Alexander’s Injuries Part 2

Read Part One of this post here

“He who acts bravely must expect his meed of suffering.”
An unknown soldier after Aeschylus

In this post we continue our look at the injuries Alexander suffered during the course of his campaign in the east (334 – 323). For the first post click here.
Dart through the shoulder
Arrian IV. 22 – 24
In the spring of 327 BC, Alexander crossed the Indian Caucasus (Hindu Kush) for the second time. Not long later, he entered the territory of the Aspasians, Guraeans, and Assacenians (modern day Bajaur and Swat). There, he crossed the Choes river and laid siege to a nearby town.
As you might expect, his assault was successful, but the victory did not come without some high profile injuries. Alexander himself was wounded by a missile which pierced his corselet. Interestingly, Arrian says that this was not a serious wound as the corselet ‘prevented the missile from going right through [Alexander’s] shoulder’. Well, that’s alright then; I guess missiles that get embedded in the body don’t count as serious injuries! Aside from Alexander, Arrian also tells us that Ptolemy and Leonnatus were injured, though not how or how seriously.
Also notable is the fact that the Macedonians ‘butchered’ their prisoners ‘in revenge for the wound they had given Alexander’. Is this something that happened whenever he was injured or just on this occasion? I don’t recall reading that it happened before. If that’s the case, what was it about this injury that angered the Macedonians so much? It was by no means the worst that Alexander had received.
Arrow in the ankle
Arrian IV. 26
A little while later, Alexander approached, and laid siege to, the city of Massaga. During the operation he was shot in the ankle with an arrow. Arrian tells us that it was only a slight injury. Once the city had been taken and Alexander had time to sit down and think I wonder if he thought of Achilles who, according to the bards, had been killed by an arrow shot to his vulnerable ankle.
Arrow through the lung
Arrian VI. 4 – 10
In early 325, Alexander fought a number of engagements against the Mallians. As he made his way to their principal town, he learnt that the Mallians had deserted it, and taken up a position on high ground on the other side of the Hydraotes river. Crossing the river, Alexander pursued the Mallians to another fortified settlement. As soon as he began his assault the Mallians withdrew inside the town’s inner wall. Alexander broke into the town and laid siege to the inner fort.
As the siege continued, Alexander grew impatient, and decided to take matters into his own hands. He took a ladder, set it against the inner wall and – no doubt to the horror of his men – began to scale it. He was followed by Peucestas who carried Achilles’ shield, which Alexander had kept with him since his visit to Troy in 334, Leonnatus and an officer named Abreas.
At the top of the wall, Alexander killed the nearest defenders. Behind him, the Macedonian soldiers were terrified that he would be injured, or worse, and began clambering up the other ladders. In their haste, however, they overloaded the ladders, which then collapsed. As for Alexander, marksmen on top of nearby towers had him in their sight.
Knowing that he would die ‘with nothing accomplished’ if he stayed on the wall, Alexander leapt down into the fort. According to Arrian, he intended to either spread fear among the natives by his actions or die a glorious death. Indian soldiers rushed forward only to be cut down by Alexander’s sword. The soldiers behind them formed a half-circle around the king, who literally had his back to a wall, and began to stone him.
By now, Alexander had been joined by Peucestas, Leonnatus and Abreas. Abreas was felled by a shot to the face. Suddenly, Alexander, too, was hit by an arrow; it penetrated ‘his corselet and [entered] his body above the breast’.
Citing Ptolemy, Arrian states that air came out of the wound along with blood – Alexander had actually been shot in the lung. Despite his injury, Alexander fought on but soon suffered from a haemorrhage. He felt giddy at first, then faint. Peucestas stood over him, holding up Achilles’ shield as he continued to fight the Indian soldiers. Alexander was by now ‘almost unconscious from loss of blood’.
Outside, some of the Macedonian soldiers managed to scale the walls despite the loss of the ladders. Others smashed at the gate until it gave way, whereupon they forced their way through the hole they had created. Eventually, the gate was properly opened. The Macedonians rushed in and, as Arrian says, ‘the slaughter began’.
As for Alexander, Arrian says that either Perdiccas – at Alexander’s request – or a doctor named Critodemus – drew the arrow out. ‘[H]is condition was critical’ though, ‘no one… thought he could live’. And indeed, a rumour soon spread that he had died. As a result of this ‘the whole army was in the deepest distress.
The men were so upset that when Alexander wrote to his headquarters to tell them that he was alive, they thought that the senior officers had forged the letter. ‘[T]o prevent a breakdown of discipline’ Alexander had himself sailed down the Hydraotes river so that everyone could see him.

Alexander raised a hand in greeting to the men, and immediately there was a shout of joy, and arms were stretched towards him in welcome or lifted to heaven in thankfulness. So unexpected was the sense of relief that many, despite themselves, burst into tears.

I wonder what people like Hephaestion and Craterus thought.
Arrian outlines some of the diverse stories relating to the incident. According to some, Alexander was struck on the head – again – prior to being shot. Arrian obviously favours Ptolemy’s account even though he wasn’t present at the siege. He would certainly have been told what happened afterwards, though – perhaps by Leonnatus as they relaxed over a cup of wine. Or even by Alexander himself during his recovery.
So there we are, Alexander’s injuries; eight in total, though I have no doubt he was wounded more times than has been recorded. I am pretty sure, also, that we do not know the full effect of the wounds that Arrian does mention; I do wonder about the head injuries, and how quickly did his leg heal? He seems to be on the move again very quickly thereafter. What these two posts have shown, however, is that Alexander was made of the sturdiest kind of stuff, and must have been blessed by the gods to live even as long as he did.

Categories: On Alexander | Tags: , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Alexander’s Injuries Part 2

  1. luis pancich

    Alexander the great,he was lucky, because he was a commander who was the head of the troops, commanded by his example.


  2. Bukele Liberty

    Nice info!! From what I’ve previously read, Alexander’s army always butchered the enemy after every battle in which he was wounded. From their standpoint, they were in hostile territory far from Macedonia with very long supply lines. His death in hostile territory would no doubt cause chaos and rebellion among the newly conquered natives and the chances of the Macedonians making it back home would reduce significantly. So these massacres were in part retribution for almost destroying the army itself since Alexander was indispensable.

    Also, concussions as we know now can cause personality changes so it is possible that Alexander became different after multiple blows to the head, but I personally don’t believe that because he was always ruthless against any opposition.


  3. Pingback: In Greek history many men have earned the title of Hero - StudyPool

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