Gateway to the Classics: The Story of Greece by Mary Macgregor
The Story of Greece by  Mary Macgregor

Darius Gallops from the Battlefield

As soon as he had recovered from his illness, Alexander led his army to meet Darius. He found the great king in the pass of Issus, in October 333 b.c.

Darius had first encamped on the plain of Issus, in a strong position, where his vast army would have had room to fight.

But he dreamed that Alexander would try to escape him, so he ordered his men to march through the narrow mountain passes to meet the enemy.

A Macedonian, who had deserted, begged Darius not to leave the plain. "But," said the king, "if I stay here, Alexander will escape me."

"That fear is needless," answered the Macedonian, "for assure yourself that far from avoiding you, he will make all speed to meet you, and is now most likely on his march toward you."

When Alexander knew that Darius had left the plain for the pass of Issus, he was pleased, for he knew that the enemy would now be hemmed in between the mountains and the sea.

Before long the two armies were close together. Alexander led his right wing against the left wing of the Persians. Here he was soon victorious, and free to attack the centre of the enemy, where Darius sat in his chariot, surrounded by a band of Persian nobles.

As the great king saw Alexander and his followers drawing nearer and nearer, he began to grow afraid. Soon he could bear his fears no longer, and leaping from his chariot, he mounted a horse and fled from the field.

When the Persians saw that their king had fled, they stayed to fight no longer. Even the cavalry, which had withstood every attack, now wavered, then broke and fled with the rest.

The great hosts sought to hide themselves from their pursuers among the mountain passes, but thousands were captured and slain.

Darius in his haste had left his shield and his royal cloak behind, but he would not stay to recover them. On and on he fled until he reached a town on the river Euphrates.

Alexander was well pleased with his great victory, but he would fain have captured the Persian king. To a wound in his thigh he paid little attention, nor did it prove dangerous. But it made it impossible for him to overtake Darius.

When the king returned from the pursuit of his enemy, he found his men pillaging the Persian camp. The tent of Darius, which was beautifully furnished, and which also had a great store of gold and silver, was set apart for Alexander himself.

"Let us now cleanse ourselves from the toils of war in the baths of Darius," said the king as he entered the tent of the defeated monarch.

"Not so," answered one of his followers, "but in Alexander's rather; for the property of the conquered is and should be called the conqueror's."

Alexander's early training had been simple as that of a Spartan, and the luxury of the great king's tents amazed him.

In one there were numerous baths and many boxes of ointment, in another a table was spread for a magnificent feast. As Alexander looked at it all, he turned to his followers and said, "This, it seems, is royalty."

But his early training still influenced him, and he kept his simple tastes and cared little for dainty fare or other luxuries.

Once a queen to whom Alexander had been sent to his tent, day by day, some of the dishes which had been prepared for her own table. And at length, that he might always fare well, she sent cooks and bakers.

But the king would not accept them, for he said that his old tutor had given him the best possible cooks. They were, "a night march to prepare for breakfast, and a moderate breakfast to create an appetite for supper."

He told the queen, too, how when he was a boy his tutor Leonidas used to look often in his wardrobe, lest his clothes were too fine, and in his room, to see that his mother had not given him cushions for his couch or soft pillows for his bed.

As Alexander sat down to supper on the evening of the victory of Issus, the sound of wailing and weeping fell upon his ear. It seemed to him as the weeping of women, and he demanded to be told at once who was in trouble.

His officers said that it was the mother, and wife and children of Darius who were weeping. For they had heard that Alexander had returned with their lord's shield and cloak, and they thought that he must have been slain.

Then the king bade one of his followers go tell the royal mourners that Darius lived, and that they need fear no harm from Alexander. For he made war upon Darius not because he bore him ill will, but because he wished to gain his dominions. He promised that he would provide them with all the comforts which they had been used to receive from the great king.

When Darius was safe beyond the Euphrates, he remembered that his wife and mother had been left to the mercy of his conqueror. So he wrote to Alexander, begging that they might be sent to him and offering to make a treaty with the king.

Here is part of the proud answer that Alexander sent to Darius.

"I am lord of all, Darius," he wrote, "and therefore do thou come to me with thy requests. Thou hast only to come to me to ask and receive thy mother and wife and children, and whatever else thou mayest desire. And for the future, whenever thou sendest, send to me as to the great king of Asia, and do not write as to an equal, but tell me whatever thy need be, as to one who is lord of all that is thine. Otherwise I will deal with thee as with an offender. But if thou disputest the kingdom, then wait and fight for it again, and do not flee; for I will march against thee, wheresoever thou mayest be."

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