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Alexander the Great - Later Career

And now begins a new phase in the story of Alexander. For the next seven years he wandered with an army chiefly of Macedonians in the north and east of what was then the known world. Was it a systematic survey of a world he meant to consolidate into one great order, or was it a wild-goose chase? His own soldiers, his own intimates, thought the latter, and at last stayed his career beyond the Indus. On the map it looks very like a wild-goose chase; it seems to aim at nothing in particular and to get nowhere.

To the historian of the world the wanderings of Alexander have an interest of their own quite apart from the light they throw upon his character. Just as the campaign of Darius I lifted the curtain behind Greece and Macedonia, and showed something of the silent background to the north of the audible and recorded history of the early civilizations, so now Alexander's campaigns enter regions about which there had hitherto been no trustworthy record made. He marched to the shores of the Caspian, thence he travelled eastward across what is now called Western Turkestan. He founded a city that is now known as Herat; whence he went northward by Kabul and by what is now Samarkand, right up into the mountains of Central Turkestan.

Alexander, having set out for the conquest of Asia with a land force of less than 40,000 men, and with a revenue too scanty for their support, now, with the income of the Persian Empire, too vast for computation, commanded an army which could scarcely be numbered. He had read in the Grecian fables that Hercules and Bacchus, both sons of Jupiter, had marched as far as India, and he determined to outdo his brothers, and go still farther. According to Nearchus, Alexander was ambitious of conducting his army through Gedrosia [modern Baluchistan], when he heard that Semiramis and Cyrus had undertaken expeditions against India (through this country), although both had abandoned the enterprise, the former escaping with twenty, and Cyrus with seven men only. For he considered that it would be a glorious achievement for him to lead a conquering army safe through the same nations and countries where Semiramis and Cyrus had suffered such disasters. Alexander, therefore, believed these stories of India derived from such expeditions as those of Cyrus and Semiramis. Megasthenes concurs in this opinion ; he advises persons not to credit the ancient histories of India, for, except the expeditions of Hercules, of Bacchus, and the later invasion of Alexander, no army was ever sent out of their country by the Indians, nor did any foreign enemy ever invade or conquer it.

Late in the spring of the year 326 BC, Alexander broke up his camp in Bactria, and proceeded with rapid march to his new field of glory. He returned southward, and came down into India by the Khyber Pass. It will not be necessary to specify all his adventures. Nothing was found capable of resisting his power. He took eight towns by storm, fought many battles, crossed the Indus, and went on to meet an Indian king beyond the Hydaspes, whom fame reported to be worthy of his arms. Between these two rivers he took up his winter quarters.

The Hydaspes was swollen with the melting of the snows and the spring rains, when the Grecians began to make preparations for crossing. Porus (the Indian king), aware of Alexander's intention, assembled his army on the banks, determined to dispute his passage; but Alexander had ingenuity as well as courage. Every night he sent out bodies of cavalry, with orders to sound their trumpets and raise their war-cry, as if preparing to force their way across the river. Porus at first drew out his men at every fresh alarm ; but, finding it amounted to nothing, he suffered his troops to enjoy their repose, and neglected watching the fords altogether. Every thing fell out as Alexander had calculated. One dark night, when a dreadful thunder-storm shook the surrounding hills, and drowned the noise of the embarkation, the Macedonians crossed an arm of the river to a small island densely wooded, and before morning were far advanced in preparation for passing the other branch of the stream.

The Indian outposts sent immediate notice of the enemy's approach to Porus; but as his attention was engaged with a body of horse, which appeared about to attempt the fords opposite the place where he had stationed himself, he considered the alarm up the stream as a feint, and merely sent his son thither with a small band. Alexander effected a landing in safety, attacked the Indian cavalry, and slew the son of Porus. Both sides then prepared for a decisive battle.

Porus, who was easily distinguished from all others by his stature, bravery, and the size of the elephant on which he rode, fought with the most determined courage. Even after the fortune of the day was lost he remained upon the field, striving to rally his forces and retrieve his honor. It is said that the noble beast on which he was mounted took the greatest care of his person; and when he perceived him ready to sink under the multitude of weapons showered upon him, he kneeled down in the softest manner, and with his proboscis gently drew every dart from his body. Porus was taken prisoner and brought before Alexander, who inquired of the fallen monarch how he would like to be treated. "Like a king," was the proud reply.

Although Porus, the principal sovereign of India, had been conquered and had rendered fealty to his conqueror, the other warlike peoples of India resolved to sell their independence dearly. Accordingly, they formed an alliance, and appeared before the army of the invader of their country. The Macedonians thereupon attacked this combination, and overthrew the united forces, with a loss of 17,000 men killed, 75,000 prisoners, and 300 war chariots. The town, too, of Sangala, the capital of the Kateni, who had entered the combination against the Macedonians, was taken by storm.

Curiosity and love of conquest had now become so settled in the mind of Alexander, that he could not be satisfied with the vast extent of country south and east of Porus's dominions, which his soldiers subdued with almost incredible rapidity. A great sovereign was said to reside far to the eastward, governing a populous and wealthy continent, so extensive that its utmost limits were entirely unknown. To reach this continent, and overthrow this empire, became the object of his solicitude.

Alexander's further progress through India resembled any other triumphant march of a great army leader of old. It seems that Alexander had at the time formed the intention of occupying the valley of the Ganges, but he did not carry out this plan, because his troops refused to proceed any further.

Possibly he would have pushed eastward across the deserts to the Ganges valley, but his troops refused to go further. Possibly, had they not done so, then or later he would have gone on until he vanished eastward out of history. But he was forced to turn about. He built a fleet and descended to the mouth of the Indus. There he divided his forces. The main army he took along the desolate coast back to the Persian Gulf, and on the way it suffered dreadfully and lost many men through thirst. The fleet followed him by sea, and rejoined him at the entrance to the Persian Gulf.

The Macedonians got back from their Indian campaign in the year 323 BC. The land march from' the Indus was very difficult; for the route in several places lay over terrible wastes, a fact which explains the severe loss which the army of the great Macedonian leader suffered ere it reached Babylon. In the course of nine years' progress, and of a record of fresh conquests, Alexander personally conducted the following campaigns.

  1. Conquest of Persia and of Egypt.—In this, his army traversed a distance of more than 2,700 miles) in its passage from Macedonia through Asia Minor and Damascus to Northern Egypt, and thence back to Babylon.
  2. Campaign in Bactriana.—From Babylon through Kandahar to the valley of the Kabul river, thence across the Hindu-Kush to Balkh. Distance travered 2,200 miles.
  3. Campaigns in Turkistan.—From Balkh to the eastern part of Farghana and Scythia, thence to the Caspian Sea, and back to Balkh. Distance traversed more than 2,600 miles.
  4. Campaign against India.—From Balkh across the HinduKush to the Punjab and beyond. Thence back to the Hydaspes (Jhelum) and the Indus. Distance traversed 2,000 miles.
  5. Return to Babylon.— Distance traversed about 1,330 miles.
Thus, from the time of its departure from Macedonia, in the spring of the year 334 B.C., to the date of its return to Babylon in the year 325 B. C, a period of nine years, the army of Alexander the Great marched more than 10,700 miles.

In the course of this six-year tour he fought battles, received the submission of many strange peoples, and founded cities. He saw the dead body of Darius in June, 330 BC; he returned to Susa in 324 BC. He found the empire in disorder: the provincial satraps raising armies of their own, Bactria and Media in insurrection, and Olympias making government impossible in Macedonia. Harpalus, the royal treasurer, had bolted with all that was portable of the royal treasure, and was making his way, bribing as he went, towards Greece. Some of the Harpalus money is said to have reached Demosthenes.

The stories of violence and vanity in his closing years cluster thick upon his memory. He listened to tittle-tattle about Philotas, the son of Parmenio, one of his most trusted and faithful generals. Philotas, it was said, had boasted to some woman he was making love to that Alexander was a mere boy; that, but for such men as his father and himself, there would have been no conquest of Persia, and the like. Such assertions had a certain element of truth in them. The woman was brought to Alexander, who listened to her treacheries. Presently Philotas was accused of conspiracy, and, upon very insufficient evidence, tortured and executed. Then Alexander thought of Parmenio, whose other two sons had died for him in battle. He sent swift messengers to assassinate the old man before he could hear of his son's death! Now Parmenio had een one of the most trusted of Philip's generals; it was Parmenio who had led the Macedonian armies into Asia before the murder of Philip. There can be little doubt of the substantial truth of this story, nor about the execution of Callisthenes, the nephew of Aristotle, who refused Alexander divine honours, and "went about with as much pride as if he had demolished a tyranny, while the young men followed him as the only freeman among thousands."

Alexander had been in undisputed possession of the Persian empire for six years. He was now thirty-one. In those six years he had created very little. He had retained most of the organization of the Persian provinces, appointing fresh satraps or retaining the former ones; the roads, the ports, the organization of the empire was still as Cyrus, his greater predecessor, had left them; in Egypt he had merely replaced old provincial governors by new ones; in India he had defeated Porus, and then left him in power much as he found him, except that Porus was now called a satrap by the Greeks.

Alexander had, it is true, planned out a number of towns, and some of them were to grow into great towns; seventeen Alexandrias he founded altogether; but he had destroyed Tyre, and with Tyre the security of the sea routes which had hitherto been the chief westward outlet for Mesopotamia. Historians say that he Hellenized the east. But Babylonia and Egypt swarmed with Greeks before his time; he was not the cause, he was a part of the Hellenization. For a time the whole world, from the Adriatic to the Indus, was under one ruler; so far he had realized the dreams of Isocrates and Philip his father. But how far was he making this a permanent and enduring union? How far as yet was it anything more than a dazzling but transitory flourish of his own magnificent self?

Not satisfied with this homage, and perhaps moved by the fact that the eastern peoples he had conquered would not permanently acknowledge the sway of any except a king who claimed divine descent, Alexander had for some years demanded that his subjects worship him as a god. So unbounded had his pride and arrogance become that in a burst of passion he had killed his best friend Clitus who mocked at his pretensions to divinity. Like many another conqueror, Alexander was himself partly conquered by the life and ideals of the people he had overcome.

He demanded that the Greeks should recognise his divinity. Sparta is reported to have replied indifferently, "We allow Alexander to call himself a god, if he likes." There was not a sensible man at Athens who would have thought of objecting; even the bitterest patriots would have allowed him to be "the son of Zeus or Poseidon, or whomever he chose." If the Greeks of Corinth looked up to Alexander as their chieftain and protector—and this was actually their position in regard to him— there was no incongruity in the idea of officially acknowledging his divinity. Ever since the days in which an Homeric king "was honoured as a god by the people," there was nothing offensive or outlandish to a Greek ear in predicating godhood of a revered sovereign or master.

It is impossible to write the history of Alexander so as to produce a true impression of his work, because, in the records which we have, the general and soldier fills the whole stage and the statesman is, as it were, hustled out. The details of administrative organisation are lost amidst the sounding of trumpets and the clashing of spears. But it is the details of administration and political organisation which the historical inquirer craves to know, and especially the constitution of the various new-founded cities in the Far East, those novel experiments which set Macedonian, Greek, and oriental inhabitants side by side. By their silence on these matters the Companions of Alexander, who wrote memoirs about him, unwittingly did him a wrong, and hence there has largely prevailed an unjust notion that he only knew and only cared how to conquer.

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Page last modified: 25-11-2019 10:15:11 ZULU