فصل 06

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فصل 06

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Chapter six

South to Egypt

Darius escaped over the mountains on horseback, leaving his spear in his chariot. But the Battle of Issus was a serious defeat for the Persians. Enormous numbers of Persians died. The rest of the Persian army broke into small groups, and most of the hired Greeks sailed home in Persian warships.

King Darius lost much more than his soldiers and ships. The Macedonians found extraordinary riches left near the battlefield, and even more at the city of Damascus. There were 220 kilograms of silver, and as many gold coins as Alexander’s father, King Philip, had received in tax from his empire in a whole year. There were piles of cups, bowls and boxes made of gold. Alexander liked one gold box so much that he decided to keep his favourite copy of The Iliad in it. There were thousands of servants, including 329 female musicians, 319 cooks and 70 wine waiters, who had come to look after the Great King while he commanded the army. And, most important of all, the Macedonians took prisoner Darius’s wife, mother and children.

Alexander made sure that the Persian royal family received royal treatment. They were given fine clothes and jewellery to wear, and had a comfortable place to live. Soon Darius wrote to Alexander asking for his family’s return. But Alexander replied that the royal family would only be freed if Darius called him King Alexander of Asia.

‘If you think you have a right to your empire, stand and fight for it,’ wrote Alexander. ‘Do not run away, because I will come after you, wherever you go.’

Another prisoner was the dead General Memnon’s beautiful Persian wife, Barsine. She had lived for a short time in Macedonia when her father, a Persian governor, had become unpopular with the Persian king. In Macedonia, Barsine had known Alexander as a boy. Now he was a man and she was his prisoner. Alexander fell in love with her and they were close for the next five years.

Alexander now needed to take the ports in Phoenicia (present-day Lebanon). Most of them were happy to welcome the Macedonians and say goodbye to Persian rule, but the city of Tyre was different. Tyre stood on an island about a kilometre out to sea and was ringed by a wall fifty metres high. Few cities were as difficult to attack, but Alexander, as usual, wasted no time in worrying about the difficulty of his job.

He told his engineers to build a wide road across the sea to the island of Tyre. Using stone from coastal ruins to fill in the sea, the first part of this road was built quickly. But the last 200 metres cost many lives.

The Tyrians shot arrows at the Macedonians as they worked, but the Macedonians used stone-throwing machines to clear the archers from their shooting positions. The machines were also used to make holes in the city walls, but the walls were soon rebuilt. When the Tyrians sailed burning ships into enemy lines to destroy the Macedonians’ wooden war machines, the Macedonians found other ways to destroy the Tyrian defences. The Macedonians tried to climb the walls, but the Tyrians showered them with red hot sand that poured inside their armour and burnt their bodies horribly.

As time went on, Alexander was helped by other Phoenician cities, and by the Greeks who lived on Cyprus and Rhodes. More than six months after the start of the siege, the Macedonians and their allies attacked the island on all sides with ships and machines of war. Finally, Alexander and his soldiers managed to fight their way over the walls. The Tyrians defended themselves bravely, but the city was taken. 10,000 Tyrians were killed and 30,000 were sold as slaves.

The results of Alexander’s siege can still be seen. Tyre exists today, but it is not on an island. The coastline was changed for ever by the road that Alexander’s soldiers built across the sea.

South of Tyre, Alexander took the city of Gaza after a two month siege. The whole male population was killed. Then Alexander tied the feet of their dead king, Batis, to his chariot and pulled it round the city. His hero Achilles had done the same in The Iliad, with the body of Patroclus’s killer, Hector.

Alexander then marched south to Egypt, a land rich in gold and farmland. In later years, when Rome was all-powerful and had a city population of one million, most of the Romans’ food came from the valley of the Nile.

The Egyptians were understandably proud of their long history. Their religion and their writing had begun almost 3,000 years before the time of Alexander, and their form of government had too. The Egyptians had built extraordinary tombs for their kings, or ‘pharaohs’. The greatest of these, the tomb of Khufu at Giza, continued to be the tallest building in the world until the nineteenth century. But when it was built in the twenty-sixth century BC, the Greeks had not yet even learnt how to write.

For centuries, Egypt had been one of the most powerful countries in the Middle East, but in 525 BC it had fallen under Persian rule. Its people had never fully accepted this situation, and had regularly fought for their independence.

Now they welcomed Alexander as their new ruler. They were deeply religious, and they saw that Alexander had a better attitude than the Persian kings to the Egyptian gods. They gladly made him their ‘pharaoh’. As Pharaoh, he was believed to be a living god, son of the Egyptian creator-god Amun.

After spending time in Egypt’s capital city Memphis (near present-day Cairo), Alexander travelled north to the mouth of the River Nile. There he organized the building of a new city, Alexandria. It was not the only city of that name; one had already been built near Issus, and before he died Alexander built more than twenty others. But this Alexandria was perhaps his greatest gift to the future. In the centuries that followed, it became one of the Mediterranean world’s most important centres of learning and of political and economic power.

Leaving most of his army in Alexandria, Alexander travelled 200 kilometres west along the Mediterranean coast with a small group of soldiers. He came to the Greek city of Paraitonion, then turned south into the Libyan desert. This time his destination was not an enemy city - it was Siwah, home of the Libyan god Ammon.

Siwah, in Libya, was known all over the Greek world as a place where people could ask Ammon for advice and receive an honest answer. The answers were communicated to visitors by Ammon’s religious officials. Ammon was connected with the Egyptian god Amun and the Greek god Zeus.

It seems that Alexander had an important question to ask the god. But his journey across the desert to Siwah almost cost him his life. For four days the travellers were lost in a sandstorm. They drank all their water and soon became very thirsty. But suddenly there were clouds in the sky and it started to rain - ‘not without the help of the gods’, according to Alexander’s friends. They travelled at night, when it was cooler, and soon they lost their way again. This time, it was said, they were helped by birds and snakes which showed them the right direction. Finally, after more than a week in the desert, they reached Siwah.

Alexander communicated privately with the god Ammon, possibly about his hopes of becoming King of Asia. Later, in public, the religious men of Siwah welcomed him as ‘Son of Zeus’. Was this just a Greek translation of the Pharaoh’s title, Son of Amun? Or had they heard that Alexander’s mother Olympias sometimes told strange stories about a god being her son’s father? We do not know. But certainly Alexander’s visit to Siwah had a powerful effect on him. According to his soldiers, he started to believe that he truly was the son of the great god Zeus. Like the Greek hero Hercules, he was more than human; because of this, there was nothing that he could not achieve.

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