Posts Tagged With: Aornus Rock

The Gateway to the East

The Nature of Curtius
Book Eight Chapter 11-14
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Eleven
Ain’t No Outcrop High Enough
After leaving Mazagae, Alexander’s next major engagement was at the Aornis* Rock. Hercules himself had once laid siege to this ‘rocky outcrop’ only to be forced into retreat by an earthquake. At first, it did not look like Alexander would fare any better. The land remained still, but the rock looked impregnable.

Curtius describes the Aornis Rock as being conical in shape and ‘precipitously sheer on every side’. Could the Macedonians climb it like they had the Sogdian Rock? Yes, and they would, but not easily, for the Aornis was protected by both the Indus River, which ran ‘deep with steep banks on both sides’ and ‘sheer chasms and ravines’.

At first, Alexander ‘was baffled’ as to what to do. Then, ‘an old man who knew the area’ offered to ‘show him a way up, for a price’. Alexander accepted the man’s offer but did not rely on his help alone**. Remembering how he had approached Sisimithres’ outcrop (see here), the king ordered his men to fill the chasm.

The operation took seven days to complete. Once the chasm had been filled, Alexander led his men in a climb up the cliff face. It was a perilous journey as the cliff was slippery. And things took a turn for the worse when the Indians saw them coming and starting rolling ‘huge boulders’ over the side of the cliff. Some Macedonians were killed by them, but the rest made it to the top.

In the hand-to-hand fighting that followed, the natives held the advantage because they were on the higher ground. Indeed, Alexander was forced to retreat and decided to abandon his siege. He could not withdraw, however, without making ‘a show of persevering with the siege, ordering roads to be blocked, siege-towers moved up, and exhausted troops replaced by others’.

This did not appear to impress the Indians who now ‘spent two days and nights feasting and beating drums… ostentatiously demonstrating not only their confidence but their belief that they had won. On the third night, however, drumbeats were no longer heard’. The Indians had fled.

Discovering what had happened, Alexander ordered his men to give ‘a concerted shout’. This ‘struck terror into the Indians’. Thinking that the Macedonians were behind them many ‘hurled themselves to their deaths down the slippery crags and impassable rocks’. Others ‘suffered mutilations… and were abandoned by their uninjured comrades’.

Alexander had snatched victory out of defeat. But not a victory over the Indians; rather, as Curtius says, ‘over the terrain’ – just as he had been doing ever since starting his campaign.

* aka Aornus or Aornos

** In the end, it appears that Alexander made it to the top of the Aornis Rock before the man did

Chapter Twelve
The Calm Before the Storm
At the Indus River, Alexander met the ever-reliable Hephaestion* who presented the king with his new boats. Curtius doesn’t say where Alexander met Omphis, the king of Taxila – whether it was on the near or far side of the rive; according to Arrian it was the latter.

Omphis had already been in touch with Hephaestion – and given him corn gratis while the boat building had been carried out. Now, he entertained the whole Macedonian army for three days. Gifts were shared between the kings. As well as gold and silver, Omphis gave Alexander fifty-six elephants, ‘large numbers of sheep of exceptional size’, and three thousand bulls. Impressed by his generosity, Alexander returned the gifts along with extra treasure from his booty.

* And, presumably, Perdiccas though Curtius does not mention him

Chapter Thirteen
A Prelude To War
Alexander sent an order to Abisares and Porus that they must submit to him. Abisares did but Porus refused. At the same time, Barzaentes* was caught and presented to the Macedonian king along with thirty elephants in his possession. These were sent to Omphis.

The Macedonian army arrived at the Hydaspes River. They were watched from the other side by Porus and his army.

As well as thirty thousand infantry and three hundred chariots, Porus’ strength included ‘eighty-five enormously powerful elephants’. He himself sat atop one ‘which towered above the other beasts’.

The sight of Porus’ army ‘alarmed’ the Macedonians. But it wasn’t the only thing on their minds – the river caused concern as well. ‘[F]our stades wide’, the Hydaspes was deep, too, and had a fast current. Curtius describes it as being like a ‘torrential cataract’. The way the water rebounded on itself suggested that there were rocks beneath the surface as well. Crossing it would be difficult.

Following a skirmish between Macedonian and Indian soldiers on an island in the river, Alexander decided to use one for his crossing. First, though, he had to get his men to it without Porus seeing. This was achieved by having Ptolemy** carry out aggressive manoeuvres downstream. This would hopefully convince Porus that they were a prelude to an attack. To complete the ruse, Alexander had the royal tent set up in full view of the enemy and one of his soldiers who bore a resemblance to him dressed up in royal clothing to give the impression that he was staying put.

As Ptolemy carried out his manoeuvres, and the fake-Alexander remained in his tent, the king led the rest of the army through a ravine to the point where he intended to cross the river. It was delayed by a fierce storm. When the rain lifted, ‘cloud-cover… blocked out the daylight’. ‘Another man would have been terrified by the darkness’ but Alexander ‘derived glory from perilous situations’ so jumped into his boat and led the way in silence across the river to the island.

When they reached it, the Macedonians found the island deserted. And when they set foot on the far bank of the Hydaspes, they arrived unnoticed. The Indians were all watching Ptolemy.

* The erstwhile satrap of Drangiana who had fled from Alexander while the latter was in Artacana, see here for more details

** According to Arrian, Craterus carried out the distraction manoeuvres while Ptolemy accompanied Alexander

Chapter Fourteen
Alexander’s Last Major Battle
The Battle of the Hydaspes River was shaped by two important elements: the earth and elephants.

The rainfall had reduced the earth to mud. This made the ground ‘slippery and impossible to ride upon’. Thus, when Porus sent his chariots to intercept the Macedonian army they were able to make no impression upon it. They simply got ‘stuck in the mud and quagmires’. By contrast, Alexander – who had light-armed troops with him – was able to go on the attack with ease.

When the battle proper got under way, the charioteers forced their horses forward in desperation. They killed enemy soldiers but only at the cost of their own lives as their horses slipped on the ground and ‘flung out their drivers’. Some of the horses panicked and fell into the river while others rode into the Indian lines.

The muddy ground also ill-served the Indian archers. Their bows were too large to shoot while standing. In order to fire them, therefore, they were obliged to rest the bow on the ground. But the slippery surface made finding grip difficult and before the troops could ‘make a shot they were overtaken by their swift-moving enemy’.

Porus could not have anticipated the arrival of the storm but he surely has to take responsibility for his men carrying oversized weaponry and for sending his chariots into the mud.

Fortunately for the archers, Porus had already led his elephants into the attack. They not only checked the Macedonian advance but caused panic among Alexander’s men.

Alexander responded by sending ‘the Agrianes and the Thracian light armed’ soldiers against them. Their firepower and mobility gradually wore the elephants down. Despite this, the Indian attack continued and as the day progressed, both Porus and Alexander enjoyed the ascendancy.

The battle finally turned in Alexander’s favour once and for all as the sun started to fall in the west. The Macedonians began using axes to hack at the elephants’ legs, and scythes to chop their trunks off. Exhausted, the elephants retreated – charging through the Indian lines in fear and pain.

One elephant remained, however, and on it sat Porus. He continued to attack until his injuries caused him to nearly faint. His driver turned his elephant round. Alexander pursued it only for his horse to collapse. Mounting another, he continued the chase.

Presently, he caught up with his enemy – injury had forced Porus’ elephant to halt. Barely conscious, Porus ‘began to slip’ out of his basket. His driver thought he wanted to dismount so ordered the elephant to crouch. Seeing this, all the other elephants did likewise, thus bringing the battle to an end. Porus fell out of his basket in front of Alexander.

Porus thereafter was obliged to surrender. In reward for his bravery, Alexander not only gave him his kingdom back but ‘bestowed on him an empire larger than he had formerly held’.

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Mophis’ Approach

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 86 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Aphrices Murdered by own men: Head presented to Alexander
Alexander and Mophis: Friends or Enemies?
Two Kings, One Peace

The Story
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

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The Aornus Rock

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 85 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Achieves the Impossible: Takes the Aornos Rock

The Story
After leaving Mazagae, the next few cities that Alexander encountered were taken by force. Presently, he arrived at the Aornus (aka Aornos) Rock, where the survivors from his earlier assaults had taken refuge.

‘It is said’, Diodorus tells us, that Herakles wanted to lay siege to the rock but decided not to following an earthquake ‘and other divine signs’. Upon being told this, Alexander was far from discouraged. In fact, he became even more determined to capture the rock ‘and so… rival the god’s reputation’.

Here are the Aornus Rock’s vital statistics:

  • Circumference 100 furlongs (12 miles)
  • Height 16 furlongs (2 miles)
  • Surface Even
  • Shape Circular
  • Rock Wall Sheer on north, east and west side dipping into ‘deep gorges’; on the south side the cliff was banked by the Indus River

The rock appeared to have no weak points at all. Realising this, Alexander decided ‘that its forcible capture was impossible’. Before he could make any decision about moving on, however, an old man and his two sons presented themselves to him and informed the king that, actually, the rock could be taken, and offered to show him the way up it.

It turned out that the old man and his sons (none of whom are named) lived in a cave cut out of the rock. We are not told how long they had lived there but it must have been a while as they knew ‘the country intimately’ including, as it turned out, its secret paths.

Alexander accepted the man’s help, and promised him ‘rich gifts’ in return for it. In the end, the man and his sons only took the Macedonians as far as the gorge that cut off the only path leading to the refugees’ camp.

At this point, I assume that the refugees reached their fastness over a bridge which they then destroyed because Alexander now ordered his men to start filling in the gorge. Having built mounds to attack Gaza and a mole to attack Tyre I am sure simply flinging – admittedly a lot of – earth into the gorge did not discourage the Macedonians at all. Except maybe the first clods, which simply disappeared into the emptiness below.

However deep the gorge was, a ramp was soon created. The Macedonians advanced up it. Using relays of teams (for the first time since the sieges of Miletus and Halicarnassus?), Alexander attacked the refugee camp for seven days and nights.

The continual assaults did not go well. The refugees had the higher ground and killed ‘many [Macedonians] who attacked rashly’. When the ramp was finished, though, Alexander brought up his siege engines. The sight of them, the nearing ramp, and Alexander’s evident determination to see the siege through to the end made the refugees quailed. The Aornus Rock was, it seemed, now there for the taking.

What happened next, though, was not that Alexander broke into the refugee camp, slaughtered the men and enslaved the women and children. Rather, sensing the refugees’ fear, and, ‘craftily anticipating what would happen’ next, he withdrew his forces. That night, the Indians who wished to leave the rock were allowed to do so.

At the start of Chapter 86, Diodorus justifies what Alexander did by claiming he ’employed the false alarms of war to outgeneral the Indians and… gain possession of the “rock” without further fighting’.

With the greatest respect to Diodorus, I cannot bring myself to believe that this is really what happened. Alexander had control of the rock in his grasp. All he needed to do was put his siege engines to work and the refugees would surely have either surrendered, or been wiped out when their camp was penetrated. Instead – without even agreeing a truce or signing a treaty with the Indians – we are asked to believe that Alexander let them go, for all he knew, to fight him again. It is all very un-Alexander like behaviour.

On Herakles – Alexander claimed descent from the demigod on his father’s side.

The Footnotes say that Alexander gave the old man eighty talents for his help. If he ever found out about it, the Lycian goatherd must have been quite annoyed – he ‘only’ got thirty talents for taking Alexander all the way to to the Susian (Persian) Gates, and beyond.

By-the-bye, the Footnotes quote Arrian (4. 29. 1) as saying it was “some of the neighbouring tribesmen” who helped Alexander rather than an old man and his sons.

I used this converter to convert furlongs into miles

In 1926, Sir Aurel Stein visited Gandhara where he claimed to have found the Aornos Rock. Here is a contemporary report of his find, from The Northern Star newspaper of New South Wales. I have to admit, though, that as interesting as the report is, I was rather taken by the one following regarding the Odyssean dog…!

When asked, 8/10 Macedonian women
confirmed that they would rather
 a different Rock.



Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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