[11a - In early 327 BC Alexander attacks the Sogdian Rocks of Ariamazes (= Sogdian) and Chorienes (= Sisimithres). Arrian and Curtius disagree on the location and the chronology.]
Having spent the harshest part of the winter 328/327 BC in either Maracanda or Nautaca , Alexander set out to capture the last mountain fortresses, the last sites of opposition in his eyes. We know that he passed the site of the Branchidae massacre of the year before. Nearby he found a mountain stronghold sheltering allegedly some thirty thousand people with ample supplies. The king sent an envoy up the high precipitous rock to parley the rebels into surrender, but Ariamazes, the commander, refused and simply dared the king’s army to come after him “if they could fly”. Well, we know they could as Alexander sent up some three hundred volunteers to climb the back of the sheer mountain – 270 of them made it to the top. When he received the signal that they had reached the summit, it was the king’s turn to taunt Ariamazes. He told him to look up and see that his soldiers could indeed fly. That is how the fort fell in Alexander’s hands.
Shortly afterwards, Alexander attacked the Chorienes Rock, also called the Rock of Sisimithres. Arrian and Curtius are not too helpful in placing events in the right order and manage to jumble both attacks together. Frank Holt has closely studied the ancient writers and comes to the conclusion that Arrian’s Rock of Chorienes seems to be that of Sisimithres mentioned by Curtius, Plutarch and Strabo, while at the same time Arrian places Roxane in the context of the Rock of Sogdiana. Time-wise also, this siege has been placed in the winter of 328/327 BC by some, but it seems more probable that spring was late and that Alexander experienced a sort of second winter in the early months of 327 BC. To make things even more complicated, Pierre Briant (Alexander the Great and his Empire) is pointing out the location of three forts: The Kyrk-kyz or Rock of Chorienes, the Derbent-Sarymas or Rock of Ariamazes, and the Akrabat or Rock of Sisimithres. Moreover, a German-Uzbek archeological team has recently located a fort whose oldest remains date from 328 BC, clearly from Alexander’s days. The Kurganzol Fortress as it is called is located east of Derbent in
, but I couldn’t figure out if this fort matches one of the two or three known forts. Uzbekistan
What we know for certain is that the citadel of Chorienes was no less formidable than that of Ariamazes. This stronghold took full advantage of the steep terrain, protected by a narrow defile and a raging river, reinforced by a strong wall. It was cramped with fugitives from other less fortified places who sought for protection. In the freezing cold, Alexander first attacked the fortified pass with his battering rams. The second obstacle he faced was a deep ravine with a waterfall that he had to bridge. Once Alexander had made up his mind, nothing could stop him – we know that, but still. He organized the operation in such a way that he took charge personally during daytime, while his generals Perdiccas, Ptolemy and Leonnatus took over at night. Round-the-clock work, which not only impresses us but most of all, must have fascinated the rebels. The king had the ravine filled with a framework of piles and wickerwork filled with earth, slowly bringing him ever closer to the fortress level. Sooner or later, Sisimithres must have realized that he had no means to match the technology of his adversary; Alexander’s engineering and firing powers were more than he could take. The warlord was ready to parley with the king’s envoys. According to some sources, Oxyartes (Roxane's father) held captive after the Chorienes Rock was captured by Alexander’s forces, presently talked Sisimithres into surrendering.
At this stage of his conquests, the king treated the remaining Sogdian chieftains well. He may have executed Ariamazes and his kin, but he handled Oxyartes and others in a much milder way, often restoring the warlords in their ancestral position. It seems that Alexander finally rallied to the policy previously used by the Persian King, which consequently led to less opposition from the Sogdian side. During these fierce wintery times supplies were short as the Macedonian army was caught in snow and freezing temperatures, but the recently conquered forts and their “commanders” readily shared their provisions. Chorienes alone offered a two-months’ ration for the entire army, distributing grain, wine and dried meat from his storerooms. Arrian states that by this gesture, Chorienes had not even shared one tenth of his provisions – something to think about, I would say.
Many more forts, generally less spectacular than these ones, must have been taken but the Chorienes Rock signaled the beginning of a new era.
Around this time, Alexander must have laid eyes on Roxane, one of Oxyartes’ daughters made captive with her family during the taking of the Sogdian Rock…