San José State University
Department of Economics
& Tornado Alley
The Greek city-states after successfully warding off an imperial Persian conquest in the fifth century B.C. fell into civil war that sapped their energies and resources. Nevertheless Greek art, culture and technology became pre-eminent in the world of that time. The Persian Empire made great use of Greek mercenaries in its armies and navies. Some wealthy Persians came to Greece for an education.
In the north, Macedonia under Phillip II emerged as a battle-hardened militaristic power that conquered the feuding city states of Greece proper in much the same way that during the Warring States period in China the Qin state conquered all of the other kingdoms to unite China. Another analogy is the emergence of Prussia as the dominant, leading state of Germany in the 19th century.
Phillip was not an imposing warrior, being only about five foot four inches in height. He built his power over a twenty year period through organizational skill and the perfection of the phalanx as a battle formation. As a mature man he fell in love at first sight with Olympias, the twelve year daughter of the king of Epirus, and married her. (Epirus was in what is now Albania. About three years after her marriage Olympias gave birth to Alexander. Olympias grew up to be a strong-willed, ruthless woman and became interested in some exotic religious cults. Phillip stopped going to bed with her after he discovered that she sometimes kept snakes in her bed. He took other wives and he and Olympias became estranged. But they did have one child, Alexander, and what a child he was.
The most famous story of Alexander's childhood is the story of the horse, Buchephalus. The name means ox-head. The horse was so-named because of the ox-head mark he bore he bore on his coat. Phillip had spotted Buchephalus as a magnificent horse and acquired him but Buchephalus was too tough to break to riding. Phillip announced that he was going to get rid of him. Alexander, a ten year old, asked his father to give him the horse to tame. Alexander worked with Buchephalus, always keeping him facing the sun so he would not be startled by the sight of his shadow. When Alexander tamed Buchephalus he showed Phillip who remarked,
"Son, find yourself another kingdom because when you grow up Macedonia will not be big enough for you!"
Another notable incident from Alexander's childhood was when the Persian ambassador visited Phillip's palace. Alexander questioned him closely about the geography of the Persian Empire and the distances between the various cities.
This latter incident may have been prompted by the dream that Greeks grew up with to avenge the atrocities committed in Greece by the Persian army during the Persian Wars 150 years prior to Alexander's time.
At thirteen or fourteen Alexander was sent by Phillip to Mieza to be educated by Aristotle of Stagira. Aristotle had an important influence on Alexander's thinking and his goal of the creation of an empire to spread Hellenistic culture.
Alexander as a teenager later participated in the battles of Phillip's armies against the Grecian states. He distinguished himself by his courage and his ability to make good tactical decisions in battles. Later in life Alexander felt his father did not give him proper credit for his accomplishments at that time. Alexander felt his father was jealous of his abilities. Phillip's estrangement from Alexander's mother Olympias may have affected his attitude toward Alexander.
Phillip had a son by his new wife and there was the possibility that that son might take the place of Alexander in the kingdom. When Phillip was assassinated there was some suspicion that Olympias might have been involved in the plot. In any case, Alexander did succeed Phillip and Olympias had Phillip's new wife and child killed.
Alexander was only twenty years old when became the king of Macedonia in 336 B.C. Almost immediately he started subduing the Greek city states. Thebes resisted and Alexander ordered the inhabitants to be either slaughtered or sold into slavery. Furthermore he ordered the city itself destroyed. Alexander thus wiped Thebes, one the major cities of Greece, out of existence. Alexander also started preparing an expedition allegedly to avenge the greviances Greece suffered during the Persian Wars. An advanced guard of 12 thousand soldiers under Parmenio, a general from Phillip's reign, was sent into Anatolia. Alexander then assembled 32 thousand troops in northern Greece for the invasion. In the spring of 334 B.C. they commenced their march to the Hellespont. Before the march Alexander consulted the oracle at Delphi. Alexander was apparently very serious about the religion of his culture.
The western edge of Anatolia was populated by Greeks but controlled by Persia. The first order of business for Alexander was the liberation of these cities. Not all Greeks were in favor of having a Macedonian tyranny replace the Persian tyranny.
Alexander's troops arrived at the Granicus near sundown, but Alexander launched his attack immediately despite the advice of his general, Parmenio, to postpone the attack until the next morning. Alexander sent a contingent of about 1500 into the river to fool the Persians into unleashing a counterattack. While the Persian army was concentrating on the center Alexander took his cavalry upstream to cross the river and attack the Persians from their flank. When the Persian cavalry retreated Alexander led his cavalry in an attack on the Greek mercenaries who had been held in reserve. The cavalry was followed by the Macedonian phalanx. The Greek mercenaries who were not massacred were send in chains back to Greece to work in the mines for the rest of their lives.
Some of the Greek cities of western Anatolia accepted Alexander willingly, others had to be taken in siege. South of Miletus Alexander visited the ruins of an oracle temple at Didyma. Almost two centuries before the Persian emperor Darius had punished the city of Miletus for revolting by destroying and desecrating the temple at Didyma. Alexander believed in oracles and considered the destruction of an oracle temple as a terrible thing.
The city of Halicarnossos on the southwest coast of Anatolia was the main Persian administrative center in the region. Memnon, the Greek commander of the Persian forces, decided to defend the city. When Alexander's forces arrived they had to lay siege to the city. It was a standoff for a while as Alexander's forces demolished walls only to find the defenders had built an inner wall to maintain the defenses. But when Memnon felt Halicarnossos could no longer be defended he commanded an organized retreat by sea. Memnon was a wily opponent for Alexander. Memnon's strategy might have tied Alexander down and thwarted his conquest of the world, but Memnon fell ill and died.
Memnon's death removed a capable commander from the opposition to Alexander and set up the rise to command of an incompetent. Darius, the Persian emperor, not finding a suitable replacement for Memnon assumed command himself. Whatever Darius' capabilities and virtues were, generalship was not among them.
It is generally a very bad idea for the head of state to be at the head of the army. For a notable instance of how bad it is consider the case of General Antonio Lopez de Santana, the President of Mexico, leading the army to put down the rebellion of American settlers in Texas in the 1830's. Santana was captured by the Texans and forced to sign a declaration of the independence of Texas. Antonio Lopez de Santana may have been a charismatic political leader but he was a total incompetent as a military leader. The Persian Emperor Darius was on par with Santana as a military leader.
While generally it is a bad idea for the head of state to lead the army Alexander was an exception. He had great tactical skills and these were decisive.
Darius had arrayed his army in three wings at a creek bed at Issus. His infantry troops on his left wing were weak and therefore Darius stationed archer units with his left wing to give them protection. Darius was at the head of the center unit of his army. Alexander was on the right wing of his army. When Alexander saw the archers protecting Darius' left wing he immediately knew that was Darius' weak point. Alexander led his cavalry unit across the creek bed and attacked the weak point of the Persian line. Alexander's troops destroyed the weak left wing of the Persian army and then turned on the center unit where Darius himself was. From their improved position across the creek bed Alexander's troops commenced the destruction of the remaining Persian units. Darius fled from the battlefield further destroying the integrity of the Persian forces. Darius's family, his mother, wife and children, were captured by Alexancer's army. Darius thus lost his army and his family was being held hostage. He never really recovered from his defeat at Issus although more competent leaders probably could have done so.
The Phoenician city of Tyre was on an island before Alexander came. He demanded surrender but the city leaders felt secure on their island with their substantial navy. They refused to surrender. Alexander determined to built a causeway to bring his siege engines up to the city wall. Alexander was successful in this strategy but it was not without setbacks. The navy and soldiers of Tyre were able to stop one line of causeway building and Alexander's forces had to start another. Alexander's revenge for the city defying him was terrible: the slaughter of the men and the sales of the others into slavery.
Alexander marched on to capture other cities of the eastern Mediterranean and Egypt fell easily to his forces. Alexander was apparently not worried that Darius would regroup his forces. After a leisurely tour of Egypt Alexander marched to the north end of Mesopotamia. North of Babylon Darius marshalled his new army to challenge Alexander.
Darius despaired of the Persian infantry matching the phalanx of the Macedonian. He secured a cavalry about five times as large as that of Alexander. He had large numbers of infantry but his hopes for victory were with his cavalry.
Since the Persian army so vastly outnumbered his forces Alexander chose not to try to prevent Persians from outflanking his forces. Instead he encouraged it hoping that the rush to outflank his troops would open up holes in the Persian line which his forces could breach. Alexander organized a breakthrough of the Persian line which gave him the opportunity to attack Darius himself. Darius was once again threatened with capture and fled. When the Persian center collapsed the commander of the cavalry on the left wing ordered a retreat. The Persians were once again defeated.
From there Alexander easily captured Babylon without a battle. With the Tigris and Euphraates River Valleys under his control it was left only for him to capture Susa and go on to the Persian capital of Persepolis.
Alexander's army had been reenforced in a level of about 80 thousand. This army traveled south along the plains at the foot of the Zagros Mountains. It was winter and Alexander stopped at Sussian Rocks. Here he split out 20 thousand soldiers to follow him through the mountains to Persepolis. The rest of the army under Parmenio, a trusted general from Philip's time, were to take the long route to the south around the mountains.
Alexander's route was uneventful until they came to the defile leading out of the mountains. This was called the Persian Gates. The Persians had fortified the exit. Alexander's army was trapped.
But again Alexander was resourceful. From a local shepherd he found that there was another trail out. The shepherd did not think it was passable by an army but Alexander took the chance and what is more amazing he took the trail at night.
Alexander's emerged behind and above the Persian guarding the fortification at the Persian Gates. The Persians were overwhelmed. Some five thousand managed to escape but the rest of the Persians were slaughtered. The city of Persepolis was now defenseless.
Alexander's army occupied Persepolis and took possession of the Persian treasury there. The gold Alexander acquired was sufficient to finance any campaign he chose to launch. After a period of drinking binges at Persepolis Alexander decided to leave and torched the palace.
Although Alexander has been known as The Great to Europeans, to Persians his image was more like that of Attila the Hun among Western Europeans. (Interestingly enough within the territories ruled by Attila his image is that a wise and benevolent monarch.) Alexander's image is further complicated because there is reference to him in the Holy Koran. The Arabic version of Alexander is Iskandar and it is a not uncommon name throughout the Middle East.
Darius fled north to the region near the Caspian Sea. He had with him some loyal Greek mercenaries as well as Persian nobles such as Bessus, the satrap of Bactria (the Greek kingdom in what is now northwest Afghanistan). It was not easy to raise a new army to resist what was appearing to be the invincible army of Alexander. Alexander and his army were heading north to capture Darius. Darius started fleeing toward Bactria, Bessus' stronghold. When Alexander's troops were spotted by Darius' entourage beyond the Ahuran Pass the nobles told Darius to leave his royal wagon and mount a horse to escape with them. Darius, ever divorced from reality, felt riding a horse was beneath his dignity as an emperor and he refused. In exasperation the nobles stabbed Darius and left him to die in his covered wagon somewhere at the roadside between the Ahuran Pass and the city of Quse. They probably did not want him to fall in the hands of Alexander who could then claim that Darius accepted him, Alexander, as his overlord, thus making Alexander the legal ruler of the Persian Empire. However, if this was the purpose in stabbing Darius it also required the hiding of his body. As it was a Greek soldier came upon the dying Darius and gave him aid. The story that emerged was that the dying Darius told the Greek soldier to convey his gratitude to Alexander for the humane treatment of Darius' family and that he bequeathed his empire to Alexander.
Bessus tried to raise a resistance army among the Persians but the stories of Darius' death would have made it difficult to rally support. On the other hand Alexander could and did pursue Bessus to wipe out any possible resistance to his control and he could justify it on the basis that he was punishing someone who betrayed his lawful sovereign.
Alexander with an elite guard had outdistanced the rest of the Macedonian army in his attempt to capture Darius. After Darius' death Alexander sent Darius' body to Persepolis for royal burial and launched the pursuit of Bessus as soon as the rest of the Macedonian army caught up with him. The line of pursuit touched upon the Caspian Sea before turning east into what is now Afghanistan.
In his conquest Alexander founded about thirty cities called Alexandria. One of them is the city now called Kandahar (Qandihar). This name is basically Alexandria. Another Alexandria is the city of Herat in Afghanistan. It was originally called Alexandria in Areia.
The act of establishing an Alexandria involved more than choosing a name. Troops had to be stationed at the new city.
Alexander did not march to Bactria directly in the pursuit of Bessus. Instead he secured the region that might supply troops for Bessus. He chose a line of march that took him up the valley of the Helmand River. It was there that he established the city of Kandahar (Iskandahar). It was originally Alexandria in Arachosia.
From Kandahar the march took Alexander to the east approaching the Indus Valley before entering Kabul in 329 B.C. Kabul was a well-established trade city on the route between Persia and India. Kabul offered no resistance and Alexander soon marched on into the Panshir Valley. There he established another Alexandria, Alexandria under the Caucasus, at Begrum.
To get to Bactria and annihilate Bessus, Alexander needed to cross the Hindu Kush. He chose to march his army up the Panshir Valley and take it over the Khawak Pass. This is a difficult journey in modern times, it was even more so in 329 B.C. It was an especially difficult logistical problem for a horde of tens of thousands of troops and camp followers. It points up that although the fighting prowess of Alexander's army was amazing the logistical capabilities were even more amazing. Having enough food and water for the horde was difficult enough but there was also the additional problem of getting that food and water to an army that may have stretched out fifteen miles. At the Khawak Pass the supply units could not quite cope with the logistics. Some of the pack animals were butchered for food and the meat eaten raw. But the army met no resistance and successfully crossed the Hindu Kush and passed down into the valley of the Amu Darya, known in ancient times as the Oxus River.
Bactria had had Greek settlements long before Alexander's time.
In Bactria at that time the principal city was Balkh. The city of Balkh apparently accepted Alexander without resistance. After a short stay Alexander decided to pursue Bessus who had fled from Bactria to north of the Oxus River. Beyond the Oxus River was the frontier province of the Persian Empire called Sogdia.
In the region beyond the Oxus the army came upon one city of Greeks who joyously welcomed Alexander and his men. But instead of reciprocating their joy, Alexander ordered their massacre because these Greeks were the descendants of priests who a century and a half earlier had turned their holy sanctuary over to the Persians. The Persians resettled those priests to a remote part of their empire. Although there may have been some rationale behind Alexander's action the real explanation probably lies in Alexander's mental condition. He most likely suffered from manic-depressive syndrome, now also known as bipolar syndrome. While in the manic phase Alexander possessed boundless energy and charm. He could be generous to his enemies as well as his friends. But in the depressive phase he could order monstrous atrocities and even personally carryout despicable acts of violence. He consumed alcohol to excess and this probably made matters worse. It is fairly common for manic-depressives to try to cope with their depression by means of alcohol and they may get some respite in the short run but in the long run the alcoholism exacerbates the depression. The destruction of Thebes early in Alexander's career was probably a consequence of such depression.
In Sogdia Alexander's forces had more difficulty than in the previous campaign. The problem was not with Bessus. Alexander invaded the region quickly and nearly caught up with Bessus. Bessus' frightened troops turned him over to Alexander who had him mutilated, tortured and then sent back to the city of Hamadan where he was found guilty and executed. The problem of Bessus was thus dispatched with quickly. The problem in Sogdia was that the Sogdians were not willing to acknowledge Alexander's overlordship. Bactria and Sogdia had excellent horsemen who were quite willing to join a cavalry militia to challenge the Macedonians. The Sogdians annihilated some isolated garrisons of Macedonians and when Alexander with his army fought them Alexander suffered one of his more serious wounds, a broken leg. He recuperated in Maracanda (Samarkand).
The Sogdian resistance rallied around Spitamenes, a former follower of Bessus. Spitamenes was of Persian ancestry and a possible leader of Persian resistance elsewhere in the Empire so Alexander could not leave Spitamenes unchecked.
Alexander began the conquest of the Sogdian cities, one by one. Any city that resisted was overwhelmed with the siege equipment the Macedonian army carried with it and all the males of military age were executed.
But still Spitamenes' cavalry resisted and even administered a major defeat upon the Macedonians. They did this at Samarkand.
When the Macedonian army units arrived at Samarkand to take the city Spitamenes' troops withdrew in seeming retreat. But when the Macedonian troops followed them they were caught in an ambush in which about two thousand of Alexander's soldiers were wiped out.
Alexander's forces gained victories but the victories were not decisive and the resistance continued. At this point Alexander's mother sent him a message asking him why it was taking him so long in that area. Alexander replied to her question by sending back to Meacedonia four of the inhabitants along with a bucket of dirt. This was to say that it was taking him so long because the people there would fight each other over a fistfull of dust, as she could see for herself by observing the group he sent her.
There was a famous incident that occurred in Sogdia. The Sogdians had a pinnacle refuge, a tooth of a rock to which they could retreat and remove the means of access. A group of Sogdian were occupying the Sogdian Rock when Alexander and his troops approached. The Macedonian hailed the Sogdians from across a ravine that blocked access to the Rock. The Macedonian asked the Sogdian to surrender. The Sogdians replied to the effect that the Sogdians would not be afraid of the Macedonians until the Macedonian learned to fly. The Sogdians on the Rock were no threat to Alexander and he could easily have passed them by, but not after they had challenged his invincibility. Alexander called for volunteers who knew the techniques of rock climbing with ropes and pitons. Macedonia is a mountainous country and there were quite a few who did know rock climbing. Three hundred volunteered and during the night they climbed up the back side of the Rock. Their losses were substantial, ten percent did not make it. But at sun rise the next day the Sogdians looked up and saw a mass of Macedonian soldiers in battle array. The Sogdians were dumbfounded and surrendered. Among those on the Rock was a teenage girl, Roxanne.
Another group of Sogdians sought safety in a mountain refuge and Alexander's catapults and siege equipment forced their surrender also. The will to fight left the Sogdians. Spitamenes was betrayed by his own troops and the resistance ended.
Alexander was benevolent toward the Sogdians. He sought a rapproachment with the Sogdians. He attended a Sogdian wedding. There one of the girls dancing for the ceremony was a fifteen year old, Roxanne, who had been on the Sogdian Rock when Alexander's troops captured it.
Alexander fell in love with Roxanne at first sight, just as his father Philip had similarly fallen in love with Alexander's mother Olympias. Alexander chose to marry Roxanne, to the consternation of the Macedonians. The Macedonians reactions was: Sure you want her but you are emperor of the world, you don't have to marry her. Their concern was that Alexander's heirs from such a marriage would be half barbarian Sogdians. But Alexander did marry her.
From Samarkand Alexander returned to Kabul. From Kabul the army marched east. Roxanne was not the only wife journeying with the army. Altogether there were approximately 30 thousand camp followers, including several thousand children. These were the children of the soldiers and their wives. The number of soldiers was in the neighborhood of eighty thousand.
This horde passed through the desolate area east of Kabul. The main army, under the command of Alexander's companion Hephaistion, traveled through the Khyber Pass into the vicinity of Peshawar. Alexander took a smaller group on an alternate route which arrived in the Indus Valley upriver from Peshawar.
The ruler of Taxila had already made contact with Alexander and submitted to his overlordship. Upriver from Taxila there was refuge called Aornos. Aornos was situated on a plateau facing the river and protected by steep sides. Historical legend had it that the Greek man-god Hercules had tried to take Aornos and failed.
Alexander decided to capture Aornos for a number of reasons. First its capture would tell the people of the region that there was no escaping Alexander. Second, it would eliminate a possible center of resistance to his later rule. Third, it was a challenge for Alexander to outdo Hercules, whom he counted as one of his ancestors on his mother's side.
The main army under Hephaistion joined Alexander in the march to Aornos. At Aornos Alexander saw that an assault up the hillside on which it was located would probably fail. He found from local sources that there was a trail that led into the area above Aornos. The entrance to the trail was about five miles away. Alexander took the army and their siege equipment over this difficult trail. Where the trail came to Aornos there was a ravine about 1600 feet across and 100 feet deep. Alexander set the army to work building a causeway across the ravine. The catapults were used to bombard the defense force at Aornos. The defenders knew that it was just of matter of time before Alexander's forces captured Aornos. At night Alexander used a clever and ruthless trick to final destroy the defenders. He left guards off one escape route. The defenders thought it was an mistake and took the opportunity to try to make an escape. But it was not a mistake. Alexander had his troops lying in ambush and when the defenders of Aornos came out they were massaacred by Alexander's troops.
After the victory at Aornos Alexander was ready to conquer the rest of the region. Many rulers capitulated to Alexander. One ruler who did not was Porus who ruled a kingdom along the Hydaspes (Jhelum) River. This was in the region of Indus Valley called the Punjab, the five river region. Alexander's army was vastly superior to Porus' in numbers, equipment and experience. Porus hoped only to hold up the Macedonian army's crossing of the Jhelum River until the monsoon rains would swell the river to the point that it would be impossible for the army to cross.
Porus had an army of thirty thousand soldiers with two thousand of them cavalry. He had in addition three hundred war elephants, the ancient equivalent of tanks. Against any other opponent the force would have been formidable, but against Alexander's forces it was pitiable.
Alexander arrayed his forces so as to make it uncertain where the crossing of the Jhelum River would take place. Porus had to disperse his already indadequate forces opposite the places where Alexander's forces could be seen to be concentrated. But all of the visible concentrations were merely for show. The real crossing force Alexander managed to hide in a bend in the river as shown below.
Alexander's crossing force consisted of five thousand cavalry and four thousand infantry. The two crossings required were relatively easy with the river water often only chest high. The crossing commenced at night so that the force would be on the other side by dawn. When Porus was informed of the crossing he sent a force of two thousand men with fifty chariots under the command of his son. The chariots got mired in mud and all of them were lost. Porus' son was killed. Porus then directed his main force to the crossing. The battle was a decisive victory for the Macedonians. About one third of Porus' army was killed and one third captured including Porus himself. The war elephants caused some problem for the Macedonians but not much. The elephant drivers, the mahouts, were killed by Alexander's archers and the elephants themselves were maimed. The elephants once blinded and their trunks cut by swords were as much of a danger to Porus' forces as the Macedonians.
Porus' capture did not result in his execution for holding up Alexander's advance through India as might have been expeted. When the captured Porus was brought before Alexander asked him, "How do you want me to treat you?" Porus answered "Like a king." This answer had two interpretations: 1. Treat me like the king that I am. 2. Treat me with the generosity of the noble king that you, Alexander, are. This answer pleased Alexander and he must have been in a good mood, perhaps even in a manic mood, because he freed Porus and gave him back the rulership of his kingdom under Alexander's overlordship. Alexander even added some new territory to Porus' kingdom. Alexander's treatment of Porus fits in with mythology of the times; i.e., that monarchs are special, noble people ordained by the gods to rule and deserving of regal treatment even in defeat.
The spectacular victory over Porus precipitated a crisis for the Macedonians. After that victory it was clear that no one could stop the Macedonians. Alexander wanted to march east into the Ganges River Valley. It was not far from the site of the defeat of Porus. With the support of Porus' kingdom the invasion of the Ganges River Valley would not be difficult. The problem was the army. Alexander did take the army in the direction of the Ganges Valley. When they reached the Beas River the soldiers refused to cross it. They were tired of campaigning and worried that they would never see their families back in Macedonia again. The climate of India was taking its toll. Tropical disease was much more of a threat in hot, humid India than it had been in desert and mountains of central Asia.
When Alexander called for the army to march east the soldiers refused to go. It was virtually mutiny, but Alexander had promised them when the campaign first began that he would not rule them as a tyrant. In the face of their refusal to continue he acquiesed and agreed to head back to Macedonia. He did however sulk in his tent for a few days.
The army returned to the Jhelum River where it made preparation for the journey down river. When the army did move down the Indus River Valley it did so in three branches. There was a fleet of ships and boats which traveled down the Indus River. Alexander joined this branch. Another branch traveled on the east side of the river under the command of Hephaistion and the third branch on the west side under Craterus. There was much fighting as Alexander insisted on destroying any opposition along the way which might be a threat to his future rule of the Indus region.
At the city of Multan Alexander led the assault and was hit by an arrow in the chest. He and three of his guards had been trapped in the city alone when a siege ladder broke. Two of his companions were killed by the city's defenders and Alexander would have been killed also if the Macedonians had not just in time broke through a city gate. The attackers thought Alexander had been killed and they took revenge on the city defenders. But Alexander was still alive and surgeons cut out the arrow. From the description of the surgery, which implied a perforated lung, it seems hardly credible that he could have survived. But he did survive and recovered enough that in a few days he could ride a horse. The people of Multan did not survive. The Macedonian massacred the entire population in revenge for Alexander's wound.
Along the way Alexander founded yet another Alexandria, this one called Alexandria at the Confluence. The confluence was of the Jhelum and Beas Rivers. This Alexandria is now the city of Uchch.
One part of the army separated and marched through what is now southern Afghanistan and Iran. When the rest of the army reached Patala the fleet went to the coast to embark on the voyage west. Alexander with the remainder of the army and the camp followers marched west initially north of the Makran Desert. In part, the reason for Alexander ordering this difficult overland march was to arrange for supplies for the ships along the coast. Perhaps the other part of the reason was because it was a challenge.
The march of the main force of Alexander's army was complicated by the increase in its size due to the incorporation of forces and camp followers from the Indus region. Initially Alexander chose a route north of the coast to avoid the extreme desert. The route he chose was still desert but not so extreme as the coast. However in the Kech River Valley there is a danger of flash floods from rainstorms in the nearby mountains. Natives in such regions know not to tarry in the dry stream beds, particularly not to camp there. It would have been difficult for Alexander's army as large and slow moving as it was to avoid such stream beds. The flash floods came and washed away much of the supply trains with their food, water and equipment. There was tremendous loss of life among the camp followers as well.
The loss of food and water led to later losses during the march in the desert. Everyone suffered privation. No one had as much water as needed. At one point his men scrounged enough water to give Alexander a helmet-full. Alexander, in a dramatic gesture, poured the water into the sand rather than drink while his men could not. His men must have thought that it was a shame he did not choose an equally dramatic way of expressing the same thought without wasting the precious water.
The army reached an oasis at Turbat and rested and replenished supplies there.
At this point Alexander took the army to the coast rather than the easier route through what is now Iran. He apparently was wanting to make contact with his fleet which might be short of water and food. At the coast, where Pasni is now, Alexander had his troops dig wells as a source of water for ship traversing the coast. He was not able to find the fleet at that time however.
From Pasni Alexander took the army on a route along the coast through the Makran Desert. The terrain is so desolate that it encourages comparison with Mars. In some places the plain is encrusted with salt that makes plant growth virtually impossible.
After a journey of about a hundred miles through the Makran Desert Alexander turned the army away from the coast and marched to the city that is now called Bampur and from there on to Salmous where his route crossed paths with contingent that took the more northerly route from the Indus Valley through what is now Afghanistan and southeastern Iran. From Salmous he journeyed down to the coast at the Strait of Hormuz where he found the fleet under the command of Nearchus. The fleet had had difficulties but had survived.
The fleet went on to Mesopotamia and Alexander returned to Salmous and headed west to the site of the Persian capital of Persepolis. After the march of about 600 miles from the Indus there must have been considerable remorse among the Macedonians that they had torched the city after a drunken orgy the last time they were there. Alexander himself expressed such remorse.
From Persepolis the army traveled on to the city of Susa, where the most notable happening was the arranged mass marriage of about one hundred of the higher officers of the army with Persian brides. Alexander and Hephaistion also married Persian brides at this time, the daughters of Darius, who had been captured at the Battle of Issus. Ten thousand of the common soldiers also took Persian brides in the mass marriage. Alexander's regime was becoming more Persian in personnell and practices and he showed little interest in Macedonia.
From Susa Alexander took the army along the coast of the Persian Gulf to the mouth of the Euphrates. There he founded yet another Alexandria, the last as it would turn out. He went by boat up the Eurphrates past the turnoff to Babylon to the city of Opis.
In Opis there was a sinister episode. In a confrontation with his Macedonian veterans he threatened to raise a new army from among the Persians. When some spoke out against him Alexander jumped into the crowd and singled them out and sent them to their death by execution.
From Opis he took the army to Ecbatana (Hamadan), an important administrative center for the Persian Empire. It was a higher altitude and a more pleasant climate. Alexander and many of his soldiers indulged in marathon drinking binges. Some drank so much that they died. One of those who died was Alexander's close companion Hephaistion.
Alexander and Hephaistion had been friends since boyhood. They even resembled each other quite a bit. One notable difference was that Hephaistion was taller than Alexander. When Alexander captured Darius' family at the Battle of Issus Darius' mother came to plead for their safety. When she entered Alexander's tent she took Hephaistion who was taller to be Alexander. After she addressed Hephaistion as Alexander and then found she had made an error she was fearful that all was lost, but Alexander raised her up and he told her that everything was alright because Hephaistion was Alexander too.
So Hephaistion was Alexander's friend, lover and lifelong companion, even his alter ego and now he was dead. Alexander was devastated. He lay on Hephaistion's body all day and night. He seemed to have lost his senses. He tried to have Hephaistion worshiped as a god but the priests said Hephaistion's celebration as a hero was the best that could be done. Alexander called for a furneral pyre for Hephaistion that was five stories tall and cost many fortunes.
It was perhaps at this point that Alexander began worrying that the gods had deserted him. Alexander's religiousness was what would be called superstitiousness today. He began to see ominous signs. The most ominous of these involved an elderly Hindu priest who had joined Alexander's entourage. The elderly man finding himself nearing death decided to burn himself on a funeral pyre. He said goodbye to all of Alexander's companions but said to Alexander, "We will say our goodbyes in Babylon."
This omen led Alexander to postpone and procrastinate about entering Babylon. When Alexander did enter Babylon there were crows fighting above the city wall, another evil omen. Yet Alexander continued to drink to excess. A month before his 33rd birthday he became ill with a fever and the fever worsened. Soon he was barely able to speak. He was asked to whom the empire should go Alexander whispered, "To the strongest of course!"
About ten days before he would have become 33 years of age Alexander, the ruler of a world empire he had created himself, died.
Alexander was responsible for ruthless atrocities, but so were most leaders of that time. What was different about Alexander was a bipolarity. Contemporaries spoke of his charm and boundless energy. Others spoke of his brooding and murderous intolerance and that he was thought to be "melancholy mad." His gestures of generousity were well known, but so were his atrocities.
Here are some of the black deeds he was responsible for:
The contradictions in his behavior are easily explained by his being afflicted with the manic-depressive syndrone, also called the bipolar syndrome. People who have been afflicted with manic-depressive syndrome and written about it give some understanding of how difficult it is for others to appreciate the seriousness of the condition. The writer William Styron says that his depressive episode were so terrible that he would rather have a limb amputated than go through one of them. A psychiatrist, Kay Redfield Jamison, who was also a manic-depressive says that the manic episodes were like skating on the rings of Saturn.
It would have been difficult enough for Alexander to constrain his impulses given his status and the adulation he received. When this was compounded with the manic-depressive syndrome it is not surprising that the results would be bizarre. The end result was a life that reads like the script of a modern movie of an Anti-Christ, a figure who leads a charmed life and has a meteoric rise to power because he is the offspring of the Devil. Alexander himself was the father of at least two children. Roxanne bore him a son at the time of the Indus Valley campaign but that son died in infancy. After the death of Hephaistion Alexander conceived another child with Roxanne, another son who did survive infancy. He lived to be about ten, at which time he was a possible threat to the kingships of Alexander's generals. He and his mother Roxanne were killed to remove that threat. Alexander had married a second wife, one of the daughters of Darius. Roxanne had her killed long before Roxanne herself was killed. There were rumors of children of Alexander by other women but they disappeared, if they ever really existed.
(To be continued.)
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