BACTRIA AT THE HEIGHT OF ITS POWER

It must have been about the year 230 B.C. that Euthydemus, the Magnesian, murdered Diodotus and usurped his throne. Who Euthydemus was is quite unknown; but no doubt a kingdom with the romantic history of Bactria appealed to the Greek imagination, and attracted many “soldiers of fortune” ready to make a bid for success in the new world which had just been thrown open to them.

The treachery of Euthydemus was palliated, if not justified, by its success. Under him and his successors Bactria not only magnificently vindicated her rights to an independent existence, but launched upon a career of conquest and expansion which paralyzed her rivals, and was destined to spread Hellenic influence more surely and permanently than had been done by the great Macedonian himself. So remarkable is the career of Euthydemus, that later historians forget the existence of Diodotus. “The house of Euthydemus,” says Strabo, “was the first to establish Bactrian independence.” It is possible, indeed, that the weak and vacillating policy of Diodotus particularly towards Bactria’s national and well-hated rival, Parthia, was to a large degree responsible for his murder, which could hardly have taken place without the connivance of at least the great Iranian nobles.

Euthydemus had some years of uneventful prosperity in which to consolidate the empire he had seized before he was challenged to vindicate his right by the ordeal of war. In 223 B.C. Antiochus III., second son of Seleucus Callinicus, succeeded to the throne of Syria. Antiochus has some right to the title of “The Great,” which he assumed. He is one of the few Syrian monarchs for whom we can feel any real respect, combining as he did the personal valour which had become a tradition among the successors of Alexander’s generals with a military talent and a reluctance to waste the resources of his kingdom in interminable petty campaigns, which is only too rare in his predecessors.

It was only in reply to a direct challenge from Parthia that Antiochus interfered at all in what was taking place in the east of his dominions. Artabanus I. (who succeeded Tiridates I. about 214 B.C.), pursuing the policy of aggression which under his predecessors had succeeded so admirably, took advantage of the rebellion of a satrap named Achaeus to advance and occupy Media. This was open defiance, and Antiochus could not ignore it if he would. An arduous campaign followed. Antiochus did not make the mistake of underrating his foe, and Justin even puts his forces at 100,000 infantry and 20,000 cavalry. However, the Parthians merely fell back farther and farther into their mountain fastnesses, and at length the dogged courage of Artabanus found its own reward.

The independence for which Parthia had fought so well and so persistently was at last recognized, and Antiochus even condescended to form an alliance with his gallant antagonist, though lesser Media was restored to Syria. Perhaps, however, it was Artabanus who suggested to Antiochus the invasion of the rival State of Bactria, and he may even have lent him troops or promised co-operation. He may have pointed out to Antiochus what was fast becoming apparent, that Bactria, under the peaceful rule of Euthydemus, with its great natural resources, and the advantage of an enterprising Greek to direct its fortunes, was fast becoming a menace to Parthia and Syria alike. Besides, it would be a triumph of diplomacy if Parthia could divert the forces of so dreaded a neighbour against her cherished rival. Whichever way the fortunes of war might veer, Parthia must be the gainer. If Antiochus were successful, the fidelity and assistance of Artabanus might be rewarded by the control of Bactria, and, at the least, Bactrian aggression would be checked for ever. On the other hand, if the Syrian forces were defeated, anarchy would no doubt soon reign once more in Syria, and Parthia would find her opportunity for further expansion once again. Antiochus had an excuse at hand for yielding to the arguments of Artabanus, if indeed we are right in supposing the Syrian monarch to have been influenced in his action by his new ally. Bactria had incurred the enmity of the Seleucids in the reign of the last monarch; the weak and short-sighted policy of Diodotus II. had enabled Parthia to establish her independence, as we have seen, unmolested; and, above all, the Syrian Empire, rich though it was, had been almost exhausted by years of suicidal war and misgovernment, and could ill afford the loss of the most fertile of her provinces, “the glory of Iran,” as it was popularly called. To regain the allegiance of Bactria was a natural ambition.

The expedition against Bactria must have started in the year 209 B.C., perhaps in the early spring. Antiochus chose to attack the country by approaching from the south and striking at the capital.

The campaign has been described by Polybius in the concise vivid style which gives the reader so ready an impression of military operations. Unfortunately, the chapter is an isolated fragment only, and breaks off after a description of the battle with which the campaign opened, leaving all account of the subsequent operations a blank. Of the invasion, however, the ravages of time have spared us a minute account. Antiochus marched along the southern borders of the Arius, the river which rises in the Hindu-Kush, and loses itself, like so many rivers in that region, in the shifting sands and fertile patches just beyond the Tejend Oasis. The invader had of necessity to choose his route in a march upon Bactria, if he wished to avoid the hardships and perils of the Bactrian wastes.

He learnt that the ford6 by which he intended to cross into the enemy’s territory was held in force by the famous Bactrian cavalry, and to attempt to force a passage in the face of these was to court disaster. Knowing, however, that it was a Bactrian custom to withdraw their main army at night, leaving a thin screen of pickets to hold the positions occupied, Antiochus determined on a bold bid for success. Leaving his infantry behind, he advanced swiftly and suddenly with a picked body of cavalry, and attacked, probably at dawn, so unexpectedly, that he carried the passage almost unopposed, driving the pickets back upon the main body. A fierce encounter now took place between the picked horsemen of Iran and Syria. Antiochus, with the recklessness characteristic of the successors of Alexander and his generals, led the charge, and after a hand-to-hand combat, in which he received a sabre-cut in the mouth and lost several teeth, he had the satisfaction of routing the enemy completely. The main Syrian army now came up and crossed the river. Euthydemus appears not to have risked a general engagement, but to have fallen back on his almost impregnable capital. Of the details of the siege we know nothing, but it may be that it is to this blockade that Polybius refers when he says that the “siege of Bactria” was one of the great sieges of history, and a common-place for poet and rhetorician. Time wore on, and still the “City of the Horse” held out. A long absence from home was unsafe for Antiochus, for the Syrian Empire might at any moment break out into one of those incessant rebellions which were the bane of the Seleucid Empire. Both sides, perhaps, were not unready for a compromise, and this was brought about by the good offices of a certain Teleas, a fellow-countryman of Euthydemus, and hence especially suitable for the task. On behalf of the Bactrian prince, he pointed out that it was illogical to cast upon him the blame accruing from the policy of Diodotus II. in forming an alliance with Parthia. In fact, Euthydemus was the enemy of Diodotus, and had merited the gratitude of Antiochus in destroying the “children of those who first rebelled.” A still more cogent argument sufficed to convince the king. The Scythian hordes were on the move, and threatening the borders of the Jaxartes like a storm-cloud. Bactria was the outpost of Hellenic civilization, and on its integrity depended the safety of the Syrian empire; and Euthydemus pointed out that to weaken Bactria would be a fatal step for the cause of Hellas. “Greece would admittedly lapse into barbarism.”

This is the first mention we have of the aggressive attitude of the tribes beyond the Jaxartes; but the problem was evidently not a new one to Euthydemus or to Antiochus. The Seleucid monarch came to the conclusion that it was to his interest to preserve the integrity of this great frontier state, which guarded the roads from India and the north. The terms on which peace was concluded must have caused intense chagrin to the Parthian allies of Antiochus.

An alliance, offensive and defensive, was concluded between the royal houses of Bactria and Syria: this, of course, included the recognition of the claim by Euthydemus to the royal title, which was perhaps granted on condition that he should guard the Scythian frontier (for it was chiefly on this ground that the claim had been put forward); the alliance, moreover, was to be sealed by the betrothal of the young daughter of Antiochus to Demetrius, the gallant prince who had caught the attention of the Seleucid whilst conducting negotiations on behalf of his father in the Syrian camp. Euthydemus may have urged on Antiochus the propriety of recovering that old appanage of Bactria, the satrapy of Paropamisus. The strategic value of the kingdom of Kabul was beyond question; it had been recognized by Alexander, who had placed it in the hands of Oxyartes, who, as we have already seen, probably continued to administer it till, by the weakness or negligence of Seleucus Nicator, it passed back to the hands of Chandragupta Maurya. It was probably in this domain that Antiochus found the Indian princeling Sophagasenas or Subhagasena reigning; who the latter was is quite uncertain. It was conjectured at one time that the name Subhagasena is a title of Jalauka, a son of the great Asoka, who had died in 231 B.C.; but Jalauka himself is a misty personality, of whom we know little besides the vague, though voluminous, stories of Kashmir tradition. Euthydemus, on behalf of whom the expedition was mainly undertaken, was under the obligation by the terms of the treaty to provide the means for its accomplishment. For a third time (the last for many centuries) the tramp of armies from the far west was heard down the long winding defiles of the historic Khyber.

But the expedition does not appear to have been carried out with the thoroughness which Euthydemus would have liked. It was little more than a demonstration in force. Subhagasena appears to have yielded very easily, and consented to the payment of a considerable indemnity and the surrender of elephants. Antiochus had already been overlong absent from Syria, and he hastened home by the Kandahar road, through Arachosia and Carmania. Androsthenes of Cyzicus was left behind to receive the sum owing to the Syrian coffers, and to follow with it later.

Euthydemus figures on several fine coins which have been recovered; he appears on them as a man in the prime of life, with a heavy stern face. The wide area over which his coins are found points to a considerable extension of the Bactrian domains. An attempt was probably made in his life-time to annex those territories which had been ceded to Chandragupta by Seleucus Nicator, and with the break-up of the Maurya kingdom on the death of Asoka this was quite feasible. Doubtless Demetrius took a prominent part in leading his father’s armies, and he may have been associated with him in ruling in the now extensive dominions of Bactria, though it is probably a mistake to attribute the Indian expedition and the foundation of Euthydemia to this reign. It is, of course, unsafe to draw inferences too certainly from coins, but the coins of Euthydemus have been discovered, not only in Bactria and Sogdiana, but in Paropamisus (which may have been put under the suzerainty of Bactria by Antiochus), Arachosia, Drangiana, Margiana, and Aria.

Euthydemus may well have looked back upon his career with pride. By sheer ability he had vindicated his right to the crown he had so violently wrested away. The ablest of the Seleucids had come to punish him as a revolting vassal; before he left, the Bactrian, by his dogged valour, had won that monarch’s respect and friendship. He was lord of a great, fertile, and important realm; his son had already shown promise as a warrior and statesman; and the latter’s wedding with a princess of the proudest of the Hellenic families, whose royal ancestor, the great “Seleucus the Conqueror,” second only to Alexander himself, claimed the God Apollo as his father, was a guarantee of lasting peace and friendship with Syria. The hated Parthians were paralyzed for the time by their rival’s success, and Bactria must have been growing rich in her position at the confluence of the world’s trade routes. Ever since the day when, according to the oft-repeated story, Bindusara sent to request a “supply of wine and a sophist” from his Syrian contemporary, and Chandragupta sent presents of drugs to his father-in-law, the growth of luxury in the Greek world, and the establishment of new cities of the type of Alexandria, must have created a great demand for Indian goods. A further proof of the close ties binding India and the West is found in the fact that, twice at least, Greek ambassadors were in residence at the court of the Mauryas, Megasthenes at the court of Chandragupta, and Deimachus at that of Bindusara.

Frequent as must have been the caravans from Kabul to Bactria, others doubtless arrived from the distant Seres of the north-east, for the then novel commodity of silk was in great demand in the luxurious towns of the new and cosmopolitan Hellenic age, of which Alexandria is so typical. The forum of Bactria must have resembled that of Sagala in Menander’s days, when traders of every creed and tongue crowded the bazaars, and the innumerable shops were loaded with the most heterogeneous articles—muslin and silk, sweetstuffs, spices, drugs, metal work in brass and silver, and jewels of all kinds.25 Small wonder that Euthydemus is regarded as the founder of Bactria. Only one storm-cloud marred the otherwise shining prospect, and that was as yet low down on the distant horizon. The barbarians beyond the Jaxartes were still moving uneasily. About the year 190 B.C. the long and eventful reign of Euthydemus came to an end, and the kingdom passed to a worthy successor in Demetrius. Whether Demetrius had already begun his eastern conquests we do not know, but at some period of his reign Bactria reached the climax of her prosperity. The ancient citadel of the Iranians was the capital of a mighty Empire, as the words of Strabo testify: “The Greeks who occasioned the revolt (i.e., Euthydemus and his family), owing to the fertility and advantages of Bactria, became masters of Ariana and India…. These conquests were achieved partly by Menander and partly by Demetrius, son of Euthydemus…. They overran not only Pattalene, but the kingdoms of Saraostos and Sigerdis, which constitute the remainder of the coast.…They extended their empire as far as the Seres and Phrynoi.” Their object, obviously, was to reach the sea for trading purposes; a similar object led them to secure the highroad into China.

The evidence of the coins of Euthydemus (vide ante) seems to point to the occupation of Aria by that king. Conquests east of Kabul, on the other hand, appear from Strabo’s words to have been the work of Demetrius, probably after his father’s death, though this is not certain. Strabo speaks very vaguely of the extent of the dominions of Demetrius. By Pattalene he appears to mean the kingdom of Sind, the country which was first taken from Musicanus by Alexander the Great. On the west of the Indus, all the country from the Cophen to the mountains appears to have thus belonged to Bactria; east of the Indus, after the annexation of the kingdom of the Delta (Pattalene), it was not a great step to proceed to subdue the neighbouring kingdom of Kathiawar or Surashtra (the Greek Saraostos). What quite is indicated by the “kingdom of Sigerdis” it appears to be impossible to determine. It may have been some minute “kingdom” (i.e., the domain of some petty raja) between Pattala and Surashtra.

Besides these kingdoms on the coast, we have evidence to confirm the opinion that a considerable portion of the Panjab fell into the hands of Demetrius as well. It is usual to ascribe to him the foundation of the town of Euthydemia, which he named after his father, according to a not uncommon practice. Euthydemia became the capital of the Bactrian kingdom east of the Indus, and under its Indian name, Sagala, grew to be a flourishing city of great wealth and magnitude. The question of the identity of Sagala (or Sakala) is a matter of dispute. It is now held that it is not to be confused with the “Sangala” razed to the ground by Alexander; and modern authorities identify it with either Shorkot, near the modern Jhang, not far from the confluence of the Acesines and Hydraotes, or Sialkot, further north, near Lahore, and not far from the head waters of the Acesines. Later on we shall see that Menander was born “near Alexandria,” “200 leagues from Sagala,” and this would certainly point to Sialkot rather than Shorkot, if “Alexandria” is the town at the “junction of the Acesines and Indus” mentioned by Arrian (Anab., VI. 5). It is difficult to believe that the Bactrians had any permanent hold on the country up to the Chinese borderland. Perhaps all that Strabo means is that all the territory up to the great emporium on the extreme west of Serike—i.e., Tashkurghan in Sarikol, was under Bactrian influence, and, perhaps for commercial reasons, was protected by their troops from the raids of Sakas and other nomadic marauders.

The coins of Demetrius illustrate the history of his reign in an interesting manner. Like his father, he seems to have adopted the god Hercules as his patron deity, and Hercules figures upon the coins of Euthydemus and Demetrius, very much as the thundering Zeus figures on those of the Diodoti, or the Dioscuri on the coinage of Demetrius’s antagonist and successor, the pro-Syrian Eucratides. These coins were doubtless issued for circulation in Bactria proper, like the famous and striking specimen which Gardner reproduces, on which a figure, almost certainly to be identified as the Bactrian Anahid, appears, clad as she is described in the Zend-Avesta.

For use in his domains beyond the Paropamisus, Demetrius issued a series of coins of a more suitable character, remarkable alike for their workmanship and as representing the earliest attempt at that amalgamation of Greek technique and Indian form, which is one of the most striking features of the coinage of the Indo-Bactrian dynasties. To this series we may safely assign the silver coins which represent the King as an Indian raja, wearing an elephant helmet, and those bearing an elephant’s head; these coins are, it must be observed, purely Greek in standard and pattern, and are probably earlier than the series of square coins, where an attempt at compromise between Greek and Indian methods first appears.

It seems probable that Demetrius divided his Indian possessions into minor principalities for greater convenience of government. A system of satrapies, or small feudal states, appears to have been the only form of administration found possible by the invaders of India, whether Scythian, Parthian, or Greek. It was, indeed, the form of government most adapted to the eastern temperament. From time to time the influence of some master mind had consolidated a great empire in India; but the bonds had always been purely artificial, liable to dissolution on the appearance of a weak or incapable ruler. It had become apparent on the death of Asoka how little even the great Mauryas had succeeded in introducing elements of cohesion into their vast and heterogeneous realms.

The small satrapy appears to have been the natural political unit in India, as the city state was in Greece. However, Demetrius did not arrive at a satisfactory solution of the problem of simultaneously governing two distant and diverse kingdoms. Perhaps his continued absence in India aroused the jealousy of the Græco-Iranian kingdom in the north; it may be that the inhabitants of Bactria looked upon Sagala with jealous eyes, as a new and alien capital; at any rate, the absence of Demetrius gave ample opportunity for a rival to establish himself securely in Bactria before the arrival of troops from the far south to overthrow him.

The rival who did this was one Eucratides. Who he was, or what may have been his motive, we can only infer from his coins in a somewhat conjectural fashion; one thing, however, seems more or less plain, that he was connected in some way to the royal house of Seleucus. In his sympathies, and probably by birth, he is distinctly closely bound up with the reigning dynasty in Syria.

Justin implies that he seized the throne about the time of the accession of Mithradates I. in Parthia—i.e., about 174 B.C., or a little earlier. We may suppose that Demetrius was engaged in his Indian conquests and the administrative and other problems they entailed, and either had no leisure to attend to what was happening in Bactria, or did not feel himself strong enough to march against so powerful a rival until his power in the south was sufficiently consolidated. Meanwhile Eucratides was pursuing a vigorous policy in the north, not always with the success he deserved. Enemies were springing up in all directions to menace Bactria, and Eucratides had to vindicate his right to the throne he had claimed. The first and most formidable rival was Mithradates I. Mithradates appears to have succeeded with the special mission of counteracting Bactrian influence, for Phraates, his brother, had left the throne to him in preference to his numerous sons, as the ablest successor, and one most likely to continue the great mission of extending Parthian dominion in the east, the progress of which had been thwarted since 206 B.C., when Antiochus the Great had raised her rival to the position of ally and equal. The continual threats of aggression from the Parthians, the ever-increasing pressure on the frontier, which caused various wars (perhaps not of great magnitude, but harassing, as a foretaste of what was to come) on the Sogdian frontier, and a campaign—against whom we are not informed—in Drangiana, made the life of Eucratides anything but peaceful. The struggle with the monarch he had dispossessed, moreover, was coming, and Eucratides went to meet it with great spirit. At one time the fortunes of war seemed to have definitely turned against him; by a final effort Demetrius, with the huge force of 60,000 men, caught and besieged his rival, whose army by some means had sunk to only 300 men. By a marvellous combination of skill and good-fortune, Eucratides cut his way out after a siege, which (if we are to believe the only authority upon the incident) lasted five months, and this proved to be the turning-point in the war. Soon after the Indian dominions of Demetrius fell into the hands of Eucratides, and the once powerful Demetrius either perished or was deposed about the year 160 B.C.

If, as is just possible, Eucratides was really the grandson of his royal opponent,39 the great disparity between their ages would account for the ease with which that once doughty leader allowed himself to be defeated by a handful of desperate men, whom he had conquered with a vastly superior force; it would also save the historian from the necessity of condemning Justin’s whole account of these incidents as exaggerated and inaccurate—always a pre-eminently unscientific proceeding in the case of an uncontroverted statement. The victory over Demetrius is probably commemorated in the fine coins reproduced by Gardner, which represent, in a most spirited fashion, “the great twin brethren,” with their lances at the charge, waving the palms of victory. These were evidently struck for use in Bactria; for use in the provinces beyond the Hindu-Kush very probably he struck a series of coins, where the blending of Greek and Indian art is illustrated in a curious manner, bearing the goddess Nikê, holding a wreath on the obverse, and a Pali inscription on the reverse, in Kharoshthi characters. The coins are bronze and square, this being another instance in which the Indian shape replaces the Greek circular coin.

It is extremely interesting to notice the manner in which the Greek temperament adapts itself to changed conditions. Eucratides gives himself the title of “Maharaja” (which he translates by the Greek ΜΕΓΑΛΟϒ ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ) in his Indian domains; in Bactria, however, he appears as the leader of the Greek, as opposed to the Iranian section of the populace. By birth and leanings it seems evident that Eucratides was thoroughly Greek. His coins betray his pride of birth; the distinctive figure on nearly all his Bactrian issues is a representation of the Dioscuri, mounted; they were the patron saints of the Seleucids, and under the rule of the “son of Laodice,” took the same place on his coinage as Zeus, the thunder-god, did on the coins of the Diodoti. One of the most striking features of Bactria is the utter predominance of everything Greek in its history. The coins are essentially Greek, the rulers are certainly so. The Iranian population never seems to have had any voice at all in the government, though we must remember that Greek was the language of commerce and civilization in Western Asia, and we are apt to be easily misled by the fact that Greek names, coinage, and language were exclusively used. In Parthia, for instance, we know that national feeling was utterly anti-Hellenic, and yet Greek appears to have been the language generally used for commercial and public purposes. Perhaps it was his partiality for Greek customs and his pride in his Seleucid blood that brought about the downfall of Eucratides.

While returning from India, Justin tells us, he was murdered by his own son, who had shared the throne with him, and who, far from concealing the murder, declared that he had killed “not a parent, but a public enemy,” and brutally drove his chariot through the dead monarch’s blood, and ordered his body to be cast out unburied (circa 156 B.C.). Thus perished one of the most remarkable of the many really great, though obscure, monarchs of the Bactrian Empire. A splendid coin, figured by Gardner in his catalogue, enables us to form a very good idea of the appearance of the king—a proud, determined man, wearing the Kausia, diademed with crest, and the bull’s horn at the side. On the reverse, significantly, are figured the Dioscuri, charging with long lances and waving the palms of victory. The delineation of the steeds is worthy of the highest traditions of Greek Art. The title of ‘the Great’ appears on the coin, ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΜΕΓΑΛΟϒ ΕϒΚΡΑΤΙΔΟϒ. The name of the parricide who thus foully deprived his father of his life and throne is not recorded. Some authorities have identified him with Heliocles, who is supposed by them to have headed a native reaction, fomented either by his father’s Hellenizing tendencies, or by his inactive policy against Mithridates. Mithradates, we know, took the satrapies of “Aspionus and Turiva” from Eucratides, and it is possible that this caused dissatisfaction at the policy of the Bactrian monarch. There is, however, some reason to suppose that the parricide’s name was Apollodotus, who may have been led by the supposed patriotic character of his deed to assume the titles of ΣΩΤНΡ, ΝΙΚНΦΟΡΟΣ, and ΜΕΓΑΣ, which we find on his coins. It is supposed that Heliocles avenged his father’s murder and secured the throne, probably putting his brother to death; some have thought that this is indicated by the title “ΔΙΚΑΙΟΣ,” which appears on his coins. It is probable, however, that the title of the “Just” is of Buddhist origin, but this point may be more appropriately discussed later on.

Apollodotus seems to have enjoyed a very brief reign, and Heliocles probably succeeded in 156 B.C. With him the rule of the Greeks in Bactria comes to an end; the Bactrian princes were forced to transfer their empire to their capital beyond the Hindu-Kush. The murder of Eucratides was worse than a crime—it was a blunder. The death of the one man capable of saving the situation rendered resistance useless, and the country was still further enfeebled by the rise of a number of princelings or satraps, who were necessary for the government, as we have seen, of the immensely increased Bactrian territory, but who were always inclined, on the removal of a strong hand, to assert their independence. The semi-independent character of these petty rajas is shown by the style of the inscriptions upon their coins.

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Gergovia: Vercingetorix’s Victory

As the survivors from Avaricum neared Vercingetorix’s camp he took special precautions to conceal their flight and the fall of the town. He posted his own supporters as well as tribal leaders at some way from the camp to intercept the fugitives and secretly take them to their own tribes’ quarters.

The next day Vercingetorix gathered his men and delivered a speech that was designed to minimize the impact of the fall of the towns on the Gauls’ morale. He claimed that it had fallen due to superior Roman siege technology and trickery, not because of the bravery of the Romans. He disassociated himself from its fall by rightly claiming he had never been in favour of defending it but had yielded to the pleas of the Bituriges. He glossed over the prior defeats the Gauls had sustained at Cenabum and elsewhere, claiming that such reverses were a normal part of warfare. He promised to extend the alliance to those Gauls who had not yet joined. He then suggested that the best course at present was to fortify their camp.

The speech was well-received. The fall of Avaricum enhanced Vercingetorix’s standing and weakened his opponents. The Gauls were well aware that he had advised against the attempt to hold the town and he had now been vindicated. There was also strong support for extending the war to as much of Gaul as possible. Doing so would not only add to the rebels’ manpower but it would also create problems for the Romans who would find themselves overextended. The capture of Avaricum as well as the earlier victories at Vellaunodunum and Cenabum had brought Caesar no political benefit. They had only served to strengthen Vercingetorix’s position and further unify the rebels.

Vercingetorix took immediate steps to implement his proposals. He sent out representatives to the tribes that had so far kept aloof from the rebellion, enticing them with gifts and promises. He then set about making up the losses suffered at Avaricum by instituting quotas from the tribes and requiring them to come to his camp on a set day. These actions soon made up for his losses. His diplomatic offensive also produced results. Teotomatus, a son of Ollovico, the king of the Nitiobriges who had been given the title of friend by the Senate, joined him with a large cavalry force and with mercenaries hired in Aquitania.

For a few days Caesar remained at Avaricum. The captured town provided him with an abundant supply of grain and the army needed to rest and refit after the strains of the siege. The winter was now almost over, which would make campaigning easier, and he set out in pursuit of the enemy in the hope of bringing them to battle or starving them out by a blockade. Before he could set out the leaders of the Aedui arrived to ask for Caesar’s help. Once again, tribal politics created problems. The election to office of the vergobret, their supreme annual magistrate, was at issue. Two men were claiming that they had been legally elected while only one could hold office. One of them was Convictolitavis, a distinguished young man, while the other, Cotus, was an aristocrat with considerable connections and influence. Both men had strong support and the dispute threatened to tear the fabric of the state apart. The Aedui asked for Caesar’s help to resolve the matter. The delay the request imposed was unwelcome. If he agreed to it, it would postpone the campaign against Vercingetorix and give Vercingetorix further time to prepare. But Caesar could hardly ignore such a request from the Aedui, Rome’s oldest allies in the area. On occasion they had provided useful military support to him, but more importantly they had been a major source of supply. In addition, one side or the other might call in Vercingetorix as an ally. He had already seen some evidence of the tribe’s less-than enthusiastic collaboration. Their negligence in delivering grain during the siege of Avaricum hinted at disaffection among the tribal elite.

To avoid breaking tribal laws which specified that vergobret could not leave Aeduan territory, Caesar summoned the two men involved as well as the entire council to Decetia, modern Decize, at the confluence of the Loire and the Aron, within their territory. After hearing the facts of the case Caesar awarded the office to Convictolitavis. It was a decision that stored up trouble for the future.

After a conciliatory speech calling on the Aedui to set aside their disputes he ordered them to send all of their cavalry and 10,000 infantry to serve as guards for his grain supply. Clearly Vercingetorix’s strategy had had some effect. Caesar divided his army into two columns; four legions were assigned to Labienus to conduct operations against the Senones and the Parisii, while Caesar would take the remaining six legions along the valley of the Allier towards Gergovia, the capital of the Arverni.

Vercingetorix, learning of Caesar’s arrangements, moved up the western bank of the river while Caesar made his way along the eastern side. He kept pace with the Romans, breaking down the bridges over which they might cross, and he posted scouts to deny the Romans the opportunity of constructing their own. This manoeuvre put Caesar in a difficult position. The Allier would not be fordable until the autumn. To wait until then would mean the loss of an entire campaigning season. The only course open to him was to trick Vercingetorix. He encamped in a wood opposite one of the bridges that had been torn down. The next day he hid two of the legions in the woods while he sent on the remainder, who were formed up so as to conceal the absence of the legions he had kept behind. When he estimated that those legions were now in camp he ordered his two legions to rapidly construct a bridge. The task was made easier because the piles of the original bridge had been left standing. He took his two legions across, encamped and summoned the other legions to him. Vercingetorix, realizing what had happened, moved on by forced marches to avoid a fight.

The march to Gergovia consumed five days and on the last day a minor cavalry skirmish occurred. Caesar then examined the site, which posed formidable problems. It was situated on a mountain rising 1,200 feet (367m) above the plain about 3.5 miles (6km) south of Clermont Ferrand. The northern side of the mountain was broken by precipitous cliffs, which made an attack impossible. An attack on the eastern side was equally out of the question. It was rugged, steep and dotted with ravines. Looked at from the south the town was situated on an oblong plateau that formed the mountain’s summit, and the higher terraces were linked to an outlying height by a ridge on which the Gauls were encamped. Their tents were protected by a stone wall that ran for the entire length of the southern side of the mountain. There was no hope of taking Gergovia by storm. Even on the south side where the ascent was easiest the ground was steep and dangerous. The Gallic encampment on that side meant that such an attack could not succeed. The only possibility was to cut off the town’s food supply with a siege. But Caesar could not start the operation until his own grain supply was secure.

Vercingetorix had seized control of a height close to the town and had placed various tribal contingents at intervals along the ridge. He was in constant contact with the tribal chiefs and did as much as possible to involve them in the planning as a way to cement their loyalty and maintain his army’s cohesion. He constantly sent out his cavalry accompanied by archers to keep up his men’s morale.

Opposite the town there was a hill with precipitous sides, the modern Roche Blanche, which was strongly fortified. The Gauls had also installed a garrison on it but only of moderate strength. If Caesar could gain control of it he would greatly ease the difficulties of besieging Gergovia, as he could cut the enemy off from their main water supply, the River Auzon, and prevent their forces from foraging. Caesar launched a night attack by which he was able to dislodge the garrison and seize control of the hill. He built a second smaller camp there with two legions, and linked it by a double ditch 12 feet (3.6m) wide to his main camp.

Despite this success Caesar was threatened by developments among the Aedui that remain difficult to explain. Convictolitavis, whom Caesar had recently installed in the tribe’s chief magistracy, had begun a plot to end the Aedui’s allegiance to Rome. Caesar claims he was bribed, but it is difficult to accept that this was the only reason for his change of heart. The money may have been an incentive, but even for the Aedui who had benefitted from Caesar’s victories the Roman presence was a heavy burden. They had been under constant pressure to provide Caesar with supplies and troops, which must have created extensive unrest. The tribal elite had as much to fear from its Roman ally as the other Gallic states if the Romans established permanent control. The Roman alliance had been attractive when it could be used by the Aedui in their conflicts with their neighbours, but Caesar’s campaigns had ended that possibility. The success of the Gallic revolt would once again open up the options that Caesar’s campaigns had closed.

Convictolitavis seems to have been convinced of the success of that revolt and saw it as an opportunity to enhance his position. He began talks with younger members of the elite who had less to lose and more to expect from a radical change in the political and military situation. The most important faction among these young men was that of Litaviccus and his brothers. The conspirators came to an agreement and began to plan their strategy. They managed to have Litaviccus placed in charge of the 10,000 infantry that Caesar has requested to guard his supply lines to the Aedui. The Aeduan cavalry had already arrived at Caesar’s camp before the infantry had set out. When the infantry had advanced within 27 miles (43km) of Gergovia Litaviccus called an assembly of the troops. With tears streaming from his eyes he addressed them as follows:

Where are we going soldiers? Our entire cavalry force, all our nobility are dead. Eporedorix and Viridomarus without being allowed to offer a defence have been executed. Know this from these men here who escaped the slaughter. I am overwhelmed by grief at the butchery of brothers and all my relations and am unable to speak.

The men who came forward had been coached by Litaviccus and confirmed his version of events. The troops were convinced by the story and begged Litaviccus to tell them what to do. He pressed on them the urgent need to head for Gergovia and to join the Arverni in their struggle with the Romans to avenge the wrongs they had suffered. He then pointed to the Romans who had accompanied his force under his protection and urged the troops to take their revenge on them. Their goods were stolen and they were murdered. An act that he must have known would, as the massacre at Cenabum had done, irretrievably commit the Aedui to the rebel side. He then sent men back to Bibracte to rouse the Aedui to revolt with the same fabrications that had already proved so successful.

Meanwhile further trouble was brewing among the Aedui in Caesar’s camp. Two young men, Eporedorix and Viridomarus, were disputing the leadership of their cavalry contingent. This quarrel was only a continuation of an earlier disagreement they had had over the appointment of the vergobret. After hearing of Litaviccus’s plan Eporedorix had gone to Caesar during the night to inform him of it and to beg him to prevent the Aedui from defecting.

Caesar was clearly upset. Along with the Remi in Belgica the Aedui were his most important allies. His ability to carry on the siege of Gergovia depended on the Aedui provisioning him with grain and other supplies. If they rebelled his position there would become untenable. He immediately assembled a force of four legions and all of his cavalry and marched out of camp after issuing orders that Litaviccus’s brothers should be arrested, but they had already fled. He left his legate Gaius Fabius in charge of the siege with two legions but had had no time to reduce the size of the camp to make it easier for the smaller number of troops to defend it. The Romans advanced 23 miles (37km) and came in sight of the Aeduan column. Caesar sent his cavalry ahead to slow the column’s march but forbade his horsemen to kill any of the Aedui. He also commanded Eporedorix and Viridomarus to accompany them and show themselves to their fellow tribesmen. They rode up and called to them. When they were recognized the lies that Litaviccus had fed them were revealed. They immediately threw down their arms and begged for mercy. Finding himself exposed Litaviccus along with his clients fled to Gergovia. Caesar sent messengers to the Aedui to reassure them and to remind them that he could have put their infantry to death but had generously refrained doing so.

After resting his army for only three hours Caesar began his march back to Gergovia. As he advanced he was met by cavalry sent by Fabius to inform him that the camp was in danger. The small garrison that he had left behind was now under siege by a much larger force. The enemy had sufficient troops to fight in relays and the legions were on the point of exhaustion, since the size of the camp meant that no one could be spared in manning its defences. All of the camp’s gates but two had been blocked and a screen had been erected on the ramparts as a defence against the Gauls’ missiles. The threat to the camp spurred Caesar and his soldiers on. They reached the camp before sunrise.

Litaviccus’s men reached the Aedui before Caesar’s messengers. His accusations against the Romans were accepted as fact and they began to plunder the goods of the Roman citizens in Bibracte and then massacred or enslaved them. The ease with which his news was accepted points to how far the relationship with the Romans had deteriorated. Convictolitavis did all he could to support the uprising. Romans were expelled from Aeduan towns and then attacked and stripped of their baggage: among them was a military tribune, Marcus Aristeus, who was on his way to join his legion. However, once they had learned that their infantry was in Caesar’s power they immediately halted their attacks and approached Aristeus claiming that what had taken place was not done publically but had been carried out by private individuals without community sanction. To give substance to this claim they set up an inquiry into the stolen goods and confiscated the property of Litaviccus and his brothers. An embassy was dispatched to Caesar to try to clear the tribe of any wrongdoing. Regardless of their pleas for forgiveness, the Aedui seem to have taken these steps to rescue their men from Caesar; in fact, they seem to have already decided to throw in their lot with the rebels.

Caesar claims to have been aware of all this and to have decided on a withdrawal from Gergovia. It is difficult to assess the truth of his statement. The fact that he later did so after suffering one of his few reverses suggests that he may be exaggerating his foresight as a way of at least partially excusing his failure at Gergovia. He claims that a chance opportunity arose that offered the possibility of success and that led to a change of plans.

On an inspection tour of the works at the smaller camp Caesar noticed a hill that had previously been fully occupied by the Gauls now appeared empty of defenders. He questioned Gallic deserters and his own scouts and learned that there was a crest along the ridge of high ground on the rear of the hill that gave access to the plateau on which Gergovia sat. To close off this approach Vercingetorix had withdrawn his men from the hill so that they could fortify the line of the ridge. The ridge was probably part of the heights of Risolles, north-west of la Roche Blanche, where Caesar’s smaller camp was located. Questions have been raised as to whether such an action by the Gauls makes any military sense and if Caesar has altered the details to help excuse his failure at Gergovia. It is however perfectly plausible that after the loss of La Roche-Blanche Vercingetorix had decided to create a fallback position from the hill along the ridge to prevent the Romans from reaching the plateau. Caesar, in claiming the hill was devoid of men, is probably exaggerating. Vercingetorix probably left a smaller than normal garrison while most of his men were engaged in fortifying the ridge.

Caesar now saw the possibility of drawing the Gauls off from their main camp below the town so that it could be attacked. He dispatched a number of cavalry to the hill around midnight, instructing them to create as much disruption as possible. The next morning at dawn he sent drovers mounted on their mules and pack-horses disguised as cavalry and interspersed with a small number of real cavalry to ride around the hill and create a diversion. Caesar then sent a legion towards the same high ground but it halted short of the hill and concealed itself in some woods nearby. All of these movements drew off the Gauls from their main camp to defend the height. In preparation for his real objective, the attack on this camp, Caesar began to move his legions to his smaller camp nearer the enemy camp in small detachments to conceal his intentions. He then instructed his legates, each in command of a legion, that it was especially important to keep their men under control. The ground was unfavourable and the speed of the advance was crucial. He reminded them that his plan was not for a full-scale battle but simply to seize an opportunity that had presented itself. He ordered the Aedui to make an ascent to his right to further draw off the defenders.

In a straight line the distance from the town wall to where the ascent began was just over a mile. Although there were paths that led up that were less precipitous, their turnings increased the distance to the walls. The Gallic camp, which was composed of a number of separate tribal encampments, lay halfway up the hill and was protected by a 6 foot stone wall that followed the contours of the mountain. Their tents filled the space between this fortification wall and the town walls. The area in front of the 6 foot wall was unoccupied.

At the signal for attack the Romans quickly reached the fortification wall, crossed it and captured three of the enemy encampments, including that of the Nitiobriges. Caesar claims that this was all he intended and now he ordered that the retreat signal should be sounded. Caesar was with his favourite Tenth Legion, which immediately halted. He says that the others, because of a wide gully, did not hear the call for retreat but were held in check by their officers, but apparently not very effectively. They continued their pursuit of the fleeing rebels. The town wall was reached, creating panic inside the town. Some of the soldiers of the Eighth Legion, led by their centurion Lucius Fabius, managed to scale the town wall. However, the Gauls employed in fortifying another part of the town heard the uproar. They sent their cavalry on ahead and followed with all of their infantry at full speed. The Romans were exhausted by their climb, fighting on disadvantageous ground and faced by a much larger enemy force. Caesar became anxious about the situation and sent to his legate Titus Sextius who was in charge of the smaller camp to bring up cohorts quickly and to station them at the bottom of the hill on the enemy’s right flank. If the Romans were forced back Sextius’s troops would deter the Gauls’ pursuit. Caesar then advanced closer to the fighting with the Tenth and awaited its outcome. Although Caesar does not say so he presumably kept the Tenth as a reserve.

The Roman position deteriorated further when the Aedui, who had been ordered to ascend the hill, appeared and were mistaken for enemy reinforcements. Meanwhile Lucius Fabius and his men were killed and thrown headlong from the walls, while another centurion of the same legion Marcus Petronius, who was attempting to force the town’s gates, saved his men at the expense of his own life by fighting back the enemy and giving his men time to escape. The Romans were overwhelmed and forced back down the hill. The Tenth, stationed on lower ground, served as a rally point while the cohorts of the Thirteenth that had been brought up from the smaller camp and stationed on higher ground moved down to the Tenth’s former position. Once they had reached level ground the legions reformed and faced the Gauls, who now turned and made their way back to their own fortifications. The toll had been heavy, with the loss of 700 soldiers and forty-six centurions.

The next day Caesar assembled his troops and reprimanded them for their The next day Caesar assembled his troops and reprimanded them for their lack of discipline, although he made admiring remarks about their courage after so many tribulations. He then urged them not to despair. The defeat was due not to the Gauls’ bravery but rather to their fighting at a disadvantage because of the uneven ground. Right after the assembly he led the legions out and deployed them for battle on level ground. Vercingetorix brought his own troops down but after a cavalry skirmish in which the Romans prevailed he led his men back to their fortifications. Caesar formed up once again the following day and again the Gauls refused battle. It is clear that Caesar did not expect the Gauls to fight. The manoeuvre was designed to restore his men’s confidence rather than to threaten the enemy.

The fact that this was the gravest defeat that Caesar personally suffered in Gaul is indisputable but there has been much controversy over what Caesar intended at Gergovia. It is clear that his string of successful sieges at Avaricum and elsewhere led him to underestimate the strength of the Gallic resistance. Gergovia was a tempting prize. If he had captured it along with Vercingetorix he would have been able to extinguish a tribal alliance that was by far the most dangerous threat to Roman control of Gaul. However given the natural strength of the site and the large number of Gallic troops he faced, his forces were inadequate. Once he realized that capturing it by storm was a near impossibility his only option was to starve it out but he simply did not have the manpower to do so. The attack on the Gauls’ camp is mystifying. Did he simply intend a demonstration? If he did it is difficult to discern the purpose of it. Was it simply a demonstration to the Aedui and other tribes whose loyalty was ebbing away? It is hard to see what that would accomplish as long as he failed to take the town. It seems likely that Caesar intended to take Gergovia by drawing off the Gauls but that they responded too quickly and the Romans were defeated. Caesar has attempted to disguise his failure by obscuring the purpose of the attack and blaming his losses on his men’s lack of discipline rather than on the failure of his gamble. In spite of Caesar’s attempt to restore Roman prestige by offering battle to the Gauls, the failure to take Gergovia dealt a severe blow to his prestige. His legates had suffered reverses but Caesar had remained undefeated. Gergovia shattered any illusions the Gauls might have held about his invincibility and opened the way for a mass defection of the Gallic tribes now that they thought the Romans could be defeated.

Macedonian Army

In forging the Macedonian military machine Phillip created the first truly professional army in the Western world and established the template upon which all current conventional armies are based. He standardized equipment within formations organized according to their intended tactical function. The rank and file (volunteers as well as conscripts) were issued their kit gratis from government-operated armories and manufactories. Pay and remuneration were standardized according to military rank and duty without excessive regard to private status. Command and administrative structures were rationalized and made permanent with reasonable opportunity for advancement and recognition based (in part) on merit and demonstrated ability. Institutionalized provision was made for the full range of support functions from commissary through medical services to disability and veterans’ pensions. Indirect command and control was exercised through a regular and consistent chain of command from army down to squad with orders relayed by an elaborate system of voice commands, visual signals, and music. In contrast to the rather xenophobic and ad hoc tendency of the Southern Greeks, Phillip adopted and institutionalized the best innovations from both Greek and barbarian military practice, recombining these elements into a singularly effective and synergistic whole.

The Macedonian tactical system was based on four fundamental elements: Heavy Infantry, Light Infantry, Light Cavalry and Heavy Cavalry, but it also made indispensible use of traditionally armed troops, artillery and engineers, naval forces and the specialized skills of local troops as they were available. Phillip modeled his Heavy Infantry after the concepts of the mercenary general, Iphicrates, who had extended the traditional hoplite seven-foot stabbing spear into an eighteen- to twenty-foot pike. In order to effectively manage this heavy and awkward weapon with two hands, individual body armor was greatly reduced or eliminated and the large hoplon shield, from which Greek infantrymen (“hoplites”) derived their name, shrunk to a light buckler that could be suspended from the neck. The members of these modified phalanxes gained protection from the standoff provided by the deep hedge of iron-tipped pikes. Groups of heavy infantrymen were organized into disciplined “syntagma” or companies composed of 256 pikemen arrayed in ranks and files of 16 men each. The heavy Macedonian phalanx had relatively little tactical flexibility and was slow moving, but it could generate enormous momentum in the attack and could establish a formidably intractable defensive base.

Also following the ideas of Iphicrates, The Macedonians fielded large formations of Light Infantry – primarily missile troops called “peltasts” – who rapidly deployed in amorphous, but regulated formations to shower enemy troops with barrages of arrows, javelins, and lead sling bullets, relying on their own agility and mobility for protection. Light Cavalry also relied primarily on missiles as their primary weapons; either short javelins or arrows launched from composite bows. They performed the same range of critical tasks – scouting, flank security, envelopment, and pursuit that modern armies rely upon mechanized cavalry to perform. Under the right tactical circumstances they could even join a general assault against disorganized or badly positioned infantry.

Heavy Cavalry, although perhaps inspired by the eccentric practice of some wealthy steppe warriors, was Phillip’s unique military innovation and was a key to the Macedonian approach to set-piece battle. These were relatively heavily armored horseman armed with a 12-foot lance and a heavy slashing saber. They were mounted on large powerful horses selected for their aggressive spirit and conditioned through patient training to be steady in the confusion of close-quarters combat. Phillip used his heavy horse in the then-non-traditional role of mounted shock troops. He is even credited with developing the remarkable mounted wedge formation designed to penetrate and disrupt enemy infantry and cavalry lines. Although these heavy horsemen were originally drawn from the sons of the aristocratic elite (hence their famous status as “Companions”), they were eventually expanded to include formations comprising the “able” from more modest backgrounds and designated “hetairoi.” The same regularity and consistent command and control Phillip had imposed on his infantry was extended to his cavalry, which were organized into squadrons of 200-300 riders each divided into troops of 50-60. These innovations gave Macedonian cavalry a high degree of flexibility in deployment. They were capable of rapid changes in direction of maneuver and attack with minimal disruption to their formation. In addition to his role as overall commander, Alexander generally led the senior squadron of heavy cavalry as “Hipparch” and placed himself at the very tip of the lead assault formation.

As well as these basic tactical elements, the Macedonian system also comprised significant formations of medium infantry equipped similarly to the traditional Greek hoplite, but under more uniform organization and training. These medium phalanxes provided greater flexibility and mobility than the heavy pikemen and provided the essential connective link to the cavalry formations. They were also indispensible for specialist tasks such as leading a breach assault or escalading a wall in a siege, serving as marines in a naval fight, or providing a rapid infantry reaction to an unexpected threat or opportunity. Phillip also created the first regularly organized corps of engineers whose technical prowess and creativity transformed the ancient practice of siege craft. Under assault from the formidable Macedonian machines directed by highly skilled specialists, Phillip and Alexander successfully concluded their sieges not in months or years, as had been the traditional norm, but often in weeks – sometimes days. The equipment and techniques they developed continued to define siege warfare for millennia until they were eclipsed by the introduction of gunpowder weapons in 13th Century AD. The engineers were also critical in sustaining mobility over difficult terrain and bridging obstacles, an essential element in Alexander’s scheme of relentless, all-season warfare.

While less frequently mentioned by historians, naval forces also represented a vitally important capability for power projection and sustainment. Although generally inferior to the largely Phoenician fleet which served the Persian Empire, the Macedonian and allied Greek fleet was nevertheless critical in securing Alexander’s supply lines and protecting the transport ships which were the most efficient and practical means of transporting the hundreds of tons of food and material required daily by the army in the field.

Under Phillip, the Macedonian nobility was, for all practical purposes, transformed into a professional officer corps. Alexander could and did rely on a large group of capable subordinate commanders and staff officers. As complement to his own remarkable skills, Alexander was well served by a group of highly competent subordinate generals many, such as Parmenion and Ptolemy, justly famous in their own right and some of whom went on to rule powerful successor empires themselves.

Together, these elements made a military machine of unprecedented agility, flexibility, and sustainability capable of adapting itself to dominate virtually any tactical situation, project power across enormous distances and maintain a high operational tempo in difficult, poorly resourced environments far from its strategic base. So sophisticated was the Macedonian system that it even had what approached an institutionalized tactical doctrine in which light forces deployed to create or to deny the enemy tactical opportunities, the heavy infantry formed a solid base of maneuver, and the heavy cavalry was used as a “hammer” to smash through the enemy line then wheel and crush the enemy force against the heavy infantry “anvil.” The medium infantry formed the flexible continuity connecting the different formations ready to provide immediate support to the cavalry and missile troops or act as a reserve. Alexander appreciated the utility of this doctrine, but never allowed himself to be rigidly bound by it. He always found his army able to adjust itself rapidly to his sudden creative insights or unconventional inspirations.

In addition to these impressive capabilities, the Macedonian Army possessed one final attribute that was equally important in explaining Alexander’s unprecedented record of achievement. The Macedonian Army was a fighting force of exceptional and terrifying ferocity. The average Macedonian soldier was, even by the standard of his time, ruthless, relentless, and remorseless. Collectively the Macedonians displayed a singular bloody-mindedness seldom exceeded by any military force in history. Terror and intimidation were primary weapons in their arsenal and they used them with unapologetic vigor. Perhaps the only fundamentally original innovation of Alexander was his technique of aggressively and relentlessly pursuing a defeated enemy. In divergence from traditional Greek warfare and in stark contrast to Asiatic practice, Alexander sought not simply to defeat his enemies, but to annihilate them lest they later discover the temerity to challenge him again. It was in pursuit operations that the inherent ferocity of the Macedonian military found its most terrifying outlet. It is not the least irony surrounding Alexander that in his campaigns – ostensibly undertaken to restore Greek honor, liberty, and fortune lost in persistent conflicts with Persia he killed more Asian and Greek soldiers than had died in the preceding 150 years combined.

For all of the Macedonian Army’s extraordinary potential, to be effective, any military force must be well-led and directed, and it was the gifts of military planning and leadership that Alexander possessed in greatest abundance. It was a legacy of traditional Greek warfare that the military commander should put himself at risk by participating personally in combat. Alexander, in this as in so much else, took the “heroic” leadership model to an extreme. He generally placed himself in the thick of the most desperate fighting and plunged into the attack with reckless disregard for his own safety in the process setting a powerful example for his men. Arrian relates that during a siege of an Indian fortress, Alexander, impatient with the progress of his men storming the enemy wall, impetuously seized a scaling ladder and clambered to the top accompanied by just two companions. In the mad rush to join their commander, the Macedonians over-crowded and broke the ladders, stranding Alexander among the enemy. His men implored him to jump back down into the many arms waiting to catch him, but, espying the enemy commander in the interior court, Alexander instead leaped inside and killed the Indian leader in personal combat. In the process, this tiny group of Macedonians became the focus of the defenders and they were showered with arrows one penetrating Alexander’s lung. Alarmed and enraged, the remaining Macedonians swarmed over the wall to secure what they assumed would be a corpse. That he survived this commonly mortal wound says much about Alexander’s physical stamina and toughness (as well as the modern tendency to underestimate the sophistication of ancient medicine). In all, the various sources record that Alexander received a total of eight major wounds in combat at least two of them very nearly fatal.

Mercenaries

A distinction between mercenaries and allied troops certainly existed within the Macedonian order of battle; we saw this with the Thessalian cavalry for example. The distinction drawn by Alexander was not sharp, however, and could lead to some confusion. We must first therefore clarify what these terms actually mean before we consider the individual contingents themselves.

The meaning of the term ‘mercenary’ would seem at first sight obvious: a soldier who fights for pay. But of course everyone in Alexander’s army was being paid, including the Macedonian and allied contingents. I believe that we can narrow the meaning down to ‘someone who fights without a political imperative’, that is a soldier who is not compelled to fight by his city-state, but does so purely for personal reasons. The distinction therefore becomes a little clearer, but the status of the Balkan troops in the army is still problematic. They are one of the contingents whose status changed whilst on campaign; the Balkan troops came from peoples who were more or less formally subject to the king of Macedonia, so that it is difficult to make the distinction between whether they were mercenaries or allies. It is perhaps best to avoid a splitting of hairs and to call them all mercenaries, because if they were allies in the first place they certainly became mercenaries later. I will here consider them amongst the allied contingent, as they were initially of that status, and Diodorus certainly does not include them amongst the mercenaries in his troop list of 334 BC.

By the time of the accession of Alexander in Macedonia, mercenary soldiers formed an integral part, not just of the Macedonian army, but also that of Persia and a number of the Greek city-states. The mercenary soldier himself, however, had undergone considerable change. In the fifth century, mercenaries were few in number and employment opportunities were limited. Their first large scale employment in Greece was during the Peloponnesian War, and was at first confined to the Spartan side, Athens having no access to the large recruiting grounds of Arcadia. It is also the case that Pericles’ defensive strategy had little need of mercenaries. Athens’ first recorded use of hoplite mercenaries was on the Sicilian expedition, and even here there were only 250 ‘Mantineans and other mercenary troops’. Persia tended not to employ Greek mercenaries in large numbers in the fifth century, the first large scale employment being Cyrus’ force of 10,000 so brilliantly described by Xenophon. Mercenaries in the fifth century tended to be grouped into one of the following classifications:

• Archers, often from Crete – Archery, throughout all periods of history, was a specialized field and required considerable training. It was very difficult for a citizen hoplite to acquire the necessary skills and so specialists were hired. Crete is often mentioned as a source of such troops throughout the fifth and fourth centuries, and it even furnished a contingent in Alexander’s army; although Alexander also employed a native Macedonian contingent of archers.

• Cavalry – Usually few in number, primarily because of the expense involved, and because the geography of Greece also generally did not lend itself well to cavalry engagements, with a few notable topographical exceptions.

• Hoplites – Troops armed and equipped in the same manner as a citizen soldier; a heavily armed infantryman wearing a breastplate and often greaves, and carrying a spear. Their main offensive weapon was weight of numbers, hoplite battles could perhaps be thought of as a giant rugby scrum. Heavily-armed hoplites were the main fighting force on either side in the fifth and into the fourth century.

• Peltasts – Light-armed troops carrying a small shield and little or no body armour. Their effectiveness was based almost entirely on their mobility. Most mercenaries in the fourth century fell into this group after the ‘reforms of Iphicrates’ early in that century.

Scythians – Everyone’s Bane

The Scythian king Partatua married a daughter of Esarhaddon in 679 BC, initiating a close alliance with Assyria that lasted 50 years. Scythians fought Medes, Persians, Macedonians, Bactrian Greeks and Indians successfully, but were defeated and absorbed by Sarmatians and Parthians. Scythians are divided into European Scythians, including the original Ishkuzai, the Royal Skyths and their later off-shoots, and Central Asian Scythians, including the Chorasmians of the artes delta and Aral Sea region, the Dahae, the Saka and the Massagetae. Hu were the early mounted tribes of the Chinese border, including the Lin-hu, Tung-hu and Lou-fan. While earlier mounted nomads may have made isolated incursions into China – the Hsien-yun invasion of 823 BC may have been one – they are only known for certain after 400 BC. The Hu were absorbed by the Hsiung-nu by 200 BC.

Cyrus the Great is variously reported to have died fighting either the Massagetae or the Derbikes and their Indian allies including elephants. We assume the obscure Derbikes to have been part of the larger Massagetae confederacy.

From eighth to the second century bce, the Scythians represented the most terrifying military power in Asia, defeating large armies and dominating substantial parts of what is now Russia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and the Eurasian plains. These warring nomads were well-known throughout the continent for their fierce bravery and innovative battlefield tactics. Yet because the Scythians had no written language, most of what is known about them comes from the fifth century bce recordings of the Greek historian, Herodotus. It is only through modern-day archaeological finds that Herodotus’s seemingly unbelievable claims of Scythian war practices are finally being verified.

Though the Scythians did not domesticate the horse, they were among the first to adapt their way of life around it. As a pastoral nomadic people, this allowed them to cover greater distances more quickly. From the Russian steppes, the Scythians are believed to have wandered as far as the borders of Egypt on horseback. During their travels, they met and defeated several different peoples, and eventually extended their territory over large parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

According to common belief, the Scythians first appeared on the world map in 750 bce as a pastoral nomadic group settled between the Carpathians and the Don River. However, the first real written record of Scythian activity is seen in Assyrian texts from the early seventh century, when Scythian King Partatua married an Assyrian princess in 674 following a Scythian victory over the Assyrians. Later, in 653, the Scythians invaded the Medean Empire, where they continued to exert influence until 626, when the Medes defeated them. Yet, the Medes united with the Scythians in 612 to capture Nineveh and destroy the Assyrian empire before driving the Scythians north of the Caucasus in the late seventh century. The Scythians continued to grow stronger over time, even managing to repel the Persian army (the largest in the world at that time) under King Darius the Great when the Persians invaded in 514. Herodotus wrote about this outstanding Scythian victory when he observed them in the fifth century. Later, in 360, King Atheas united all the tribes and expanded their territory to the border with Macedonia. It was not much later, though, that Scythian power began to decline after losing a war against Philip II of Macedonia in 339. However, the Scythians managed to continue wielding enough power to defeat both a general of Alexander the Great in 330 and the Caucasians in 310 bce, before the Celts and the Sarmatians (who had long been encroaching on Scythian territory) destroyed the Scythians’ kingdom in 225 bce. During their many campaigns, the Scythians earned a reputation as brutal and ferocious warriors. Their military prowess was proved time and again through innovative weapon use and battlefield tactics.

The Scythians were primarily archers, and almost exclusively cavalrymen. They were horse archers at a time when other armies depended mostly on foot soldiers and chariots. In fact, the Scythians were often the first cavalry many soldiers had ever seen in combat. This, in combination with full body tattoos, gave the Scythians a fierce and frightening appearance that terrified the people of the lands they invaded. Even when the opposing force did not run away out of fear, the Scythians proved an intimidating force; they appeared and dis appeared too quickly for any kind of successful infantry attack. The Scythians, for their part, took full advantage of their military resources. The Scythians became masters of archery on horseback, even learning how to shoot backwards while on horseback. “Scythian tactics were to advance on an enemy shooting fusillades of arrows. They would plunge forward as if to attack, but at the last instant wheel away and launch a fresh volley of arrows over the rumps of their retreating horses, thus leaving the dust enveloped enemy in disarray.” (Kuzych) This sort of guerrilla warfare was very common with the Scythians. And as they were nomads, they had the advantage of combining scorched earth tactics with their guerrilla attacks in order to keep the enemy at a distance and sap his resources while the Scythians moved farther away. In fighting smaller armies, they could be much more directly aggressive, first disorganizing their opponents by attacking them with arrows, then launching javelins and darts before charging with a lance and hand-to-hand weapons as they enemy’s lines began to break. Due to firm discipline and great skill, “the Scythian cavalry managed to retain its cohesion after breaking through the enemy lines; regrouped in the thick of the battle; and decided the day by a second charge in another direction at a second body of the enemy. Very few armies of antiquity were capable of that manoeuvre.” (Cernenko 32)

The value of the composite bow used by the Scythians cannot be overemphasized. Its stiffness and power allowed arrows to reach a distance of up to 200 yards with remarkable accuracy. For this reason, the Scythians were able to effectively use archery in both hunting and war. Unfortunately, the materials used to make bows-wood, bone, and animal tendons-deteriorate easily, and so very few bow remains have been found. The arrows that accompanied them fared better, being made of bronze, iron, or bone, depending on the date. Warriors kept both the bow and up to 75 arrows in a treasured gorytos, or bow case, which was never far from their side.

However, as mentioned previously, bows and arrows were not the only weapons used by the Scythians. They employed spears, long two-edged swords, short swords known as akinakes, narrow-bladed battle-axes, war picks, daggers, maces, and heavy darts. Most of these could either be thrown or used in close combat with the enemy.

Scythian armor usually consisted of leather corselets covered with overlapping bronze or iron “fish-scales” which shielded the chest and shoulders. Scythians are also credited with the development of chain mail, but its use was not common among the warriors, being expensive and difficult to produce. Scythian helmets evolved from pointed leather caps to scale-covered leather caps to tightly fitting bronze helmets. As for leg coverings, the Scythians are credited with the invention of trousers as they are known today. For avid horse riders, tight fitting trousers offered protection for the legs, since only the most rudimentary kind of saddles existed at the time. Metal-plated leg armor was also usually included, though it varied in style. The shields they carried were unique in style and decoration. Although ordinary warriors preferred light shields, the classic example of Scythian shields is seen in those carried by higher-ranking cavalrymen: a wooden base covered in iron scales. The iron scales could sometimes be replaced by a single circular iron plate. On top of the iron, it is common, mostly among noblemen, to see gold ornamentation.

The Scythians had access to gold through their kinfolk in the Altas Mountains. They used this gold as ornamentation for their clothes, horses, and weapons. It was often seen glittering as a cover for their gorytos, a hilt for their sword, and a handle for their battle-axe. Intricate carvings were etched in the gold plates that covered their most precious objects. Since the Scythians were nomads, their prized possessions- clothes, horses, and weapons-were transportable and elaborately decorated. The Scythians carved animal figures, but they also mixed fantasy with reality to create the “Scythian animal style” of artwork. Sometimes, the Scythians would even commission Greeks to do gold work for them. This usually resulted in the incredibly detailed recreation of whole battle scenes done entirely in gleaming gold.

Also, if the sight of fully tattooed warriors shining with gold as they rapidly advanced on horseback wasn’t enough to send the enemy screaming in the opposite direction, there was always the Scythian reputation. Their war practice was well- known to all, and is best recorded in Herodotus’s Histories. Herodotus first writes about his dislike for the Scythians’ assured victory in war. He particularly questions “the contrivance whereby they make it impossible for the enemy who invades them to escape destruction, while they themselves are entirely out of his reach. . . how can they fail of being unconquerable, and unassailable even?” As for their customs in battle, Herodotus describes the Scythians as savage and bloodthirsty warriors. He writes that Scythian soldiers drank the blood of the first man they killed in battle. They then cut off all the heads of those they slew, and took them to the king. Next, they scalped the heads and cut the scalps clean of flesh, in order to use it as a napkin. A warrior would either hang the scalps from his horse’s bridle or fashion a cloak out of them. Some would skin the arm of their enemy’s corpse and make a covering for their quivers. Others would go so far as to skin the entire body of the corpse and take it with them wherever they rode. With regard to the corpses of their most detested foes (or kin with whom they have been feuding), the Scythians would often fashion their skulls into drinking cups and use them socially.

It is clear, then, that the Scythians were brutal warriors who represented a significant threat to the peoples of their time. Their creative use of weapons and nontraditional battlefield tactics earned them both victories and reputations that would outlast time.

References: Cernenko, E. V., The Scythians: 700-300 BC. (New York: Osprey Publishing, 2005); Dwyer. Bede, “Scythian-Style Bows Discovered in Xinjiang.” Asian Traditional Archery Research Network, 19 March 2004; Godolphin, Francis R. B., “From the Lands of the Scythians: Ancient Treasures from the Museums of the U. S. S. R. 3000 B. C.-100 B. C.,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series, Vol. 32, No. 5, (1973-1974), pp. 129-149; Herodotus, The Histories, trans. by Aubery de Sleincourt (New York: Penguin Classics reprint, 2003); Kuzych, Ingert. “Scythian legacies,” The Ukrainian Weekly, 7 November 1999, No. 45, Vol. LXVII; “The Legacy of the Horse.” International Museum of the Horse, 2000.

Battle of Opis

Cyrus’s Army Possibly learning from the Lydians, Cyrus created what some military historians consider the first true cavalry, fielding units of mounted warriors not as supplements to chariots but as their own force. It would not be long before chariots disappeared from the battlefield altogether (except in Britain, where they lasted another 750 years). Cyrus encouraged military innovation: during his invasion of Babylonia, his engineers managed to divert the course of the entire Euphrates, and he created a system of roads that served both armies and merchants well. His personal bodyguard, said to number 10,000 men, were called the “Immortals” because as soon as one died another would take his place, creating the impression of invincibility both within and outside the unit.

The Battle of Opis, in 539 BC, between the armies of Persia under Cyrus the Great and the Neo-Babylonian Empire under Nabonidus during the Persian invasion of Mesopotamia.The battle was fought near the strategic riverside city of Opis, north of the capital Babylon. It resulted in a decisive defeat for the Babylonians. Cyrus the Great was subsequently proclaimed king of Babylonia and its subject territories, thus incorporating the Babylonian Empire into the greater Persian Empire.

While campaigning against Lydia, Cyrus had made peaceful overtures to the Neo-Babylonian Empire ruled by Nabonidus, a Chaldean and successor to the great King Nebuchadnezzar II. However, in 539 bc, Cyrus invaded. Nabonidus met him on the field at Opis, a city probably on the Tigris where Nebuchadnezzar had built a massive dam as part of Babylon’s already impressive defenses. No details of the Battle of Opis survive, but the Babylonians suffered a devastating defeat; one of the casualties was Nabonidus’s own son. After that, Babylonia fell easily into Cyrus’s hands, in part because Nabonidus was universally disliked by his subjects. In particular, the Jews, who had been forced into exile in Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, welcomed Cyrus as their deliverer.

The conquest of Babylon

When Babylonian King Nabonidus ascended the throne of Babylon in 556 BC, his kingdom had been allied to the Iranians for nearly 75 years. However, Cyrus’ conquest of Lydia changed the strategic balance between the Iranians and Babylon dramatically, and Babylon was invaded by Cyrus in 539 BC.

A major factor facilitating Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon was the unpopularity of Nabonidus amongst his own people, especially the priesthood. Nabonidus’ interest in the northern Mesopotamian moon god Sen at Harran, and his neglect of sacred duties necessary for the Babylonian god Marduk had alienated the priesthood. Nabonidus departed for the deserts of northwest Arabia in 540 BC, where he took up residence in the oasis town of Taima. When Cyrus invaded Babylon, he found a population unwilling to support their king. Cyrus’ diplomacy also won Gubaru (Ugbaru), the disaffected Babylonian governor of Gutium, over to the Achaemenids. Gubaru was a formidable general who had served the late Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 BC). His military support was to prove decisive in Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon.

Mesopotamian linear barriers

The “Wall of Babylon” was, in fact, not the walled city of Babylon but the “Median Wall” between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, built by Nebuchadnezzar to block any potential Median thrust from Babylon’s northwest. The right end of the wall (at the Tigris) was supported by the fortress-city of Opis. The left end (at the Euphrates) was guarded by Sippar. The Tigris River, which guarded much of the eastern flank of the routes leading to the city of Babylon, was a difficult natural barrier against any invading army from the east. The strategic situation of the Median Wall in 539 BC bears some resemblance to the Maginot Line in 1940 in France. Both were built under the assumption that the enemy would invade along predictable axes of advance leading towards built-up fortifications. In neither case was any provision made for the possibility that the enemy would simply outflank the “wall” from another direction. Cyrus had no intention of predictably attacking across the Akkadian plains and expending himself against the Median Wall. His plan was to outflank that wall by way of a northern thrust. Thanks to earlier diplomacy, Cyrus’ troops would combine forces with the Babylonian contingents of Gubaru in a bid to strike at Opis and cross the Tigris, thereby outflanking the Median Wall to the southwest. Before striking Opis, Cyrus had to solve the problem of crossing the Tigris River to the rear of the fortress-city. Cyrus’ engineers are described by Herodotus as having worked for months to divert the water at the Gynades tributary of the Tigris into many separate channels.  

The draining of the Tigris allowed Cyrus to storm Opis in October. Few military details are available regarding the fighting; however, the forces that Cyrus defeated appear to have been a mix of Nabonidus’ regular army as well as Akkadian contingents. The capture of Opis and the crossing of the Tigris effectively outflanked the Median Wall. Once across the Tigris, Cyrus split his forces in two. He dispatched Gubaru’s troops alongside Persian contingents southwards towards Babylon City. Cyrus himself thrust southwest towards Sippar, which was also captured. The Babylonian army was now neutralized.

There appears to have been little popular resistance against Cyrus, which allowed the speedy advance of Cyrus’ forces into Babylon City. Nabonidus, who was now fleeing south, sought sanctuary in his capital, and was duly captured. The fall of Babylon City has been recorded as having been a peaceful and orderly affair, with Cyrus being welcomed as a liberator into the metropolis. This is corroborated by the Nabonidus Chronicle: “Cyrus entered Babylon … the state of peace was imposed on all the city, Cyrus sent greetings to all Babylon” It is certainly possible that pro-Cyrus Babylonian sympathizers may have helped Cyrus to secure the city. Cyrus entered the temple of Bel-Marduk and paid homage to the Babylonian god. The fate of Nabonidus is difficult to ascertain. One account asserts that Cyrus was magnanimous to his captive and allowed him to retire in comfort, allegedly exiling him to German (modern Kerman). A contradictory version is provided by Xenophon (431-350 Be) who reports Nabonidus being assassinated by Cyrus’ nobles in the great throne-room of Babylon. If true, this may be explained by Cyrus’ desire to placate the wishes of the Babylonian priesthood and populace.

“panjagan?”

Several books (namely Kaveh Farrokh’s Sassanian cavalry book) speak of the existence of a Sassanid weapon that could fire volleys of 5 arrows repeatedly, calling it “panjagan”.

The most unique of the auxiliary arms possibly carried by the late clibanarii was the missile-launching device known as the panjagan, meaning `five device’. The exact specifications of the invention are unknown since there are no surviving remains but the written accounts state that the contraption could fire five missiles at once. Therefore, heavy cavalrymen armed with the missile weapon instead of the bow could not only fire many more shots at a much higher rate, but they could also spread their fire over a wider area as well. I wonder if the panjagan has anything to do with the nawak arrow-guide, which allowed Sassanids to fire projectiles similar to crossbow bolts from their bows with great range and accuracy. Arabs claim it was also very effective against armor.

To ensure greater speed and volume, a device was invented known as the panjagan (five device), allowing the knight to fire five shots with a single draw. This made archery particularly deadly, since an archer could fire five more arrows before the first set had reached its target. This implies that the arrows must have been prearranged for rapid access in groups of five in the quiver, contrasted to the regular Sassanian way of holding three arrows in the same hand as the bow. However, it is important to note that speed and volume of delivery were not the sole intentions of this weapon. Focused fire was another. It is likely that the panjagan allowed for the volley to spread over an intended area, creating localized “kill zones.” This allowed fewer people to concentrate “focused fire” on the enemy. No known actual samples of the panjagan have survived.

A translation of part of al-Tabari’s History (C. E. Bosworth (trans.), The History of al-Tabari, Vol. 5, The Sassanids, the Byzantines, the Lakmids, and Yemen, New York, 1999).

The story is that, in about AD570, the Sassanid king Khusraw I sent a force to Yemen to liberate it from the domination of the Abyssinians. This force originally numbered 800 men but 200 were lost at sea on the way. It was commanded by noble named Wahriz who Khusraw considered to be worth 1000 cavalrymen. On arrival, the force was joined by “a considerable number of people” but it was vastly outnumbered by the Abyssinian army sent against it. This army was commanded by the Abyssinian governor of Yemen, Masruq. Before the battle, Wahriz addressed his troops:

He ordered them to have their bows bent and strung, and said, “When I give you the order to shoot, let fly at them swiftly with a five-arrow volley (bi-al-banjakan).” (op. cit., p.247)

There is a footnote to this passage as follows:

This seems to be the meaning here, since Persian panj, “five,” is clearly an element of the word, presumably panjagan, “five-fold,” in origin. It is presumably related to the banjakiyyah of al-Jawaliqi, al-Mu’arrab, 71: a volley of five arrows, mentioned in a context which speaks of the Khurasanians. Siddiqi, Studien über die persischen Fremdwörter, 81 n.7, less plausibly interprets banjakan as referring to five-pointed or five-barbed arrows (“fünfzackige [Pfeile]”).

The battle was short-lived:

He then took an arrow, placed it in the center (kabid) of his bow and said, “Point out for me Masruq.” They did that for him, until Wahriz was sure of him, and then he gave the order “Shoot!” He himself pulled on his bow until, when he had drawn it to its utmost, he released the arrow. It sped forward as if it were a tightly stretched rope, and struck Masruq’s forehead. He fell from his mount. A great number of men were killed by that rain of arrows. When they saw their commander felled to the ground, their front rank crumbled, and there was nothing for it but flight.(op. cit., p.248)

It seems from this passage that the panjagan was not a mechanical device but a rapidly-shot volley of five arrows. It is somewhat reminiscent of the “Mad Minute”, whereby the British infantry before the First World War was trained to fire fifteen aimed rounds in a minute.

Ahhotep I, Ancient Egyptian Warrior Queen

A stela at Karnak dating from the sixteenth century BCE gives us our first evidence of a woman proving influential in a military sphere: on it, Ahhotep I (c. 1560-1530 BCE) is described as `having pulled Egypt together, having cared for its army, having guarded it, having brought back those who fled, gathering up its deserters, having pacified the South, subduing those who defy her’. The tomb of Ahhotep II contained her now-destroyed mummy and gold and silver jewellery as well as daggers and an inscribed ceremonial axe blade made of copper, gold, electrum and wood; three golden flies were found too: these were usually awarded to people who served bravely in the army.

Unique epithets are given to her: ‘one who cares for Egypt; she has looked after her soldiers . . . she has brought back her fugitives, and collected her deserters; she has pacified Upper Egypt, and expelled her rebels.’

It is an extraordinary encomium for an exceptional woman. As well as recording Ahhotep’s role in governing the country, the verses more than hint at her involvement in putting down the rebellion of Tetian and reimposing law and order throughout the land. It is no coincidence that Ahhotep’s grave goods from her grateful son included a necklace of golden flies, awarded for bravery in battle (the fly was an appropriate symbol of perseverance). She was evidently a force to be reckoned with, and would serve as a powerful role model for other ambitious royal women later in the dynasty.

Ahhotep’s curious epithet, mistress of the shores of Hau-nebut, is particularly tantalizing. Much later, in the Ptolemaic Period, the phrase “Hau-nebut” was used to refer to Greece, and it suggests a connection between the Eighteenth Dynasty Egyptian royal family and the Minoan civilization of Crete. It may be no coincidence that, in addition to the golden flies, Ahhotep’s burial equipment included two objects, a dagger and an axe, with characteristically Minoan decoration.  

The wife of SEQENENRE TAO II, who died in the campaigns waged to expel the Hyksos from Egypt, Ahhotep was one of the several powerful and determined women who exercised considerable influence in the New Kingdom, especially in the Eighteenth Dynasty, of which she was long revered as the ancestress. On Seqenenre Tao’s death his son KAMOSE succeeded; it is not known for certain if he was the child of Ahhotep. Although Kamose was instrumental in carrying on the war against the Hykos after Seqenenre Tao’s death, he did not long survive his father. After his death, Seqenenre Tao’s son by Ahhotep, AHMOSE, was proclaimed king. He was too young to undertake the full responsibilities of the kingship and his mother acted as regent until he was sixteen. Ahhotep probably died in the early years of her son’s reign; she was rewarded with divine honours and a long-surviving cult was established in her memory.

LINK

Archimedes (287-212 BCE)

Archimedes of Syracuse was one of the ancient world’s great scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. In mathematics, his work on geometry, particularly cones, spheres, and cylinders, was unsurpassed. He anticipated calculus and studied in depth hydrostatics, mechanics, matter, and force. He perfected the screw used in irrigation and solved many engineering problems associated with the use of the pulley, wedge, and lever. In geodesy, Archimedes estimated the circumference of the earth to be 300,000 stadia. Archimedes was the first to study and make an accurate approximation of pi.

Archimedes, like other ancient engineers, plied his craft in making fascinating inventions, particularly in military science. During the Second Punic War and the battle for Sicily in 212 BCE, the Romans laid siege to the Greek city of Syracuse, ruled by Hiero. Archimedes to apply his inventions based on research into the principles of mechanics to help defend the city. Plutarch, in his Life of Marcellus, described the fascinating array of military devices that Archimedes had invented. Although the Romans took the city and Archimedes was killed, they were astonished by the incredible power of Archimedes’ machines. Huge cranes were able to latch onto Roman triremes and pick them up and dash them against the walls of the city and rocks below.

According to the Roman historian Plutarch, Archimedes considered such work “ignoble and vulgar, ” and there is no mention of it in the fifty extant scientific works he wrote. He instead wrote about his fundamental discoveries in mathematics, chiefly formulas on finding the areas of various geometric figures and determining the volumes of spheres. But however disdainful Archimedes might have been about the practical uses of his scientific discoveries, he was a fervent Syracusan patriot. So when Hieron II, the ruler of Syracuse, begged his help in 215 b. c. e. at the moment of the city’s greatest crisis, Archimedes put his scientific genius to work in the service of war.

Syracuse, a Greek colony in modern-day Sicily that occupied a key strategic position athwart Mediterranean trade routes, had made the error of supporting the Carthaginians in their war against Rome. The Carthaginians were defeated, and now the Romans had come after Carthage’s ally Syracuse. A Roman invasion fleet of eighty ships showed up in Syracuse’s harbor to begin a blockade while some fifty thousand Roman troops prepared to besiege the city. Appointed general of ordnance for the city, Archimedes went to work. He designed a number of advanced war machines, including a huge swinging crane that hurled 600-pound leaden balls; rapid-firing catapults that shot bundles of Greek fire; and, if some accounts are to be believed, a system of giant mirrors that reflected concentrated sunlight to burn ships. For three years the Roman besiegers threw themselves at this array of military technology, to no avail: Roman ships were smashed to pieces and Roman troops were cut down at long range by high-velocity fire from catapults Archimedes positioned atop the city’s defensive walls. Finally, in 212 b. c. e., while the Syracusans were celebrating a religious festival, the Romans discovered an unguarded gate, and the city fell. Roman soldiers who poured through the gate found a half-naked elderly man sitting in a bed of sand, absorbed in drawing geometrical shapes. When one of the soldiers stepped onto the sand, the old man snapped at him, “Keep off, you!” Enraged, the soldier immediately ran his sword through Archimedes of Syracuse, then joined his comrades in an orgy of looting and killing that destroyed the city.

Archimedes’ Death Ray

While the name definitely hints at a common Steampunk/science-fiction trope, Archimedes’ Death Ray contraption has been the subject of innumerable historical debates that have either tried to prove or disprove its existence or at least effectiveness. In any case, the use of the so-called Death Ray mechanism was first mentioned by the historian Galens, 350 years after the Roman siege of Archimedes’ home-city of Syracuse (which in took place in 214 BC). Designed by the great Archimedes himself, the weapon setup possibly entailed a series of mirrors that collectively reflected concentrated sunlight onto the Roman ships. As a result, the concentrated form of light affected an increase in temperature, thus ultimately leading to the burning of the ships from afar (take a look at a modern ‘death ray‘ that aptly proves this phenomenon).

Now when it comes to credibility, Discovery’s Mythbusters already took two digs at the technology, and sort of disproved its potential. On the other hand, MIT conducted their tests in 2005 (by using mirrors in parabolic arrangement and a replica of a Roman ship), and they were actually able to set the ship on fire. However, in their case, the ship was stationery – which would have been impractical in a real-time scenario with the undulating waves and the ongoing naval maneuvering. But even this predicament was solved, when a Greek scientist named Dr. Ioannis Sakkas was actually able to set a moving ship on fire from a distance of 160 feet (49 m). He did it by distributing a total of seventy mirrors (each having 15 sq ft area) among seventy (or sixty) men, and the concentrated beam reflected from these individual pieces was able to set a rowboat aflame, thus possibly lending credence to Archimedes’ Death Ray weapon.