ALEXANDER THE GREAT CLAIMS PERSIA AND BABYLON AND CHASES AFTER DARIUS

DARIUS FLEES AS THE PERSIANS ARE ROUTED


Darius's flight after Gaugamela

When it became clear that the forces of Alexander the Great were going to defeat the Persians at the Battle of Gaugamela, Darius III, the Persian king, fled. Plutarch wrote: “Darius seeing all was lost, that those who were placed in front to defend him were broken and beat back upon him, that he could not turn or disengage his chariot without great difficulty, the wheels being clogged and entangled among the dead bodies, which lay in such heaps as not only stopped, but almost covered the horses, and made them rear and grow so unruly, that the frighted charioteer could govern them no longer, in this extremity was glad to quit his chariot [204] and his arms, and mounting, it is said, upon a mare that had been taken from her foal, betook himself to flight. But he had not escaped so either, if Parmenio had not sent fresh messengers to Alexander, to desire him to return and assist him against a considerable body of the enemy which yet stood together, and would not give ground. For, indeed, Parmenio is on all hands accused of having been sluggish and unserviceable in this battle, whether age had impaired his courage, or that, as Callisthenes says, he secretly disliked and envied Alexander’s growing greatness. Alexander, though he was not a little vexed to be so recalled and hindered from pursuing his victory, yet concealed the true reason from his men, and causing a retreat to be sounded, as if it were too late to continue the execution any longer, marched back towards the place of danger, and by the way met with the news of the enemy’s total overthrow and flight.” [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ]

Arrian wrote: “Darius went on fleeing without taking any rest, he did not find him at Arbela. However the money and all the other property were captured, as was also the chariot of Darius. His spear and bow were likewise taken, as had been the case after the battle of Issus. Of Alexander’s men about were killed, and more than , of his horses were lost either from wounds or from fatigue in the pursuit, nearly half of them belonging to the Companion cavalry. Of the foreigners there were said to have been about , slain, and far more were taken prisoners than were killed. The elephants and all the chariots which had not been destroyed in the battle were also captured. Such was the result of this battle, which was fought in the archonship of Aristophanes at Athens, in the month Pyanepsion; and thus Aristander’s prediction was accomplished, that Alexander would both fight a battle and gain a victory in the same month in which the moon was seen to be eclipsed.” [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“Immediately after the battle, Darius marched through the mountains of Armenia towards Media, accompanied in his flight by the Bactrian cavalry, as they had then been posted with him in the battle; also by those Persians who were called the king’s kinsmen, and by a few of the men called apple-bearers. About , of his Grecian mercenaries also accompanied him in his flight, under the command of Paron the Phocian, and Glaucus the Aetolian. He fled towards Media for this reason, because he thought Alexander would take the road to Susa and Babylon immediately after the battle, inasmuch as the whole of that country was inhabited and the road was not difficult for the transit of baggage; and besides Babylon and Susa appeared to be the prizes of the war; whereas the road towards Media was by no means easy for the march of a large army.”

Websites on Ancient Greece: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia hsc.edu/drjclassics ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization pbs.org/empires/thegreeks ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Ancient-Greek.org ancientgreece.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Ancient City of Athens stoa.org/athens; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Ancient Greek Sites on the Web from Medea showgate.com/medea ; Greek History Course from Reed web.archive.org; Classics FAQ MIT rtfm.mit.edu; 11th Brittanica: History of Ancient Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ;Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu;Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu

Darius — Alexander's Flawed Persian Rival


Alexander's route in Persia after Gaugamela

Darius III Codommanus (335-331 B.C.) reconquered Egypt but was unable to withstand the tremendous military power of the new Greek-Macedonian forces led by Alexander the Great. Under him, the Hellenization of the Near East, already well under way, was to be greatly accelerated.

Arrian wrote: ““This king was a man pre-eminently effeminate and lacking in self-reliance in military enterprises; but as to civil matters he never exhibited any disposition to indulge in arbitrary conduct; nor indeed was it in his power to exhibit it. For it happened that he was involved in a war with the Macedonians and Greeks at the very time he succeeded to the regal power; and consequently it was no longer possible for him to act the tyrant towards his subjects, even if he had been so inclined, standing as he did in greater danger than they. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“As long as he lived, one misfortune after another was accumulated upon him; nor did he experience any cessation of calamity from the time when he first succeeded to the rule. At the beginning of his reign the cavalry defeat was sustained by his viceroys at the Granicus, and forthwith Ionia Aeolis, both the Phrygias, Lydia, and all Caria except Halicarnassus were occupied by his foe; soon after, Halicarnassus also was captured, as well as all the littoral as far as Cilicia. Then came his own discomfiture at Issus, where he saw his mother, wife, and children taken prisoners.

“Upon this Phoenicia and the whole of Egypt were lost; and then at Arbela he himself fled disgracefully among the first, and lost a very vast army composed of all the nations of his empire. After this, wandering as an exile from his own dominions, he died after being betrayed by his personal attendants to the worst treatment possible, being at the same time king and a prisoner ignominiously led in chains; and at last he perished through a conspiracy formed of those most intimately acquainted with him. Such were the misfortunes that befell Darius in his lifetime; but after his death he received a royal burial; his children received from Alexander a princely rearing and education, just as if their father had still been king; and Alexander himself became his son-in-law. When he died he was about fifty years of age."

Alexander the Great Claims Babylon

In less than five years Alexander had defeated the mighty Persians. From Gaugamela Alexander marched his troops victoriously into Babylon, with its gardens and walls, which according to legend were 300 foot high and wide enough to accommodate two chariots riding abreast. Along the way he picked up 15,000 Greek reinforcements.

Plutarch wrote: “This battle being thus over, seemed to put a period to the Persian empire; and Alexander, who was now proclaimed king of Asia, returned thanks to the gods in magnificent sacrifices, and rewarded his friends and followers with great sums of money, and places, and governments of provinces. And eager to gain honor with the Grecians, he wrote to them that he would have all tyrannies abolished, that they might live free according to their own laws, and specially to the Platæans, that their city should be rebuilt, because their ancestors had permitted their countrymen of old to make their territory the seat of the war, when they fought with the barbarians for their common liberty. He sent also part of the spoils into Italy, to the Crotoniats, to honor the zeal and courage of their citizen Phayllus, the wrestler, who, in the Median war, when the other Grecian colonies in Italy disowned Greece, that he might have a share in the danger, joined the fleet at Salamis, with a vessel set forth at his own [205] charge. So affectionate was Alexander to all kind of virtue, and so desirous to preserve the memory of laudable actions.[Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ]

Arrian wrote: “When Alexander started from Arbela, he advanced straight towards Babylon; and when he was now not far from that city, he drew up his army in order of battle and marched forward. The Babylonians came out to meet him in mass, with their priests and rulers, each of whom individually brought gifts, and offered to surrender their city, citadel, and money. Entering the city, he commanded the Babylonians to rebuild all the temples which Xerxes had destroyed, and especially that of Belus, whom the Babylonians venerate more than any other god. He then appointed Mazaeus viceroy of the Babylonians, Apollodorus the Amphipolitan general of the soldiers who were left behind with Mazaeus, and Asclepiodorus, son of Philo, collector of the revenue.

“He also sent Mithrines, who had surrendered to him the citadel of Sardis, down into Armenia to be viceroy there. Here also he met with the Chaldaeans; and whatever they directed in regard to the religious rites of Babylon he performed, and in particular he offered sacrifice to Belus according to their instructions. He then marched away to Susa; and on the way he was met by the son of the viceroy of the Susians, and a man bearing a letter from Philoxenus, whom he had despatched to Susa directly after the battle. In the letter Philoxenus had written that the Susians had surrendered their city to him, and that all the money was safe for Alexander.”


Alexander enters Babylon


Alexander’s Army Loots the Treasure of Susa, the Persian Capital

After a month's rest Alexander army moved on to Susa, the Persian capital, the home of a grand palace with a golden throne and 100-column hall. Arrian wrote: “In twenty days the king arrived at Susa from Babylon; and entering the city he took possession of the money, which amounted to , talents, as well as the rest of the royal property. Many other things were also captured there, which Xerxes brought with him from Greece, especially the brazen statues of Harmodius and Aristogeiton. These Alexander sent back to the Athenians, and they are now standing at Athens in the Ceramicus, where we go up into the Acropolis, right opposite the temple of Rhea, the mother of the gods, not far from the altar of the Eudanemi. Whoever has been initiated in the mysteries of the two goddesses at Eleusis, knows the altar of Eudanemus which is upon the plain.

“At Susa Alexander offered sacrifice after the custom of his fathers, and celebrated a torch race and a gymnastic contest; and then, leaving Abulites, a Persian, as viceroy of Susiana, Mazarus, one of his Companions, as commander of the garrison in the citadel of Susa, and Archelaüs, son of Theodorus, as general, he advanced towards the land of the Persians. He also sent Menes down to the sea, as governor of Syria, Phœnicia, and Cilicia, giving him , talents of silver to convey to the sea, with orders to despatch as many of them to Antipater as he might need to carry on the war against the Lacedaemonians. There also Amyntas, son of Andromenes, reached him with the forces which he was leading from Macedonia; of whom Alexander placed the horsemen in the ranks of the Companion cavalry, and the foot he added to the various regiments of infantry, arranging each according to nationalities. He also established two companies in each squadron of cavalry, whereas before this time companies did not exist in the cavalry; and over them he set as captains those of the Companions who were pre-eminent for merit.”

At the grand palace in Susa, Alexander collected almost 3,000 tons in coins, bullion, gold and silver vessels and jewels (worth perhaps billions in today's dollars). It was one of the richest hordes ever taken. Afterwards Alexander unleashed his soldiers, who formed a drunken mob and burned the palaces of Xerxes to the sound of flutes and songs in revenge against the burning of Athens 150 years before. They also looted art and valuables and killed any male Persians that crossed their path. Great tapestries were placed on the beams of the great palace to set that on fire. Alexander “accidently” burned down Persepolis in 330 B.C. To carry the treasure of gold, silver and jewels and other goodies back to Greece reportedly required 10,000 mules and 500 camels.

Plutarch wrote: “At the taking of Susa, Alexander found in the palace forty thousand talents in money ready coined, besides an unspeakable quantity of other furniture and treasure; amongst which was five thousand talents’ worth of Hermionian purple, that had been laid up there an hundred and ninety years, and yet kept its color as fresh and lively as at first. The reason of which, they say, is that in dyeing the purple they made use of honey, and of white oil in the white tincture, both which after the like space of time preserve the clearness and brightness of their lustre. Dinon also relates that the Persian kings had water fetched from the Nile and the Danube, which they laid up in their treasuries as a sort of testimony of the greatness of their power and universal empire. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ]


Looting Persian treasures


Subjugation of the Uxians

Arrian wrote: “He now set out from Susa, and, crossing the river Pasitigris, invaded the country of the Uxians. Some of these people who inhabit the plains were under the rule of the viceroy of the Persians, and on this occasion surrendered to Alexander; but those who are called the mountaineers were not in subjection to the Persians, and at this time sent word to Alexander that they would not permit him to march with his forces into Persis, unless they received from him as much as they were in the habit of receiving from the king of the Persians for the passage through their mountains. He sent the messengers back with instructions to come to the defiles, the possession of which made them think that the passage into Persis was in their power, promising them that they should there receive from him the prescribed toll. He then took the royal body-guards, the shield-bearing infantry, and , men from the rest of his army, and, under the guidance of the Susians, marched by night along a different road from the frequented one. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“Advancing by a route rough and difficult, on the same day he fell upon the villages of the Uxians, where he captured much booty and killed many of the people while still in their beds; but others escaped into the mountains. He then made a forced march to the defiles, where the Uxians resolved to meet him in mass in order to receive the prescribed toll. But he had already previously despatched Craterus to seize the heights, to which he thought the Uxians would retire if they were repelled by force; and he himself went, with great celerity, and got possession of the pass before their arrival. He then drew up his men in battle array, and led them from the higher and more commanding position against the barbarians.

“They, being alarmed at Alexander’s celerity, and finding themselves deprived by stratagem of the position in which they had especially confided, took to flight without ever coming to close combat. Some of them were killed by Alexander’s men in their flight, and many lost their lives by falling over the precipices along the road; but most of them fled up into the mountains for refuge, and falling in with Craterus, were destroyed by his men. Having received these gifts of honour from Alexander, they with difficulty, after much entreaty, procured from him the privilege of retaining possession of their own land on condition of paying him an annual tribute. Ptolemy, son of Lagus, says that the mother of Darius, on their behalf, entreated Alexander to grant them the privilege of inhabiting the land. The tribute agreed upon was a hundred horses, five hundred oxen, and , sheep a year; for the Uxians had no money, nor was their country fit for tillage; but most of them were shepherds and herdsmen.”


Uxian defile


Defeat of Ariobarzanes and Capture of Persepolis

Arrian wrote: “After this, Alexander despatched Parmenio with the baggage, the Thessalian cavalry, the Grecian allies, the mercenary auxiliaries, and the rest of the more heavily armed soldiers, to march into Persis along the carriage road leading into that country. He himself took the Macedonian infantry, the Companion cavalry, the light cavalry used for skirmishing, the Agrianians, and the archers, and made a forced march through the mountains. But when he arrived at the Persian Gates, he found that Ariobarzanes, the viceroy of Persis, with , infantry and cavalry, had built a wall across the pass, and had pitched his camp there near the wall to block Alexander’s passage. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“Then indeed he pitched his camp there; but next day he marshalled his army, and led it up to the wall. When it was evident that it would be difficult to capture it on account of the rugged nature of the ground, and as many of his men were being wounded, the enemy assailing them with missiles from engines of war placed upon higher ground, which gave them an advantage over their assailants, he retreated to his camp. He was informed by the prisoners that they could lead him round by another route, so that he might get to the other end of the pass; but when he ascertained that this road was rough and narrow, he left Craterus there at the camp with his own brigade and that of Meleager, as well as a few archers and cavalry, with orders that when he perceived he had got right round and was approaching the camp of the Persians (which he could easily perceive, because the trumpets would give him the signal), he should then assault the wall. Alexander advanced by night, and travelling about stades, he took the shield-bearing guards, the brigade of Perdiccas, the lightest armed of the archers, the Agrianians, the royal squadron of cavalry Companions, and one regiment of cavalry besides these, containing four companies; and wheeling round with these troops, he marched towards the pass in the direction the prisoners led him.

“He ordered Amyntas, Philotas, and Coenus to lead the rest of the army towards the plain, and to make a bridge over the river which one must cross to go into Persis. He himself went by a route difficult and rough, along which he nevertheless marched for the most part at full speed. Falling upon the first guard of the barbarians before daylight, he destroyed them, and so be did most of the second; but the majority of the third guard escaped, not indeed by fleeing into the camp of Ariobarzanes, but into the mountains as they were, being seized with a sudden panic. Consequently He fell upon the enemy’s camp at the approach of dawn without being observed. At the very time he began to assault the trench, the trumpets gave the signal to Craterus, who at once attacked the advanced fortification. The enemy then, being in a state of confusion from being attacked on all sides, fled without coming to close conflict; but they were hemmed in on all hands, Alexander pressing upon them in one direction and the men of Craterus running up in another. Therefore most of them were compelled to wheel round and flee into the fortifications, which were already in the hands of the Macedonians. For Alexander, expecting the very thing which really occurred, had left Ptolemy there with three thousand infantry; so that most of the barbarians were cut to pieces by the Macedonians at close quarters. Others perished in the terrible flight which ensued, hurling themselves over the precipices; but Ariobarzanes himself, with a few horsemen, escaped into the mountains.

“Alexander now marched back with all speed to the river, and finding the bridge already constructed over it, he easily crossed with his army. Thence he again continued his march to Persepolis, so that he arrived before the guards of the city could pillage the treasury. He also captured the money which was at Pasargadae in the treasury of the first Cyrus, and appointed Phrasaortes, son of Rheomithres, viceroy over the Persians. He burnt down the Persian palace, though Parmenio advised him to preserve it, for many reasons, and especially because it was not well to destroy what was now his own property, and because the men of Asia would not by this course of action be induced to come over to him, thinking that he himself had decided not to retain the rule of Asia, but only to conquer it and depart. But Alexander said that he wished to take vengeance on the Persians, in retaliation for their deeds in the invasion of Greece, when they razed Athens to the ground and burnt down the temples. He also desired to punish the Persians for all the other injuries they had done the Greeks. But Alexander does not seem to me to have acted on this occasion with prudence; nor do I think that this was any retributive penalty at all on the ancient Persians.”

Alexander Sets Off After Darius


Persepolis

The only loose end that needed to be tied was the capture of Darius. Alexander's army then headed north, moving at an astounding pace of 36 miles a day. At the Caspian gates in the Elburz Mountains (near Tehran) Alexander caught up with Darius. By this time the Persian so feared Alexander that many soldier, according the historian Arrian, "threw themselves over the cliffs."

Plutarch wrote: “He now, as we said,* set forth to seek Darius, expecting he should be put to the hazard of another battle, but heard he was taken and secured by Bessus, upon which news he sent home the Thessalians, and gave them a largess of two thousand talents over and above the pay that was due to them. This long and painful pursuit of Darius, for in eleven days he marched thirty-three hundred furlongs, harassed his soldiers so that most of them were ready to give it up, chiefly for want of water. While they were in this distress, it happened that some Macedonians who had fetched water in skins upon their mules from a river they had found out, came about noon to the place where Alexander was, and seeing him almost choked with thirst, presently filled an helmet and offered it him. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ]

“The entrance into Persia* was through a most difficult country, and was guarded by the noblest of the Persians, Darius himself having escaped further. Alexander, however, chanced to find a guide in exact correspondence with what the Pythia had foretold when he was a child, that a lycus† should conduct him into Persia. For by such an one, whose father was a Lycian, and his mother a Persian, and who spoke both languages, he was now led into the country, by a way something about, yet without fetching any considerable compass. Here a great many of the prisoners were put to the sword, of which himself gives this account, that he commanded them to [208] be killed in the belief that it would be for his advantage. Nor was the money found here less, he says, than at Susa, besides other movables and treasure, as much as ten thousand pair of mules and five thousand camels could well carry away.

“Amongst other things he happened to observe a large statue of Xerxes thrown carelessly down to the ground in the confusion made by the multitude of soldiers pressing into the palace. He stood still, and accosting it as if it had been alive, “Shall we,” said he, “neglectfully pass thee by, now thou art prostrate on the ground, because thou once invadedst Greece, or shall we erect thee again in consideration of the greatness of thy mind and thy other virtues?” But at last, after he had paused some time, and silently considered with himself, he went on without taking any further notice of it. In this place he took up his winter quarters, and stayed four months to refresh his soldiers. It is related that the first time he sat on the royal throne of Persia, under the canopy of gold, Demaratus, the Corinthian, who was much attached to him and had been one of his father’s friends, wept, in an old man’s manner, and deplored the misfortune of those Greeks whom death had deprived of the satisfaction of seeing Alexander seated on the throne of Darius.”

Darius Pursued into Media and Parthia


fleeing Darius

Arrian wrote: “After bringing these matters to a successful issue, he advanced towards Media; for he ascertained that Darius was there. Now Darius had formed the resolution, if Alexander remained at Susa or Babylon, to stay there among the Medes, in order to see if any change of policy were made by Alexander. But if the latter marched against him, he resolved to proceed into the interior towards Parthia and Hyrcania, as far as Bactria, laying waste all the land and making it impossible for Alexander to advance any further. He therefore sent the women and the rest of the property which he still retained, together with the covered carriages, to what were called the Caspian Gates; but he himself stayed at Ecbatana, with the forces which had been collected from those who were at hand. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“Hearing this, Alexander advanced towards Media, and invading the land of the Paraetacae, he subdued it, and appointed Oxathres, son of Abulites, the former viceroy of Susa, to rule as viceroy. Being informed on the march that Darius had determined to meet him for battle, and to try the fortune of war again (for the Scythians and Cadusians had come to him as allies), he ordered that the beasts of burden, with their guards and the rest of the baggage, should follow; and taking the rest of his army, he led it in order of battle, and on the twelfth day arrived in Media. There he ascertained that the forces of Darius were not fit for battle, and that his allies, the Cadusians and Scythians, had not arrived; but that he had resolved to flee. He therefore marched on with still greater speed; and when he was only three days’ journey from Ecbatana, he was met by Bistanes, son of Ochus, who reigned over the Persians before Darius. This man announced that Darius had fled five days before, taking with him , talents of money from the Medes, and an army of , cavalry and , infantry.

“When Alexander reached Ecbatana, be sent the Thessalian cavalry and the other Grecian allies back to the sea, paying them the full hire which had been stipulated, and making them an additional donation from himself of , talents. He issued an order that if any man of his own accord wished still to continue to serve for hire with him, he should enlist; and those who enlisted in his service were not a few. He then ordered Epocillus, son of Polyeides, to conduct the rest down to the sea, taking other cavalry as a guard for them, since the Thessalians sold their horses there. He also sent word to Menes to take upon himself the duty of seeing that they were conveyed in triremes to Euboea, when they arrived at the sea. He instructed Parmenio to deposit the money which was being conveyed from Persis in the citadel at Ecbatana, and to band it over to the charge of Harpalus; for he had left this man over the money with a guard of , Macedonians and a few horsemen and light-armed infantry to take care of it. He told Parmenio himself to take the Grecian mercenaries, the Thracians, and all the other horsemen except the Companion cavalry, and march by the land of the Cadusians into Hyrcania. He also sent word to Clitus, the commander of the royal squadron of cavalry, who had been left behind at Susa ill, that when he arrived at Ecbatana from Susa he should take the Macedonians who had been left there in charge of the money, and go in the direction of Parthia, where also he himself intended soon to arrive.”

Alexander Watches People Set Themselves on Fire After Bathing in Bitumen


burning bitumen

Plutarch wrote: In Ecbatan — an ancient city in Media in western Iran — Alexander “was much surprised at the sight of the place where fire issues in a continuous stream, like a spring of water, out of a cleft in the earth, and the stream of naphtha, which, not far from this spot, flows out so abundantly as to form a sort of lake. This naphtha, in other respects resembling bitumen, is so subject to take fire, that before it touches the flame, it will kindle at the very light that surrounds it, and often inflame the intermediate air also. The barbarians, to show the power and nature of it, sprinkled the street that led to the king’s lodgings with little drops of it, and when it was almost night, stood at the further end with torches, which being applied to the moistened places, the first at once taking fire, instantly, as quick as a man could think of it, it caught from one end to another, in such a manner that the whole street was one continued flame.

“Among those who used to wait on the king and find occasion to amuse him when he anointed and washed himself, there was one Athenophanes, an Athenian, who desired him to make an experiment of the naphtha upon Stephanus, who stood by in the bathing place, a youth with a ridiculously ugly face, whose talent was singing well, “For,” said he, “if it take hold of him and is not put out, it must undeniably be allowed to be of the most invincible strength.” The youth, as it happened, readily consented to undergo the [206] trial, and as soon as he was anointed and rubbed with it, his whole body broke out into such a flame, and was so seized by the fire, that Alexander was in the greatest perplexity and alarm for him, and not without reason; for nothing could have prevented his being consumed by it, if by good chance there had not been people at hand with a great many vessels of water for the service of the bath, with all which they had much ado to extinguish the fire; and his body was so burned all over, that he was not cured of it a good while after.

And thus it is not without some plausibility that they endeavor to reconcile the fable to truth, who say this was the drug in the tragedies with which Medea anointed the crown and veil which she gave to Creon’s daughter. For neither the things themselves, nor the fire could kindle of its own accord, but being prepared for it by the naphtha, they imperceptibly attracted and caught a flame which happened to be brought near them. For the rays and emanations of fire at a distance have no other effect upon some bodies than bare light and heat, but in others, where they meet with airy dryness, and also sufficient rich moisture, they collect themselves and soon kindle and create a transformation. The manner, however, of the production of naphtha admits of a diversity of opinion* . . . . . . or whether this liquid substance that feeds the flame does not rather proceed from a soil that is unctuous and productive of fire, as that of the province of Babylon is, where the ground is so very hot, that oftentimes the grains of barley leap up, and are thrown out, as if the violent inflammation had made the earth throb; and in the extreme heats the inhabitants are wont to sleep upon skins filled with water. Harpalus, who was left governor of this country, and was desirous to adorn the palace gardens and walks with [207] Grecian plants, succeeded in raising all but ivy, which the earth would not bear, but constantly killed. For being a plant that loves a cold soil, the temper of this hot and fiery earth was improper for it. But such digressions as these the impatient reader will be more willing to pardon, if they are kept within a moderate compass.”

March through the Caspian Gates


walls in Derbent, Russia, the site of the Caspian gates

Arrian wrote: “Then taking the Companion cavalry, the light cavalry used for skirmishing, the Greek mercenary cavalry, under the command of Erigyius, the Macedonian phalanx, except the men who had been placed in charge of the money, the archers, and the Agrianians, he marched against Darius. In the forced march which he made, many of his soldiers were left behind, worn out with fatigue, and many of the horses died. He nevertheless pressed on, and on the eleventh day arrived at Rhagae. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“This place is distant from the Caspian Gates one day’s journey to one marching as Alexander did. But Darius had already passed through this defile before Alexander came up, though many of those who were his companions in flight deserted him on the way and retired to their own abodes. Many also surrendered to Alexander. The latter now gave up the hope of capturing Darius by close pursuit, and remained there five days to give his troops repose. He appointed Oxodates a Persian, who had the ill fortune to be arrested by Darius and shut up at Susa, to the office of viceroy of Media; for this treatment was an inducement to Alexander to rely on his fidelity. He then marched towards Parthia; and on the first day encamped near the Caspian Gates, which he passed through on the second day as far as the country was inhabited. Hearing that the country further on was desert, he resolved to procure a stock of provisions from the place where he was encamped, and accordingly sent Coenus out on a foraging expedition with the cavalry and a small body of infantry.”

Assassination of Darius by Bessus

Arrian wrote: “At this time Bagistanes, one of the Babylonian nobles, came to him from the camp of Darius, accompanied by Antibelus, one of the sons of Mazaeus. These men informed him that Nabarzanes, the commander of the cavalry which accompanied Darius in his flight, Bessus, viceroy of Bactria, and Barsaëntes, viceroy of the Arachotians and Drangians, had jointly arrested the king. When Alexander heard this, he marched with still greater speed than ever, taking with him only the Companions and the skirmishing cavalry, as well as some of the foot-soldiers selected as the strongest and lightest men. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]


Darius found dead

“He did not even wait for Coenus to return from the foraging expedition; but placed Craterus over the men left behind, with instructions to follow in short marches. His own men took with them nothing but their arms and provisions for two days. After marching the whole night and till noon of the next day, he gave his army a short rest, then went on again all night, and when day began to break reached the camp from which Bagistanes had set out to meet him; but he did not catch the enemy. However, in regard to Darius, he ascertained that be had been arrested and was being conveyed in a covered carriage; that Bessus possessed the command instead of Darius, and had been nominated leader by the Bactrian cavalry and all the other barbarians who were companions of Darius in his flight, except Artabazus and his sons, together with the Grecian mercenaries, who still remained faithful to Darius; but they, not being able to prevent what was being done, had turned aside their march from the public thoroughfare and were marching towards the mountains by themselves, refusing to take part with Bessus and his adherents in their enterprise.

“He also learnt that those who had arrested Darius had come to the decision to surrender him to Alexander, and to procure some advantage for themselves, if they should find that Alexander was pursuing them; but if they should learn that he had gone back again, they had resolved to collect as large an army as they could and to preserve the rule for the commonwealth. He also ascertained that for the present Bessus held the supreme command, both on account of his relationship to Darius and because the war was being carried on in his viceregal province. Hearing this, Alexander thought it was advisable to pursue with all his might; and though his men and horses were already quite fatigued by the incessant severity of their labours, he nevertheless proceeded, and, travelling a long way all through the night and the next day till noon, arrived at a certain village, where those who were leading Darius had encamped the day before.

Hearing there that the barbarians had decided to continue their march by night, he inquired of the natives if they knew any shorter road to the fugitives. They said they did know one, but that it ran through a country which was desert through lack of water. He nevertheless ordered them to show him this way, and perceiving that the infantry could not keep up with him if he marched at full speed, he caused of the cavalry to dismount from their horses; and selecting the officers of the infantry and the best of the other foot-soldiers, he ordered them to mount the horses armed just as they were. He also directed Nicanor, the commander of the shield-bearing guards, and Attalus, commander of the Agrianians, to lead their men who were left behind, by the same route which Bessus had taken, having equipped them as lightly as possible; and he ordered that the rest of the infantry should follow in regular marching order. He himself began to march in the afternoon, and led the way with great rapidity. Having travelled stades in the night, he came upon the barbarians just before daybreak, going along without any order and unarmed; so that few of them rushed to defend themselves, but most of them, as soon as they saw Alexander himself, took to flight without even coming to blows. A few of those who turned to resist being killed, the rest of these also took to flight. Up to this time Bessus and his adherents were still conveying Darius with them in a covered carriage; but when Alexander was already close upon their heels Nabarzanes and Barsaëntes wounded him and left him there, and with horsemen took to flight. Darius died from his wounds soon after, before Alexander had seen him.”

Alexander Finally Finds Darius — Dead

Darius was finally found, abandoned and shackled and accompanied only by a loyal dog in cart pulled by wounded oxen. He reportedly had been stabbed by his own generals and died after a sympathetic Greek soldier gave him some water. Plutarch wrote: "When Alexander came up, he showed his grief and distress at the king's death, and unfastened his own cloak, he threw it over the body."

When Alexander encountered some Persians, Plutarch wrote: “He asked them to whom they were carrying the water; they told him to their children, adding, that if his life were but saved, it was no matter for them, they should be able well enough to repair that loss, though they all perished. Then he took the helmet into his hands, and looking round about, when he saw all those who were near him stretching their heads out and looking earnestly after the drink, he returned it again with thanks without tasting a drop of it, “For,” said he, “if I alone should drink, the rest will be out of heart.” The soldiers no sooner took notice of his temperance and magnanimity upon this occasion, but they one and all cried out to him to lead them forward boldly, and began whipping on their horses. For whilst they had such a king, they said, they defied both weariness and thirst, and looked upon themselves to be little less than immortal. But though they were all equally cheerful and willing, yet not above threescore horse were able, it is said, to keep up, and to fall in with Alexander upon the enemy’s camp, where they rode over abundance of gold and silver that lay scattered about, and passing by a great many chariots full of women that wandered here and there for want of drivers, they endeavored to overtake the first of those that fled, in hopes to meet with Darius among them.


Alexander cloaks Darius's body

“And at last, after much trouble, they found him lying in a chariot, wounded all over with darts, just at the point of death. However, he desired they would give him some drink, and when he had drunk a little cold water, he told Polystratus, who gave it him, that it had become the last extremity of his ill fortune, to receive benefits and not be able to return them. “But Alexander,” said he, “whose kindness to my mother, my wife, and my children [216] I hope the gods will recompense, will doubtless thank you for your humanity to me. Tell him, therefore, in token of my acknowledgment, I give him this right hand,” with which words he took hold of Polystratus’s hand and died. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ]

When Alexander came up to them, he showed manifest tokens of sorrow, and taking off his own cloak, threw it upon the body to cover it. And sometime afterwards, when Bessus was taken, he ordered him to be torn in pieces in this manner. They fastened him to a couple of trees which were bound down so as to meet, and then being let loose, with a great force returned to their places, each of them carrying that part of the body along with it that was tied to it. Darius’s body was laid in state, and sent to his mother with pomp suitable to his quality. His brother Exathres, Alexander received into the number of his intimate friends.”

Arrian wrote: “Alexander sent the body of Darius into Persis, with orders that it should be buried in the royal sepulchre, in the same way as the other Persian kings before him had been buried. He then proclaimed Amminaspes, a Parthian, viceroy over the Parthians and Hyrcanians. This man was one of those who with Mazaces had surrendered Egypt to Alexander. He also appointed Tlepolemus, son of Pythophanes, one of the Companions, to guard his interests in Parthia and Hyrcania. Such was the end of Darius, in the archonship of Aristophon at Athens, in the month Hecatombaion. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

With the conquest of Persia complete, Alexander now was King Persia as well as Macedonia, and controlled western Asia. Modern Iranians blame Alexander for the decline of the Persian empire. Even today they call him "Alexander the Accursed."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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