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 Ariana (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in the Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 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)

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Persian Expedition by Xenophon

Reading The Persian Expedition by Xenophon (ISBN 0-14-044007-0) I felt sure to come closer to Alexander  the Great. Xenophon was one of his favorite authors and since this book includes Prince Cyrus expedition of 401 BC to overthrow his brother from the Persian throne, it would make sense for Alexander to know this story and to draw his own conclusions. I have not been deceived: in a way I was following Alexander on his conquest east.

The book could be split in three parts. The first third does indeed cover Cyrus’ march at the head of a mercenary force of approximately ten thousand men, collected mainly from the Peloponnese, especially Arcadia and Achaea, who were driven by poverty. Cyrus leaves from Sardes (today’s northwestern Turkey), capital of Phrygia, a Persian satrapy. I find it quite exciting to follow his steps on a route that Alexander  was to use less than a century later. Knowing Alexander, he must have prepared for his march east with all possible means and this book definitely must have been part of his baggage.

During the battle of Cunaxa (not far from Babylon) in September 401 BC, a direct confrontation between the two Persian brothers ended with the death of Cyrus. This left this large group of Greek mercenaries without leader and without any guidance as to what to do next or where to go. They could either surrender to the Persian King or try to get back to Greece on their own. On the wide hostile plains between Euphrates and Tigris, they chose for the latest option knowing they were an easy prey to the Persians. Somehow the remaining generals got organized and after being victimized by Persian intrigues, the army accomplished the impossible under the joint leadership of Xenophon and Chirisophus eventually finding their way to the shores of Black Sea. This story is told in the other two-thirds of this book.

Of course, the story is not ending at the Black Sea and the army’s march west had not yet turned into an easy one. They were out of reach of the Persians but had to face other enemy tribes and the problem of provisions was a daily returning worry. The Greek cities along the coast were not too keen on helping them either for they saw no reason why they should feed such a large number of mercenaries, even if they were Greek. After ambiguous negotiations they finally arrived in Thracia in the summer of 400 BC where they offered their services to King Seuthes who failed to pay them, till a Spartan delegation showed up willing to hire the mercenaries, now reduced to a mere six thousands, for a newly planned attack of the Persian Empire. At this point Xenophon leaves the soldiers to return to his beloved Athens.

What strikes me in this book is the clear overall organization of the army and even more so the democratic leadership. Xenophon delivers twenty speeches during his march towards Greece (although it should be noted that the soldiers really did not want to go “home” for they had no house or wife to return to; they just were a band of roughs) and other speeches have been included in the story.

It is quite amazing to read that every single soldier had such a say, but maybe that was only the case for mercenaries and not for regular soldiers? Before every decision, either to move forward or to attack, Xenophon or other commanders made their offerings and asked the gods which decision was the right one. Religion must have played an important role in daily life, even among the soldiers.

An interesting detail is to read Xenophon's commanding the men to make bags filled with straw and hay in order to build a bridge across the river Tigris (Alexander used the same principal to cross the Danube and many other rivers on his way east). Another detail being that Artaxerxes is using 150 Scythian chariots to disarray the Greeks at Cunaxa – a tactic that was used again by Darius III against Alexander at Gaugamela. Finally there is the matter of “camp followers” that is clearly explained, equaling Alexander’s baggage train.

Enough facts and figures to keep anyone busy for a while, whether Alexander is in the picture or not.

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