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The Persian Empire

In 334 BC the Persian empire had more than 200 years of history behind it. In the middle of the C6th King Cyrus the Great had embarked on a campaign of conquest over the countries of the middle east. Between 550-525 BC the Persian army seized the kingdoms of the Medes, Lydia, the Neo-Babylonian empire and Egypt. By the time of Darius I the Great (522-490 BC) the empire had expanded in every direction.

Highways allowed the kings of this empire to communicate swiftly and directly across the empire. From Sardis to the royal palace at Susa the Royal Road of the Archaemenid Empire ran to 1500 miles (2300 km) with daily stages of 15 miles (25 km). The journey took 90 days. The empire’s important cities were linked with India and Egypt by other royal highways.

Despite the setbacks following Xerxes’ failures in Greece in 480-79 BC, the empire expanded again in 334 BC, adding huge tracts of land from central Asia to the Persian Gulf and the whole north length of the Red Sea. Egypt, which had broken away from the empire in 404 BC was reconquered by Artaxerxes III (359-338 BC).

The imperial territories were divided into provincial administrations, or satrapies, each ruled by its own satrap – a Persian word meaning “guardian of power”. These satraps commanded territorial forces deployed across a string of fortresses and garrisons. They were also assigned to collect taxes and tributes, which flowed to the royal treasuries and storehouses. The opulence of these royal treasuries when Alexander invaded hints at the wealth of the empire. An estimated 18,000 talents (4,500 tons) of gold was seized.

The Persian empire was made up of many different peoples, all of whom spoke different languages. The conquered peoples of the empire continued to use their own languages and writing forms. A dozen or more languages and dialects were spoken in Asia Minor. Respect for tradition was a deliberate policy of the Persians, who knew that lasting power could only be achieved with local leaders. This policy was also followed with regard to religion. Great Kings clearly realised that they needed the support of local gods in order to rule their peoples. Alexander clearly took heed of these lessons when he took over.

The king was helped in his efforts by the Persian aristocracy, which had involved into the backbone of the empire. All administrative posts, high military rank and satrapies were filled exclusively by the great Persian families. These Persians also acquired lands in the empire, supplying the satraps with troops of cavalry in exchange for their lands. As the empire expanded, the local Persians held onto their religious and cultural traditions.

It was the cultural and political cohesion of the Persians, just as much as their devotion to the Archaemenid dynasty, that accounted for the empire’s longevity. The interests of the nobility and the ruling dynasty were thus intimately linked, for the political and economic power of the great Persian families depended on their continued domination of the empire.

In the C4th BC Greek authors depicted the Persian empire as an institution in the throes of decay. Greek writers pointed to the military deterioration of the Persians, who had apparently become softened by the pleasures of the table and the joys of the harem.

In fact the Persian Great Kings could at any time call on huge armies, and his financial resources were virtually inexhaustible. Despite known results by the subject peoples or the satraps, the solidity of the empire was almost beyond question, and the Great King could count absolutely on the loyalty of the Persian aristocracy.

Alexander leaves Macedonia

A returned to M in October 335 BC secure on all frontiers, having been confirmed in his role as hegemon of the League and able to plan for a full scale invasion of Persia. On his way back to M he stopped at Delphi. The Oracle was closed for winter, but A demanded to be received. The priestesses refused to see him, but A stormed in, grabbed one of them and attempted to drag her to the shrine. “Young man,” she gasped “you are invincible”. That was good enough for A. He made a small donation, continued home and prepared for Persia.

A was broke before he set off. When P died he was 500 talents in debt. Even the 1000 talents he drew annually from the Pangaeus mines were enough only to keep 1/3 of his army maintained. To make matters worse, A had abolished direct taxation. This had won him support, but it was leading M towards bankruptcy. The costs of keeping his army meant that A’s invasion had to go ahead before sping 334 at the latest. Therefore he began planning in earnest.

  1. He celebrated the annual festivals of Zeus and the Muses in the town of Dion. The entire army was given presents and animals for sacrifice, which they ate after offering part to the Gods. There were also marriages.
  2. Both Parmenion and Antipater had eligible daughters, and both suggested that Alexander should marry them and father an heir before he set off to Persia. Alexander refused. Antipater married his daughter to one of his bodyguards and Parmenion married his to an Elimiot baron whose brothers served under Parmenion.
  3. Alexander disposed of any personal property which he could not take with him. Perhaps this was because he did not intend to return.
  4. Antipater (nearly 60) was to stay in M as general over Europe and deputy hegemon of the League. Parmenio (already 65) was to be 2ic of the M army with authority over the entire left wing of the army. His sons were also given positions of responsibility within the army, including Philotas who was made a commander of the Companion cavalry. (the influence which Parmenion held suggests that there was yet no rift between him and A.)
  5. A prepared for the possibility of war at home by leaving Antipater with command of 12,000 M troops and 1800 cavalry and the power to recruit more if necessary. He left Antipater and his mother in charge of M. The relationship between them was difficult.
  6. At the same time he sent Alexander of Epirus with 12 warships and cavalry and infantry to southern Italy to defend against attack in the southern Aegean.
  7. When A had persuaded the Greeks to recognise him as the hegemon of the League, they were agreeing to the principle of a Greek invasion of Persia. This was not a new idea, and it was launched on behalf of the Greeks, whose temples had been desecrated by Xerxes in 480 BC. This motive was a flattering one to use for the Greek states and implied a crusade in search of revenge and justice for an ancient crime.
  8. A employed an official historian, Callisthenes. C was cousin of Aristotle, A’s tutor. Already known for his works in Greece and an academic partner of Aristotle. (see p.94 Lane Fox) Callisthenes is said to have remarked that “A’s fame depends on me and my history”. The theme of the Greek crusade was stressed. A is presented as the glorious equal of the gods. C was very familiar with Homer and the Iliad, and was able to illustrate A’s feats by comparisons with Achilles. His history is a detailed and flattering account of A’s campaign, where personalities, statistics of enemy numbers and losses and achievements are wildly exaggerated.
  9. A prepared to take Greek surveyors – men trained as long distance runners – to pace out the roads of Persia and record the distances. Greek doctors of the Hippocratic school were also employed. Greek prospectors were also taken to search for gold. Engineers and carpenters, cooks, architects, geographers, botanists, astronomists, mathematicians and zoologists were also taken.
  10. Just before he left, Olympias is said to have told A “and him alone, the secret of his begetting, and bade him have purposes worthy of his birth”. Callisthenes, among others, later claimed that she had told him that he was the son of Zeus

Crossing the Hellespont

In early spring of 334 BC A set off from Pella at the head of his expeditionary force and marched for the Hellespont. (He must have seen himself as the young Achilles, setting off on his journey of destiny, fulfilling all the hopes of his previous life.)

He had a total of 43,000 infantry, of which only 7,000 came from L of Corinth states. He had over 6,000 cavalry, of which only 600 were from LoC states. He took 160 ships, of which Athens supplied 20 (Athens had over 300 ships).

Xerxes had reversed the Greek journey to Troy by invading Greece through the Hellespont in 480 BC. Now A was reversing Xerxes’ journey, crossing at exactly the same point. He travelled 300 miles in 20 days and crossed the 3 miles of the Hellespont without Persian opposition. He only had 160 ships supplied by members of the League of Corinth and a Persian attack at this point would have been disastrous, but Great King Darius was distracted by revolt in Egypt and was unable to oppose A’s crossing. He met up with Parmenio’s advance force of around 10,000 men and left Parmenio to supervise the crossing. A was able to take advantage of the delay which the crossing caused. He took off for Troy on what has been described as an act of propaganda.

(When all A’s men were in Persia the force would have totalled around 50,000 men. This was the largest expedition ever to leave Greece, but the M forces were by no means exhausted.)


A first visited the tomb of Protesilaus, first of the Greek heroes to set foot in Asia during the Trojan war. This feat cost him his life, and A paid sacrifice in the hope that his campaign would not be so costly.

60 warships and 6,000 men accompanied A. He piloted one of the boats, and stopped in the middle of the Dardanelles to sacrifice a bull in honour of Poseidon. As the first boat landed on the shore of the Aecheans’ Harbour near Troy, A, dressed in full armour, was the first onto dry land. He threw his spear onto the beach, shouting that he claimed the land “spear-won”.

On landing A set up an altar to Athena, Heracles and Zeus of Safe Landings. He then visited the shrines to the heroes of the Trojan war. He sacrificed at the tombs of Ajax and Achilles. A and Heph laid wreaths at the tombs of Achilles and Patroclus and then ran a race around them, naked and anointed with oil. A was shown armour apparently left over from the battle. He took the Trojan armour and left his own. (The Trojan shield got so badly damaged at the Granicus River that A thereafter had it carried into battle before him by a squire.)

Alexander was related to Achilles through the blood line of the royal family of Epirus, which traced its origins back to Achilles’ son. He was asking for support from the gods and also from the inhabitants of Troy. The descendents of Achilles and Priam would join together to fight against a common enemy: Persia. A now proceeded to battle with the ghosts of the past enlisted to help him.

Battle of the River Granicus

Course of the battle

When Alexander rejoined his army he hoped for a quick meeting with the enemy. He reviewed his troops (now numbering 50,000) and set off towards the local governor’s (satrap’s) castle 80 miles to the east, where he expected to find A.

In May 334 BC Alexander was moving a large army through enemy territory, and he relied on native goodwill as he tried to persuade them that his policy of liberating the Persian controlled Greek cities was beneficial. Alexander accepted the surrender of towns and cities wherever it was offered, but avoided unnecessary confrontation. Instead his scouts were looking for the main Persian army. His military intelligence and scouts were poor, and the Persians were massing only 20 miles from Alexander’s army, yet he did not realise.

The Persians were discussing tactics for dealing with Alexander’s invasion. The first option was to confront Alexander directly, and the second was to burn all the crops in his path and hope to deter him by lack of food.

The second plan was Memnon’s, a Greek from Rhodes who served the Persian kings. 10 years before he had lived in Macedonia in exile and had observed Philip’s army. Coins have been found with maps of the countryside around Memnon’s battle sites stamped on the reverse – when he paid his troops he issued them with campaign maps at the same time. When this policy was used a year later it was very successful, but despite his Persian wife and his long history of success as a Persian military leader, he was still a Greek advising Persians how to fight Greeks. In addition, the land he was suggesting they burn was highly productive agricultural land, but more than that it was land on which the Persians enjoyed their favourite sport of hunting. He was a foreigner talking about destroying others’ homes and estates, and the Persian satraps overruled him.

The Persians prepared for the all-out attack which A wanted. The Persian army moved into the plain beside the River Granicus. A was still 30 miles away and still unaware of the Persians. A day passed before his scouts came back with news that the Persians were waiting on the far banks of the river. After 6 days of searching A was keen to fight. His generals were not so confident, however. It was mid-morning and A’s army would not arrive at the river until late afternoon. Also, it was the month of Daisios in which Macedonian kings would never fight. (This tradition probably dates from the time when every man had to be available to gather the harvest. Now Macedonia had enough slaves and workers to do the job without the army’s help.) A ordered that the calendar be altered and a new month (Artemisius) be put in its place. By early afternoon A’s army had reached the river.

Later estimates exaggerated the numbers hugely, but there is no doubt that at the Granicus the Persian army was much smaller than A’s, perhaps only 35,000 to A’s 50,000. It was led by satraps and governors of western Asia, some of them relations of the Persian king. No Persian army unit was present. The cavalry were drawn from the rebellious mountain tribes of Cappadocia and Paphlagonia. They were heavily armoured and not very maneouvrable, armed with throwing spears. The Persians had no archers, but Memnon had paid for 20,000 Greek mercenaries.

The river ran between the 2 armies and complicated the matter. The river ran fast and shallow (at that time of the year around 1 metre deep) between steep banks (perhaps 3-4 metres high) of muddy clay overgrown with vegetation[, although in places banks of sand and gravel made the climb easier. The Persian strategy was obviously to use the river to make it as difficult as possible for A.

The M army had marched for 10 miles already and needed time to spread out into battle order. It would be late afternoon before A’s army would be ready for battle. A rode along the river bank observing the P army, but it is very disputable what strategy he used.

Arrian’s Version

According to one of A’s officers, writing after A’s death, Parmenion came forward to A and advised him to camp for the night, and cross before dawn when the P army would not be ready for them. He said that it would not be possible for the entire army to cross the river in daylight when the Ps were ready for them on the other side.

A rejected the advice, saying that he would not allow the small Granicus to deter him, when the Hellespont had been so easy to cross. Besides, it would convince the Ps that they were a worthy enemy if he waited. Parmenion was sent to command the left wing of the army. A moved down to the right, and then led his companions across the river, clearing a path for the foot companions and leading them to victory.

(This version is probably fictitious. Parmenion appears often in these accounts as A’s adviser, and often his caution is contrasted with the boldness of A. Parmenion was killed four years later by A for his son’s part in a plot against A, and if Callisthenes began the convention of criticising Parmenion – Ptolemy and Aristobulus continued it – A would certainly have approved of the blackening of his memory.)

Diodorus’ Version

Another historian less closely influenced by A wrote that his army did indeed camp on the river bank that night. There was no conversation with Parmenion and at dawn A crossed the river unopposed, probably because the Persians had dropped back and camped on a hill a mile or so back from the river (it was not Persian practice to march before dawn). Having gained this advantage, A fanned out his army and defended against a reckless charge by the Persian cavalry who, shocked at A’s appearance on their side of the river, charged ahead of the infantry.

A himself showed huge courage during this battle and killed several satraps himself, and collected many Persian weapons on his shield. (see sources on battle) On the left, Parmenion and his men also fought bravely. The Persian cavalry fled and A’s army surged forward into the Persian camp. They surrounded the Greek mercenaries, who put up a fight and wounded A’s horse. It was a massacre and only 2,000 survivors were taken prisoner. A could not afford to hire them himself, and he wanted to make an example of Greeks who fought against him.

The battle was fought and won in exactly the style which later accounts said Parmenion had advised. Perhaps the dawn crossing of the river was insufficiently dashing and less worthy of a true hero, so they invented a new version.

The Legacy of the Battle

Memnon and several of the satraps escaped, but A buried the dead Persian leaders (a gesture which would have distressed the recipients, as Persians did not bury their dead for religious reasons). A visited the M wounded, discussing their wounds with them and allowing them to boast of their exploits. The 25 companion cavalry who had died in the battle were buried with honour, their families were exempted from taxes and duties of service, and bronze statues of them were put up in the M town of Dion. The Greek survivors who fought against M were taken to M as slaves for hard labour to deter recruits from joining Persia in future.

A sent the surplus spoils back to M and to Olympias. 300 suits of Persian armour were sent to Athens for dedication to the city’s goddess Athena, with the dedication:

“Alexander son of Philip and the Greeks, except the Spartans, from the barbarians who live in Asia”.

After Granicus

A needed to take advantage of the victory at the Granicus. He needed to take control of the area in such a way that it would not become a hindrance to his future plans.

Immediately after the Granicus he made 3 revealing moves:

  1. he issued orders that the army should not plunder the native land. He meant to own it like a Persian king, so he appointed Parmenio as satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia (continuing the name used by the Persians). The natives who came down from the hills to surrender were sent back home. Troy was declared free and a democracy was installed.
  2. Parmenio was also despatched to take the castle at Dascylium, while A moved south-west to Sardis, both satrapal capitals. Outside Sardis, A met Mithrines, commander of the Persian forces there. He surrendered the city, the fortress and all the money inside. A took him onto his staff and let Sardis become a free city.
  3. A left men in charge of the satrapal areas he liberated. On the 4th day after the battle A reached Ephesus to find that the mercenaries garrisoned at the town had fled. When he arrived the Greeks in the city ran riot in celebration, stoning the families of the Persian governors. A forbade any future revenge. He also sent his most practised diplomat to each of the cities in the area he now commanded to dispose of the oligarchies and install democracies instead. A also abolished the payment of tribute due to him by Greek cities. Instead he introduced a “contribution” payment to do the same thing.

When Parmenion returned, the army moved through the valley of the River Meander, receiving the surrender of small cities, where they set up democracies and asked for contributions.


At Miletus, they were not so lucky. The garrison commander had heard that the Persian navy was on its way to relieve the city and refused to surrender. A reacted quickly. He captured the outer walls of the city, anchored the Greek fleet in the harbour to stop the Persians entering and blocked off the city. 3 days later the Persian fleet arrived, 400 strong. Parmenio apparently advised A again, but A refused to be drawn into a naval battle. His ships were fewer in number and technically inferior. Miletus proposed neutrality, but A refused and battered his way into the city. The Greeks and a few Milesians fought to the end before they had to jump into the sea and swim for safety. Those who made it to an onshore island again prepared to fight but A offered them the opportunity to join his army. 300 did.

Disbanding the fleet

A was also beating the Persians at sea. The Persian navy’s ships were good fighting ships, but needed daily contact with the shore. A’s army was denying them this contact. Struggling to supply themselves, the Persian ships sailed south, away from A. With this threat gone, A disbanded the fleet. Except for 20 Athenian ships which would carry his siege equipment, A sent the Greek fleet home.


A moved towards Halicarnassus, which had already sent word it would surrender to A. As A drew nearer, the satrap, encouraged by Memnon of Rhodes, changed his mind about the surrender. The Persian fleet was on its way to defend Halicarnassus, or Bodrum. A besieged the city, and stopped the Persian fleet from relieving it. Eventually, A broke into the city. He handed control to his adopted mother, Ada of Caria.

Before leaving Halicarnassus, A ordered that all M men who had married before his invasion began were to be allowed home to spend the winter with their wives. “Of all his actions, this earned A popularity amongst his Macedonians”, besides helping M birth rates and encouraging more reinforcements.

A then moved along the coast of Lycia and Pamphylia. At this stage his success was still far from certain, and he was trying to keep the Persian ships away from the coast.

Gordium and the Knot

   "Everyone, as the phrase goes, knows two things
   about Alexander, even if they do not know who he
   was:  he was the man who wept because there were
   no more worlds to conquer, and he was the man who
   'cut the knot'."
     ---W.W. Tarn, Alexander the Great, II, 262
Arr. 2.3.1-8

2.3 (1) Alexander, then reached Gordium, and was seized with an ardent desire [pothos] to ascend to the acropolis, where was the palace of Gordius and his son Midas, and to look at Gordius' wagon and the knot of  the chariot's yoke.  (2) There was a widespread tradition about this chariot around the countryside; Gordius, they said, was a poor man of the Phrygians of old, who tilled a scanty parcel of earth and had but two yoke of oxen: with one he ploughed, with the other he drove his wagon.   (3) Once, as he was ploughing, an eagle settled on the yoke and stayed, perched there, till it was time to loose the oxen:  Gordius was astonished at the portent, and went off to consult the Telmissian prophets, who were skilled in interpretation of prodigies, inheriting--women and children too--the prophetic gift.  (4) Approaching a Telmissian village, he met a girl drawing water and told her the story of the eagle; she, being also of the prophetic line, bade him return to the spot and sacrifice to Zeus the King.  So then Gordius begged her to come along with him and assist in the sacrifice; and at the spot duly sacrificed as she directed, married the girl, and had a son called Midas. (5) Midas was already a grown man, handsome and noble, when the Phrygians were in trouble with civil war; they received an oracle that a chariot would bring them a king and he would stop the war.  True enough, while they were discussing this, there arrived Midas, with his parents, and drove, chariot and all, into the assembly.  (6) The Phrygians, interpreting the oracle, decided that he was the man whom the gods had told them would come in a chariot; they thereupon made him king, and he put an end to the civil war.  The chariot of his father he set up in the acropolis as a thank-offering to Zeus the King for sending the eagle.  Over and above this there was a story about the wagon, that anyone who should untie the knot of the yoke should be lord of Asia.  (7) This knot was of cornel bark, and you could see neither the beginning nor end of it.  Alexander, unable to find how to untie the knot, and not brooking to leave it tied, lest this might cause some disturbance in the vulgar, smote it with his sword, cut the knot, and exclaimed, "I have loosed it!"--so at least say some, but Aristobulus puts it that he took out the pole pin, a dowel driven right through the pole, holding the knot together, and so removed the yoke from the pole.  (8) I do not attempt to be precise how Alexander actually dealt with this knot.  Anyway, he and his suite left the wagon with the impression that the oracle about the loosed knot had been duly fulfilled.  It is certain that there were that night thunderings and lightnings, which indicated this; so Alexander in thanksgiving offered sacrifice next day to whatever gods had sent the signs and certified the undoing of the knot.

[trans. E.I. Robson, LCL]
 Curt. 3.1.11-18

3.1 (11) Phrygia was the country through which the army was being led; abounding in villages rather than in cities, it was at that time the seat of the once famous palace of Midas.  (12) Gordium is the city's name; (13) the river Sangarius flows beside it, and it is equally distant from the Pontic and the Cilician sea.  We have been informed that between these two seas is the narrowest part of Asia since they compress the lands into a narrow passageway.  And because Asia is joined to the mainland, but is in great part surrounded by waters, it presents the appearance of an island, and were it not for this slight intervening space, what now separates the seas would unite them. (14)  Alexander, after reducing the city into his power, entered the temple of Jupiter.  There he saw the wagon in which it was known that Gordius, the father of Midas rode, and it was in no way more elegant than ordinary ones in everyday use.  (15) The noteworthy feature was the yoke, which was made fast by a great number of thongs, closely tangled with one another and concealing their interlacings.  (16) Thereupon, since the natives declared that the oracle had predicted that whoever should loose the intricate fastening would rule over Asia, the desire [cupido] entered Alexander's mind of fulfilling that prophecy.  (17) Around the king stood a throng of Phrygians and Macedonians, the former on tiptoe of expectation, the latter in anxiety because of the king's rash self-confidence; and in fact the series of thongs was so closely bound together that where a hidden interlacing began or where it ended could be made out neither by the eye nor by calculation; and the king's attempt to undo the tangle made the throng anxious lest a failure should be regarded as an omen. (18)  After having struggled for a long time without effect against the hidden knots:  "It makes no difference," said he, "how they are loosed," and cutting through all the throngs with his sword, he either tricked the oracle or fulfilled it.

[trans. J.C. Rolfe, LCL]

 Plut. Alex. 18.1-2

18 (1) After this, he overpowered such of the Pisidians as had offered him resistance, and subdued Phrygia; and after he had taken the city of Gordium, reputed to have been the home of the ancient Midas, he saw the much-talked-of wagon bound fast to its yoke with bark of the cornel-tree, and heard a story confidently told about it by the Barbarians, to the effect that whosoever loosed the fastening was destined to become king of the whole world [basilei . . . tes oikoumenes]. (2) Well, then, most writers say that since the fastenings had their ends concealed, and were intertwined many times in crooked coils, Alexander was at a loss how to proceed, and finally loosened the knot by cutting it through with his sword, and that when it was thus smitten many ends were to be seen.  But Aristobulus says that he undid it very easily, by simply taking out the so-called "hestor", or pin, of the wagon-pole, by which the yoke fastening was held together, and then drawing away the yoke.

[trans. B. Perrin, LCL]
 Just. 11.7.3-16

11.7 (3) After this he came to the city of Gordium, which is located between Phrygia Major and Minor, and (4) which he desired to take not so much for the sake of booty, but because he heard that in this city, in the temple of Jupiter, was placed the yoke of Gordius' wagon, the knot of which, should anyone loosen it would rule all Asia, according to the ancient oracles. (5) The cause and origin of the matter was as follows.  When Gordius was ploughing in these parts, with oxen that he had hired, birds of every kind began to fly about him.  (6) Going to consult the augurs of the next town on the matter, he met at the gate a virgin of great beauty, and asked her "which of the augurs he should consult."  (7) When she, having heard of his reason for consulting them, and knowing something of the art from the instruction of her parents, replied, that "a kingdom was portended for him," and offered to become his wife and sharer of his expectations.  (8) So fair a matched seemed the chief good fortune of the throne.  (9) After his marriage a civil war arose among the Phrygians; (10) and when they consulted the oracles how their discord might be terminated, the oracles replied that "a king was required to settle their disputes." (11) Inquiring a second time as to the person of the king, they were directed to regard him as their king whom they should first observe, on their return, going to the temple of Jupiter in a wagon.  (12) That first person was Gordius, and they immediately saluted him as king.  (13) He dedicated the wagon, in which he was riding when the throne was offered him, to kingly majesty and it was placed in the temple of Jupiter.  (14) After him reigned his son Midas, who, having been instructed by Orpheus in sacred rites,  filled Phrygia with ceremonies of religion, by which he was better protected, during his whole life, than by arms.  (15) Alexander, having taken the city, and gone to the temple of Jupiter, requested to see the yoke of Gordius' wagon, and, (16) when it was shown him, not being able to find the ends of the cords, which were hidden within the knots, he put a forced interpretation on the oracle, and cut the cords with his sword:  and thus, when the involutions were opened out, discovered the ends concealed in them.

[after a trans. by J.S. Watson]
Marsyas of Philippi, FGrHist 136, F.4 (= Scholia to Euripides Hippolitus 671)

 An oracle was given to the Phrygians that the man who would untie the knot of the chariot that brought Midas to Phrygia, would be king of Asia . . . it is said that Alexander untied it. . . .  Marsyas the Younger writes in the first book of the Macedonian History:  "It is said that the yoke had been fastened to the pole with a vine-twig."




A heard reports that the P satrap was planning to loot and burn Tarsus. He sent Parmenio ahead with some lightly armed troops and hurried after him into Tarsus. He arrived on 3 Sept 333BC sweating, hot and after a rapid march descending 3000 ft onto the airless Cilician Plain. A was either already feverish, or his fever was brought on by his swim in the fast, cold waters of the River Cydnus. He suffered a fever for several days, and none of the doctors would treat him, esp as darius was offering 1000 talents for anyone who would kill A. Only Philip of Acarnania would treat him. Philip had been A’s dr in childhood. As Philip was making up the medicine A received a note from Parmenio, saying that Philip had been bribed by Darius and that the medicine was in fact poison. A handed the note to Philip as he took the medicine and drank it while P was still reading. P simply said that A would recover if he followed his advice. A immediately suffered convulsions, had breathing difficulties and then lapsed into unconsciousness. After 3 days A recovered.

A convalesced for 2 weeks, then moved on. When he met Parmenio at Castabala, Parmenio told him that D was camped at Sochi. He advised A to wait at Issus for D to attack. A did not do so, but he did leave his sick and wounded at Issus. He then marched the rest of his army through the Pillar of Jonah to Myriandrus. Here he camped, and waited for D.

D was not coming. While A camped, D made a quick dash through the Amanic Gates, through Castabala and down to Issus. There he captured most of A’s sick and wounded. Their hands were cut off and seared with pitch. They were then taken on a tour of the P army units and released, with orders to report what they had seen to A. From Issus, D advanced to the banks of the Pinarus River, and waited for A. A had been caught in a perfect trap. There was nothing for it but to fight.

The Battle of Issus

Course of the battle

A had no choice. He had to fight D on his choice of battleground. His men had marched 70m in 2 days and at the end they had been nearly washed away by torrential rain. A persuaded them they wanted to fight.

He fed them a hot meal, and after dark he marched them as far as the Jonah Pass. The next am they descended the 3m down to the plains. When they were 1000m from the river A had a front of over 3 mi in which he could manoeuvre. He could not be outflanked. He fanned his army out, keeping the left flank in contact with the sea shore, and sending the right flank over to the foothills on the right. D had deployed a thick screen of cavalry and lightly armed troops along the river bank so that A could not see through to see D’s battle plans.

D placed his elite Iranian Bodyguards in the centre, his 30,000 Grk mercenaries on either side and light Persian cavalry on the flanks. A took his time, stopping frequently to check details. Then, suddenly, D moved his screen of cavalry back from the river to their battle positions. At this point, his plans became v clear and A had to re-think.

Instead of putting all his best cavalry on the left, opposite A’s Companions (as expected) D had put them on his right – against the Phalanx. A sent the Thessalians back across to the left, riding behind the Phalanx so as to be unobserved. A heard reports that P cavalry was up on a spur on his right, and sent cavalry and light troops to contain them. Then he continued advancing to the river. He continued, to within bowshot range, hoping that D would charge, but he did not.

A realised that delay was pointless. It was late afternoon, so A sent his men closer. Suddenly P archers loosed a volley of arrows – so thick that they collided with each other mid-air.

BATTLE – controversy

A and Companions’ attack was so successful that A got close enough to throw his spear at D, and suffered a dagger wound in his thigh – some sources claimed from D himself. D grabbed the reigns of his chariot and rode away.

At that very moment A received news that his Phalanx was being destroyed by the mercenaries in the centre and his Thessalians were suffering against the P cavalry. He wheeled his Companions around and attacked the Grk mercenaries from the rear. When the cavalry saw the mercenaries being attacked, and heard of D’s escape they too fled. The retreat turned into a rout. Ptolemy wrote that he rode over rivers piled up with dead bodies.

As soon as A saw that the Phalanx was out of danger he set off after D, but he already had a head start and it was getting dark. He pursued for 25 mi but gave up, only after capturing D’s chariot, bow, shield and royal mantle.

When A returned he bathed in D’s bathtub and changed into one of D’s robes.

Phoenecia and Tyre

The siege

From January to July 332, Alexander tried to take the Phoenician city Tyre, the naval base of the Persians. The town was built on an island, but Alexander ordered a dam to be constructed. Finally, after the Phoenician town Sidon had sent Alexander naval assistance, the city was taken. The Macedonian and Greek soldiers, who were frustrated by the length of the siege, avenged themselves on the populace. The Roman author Quintus Curtius Rufus, who based his account on earlier, Greek sources, describes the fall of Tyre in section 4.4.10-21 of his History of Alexander the Great of Macedonia. The translation was made by John Yardley.”The men were then given two days' rest, after which they were ordered to bring up the fleet and siege-engines simultaneously so that Alexander could press his advantage at all points against a demoralized enemy.

The king himself climbed the highest siege-tower [which was full of catapults and other siege-engines]. His courage was great, but the danger greater for, conspicuous in his royal insignia and flashing armor, he was the prime target of enemy missiles. And his actions in the engagement were certainly spectacular. He transfixed with his spear many of the defenders on the walls, and some he threw headlong after striking them in hand-to-hand combat with his sword or shield, for the tower from which he fought practically abutted the enemy walls.

By now the repeated battering of the rams had loosened the joints in the stones and the defensive walls had fallen; the fleet had entered the port; and some Macedonians had made their way on to the towers the enemy had abandoned .

The Tyrians were crushed by so many simultaneous reverses. Some sought refuge in the temples as suppliants while others locked their doors and anticipated the enemy by a death of their own choosing. Others again charged into the enemy, determined that their deaths should count for something. But the majority took to the rooftops, showering stones and whatever happened to be to hand on the approaching Macedonians.

Alexander ordered all but those who had fled to the temples to be put to death and the buildings to be set on fire. Although these orders were made public by heralds, no Tyrian under arms deigned to seek protection from the gods. Young boys and girls had filled the temples, but the men all stood in the vestibules of their own homes ready to face the fury of their enemy.

Many, however, found safety with the Sidonians among the Macedonian troops. Although these had entered the city with the conquerors, they remained aware that they were related to the Tyrians [...] and so they secretly gave many of them protection and took them to their boats, on which they were hidden and transported to Sidon. Fifteen thousand were rescued from a violent death by such subterfuge.

The extent of the bloodshed can be judged from the fact that 6,000 fighting-men were slaughtered within the city's fortifications. It was a sad spectacle that the furious king then provided for the victors: 2,000 Tyrians, who had survived the rage of the tiring Macedonians, now hung nailed to crosses all along the huge expanse of the beach.”

To this Tyrian Heracles, Alexander said he wished to offer sacrifice. But when this message was brought to Tyre by the ambassadors, the people passed a decree to obey any other command of Alexander, but not to admit into the city any Persian or Macedonian; thinking that under the existing circumstances, this was the most specious answer, and that it would be the safest course for them to pursue in reference to the issue of the war, which was still uncertain. When the answer from Tyre was brought to Alexander, he sent the ambassadors back in a rage. He then summoned a council of his Companions and the leaders of his army, together with the captains of infantry and cavalry, and spoke as follows:


"Friends and allies, I see that an expedition to Egypt will not be safe for us, so long as the Persians retain the sovereignty of the sea; nor is it a safe course, both for other reasons, and especially looking at the state of matters in Greece, for us to pursue Darius, leaving in our rear the city of Tyre itself in doubtful allegiance, and Egypt and Cyprus in the occupation of the Persians. I am apprehensive lest while we advance with our forces towards Babylon and in pursuit of Darius, the Persians should again conquer the maritime districts, and transfer the war into Greece with a larger army, considering that the Lacedaemonians are now waging war against us without disguise, and the city of Athens is restrained for the present rather by fear than by any good-will towards us. But if Tyre were captured, the whole of Phoenicia would be in our possession, and the fleet of the Phoenicians, which is the most numerous and the best in the Persian navy, would in all probability come over to us. For the Phoenician sailors and marines will not dare to put to sea in order to incur danger on behalf of others, when their own cities are occupied by us. After this, Cyprus will either yield to us without delay, or will be captured with ease at the mere arrival of a naval force; and then navigating the sea with the ships from Macedonia in conjunction with those of the Phoenicians, Cyprus also having come over to us, we shall acquire the absolute sovereignty of the sea, and at the same time an expedition into Egypt will become an easy matter for us. After we have brought Egypt into subjection, no anxiety about Greece and our own land will any longer rermain, and we shall be able to undertake the expedition to Babylon with safety in regard to affairs at home, and at the same time with greater reputation, in consequence of having appropriated to ourselves all the maritime provinces of the Persians and all the land this side of the Euphrates."


By this speech he easily persuaded his officers to make an attempt upon Tyre. Moreover he was encouraged by a divine admonition, for that very night in his sleep he seemed to be approaching the Tyrian walls, and Heracles seemed to take him by the right hand and lead him up into the city. This was interpreted by Aristander to mean that Tyre would be taken with labour, because the deeds of Heracles were accomplished with labour. Certainly, the siege of Tyre appeared to be a great enterprise; for the city was an island and fortified all round with lofty walls. Moreover naval operations seemed at that time more favourable to the Tyrians, both because the Persians still possessed the sovereignty of the sea and many ships were still remaining with the citizens themselves. However, as these arguments of his had prevailed, he resolved to construct a mole from the mainland to the city. The place is a narrow strait full of pools; and the part of it near the mainland is shallow water and muddy, but the part near the city itself, where the channel was deepest, was about eighteen feet in depth. But there was an abundant supply of stones and wood, which they put on the top of the stones. Stakes were easily fixed down firmly in the mud, which itself served as a cement to the stones to hold them firm. The zeal of the Macedonians in the work was great, and it was increased by the presence of Alexander himself, who took the lead in everything, now rousing the men to exertion by speech, and now by presents of money lightening the labour of those who were toiling more than their fellows from the desire of gaining praise for their exertions. As long as the mole was being constructed near the mainland, the work made easy and rapid progress, as the material was poured into a small depth of water, and there was no one to hinder them; but when they began to approach the deeper water, and at the same time came near the city itself, they suffered severely, being assailed with missiles from the walls, which were lofty, inasmuch as they h ad been expressly equipped for work rather than for fighting. Moreover, as the Tyrians still retained command of the sea, they kept on sailing with the triremes to various parts of the mole, and made it impossible in many places for the Macedonians to pour in the material. But the latter erected two towers upon the mole, which they had now projected over a long stretch of sea, and upon these towers they placed engines of war. Skins and prepared hides served as coverings in front of them, to prevent them being struck by fire-bearing missiles from the wall, and at the same time to be a screen against ar rows to those who were working. It was likewise intended that the Tyrians who might sail near to injure the men engaged in the construction of the mole should not retire easily, being assailed by missiles from the towers.


But to counteract this the Tyrians adopted the following contrivance. They filled a vessel, which had been used for transporting horses, with dry twigs and other combustible wood, fixed two masts on the prow, and fenced it round in the form of a circle as large as possible, so that it might contain as much chaff and as many torches as possible. Moreover they placed upon this vessel quantities of pitch, brimstone, and whatever else was calculated to foment a great flame. They also stretched out a double yard-arm upon each mast; and from these they hung caldrons into which they had poured or cast materials likely to kindle flame which would extend to a great distance. They then put ballast into the stern, in order to raise the prow aloft, the vessel being weighed down abaft. Then watching for a wind bearing towards the mole, they fastened the vessel to some triremes which towed it before the breeze. As soon as they approached the mole and the towers, they threw fire among the wood, and at the same time ran the vessel, with the triremes, aground as violently as possible, dashing against the end of the mole. The men in the vessel easily swam away, as soon as it was set on fire. A great flame soon caught the towers; and the yard-arms being twisted round poured out into the fire the materials that had been prepared for kindling the flame. The men also in the triremes tarrying near the mole kept on shooting arrows into the towers, so that it was not safe for the men to approach who were bringing materials to quench the fire. Upon this, when the towers had already caught fire, many men hastened from the city, and embarking in light vessels, and striking against various parts of the mole, easily tore down the stockade which had been placed in front of it for protection, and burned up all the engines of war which the fire from the vessel did not reach. But Alexander began to construct a wider mole from the mainland, capable of containing more towers; and he ordered the engine-makers to prepare fresh engines. While this was being performed, he took the shieldbearing guards and the Agrianians and set out to Sidon, to collect there all the triremes he could; since it was evident that the successful con clusion of the siege would be much more diffficult to attain, so long as the Tyrians retained the superiority at sea.


About this time Gerostratus, King of Aradus, and Enylus, King of Byblus, ascertaining that their cities were in the possession of Alexander, deserted Autophradates and the fleet under his command, and came to Alexander with their naval force, accompanied by the Sidonian triremes; so that about eighty Phoenician ships joined him. About the same time triremes also came to him from Rhodes, both the one called Peripolus, and nine others with it. From Soli and Mallus also came three, and from Lycia ten; from Macedonia also a ship with fifty oars, in which sailed Proteas, son of Andronicus. Not long after, too, the kings of Cyprus put into Sidon with about 120 ships, since they had heard of the defeat of Darius at Issus, and were terrified, because the whole of Phoenicia was already in the possession of Alexander. To all these Alexander granted indemnity for their previous conduct, because they seemed to have joined the Persian fleet rather by necessity than by their own choice. While the engines of war were being constructed for him, and the ships were being fitted up for a naval attack on the city and for the trial of a sea-battle, he took some squadrons of cavalry, the Agrianians and archers, and made an expedition towards Arabia into the range of mountains called Anti-Libanus. Having subdued some of the mountaineers by force, and drawn others over to him by terms of capitulation, he returned to Sidon in ten days. Here he found Cleander, son of Polemocrates, just arrived from Peloponnesus, having 4,ooo Grecian mercenaries with him.When his fleet had been arranged in due order, he embarked upon the decks as many of his shield-bearing guards as seemed suffficient for his enterprise, unless a sea-battle were to be fought rather by breaking the enemy's line than by a close conflict. He then started from Sidon and sailed towards Tyre with his ships arranged in proper order, himself being on the right wing which stretched out seaward; and with him were the kings of the Cyprians, and all those of the Phoenicians exc ept Pnytagoras, who with Craterus was commanding the left wing of the whole line. The Tyrians had previously resolved to fight a sea-battle, if Alexander should sail against them by sea. But then with surprise they beheld the vast multitude of his ships; for they had not yet learned that Alexander had all the ships of the Cyprians and Phoenicians. At the same time they were surprised to see that he was sailing against them with his fleet arranged in due order; for Alexander's fleet, a little before it came near the city, tarried for a while out in the open sea, with the view of provoking the Tyrians to come out to a battle; but afterwards, as the enemy did not put out to sea against them, though they were thus arranged in line, they advanced to the attack with a great dashing of oars. Seeing this, the Tyrians decided not to fight a battle at sea, but closely blocked up the passage for ships with as many triremes as the mouths of their harbour would contain, and guarded it, so that the enemy's fleet might not find an anchorage in one of the harbours.As the Tyrians did not put out to sea against him, Alexander sailed near the city, but resolved not to try to force an entrance into the harbour towards Sidon on account of the narrowness of its mouth; and at the same time because he saw that the entrance had been blocked up with many triremes having their prows turned towards him. But the Phoenicians fell upon the three triremes moored furthest out at the mouth of the harbour, and attacking them prow to prow, succeeded in sinking them. However, the men in the ships easily swam off to the land which was friendly to them. Then, indeed, Alexander moored his ships along the shore not far from the mole which had been made, where there appeared to be shelter from the winds; and on the following day he ordered the Cyprians with their ships and their admiral Andromachus to moor near the city opposite the harbour which faces towards Sidon, and the Phoenicians opposite the harbour which looks towards Egypt, situated on the other side of the mole, where also was his own tent.


He had now collected many engineers both from Cyprus and the whole of Phoenicia, and many engines of war had been constructed, some upon the mole, others upon vessels used for transporting horses, which he brought with him from Sidon, and others upon the triremes which were not fast sailers. When all the preparations had been completed they brought the engines of war both along the mole that had been made and also from the ships moored near various parts of the wall and attempting to breach it. The Tyrians erected wooden towers on their battle ments opposite the mole, from which they might annoy the enemy; and if the engines of war were brought near any other part, they defended themselves with missiles and shot at the very ships with fire-bearing arrows, so that they deterred the Macedonians from approaching the wall. Their walls opposite the mole were about I50 feet high, with a breadth in proportion, and constructed with large stones imbedded in gypsum. It was not easy for the horse-transports and the triremes of the Macedonians, which were conveying the engines of war up to the wall, to approach the city, because a great quantity of stones hurled forward into the sea prevented their near assault. These stones Alexander determined to drag out of the sea; but this was a work accomplished with great difficulty, since it was performed from ships and not from the firm earth; especially as the Tyrians, covering their ships with screens, brought them alongside the anchors of the triremes, and cutting the cables of the anchors underneath, made anchoring impossible for the enemy's ships. But Alexander covered many thirty-oared vessels with screens in the same way, and placed them athwart in front of the anchors, so that the assault of the ships was repelled by them. But, notwithstanding this, divers under the sea secretly cut their cables. The Macedonians then used chains to their anchors instead of cables, and let them down so that the divers could do nothing further. Then, fastening slipknots to the stones, they dragged them out of the sea from the mole; and having raised them aloft with cranes, they discharged them into deep water, where they were no longer likely to do injury by being hurled forward. The ships now easily approached the part of the wall where it had been made clear of the stones which had been hurled forward. The Tyrians being now reduced to great straits on all sides, resolved to make an attack on the Cyprian ships, which were moored opposite the harbour turned towards Sidon. For a long time they spread sails across the mouth of the harbour, in order that the manning of the triremes might not be discernible; and about the middle of the day, when the sailors were scattered in quest of necessaries, and when Alexander usually retired to his tent from the fleet on the other side of the city, they manned three quinqueremes, an equal number of quadriremes and seven triremes with the most expert complement of rowers possible, and with the best-armed men adapted for fighting from the decks, together with the men most daring in naval contests. At first they rowed out slowly and quietly in single file, moving forward the handles of their oars without any signal from the men who give the time to the rowers; but when they were already tacking against the Cyprians, and were near enough to be seen, then indeed with a loud shout and encouragement to each other, and at the same time with impetuous rowing, they commenced the attack.


It happened on that day that Alexander went away to his tent, but after a short time returned to his ships, not tarrying according to his wont. The Tyrians fell all of a sudden upon the ships lying at their moorings, finding some entirely empty and others being manned with diffficulty from those who happened to be present at the very time of the shout and attack. At the first onset they at once sank the quinquereme of the king of Pnytagoras, that of Androcles the Amanthusian and that of Pasicrates the Curian; and they shattered the other ships by pushing them ashore. But when Alexander perceived the sailing out of the Tyrian triremes, he ordered most of the ships under his command whenever each was manned, to take position at the mouth of the harbour, so that the rest of the Tyrian ships might not sail out. He then took the quinqueremes which he had and about five of the triremes, which were manned by him in haste before the rest were ready, and sailed round the city against the Tyrians who had sailed out of the harbour. The men on the wall, perceiving the enemy's attack and observing that Alexander himself was in the fleet, began to shout to those in their own ships, urging them to return; but as their shouts were not audible, on account of the noise of those who were engaged in the ac tion, they exhorted them to retreat by various kinds of signals. At last after a long time, the Tyrians, perceiving the impending attack of Alex ander's fleet, tacked about and began to flee into the harbour; and a few of their ships succeeded in escaping, but Alexander's vessels assaulted the greater number, and rendered some of them unfit for sailing; and a quinquereme and a quadrireme were captured at the very mouth of the harbour. But the slaughter of the marines was not great; for when they perceived that the ships were in possession of the enemy, they swam off without difficulty into the harbour. As the Tyrians could no longer derive any aid from their ships, the Macedonians now brought up their military engines to the wa ll itself. Those which were brought near the city along the mole did no damage worth mentioning on ac count of the strength of the wall there. Others brought up some of the ships conveying military engines opposite the part of the city turned towards Sidon. But when even there they met with no success, Alexander passed round to the wall projecting towards the south wind and towards Egypt, and tried everywhere to make a breach. Here first a large piece of the wall was thoroughly shaken, and a part of it was even broken and thrown down. Then indeed for a short time he tried to make a storm to the extent of throwing a draw-bridge upon the part of the wall where a breach had been made. But the Tyrians without much difficulty beat the Macedonians back.


The third day after this, having waited for a calm sea, after encouraging the leaders of the regiments for the action, he led the ships containing the military engines up to the city. In the first place he shook down a large piece of the wall; and when the breach appeared to be sufficiently wide, he ordered the vessels conveying the military engines to retire, and brought up two others, which carried the bridges, which he intended to throw upon the breach in the wall. The shieldbearing guards occupied one of these vessels, which he had put under the command of Admetus; and the other was occupied by the regiment of Coenus, called the foot Companions. Alexander himself, with the shield-bearing guards, intended to scale the wall where it might be practicable. He ordered some of his triremes to sail against both of the harbours, to see if by any means they could force an entrance when the Tyrians had turned themselves to oppose him. He also ordered those of his triremes which contained the missiles to be hurled from engines, or which were carrying archers upon deck, to sail right round the wall and to run aground wherever it was practicable, and to take up position within shooting range, where it was impossible to run aground, so that the Tyrians, being shot at from all quarters, might become distracted, and not know whither to turn in their distress. When Alexander's ships drew close to the city and the bridges were thrown from them upon the wall, the shield-bearing guards mounted valiantly along these upon the wall; for their captain, Admetus, proved himself brave on that occasion, and Alexander accompanied them, both as a courageous parti cipant in the action itself, and as a witness of brilliant and dangerous feats of valour performed by others. The first part of the wall that was captured was where Alexander had posted himself, the Tyrians being easily beaten back from it, as soon as the Macedonians found firm footing, but at the same time a way of entrance not abrupt on every side. Adm etus was the first to mount the wall; but while cheering on his men to mount, he was struck with a spear and died on the spot. After him, Alexander with the Companions got possession of the wall; and when some of the towers and the parts of the wall between them were in his hands, he advanced through the battlements to the royal palace, because the descent into the city that way seemed the easiest.


To return to the fleet, the Phoenicians forcing their way into the harbour looking towards Egypt, facing which they happened to be moored, and bursting the bars asunder, shattered the ships in the harbour, attacking some of them in deep water and driving others ashore. The Cyprians also sailed into the other harbour looking towards Sidon, which had no bar across it, and made a speedy capture of the city on that side. The main body of the Tyrians deserted the wall when they saw it in the enemy's possession; and rallying opposite what was called the sanctuary of Agenor, they there turned round to resist the Macedonians. Against these Alexander advanced with his shield-bearing guards, destroyed the men who fought there, and pursued those who fled. Great was the slaughter also made both by those who were now occupying the city from the harbour and by the regiment of Coenus, which had also entered it. For the Macedonians were now for the most part advancing full of rage, being angry both at the length of the siege and also because the Tyrians, having captured some of their men sailing from Sidon, had conveyed them to the top of their walls, so that the deed might be visible from the camp, and after slaughtering them, had cast their bodies into the sea. About 8,ooo of the Tyrians were killed; and of the Macedonians, besides Admetus, who had proved himself a valiant man, being the first to scale the wall, twenty of the shieldbearing guards were killed in the assault on that occasion. In the whole siege about 400 Macedonians were slain. Alexander gave an amnesty to all those who fled for refuge into the temple of Heracles; among them being most of the Tyrian magistrates, including the king Azemilcus, as well as certain envoys from the Carthaginians, who had come to their mother-city to attend the sacrifice in honour of Heracles, according to an ancient custom. The rest of the prisoners were reduced to slavery; all the Tyrians and mercenary troops, to the number of about 30,000, who had been captured, being sold. Alexa nder then offered sacrifice to Heracles, and conducted a procession in honour of that deity with all his soldiers fully armed. The ships also took part in this religious procession in honour of Heracles. He moreover held a gymnastic contest in the temple, and celebrated a torch race. The military engine, also, with which the wall had been battered down, was brought into the temple and dedicated as a thank-offering; and the Tyrian ship sacred to Heracles, which had been captured in the naval attack, was likewise dedicated to the god. An inscription was placed on it, either composed by Alexander himself or by some one else; but as it is not worthy of recollection, I have not deemed it worth while to describe it. Thus then was Tyre captured in the month Hecatombaion, when Anicetus was archon at Athens.

From Arrian’s Anabasis