(ALEXANDER the GREAT – continued)
Alexander and his army marched into the middle of Asia Minor in pursuit of Darius, leaving behind them the pacification needed for expanded conquest. They passed the winter of 334/33 at Gordium, and they waited there into the spring for reinforcements and local crops to ripen. Meanwhile, Persian's fleet of 300 warships and some 60,000 men sailed for the Aegean Sea from their ports along the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean. By the end of April the fleet had established bases for itself at various islands in the Aegean, and the fleet threatened Alexander's line of communications to Macedonia and Greece.
Alexander sent money to his homefront commander, Antipater, to strengthen defense in Greece. In June he left Gordium with an enlarged army. He veered away from the Persian empire's old Royal Road, turning toward sura, along the way leaving those who surrendered to him in charge of their cities. His march was delayed for two months as he lay sick, perhaps from malaria.
In November at Issus, on the Mediterranean coast just north of Syria, he and his army fought their second great battle against the Persians. This time Darius led his troops, and Darius fled from the battle ignominiously, followed by many of those he had commanded. He fled eastward through Mesopotamia, leaving behind his family, his harem and his treasury. Alexander treated Darius' family and harem with tact and courtesy, and with this victory Alexander considered himself King of Asia.
From Isis, Alexander moved southward through Syria, taking one Mediterranean seaport after another. In January 332 he and his army came upon the Phoenician city of Tyre, a naval base and home for many crewmen in Persia's navy, a city of fanatical fights and a city that was a bitter enemy of surrounding city-states. Alexander began a seven-month siege of Tyre, and against Tyre he used catapults, rams and finally swords. The many who did not surrender were put to death, and the women and children of Tyre were sold into slavery.
The loss of Tyre broke Persia as a naval power. Syrian and Cypriot contingents of Persia's navy deserted. Alexander's Greek navy regained control over the Aegean Sea and one by one Darius' miliary forces were compelled to withdraw from the Aegean islands.
Alexander set his next goal as Egypt. He bypassed Jerusalem, his entourage believing that Judah, heretofore dominated by the Persians was an unimportant priest-state run by ineffectual stargazers.
Alexander and his navy confronted the well-fortified Phoenician city of Gaza, which for Alexander was a gateway to Egypt. At Gaza as at Tyre the fighting was bitter. It lasted two months. Gaza's defenders fought to the last man. Alexander sold its women and children into slavery, and he repopulated the city by allowing people to settle there from surrounding areas.
While supplied by his navy, Alexander and his army marched across the Sinai desert into Egypt, where his reputation preceded him. Happy to see the end of Persian rule, the Egyptians welcomed Alexander as a liberator. They had little choice, for they no longer had the cohesion nor an army that could resist him. Egypt's priesthood hailed Alexander as pharaoh – as a king of kings. Like the pharaohs, he was declared a god. He became the guest of Egypt's king, staying at the king's palace in Memphis. And in Memphis, Alexander made sacrifices to Egypt's gods, including the bull god Apis.
Concerned about his glory and his relationship with the gods, in February 332 Alexander and a small party with camels crossed the Egyptian desert to an oasis and holy place called Siwah (560 km or 348 miles west of the Nile River at Cairo and about 200 kilometers south of the Mediterranean coast.) There the Egyptian god Amun-Ra was believed to dwell, a fusion of the god Amun and the sun god Ra. Godly fusions were not terribly rare. It was common among the Greeks to see their own gods in foreign deities, and for some time Greeks and Macedonians had visualized Amun-Ra as another manifestation of Zeus.
Alexander and his party traveled in the coolness of twilight and night. They endured a sandstorm. They crossed an area infested with snakes and became lost, and their water supply was just about finished. Their journey became mythic in its telling. Alexander's historian, Callisthenes, would claim that they were rescued by gods: two crows that flew in front of them to show them the way.
At Siwah, Alexander was welcomed by the local high priest as a great conqueror and as the son of Amun-Ra. Alexander welcomed the proclamation. It was Macedonian and Greek tradition that the successes of a military hero might be a sign of his being the son of a god and divine. And when news of Alexander at Siwah reached Alexander's mother, Olympias, it reinforced her claim that Alexander's birth had been divine.
Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.