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 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)

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Khyber Pass into India

On their return from Sogdiana (see: End of Alexander’s Campaign in Central Asia), the Macedonians spent a well-deserved rest of six months at Alexandria-in-the Caucasus (Begram) in the heart of the Kabul Valley.  Here, Alexander worked hard to reshuffle and reorganize his army.

[Map is from the Encyclopaedia Britannica]

His strategic phalanx was dismantled since it no longer served its purpose after the Bactrian guerilla wars. The mounted Lancers joined the Companion Cavalry together with the skilful horsemen from Bactria and Sogdiana to which he added 2,000 horse-archers from Spitamenes’ nomads.

On another level, the commanding posts needed to be redistributed after the execution of Philotas and Parmenion and the murder of Cleitos. Their detachments were split up between Ptolemy, Hephaistion, Perdiccas and Leonnatus.The Royal Shield Bearers were promoted to the title of Silver Shields (Argyraspids) led by Seleucus and Nearchus, under the supreme command of Neoptolemus. The Royal Squadron of Companions remained under Alexander’s own command. These Cavalry Commanders and trusted squadron-leaders enabled him to divide his army more freely between different locations at any one time.

That winter of 327 BC, the entire army is on the march again with their forces divided in two. Hephaistion and Perdiccas are sent ahead to the Indus in order to prepare the crossing of that river with half the Companions and all the mercenary cavalry. The timing is well chosen to avoid the summer heat upon arrival in India. Alexander with the other half of the troops starts his march up the Kunar Valley into the Swat Valley in modern Pakistan.

There is little or no information about the expedition of Hephaistion and Perdiccas as they are heading east. It is clear that, in order to reach the Indus River they have to cross the Hindu Kush Mountains once again. The obvious route this time leads over the Khyber Pass. Even today, the main road from Kabul to Peshawar runs over the same mountain pass.

The Khyber Pass is situated at an elevation of 1070 meter and is 53 kilometers long. In width, the passage varies between 3 and 137 meters, meaning that the Macedonians had to cope with the inevitable bottlenecks. On top of that, the Khyber Pass is walled in by steep cliffs towering at 200-300 meters above the men’s heads.

It is not known how long it took Hephaistion and Perdiccas to get across the pass, only that they marched to Peucelaotis and hence to the Indus. Their instructions, according to Arrian were that they had to take all the places they encountered, either by force or by agreement.

Peucelaotis, however, resisted. Hephaistion besieged the town for thirty days after which the defenders surrendered, maybe simply because their governor, Astes, was killed in the process. The newly appointed governor was a certain Sangaeus who had deserted Astes some time before to join Taxiles. This made the man trustworthy.

Eventually Hephaistion and Perdiccas reached the River Indus at Ohind/Hund (near modern Attock) in the Punjab. Here, they built a fleet of thirty-oared galleys and a pontoon bridge of linked boats spanning the river, which at this point is at least 400 to 500 meters wide. This operation is not to be underestimated for although the bridge was constructed far upstream in the Punjab region, the river is fed by snow and glacial meltwater from the Karakorum, the Hindu Kush and the Himalaya Mountains and its annual flow is known to be two times faster than that of the Nile or three times that of the Euphrates and the Tigris combined.

Even in antiquity, historians tend to focus solely on Alexander but his generals also excelled in their missions, which were multiplied from Sogdiana and Bactria onwards. The War of the Diadochi that broke out after Alexander’s death certainly proves – if proof needed – how capable each and every one of his generals were. Well, they certainly had an excellent master!

[The Black&White picture is taken by John Burke, 1879-1880]

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