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 Dragiana/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 OR 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 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)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Two key afterthoughts on Gaugamela

The Battle of Gaugamela is generally seen as an overall victory for Alexander and that is what has been recorded in history. Yet, there are two factors or rather personages that call for some serious afterthoughts.

The first is about King Darius III who turned his chariot around and left the scene before the battle was over. In the thick swirling cloud of dust and heavy fighting, it makes me wonder how soon Alexander noticed Darius’ retreat. There may have been a sudden opening in the Persian lines when the Ten Thousand Immortals and Darius’ personal retinue pulled out to escort their king in their sworn duty to protect him. In any case, Darius was the whole reason for the battle to take place and Alexander was not going to give up at this stage. He cannot have been aware of the overall situation on the battlefield as every soldier simply fought the enemy that appeared in front of him in the obscuring dust, but the Macedonians were well drilled and extremely disciplined. They knew what Alexander expected of them and performed to excellence as against all odds, they were able to keep their overall frontline intact – amazing when you consider they were outnumbered six to one.

As soon as he knew that Darius had left the battlefield, Alexander dashed in his pursuit with about 2,000 cavalry. Some claim that he abandoned his army for the sole scope of capturing Darius, but his generals had their instructions and would further fulfill their duty without hesitation. Alexander knew that he could rely on them as he also knew that he needed to capture Darius if he ever wanted to be King of Asia.

Alexander’s pursuit was not without danger or obstacles. Let’s not forget that he was not alone heading in the general direction of Babylon. In fact, he had to thrust through the cloud of dust created by the masses of Persian cavalry on the run who, still faithful to their king tried to stop Alexander and his men. The ensuing fighting was particularly savage and it is known that at least sixty of Alexander’s companions were wounded, including Hephaistion. By the time Alexander shook off the enemy cavalry, Darius had gained a decent head start and had crossed the Great Zab River where he exchanged his chariot for a horse. He soon reached the Royal Road near Arbela, one of the main intersections in the Persian road system. By the time Alexander passed the Great Zab River darkness started to fall and it was obvious that he couldn’t catch up with Darius that day. He decided to get some rest and allow the horses a well-deserved breather.

By midnight he was in the saddle again and reached Arbela in the early morning hours. Here he learned that Darius had taken a sizeable head start, taking a shortcut through the hills. His trail led through the Kurdish mountains with 3,000 meter-high passes where Alexander would be in unchartered terrain and prey to a hostile enemy. He was realistic enough to know that he had to give up his chase. It is clear that he was very disappointed but at the same time, he realized that his first priority now was to take possession of Babylon. The capture of Darius had to wait.

The second case is about Mazaeus, the commander of Darius’ cavalry who fought on his right wing opposite Parmenion.

Records of the Battle of Gaugamela are obviously concentrating on Alexander and only scattered information transpires about what happened on his left wing, except the tale that Parmenion sent a message to Alexander for extra support. This message is a very questionable one and even in antiquity authors do not agree on the details. What is fact and what is fiction? Besides, it seems near impossible to anyone to find Alexander in the commotion and heavy dust bowl on the battlefield. But that is another subject of discussion.

Yet, we do have a contemporary version of the facts recorded in the so-called Babylonian astronomical diaries. One of those cuneiform tablets has been deciphered at the British Museum in London and although it is damaged the text contains the omens and foretells the outcome of the battle. (The full text of these clay tablets has been reproduced in detail on Livius’ site together with a more scholarly report also on this Livius’ site.) Through the fragments, it transpires that some high-ranking officers, including Mazaeus, deserted Darius with a number of men from Battle of Gaugamela. The text says that “the troops of the king deserted him” which could mean that these Persians either joined Alexander and fought on his side, or that they simply refused to fight. This theory of troops deserting King Darius raises speculations that Alexander possibly bribed his Persian enemy – a process that was not at all uncommon in antiquity. Maybe the scheme had been planned on the banks of the Euphrates three months earlier?

When Hephaistion was building his two bridges over the Euphrates, Mazaeus observed the works from the opposite side of the river. Both men faced each other for several days as Hephaistion did not risk finishing his bridges fearing that Mazaeus would immediately destroy them. This game of cat and mouse ended when Alexander in person appeared with the bulk of his troops. At this point, Mazaeus and his 2,000 Greek mercenaries turned around and proceeded to scorch more earth in front of the enemy’s advance as ordered by Darius. It is pure speculation but not impossible that Hephaistion and Mazaeus exchanged messages (Mazaeus having been satrap of Cilicia did speak Greek) while troops on both sides (all Greeks) shouted back and forth over the water.

The fact remains that as soon as Mazaeus saw Darius riding away from the battlefield at Gaugamela, he hurried to Babylon. When Alexander arrived there some three weeks later, he was welcomed in appropriate style by Mazaeus and other Persian noblemen.

In the end, I guess we’ll never know the entire story, neither about Darius’ reason to flee nor about the role played by Mazaeus who, let’s not forget, was Alexander’s first Persian to be appointed as governor in one of his conquered cities.

Interestingly, among the clay tablets, there is another fragment that seems to be a part of Alexander’s address to the people of Babylon, in which he reassures them that he will not “go into their houses”. This corresponds to known Greek sources mentioning that the Macedonians were not allowed to loot Babylon when they entered the city after their victory at Gaugamela.

[Pictures from Oliver Stone's movie Alexander]

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