A swift march, merely to show himself in Greece—cutting steps in the side of Ossa, when the Thessalian government demurred at letting him through the Tempé gorge—averted trouble there and then; but in 335 he fought three critical campaigns. He swept through Thrace, storming the Shipka Pass and crossing the Danube, where he had an interview with fair-haired Celts on the move; across into Illyria, where he was trapped, it seemed, in the hills, and extricated himself with typical daring and cunning; and down again into Greece, where Thebes had risen and was besieging the Macedonians in the citadel. He razed the city to the ground: and Greece was cowed.
Then, in 334, he crossed into Asia, demolished the army of the local satraps after a fierce cavalry mélée and liberated Ionia; in 333 he defeated King Darius at Issus in Syria. Half the next year was occupied by a desperate siege of Tyre; necessary, because the Phoenician fleet, with Greek mercenaries and enterprising Persian commanders, was still at large, trying to raise Greece in revolt to his rear; but by the year’s end, Phoenicia had fallen, and he was in Egypt.
In 331, he fought his greatest battle at Gaugamela, in open country (unlike Issus) in Mesopotamia. Vastly outnumbered, he stalled off enveloping attacks with flank-guards until his infantry phalanx and heavy horse-guards could smash the enemy center and drive King Darius once more in flight. Darius retired eastward, on Ecbatana; Alexander rested in Babylon awhile, letting rumours spread that his army was demoralized by its vices and then marched out south-east, fighting his way in midwinter through mountain chains, first against tribesmen to whom Persian kings had paid blackmail, then against the home levy of Persia proper, to occupy Persepolis, the ancient capital, to destroy its palaces and, more importantly, to round up its young men and send them afar to be trained by Macedonian officers as soldiers of the new king.
By this tremendous exploitation of victory, Darius was left with no army in 330, except the forces of his eastern barons; and they, in retreat from Ecbatana, put him under arrest and, when Alexander’s pursuit grew hot, murdered him. But Alexander’s conquest of the empire was but half done. Three years of strenuous warfare were needed to subdue the tough eastern frontier provinces, where castle after mountain castle stood a siege and conquered provinces rose again in his rear.
(Pictured below, The Palace of Persepolis, plundered and burnt to the ground by Alexander in 330, following the defeat of Darius)
Unwearied still, by 326 he was conquering the Punjab; and there at last his Macedonians refused to go further. They had won a very severe battle against the Paurava rajah (the ‘Porus’ of western writers), who had 200 elephants; and they declined to march against the Ganges kingdoms, which were reported to have five thousand.
In 325 Alexander returned to Babylon, after nearly perishing along with a column which he led to explore the desert coast of the Persian Gulf.
Alexander’s character has been disputed to this day. There had been more than one conspiracy against him; one of them had been at least concealed by Philotas, son of Parmenio, general of the horse-guards, when it was reported to him—perhaps out of envy, combined with indignation that Parmenio had been left behind on base duties at Ecbatana. Philotas was put to death and immediately thereafter Parmenio was murdered, as an inevitable preventive measure.
Callisthenes, the official historian, nephew of Alexander’s boyhood tutor, Aristotle, perished after a conspiracy among the royal pages, to whom Callisthenes taught history— and had talked of tyrants and tyrannicide.
Alexander himself had killed, in a drinking party, his foster-brother Clitus, who had saved his life in the first cavalry battle, but who now drunkenly provoked him, complaining of his use of Persian dress and Persian despotic ways and assumption of glory that belonged to all the army; the act cost the king an agony of remorse. Considering the strain under which he lived, these tragedies, though grim, were not numerous; but they made enemies.
Certainly, Alexander had a constructive side. He founded many cities; some, such as Herat and Khodjend (‘Alexandria-at-the-World’s-End’), were Greek re-foundations of existing towns; but the greatest, Alexandria in Egypt, was new. He set out deliberately to employ Persian officers and governors (some failed him, and had to be replaced by Macedonians) and to equalize the two master-races; a policy which his Macedonians bitterly resented. But by personally leading them in charge and escalade, repeatedly wounded, once almost to death; by sharing their hardships, by efficiency, glamour and success, he kept their loyalty, with rare outbreaks of exasperation, to the end.
On the other hand, a serious count against him is the fact that, while continually risking his life, he made no arrangement whatever for the rule of his empire, or the command of the army, when he should be gone. He did not even beget a son until the last year of his short life (by the Persian Roxana); though Parmenio and others begged him to leave an heir to Macedonia before plunging into Asia.
(Pictured below, A recording of Alexander’s death from a Babylonian astronomical diary (c. 323–322 BC))
All his energy poured into war and government. The theory that, had he lived, he would have renounced war, cannot be sustained. He was organizing a large new army, two-thirds Medo-Persian, one-third Macedonian, when, not yet thirty-three, he caught a fever and died (323).