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A brief summary of Alexander's battles in Asia

The excuse to invade Asia was to liberate the Greek cities taken by the "barbaric" Persians some years before. Alexander's motives must have been a little more ambitious. He crossed the Hellespont in 334 and is supposed to have symbolically thrown a spear into Asian soil as he led the way ashore in full armour.

He fought several pitched battles as he worked towards Babylon. On the way he stopped off at Troy and swiped the armour there which was supposedly from Homer's time.

Eventually he came head to head with King Darius at Issus on the north-east Mediterranean coast. Although Alexander was advancing south he was surprised to find Darius approaching from his North! The two armies had in fact been playing a rather advanced game of hide and seek. Alexander was not phased by the unexpected appearance and simply turned around his well drilled army. Alexander did get one shock which didn't exactly endear Darius to him. He had left hundreds of wounded behind near Issus in a hospital. Darius' army slaughtered them to a man. Not very sporting.

No-one really knows where the battle took place. However - it is almost certain that Alexander was outnumbered anywhere from 8:1 upwards. Even so, he held back a reserve force, apparently the first time this was ever done*. He then routed the Persians and Darius fled.

After the battle came two of Alexander's more famous quotes. The first was when he came upon Darius's tent in all its finery, with golden throne, bath, carpets etc. Alexander was known for living in spartan conditions by comparison and is said to have commented:

"So this is what it means to be a King."

The other famous event is one that gives us a big hint as to how close Alexander and Hephaestion were. Alexander not only captured Darius's throne tent, he also found himself with Darius's complete entourage. Darius hadn't done things by halves! He was somewhat confident in achieving victory and had brought with him:

  • 3000 talents of gold (around £2,000,000,000 today - one talent was 27kg of metal (60 lbs) - the amount of weight that a man could carry all day).
  • Darius's mother, Sisygambis.
  • Darius's wife, Stateira.
  • Several other princesses and noblewomen.

Alexander hung on to all the women, and by all accounts treated them with great deference and honour "due to their station". The famous event is that when Alexander and Hephaestion went to meet Sisygambis, she prostrated herself at the feet of the most kingly figure she saw. Unfortunately she chose the taller Hephaestion! Alexander is said to have responded not with a dagger between the shoulder blades but with:

"Don't worry mother, he is Alexander too."

An interesting sideline to this is that later when Sisygambis had a chance to be returned to Persian hands, she refused to go. It is thought she and Alexander became very close.

*I remember 'Macedon' imagining Alexander's generals' reaction to this.

"We're outnumbered eight to one and you are going to keep thousands in reserve?!?!"

One interesting battle was at Tyre - where the Tyrians walled themselves in their island fortress. Alexander couldn't leave them to attack his rear and he could not attack by sea so he decided to build a land bridge. Apparently this bridge still exists - although I haven't seen it :-) Ironically he eventually took Tyre by sea in a very brutal battle - the Tyrians fired red hot sand at Alexander's advancing ships which was not considered very polite even then. All the Tyrians were slaughtered.
Darius finally met his end at the hands of his own people after the battle of Guagamela (Assyria). They tied him to a cart as a gift to win Alexander's favour. Then they stabbed him! I'm not sure why (any clues folks). Alexander only found Darius after he had died.

He then pushed on towards India via Afghanistan. One of his more brilliant acts was the capture of the Sogdian Rock. At the top of the said rock was Oxyartes, who felt safe because of the sheer cliffs on each side. He taunted Alexander to send up men with wings to capture the fortress. Alexander duly obliged. He sent up 300 experiences climbers during the night with the promise of fabulous wealth if they made it. The climb - a "very severe" in mountaineering parlance was completed by 90% of the soldiers. In the morning Oxyartes was appalled to see these men "with wings" waving down at him. He surrendered. Alexander and he then became good friends - Alexander married his sister Roxanne.
Alexander pushed on towards India and in another brilliant move defeated King Porus. Porus had 200 elephants, and was lined up on the opposite bank of the Hydapses which was beginning to rise. Alexander played an elaborate hoax on Porus. Every night he got a third of his army to pretend to cross the river and attack. This went on for weeks until one dark, rainy night Alexander did attack. He crossed the river way upstream and hit Porus' troops from two sides. They were of course in bed, having got bored of getting ready to fight every night. Strangely Alexander became good friends with Porus too.

In the end Alexander's troops turned him back from India because they were homesick. In a terrible march across the desert in southern Iran he lost thousands of men to the heat and lack of water. Eventually he found his way back to Babylon, but was very badly injured by an arrow on the way.
Throughout his campaigns he fought with a brilliance that was before his time. He also was a ruthless destroyer of those who opposed him and that should not be forgotten! Would you want your nose and lips sliced off?

Written by Thomas