CODEX Entry 5120: Cleitus the Black


We are fortunate that on Alexander’s campaign there was a professional historian Callisthenes of Olynthus, who had also studied under Aristotle. The introduction of proskynesis, the Persian form of Obeisance, after Alexander’s visit to Siwa, created much friction amongst his Greek generals. Callisthenes himself led the dissent. Having drunk from the golden chalice he refused to prostrate himself, instead walking forward to kiss Alexander. Cleitus, was the brother of Alexander’s nurse, and a loyal retainer to Alexander’s father, Phillip of Macedon. At the Battle of the Granicus in 334 BC, when Alexander was under attack from Rhoesaces and Spithridates, Cleitus severed Spithridates’s hammer arm before the Persian could bring it down on Alexander, thus saving his life.

In 328 BC Artabazos resigned his satrapy of Bactria, and Alexander gave it to Cleitus, now aged 47. Two years earlier, with the torture and killing after a mock trial of Philotas, ambition, homosexual jealousies, and paranoia gripped Alexander and his entourage of generals. Even the mock trials had now been dispensed with when finding and killing opponents within the army’s ranks. Shortly afterwards, Philotas’ father, Parmenio, a general in his 70s and a loyal supporter of Alexander throughout his life, was murdered by Alexander’s couriers. Now, on the eve of the day on which Cleitus was to set out to take possessions of his government, Alexander organized a banquet in the satrapial palace at Maracanda where a drunken quarrel began. Alexander threw an apple at Cleitus’ head and called for a dagger or spear, but his peers removed the dagger, restrained Alexander, and hustled Cleitus out of the room. Cleitus returned to continue the argument, when Alexander got hold of a javelin and threw it through Cleitus’s heart.