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Polyaenus. Stratagems of War 4.3 Alexander

(1) Alexander whose ambition was, to unite all mankind to him, as the common head and superior of human nature, passed a decree, that mankind should no longer be called mortals, human beings, or men, but Alexanders.

(2) Alexander, in his wars, directed his generals to order the Macedonians to shave their faces, that their enemies in engaging might never lay hold on their beards.

(3) At the siege of Tyre, Alexander having resolved to join the city which was then insular to the continent, by raising a mound in the surrounding waters, himself first carried a basket of sand, which he threw into it. As soon as the Macedonians saw their king at work with his own hands, they all instantly threw aside their robes, and soon raised the ground.

(4) Having left a part of his army before Tyre, Alexander himself marched into Arabia. His absence gave the Tyrians new spirits: who advanced beyond their walls, engaged the Macedonians in the field, and frequently defeated them. Parmenio, Alexander’s general, gave him notice of what had passed, who suddenly returning, and seeing the Macedonians retreating before the enemy, instead of flying to their assistance, marched directly to the town; which he surprised, evacuated by the Tyrian forces, and took it by storm. The Tyrians, finding their city taken, surrendered themselves and their arms to the discretion of the Macedonian conqueror.

(5) When Alexander advanced against Darius, he ordered the Macedonians, as soon as they drew near the Persians, to fall down on their hands and knees: and, as soon as ever the trumpet sounded the charge, to rise up and vigorously attack the enemy. They did so: and the Persians, considering it as an act of reverence, abated of their impetuosity, and their minds became softened towards the prostrate foe. Darius too was led to think, he had gained a victory without the hazard of a battle. When on sound of the trumpet, the Macedonians sprung up, and made such an impression on the enemy, that their centre was broken, and the Persians entirely defeated.

(6) At Arbelae, where the last battle between Alexander and Darius was fought, a considerable body of Persians had made a circuit, and seized the Macedonian carriage-horses and baggage. Parmenion, observing their movement, desired Alexander to order a detachment to protect them. By no means, replied Alexander; I have no troops to spare against predatory parties: my business is with the enemy; and I must not weaken my phalanx. If we be conquered, we shall not want our baggage: and if we conquer, both ours and the enemy’s will become our own.

(7) After conquest of Asia, the Macedonians being instant with Alexander, and extravagant in their demands, on presumption of their services, he ordered them to take their posts by themselves in arms: and opposite to them he ordered his Persian troops to do the same. The forces being thus separated, “Now,” said he, “Macedonians, choose our general: and I will take the Persians. If you beat me, I will comply with all your demands: and you, if I beat you, will learn to be quiet.” Struck with the greatness of soul, this stratagem discovered, the Macedonians ever after conducted themselves with more moderation.

(8) In his first action with the Persians, Alexander seeing the Macedonians give way, rode through the ranks, calling out to his men, “One effort more, my Macedonians, one glorious effort.” Animated by their prince, they made a vigorous attack: and the enemy abandoned themselves to flight. Thus did that critical moment determine the victory.

(9) Alexander in his Indian expedition advanced to the Hydaspes with intention to cross it: when Porus appeared with his army on the other side, determined to dispute his passage. Alexander then marched towards the head of the river, and attempted to cross it there. Thither also Porus marched, and drew up his army on the opposite side. He then made the same effort lower down; there too Porus opposed him. Those frequent appearances of intention to cross it, without ever making one real attempt to effect it, the Indians ridiculed: and concluding that he had no real design to pass the river, they became more negligent in attending this motions. When Alexander by a rapid march gaining the banks, effected his purpose on barges, boats, and hides stuffed with straw; before the enemy had time to come up with him: who deceived by so many feint attempts, yielded him at last an uninterrupted passage.

(10) Alexander finding his men, glutted with the immense wealth of which they had possessed themselves in Persia, and which they carried about with them in carriages, did not at all relish this new expedition into India, ordered first the royal carriages to be destroyed; and afterwards all the rest. The Macedonians, thus deprived of their treasures, immediately became anxious for more; and, in order to obtain it, of course ready for new enterprises.

(11) The Thracians endeavouring to make an impression on the Macedonian phalanx by a great number of chariots, which were directed against them, Alexander ordered his men to avoid them, if they could; and if not, to throw themselves on the ground, holding over them their shields; by which means the carriages on speed passed over, without hurting them. And by this manoeuvre the numerous carriages of the enemy were rendered useless.

(12) When Alexander advanced against Thebes, he planted in ambush a concealed body of troops under the command of Antipater; while he himself marched openly against the enemy’s strongest works: which the Thebans with great obstinacy defended. In the midst of the engagement Antipater secretly quitted his ambush, and wheeling round attacked the walls in an opposite quarter, where they were weakest, and ill-manned; and made himself master of the city. He immediately hoisted the Macedonian colours: which Alexander seeing called out, “The town was his own.” The Thebans, who had till then made a gallant resistance, as soon as they saw their city in the possession of the enemy, abandoned themselves to flight.

(13) The Macedonians having fled from the field, Alexander changed the coat of mail into a breast-plate: which was a protection to them, as long as they boldly faced the enemy: but if they fled, they exposed to the foe their naked backs. This had such an effect: that they never afterwards fled; but, if they were overpowered, always retreated in good order.

(14) After Alexander had learned from the augurs, that the auguries were propitious, he ordered the victims to be carried round the army; that the soldiers, not depending on what was told them, might be convinced with their own eyes of the ground of their hopes in the ensuing action.

(15) When Alexander entered Asia, to render Memnon general of the enemy’s forces suspected by the Persians, he ordered the party, he had detached to ravage the country, not to touch his property, nor commit any depredations on his estates.

(16) When Alexander surveyed the advantageous position of the Persians on the opposite side of the Granicus, determined to dispute his passage over it; he changed his ground: and, at the head of his phalanx, plunging into the river at a place above the enemy, he effected a passage; and after an obstinate engagement routed the Persian army.

(17) At the battle of Arbelae, Darius had planted the ground between the two camps with crows-feet: which Alexander having discovered, advanced, with his right wing aslant, skirting the armed ground: and in that order directed the army to support him. To oppose that manoeuvre, and throw him upon the ground he seemed to avoid, the Persian weakened his lines and detached his cavalry: which Alexander observing, supported by Parmenio, and flanked by the crows-feet, fell upon the weakened lines of the enemy, threw them into disorder, and begun the rout.

(18) Alexander, after he had passed the Tigris, while the Persians were laying the whole country waste with fire, sent a deputation to expostulate with them on their outrages, and to conjure them to regard their own preservation, and spare the country.

(19) Alexander, when in Hyrcania, having been informed that his character and conduct were aspersed both by the Macedonians and Greeks, assembled his friends, and told them; the situation of his affairs at home required him to send letters to Macedonia, and inform his subjects, that he should certainly return within three years: and he desired his officers at the same time to write letters to their respective friends, to the same purport; which to a man they all did. As soon as the letter-carriers had got about three miles from the camp, he ordered them to be brought back, opened all the letters, and from thence learning the opinion, that every one entertained of him.

(20) Alexander having closely besieged a fortified place in India, the besieged agreed to evacuate the fort on condition that they might be permitted to march out with their arms. Which being complied with, the garrison marched out, and encamped on a hill; where they entrenched themselves, and posted a guard. Upon Alexander’s advancing against them, the Indians urged to him the obligation of the treaty. To which the Macedonian replied, “I gave you leave to quit the fort; but not a word was mentioned in the treaty of any further movement.”

(21) Pittachus, the grandson of Porus, advantageously posted himself in a narrow valley to intercept Alexander in his march. The valley was long, but not more than four furlongs wide: and terminated in a very straight defile. Adapting his march to the nature of the ground, Alexander formed his cavalry into a double phalanx; and ordered them, bearing upon their reins, to march in a close compact body: and, as soon as the enemy attacked their right wing, to receive them upon their spears, and give their horses the rein; and, when they had cleared the pass, to attack the enemy’s rear. Having thus given his orders, he began his march nearly in the shape of a gnomon. As soon as those, who were posted in the left wing, saw the rear of the right on speed; setting up a shout, and in the same manner giving reins to their horses, they attacked the Indians: who afraid of being blocked up in the valley, precipitately fled to the narrow pass, in order to make their escape; when many were cut to pieces by the Macedonians, and many more trampled to death by their own horse.

(22) In the battle against Porus Alexander posted part of his cavalry in the right wing, and part he left as a body of reserve at a small distance on the plain. His left wing consisted of the phalanx and his elephants. Porus ordered his elephants to be formed against him, himself taking the station on an elephant at the head of his left wing. The elephants were drawn up within fifty yards of each other; and in those interstices was posted his infantry. So that his front exhibited the appearance of a great wall; the elephants looked like so many towers; and the infantry like the parapet between them. Alexander directed his infantry to attack the enemy in front; while himself at the head of his horse advanced against the cavalry. Against those movements Porus ably guarded. But the beasts could not be kept in their ranks; and, wherever they deserted them, the Macedonians in a compact body pouring in closed the with the enemy, and attacked them both in front and flank. The body of reserve in the mean time wheeling round, and attacking their rear, completed the defeat.

(23) The Thessalians having secured the post at Tempe, which Alexander saw it impracticable to force, he cut holes in the rugged rock of Ossa, which served as steps; on which he marched his army: and thus over the top of Ossa opened himself a passage into Thessaly; while the Thessalians were employed in defending the pass at Tempe. At this day may seen the rock of Ossa cut in the manner of a ladder, which now bears the name of Alexander’s ladder.

(24) In Macedonia and among the Greeks, Alexander’s court of justice was plain and simple; but among the barbarians, in order to strike them with the greater awe, it was most splendid and imperial. In Bactria, Hyrcania, and India when he heard causes, the apparatus and formality of his court were as follows. The pavilion was large enough to contain a hundred tables; and was supported by fifty pillars of gold: and the canopy was adorned with various gold ornaments. Stationed round the pavilion within were, first, five hundred Persians, dressed in purple and white vests: and next to those an equal number of archers in different dresses yellow, blue, and scarlet. Before those stood five hundred Macedonians, with silver shields, the tallest men that could be picked out. In the middle of the pavilion was a golden throne, on which the monarch sat to hear causes: attended on either side by his guards. Round the pavilion on the outside were ranged a number of elephants, and a thousand Macedonians in the Macedonian habit. Behind those were five hundred Susians in purple dresses: and the whole was surrounded with ten thousand Persians, distinguishable for their shape, and size, and dressed in the Persian manner, with scimitars at their sides. Such was the court of Alexander among the barbarians.

(25) Alexander, marching through a sandy desert, himself as well as his army were in great distress for water; when one of the scouts, having in the hollow of a rock discovered a little, brought it to him in his helmet. After he had showed it to his army, in order to revive their spirits with the hope of water being near at hand; without moving it to his lips, before them all he poured it out upon the ground. The Macedonians immediately set up a shout, and bade him lead on; for their king’s example had taught them to conquer thirst.

(26) Alexander by a forced march endeavoured to gain the Tigris, before Darius: when a panic* seized his rear, and ran through the army. The king ordered trumpets to sound the signal of safety, the first rank immediately to throw down their arms at their feet, and the next to do the same. This order being observed through the whole army, they were convinced the cause of their confusion was panic: from whence as soon as they recovered themselves, they took up their arms, and pursued their march.
*These panic fears were sudden consternations that sometimes seized men without any visible cause; and were therefore imputed to the operations of daemons, especially Pan, upon men’s fancies. Instances of it occur in more stratagems of Polyaenus, than this one: and there is frequent mention of it in ancient history. We are informed, when Brennus, the Gallic general, had been defeated by the Greeks, the night following he and the remainder of his troops were seized with such terrors and distractions; that ignorant of what they were doing, they fell to killing and wounding one another, till they were all destroyed. Such another fright gave the Athenians great advantage against the Persians: in memory of which piece of service Miltiades erected a statue to the god Pan. The reasons why these terrors were attributed to Pan are variously asserted. One is the device of Pan mentioned in the second chapter of Polyaenus’s first book of Stratagems.
In these terrors, whereof there was either no apparent cause, or at least none answerable to the greatness of the sudden consternation, it was an usual method to do something directly contrary to what the danger would have required, had it been really such, as it was vainly imagined. Thus Alexander, in the instance before us, ordered his men to disarm themselves.

(27) After Alexander had defeated Darius at the battle of Arbela, Phrasaortes a relation of that monarch in great force posted himself at the gates of Susa; which is a narrow pass between high and steep mountains. This the Macedonians in vain endeavoured to force: the barbarians easily defended it; annoying the enemy with arrows, slings, and stones. Alexander ordered a retreat, and encamped about thirty furlongs distant. The oracle at Delphos had formerly declared, that a Lycian stranger should be his guide against the Persians. A herdsman came up to Alexander, in his rustic dress, saying, his name was Lycius; and informed him, there was a private road, which winded round the mountains, covered with wood, and known to no one but himself; and well known to him, as affording excellent pasturage. Alexander remembered the oracle, and listened to the herdsman’s information. He then ordered the whole army to remain in camp, and light a number of fires in such conspicuous places, as might be best seen by the Persians: and gave private orders to Philotas and Hephaestion, as soon as they saw the Macedonians show themselves on the mountains, to attack the enemy below. Himself with his guards, one heavy-armed troop, and all the Scythian archers, conducted by Lycius, marched eighty furlongs through the private road; and halted in the middle of a thick wood. About midnight by a circuitous march he gained a position a little above the enemy; who were then buried in sleep: and in the morning sounded the charge from the top of the mountains. Hephaestion and Philotas immediately marched out of the camp, and advanced against them on the plain: who, thus attacked both above and below, were part of them cut to pieces, some thrown from the precipices, and others taken prisoner.

(28) Alexander having been obliged in the heat of summer to make an expeditious retreat, the enemy hanging upon his rear, directed his march near a river; when observing that his men, who were very thirsty, looked anxiously at the water, left by stopping to drink they should lose their ranks, and also retard his march, he ordered proclamation to be made, “That no man should touch the river, for its waters were foul.” Fearing the consequences they refrained from drinking it, and without intermission pursued their march. Which as soon as they had performed, and the army was encamped; both Alexander and his officers drank openly of the stream; and the soldiers, laughing at the trick their general had played them, drank freely of it too; liberated from every fear either of the enemy, or the water.

(29) When Alexander penetrated into Sogdiana, a country rough and rugged and traced with no roads, his march was attended with great difficulties. In the middle of it extended a high and craggy rock; its tops accessible only to the birds. Around it was a thick and continued wood: which rendered the product of the place still more secure. There Ariomazes posted himself, with a numerous and determined band of Sogdians. On the part of the rock, where he had fortified himself, were fine springs, and plenty of provision. Alexander riding round, and reconnoitering the place, observed behind the rock a slope particularly well-covered with wood. There he ordered three hundred young men, expert in climbing precipices, without their arms to endeavour to make their way through the trees, assisting each other by fastening as they went up small cords to the boughs. And as soon as they had reached the top, loosing the white belts they had on, they were directed to fix them upon poles, and extend them above the trees; that the gleaming girdles brandished about might be seen as well by the Macedonians below, as the Barbarians above them. The active and intrepid band, as soon as they had with difficulty reached the top, at sun-rise according to orders brandished their belts: when the Macedonians set up a general shout. Ariomazes apprehending the whole army were in possession of the top of the mountain, and above their heads, surrendered himself and his rock to Alexander, supposing his power and abilities divine.

(30) The Calthaeans, a people of India, Alexander had entirely exterminated; having slain all that were able to bear arms, and leveled their city Sangalata with the ground. This act prejudiced him much in the opinion of the Indians; who considered him as a savage, and a free-booter. In order to remove these prejudices, from the next city, he reduced in India, he took hostages; and advancing against Paeta, large and populous city, before his army he placed the hostages, old men, and boys, and women. As soon as the enemy saw their own countrymen, and from the condition in which they appeared concluded the humanity with which their conqueror had treated them, they opened their gates, and with his hostages readily received him: and this account of his clemency being studiously propagated induced other Indian nations voluntarily to submit to him.

(31) The country of the Cossaeans Alexander found rough and uncultivated, the mountains high and almost inaccessible, the posts defended by a numerous and resolute body of men: he had therefore little hopes of making himself master of it. At that time he received information of the death of Hephaestion, who died at Babylon: in consequence of which he ordered a general mourning; and put the army in motion, in order to celebrate his funeral. The Cossaean scouts seeing that, and supposing them going to evacuate the country, reported the motions of the Macedonian army; and the Cossaeans began to disband. Alexander, having received intelligence of the error, into which his movement had betrayed the enemy, detached a body of horse to secure the posts on the mountains: then wheeling round he joined the detachment of cavalry, and completed the conquest of the country. This circumstance, it was said, arising from Hephaestion’s death, consoled Alexander for the loss of his friend.

(32) In the palace of the Persian monarch Alexander read a bill of fare for the king’s dinner and supper, that was engraven on a column of brass: on which were also other regulations, which Cyrus had directed. It ran [run] thus.
“Of fine wheat flour four hundred artabae (a Median artaba is an Attic bushel). Of second flour three hundred artabae, and of third flour the same: in the whole one thousand artabae of wheat flour for supper. Of the finest barley flour two hundred artabae, of the second four hundred, and four hundred of the third: in all one thousand artabae of barley flour. Of oatmeal two hundred artabae. Of paste mixed for pastry of different kinds ten artabae. Of cresses chopped small, and sifted, and formed into a kind of ptisan, ten artabae. Of mustard-seed the third of an artabae. Male sheep four hundred. Oxen a hundred. Horses thirty. Fat geese four hundred. Three hundred turtles. Small birds of different kinds six hundred. Lambs three hundred. Gosslings a hundred. Thirty head of deer. Of new milk ten marises (a maris contains ten attic choas). Of milk whey sweetened ten marises. Of garlick a talent’s worth. Of strong onions half a talent’s worth. Of knot grass an artaba. Of the juice of benzoin two minae. Of cumin an artaba. Of benzoin a talent worth. Of rich cider the fourth of an artaba. Of millet seed three talents worth. Of anise flowers three minae. Of coriander seed the third of an artaba. Of melon seed two capises. Of parsnips ten artabae. Of sweet wine five marises. Of salted gongylis five marises. Of pickled capers five marises. Of salt ten artabae. Of Ethiopian [Aethiopian] cumin six capises (a capise is an attic chaenix). Of dried anise thirty minae. Of parsley feed four capises. Oil of Sisamin ten marises. Cream five marises. Oil of cinnamon five marises. Oil of acanthus five marises. Oil of sweet almonds three marises. Of dried sweet almonds three artabae. Of wine five hundred marises. (And if he supped at Babylon or Susa, one half was palm wine, and the other half wine expressed from grapes). Two hundred load of dry wood, and one hundred load of green. Of fluid honey a hundred square palathae, containing the weight of about ten minae. When he was in Media, there were added – of bastard saffron feed three artabae: of saffron two minae. This was the appointment for dinner and supper. He also expended in largesses five hundred artabae of fine wheat flour. Of fine barely flour a thousand artabae: and of other kinds of flour a thousand artabae. Of rice five hundred artabae. Of corn five hundred marises. Of corn for the horses twenty thousand artabae. Of straw ten thousand load. Of vetches five thousand load. Of oil of Sisamin two hundred marises. Of vinegar a hundred marises. Of cresses chopped small thirty artabae. All, that is here enumerated, was distributed among the forces, that attended him. In dinner, and supper, and in largessess, the above was the king’s daily expenditure.
While the Macedonians read this appointment of the Persian monarch’s table, with admiration of the happiness of a prince, who displayed such affluence; Alexander ridiculed him, as an unfortunate man, who could wantonly involve himself in so many cares; and ordered the pillar, on which these articles were engraved, to be demolished: observing to his friends, that it was no advantage to a king to live in so luxurious a manner; for cowardice and dastardly were the certain consequences of luxury and dissipation. Accordingly, added he, you have experienced that those, who have been used to such revels, never knew how to face danger in the field.