Updated: Jul 25, 2022
Alexander the Great leads Macedonia in Sid Meier's Civilization VI. He was the first ruler to hold sway over an empire that stretched all the way from Europe to India. Civ 6 is a turn-based grand strategy game where you control a historic civilization. You can choose from one of several leaders, each bringing their own unique units and abilities to the game. But who was Alexander the Great?
The Young Prince and The King of Nowhere - Laying a Foundation
Macedonia in 360 BCE was a backwater of the Greek world. They were constantly raided by their powerful neighbors, Thebes, Illyria, and Paeonia. Alexander the Soon-to-be-born's father, Philip II had spent part of his youth as a hostage in Thebes. There he learned from the greatest military leader of his time, Epaminondas, the man responsible for breaking the military dominance of the Spartans.
Philip II returned to Macedonia to serve his brother, Perdiccas. He was found worthy of military command, and soon thereafter would find himself king of about-to-be-conquered Macedonia. Turns out that Perdiccas was a bad commander. He died fighting the Illyrian invasion of 359 and left Philip to deal with the consequences. Adding to his problems, the Paeonians were raiding to the north and two other claimants to his throne were being supported by foreign powers. Philip had to think fast, or his son would never grow up to be the king of the world.
Philip bribed his enemies to lay off their invasion. He used the time he bought to create a military power that would soon redefine the Greek world. Starting with the Sarissa. Philip had long known how useful the spear was as a weapon of war. You could stab someone who was just out of stabbing reach. The problem was that Greeks loved spears. Enter the Sarissa, a slightly longer spear! Using this advanced technology the Macedonian soldier could do to the Greek soldier what the Greek soldier could do to sword-wielding barbarians. The innovations and tactics he trained his soldiers in, in this first year would prove pivotal in what was to come.
Philip invaded Paeonia in 358 BCE and crushed the Illyrians shortly thereafter. It was more than his longer spears, he was a masterful tactician. The next year, 357 BCE, he married Olympias, the Molossian princess of Epirus. This stabilized his Western frontier. Next, he retook Amphipolis, a city he ceded to Athens as a bribe to end the war he inherited from Perdiccas. This gave him access to Thrace, which he invaded for their newly discovered gold and silver deposits. Philip renamed the west Thracian Crenides to Philippi in the same year that Alexander was born. This habit of naming places after yourself was a hallmark of Alexander's reign, too.
Macedonia's neighbors didn't like what the backwater was doing. They formed a coalition to oppose Philip. It took them 10 years to admit that they couldn't defeat him and retake Amphipolis. Athens was a naval power and their soldiers were a bit wobbly on land it seems.
Philip conquered his way south, finally being halted at the gates of Thermopylae. The same pass held by the 300 Spartans (and some other Greeks) against the invading Persians so long ago. This time it was held by Athenians. Unlike mighty Xerxes, Philip didn't attack the pass in a show of strength. Instead, he opted to take it by negotiation.
The Thessalian League acknowledged Philip's leadership abilities and appointed him as their Archon around 352 BCE. Philip used this new position to aid in his brokering of peace with Athens. He would establish the League of Corinth in 337 BCE. This alliance was meant to ensure a general peace in Greece, and included all of the Greek city-states, except Sparta.
His mind was cast further afield. Persia beckoned.
The Boy and The Horse - Enter Bucephalus
According to Plutarch, Alexander tamed the untameable horse in 344 BCE. He was 13 or 14 years old at the time. The horse in question was a huge Thessalian stallion with blue eyes and a white star on its forehead. None had succeeded in taming the beast before. Its owner asked for 13 talents for the horse, but Philip had no interest in an untamable horse.
Alexander was entranced by the horse. He likely saw himself conquering the world from atop its mighty back. The young prince made a wager with his father, if he couldn't tame the horse himself he would pay the money back to his father.
Alexander approached the frantic beast with soothing words. He dropped his fluttering cloak so as to not spook it. Noticing the fear in the great horse's eyes, Alexander followed its gaze to the shadow it cast on the ground. The horse was scared of its own shadow. Alexander the Observant turned the horse to face the sun so that it no longer saw its shadow. A calm came over it, and the horse was tamed. Alexander named the horse Bucephalus, which means "Ox-Head". They would one day conquer most of the world together.
Philip is said to have been so impressed by his son's achievement that he said to him:
"O my son, look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee."
Bucephalus would die at the Battle of Hydaspes. This would be Alexander's last great battle, too.
Aristotle and Alexander - Philosophers and Barrels
Alexander had the benefit of learning from one of the greatest thinkers of his time, Aristotle. He studied under him from the age of 13-16. Aristotle taught him about philosophy, medicine, and scientific investigation. Alexander's reasoning ability would serve him all throughout his short life, as it had during the taming of Bucephalus.
One aspect of Aristotle's tutelage that Alexander would later reject was the philosopher's ideas about non-Greeks. Aristotle held that non-Greek people should be treated as slaves. Alexander would spread his empire to encompass so many different cultural groups that he came to the conclusion that it was neither possible nor moral to do as he had been taught. He was, in this way, more like the Persian emperors whose lineage he would supersede.
This wouldn't be Alexander's last interaction with a famous philosopher. Years later, when Alexander the King made his way through Greece, he came across Diogenes in Corinth. Diogenes was living in a wooden barrel at the time, likely because philosophy has never been a particularly profitable career. Alexander came to him clad in fine armor and rich fabrics. The king asked Diogenes:
"Ask of me what thou wilt and thou shalt have it"
To which Diogenes replied:
"Stand out of my light"
The King is Dead, Long Live the King - Assassination of Philip II
Alexander the Teen had grown into a formidable leader himself. He defeated the Maedi from Thrace in 340 BCE. Philip had gone to conquer Byzantium and left his 16-year-old son in charge. The Maedi saw this as an invitation and attacked the capital.
Soon Alexander was given command of some soldiers in the battle of Chaeronea. This is the battle where Philip defeated the united Greek city-states. Alexander proved himself by breaking the Sacred Band of Thebes. This Sacred Band was a famous cavalry group made up of 150 pairs of lovers. Their defeat would mark the first time that Alexander broke a legendary enemy in combat, and it wouldn't be the last.
Philip II decided, one year later, that his Molossian bride, Olympias, wasn't Greek enough for the king of Greece. He separated from Alexander's mother and married Cleopatra, not that one, the Macedonian in 338 BCE. There was some kind of curfuffle at the wedding. Olympias and Alexander were exiled to Epirus, and they would later travel to Illyria. Philip and Alexander would reconcile their differences soon enough though. Unfortunately for Alexander, the new queen had given birth to a son. This development put Alexander's inheritance in jeopardy. Nothing like a baby stealing your inheritance to foster a strong familial bond.
Alexander the Second-Class Son wouldn't have to wait long for the fates to set things right. At his sister's wedding in 336 BCE, he would witness his father's assassination. Speculation about Alexander's complicity abounded. He was wise to kill the assassins immediately.
Philip II arranged for his daughter, another Cleopatra that isn't the one you are thinking of, to marry his brother-in-law. This sort of thing was of course quite normal back in the day before people knew about the repercussions of inbreeding.
The king was killed by a man named Pausanias. He was a young Macedonian noble who held a grudge against Philip's young wife's uncle, Attalus. The grudge clearly extended to King Philip II, as he was the one who denied Pausanias the right to exact his own justice upon Attalus. Naturally, the suspicion fell on Alexander the Next-in-Line and his mother Olympias.
Due to Alexander the Pretty Good's reputation with the army, he was able to succeed Philip II without much opposition. Well, almost none, and no opposition that didn't find a swift death.
New King, Who Dis? - Proving Himself at Home
Alexander the Prince became king after his father, Phillip II, was assassinated by people who totally did not work for Alexander. The assassin was killed as soon as the deed was done, and with him, he took his secrets to the grave. Whether it was a plot by disgruntled nobles or a scheme concocted by Olympias and Alexander, the outcome remains the same.
Many of the territories previously conquered by Philip took this opportunity to revolt, as you do. They saw the 20-year-old king as potentially weak. This would turn out to be a mistake. His enemies and allies alike would soon learn that to stand against Alexander was to confront destiny itself.
First, he struck down the princes of Lyncestis who were allegedly behind the plot to assassinate his father. This accusation came from Alexander, so take it with a pinch of salt. Next, he had all of his political rivals put to the sword along with all of their supporters. Notice a pattern yet? Yeah, folks are going to die. Kind of like his dad did...
Thessaly was the first to be put in their place. Alexander the Intolerant crushed their resistance. Soon thereafter he was appointed as Generalissimo by an assembly of the Greek League of Corinth, who were likely terrified of him. The plan to invade Persia was still to go ahead. Alexander would be at the head of the greatest army Greece had ever produced. They placed their faith in this scary yuppy, and he would carry it to their enemies.
On his way back up to Macedon, Alexander stopped at Delphi to consult the Oracle. She did the sensible thing and told the twenty-year-old he was invincible. Alexander the Invincible liked the way that sounded. His faith in the Oracle's prophecy would see him charging recklessly into the hairiest whirlpools of violence during battle.
Alexander's first move as Generalissimo was to secure Thrace. Thracians had been more than a thorn in the side of Macedonia for ages. The army of united Greece forced its way through the Shipka Pass and beat the Triballi into submission. Next, they crossed the Danube river and defeated the Getae. While he was bringing Thrace to heel, the Illyrians saw their opportunity to sneak in from the west. Alexander the Getting the Hang of This War Thing turned his army back to Macedon to correct the Illyrians. They had formed a coalition against him, but he swept their army aside with ease. Spending the earliest part of his rule waging war on his ancestral enemies and allies alike taught Alexander how to use his army, and taught the army to trust their young leader.
Thebes was the next to revolt. Someone spread a rumor of Alexander's death, which naturally destabilized the young king's rule. The Thebans declared independence and petitioned Athens for support. Demosthenes, an Athenian statesman, championed their cause, and the vote to help them was passed. The other Greek states liked Thebes and viewed them as an icon of Greek-ness. Thebes was the hottest thing on the block.
Alexander the Offended marched his army down to Thebes and demanded their surrender. The Thebans refused. What followed would put an end to any thought of Greek rebellion against Alexander, for a while. His Macedonian army razed the city. The only things left standing were the temples and a poet, Pindar's, house. Little Alexander liked Pindar. Arrian, and Diodorus both state that the decision to raze Thebes and sell the population into slavery was made by Alexander's greek allies.
Alexander, in a practically Assyrian move, sold the entire population into slavery. Athens apologized. Greece mourned the loss of Thebes. They would no longer oppose Alexander. Probably because he was quickly escalating his brutality in his haste to get at Persia.
Alexander's Army - Pointier than the Rest
The army that Philip II had created and that his son would wield was formidable. Here we see an example of the power of combined arms. They weren't the first to mix horses, long sticks, short sticks, and throwing sticks. Phillip had drilled his army into an efficient machine of war. They did well against fellow Greeks, and even better against the Persians.
Alexander's army consisted of 40,000 soldiers. 9000 Phalangites formed the center, 3000 Hypaspists on their flanks, 7000 Greek Hoplites as backup, 8000 skirmishers armed with javelins and bows, 900 mounted Thracian scouts, 1700 allied cavalry, and finally the famous companion cavalry of Macedon.
The main bulk of the army was made up of a Phalanx wielding the 18ft Sarissa. They wore very little body armor and had a small shield strapped to their left arm. One might assume they were vulnerable as the core of an army, but remember that the Sarissa was twice the length of the spears used by other armies. Getting close enough to hurt them was near impossible. This Macedonian Phalanx was vulnerable to being flanked due to the difficulty in maneuvring the Sarissa.
The Hypaspists, or Shield Bearers, will be familiar to players of Sid Meier's Civilization 6. They protected the phalanx's flanks. Armed with a Dory, short spear, xiphos or kopis sword, and a heavier shield called aspis. They wore a hoplite's helmet, linothorax armor, and greaves. Heavier armor and shorter weapons enabled them to get into position with greater ease and fend off attackers hoping to get at the phalanx's juicy sides.
Alexander himself led a group of the formidable companion cavalry or Hetairoi. These elite cavalry troops are the second unique Macedonian unit seen in Civilization 6. The name, Hetairoi, is derived from "those close to the king" in Greek. They were given the best horses to ride, and the shiniest armor to wear. Each cavalryman was equipped with a Xyston, a long thrusting spear, and wore either a muscle-cuirass or linothorax with shoulder guards and a Beotian helmet. The Hetairoi would prove themselves time and time again as they stuck close to Alexander on his near-suicidal charges.
Skirmishers carried javelins and bows. Essentially anything that could stab someone from far away. These stick-chuckers would be put to great use during the battle of Gaugamela at the height of the war with Persia. Their job was usually to thin out the enemy before they got to the phalanx.
They were joined by the classic Greek hoplites. These citizen-soldiers were heavily armed and armored. They fought in close formation, standing together in a phalanx. Hoplites wore heavy bronze armor including helmets, breastplates, and greaves. Here was the pinnacle of ancient battle prowess. Hoplite mercenaries were in high demand. The Spartans under Leonidas I had seen to that when they opposed the Achaemenid Persian Empire the first time at Thermopylae.
Everyone had to have Greek hoplites, including the Persians. They were very cash money at the time.
Into Persia! Helmets and Disarming - Battle of the Granicus
Alexander the King of the Greeks moved his army east. Destiny was at hand. Revenge for the Greeks who fell so long ago to Persian aggression would come soon. One can imagine the chatter among the soldiers. They must have been thinking of Marathon and Thermopylae. Persia was likely used to scare small children into behaving. Now they would strike back at the boogeyman.
The first obstacle was the river Granicus and the three Persian Satraps who controlled the opposite side. Memnon of Rhodes, a Greek general working for the Persians, advised the Persians to retreat from Alexander's invasion. They should burn the crops and flee inland to starve the Greeks out, he advised. This strategy was rejected by the Persians, but would later become a hallmark of Imperial Russian defensive strategy. Retreat far into your near-infinite country and let nature kill your enemies.
The Persians massed on their side of the Granicus, a shallow river with steep banks on either side. They formed a solid wall of formidable cavalry, 10,000 strong. Warhorses snorted in anticipation. Riders were eager for blood. There were Greek mercenaries too, but they were kept in reserve because the Persians were unsure if they could trust them to fight their countrymen. The Satraps thought that this Greek incursion would be put down with ease.
Both armies stood facing each other across the river. They awaited orders to advance. Alexander led the left flank of his army, consisting of the hetairoi, hypaspists, and skirmishers in a mad charge across the river. The rest of his forces made their way across at a much slower pace, they were as surprised as the Persians were. Alexander the Bold called on his soldiers to be brave, they would need it too. Wherever Alexander went would become an inferno of carnage. Although his headlong charge seemed foolish, it worked.
He was among the first to charge up the steep bank on the far side of the Granicus and to clash with the Persian cavalry. The Persians attempted to subdue the incoming Hetairoi with projectiles, but the Macedonian cavalry made it across in great numbers. Arrows and javelins rained down around them and glanced off of their armor.
Alexander worked his way into the thickest fighting, as was his wont. He was soon surrounded and fighting Persians on all sides. While the Macedonian phalanx slowly made its way across the river, desperately trying to join their leader in battle. Alexander and his companions fought for their lives against the sea of blades around them.
Two Persian Satraps, Rhoesaces and Spithradates charged Alexander. Rhoesaces struck Alexander on the head, splitting his helmet. The armor was destroyed but it had served its purpose. Alexander killed Rhoesaces before his opponent could land another blow as his shattered helmet fell away. Spithradates took the opportunity to strike at Alexander's exposed head, a blow that would have cut short any dreams of empire. Cleitus the Black swung his sword at Spithradates' arm just as the latter swung his own sword. The blow cut the arm clean off and saved Alexander's life. One can imagine the look of shocked surprise on Spithradates' face as he was literally disarmed. He had seconds to appreciate his predicament as his lifeblood gushed away.
This act of heroism would later cost Cleitus his life. He was known to habitually pester Alexander about having saved him. That is until one drunken night when Alexander had had enough and impaled Cleitus with his spear. Alexander was notorious for his short temper and love of booze.
The Persians fled the battle, leaving their Greek mercenaries to fend for themselves. Alexander the Bloodcrazed denied their pleas for mercy and had them slaughtered.
He had kicked open the doors of Persia.
The Gordian Knot and The Fate of Asia - Lateral Logic
Alexander had a long history of denying naval forces a fair fight. He had no intention of breaking this streak while facing the Persian navy.
The Persian fleet posed a threat to Alexander's lines of communication by sea. Striking them from land meant that he had to attack the Greek cities, Miletus and Halicarnassus. These same Greeks, once known as Ionians, had been the impetus for the original Greek-Persian conflict. Their call for aid is what had driven the Spartan king Leonidas to threaten Emperor Xerxes. Ionia was now fully Persian though, and loyal too. They fought hard against their invading cousins. The unified Greek army took both cities despite strong resistance.
Next, they worked their way through Lycia and Phrygia, where Alexander found himself in the city of Gordium, the capital of Phrygia. Here we see Alexander participating in one of his favorite activities, making prophecies about himself. There was a legendary knot in Gordium, called the Gordian Knot.
Legend held that the founder of Gordium, a man named Gordius, was nothing more than a peasant before he was a king. He made his way into a public square with his wife riding on their ox-cart and likely smelling like manure. As luck would have it an oracle had prophesied that the citizens of this city would see their next king arrive by wagon. Without checking his credentials, much like we still do today, the people raised Gordius up as their king. Gordius was so thankful to the gods for blessing him with such stupendously gullible people to lead, that he dedicated the ox-cart to Zeus. He tied the cart using an incredibly intricate knot, the Gordian knot. Which was in itself a mathematical wonder.
This was seen as another great opportunity for prophecy by the oracle who proclaimed that whoever could untie this knot would become the king of all of Asia. Alexander had heard of this prophecy. You can likely guess what happened next.
Alexander the Probably-Prophesied stepped up to the Gordian Knot and really thought about it, for a hot minute. He drew forth his sword and sliced through the knot. Proclaiming himself the victor, and therefore destined to rule all of Asia.
When you look at the whole story it becomes hard to dispute the prophecies.
The Fight for Asia - Battle of Issus
Alexander the So Far So Good led his army towards Syria. He made to cross the Nur Mountains to plunge deeper into Persian territory. Soon he would receive word that the Persian army had appeared to the north of his position. His army was now trapped between the Persians and the mountains. This time the Persians were led by their King of Kings, Darius III.
Darius had twice the number of soldiers that Alexander commanded. He moved to the plains of Issus to block Alexander's retreat. He thought that his victory was simply a formality, as had his Satraps before him. These plains were only six miles wide from coast to mountains. They would force Alexander to fight, but would also stop Darius from utilizing his numerical advantage. The King of Kings felt confident that he could crush the upstart Macedonian. After all, hadn't Persia already whupped Greece?
Darius' army was made up of Immortals - elite royal guards, his strongest cavalry took the right flank, Greek mercenary hoplites made up the bulk of his force, and the Persian infantry was arrayed to the left. The king himself rode in a chariot right in the middle of his army.
If you remember Philip II's earlier wars of expansion, you will recall that Greek hoplites do not fare well against the Macedonian phalanx. Something about not being particularly maneuverable and having shorter spears. Being pressed forward by the eight ranks of dudes behind you all packed in tight formation.
Alexander the Confident charged the Persian army and his Companion Cavalry smashed into the Persian infantry. The Macedonian phalanx struggled to keep up, breaking ranks just enough for the enemy hoplites to gain the upper hand by moving slightly to the side.
Alexander led his Companions around to strike the hoplites from their flank and bought his phalanx the time to regroup and press on. Together they encroached on Darius' position, and seeing the ferocity of Alexander - Darius fled the field.
His army soon realized that their leader had turned tail and they attempted to flee themselves. The United Greeks slaughtered the remaining Persians. Victory belonged to Alexander at the Battle of Issus.
So eager had King Darius III been to escape, he had left behind his wife, mother, and three children. Apparently, he had brought them out to witness his greatness. Alexander took them as hostages and treated them like royalty. They were fairly comfortable as his prisoners, by all accounts.
According to an anecdote by Plutarch, when Alexander reached the royal tent of Darius III after the battle he was taken aback by the level of luxury within. The great golden baths and unimaginable treasures welcomed him. Things that he, despite being a king himself and accustomed to luxury, had never dreamed of. Plutarch quotes Alexander as having remarked to his friends:
"This, as it would seem, is to be a king."
Unchecked Expansion - More than Mortal
Alexander moved south the next year. He made his way through Syria and into Phonecia. The Phonecian cities capitulated to him, which effectively ended the Persian naval threat. This was the second time that Alexander had defeated a naval power without going near the water.
The only city that opposed him was the island city of Tyre. They were on an island with 46-meter-high walls all around the perimeter. Their navy was strong. Alexander stood no chance of constructing an impromptu navy to threaten them. The citizens of Tyre felt confident that they could hold out. All logic points to a Macedonian failure, right?
Alexander the Wily looked at this problem and decided that he didn't like the sea being in his way. He had his army construct a causeway connecting the mainland to Tyre. It took 7 months, but the walls were breached and the city fell, because of course it did.
While Alexander's army lay siege to Tyre, Darius sent a messenger carrying a deal. The King of Kings, Darius III, would pay 10,000 talents for the return of his family. He would cede nearly half of the Persian empire, everything west of the Euphrates, to Alexander. The leader of united Greece took council from Parmenio, who had served Alexander's father before him. Parmenio is reported to have said:
"I would accept, were I Alexander."
"I too were I Parmenio."
Alexander treated the people of Tyre as he had those of Thebes. Slaughter or slavery were their only two options. The punishment for resisting Alexander's destiny was severe. Gaza resisted as well, and they fell just the same. Only much later in his short career would he learn to be merciful.
Moving further south Alexander came upon Pelusium, the Persian capital of Egypt. The local Satrap surrendered to Alexander and the whole African territory came under his control. Alexander liked this, and he treated the Satrap and the people he ruled well.
He went to Memphis next, where the priests welcomed him as their liberator and crowned him the Pharoah of Egypt. From there he traveled north to the mouth of the Nile river and founded one of the most famous and tragic cities of history, Alexandria.
Alexander the Conqueror traveled into the southernmost reach of his empire to a place called Siwa. There was an oracle here that declared him to be the son of Amun, king of the gods. This must have done wonders for his ego.
Trouble at Home - Megalopolis Meltdown
Alexander went back to Tyre, where he received word of rebellion brewing in Greece. The Thracians were revolting in the north and in the south the Spartans were gearing up to invade Greece. He could do little to crush the rebels as he was already half a world away. He would have to trust in the people he had left behind to rule in his stead.
Alexander's commander in Greece, Antipater, quickly dealt with the Thracian rebellion by brokering peace before turning to face the Spartan menace. In 331 BCE the Spartan king, Agis III led his legendary army to face the Macedonians at Megalopolis. He had grown his rebellion on Persian bribes and had convinced several Greek cities to join his revolt. Things were looking bad.
Antipater maneuvered his army south in record time to face the rebels. The Spartans who in the past had been considered the mightiest of Greek warriors clashed with the Macedonians. Their battle was difficult and despite their reputation, the Spartans were absolutely crushed. Agis himself lay dead at the end of the battle. With the trouble at home at an end, Alexander pressed ahead.
You can imagine Alexander receiving messages from Antipater as things progressed. If he was ever anxious about the outcome of the situation he never showed it. This casual approach to adversity is part of what made Alexander so great. He was truly unflappable.
The Fall of Persia - Battle of Gaugamela
Alexander received another letter from Darius. The Persian King of Kings offered half his empire, a fortune in gold, and his daughter's hand in marriage in exchange for peace. Alexander the Son of Amun, the Conqueror, and the Invincible rejected the offer. He was far from being done. Besides, he could marry whoever he wanted once he became king of the world.
Darius and his army were reportedly massing at the plains of Gaugamela. Alexander was eager to be rid of this Persian king. He marched his army deep into the heart of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. The time had come for a reckoning. Hetairoi, the Hypaspists, and the phalanx would square up to the forces of Persia. Warriors drawn from all the exotic corners of the empire to defend Darius III.
Alexander had to contend with the Persian Satrap Mazaeus on his way to the plain of Gaugamela. This man would prove his worth to Alexander eventually, but first, he proved a capable enemy. Mazaeus led a group of cavalry with orders to keep an eye on the Greeks. They clashed several times, but the Persian delaying tactics had an unforeseen consequence.
Several of Mazaeus' scouts were captured by Alexander's army. From what they divulged to their captors, Alexander learned much about Darius' movements and plans. He learned of the massive force gathering to oppose his advance. The only problem was that his captives couldn't quite agree on where the Persian force was massing.
Darius III was no fool. He had learned from his defeat at Issus. This time he chose a wide-open plain as the battleground so that his superior numbers could work to his advantage. His soldiers worked hard to flatten the ground to make the Persian chariots more effective. These chariots were supposed to be a wonder weapon of the time. Long blades protruded from the wheels, perfect for cutting the legs out from under the greek phalanx.
Darius had also drawn together forces from all over his empire, around 80,000 troops answered his call. There was Syrian and Babylonian infantry. Armenian, Scythian, Indian, and Bactrian cavalry were backed up by 200 of the scythed chariots. He even had war elephants on the field that day. Logic dictates that he was at an extreme advantage. The chances of failure were slim to none.
Alexander's army had never faced a greater challenge. Some estimates have it that they were outnumbered two to one. They marched up from the south, hidden in the hills near the plain of Gaugamela. Darius hadn't secured these hills but had rather opted to send Mazaeus and his cavalry in. Mazaeus was sent scampering away again. He would report back to Darius, who took the opportunity to hunker down where he was.
The prisoners taken during these clashes leaked even more information to Alexander. They now knew about the location of the Persian army and the ground-leveling project. Alexander realized that Darius wasn't likely to move from his flattened field. He ordered the army to make camp and rest while he considered his options. Alexander the Chill had all the time in the world.
During the night the Persians sent infiltrators into the Greek camp. They promised gold in return for turning on Alexander. Parmenio suppressed the letters carried by the infiltrators, believing that greed could make the most loyal soldier turn. Alexander considered reading the letter to his assembled army, but for once Parmenio managed to convince him otherwise.
While his generals fortified the camp, Alexander assembled his companion cavalry and set out to scout the Persian army for himself. He returned from his scouting trip to formulate his battle plan. Alexander fine-tuned his strategy late into the night.
According to the Greek historian, Arrian, Parmenio went to see Alexander during the night. He proposed a night attack while the Persians were resting. Alexander scoffed at the notion:
"I would not demean victory by stealing victory like a thief."
Arrian thought that this response was just a distraction. He assumed that Alexander was opposed to the idea for tactical reasons.
As it was, a night attack would have been disastrous. Darius III had kept his army at the ready all night long. They anticipated a night attack and waited in battle formation. Armor and weapons grew heavier with each passing hour. Nerves shrieking at every sound from the hills.
Because of Alexander's decision to stick to a pitched battle, he drained the Persian forces of vigor and morale. When the time came, they would have gone without sleep or rest. His own soldiers on the other hand had enjoyed a peaceful night of rest.
When the sun rose on the fateful day of the battle, Alexander was sleeping soundly. His soldiers readied themselves for battle on no-ones orders because there had been no orders. They woke up leisurely, ate a hearty breakfast, and essentially grew bored of waiting and got dressed for war.
Parmenio found Alexander asleep in the late morning. He woke the king when it was time to hear his plan, surely the men needed their orders. Parmenio asked him how he could be so relaxed when the mighty Persian army waited just over the hills? Alexander reportedly said that he had been more concerned when the Persians were fleeing. Waiting for him on the plains was exactly what Alexander had wanted all along.
Soon after this interaction, the Greeks marched onto the field. The time of reckoning had come. Well-rested Greeks marched out from the hills to face their weary Persian foes.
Alexander led his cavalry off to the right in an attempt to distract the Persian cavalry. The Greek army would advance obliquely to the left before swinging right. This move was designed to overcome the fact that the Persian army extended far to either side of the Greek line. They wanted to move the battle off of the flattened plain and into the rocky hills where the chariots could not follow.
Bessus, the Satrap in charge of the flank opposing Alexander, charged his own cavalry at the Hetairoi. This was what Alexander had been hoping for, and he engaged Bessus with glee. Macedonian Companion cavalry crossed swords with some of the fiercest folk to ever mount a horse. They would prove their worth this day.
Far to their left, Mazaeus took the opportunity to engage Parmenio's own cavalry. Parmenio was outnumbered as usual, but he held out against the odds.
The fearsome scythed chariots rushed at the phalanx. Darius had hoped that these vehicles of carnage would undo the wall of Sarissa-wielding Greeks. Canny as always, the Greeks opened lines for the chariots to ride into while the skirmishers fired upon their drivers from afar. The Persian super-weapon failed to inflict the damage they were intended for. Not even the elephants could dislodge the stalwart phalanx.
Bessus' focus on staying on the outer flank of Alexander's Hetairoi had left the center of the Persian army open. Darius himself was stationed there. His flank was made up of weaker infantry just asking to be crushed by cavalry. The king of kings failed to see the weakness in his line, and he would pay dearly.
Alexander led a portion of his phalanx along with half of his hypaspists and a small number of his companion cavalry to engage the Persian center. The Greek army crushed the Persian center. Hetairoi swept in from the side, breaking the enemy's cohesion and sowing chaos. The phalanx pressed from the front and the hypaspists took care of the stragglers.
Once more Darius III fled the field. His army would soon follow. Alexander started to pursue the Persian king, but he received word that Parmenio was in trouble. Mazaeus hadn't noticed that his master had turned tail. He was so close to actually defeating Parmenio's cavalry that he could think of little else. Alexander rode back to defeat Mazaeus, and the day was won. The King of Kings would flee ever-eastward from here. First to Arbela, and then on to Media. Mazaeus himself also got away.
Darius III had lost his final great battle against Alexander. The Fall of the Achaemenid Persian Empire had begun in earnest. Somewhere Cyrus the Great turned in his grave.
The New King of Kings - Alexander sits Down
Babylon was heavy with history before Cyrus the Great first conquered it in 539 BCE. Alexander, who admired Cyrus greatly, marched into Babylon unopposed in 331 BCE. The city was surrendered by none other than Mazaeus.
Leniency was something that the Persians had been famous for, to an extent. The modus operandi of earlier empires had usually been complete cultural conformity and widespread executions of local leaders. Xerxes the Great had been well known to offer great rewards to cities that peacefully surrendered to him. They didn't have to become culturally Persian to join either. That was the genius of the Satrap system. Cities could govern themselves if they simply paid their taxes and agreed to support Persia. Alexander, who in the past had been driven to cruel domination, was growing to prefer this system.
Mazaeus was rewarded for his capitulation by being declared satrap of Babylon, city, and province. He shared the position with a Macedonian commander. They were given the right to mint coins. Alexander observed the local religious customs, appeasing the priesthood. Keeping the priesthood happy was imperative to keep the population happy. He understood the value of a placated populace.
From Babylon, Alexander made his way to Susa. This was the administrative capital of the Achaemenid Persian empire. Vast quantities of wealth were kept here, as well as the throne of the empire. Susa surrendered too. The people of Susa had no desire to be conquered violently, as they had reaped the rewards of it being done to so many others. There is value in acknowledging the change in management.
Alexander the king of Greece and most of Persia took his place upon the throne in Susa. He set up Darius' family here, restoring them to their hometown in luxury. One can imagine that this looked promising to the citizens of Susa. This Greek conqueror wasn't here to destroy them but to assimilate them into his new empire.
There was something gnawing at the back of Alexander's mind though. Darius III was still at large. There was still more Persia beyond the mountains.
Crushing the Ouxians
Alexander the Great wasn't quite in control of all of Persia yet. There were still a few holdouts to the east. He had been crowned the lord of Asia, but not everyone agreed that he was the person for the job. The first of these disagreeables were the Ouxians.
The Ouxian tribes lived on the plains and in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains. Alexander moved his army into their territory shortly after occupying Susa. He had to get to Darius before the latter was able to raise yet another army to oppose him. Unfortunately, the Ouxian people had other ideas.
While the Ouxians that lived on the plains surrendered peacefully, their hill-dwelling cousins thought little of the Macedonian king. They hadn't even been a part of the Persian empire, despite living so close to their capital of Susa. Persia likely had some agreement with these people that allowed them to continue existing if they behaved themselves.
The Ouxian hill tribes loved their independence from Persia. They had little interest in giving up that cherished freedom. When Alexander marched into their territory they demanded that he pay a toll to them or be refused admission into the Zagros mountains. You can imagine what Alexander's reaction to this would be. Utter, merciless, destruction.
Alexander sent a message to the Ouxians that he wouldn't accept their terms. He moved most of his army ahead to secure the high ground near the mountain pass, under the command of a general named Craterus. The king himself stayed behind with 8000 soldiers and a bunch of guides he recruited from Susa. They waited for the Ouxians to mass their force at the pass, and under the cover of night, they snuck into the hills.
The guides from Susa led Alexander to the now defenseless Ouxian villages. Alexander and his soldiers raided these villages. Slaughtering the people and pillaging what wealth they had. They did this throughout the night, moving from village to village and wiping them out.
After the slaughter, Alexander rushed to catch up to his army. He did this all so quickly that he arrived before the Ouxian warriors did. They had lost everything and didn't even know it yet. Alexander took the opportunity to gain a tactical advantage in the hills. He personally took up the high ground with his band of raiders, sending Craterus to a hidden area at the back of the pass.
When the Ouxians arrived, they were ready for some negotiation. Alexander, who was practically foaming at the mouth, sounded a charge as soon as the tribesmen arrived. They fled before the ferocity of the Macedonian king. Unfortunately, their path led them straight into the jaws of Craterus' army. They were massacred.
After the battle, Alexander had time to wipe the froth from his mouth and come to his senses. He allowed what remained of the Ouxian people to return to what remained of their villages. They would be subject to taxation and were never to oppose the passage of his troops through their lands again.
What choice did they have?
The Persian Gates - Oh how the tables they turn
Alexander the More Brutal by the Day and Somehow More Lenient Too split his army into two at this point. The bulk of his army, including the supply train and support staff, was to follow Parmenio south. They would make their way around the southern edge of the Zagros Mountains and reconvene with Alexander on the other side before they took the two Persian capital cities, Persepolis and Pasargadae.
The smaller strike force led by Alexander would make its way through the mountains along a pass known as "Darband-e Pars", the Persian Gates. He was confident that his army would get to the other side first. This was not to be, as a small force of Persian defenders was determined to hold the pass. Here we see the Persians become the underdogs in this tale. Gone are the massive armies that shook the earth with their marching feet.
This Persian force was led by a satrap named Ariobarzanes of Persis. Darius had commanded Ariobarzanes to hold the pass and slow down the conqueror. He was to buy time for Darius to build up yet another grand army beyond the mountains. Unlike previous Persian opponents, Ariobarzanes was cunning to the extreme. He anticipated Alexander's attitude and movements perfectly.
Alexander was almost all the way through the pass when the ambush came. They entered a valley with the sunrise peeking out from behind a sharp turn in the path ahead of them. What they failed to see was the wall built to block that path or the soldiers hiding in the mountains behind them. This would be Alexander's first major defeat, the price he would pay for his arrogance.
Ariobarzanes and his 700 soldiers erupted from their hiding places behind the Greeks. Others rained rocks down upon the Greeks from the surrounding mountainsides. The battle was over before it began, and Alexander's troops suffered heavy losses. Alexander the Suddenly Vulnerable had his soldiers retreat hastily from the valley. Due to the narrow road, fresh snow, rain of stones, and Persian soldiers, the retreat was difficult.
Alexander had to leave the fallen behind, which further affected the morale of his army. They fled to a valley deeper in the mountains and set up camp to lick their wounds. Here they would be kept at bay for a whole month. Unable to risk a costly frontal assault on the Persian Gates, but unable to proceed. The king was faced with a dilemma. Option 1 was to smash his army to pieces against the Persian defenders. Option 2 was to slink out of the mountains with his tail between his legs and rejoin Parmenio's forces. The latter option didn't quite fit into Alexander's narrative, and he would never live it down if he fled.
Eventually, the solution presented itself in the form of a prisoner. One of the locals Alexander had taken captive knew of a secret path that would go around the Persian line. As a student of history, it is likely that Alexander recognized the similarities to the Battle of Thermopylae. There had been an improbably undefeatable force of a few hundred keeping several thousand at bay in a mountain pass then. King Leonidas' defense would be undone by a similar secret passage that allowed encirclement. History was about to repeat itself.
Alexander and Philotas led two contingents of soldiers through the secret path under the cover of darkness. The climb was treacherous in full armor, but their guides were experienced and got them through safely. By daybreak, the Greeks had circled all the way around the Persian line. Alexander went around to the south of the Persian position while Philotas took up a position to the north.
This time the sunrise was on their side as their pincer attack crushed the defenders. Alexander's soldiers exacted their revenge by painting the pass red with the blood of their enemies.
Persepolis Burns - The Final Ceremony
Persepolis was the ceremonial capital of Persia. The name Persepolis is Greek, and translates literally to "Persian City". You can imagine that this probably wasn't its original name. Founded by Darius I when he ascended to the throne after the fall of Cyrus the Great (who Darius was 'totally' not plotting against). Darius wanted a fresh start from his predecessor. The city was old by the time Alexander swaggered in, it was built in 518 BCE.
Here we have to explore another aspect of the procession of Greeks that accompanied the army of Alexander the Great. The Hetaira was a kind of Greek Geisha. Hetaira translates as a companion, much like Alexander's cavalry, but in this context, it refers to something of a social, romantic, and entertainment provider. These women were educated, unlike the average Greek woman, and were great conversationalists and orators.
One such Hetaira was about to make her mark on history. Thaïs was from Athens, a city that suffered greatly from the wrath of Xerxes when he had the sacred temple of Athena burnt, among other things, in 480 BCE. She was, at the time, the lover of Ptolemy I Soter, and would later ascend with him to the throne of Egypt. Some sources claim that she was also one of Alexander's lovers, which might as well be true.
Thaïs had been with the army ever since it left Greece. She was present at the party celebrating the defeat of Persepolis, where she made an impassioned speech. Speaking at length about the atrocities committed by Xerxes in his burning of Athena's temple and the Acropolis. She likely spoke of an opportunity for a kind of just retribution against the Achaemenid Persian empire. Whatever she said, it got Alexander the Drunk's blood boiling. He commanded the royal palace of the Achaemenid Persian dynasty to be burnt down in revenge for the damage done to Athens.
The historian, Diodorus of Sicily had this to say about it (nearly 300 years after the event):
"When the king [Alexander] had caught fire at their words, all leaped up from their couches and passed the word along to form a victory procession in honor of Dionysus. Promptly many torches were gathered. Female musicians were present at the banquet, so the king led them all out for the comus to the sound of voices and flutes and pipes, Thaïs the courtesan leading the whole performance. She was the first, after the king, to hurl her blazing torch into the palace. As the others all did the same, immediately the entire palace area was consumed, so great was the conflagration. It was remarkable that the impious act of Xerxes, king of the Persians, against the acropolis at Athens should have been repaid in kind after many years by one woman, a citizen of the land which had suffered it, and in sport."
Death of Darius III - Like a Dog in the Dirt
Alexander marched north to the Median capital of Ecbatana, where Darius had been hiding and plotting. When he learned of Alexander's approach he fled to the east. He planned on raising his new army in the three remaining Persian provinces, Bactria, Parthia, and Sogdia. On the way, he would be killed by the Bactrian satrap, Bessus.
Bessus proclaimed himself the ruler of the Achaemenid Persian empire, taking the name of Artaxerxes IV. He had the king of kings stabbed and left him in the dirt near modern Shāhrūd, where Alexander would come upon his body. Alexander had Darius III's body sent back to his family for a royal burial. He would be searching for Darius' killers throughout the remainder of his campaign in Persia.
The deed had been done by two soldiers left to guard the king. They apparently had grown fearful at the approach of the Greek army and decided to kill Darius as he was slowing them down. Their names were Nabarzanes and Barsaentes. Nabarzanes surrendered to Alexander, and his fate wasn't recorded, but we can assume he was executed if we read what became of Barsaentes.
According to Arrian in his Anabasis of Alexander, III.25:
"when he learned of Alexander’s approach, he fled for refuge to the Indians west of the Indus. But they arrested him and sent him back to Alexander, who had him executed for his treachery to Darius"
Darius was buried in the royal tombs of Persepolis.
With the death of Darius III, Alexander had little left to do but consolidate his rule of Persia. His deep obsession to reach the end of the world would not allow him to rest.
The Lord of Asia
Alexander was now the accepted ruler of what had once been the Achaemenid Persian empire. He just had to get the last few holdouts to submit to his rule, and of course, he had to kill Bessus. There's always someone to chase down, especially if they happen to flee to the east. Alexander faced other problems too. He had begun adopting the Persian style of dress and some of their mannerisms. This move would be seen as a slow betrayal and rejection of his own culture by the Greeks who followed him.
The first to taste Alexander's wrath was a satrap name Satibarzanes, in 330 BCE. They first met on the battlefield, according to Diodorus, and Alexander defeated the satrap. He must not have been an adept general, because Alexander felt it prudent to confirm Satibarzanes as satrap of Aria. Satibarzanes was sent home with an accompaniment of forty Macedonian soldiers, led by Anaxippus, to ensure his loyalty.
These Macedonian soldiers were not long for this world. They were murdered at the first opportunity by Satibarzanes and his soldiers. Satibarzanes then declared himself for Bessus and Aria revolted for the first time. They would not tolerate the rule of a foreign invader.
Alexander turned his gaze upon Aria and marched his army there. He was on his way to deal with the Parthians anyway, so this would serve as a warm-up. Satibarzanes had gathered his forces in the city of Artacoana. The satrap must have been very confident indeed to oppose Alexander's might. That bravery fled as soon as he heard the distant rumble of the approaching army. Satibarzanes fled with 2000 soldiers to join Bessus, the rest of his forces were sent into the mountains to hide.
Artacoana was put under siege. They resisted despite their leader's flight, but eventually, they were defeated. The emperor left the city and continued on to Parthia, only to receive reports that Satibarzanes had returned and incited revolt in Artacoana yet again. According to the historian, Arrian, Alexander sent a detachment of his forces to deal with the annoying satrap.
The Greek force was led by Artabazus, Erigyius, Caranus, and Andronicus of Olynthus. They confronted Satibarzanes in a battle where victory seemed uncertain for both sides. Finally, Satibarzanes challenged the Greek leaders to single combat. He would face their champion alone, and the fight would decide the battle. If only modern leaders would do this to settle their disputes. Erigyius accepted the satrap's challenge and they fought in sight of both armies. Satibarzanes ultimately lost the fight and was killed, his blood absolving the soldiers from further bloodshed that day.
Alexander established a city nearby named Alexandria Ariana, modern Herat. Here they rested before continuing south to Phrada. The war in what is today known as Afghanistan would be tough on Alexander's forces, but the disquiet among his soldiers was about to prove a more immediate threat.
Parmenio and Philotas - The Plot
Parmenio had served Alexander's father long before he came to serve the young king. The general had long been one of Alexander's most consistent critics. His loyalty had never been in question though. Parmenio risked his life for Alexander's campaign time and time again. He was direct and unafraid to speak his mind. This is likely what got him killed in the end.
Ultimately it was Parmenio's son, Philotas, who brought about the downfall of their family. Philotas was the commander of the Companion cavalry (Hetairoi), and the eldest son of Parmenio. The young commander was right beside Alexander at the battle of the Granicus when he stormed the Persian cavalry on the far bank of the river. He fought by the king's side at the battles of Issus, and Gaugamela. Philotas was present for the cutting of the Gordian Knot.
After the defeat of Satibarzanes, the army felt sure that the war was finally over. They wanted to return to their families. Surely they had earned their rest? Alexander had other ideas though. His war was far from over, and his commanders may have suspected as much. They were sent far away from his court on honorable missions. Alexander would have no nay-sayers near him when he planned the rest of his war. His tendency towards the Persian customs was also grating on his Greek soldiers' nerves. Reportedly he even wanted to adopt the practice of prostration, which was considered heretical to the Greeks. They were fine with kneeling if they had to, but a free person only prostrated themself before a god. Despite Alexander's claimed divinity, they would not treat him with the same respect as Zeus.
Philotas was accused of treason in December of 330 BCE. He had apparently been made aware of a plot to assassinate Alexander and decided not to pursue the lead. The soldier that had reported the plot to him was dismayed by his commander's lack of action, so he went straight to Alexander himself. Had this been the first time such an accusation had been made against Philotas, it would likely have been forgiven. There had been rumors back in Egypt of a similar situation. Alexander chose not to punish Philotas then.
This time there actually had been an attempt on Alexander's life. Despite this, he forgave Philotas, at first. The day after his act of clemency he was approached by two infantry commanders, Craterus and Coenus, who reiterated the accusation of complicity. Alexander could ignore the accusations no longer and had Philotas arrested that night. The Roman historian, Quintus Curtius Rufus, wrote that Philotas said, "the bitter hatred of his enemies had triumphed over Alexander's kindness."
As was the custom in Macedonia, they put Philotas on trial. Alexander produced a letter from Parmenio to Philotas as evidence at the trial. This letter had been intercepted by Alexander's agents and it contained the following line:
"first of all take care of yourselves and the of your people - that is how we shall accomplish our purpose" - Parmenio
This was hardly the damning evidence Alexander claimed it to be, but in the end, Philotas was found guilty of conspiracy to commit regicide. Hephaestion, Alexander's closest friend and possible lover, along with Craterus and Coenus argued that the true nature of the plot had yet to be revealed. They suggested torture as an effective method to get to the truth.
Philotas was tortured until he confessed to plotting to kill Alexander with his father, Parmenio. They had wanted the king dead for quite some time but didn't want it to happen before Darius III was dead. For them, the prize was the empire, and with Darius out of the way they could remove Alexander from the picture too. The soldiers' plot was the perfect vehicle for their ascendancy, or so Philotas claimed under torture.
Philotas and a few others were either stoned or speared to death. Parmenio was in Ecbatana, where he controlled the road connecting the Mediterranean and the east, for Alexander. He was unaware of his son's death. Alexander sent a messenger to Ecbatana with orders to arrive before the news of Philotas' death could. The messenger delivered orders to the commanders under Parmenio, and they sent him to join his son in the underworld before he even knew of the trial.
We will never know if Philotas and Parmenio had really plotted to kill Alexander. Such plots were fairly common in the Macedonian court, so it is possible. Philotas was also in a position to take over the empire should Alexander die. Motive does not prove guilt. Confessions borne from torture are unreliable as well. Whatever the case was, Parmenio and his son had commanded too much power.
Alexander split the command of his Hetairoi between Clitus the Black and Hephaestion. He renamed the city where the trial happened, Prophthasia (Anticipation in Greek).
329 BCE - Bessus Falls
Alexander rested his army through the winter of 330 BCE. He would return to the campaign the next year, in 329 BCE. Alexander had to cross the Hindu Kush to get into Bactria, and he had to get to Bactria to deal with Bessus. The usurper had taken the royal title of King of Kings for himself, despite only ruling over the central Asian provinces of the Achaemenid Persian empire.
To the Greeks, the war should have been over. The eastern territories offered very little economically, and would likely cost more to take and hold than they would be worth. Alexander used Bessus as an excuse to push onward. After all, Bessus was actively stirring up unrest in those easternmost provinces. They would be a problem soon.
Luckily for Alexander, those closest to Bessus betrayed him as soon as they got wind of the Macedonian's approach. Bessus was tied up and delivered to Alexander by Spitamenes. Alexander had Bessus sent back to the capital for torture and execution. Bessus was delivered wearing a wooden collar, the mark of a slave.
Spitamenes happily surrendered to Alexander. He hoped that he would be allowed to remain independent as a reward for his cooperation. This was not Alexander's style. Soon after the Greek army left the city, Spitamenes had the garrison Macedonian slaughtered. He incited a revolt against the invaders that would slow down Alexander's advance and catch him in a mire of guerilla warfare.
Sogdians, Bactrians, and Scythians
The Greek army advanced northward before Spitamenes' betrayal. Into Sogdiana, modern Tajikistan, they marched. Here the native tribes rose up to oppose Alexander. Of course, the young conqueror met their resistance with characteristic fury, taking several towns by force and suffering no enemy to live.
They took five Sogdian settlements in two days. Craterus had been sent to the city of Cyropolis, which had the best soldiers and defenses according to local rumors. He was to surround the city and construct siege engines to aid in its capture. Alexander arrived with his army after they crushed the five other settlements.
Siege engines opened the battle for Cyropolis. They hammered into the walls, keeping the defenders focused on their outer defenses. All the while Alexander led a small strike team through a dried-up watercourse that would take them under the town's main hall. They popped up from beneath the earth like trapdoor spiders snatching their prey and opened the main gate for the rest of the army to enter the city.
The fighting was brutal in Cyropolis. Rather than surrendering once the walls had been breached, the people rose up as one against the invaders. Craterus was injured by an arrow and Alexander took a nasty blow to the head from a thrown rock. According to Arrian, the town was defended by over 15,000 people, 8000 of which died before they acknowledged defeat and fled from the city. As for the fate of Cyropolis, here we have to go down the historical grapevine. Arrian says that he heard from Aristobulus, that the people of Cyropolis were totally slaughtered for taking up arms against Alexander.
Alexander made his way to the easternmost edge of Persia and founded a city there. This one was also named Alexandria. He had defeated the Sogdians and stood at the pinnacle of his accomplishment. There was a cloud of dust on the horizon and the sound of thundering hooves. Who could it be that so disturbed his moment of victory?
Here, at the edge of Persian civilization, he came into contact with a people that had defeated Darius the Great. The Scythians were prone to forming hordes of horse-riding raiders to tear through the Sogdian countryside. They spent their lives on horseback and were fiercely capable warriors. When Darius the Great attempted to subdue them, he found that their nomadic nature made it nearly impossible to do so. They could always retreat deeper into their territory for they had no permanent cities to defend.
Alexander faced the Scythian horse-lords at the river Jaxartes. The Scythians took up positions on the bank of the river. They planned to strike down the Macedonian army as it disembarked from its boats. Alexander recognized their plan and ordered all of his soldiers to disembark at once. They would be covered by artillery fire from the ships, where catapults had been erected. This strategy is quite common now as artillery has a longer range than bows. Back then it was unheard of, and once again Alexander proved himself a tactical genius.
The Scythians had more targets than they could fire upon. They failed to stop the disembarkation of the Greeks, but they were confident that they could always retreat as they had done in times past. Alexander knew their preference for retreat and opted to lure them into a trap. He ordered his mounted spearmen forward to present a vulnerable morsel for the Scythian horseback archers. You see, in their culture, a leader would never sacrifice soldiers to gain an advantage in battle. They had a very strict honor code that would allow the soldier's family to declare a blood feud against the commander who led them.
Taking advantage of what they perceived as an error, the Scythians soon surrounded the spearmen. They rained down a cloud of deadly projectiles as Alexander's infantry got into position and trapped them between the mounted spearmen and the bulk of Alexander's army. Fleeing became their number one priority, but they were met by the enveloping infantry. Many Scythians died, including their leader, Satraces. This was the first time anyone had managed to pin down and destroy a nomad army.
To the west, the fighting continued against Bactrian and Sogdian holdouts. Alexander was growing frustrated by their continuing resistance.
Clitus the Black - Don't Poke the Lion
Cleitus came from a line of Macedonian nobility. He was with Alexander at the battle of the Granicus, possibly as the leader of the king's bodyguard. When the Persian satrap's sword was about to cleave Alexander's skull, it was Cleitus who struck the arm that held the sword. As the arm tumbled away and the satrap bled out Cleitus felt accomplished. He could have had no idea that he sealed his fate with that blow. The dice of history fell with that arm.
Cleitus was another elder officer from Phillip II's generation. He had in fact been present when Philip claimed the throne of Macedonia. Loyal service was the hallmark of his life, and he paid for it in the end.
Alexander trusted Cleitus. After Philotas' execution for treason, it was Cleitus who was given shared control of the hetairoi. He shared command with Alexander's closest friend, Hephaestion. By all accounts, things were going quite well for Cleitus. He had a running joke where he made fun of Alexander for nearly dying at the Granicus. Cleitus brought it up whenever they drank. Who else was close enough to the temperamental emperor to openly mock him in public?
Alexander appointed Cleitus as the future satrap of Bactria and Sogdia. This position was traditionally reserved for the crown prince of Persia, so it was a great honor. He was to take the position just as soon as the guerilla war was resolved. There were many battles in this war, and after a victory in one of these conflicts, the officers returned to the satrapal palace at Maracanda, in Sogdia.
They partied into the night. Alexander had a great love for alcohol and he imbibed copious amounts of wine. Casting our memories back to the events following one such party in Persepolis, we can see just how volatile the king got with a bit of wine in him. He was making declarations about the future of the army, reorganizing the command structure with the help of that social lubricant. Cleitus would be sent far from Alexander's side with 16,000 of the Greek mercenaries that had served the Achaemenid Persian empire before being pardoned by Alexander. He was to fight the steppe nomads to the north. This posting would leave him politically vulnerable to being forgotten. It was a dismissal and an insult.
Various courtiers swarmed around Alexander. They stroked his ego by singing his praises and mocking the Greek leaders defeated by the leader of the guerilla forces, Spitamenes. Alexander the Egotistical lapped it up. Soon the courtiers were praising Alexander as the son of Zeus-Ammon, conflating the leaders of the Greek and Egyptian pantheons. They went so far as to mock the memory of Philip II. He was after all not Alexander's true father if the king was sired by a god.
Cleitus had known Philip II. He had known the commanders that died for Alexander's cause. They had been his friends and loyal to the Greek army. For Cleitus it was a disgusting display of irreverence. The old commander started loudly praising Philip II. Alexander retorted that his accomplishments dwarfed those of Philip's, to which Cleitus countered by saying that Alexander wasn't the legitimate king of Macedonia. He further stated the fact that without Philip's innovations and the foundations he laid, Alexander would have achieved nothing.
Alexander rose in fury and threw an apple at Cleitus, who dodged it. The king called for a dagger or a spear, but the partygoers removed the dagger nearest Alexander and attempted to restrain him. Cleitus was ushered out of the room, but managed to return soon thereafter. Alexander tried to have the army summoned, but no one would follow his orders. The older man barked more insults at Alexander, and that's when the young king got hold of a javelin. They were both quite drunk. Both men refused to back down from the argument.
Alexander threw the javelin and it struck Cleitus in the chest, piercing his heart. He fell dead to the floor as Alexander continued to rage. Way to kill the mood, Alexander.
Historians can't quite agree on whether Alexander truly meant to kill Cleitus. Once he sobered up, he mourned Cleitus' death.
Roxana - Capturing a King's Heart
That summer Alexander met the daughter of a Bactrian lord. He married Roxana soon thereafter. Some historians claim it was infatuation, but others acknowledge the convenience of the marriage. By uniting with Bactrian royalty, Alexander stabilized the region. This marriage was possibly another key military victory, and it definitely opened up the possibility of further campaigns to the east.
Roxana's side of things makes the loves-story a little less clear-cut. She had been living her life as the daughter of Oxyartes, a Bactrian chief who had supported Bessus. Oxyartes sent his wife and children to a stone fortress, the Sogdian Rock, for their own safety while he went to war with the Greeks. The fortress fell before he had the chance to, and Alexander took Roxana as a hostage. He treated captives, especially royal ones, quite well, and was soon captured by Roxana's charms. Whether she wanted to or not remains lost to the mists of time, but they were married soon thereafter in 327 BCE.
Oxyartes learned of the marriage and rushed to surrender to Alexander. The Macedonian king welcomed Oxyartes and they celebrated the wedding with a great feast. Soon enough Oxyartes would become a spokesman for Alexander in the region, and he was instrumental in convincing the other chiefs to surrender to the new king. For his service, Alexander appointed Oxyartes as the satrap of the Hindu Kush region which connected Persia and India.
Roxana stayed behind when Alexander marched east to invade India. She was soon joined by another wife, Stateira II, who was Darius III's daughter. Soon Alexander married again, this time to Stateira's cousin Parysatis II. The second and third wife problem would be resolved after Alexander's death when Roxana had Stateira and Parysatis murdered.
Roxana gave birth to Alexander's son, Alexander IV, shortly after the death of his father. She had been pregnant at the time of her husband's death. Unfortunately, neither she nor her son would survive very long in a post-Alexander world. They would be captured in Macedonia by the usurper, Cassander, and later executed in Amphipolis to remove an obstacle to his rule.
Into India - The Final Campaign
Spitamenes, who had been the greatest hindrance to Alexander's rule in Sogdiana and Bactria, was killed by nomadic tribesmen in December of 328 BCE. It happened after he was defeated in battle by Alexander's general, Coenus, at the Battle of Gabai. The tribesmen sent his head to Alexander as a peace offering. Alexander happily accepted the peace and began making preparations for his campaign in India.
First, he would have to cross over the Hindu Kush mountains that separated Persia and the Indian subcontinent. Despite a few skirmishes and a siege, they quickly gained a foothold in the Swat Valley in what is now modern Pakistan. The queen of Massaga, the first city they took in the Swat Valley, was allowed to keep her throne after allegedly falling pregnant with Alexander's child.
The next city in Alexander's way, Taxila, opted to join him in an alliance to fight King Porus. Together they would face the king of the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent at the river Hydaspes. Here Alexander would face the true might of war elephants. While he had contended with a few of the titanic beasts in the past, it was against the Indian army that he would learn to respect them. He faced not only a few elephants this time, but hundreds of heavily armored monsters carrying wooden structures on their backs. From within these mobile fortresses, slingers and javelineers could rain death on their enemies.
Alexander and his army came to the Hydaspes in the middle of a multi-day rainstorm. They faced the army of Porus of Paurava who stood ready on the far bank of the river. It's amazing how many ancient battles began this way, with two armies staring each other down from opposite banks of a river.
Alexander used boats brought in by Coenus to cross the river far to the north of his main camp. He did so in the dead of night under the cover of the continuing storm. The Alexandrian army clashed with Porus' in 326 BCE. Alexander managed to hit Porus' army on their flank and inflict heavy casualties before their enemy could react. The battle, once properly joined, was brutal and it would become known as Alexander's costliest encounter.
So impressed was he with King Porus that he appointed him as satrap of Punjab after his defeat. With the Pauravan King under his control, Alexander prepared to make his way further east. There was an even larger Indian army waiting for him in Magadha, the Nanda Empire. Alexander was officially adding new territory on top of the already conquered Persian lands, but his soldiers had other ideas.
Mutiny on the Hyphasis - We've had enough, Mr. King
Alexander led his army to the east where they camped near the Hyphasis River. The king made his plans of further eastern expansion known to his soldiers, who didn't react quite as he thought they would. Warriors who had followed Alexander all the way from Greece, who had fought monsters and kings aplenty, finally put their collective feet down and said no more. They made their grievances known to Alexander.
Alexander the Great was surprised by their mutiny. According to Arrian, he took counsel from his closest advisors, who advised him to give in to his army's demands. The king was apoplectic. He chastised his officers for their cowardice and sent them away. The following day he had them brought back to him. Alexander declared that he would pursue his advance, but that the Greeks were free to return home. They could tell the people there how they had abandoned their king amid his enemies. After this tantrum, he sent the officers away again and isolated himself in his tent for days. He hoped that his sulking would convince the troops to give up on their dreams of peace, but after three days he knew the truth.
Alexander was stubborn though, and according to Ptolemy, son of Logus, he went ahead with offerings to the gods for safe passage across the Hyphasis River. The omens were against him.
Finally, Alexander acquiesced. He gathered his most senior companions and made the announcement: There would be no further expansion into the Indian subcontinent. Alexander the Defeated had appropriately been defeated for the first time by his own soldiers.
The army rejoiced at the announcement. They praised him and lavished him with many compliments. He split the army into twelve parts and had each build a massive altar to one of the Greek gods. Twelve altars to mark the limit of Greek expansion. Alexander also had a thousand boats built to serve as transport for half his army.
They turned south soon thereafter to begin the ill-fated march home.
The Mallian Campaign - I'll solo these guys
Alexander split his army into three parts. Half would travel down the river in the boats commanded by Nearchus, and the other half would be split in two on either side of the river. They made their way through the territory of several tribes of Punjab. Not all of these tribes were particularly happy to be conquered as an afterthought and many of them were slaughtered.
The Malli and the Oxydraci joined forces to block Alexander's passage through their territory. So, naturally, he laid siege to the Mallian citadel. They managed to resist his army for long enough to frustrate Alexander greatly. He was so sick of his soldiers that he rushed to the walls and scampered over nearly alone. Only two of his bodyguards managed to stay by his side as he leaped into the throng of enemies waiting below the walls.
The army was galvanized by the horror of watching their king charge in suicidally, and they rushed the walls. Desperately they fought their way into the Mallian citadel to save Alexander. When they made it over the walls they found Alexander writhing in a pool of his blood surrounded by dead enemies. He had been shot by a Mallian archer. The army thought that he was going to die, so they massacred the Mallians, leaving not a man, woman, or child alive within the walls.
The army conquered the Mallians and rushed their king back to his surgeon, Kritodemos of Kos, who managed to save Alexander's life. He would recover from the wound, but his health would never be the same again.
Alexander's army conquered their way down to the coast of the Arabian Sea, where Nearchus left the main army behind and made his way back to Persia by sea.
The Return to Persia - Desert of Death
Nearchus traveled along the coast through the straits of Hormuz and into the Persian Gulf. His voyage marked the first time that Greeks sailed in the Arabian Sea. It was one of the great voyages of exploration of the ancient era.
Alexander led his half of the army through the deserts of southern Pakistan, an area then known as Gedrosia. According to the account of Nearchus, Alexander chose this route not because he was unaware of the danger involved in crossing the desert, but because he wanted to conquer it like he had conquered everything else. This could also be interpreted as an attempt to punish his army for its insubordination.
Ancient tales told of a legendary Indian queen, Semiramis, who had crossed the desert with her army as she fled India. This mythical queen managed the crossing but lost all but 20 of her soldiers. Another legendary figure had also attempted the crossing, Alexander's hero, Cyrus the Great had lost an entire army to the heat and thirst of Gedrosia in ages past.
Alexander marched his army into that deathtrap with all the confidence of a man convinced of his own divinity. The first to die were the animals that carried their gear and provided their food. Uneven shifting sands swallowed the beleaguered beasts or tripped them up. Next to fall were the humans themselves. They marched irregularly, from oasis to oasis. Some days they would march far longer than usual, and other days would be short.
Most, if not all, of the animals, died. Many of them were killed by the soldiers when they got desperate for food. Although this act was a crime, none would report it and Alexander wouldn't persecute the offenders. Their suffering justified their actions. Sick or injured comrades were left behind to die where they fell.
Eventually, the army came upon a small stream. They set up camp here, enjoying the steady supply of freshwater. According to Arrian, around the time of the second watch of the night, the river suddenly swelled in a flash flood. They could see no rain, but the stream carried its flood from far upstream. Caught off-guard by the sudden torrent, the camp was swept away. All of the camp followers, mostly women, and children, along with all of their remaining animals and most of their weapons were swallowed by the greedy flood. The soldiers escaped death but their morale was shattered. They had no time to mourn the loss of their camp followers.
After this Alexander made sure to set up camp further from the water sources. This helped to protect the survivors from floods but also to stop men from drinking so much water that they died from it or spoiling the water source with their filthy bodies.
Arrian includes an anecdote of the latter part of the journey through the desert. Alexander and his army came to a point when the guides no longer knew where to go. They had never learned to navigate by the stars or the sun, and there were no landmarks to point the way. Alexander felt the proper way to go was left, so he took several riders and made his way left until they found the coast. The army soon followed and they journeyed along the beach until the guides knew where they were again.