The Anabasis of Alexander/Book I/Chapter IV

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CHAPTER IV.

Alexander Destroyss the City of the Getae.—The Ambassadors of the Celts.

They crossed over by night to a spot where the corn stood high; and in this way they reached the bank more secretly. At the approach of dawn Alexander led his men through the field of standing corn, ordering the infantry to lean upon the corn with their pikes[1] held transversely, and thus to advance into the untilled ground. As long as the phalanx was advancing through the standing corn, the cavalry followed; but when they marched out of the tilled land, Alexander himself led the horse round to the right wing, and commanded Nicanor[2] to lead the phalanx in a square. The Getae did not even sustain the first charge of the cavalry; for Alexander's audacity seemed incredible to them, in having thus easily crossed the Ister, the largest of rivers, in a single night, withoat throwing a bridge over the stream. Terrible to them also was the closely-looked order of the phalanx, and violent the charge of the cavalry. At first they fled for refuge into their city, which was distant about a parasang[3] from the Ister; but when they saw that Alexander was leading his phalanx carefully along the river, to prevent his infantry being anywhere surrounded by the Getae lying in ambush; whereas he was leading his cavalry straight on, they again abandoned the city, because it was badly fortified. They carried off as many of their women and children as their horses could carry, and betook themselves into the steppes, in a direction which led as far as possible from the river. Alexander took the city and all the booty which the Getae left behind. This he gave to Meleager[4] and Philip[5] to carry off. After razing the city to the ground, he offered sacrifice upon the bank of the river, to Zeus the preserver, to Heracles,[6] and to Ister himself, becanse he had allowed him to cross; and while it was still day he brought all his men back safe to the camp.

There ambassadors came to him from Syrmus, king of the Triballians, and from the other independent nations dwelling near the Ister. Some even arrived from the Celts who dwelt near the Ionian gulf.[7] These people are of great stature, and of a haughty disposition. All the envoys said that they had come to seek Alexander's friendship. To all of them he gave pledges of amity, and received pledges from them in return. He then asked the Celts what thing in the world caused them special alarm, .expecting that his own great fame had reached the Celts and had penetrated still further, and that they would say that they feared him most of all things. But the answer of the Celts turned out quite contrary to his expectation; for, as they dwelt so far away from Alexander, inhabiting districts difficult of access, and as they saw he was about to set out in another direction, they said they were afraid that the sky would some time or other fall down upon them. These men also he sent back, calling them friends, and ranking them as allies, making the remark that the Celts were braggarts.[8]


  1. The sarissa, or more correctly sarisa, was a spear peculiar to the Macedonians. It was from fourteen to sixteen feet long. See Grote's Greece, vol. xi. ch. 92, Appendix.
  2. Son of Parmenio and brother of Philotas.
  3. The parasang was a Persian measure, containing thirty stades, nearly three and three-quarter English miles. It is still used by the Persians, who call it ferseng. See Herodotus (vi. 42) and Grote's History of Greece, vol. viii. p. 316.
  4. Son of Neoptolemus. After Alexander's death Meleager resisted the claim of Perdiccas to the regency, and was associated with him in the office. He was, however, soon afterwards put to death by the order of his rival.
  5. Son of Machatas, was an eminent general, slain in India. See vi. 27 infra.
  6. The Macedonian kings believed they were sprung from Hercules. See Curtius, iv. 7.
  7. The Adriatic Sea.
  8. Cf. Aelian (Varia Historia, xii. 23); Strabo, vii. p. 293; Aristotle (Nicom. Ethics, iii. 7; Eudem. Eth., iii. 1):—οῖον οὶ Κελτοὶ πρὸς τὰ κὑματα ὂπλα ἀπαντώσι λαβόντες; Ammianus, xv. 12.