Yesterday, I went on a walk that was twenty seven miles in length and took about twelve hours to complete. I enjoy walking – it is excellent not only for exercise but (creative) thinking – but had never covered such a great distance before. As I write these words I am a little surprised but very pleased that it was only when we were a mile or two from our objective that I really began to tire. I completed the last couple of miles thanks to the sugar rush from my chocolate bar. I wonder what weary Macedonians ate to keep them going? And how did they deal with blisters?
The Macedonian army marched as far during the day as the king wanted. I have never sat down with a map to measure the distances that they can be said to have done on any given day but I certainly wish I had that information to hand now.
Not that by doing so I could compare my journey to theirs even when the miles covered was the same.
Firstly, I travelled lightly; I don’t know if the Macedonians carried all their own equipment (like the Romans did?) but I would be surprised if they didn’t carry at least some of it, even if it was just their weapons.
Secondly, the majority of our walk was on the pavement. The opposite would have been the case for the Macedonians. The only occasion that I can think of when they would have had a good road to walk along is when they were marching down the Royal Road, which ran from Asia Minor to Persepolis and beyond. Even then, how wide was the Road? Surely not so broad that most of the men would have fitted on it.
Thirdly, our pace was fairly easy. We had to pick it up at one point in order to meet an objective but nevertheless there were still frequent stops to allow stragglers to catch up. I doubt very much that Alexander pulled Bucephalas up to let those at the back of the column catch up!
Although I had not met any of my fellow walkers before yesterday all of them were very friendly. There’s nothing like a common cause to bring people together. This really makes me wish we had the testimony of ordinary Macedonian soldiers to learn about the friendships they formed during the ten years that they were on the road. There must have been some good ones. From a purely military perspective, there must also have been great trust between the soldiers and an understanding of how their fellows would behave in a battle. That can only have given them a very useful edge when it came to armed conflict.
Let’s talk about love. I was full of it by the end of our trip yesterday. Both for the object of our journey and for the gift of being able to walk and for those who had given me that gift in the first place. Now, it may just be that I am given to romanticism but I like to think I was feeling the same sense of gratitude that Alexander’s men had for him.
The name of Alexander is only fully pronounced when the name of Hephaestion is spoken alongside it. Yet Bucephalas also has a claim to be part of his master’s identity. I have lived in cities all my life. As a result, I think it was for the first time yesterday that I came up close to horses. And I don’t mean from the other side of a fence, either. We walked through a field where they were grazing with their foals and walked among them.
This fellow was one of the first that we saw, happily munching away on the grass.
And here are some foals.
This horse was very friendly, and inquisitive (or hopeful of food), as he followed us for a few feet along the path. I didn’t stroke him as much as I could have done as – being a rather ignorant townie – I know nothing about equine behaviour so didn’t want to do anything that might annoy him. I know I was being very cautious, but then, until someone in our party told another person not to stand so close behind him in case he kicked them, I hadn’t realised that that might be a possibility, so it was probably best that I was careful.
We spent only a few minutes of the day in the company of these splendid animals but it was more than enough to get a sense of their dignity and grace. Is what I felt in general what Alexander felt in particular towards Bucephalas? I imagine it was only the beginning of what Alexander felt but as echoes of Alexander are about as close to him as I expect we can get I am happy with that.
“The name of Alexander is only fully pronounced when the name of Hephaestion is spoken alongside it. ” I very much like this line and wholeheartedly agree with its sentiment.
You make some very interesting observations. You felt a little like I did when I, an American who travels by car, rode trains and tubes through London for the first time. Shared travel is interesting.
Thank you – I’m glad you liked that turn of phrase. You are right about shared travel. I have to confess though, that I think there is also something to be said for the Almásy approach to travel as seen in The English Patient. There, as Katherine chats away, he says, “I once traveled with a guide who was taking me to Faya. He didn’t speak for nine hours. At the end of it he pointed to the horizon and said, Faya! That was a good day”. I have probably made myself sound really anti-social but all I am trying to say is that silence can also be good. For concentration, for creative thinking etc.