Gedrosian desert!

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marcus
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Gedrosian desert!

Post by marcus »

spitamenes wrote:Wasn't there a few different theories behind the whole Gedrosian fiasco? I remember one stating that it could have been a way for Alexander to punish the Army for wanting to turn around. And another about the fleet needing a land army to gather supplies. Or am I getting stories mixed up as usual?
OK, guys, so here's the next contentious topic for discussion. Was Alexander's foray into the Gedrosian desert such a terrible mistake? (Well, it clearly was a mistake inasmuch as it went so disastrously wrong; but was it just down to selfish impetuosity, or was there a sound strategy behind it and was it just unfortunate that it went so badly?).

This one ought to get some hackles rising! :twisted:

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athenas owl
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Re: Gedrosian desert!

Post by athenas owl »

Well, I think it was well planned, as far as that could go...the whole Nearchus angle is kind of suspicious, I have wondered if his later career was so lackluster because his part or lack there of in the whole Gedrosian thing. The others, while not publicly blaming him really didn't give him the time of day after ATG's death.

But then the Franklin Expedition was well planned, too....and that one didn't end at all well. Then there's Shackleton who managed to pull through in a spectacular and grueling fashion.

So is Alexnader like Franklin or Shackleton?
I'm Reading Endurance right now. :)
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Re: Gedrosian desert!

Post by bessusww »

Just to add a little bit myself...To myself the Makran was a tactical with drawall..Arguably could have gone disasterously wrong.. But maybe im in the minority that thinks Alexander was tactically and forewardly thinking genious. ok he could have meandered back the route he came...but I think the name of this sitedefines Alexander Pothos.

Alexander always strived to push foreward,See whats over the horizon and I think it was his nature it just so happens he generally took around 40 000 hardened soldiers with him. Alexander having returned to Babylon never stopped and as the journal suggest was in the midst of Arabian Plans Carthage and Italy.

As a great commander he always covered his flanks communications and his rear. As Hadrian realised centuries later an Empire can only become so big and stretched within his reals of supplies etc, He called it quits and built Hadrians wall. and that was for the Roman empire with wealth stability in Rome and a ceherant power base the senate who as a rule acted in unison for the benefit of Rome its Empire and especially themselves.

Alexanders was a minimal brilliant force...With centuries of Intercity Greek alies he could hardly trust and a collection of generals who were continually getting more frustrated and unhappy with Alexander views of expansion and Empire.

For me the Makran was a calculated risk and strategic way back...though dangerous it was quicker and more a direct route to what we may start to think Babylon may become an administerative centre of his epire it was central..with river routes and or course on the coast.

Of coarse risky and unexpected...but Alexander whole success was based on him doing extraordinary things...Id say danderous yes but no more difficult than pir Sar..The Sogdian Rock or infact combating Elephants as he did at Hydaspes.
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Re: Gedrosian desert!

Post by spitamenes »

If i had the chance to spend time in Alexanders Macedonian army, the Gedrosian is definately not the time i would choose. What a terrible, inglorious way to die for such great fighters. Im sure it was thought out quite abit before they embarked on such a journey. It just happened to not go as planned, at all. The stories of plans to outdo Cyrus and Semiramus sound to me like the byproduct of an already accepted gameplan. Or in the case of punishing his troops for theyre refusal to push onward, sounds a bit far fetched. What were his other options at the time though? He couldnt have taken the entire army by sea. He needed some troops on land to gather supplies and leave them on the shoreline for Nearchus. What was his reasoning for not going back the way he came? Does it show us his desire to explore even more lands? Or was it completely logistical? My slightly unrealistic view of Alexander tells me that he did it mainly out of his desire to see unknown lands, And since he couldnt get his army to soldier on towards the east, he would take a route home that he had not yet explored.

Marcus, thanks for starting this thread, Ive been away from any and all keyboards for the last couple days.

Bessus, Welcome back! it sounds like you had a very good time and Im pleased to hear it. Im also looking forward to seeing a picture or two of the Alexander bust you spoke of! :)
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Re: Gedrosian desert!

Post by bessusww »

Spitamenese hi

Thanks for you kind words...I dont know how to get the pictures into Pothos. The link says pictures too big...I cant find any E mail adresses to attach and send to Pothos...I may try an old Facebook Id and try put them up there...But I do value any Pothonians opinions on these busts.

As ive said the Pergamon Statue original would be my dream thing to have...These busts look about identical...The broken nose has bean proportionalelly and what I can tell look pretty cool...If you feel safe my email adress is

[email protected]. I could email them to you the pictures are good but in reality the statues do look brilliant.

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neneh
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Re: Gedrosian desert!

Post by neneh »

athenas owl wrote: So is Alexnader like Franklin or Shackleton?
I love this take on the question. :)

The argument has been put forward that a significant part of the failure of the Franklin expedition was down to the arrogant attitude of its participants. That is, had they not had such a developed sense of cultural superiority, they might have consulted the innuits on food and navigation and whatnot and the survival rate had been slightly more optimistic. However, despite never returning home, Franklin and co were seen as great heroes - still are, though I think the somewhat post-colonial argument described above is gaining popularity. I suppose one could argue that though a great tragedy in many ways, the PR value of the Franklin expedition was pretty impressive. The men died in the pursuit of something (a Northwest passage) that would have been of value to the Empire. They died heroes, thus.

Arrian writes that Alexander wanted to take an army through the desert because only Queen Semiramis had done it before. He also writes that Alexander was fully aware of the risks. Semiramis got through with only 20 survivors (this is all myth, I believe, but anyway). Alexander, according to Arrian, is thus inspired by someone who enters the desert with however many people and exits with 20. It's just possible that though a failure in terms of a staggering loss of lives during a gruesome couple of months, it worked (sort of) on a PR level. With regards to the individuals marching through the desert, I agree with you, spitamenes, that it's an inglorious way to die for great fighters. Just as it's somewhat inglorious for the men of the Franklin expedition to starve and freeze to death. But the bigger picture allows for a more glorious narrative. Alexander does better than Cyrus and Semiramis; Franklin and co died on a heroic mission.

To sum up the rambling: Marcus asked if Alexander's foray into the Gedrosian desert was such a terrible mistake, and I'd probably say that it depends on what the plan was. If Alexander's main interest had been to get his men through alive and procure supplies for the fleet, then I think it's damned idiocy to embark on a desert march being aware of the dangers, as Arrian says he was. If his strategy was to show that he wasn't afraid to do something that would cost him three-quarters of his army and put him above the likes of Cyrus and Semiramis, then I suppose it's not a failure at all (though the "success" came at a high cost).
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Re: Gedrosian desert!

Post by athenas owl »

neneh..thank you for the post. I've been on my own perilous expedition the past few days, with the grandkids and I've barely survived. In fact I collapsed on top of my bed yesterday afternoon just waking up a little bit ago.

I'll come back to this when I can do it justice. Though I agree with your ideas. And I do have to say that Shackleton managed to get his men through...

My other interest is climate and geology in regards to ATG's era. And how much we modern people are not aware of the differences...in the Makran for example, the coast was much further inland or how much as the interior landscape changed due to the intense tectonic forces in the area...or that the Indus and the Oxus followed different courses (did the Oxus actually empty into the Caspian at that time..I think it did)...anyway, I'll get back to you. :)
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Re: Gedrosian desert!

Post by jan »

My interest is not the number who perished but how and why did those who survived manage to do so? It appears that those who were sacrificed in this desert run were at the back of the pack, but those up in the front managed to make their way through...I am wondering why and how...Alexander's good luck charm seems to be going bad on him as he had suffered the incident to where he was struck in the lungs, had to have a weapon pulled out, but survived, (the gods revived him somehow or other I would imagine that his age would say), and then he has this dreadful debacle in the desert where he encounters problem after problem, yet a few managed to survive it all luckily (sothe gods are still with them) yet I am wondering what factor it is that kept them alive and going strong. Health? Luck? Pluck? Determination? Were they hardier than those who followed after them? What? I have my own theories but considering Alexander's recent bout it is amazing that he is able to survive it as he does. It is the stuff that makes heroes out of survivors, isn't it? The tide is turning against Alexander at this point in time...no doubt he will always carry the blame. He let them die...Was it truly his fault? He was after all responsible for all those lives who were lost in that desert. Maybe he was showing too much hubris at the time, and some goddess was reminding him not to be like Ajax after all....(I just finished reading and writing about Ajax so that is why I am offering that as a suggestion...Of all people, Alexander should have known better than to ever flaunt and tempt a god or goddess imho. So I doubt that he did really flaunt or offend a god or goddess as he was too well schooled to ever do that, but for some reason, it appears that he is earning a lesson about tempting nature and the gods...My honest opinion is that his advisors did not give him good counsel, and the flood which carried all his supplies away was a stroke of very bad luck...Probably some Indian mischievous god at work against him then... :wink:
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Re: Gedrosian desert!

Post by spitamenes »

It seems the more I ponder on this subject the more questions come creeping up in my brain. One I would like to ask is why didn't he receive help from the fleet he was supplying? Im sure they could have crammed quite a few soldiers on the ships. At least the ones that seemed like they weren't going to make it. And ive also wondered if those twenty got to know the king on a personal level since there were so few in the end, and they were traveling in such extreme conditions. Those kinds of conditions breed comradery. I know while being in the navy, if your on a small ship with very close quarters, you end up getting to know the captain much better than if you were on say, a 5000 man aircraft carrier. I would bet they were all in some way praised upon returning too. And I would also bet Alexander himself praised the survivors in some way or another, probably a dinner/drinking party in theyre honor, along with the usual ribbons and medals or whatever they gave out to the soldiers in those days to distinguish ones from the others. Im getting off track here. But I wish we had more on the topic. If we had the small details about this affair we would have very good insights as to the kind of person Alexander truely was. Maybe Ill skip through my new Landmark Arrian to the Gedrosian chapter to brush up on the facts again... if I can find time. Seems the weekends are more packed up than the workdays lately. Have a great weekend everyone!
All the best...
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Re: Gedrosian desert!

Post by neneh »

jan wrote:My interest is not the number who perished but how and why did those who survived manage to do so? It appears that those who were sacrificed in this desert run were at the back of the pack, but those up in the front managed to make their way through...
You draw attention to something that has been bugging me a little bit since I read this thread a few days ago. I'm guessing it wasn't just trained soldiers who ventured into the desert, but that the usual trail of women, children, merchants, what have you, went in there after them. Presuming physical fitness is a factor in how well you deal with the appalling conditions of a desert march with little to no water, the soldiers ought to have done much better than the civilian followers. Arrian mentions women and children as the primary victims of the flood disaster in Gedrosia, which raises two questions for me: 1) Were the women and children doing alright until they drowned? and 2) When counting the fatalities of the march, is it the number of soldiers lost that matters or is it everyone? Arrian does describe the disaster with the flood as "perhaps the worst for all concerned". I can't quite judge the tone of what he's saying; he mentions the loss of women, children, surviving animals and weapons, and I can't tell if the loss of women and children is what makes the disaster the worst or what. If it is, it seems to me that if you're that concerned about the wellfare of women and children, you don't bring them into the desert in the first place.

I suppose I'm just trying to 1) get a grip of who it was that died: did Alexander lose 2/3 of his soldiers, or 2/3 of everyone who went into the desert after him? and 2) understand what role those who followed the army played: Did one have to take them into consideration when, for example, marching into the desert, or was it more a case of the army being Alexander's main concern and anyone else who followed did so at their own risk?

And Spitamenes, too true about weekends!

Have a good Sunday everyone.

//Neneh
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Re: Gedrosian desert!

Post by Paralus »

neneh wrote:I'm guessing it wasn't just trained soldiers who ventured into the desert, but that the usual trail of women, children, merchants, what have you, went in there after them.
Without a shadow of a doubt. This will have been similar to the Athenian invasion of Sicily: bread makers, millers, whores, wives and any other who could make money from the venture.
neneh wrote:Presuming physical fitness is a factor in how well you deal with the appalling conditions of a desert march with little to no water, the soldiers ought to have done much better than the civilian followers.

Physical fitness was part of it; what you allude to later is the reason. Alexander will have, as a matter of course, looked to the army first, second and a long last. To do otherwise was exceedingly dangerous. Just as dangerous as the unnecessary march.
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Re: Gedrosian desert!

Post by neneh »

Thanks for your reply, Paralus. It may be beside the point, but I just think the issue of the people in tow of the army raises a number of interesting questions, and in the case of Alexander, maybe there's no instance that makes these questions more acute than the march through Gedrosia. Whereas I understand that Alexander's primary interest wasn't the welfare of the civilians of the march, I suppose that many of the women and children were in fact the women and children of the soldiers in Alexander's army. Presuming there were many genuine emotional attachments between soldiers and their women and children, I wonder what it did for army morale when loved ones were swept away by a flood or perished in the desert sun. Maybe I'm being overly romantic (ha!), but I can see how a soldier who might previously have been motivated to go on might decide to just give up if he's grieving.
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Re: Gedrosian desert!

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neneh wrote:Whereas I understand that Alexander's primary interest wasn't the welfare of the civilians of the march, I suppose that many of the women and children were in fact the women and children of the soldiers in Alexander's army. Presuming there were many genuine emotional attachments between soldiers and their women and children, I wonder what it did for army morale when loved ones were swept away by a flood or perished in the desert sun. Maybe I'm being overly romantic (ha!), but I can see how a soldier who might previously have been motivated to go on might decide to just give up if he's grieving.
Gedrosia wasn't the first time. Arrian skips over the disastrous late winter snows that engulfed the army in 327 but Curtius does not (8.4.5-8; 13-14):
At first they withstood this bombardment by using their shields for protection, but then their frozen hands proved unable to grip their slippery weapons, and they could not decide which way to turn, for the storm would meet them everywhere with a violence greater than that which they were running from. So the column broke ranks and wandered aimlessly throughout the woods. Many were exhausted by fear before fatigue; and these flung themselves on the ground even though the intense cold had turned the rain to hard ice. Others leaned against tree-trunks, which served both as a means of support and a place of shelter for most of them, though they well knew that they were choosing a spot to die, for the vital warmth would desert them when they stopped moving. But in their exhausted state they welcomed such immobility, accepting death in return for a chance to rest [...] That particular catastrophe claimed the lives of 2,000 soldiers, camp-followers and servants. [14] It is recorded that some men could be seen frozen to tree-trunks. They not only looked alive but appeared to be in conversation with each other, retaining the posture in which death had overtaken them.
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Re: Gedrosian desert!

Post by Efstathios »

It's really simple. It was a bad choise. Around that time Alexander must have already been into that kind of decay, with the drinking and all that, and no he wasn't a drunk, but he did drink a lot more than he would have at the earlier years, and made a call that was mainly based on how to do another glorius thing. Since he couldn't go further east, then if he would return back he would do it in a "spectacular way", meaning breaking some new ground, or something. And that's what he did. He chose to cross the Makran, and he knew the risks. Of course he must have known that the Semiramis' crossing casualties and all that must have been just exaggerations, and that he could cross the desert with not many people dead, but that is just the thing, he knew that there would be casualties. So he must have considered the whole thing as another battle to be fought, with casualties as it was in the entire campaign.

Only that it didn't have to be this way, they could have gone a safer road, with maybe no casualties as from the harsh conditions of a desert. But he wanted to do another glorius achievement and that is why he chose to cross the Makran, and i believe this decision was heavily influenced by his decaying character at that time. So yes, it was a mistake, and a terrible one, because he didn't think enough about the wellfare of the army, including the women and children and all that, and that this wasn't just another battle in this campaign.
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Re: Gedrosian desert!

Post by marcus »

Efstathios wrote:Only that it didn't have to be this way, they could have gone a safer road, with maybe no casualties as from the harsh conditions of a desert. But he wanted to do another glorius achievement and that is why he chose to cross the Makran, and i believe this decision was heavily influenced by his decaying character at that time. So yes, it was a mistake, and a terrible one, because he didn't think enough about the wellfare of the army, including the women and children and all that, and that this wasn't just another battle in this campaign.
He could indeed have gone along a safer road - he had already sent Craterus along that very route.

I suppose it should be argued that, in order to 'complete' his conquest of the former Persian empire, he had to take the Gedrosian route. Now, that argument would only hold a certain amount of water, because there were other parts of the empire that he never visited - Armenia, for a start! However, that might have worked as his justification, especially when one considers that the sea voyage was actually the more important, strategic part of the journey - establishing a sea-based trade route from India to the mouths of the Tigris/Euphrates was a damn good idea. And, in order for the fleet to make its journey, they needed a land force to shadow them, in order to provide supply dumps.

And that is where the problem came, through lack of preparation, guides getting lost, etc. So I wouldn't say that, from a logistical point of view, the journey through the Gedrosian was a pure mistake. What the greatest problem was, was Alexander's taking so many people into the desert. There was no need to take so many thousands of non-combatants - nor, indeed, so many thousands of troops - simply to support the fleet. Had he taken a much pared-down military force, then the disaster might not have been so great. As it was, things went wrong and they lost contact with the fleet - essentially, their raison d'etre for being in the godforsaken place was removed; and, when things went wrong, so many thousands more suffered than needed to.

Ultimately, I can think of very good strategic and logistical reasons for going into the Gedrosian desert; but it was handled very badly, and perhaps that was the fault of the shade of Semiramis? (I don't mean by that, that Alexander was not at fault, but that he was too absorbed in the idea of emulating/surpassing these mythical figures.)

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