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)

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Babylon and Alexander’s reorganization of the army

Most ancient authors do not spend much time in Babylon. After Alexander’s triumphal march into the city and his appointment of Mazaeus as governor, they quickly move on to Susa, his next stop.

Well, it seems they moved a little too quickly for after all Alexander spent exactly 34 days in Babylon and that time was certainly not spent sitting idle. The only ancient writer giving us more details is, as usual, Curtius.

[Charles LeBrun, Alexander's arrival in Babylon, The Louvre] 

For a start, he mentions that upon arrival, Alexander is met by Mazaeusthe foremost Persian general at the recent Battle of Gaugamela, who surrenders himself and the city. Babylon was a well-defended stronghold with a 68 km-long wall and would have been a tough nut to crack had Mazaeus, not presented it to the new King of Asia.

Alexander entered Babylon in a chariot surrounded by his armed men, many people went out to see him. Among them was Bagophanes, guardian of the citadel and of the royal treasury. He went as far as to strewing the entire road with flowers. On both sides of the Procession Way, he had placed silver altars loaded with frankincense and all kinds of perfumes. He did not come empty handed either, leading herds of horses and cattle, while lions and leopards were brought before Alexander as well. This procession was followed by the chanting Magi and the Chaldeans singing and playing musical instruments. The cortege was closed by the Babylonian cavalry looking their smartest. The townspeople were allowed to join the march-past at the very end, after the infantry.

Curtius admires the beauty and antiquity of the city, which he shares with Alexander and whoever lays eyes on it. He gives us a pretty detailed description of Babylon, stating that its walls were built of small baked bricks that were cemented with bitumen – a substance the Macedonians were to discover for the first time. These walls stood 22 meters high and were 10 meters wide and it is said that two four-horse chariots riding on top could pass each other. The wall towers were even three meters taller than the wall itself. No construction leaned against the inside of the city wall and none of the buildings were continuous, leaving an open spaces that could be cultivated – a very handy asset in case of a siege.

The fact, however, that the River Euphrates flew right through Babylon did not seem to create any security concern to the Babylonians. Remarkably, they built a stone bridge over the river in order to connect both sides – not a small achievement considering the inconstant flow of the river and its alluvial deposits.

The Citadel is another impressive feature of Babylon. Curtius mentions that it was 25 meters high (the foundations ran ten meters deep) and that it was surrounded by a nearly four-kilometer-long circuit. The famous Hanging Gardens are, according to this author, to be found at the top of this citadel, just peeping over the top of the city walls, although they generally are seen as being part of the Royal Palace. The entire story of these Hanging Gardens, apparently built by Nebuchadnezzar for his homesick wife, is shrouded in mystery. In spite of being labeled as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, it remains one of the unsolved enigmas that I will not develop here.

We know that Alexander settled in the comforts of the Royal Palace, receiving ambassadors and delegates from all over his empire and catching up with his many administrative duties. The newly appointed Mazaeus as governor of Babylon (the first “oriental” to receive this honor) was assisted by two military commanders of Alexander’s choice, Apollodorus of Amphipolis and Menes of Pella. He also designated Agathon of Pydna to guard the Citadel. From the freshly acquired treasury, Alexander distributed a bonus to his cavalry and infantry as well as to all the mercenaries in his service.

His army had been very much welcomed by the Babylonians with plenty of food and wine and … women. Curtius brings this generosity to another level by stating that fathers and husbands allowed their daughters and wives to prostitute themselves to the liberators provided that a fair price was paid in return. The women who took part in these drinking parties are said to have peeled off one layer of clothing after the next to “gradually disgrace their modesty”. It seems that prostitution was regarded as a courtesy. Whatever the extent of these feasts, the debauchery had to be stopped and the best remedy was for Alexander to march his men to their next destination, Susa, another Persian capital.

While on the road, reinforcements sent earlier by Antipater joined Alexander’s ranks. They were Macedonian and Thracian cavalry and infantry as well as mercenaries both on foot and horse from the Peloponnese. With these troops, there also was a group of 50 young adult sons of Macedonian chiefs to serve as bodyguards to Alexander. We know that their function ended after four years of service and the timing for this replacement is entirely coherent since the present bodyguards presumably had started off with Alexander in 334 BC. Curtius is kind enough to give us the job description of these boys as follows: they should wait upon the king at the table, bring him horses during the battle, attend him during the hunting parties, and keep watch at the entrance to his bedroom. If they applied themselves they could be promoted to the level of general in his army.

These fresh recruits, however, had to be merged with the existing seasoned troops, a task Alexander never took lightly. He decided to halt about halfway between Babylon and Susa to make the arrangements and started by closely scrutinizing the reports of good or brave conduct of individuals and making sure they were rewarded accordingly. He arranged for many commanders to be promoted to an even higher post of command. By doing so, he managed to bind his men by strong ties of affection and leading, in the end, to a higher degree of effectiveness.

Meanwhile and in order to keep his men occupied, Alexander organized a contest in military valor overseen by judges he had appointed to this effect. There was much at stake as the bravest competitor would win the command over a troop of 1,000 men, the chiliarchae – the first time this number was used. Under eager attention and wide attendance, eight such Chiliarchs were nominated and they formed a new unit in Alexander’s army. This was also the time when Alexander appointed commanders over units that did not necessarily consist of men from their own region as had been the case under Philip and which Alexander had implemented till now. Another novelty was to replace the trumpet signal that sounded when the camp had to be moved. In the commotion more often than not it seems that the trumpet was not heard and it was therefore decided to place a pole on top of the general’s tent for all to see. The signal consisted of a fire visible by night and smoke during the day.

One may conclude that Alexander took his role as King of Asia very seriously but the reorganization of his army here in Babylon is very telling for the conquests that still laid ahead. He partially canceled the proven and tested rules put in place by his father and replaced them with several innovative features in order to be more efficient and more effective. 

He truly was a general in heart and soul who did not shy away from adapting his army to new situations and circumstances of which there were many more to follow in the years ahead.

[Except for the first and last photographs, all others are borrowed from Oliver Stone's movie Alexander]

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