Young Macedonian in the Army of Alexander the Great - Alfred J. Church


It is no part of my purpose to tell again in detail what has been so often told before, the story of the campaigns of Alexander. The victory of the Granicus had far-reaching results. It is scarcely too much to say that it gave all Lesser Asia to the conqueror. The details of the battle had been of a singularly impressive kind. It was a veritable hero, men said, a manifest favourite of heaven, who had come to overthrow the kingdom of Cyrus. He was incomparably skilful in counsel; he was irresistible in fight. And then, as a matter of fact, so totally had the beaten army disappeared, the Great King had no force on the western side of the Taurus range that could pretend to meet the invaders in the field. Here and there a city or a fortress might be held for him, but the country, with all its resources, was at the mercy of the invaders; and the fortresses, for the most part, did not hold out. The terror of this astonishing success was upon their governors and garrisons, and there were few of the commanders who did not hasten to make terms for themselves. The capital of the satrapy of Phrygia, with all its treasures, was surrendered without a struggle. But a more surprising success, a success which astonished Alexander himself, was the capitulation of Sardis. He had not hoped to take it without a long blockade, for an assault was impossible except the garrison should be utterly negligent or faithless, and yet he got it without losing a single soldier or wasting a single day. The Persian governor, accompanied by the notables of the city, met him as he was advancing towards the walls, and surrendered everything to him.

What he felt himself he expressed when the next day he inspected the capabilities of the city, notoriously the strongest place in Lesser Asia, which had fallen so unexpectedly into his hands. The town, he said, might have been held for a long time by a resolute garrison; but the citadel, with its sheer descent on every side and its triple wall was absolutely impregnable. "Well," he went on, turning to Hephaestion, "well might old Meles have neglected to carry his lion's cub round such a place as this!"

A garrison of Argive soldiers was left to hold the place. Alexander, who, like all generals of the very first ability, possessed a gift for remembering everything, had not forgotten that Charidemus had many friends and connections in Argos, and offered the young man the post of second in command, but was not at all displeased when he refused it. "You are right," he said, "though I thought it well to give you the choice. But a young man like you is fit for something better than garrison duty. You wish to follow me then? to see Susa and Babylon, and Tyre and Jerusalem, and Egypt, perhaps India." As he said this last word a cloud passed over his face. It brought back what to his dying day was the great remorse and terror of his life, the fate of Thebes and the dreaded anger of Bacchus, that city's patron god. For was not Bacchus the conqueror of India, and who could hope to be under his ban, and yet safely tread in his footsteps?

"Young man," he said, "thank the gods that they have not made you a king, or given you the power to kill and to keep alive."

Ephesus was won as easily as Sardis had been; Miletus refused to surrender, but was taken by storm a few days after it had been invested. The only place of any real importance that remained in the west of Lesser Asia was Halicarnassus. But the capture of this town would, it was evident, be a task of difficulty. Memnon, now Commander-in-chief of the Persian forces in the west, had thrown himself into it. It was strongly placed and strongly fortified, Memnon himself, who was a skilful engineer, having personally superintended the improvement of the defences; and it could not be attacked by sea, for the Persian fleet, which had been prevented from helping Miletus by being shut out from the harbour, held the port of Halicarnassus in great force. Under these circumstances, the fall of the town would be nearly as great a blow to the Great King, as had been the signal defeat of his army at the Granicus.

Alexander's first experience was encouraging. He had scarcely crossed the borders of Caria when he was met by the Carian princess, Ada. The army had just halted for the midday meal, and Alexander with his staff was sitting under a tree when the approach of the visitor was announced by one of his outriders. Shortly afterwards she arrived, and, alighting from her litter, advanced to salute the king.

The princess was a majestic figure, worthy, at least in look, of the noble race from which she sprang. She was nearly seventy years of age, and her hair was white; but her face was unwrinkled, her form erect, and her step light and vigorous. Alexander, who had not forgotten to make himself acquainted with Carian politics, advanced to meet her, and kissed her hand. "Welcome, my son, to my land," she said, as she kissed him on the cheek. She then seated herself on a chair which a page had set for her, and told her story. Briefly, it was a complaint against her brother and the Persian king who had dispossessed her of her throne. "My brother took it; the Great King has supported him in his wrong. My ancestors fought for his house at Salamis, and was faithful to it when others failed; and this is his gratitude. It is enough; we Carians have never been slaves, and, if he will not have us for friends, we will be enemies. One fortress the robber has not been able to filch from me. That is yours, and all that it contains. My people love not these Persian tyrants, and they will help you for my sake. One favour I ask. The gods have not given me the blessing of children; will you be my son? I shall be more than content, for the gods could scarcely have allowed me an offspring so noble."

Alexander kneeled before her; "Mother," he said, "give me your blessing. I have now another wrong to avenge on these insolent Persians. And remember that Caria, when I shall have wrested it from the hand of these usurpers, is yours."

The siege of Halicarnassus was a formidable undertaking. A wall of unusual height and strength surrounded the town, and the wall was protected by the outer defence of a moat, more than forty feet wide and twenty deep. Two citadels overlooked the town; and the besieged, besides being well provided with food and ammunition, had the command of the sea. The harbour, itself strongly fortified, was occupied by the Persian fleet.

The first efforts of the besiegers failed. An attack on the north-east of the town was repulsed with loss; and an attempt to take the neighbouring town of Myndos, from which Alexander hoped to operate with advantage against Halicarnassus, was equally unsuccessful. The king then moved his army to the west side of the town, and commenced the siege in regular form. The soldiers working under the protection of pent-houses, which could be moved from place to place, filled up the ditch for a distance of seven hundred yards, so that their engines could be brought up close to the walls.

But these operations took time, and the army, intoxicated by its rapid success–in the course of a few weeks it had conquered the north-western provinces of Lesser Asia—loudly murmured at the delay which was keeping it so long before the walls of a single town.

About a month after the commencement of the siege, Parmenio, who was in chief command of the infantry, gave a great banquet to the officers of the light division, at which Charidemus, in virtue of his commission, and his Theban friend, by special invitation, were present. The occasion was the king's birthday, and Alexander himself honoured the entertainment with his company for a short time in the earlier part of the evening. He was received, of course, with enthusiastic cheers, which were renewed again and again when he thanked the guests for their good will, and ended by pledging them in a cup of wine. Still a certain disappointment was felt when he withdrew without uttering a word about the prospects of the siege. There had been a general hope that he would have held out hopes of an immediate assault. The fact was that the battering rams had levelled to the ground a considerable distance of the wall, including two of the towers, and that a third tower was evidently tottering to its fall. If many of the older soldiers would have preferred to wait till the breach should have been made more practicable, the common opinion amongst the younger men was that the place might be stormed at once.

When the king had left the banqueting tent, there was a general loosening of tongues among the guests. The senior officers, sitting near Parmenio at the upper end of the table, were sufficiently discreet in the expression of their opinions, but the juniors were less prudent and self-restrained.

"What ails our Achilles?" cried one of them, Meleager by name, who had been applying himself with more than common diligence to the wine-flask. "Is he going to play the part of Ulysses? If so, we shall have to wait long enough before we find our way into Troy. And if a single town is to keep us for months, how many years must we reckon before we can get to Susa? The breach, in my judgment, is practicable enough; and unless we are quick in trying it, the townsmen will have finished their new wall behind it, and we shall have all our labour over again."

A hum of applause greeted the speaker as he sat down. A noisy discussion followed as to the point where the assault might be most advantageously delivered. When it was concluded—and this was not till a polite message had come down from the head of the table that a little more quiet would be desirable—it was discovered that Meleager and his inseparable friend Amyntas had left the tent. This was sufficiently surprising, for they were both deep drinkers, and were commonly found among the latest lingering guests wherever the wine was good and plentiful.

"What has come to the Inseparables?" asked one of the company. "Has the wine been too much for them? Meleager seemed a little heated when he spoke, but certainly not more advanced than he usually is at this hour."

The next speaker treated the suggestion with contempt. "Meleager," he said, "and Amyntas, too, for that matter, could drink a cask of this Myndian stuff without its turning their brains or tying their tongues. It may be as good as they say for a man's stomach, but there is not much body in it. No; they are up to some mischief, you may depend upon it."

"Run to the tent of Meleager," said the officer who sat at the lower end of the table to one of the attendants, " and say that we are waiting for him."

The lad went on the errand and returned in a few minutes. He brought back the news that neither of the occupants of the tent were there; and he added an interesting piece of information which, being an intelligent young fellow, he had gathered on his way, that they had been seen to come back, and to go out again with their weapons and armour.

"It was odd," said Charidemus, who had his own idea about the matter, "that Meleager had nothing to say about the place where the breach might be best stormed, when we consider the speech he made."

Some one here remarked that he had observed the two Inseparables whispering together while the discussion was going on.

"Then," cried Charidemus, "depend upon it, they have gone to make a try for themselves."

"Impossible!" said one of the guests. "What, these two! They cannot have been such mad-men!"

"If they have," laughed another, "this Myndian vintage must be more potent, or our friends' brains weaker, than Pausanias thinks."

But the incredulity with which this astonishing suggestion was at first received soon gave way to the belief that it was not only possibly, but even probably, true. The two friends were notorious dare-devils and the fact that they had taken their arms with them was, considering that they were neither of them on duty for the night, almost conclusive.

"Run to Parmenio's tent," said Charidemus' superior officer to him, "and tell him what we suppose."

The young man overtook the general before he had reached his quarters, and told his story. Parmenio, as may be supposed, was greatly annoyed at having his hand forced in this way. "The Furies seize the hot-headed young fools! Are they in command or am I—not to speak of the king? They have made their pudding; let them eat of it. I shall not risk any man's life on such hare-brained follies."

As he was speaking, the king himself, who was making a nightly round among the men's quarters, came up. Parmenio told him the story, and was not a little surprised at the way in which he took it.

"Ah," said the king, "perhaps they are right. After all, we must be audacious, if we are to succeed. Life is short, and the world is large; and if we are to conquer it, we cannot afford to wait. It is madness, as you say; but sometimes madness is an inspiration of the gods. Perhaps, after all, they will have shown us the way. Anyhow, they must be supported. Go," he went on, addressing himself to Charidemus, "and get all the volunteers you can to follow at once. And you, Parmenio, get three companies under arms at once."

The young officer found that the king's commands had been anticipated. The volunteers were ready, and hurrying up at the double, found that they had just come in time. Meleager and Amyntas had been at first astonishingly successful. So absolutely unlooked-for was their attack, that the party told off by the commander of the garrison to defend the weak point in the defences of the city was taken completely by surprise. Man after man was cut down almost without resistance, and the survivors, who did not realize that the assailants were but a simple pair, began to retire in confusion. But such a panic naturally did not last long. The clash of swords attracted other defenders from the neighbouring parts of the walls, and the Inseparables found themselves hard pressed. They had indeed been parted by the rush of the enemy. Amyntas had set his back against a broken piece of wall, and was defending himself with desperate courage against some half-dozen assailants; Meleager had been forced about twenty yards backwards, and at the moment of the arrival of the Macedonian volunteers, had been brought to his knees by a blow from the sword of a Theban refugee. A furious conflict ensued. Reinforcements hurried up from within the walls, and for a time the besiegers were forced back. But when the regular Macedonian infantry appeared upon the scene, the aspect of affairs was changed, and the garrison could no longer hold their own. Indeed, it became evident that if proper preparations had been made, the town might have been taken there and then.

"You see that the madmen were inspired after all," said Alexander to Parmenio.

Meanwhile one of the two original assailants was in serious danger. The tide of battle had left him stranded, so to speak, and alone, and a disabling wound on the right knee prevented him from regaining the line of his friends. His companion saw his predicament, and rushed to his help, followed by a score of Macedonians, among whom were Charidemus and Charondas. The rescue was successfully effected, but not without loss. By this time the sky had become overcast, and the darkness was so thick that it was necessary to suspend the attack. The signal for retreat was accordingly sounded, and the besiegers hastened to retire within their lines. At this moment a missile discharged at random from the walls struck Charidemus on the head with a force that at once prostrated him on the ground. Charondas, who was close by him when he fell, lifted him on to his shoulders, and carried him as well as he could. But the burden of a full-grown man—and the young Macedonian was unusually tall and broad—was considerable, not to speak of the additional weight of his armour, and Charondas, who had been slightly wounded in the course of the struggle, fainted under the exertion. Partially recovering consciousness, he struggled on for a few paces in the hope of getting help. Then he lost his senses again. When he came to himself he was in the camp, but about his friend nothing was known. The soldier who had carried the Theban off had supposed him to be alone, and had unwittingly left his companion to his fate.