Part 2 (Alexander)

Despite Alexander’s expectations of an ambush, Babylon readily surrendered to him. He rested his army there for over a month, indulging in the city’s luxury. Before leaving, Alexander surprised many by reinstating Mazaeus as the satrap–a surprise since the general had battled against Alexander just a month before. There were practical reasons for Alexander’s decision, as he wanted to win the support of Iranians in neighboring states. The decision also reflects Alexander’s vision for the empire, which included cooperation and the peaceful incorporation of the Persians.

Again, the Macedonians proceeded to win over city by city, including the very prosperous Susa, usually without a fight. Alexander then set his sights on Persis, and in particular its capital Persepolis, one of the most venerated Persian cities, whose loss would be devastating to Darius. At the entrance to Persis, Alexander faced an impenetrable wall held by Ariobarzanes, the province’s satrap. The wall had been constructed so that only a frontal attack was possible, yet efforts to this end proved futile.

However, Alexander once again had the good fortune to find a Persian prisoner who offered to show a path that would allow Alexander’s forces to come out behind the Persian wall. The difficult twelve-mile path took almost two days, but the ambush left the surrounded Persians helpless. Despite his recent restraint, Alexander allowed the plundering of the city, and even participated in the burning of the city palaces himself. Though Alexander received condemnation for this indulgence, his behavior here did have one ironic side effect. Persepolis, which was never rebuilt, became a ghost town, and today it serves as a rich source for archaeologists and one of the few non-Greek sources for Persian history. Between Babylon, Susa, and Persepolis, Alexander had accumulated about 180,000 talents–estimated at approximately forty-four million pounds sterling by the 1913 standard. In comparison, Athens, the wealthiest Greek city-state at the time, had a total revenue of only 400 talents annually.

Alexander’s hunt for Darius continued, but was halted with the shocking news broke that Darius had been deposed. Darius had always had rivals in the nobility, and the weakness revealed by Alexander’s invasion had increased Darius’s unpopularity considerably. The revolt against him was led by Nabarzanes and Bessus, who assumed the title of Great King. They placed Darius in chains and headed for Bactria, where Alexander now planned to meet them. Darius allegedly refused to mount a horse, and his awkward wagon slowed down the escape, so the conspirators ran him through with javelins and left him to die. When Alexander came upon the dead king, he sent the body to be buried with full honors at Persepolis, where the other Persian kings were buried. Although Alexander is said to have been moved by the site of Darius’s dead body, the murder was convenient for Alexander; taking the king alive would have given the opposition reason to remain hopeful, while executing him would have alienated all of Persia. With Darius dead, Alexander became the undisputed ruler of Persia.

Alexander soon turned his attention again to domestic difficulties, one of which was the powerful influence wielded by Parmenion. Though the general himself was old, Alexander continued to resent his influence over the army, and he had reason to fear the ambitions of Parmenion’s family. By a series of coincidences, Alexander was able to implicate Parmenion’s son Philotas in a conspiracy, though the only real offense was that Philotas did not immediately report a conspiratorial incident he uncovered and dismissed as ludicrous. The trial of Philotas, which traditionally took place before the army, was a farce, and Philotas’s solid defense was soundly rejected. Philotas was then tortured until he implicated his father. The son was stoned to death the next day, the father assassinated shortly afterward. These murders, along with the murders of several other potential rivals, though unjust, gave Alexander an even tighter grip on the kingdom.

With the death of Darius, the Macedonians thought the war was over. The remote territories had little to offer economically. As the Iranians had been reluctant to acknowledge a ruler of their own race, they could be expected to be even more resistant to Alexander’s conquest, so that large garrisons would be required to maintain power. Alexander, however, wanted to continue pressing east, using Bessus as an excuse. Bessus was still out stirring trouble, as he attempted to raise an army to defend the old empire. However, discord arose among his own faction, and soon Bessus was ousted by Spitamenes, who gladly surrendered him to Alexander. Bessus was forced to wear a wooden collar, the mark of a slave, while Spitamenes was praised by Alexander. Bessus would later be mutilated, having his nose and ears cut off before being executed.

The capture of Bessus, however, did not mean the end of the revolt as Alexander had thought. Instead, the leaders of Sogdiana had hoped that turning Bessus over would gain them immunity; when it became evident that Alexander still intended to subjugate their territory, they rose once again. When Alexander continued on, Spitamenes raised troops who slaughtered the Macedonian garrisons. Alexander was therefore forced to return to the city of Cyropolis, the center of the revolt. As he usually dealt with cities that refused to submit, he razed and massacred Cyropolis.

In the meantime, Spitamenes continued to stir trouble in other areas, so Alexander sent a small troop, led by Pharnuches, to take care of the situation. Pharnuches underestimated Spitamenes considerably. Spitamenes successfully lured Pharnuches to another territory where Spitamenes obtained further support, leaving the Macedonians surrounded. It is reported that not a single Macedonian escaped death in what was perhaps the first–and only–major defeat of Alexander’s career. Though the blame falls largely on Pharnuches and his ineptitude, Alexander himself failed to appreciate the strength of Spitamenes’ force, and his error in calculation was the ultimate cause of this defeat.

Spitamenes fled with his troops when Alexander’s army made for their direction, but the fact remained that Spitamenes controlled most of Sogdiana. Alexander appointed Coenus, one of his generals, to supervise the rebel’s activity while the Macedonians rested for the winter of 328 B.C. As Alexander and Coenus were secured more cities, Spitamenes was left without bases and means of provisioning. He therefore decided to round his troops up to make one great assault. Unfortunately for Spitamenes, Coenus was well prepared and defeated the rebels soundly. The Sogdianians deserted Spitamenes, and he was beheaded. Nevertheless, he is often remembered as Alexander’s most formidable opponent, having won a major victory over the Macedonians and having harassed them for over two years–though in a full battle he never could have defeated them.

With the Sogdianian region taken care of, Alexander moved south to Paraetacene, which was still under the control of four powerful barons. The first of these, Oxyartes, had established a stronghold at the top of a steep mountain, and he was fully confident of its impenetrability. Alexander chose 300 of his best rock-climbers to undertake the mission, with the promise of generous reward. Although about thirty fell to their deaths, the remaining 270 startled Oxyartes’ followers and forced surrender without a struggle.

The daughter of Oxyartes, Roxane, was widely considered the most beautiful woman in Asia, and Alexander took her as his wife. Most historians agree that he likely did not care for Roxane much more than he did for any other woman who was not his mother, but he hoped his gesture would generate goodwill among the barons of the Far East and cause the campaign to be concluded more smoothly. Indeed, one baron submitted on Oxyartes’ recommendation, and the other two were defeated soon after.

Alexander’s experience in the Far East was a significant period in his career. He founded a number of cities in the area in order to maintain his authority. But while the purpose of these cities was military, they also contributed to the spread of Greek culture to new lands. Alexander’s experience of Asia also changed him personally. Whether because he gained a respect for Persian abilities or simply because he had indulged in the region’s luxury, Alexander no longer maintained an absolute belief in Persian inferiority. He had married a Persian woman and he had supported the authority of many Persian satraps cooperatively, despite formally conquering them.

Alexander’s new attitude toward Persia alienated many of the conservative Macedonian nobles, who, like Aristotle and Philip, still viewed Persians as barbaric. Two men in particular suffered for their opposition. Cleitus, one of Alexander’s old friends, made the mistake of speaking his mind during a banquet where most attendants were intoxicated. Although Alexander had suspected Cleitus of treasonous thoughts, he did not intend to lose his temper and murder the man in full view of the public, as he did. Afterward, Alexander was filled with great remorse–would not eat or drink for three days–cursing himself as a murderer.

Callisthenes, the official historian of the Persian expedition, was also under suspicion. Like his uncle, Aristotle, Callisthenes viewed all Persians with contempt and disliked Alexander’s change of attitude. Alexander had recently instituted a new policy requiring subjects to prostrate themselves before his feet. Though such a practice was standard for Iranians, it seemed blasphemous to Greeks, who showed such respect only to the gods. Nevertheless, Alexander’s goal was to emphasize that he was king both of Macedonia and Asia. Callisthenes failed to comply and refused to prostrate himself, whether purposely or not. Alexander, noting the light applause that accompanied Callisthenes’ insubordination, realized that an example would have to be made. Before long, Alexander had an opportunity to indict Callisthenes in a conspiracy in which one of Callisthenes’ students had been involved–though, as in Philotas’s case, the link was extremely dubious. Callisthenes was executed and immediately achieved martyr status, particularly among Aristotle’s school at Lyceum. It remains unclear whether Alexander was justly protecting himself from potential conspirators or unnecessarily removing harmless opponents. In any case, his severity did contribute to the preservation of his rule.


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