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3.2.17

Alexander the Great's Last Will and Testament Was Not Discovered in an Armenian Manuscript

Harry Pettit
 
The news made the rounds of the international press in the past couple of days. We reproduce the information as it appeared in the London-based Daily Mail, which broke the news with the headline "Alexander the Great's last will and testament may have been found 'hiding in plan sight' 2,000 years after his death." The new title is, of course, ours.
The "Alexander Romance," a book of tales about Alexander the Great, written by an author that philologists have called "Pseudo-Callisthenes" (the text was ascribed to Alexander's court historian Callisthenes, who actually died before the king) and translated into various languages in the Middle Ages, has been extensively studied in the scholarship. The text appeared in Latin, Armenian, Georgian, and Syriac versions between the fourth and sixth centuries A.D., and in several other languages at a later time. The newspaper included a picture from an Armenian manuscript of the "Alexander Romance" with the following caption that failed to identify it: "The fabled last will and testament of Alexander the Great, illustrated above, may have finally been discovered. A London-based expert claims to have unearthed Alexander the Great's dying wishes in an ancient text (pictured) that has been 'hiding in plain sight' for centuries." 
The presence of the picture--conveniently lifted from the Wikipedia article on the "Alexander Romance," most probably for its graphic attractive--seems to have tempted Armenian sources into making completely wrong assumptions. For instance, the Public Radio of Armenia (armradio.am), picked up the news on February 1, 2017 and changed the title to "London-Based Expert Discovers Alexander the Great's Last Will in an Ancient Armenian Manuscript." Accordingly, it also modified the second paragraph of the Daily Mail report: "A London-based expert claims to have unearthed the Macedonian king’s dying wishes in an ancient Armenian text that has been ‘hiding in plain sight’ for centuries, The Daily Mail reports" (emphasis is ours). The news piece was immediately picked by MassisPost Online (February 1, 2017). It is most likely that it also appeared in other Armenian printed and online outlets.
The assumption that David Grant, the expert on Alexander the Great who claims to have made such a discovery, somehow needed to read the Armenian version of a text translated into multiple languages in order to make his finding is, indeed, farfetched. (We are not aware of Mr. Grant being an Armenologist, incidentally.) What language a historian of Greece is more prone to have learned? Latin? Or Armenian, Georgian, and/or Syriac? It is even more farfetched to make the claim that the British newspaper reported anything on the Armenian version. We have plenty of "fake news" and "alternative facts" going around to start adding our own ("Armeniaca").

The fabled last will and testament of Alexander the Great may have finally been discovered more than 2,000 years after his death.
A London-based expert claims to have unearthed the Macedonian king's dying wishes in an ancient text that has been 'hiding in plain sight' for centuries.
The long-dismissed last will divulges Alexander's plans for the future of the Greek-Persian empire he ruled.
It also reveals his burial wishes and discloses the beneficiaries to his vast fortune and power. 
Evidence for the lost will can be found in an ancient manuscript known as the 'Alexander Romance', a book of fables covering Alexander's mythical exploits.
Likely compiled during the century after Alexander's death, the fables contain invaluable historical fragments about Alexander's campaigns in the Persian Empire.
Historians have long believed that the last chapter of the Romance housed a political pamphlet that contained Alexander's will, but until now have dismissed it as a work of early fiction.
But a ten-year research project undertaken by Alexander expert David Grant suggests otherwise.
The comprehensive study concludes that the will was based upon the genuine article, though it was skewed for political effect. 
The revelation is detailed in Mr Grant's new book, 'In Search of the Lost Testament of Alexander the Great.'
He believes that Alexander's original will was suppressed by his most powerful generals, because it named his then unborn half-Asian son Alexander IV and elder son Heracles as his successors.
Rather than accepting the leadership of what the Macedonians saw as 'half-breed' sons, which would have been 'unthinkable', they fought each other for power in a bloody period of infighting and civil war known as the 'Successor Wars'.
It was in the decades following Alexander's death that Mr Grant now believes the original will was secretly rewritten and distributed in leaflet form by one of the competing generals to 'prove' the legitimacy of his own inheritance, as well as to damn the generals opposing him.
If Mr Grant is correct his finding overturns 2,000 years of academic study on the issue.
The researcher came to the conclusion after studying various ancient texts about the leader over 10-year period.
'The propaganda and political slant of the pamphlet cast serious doubts on the authenticity of the will, which at some point was absorbed by a developing book of fables we know today as Greek Alexander Romance,' he said.

'Once it entered the Romance, its fate was relegated from truth to fairy tale.
'Yet my research brings me to the overwhelming conclusion that, though adulterated, this is based on an original last testament of Alexander the Great, and it was one of the most influential military and political mandates in the ancient world.'
As well as naming Alexander's chosen successors the leaflet contains detail of a conspiracy among his generals to poison Alexander.
Instead of being satisfied with the regions of the empire Alexander allotted to each of them to govern on behalf of his sons, they fought bitterly to control the whole empire.
Mr Grant said: 'The surviving texts make it quite clear that none of the generals with Alexander at Babylon would have accepted their authority being subordinated to a son bred from a race they had conquered.
'The suppression of the will, and the claims that Alexander either died silent with no instructions, or he died encouraging his generals to slug it out for control of the empire with the famous words 'to the strongest', legitimized their own actions, aggressions and alliances in the years after Alexander's death.'
Alexander the Great is arguably one of history's most successful military commanders.
Undefeated in battle, he had carved out a vast empire stretching from Macedonia and Greece in Europe, to Persia, Egypt and even parts of northern India by the time of his death aged 32.
Only five barely intact accounts of his death at Babylon in 323 BCE survive to the present day. 
None are from eyewitnesses and all conflict to varying degrees.
According to one account from the Roman era, Alexander died leaving his kingdom 'to the strongest' or 'most worthy' of his generals.
In another version, he died speechless in a coma, without making any plans for succession.
Based on these testimonies, historians have ignored the will in the final pages of Romance.
But Mr Grant, a classics graduate, considered the hypothesis to be 'highly suspect' given Alexander's attention to detail and the power-hungry nature of his generals. 
He said: 'It is clear that the testament was most likely issued, as per the academic consensus, by one of the competing generals to win support over their rivals.
'Even so, there is a very basic logic that seems to have been consistently overlooked: recirculating a will that had never existed would have been dangerous and self-defeating for any one of proposed authors of the pamphlet, all high-ranking generals.
'It was only by calling upon the authority of the actual last will and testament that the author of the political pamphlet could ever hope to stake a claim to power.' 
'In Search of the Lost Testament' is set for release later this week.

"Daily Mail," January 31, 2017

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