Gateway to the Classics: Alexander the Great by Jacob Abbott
Alexander the Great by  Jacob Abbott

Defeat of Darius

T HUS far Alexander had had only the lieutenants and generals of the Persian monarch to contend with. Darius had at first looked upon the invasion of his vast dominions by such a mere boy, as he called him, and by so small an army, with contempt. He sent word to his generals in Asia Minor to seize the young fool, and send him to Persia bound hand and foot. By the time, however, that Alexander had possessed himself of all Asia Minor, Darius began to find that, though young, he was no fool, and that it was not likely to be very easy to seize him.

Accordingly, Darius collected an immense army himself, and advanced to meet the Macedonians in person. Nothing could exceed the pomp and magnificence of his preparations. There were immense numbers of troops, and they were of all nations. There were even a great many Greeks among his forces, many of them enlisted from the Greeks of Asia Minor. There were some from Greece itself— itself—mercenaries, as they were called; that is, soldiers who fought for pay, and who were willing to enter into any service which would pay them best.

There were even some Greek officers and counselors in the family and court of Darius. One of them, named Charidemus, offended the king very much by the free opinion which he expressed of the uselessness of all his pomp and parade in preparing for an encounter with such an enemy as Alexander. "Perhaps," said Charidemus, "you may not be pleased with my speaking to you plainly, but if I do not do it now, it will be too late hereafter. This great parade and pomp, and this enormous multitude of men, might be formidable to your Asiatic neighbors; but such sort of preparation will be of little avail against Alexander and his Greeks. Your army is resplendent with purple and gold. No one who had not seen it could conceive of its magnificence; but it will not be of any avail against the terrible energy of the Greeks. Their minds are bent on something very different from idle show. They are intent on securing the substantial excellence of their weapons, and on acquiring the discipline and the hardihood essential for the most efficient use of them. They will despise all your parade of purple and gold. They will not even value it as plunder. They glory in their ability to dispense with all the luxuries and conveniences of life. They live upon the coarsest food. At night they sleep upon the bare ground. By day they are always on the march. They brave hunger, cold, and every species of exposure with pride and pleasure, having the greatest contempt for any thing like softness and effeminacy of character. All this pomp and pageantry, with inefficient weapons, and inefficient men to wield them, will be of no avail against their invincible courage and energy; and the best disposition that you can make of all your gold, and silver, and other treasures, is to send it away and procure good soldiers with it, if indeed gold and silver will procure them."

The Greeks were habituated to energetic speaking as well as acting, but Charidemus did not sufficiently consider that the Persians were not accustomed to hear such plain language as this. Darius was very much displeased. In his anger he condemned him to death. "Very well," said Charidemus, "I can die. But my avenger is at hand. My advice is good, and Alexander will soon punish you for not regarding it."

Very gorgeous descriptions are given of the pomp and magnificence of the army of Darius, as he commenced his march from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean. The Persians worship the sun and fire. Over the king's tent there was an image of the sun in crystal, and supported in such a manner as to be in the view of the whole army. They had also silver altars, on which they kept constantly burning what they called the sacred fire. These altars were borne by persons appointed for the purpose, who were clothed in magnificent costumes. Then came a long procession of priests and magi, who were dressed also in very splendid robes. They performed the services of public worship. Following them came a chariot consecrated to the sun. It was drawn by white horses, and was followed by a single white horse of large size and noble form, which was a sacred animal, being called the horse of the sun. The equerries, that is, the attendants who had charge of this horse, were also all dressed in white, and each carried a golden rod in his hand.

There were bodies of troops distinguished from the rest, and occupying positions of high honor, but these were selected and advanced above the others, not on account of their courage, or strength, or superior martial efficiency, but from considerations connected with their birth, and rank, and other aristocratic qualities. There was one body called the Kinsmen, who were the relatives of the king, or, at least, so considered, though, as there were fifteen thousand of them, it would seem that the relationship could not have been, in all cases, very near. They were dressed with great magnificence, and prided themselves on their rank, their wealth, and the splendor of their armor. There was also a corps called the Immortals. They were ten thousand in number. They wore a dress of gold tissue, which glittered with spangles and precious stones.

These bodies of men, thus dressed, made an appearance more like that of a civic procession, on an occasion of ceremony and rejoicing, than like the march of an army. The appearance of the king in his chariot was still more like an exhibition of pomp and parade. The carriage was very large, elaborately carved and gilded, and ornamented with statues and sculptures. Here the king sat on a very elevated seat, in sight of all. He was clothed in a vest of purple, striped with silver, and over his vest he wore a robe glittering with gold and precious stones. Around his waist was a golden girdle, from which was suspended his cimeter—a species of sword—the scabbard of which was resplendent with gems. He wore a tiara upon his head of very costly and elegant workmanship, and enriched, like the rest of his dress, with brilliant ornaments. The guards who preceded and followed him had pikes of silver, mounted and tipped with gold.

It is very extraordinary that King Darius took his wife and all his family with him, and a large portion of his treasures, on this expedition against Alexander. His mother, whose name was Sysigambis, was in his family, and she and his wife came, each in her own chariot, immediately after the king. Then there were fifteen carriages filled with the children and their attendants, and three or four hundred ladies of the court, all dressed like queens. After the family there came a train of many hundreds of camels and mules, carrying the royal treasures.

It was in this style that Darius set out upon his expedition, and he advanced by a slow progress toward the westward, until at length he approached the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. He left his treasures in the city of Damascus, where they were deposited under the charge of a sufficient force to protect them, as he supposed. He then advanced to meet Alexander, going himself from Syria toward Asia Minor just at the time that Alexander was coming from Asia Minor into Syria.


Plain of Issus

It will be observed by looking upon the map, that the chain of mountains called Mount Taurus extends down near to the coast, at the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean. Among these mountains there are various tracts of open country, through which an army may march to and fro, between Syria and Asia Minor. Now it happened that Darius, in going toward the west, took a more inland route than Alexander, who, on coming eastward, kept nearer to the sea. Alexander did not know that Darius was so near; and as for Darius, he was confident that Alexander was retreating before him; for, as the Macedonian army was so small, and his own forces constituted such an innumerable host, the idea that Alexander would remain to brave a battle was, in his opinion, entirely out of the question. He had, therefore, no doubt that Alexander was retreating. It is, of course, always difficult for two armies, fifty miles apart, to obtain correct ideas of each other's movements. All the ordinary intercommunications of the country are of course stopped, and each general has his scouts out, with orders to intercept all travelers, and to interrupt the communication of intelligence by every means in their power.

In consequence of these and other circumstances of a similar nature, it happened that Alexander and Darius actually passed each other, without either of them being aware of it. Alexander advanced into Syria by the plains of Issus, marked a  upon the map, and a narrow pass beyond, called the Gates of Syria, while Darius went farther to the north, and arrived at Issus after Alexander had left it. Here each army learned to their astonishment that their enemy was in their rear. Alexander could not credit this report when he first heard it. He dispatched a galley with thirty oars along the shore, up the Gulf of Issus, to ascertain the truth. The galley soon came back and reported that, beyond the Gates of Syria, they saw the whole country, which was nearly level land, though gently rising from the sea, covered with the vast encampments of the Persian army.

The king then called his generals and counselors together, informed them of the facts, and made known to them his determination to return immediately through the Gates of Syria and attack the Persian army. The officers received the intelligence with enthusiastic expressions of joy.

It was now near the evening. Alexander sent forward a strong reconnoitering party, ordering them to proceed cautiously, to ascend eminences and look far before them, to guard carefully against surprise, and to send back word immediately if they came upon any traces of the enemy. At the present day the operations of such a reconnoitering party are very much aided by the use of spy-glasses, which are made now with great care expressly for military purposes. The instrument, however, was not known in Alexander's day.

When the evening came on, Alexander followed the reconnoitering party with the main body of the army. At midnight they reached the defile. When they were secure in the possession of it, they halted. Strong watches were stationed on all the surrounding heights to guard against any possible surprise. Alexander himself ascended one of the eminences, from whence he could look down upon the great plain beyond, which was dimly illuminated in every part by the smouldering fires of the Persian encampment. An encampment at night is a spectacle which is always grand, and often sublime. It must have appeared sublime to Alexander in the highest degree, on this occasion. To stand stealthily among these dark and somber mountains, with the defiles and passes below filled with the columns of his small but undaunted army, and to look onward, a few miles beyond, and see the countless fires of the vast hosts which had got between him and all hope of retreat to his native land; to feel, as he must have done, that his fate, and that of all who were with him, depended upon the events of the day that was soon to dawn—to see and feel these things must have made this night one of the most exciting and solemn scenes in the conqueror's life. He had a soul to enjoy its excitement and sublimity. He gloried in it; and, as if he wished to add to the solemnity of the scene, he caused an altar to be erected, and offered a sacrifice, by torch-light, to the deities on whose aid his soldiers imagined themselves most dependent for success on the morrow. Of course a place was selected where the lights of the torches would not attract the attention of the enemy, and sentinels were stationed at every advantageous point to watch the Persian camp for the slightest indications of movement or alarm.

In the morning, at break of day, Alexander commenced his march down to the plain. In the evening, at sunset, all the valleys and defiles among the mountains around the plain of Issus were thronged with vast masses of the Persian army, broken, disordered, and in confusion, all pressing forward to escape from the victorious Macedonians. They crowded all the roads, they choked up the mountain passes, they trampled upon one another, they fell, exhausted with fatigue and mental agitation. Darius was among them, though his flight had been so sudden that he had left his mother, and his wife, and all his family behind. He pressed on in his chariot as far as the road allowed his chariot to go, and then, leaving every thing behind, he mounted a horse and rode on for his life.

Alexander and his army soon abandoned the pursuit, and returned to take possession of the Persian camp. The tents of King Darius and his household were inconceivably splendid, and were filled with gold and silver vessels, caskets, vases, boxes of perfumes, and every imaginable article of luxury and show. The mother and wife of Darius bewailed their hard fate with cries and tears, and continued all the evening in an agony of consternation and despair.

Alexander, hearing of this, sent Leonnatus, his former teacher, a man of years and gravity, to quiet their fears and comfort them, so far as it was possible to comfort them. In addition to their own captivity, they supposed that Darius was killed, and the mother was mourning bitterly for her son, and the wife for her husband. Leonnatus, attended by some soldiers, advanced toward the tent where these mourners were dwelling. The attendants at the door ran in and informed them that a body of Greeks were coming. This threw them into the greatest consternation. They anticipated violence and death, and threw themselves upon the ground in agony. Leonnatus waited some time at the door for the attendants to return. At length he entered the tent. This renewed the terrors of the women. They began to entreat him to spare their lives, at least until there should be time for them to see the remains of the son and husband whom they mourned, and to pay the last sad tribute to his memory.

Leonnatus soon relieved their fears. He told them that he was charged by Alexander to say to them that Darius was alive, having made his escape in safety. As to themselves, Alexander assured them, he said, that they should not be injured; that not only were their persons and lives to be protected, but no change was to be made in their condition or mode of life; they should continue to be treated like queens. He added, moreover, that Alexander wished him to say that he felt no animosity or ill will whatever against Darius. He was but technically his enemy, being only engaged in a generous and honorable contest with him for the empire of Asia. Saying these things, Leonnatus raised the disconsolate ladies from the ground, and they gradually regained some degree of composure.

Alexander himself went to pay a visit to the captive princesses the next day. He took with him Hephæstion. Hephæstion was Alexander's personal friend. The two young men were of the same age, and, though Alexander had the good sense to retain in power all the old and experienced officers which his father had employed, both in the court and army, he showed that, after all, ambition had not overwhelmed and stifled all the kindlier feelings of the heart, by his strong attachment to this young companion. Hephæstion was his confidant, his associate, his personal friend. He did what very few monarchs have done, either before or since, in securing for himself the pleasures of friendship, and of intimate social communion with a heart kindred to his own, without ruining himself by committing to a favorite powers which he was not qualified to wield. Alexander left the wise and experienced Parmenio to manage the camp, while he took the young and handsome Hephæstion to accompany him on his visit to the captive queens.

When the two friends entered the tent, the ladies were, from some cause, deceived, and mistook Hephæstion for Alexander, and addressed him, accordingly, with tokens of high respect and homage. One of their attendants immediately rectified the mistake, telling them that the other was Alexander. The ladies were at first overwhelmed with confusion, and attempted to apologize; but the king reassured them at once by the easy and good-natured manner with which he passed over the mistake, saying it was no mistake at all. "It is true," said he, "that I am Alexander, but then he is Alexander too."

The wife of Darius was young and very beautiful, and they had a little son who was with them in the camp. It seems almost unaccountable that Darius should have brought such a helpless and defenseless charge with him into camps and fields of battle. But the truth was that he had no idea of even a battle with Alexander, and as to defeat, he did not contemplate the remotest possibility of it. He regarded Alexander as a mere boy—energetic and daring it is true, and at the head of a desperate band of adventurers; but he considered his whole force as altogether too insignificant to make any stand against such a vast military power as he was bringing against him. He presumed that he would retreat, as fast as possible before the Persian army came near him. The idea of such a boy coming down at break of day, from narrow defiles of the mountains, upon his vast encampment covering all the plains, and in twelve hours putting the whole mighty mass to flight, was what never entered his imagination at all. The exploit was, indeed, a very extraordinary one. Alexander's forces may have consisted of forty or fifty thousand men, and, if we may believe their story, there were over a hundred thousand Persians left dead upon the field. Many of these were, however, killed by the dreadful confusion and violence of the retreat, as vast bodies of horsemen, pressing through the defiles, rode over and trampled down the foot soldiers who were toiling in awful confusion along the way, having fled before the horsemen left the field.

Alexander had heard that Darius had left the greater part of his royal treasures in Damascus, and he sent Parmenio there to seize them. This expedition was successful. An enormous amount of gold and silver fell into Alexander's hands. The plate was coined into money, and many of the treasures were sent to Greece.

Darius got together a small remnant of his army and continued his flight. He did not stop until he had crossed the Euphrates. He then sent an embassador to Alexander to make propositions for peace. He remonstrated with him, in the communication which he made, for coming thus to invade his dominions, and urged him to withdraw and be satisfied with his own kingdom. He offered him any sum he might name as a ransom for his mother, wife, and child, and agreed that if he would deliver them up to him on the payment of the ransom, and depart from his dominions, he would thenceforth regard him as an ally and a friend.

Alexander replied by a letter, expressed in brief but very decided language. He said that the Persians had, under the ancestors of Darius crossed the Hellespont, invaded Greece, laid waste the country, and destroyed cities and towns, and had thus done them incalculable injury; and that Darius himself had been plotting against his (Alexander's) life, and offering rewards to any one who would kill him. "I am acting, then," continued Alexander, "only on the defensive. The gods, who always favor the right, have given me the victory. I am now monarch of a large part of Asia, and your sovereign king. If you will admit this, and come to me as my subject, I will restore to you your mother, your wife, and your child, without any ransom. And, at any rate, whatever you decide in respect to these proposals, if you wish to communicate with me on any subject hereafter, I shall pay no attention to what you send unless you address it to me as your king."

One circumstance occurred at the close of this great victory which illustrates the magnanimity of Alexander's character, and helps to explain the very strong personal attachment which every body within the circle of his influence so obviously felt for him. He found a great number of envoys and embassadors from the various states of Greece at the Persian court, and these persons fell into his hands among the other captives. Now the states and cities of Greece, all except Sparta and Thebes, which last city he had destroyed, were combined ostensibly in the confederation by which Alexander was sustained. It seems, however, that there was a secret enmity against him in Greece, and various parties had sent messengers and agents to the Persian court to aid in plots and schemes to interfere with and defeat Alexander's plans. The Thebans, scattered and disorganized as they were, had sent envoys in this way. Now Alexander, in considering what disposition he should make of these emissaries from his own land, decided to regard them all as traitors except the Thebans. All except the Thebans were traitors,  he maintained, for acting secretly against him, while ostensibly, and by solemn covenants, they were his friends. "The case of the Thebans is very different," said he. "I have destroyed their city, and they have a right to consider me their enemy, and to do all they can to oppose my progress, and to regain their own lost existence and their former power." So he gave them their liberty and sent them away with marks of consideration and honor.

As the vast army of the Persian monarch had now been defeated, of course none of the smaller kingdoms or provinces thought of resisting. They yielded one after another, and Alexander appointed governors of his own to rule over them. He advanced in this manner along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, meeting with no obstruction until he reached the great and powerful city of Tyre.

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