Alexander the Great was one of history’s greatest military leaders. He established the largest empire in the ancient world, and led an army so loyal they would fight to their deaths for him. His influence on Greek and Asian culture was intense enough to create the Hellenistic Period at his death. Though he died before his dream of conquering the world was completed, he is remembered as one of the most skilled, ruthless, tactical, and intelligent rulers in the ancient world.
The Greek sculptor Lysippus was Alexander’s “official” portrait artist during his reign. The Azara Herm is a Roman copy of a bust that Lysippus made of Alexander. The copy is not exactly like the original, but is generally regarded as the most accurate representation we have of Alexander.
Alexander III was born to King Philip II in Macedonia in 356 BCE. Legend says his father was Zeus, but Alexander adopted his Philip’s dream of conquering the Persian Empire. Philip was skilled in military tactics and made Macedonia a mighty and formidable force.
Alexander had displayed his courage by the age of 12, and when he was 13 Philip called on Aristotle to tutor Alexander. Aristotle helped Alexander find an interest in literature, philosophy, and science. He was 16 when Philip went to battle and left Alexander in charge of Macedonia. At 18 he led a cavalry into battle, decimating a previously unbeatable army, and proving his bravery and militaristic vigor.
When Philip was assassinated in 336 BCE, Alexander claimed the throne and killed other challengers before anyone could overthrow him. He was just 20 years old. Alexander followed in his father’s footsteps and sought to dominate the known world, starting with the Persian Empire. He was a brilliant and ruthless military leader, and claimed the Persian Empire after the Persian king Darius was killed. He also conquered Egypt and founded Alexandria. Alexander adopted Persian customs and ordered a few of his generals to be killed, paranoid that someone would try to overthrow him.
After conquering Persia, Alexander continued on his goal to conquer the world. The Greeks at this time only thought it reached to the eastern end of India, near Pakistan, so his “world” was much smaller than ours. They knew nothing of China, the Indian subcontinent, or any of the other eastern lands. He led an army of troops and supporters into India. By the time they had reached the Hyphasis River his army was too weary to continue, and they mutinied until Alexander agreed to retreat back to Persia.
The scale of the wars he fought and his undefeated status gives Alexander a reputation of being one of the most successful commanders of all time. By the time he died he had conquered most of the known world at the time. After claiming the throne to Macedonia upon his father’s death, he invaded Persia and overthrew the Persian king Darius III. He continued on to conquer Syria, Phoenicia, Egypt, among others, and extended his empire as far as Punjab, India. He had made plans to expand into the Arabian Peninsula, but those plans were never seen through because of his death at age 32, which plunged his empire into civil war. He died either from malaria, natural causes, or poison. He had named no heir, and his death unraveled his massive empire, though many of the conquered lands retained his influence, and some still do.
Alexander the Great started his conquest of India in 327 BCE, after he conquered Persia.
Alexander’s army was composed of Macedonians, Greek mercenaries, and an increasing number of Asian soldiers. As his army became less Macedonian, Alexander had to incorporate new rituals from the east. While the Macedonians accepted the introduction of Persian garments, they flatly refused the practice of proskynesis, a Persian court ritual, since many of the actions and gestures involved were what they associated with the cult of the gods.
Alexander had sent various ambassadors to the tribes of India to demand submission. Those who didn’t submit got attacked. After crossing the Hindu Kush, Alexander split his army in half. The first part of the army -under the command of Perdiccus and Hyphaestion- was sent to the Indus river to build a bridge for the army to cross. The other half of the army was sent with Alexander to conquer the neighboring tribes that did not submit to Alexander (Possibly to secure a supply chain for his army). you see, the problem with marching across a continent with thousands of people is that you need access to food water, and other supplies. This is especially true if you also want to conquer the continent you’re walking through. The farther that you get from your own land, the harder it is going to be to get the supplies that you
need to continue. This is where having supply chains becomes extremely important.
A well functioning supply chain is essential for an extended campaign full of siege warfare. The army itself could only march up to 10 days at a time once they left a port with access to the sea. Typically a marching army would be followed by their spouses, servents, and wagons. Alexander on the other hand decided to maximize his armies speed and flexibility by taking none of these with him. He instead followed routes that would allow him access to rivers that could carry tons of supplies compared to the around 200 carried by beasts of burden (Mieghem 42). Along the way some cities would and tribes would surrender before his arrival allowing him to send messengers ahead, create the town into a depot for supplies, and acquire supplies for his army as soon as he arrived. These supplies were mainly acquired from the local terrain but were also shipped in using water routes. Using these methods of traveling light, having frequent and easy access to supplies, and acquiring resources locally allowed him to have supplies where and when he needed them.
The battles fought in the valleys were fierce, but none were quite as merciless as that with the Aspasioi at the fort of Massaga. After the Chieftain of Massaga fell in battle, his mother, Cleophis, assumed command of the military. Her determination to defend her homeland to the death inspired the all of the local women to also join in the fight.
In 326 B.C.E, fighting under Cleophus, Massaga gives Alexander resistance and was bent on defeating Alexander’s army. So, Alexander lured them outside of their fort by attacking just outside the fort. Once more Indians came to reinforce themselves, Alexander “retreated” as to lure the Indians further and further out of their fort. Once Alexander had done this, he turned his army around and chased them back to Massaga, killing many of them. Alexander then constructed siege towers and bridges to storm the wall. Before Alexander was successful with this, the Indians called a truce, asking to join Alexander’s army instead. However, that night, the Indians attempted to desert the army. Alexander countered this by massacring them, then burned Massaga to the ground.
It is thought that Massaga is near the modern day town of Chakdara, near Churchill’s Picket. It is also notable to mention that Alexander’s ankle was severely injured during the siege of Massaga.
Going further into India (still in 326 B.C.E), Alexander captured the fort, Ora, where he employed the same tactic of total warfare from Massaga. After hearing this, many Assakenians fled North to a high fortress called Aornos. This fortress was famously uncapturable by even the mighty hero Hercules.Also, another local legend claimed that another local deity, Krishna, was not able to capture Aornos either. This likely spurred Alexander on because he was known for liking too claim deity. The problem was that traditional siege warfare is conducted with the purpose of weakening the occupants of a city by cutting off their supply chains and essentially breaking spirits due to lack of food and the eternal threat of attack (Louis 130) . This would either allow you to capture the city with little to no casualties after fighting a weakened opposing force or possibly even forcing your foe to surrender
Without any conflict. This is, of course, a very good method of taking an isolated city because it’s only a matter of time before they run out of supplies and all you have to do is wait and watch them wither away. But this wasn’t the case with Aornos. The “Rock of Aornos” -or more commonly known as Mt. Pir Sarai- was 25 miles in circumference and 8,000 feet high with only one path carved from the rock. This of course makes it easier to block their supplies, but it also makes it harder to attack and in this case the positive of cutting off supplies doesn’t apply. The Rock had fresh water springs and arable land on top giving the people on the rock a near limitless supply of food and water, allowing them to stay for a near infinite amount of time. So the question was, how could you capture the rock that even Hercules wasn’t able to?
Alexander, unlike Hercules, had help from the locals. He was informed that there was a weak spot where troops could be sent to create a forward position and begin his attack from a nearby mountainous ridge. He sent Ptolemy, one of his generals, to take the position with a smaller group and signal Alexander that he could bring his forces to join him after marching his troops up the main path. In the meantime, Alexander used his local connections to being stockpiling supplies of his own in preparation for an extended siege. Once the signal was given and Alexander eventually met up with Ptolemy they had the problem of trying to cross the gap between the forward position and Aornos itself. Alexander had the idea to essentially build a bridge over to the other side. The forces of Alexander cut down the nearby trees and create wooden stakes that were then used as a framework for an earthen mount looking toward Aornos. From this mound he began his assault using archers and catapults.
These catapults would have either been built near the earth mound or would have previously been built before joining forces because siege equipment was still in its earliest form, it was hard to build, hard to repair, and hard to transport (Hacker 37).It was also much different from the more commonly thought of medieval catapult. Instead of throwing one large rock a long distance, it would instead propel smaller stones and arrows at high velocities in an attempt to pierce any armor enemy soldiers may have had. Once they had this offensive mound created they continued building it up further in order to build a bridge closer to the enemy encampment. This method is somewhat similar to Alexander’s strategy at the siege of Tyre in 332 BC where he built a land bridge to an isolated island(Lagasse). With the catapults and archers providing cover for the builders, the enemies quickly surrendered upon seeing the progress. Alexander accepted their surrender, but then killed many of the Indians as they retreated. That is how Alexander the great conquered The Rock of Aornos.
After Aornos, Alexander reunites his army at a town called Hun to cross the Indus river. (this is still 326 B.C.E) They crossed by building a bridge, which was constructed by Hephaestion. Hephaestion was sent earlier by Alexander to subdue the lands before Alexander had gotten there. The bridge was thought to be constructed of boats that were linked together spanning about 1500 feet across. Once they reunited, the army crossed and headed towards Taxila.
Once at Taxila the Macedonians were confronted by Omphis, the local king of Taxila, and his army. The Macedonians prepared for battle, thinking that they were going to have to fight through Taxila too. Omphis came up to Alexander and Alexander had asked Omphis why he had mobilized his entire force if he wasn’t going to attack. Omphis then said that he was offering his army for Alexander’s disposal. This friendly gesture prompted Alexander to make Omphis king of Taxila. The common thought on why Omphis did this is he recognized that Alexander was powerful, so being his ally, he could possibly further expand his power into other territory under the wing of Alexander.
In the summer of 326 B.C.E, Alexander continues his journey of conquest; towards the Hydaspes river -more commonly known as the Jhelum river-. The only thing that stops him is King Porus. Hearing that Porus was on the other side of the river waiting for him, Alexander orders that the boats used to cross the Indus river to be disassembled and to be reassembled at the Hydaspes river.
King Porus, on the other side of the river, has set up pickets (little groups of troops) to border the shore of the Hydaspes river to discourage any attempt of Alexander trying to cross. What King Porus failed to realize though, is that Alexander came well prepared and Alexander’s army camped on the other side of the river throughout the winter.
Alexander really only had two options: wait for the waters height to drop in the winter, or cross right then and there. Although Alexander had the supplies to last until winter, he decided that he needed to cross this river as soon as possible and continue his conquest; but he would have to do so as secretly as possible. Alexander began marching his army up and down the river every day making an extremely large scene as if he were attempting to cross the river. Hydaspes would then mobilize his army to mirror the actions of Alexander’s in case they attempted a crossing. This strategy was successful in two ways. King Porus’ army was inclined to parallel Alexander’s army to insure that they would not attempt a crossing. After a while, however, they got a false sense of security because throughout those few nights, Alexander never crossed so it was (poorly) assumed that Alexander wouldn’t dare cross any of the other nights either. The second advantage to this strategy is it gave Alexander ideas on where it would be most beneficial to cross. Alexander, after a few nights, had decided that the best place to cross would be a heavily wooded island 18 miles upstream from where they were camping.
At the night of their crossing, (it is suspected that this was in July of 326 B.C.E) it was instructed that one of Alexander’s general, Craterus, would stay behind with his portion of the army and only attempt to cross the river if Porus had moved upstream to meet Alexander and there was a small force left behind. This is so Porus wouldn’t get too suspicious when all of Alexander’s army suddenly went missing.
As a source of communication, Alexander set up his own pickets along the banks of the river to have faster travel of messages, which were vital in this stealth operation. Alexander then moved part of his forces 18 miles up the river where he planned to cross. Under cover of night, and also a thunderstorm luckily, he began his crossing. They destroyed the boats that they used to cross the Indus river and used the materials as flotilla that would help them bring the supplies and troops across. Unfortunately he didn’t realize that the landmass that he initially thought was the opposite shoreline was actually an isolated island. This added crossing time and allowed Porus’s scouts to spot the forces and inform Porus and move his forces to meet them. Once that happened Craterus was able to cross as well with little resistance; allowing all of Alexander’s forces to cross the river without becoming a massive target.
King Porus arrives on the scene and Alexander is left with a dilemma to solve. King Porus has elephants which are spaced 100 feet apart with cavalry behind them, along with a left and right wings of infantry and cavalry. Alexander knows it would be a death trap to attack the elephants head on, so he splits his army in two. He places ½ of his army in the command of general Coenus, and the rest in his command. Alexander leads the charge and attacks Porus’ left wing. In response, his cavalry rushes over to support the left wing, leaving the right wing with little support. General Coenus then attacks the right wing. ½ of Porus’ cavalry in response turns around to help out, splitting Porus’ army in half. This is exactly what Porus didn’t want to happen. As the battle progressed, Alexander’s army slowly condensed Porus’ army into a circle, taking out the elephant drivers when possible. The elephants were still a problem, but one that they solved relatively quickly. They just let the elephants pass when they charged.
It is important to note that the battle was made easier for Alexander because Porus’ chariots proved to be useless in the mud newly created by the storm. Alexander noticed this and made another opportunity to claim himself as a god like being.
As the battle continued on, Alexander’s army encapsulates Porus’ and this lack of space leads to a lack of coordination and chaos. The elephants take out a lot of Alexander’s men, but also take out a lot of Porus’ men too. At about this time, General Craterus comes with his portion of his army and reinforces Alexander.
After this strategic maneuver was done. The majority of Porus’ army was decimated, and Porus is forced to retreat, wounded from the battle. Alexander sent messengers to Porus to negotiate. Finally negotiating in person, Alexander ask what Porus desires. Porus responds, “Treat me as a king would treat another king.”
Alexander respects this, and allows Porus to keep his land.
After the battle against King Porus was finished, Alexander holds a victory celebration before marching against a neighboring tribe, in which Alexander promised to Porus. The end of this gruesome and tough battle made Alexander’s more hesitant to continue the conquest of India.
In his march further into India, Alexander is troubled to have to deal with a few small rebellions in which he has to delay his conquest. Once taken care of, he continued his conquest; making the inhabitants come to terms or fight. Most chose to come to terms, but a tribe by the name of the Kathaioi was prepared to fight them. The rebellious tribe chose their fort, Sangala, as the perfect place to defend.
Although it has not been located yet, Arrian suggests that the fort of Sangala stood on top of a hill. The enemy set up three consecutive circles of wagons around the hill of which Sangala sits, to act as a barrier. Once Alexander understands their tactic, he changes the formation of his army so that the archers ran in front of the enemy front lines. When the battle commenced, the Indians countered by standing on top of the carts and using their bows to strike down Alexander’s cavalry. Alexander adapts by forcing his cavalry to retreat and Alexander leads his infantry head first into the wagon barrier. The Indians are forced to retreat back into the fort.
Alexander takes the break from battle to surround the fort with his army. He did not have enough people to completely encircle the fort, so he had the cavalry patrol the most likely route of escape.
The Indians, under the cover of night, attempted to escape their fort, but were routed back by the cavalry. In a separate attempt, they had opened the gates and had made a run for it. Unfortunately for them, Alexander had learned of this plan and had used the carts against them. Alexander used the cart to block the way of the Indians. Noticing that they wouldn’t be able to escape fast enough, they retreated again. Sangala was finally taken when Alexander’s army climbed the wall with ladders and the town was attacked by siege engines.
In the late summer/ early fall of 326 BCE, Alexander’s army refuses to cross the Hyphasis river. Alexander was convinced that they were nearing the end of the world, but Coenus reminded Alexander that his army was tired and wanted to return home. Angry and annoyed, Alexander waits two days at the Hyphasis river (more commonly known as the Beas river) and offers a sacrifice, in which he didn’t receive “favorable omens. ” So Alexander turns back, but acting on the will of the gods, and not the men, because that would be weak…
Many scholars disagree on the extent of Alexander’s impact on India’s history.
As Dr. V.A. Smith said, “India remained unchanged. The wounds of battle were quickly healed India was not Hellenized. She continued to live her life of splendid isolation and soon forgot about the passing of the Macedonian storm. No Indian author, Hindu, Buddhist, or Jain, makes even the faintest allusion to Alexander or his deeds.”
While Alexander’s campaign was not a defining moment of Indian history, it wasn’t an isolated event of no consequence. It is possible that Alexander’s conquering of the small tribes set an example that allowed for unified Indian rule in the future. Additionally, the Greeks left behind dated records, which were incredibly useful for future historians because they could then more certainly date later events, and the records proved to be a valuable source for early Indian history.
Isaac, Son of Abrahm: When and where
Codexromana99: Who and what
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