The Anabasis of Alexander/Book II/Chapter XXVI

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Siege of Gaza.

Gaza is about twenty stades from the sea;[1] the approach to it is sandy and over heavy soil, and the sea near the city everywhere shallow. The city of Gaza[2] was large, and had been built upon a lofty mound, around which a strong wall had been carried. It is the last city the traveller meets with going from Phoenicia to Egypt, being situated on the edge of the desert. When Alexander arrived near the city, on the first day he encamped at the spot where the wall seemed to him most easy to assail, and ordered his military engines to be constructed. But the engineers expressed the opinion that it was not possible to capture the wall by force, on account of the height of the mound. However, the more impracticable it seemed to be, the more resolutely Alexander determined that it must be captured. For he said that the action would strike the enemy with great alarm from its being contrary to their expectation; whereas his failure to capture the place would redound to his disgrace when mentioned either to the Greeks or to Darius. He therefore resolved to construct a mound right round the city, so as to be able to bring his military engines up to the walls from the artificial mound which had been raised to the same level with them. The mound was constructed especially over against the southern wall of the city, where it appeared easiest to make an assault. When he thought that the mound had been raised to the proper level with the walls, the Macedonians placed their military engines upon it, and brought them close to the wall of Gaza. At this time while Alexander was offering sacrifice, and, crowned with a garland, was about to commence the first sacred rite according to custom, a certain carnivorous bird, flying over the altar, let a stone which it was carrying with its claws fall upon his head. Alexander asked Aristander, the soothsayer,[3] what this omen meant. He replied: "O king, thou wilt indeed capture the city, but thou must take care of thyself on this day."

  1. Nearly two miles and a half. Strabo (xvi. 2) says that the city was only seven stades from the sea.
  2. Gaza is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Azzah (fortress). Its position on the border of Egypt and Palestine has given it importance from the earliest times. It was one of the five cities of the Philistines; and retained its own king till a late period, as we learn from Zechariah ix. 5. It was the scene of a battle between Richard I. and the Saracens. It is now called Guzzeh, with a population of 15,000.
  3. Compare Arrian, i. 11 and 25; ii. 18. Plutarch (Alex., 25) says that the bird was entangled and caught among the nets and cords. See also Curtius, iv. 26.