Friday, January 4, 2008

ALEXANDER OF MACEDON (330-327 B.C.) His time in Afghanistan and neighbouring countries

The first Europeans to set foot in the mountains of Central Asia were the troops of Alexander the Great. The ghost of Alexander broods like a Colossus over the mountains of Asia, his influence still a force to be reckoned with after more than 2000 years
Greeks like Alexander of Macedonia - Alexander the Great - who was an explorer truly worthy of that name. More than a warlord, Alexander was a seeker of the truth. He took with him on campaigns geographers, engineers, architects, botantists, historians
, and "steppers" to count their paces as they traveled, and thus judge the distances...(later)Two of his many momentus achievements were crossing the Hindu Kush and navigating the Indus River. The bleakly beautiful mountains of the Hindu Kush, along with the Himalayas and Pamirs, create a formidable barriers between the sub-continent of India and the rest of Asia. Alexander, eager to mount a surprise spring offensive against the Persians in Afghanistan, led his army through the mountains on a 1,700-mile march. Autumn passed, the winter brought bitter winds, ice, and snow. The men struggled on until snow blocked their passage. then camped until the spring of 329 BC, where they made their way through an 11,000 foot pass to cross the Hindu Kush. Reaching the Oxus River, swollen with spring's melting snow, they filled their leather tents with straw and used them as rafts to float across."

The Achaemenid Empire was left in tatters after Alexander the Great and his armies conquered the Persian Empire.The last Achaemendid King, Darius III, had been murdered by Bessus his ally from Bactria.

Bessus had also taken the titles of the Achaemenid kings which enraged Alexander who sought to find and kill him. Alexander, the pupil of Aristotle

These early inhabitants of Aghanistan must have developed rudimentary mountaineering skills but it wasn't till the year until 330 year BC that Alexander the Great, brought people who could be called trained mountaineers. They were trained in cliff assaults, ladder climbing and rock climbing and as his campaign progressed they accumulated knowledge of snow and ice through trial and error,

With 20,000 foot soldiers and 3000 horsemen directly under his command Alexander set out for modern day Afghanistan from Zadragarta near the Caspian Sea. He crossed the border into Badghis province and forcemarched his men towards Aria (Herat) that would have got him to Bactria quicker, as the passes do not reach the height of the Hindu Kush, but he was drawn southwards " to make a southerly sweep so as to reduce to submission all tribes north of the desert and west of the Arachotian ranges." (Dodge) Before he reached Prophthasia ( Farah) Alexander met a tribe which he couldn't catch, as they retired to the tree-covered slopes of a mountain with a steep precipice on the other side. " As he had little time to delay, and as the wind was blowing towards the mountain slope, Alexander contented himself with settting the woods on fire, and thus drove the barbarians over the precipitous cliffs." (Dodge) He then travelled to another city he named after himself, Alexander in Arachosia, modern day Kandahar. It was now early november and the first winter snows had arrived. and while crossing a range north-east of Kandahar, his army suffered from toiling relentlessly through the snow and the shortage of bread. Fortunately tribes in the area gave them foodstuffs in return for being left alone. From here the scenery changed as he entered the beautiful Cophen river(Kabul River) in the valley called Nicea,( Kabul Valley). Modern day Kabul is 1700 metres above sea level and is very cold in November and it is hemmed in by high snow-clad mountains and to the north by even higher mountains, the Hindu Kush.

Parapamisus was the name Alexander gave to Hindu Kush, and today the Parapasmsus still graces the map of Afghanistan, but today starts on the Iranian border and stretches through the western provinces of Herat, Badghis and Ghor.

It was now late November and Alexander wisely decided not to cross the Hindu Kush and instead wintered over in another city named after himself, Alexander ad Caucasum, modern day Jebal Seraj, 35 km north of Kabul.. Alexander had the choice of crossing the Hindu Kush by a number of passes. But being a shrewd tactician he speculated that his enemy Bessus would have expected him to come by the easiest pass, so to confound him, he chose the more difficult Khawak Pass.

Alexander waited until the worst of the winter weather had passed but he couldn't wait any longer and set off before the winter snows had melted (Probably late March) His army marched up the Panjcher valley and suffered terribly from cold and severe food shortages. Marching through the sheer-sided Panjcher gorge which marks the entrance of the long valley, there would have been layers of frost as the sun touches the ground for a mere few minutes at this time of year.They climbed up to the Khawak Pass where many soldiers fell by the wayside with snow blindness or exhaustion and were abandoned. The Khawak Pass is 11,640 feet and on a cold windy March day temperatures can drop to - 30oC. Dodge describes it thus: "The ancient historians dismiss this march with a few words; but it has no parallel, except Hannibal's crossing of the Alps, and it is the first undertaking of the kind of which we have any record. Hannibal, from unexpected delays, started too late in the fall; Alexander from overeagerness, started too early in the spring. Both contended with heavy snows, and suffered from their attendant trials."

The snow was still deep, the cold was intense, food was scarce and fuel non-existent. The men, struggling through drifts up to their armpits, suffered terribly from exhaustion, snowblindness and frostbite. Literally in their thousands they were frozen solid to the rocks as they leaned against them. The horses and pack-asses suffered an even higher ration of casualties, but at least their bodies, eaten rawbecause there was no fuel to cook them, provided the troops with food. Alexander lost more men and more animals crossing the Hindu Kush than all his subsequent campaigns in central Asia.

Once over the pass they discovered the region had been devastated, the houses burned and the flocks moved. According to accounts the snowline was ten to twelve miles below the pass but Alexander's troops had to march 40 miles through treachorous snow banks. Fifteen days aftyer crossing the Khawak Pass they reached the first Bactrian village of Anderab. All the horses had perished but there is no account of how many men Alexander lost. At Anderab Alexander let his men recover and soon marched to the fruit-laden plains of Bactria.

Alexander wintered at Nautaca in BC 328-327. By this time he had conquered and sudued Bactria and Sogdinia, but there remained a few rocky fortresses held by rebel chiefs. One such chief, Oxyartes had fortified himself on the Rock of Arimazes or Sogidan Rock.

By the time Alexander reached the famous Sogidan Rock (over the border from modern day Afghanistan in Tajikistan) had men had shown their skills of climbing walls and rocks by using various scaling ladders Impatient as ever, Alexander set of for this impregnable fortress, built on a rock jutting out from the side of a mountain, with vertical cliffs. The long trek in late winter was full of difficulties and they encountered terrible storms. During one storm he lost 1000 men but Alexander was a man of great energy and courage as he cheered and cajouled them on. When he arrived at the Rock of Arimazes it looked impossible, there seemed to be no approach. Snow was plastered to the rocks which made it nigh on impossible to scale. Alexander with his usual bravado called the inhabitants on the rock to surrender with the promise of free exit and safety. The reply he got was that they only feared winged soldiers. This angered and also spurred Alexander on. Quickly he sent a herald through the camp offering prizes of 12 talents to the first man who succeeded to climb the rock and to the rest and a descending scale of rich prizes to the others who got ot the top. There were a number of expert mountaineers who over the long duration of the campaign had learned to scale icy slopes, cross snowbound passes and had received training on how to climb walls and cliffs.. Three hundred men volunteered. Equipped with ropes and tent pegs, they commenced a night assault. at midnight. To gain purchase on the ice covered rock the men drove pegs into cracks in the rock or into the ice or frozen ground. Gingerly they gained height. During this incredibly dangerous night operation 30 climbers fell to their death. Later, due to the steepness and the ledges where the bodies lay, they could not be recovered. But by dawn a number of climbers had scaled the heights and waved their white scarves to signal their success. Alexander had again done the impossible. No doubt full of pride and relishing his victory, he called out to Oxyartes to look at his winged soldiers and sent a herald to the gates asking him to surrender.

The position gained may not have had any particular value in compelling this; but, astonished beyond measure at being this outdone, and imagining the men on the rocks above to be much more numerous than they actually were, and fully armed, the whole thing savouring, moreover, of the supernatural, with which Alexander's name was uniformly connected, the demand was complied with.
Not only did Alexander gain a victory he also captured the daughter of Oxyartyes, Roxana, claimed by the Macedonians to be the most beautiful women in the east. Alexander fell in love with her and treated her with great dignity, and later married her. This shows the tender side of the ruthless Alexander for he also forgave Oxyartes and elevated him to a senior position..

Not content with this victory, Alexander marched on towards the Rock of Choreines in the land of Paraetacians, a mountainous region of the upper Oxus. The Rock was inhabited by Chorienes an old friend of the recently captured Oxyartes. It was early spring and Alexander's chroniclers describe the march over the snow-clad mountains in horrific terms; frequent storms lashed the mountains, food shortages dogged them throughout a an unspecified number of his men froze to death. Alexander who was always tough in spirit and body 'shared the labours of his men' but he could not prevent then giving up. These mountain treks of Alexander are remarkable that he choose late winter or early spring when the opposition were least expecting him. It is related that after one days march Alexander was warming himself by a fire when a frozen Macedonian in armour was brought in almost dead. Alexander gave him his seat at the fire and the man soon recovered. On regaining consciousness the soldier was surprised and frightened to find himself in the great king's place. Alexander looked at him and said, "Look you, comrade, among the Persians, to sit on the king's seat entails death. To you.a Macedonian, it has brought life."

The Rock of Choreines is about seven miles circumference at the base. The only route up the mountain was a by a narrow track that would take only one man abreast and could easily be defended.. The only way the mountain could be ascended was by a sheer face,cut off by a deep gorge through which rushed a wild mountain torrent. Here Alexander was in his element surveying another virtually insurmountable objective. He had to bridge the wild water to get to the base of the face and this he acheived by cutting down nearby pine trees and making ladders by which his troops descended to the river bed. From this base Alexander instructed his men to build a a trestle work of covered galleries to protect the men from attacks above. The whole army worked day and night and before long height was made. In these early stages the inhabitants of the Rock laughed at the feeble efforts of the Macedonians, then soon the realised they had been out-witted. as the structure began to rise topwards them, The structure was covered with screens and roofs which prevented attacks from above, while from below Alexander's men were able to fire upwards with their sling machines, bows and slings, killing and wounding many of his enemy. Alexander's gamble paid off and Chorienes surrendered and his men discovered enough food to feed his entire army for two months.

Alexander returned across the present day Afghan border to Bactra well, satisfied with his conquests.

Winter passed and in the spring of 327BC, Alexander's thoughts turned to the fabled riches of of India. The route he chose was over the Hindu Kush by an easier pass this time, the Kushan Pass (Is this Ali's Kaoshan Pass, 14,340 feet? )to Alexander ad Caucasum. It took him ten days to complete the trip on an improved track with adeqaute food supplies. From here he marched into Nicea (Kabul) in the Cophen (Kabul valley) valley. He has with him 135,000 men welded together from remnants of his original Hellenic army to a force that comprised largely of Central Asians.

After six year Alexander had gained a lot of experience in the mountains of Afghanistan and modern-day Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and rashly thought he would quickly get to the Indus River by way of passes through the the various mountain ranges. First he dispatched Hephaestion and Perdiccas along the true right of the Kabul River, through Gandara( the valley running from Peshawar to Taxila) Meanwhile Alexander took the more difficult route to the northern side of the Kabul River where he proposed he would "reduce all the strongholds in the mountain passes." so he could control the Kabul Valley. The main party stayed in the main river valley while he sent fast moving detachment up the side valleys.

To the north bank, mountains come down in huge scallops from Kafirstan. The Choes or Choaspes (Kunar)the Euaspla and the Guraeus........What is obvious is that Alexander had conact with the tribes of Kafirstan (Nuristan) Laghman, Kafirstan where he drank wine) He left the people of Kafirstan free but invited young Kafir soldiers to join him the Kafirs did not want to return with Alexander, they preferred their mountain home in Nuristan. Kunar River. Here he travelled through modern day Nuristan, Laghman and Kunar to the Nawa Pass into the Bajaur river to Timargarha

He then crossed the Chakdara Bridge across the Swat River and from here Alexander attacked and pludered the towns of Bazira (Birkot Hill) and Ora (Udegram) Since leaving Aleandria ad Caucasum the last months of his campaign had been through high alpine areas of modern Laghman, Nuristan and Kunar with many hards battles with local tribes

With Taxila in his sights, one thought he would be content to proceed directly down the Indus but no, he had one final battle, the people who had fled from Bazira Ora and elsewhere had gathered at a remote site, the Roc of Aornus.

At Birkot Hill and Udegram Stein identified the sites of the ancient towns of Bazira and Ora, which Alexander sacked after reaching the Swat from Bactria and Sogdiniana in 327BC Stein puzzled that refugees from Baziar and Ora wiould hav
e sought a remote place such as the Rock of Aornos. His reckoning from his explorations and talking to locals led him to an Alpine plateau of Pir Sar, above Indus near Besham, and a peak beyond that bore the name Una.

After his exploits in the Swat valley. Alexander travels down the Indus and crosses the Indus near Attock and on to Taxila where the King passively submits to him in the Spring of 326 BC. Next he marches towards Hydaspes where Porus the ruler of the Punjab, puts up a great fight against Alexander. Finally he is defeated and Alexander an admirer of brave men, restores him to power. Here his men refuse to go further. They retreated by sailing down the Indus and then proceeds towards Persia across the dry and deadly deserts of Gedrosia (Baluchistan). The march across the desrt last 60 days during which he loose a large number of soldiers perish.

Alexander reached Babylonia in 324 BC where Ambassadors from neighbouring countries came to pay homage. With thoughts of plans and conquests in his mind, his next destination was Arabia. However in June 323 BC Al;exander falls ill with a raging fever, and dies on June 28 323, at the age of 33.

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