فصل 07

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فصل 07

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Chapter seven

King of Asia

During the siege of Tyre, King Darius had written another letter to Alexander. He had offered him all the lands west of the River Euphrates, a fortune in gold, and marriage to his daughter; in exchange, Darius had asked for peace and the return of his wife, mother and children. It was a generous offer, but Alexander had refused it. Darius then realized that he had no choice - he had to fight again.

While Alexander was in Egypt, Darius called together a new army. Soldiers came from the farthest corners of his empire, and it was a whole year before the army was ready to fight.

Alexander marched from Egypt to Tyre and waited. In his next battle, he wanted to defeat the Persians completely, and he could not do this against an incomplete army. To entertain his bored soldiers, he organized the performance of Greek plays and musical concerts. Then finally the Macedonians marched east.

By burning the Euphrates valley, the Persians forced Alexander to take the only other possible route east. This brought him to Darius’s choice of battlefield: Gaugamela, in present-day Iraq.

Darius made sure that, unlike at Issus, the battlefield was wide enough for him to take advantage of his enormous army. Although Alexander had been joined by new soldiers from Macedonia, Greece and the Asian Mediterranean coast, these only took the place of the men who had died. Against Alexander’s 7,000 horsemen and 40,000 foot soldiers, Darius’s had 30,000 horsemen and 200,000 foot soldiers to send into battle.

At first Alexander planned to take the Persians by surprise in the early morning. But when it became clear that Darius was expecting them, the Macedonians took time to look carefully at the battlefield. In the centre of the field, they saw that spears had been stuck in the ground to hurt any horses that ran at the enemy lines. They saw elephants, a frightening sight for men who had never met such enormous animals before, and for their horses. They also noticed that uneven ground had been flattened to help the drivers of the famous Persian war chariots. Darius had 200 of these chariots, with spears pointing out in front of the horses and long knives fixed to the wheels. It is unlikely that the ordinary Macedonian soldiers were feeling confident before the battle.

The following morning, Alexander spoke to his men and their confidence returned. He called to the gods, ‘If I am truly the son of Zeus, you will defend us and help to make us strong.’ Then he led the attack.

Horsemen and foot soldiers charged towards the centre of the Persian line, then suddenly turned right to an area where there were no spears or elephants. Darius’s horsemen from the centre rushed to meet them, but they were unable to surround the Macedonians as they had hoped. Fighting hard, the Macedonians drove them back.

At the same time, the Persian chariots charged at the foot soldiers in the Macedonian centre. But Alexander’s archers managed to kill many of the chariot drivers before they reached the soldiers. When a chariot came close, the Macedonians moved sideways and the chariot, which could not turn quickly, went straight through the hole in the line. The chariots were not causing the damage that Darius had hoped for.

On Alexander’s left, the Persians broke through the Macedonian defences. But they did not use the situation to their advantage. Instead they went in search of the Persian royal family and tried to free Darius’s mother.

Now Alexander took his chance. When the enemy horsemen had rushed to meet the first Macedonian charge, they had left a weak point in the centre of Darius’s line. Alexander attacked at this point, passing the elephants and going straight towards the chariot of the Persian king. Alexander, it is said, threw a spear at Darius, but it missed and killed his chariot driver instead. Soon, as at Issus, Darius was rushing from the battlefield in his chariot.

This time Alexander did not want him to escape. He took 2,000 horsemen and hurried after him. But the dust made it difficult to see, and many Persians were trying to follow their king as well. In the confusion, Hephaistion and many of Alexander’s other friends were hurt. The Macedonians continued the chase at high speed, but Darius managed to get away.

With the disappearance of their king, the Persian soldiers were soon defeated. As at Issus, enormous numbers of Persians died. The Macedonians too lost many men, and more than a thousand horses died in the battle or from their race to catch Darius.

Alexander marched through rich farmland to Babylon. Its governor came to meet him, and offered him the city without a fight. Alexander entered the city gates in his chariot, riding through streets covered with flowers. The Babylonians, like the Egyptians, had suffered 200 years of unpopular Persian rule, and welcomed a change enthusiastically. Alexander was careful not to follow the Persian habit of insulting the Babylonian gods. He gave gifts to the great god Bel Marduk, and paid for the rebuilding of temples which had been damaged under the Persians.

He spent a few weeks relaxing in the great city with his army. He probably found time to visit the famous Hanging Gardens - a park planted with trees and flowers on many different levels. Like the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, this was one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Alexander left Babylon to be ruled by its Persian governor, who had fought against the Macedonians at Gaugamela just a short time before. Many people were surprised at this, thinking that only Greek speakers should rule Alexander’s new empire. But later there were other Persian-born governors.

The next great city on Alexander’s route east was Susa. The climate there was so hot, it was said, that at midday snakes could not cross the road for fear of being burnt by the sun. But its people gave Alexander a warm welcome, and its great riches made it an attractive destination. After sitting in the royal seat of gold in Darius’s palace, Alexander took control of one and a half million kilograms of gold. His financial difficulties at the start of the war were now just a memory.

Then came Persepolis, in the heart of Persia itself. It was natural to expect the Persians to defend their homeland. Alexander led a small group of horsemen and foot soldiers through the mountains to defeat any Persian forces that were defending the mountain roads. The path was steep, narrow and covered in snow. After four days’ climb, the Macedonians came to the Persian Gates, a wall of rock in the mountains that marked the entrance to the Persian homeland. As they passed, they were attacked by an enemy army which was much larger than their own small group. Great stones fell on top of them from the mountain heights, and they were shot at on all sides by Persian archers and stone-throwers. Alexander had no choice: he had to order a retreat.

If Alexander left these Persians undefeated, they could attack his main army, led by his second-in-command, Parmenion, on its way to Persepolis. There was only one hope of success, but it was very dangerous. With half his soldiers, Alexander followed a local guide along a small path used only by animals and their owners. At night, as the wind blew snow in their faces, they ran through the mountains. In the early morning, they rejoined the main path beyond the Persians’ position and took the Persians by surprise. With Macedonians in front and behind them, the Persians suffered a terrible defeat. Only a few escaped death.

Finally, in January 330 BC, Persepolis lay undefended. Alexande’s soldiers moved through the city, destroying everything and everyone in their path in their search for riches. For many, the long journey from Europe was now well rewarded, as they found extraordinary quantities of gold and silver, jewellery and expensive clothes. But the greatest riches were saved for the Macedonian king. At Persepolis, Alexander found three million kilograms of royal Persian gold. It took 15,000 animals to move it, under Alexander’s orders, to Susa.

Alexander chose a new governor for Persepolis - a Persian nobleman whose father had been killed at the Granicus. It seemed that Persepolis was going to receive similar treatment to Babylon and Susa. Then, after a celebratory meal, the Athenian girlfriend of Alexander’s friend Ptolemy made a suggestion. Alexander should burn the palace where they were eating, she said, to punish the Persians for burning the Athenian Acropolis many years before. Alexander and his friends agreed, and soon the historic palace of the kings of Persia was in flames.

While Alexander was in Persepolis, Darius and about 10,000 soldiers waited 700 kilometres north in Ecbatana (present-day Hamadan). But when Alexander led his army north, Darius ordered a retreat. First he planned to go far away to Bactria (part of present-day Afghanistan); then he decided to defend the Caspian Gates, which were much closer. His men were getting annoyed with these changes of plan. Eventually some of them took their king prisoner.

When Alexander heard what had happened, he followed as quickly as he could. Racing through the desert, by day and night, he finally caught up with the Persian soldiers. But their prisoner king was not with them. Tired and thirsty after the long and unsuccessful chase, one of Alexander’s officers left the road in search of water. By chance he found a dead body. It was King Darius, murdered by his own men.

Exactly 150 years after King Xerxes’s wrongdoings in Athens, the rule of the Persian kings was at an end.

Alexander started wearing the Great King’s royal hat and purple-edged clothes, making it clear to the Persians that he was now their Great King. It was a shock for the Macedonians to see their king in Persian clothes. They did not understand why he wanted to look like the enemy. They had won battles that no one had expected them to win, and had become rich beyond their wildest dreams. Now their thoughts turned to home.

To his soldiers’ surprise, Alexander made no plans to go back to Europe. Instead he continued to march east, and it is a sign of his extraordinary skills as a leader that his soldiers agreed to follow.

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