The life of Alexander forms a kind of sequel to the lives of Aristides and Themistocles. The great deeds of the earlier heroes were mainly concerned in stemming and turning back the flood of war, in the shape of the Persian armies, which threatened Europe. About a century and a half later the positions were reversed. The young Macedonian king and his army burst into Asia, not indeed like a flood, for the number under his command was small for so great an invasion, but rather like a mountain torrent sweeping all before it by its impetuous rush. In swift ruin the Persian empire was toppled over, and in the most wonderful series of victories in the history of the world Alexander carried his arms beyond the limits of the known world to the river Jhelum or Hydaspes.
The marvellous victories and conquests of Alexander were accomplished in a comparatively short time, for he was only in his thirty-third year when he died. He was not merely a soldier and conqueror. He was a statesman of wide views, with a settled policy of blending together the different peoples under his rule. It was for this purpose that he educated Persian youths in the Greek manner and encouraged intermarriages between his Asiatic subjects and his Macedonians. He also planted many Greek colonies in his conquests, and though most of them were probably founded merely for military reasons, they ultimately became centres from which the civilisation of Greece was spread. Nor did he neglect the material interests of his wide domains. His death indeed occurred at a time when he was engaged in devising great plans for the drainage of the fever-stricken marshes around Babylon and for the irrigation of the district. Some writers suggest that his death was the result, not so much of the drunken debauch of which Plutarch tells, as of a fever which he contracted while thus engaged.
The wonderful success of Alexander was not without an injurious effect upon his character. The hardy, simple and temperate Macedonian warrior-king gradually became more and more like the Eastern despots he had conquered. He made his manly Macedonians grovel on the ground in his presence, and gave way to fits of ungovernable fury, such as that in which he slew his old friend and comrade-in-arms, Clitus, who had saved his life in battle.
When Alexander died the burden of his vast empire proved too heavy for any other shoulders to bear, and it soon broke up into a number of kingdoms ruled by his generals and successors.
Alexander was the son of Philip, King of Macedon, and of Olympias his wife. Among other strange and great events that occurred about the time of his birth, it happened that the temple of Diana at Ephesus was destroyed by fire on the very day upon which he was born. The wise men, who were then at Ephesus, looked upon the fire as a sign of still greater misfortune to come. They ran through the city, beating their faces and crying, 'On this day is born he who shall be the scourge and destroyer of Asia.' Thus they interpreted the omen.
The statues and paintings of Alexander preserve his features for our view. The characteristic turn of his head, which leaned a little to one side, and the quickness of his eye, which many of his successors and friends sought to imitate, are best shown by the statues. The paintings of Apelles were not very successful in depicting his complexion, for the painter made the skin too brown, whereas Alexander was fair with a ruddy tinge in his face.
As a youth Alexander showed an ambition which had something great and splendid in it, and which, in its character, was beyond his years. It was not every sort of honour that he coveted, nor did he seek it by any kind of path. In this he was unlike his father, who, although a great conqueror, was as vain of his eloquence as any professed speaker could be, and who recorded his victories in the Olympic chariot-races in the impressions upon his coins. On the other hand, Alexander, when he was asked by some why he did not run in the Olympic race—for he was fleet of foot—replied, 'I would indeed run if I had kings to contend with.'
Ambassadors from Persia happened at one time to come to the court in the absence of King Philip. The young Alexander therefore received them in his father's stead, and surprised them much by his courtesy and his sound sense. He asked them no trifling nor childish questions, but inquired concerning the distances between places, the roads through the upper provinces of Asia, the character and mode of government of their king, and the sources of the strength and power of the Persian kingdom. The ambassadors were astonished, and regarded the famous shrewdness of Philip as less wonderful than the genius of his son.
Whenever news came that Philip had taken some strong city or won some great battle, the young prince, instead of appearing delighted at the success, used to say, 'My father will make so many conquests that there will remain nothing for me to do.' His desires were not for pleasure or riches, but for valour and glory. Therefore he looked upon each new conquest made by his father as limiting his own field of distinction.
Upon one occasion a certain Thessalian brought a horse named Bucephalus to the court of Philip, and offered it for sale to the king. Philip with the prince and many nobles went out into a field to see the horse tried. The animal, however, showed himself to be extremely vicious and intractable. So far from allowing himself to be mounted, he would not even bear to hear the word of command, and turned fiercely upon all the grooms. Philip was angered that so wild and vicious a horse should have been brought to him, and commanded that he should be taken away. But Alexander, who had watched the animal very carefully, exclaimed, 'What a splendid horse is being lost for want of the skill and spirit to manage him!' This he said not once but several times, till at last the king replied, 'Young man, you find fault with your elders as if you could manage the horse better than they.'
'That I certainly could,' said the prince.
'And what will you forfeit,' asked his father, 'if you fail?'
'The price of the horse,' answered Alexander.
Thereupon the whole company laughed. The king and his son, however, agreed upon the conditions. Alexander at once ran to the horse, and laying his hand upon the bridle turned the animal so as to face the sun. It seems that the prince had observed that the horse had been terrified at his shadow which was previously cast before him; and which moved as he moved. Next, so long as the animal continued to be nervous and frightened, Alexander kept patting him and speaking soothingly to him. When he had become quieter, the prince gently let fall his mantle, leaped lightly upon the horse's back, and got a firm seat. Then with a light hand upon the reins, and without the use of whip or spur, Alexander set the horse going. He soon found him going freely, and that the creature now desired only to run. He then put the horse to a full gallop and urged him on with voice and spur. Philip and his courtiers were at first silent with fear as to what would happen. But when they saw that Alexander controlled the steed, and that he turned him round and brought him straight back with ease, all except Philip burst into shouts of applause. As for the king, he shed tears of joy, and said, 'Seek another kingdom, my son, for Macedonia is too small a field for your abilities.'
Philip perceived that his son was of a disposition which would not readily submit to commands, but was rather to be led to the path of duty by the gentler force of reason. He therefore used persuasion with him rather than commands. The king saw, too, that his son's education was of great importance. Therefore he entrusted it, not to ordinary teachers, but to Aristotle, the most learned and famous of the philosophers. By him Alexander was instructed not only in moral and political knowledge, but also in the more profound branches of science. The prince valued learning highly, as is shown by a letter which he wrote to the philosopher in which he said, 'For my part, I would rather excel in the higher parts of learning than in power and dominion.' The Iliad of Homer he called a portable treasury of military knowledge. So he certainly thought, for he had a copy, corrected by Aristotle, which he was accustomed to carry with him in a casket upon his expeditions. This casket, it is said, he used to place under his pillow with his sword.
When Alexander was but sixteen years of age, his father departed on a certain expedition, and the prince, though so young, was left as regent. During his regency the people of a subject town rebelled. The prince at once attacked and overthrew them, seized their town, and planted it with a colony of people. He also, while a youth, distinguished himself in a great battle with the Greeks, and is said to have been the first to break the Sacred Band of the Thebans.
The great talents which Alexander showed thus early in life caused the king to be very fond of him. But after Philip had cast off Olympias, the mother of Alexander, and had taken another wife, dissensions arose between the father and son which grew at last into open quarrel. Therefore Alexander, having first taken away his mother, withdrew himself from the court and kingdom of his father. While he was thus absent Philip was murdered. Many believed that Olympias was concerned in inciting the murderers, and Alexander did not escape without some suspicion. It is, however, certain that he caused diligent search to be made for the murderers, and that he had them punished.
Alexander was only twenty years of age when he was thus called to the throne. He found the kingdom torn in pieces by dangerous parties and fierce hatreds. There was also a danger of losing the conquests which his father had made, for the barbarian nations hated subjection, and longed for the rule of their native kings. Moreover, though Philip had subdued Greece by his victories, he had not had time to accustom the Greeks to his yoke. He had, indeed, rather thrown affairs into confusion than produced any firm settlement.
The young king's advisers, alarmed at the troubles which threatened, counselled him to give up Greece, and to endeavour to recall the wavering barbarian nations to his rule by persuasion and gentle treatment. Alexander, on the contrary, was of opinion that the only way to secure and establish his kingdom was to act with spirit and resolution. He therefore marched at once into the barbarian lands, and penetrated as far as the Danube, where he overthrew one of the kings of the barbarians in a great battle.
Some time after this Alexander received news that the Thebans had revolted, and that the Athenians were following the same course. He therefore advanced at once through the Pass of Thermopylae, resolved to show his antagonists, who had taunted him with his youth, that in action at least he was a man. When he first appeared before Thebes he was willing to deal mildly with the people. He offered that, if the two leaders of the revolt were given up, he would pardon all others. The Thebans gave a proud answer and invited, by the sound of trumpet, all who loved freedom to join them in recovering the liberty of Greece. Alexander then let loose his Macedonians, and the fight began with great fury. The Thebans, who were greatly outnumbered, fought with the utmost courage and resolution. But when the Macedonian garrison which had been holding the citadel of the town sallied out and attacked them in the rear, the Thebans were surrounded on all sides, and most of them were cut to pieces. Their city was taken and plundered, and it was then levelled with the ground. More than six thousand of the Thebans were slain in the battle. Of the survivors, those who had opposed the revolt and some few others were spared, but the rest to the number of thirty thousand were sold as slaves.
The wretched town suffered various and terrible calamities. One party of Alexander's troops destroyed and despoiled the house of a Theban lady of rank and honour. When they had departed with their booty, their captain, who had shamefully ill-treated the lady, demanded whether she had not some hidden treasure of gold and silver. She replied that she had. Taking him alone into the garden, she showed him a well into which, she said, she had thrown all her treasures when the city was taken. The officer stooped down to examine the well narrowly, and as he did so, the woman pushed him in, and hurling stones upon him, killed him. At that moment his soldiers returned, seized and bound the lady, and carried her before Alexander. The king saw by her high and fearless bearing that she was a woman of rank and attainments. He asked her who she was. 'I,' said the Theban lady, 'am the sister of a Theban general, who fell fighting against your father for the liberty of Greece.' The king admired her answer and her courage in slaying the officer who had ill-used her. He gave orders that she and her children should be set at liberty.
Alexander expected that the rest of Greece, terrified by the dreadful punishment inflicted upon Thebes, would submit in silence. Whether his fury, like that of a lion, was now satiated with blood, or whether he wished to efface the memory of his cruel treatment of Thebes, he treated Athens with leniency. It is said, indeed, that the calamities he brought upon the Thebans long weighed upon his mind, and that he therefore afterwards treated others with less severity. It is certain that he attributed some misfortunes that befell him to the anger of the god Bacchus, the avenger of Thebes. And there was not a single Theban who survived the destruction of the city, who was ever refused a favour by Alexander.
As for the Athenians, he forgave them, although they sympathised with the Thebans, and received such as escaped from the general ruin of their town with all imaginable kindness.
A general assembly of the Greeks was afterwards held at the Isthmus of Corinth. It was there resolved that the different states should furnish men for a war against the Persians, and Alexander was elected captain-general. At this time many statesmen and philosophers came to congratulate the young king, who hoped that the famous Diogenes who was living at Corinth, would be of the number. Finding, however, that the philosopher took but little notice of the king, Alexander went to visit him. Diogenes was basking in the sunshine at the time, and on the approach of the king with a numerous company of followers raised himself slightly. Alexander, in an obliging tone, spoke to the philosopher, saying, 'Is there anything, Diogenes, in which I can be of service to you?' 'Nothing,' replied the latter, 'except to stand a little on one side so that you may not keep the sun off me.' Alexander, we are told, was astonished to find his power and majesty so little regarded. His courtiers ridiculed the philosopher, but the king, who saw something great in the contempt of Diogenes for rank and riches, exclaimed, 'If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes.'
Alexander and Diogenes
The number of the troops which Alexander led upon his expedition into Asia was, according to some, thirty thousand foot and five thousand horse; according to others, thirty-four thousand foot and four thousand horse. He was but slenderly furnished with money for the food and pay of his men. Nevertheless, though his resources were so small, he dealt generously with his friends before his army embarked. To one he gave a farm, to another a village, to another the revenue of a town, to another an office of profit, and so on. He thus disposed of nearly all the estates of the crown, and caused one of his courtiers to ask him what he had kept for himself. 'Hope,' said the king. 'In that case,' said the courtier, 'we who are to share in your labours will also share in your hopes.' He therefore refused to take the estates allotted to him, and some others followed his example. In this spirit Alexander and his army crossed the Hellespont.
Meanwhile the generals of King Darius had assembled a great army, which they had posted along the banks of the river Granicus. This army Alexander had to defeat if he was to enter the gates of Asia. Many of his officers were alarmed at the strength of the position they had to attack, for they had to cross a deep river, the banks of which were held by a great force. One of the Macedonian generals also objected that it was too late in the day to attempt to force the passage. Alexander, however, was not to be persuaded. Followed by thirteen troops of horse, he dashed into the stream. His men advanced under a shower of arrows, while the rushing river often bore them down or dashed its waves over them, so that the attempt to cross seemed almost mad. Alexander, nevertheless, held on, and at length by desperate efforts arrived at the opposite bank. There the slippery mud gave but a poor foothold for his horses, and, before the soldiers could form up in order, they were fiercely attacked by the Persians, who charged shouting loudly. Horse against horse, spear against spear, sword against sword, a desperate hand-to-hand combat was waged.
The fight pressed hard upon Alexander, for he was beset by numbers who marked his buckler and the great plume of white feathers upon his helmet. A javelin pierced one of the joints of his breastplate, but he escaped unhurt. Then two officers of great renown attacked him at once. Alexander avoided the blow of the first, and smote the other so shrewd a stroke upon the breastplate that the spear shivered in his hand. Then the king, drawing his sword, pressed upon this antagonist. Meanwhile, the officer whom he had at first avoided, wheeled his horse beside Alexander, and rising in his stirrups smote the king with a battle-axe. So dire was the blow that it sheared off crest and part of the plume, and cut through the helmet even to the hair. But, as the officer was about to repeat the blow, Clitus, the foster-brother of Alexander, ran him through with a spear, and at the same time the king despatched the other adversary.
While this furious combat was waged by the cavalry, the Macedonian phalanx crossed the river, and the infantry then joined in the fight. The resistance of the enemy was now but short. All broke and fled except a body of Greek hireling soldiers in the pay of Persia. These made a stand upon some high ground and sent a message asking for quarter. Alexander, influenced by anger rather than reason, refused, and at once advanced to attack them. He met with a desperate resistance, and his horse, which, however, was not the famed Bucephalus, was killed under him. In this part of the fight Alexander lost more in killed and wounded than in all the rest of the battle, for here he had to do with seasoned soldiers whose courage was heightened by despair. Nevertheless, in the whole battle Alexander lost, it is said, but thirty-four men killed, while the enemy lost twenty thousand foot and two thousand five hundred horse. The king sent the greater part of the spoil to his mother, but, in order that the Greeks might have their share in the glory of the day, he sent them presents of some portions of it.
This victory had a great and immediate effect upon Alexander's prospects. Sardis, the chief pride of the Persian empire upon the seaward side, submitted. All the other cities followed its example, with the exception of two which Alexander stormed.
The victor was now in some doubt as to what course he should pursue: whether by a rapid advance to stake all upon the fate of a single battle with King Darius, or whether to reduce the maritime provinces as a base for future operations. At this time, we are told, he received great encouragement from a strange occurrence. A stream suddenly changed its course and, overflowing its banks, threw up a plate of brass, upon which in ancient characters was inscribed a prophecy that the Persian empire should one day be destroyed by the Greeks. Alexander's hopes were fortified by this event, and he hastened to reduce the whole coast of Asia Minor. When he took the town of Gordium he found there the famous chariot which was fastened by cords made of the bark of the cornel-tree. This 'Gordian knot' was cunningly contrived, the cords being twisted many private ways, and the ends of the cords artfully concealed. Alexander was informed of tradition, firmly believed among the people, that the empire of the world awaited the man who could untie the knot. The king, so most historians say, solved the problem by cutting the knot with his sword, though one writer affirms that he did actually untie it.
By the time Alexander had completed the conquest of the maritime provinces of Asia, King Darius had taken his departure from his town of Susa. He was filled with confidence because of the vast number of soldiers in his army, which mustered six hundred thousand men. He was, moreover, encouraged by a dream which his wise men interpreted in a manner such as they thought would please the king. A still greater encouragement to Darius was given by the long stay which Alexander made in the seaward provinces. The Persian monarch attributed this delay to fear, but it was in truth due to the sickness of Alexander, caused, some say, by the great fatigues of the campaign, or, as others have it, by bathing in the very cold waters of a certain river. His condition was very serious, yet his physicians did not dare to give him any medicines, for they feared that if the king died, as was probable, they would be accused of poisoning him. One physician there was, however, Philip by name, who, though he saw fully the danger to himself, was nevertheless impelled by the desperate condition of the king, and by gratitude for past favours, to attempt the cure. He found Alexander quite ready to submit to his treatment, and indeed anxious to do so, for he burned with impatience to be able to carry on the war.
While the medicine was being prepared, there came a letter from an officer warning Alexander to beware of Philip, who, so the writer affirmed, had been prevaHed upon by Darius by the promise of presents of vast value and the hand of the Persian king's daughter in marriage, to poison his master. Alexander, without showing the letter to any other person, put it under his pillow.
The time for the trial of the medicine having come, Philip, with the king's friends, entered the sick-chamber bearing the cup of medicine in his hands. The king took it from him without any sign of suspicion, and at the same time handed the letter to the physician, so that while the one drained off the draught, the other read the letter. It was indeed a striking situation. The king's countenance, by its open and untroubled expression, showed his confidence in the physician, while Philip's face reflected his indignation at the abominable charge. Protesting his fidelity, he threw himself down by the king's bedside, beseeching his master to be of good courage and to trust in his care. The medicine was indeed of so powerful a nature that the king lay a long time speechless and insensible from its effects. But, after he came to himself, he was soon cured by his faithful physician, and was able to show himself to his Macedonians, who were consumed with anxiety until he was able to come in person among them once more.
There was in the army of Darius a Macedonian fugitive who was well acquainted with the character of Alexander. This fugitive, seeing that Darius was preparing to leave the plains and to march through narrow mountain passes in quest of Alexander, implored the Persian monarch to remain where he was, so that in the open plains he might have the full advantage of his vast superiority in numbers. Darius objected that if he did so, the enemy would fly without coming to action, and that Alexander would thus escape him. 'If that is your only uneasiness,' replied the Macedonian, 'you may dismiss it from your mind. Be assured that Alexander will come to seek you, and that he is, indeed, already on the march.'
Darius, however, would not listen to these representations. He pressed on to meet Alexander, while the Macedonian king advanced by another way. Thus it happened that the armies passed one another in the night, and both therefore turned back. Darius now strove to recover his former camp, and to disengage his army from its difficult position. He was by this time conscious of his mistake in moving into a region hemmed in between the mountains and the sea, and so intersected by streams as to be impracticable for cavalry. Moreover, the broken nature of the ground prevented the vast host of Persian foot-soldiers from acting except in small divided parties. Alexander rejoiced at the good fortune which enabled him to meet the enemy in a position so favourable to his smaller forces, and hastened to attack Darius before the Persians could emerge into open country. But if fortune favoured Alexander as to the scene of the battle, his own skilful arrangement of his forces contributed still more to the victory which he gained. As his army was very small compared with the Persian host, he took great care to prevent it from being surrounded. He threw out his right wing beyond the enemy's left. There he fought in person in the foremost ranks, and put the Persians to flight. He was, however, wounded in the thigh. According to one writer, he sustained the wound in hand-to-hand fight with Darius. Alexander himself, however, in an account which he gave of the battle, does not mention by whom the injury was inflicted. He merely states that he received a sword-wound in the thigh, and that it had no serious consequences.
A hundred and ten thousand of the enemy were slain. The victory was a signal one, and only the capture of Darius was lacking to its completeness. The Persian king escaped narrowly, having a start of his pursuers of about half a mile. Alexander captured his chariot and his bow and returned with them to his Macedonians. He found the troops loading themselves with the plunder of the Persian camp. They had reserved for their master the tent of Darius, in which he found officers of the household in splendid attire, rich furniture and much gold and silver. As soon as he had taken off his armour, he proposed to refresh himself in the bath of Darius. 'Say rather,' said one of his friends, 'in the bath of Alexander, for the goods of the conquered belong to the conqueror.' Alexander looked round upon the golden basins, vases and vessels of various kinds, the splendid furniture of the apartments, and inhaled the air heavy with fragrant odours. As yet the young king scorned such luxury, and in contempt said, 'This it seems it is to be a Persian king.'
As Alexander was sitting down to table, word was brought to him that the mother, the wife and the two daughters of Darius were among the prisoners. The royal captives had seen the chariot and bow of the Persian king, and, concluding that he was dead, had broken out into loud lamentations. Alexander sent to inform them that Darius was living. Further, he assured them of his protection. His actions were even more humane than this message. The ladies were provided with rich robes and with many servants, and in all ways treated with the utmost honour and respect.
The young king was, at this time, a man of very temperate life. His indifference to the pleasures of the table was well exemplified by one of his sayings. A certain queen, who was greatly indebted to him, was accustomed to send him every day choice foods, and at last she sent some of her best cooks and bakers to him. Alexander, however, said, 'I have no need of these, for I was supplied with better cooks by my tutor. They are a march before day to prepare for my dinner, and a light dinner to prepare for my supper.' He also added that the same tutor had been accustomed to examine his clothes and the furniture of his chamber to prevent needless or luxurious articles being given to him by his mother.
Nor was Alexander so much addicted to wine as has been supposed. True, he was accustomed, in times of leisure, to sit a long time at table. The time, however, was spent more in talking than in drinking. Moreover, when business called, he was not to be detained by wine or sleep or by any kind of pleasure. This fact is sufficiently shown by the innumerable great actions which crowd his short span of life.
On days of leisure Alexander was accustomed, as soon as he had risen, to sacrifice to the gods. He then took his dinner, and the rest of the day he spent in hunting, or in settling disputes among his troops, or in reading and writing. When he was upon a march which did not require haste, he used to exercise himself upon the way in shooting and in throwing the javelin, or in dismounting from his chariot and mounting again when it was going at full speed. His conversation was more agreeable than that of most princes, for he was by no means lacking in the graces of society. His chief fault in this respect arose from his vanity. He was accustomed not only to boast himself concerning his doings, but also allowed others to flatter him most fulsomely.
After the battle of Issus, Alexander sent to Damascus to seize the stores of Darius which had been left there when the Persians advanced to the battle. He employed the Thessalian cavalry for this purpose, as a reward for their distinguished conduct in the battle. These troops enriched themselves with the booty, nor did the rest of the army go without ample spoil. The Macedonians, having thus once tasted of the treasure and the luxuries of the Persians, hunted for the wealth of their antagonists with the eagerness of hounds following a scent.
Alexander considered it a matter of great importance to subdue the maritime districts before he went further. All places made submission to him except the city of Tyre, which he besieged for seven months. During that time he built great mounds of earth from which his engines cast missiles against the town, and on the seaward side he invested the place with two hundred galleys.
About the middle of the siege he made an expedition against the Arabians who dwelt in the mountains of Anti-Lebanon. There he ran great risk of his life through his anxiety for his teacher Lysimachus, who, in spite of his age and infirmity, insisted upon accompanying him. When they came among the hills and dismounted from their horses in order to proceed upon foot, the infirmity of Lysimachus caused him, and Alexander with him, to lag behind the rest of the party. Night came on, and the enemy was known to be at no great distance, but Alexander would not leave his companion, who by this time was worn out with fatigue and the weight of his years. Thus it happened that while the king was encouraging his old tutor and helping him on, the two became more and more widely separated from the troops. The night was dark and very cold, and Alexander was in some doubt how to proceed. In his perplexity he saw at a distance a number of scattered watch-fires which the enemy had lighted. He resolved to depend upon his swiftness and activity, and upon the boldness by which he was accustomed to extricate his Macedonians from every danger. He ran to the nearest watch-fire, slew two of the soldiers who guarded it, seized a lighted brand, and ran to rejoin his own party. His men soon kindled a huge fire. Many of the enemy, supposing from its size that the fire had been made by a large body of men, fled in alarm, while the few who attacked were driven off with considerable loss. By these means the night was passed in safety.
As for the siege of Tyre, it came to an end in this way. Alexander, on account of the long and severe fatigues which his troops had undergone, permitted most of his soldiers to rest, while only a few were left to keep the Tyrians occupied. At this time one of the soothsayers of the Greeks, having offered sacrifice and inspected the entrails of the victim, boldly declared that they showed that the city would be taken that very month. Those who were standing by laughed his prophecy to scorn, for that very day was the last of the month. The king perceived that the soothsayer was disconcerted by this ridicule. He therefore called out his forces by sound of trumpet, and ordered a much more vigorous assault upon the town than he had intended. At the same time those who had been left behind in camp ran to help their comrades, and so furious was the attack that the Tyrians were forced to yield, and the city was taken that day as the soothsayer had foretold.
One day a casket was brought to Alexander, which appeared to be one of the most curious and valuable things which had been found among the treasures of Darius. The king asked his friends what was most worthy of being kept in such a case. Some said one thing, some another, but Alexander decided the question by saying, 'Of all things the Iliad of Homer is the most worthy.' And indeed, if what the people of Alexandria say be true, Homer was no bad counsellor to him. They tell us that after Alexander had conquered Egypt, he determined to build there a great city to be peopled by Greeks and to be named after himself. Further, it is said that on the advice of his architects he caused the site to be marked out in a certain place, and was preparing to lay the foundations when a wonderful dream caused him to choose another position. He dreamed that a grey-haired man of a very venerable appearance came to him and quoted the lines wherein Homer refers to the Pharian island fronting the mouths of the NHe. Thereupon Alexander left his bed and repaired to Pharos, which at that time was an island lying a little above one of the mouths of the NHe, though later it was connected with the mainland by a causeway. Alexander no sooner saw the place than he perceived how well fitted it was for his purpose. It is a tongue of land, a great lake being on one side, and on the other the sea, which here forms a capacious harbour. These advantages caused Alexander to declare that Homer, in addition to his other admirable qualities, was an excellent architect. He therefore ordered a city to be planned suitable to the conveniences of the ground. For want of chalk, his architects marked out the plan of the city with flour, which answered well enough upon the black soil.
While the king was looking with pleasure upon the design for the city, there suddenly arose from the river and the lake a vast multitude of birds of various kinds. The cloud of birds settled down upon the place, and ate up all the flour which had been used in marking out the lines. Alexander was disturbed by this event, which seemed to him to be an unfavourable omen. His diviners, however, reassured him and encouraged him to proceed with the work. They told him that the occurrence was a sign that the city he was about to build would be blessed with such plenty that it would be able to supply all who came to it from other places.
Alexander left the carrying out of the plan for his city of Alexandria to his architects. Meanwhile he went to visit the temple of Jupiter Ammon. The journey thither was long and laborious, and was, moreover, attended with two great dangers. One of these was the possibility that the supply of water might fail in the midst of the desert which had to be crossed. The other lay in the great sand-storms which sometimes arise in the desert, when the wind raises waves of sand so great that on one occasion, at least, they engulfed an army of full fifty thousand men. When these difficulties were represented to Alexander, he refused to consider them. Fortune had aided him so much that his resolution could not be shaken, and his courage inspired a love of adventure so great that he sought to overcome difficulties of every kind. During his march through the desert, Alexander received such assistance from the divine powers as gave some colour to the idea which was spread abroad that the conqueror was himself of divine descent, being, it was said, the son of Jupiter. In the first place, copious and constant rain fell. Thus the travellers were not only freed from all fear of thirst, but the moistened sand was made firm to the foot, so that they travelled easily and at the same time the air was cleared and cooled.
It is said by some that when Alexander had passed the desert and arrived at the temple, he was received by the oracle as being indeed the son of Jupiter. Certainly, among the barbarians, he assumed a lofty bearing as if convinced of his divine origin. But among the Greeks such claims were but little advanced by him. Indeed, long after this time, when he was wounded by an arrow, he said, 'My friends, this which flows from my wound is mortal blood, and not the ichor which flows in the veins of the immortals.' It appears, then, that Alexander did not believe that he was divine, and that he only made use of the idea in order to increase his power over others.
After his return from Egypt into the country round about Tyre, Alexander did honour to the gods with sacrifices and stately processions. He also entertained the people with music and dancing and with the representation of tragedies, played by the greatest actors and mounted with the most splendid scenery. It was about this time that he received a letter from Darius offering to make peace. The Persian king was willing to cede all the territories lying west of the river Euphrates, to give his daughter to Alexander in marriage, and to pay a ransom of ten thousand talents for the prisoners. When Alexander informed his friends of these proposals, one of them, Parmenio by name, said, 'If I were Alexander, I would accept them.' Thereupon the king replied, 'So would I if I were Parmenio.' The answer which he returned to the proposals was to the effect that if Darius would come and submit, he should have the best of treatment, but if he did not do so, Alexander must set out in quest of him.
Having made this declaration, the king began his march. He was recalled, however, by the news that the wife of Darius was dead, and he returned in order to bury her with the greatest magnificence. He then sent one of her servants to the Persian king to acquaint him with the loss of his consort. Darius loudly lamented the death of his consort in captivity. But when he heard of the honours which Alexander had rendered to her, he admired the noble spirit of the conqueror. Lifting his hands to heaven, he prayed to his gods that he might restore the fortunes of Persia, and in victory display a like spirit to Alexander, but that, if it were decreed that the glory of Persia should now fail, none but Alexander might sit upon his throne.
Alexander subdued all the land on the western side of the Euphrates, and then began his march against Darius, who had taken the field again with an army of a million men. The great battle between the Persian and Macedonian forces is known as the battle of Arbela, though in truth it was fought not at that town, but at a neighbouring village.
The two armies having come in sight of one another, Darius kept his men under arms during the night, and held a general review of the troops by torchlight. Alexander, on the other hand, allowed his troops to rest, while he himself offered sacrifices in front of his tent. The oldest of his friends, Parmenio in particular, were astonished at the vast number of torches which glowed in the enemy's camp, and by the tumult of noise, like the roar of the sea, which arose from it. The sights and sounds plainly showed the vast numbers of men which the Persians had brought into the field, and the Macedonian officers doubted whether their army could withstand the onset of such an army if the battle were fought in daylight. They therefore waited upon Alexander, when he had finished the sacrifice, and advised him to make a night attack upon the enemy, in order that the darkness might hide from his troops the fearful odds against them. Thereupon the king made the famous reply, 'I will not steal a victory.' Some have thought that the answer was inspired by the vanity of a young man. Others, however, regard it as a wise reply, since the speech itself was likely to inspire his troops with confidence, and it was also necessary for Alexander to defeat his enemy in open battle. A victory snatched by night would leave Darius the pretext that he had been defeated through the darkness, just as he had before ascribed his defeat to his being hemmed in between the mountains and the sea, and in his great empire he could easily raise another army. But the defeat of his vast army in open daylight would be the ruin of his hopes, and would utterly break down his spirit.
When his friends had gone, Alexander retired to rest within his tent. He is said to have slept that night much more soundly than usual, so that, when his officers came to attend him, they were surprised to find him still fast asleep. They therefore themselves gave orders for the troops to take their morning repast. Then, the occasion being urgent, Parmenio entered the king's apartment and called him loudly two or three times by name. When Alexander awoke, his officer asked him how he could thus sleep as soundly as though he had already won the victory, whereas he had, indeed, still to fight the greatest battle ever fought in the world. The king smHed and answered, 'Surely we may regard ourselves already as conquerors. Darius now stands to face us, and we should rejoice that we no longer have to pursue him across desolate wastes.' As soon as he had thus replied to Parmenio, Alexander put on his helmet, for in other respects he was already fully armed. He wore a short coat closely girt about him, and over that a breastplate of strongly quilted linen. His helmet was of iron, but polished so that it shone like burnished silver. To this a gorget of the same metal, set with precious stones, was fitted. His sword, the weapon he was accustomed to use in battle, could not be excelled for lightness and fineness of temper. But the belt which he wore in all his fights was more splendid than the rest of his armour, and upon its decoration the utmost skill had been lavished. When drawing up his forces in order of battle or when reviewing them, he spared Bucephalus on account of his age, and used another horse. But he constantly used the famous horse as his charger in battle, and on this occasion he had no sooner mounted him than the signal for battle was given. Before the battle began, Alexander made a speech of some length to the Thessalians and other Greeks in his army. He found that they in their turn strove to add to his confidence, and called loudly to him to lead them against the barbarians. Then shifting his javelin into his left hand, Alexander stretched his right hand to heaven, and called upon the gods to defend and strengthen the Greeks if he indeed were the son of Jupiter.
At that moment the chief soothsayer who, clad in a white robe and wearing a crown of gold, rode by Alexander's side, pointed to the heavens. There the soldiers saw an eagle flying over the king and, as it appeared, directing his course against the enemy. Animated by this sight, they burst into shouts of encouragement; the cavalry charged at full speed, and the infantry rushed like a torrent upon the foe.
In the battle Alexander showed the same calm courage and excellent judgment that he had shown in his answer to Parmenio before the conflict. For the left wing, which was commanded by Parmenio, was almost broken by a charge of the enemy's horse, and at the same time the Macedonian baggage in the rear was attacked. Thereupon Parmenio sent a message to Alexander telling him that his camp and baggage would be taken if he did not at once send troops from the front to the rear to defend them. The message was brought to the king at the moment when he was about to give the right wing, where he commanded in person, the signal to charge. 'Parmenio must be mad,' said he, 'not to remember that the spoils belong to the conquerors, and that the conquered need not concern themselves about their baggage and treasures, since their best hope is an honourable death.'
The fury of the charge of Alexander's right wing broke the barbarian host before the first ranks were well engaged. Alexander pressed hard upon the fugitives, striving to break into the midst of the host where Darius fought in person. For the Persian king could be plainly seen among his royal guards from a distance. He was mounted upon a lofty chariot, and was moreover, readily recognised by his great stature and by the beauty of his features. A numerous body of chosen cavalry stood in close order around the chariot, and appeared ready to receive the attack firmly. But the approach of Alexander was so terrible, as the fugitives were driven back upon those who still stood their ground, that most of the cavalry broke and fled. A few of the best and bravest, however, stood firm and met their deaths in front of the king's chariot. There they fell in heaps, and falling, strove to hinder the pursuit, for even in the pangs of death they grappled with the Macedonians and, lying on the ground, clung to the legs of the horses as they charged over them.
King Darius was now in the most pressing danger. His own troops, placed in front to defend him, were driven back upon him. The wheels of his chariot were half buried among the dead bodies, so that it was almost impossible to turn the chariot round. Moreover, the horses which drew it were mad with fear. They plunged wildly up and down among the heaps of the slain, and were no longer under the control of the charioteer. The king was therefore obliged to leave his chariot and his arms and to escape upon horseback. Probably he would not have escaped at all, had not Parmenio just at this time again sent messengers to Alexander begging him to come to his assistance, as a good part of the enemy's forces opposed to him still held their ground. Some have thought that in this battle the old general Parmenio showed some lack of spirit, whether because age had dulled his courage, or because he felt some jealousy of Alexander's power and arrogance. The king, though vexed at being thus checked in the pursuit, sounded a retreat under pretext of the gathering darkness and his weariness of the carnage. Riding to that part of the field where the issue of the battle had been represented as doubtful, he found that the enemy had by this time been totally defeated and put to flight.
The battle having ended in this manner, the Persian empire appeared to be destroyed, and Alexander was acknowledged King of Asia. The first thing he did was to render thanks to the gods by magnificent sacrifices. Next he made splendid presents of houses, lands and governments to his friends. He then traversed all the provinces of Babylon, which at once submitted to him. In one of these districts the king was particularly struck by the sight of a great gulf of fire from which the flames streamed continuously, as if from an inexhaustible source. Not far from this a flood of naphtha flowed from the ground in such volume that it formed a lake. This liquid is very inflammable. It takes light from a fire at a distance, and all the air between is filled with a sheet of flame. The natives, to show the king the inflammability of this liquid, sprinkled drops of it along the street which led to his lodgings. Then, standing at one end, they applied their torches to the first drops. The flame sped along swifter than thought, and instantly the street was all ablaze.
It happened that an attendant, who waited upon Alexander when he bathed and who anointed him with oil, was often successful in amusing the king. One day he proposed, as a jest, to anoint a boy with the naphtha, saying that if it took fire upon the lad it must indeed be allowed to be an extraordinary substance. The boy readily consented to the test, but as soon as his body was anointed with it, the oil immediately burst into flame. He must have been burnt to death, had it not been that there were many attendants present with vessels of water for the service of the bath. As it was, the flames were put out with great difficulty, and the poor boy felt their effects as long as he lived.
When Alexander took possession of the town of Susa, he found in the king's palace there fifty thousand talents in coined money, besides the royal furniture and other treasures of incalculable value. Among other things there was purple fabric of the value of five thousand talents which, though it had been laid away for a hundred and ninety years, still retained its first freshness and beauty of colour. We are told that amongst their treasures the Persian kings used to put jars filled with water brought from the Nile and the Danube, as a symbol of the extent of their dominions and of their mastery of the world.
The entry into Persia itself was difficult because of the rugged nature of the country. Moreover, the passes were guarded by the bravest of the Persians, in order to protect Darius who had taken refuge there. But a man, half Greek and half Persian by birth, offered his services to Alexander, and showed the king how he might enter the country by taking a roundabout way. The first bodies of the enemy that fell into his hands were slaughtered in vast numbers. Alexander himself tells us that he ordered no quarter to be given, because he thought that such an example of severity would at this time be of service to his affairs. It is said that in Persia he found as much gold and silver coin as he had done at Susa. There were besides such vast stores of other treasures that they loaded ten thousand pairs of mules and five thousand camels.
Alexander wintered at the city of Persepolis and remained there four months, in order to give his troops time to rest and refresh themselves. There he took his seat under a golden canopy upon the throne of the Persian kings. One of his followers, a Corinthian who had been a close friend of Alexander and of his father Philip, wept with joy at the sight. 'How unfortunate are those Greeks,' he exclaimed, 'who have died without beholding Alexander seated on the throne of Darius.'
When the conqueror was on the point of marching again in pursuit of Darius, he gave a great entertainment to his friends. After the company had drunk freely, one of the women who was present, Thais by name, exclaimed, 'I have borne great hardships in wandering about Asia, but this day brings its reward. But how much greater would be my joy if I could set fire to the palaces of Xerxes, the king who laid Athens in ashes. Then should it be said in days to come that even the very women who followed in the train of Alexander were more powerful to avenge Greece upon the Persians than all the Greek generals who lived before him.' The company hailed the speech with applause and shouts of approval, and pressed the king to agree to the proposals. At length he yielded, leapt from his seat, and, with a garland upon his head and a torch in his hand, led the way. The rest followed, shouting joyously and dancing as they went, and spread themselves around the palace. The Macedonian soldiers, when they heard of the frolic, also seized lighted torches and gladly ran to join the revellers. They thought that the burning of the palace showed that Alexander intended to return home, and not to fix his seat finally among the barbarians. Such is the account generally given of the burning of the palace. Some, however, say that it was not done out of a drunken frolic, but after cool consideration. In any case, Alexander soon regretted the act, and gave orders that the fire should be extinguished.
The conqueror was naturally extremely generous, and the vast treasures he had acquired increased his inclinations in this direction. Moreover, he was gracious in his manner of giving, so that his bounty had an irresistible charm. Thus one of his foreign soldiers laid the head of the enemy whom he had slain at the king's feet and said, 'Among our people, sir, a gold cup is the reward for such a present.' 'An empty one, I suppose,' answered the king with a smile, 'but I will give you one filled with good wine, and, moreover, I will drink your health.' One day a Macedonian, who was a poor man, was driving a mule laden with the king's money. The beast fell tired, and the man then took the burden upon his own shoulders. He carried it some distance until he tottered under the weight, and was ready to drop from exhaustion. At that moment Alexander happened to see him, and was informed of the circumstances. 'Bear up a little longer, friend,' cried he, 'and carry it to your own tent, for it is yours.'
He was indeed generally more displeased with those persons who refused his presents than with those who asked for favours. Hence he wrote to one of his friends, saying that he should no longer regard him as a friend if he rejected the marks of his esteem.
He had given nothing to a certain youth who was accustomed to play at ball with him, because the young man had not asked for anything. One day Alexander, the youth and others were playing at ball. The king noticed that when the ball came to the young fellow, he always threw it to others of the party, never to Alexander. 'Why do you not throw the ball to me?' asked the king. 'Because you do not ask for it,' was the answer. The king laughed at the reply, and immediately gave the youth presents of great value.
A certain jester chanced to offend Alexander. Friends interceded for him, and the man himself with tears in his eyes besought forgiveness. At length Alexander consented to pardon him. Thereupon the jester at once said, 'If your majesty really does pardon me, I trust you will give me some substantial proof of it.' And the king did so to the extent of five talents in money.
He found that, on account of the wealth they had gained, his chief officers set no bounds to their luxury. They fed on the most extravagant delicacies, and were profuse in spending in other ways. Thus, one wore silver nails in his shoes, another had many camel loads of a special kind of earth brought from Egypt with which he was rubbed before going into the wrestling-ring, another had hunting-nets many miles in length. Many used rare essences instead of oil after bathing, and had special servants to attend to their baths and others to make their beds. Alexander reproved their falling away from the stern temper of the soldier in the manner of a philosopher. 'It is strange,' said he, 'that you, who have fought so many glorious battles, do not know that labour and exercise woo sleep better than dainty beds. How can you, comparing the Persian mode of life with our Macedonian manners, fail to see that luxury makes men the slaves of pleasure, while toil and labour ennoble them? How can the man whose hands are too delicate to wait upon his own dainty body hope to manage his horse and make his armour glorious? Surely the conquerors should scorn to do as the conquered did; far greater and nobler should their actions be.' Thenceforth, as an example, he exercised himself in war and hunting with less care for his safety than before, and constantly exposed himself to danger and fatigue.
When he marched again against Darius he expected to have to fight another battle. He received intelligence, however, that the king had been treacherously seized by Bessus, one of his own officers, and was held prisoner by him. Alexander then dismissed his Thessalian troops, and sent them home with the present of a large sum of money over and above their pay. With his cavalry he hastened in pursuit of Bessus, who aspired to the sovereignty, in order if possible to rescue Darius from him. The pursuit was long and difficult, and three thousand three hundred furlongs were covered in eleven days. The chief hardship was the scarcity of water, from which the troops suffered more than from fatigue. On one occasion while they were on the march, some Macedonians, who had filled their bottles at a river, came up, bearing the water upon mules. These men saw that the king was greatly distressed by thirst. They at once filled a helmet with water and offered it to him. Alexander asked them for whom they had brought the water. 'For our sons,' they replied, 'but the life of our prince is of more importance to us than the lives of our children.' The king took the proffered helmet, but as he was about to drink, he looked round and saw his horsemen with heads bent forward looking eagerly at the water. He thereupon returned the helmet without drinking. He thanked the people who offered the water, but said, 'If I alone drink, my men will be dispirited.' His cavalry, admiring his self-restraint and unselfishness, broke into loud cries of applause. 'Let us march!' they cried, spurring their horses, 'we are neither tired nor thirsty, and under such a king we feel ourselves more than mortal men.'
All the troops who followed him in his pursuit of Bessus were equally devoted to his cause, but only sixty of them managed to keep up with him until he reached the enemy's camp. There the horsemen rode over treasures of gold and silver that lay scattered about. Then they came to a number of carriages, filled with women and children. Though the charioteers had abandoned them, the horses continued to draw the vehicles along. Alexander's troops pressed on, expecting to find Darius in the leading part of the throng. At length, after eager search, they found him lying in his chariot, pierced with many darts. He was near his end, but had strength enough to ask for water to quench his thirst, and a Macedonian brought the dying king some cold water. He drank and afterwards said 'Friend, the measure of my misfortunes is complete in that I am unable to reward thee for this act of kindness. But Alexander will reward thee, and the gods will reward him for his humanity to my mother, my wife and my children. Tell him that I grasp his hand, for in sign thereof I take thine.' So saying, he took the hand of the Macedonian and immediately expired. When Alexander came up he was deeply concerned at the death of the Persian king, and covered the dead body with his own robe.
Bessus, the murderer of Darius, afterwards fell into the hands of Alexander, and the death of the king was avenged in this manner. Two straight trees were bent towards each other, and a leg of the prisoner fastened to each. Then the trees were released, and as they sprang back violently to their natural positions, the body of Bessus was torn asunder.
The corpse of Darius was embalmed and sent to his mother, and Alexander ordered that it should be given all the honours of a royal funeral.
The king next moved into the region about the Caspian, which appeared to him not less than the Euxine in size, but with waters sweeter to the taste. Here some of the barbarians fell suddenly upon a party of Alexander's men who were leading Bucephalus, and captured him. This provoked the king so much that he sent a herald to threaten them, their women and children with utter extermination if the horse were not returned. But when the barbarians brought back Bucephalus and surrendered to the king, he treated them mercifully, and even paid a ransom for the horse to those who had captured him.
Thence Alexander marched into Parthia. Here he first assumed the dress of the Persian kings whose dominions he had conquered. This he did, either to please his new subjects by conforming in some degree with their customs, or in order to impress his Macedonians with a deeper respect for his dignity. At first he used the dress only before the people of Asia, or among his personal friends within doors. In time, however, he came to wear it in public and during the despatch of business. The sight of their king dressed after the manner of the Asiatics was very distasteful to his Macedonians. However, in view of his other virtues, they thought that he might well be suffered to indulge his vanity without question. Indeed, some indulgence was due to a prince who had endured such hardships, and who, moreover, had but lately been wounded in the leg by an arrow, so that the bone was shattered and splinters of it were taken from the wound, and who had for a time lost his sight through a blow on the back of the neck, and who nevertheless continued to expose himself to every danger. So little did he indulge himself that on one occasion, when he had attacked and routed a body of the enemy, he pursued them for over twelve miles, though he was suffering severely from illness at the time.
He gradually came more and more to adopt the manners of the Asiatics, while at the same time he persuaded them to adopt some of the Macedonian fashions. In this way he hoped to weld the two peoples together. With the same object he chose out thirty thousand boys from among his new subjects, and engaged masters to teach them Greek and to train them to arms after the Macedonian manner. Further, he himself married Roxana, the daughter of one of the enemy's captains. This marriage was entirely a love-match on the king's part, but it nevertheless helped to gain the confidence of his new subjects.
Among the Macedonians Philotas, the son of the old general Parmenio, had great authority. Not only was he valiant and tireless in battle, but no man, except Alexander himself, was more generous or more faithful in friendship. But he was proud and arrogant, and affected a magnificence beyond the condition of a subject. Hence he was exposed to dislike and to suspicion. His father Parmenio warned him, saying, 'My son, be less.' But Philotas would not take warning, and among his friends spoke of all the great actions of the war as having been accomplished by himself and his father. As for Alexander, he was, said Philotas, a mere boy who enjoyed the title of conqueror through the labours of others. These things and other indiscreet sayings were carried from mouth to mouth till they reached the ear of the king. Moreover, about the same time, a certain Macedonian formed a plot against Alexander's life. Some of those who were privy to the plot sought access to the king in order to give information, but they were prevented from seeing him by Philotas. This circumstance confirmed the king's suspicions. Philotas was seized, put to the torture and executed. Immediately after his death Alexander sent orders for the execution of his innocent father, Parmenio. This cruel act struck terror into the hearts of the king's friends. For the old general had shared in nearly all the conquests of King Philip and was the principal, if not the only one, of the old counsellors who had encouraged Alexander in the invasion of Asia. Moreover, upon that expedition he had been followed by three sons. Of these two had been slain in battle, and he himself now unjustly shared the fate of the third.
Not long afterwards the murder of Clitus, the king's foster-brother, happened. He was one of a company who had been feasting with Alexander, and like the king and most of the others, was inflamed with wine. It happened that somebody began to sing some verses ridiculing certain of the Macedonian officers who had lately been beaten by the barbarians. The older friends of the king were greatly offended by the song, but Alexander bade the singer go on. Thereupon Clitus, who was naturally hasty in temper and who had drunk too much wine, burst out, 'It is not right to make a jest among barbarians and enemies of Macedonians, who are better men than the laughers, though they have met with misfortune.' The king answered, 'Clitus pleads his own cause when he calls cowardice misfortune.' Clitus started to his feet and cried, 'Yet it was my cowardice that saved your life from the Persian's sword. And it is by the blood and wounds of the Macedonians that you are grown so great that you disdain your father, Philip, and claim to be the son of Jupiter.'
Alexander was greatly angered by this reply. 'Thus,' he said, 'dost thou talk and stir up the Macedonians to mutiny. Dost thou expect to enjoy long the power to do so?'
'What indeed,' retorted Clitus, 'do we enjoy, and what reward have we for our toils? Do we not envy those who died without seeing Macedonians shut out from access to their king by Medes and Persians?'
The Quarrel between Alexander and Clitus
Clitus went on in this rash manner, and the king retorted with equal bitterness. Thus the quarrel grew until Alexander, angered beyond endurance, hurled a missile at his friend and looked about for his sword. One of his guards had, however, removed it in time, and the company gathered round the king endeavouring to assuage his fury. It was in vain, however. Alexander broke from them, called upon his guards, ordered his trumpeter to sound the alarm, which would have assembled the whole army, and struck him in the face when he found him unwilling to obey.
Meanwhile Clitus, who refused to make any submission, was with difficulty forced out of the room by his friends. Very soon, however, he was mad enough to return by another door, and to shout out the words of the poet:
'Is it thus that Greece repays her warriors? Shall one man claim the conquests won by thousands?'
As he said these words and was putting aside the curtain over the doorway, the king snatched a spear from one of his guards, ran at his foster-brother and thrust him through the body. Clitus fell to the ground, and expired with a groan.
Alexander's rage disappeared immediately. He came to himself and poked round upon his friends, who stood speechless with horror at the deed. Hastily he withdrew the spear from the dead body, and placed it to his own throat. His guards, however, seized his hands, and by force carried him into his own chamber. There for a long time he lay in tears and lamentations and in speechless grief. At length, however, the words of his soothsayer and the exhortations of his philosophers prevaHed upon him to return to the affairs of his dominions.
When Alexander was on the point of setting out upon his expedition to India, he found that his troops were so laden with spoils that they were quite unfit to march. Early in the morning, when they were about to start, he therefore first set fire to his own baggage and that of his friends, and then gave orders that all the rest should be consumed in the same way. Inspired by the king's example, few of his soldiers were displeased at the order, and many received it with applause. All that was not needed was burnt; the rest was shared with those who were in want. This greatly encouraged Alexander in his design. By this time, too, the king had become very severe in punishing disobedience or other offences. He put one of his friends to death for refusing to stay in a fortress of which he had been placed in charge, and with his own hand shot a rebellious Asiatic officer dead with an arrow.
About this time there happened an event that was looked upon as a good omen of the success of Alexander's expedition. A servant who had charge of the king's equipage opened the ground near the river Oxus in order to pitch the king's tent. There at once welled forth a spring of a liquid, which at first was oily and dirty, but afterwards ran perfectly clear, and neither in smell, nor in taste, nor in clearness differed from the real oil of olives, though no olives grow in that country. It seems that Alexander was greatly pleased by this incident. The soothsayers said that it betokened that the enterprise would be hard and difficult, but that its result would be glorious, since the gods give oil to refresh men after their labours. In truth, during this expedition Alexander met with great dangers and received grave wounds, while his army suffered very severely from the lack of food and water and from the climate. The prince indeed was ambitious to prove that courage can triumph over fortune, and that nothing is impossible to the bold and brave. In this spirit his remark was framed on an occasion when he besieged a certain fort situated upon a rock so extremely steep that the summit appeared inaccessible. He inquired of one of his Asiatic officers what the character of the defender was. Being told that he was of a timorous nature, the king remarked, 'Then we can take the fort, for there is no strength in its defence.' In the event, he managed to terrify the defender and to make himself master of the fort.
When he was besieging another fort situated on an equally steep height, he saw among the company marching to the assault a young Macedonian who bore his name, Alexander. 'You must bear yourself gallantly, my friend,' cried the king, 'in order to do justice to your name.' He was told afterwards, and was much concerned at the news, that the young man fell whilst fighting with the most glorious courage.
When Alexander had entered India, the king who ruled the territory between the Indus and the Jhelum came to him and proffered friendship, and his offer was accepted. But when the invader came to the banks of the river Jhelum he found his progress barred by the army of a king named Porus which lined the opposite bank. Alexander himself left an account of his contest with Porus in his letters.
The river Jhelum ran between the two armies and, on the bank opposite Alexander's troops, Porus drew up his elephants to dispute the passage of the stream. In these positions the armies lay for some little time, and every day Alexander caused a great bustle and noise to be made in his camp, so that the enemy might become accustomed to the tumult and less ready to take the alarm. Then, under cover of the darkness of a wild and stormy night, he managed, with a part of his infantry and a chosen body of horse, to reach an island in the stream at some distance from the Indians. While they were upon the island, a most violent storm of wind and rain with terrible lightning and thunder burst upon them. In spite of this awful storm, and in spite of the fact that several of his men were killed before his eyes by the lightning, Alexander pushed on into the stream to gain the opposite bank. But the river, swollen by the rains, had burst its banks on that side and formed a kind of bay. Hence Alexander's troops found the landing very difficult, and the ground broken and undermined by the stream. On this occasion he is said to have uttered the famous saying, 'Will my Athenian friends believe the dangers I have undergone in order that they may be the heralds of my fame?' Thus one writer records, but Alexander himself only tells us that he and his followers quitted their boats, and in full armour waded through water breast-high to the shore.
When his troops were landed, Alexander marched with his horse-soldiers two and a half miles in advance of his infantry. He judged that he could easily beat off an attack if made by the enemy's cavalry only, while if infantry were brought against him his own foot-soldiers would have plenty of time to march up and join in the battle. His judgment proved to be sound. The enemy sent against him a body of a thousand horse and sixty armed chariots. These he easily defeated, capturing the chariots and slaying four hundred of the cavalry. Porus now understood that Alexander himself had passed, and therefore brought up against him the whole Indian army, except such a force as seemed necessary to prevent the crossing of the rest of the Macedonians. Alexander, seeing that the enemy was superior in numbers, and that his centre was strengthened by the elephants, did not choose to make an attack upon that part. He himself fell upon the left wing, while by his orders one of his officers attacked the right. Both wings were broken and rolled back upon the elephants in the centre. There they rallied, and the combat became of a more confused and desperate character. So obstinately was the battle contested that it was not until the eighth hour of the day that the victory was won by the Macedonians.
Most historians say that Porus was a good deal over six feet in height, and that, though he rode on one of the largest elephants, yet such was his height and bulk that he appeared of proportionate size to the animal on which he was seated. His elephant throughout the battle gave extraordinary proofs of sagacity and of care for his master. So long as King Porus was able to fight, the animal defended him with the greatest courage and kept all his assailants at a distance. When, at length, the elephant perceived that the king was ready to sink from the multitude of wounds from darts which he had received, the animal knelt slowly down to prevent his master from falling, and with his trunk drew out every dart from the king's body.
When Porus was taken prisoner, Alexander asked him how he wished to be treated. 'Like a king,' said the Indian prince. 'Is there nothing else you wish to request?' replied Alexander. 'No,' said Porus, 'for everything is included in the word "king." ' Alexander not only restored his dominions to him, but also added some very extensive territories which he had conquered.
In this battle with Porus, Bucephalus received several wounds from which he died some time afterwards. One writer, however, gives another account, and says that the famous horse died of age and fatigue, being by this time thirty years old. Alexander lamented him as much as though he had lost one of his faithful friends. So indeed he regarded him. In the place where Bucephalus was buried, near the river Jhelum, he built a city, which he called Bucephalia in honour of the wonderful steed.
The fierce battle with Porus lessened the ardour of the Macedonians, and caused them to resolve not to advance farther into India. In that fight they had defeated, but with difficulty, an enemy who brought only twenty thousand infantry and two thousand cavalry into the field. They therefore resolutely opposed Alexander when he wished to cross the Ganges, for they were told that the river was four miles broad and a hundred fathoms deep, and that the opposite bank swarmed with a vast army of two hundred thousand foot, eighty thousand horse, eight thousand chariots and six thousand war-elephants.
Alexander was deeply vexed and indignant at the refusal of his men to follow him farther. For a time he shut himself up in his tent and refused to come forth. At length, however, the prayers and remonstrances of his friends and the entreaties of his soldiers prevaHed upon him to show himself again amongst his army. He now, since he was unable to advance farther into India, formed the design of sailing down the river until he reached the ocean. He caused a number of rafts and boats to be made, and upon these his army was carried down the river. On the way he attacked the cities which lay near the stream, and forced them to submit to him. He was, however, very near being killed by a certain people called the Malli, who are said to be the most warlike of the peoples of India. Some of the defenders had been driven from the walls of their city, which he was attacking, by the missiles cast by his soldiers. He was himself the first man to climb the wall, but, immediately he was on the top, the scaling-ladder by which he had climbed broke. The king was now, with but two or three companions, exposed to the darts which the enemy hurled at them from below. In this emergency Alexander poised himself and then suddenly leapt down from the wall into the very midst of the enemy. Fortunately he alighted on his feet and, fortunately too, the enemy were astounded and took the flashing of his arms in the sun as he leapt down for lightning or for some supernatural splendour. They soon recovered themselves, however, and, seeing the king attended only by two of his guards who had leapt down with him, they attacked him hand-to-hand. Alexander fought against overwhelming odds with desperate courage, but he was wounded through his armour by their swords and spears. Then one of the enemy, who stood a little farther off, drew his bow with such strength that the arrow pierced the king's breastplate and entered his ribs. He reeled under the shock, and fell upon his knees.
Thereupon the Indian ran in with his scimitar drawn to despatch the king. The two guards sprang in front of him, but one was at once killed and the other wounded. The latter, however, kept up the fight as well as he could, and meanwhile Alexander struggled to his feet, and struck down his assailant. He was, however, wounded again more than once, and at length he received such a blow upon his neck from a club that he reeled against the wall for support, and stood thus facing the foe. In this strait he was rescued by the Macedonians, who by this time had got into the town. They surrounded their king, and having beaten off his assailants, carried his senseless body to his tent.
Alexander was quite insensible; indeed, it was currently reported in the army that he was dead. With great difficulty his attendants sawed off the shaft of the arrow which stuck in his breast. With equal trouble they took off the breastplate, and they then found that the arrow head, which was of the breadth of three fingers, was firmly embedded in the bone. The king fainted under the operation of withdrawing it, and was on the point of expiring. He recovered after a while, however, but was extremely weak, so that he was for a long time confined to his tent. When he had sufficiently recovered, he was carried on his way in a litter along the waterside. Even in this condition he subdued a large tract of land and many considerable towns.
Alexander took seven months in descending the river to the ocean. There he took ship and saHed to an island, where he landed and sacrificed to the gods. He then prepared to set out on his return. He ordered his admiral Nearchus with the ships and some of the troops to sail along the coast, keeping it upon the right hand, and so return to the Persian Gulf. With the rest of his army Alexander set out to return by land. For sixty days his way led him through an inhospitable country, where his army suffered severely. So many men did he lose that he did not bring back from India more than a fourth part of the army with which he entered it, an army which numbered no less than one hundred and twenty thousand foot and fifteen thousand horse. Disease, bad food and torrid heat destroyed multitudes, while famine played still greater havoc with their numbers. The country was sterile and untilled, and even the natives lived upon wretched fare, for they had no flocks save a few miserable sheep.
Having with great difficulty struggled through this country, the army of Alexander entered Gedrosia (Baluchistan). There the soldiers found provisions in abundance, for not only is the land more fertile in itself, but the princes and great men of the neighbourhood hospitably supplied food. Here Alexander gave his men time to rest and refresh themselves, while he entertained them with feasts and public displays. Afterwards, for seven days, the army continued its march in a riotous procession, as revellers rather than soldiers, through the province bordering the Persian Gulf. The king himself had a platform built upon a magnificent chariot drawn by eight horses, and upon this platform the king and his chief friends revelled night and day. Behind came many other carriages covered with tapestry or hangings of purple or shaded by freshly gathered branches of trees. In these rode the rest of the king's generals and favourites, crowned with flowers and flushed with wine. Throughout the whole army there was scarcely to be seen a shield, a helmet, or a spear. In place of these weapons of war the soldiers bore flagons and goblets and cups, which they filled from huge vessels of wine. Thus the army advanced to the music of flute and trumpet, with song and dance and drunken frolic.
In Gedrosia Alexander was joined by his admiral Nearchus, and received an account of the voyage from the mouth of the Indus. So delighted was the king with the description he received that he formed the great design of sailing himself from the mouth of the Euphrates with a great fleet to circle the coasts of Arabia and Africa, and to return to his dominions by passing into the Mediterranean by way of the Pillars of Hercules. But meanwhile the report of the great difficulties which Alexander had met with in his Indian expedition, and the great losses his army had sustained, had been spread abroad. These reports, together with the expectation that Alexander would never return alive from the sea-voyage which he now contemplated, incited many of his subjects to revolt. Some of his generals and governors, too, for the same reasons, fancied themselves released from the king's authority, and began to display their insolence and greed and to rule unjustly. Indeed, the whole empire was disturbed and ripe for revolt.
In consequence of this unsettled state of affairs, Alexander gave up his project. Having determined to carry war into the maritime provinces, he sent his admiral to sea again, and himself marched to punish his lieutenants. One of these he slew with his own hand. Another he found had laid in no provisions for the army, but had collected three thousand talents in money. The king bade him offer it to the horses, and when they refused it exclaimed, 'Of what use is such a provision to me at this time?' and at once ordered the officer to be taken into custody for his negligence.
When Alexander entered Persia he gave this money to the matrons of the country, after the custom of the Persian kings. Here he found the tomb of the great King Cyrus broken open, and gave orders that the man who had wrought the destruction, though a person of some importance, should be put to death. Alexander was much affected by the inscription upon the tomb, which set forth vividly the uncertainty and transitory nature of earthly greatness. He ordered the epitaph, which was in the Persian language, to be inscribed also in the Greek tongue upon the tomb. It was as follows: 'I am Cyrus, the founder of the Persian empire. O man! whosoever thou art, envy me not the little space of earth that covers my body.'
Here, too, at a great feast which he gave to his friends and officers, Alexander promised that the one who should drink the most wine should be crowned as a victor. The man who carried off the prize by drinking a prodigious quantity survived the debauch but three days. Others, we are told, drank to such excess that forty-one of them died in consequence.
When Alexander arrived at the town of Susa, he married his chief officers to Persian ladies of high rank, with the purpose of uniting the Macedonian and Persian peoples, and himself set the example by taking the daughter of Darius as a second wife. Moreover, he also gave a great entertainment to those Macedonians who had already married Persian women. It is said that no less than nine thousand guests sat down to the banquet, yet such was the king's magnificence, that to each one he presented a golden cup. Indeed, he even paid the debts of his guests, so that the whole cost of the entertainment reached a stupendous sum. Among those who claimed the king's bounty was a veteran officer, who falsely declared that he was in debt for such and such a sum. The king paid the amount, but afterwards discovering the fraud, dismissed the offender from the court, and deprived him of his rank in the army. There was no fault to be found with this man as a soldier, and he had indeed lost an eye in circumstances in which he displayed great courage and fortitude; for, when as a youth he was serving at a siege under King Philip, the father of Alexander, he was wounded in the eye by a dart shot from one of the engines of war. In spite of his wound, he would not quit the field, nor even suffer the dart to be withdrawn, until he had helped to repulse the enemy, and driven them back into the town. The old soldier was now so overwhelmed with shame and despair at the disgrace which he had brought upon himself that it was feared that he would take his own life. To prevent this the king not only forgave him but also ordered him to keep the money.
Alexander was greatly delighted with the progress of the thirty thousand Persian boys whom he had left under proper masters for their training, and whom he now found grown handsome in looks, and active and skilful in their military exercises. The favour which he showed to them and to other Persians excited, however, the jealousy of his Macedonians. They complained that the king neglected them after their great services. The anger of Alexander at this mutinous spirit, however, brought them back to their obedience, and they besought forgiveness. The king after a time relented; those who were too old for service were indeed sent home, but they were loaded with presents. Alexander ordered further that, when they arrived in their native land, honour should be paid to them in the theatres and public places. He commanded, moreover, that the pay of those who had died in his service should be continued to their children.
When Alexander came into Media and had despatched urgent affairs of business, he gave himself up to the celebration of games and festivities. But in the midst of these rejoicings and carousings his chief friend and favourite, Hephaestion, fell sick of a fever. In his illness the young officer could ill brook the low diet that suited his condition. Taking advantage of the absence of his physician at the theatre, he ate a hearty meal and drank a flagon of ice-cold wine. As a consequence of this excess he grew rapidly worse, and in a few days died.
The grief of Alexander at this event passed all reason. He caused the wretched physician to be crucified. The horses and mules he ordered to be shorn, and the battlements of neighbouring cities to be pulled down in sign of mourning. For a long time he forbade the sound of the flute and of all manner of music in his camp. This extravagant mourning continued until he received an oracle which enjoined him to revere his dead friend and to sacrifice to him as a demi-god. In order to do this, Alexander made an expedition against a neighbouring people. Having conquered them, he put all the males above the age of boyhood to the sword. This terrible slaughter he called a sacrifice to the soul of his dead favourite.
When the king was advancing towards Babylon he was met by his admiral Nearchus, who had saHed up the river Euphrates after completing his expedition upon the ocean. The admiral informed his sovereign that certain wise men had come to him, and strongly urged that Alexander should not enter the city of Babylon. The king, however, neglected the warning, and continued his march. Soon, however, he was disturbed by signs which he took to be unfavourable omens. As he drew near the walls of the city, he saw a number of crows fighting, some of which fell dead at his feet. He learnt also that the governor of Babylon had consulted the gods concerning him, and that the omens foretold something terrible. Moreover, one of the largest and finest of the lions that were kept in the town was kicked to death by an ass. On another occasion a man, dressed in the royal robes and wearing the regal diadem, was found sitting in profound silence upon the throne of Alexander. The man was put to death, but the strange event, added to the other signs and portents, greatly disturbed the mind of the king. He became the prey of despair and of suspicion, and gave way to the most violent outbursts.
Now that he had once given himself up to superstition, his mind was so disturbed by vain fears and imaginings that he turned the slightest event, if at all unusual, into a sign and a portent, and his court was crowded with sacrificers and soothsayers. However, having received some favourable oracles, he to some extent recovered his spirits and gave himself up once more to feasts and entertainments.
One day he made a great feast to his admiral Nearchus. Afterwards, according to his wont, he went to refresh himself in the bath before retiring to rest. In the meantime, however, there came one of his friends to invite him to a carousal. Alexander would not refuse him. At his friend's table the king drank all that night and the next day. The debauch brought on a fever from which, after lying ill some ten days, the mighty conqueror died.