Posts Tagged With: Porus

The Knowledge (of Alexander)

The website Knowledge has an article titled The Danger of Being Alexander in which the writer, Venugopal Gupta, discusses the importance of collaboration in order to achieve one’s goals.

Alexander is mentioned variously and cited as an example of someone who did not collaborate and so failed to achieve his goals.

Let’s take a look at what else Gupta has to say about the Macedonian king and how closely – or otherwise – he sticks to the sources.

***

When Alexander the Great’s father returned home after conquering an important new territory, he found his son unusually depressed. His son’s worry: that his father would win everything and leave nothing for him to win.

This anecdote comes from Chapter 5 of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander. Gupta presents Alexander’s depression as the result of a single incident but Plutarch says that ‘whenever he heard that Philip had captured some famous city or won an overwhelming victory, Alexander would show no pleasure at the news’ (my emphasis).

Also, as can be seen, Plutarch represents Alexander as being angry rather than depressed at his father’s successes.

Gupta’s assertion that Alexander was concerned ‘… his father would win everything and leave nothing for him to win’ is faithful to Plutarch, though only to a point. The Greek historian says that whenever he heard of one of his father’s victories, Alexander

… would declare to his friends, ‘Boys, my father will forestall me in everything. There will be nothing great or spectacular for me with your help to show the world.’

A desire to win is implied by the desire to perform ‘great or spectacular’ deeds, but unlike Gupta’s Alexander, Plutarch’s is not concerned with only winning but with showing the world what he is made of. He is outward rather than inward looking.

***

Fuelled with passion, Alexander piled up victories from Europe into Asia, until, all of thirty-two years of age, Alexander stood at the doorstep of India, to see the culmination of a world dominion that stretched from West to the East.

Gupta is certainly correct to say that Alexander ‘piled up the victories from Europe into Asia’.

At the age of 32 (i.e. in the summer of 324 B.C.), however, the Macedonian king was in Persia on his way back to Babylon rather than ‘on the doorstep to India’.

Alexander’s arrival at ‘the doorstep of India’ came much earlier – as early as Spring 329 B.C. when he made his first crossing of the Hindu Kush. That year, he entered Bactria, which today is part of Afghanistan, Tajikistan and – which is relevant to us – Pakistan. In 329 B.C., Alexander turned 27.

As you can see, I have interpreted Gupta’s reference to India as a reference to ancient India. Just in case he is referring to Alexander’s arrival at the doorstep of modern India, I’ll add that the Macedonian king passed its border when he came to the Hyphasis (Beas) River in the summer of 326 B.C. In that year, he celebrated his 30th birthday.

***

At the camp, one day, Alexander’s personal staff found a strange oily substance that was both transparent and odourless. Knowing their leader to be extremely superstitious, this news was promptly relayed to the court diviners. They reported that oil was given by gods as a reward for hard work and therefore the appearance of this substance at the camp was a good omen.

The incident that Gupta is referring to here took place on the banks of the Oxus River in Spring 328 B.C. when Alexander was marching north to subdue those Sogdians who had refused to accept the authority of his governor. The discovery of the oil is described by Plutarch in Chapter 57 of his Life and Arrian in Book IV.16 of his Campaigns of Alexander.

Plutarch says the ‘head of Alexander’s household servants, a man named Proxenus… uncovered a spring of… smooth and fatty liquid’ and that when

… the top of this was strained off, there gushed forth a pure and clear oil which appeared to be exactly like olive oil both in odour and in taste, and was also identical in smoothness and brightness.

There is no mention in Plutarch’s Life of ‘the court diviners’ being informed of the find on the grounds that Alexander was ‘extremely superstitious’.

However, we know that they were told about it because Plutarch says that the diviners called the oil a ‘refreshment’ and an omen for

… a campaign which would be a glorious one but also arduous and painful’.
(Plutarch Life 57)

This is in contrast to Gupta who has the soothsayers calling the spring of oil ‘a reward for hard work’ already done.

Moving on to Arrian, he doesn’t say who specifically found the ‘oily substance’. Neither does he describe its appearance. He is clear, however, about what happened next: the find was not reported to ‘the court diviners’ but to Ptolemy, who then informed the king.

Arrian agrees with Plutarch that ‘the court diviners’ were told of the oil’s discovery. He – Arrian – states specifically that

Aristander declared that the spring of oil was a sign of difficulties to come and of eventual victory.

Although there is no suggestion that the diviners ‘reported that [the] oil was given by gods as a reward for hard work’ it is clear that in Arrian’s account as well as Plutarch’s and Gupta’s article, the oil was regarded as a good omen.

By-the-bye, I don’t feel that at this point in his life Alexander would have been regarded as ‘extremely superstitious’ by his men. I hesitate to say more, though, as it is not an aspect of his life that I have yet looked into deeply. I am disagreeing with Gupta out of my guts rather than with my head.

***

After receiving news from the diviners, Alexander’s enthusiasm knew no bounds. He asked the army to prepare for war. While the army shouted valiant war cries, their spirit was worn out. They had run a long campaign before getting up to India and not had enough time to rest and repose. Worse, they had trouble acclimatising to the new weather and were perilously low on provisions.

Following the discovery of the oil, Alexander continued his pacification of Sogdia and Bactria. There was no call for the army ‘to prepare for war’ – it was already effectively in the middle of one – and so no ‘valiant war cries’ in response from the men.

Equally, the Macedonian army was not yet tired nor worn out.

Not that everything was perfect for them. Many soldiers did want to go home, and this desire can be traced back to at least the death of Darius in July 330 B.C.

Back then, Alexander had been so concerned by his men’s homesickness that he had called them together and given a rousing speech in order to persuade them to continue east with him (see Diodorus XVII.74).

When Gupta talks about the ‘long campaign’ and its consequences, he is, I think, building upon Diodorus. The Macedonian army

… had spent almost eight years among toils and dangers… and no relief from fighting was in sight. The hooves of the horses had been worn thin by steady marching. The arms and armour were wearing out, and Greek clothing was quite gone. They had to clothe themselves in foreign materials, recutting the garments of the Indians. This was the season also, as luck would have it, of the heavy rains. These had been going on for seventy days, to the accompaniment of continuous thunder and lightning.
(Diodorus XVII.94)

Arrian also talks about the men becoming depressed (A V.25). However, both authors are referring to a later period (summer 326 B.C.) than that of Gupta (Spring 328 B.C.). To the best of my knowledge, none of the major sources talk about the Macedonians being low on provisions.

***

During this time, the Indian king, Porus, arrived at the camp and spoke with Alexander.

‘Please tell me the purpose of your campaign’ asked Porus, ‘if you wage the war for water and food, then we are obliged to fight as they are indispensable to us’

‘If, however, you come to fight for riches and possessions, as they are accounted in the eyes of the world, and you find me better provided in them, I am ready to share those with you. Else, if fortune has been more liberal to you, I have no objection to be obliged to you,’ Porus offered a compromise.

While Alexander congratulated Porus on his wisdom, he said, ‘No matter how obliging you are, you shall not have the better of me’ he told Porus, asking him to prepare for war. To Alexander, agreeing to Porus was equal to capitulating before him.

Alexander and Porus certainly met, but only after the Battle of the Hydaspes River. As a result, they did not have the conversation that Gupta imagines taking place between them. According to Plutarch (Life 60) Alexander asked the defeated Porus how he would like to be treated and received the equally famous response ‘As a king’. Arrian (V.19) records the conversation slightly differently, saying that Alexander asked Porus what he thought he – Alexander – should do with him. ‘Treat me as a king ought’ came the response.  Curtius (VIII.14.41-43) follows Arrian in respect of Alexander’s question but has Porus give a very philosophical reply. Do ‘[w]hat this day tells you to do’, he says, ‘[this] day on which you have discovered how transitory good fortune is.’

***

Despite an army ten times as strong, Alexander only barely managed to win. While the victory reinforced Alexander’s legendary invincibility, the army lost countless men and their will to fight. Their spirit was battered beyond repair.

Before reading The Danger of Being Alexander I did not know off-hand the size of the Macedonian army at the Battle of the Hydaspes River in and of itself or relative to Porus’. Here is what I found after having a look at the sources:

Arrian
Macedonian army
Infantry 6,000
Cavalry 5,000
(Arrian V.14)

Porus’ army
Infantry 30,000
Cavalry 4,000
Chariots 300
Elephants 200
(Arrian V.15)

Curtius
Macedonian army
No figures given

Porus’ army
Infantry 30,000
Chariots 300
Elephants 85
(Curtius VIII.13.6)
NB
C. doesn’t say how many cavalrymen Porus had. They were present in his army, though, as C. states that 4,000 (maybe all of them?) were sent to attack Alexander as he approached the battlefield (C. VIII.14.2)

Diodorus
Macedonian army
No figures given

Porus’ army
Infantry 50,000+
Cavalry 3,000
Chariots 1,000+
Elephants 130
(Diodorus XVII.87)

Plutarch
Macedonian army
No figures given

Porus’ army
Infantry 20,000
Cavalary 2,000
(Life of Alexander 62)

Justin
Gives no figures for the size of either army

Despite an army ten times as strong
As you can see, only Arrian gives us any figure at all for the size of Alexander’s army. The notes to my Penguin Classics edition of The Campaigns of Alexander state ‘Arrian… writes that the boats took as many of the infantry as they could, perhaps not all had been transported across the river by this time’.

The numbers for Porus’ army vary. The lowest is Plutarch’s 22,000. This means that Alexander would have needed to have over 200,000 men in his army to meet Gupta’s requirement of being ten times stronger. Is it likely that Arrian’s figure is that inaccurate?

Alexander only barely managed to win.
Curtius is the only writer who gives the impression that the Macedonians might conceivably have lost this battle. ‘Victors moments before, the Macedonians were now casting around for a place to flee’ (C. VIII.14.24). ‘… the fortunes of the battle kept shifting, with the Macedonians alternatively chasing and fleeing from the elephants’ (C. VIII.14.28). There is no sense in his text, though, that the eventual Macedonian victory was a close run thing, ‘just’ that it was a very tough battle.

the [Macedonian] army lost countless men
Arrian (V.18) states that Alexander lost 80 infantry, 10 mounted archers, 20 Companion Cavalry and 200 ‘of the other cavalry’ in the Battle of the Hydaspes River.

Diodorus (XVII.89) ‘the only other writer to mention casualties’ (according to the notes to my edition of Arrian) says that Alexander lost 700+ infantry and 280 cavalry.

Given how fierce the battle was, Arrian’s figure seem much too low. Diodorus’ are surely more realistic. But even he has downplayed casualty numbers, I again get no sense from the texts the battle that the Macedonian army lost the high numbers in the manner that Gupta suggests happened.

and their will to fight. Their spirit was battered beyond repair.
Weeks after the battle, the Macedonian army mutinied on the banks of the Hyphasis River. If anything, therefore, its spirit was ‘battered beyond repair’ even before the fight against Porus. However, Gupta is definitely on the right track here.

***

A victorious Alexander wanted to move forward but his army revolted against him. He was forced to turn back. He made Porus a king under his empire and allowed him to govern not only his original kingdom but many more provinces.

Actually, Alexander did move forward, albeit not very far. Gupta’s other statements here are all correct. As mentioned above, the army revolted a few weeks later on the banks of the Hyphasis River, forcing Alexander to turn back. Similarly, Porus was not only given his kingdom back but given additional territory, too (Arrian V.19, Curtius VIII.14.45, Plutarch Life 60).

Categories: Of The Moment, On Alexander | Tags: , | 3 Comments

The Power and the Glory

The Nature of Curtius
Book Nine Chapter 1-4
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter One
The Indian Interior
Alexander celebrated victory over Porus with ‘a sacrifice of animals to the Sun’. He had much to thank Helios for as the god had ‘opened up to him the limits of the east’.

Later, Alexander told his men that the Indian strength had been ‘shattered’ and all that was left was ‘rich plunder’. His next decision showed that he now considered the end of the expedition to be nigh – Alexander gave instructions for ‘ships to be constructed so that after completing his expedition across Asia he might visit the sea at the world’s end’.

The ships were built using wood from trees in mountainside forests. As the Macedonians cut the trees down, they disturbed ‘snakes of extraordinary size’. Curtius says they also sighted rhinoceroses on the mountains.

Back at the Hydaspes, Alexander founded two cities on either side the river. They were named Nicaea and Bucephala* (after his horse, Bucephalas).

From the Hydaspes, Alexander now ‘crossed the river** and marched into the interior of India’.

At this point, Curtius pauses for a moment to give us a few more details regarding India’s geography. He tells us that its ‘climate is healthy’, with ‘plentiful supplies of spring-water’ and shade thanks to the ‘almost interminable tracts of countryside [which] were covered with forests’. These woods were comprised of ‘tall trees that reached extraordinary heights’.

Curtius mentions one particular tree that had branches ‘like huge tree-trunks [which] would bend down to the ground where they would turn and rise once more, creating the impression of being not a branch rising up again but a tree generated from an independent root’. This is the Banyan tree, which Diodorus also mentions (see here).

Lest we get too comfortable with the idea of India, however, Curtius has a warning for us – ‘large numbers of snakes’ also lived in the country. They ‘had scales which emitted a golden gleam and a venom of unique virulence’. In fact, it was so potent a bite would lead to instant death. Fortunately, Alexander was able to obtain the antidote from natives.

From all that Curtius has told us about India it doesn’t sound like the kind of place that would have a desert. Nevertheless, he says that it was after Alexander had crossed one that he came to the Hiarotis River***. I suspect Curtius’ definition of ‘desert’ is as flexible as his geography.

The Hiarotis was flanked by trees ‘not found elsewhere’. Wild peacocks also lived there. Leaving the river behind, Alexander attacked various tribes, including one whose city was ‘protected by a marsh’. It did not prevent the Macedonians from storming it.

Presently, Alexander came to Sophites’ kingdom. He submitted to the king and (during a banquet?) told Alexander about how fierce his people’s hunting dogs were. To prove it, he had four attack a captive lion. As they bit it, an attendant tugged at one of the dog’s legs. He didn’t let go. So the attendant ‘proceeded to cut off the leg with a knife’. But still the dog did not let go. The attendant, therefore, cut the dog in another part of its body – to no avail. It held firm. Finally, the attendant slashed at it. The dog died holding onto the lion.

Leaving Sophites, Alexander marched to the Hyphasis River.

* Although, see Chapter Three below where Curtius states that Nicaea and Bucephala were founded after his return to the Hydaspes from the Hyphasis River

** I presume that Curtius means Alexander crossed the Hydaspes once again as he has not given any indication of the Macedonians having left it after the founding of the two cities

*** aka the Hydraotis

Chapter Two
The Hyphasis River
For two days, Alexander wondered if he should cross the Hyphasis at the point he had now reached. On the third day, he decided to do so.

The difficulty he faced was that the Hyphasis was very broad and ‘was obstructed with rocks’. While considering the matter, Alexander also discussed the river and what lay beyond it with a local client king named Phegeus whom he had ordered to join him.

Phegeus told Alexander that if he crossed the Hyphasis, he would have a twelve day journey until he came to the Ganges River. Crossing the Ganges would bring him to the Gangaridae and Prasii people who were ruled by a king named Aggrammes who had a mighty army at his disposal.

Phegeus quoted figures of 20,000 cavalry, 200,000 infantry, 2,000 chariots and 3,000 elephants. Incredulous at these figures, Alexander got a second opinion from Porus. He confirmed them but said that Aggrammes was a second rate monarch.

In the end, what concerned Alexander most was neither the size of Aggrammes’ army nor his elephants but ‘the terrain and the violence of the rivers’ – Phegeus must have told him of these during their conversation. He also doubted his soldiers’ commitment. Having grown old as they marched east, would they follow him ‘over rivers that blocked their path, over all the natural obstacles confronting them?’.

To find out, Alexander called his men together for an assembly during which he urged them to follow him east.

Chapter Three
Coenus Speaks for the Men
The assembly at the Hyphasis River continued with Coenus giving Alexander the army’s response. They had had enough. Alexander withdrew angrily to his tent. Three days later he emerged and gave the order for twelve giant altars to be built before they began the journey west.

Leaving the Hyphasis behind, Alexander marched to the Acesines River. There, Coenus died. Of natural causes? Or perhaps the victim of an angry king?

Back at the Hydaspes River, Alexander founded Nicaea and Bucephala for either the first or second time (see chapter one, above) and received reinforcements for the army. The ships that he had ordered to be built (chapter one again) were now ready and so the journey south to the Indian Ocean began.

Chapter Four
Foreboding
The Macedonian fleet sailed as far as the point ‘where the Hydaspes joins the Acesines’. From there, the ships entered the ‘the country of the Sibi’ who claimed descent from Alexander’s ancestor, Herakles.

Alexander marched inland to attack various tribes. One tribe placed 40,000 men on a river bank to stop the Macedonians from crossing it. They failed. After attacking another city, Alexander sailed round its citadel which was ‘protected by three of the largest rivers in India (the Ganges excepted)’ – the Indus to the north and ‘the confluence of the Acesines and the Hydaspes’ to the south.

The fleet sailed through the confluence down a narrow channel created by silt. At the meeting point of the Hydaspes and Acesines, the waters crashed against each other angrily, creating sea-like waves. So violent were these that two of the Macedonian ships were sunk and others beached. Alexander’s ship might also have gone down but for the efforts of his oarsmen. The ship still ran aground, but was at least safe.

The Macedonian army marched on. When it met a large joint Sudracae and Mallian force, the soldiers began to complain. ‘Alexander… had not terminated the war, only changed its location.’ And what if they destroyed the latest army to meet them? ‘Gloomy darkness and a never-ending night brooding over the deep’ awaited them, and ‘… a sea filled with shoals of savage sea-monsters… stagnant waters where dying nature had lost her power.’*

Alexander met his men, pacified them and defeated the joint Sudracae/Mallian army.

* The ellipses in this quotation are in the text

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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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The Journey to the Hyphasis River

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 91-94 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
From Porus it shall be taken; to Porus it shall be given
Sopeithes: An Obsessive Quest for Perfection
Macedonians arrive at the Hyphasis River
Phegus’ Warning
Macedonian Army Rejects Further Progress

The Story
Chapter 91
Alexander was on the march when he learnt that Porus’ cousin, also named Porus, ‘had left his kingdom and fled to the people of Gandara’. This annoyed the Macedonian king – had cousin-Porus not yet submitted to him? – and so ‘he sent Hephaestion with an army into his country’ so that it might be handed over ‘to the friendly Porus’.

As for Alexander, his next campaign was against the Adrestian people. He won their cities ‘partly by force and partly by agreement’.

Leaving the Adrestians behind, he now came to ‘the country of the Cathaeans’. Diodorus tells us that under Cathaean law, wives were cremated along with their husbands. The reason for the law, we are told, is that a wife had once murdered her husband. Alexander ‘captured their greatest and strongest city after much fighting and burned it’. He was besieging another ‘notable city’ in the region when its inhabitants surrendered to him.

Now, Alexander came to a group of cities under the rule of a king named Sopeithes. Diodorus says that his people were devoted to beauty. ‘From birth’, children were examined to make sure they were ‘well formed and designed by nature to have a fine appearance and bodily strength’. If they passed the test, they were were allowed to live. If they did not, they were killed.

Sopeithes himself was ‘strikingly handsome’. He was also smart. Seeing Alexander approach, he came out of his city and handed it over to him. In return, Alexander gave it back. No doubt relieved, Sopeithes put on a great feast for the Macedonians which lasted for several days.

Chapter 92
Sopeithes gave Alexander a gift of 150 dogs ‘remarkable of their size and courage’. To ‘test their mettle’, Sopeithes put two of the worst in a cage with a lion. When the lion gained the upper hand, two more dogs were put in the cage. The four took control of the fight. As they did so, one of Sopeithes’ men slashed the leg of one of the dogs. Alexander protested at this only for Sopeithes to promise to give him three more dogs in replacement. Sopeithes’ man severed the dog’s leg. It ‘uttered neither yelp nor whimper’ until it collapsed due to blood loss.

Chapter 93
Alexander was still with Sopeithes when Hephaestion returned having transferred cousin-Porus’ land to the friendly king of that name. The king congratulated him on his work and set off on campaign once more.

His next target was ‘the kingdom of Phegus’ who surrendered and ‘met the king with many gifts’. His reward was to be confirmed as king. The Macedonians were given another feast – this one lasting a mere two days before they took their leave.

Alexander now arrived at the Hyphasis River. Diodorus gives it as being seven furlongs in width, six fathoms in depth, and having a violent current.

As they stood on the river’s western bank, Alexander questioned Phegus about what lay beyond. Phegus told him that there was a desert that would take twelve days to cross; beyond that was another river – the Ganges – which was 32 furlongs (4 miles) in width. It was ‘the deepest of all the Indian rivers’.

What lay beyond the Ganges? A number of tribes – the Tabraesians and Gandaridae (to whom cousin-Porus had fled), ‘whose king was Xandrames’. He had an army of 20,000 cavalry, 200,000 infantry, 2,000 chariots, and 4,000 elephants.

Alexander didn’t believe these figures, so sought a second opinion from Porus. He confirmed them, but added that Xandrames ‘was an utterly common and undistinguished character, and was supposed to be the son of a barber’! Despite his low position, Xandrames’ father ‘had been handsome’. The queen fell in love with him and murdered her husband, presumably so that they could marry.

The figures were daunting but Alexander ‘was not discouraged’. ‘He had confidence in the fighting qualities’ of his men and still remembered what the Pythia had told him – that he would be ‘unconquerable’ – and how ‘Ammon had given him the rule of the whole world’.

Chapter 94
But while Alexander had faith in his men, he also knew that they ‘were exhausted with their constant campaigns’. If they were to fight the Gandaridae, he needed to make ‘an effective appeal’ to them. Diodorus outlines the condition of Alexander’s army after ‘eight years among toils and dangers’.

    • The hooves of the horses had worn thin
    • ‘[A]rms and armour were wearing out’
    • ‘Greek clothing was quite gone’

The clothing had been replaced with Indian materials, which cannot have pleased the men. A further difficulty was the weather – it had been raining for seventy days ‘to the accompaniment of continuous thunder and lightning’.

Alexander gave thought to all this and decided that the best way to secure his men’s loyalty was to gain their ‘goodwill through gratitude’. So, he gave them permission to plunder the land they were in.

While the men were doing this, Alexander met their wives and children. To the former he promised a ‘monthly ration, to the children he distributed a service bonus in proportion to the military records of their fathers’.

Once the plundering was over, Alexander met his men in an assembly. He urged them to join him against the Gandaridae but his appeal fell on deaf ears. As a result of this, ‘he gave up the undertaking’.

The long journey home was about to begin.

Comments
In his Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great, Waldemar Heckel goes out of his way to downplay Hephaestion’s military credentials. His appointment to command of half the Companion Cavalry was an act of ‘nepotism’; he was ‘a relatively inexperienced officer’ who had ‘no extraordinary abilities as a general’.

As I’m sure I’ve said before, if Alexander had wanted to act in a nepotistic manner towards Hephaestion, he would have promoted him long before 330 B.C. As it is, how Heckel can call him ‘relatively inexperienced’ after five years of campaigning – including three major battles – is beyond me. Finally, I might ask who of Alexander’s officers had ‘extraordinary abilities as a general’? The only two I can think of are Eumenes and Antigonus Monophthalmus. The others were very talented indeed but I would hesitate to call them men of genius.

And ultimately, so what if they weren’t all extraordinarily talented commanders? An army needs more than brilliant leaders to survive. It needs soldiers who can organise – Hephaestion, soldiers who can inspire – Black Cleitus and Craterus, soldiers who can influence – Ptolemy, stalwarts – unglamorous men who can get a job done – Perdiccas, and soldiers who are prepared to learn about the country they are in – Peucestas, and so on.

Diodorus’ comments regarding Sopeithes’ people’s obsession with beauty should make for uncomfortable reading for us today as it does not sound a million miles from the practice of gender selection or aborting unborn children when they are found to have a physical defect.

I gave Sopeithes the benefit of the doubt by calling him ‘smart’. It may well be that he surrendered to the Macedonians simply to protect his good looks.

Was there ever an occasion when a military leader tried to secure the loyalty of his men by appealing to their wives and children? I can’t think of it.

The perfunctory way in which Diodorus deals with the Macedonian army’s mutiny at the Hyphasis River is really quite remarkable. In fact, in his text, there is no mutiny. Alexander simply asks his men to follow him and they decline; he agrees, therefore, to turn back. It all sounds rather democratic.

Why did Alexander’s appeal to his soldiers fail? Some hurts are shallow and can be healed; others go much deeper and either heal more slowly or never at all. Reading between the lines, the latter was surely the case with the Macedonian soldiers.

But, one might say, shouldn’t they have been more grateful having just made themselves very rich through plunder? I doubt all the riches in the world would have persuaded the Macedonians to continue. To be rich is a good thing but wealth pales into utter insignificance against the anguish caused by mental and physical pain.

This one is for the Macedonian soldiers out there
end_of_the_road_sign

And this one is for Alexander

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The Battle of the Hydaspes River

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 87-89 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Reaches Hydaspes River
Macedonians and Indians Clash
Indians Defeated as Porus Felled
Alexander Reappoints Porus as king

The Story
Chapter 87 marks the start of a new year for Diodorus (July 326 – June 325 B.C.).

At the end of yesterday’s post, I noted Diodorus’ claim that Alexander was ‘much relieved’ when he did not have to fight Mophis, and I wondered why this was.

One of my suggestions was that Alexander might have been aware of a weakness in his army. From what Diodorus says in Chapter 87, it looks like this was indeed the case, for after meeting Mophis, whom he renamed Taxiles, Alexander tarried in his land, where he ‘repaired his army’ before moving on.

Diodorus now brings us to the last great battle of Alexander’s career – against Porus at the Hydaspes River.

The river isn’t named in Diodorus’ text, the author also omits all mention of how Alexander deceived the Indian king into thinking he was still in camp when actually he was crossing the river. Neither does Diodorus mention how difficult a crossing it proved to be. Instead, he launches straight into a consideration of the size of Porus’ army and then the battle itself.

One Porus’ army

    • Infantry ‘more than’ 50,000
    • Cavalry ‘about’ 3,000
    • Chariots ‘more than’ 1,000
    • Elephants 130

In addition to Porus’ army, we are told that the Indian king ‘had enlisted the support’ of another monarch, this one named Embisarus, whose army was ‘little smaller’ than his own.

Two Hearing that Embisarus was on his way, Alexander decided to attack Porus before he could arrive.

Three Upon being told of Alexander’s approach, Porus organised his army in the following manner.

  • Cavalry Situated on both flanks
  • Elephants ‘[I]n a single line’ in front of his infantry
  • Infantry Placed between the elephants

We are not told where the chariots were positioned, although given that they were the first of Porus’ army to engage the Macedonians I assume it was in front of the elephants.

Four Alexander did not organise his own army until he had seen Porus’. Again, we are not told what his arrangement was.

Chapter 88
Five The battle began. The Macedonian cavalry met the Indian chariots and put ‘practically all’ of them ‘out of action’.

Six Next came the elephants. They proved to be rather more effective than the charioteers had been; Diodorus gives a gruesome list of how so. Some Macedonians ‘were trodden underfoot’, while others were lifted up by the elephants’ trunks and ‘dashed back down to the ground’. ‘Many soldiers’, meanwhile, were impaled by the elephants’ tusks.

Seven Critically, however, for all the damage they did, the elephants were not able to break the Macedonian line. The phalanx stood firm and using their sarissas fought back against the Indian infantry, which was advancing between the elephants.

Eight The tide started to turn in the Macedonians’ favour when javelins were thrown at the elephants. The animals were wounded to the point of madness. In an effort to escape to safety, they retreated, trampling over the Indian soldiers as they did so.

Nine Seeing his army begin to falter, Porus – who sat atop ‘the largest of the elephants’ and had a guard of forty others around him – now entered the fray. He and his men ‘inflicted many losses’.

Ten Diodorus comments that Porus was ‘five cubits in height’ which, the Footnotes say, is seven and a half feet. He clearly had the muscles to match for he threw his javelins with all the force of a catapult.

Eleven That might be an exaggeration but the Indian king still amazed the Macedonians with ‘his fighting ability’.

Twelve Determined not to lose ground to Porus, Alexander ‘called up [his] bowmen and other light armed troops and ordered them to concentrate their fire’ on him. They did so, and Porus was struck multiple times.

Thirteen Despite his mounting injuries, Porus fought on until he collapsed as a result of blood loss. He fell off his elephant and upon the ground.

Fourteen Porus’ collapse marked the end of the battle. Word went round the Indian army that he had been killed. As it did so, the soldiers went into a disorganised retreat – Diodorus says simply that they ‘fled’.

Chapter 89
Fifteen Unlike on other occasions, Alexander did not pursue his enemy. Instead, ‘satisfied with his brilliant victory’ he ordered his men to withdraw from the battlefield.

Sixteen Casualty figures
Indian army

  • Dead ‘more than’ 12,000

Macedonian army
Dead

  • Cavalry 280
  • Infantry ‘more than’ 700

Amongst the Indian dead were Porus’ two sons ‘and his best generals and officers’. ‘About’ 9,000 Indians were taken alive as well as 80 elephants.

Seventeen As it turned out, Porus survived the javelin blows and the fall from his elephant. Upon being captured, he was returned to the surviving Indians so that he could receive medical treatment.

Eighteen As per normal practice, Alexander buried his dead, gave rewards to those who had been brave and ‘sacrificed to Helius who had given him the eastern regions to conquer’.

Following the battle (we aren’t told when), Alexander ordered the construction of a naval fleet. He intended to use it to ‘reach the borders of India’ and subdue her people, before sailing ‘downstream to the Ocean’.

He also founded two cities – one a distance from the Hydaspes River and another on the battlefield itself. As the Footnotes tell us, these two cities were Nicaea and Bucephala. The latter, of course, was named after Bucephalus, Alexander’s beloved horse. In Chapter 95, Diodorus says that he died during the battle.

The chapter concludes with Porus’ recovery. In recognition of his bravery, Alexander confirmed him as king over his territory. ‘The Macedonian army rested for thirty days’ before continuing its journey east.

Comments
At the start of the post I noted that Chapter 87 ‘marks the start of a new year for Diodorus’. It seems that his chronology is now correct as his dating of the Battle of the Hydaspes River, to the summer of 326 B.C. is in accordance with scholarly opinion.

What happened to the boats that Hephaestion (and Perdiccas) assembled at the Indus River? I guess they were dismantled after the crossing.

As I look over Diodorus’ text again, I find it more and more plain. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he sucks the life out of what happened but I’m not convinced that his heart was in it. Where was his heart? Why did Diodorus write Book 17? Off the top of my head – I really don’t know. I’m probably only displaying my ignorance but I just don’t know where Diodorus’ focus is. It’s almost like he wrote Book 17 simply because it was history and he had to.

Respect

porus

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From Porus to Marauding Greeks

Linked To Alexander (1)

I subscribe to Google Alerts and every day (or there and there abouts) receive an email that lets me know where ‘Alexander the Great’ has been mentioned on the web. Not all the references to him are of any use – I have lately received one e-mail that linked to a rapper using Alexander’s name – but occasionally an e-mail will come back with one or more links that deserve being more widely known about. I will gather them together and every week or two blog them here.
More links here

24th July 2014
The Indian Republic
Forgotten Heroes: King Porus

31st July 2014
The Guardian
August’s Reading Group: The Alexander Trilogy by Mary Renault

n/a
US Macmillan Publishers
Two books related to Alexander the Great by Judith Tarr
Bring Down the Sun
Queen of the Amazons

3rd August 2014
The Standard Digital News
Egypt: Ancient pearl maintains its lustre
on Alexandria

7th August 2014
Times Higher Education
Wandering Greeks: The Ancient Greek Diaspora from the Age of Homer to the Death of Alexander the Great, by Robert Garland

A List of Links to Alexander 

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