The military success of Alexander and his early death lends itself perfectly to the realm of counterfactual history. No less than nine authors partook in the creation and propagation of Alexander counterfactual history. Our extant examples range from as early as the third century BCE to the sixth century CE. This paper examines first the scholarly debates surrounding the placement of Livy’s digression in his larger narrative, the objectives of Livy’s digression, and the reasons for its existence. It then turns to a discussion of the popularity and consistency of the Roman tradition of Alexander counterfactual history. The tradition not only attempted to represent Rome and Italy as places of relative international importance in the late forth century BCE but also served to compare a young Roman state, which would rise to dominance in the Mediterranean world, favorably to the mightiest conqueror in all of ancient history.
For a standard bibliography on the critical approaches to Livy’s digression, see Morello, R.: Livy’s Alexander Digression (9.17-19): Counterfactuals and Apologetics. Journal of Roman Studies 92 (2002) 63, n. 7.
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Morello (n. 1) 63. Note also Anderson, W. B.: Contributions to the Study of the Ninth Book of Livy. TAPA 39 (1908) 89–103; Walters, C. F. - Conway, R. S.: Restorations and Emendations in Livy VI-X. CQ 12, No. 2 (Apr. 1918) 100; Anderson, W. B.: Livy Book 9. Cambridge, Mass. 1928, 255–258; Salmon, E. T.: Samnium and the Samnites. New York 1967, 228; and Dorey, T. A. (ed.): Livy. London 1971, 13.
For Oakley’s argument, see Oakley, S. P.: A Commentary on Livy, Books VI–X. Vol. III: Book IX. New York 2005, 194 and 655–658.
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Piero Treves pioneered this change. See Morello (n. 1) 64. Note also Treves, P.: II mito di Alessandro e la Roma d’Augusto. Milan 1953, 15. Yet whether the digression was an earlier rhetorical exercise (later inserted into the work by Livy) or a passionate response to the contemporary literary attacks made by Greek writers on the waning Roman military reputation of the middle to late first century BCE (because of recent failures in the East), the digression still demonstrates the clear impact of Alexander on Livy’s history, and his own interest in the Alexander topic.
Treves argues that Livy published books 1–10 separately and suggests that Book 8, where he thought the digression belonged, had already been published by the time that Livy thought of creating the digression. Therefore, Treves argues that Livy placed the digression in Book 9 out of necessity. See Morello (n. 1) 64; and Oakley (n. 4) III 193.
Morello (n. 1) 64. Note also Lipovsky, J.: A Historiographical Study of Livy Books VI–X. Manchester 1981, 141 and 151; and Burck, E.: Vom Menschenbild in der römischen Literatur. Heidelberg 1966, 325–326.
Oakley (n. 4) III 196.
Oakley (n. 4) III 197.
Oakley argues that the digression may reflect contemporary events, but it is unclear which events. See Oakley (n. 4) III 192, 197, and 199; Ogilvie, R. M.: Livy: Rome and Italy, Books VI–X of the History of Rome from its Foundation. Trans. and annotated by B. Radice. New York 1982, 11; Spencer, D.: The Roman Alexander: Reading a Cultural Myth. Exeter 2003, 44; and Morello (n. 1) 82–83. Further, by connecting his digression with contemporary events and people, Livy again associates the Romans with Alexander. Livy thus utilizes the great Macedonian as a notably example, whose conduct further establishes right and wrong.
Morello (n. 1) 64. See also Marincola, J.: Authority and Tradition in Ancient Historiography. Cambridge, Mass. 1997, 224; Gruen, E.S.: Augustus and the Ideology of War and Peace. In The Age of Augustus. Ed. R. Winkes. Providence 1985, 70; and Oakley (n. 4) III 198.
Morello (n. 1) 65.
See Morello (n. 1) 67 and 69.
See Morello (n. 1) 70–72. Livy 8. 3. 6. For the connection of Alexander the Great to his uncle’s failed invasion, see Ligeti, D. Á: Elements of the Tradition of Alexander the Great in Livy’s Second Pentas. Acta AntHung. 49 (2009) 411–412.
Morello (n. 1) 72–74.
See Oakley (n. 4) III 206.
See Morello (n. 1) 65.
Plautus, Most. 775–776. See also Gruen, E. S.: Rome and the Myth of Alexander. In Ancient History in a Modern University. Vol. I. Ed. T. W. Hillard - R. A. Kearsley - C. E. V. Nixon - A. M. Nobbs. Grand Rapids 1998, 179.
Morello (n. 1) 65–66. Cicero also knew of this speech. See Brut. 61; cf. 55; De Sen. 16.
Plut. Pyrrh. 19.1-2; see also Alex. 68. 1-2.
Plut. Pyrrh. 19.1-2.
See Gruen: Rome (n. 18) 180; and Morello (n. 1) 65–66. For the argument that this inclusion of Alexander was a rhetorical commonplace used by Plutarch, see Kennedy, G.: The Art of Rhetoric in the Roman World. Princeton 1972, 26–29. For the problems associated with dating and authenticating the passage, note Weippert, O.: Alexander-Imitatio und römische Politik in republikanischer Zeit. Diss. Augsburg 1972, 10–17.
See Morello (n. 1) 66. It is also a tradition that persisted well into Late Antiquity. Note Julian. Ep. no. 47, 433 C; and Oros. 3. 15. 10.
See Morello (n. 1) 66, n. 22. Note also Sen. Suas. 1. 4; Plut. De fort. Rom. and Plut. De Alex. fort. Oakley argues that Livy possibly based his digression on some such comparison found in his sources. Oakley (n. 4) III 194.
See Oakley (n. 4) III 188.
For the popularity of sculpture influenced by Alexander in Roman society, see Kleiner, D. E. E.: Semblance and Storytelling in Augustan Rome. In The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Augustus. Ed. K. Galinsky. New York 2005, 203, 207, and 208; Boatwright, M. T. - Gargola, D. J. - Talbert, R. J. A.: The Romans from Village to Empire: A History of Ancient Rome from Earliest Times to Constantine. New York 2004, 290; Ramage, N. H. - Ramage, A.: Roman Art: Romulus to Constantine. 4th ed. Upper Saddle Creek 2005, 81 and 142; and Gruen, E. S.: The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome. Vol. 1. Berkeley - Los Angeles 1984, 259. For the significance of the Alexander mosaic, note Beard, M.: The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found. Cambridge, Mass. 2008, 28 n. 13, 28–29, 37, 135 and 151; and Ramage-Ramage 96 and 98.
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Diod. 18. 4. 4 (The italics are mine).
Curt. 10. 1. 17–18 (The italics are mine).
Again, this is possibly our earliest surviving reference to the Alexander counterfactual tradition. Appius confronted the senate in 280 BCE. The words are a likely creation of Plutarch, but the sentiment behind the words should not be dismissed overtly as fabrication. Gruen: Rome (n. 18) 180. Since Plutarch was a late first to early second century CE writer, he has been included here within the appropriate chronological order. Plut. Pyrrh. 19. 1–2. Plutarch also records that Alexander at one point entertained the idea of circumnavigating the Arabian Peninsula and the continent of Africa before crossing back into the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar. See Plut. Alex. 68.1–2.
Plut. De fort. Rom. 13.
Arr. Anab. 7. 1. 3. Arrian also discusses Alexander’s plans to colonize the coast of the Persian Sea and invade Arabia. See 7. 19. 3–6.
Julian has a more optimistic assessment of Alexander’s chances against Rome but does not quite say that he would win. Julian. Ep. no. 47, 433 C.
Amm. Marc. 30. 8. 5 Notice how this excerpt closely follows the tradition found in Livy 9. 16. 16–19.
Oros. 3. 15. 10.
Jo. Lyd. Mag. 1. 38.
Appius’ speech in Plutarch, if grounded in reality, would push the tradition into the third century BCE. Livy reinforces that the tradition had long been established.
Gruen: The Hellenistic World (n. 26) 318. See also Gruen: Rome (n. 18) 179–180.
Strabo 5. 3. 5 (C232). See also Gruen: The Hellenistic World (n. 26) 318. One must mention that H. Dell thinks that this passage refers to the later Alexander II of Epirus. See Dell, H. J.: The Origin and Nature of Illyrian Piracy. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 26 (1967) 355. However, Alexander II of Epirus ruled after Demetrius Poliorcetes and therefore he cannot be the Alexander referred to by Strabo.
Alexander supposedly told the Romans “they should either conquer others, if they were capable of ruling over them, or yield to those who were stronger than them.” Memnon, FGH 3B, 434 F 18.2 Note also Gruen: The Hellenistic World (n. 26) 318.
Pliny, NH 3. 57. In regard to Pliny’s mention of Cleitarchus’ account of a Roman embassy to Alexander, E. Gruen remarks, “The truth of that statement remains in dispute, sometimes categorically denied, sometimes ingenuously defended. For our purposes it suffices to observe that one contemporary historian of Alexander [Cleitarchus] saw fit to remark on (or invent) Romans dispatching a mission to the Macedonian monarch.” Gruen: The Hellenistic World (n. 26) 318.
Livy, Gellius, and Justinus viewed Alexander of Epirus’ invasion of Italy as a direct threat to Rome. They too viewed his complete failure in Italy as a reflection upon Alexander the Great. The authors emphasize the power and fame of Rome even at this early point in its history. The association of Alexander the Great with the failure of his uncle in Italy makes analysis of a counterfactual clash between Alexander and Rome a natural next step. Livy 8. 3. 6–7; 8. 24; Gell. 17. 21. 33; Just. 12. 2. 1; 18. 1. 2; See also Ligeti (n. 14) 411–412. Ligeti discusses the possible diplomatic contact that Rome had with Alexander the Great through Alexander of Epirus.
See Gruen: The Hellenistic World (n. 26) 318.
See Galinsky, K.: Vergil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses as World Literature. In The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Augustus. Ed. K. Galinsky. New York 2005, 341.
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Galinsky: Vergil’s Aeneid (n. 43) 341. See also Polyb. 1. 1–3.