories have been unfair on Parmenion. He might have not been innovative in strategy as Alexander, but he was a competent and respected soldier and leader. Alexander could not have won his great victories without the role of his number one general. It was just made easy to discredit him after his death (That was a forced choice that Alexander had to make, and is something I will not cover in this article.)

All I will say is: Ptolemy, you sure sold a great story of Parmenion. It’s a pity only you were the main primary source.




And guys, if you want to read more, do check out my blog and the Athenian Inspector’s blog for more on the Greco-Roman world!!


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