Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 86 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here
Aphrices Murdered by own men: Head presented to Alexander
Alexander and Mophis: Friends or Enemies?
Two Kings, One Peace
Chapter 86 opens with the conclusion to Alexander’s siege of the Aornos Rock. Because of that, I discussed it, in my last post.
Chapter 86 opens properly with the assassination of an Indian king named Aphrices. While he was camped ‘in the vicinity’ of the Macedonians with ‘twenty thousand troops and fifteen elephants’ he was assassinated by some of his men. They cut off his head and presented it to Alexander. In so doing, they ‘saved their… lives’. Diodorus doesn’t say why Aphrices was in the area but Alexander’s reaction to the assassins indicates that he was either hostile or believed to be so.
Aphrices’ men joined the Macedonian army. The elephants, which had been left to wander, were rounded up – presumably for military use as well.
Once that had been done, the king moved on and in due course came to the Indus River. There, he ‘found his thirty-oared boats in readiness and fully equipped, and the stream spanned by a floating bridge’, by which I assume is meant a pontoon.
Upon reaching the river, Alexander rested his men for thirty days. During that time, he offered splendid sacrifices to the gods’. After crossing the river, however, he ‘experienced a startling fright and relief’. It’s not often we see Alexander being scared. What caused it?
The answer is ‘a great army in warlike array’ and, as it seemed, in battle formation as it moved towards him. Worse still was the fact that Alexander knew who its commander was, and had believed him to be a friend. Recovering himself, the king drew his own men up in battle formation and awaited the traitor’s arrival.
So, who was the unexpected enemy? Diodorus tells us of Mophis, son of Taxiles, who had contacted Alexander while the Macedonian king was still in Sogdiana ‘promising to join him in a campaign against his enemies among the Indians’.
Further to that, Mophis had only just sent messengers forward to inform Alexander that he also wished to give him his kingdom. This is why Alexander now felt deceived.
The day would certainly have had a tragic ending had it not been for Mophis’ sharp eye and quick response. Seeing the Macedonians form up against him, and guessing the reason for its own aggressive stance, he rode out with just ‘a few horsemen’ and came up to Alexander. Breathlessly, perhaps, he explained why he had come and formally handed his army over to the king.
‘Alexander, much relieved’ confirmed Mophis as king and declared him to be both ‘a friend and ally. He also changed his name to Taxiles’. I wonder why he did that?
That Aphrices was indeed hostile to Alexander is indicated by Curtius who, according to the Footnotes, says that he ‘blocked’ the king’s advance.
I keep reading that in his memoir, Ptolemy was hostile to Perdiccas. With that in mind, it is interesting to read in the Footnotes that it is Curtius who gives Hephaestion sole credit for preparing the boats and bridge while Arrian – who used Ptolemy as his chief source – credits both Hephaestion and Perdiccas.
I am very intrigued by Diodorus’ statement that Alexander was ‘much relieved’ by Mophis’ declaration of friendship. He wasn’t just happy to receive Mophis’ army and kingdom but ‘much relieved’. What – if anything – is hiding behind this statement? Was Alexander aware of a weakness in his army that would have made fighting on that day very difficult? Had he received a bad omen? We will find out in Chapter 87.
A Gandharan Agony Aunt Writes
Q One of Aphrices’ elephants has wandered into my living room. How can I get rid of it?
A I can’t answer this as I really don’t see the problem