Memnon of Rhodes

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Coinage of Memnon of Rhodes, Mysia. Mid 4th century BC MYSIA, Lampsakos. Memnon of Rhodes. Mid 4th century BC.jpg
Coinage of Memnon of Rhodes, Mysia. Mid 4th century BC
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Location of Rhodes.

Memnon of Rhodes (Greek: Μέμνων ὁ Ῥόδιος; c. 380 333 BC) was a prominent Rhodian Greek commander in the service of the Persian Achaemenid Empire. Related to the Persian aristocracy by the marriage of his sister to the satrap Artabazus II, together with his brother Mentor he served the Persian king for most of his life, and played an important role during the invasion of Alexander the Great and the decades before that. [1]

Rhodes Island and Municipality in South Aegean, Greece

Rhodes is the largest of the Dodecanese islands of Greece and is also the island group's historical capital. Administratively the island forms a separate municipality within the Rhodes regional unit, which is part of the South Aegean administrative region. The principal town of the island and seat of the municipality is Rhodes. The city of Rhodes had 50,636 inhabitants in 2011. It is located northeast of Crete, southeast of Athens and just off the Anatolian coast of Turkey. Rhodes' nickname is The island of the Knights, named after the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, who once conquered the land.

The Greeks or Hellenes are an ethnic group native to Greece, Cyprus, southern Albania, Italy, Turkey, Egypt and, to a lesser extent, other countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. They also form a significant diaspora, with Greek communities established around the world.

Achaemenid Empire first Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great

The Achaemenid Empire, also called the First Persian Empire, was an ancient Iranian empire based in Western Asia founded by Cyrus the Great. Ranging at its greatest extent from the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper in the west to the Indus Valley in the east, it was larger than any previous empire in history, spanning 5.5 million square kilometers. Incorporating various peoples of different origins and faiths, it is notable for its successful model of a centralised, bureaucratic administration, for building infrastructure such as road systems and a postal system, the use of an official language across its territories, and the development of civil services and a large professional army. The empire's successes inspired similar systems in later empires.


Carl Otis Schuster notes that though often inaccurately described as "simply a mercenary", Memnon was arguably the toughest defender of the Persian Empire Alexander had to face, and was nearly successful in putting a halt to him. [1]


Under the governor of Phrygia

Not much is known about Memnon's early life. [2] Born in c. 380 BC in Rhodes, Memnon would serve the Persian Empire for most of his life. [2] He started his career in 358 by serving together with his brother Mentor under the Persian satrap (governor) Artabazos II of Phrygia. During his service to the Persian satrap, Artabazos allowed Memnon to marry his daughter Barsine. [2] In about 358 BC, Artabazos staged a rebellion against the then ruling Persian Achaemenid king Artaxerxes II (r. 404–358), with Memnon and Mentor as his generals. [2] When the revolt failed, Memnon and Artabazos II fled to Pella, the capital of Macedonia, whereas Memnon's brother Mentor fled to Egypt. Eventually Mentor returned to Persian service in about 343 BC. [2]

Barsine 4th-century BC Iranian woman

Barsine was daughter of a Persian father, Artabazus, satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia and a Greek Rhodian mother, who was the sister of mercenaries Mentor of Rhodes and Memnon of Rhodes. Barsine became the wife of her uncle Mentor, and after his death married her second uncle, Memnon.

Artaxerxes II of Persia King of Persia from 404 to 358 BC

Artaxerxes II Mnemon was the King of Kings of Persia from 404 BC until his death in 358 BC. He was a son of Darius II and Parysatis.

Pella capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedon

Pella is an ancient city located in Central Macedonia, Greece, best known as the historical capital of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon and birthplace of Alexander the Great. On the site of the ancient city is the Archaeological Museum of Pella.

In Macedon

During his exile in Macedon, Memnon got acquainted with Philip II and the young prince Alexander (later Alexander the Great), who was seven years old at the time. According to Plutarch, Memnon and Alexander had lengthy discussions, with Alexander reportedly having keen interest in Persia's military strength and tactics, amongst others. [2] Though Schuster notes that the details of the conversations between Memnon and Alexander are difficult to verify, he does add that Memnon managed to get a proper impression of Philip II as a ruler, military leader and diplomat during his time in Pella. [2] Moreover, it convinced him of Philip II's intentions to invade Persia, and he got a proper realization of the deep-seated Greek dissatisfaction vis-a-vis the Macedonian hegemony over Greece, including the political issues that came along with it for the Macedonians. [2]

Philip II of Macedon Macedonian monarch

Philip II of Macedon was the king (basileus) of the kingdom of Macedon from 359 BC until his assassination in 336 BC. He was a member of the Argead dynasty of Macedonian kings, the third son of King Amyntas III of Macedon, and father of Alexander the Great and Philip III. The rise of Macedon, its conquest and political consolidation of most of Classical Greece during the reign of Philip II was achieved in part by his reformation of the Ancient Macedonian army, establishing the Macedonian phalanx that proved critical in securing victories on the battlefield. After defeating the Greek city-states of Athens and Thebes at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC, Philip II led the effort to establish a federation of Greek states known as the League of Corinth, with him as the elected hegemon and commander-in-chief of Greece for a planned invasion of the Achaemenid Empire of Persia. However, his assassination by a royal bodyguard, Pausanias of Orestis, led to the immediate succession of his son Alexander, who would go on to invade the Achaemenid Empire in his father's stead.

Alexander the Great King of Macedonia

Alexander III of Macedon, commonly known as Alexander the Great, was a king (basileus) of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon and a member of the Argead dynasty. He was born in Pella in 356 BC and succeeded his father Philip II to the throne at the age of 20. He spent most of his ruling years on an unprecedented military campaign through Asia and northeast Africa, and by the age of thirty he had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, stretching from Greece to northwestern India. He was undefeated in battle and is widely considered one of history's most successful military commanders.

Plutarch Ancient Greek historian and philosopher

Plutarch, later named, upon becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus, was a Greek biographer and essayist, known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia. He is classified as a Middle Platonist. Plutarch's surviving works were written in Greek, but intended for both Greek and Roman readers.

Through the "influence" of his brother, after a stay of about three to four years in Macedon, Memnon re-entered the Persian service, "with a clear understanding of Macedonia's military capabilities". [2]

Defense of the Achaemenid Empire

Campaigns against Philip II

Coinage of Memnon of Rhodes, probably minted in Lampsakos, Mysia. Mid 4th century BC. Obv: Youthful head of Helios, with radiate solar disk. Rev: Rose with buds to either side, letter M-E on either sides. MYSIA, Lampsakos Memnon of Rhodes. Mid 4th century BC.jpg
Coinage of Memnon of Rhodes, probably minted in Lampsakos, Mysia. Mid 4th century BC. Obv: Youthful head of Helios, with radiate solar disk. Rev: Rose with buds to either side, letter M-E on either sides.

When Mentor died in c. 340 BC, Memnon married his widow Barsine. In 339 BC, Memnon helped defending Byzantium against an assault by Philip II. [2] In 336 BC Philip II sent Parmenion, with Amyntas, Andromenes and Attalus, and an army of 10,000 men into Anatolia to make preparations for an invasion to free the Greeks living on the western coast and islands from Achaemenid rule. [3] [4] At first, all went well. The Greek cities on the western coast of Anatolia revolted until the news arrived that Philip had been murdered and had been succeeded by his young son Alexander. The Macedonians were demoralized by Philip's death and were subsequently defeated near Magnesia by the Achaemenids under the command of Memnon of Rhodes. [4] [3]

Byzantium ancient Greek city

Byzantium was an ancient Greek colony in early antiquity that later became Constantinople, and then Istanbul. The Greek term Byzantium continued to be used as a name of Constantinople during the Byzantine Empire, even though it only referred to the empire's capital. Byzantium was colonized by the Greeks from Megara in 657 BC, and remained primarily Greek-speaking until its fall in 1453 AD.

Parmenion Ancient Macedonian general

Parmenion was an ancient Macedonian general in the service of Philip II of Macedon and Alexander the Great. A nobleman, Parmenion rose to become Philip's chief military lieutenant and Alexander's Strategos. He was assassinated after his son Philotas was convicted on a charge of treason.

Amyntas was a Macedonian officer in Alexander the Great's army, son of Andromenes from Tymphaia. After the battle of the Granicus, 334 BC, when the garrison of Sardis was quietly surrendered to Alexander, Amyntas was the officer sent forward to receive it from the commander, Mithrenes. Two years after, 332, we again hear of him as being sent into Macedonia to collect levies, while Alexander after the siege of Gaza advanced to Egypt; and he returned with them in the ensuing year, when the king was in possession of Susa.

Campaigns against Alexander the Great

When Philip's son Alexander invaded the Persian Achaemenid Empire in 334 BC, Memnon, aware of the political issues the Macedonians dealt with, urged king Darius III (r. 336–330 BC) to orchestrate a rebellion in Greece. [2] Initially hesitant, Darius made Memnon the commander of the western satrapies (provinces) after the defeat at the Battle of Granicus. During the defense of Halicarnassus, Memnon was the leading commander, and nearly defeated Alexander's attack. [2] He then started using the empire's naval superiority against Alexander and started negotiations with Sparta in order to take the war to mainland Greece. [2] He began a campaign to capture the Aegean islands using the Persian fleet and led a direct assault on Macedonia, while Alexander was resting at Phaselis. Memnon managed to capture the island of Chios and most of Lesbos. Demosthenes, after hearing of Memnon's successes, began to prepare Athens for a revolt against Alexander, along with other Greek cities, while Sparta began to prepare for war. By a stroke of fortune for Alexander, Memnon died during the siege of Mytilene, [2] after transferring command to his nephew, Pharnabazus. Memnon's widow Barsine later became a mistress to Alexander and bore him a son, Heracles. [2] After Alexander's death, Heracles contended for the throne with Nearchus' initial support (who himself had married Barsine's daughter by Mentor). Their bid met insufficient support, and Barsine and Heracles were murdered in 309 BC by Polyperchon. [2]


Many scholars maintain that had Memnon's campaign been successful, Alexander would have had difficulty in continuing his campaign in Asia, and might have soon been defeated. Memnon's naval campaigns and the uprising he orchestrated in Sparta posed the greatest danger to Alexander since he had become king. [2] Schuster notes that if Memnon hadn't died at Mytilene, "Alexander might have been forced to abandon Asia Minor and return home to defend his throne". [2] Thus, when Alexander realized he had nearly been defeated, he decided to invade Achaemenid Phoenicia first before moving into the empires interior. [2] It was not until after the major Persian defeat at the Battle of Issus that Memnon's strategy was revitalised and finally put into action, but by then the advantage had been lost, and Alexander showed himself willing to forfeit Greece if necessary in favor of his greater goals.

In fiction

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  1. 1 2 Schuster 2016, pp. 366-367.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 Schuster 2016, p. 367.
  3. 1 2 Briant, Pierre (2002). From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire. Eisenbrauns. p. 817. ISBN   9781575061207.
  4. 1 2 Heckel, Waldemar (2008). Who's Who in the Age of Alexander the Great: Prosopography of Alexander's Empire. John Wiley & Sons. p. 205. ISBN   9781405154697.