The Anabasis of Alexander/Book III/Chapter XVIII

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1768852The Anabasis of Alexander — Chapter XVIIIE. J. ChinnockArrian


Defeat of Ariobarzanes and Capture of Persepolis.

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 40,000 infantry and 700 cavalry, had built a wall across the pass, and had pitched his camp there near the wall to block Alexander's passage. 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 500 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 100 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[1] 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,[2] he destroyed them, and so he 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.[3]

Alexander now marched back with all speed to the river, and finding the bridge already constructed over it, he easily crossed with his army.[4] Thence he again continued his march to Persepolis, so that he arrived before the guards of the city could pillage the treasury.[5] He also captured the money which was at Pasargadae[6] 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.[7]

  1. This was the Araxes. See Strabo, xv. 3.
  2. Notice the use of the adverb πρίν with the genitive, instead of the preposition πρό. Cf. Pindar (Pythia, iv. 76) πρίν ὤρας
  3. Curtius (v. 16) says that Ariobarzanes after a bloody contest got away through the Macedonian lines, with about 40 horsemen and 5,000 foot, and made for Persepolis. Being shut out of that fortress, he was overtaken and slain with all his companions. Cf. Diodorus (xvii. 68).
  4. Diodorus (xvii. 69) and Justin (xi. 14) state that on approaching Persepolis, Alexander met 800 Grecian captives, mutilated by loss of arms, legs, eyes, ears, or other members. Curtius (v. 17-19) says there were 4,000 of them. Alexander offered to send these men home, with means of future support; but they preferred to remain in Persis. The king gave them money, clothing, cattle, and land.
  5. Diodorus (xvii. 71) and Curtius (v. 20) both state that the amount of treasure captured at Persepolis was 120,000 talents, or £27,600,000. In his own letter Alexander stated that there was sufficient treasure and valuable property to load 10,000 mule carts and 5,000 camels (Plutarch, Alex., 37). Curtius tells us that 6,000 talents were captured at Pasargadae.
  6. Pasargadae was the old capital of Persia, founded by Cyrus; but its place was afterwards taken by Persepolis.
  7. Diodorus (xvii. 70, 71) and Curtius (v. 20, 22) say that Alexander delivered Persepolis to his soldiers to pillage, and that he ordered a general massacre of the inhabitants. These authors agree with Plutarch (Alex., 38) in asserting that in a drunken revel he was instigated by the courtesan Thais to set fire to the palace, and accompanied her to commence the act of destruction. See Dryden's famous ode. But Arrian's account establishes the fact that the fire was the result of a deliberate plan. As regards the massacre, Plutarch (37) expressly states that Alexander wrote home that he ordered it from motives of policy.