Posts Tagged With: Pasitigris

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

The Nature of Curtius
Book Five Chapters 2-3
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Two
Laying Siege to the Uxians
From Babylon, the Macedonian army made its way into Sittacene. Like Mesopotamia, it was also a fertile land ‘producing rich quantities of provisions of all kinds’. Despite having stopped for a while in Babylon, Alexander now tarried here, holding competitions to decide who should fill a command he had newly created – that of chiliarch*.

That was not the only change Alexander made to the organisation of his army. For the first time, he broke the link between it and the land. Previously, the Macedonian cavalry had been formed along tribal lines. This meant that the commander of each cavalry unit came from the same place as his men. That now ended. From now on, the commanders would be whoever Alexander decided to appoint*.

The king also made a change to the procedure for alerting the men that camp was about to be struck. Before, a trumpet blast had been used to provide the appropriate signal but the camp’s general ‘noise and commotion’ made it impossible to hear.

Alexander’s solution was to turn to nature. A pole would be raised. At the top of it, presumably on a platform, or in a metal bucket, a fire would burn and be the signal that it was time to pack up. During the night the fire would be visible to all; during the day time, the smoke that the fire created would be the signal.

From Sittacene the Macedonian army marched towards Susa. Alexander was met just outside the city by the son of Abulites, its satrap. The young man guided Alexander to the Choaspis River which, Curtius reports, ‘reputedly carries fine drinking water’. There, Abulites himself met his new master. He handed over gifts of ‘dromedaries*** of outstanding speed’ and elephants.

The chapter ends with a neat little detail which shows how far removed the Persian royal family had become from the land which they ruled. After being sent purple fabric from home, Alexander passed it on to Sisygambis so that her grand daughters (Stateira II and Drypetis) could be taught how to make clothing. Sisygambis rejected the gift angrily ‘for to Persian women nothing is more degrading than working with wool’. Such was her offence that Alexander came in person to apologise.

* chiliarchs had responsibility for 1,000 men. Hephaestion, among others, would later hold this office

** From what Curtius says, it seems that the organisation of the cavalry unit remained tribally based

**** Camels

Chapter Three
The Susian Gates are closed
The Persian royal family were left in Susa. Four days later, Alexander reached the Pasitigris River. This river, Curtius says, comes out of the Uxian mountains where ‘it rushes down-country for fifty stades in a rocky channel between well treed banks’. In the plains, however, it is perfectly navigable and so Alexander had no problems crossing it and entering the territory of the Uxians.

As the Pasitigris continued on its genteel way to the Persian Gulf, however, Alexander’s life was about to get considerably more difficult. His target was the Uxians’ satrap, Medates, whose city lay beyond a defile. Some natives told Alexander of a secret path across the mountains that would take him to a high point behind the city. The king despatched Tauron, the brother of Harpalus, to take the path. He himself entered the defile.

Upon reaching the opposite or far end, the Macedonians made use of the local trees to make protective coverings for the men who were ‘bringing up the siege towers’. Once they had arrived, the siege began in earnest. However, Curtius says that the ‘whole terrain was sheer crag, with boulders and stones impeding access’. As a result of this, the Macedonians ‘had to battle with the location as well as the enemy’.

In the larger context of Alexander’s life, the Uxian siege is a minor event. The city was neither very big nor particularly significant. Despite this, Alexander only took it thanks to Tauron. One enemy could be managed, two, however, was too much and the natives withdrew to their citadel.

The Uxians’ begged for mercy. Perhaps embarrassed by his failure to take the city himself, and wanting to teach the Uxians a lesson, Alexander denied their request. Despite this, the Uxians still survived. And they did so using a ploy that any child would recognise. Getting nowhere with their ‘father’, they went to their ‘mother’ instead. At first, Sisygambis declined to intercede for them, but after many pleas, her heart melted and she asked Alexander to relent. He not only did so, but gave the Uxians very favourable terms.

Following the siege, Alexander split his army in two between himself and Parmenion. The general was ordered to enter Persia by marching across its plains. Alexander would do so by passing through the Susian Gates.

Unfortunately, the Gates were held by the only Persian officer to give him a really severe test during his expedition – Ariobarzanes.

Ariobarzanes had 25,000 men under his command and the advantage of the high ground. Thus, when the Macedonians approached the Gates from a narrow defile, Ariobarzanes’ men were able to rain rocks and stones down on them with impunity.

The Macedonians tried to climb up the walls of the defile to confront their enemy but the rocks were too unstable. As hands grasped them they came free sending the men tumbling down. There was nothing for it, Alexander had to retreat.

Categories: Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Across the Pasitigris and into the land of the Uxii

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 67 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Leaves Susa
Royal Family Left Behind – Will Learn Greek
Madetes Puts Up Brief Fight in Uxiane

The Story
We are not told when exactly Alexander left Susa (just that it happened ‘after’ the throne incident) but he must have done so in a timely fashion as Diodorus makes no mention of the king having been distracted by Susa’s riches. So much for Darius’ plan.

Something that Diodorus does mention, however, is that when the Macedonians left Susa, the Persian royal family stayed behind. Alexander may have thought that the road ahead would be too difficult and too dangerous for them. At the same time, he certainly had an eye on the family’s political future as he appointed teachers to teach the family Greek.

Upon leaving Susa, the Macedonian army marched towards the Tigris River, reaching it four days later. By crossing it, the army came into the territory of the Uxii. There, Alexander was confronted by ‘passages guarded by Madetes, a cousin of Dareius’.

As the cliffs were sheer, it appeared that Alexander had no choice but to attack Madetes directly. Just then, a ‘Uxian native’ – perhaps a guide who had been hired/forced to take them through Uxiane – stepped forward and said he knew a way up the cliff ‘to a position above the enemy’.

Alexander sent a detachment with the guide while he lead a direct assault on Madetes’ position. The Macedonians attacked in waves and the battle was in full flow when, to the Persians’ surprise, they saw the ‘flying column of Macedonians’ above them. Rather than wait to be attacked on two fronts, the Persians fled. The pass was taken and the cities of Uxiane soon followed.

As the title of this post indicates, for Tigris we should read Pasitigris, which today is the Karun River. That information comes from the Footnotes and Livius. Wikipedia also adds that the Pasitigris – under its older name of Pishon – was also one of the four rivers that flowed through the Biblical paradise of Eden, which, whether one takes the story of Adam and Eve literally or not, is quite a thought.

There seems no question to me that the assault on Madetes’ pass was a battle well won. I have to admit, though, I have little enthusiasm for the episode. I think that is one part the result of Diodorus not spending much time on the incident and one part the fact that Madetes runs away really quickly. At least Darius stood and fought for a while.

Persian Royal Family’s End of Term Report Card

‘Tries hard in her language studies. One day, I hope to persuade her to stop saying ‘Alpha is for Alexandros’ in a wistful fashion and move on to beta…’
Stateira II
‘Spends too much time arguing with her sister as to whether Alexander is better than Hephaestion.’
‘Winds her sister up by saying ‘if Alexander and Hephaestion are one person then so are we and you can’t disagree with yourself’. A one woman logic free zone.’
‘Refuses to leant Lambda until Sparta joins Alexander’s Hellenic League. Like the Spartans, must try harder.’

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

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: