فصل 09

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فصل 09

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  • زمان مطالعه 9 دقیقه
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Chapter nine

The Last Years

Alexander refused to go back the way that he had come. His taste for adventure was satisfied a little when his men agreed, instead, to build boats. They planned to follow the Hydaspes and Indus rivers south to the Arabian Sea.

The journey started well, but it was difficult to sail so many boats on unfamiliar waters. When the river was too fast, the boats lost control, and many crashed into each other and broke. On one occasion, Alexander had to swim for his life.

Alexander wanted to conquer all the tribes that he passed. The Malloi, who lived in and around the city of Multan, caused him the most trouble. With a small force, Alexander surrounded Multan. Then he led an attack on the city walls. He climbed a ladder and jumped down inside the city. But the enemy managed to break the rest of the Macedonian ladders, and only three of his bodyguards were able to follow him. They fought bravely, but they were attacked on three sides. Other Macedonians arrived as quickly as they could, climbing on each other’s shoulders to get to the top of the walls. But when they reached their king, he had a metre-long arrow deep in his chest. They defeated his attackers, then carried him away on his shield, but they had little hope that he would live.

The Malloi were killed - men, women and children - and the other tribes rushed to accept defeat peacefully. But news reached the main army on the river that Alexander was dead. When he finally arrived, not only alive but able to ride and walk, they cried with happiness. They thought that Alexander must truly be protected by the gods.

Alexander’s soldiers fought bloody battles against the Brahmins, which brought the total number of Indian dead in the last six months to a quarter of a million. Then the rainy season began again, and there were terrible storms. When they finally reached the Arabian Sea, they gave thanks to the gods. They did not know that the most difficult part of their journey was still ahead of them.

Two hundred years before, the Persian king Cyrus the Great had lost a whole army in the Gedrosian Desert. The desert, now called the Makran, covers 62,000 square kilometres of present-day southern Pakistan and Iran. And their route led across it.

Alexander led a force by land, carrying water for the men who sailed the ships. Alexander’s friend Nearchus was in charge of the ships, which brought food for the land army. It was impossible to pull enough food for everyone through the sand of the desert. The sailors and soldiers needed each other.

But the storms of the rainy season delayed the ships after Alexander’s army had already entered the desert. Then the local people started fighting, and the ships were unable to take on board all the food that they needed.

In the desert, the sand was deep and the soldiers’ legs sank into it. It had been blown into steep mountains and valleys, so every kilometre felt like ten. Occasionally they came to a watering-place. There, thirsty men dived into the water and drank so greedily that they died. The expected rains came late, and when they did, they arrived very forcefully. Most of the women, children and animals following the army were washed away and killed. The Gedrosian Desert was a hell on earth.

Soon the men started to die of hunger. If they left the army in search of food, they were likely to be killed by poisonous plants or snakes. Then they discovered that their guides had lost their way. Eventually, eight weeks after entering the desert, they came out on the other side. But the desert had proved a much stronger enemy than an army. Tens of thousands of men, women and children had died on the march.

At this time, Nearchus and the ships were only just leaving India. They too were hungry and thirsty on their journey, but Nearchus led them well and they lost few men. Eventually, the ships reached Carmania (in present-day southern Iran), on the far side of the desert, and Alexander was there to welcome them. There were wild celebrations. Sailors and soldiers were together again, and they knew that they were lucky to be alive.

When Alexander had marched over the Hindu Kush, few Persians had believed that he would ever return. Since then, there had been stories that he had died in Multan or in the Gedrosian Desert. They were very surprised when he arrived in Carmania, an easy march from Persepolis.

Few of the conquered lands had stayed loyal in the six years since the Battle of Gaugamela. Some governors had become disloyal as soon as Alexander had left. Others, including the governor of Babylon and Queen Ada of Caria, had died of illness or in battle, and disloyal men had taken their place. Many Greeks and Macedonians had been left as the populations of Alexander’s new cities; some had hated their new life and killed their governors. And in Ecbatana, a group of Alexander’s generals had behaved very badly, insulting the local religion and attacking the local noblewomen.

Alexander punished his disloyal governors and generals with death. He chose new governors from among his European commanders; too few of his Persian appointments had been a success.

Alexander next planned a great wedding celebration, choosing Persian wives for ninety of his officers. He himself was already married to Roxane, but he decided to follow royal Macedonian tradition and take two more wives: the eldest daughters of Persia’s most recent kings, Darius and Artaxerxes. He asked his best friend, Hephaistion, to marry Darius’s younger daughter, so that Hephaistion’s children could be his own nephews. The weddings were celebrated for five days, in an enormous tent in Susa that had been richly decorated with gold and jewels. Alexander had taken the power of government away from the Persians; now he was including them in his empire in another way.

More and more soldiers from the eastern half of the empire were joining Alexander’s army. When he asked his oldest Macedonian soldiers to go home, they felt insulted that he did not need them any more. After ten years in Asia, they now wanted to stay and enjoy the lands that they had conquered. They refused to leave.

The rest of the Macedonian soldiers supported them. ‘If you send the old soldiers home, you must send us all,’ they told Alexander. But Alexander’s decision was final, and he said that they could all go home if they wished; Persians would take their place in his army. Immediately the Macedonians changed their minds. They asked Alexander to forgive them. They wanted him to send the old soldiers home, but allow the rest of them to stay. The problem was solved, and Alexander organized a great dinner to celebrate the friendly relationship between Macedonians and Persians.

Alexander and his friends spent the next few months relaxing and being entertained by theatre performances and sports competitions. But Hephaistion caught a fever, became ill and died. His death was a terrible shock to his lifelong friend and king. For many weeks he was unable to think about anything else.

Slowly Alexander returned to his usual business. He planned to send ships and a land army around the coast of Arabia from Persia to Egypt. Other ships were going to check if the Caspian Sea was part of a northern ocean or joined the Black Sea; although its southern coast was part of the empire, no one seemed to know at that time that the Caspian Sea was actually a lake.

But in Babylon, Alexander suddenly became ill. Possibly he had been poisoned by his officers; probably he had caught a disease carried by insects while he was travelling on Babylon’s waterways. He had a high fever, and after a week he could not talk. On the tenth day, his court and army were given the unthinkable news: Alexander the Great was dead.

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