On the far side of the Euphrates, a Persian commander, Mazaeus, with
3,000 calvary, 2,000 Greek mercenaries, and other infantry held a
defensive position. But on the advance of Alexander he withdrew on
the main Persian road down the Euphrates, probably in the hope that
Alexander would pursue and run short of supplies. Alexander
completed his two bridges, brought his troops and supply-train
across, and waited for some days, perhaps misleading Mazaeus about
his intentions. Then he marched northeastward along the Armenian
foothills to obtain pasture for his horses, use local supplies and
avoid the great heat; for he had to feed some 47,000 men and perhaps
some 20,000 horses and mules. The two armies were completely out of
touch with one another for some six weeks during which the
Macedonians made incursions into Armenia. Alexander was the first to
capture some opponents who revealed that Darius's plan was to capture
the Tigris. 'Alexander went in haste towards the Tigris'; he crossed
its fast-flowing waters with difficulty at an undefended point, for
he was higher up river than Darius had expected. While the army
waited for the supply train, the moon was eclipsed on the evening of
September 20, 331. Alexander restored confidence by sacrificing to
the deities who caused the eclipse - Moon, Sun, and Earth - and
Aristander announced that the eclipse portended victory over Persia
in the present month. Moving south through fertile country Alexander
captured some Persian cavalrymen and learned that Darius was in a
prepared position not far off. He halted for four days to 'rest his
men', fortified a base camp with a ditch and a palisade, and placed
in it his sick and a supply train.
Hammond proves to be one of the more meticulously written sources to
read for an understanding of the realities that Alexander faced in
transporting his army across the Asian countryside. With 47,000 men
who many authors claim that Alexander knew by name and could
recognize at once any of them, it is amazing to believe that
Alexander had recruited so many after each and every battle. Who can
believe that all these men at this point were simply from Macedonia?
When one considers the kind of baggage that each mule carried on its
back, the number of horses that had to be kept not only fed, but
freed from lameness and damaged hooves, one cannot help but realize
that Alexander had to recruit more than just soldiers, but also men
who could simply groom and handle the horses and mules. Not everyone
in this camp was a militant, but along with the pack were scientists,
architects, medics, and naturally, the good old cooks to feed this
And every soldier had to double as a construction worker when
building bridges, altars, and temples to worship the deities. No
wonder they were so muscular and strong, as they were laborers in
the field when not training for the battles that lay ahead.
The discipline of this army is extraordinary, and the single unifying
force is always the personality and character of the leader,
Alexander. His personal magnetism, his optimism, his deep interest
in his soldiers made him venerable. His constant attention to
serving the gods with his sacrifices proved to be a talisman of good
luck. The gods never deserted him for his devotion to them.
In understanding how the Macedonians trained their horses, it must be
remembered that they pushed them to the limits, so that these horses
had to be treated and handled with great care. Everything depended
upon them for the success of each and every mission, no matter how
great or how small. When one realizes the speed that many times
Alexander and his calvary accomplished, one must know that the horses
were carefully maintained to achieve this. While Bucephalus is
singled out as Alexander's horse, all the others were just as
important and just as well cared and tended.
Alexander's mind is what is interesting to me in Hammond's study. He
had his men rest for four days. Again, the pack mules and the horses
required constant rest as well.
Another point that Hammond does make is that Alexander was successful
twice to capture the enemy and learn of his position. What is most
important is understanding that these captured soldiers gave truthful
answers when questioned. And what became of them? Do they join his
army? Are they held as prisoners of war?
And finally, the emphasis upon Aristander who is taken literally and
positively when he announces that the eclipse is a good omen, and
that it means that the Macedonians will win the battle. Is this
confidence building? Superstition? Was he simply a true seer?
Fortunately, most of his advice and portents are nearly always
correct...no wonder Alexander became so reliant upon his advice...
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