The Murder of Cleitus

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Basic Elements

The uncontested facts are few. Cleitus is introduced quite differently in various accounts as: Cleitus, Clitus, Kleitos, Cleitus the Black, and Cleitus son of Dropides. In most accounts however, the event is at Samarcand/Maracanda and the cause for the excessive drinking is the feast of the twins Castor and Pollux (Gemini). It is certain Cleitus and Alexander began to throw insults at one another. At some point, a poem is sarcastically recited about the Macedonian generals who were defeated by Spitamenes. Alexander may have boasted about surpassing his father's greatness. Cleitus shouts that the glory of the empire is it not Alexander's sole achievement but from the blood of the Macedonian soldiers. Cleitus recites Euripides' Andromache in order to insult the king. Alexander throws an apple at Cleitus' head. Cleitus may have been ushered out of the room only to fatefully return back. Alexander capriciously slays him with a pike or spear. Almost all accounts speak of the king's deep remorse and abstention from food and drink for three days. Callisthenes and Anaxarchus relieve the king of guilt though they probably add legitimacy to the idea of his own absolute power.

Background Information

Cleitus is an important military figure both in Philip and Alexander's command. He led the Royal Squadron of the Companion Calvary and after the Philotas Affair was appointed co-commander of the entire brigade along with Hephaestion. At a battle in Granicus, Cleitus saved Alexander's life. He is also a close family friend of Alexander's family. His sister, Hellanice, was Alexander's beloved wet-nurse as a child. The king thought of her as his mother. Just before his death, he was appointed to a lead military position (satrap) in Bactria that may or may not have been a promotion. Though it would have been a position of importance, it also would have taken him perhaps purposely away from court. Historians cannot be sure if Cleitus had...
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