Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Drangiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Alexandria-Eschate and Cyropolis (Central Asia 7)

[6 - In July 329 BC, Alexander was building his Alexandria-the-Furthermost, modern Khodjend in Tajikistan, while taking seven Sogdian cities, including CyropolisAlexander was seriously wounded.]

Alexander marched north to Cyropolis, a city founded by nobody less than Cyrus the Great, whom he admired greatly. But Cyropolis was situated about 10 km away from the edge of the Jaxartes River and Alexander felt that it didn’t serve his purpose, i.e. to protect the country against the nomads inhabiting the lands beyond the majestic river. He decided to build a city of his own, Alexandria-Eschate or Alexandria-the-Furthermost (Ultima) right on the banks of the Jaxartes – the location of today’s Khodjend in Tajikistan. Shortly after starting his project, a general revolt broke out and the entire area exploded into an armed resistance counting as much as 20,000 men. It was more than obvious that this Macedonian settlement was not welcome.

The uprising spread rapidly to Cyropolis and the neighbouring towns. An infuriated Alexander struck back and was wounded for the first time since Asia Minor, taking an arrow in his leg that broke his splint-bone. However, determined as always, he sent Craterus to besiege Cyropolis (by far the largest town), while he systematically subdued the other six cities in the area. Arrian mentions that the king took five cities in three days, nothing less. From what I have seen in other places, the walls of these towns, although made of mud-bricks could be quite formidable, yet he razed them all to the ground. Returning to Cyropolis and in spite of his wounds, Alexander was alert enough to notice a stream running under the city walls; that was all he needed to crawl inside and open the city-gates from the inside to let his army in and subsequently subdue the city. Most of the defenders were obviously killed but in such a close-combat many of Alexander’s men suffered severe injuries, and so did Alexander. He fell unconscious when a large stone hit him on the head. He suffered from blurred vision and couldn’t speak for several days. He must have been quite upset with himself for all these injuries combined made it impossible for him to ride his horse, see or speak clearly. He may have been lucky after all, for it was here that Cyrus lost his life during a similar attack in 530 BC.

As if the situation was not bad enough, the king received news that his garrison in Maracanda had been attacked by Spitamenes who had banded up with several other warlords in order to resist Alexander’s decision to settle the area. The tables had turned since the capture of Bessus just a few months earlier, and certainly not to Alexander’s advantage. The Bactrians and Sogdians became true terrorists (although the very word is a modern conception) and Spitamenes was the worst among them. In my eyes, he was the equivalent of the Bin Laden of our times. Nothing seems to have changed in that part of the world …

To settle the rebellion in his back, Alexander sent 2000 mercenaries to Maracanda hoping that the rebels could be talked into peace – a serious miscalculation as he had put this detachment under command of an interpreter instead of a capable general. They were never to be seen again.

In spite of his impaired condition, Alexander pushed on with the construction of Alexandria-Eschate. Within 21 days the city-walls were erected, 5.5 miles long, i.e. the equivalent of a Macedonian camp. A prowess by itself! But the Scythians from the opposite shore of the Jaxartes also grew furious about this new city and they joined the Sogdian revolt, putting Alexandria-Eschate under constant attacks and taunting Alexander to come after them. When the city walls reached a defendable height and the king had recovered well enough from his wounds to fight back, the crossing of the Jaxartes was set in motion. It is one of those exploits that is not stressed enough in our history books!

I have no visual image of the Jaxartes since it was pitch dark by the time I crossed it, but picturing it more or less like the Oxus I cannot be far from the truth. When Alexander decided to attack the daunting Scythians on the opposite bank, he had a solid plan. This was far from the one he applied on the Oxus earlier on because if he had sent his men swimming across the Jaxartes they would have been killed like sitting ducks by the enemy’s arrows. He conceived a flotilla of large rafts (12,000 rafts assembled in three days, according to Curtius) made from stuffed leather tent covers, rigged together and covered with a sturdy platform. These rafts could carry a serious contingent of men and even some horses. Besides, Alexander equipped them with long-range catapults, a kind of machine the Scythians were going to discover for the first time. As the volleys hit the startled nomads, Alexander’s archers, slingers and other catapults kept on firing while the troops, both infantry and cavalry managed to get ashore – nothing less than a modern landing with amphibian tanks! The current was swift and tore at the rafts but they held long enough for every men and horse to land safely. When the Scythians recovered from their first shock and surprise, they played their favourite manoeuvre by riding and attacking in circles, but even here Alexander knew the answer. He threw in a mixed force of infantry and cavalry and successfully broke the circle, sending the Scythians to retreat further inland. Alexander, as a matter of course, set in the pursuit for several miles into the desert before giving up. I read somewhere (but don’t remember where) that this battle took place near Kungur-tao on the northern bank of the Jaxartes but I can’t pinpoint this location. Any suggestions?

King and army then set out to return victorious to Alexandria-Eschate, but many were sick with dysentery as they had drunk foul water. Alexander shared the same fate and on top of all his recent wounds, he now had to be carried on a stretcher. Ancient sources mention that infantry and cavalry quarreled about who would be carrying the very ill king, as both fell entitled to the honour . Alexander settled the matter in person, as dear old Solomon would have done: they should take turns.

Click here to read Episode 8 of Central Asia 

4 comments:

  1. First time I strongly desagree with you. In my opinion Sogdians and Bactrians were not terrorists. Absolutely not. They defended their own country. In their place I would do the same thing. Our beloved Alexander sometimes acted as a tyrant. Sad but-unfortunately-true. G.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It is your prerogative to disagree with me, of course!
    Sogdians and Bactrians defended their country, just like any nation that is being invaded, then or now.
    It seems that using “terrorist” may have triggered some misunderstanding. The word “terror” that is linked to it certainly does apply to the newly adopted strategy by Spitames and other warlords. Reading about the atrocities they committed, I cannot be kind to them. I’m sure that Alexander could not forgive his enemy (whoever that may be) to have killed 2000 of his men in Maracanda. Although they were not Macedonian soldiers (in which case his anger would have been even greater!) but mercenaries, he badly needed every man in his thin-spread army at this stage.
    Maybe I should have stuck with “guerilla war” instead, which is entirely true but in my eyes doesn’t do justice to the situation in Bactria.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What about the following years? When did Eschate fall? Is it possible that Chinese and Hellenic warriors trained together and fought side by side?

    ReplyDelete
  4. It is difficult to tell what happened with Alexandria Eschate in the following years as excavations of the site near modern Khojend have not gone deeper than the 10th century.
    I don't know whether Chinese and Hellenistic warriors fought each other or together, but the fact remains that the Greeks got in contact with China, less than 500 km away around 200 BC - at least, this is was has been recorded by Strabo.
    Your questions are definitely worth further investigation, like so many aspects of Alexander's conquests. Thank you for bringing it up.

    ReplyDelete