The Anabasis of Alexander/Book IV/Chapter IV

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CHAPTER IV.

Defeat of the Scythians beyond the Tanais.

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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 preconcerted, 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 firgt 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, a;nd 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. 1,000 of them fell, including Satraces, one of their chiefs; and 150 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 diarrhoea; 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.


  1. This city was called by the Greeks, Alexandria on the Tanais. See Curtius, vii. 28.
  2. Cf. Livy, xxi. 27:— Hispani sine ulla mole in utres vestimentis oonjectis ipsi caetris superpositis inoubautes flumen tranavere.
  3. See Herodotus, iv. 122-142.