Alexander the Great’s Return From India

Alexander the Great

alexander_athens2  Alexander the Great (Wikipedia, 2016)




  1. Place your blog in time & space.In 327 BCE, Alexander began to move towards India. Having already conquered most of the known world, India was all that remained. Alexander began by crossing the Hindu Kush and conquering everything in the way: “Fighting was hard and merciless; on more than one occasion, Alexander massacred people who had already surrendered.” (Livius). Up to this point, Alexander had been developing a sense of divinity, believing that his choices were beyond the simple categories of right or wrong. This belief led him to attack some targets that were not necessarily important militarily, but more to bolster his prowess and persona. “He now proceeded along the Uttarāpatha (the modern Grand Trunk Road) to the east, and reached Taxila.”(Livius). Here, Alexander was persuaded by the king of Taxila to attack a nearby region. Alexander did, securing an important, if not hard fought, victory which further cemented his claim of divine support. However, following this battle, Alexander’s troops decided that they had had enough, and decided not to go on any further, so Alexander was forced to turn back.



Indian Campaign of Alexander the Great (Wikipedia, 2016)



  1. How many and what kinds of troops do you start with?  How do you get more troops?  How do you settle veterans?  Where do your troops come from?

Alexander entered Asia with “12,000 phalangists –  9,000 pezhetairoi and 3,000 hypaspists.” These pezhetairoi carried shields and usually sarissas, very long spears(15-20 ft), and the hypaspists usually carried shorter spears and larger shields. He also had about 7,000 Greek infantry. Troops were usually replenished with Persians who were then trained to fight like their new Macedonian comrades, and equipped with the same weapons and armor, while veterans were either sent home or given control over some of the newly conquered land, with some of the infantry assisting their efforts. “While the army that crossed the Hellespont in 334 BCE was mostly Macedonian, there were others from all over Greece: Agrianians, Triballians, Paeonians, and Illyrians.” (Wassson, 2014)  (Wasson, D. L. (2014).



  1. What kind of supplies do you need and how do you get them? 

As Alexander the Great traveled with his army across deserts to India, they would be in need of supplies such as food, water, leather, wood, cloth, metal, etc.  Considering the size of his army, Alexander had to consider different ways of supplying his army.  He solved this problem by building a supply chain of countries he had defeated.  By following rivers and agricultural land and stopping at supply stations of these territories and picking up and exchanging the materials they needed, the Macedonian army was able to keep marching in a swift fashion.  

Once there was a mutiny among his men however, Alexander was forced to retreat home and abandon his quest for India.  Unknown to scholars for the reason, perhaps for being the first one to make the trek or by embarrassment of looking defeated, after reaching the Indian Ocean, Alexander divided his army into three parts for the journey home (Livius, 2016).  One part would take the heavy equipment through the relatively safe route to Persia with his general Craterus (Live Science, 2013; Wikipedia, 2016).  The second was a fleet commissioned to explore the Persian Gulf under the admiral Nearchus (Wikipedia, 2016).  The third part of the broken army was led by Alexander himself through the southern route of the Gedrosian Desert (southern Iran) and Makran (Pakistan) (Live Science, 2013; Wikipedia, 2016).  

After building a town called Patala, each part of the army was refitted for the return journey (Livius, 2016).  The naval fleet suffered from bad winds due to their lack of knowledge of the tides (Live Science, 2013).  The hardest struggle was with Alexander and his army through the desert.  The first part of the desert was accessible due the monsoon season which had left a lot of rain.  They were even able to supply themselves with food for a while by building a large grain store (Livius, 2016); however, the army’s luck soon ran out.  For sixty days, the army marched through the desert with blazing heat and lack of water.  Even “baggage animals had to be butchered…the concubines of the soldiers, the merchants, and other noncombatants seem to have suffered terribly from hunger and thirst” (Livius, 2016).  It is estimated that up to three-quarters of the Macedonian army died along this trek (Live Science, 2013).


Gedrosian Desert (Wikipedia, 2016)


Parker Langeveld

  1. How do you find your way in an era without GPS and with only rudimentary maps?

One of our favorite studies of all time, and recently published by NPR is that of trying to get man to walk blindfolded in a straight line, or also trying to get man to walk in a straight line without landmarks to follow. The study can be viewed here:

As can be seen in the study, without any kind of fixed point such as the stars, mountains, sun, etc to follow as the men left the barn to simply arrive at a point not too far away on a foggy day, they did a bunch of circles and arrived exactly where they started.

We can easily deduct from these studies, the which still prove true today, and also of the which we still don’t have answers, that entire armies would have walked in circles had they not been able to see a fixed point. By day these things could easily have been mountains, rivers, the sun, or other prominent landmarks. By night, such things as the north star and moon likely were developed into their system of travel.

Also in his book, Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass, Harold Gatty suggests that other such ways include observing migrating birds and other mammals, snow drift directions, shifting sands, weather patterns, and vegetation. For example, it could be mapped rudimentarily that one is likely entering a desert if vegetation begins to dwindle and we see birds flying away from such an area. The same can be inferred with snow drift directions, as such will tell us which direction the wind blows. When we know that, we can determine which direction is likely planar and which direction more mountainous. Weather patterns, such as a flash flood, can show us where heavy water tends to flow, and will eventually lead us to a river. So, in reality of things, they let nature be their maps. And, experience allowed them to remember these things and take mental notes they could recall on future journeys through the same area.

Finally, one of the most ancient texts known to mankind today is the Holy Bible. In such is related the account in which the angel appears to the shepherds and the wise men. They were led to find the babe Jesus by the shining North Star in the night sky, which further evidences the use of landmarks as guiding tools for ancient peoples.



  1. How do you deal with the locals?  

In January 325 before the Macedonian army had reached the Indian Ocean, Alexander’s men had to fight through the countries of Mallian who lived near modern Multan (Livius, 2016). Through a tough and merciless battle, several Mallian towns- perhaps modern Kamalia and Talamba- were captured.  During the siege of the capital, Alexander jumped into the fortified city with only two of his bodyguards and was seriously wounded by an arrow that punctured his lung.  Due to the efforts of his surgeon Kritodemos of Kos, Alexander survived his injury but would suffer pain for the rest of his life (Wikipedia, 2016; Livius, 2016).  

Other countries also stood in the way of Alexander and his army on their trek home.  With the defeat of the Mallians, the Oxydracae (Ksudraka) also surrendered.  The country Sindhu was ruled by Musicanus who refused to pay homage to Alexander and therefore was invaded by the Macedonians.  Going southward, the army attacked King Oxicanus’ kingdom near modern Sukkur and the kingdom of King Sambus called Sambhu (Livius, 2016).  



  1. Discuss the make-up of the baggage train and how this affects Alexander’s actions? 

‘Under-the-yoke’ animals were used in Alexander’s baggage train (Hammond, 2011). Pack animals were also used. One of the pack animals used was the camel. Camels were efficient when it came to carrying grain (Hammond, 2011). Another animal included in the baggage train was the Nisean horse. “When Alexander conquered Persia, he demanded a tribute of thousands of Nisean horses from the captured cities” (Wikipedia, 2016).  In Asia, Alexander had a supply- train of wagons, which  were either two-wheelers, four-wheelers, or six-wheelers. “When he wished to lighten the baggage-train, he burnt some wagons (with their loads) according to one account but only the baggage taken from the wagons according to another” (Hammond, 2011). Due to the use of wagons on sand hills, the trek through the Gedrosian desert was delayed (Hammond, 2011). “Throughout the 60-day march through the desert, Alexander lost at least 12,000 soldiers, in addition to countless livestock, camp followers, and most of his baggage train” (Wikipedia, 2016). Many ‘under-the-yoke’ animals died from the lack of water. Others died from drowning in the flood or being killed by soldiers (Hammond, 2011).



  1. How do we know this information?

We know most of this information from Arrian of Nicomedia (c. 86- c. 160 AD). Arrian was a Greek “historian, public servant, military commander and philosopher of the Roman period” (Wikipedia, 2016). He wrote The Anabasis of Alexander, which is considered to be the best source we have on the military operations of Alexander the Great (Wikipedia, 2016). The Anabasis of Alexander is a primary source and includes seven books. The basis of these books is Xenophon’s account of the March of Cyrus (Wikipedia, 2016).



Hammond, N. G. L. (2011). Army transport in the fifth and fourth centuries. Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, 24(1), 27-31.

Live Science. (2013). Alexander the Great: Facts, Biography & Accomplishments. Retrieved October 10, 2016 from

Livius. (2016). Alexander the Great. Retrieved October 10, 2016 from

Wasson, D. L. (2014). The Army of Alexander the Great. Retrieved October 10, 2016, from

Wikipedia. (2016). Arrian. Retrieved October 10, 2016 from

Wikipedia. (2016). Gedrosian Desert. Image retrieved October 10, 2016 from

Wikipedia. (2016). Indian campaign of Alexander the Great. Retrieved October 10, 2016 from

Wikipedia. (2016). Nisean Horse. Retrieved October 10,2016 from

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