Posts Tagged With: Sogdian Rock

Alexander the Hungover Conqueror?

In an article for The Sydney Morning Herald, on how we can say and do things that we regret while hungover as well as drunk, columnist Sam de Brito states that

Alexander the Great (who died of alcoholism) conquered most of the known world, putting endless cities to the sword while hungover.

You can read it here.

First of all, I should say that I don’t know the background to the article: it doesn’t reference any particular event and the heading – ‘Victoria Bitterly divorced’ – appears as no more than a pun on the name of an Australian brewer. Perhaps a high ranking member of the family or company that owns it is going through a messy divorce case.

So far as this blog post is concerned, however, that is by-the-bye as I am going to focus solely on de Brito’s statement regarding Alexander.

***

Firstly, he states as fact that Alexander ‘died of alcoholism’. Actually, the cause of Alexander’s death is not known with any certainty. The Macedonian king might have died of alcoholism but he also might have died of malaria, typhoid or been poisoned. The ultimate cause of his death might just have been natural causes – his body worn out by the damage done to it during thirteen plus years of campaigning. In short, though, De Brito has no grounds to assert that alcohol was the killer.

Secondly, he states that Alexander ‘conquered most of the known world, putting endless cities to the sword while hungover.’

This is the kind of statement that seems reasonable until you actually think about it. Yes, Alexander ‘conquered most of the known world’ but is it very likely that a person could conduct a successful thirteen year military campaign in an inebriated state?

I personally doubt it but let’s say – for the sake of argument – that it is, what of Alexander specifically? de Brito’s charge finds no favour with Plutarch. In Chapter 23 of his Life of Alexander, he states

Alexander was also more moderate in his drinking than was generally supposed. The impression that he was a heavy drinker arose because when he had nothing else to do, he liked to linger over each cup, but in fact he was usually talking rather than drinking: he enjoyed holding long conversations, but only when he had plenty of leisure. Whenever there was urgent business to attend to, neither wine, nor sleep, nor sport, nor sex, nor spectacle could ever distract his attention, as they did for other generals. The proof of this is his life, which although so short was filled to overflowing with the most prodigious achievements.

I am sure Sam de Brito researched his article before filing it so it is unfortunate that he missed this.

***

But perhaps de Brito only had a limited amount of time to write his article and happened to use Curtius instead. If anyone is going to present a picture of a warrior-king slaughtering his way across the world while being slaughtered, it is surely him. Curtius writes,

Alexander had some great natural gifts: a noble disposition surpassing that of all other monarchs; resolution in the face of danger; speed in undertaking and completing projects; integrity in dealing with those who surrendered and mercy towards prisoners; restraint even in those pleasures which are generally acceptable and widely indulged. But all these were marred by his inexcusable fondness for drink.
(Curtius 5.7:1)

de Brito’s article gives the impression that he has read the last sentence in the quotation above and used it as the lens through which he sees Alexander, either in ignorance or dismissal of Plutarch’s words.

***

To be honest, I doubt de Brito has read any of the sources – his allegation comes across as the kind of thing someone who-got-it-from-his-mate-who-was-told-it-by-his-old-man-(probably-while-hungover)-who-knew-all-that-old-stuff would say use.

However, let’s take de Brito seriously and ask what does Curtius have to say about the role of alcohol during the course of Alexander’s career? After all, the above quotation certainly speaks of a man whose life was coloured by it. Does Curtius present Alexander as being hung over during his conquests? Let’s find out.

***

de Brito talks about Alexander being hungover while ‘putting endless cities to the sword’. To get a more representative look at what role alcohol might have played in his career, I have picked ten major military actions that Alexander took part in. Obviously, as Books I and II of Curtius’ have been lost, I am starting with Book III.

The Siege of the Celaenaeans’ Citadel
(III.1.1-8)
After entering Celaenae without any difficulty, Alexander laid siege to its citadel. At first, the Celaenaeans were defiant, but as the days passed, and – presumably – their food and water ran low they offered to surrender if Darius did not send a relieving force within the next sixty days. Alexander agreed, and when no Persians arrived, the Celaenaeans duly surrendered. Two months is plenty of time for Alexander to have got drunk once, twice or maybe sixty times. However, not only does Curtius make no mention of any drinking taking place in the Royal Tent, he says that Alexander left Celaeanae after just ten days. He was a man with a mission and didn’t have time to mess around with alcohol.

The Battle of Issus
(III.7-10)
In the lead up to Alexander’s first confrontation with Darius, we see him stopping in Soli and enjoying a holiday. No doubt he enjoyed a drink there but Curtius does not mention it – neither does he record Alexander drinking at any other point before the start of the battle.

The Siege of Tyre
(IV.2-4)
This siege lasted for six months so Alexander undoubtedly enjoyed a few drinks along the way. And indeed, Curtius does state that ‘excessive drinking’ took place – but by the Tyrians. It occurred after ‘a sea-creature of extraordinary size’ beached itself on the Macedonian mole before slipping back into the sea. The Tyrians interpreted this as a sign of Neptune’s* anger with the Macedonians and the sure failure of their siege so started to celebrate.

* Curtius was a Roman

The Siege of Gaza
(IV.6.7-31)
Part of Curtius’ manuscript is missing here but in the portion we have there is no reference to Alexander drinking at any time during the siege.

The Battle of Gaugamela
(IV.11-14)
From the arrival of the ten ambassadors to the start of the battle at Gaugamela there is once again no mention of Alexander drinking. The night before the battle he stayed up late (IV.13.16) but not to drink – his mind was completely occupied by the fight to come.

The Susian Gates
(V.3.16-4.34)
Neither on the way to the Gates, not despite the humiliation of having to withdraw from them after the Persian boulder ambush, did Alexander turn to drink. Instead, he regrouped, found a new route, and took the fight to his enemy – winning.

The Sogdian Rock
(VII.11.1-27)
Upon his arrival at the Rock, Alexander examined ‘the difficulties of the terrain’ before him. The Sogdian Rock seemed too well protected to be taken and the Macedonian king ‘decided to…’ drink his frustration away? No. ‘leave, but then… was overcome by a desire to bring even nature to her knees’. During the siege, Alexander spent the whole day watching for any sign that his men had successfully completed their ascent. Curtius describes how, when night came and darkness fell, Alexander ‘withdrew to take refreshment’. Perhaps this included a little wine? I expect so but no so much as the king was up before daybreak the next morning to continue his watch.

The Aornos* Rock
(VIII.11.2-25)
At first, Alexander was baffled as to how this outcrop might be taken but soon found help – not from wine but a local guide. When the time came to launch an attack, Alexander was the first to clamber over the makeshift ramp that the Macedonians had built to cover the gap between the rock and surrounding land. The fight was hard fought and when mounting casualties forced Alexander to order a retreat it looked like the Indians had won. But, though forced back, the Macedonians had unnerved them and, two nights later, the Indians tried to flee from the rock. Alexander was sufficiently clear headed to order them to be pursued and cut down.

* Curtius calls it the Aornis Rock

The Battle of the Hydaspes River
(VIII.13.5-27)
When Alexander arrived at the Hydaspes he did not know how to cross its broad expanse without being cut down by Porus’ army, which was waiting for him on the other side. At the Aornos Rock, a guide had shown him the way. This time, he used his own guile – his own clear-headed, no reference to alcohol once again, guile.

The Mallian City
(IX.4.15-33)
Before carrying out what must surely rank as one of the most famous jumps in military history, Alexander had to quell a potential mutiny in the Macedonian ranks. His army had thought that after turning west at the Hyphasis River, they were ‘quit of danger’. Realising that this was not so, they ‘were suddenly terror-stricken’. Alexander met his men’s fear head on and inspired them to follow him into battle once more. Could he have done this while hungover? I doubt it. By now it can go without saying that, there is – yet again – no reference to Alexander drinking at this time.

***

Ten military actions ranging from Asia Minor to India. No direct references to Alexander drinking alcohol let alone being hungover during operations. Curtius accuses Alexander of marring his talents ‘by his inexcusable fondness for drink’, I accuse him (once again) of resorting to sensationalism and exaggeration.

As for Sam de Brito, I am sure he is an excellent journalist, but on this occasion, I can’t help but feel that he trusted to his historical knowledge more than was perhaps wise. Maybe he wrote his article while hungover.

Categories: Of The Moment, On Alexander, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Road to Marakanda – Spring 328 B.C.

In the Spring of 328 B.C., the Macedonian army campaigned in Bactria and Sogdia. The native people had closed the gates of their forts to Alexander and needed to be reminded who was in charge.

I say ‘the Macedonian army’ quite deliberately for it does not appear as if Alexander himself took part in the operation.

At least, not according to Arrian. He recounts how, after leaving Zariaspa, the Macedonian king put Attalus, Gorgias, Polyperchon and Meleager in charge of subduing Bactria, and Coenus and Artabazus (together), Hephaestion, Perdiccas and Ptolemy in charge of subduing Sogdia.

As for Alexander himself, he

… proceeded with [the rest of the army] in the direction of Marakanda, while the the other four commanders carried out offensive operations.

It is possible that he attacked Sogdian settlements along the way, but the fact that Arrian distinguishes between Alexander’s actions and those of his four commanders suggests to me that Arrian didn’t think so.

This passage has been on my mind for a while for it seems quite strange that Alexander would choose to miss an opportunity to win take part in a military operation.

Did he see the ‘offensive operations’ as no more than a bit of mopping up, and so unworthy of his attention?

The fact that Alexander had to split his army into as many as nine divisions, excluding his own, would suggest that the threat posed by the Bactrians and Sogdians was no small matter, if anything, the reverse.

Perhaps he had business to take care of in Marakanda? Arrian doesn’t mention any. However, the city had been put under siege twice by Spitamenes the previous year (Arrian IV.5,7). I am guessing, therefore, that Alexander wanted to assign new men to the garrison (Curtius VII.10.11*) that had held it over the winter. This, of course, is a job that could have been done by one of the king’s generals – Hephaestion, for example, whom some scholars tell us was not a particularly good soldier.

At first sight, the other sources are not helpful in working out what Alexander was up to in the Spring of 328 B.C. Plutarch covers the period of the Bactria-Sogdia campaign in Chapters 50-58 of his Life but says nothing about the army’s military operations. The same is the case with Justin (who covers the same period in XII.7 of his epitome). Diodorus might have done but unfortunately, the relevant section of his account has been lost.

That leaves us with Curtius. After bringing Alexander out of his winter quarters at Zariaspa (VII.10.13-16), Curtius appears to confuse the early 328 campaign with another set of events** before having Alexander build some cities and move on to the Sogdian Rock.

This most famous siege took place in 327 B.C. It appears, therefore, that Curtius has misdated it. Thus, at the start of Book Eight, he follows in Arrian’s footsteps by describing how Alexander divided his army into three (between himself, Hephaestion and Coenus***) and with his men ‘once more subdued the Sogdians and returned to Maracanda’ (VIII.1.7) (my emphasis]).

So, if Curtius is to be believed, Alexander did take part in the campaign before reaching Marakanda. And, I have to admit, that seems the more believable version of events.

However, if asked to chose who I believe – him or Arrian – I’m not sure that I wouldn’t stick with Arrian. Curtius can be such an unreliable historian.

As already mentioned, he gets the date of the Siege of the Sogdian Rock wrong. After bringing Alexander to Marakanda, Curtius has him speak to Derdas, whom he sent into the territory of the Scythians over the Tanais River the previous year (VII.6.12) as well as ‘a deputation of that people’ (VIII.1.7) who offered him their allegiance and the hand of the king’s daughter. Arrian, by contrast, places these events in Spring, while Alexander was still in Zariaspa (A IV.15).

As can be seen, Curtius appears to have a particular problem with accurate dating. In this light, I wonder if his account of Alexander’s actions in Sogdia at VIII.7 could be a reference to Alexander’s Autumn 329 campaign against the Sogdians, subsequent arrival in Zariaspa and meeting with the Scythians per Arrian.

And yet… and yet… As you can see, I am Hamlet-like in my indecision! The reason for this is that I just can’t think of a convincing reason why Alexander would not have joined the campaign while he was on his way to Marakanda.

Actually, there is one possible reason – injury and/or ill health. The previous year, Alexander’s leg was broken by an arrow (A III.30); he also suffered a slingshot blow to the head and neck (A IV.3) and a severe bout of dysentery but surely he would have recovered from the worst effect of these by Spring 328?

* Curtius says that Alexander left a 3,000 strong garrison in Sogdia. I take it that some even if not all of them stayed in Marakanda
** The Notes in my edition of Curtius say he could be thinking of the rebellion of Arsaces in Aria and Barzanes in Parthia and their capture by Stasanor
*** I don’t count this as an error on Curtius’ part – it could be him ‘telescoping’ the story in order to focus on the principle player(s) in it

Categories: Arrian, Finding Alexander, On Alexander, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Alexander: March/Spring Chronology

Alexander’s Chronology

337
Spring Philip orders Alexander back to Pella (Peter Green*)

336
Spring Parmenion and Attalus lead the Macedonian advance army into Asia Minor (Livius, Peter Green)

335
Early Spring Alexander campaigns in Thrace and Illyria (Peter Green)
NB The Landmark Arrian** dates this campaign to Spring (as opposed to Early Spring. This applies to all similar references below)

Spring Alexander razes Thebes; Greek cities submit (Landmark Arrian)

334
March – April Alexander crosses into Asia Minor; beginning of his anabasis (Peter Green)
NB
Michael Wood*** dates the crossing of the Hellespont to May
The
Landmark Arrian dates the crossing to Spring

333
March – June Memnon’s naval offensive (Livius)

Early Spring
Memnon dies (Peter Green)

Spring Alexander arrives in Gordion where he undoes the famous knot (Landmark Arrian)

Spring (Possibly late spring?) Alexander passes through the Cilician Gates having taken Pisidia and Cappadocia (Landmark Arrian)

NB With reference to the death of Memnon, referred to above, the Landmark Arrian dates it to ‘Spring’ 333, during the Persian navy’s fight against the Macedonians. Contra Livius (below), it adds that after his death, and in the same year, the ‘Persian naval war falter[ered]’

332
Spring The Persian Fleet disintegrates (Livius)
January – September The Siege of Tyre continues (Michael Wood)

331
March Alexander visits Siwah (Livius)
NB Peter Green dates Alexander’s Siwah visit to ‘Early Spring’

Spring Alexander resumes his march towards Darius (Landmark Arrian)

330
Spring Alexander orders the royal palace in Persepolis to be burnt (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander finds the body of Darius (Landmark Arrian)

329
Spring First crossing of the Hindu Kush (Michael Wood)
NB Peter Green dates the crossing to ‘March – April’

Spring Alexander pursues Bessus across Bactria/Sogdia (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Bessus is betrayed by his officers and handed over to Alexander (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander quells an uprising along the Jaxartes (Tanais) River (Landmark Arrian)

328
Spring Alexander campaigns in Bactria and Sogdia (Michael Wood)
Spring The Sogdian Rock is captured (Michael Wood)

327
Early Spring Alexander marries Roxane (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the wedding to Spring

Early Spring The Pages’ Plot (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the Pages’ plot (and Callisthenes subsequent arrest/possible death) to Spring

Early Spring Callisthenes is executed (Michael Wood)
Spring Pharasmanes and Scythians seek an alliance with Alexander (Landmark Arrian)
Spring
The Sogdian Rock is captured (Livius, Peter Green, Landmark Arrian)
Spring The Rock of Chorienes is captured (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Craterus eliminates the last rebels (following Spitamenes’ death in the Autumn of 328) (Landmark Arrian)
Late Spring Second crossing of the Hindu Kush (Michael Wood)

326
Early Spring The Aornos Rock is captured (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the capture of the Aornos Rock to Spring

Early Spring Alexander meets Hephaestion and Perdiccas at the Indus River, which the reunited army then crosses (Michael Wood)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates the crossing of the Indus to Spring

Early Spring Alexander reaches Taxila (Michael Wood)

NB
The Landmark Arrian lists the sequence of events following Alexander’s capture of the Aornos Rock slightly differently to Michael Wood:
Wood Siege of Aornos > Alexander meets Hephaestion & Perdicas at the Indus > Macedonians cross the Indus > Alexander arrives in Taxila
Landmark Arrian Siege of Aornos Alexander sails down the Indus to Hephaestion’s and Perdiccas’ bridge > Alexander visits Nysa > Alexander receives Taxiles’ (‘son of the Taxiles he met in the Indian Caucasus’ the previous summer) gifts > Alexander crosses the Indus > Alexander meets Taxiles

Spring Battle of the Hydaspes River (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Bucephalus is buried (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander founds Nicaea and Bucephala (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Abisares submits to Alexander (Landmark Arrian)

325
Spring – Summer Journey down the Indus River (Michael Wood)
Spring Alexander defeats the Brahmins, Musicanus, and Sambus (Landmark Arrian)

324
February – March Alexander’s journey to and arrival in Susa (Peter Green)
NB The Landmark Arrian dates Alexander’s arrival to Spring. It adds that after his arrival he purged the corrupt satraps, held the mass wedding ceremonies,and forgave his soldiers’ debts/awarded ‘gold wreaths to officers’; this did not, howeverm stop tensions rising ‘over Alexander’s moves to integrate the army’
March Alexander meets Nearchus in Susa (Livius)
March Susa Marriages (Livius)
March Alexander issues the Exiles’ Decree (Peter Green)
March Alexander issues the Deification Decree (Peter Green)
Spring Alexander explores lower Tigris and Euphrates (Landmark Arrian)
Spring The 30,000 epigoni arrive in Susa (Peter Green)

323
Spring Alexander returns to Babylon after campaigning against the Cossaeans (Peter Green)
Spring Bad omens foreshadow Alexander’s death (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander sends ‘spoils of war to Greece; he is hailed as a god by Greek envoys
Spring Alexander makes preparations for an Arabian campaign (Landmark Arrian)
Spring Alexander orders ‘extravagant’ honours to be given to Hephaestion (Landmark Arrian)

*Peter Green Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography (University of California Press 1991)
** The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010)
***Michael Wood In the Footsteps Of Alexander the Great A Journey from Greece to India (BBC Books 2004)

Notes

  • This chronology is part of an on-going work. If you see any mistakes or omissions please feel free to let me know!
Categories: Chronology of Alexander's Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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’.

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

The Men Who Could Fly

The Nature of Curtius
Book Seven Chapter 10-11
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Ten
The Polytimetus River
‘Sogdiana is mainly desert’ Curtius tells us at the start of the chapter. That may have been so but it was not a totally inhospitable land, for through it flowed the Polytimetus River.

According to Curtius, the Polytimetus flowed quickly – indeed, as a torrent – down a thin channel. Unfortunately for travellers, this channel entered a cave and disappeared underground. Not too far, though, for Curtius says the sound of it could be heard from above ground. Having said that, it was clearly not too close to the ground as the soil remained dry.

The Polytimetus is the second river to disappear from sight in Curtius’ narrative – you’ll recall that the Ziobetis did the same in Pathiene. Curtius gives no indication of where or if the Polytimetus resurfaced again. Thus, and very regretfully, there was no opportunity for Alexander to play his own version of Pooh Sticks again. His horses were no doubt relieved.

Leaving Sogdia, Alexander made his way to Bactra (aka Zariaspa) where he received reinforcements for his army. Once they had arrived, he made his way north again, this time only as far as the Oxus River, to confront insurgents who were still active in the country.

At the Oxus, Alexander set up camp. The river’s ‘silt content’ made it dirty and unsuitable for drinking, so the men started digging wells. They dug deep but no water was to be found. Until, that is, ‘a spring was discovered right inside the king’s tent’.

What I would really like to know, and what – unfortunately – Curtius does not say is how exactly this spring was found? Who was digging in Alexander’s tent?

From what Curtius says next, it appears that the men were embarrassed not to have discovered the spring earlier – why? Surely the king’s tent was out of bounds for digging in! To cover their blushes, the men ‘pretended [that the spring] had appeared all of a sudden’.

As for Alexander, he was content to call the spring ‘a gift of the gods’.

Chapter Eleven
The Sogdian Rock
Counter-insurgency operations continued on both sides of the Oxus and Ochus rivers until the Macedonian army came to the last hide-out of the rebels. It was ‘a rocky outcrop’ thirty stades high, one hundred and fifty in circumference and ‘precipitously steep on every side’. It’s only access was one ‘very narrow path’, which was guarded.

Curtius reports that 30,000 men were on the rock. Not (only) on the top but also in a cave half-way up. This cave ran deep into the rock and was watered by springs up and down it. The men had two years’ worth of provisions. If Alexander was going to lay siege to the rock, the rebels were well placed to resist him for a long time.

There was no real need for Alexander to waste time with a full siege. There may have been 30,000 men on the rock but given that their only route out was the narrow path they were as ill placed to attack Alexander as he was to put them fully under siege.

Alexander must have realised this because his first thought was to leave. The ‘difficulties of the terrain’ made a siege not worth considering. But then, guess what, the king ‘was overcome by a desire to bring even nature to her knees’. This was nothing new. He had already altered the landscape at Tyre. But there he had been able to get up close to the city via his mole and ships. Surely there was no way to get close to the rebels?

They, and their commander Arimazes, certainly thought so. He asked Alexander’s herald if the king could fly. That would be the only way he would take the rock.

When Alexander was told this, he was ‘incensed’. But Arimazes’ words had given him an idea. He gathered around him the most agile and determined of his men and gave them a simple instruction – climb the rock.

‘My comrades! [Alexander said,] With you I have stormed the fortifications of cities that had remained undefeated. With you I have crossed mountain chains snow-covered throughout the year, entered the defiles of Cilicia and endured without exhaustion the fierce cold of India*.'”

In short, We have overcome Man and nature alike before, now do so again. In case the men quailed at the thought of climbing the Sogdian Rock, Alexander advised them that nature ‘”has set nothing so high that it cannot be surmounted by courage'”.

Given that Alexander had only a short time previously considered the rock too difficult to attack it is tempting to see his words as a lot of hot air but given his track record of personal bravery I should think that he meant everything he said. Yes, he had thought the rock too hard, but that was before he set his mind to assaulting it; when he did, it became possible. As the saying attributed to him goes ‘there is nothing impossible to him who will try’.

The men began their climb. Some used their hands, others flung rope with ‘sliding knots’ over the rocks.

I am not an expert on knots, but I think the reason these men used sliding knots is so that they could throw their rope over the rocks and tighten it enabling them to climb up (feel free to correct me in the comments box if I have got this wrong).

Still other climbers made their way up the cliff face by driving pins in between the rocks and using them to haul themselves up.

The climb was a long and difficult one – the men ‘spent the day in fear and toil’. Thirty-two men died after losing their footing and falling. The rest*, however, made it to the top. Thereafter, they were pointed out to Arimazes, who was then told that ‘Alexander’s men did have wings’. Arimazes was stunned by the sight and immediately surrendered.

* The Notes state that Alexander meant the country just east of the Caucasus

** Curtius is not clear on how many climbers there were overall. After being told about Arimazes’ insulting remark, he ordered ‘the group he normally consulted’ (presumably his senior officers) to each bring him 300 men. We are not told how many officers he was speaking to. Arrian says that there were 300 climbers overall.

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

Blog at WordPress.com.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: