The Anabasis of Alexander/Book III/Chapter XXI

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CHAPTER XXI.

Darius is Assassinated by Bessus.

At this time Bagistanes, one of the Babylonian niobles, 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 Barsaentes, viceroy of the Arachotians and Drangians,[1] 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. 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 he had been arrested and was being conveyed in a covered carriage[2]; 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 500 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.[3] Having travelled 400 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 600 horsemen took to flight. Darius died from his wounds soon after, before Alexander had seen him.[4]


  1. The Drangians lived in a part of Ariana west of Arachosia.
  2. Justin (xi. 15) and Curtius (v. 34) state that Darius was bound in chains of gold. The former says that the name of the place was Thara in Parthia, where the king was arrested. Probably these chains were those worn by the king or his nobles, according to the Persian custom. This is the only sentence in Arrian where περὶ suffers anastrophe, coming after the noun.
  3. Plutarch (Alex., 42) says that Alexander rode 3,300 stades, or about 400 miles, in eleven days. In the next chapter he says that only sixty of his men were able to keep up with him in the pursuit.
  4. Curtius (v. 24-38) gives very ample details of what occurred during the last days of Darius. Cf. Diodorus (xvii. 73); Justin (xi. 15).