[4 - Encounter with the Branchidae, emigrants from Miletus which Alexander massacred because of treason.]
Alexander first arrived in Maracanda in late June 329 BC in pursuit of Bessus who had proclaimed himself to King Artaxerxes V after killing Darius III. On his way, he unexpectedly met a group of Greek-speaking people and was told that they were the Branchidae, a group of emigrants who had fled Miletus a good hundred years before.
In the 5th century BC, the Branchidae ruled the Temple of Apollo in Didyma (which belonged to Miletus). They were in charge of the temple's money and during Xerxes’ conquests of Greece, taking their responsibilities seriously they refused, at first, to hand over this money, but eventually, they gave in – meaning in fact that they took the side of Persia. When the Greeks came out victorious from that Persian War in 479 BC, the Branchidae had reason enough to fear revenge from their compatriots. Their pro-Persian attitude forced them to ask for Persian protection and that is how the Branchidae packed their belongings and migrated east to Central Asia – the end of the world as was generally accepted.
As a consequence, the Temple of Apollo at Didyma was left unattended, the sacred waters dried up and the oracle fell silent, till Alexander arrived there in 331 BC on his way from Miletus to Halicarnassus. He always had deep respect for the gods and maybe more so for the oracles. When he visited the temple, history tells us that the sacred waters started to flow again. With the spring, the oracle came back to life and as we know the first prophecy went directly to Alexander predicting his victory at Gaugamela and the death of Darius III.
But this happened two years ago and many, many miles before … Now Alexander finds himself in the middle of Central Asia and is happily welcomed by Greek-speaking people. Curtius remarks that although the Branchidae have maintained their ancestral customs, they had already degenerated from their native tongue and had become bilingual (which is exactly what happens to Bactria after Alexander’s death where it takes about that same time for the population to become “Hellenized”). To the men in the army, it must have felt like a homecoming so far from home and initially the surrender of the Branchidae is generally accepted, till many feel that the Pan-Hellenic cause has been betrayed. Arrian, strangely enough, does not mention this episode, but the facts have been reported by Callisthenes who was present at that time. He wrote that after the festivities and warm welcomes, Alexander gave orders to kill the entire population, raze their town to the ground and even uproot the trees and vines, burning the very roots. What the Branchidae had done was considered as the betrayal of their country and what it stood for, maybe even sacrilege.
I look around at the desolate terrain with sparse houses, some cattle roaming freely over the dusty lands. A few trees, some green shrubs where water must be flowing, not very enticing. The Branchidae must have found a good location, an oasis with plenty of water for their crops. I wonder if we will ever find any trace of this paradisiacal setting where such atrocities have happened.