فصل 04

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فصل 04

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Chapter four

First Battles in Asia

Until Alexander could prove that he was stronger than the Persian Empire, the Greek cities in Asia refused to help him. He had very little food or pay left for his men. He needed to defeat the Persians in battle quickly. But the Persian commanders were discussing other plans.

At this time, the soldiers in the Persian army were mostly Greek.

People talk of Alexanders Greeks’ defeating the ‘Persians’, but there were 50,000 Greeks in the Persian army and only 7,000 in Alexander’s.

In Greece, it was difficult to earn a living if you did not own land. There were plenty of slaves, so landowners and businessmen rarely wanted to employ paid workers. The shipping business was a possibility, but storms at sea were common and fortunes were lost as often as they were made. For many, the most attractive choice was a life in the highly paid Persian army. The army was full of failed Greek farmers and businessmen, younger sons who owned no land, and politicians who were not welcome in the city of their birth.

A Greek general called Memnon had been responsible for the Macedonians most recent defeats. He had grown up on the island of Rhodes, spent some time living in Macedonia, and come to Asia fifteen years before Alexander. His wife Barsine was Persian, and he now owned a large farm, a present from the Persian king for his loyal service.

Memnon now had a plan to defeat Alexander. The Persians should not face the Macedonians in battle, he advised. Instead, they should burn their own farms and make sure Alexander’s army could get no food. If Alexander did not win a battle, the Greek cities would not help him. Soon his hungry soldiers would have to return to Europe.

The rest of the Persian commanders disagreed with Memnon. Instead, they decided to defend their country in battle.

The Persian army grouped on the east bank of the River Granicus. When Alexander heard the news, he realized his luck and ordered his soldiers to march there as quickly as possible. Some of Alexander’s advisers warned him that for religious reasons it was not a good month for a battle. Alexander acted typically: he created a new month.

Alexander and his army reached the Granicus in late afternoon.

The Persians had chosen their position well. The river was twenty metres wide and ran fast between steep, muddy banks. If Alexander ordered his army to cross the river, it would be easy for the Persians to cut them down in the mud.

Alexander had read in the work of a Greek historian that the Persians liked to camp some distance from their chosen battle ground and did not march before the sun came up. The Macedonians crossed the river in the early hours of the morning and found it undefended. They now had the advantage of surprise.

Alexander led his horsemen against the enemy. The Persian horsemen fought back, but they were badly organized because of the surprise attack. When Alexander’s spear broke during the fighting, a Persian commander saw his opportunity and struck Alexander on the head. But Alexander was not hurt, and before the Persian could strike again, a Macedonian called Cleitus came to protect his king. Cleitus’s sister had been Alexander’s nurse as a baby, and now Cleitus saved his life.

As the fighting continued, the Persians failed to organize a strong defence. Many of their commanders were killed, several by Alexander himself. Soon the Persians on horseback were retreating.

As the Macedonians surrounded the Persian camp, about 17,000 hired Greek foot soldiers tried to defend it. They managed to hurt Alexander’s horse, but there were many more Macedonian attackers. They could not hope to win. 2,000 were taken prisoner, and later sent to Macedonia as slaves; the rest were killed. Alexander used this cruel treatment as a message to other Greeks: ‘Leave the Persian army and stop fighting your own countrymen - if you don’t, your suffering will be worse than the Persians’.’

After his success at the Granicus, the Greek cities in Asia quickly opened their gates to Alexander. He sent messengers to all the cities that he had already passed, telling them to become democracies, to create their own laws, and to stop paying tax to the Persian king. This was a clever trick, because it made Alexander popular with tax-payers. The tax to the Persian king was not really stopped; it was given a new name, and paid as a ‘gift’ to the Macedonian army instead. But the trick was successful. The Persian-supported local rulers lost their power without any danger to the Macedonian army. The cities became democratic, and Alexander grew so popular that many people in the area started to think of him as a god.

Alexander marched south into Caria, where he had in the past hoped to marry the daughter of his father’s ally, the Carian king. At the border, he was met by Queen Ada, who had been the wife of an earlier king. Now she was almost a prisoner in her own home under the new king, a Persian called Orontobates. She had a strange suggestion for Alexander: he should become her adopted son and take Orontobates’s place as the true king.

But first he had to defeat King Orontobates. Orontobates and General Memnon, who was then commander of the whole Persian army, were preparing a defence of Halicarnassus (now called Bodrum, in Turkey). The city was famous for its Mausoleum - the great tomb of Ada’s brother, King Mausolus, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Halicarnassus had the strongest city defences on the Asian coast, circled by walls and with a well-built castle. Persian warships defended it by sea; Alexander, who had sent his Athenian warships home a few months earlier because they were so expensive, had no warships at all.

The siege was difficult. The Macedonians broke part of the city wall, but the Persians pushed them back. Many lives were lost from both armies. In the end, the Persians had too few soldiers to defend the city. They retreated to the castle, which they held for a year. But Alexander was able to move his forces into the main part of the city. As Queen Ada’s adopted son, Alexander became king of Caria.

Preparations now had to be made for the winter. Alexander decided to send home to Macedonia all the soldiers who had married just before the start of the war. This was a popular decision. Alexander’s army now loved their leader more than ever.

Alexander left his ‘mother’, Queen Ada, in charge of Caria. With the rest of the army, he marched to Gordium (in central Turkey), and waited there for the return of the newly married soldiers. During the winter Alexander became interested in a local legend. In the palace at Gordium, which had in the past been the home of the kings of Phrygia, there was an old chariot. It was tied to a piece of wood by a complicated knot that no one had ever managed to untie. According to legend, Asia would one day be ruled by the person who could untie the knot.

Alexander decided that he would untie the knot. In front of all his soldiers, he moved towards the chariot. After some minutes, the knot was broken. But there were two different stories from the people who were watching. Some said that Alexander’s success with the knot was real; others said that they saw him use his knife to cut it. We will never know. But that night the gods seemed to send a sign of their support when thunder and lightning filled the sky. Word spread among his soldiers and the local people: Alexander, who had untied the Gordian Knot, was the future ruler of all Asia.

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