ALEXANDER THE GREAT BATTLES SOGDIANS AND SCYTHIANS
In the mountains areas of Central Asia and present-day Pakistan, Alexander’s armies met fierce resistance from the Sogdians (also known as the Dogdians) and their allies the Masagates (a Saka clan), who retreated to the mountainous areas of the kingdoms and waged guerilla war that halted Alexander's progress for 18 months.
In the Karakorum range, Alexander's men used pitons and ropes to assault a supposedly impregnable fortress built into the side of a cliff by the Sogdians at the Rock of Aornos near modern Pir Sar. The soldiers in the fortress had the previous day laughed: "No one can touch us." When Alexander's force had taken their positions he said: "Come see my flying soldiers." The Dogdians in the fortress eventually surrendered and Alexander claimed Roxanne, the daughter of a nobleman, for his wife. Roxanne was reportedly around 12 and Alexander was reportedly quite taken by her beauty. The Rock of Aornos is believed to somewhere in the Hissar mountains but its exact location is unknown.
Arrian wrote: “Alexander supplied his cavalry with horses from that district, for many of his own horses had perished in the passage of the Caucasus and in the march to and from the Oxus. He then led his army to Maracanda, which is the capital of the land of the Sogdians. Thence he advanced to the river Tanais. This river, which Aristobulus says the neighbouring barbarians call by a different name, Jaxartes, has its source, like the Oxus, in mount Caucasus, and also discharges itself into the Hyrcanian Sea. It must be a different Tanais from that of which Herodotus the historian speaks, saying that it is the eighth of the Scythian rivers, that it flows out of a great lake in which it originates, and discharges itself into a still larger lake, called the Maeotis. . [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]
“There are some who make this Tanais the boundary of Europe and Asia, saying that the Palus Maeotis, issuing from the furthest recess of the Euxine Sea, and this river Tanais, which discharges itself into the Maeotis, separate Asia and Europe, just in the same way as the sea near Gadeira and the Nomad Libyans opposite Gadeira separates Libya and Europe. Libya also is said by these men to be divided from the rest of Asia by the river Nile. In this place (viz. at the river Tanais), some of the Macedonians, being engaged in foraging, were cut to pieces by the barbarians. The perpetrators of this deed escaped to a mountain, which was very rugged and precipitous on all sides. In number they were about ,. Alexander took the lightest men in his army and marched against these. Then the Macedonians made many ineffectual assaults upon the mountain. At first they were beaten back by the missiles of the barbarians, and many of them were wounded, including Alexander himself, who was shot right through the leg with an arrow, and the fibula of his leg was broken. Notwithstanding this, he captured the place, and some of the barbarians were cut to pieces there by the Macedonians, while many also cast themselves down from the rocks and perished; so that out of , not more than , were preserved.”
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
Alexander Encounters the Scythians
“Envoys reached Alexander from the people called Abian Scythians, whom Homer commended in his poem, calling them the justest of men. This nation dwells in Asia and is independent, chiefly by reason of its poverty and love of justice. Envoys also came from the Scythians of Europe, who are the largest nation dwelling in that continent. Alexander sent some of the Companions with them, under the pretext indeed that they were to conclude a friendly alliance by the embassy; but the real object of the mission was rather to spy into the natural features of the Scythian land, the number of the inhabitants and their customs, as well as the armaments which they possessed for making military expeditions. He formed a plan of founding a city near the river Tanais, which was to be named after himself; for the site seemed to him suitable and likely to cause the city to grow to large dimensions. He also thought it would be built in a place which would serve as a favourable basis of operations for an invasion of Scythia, if such an event should ever occur; and not only so, but it would also be a bulwark to secure the land against the incursions of the barbarians dwelling on the further side of the river.
“Moreover he thought that the city would become great, both by reason of the multitude of those who would join in colonizing it, and on account of the celebrity of the name conferred upon it. Meantime the barbarians dwelling near the river seized upon the Macedonian soldiers who were garrisoning their cities and killed them; after which they began to strengthen the cities for their greater security. Most of the Sogdians joined them in this revolt, being urged on to it by the men who had arrested Bessus. These men were so energetic that they even induced some of the Bactrians to join in the rebellion, either because they were afraid of Alexander, or because their seducers assigned as a reason for their revolt, that he had sent instructions to the rulers of that land to assemble for a conference at Zariaspa, the chief city; which conference, they said, would be for no good purpose.”
Alexander Captures Five Cities in Two Days
Arrian wrote: “When Alexander was informed of this, he gave instructions to the infantry, company by company, to prepare the ladders which were assigned to each company. He then started from the camp and advanced to the nearest city, the name of which was Gaza; for the barbarians of the land were said to have fled for refuge into seven cities. He sent Craterus to the one called Cyropolis, the largest of them all, into which most of the barbarians had gathered. The orders of Craterus were to encamp near the city, to dig a trench round it, to surround it with a stockade, and to fix together the military engines which were required for use, so that the men in this city, having had their attention drawn to his forces, might be unable to render aid to the other cities. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]
“As soon as Alexander arrived at Gaza, without any delay he gave the signal to his men to place the ladders against the wall all round and to take it by assault at once, as it was made merely of earth and was not at all high. Simultaneously with the assault of the infantry, his slingers, archers, and javelin-throwers assailed the defenders on the wall, and missiles were hurled from the military engines, so that the wall was quickly cleared of its defenders by the multitude of the missiles. Then the fixing of the ladders against the wall and the mounting of the Macedonians were matters soon effected. They killed all the men, according to Alexander’s injunctions; but the women, the children, and the rest of the booty they carried off as plunder. Thence he immediately marched to the city situated next to that one; and this he took in the same way and on the same day, treating the captives in the same manner.
“Then he marched against the third city, and took it on the next day at the first assault. While he was thus occupied by these matters with the infantry, he sent out his cavalry to the two neighbouring cities, with orders to guard the men within them closely, so that when they heard of the capture of the neighbouring cities, and at the same time of his own near approach, they should not betake themselves to flight and render it impossible for him to pursue them. It turned out just as he had conjectured; and his despatch of the cavalry was made just at the nick of time. For when the barbarians who occupied the two cities still uncaptured, saw the smoke rising from the city in front of them which was then on fire, (and some men, escaping even from the midst of the calamity itself, became the reporters of the capture which they had themselves witnessed,) they began to flee in crowds out of the cities as fast as each man could; but falling in with the dense body of cavalry drawn up in array of battle, most of them were cut to pieces.”
Revolt of the Scythians
Arrian wrote: “Having thus captured the five cities and reduced them to slavery in two days, he went to Cyropolis, the largest city in the country. It was fortified with a wall higher than those of the others, as it had been founded by Cyrus. The majority of the barbarians of this district, and at the same time the most warlike of them, had fled for refuge thither, and consequently it was not possible for the Macedonians to capture it so easily at the first assault. Wherefore Alexander brought his military engines up to the wall with the determination of battering it down in this way, and of making assaults wherever breaches might be made in it. When be observed that the channel of the river, which flows through the city when it is swollen by the winter rains, was at that time nearly dry and did not reach up to the wall, and would thus afford his soldiers a passage by which to penetrate into the city, he took the body-guards, the shield-bearing guards, the archers, and Agrianians, and made his way secretly into the city along the channel, at first with a few men, while the barbarians had turned their attention towards the military engines and those who were assailing them in that quarter. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]
“Having from within broken open the gates which were opposite this position, he gave an easy admittance to the rest of his soldiers. Then the barbarians, though they perceived that their city was already in the hands of the enemy, nevertheless turned against Alexander and his men and made a desperate assault upon them, in which Alexander himself received a violent blow on the head and neck with a stone, and Craterus was wounded with an arrow, as were also many other officers. Notwithstanding this, however, they drove the barbarians out of the market-place. Meantime, those who had made the assault upon the wall, took it, as it was now void of defenders. In the first capture of the city about , of the enemy were killed. The rest fled for refuge into the citadel; for , warriors in all had gathered together in the city. Alexander encamped around these and besieged them for one day, and then they surrendered through lack of water. The seventh city he took at the first assault.
“Ptolemy says that the men in it surrendered; but Aristobulus asserts that this city was also taken by storm, and that he slew all who were captured therein. Ptolemy also says that he distributed the men among the army and ordered that they should be kept guarded in chains until he should depart from the country, so that none of those who had effected the revolt should be left behind. Meantime an army of the Asiatic Scythians arrived at the bank of the river Tanais, because most of them had heard that some of the barbarians on the opposite side of the river had revolted from Alexander. They intended to attack the Macedonians, if any revolutionary movement worthy of consideration were effected. News was also brought that Spitamenes was besieging the men who had been left in the citadel at Maracanda. Against him Alexander then despatched Andromachus, Menedemus, and Caranus with sixty of the Companion cavalry, of the mercenary cavalry under the command of Caranus, and , mercenary infantry. Over them he placed Pharnuches the interpreter, who, though by birth a Lycian, was skilled in the language of the barbarians of this country, and in other respects appeared clever in dealing with them.”
Defeat of the Scythians Beyond the Tanais
Arrian wrote: “In twenty days he fortified the city which he was projecting, and settled in it some of the Grecian mercenaries and those of the neighbouring barbarians who volunteered to take part in the settlement, as well as the Macedonians from his army who were now unfit for military service. He then offered sacrifice to the gods in his customary manner and celebrated an equestrian and gymnastic contest. When he saw that the Scythians were not retiring from the river’s bank, but were seen to be shooting arrows into the river, which was not wide here, and were uttering audacious words in their barbaric tongue to insult Alexander, to the effect that he durst not touch Scythians, or if he did, he would learn what was the difference between them and the Asiatic barbarians, he was irritated by these remarks, and having resolved to cross over against them, he began to prepare the skins for the passage of the river. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]
“But when he offered sacrifice with a view to crossing, the victims proved to be unfavourable; and though he was vexed at this, he nevertheless controlled himself and remained where he was. But as the Scythians did not desist from their insults, he again offered sacrifice with a view to crossing; and Aristander told him that the omens still portended danger to himself. But Alexander said that it was better for him to come into extreme danger than that, after having subdued almost the whole of Asia, he should be a laughing-stock to the Scythians, as Darius, the father of Xerxes, had been in days of yore. Aristander refused to explain the will of the gods contrary to the revelations made by the deity simply because Alexander wished to hear the contrary. When the skins had been prepared for the passage, and the army, fully equipped, had been posted near the river, the military engines, at the signal pre-concerted, began to shoot at the Scythians riding along the river’s bank. Some of them were wounded by the missiles, and one was struck right through the wicker-shield and breastplate and fell from his horse. The others, being alarmed at the discharge of missiles from so great a distance, and at the death of their champion, retreated a little from the bank.
“But Alexander, seeing them thrown into confusion by the effect of his missiles, began to cross the river with trumpets sounding, himself leading the way; and the rest of the army followed him. Having first got the archers and slingers across, he ordered them to sling and shoot at the Scythians, to prevent them approaching the phalanx of infantry stepping out of the water, until all his cavalry had passed over. When they were upon the bank in dense mass, he first of all launched against the Scythians one regiment of the Grecian auxiliary cavalry and four squadrons of pike-men. These the Scythians received, and in great numbers riding round them in circles, wounded them, as they were few in number, themselves escaping with ease.
“But Alexander mixed the archers, the Agrianians, and other light troops under the command of Balacrus, with the cavalry, and then led them against the enemy. As soon as they came to close quarters, he ordered three regiments of the cavalry Companions and all the horse-lancers to charge them. The rest of the cavalry he himself led, and made a rapid attack with his squadrons in column. Accordingly the enemy were no longer able as before to wheel their cavalry force round in circles, for at one and the same time the cavalry and the light-armed infantry mixed with the horsemen pressed upon them, and did not permit them to wheel about in safety. Then the flight of the Scythians was already apparent. , of them fell, including Satraces, one of their chiefs; and were captured. But as the pursuit was keen and fatiguing on account of the excessive heat, the entire army was seized with thirst; and Alexander himself while riding drank of such water as was procurable in that country. He was seized with an incessant diarrhœa; for the water was bad; and for this reason he could not pursue all the Scythians. Otherwise I think all of them would have perished in the flight, if Alexander had not fallen ill. He was carried back to the camp, having fallen into extreme danger; and thus Aristander’s prophecy was fulfilled.”
Spitamenes Destroys a Macedonian Detachment
Plutarch wrote: “It is told of him that when he besieged Sisimithres, who held an inaccessible, impregnable rock against him, and his soldiers began to despair of taking it, he asked Oxyartes whether Sisimithres was a man of courage, who assuring him he was the greatest coward alive, “Then you tell me,” said he, “that the place may easily be taken, since what is in command of it  is weak.” And in a little time he so terrified Sisimithres, that he took it without any difficulty. At an attack which he made upon such another precipitous place with some of his Macedonian soldiers, he called to one whose name was Alexander, and told him, he at any rate must fight bravely, if it were but for his name’s sake. The youth fought gallantly and was killed in the action, at which he was sensibly afflicted. [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: “Soon after this, arrived envoys from the king of the Scythians, who were sent to apologize for what had been done, and to state that it was not the act of the Scythian State, but of certain men who set out for plunder after the manner of freebooters. They also assured him that their king was willing to obey the commands laid upon him. Alexander sent to him a courteous reply, because it did not seem honourable for him to abstain from marching against him if he distrusted him, and at that time there was not an convenient opportunity to do so. The Macedonians who were garrisoning the citadel at Maracanda, when an assault was made upon it by Spitamenes and his adherents, sallied forth, and killing some of the enemy and repulsing all the rest, retreated into the citadel without any loss. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]
“But when Spitamenes was informed that the men despatched by Alexander to Maracanda were now drawing near, he raised the siege of the citadel, and retired to the capital of Sogdiana. Pharnuches and the generals with him, being eager to drive him out altogether, followed him up as he was retreating towards the frontiers of Sogdiana, and without due consideration made a joint attack upon the Nomad Scythians. Then Spitamenes, having received a reinforcement of Scythian horsemen, was further emboldened by the Scythian alliance to wait and receive the Macedonians who were advancing upon him. Posting his men in a level place near the Scythian desert, he was not willing either to wait for the enemy or to attack them himself; but rode round and discharged arrows at the phalanx of infantry. When the forces of Pharnuches made a charge upon them, they easily escaped, since at that time their horses were swifter and more vigorous, while the horse of Andromachus had been damaged by the incessant marching, as well as by lack of fodder; and the Scythians pressed upon them with all their might whether they halted or retreated. Many of them then were wounded by the arrows, and some were killed. They therefore arranged the soldiers into the form of a square and proceeded to the river Polytimetus, because there was a woody glen near it, and it would consequently no longer be easy for the barbarians to shoot arrows at them, and their infantry would be more useful to them.
“But Caranus, the commander of the cavalry, without communicating with Andromachus, attempted to cross the river in order to put the cavalry in a place of safety on the other side. The infantry followed him without any word of command; their descent into the river being made in a panic and without any discipline down the precipitous banks. When the barbarians perceived the error of the Macedonians, they sprang into the ford here and there, horses and all. Some of them seized and held tight those who had already crossed and were departing; others being posted right in front of those who were crossing, rolled them over into the river; others shot arrows at them from the flanks; while others pressed upon the men who were just entering the water. The Macedonians being thus encompassed with difficulty on all sides, fled for refuge into one of the small islands in the river, where they were entirely surrounded by the Scythians and the cavalry of Spitamenes, and all killed with arrows, except a few of them, whom they reduced to slavery. All of these were afterwards killed.”
Spitamenes Driven into the Desert
Arrian wrote: “But Aristobulus says the greater part of this army was destroyed by an ambuscade, the Scythians having hidden themselves in a park and fallen upon the Macedonians from their place of concealment, when Pharnuches was in the very act of retiring from the command in favour of the Macedonians who had been sent with him, on the ground of his not being skilled in military affairs, and of his having been sent by Alexander rather to win the favour of the barbarians than to take the supreme command in battles. He also alleged that the Macedonian officers present were the king’s Companions. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]
“But Andromachus, Menedemus, and Caranus declined to accept the chief command, partly because it did not seem right to make any alteration on their own responsibility contrary to Alexander’s instructions to them, and partly because in the very crisis of danger, they were unwilling, if they met with any defeat, not only individually to take a share of the blame, but also collectively to exercise the command unsuccessfully. In this confusion and disorder the barbarians fell upon them, and cut them all off, so that not more than forty horsemen and foot preserved their lives. When the report of this reached Alexander, he was chagrined at the loss of his soldiers, and resolved to march with all speed against Spitamenes and his barbarian adherents. He therefore took half of the Companion cavalry, all the shield-bearing guards, the archers, the Agrianians, and the lightest men of the phalanx, and went towards Maracanda, where he ascertained Spitamenes had returned and was again besieging the men in the citadel. Having travelled , stades in three days, at the approach of dawn on the fourth day he came near the city; but when Spitamenes was informed of Alexander’s approach, he did not remain, but abandoned the city and fled.
“Alexander pursued him closely; and coming to the place where the battle was fought, he buried his soldiers as well as the circumstances permitted, and then followed the fugitives as far as the desert. Returning thence, he laid the land waste, and slew the barbarians who had fled for refuge into the fortified places, because they were reported to have taken part in the attack upon the Macedonians. He traversed the whole country which the river Polytimetus waters in its course; but the country beyond the place where the water of this river disappears is desert; for though it has abundance of water, it disappears into the sand. Other large and perennial rivers in that region disappear in a similar way:—the Epardus, which flows through the land of the Mardians; the Areius, after which the country of the Areians is named; and the Etymander, which flows through the territory of the Euergetae. All of these are rivers of such a size that none of them is smaller than the Thessalian river Peneius, which flows through Tempē and discharges itself into the sea. The Polytimetus is much too large to be compared with the river Peneius.”
Alexander Forms an Alliance with the Scythians and Chorasmians
Arrian wrote: “Another embassy from the European Scythians came to Alexander with the envoys whom he had despatched to those people; for the king who was reigning over them at the time when he sent these envoys, happened to die, and his brother was reigning in his stead. The object of the embassy was to state that the Scythians were willing to do whatsoever Alexander commanded. They were also bringing to him from their king the gifts which among them are deemed most valuable. They said their monarch was willing to give his daughter to Alexander in marriage, in order to confirm the friendship and alliance with him; but if Alexander himself deigned not to marry the princess of the Scythians, then he was willing at any rate to give the daughters of the viceroys of the Scythian territory and of the other mighty men throughout the country of Scythia to the most faithful of Alexander’s officers. He also sent word that he would come in person if bidden, in order to hear from Alexander’s own mouth what his orders were. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]
“At this time also came Pharasmanes, king of the Chorasmians, to Alexander with , horsemen, who affirmed that he dwelt on the confines of the nations of the Colchians and the women called Amazons, and promised, if Alexander was willing to march against these nations in order to subjugate the races in this district whose territories extended to the Euxine Sea, to act as his guide through the mountains and to supply his army with provisions. Alexander then gave a courteous reply to the men who had come from the Scythians, and one that was adapted to the exigencies of that particular time; but said that he had no need of a Scythian wedding. He also commended Pharasmanes and concluded a friendship and alliance with him, saying that at present it was not convenient for him to march towards the Euxine Sea. After introducing Pharasmanes as a friend to Artabazus the Persian, to whom he had intrusted the government of the Bactrians, and to all the other viceroys who were his neighbours, he sent him back to his own abode. He said that his mind at that time was engrossed by the desire of conquering the Indians; for when he had subdued them, he should possess the whole of Asia. He added that when Asia was in his power he would return to Greece, and thence make an expedition with all his naval and military forces to the eastern extremity of the Euxine Sea through the Hellespont and Propontis. He desired Pharasmanes to reserve the fulfilment of his present promises until then.
“Alexander then returned to the river Oxus, with the intention of advancing into Sogdiana, because news was brought that many of the Sogdians had fled for refuge into their strongholds and refused to submit to the viceroy whom he had placed over them. While he was encamping near the river Oxus, a spring of water and near it another of oil rose from the ground not far from Alexander’s own tent. When this prodigy was announced to Ptolemy, son of Lagus, the confidential body-guard, he told Alexander, who offered the sacrifices which the prophets directed on account of the phenomenon. Aristander affirmed that the spring of oil was the sign of labours; but it also signified that after the labours there would be victory.”
Revolt of Spitamenes
Arrian wrote: “He therefore crossed the river with a part of his army and entered Sogdiana, leaving Polysperchon, Attalus, Gorgias, and Meleager there among the Bactrians, with instructions to guard the land, to prevent the barbarians of that region from making any revolutionary change, and to reduce those who had already rebelled. He divided the army which he had with him into five parts; the first of which he put under the command of Hephaestion, the second under that of Ptolemy, son of Lagus, the confidential body-guard; over the third he put Perdiccas; Coenus and Artabazus commanded the fourth brigade for him, while be himself took the fifth division and penetrated into the land towards Maracanda. The others also advanced as each found it practicable, reducing by force some of those who had fled for refuge into the strongholds, and capturing others who surrendered to them on terms of capitulation. When all his forces reached Maracanda, after traversing the greater part of the land of the Sogdians, he sent Hephaestion away to plant colonies in the cities of Sogdiana. He also sent Coenus and Artabazus into Scythia, because he was informed that Spitamenes had fled for refuge thither; but he himself with the rest of his army traversed Sogdiana and easily reduced all the places still held by the rebels. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]
“While Alexander was thus engaged, Spitamenes, accompanied by some of the Sogdianian exiles, fled into the land of the Scythians called Massagetians, and having collected horsemen from this nation, he came to one of the forts in Bactriana. Palling upon the commander of this fort, who was not expecting any hostile demonstration, and upon those who were keeping guard with him, he destroyed the soldiers, and capturing the commander, kept him in custody. Being emboldened by the capture of this fort, a few days after he approached Zariaspa; but resolving not to attack the city, he marched away after collecting a great quantity of booty.
“But at Zariaspa a few of the Companion cavalry had been left behind on the score of illness, and with them Peithon, son of Sosicles, who had been placed over the royal household of attendants at Zariaspa, and Aristonicus the harper. These men, hearing of the incursion of the Scythians, and having now recovered from their illness, took their arms and mounted their horses. Then collecting eighty mercenary Grecian horsemen, who had been left behind to guard Zariaspa, and some of the royal pages, they sallied forth against the Massagetians. Falling upon the Scythians, who had no suspicion of such an event, they deprived them of all the booty at the first onset, and killed many of those who were driving it off. But as no one was in command, they returned without any regard to order: and being drawn into an ambush by Spitamenes and other Scythians, they lost seven of the Companions and sixty of the mercenary cavalry. Aristonicus the harper was also slain there, having proved himself a brave man, beyond what might have been expected of a harper. Peithon, being wounded, was taken prisoner by the Scythians.”
Defeat and Death of Spitamenes
Arrian wrote: “When this news was brought to Craterus, he made a forced march against the Massagetians, who, when they heard that he was marching against them, fled as fast as they could towards the desert. Following them up closely, he overtook those very men and more than , other Massagetian horsemen, not far from the desert. A fierce battle ensued, in which the Macedonians were victorious. Of the Scythians, horsemen were slain; but the rest of them easily escaped into the desert, for it was impossible for the Macedonians to pursue them any further. At this time, Alexander relieved Artabazus of the viceroyalty of the Bactrians, at his own request, on the ground of his advanced age; and Amyntas, son of Nicolaüs, was appointed viceroy in his stead. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]
“Coenus was left with his own brigade and that of Meleager, of the Companion cavalry, and all the horse-archers, besides the Bactrians, Sogdians, and others who were under the command of Amyntas. They were all under strict injunctions to obey Coenus and to winter there in Sogdiana, in order to protect the country and to arrest Spitamenes, if anyhow they might be able to draw him into an ambush, as he was wandering about during the winter. But when Spitamenes saw that every place was occupied by the Macedonians for a garrison, and that there would soon be no way of flight left open to him, he turned round against Coenus and the army with him, thinking that he would be better able to fight in this way.
“Coming to Bagae, a fortified place in Sogdiana, situated on the confines of the countries of the Sogdians and the Massagetian Scythians, he easily persuaded , Scythian horsemen to join him in an invasion of Sogdiana. It is an easy matter to induce these Scythians to engage in one war after another, because they are pinched by poverty, and at the same time have no cities or settled abodes, to give them cause for anxiety about what is most dear to them. When Coenus ascertained that Spitamenes was advancing with his cavalry, he went to meet him with his army. A sharp contest ensued, in which the Macedonians were victorious, so that of the barbarian cavalry over fell in the battle, while Coenus lost horsemen and twelve foot-soldiers. The consequence was, that the Sogdians who were still left with Spitamenes, as well as most of the Bactrians, deserted him in the flight, and came to Coenus to surrender. The Massagetian Scythians having met with ill-success in the battle, plundered the baggage of the Bactrians and Sogdians who were serving in the same army as themselves, and then fled into the desert in company with Spitamenes. But when they were informed that Alexander was already on the start to march into the desert, they cut off the head of Spitamenes and sent it to him, with the hope by this deed of diverting him from pursuing them.”
Oxyartes Besieged in the Sogdian Rock
Arrian wrote: “Meantime Coenus returned to Alexander at Nautaca, as also did Craterus, Phrataphernes the viceroy of the Parthians, and Stasanor the viceroy of the Areians, after executing all the orders which Alexander had given them. The king then caused his army to rest around Nautaca, because it was now mid-winter; but he despatched Phrataphernes into the land of the Mardians and Tapurians to fetch Autophradates the viceroy, because, though he had often been sent for, he did not obey the summons. He also sent Stasanor into the land of the Drangians, and Atropates into Media, with the appointment of viceroy over the Medes, because Oxodates seemed disaffected to him. Stamenes also he despatched to Babylon, because news came to him that Mazaeus the Babylonian governor was dead. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]
“Sopolis, Epocillus, and Menidas he sent away to Macedonia, to bring him the army up from that country. At the first appearance of spring, he advanced towards the rock in Sogdiana, to which he was informed many of the Sogdians had fled for refuge; among whom were said to be the wife and daughters of Oxyartes the Bactrian, who had deposited them for safety in that place, as if forsooth it were impregnable. For he also had revolted from Alexander. If this rock was captured, it seemed that nothing would be left to those of the Sogdians who wished to throw off their allegiance. When Alexander approached it, he found it precipitous on all sides against assault, and that the barbarians had collected provisions for a long siege.
“The great quantity of snow which had fallen helped to make the approach more difficult to the Macedonians, while at the same time it kept the barbarians supplied with plenty of water. But notwithstanding all this, he resolved to assault the place; for a certain overweening and insolent boast uttered by the barbarians had thrown him into a wrathful state of ambitious pertinacity. For when they were invited to come to terms of capitulation, and it was held out to them as an inducement, that if they surrendered the place, they would be allowed to withdraw in safety to their own abodes, they burst out laughing, and in their barbaric tongue bade Alexander seek winged soldiers, to capture the mountain for him, since they had no apprehension of danger from other men. He then issued a proclamation that the first man who mounted should have a reward of twelve talents, the man who came next to him the second prize, and the third so on in proportion, so that the last reward should be three hundred darics to the last prize-taker who reached the top. This proclamation excited the valour of the Macedonians still more, though they were even before very eager to commence the assault.”
Alexander Captures Sogdian Rock
Arrian wrote: “All the men who had gained practice in scaling rocks in sieges, banded themselves together to the number of three hundred, and provided themselves with the small iron pegs with which their tents had been fastened to the ground, with the intention of fixing them into the snow, where it might be seen to be frozen hard, or into the ground, if it should anywhere exhibit itself free from snow. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]
“Tying strong ropes made of flax to these pegs, they advanced in the night towards the most precipitous part of the rock, which was also most unguarded; and fixing some of these pegs into the earth, where it made itself visible, and others into the snow where it seemed least likely to break up, they hoisted themselves up the rock, some in one place and some in another. Thirty of them perished in the ascent; and as they fell into various parts of the snows, not even could their bodies be found for burial.
“The rest, however, reached the top of the mountain at the approach of dawn; and taking possession of it, they waved linen flags towards the camp of the Macedonians, as Alexander had directed them to do. He now sent a herald with instructions to shout to the sentries of the barbarians to make no further delay, but surrender at once; since “the winged men” had been found, and the summits of the mountain were in their possession. At the same time the herald pointed at the soldiers upon the crest of the mountain. The barbarians, being alarmed by the unexpectedness of the sight, and suspecting that the men who were occupying the peaks were more numerous than they really were, and that they were completely armed, surrendered, so frightened did they become at the sight of those few Macedonians.”
Capture of the Rock of Chorienes
Sogdian Rock, or Rock of Ariamazes, a fortress located north of Bactria in Sogdiana (near Samarkand), was captured by the forces of Alexander the Great in the early spring of 327 B.C. Arrian wrote: “When Alexander had finished his operations among the Sogdians, and was now in possession of the rock, he advanced into the land of the Paraetacians, because many of the barbarians were said to be holding another rock, a strongly fortified place in that country. This was called the rock of Chorienes; and to it Chorienes himself and many other chiefs had fled for refuge. The height of this rock was about twenty stades, and the circuit about sixty. It was precipitous on all sides, and there was only one ascent to it, which was narrow and not easy to mount, since it had been constructed in spite of the nature of the place. It was therefore difficult to ascend even by men in single file and when no one barred the way. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]
“A deep ravine also enclosed the rock all round, so that whoever intended to lead an army up to it, must long before make a causeway of earth over this ravine in order that he might start from level ground, when he led his troops to the assault. Notwithstanding all this, Alexander undertook the enterprise. To so great a pitch of audacity had he advanced through his career of success, that he thought every place ought to be accessible to him, and to be captured by him. He cut down the pines, which were very abundant and lofty all round the mountain, and made ladders of them, so that by means of them the soldiers might be able to descend into the ravine; for otherwise it was impossible for them to do so. During the daytime he himself superintended the work, keeping half of his army engaged in it; and during the night his confidential body-guards, Perdiccas, Leonnatus, and Ptolemy, son of Lagus, in turn with the other half of the army, divided into three parts, performed the duty which had been assigned to each for the night. But they could complete no more than twenty cubits in a day, and not quite so much in a night, though the whole army engaged in the labour; so difficult was the place to approach and so hard was the work in it.
“Descending into the ravine, they fastened pegs into the sharpest and narrowest part of it, distant from each other as far as was consistent with strength to support the weight of what was placed upon them. Upon these they placed hurdles made of willow and osiers, very much in the form of a bridge. Binding these together, they loaded earth above them, so that there might be an approach to the rock for the army on level ground. At first the barbarians derided, as if the attempt was altogether abortive; but when the arrows began to reach the rock, and they were unable to drive back the Macedonians, though they themselves were on a higher level, because the former had constructed screens to ward off the missiles, that they might carry on their labour under them without receiving injury, Chorienes grew alarmed at what was being done, and sent a herald to Alexander, beseeching him to send Oxyartes up to him. Alexander accordingly sent Oxyartes, who on his arrival persuaded Chorienes to entrust himself and the place to Alexander; for he told him that there was nothing which Alexander and his army could not take by storm; and as he himself had entered into an alliance of fidelity and friendship with him, he commended the king’s honour and justice in high terms, adducing other examples, and above all his own case for the confirmation of his arguments.
By these representations Chorienes was persuaded and came himself to Alexander, accompanied by some of his relations and companions. When he arrived, the king gave him a courteous answer to his inquiries, and retained him after pledging his fidelity and friendship. But he bade him send to the rock some of those who came down with him to order his men to surrender the place; and it was surrendered by those who had fled to it for refuge. Alexander therefore took of his shield-bearing guards and went up to get a view of the rock; and was so far from inflicting any harsh treatment upon Chorienes that he entrusted that very place to him again, and made him governor of all that he had ruled before. It happened that the army suffered much hardship from the severity of the winter, a great quantity of snow having fallen during the siege; while at the same time the men were reduced to great straits from lack of provisions. But Chorienes said he would give the army food for two months; and he gave the men in every tent corn, wine, and salted meat out of the stores in the rock. When he had given them this, he said he had not exhausted even the tenth part of what had been laid up for the siege. Hence Alexander held him in still greater honour, inasmuch as he had surrendered the rock, not so much from compulsion as from his own inclination.”
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