When Alexander the Great’s troops refused to continue on the Indian campaign, Alexander ordered a fleet built on the Indus river and appointed Nearchus as its admiral. The voyage of the fleet began in September 326 BC (Lendering) and ended at Susa in early 324 (Wikipedia contributors). Along the way, they fought various “barbarian” tribes living along the coast (Arrian, Indica).
The fleet consisted of 800 ships, consisting of “ships of war, merchantmen and horse transports, besides others carrying provisions as well as troops” (Arrian, Indica, 363). Nearchus’ fleet ferried about 1/6th of Alexander’s soldiers: 17,000 – 20,000 men total (Lendering).
They had to sail very close to the coast in order to find fresh water and food, sometimes stolen from the barbarians they fought, sometimes left for them by Alexander and his troops marching inland (Arrian, Campaigns, 256). Before Nearchus set out, Alexander took some ships down both arms of the Indus river to see which would be easier to sail down. He set down garrisons of grain and supplies and dug wells along the Eastern fork, though according to J. R. Hamilton, Nearchus most likely ended up going down the Western branch (perhaps forced by the barbarian attacks) (503).
Some of the fleet was lost to the summer monsoons, a few more ships lost to squalls as they were travelling, and sometimes men were lost in the fights with the coastal barbarians. Though there were a few losses, most of the fleet arrived safely in Susa, where they met with Alexander and the surviving troops and the navy had a great celebration (Arrian, Indica, 429).
Arrian. Arrian II: Anabasis of Alexander, Books V-VII. Indica. Trans. P.A. Brunt. Ed. G.P. Goold. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983. Print.
Arrian. The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander. Trans. Pamela Mensch. Ed. James Romm. New York: Pantheon Books, 2010. Print.
Hamilton, J.R. “The Start of Nearchus’ Voyage.” Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte 43.4 (1994): 501-504.
Lendering, Jona. “Nearchus.” Livius. Livius.Org, 2009. Rev. 1 Jan. 2009. Web. 9 Feb. 2012. < http://www.livius.org/ne-nn/nearchus/nearchus.html>
Wikipedia contributors. “Nearchus.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 Jan. 2012. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.