The Nature of Curtius
Book Nine Chapter 5-9
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Alexander against the Mallians
The siege of the Mallian city entered its decisive stage when Alexander jumped into it from the city wall by himself. He did this knowing that his men could not follow – they had overloaded and broken their ladder while climbing up it behind him.
As Curtius notes, Alexander would have ‘uselessly’ sacrificed himself if he had fallen over on landing. In that instance, ‘he could have been overpowered and taken alive before he got up’. But fortune remained on his side. Alexander landed on his feet and started to fight.
To give himself the best chance of survival, Alexander fought next to ‘an old tree whose thickly-leaved branches gave [him] some cover’. He stayed close to it – Curtius says he pressed himself against it – to make sure he could not be ‘encircled’.
Upon a moment, the inevitable happened and an arrow evaded both the tree and Alexander’s shield. It struck him ‘above his right side’. The king fell to the ground. Determined, however, ‘to go down fighting [Alexander] attempted to stand by grasping the overhanging branches [of the tree] with his right hand’.
But the tree had played its part and Alexander ‘sank back to his knees’. Only the timely arrival of some of his soldiers and then the whole army – having broken through the city wall – saved him.
Alexander Lives – Just
Seven days after being injured, Alexander’s wound was still open. As he lay in his bed, some unwelcome news was brought to him – a rumour that he had died was ‘gaining strength among the barbarians’. This had to be dispelled before it led to revolt.
In order to show the local tribes that he was still very much alive – even if bedridden – Alexander ‘had two ships lashed together and a tent erected in the centre of them’. He, in his bed, was placed in the tent and the boats pushed into the river.
The exercise had the desired effect. The natives saw him knew their hopes of revolt had died. Alexander, meanwhile, was so weak that the rest of the Macedonian fleet was forced to sail ‘some distance’ behind him ‘so that the stroke of the oars would not disrupt his sleep’.
A Long Journey Begins
In this chapter we read of a revolt led by (Greek) soldiers whom Alexander had settled around Zariaspa and the duel between Dioxippus and Horratas*.
Neither event is of relevance to us although perhaps we might give an honourable mention to the Greeks who left Zariaspa following their revolt. The Notes record that of those who set out for Greece, 3,000 would make it all the way back. The vast majority, though (‘some 23,000’) would be ‘massacred by Peithon on Perdiccas’ orders in 323 B.C.’
* Diodorus names him as Coragus
Alexander and Ptolemy
Alexander continued his journey downstream. Upon entering the territory of the Sabarcae, the Macedonian fleet was seen from by the many villagers who lived near the river bank.
The Sabarcae ‘perceived that the water was entirely covered with boats as far as the eye could see’. This, along with the Macedonians’ shouting, and ‘flashing arms’ terrified them. Indeed, ‘they believed an army of gods was approaching with a second Father Liber’.
The villagers fled to their army. You are insane! They told them, For you are going to fight gods, ‘invincible warriors… beyond number’. The army duly surrendered.
In the territory of King Sambus, the Macedonians undermined his tribe’s ‘strongest city’. When they appeared like moles out of the ground the natives thought their appearance a miracle.
In the city of Harmatelia*, the Macedonians were attacked with poisoned weapons. One of those injured was Ptolemy Lagides. It was only a slight wound but the poison was so strong that he fell gravely ill.
That night, Alexander slept by his friend’s bedside. He dreamt of ‘a snake carrying a plant in its mouth which it had indicated was an antidote to the poison’. Upon waking, Alexander launched a search for the plant. When it was found, he himself applied it to Ptolemy’s wound. The poison subsided. His friend, some say half-brother, was saved.
Diodorus comes into much more (gory) detail regarding the poison. If you are up to it you can read what I wrote about it here
* This name is given by Diodorus rather than Curtius