فصل 08

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فصل 08

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Chapter eight

To the Ends of the Earth

The first aim was to defeat Bessus, one of Darius’s murderers. Bessus was now in Bactria, calling himself King of Asia. General Parmenion, Alexander’s second-in-command, stayed in Ecbatana with 25,000 men. Cleitus, who had saved Alexander’s life at the Battle of the Granicus, was given 6,000 foot soldiers and was told to protect the gold in the city. The other 32,000 soldiers in the Macedonian army marched with Alexander towards Bactria.

The quiet complaints about Alexander’s new Persian habits now grew more serious. A group of Macedonians planned to murder their king. Philotas, son of General Parmenion and commander of the Macedonian horsemen, was told about these plans but failed to warn Alexander. When the murder plans were eventually known, Philotass earlier silence seemed strange. People began to wonder if the murder had been his idea. Philotas was found guilty and killed.

We know that Philotas was a powerful commander who had openly criticized Alexander. We do not know if he was really responsible for the murder plans. Now, though, Alexander had real cause to worry, because Philotass father, General Parmenion, controlled half of the army at the time of his son’s death. It was possible that Parmenion would turn against Alexander in anger at the treatment of his son; it was even possible that Parmenion himself had made the plans to murder Alexander.

Alexander could not afford to wait and see what Parmenion would do. Instead, he organized the murder of this great general, who had been such an important commander in the Macedonian army since the days of Alexander’s father, King Philip.

After this, Alexander was very careful. His soldiers’ letters to their families were secretly opened. A special group of soldiers was formed of people who had criticized the king. In this way, their dangerous views could not spread to other soldiers who were still loyal to Alexander. In future battles these soldiers fought especially bravely, to prove that they deserved to stay with the army and not be left behind.

After these unpleasant events, the Macedonians marched again towards Bactria. Their route took them straight over the mountains now called the Hindu Kush (‘Killer of Hindus’). They climbed 3,000 metres through snow and ice. The army suffered terribly from cold and hunger, and found it difficult to breathe in the thin air. Alexander walked beside his soldiers, helping men who had fallen. The horses suffered most, and were eventually killed and eaten - uncooked, as no firewood could be found under the thick blanket of snow.

Finally they arrived in Bactria. Bessus, who had not expected Alexander’s winter crossing of the Hindu Kush, decided to retreat beyond the River Oxus. Most of his soldiers left his army, annoyed that he did not want to stand and fight. Alexander took Bactria’s capital city, Bactra, then marched in the footsteps of the retreating Bessus.

Two months before, his men were freezing. Now they had to suffer the terrible heat of a stony desert. They travelled eighty kilometres with almost no water. Alexander shared their suffering, refusing to drink a small cup of water that had been found for him. Soon they reached the River Oxus.

Bessus had destroyed all the bridges and boats, so Alexander ordered his men to fill their leather tent-bags with dried grass and use them to sail across the wide river.

On the far side, they discovered that, like Darius before him, Bessus had been taken prisoner by his own men. Now he was given to Alexander. Alexander sent him back to Ecbatana, where his ears and nose were cut off and he was later killed. This was the traditional Persian punishment for killing a king. To please his new Persian allies, Alexander was punishing the murderer of Darius, who he himself had wanted to kill for so many years.

Alexander now learnt of trouble in the lands that he had already conquered. The people of Sogdiana (present-day Uzbekistan) and Bactria were angry at the way that Alexander’s hungry army had taken food and animals from their farms, and started fighting for their independence.

There were sieges in seven cities. Eventually the cities were taken, the enemy soldiers killed, and the women and children sold into slavery. Then news came of trouble at the city of Maracanda (now Samarkand). The Macedonian soldiers there were surrounded by an enemy siege. Alexander had to send an army to help them. But the Scythians on the far side of the River Jaxartes seemed dangerous too. He decided to send only a small force to Maracanda, and to use his main army to defeat the Scythians.

His own battle against the Scythians was successful, and their leaders were soon asking for peace. But in Maracanda, the situation went from bad to worse. The Macedonians were met by enemy horsemen. Without Alexander to lead them, they fought badly, were forced onto a river island and were killed. More than 2,000 men were lost. It was the first real defeat that Alexander’s army had suffered.

Alexander spent the summer of 328 BC trying to win back control of Sogdiana. Before he had fully succeeded, a terrible argument started over dinner one night. It was between Alexander and Cleitus, the man who had saved Alexander’s life at the Battle of the Granicus. It is possible that the argument was about Alexander’s attitude to his older commanders, and to his dead father Philip’s memory. Since his visit to Siwah, Alexander believed that he was the son of the god Zeus; perhaps Cleitus thought that Alexander was forgetting the importance of his human father. Certainly many insults were exchanged, and in the end Alexander killed Cleitus with a spear.

In the morning, Alexander felt terrible about losing his temper so violently. He went to his tent and refused to come out for several days. But the murder could not be undone. After this, it seems likely that his relationship with his commanders was different. Cleitus had been killed because he had criticized the king. Nobody else wanted to die for the same reason.

The war, though, started to go better after this. The Sogdians, led by Oxyartes, waited behind steep hilltop defences. They told Alexander that they would only become his allies if he could find soldiers with wings. Instead, he chose 300 soldiers to climb the rockface during the night, just like modern rock climbers. They climbed to a position above the Sogdians. When the Sogdians woke up and saw the rock climbers, they thought for a moment that the Macedonian army really had grown wings. They immediately accepted defeat and were taken prisoner.

Among the prisoners was Oxyartes’s beautiful daughter Roxane. Alexander fell in love with her and soon they were married. Politically, this was a good idea too. Oxyartes was a powerful nobleman in Sogdiana, and now he had a strong reason to stay loyal to Alexander.

Others were less loyal. Alexander soon learnt of another plan to murder him. Callisthenes, who was a pupil and close relative of Aristotle and was writing the history of Alexanders heroic adventures, was blamed for the plan and killed.

Beyond Bactria lay India (present-day Pakistan as well as India). Very few Greeks had ever been there, but many strange stories were told of this mysterious land. People said that it was rich in gold, which was dug by enormous insects, and that Indian wool grew on trees. (Cotton was not known in the Mediterranean area at that time.) They said that people lived for 200 years; that there was a tribe of one-footed men; and that to the east of India lay the Eastern Ocean, the edge of the world.

Alexander led his army east into India, more for the adventure than to build an empire. By now, the soldiers were mostly Asian, not European. Asian Greeks from the eastern Mediterranean, and Bactrian, Sogdian and Scythian horsemen and archers. But his most important commanders were his loyal childhood friends, including Perdiccas, Ptolemy and Seleucus. His best friend, Hephaistion, was now his second-in-command.

At first Alexander was surprised by the warm welcome that he was given. A group of Indian kings asked to be his allies and sent him twenty-five elephants to use in battle. But other tribes were not as welcoming. One after the other, their cities were taken and their people killed, until most of the local kings accepted Alexander as their conqueror. If they did this, they were allowed to continue their rule in peace.

But one king, Porus, preferred to fight. He positioned his army and more than a hundred war elephants on the far bank of the River Hydaspes. Alexander’s horses were frightened of elephants, and because it was the rainy season the river was very deep and fast. Alexander could not cross the river and hope for an easy battle.

Every night, Alexander’s soldiers pretended to start an attack, shouting the Macedonian war cry ‘Alalalalai’. Every night, Porus’s men got ready to defend themselves, but as soon as the enemy had got out of bed, Alexander stopped his ‘attack’. Soon Porus’s men were suffering badly from too little sleep. Porus saw that Alexander had collected enough food to feed his men until the end of the rainy season, and decided that in fact he was not planning to cross the river for many months. He ordered his men not to listen to the nightly Macedonian warcries.

Then Alexander attacked. On a rainy night, he sailed across the river about twenty-five kilometres away from the main armies. His boats landed on an island in the middle of the river, not on the tar bank. By the time the mistake was discovered, it was almost light. There was no time to go back to the boats. Instead, Alexander climbed onto the back of his horse Bucephalas, who walked the rest of the crossing with water up to his shoulders. Alexander’s soldiers followed, some on horseback and some on foot. Soon the fastest of Porus’s soldiers arrived, but their chariots got stuck in mud and they were quickly defeated. Then Alexander marched on Porus’s main army, twenty-five kilometres away.

At the front of Porus’s battle line were the elephants. Alexander’s friends Hephaistion and Perdiccas led horsemen to the far left of the line, beyond the elephants, and Porus’s men moved to meet their attack. Then Alexander sent soldiers to attack their right, which was almost undefended. Soon Porus’s army was in a state of confusion, and many fighters used their elephants for protection. While Alexander’s archers shot at the elephants’ drivers, his foot soldiers cut at their legs. The elephants went mad, picking men up and throwing them violently to the ground. Then, frightened and tired, they walked slowly backwards. The battle had ended.

For Alexander, there was just one sad result of the battle. Bucephalas was hurt by Porus’s chariots soon after he had crossed the river. A few hours later, he died. Alexander built a new city on the banks of the river and called it Bucephala, in memory of his much-loved horse.

Alexander’s army continued east, through the mud of the Punjab’s rainy season. When rivers broke their banks, the men had to escape the water in local hilltop villages. The snakes of the area did the same, and many men died from the poisonous bites of snakes hiding in tents, clothes and cooking pots.

They reached the banks of the River Hyphasis, and at this point a local king gave Alexander some unwelcome information. They were still a long way from the Eastern Ocean, which for Greeks meant the edge of the world. To get there, they had to cross the River Ganges, more than five kilometres wide, and fight the powerful King of Maghada and his 4,000 elephants.

Alexander was not especially worried by this news. He had defeated elephants before, and destroyed an empire greater than Maghada’s. He called his men together and told them about the adventures and achievements that the future held.

But his men greeted his words with silence. Some of them had marched 18,000 kilometres since they had first arrived in Asia. They had not seen their families for eight long years. And after three terrible months of rain, they were muddy, wet and tired. They did not want to cross the Hyphasis and attack another great empire. They wanted to go home.

Finally, one of the commanders told Alexander their feelings. Soon all the commanders refused to continue east. The first personal defeat in Alexander’s life came from his own army. He realized that he had no choice. Many of his men had tears in their eyes as they heard the good news: Alexander was going to lead them home.

In his tent, Alexander was not as happy as his men. His defeat had been very public, and it hurt him greatly. There was a philosopher called Anaxarchus who was travelling with the army. He tried to make Alexander feel better. But according to legend, Alexander cried when Anaxarchus talked about the number of worlds beyond the stars. He explained his tears: ‘There are so many worlds, and I have not yet conquered even one.’

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