Alexander in India

The retreat from the Beas was a disappointment, not a danger. The men were not so much embittered as exhausted; as for the officers, none of them plotted to take advantage of their king’s defeat. For defeat it was, and the disgrace would far outweigh the negligible fears in Alexander’s mind. He would not easily live with such a rebuff to his sense of glory, the heart of his Homeric values. He reached the Jhelum, only to find that Bucephala had been washed away by the rains; worse, news came from the ladies’ quarters that Roxane’s first baby had miscarried.

Only Porus benefited from the new despair. The ‘seven nations and two thousand towns’ between the Jhelum and the Beas were added to his kingdom; they had lost their interest now that the march to the east had been cancelled. There was only one direction left which promised Alexander his required adventure. It would be ignominious to retrace his steps through the Hindu Kush; now, therefore, was the moment to put the ship timber to use and explore southwards down the Jhelum to the river Indus. It was not the safest route home, but as a link between the conquests in east and west, this waterway might prove invaluable. Though Alexander had at last discovered from the natives that the Indus would not bring him round into the Nile and Upper Egypt he may well have preferred to keep up this hope among his weary troopers.

Back on the Jhelum more than 35,000 fresh soldiers from the west were waiting, raising the army’s strength to 120,000, a massive force by classical standards; they had also brought medical supplies and smart new suits of gold- and silver-plated armour. More important, they would raise morale. Eight hundred ships of various shapes and sizes were needed for the voyage down the Indus, but such was the energy of the newly equipped army that two months later the fleet was ready to be manned by the expert crews of Cypriots, Egyptians, Ionian Greeks and Phoenicians who had been following Alexander, as before they had followed the fortunes of the Persian kings. The journey downstream to the outer ocean could begin.

It is a commonplace of sermons and histories that powerful men are corrupted and pay for their licence by loneliness and growing insecurity. But in life, the wicked have a way of flourishing and not every despot ends more miserably than he began: power may turn a man’s head, but only the virtuous or the uninvolved insist that it must always cost him his soul. Inevitably, with Alexander this moral problem begins to be raised: thwarted, did he lose his judgement and turn on the methods of a textbook tyrant in his i solation? Failure will often show in a general’s style of leadership: he may no longer delegate his work, while refusing to take the blame for its consequences: he may be too exhausted to take a firm decision, too unsure to resist the meanest suspicions. It is only a legend that when Alexander heard from his philosopher Anaxarchus of the infinite number of possible worlds, he wept, reflected that he had not even conquered the one he knew. The need to justify a lost ambition can cause a man to over-reach; moralists, at least, might expect that Alexander’s first rebuff from his army would mark the loosening of his grip on reality.

History does not confirm that this was so. As no officer describes the mood of the king in council, it is impossible, as always, to divide the credit for the army’s actions between Alexander and his staff. Events, however, do not suggest autocracy or nervous indecision. Within two months, the entire fleet had been built from the felled timber, a tribute to the energy of officers and carpenters, and Alexander declared the enterprise open in characteristic style. After athletic games and musical competitions, he ordered animals for sacrifice to be given free to each platoon, and then going on board, he stood at the bows and poured a libation into the river from a golden bowl, calling upon Poseidon and the sea-nymphs, the Chenab, the Jhelum and the Indus, and the Ocean into which they ran. Then, he poured a libation to his ancestor Heracles and to Ammon and to the other gods to whom he usually paid honour, Poseidon, Amphitrite and the sea-nymphs, and he ordered the trumpeter to sound the advance.

The sailors responded, cheered by the taste of free sacrificial meat and by the pomp and variety of their expedition. There were flat-bottomed boats for the horses, thirty-oared craft for the officers, three-banked triremes, circular tubs, and eighty huge grain-lighters for supplies. These, the famous zohruks still used on the river Indus, were now built for the first time to serve Greeks; each able to hold more than two hundred tons of grain, they were one of Alexander’s most valuable borrowings from the East, and their shallow draught and huge single sail would soon prove themselves in strong currents against the usual Greek trireme.

In the hot sun, the men rowed naked. No ornament had been spared for their boats; for the first time, a Greek fleet’s sails had been dyed deep purple, ‘each officer competing with his rivals until even the banks looked on in amazement as the wind filled out their multi-coloured emblems’. Amid this luxury, their lines had been meticulously ordered: baggage-vessels, horse transports and warships were all to keep apart at the prescribed intervals and no ship was to break the line.

The plash of the oars was unprecedented, as was the shout of the coxes who gave orders for the rowers to take each stroke: the banks of the river were higher than the ships and enclosed the noise in a narrow space, so that it was magnified and re-echoed from one side to the other… deserted clumps of trees on each bank helped to increase the effect.

There were also the celebrated songs of Sinde whose rhythms no traveller then or now can leave behind him. The shipment of the horses so surprised the native onlookers, that many of them ran after the fleet, while others were attracted by the echoes and careered along the bank, singing wild songs of their own. The Indians are as fond of singing and dancing as any people on earth.

Alexander had been at pains to involve his officers in the enterprise. With a typical respect for the methods of Athenian government, he appointed thirty-two trierarchs, nineteen being Macedonians, ten Greeks, two Cypriots, and one being Bagoas his Persian favourite, who would take charge of individual warships, finance them and doubtless compete for efficiency of maintenance. Most of the baggage train would follow under escort by land. Its size can only be guessed by comparisons. By now, Alexander was said to be employing some 15,000 cavalry; in the same area in the nineteenth century, British armies would have allowed 400 camels to carry a single day’s grain supply for his horses alone. Nearchus the sea captain gave the size of the expedition as 120,000 men and it is not very likely that this is wild exaggeration or flattery. When their families, concubines and traders are added for a probable nine months’ journey, the scale of the quartermasters’ duties begins to come to life. ‘We need,’ wrote a British colonel, at a time when only gunpowder, heavy boots and stirrups had increased a soldier’s requirements, an extraordinary assemblage of men, women and children, ponies, mules, asses and bullocks and carts laden with all sorts and kinds of conceivable and inconceivable things: grain, salt, cloth, sweetmeats, shawls, slippers, tools for the turners, the carpenters and blacksmiths, goods for the tailors and cobblers, the perfumers, armourers, milk-girls and grass-cutters: moochees must work the leather, puckulias carry our water, while nagurchees will supervise the travelling canteen. What a sea of camels! What guttural gurgling groanings in the long throats of salacious and pugnacious males! What resounding of sticks, as some throw away their loads and run away, tired servants often getting slain or miserably losing the column, thousands of camels dying, not only from fatigue but from ill-usage and being always overloaded. Such is the picture of the baggage of an army in India; Smithfield market alone can rival it.

Protection and supply of the largest baggage train to be seen in the Punjab was one urgent reason for fighting any natives who threatened along the east bank. Another was that Alexander meant to retain any conquests and clear the river, like earlier Persian kings, as the natural frontier for his empire. Even before the retreat from the Beas, he had been warned of unrest among a local tribe called the Malloi. They had long resisted attacks from Porus and threatened to oppose all invaders. As it was not Alexander’s practice to leave any such enemy unscathed, he first subdued their neighbours on the early stages down the Jhelum and then planned to search out the Malloi by disembarking where that river met the Chenab. So far, the boatmen had been coping bravely, showing no fear in surroundings as strange as the Zambesi to its first European crew. But the natives began to talk nervously of the current and at a sudden bend in the river the explorers became aware of what they meant. The Chenab was flowing in on their left; they ‘heard the roar of rapids and stayed their oars… even the coxes fell into frightened silence, amazed by the noise ahead’. There was no hope of stopping before the whirlpools caught the tublike transport vessels and spun them round, loaded with corn and horses; they were heavy enough to survive, but the lighter warships were smashed in collisions, so much so that Alexander himself was forced to leave the royal flagship and swim for his life. The prospect of repairs was one more strain on the men’s morale.

Rather than risk a native attack in the meantime, Alexander left his broken boats and wisely divided his forces: Hephaistion and the remaining fleet were to sail ahead in order to cut off fugitives. Ptolemy, the baggage, and all the elephants were to follow slowly behind, while Alexander took his toughest troops to surprise the gathering Malloi with a mere 12,000 men. The plan was in Alexander’s boldest style and left no scope for suspect loyalties. He was determined to catch his enemy unprepared and, with admirable decision, he took the roughest and most unexpected route: towns intervened, and unless they surrendered they were shown no more mercy than usual. First, the troops stocked up with water from the Ayek river, and then they hurried across forty mud-baked miles of the Chandra desert in a single night, arriving in time to storm the unsuspecting inhabitants of Kot Kamalia fortress and hound down fugitives from marsh-bound Harapur. Driving the tribesmen east across the river Ravi, they made light work of steep Tulamba, a town which later proved too much for Tamurlane, and ‘pressed on boldly’ until all the citizens had been enslaved. Then they hesitated and wondered what was the point of it all.

They could hardly be blamed. They were a select corps cut off from the fleet and many of their infantry were over sixty years old; their toughness was unique but had been strained by three days’ forced marching through the desert, yet Alexander would not leave the Malloi alone. Their capital overlooked the river Ravi and they could use it to harass his approaching baggage; they had summoned troops against him and they could not expect a son of Zeus to turn away. He knew that he had to go on and this time, one of his famous harangues was all that the weary required. The men heard him talk, no doubt of gods and heroes, of Heracles, Dionysus and his own past fortune; emotion gave in to arguments they knew so well and ‘never before was so eager a shout raised from the ranks, as they bade him lead on with the help of heaven’. Not for the first time, Alexander had been saved by his powers of oratory, a gift he had so often observed in his father Philip.

A speech urged the army forwards, but before the towers of the nearby fortress of Aturi, they again began to hang back. When walls had been undermined and ladders placed against the citadel it was left to Alexander to climb them and ‘shame the Macedonians into following one by one’. After a brief rest, the peak of the march was reached: a huge troop of Indians, ‘at least 50,000’, had gathered near a ford across the Ravi. Here, at last, were the Malloi, but they were so harassed by 2,000 Macedonian cavalry that they retired across the river and shut themselves in their greatest city, the fortress of Multan.

Multan is a name engraved on the hearts of every mid-Victorian Englishman in India; only a familiarity with Captain Edwardes’s siege of Moolraj the Sikh in 1848 can explain what Alexander faced at this fateful moment in his career. Like Edwardes he was outnumbered by more than ten to one; he approached across the river and cordoned off the outer wall with his horsemen until the infantry could catch him up. Multan, then as now, was a double city, ringed by a wall near the river bank, and by an inner rampart which marked off the steep city-fortress in its centre. Its position was commanding and its view stretched over a river plain of mangoes, dates and pomegranates. Lushness was not its distinctive quality. Multan, say the natives to this day, is famed for four features: graveyards, beggars, dust and heat. In the early months of 325, Alexander was attacking a fort which was cursed for its uncongeniality.

When the infantry arrived, he led them against one of the small gates whose descendants, centuries later, were to give access to Edwardes’s Scottish sappers. The gate broke and the Macedonians poured in: further round the wall, wrote Ptolemy, scoring a point against his enemy, ‘the troops under Perdiccas hung back’. The next attack gave historians even more of an incentive to disagree. The objective was the citadel itself, which was to defy Edwardes for a fortnight longer than the outer town. Alexander commissioned the diggers and tunnellers and sent for the men with ladders. They were slow to stand forward, so he seized the nearest ladder and scaled the battlements himself; three senior officers followed, one of them carrying the sacred shield of Achilles which Alexander had taken as spoils from the temple at Troy. Indian defenders were brushed away by a few sword-thrusts until the king stood pre-eminent, as at Tyre, his armour gleaming against the background of the sky.

Down below, the ladders had broken and no more bodyguards could climb the wall. Alexander was cut off, under attack from nearby towers. A cautious man would have jumped back among his friends, but caution had never caused Alexander to spare himself for the loss of glory, and so he jumped down into the city. It was a memorable feat, though most irresponsible. He happened to land on his feet beside a fig-tree which gave him slight protection from enemy spears and arrows, but soon the Indians were upon him and he took to vigorous self-defence. He slashed with his sword and hurled any stones which lay to hand: the Indians recoiled, as his three attendants leapt down to join him, carrying the sacred shield. But Indian skills of archery were his undoing; his helpers were wounded, and an arrow, three feet long, struck him through his corslet into his chest. When an Indian ran forward to finish him off, Alexander had strength enough to stab his attacker before he struck home; then he collapsed, spurting blood, beneath the cover of his Trojan shield.

Outside, his friends had smashed the ladders and hammered the pieces as footholds into the clay wall; others hauled themselves up on to willing shoulders and gained the top of the battlement, where at the sight of their king beneath, they threw themselves down to shield him. The Indians had missed their chance, and as their enemies broke down the bars on the gates, they fled for safety. Macedonians were pouring in to avenge a grievance and, like the British smarting under two civilian murders two thousand years later, they massacred the men of Multan, down to the last of the women and children.

Inspection showed that Alexander’s wound was extremely serious and it was with little hope that the Macedonians carried him away on his shield. According to Ptolemy, who was not present, ‘air, as well as blood, was breathed out of the cut’; this would be certain proof that the arrow had punctured the wall of Alexander’s lung, were there not a complication in the medical theory of the Greeks. As the circulation of the blood was unknown and the heart was widely believed to be the seat of intelligence, it could be argued that the veins were filled with air or vital spirit and that in the case of a wound, the air came out first, making way for the blood to follow. Ptolemy may have meant no more than that vital spirit had escaped from the king’s veins, and hence the speed with which he fainted. But if the arrow did indeed pierce Alexander’s lung, as its length suggests, his wound is a fact of the first importance. He would never escape from it; it would hamper him for the rest of his life and make walking, let alone fighting, an act of extreme courage. Never again after Multan is he known to have exposed himself so bravely in battle. True, no more sieges are described in detail, but when Alexander is mentioned he is almost always travelling by horse, chariot or boat. The pain from his wound, perhaps the lesions from a punctured lung, are. a hindrance with which he had to learn to live. So too did his courtiers, but typically no historian refers to their problems again.

For the moment, it seemed doubtful whether he would live at all. His Greek doctor from the Hippocratic school had excised the arrow, but the rumour quickly spread that Alexander was dead. Even Hephaistion and the advance camp heard it and when a letter was brought saying that he was about to come to them, they disregarded it as a fiction of the generals and bodyguard. Within a week Alexander was ready for what he knew he must do. He ordered his officers to carry him to the river Ravi and ship him downstream to the main army; the scene that followed was described by his admiral, and brings us very near to what it was like to be led by a son of Zeus.

As soon as the royal ship approached the camp where Hephaistion and the fleet were waiting, the king ordered the awning to be removed from the stern so that he would be visible to them all. However, the troops still disbelieved, saying that it was only Alexander’s corpse which was being brought for burial. But then, his ship put in to the bank and he held up his hand to the crowd. They raised a shout of joy, stretching their hands to heaven or towards Alexander himself; many even shed involuntary tears at this unexpected moment. Some of his Shield Bearers began to bring him a bed on which to carry him off the ship, but he told them no, they must bring a horse. And when he was seen again, mounted on his horse, rolls of applause broke through the entire army: the banks and the nearby woods re-echoed the noise. He then approached his tent and dismounted, so that he could be seen to walk too. The men thronged round him, some trying to touch his hands, other his knees, others his clothing; other just gazed on him from nearby and said a pious word, before turning away. Some showered him with ribbons, others with all such flowers as India bore at that time of year.

‘His friends were angry with him for running such a risk in front of the army; they said it befitted a soldier, not a general.’ The complaint betrays them; after Alexander’s death, they never commanded such devotion. An elderly Greek came forward, noticing Alexander’s annoyance: ‘It is a man’s job,’ he said in his rough accent, ‘to be brave’ and he added a line of Greek tragedy: ‘The man of action is the debtor to suffering and pain.’ Alexander approved him and took him into closer friendship. He had spoken the very motto of an Homeric Achilles.

It was as if the wound had brought king and army together, for there were no more thoughts of mutiny, only an amazed relief. As for the local Indians, the slaughter at Multan induced them to send presents of surrender and plead for their ‘ancient independence which they had enjoyed since Dionysus’. Their gifts were of linen, a thousand four-horsed chariots, Indian steel, huge lions and tigers, lizard skins and tortoise shells; they sufficed for them to be added into the satrapy of north-west India, for it is a point of some importance that Alexander still intended to rule what he had conquered. After a week or two of convalescence, distinguished by a lavish banquet for the Indian petty kings on a hundred golden sofas, Alexander ordered the fleet downstream to the bend where the Punjab rivers join the lazy current of the Indus; there, no doubt from his sick bed, he gave proof of his continuing plans for the future. First, he divided the satrapy of lower India between a Macedonian and Roxane’s Iranian father; then, near Sirkot, he founded an Alexandria and stocked it with 10,000 troops, telling them to build dockyards ‘in the hope that the city would become great and glorious’. A little lower down the Indus he did likewise, repeating the dockyards and the city walls. Though his many damaged ships needed rapid replacement, these two naval bases were more than a response to a present emergency. They could be lasting pivots in a scheme to develop the Indus river both as a frontier and as a line of communication: ships from the yards would patrol the river, while the northern plains round Taxila and Bucephala would be comfortably within their range.

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THE LIBERATION OF EGYPT FROM HYKSOS RULE

The Story of Africa: Ancient Egypt and the Negroes. In his struggle against the Hyksos, Pharaoh Kamose instructed specially-trained Negro warriors in battle tactics. Original artwork from Look and Learn no. 326 (13 April 1968).

The liberation of Egypt from Hyksos rule would be remembered by later generations as a moment of national renewal, of cultural renaissance, the dawn of a new age. The kings who led the fight for Egyptian independence would be regarded as founders and unifiers on a par with Menes, the first ruler of Egypt, and the great Mentuhotep, victor in the country’s protracted civil war. Egyptologists, too, share this view of the struggle between the indigenous Egyptians and their Asiatic overlords. The expulsion of the Hyksos signals the beginning of the New Kingdom, that most glorious of eras in the long history of ancient Egypt.

But that was not how it felt at the time. King Kamose’s lament on the state of his country was heartfelt. In 1541, hemmed in between the Hyksos in the north and the Kushites in the south, Egypt as an autonomous territory occupied barely a third of the area that the great kings of the Twelfth Dynasty had controlled. For many Egyptians, even within the Theban heartland, the status quo did not seem such a bad option. After all, collaboration with the Hyksos ruler in Hutwaret had its benefits: the Thebans were allowed to cultivate fields and to pasture herds in lands under Hyksos control, and receive supplies of animal fodder from the same region, in return for taxes paid to their foreign masters. Kamose’s own officials are reported to have told him that they were happy with this relationship. While this may be a classic piece of royal propaganda, designed to portray the king as a resolute and decisive leader in the face of cowardly and complacent officials, it probably contains more than a grain of truth. The Hyksos had brought technological innovations to Egypt (not least the horse and chariot), opened up the country to Mediterranean commerce on a grand scale, and shown themselves every bit as adept at administration as the native Egyptians. A policy of peaceful coexistence would certainly have been the easy option. But it held little attraction for a man and a dynasty with ambitions to recapture the glories of the past. For a proud Theban, foreign occupation of any part of the beloved land was anathema, and Kamose expressed his personal determination in the clearest possible terms: “My wish,” he told his closest lieutenants, “is to rescue Egypt.”

Before Egypt could be said to have been “rescued,” however, there were the small matters of continued Hyksos occupation and a growing Kushite menace to deal with. The ruler of Kush had built up a formidable army with a sizeable cavalry, and would lose no opportunity to extend his writ. The raids on Nekheb a generation earlier had taught the Thebans a valuable lesson: securing their southern frontier was an essential prerequisite to engaging the northern enemy. Outnumbered by the Hyksos forces and with inferior military technology, they could ill afford to fight on two fronts simultaneously. The threat from Kush would have to be neutralized first. So in 1540, in only his second year on the throne, and after months of preparation, Kamose led his forces southward. Their immediate mission was to retake Wawat and secure it against Kushite attack, thereby creating a buffer zone on the Thebans’ southern flank. Moving through the sparsely populated stretch of valley south of Abu, they seem to have encountered little if any resistance. As they reached the foot of the second cataract, their goal loomed into view: the fortress of Buhen. After serving as one of the main nerve centers of Egyptian military occupation throughout much of the Middle Kingdom, Buhen had fallen easily under Kushite control in the following decades. The fort’s Egyptian inhabitants had all too readily switched sides, serving their Nubian masters as dutifully as they had the great kings of the Twelfth Dynasty. But once they saw a new Egyptian army massed in force on the horizon, they appear to have capitulated without a fight, rediscovering their erstwhile allegiance to the lord of the Two Lands. Welcomed as a conquering hero, Kamose oversaw the restoration of Buhen’s defenses and its rearmament as a vital forward garrison.

Strategic commander that he was, his vision extended beyond immediate defensive needs. Looking to the future and the long-term occupation of Nubia, he also reestablished Egyptian administration in the region. No king could rely on the vacillating loyalties of fortress commanders. A different mechanism would have to be found to ensure direct royal control of the conquered territories. Kamose’s solution was an administrative innovation that would characterize Egyptian control of Nubia for centuries to come. He appointed a trusted official, Teti, to be the first “king’s son” of conquered Nubia, a viceroy who would act on the king’s behalf and answer directly to his royal master for all Nubian affairs. With Teti firmly installed in the viceregal headquarters at Faras, Kamose and his forces returned to Egypt to prepare for battle with the Hyksos, an altogether more difficult and dangerous proposition.

Kamose’s strategy for his northern front was as much psychological as military. His calculation was that a policy of shock and awe directed against the Hyksos-supporting towns of Middle Egypt would have a profound effect on his opponents’ morale and soften them up for a final assault. In his own words,

I sailed downstream as a victor to drive out the Asiatics according to the command of Amun … my brave army in front of me like a blast of fire.

His first target was the town of Nefrusi, which lay inside Hyksos territory just to the north of the regional administrative center of Khmun (modern el-Ashmunein). Nefrusi was governed by an Egyptian called Teti, son of Pepi. If Kamose’s forces could make an example of him, other collaborators might heed the message and desert to the Egyptian side. After maneuvering into position under cover of darkness, the Theban army struck Nefrusi at first light: “I was upon him like a hawk.… My army were like lions carrying off their prey.” Showing no mercy, Kamose watched while the town was ransacked, then ordered it to be razed to the ground. A similar fate was dealt the settlements of Hardai and Pershak a few days later. With towns throughout Middle Egypt lying in ruins, Hyksos hegemony in the region had been destroyed. Thebes was on the march.

Then an unexpected stroke of luck delivered Kamose a further propaganda coup. Building on the Thebans’ long experience and mastery of desert routes, honed in the days of civil war, Kamose had regular surveillance missions patrolling the tracks through the Western Desert, keeping a discreet watch over comings and goings, and reporting on any unusual movements. For their part, the Hyksos also relied on desert routes for trade with the kingdom of Kush. (Thebes might have been subject territory, but sending shipments of Nubian gold by river through the heartland of the resistance was simply too risky.) Hence the road between Sako (modern el-Qes) in Middle Egypt and the Kushite capital at Kerma via the Western Desert oases was a busy highway, carrying trade caravans and diplomatic messengers between north and south. One such envoy had the misfortune of being intercepted by Kamose’s patrol, just south of the oasis of Djesdjes (modern Bahariya). We can imagine the Thebans’ delight when they discovered that the messenger was carrying a letter from the Hyksos king to the new ruler of Kush. And the contents of the letter were nothing short of explosive:

From the hand of the ruler of Hutwaret. Aauserra, the son of Ra Apepi, greets the son of the ruler of Kush. Why do you ascend as ruler without letting me know? Have you noticed what Egypt has done against me? The ruler who is there, Kamose …, penetrates my territory even though I have not attacked him as he has you. He chooses these two lands in order to afflict them, my land and yours, and he has ravaged them. Come northward; do not flinch. Look, he is here in my grasp. There is no one who will stand up to you in Egypt. Look, I will not give him passage until you arrive. Then we shall divide up the towns of Egypt.

Despite his pique at not being kept informed about the Kushite succession, Apepi was making an extraordinary offer to his Nubian ally: in return for military support, he would be willing to share Egypt—a classic case of divide and rule. The Thebans’ worst fears were well-founded. If they did not act, and soon, Egypt risked utter annihilation.

Kamose’s response was immediate and intuitive. Instead of killing the unfortunate messenger, he sent him back to Hutwaret with a message of his own for Apepi: “I will not leave you alone; I will not let you walk the earth without my bearing down upon you.” To drive the point home, the messenger was also instructed to tell Apepi about Kamose’s recent attacks on towns in Middle Egypt. Not only were the Theban forces brave and determined, they were scoring victories in the Hyksos’s backyard. Apepi had fatally betrayed his own weakness by requesting Kushite support. Suddenly, the prospect of a Theban attack on Hutwaret itself seemed more plausible than ever.

If Kamose’s vivid personal account of the war is to be believed, he did indeed press home his advantage and attack the center of Hyksos rule. He boasted of reaching the outskirts of Hutwaret, drinking wine from Apepi’s vineyards, cutting down his trees, raping his women, and plundering his storeships full of produce from the Near East: “gold, lapis lazuli, silver, turquoise, bronze axes without number …, moringa oil, incense, fat, honey, willow, boxwood.” He claimed to have gotten within sight of the royal citadel itself—a building he contemptuously referred to as “the house of brave words”—where the Hyksos women “peeped out from the battlements … like baby mice inside their holes.” Lining up his naval forces in attack formation, Kamose launched an all-out assault on the Hyksos stronghold, but without apparent success. He made a brave face of this failed attempt, returning to Thebes in triumph at the head of his army. In time-honored fashion, he ordered that his heroic exploits be recorded for posterity on a series of great stelae, set up in the temple of Amun at Ipetsut. But Theban celebrations were short-lived, rudely curtailed by Kamose’s premature death a few months later in 1539. The cause of his untimely demise is not known. For all his bravery and bluster, his was not a victor’s burial. He was interred in a modest, ungilded coffin with two daggers by his side, his life’s work unfinished.

As if Kamose’s death were not devastating enough for the Egyptians, their sense of loss, frustration, and anxiety must have been compounded by the vagaries of the royal succession. Just three years earlier, Kamose had very likely been chosen as king in place of the heir apparent because he was of an age to carry on the fight that had claimed Seqenenra’s life. Now, with Kamose dead as well, the heir could not easily be passed over again … even though he was only a boy.

As Thebes waited for the new king, Ahmose, to come of age, ten long years passed in military stalemate. With Buhen in Egyptian hands, Kush was successfully held at bay. Apepi’s demoralized forces were in no position to launch an attack, but without a leader, neither were the Thebans. All they could do was sit tight and make preparations.

Agesilaus and the Spartan Army I

When the Eurypontid Agesilaus II became king in 400 B.C.E., thanks to Lysander’s machinations, he could not have foreseen the complete ruin of Spartan power that would occur during his lifetime. In the space of some thirty years, his city went from being the undisputed power in the Aegean to lacking even the ability to control the most prized part of its own territory. Agesilaus’ role in the process has been debated since antiquity. The subject of a hagiographical biography by his friend and supporter Xenophon and a more nuanced one by the Boeotian Plutarch, Agesilaus has few advocates among historians today. But it is doubtful whether any single individual would have been able to keep Sparta in the position it held in 400, and certainly not one lacking all Lysander’s dark talents. Agesilaus was far from a second Lysander, though not since Cleomenes had a king been so in control of the domestic political scene as Agesilaus was throughout his reign. Agesilaus, however, lacked his Agiad predecessor’s ability to translate dominance at home into coherent foreign policy and flexibility in realizing its goals.

Agesilaus was about forty years old when he succeeded Agis (Xen. Hell. 5.4.13) and, because he was not the heir apparent, had gone through the state-run citizen training (Plut. Ages. 1.2–4). This experience was supposed to have given him a feeling for the common man, but it also might have fixed in him a rigid conception of what was proper for Sparta. He was also congenitally lame in one leg; the disability did not bar him from the training, in which he did rather well (Plut. Ages. 2.2–3). The first recorded event of Agesilaus’ reign was the discovery of Cinadon’s conspiracy, foreshadowed by an omen while the new king was sacrificing (Xen. Hell. 3.3.4). The ephors’ swift and ruthless suppression of it may have influenced his own actions when faced with other serious conspiracies in 369 (Plut. Ages. 32.6–11). But the most important event of his early reign was his crossing over to Asia Minor at the head of an army of 10,000, a surge of troops intended to bring Sparta’s war against the Persians to a successful conclusion.

Agesilaus’ two years in Asia Minor (396–394 B.C.E.) hinted at the shape of things to come. Efficiently showing Lysander who was now in charge, Agesilaus sidelined him. But, despite vague plans to march into the heart of the Persian Empire (Xen. Ages. 1.36; Hell. 4.1.41; Plut. Ages. 15.1), he made no lasting gains. Certainly, he defeated Persian forces several times, once penetrating as far east as Paphlagonia (Xen. Hell. 4.1.3). He achieved enough against Tissaphernes, Sparta’s old (and undependable) ally, for the Great King to have his underling executed and replaced (Xen. Hell. 3.4.25), but captured no significant enemy strongholds and adapted little to new methods of warfare, contenting himself with ravaging the countryside. Agesilaus’ traditional Spartan disdain for the sea moreover proved fatal, resulting in the defection of the strategic island of Rhodes in 396 to Conon at the head of a Phoenician fleet (Diod. Sic. 14.79.4–8), while his neglect of the threat the Thebans posed to his rear eventually resulted in his recall well before he had accomplished his mission. Relations between Thebes and Sparta had been steadily worsening for several years. The Thebans’ open support for Thrasybulus and his insurgents during the rule of the Thirty in Athens had not helped. In the Aulis incident, the Thebans showed their disdain for Agesilaus’ panhellenic pretensions, and their defeat of Lysander’s army by Haliartus in 395 brought their split with Sparta out into the open, gaining them eager allies. The situation in Greece was rapidly deteriorating.

Laden with booty, Agesilaus returned via the northern land route (Xen. Ages. 2.1; Hell. 4.3.1). At Amphipolis, he received good news of a Spartan victory at the Battle of the Nemea River (Xen. Hell. 3.1) and later battled his way through a now-hostile Thessaly, where he inflicted a defeat on its renowned cavalry (Xen. Ages. 2.2–4; Hell. 4.3–8), to the borders of Boeotia. Agesilaus’ next battle, at Coronea in August 394, was another welcome victory, especially since news of Conon’s destruction of the fleet off Cnidus arrived just before the battle (Xen. Hell. 4.3.10, 15–21). Leaving a huge tithe to Apollo at Delphi, Agesilaus, though wounded, crossed over the Corinthian Gulf with his haul from Asia Minor but left insufficient forces behind to re-establish Spartan control over central Greece. He spent the next years campaigning in the Corinthia. Spartan successes such as the capture of Lechaeum harbor, Piraeum on the Perachora peninsula, and the destruction of Corinth’s Long Walls (Xen. Hell. 4.4.7–13, 5.1–6) were tempered by the shredding of a regiment (mora) of Lacedaemonian hoplites by Athenian light-armed troops near Lechaeum in 390 (Xen. Hell. 4.5.11–17). The next year saw Agesilaus in western Greece, supporting the Achaean stronghold of Calydon against the local Acarnanians. The results were similar to those of his Asia Minor campaign, and his withdrawal after several months of fighting left the Achaeans dissatisfied. Still, the mere threat of his return in 388 was enough to induce the Acarnanians to join the Peloponnesian League (Xen. Hell. 4.6–7.1).

When the Corinthian War sputtered to an end in 387/6 on the heels of an Athenian defeat at the Hellespont (Xen. Hell. 5.1.25–9), the Spartans held the whip hand at the conference to ratify the peace deal dictated by the Persian King Artaxerxes. The King decided that all Greek cities in Asia Minor should belong to him and that all other cities, except only the Athenian possessions of Lemnos, Imbros, and Scyros, should be autonomous (Xen. Hell. 5.1.31). The King’s Peace, as it is called, suited the interests of Sparta and of Agesilaus, who perhaps saw an opportunity to recover Sparta’s old supremacy in the Peloponnese and to re-establish what he saw as its traditional hegemony in mainland Greece. With Persian support, Sparta now acted as the Peace’s self-appointed policeman, broadly interpreting the autonomy clause to justify intervention in any state on nearly any pretext. Agesilaus enforced the provisions of the Peace by using the threat of armed force to break up the Boeotian League (Xen. Hell. 5.1.33). This action was, on the surface, justifiable, but not the destruction of Mantinea in Arcadia, for which Agesilaus was morally, if not materially, responsible.

Relations between Sparta and Mantinea were rocky at the time: although a member of the Peloponnesian League, Mantinea was a democracy in 385 and was cozying up to Argos. Mantineans had been reluctant to send troops during the recent war (Xen. Hell. 5.1.1–2). Indicative of the tension was that Agesilaus preferred to bring his army home through Mantinean territory at night after the Lechaeum disaster rather than risk the locals’ ridicule by marching in daylight (Xen. Hell. 4.5.18). The new Peace now afforded Sparta the chance to settle this score, so envoys were sent to demand that the Mantineans pull down their walls. They refused; Sparta declared war (Xen. Hell. 5.2.3). Despite his personal involvement, Agesilaus begged off the command with the flimsy excuse that the Mantineans had provided signal service to his father Archidamus during the helot revolt of 465/4 B.C.E. Instead, his co-king Agesipolis did the unwelcome job well and with little loss of Spartan life. Realizing that he could not take the city by traditional methods like circumvallation and ravaging of the land, since the Mantineans possessed a large store of grain, he made the river Ophis flood so that the city’s mudbrick walls began to dissolve, which quickly motivated the Mantineans to surrender. The Spartans then wiped the city from the map, demolishing its walls and breaking it up into its constituent villages in a sort of reverse synoecism. Leading pro-Argive politicians were allowed to go into exile, the government was turned over to aristocratic landowners, and Sparta was rid of a nuisance (Xen. Hell. 5.2.4–7).

Watching Mantinea’s fate with interest was a group of exiles from Phlius, who now decided to use the Spartans’ policy of scrutinizing their allies’ past behavior to their advantage. In 384, they pleaded their case before the Spartans, who pressured the Phlians to restore them and their property (Xen. Hell. 5.2.8–10). After three years, however, settling the returned exiles’ property claims caused so much friction that they again approached the Spartans for help. This unauthorized request for foreign intervention prompted a large fine from the Phlians. Agesilaus had all the excuse he needed. The ephors duly mobilized the troops and, despite opposition at home to antagonizing groundlessly a city with several times the population of Sparta, Agesilaus invaded Phlian territory and settled down for a siege (Xen. Hell. 5.3.10–16). By strictly rationing their food supply, the Phleians held out for much longer than expected. In fact, with Agesilaus devising no creative solutions to resolve it, the siege dragged on for twenty months, until the Phlians sued for peace directly to the authorities at Sparta. Petulant at this disregard for his powers as a king in the field, Agesilaus used his domestic supporters to block any deal and ensured that all decisions about Phlius’ fate should be his alone. Armed with the ephors’ authorization, he imposed a settlement eerily reminiscent of Lysander’s for Athens – a commission of one hundred Spartan sympathizers empowered to draw up a new constitution and to execute anyone it wanted (Xen. Hell. 5.3.21–5).

Agesilaus’ disdain for legality and public opinion is still better illustrated in a episode that has remained notorious since the fourth century. Two Spartan armies had been sent out in 382 in response to a request by northern Greek cities for protection against the expansionist designs of the city of Olynthus on the Chalcidic peninsula. The smaller advance force arrived quickly and began operations in Thrace, but one Phoebidas, who commanded the main body of troops that set out later, had other ideas. He diverged from the route through Boeotia and encamped outside Thebes, which was split, as were many cities, into rival pro- and anti-Spartan factions. The dominant anti-Spartans had just passed a provocative law forbidding Thebans from fighting with the Spartans against Olynthus. Aided by a leading member of the pro- Spartan faction, Phoebidas seized the Cadmea, the city’s acropolis, when all the Theban women were congregated there to celebrate a religious festival. With their women held hostage, the Thebans surrendered, hundreds of anti-Spartans fled, and a Spartan garrison was imposed on the city (Xen. Hell. 5.2.25–31; Diod. Sic. 15.20.2). But when Leontiades, the Theban quisling who had betrayed his city to the Spartans, arrived in Lacedaemon to bring the good news, he was met with an unexpected storm of criticism from the ephors and most of the populace, who roundly condemned Phoebidas for his unauthorized action. The exception was, unsurprisingly, Agesilaus, who publicly articulated his policy: expediency was the only factor that counted in foreign relations (Xen. Hell. 5.2.32). The king’s words had an effect, for though they imposed a huge fine on Phoebidas (perhaps paid by Agesilaus himself), the Spartans did not withdraw the garrison (Xen. Hell. 5.2.35; Diod. Sic. 15.20.2). Greek public opinion was shocked (Diod. Sic. 15.20.2), while the reception of Leontiades shows how ambivalent many Spartans were becoming about Agesilaus’ aggressive “Sparta first” policy. Agesilaus had again allowed his simmering resentment of Thebes to shape his judgement. His hostility was so well known that it was thought, not without reason, that Phoebidas had acted under secret instructions from the king himself (Plut. Ages. 24.1; Diod. Sic. 15.20.2).

On the northern front, the massive defeat of a Spartan army in 381 under Teleutias, Agesilaus’ half-brother, had been followed by successful campaigns under Agesipolis and, after his death of fever, his successor Polybiades, who brought the Olynthians to heel in 379 and enrolled them as subordinate allies in the Peloponnesian League (Xen. Hell. 5.2.37–3.12, 18–20, 26–7). With the north pacified, trouble broke out in 378 in the most expected of places, Thebes. In a daring, well-planned plot, democratic conspirators assassinated the ruling three-man junta and, supported by Athenian troops, expelled the Spartan garrison. A bloodbath ensued as the Theban people vented their anger against their oppressors, killing any of the pro-Spartans they could find and murdering their children (Xen. Hell. 5.4.2–14). The ephors’ response upon learning the news was to call out the guard, though it was midwinter (Xen. Hell. 5.4.13–14). Agesilaus, whose ham-fisted approach to Thebes had been largely responsible for the dire situation, begged off on grounds of age: being over sixty, he was no longer eligible for conscription. Even Xenophon, normally careful to skate around overt criticism of his hero, found this specious, preferring instead to believe that Agesilaus did not want to be seen showing support for tyrants (Xen. Hell. 5.4.13). Instead, Cleombrotus, who had just succeeded his brother as Agiad king, dutifully led an army into Boeotia, his first field command. The campaign was perfunctory, to say the least, with little fighting and no attempt at all to capture Thebes. After about a fortnight outside Thebes, perhaps awaiting a diplomatic response, Cleombrotus withdrew his forces, leaving Sphodrias as harmost at Thespiae along with some of the allied troops. Because of the two kings’ starkly different approaches, Spartan war policy was in such disarray that ordinary soldiers were unsure whether or not they were actually at war with Thebes (Xen. Hell. 5.4.14–18).

The harvest of Agesilaus’ misbegotten Theban policy was beginning to ripen. The Thebans declared themselves a democracy, rapidly revived the Boeotian League along democratic lines, and prepared for the expected Spartan reaction (Diod. Sic. 15.28.1). They could expect no help from the Athenians, who were officially horrified at the revolution and so frightened of Sparta’s reaction that they punished the two generals involved (Xen. Hell. 5.4.19). However, Athenians continued exploratory negotiations with states around the Aegean to form a new system of maritime alliances (Diod. Sic. 15.28.2–4). A series of Spartan missteps – this time not the fault of Agesilaus alone – would soon provide the impetus for the foundation of the Second Athenian Naval Confederacy as a counterweight to Sparta’s hegemony in Greece.

Soon after Cleombrotus left him behind in Thespiae, Sphodrias launched a sneak attack on the Piraeus. Unable to get anywhere near his target overnight, he turned back after causing some damage in the Thriasian Plain (Xen. Hell. 5.4.20–1). His reasons for flagrantly violating the territory of a state with which Sparta was at peace were unclear – stories of bribery naturally abounded – but the effects of Sphodrias’ abortive raid were dramatic. Livid at his duplicity, the Athenians immediately arrested the Spartan ambassadors who happened to be in town and dispatched envoys to Lacedaemon to make their displeasure absolutely clear. For their part, the Spartans, aghast at Sphodrias’ actions, had already put him on trial in absentia and assured the angry Athenians that the death penalty was inevitable (Xen. Hell. 5.4.21–4). Agesilaus now showed that his consummate mastery of internal Spartan politics contrasted with an almost wilful ignorance of the consequences his decisions would have on the international scene.

Agesilaus’ unexpected decision to vote for Sphodrias’ acquittal on the grounds that Sparta could not afford to lose soldiers whose previous behavior had been so exemplary (Xen. Hell. 5.4.25–33) may have been acceptable at home but gave the Athenians justification for creating their own multilateral alliance to provide them with security against Spartan aggression. Domestically, Agesilaus had reasserted his dominance, deftly neutralizing what may have been an attempt to weaken his standing, but he had cynically revealed to all that Sparta’s immediate advantage was his sole guiding principle in interstate relations.

In the same year, 378, hostilities between Sparta and Thebes developed into a full-scale war. A major reform in how the Peloponnesian army was levied now meant that the burden of supplying manpower was more evenly distributed among ten geographical areas, with allies being permitted to hire mercenaries to fulfill their obligations (Xen. Hell. 5.2.20–1; Diod. Sic. 15.31.1–2). Thus, it was at the head of a large army conscripted under the new system that Agesilaus, despite his earlier protestations about his age, marched into Boeotia, the younger Cleombrotus having lost the authorities’ trust. Over several months of fighting, Agesilaus accomplished nothing of consequence, wasting most of his time in attempts to breach defensive works erected around the city. Unable to lure the Theban forces out into a pitched battle, he went home with his army at the end of the campaigning season (Xen. Hell. 5.4.38–41; Diod. Sic. 15.32–33.1). Agesilaus returned in 377 with similar results, although his ravaging did cause a food shortage at Thebes (Xen. Hell. 5.4.47–57). This was Agesilaus’ last active command for seven years. On the return journey he suffered an attack of acute thrombophlebitis at Megara; its treatment resulted in a significant loss of blood. Carried back to Sparta, he spent the next several months on his sickbed (Xen. Hell. 5.4.58).

With Agesilaus still incapacitated in spring 376, Cleombrotus led the invasion force. He only half-heartedly attempted to force passage into Theban territory, thus signaling a significant shift in policy. For the next two years, Boeotia would be left in peace (Xen. Hell. 5.4.59, 63) while Sparta dealt with the threat posed by the Athenians’ growing naval power, which that same year brought them victory over the

Peloponnesian fleet off Naxos, Athens’ first autnomous naval triumph since the Peloponnesian War (Diod. Sic. 15.35). The change in focus was partly due to severe disaffection among Sparta’s allies, who were tired of Agesilaus’ obsession with Thebes and inability to prosecute his campaigns successfully (Plut. Ages. 26.6). There were also signs that Agesilaus no longer wielded overwhelming influence over Spartan foreign policy. Some realism had entered into their calculations, best exemplified by Sparta’s refusal to send military aid to Pharsalus in Thessaly in 375 due to lack of manpower (Xen. Hell. 6.1.4–17). Gone were the days when Sparta could project its power anywhere in the Aegean.

Threats were multiplying on every side. Thebes was successfully consolidating its power over Boeotia and developing a formidable military machine (Xen. Hell. 5.4.46, 63, 6.1.1; Plut. Pel. 15). Against all odds, Athens was attracting new allies for its Naval Confederacy, including Thebes (IG II2 43). In Thessaly, a newcomer to Greek power politics, Jason of Pherae, had exploited Sparta’s incapacity to help Pharsalus to establish himself as the supreme leader (Xen. Hell. 6.1.18–19). In spring 375, the Thebans inflicted a morale-crushing defeat at Tegyra on a Spartan mora returning from Locris to its quarters in Orchomenus, killing two of their commanding officers (Diod. Sic. 15.37; Plut. Pel. 16–17). They also threatened Sparta’s old ally Phocis, prompting the Spartans to dispatch a force under Cleombrotus to protect it (Xen. Hell. 6.1). A short respite in the crisis was afforded by the King’s Peace, renewed at the demand of the Great King in 375, though in allowing the Athenians to retain their new Naval Confederacy, it simply recognized the facts on the ground (Diod. Sic. 15.38.1–3). Whether the Thebans were included in the Peace or not, they retained control over most of Boeotia.

EGYPT: SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

Persian King Darius’s successors showed markedly less interest in their Egyptian satrapy. They ceased even to pay lip service to the traditions of Egyptian kingship and religion. Commercial activity began to decline, and political control slackened as the Persians focussed their attention increasingly on their troublesome western provinces and the “terrorist states” of Athens and Sparta. Against such a backdrop of political weakness and economic malaise, the Egyptians’ relationship with their foreign masters started to turn sour. A year before Darius I’s death, the first revolt broke out in the delta. It took the next great king, Xerxes I (486–465), two years to quell the uprising. To prevent a recurrence, he purged Egyptians from positions of authority, but it could not stop the rot. As Xerxes and his officials were preoccupied with fighting the Greeks at the epic battles of Thermopylae and Salamis, members of the old provincial families across Lower Egypt began to dream of regaining power—a few even went as far as to claim royal titles. After less than half a century, Persian rule was beginning to unravel.

The murder of Xerxes I in the summer of 465 provided the opportunity and stimulus for a second Egyptian revolt. This time, it was led by Irethoreru, a charismatic prince of Sais following in the family tradition, and the revolt was not so easily suppressed. Within a year, he had won supporters across the delta and further afield; even government scribes in the Kharga Oasis dated legal contracts to “year two of Irethoreru, prince of the rebels.” Only in the far southeast of the country, in the quarries of the Wadi Hammamat, did local officials still recognize the authority of the Persian ruler. Sensing the popularity of his cause, Irethoreru appealed to the Persians’ great enemy, Athens, for military support. Still smarting from the vicious destruction of their holy sites by Xerxes’s army two decades earlier, the Athenians were only too glad to help. They dispatched a battle fleet to the Egyptian coast, and the combined Greco-Egyptian forces succeeded in driving the Persian military back to their barracks in Memphis, and in keeping them pinned down there for many months. But the Persians were not going to give up their richest province so easily. Eventually, by sheer force of numbers, they broke out of Memphis and began to take the country back, region by region. After a struggle lasting nearly a decade, Irethoreru was finally captured and crucified as a grim warning to other would-be insurgents.

The Egyptians, however, had enjoyed their brief taste of freedom and it was not long before another rebellion broke out, once again under Saite leadership, and once again with Athenian support. Only the peace treaty of 449 between Persia and Athens brought a temporary halt to Greek involvement in Egyptian internal affairs, and allowed the resumption of free commerce and travel between the two Mediterranean powers. (One beneficiary of the new dispensation was Herodotus, who visited Egypt sometime in the 440s.) Yet Egyptian discontent did not evaporate. The prospect of another major uprising looked certain.

In 410, civil strife erupted across the country, with near anarchy and intercommunal violence flaring in the deep south. At the instigation of the Egyptian priests of Khnum, on the island of Abu, thugs attacked the neighboring Jewish temple of Yahweh. The perpetrators were arrested and imprisoned, but, even so, it was a sign that Egyptian society was in upheaval. In the delta, a new generation of princes took up the banner of independence, led by the grandson of the first rebel leader of forty years before. Psamtek-Amenirdis of Sais was named after his grandfather but also bore the proud name of the founder of the Saite Dynasty, and he was determined to restore the family’s fortunes. He launched a low-level guerrilla war in the delta against Egypt’s Persian overlords, using his detailed local knowledge to wear down his opponents. For six years, the rebellion continued unabated, the Persians discovering the impotence of a superpower against a determined uprising with popular local support.

Finally the tipping point came. In 525, Cambyses had taken full advantage of the pharaoh’s death to launch his takeover of Egypt. Now the Egyptians returned the compliment. When news reached the delta in early 404 that the great king Darius II had died, Amenirdis promptly declared himself monarch. It was only a gesture, but it had the desired effect of galvanizing support across Egypt. By the end of 402, the fact of his kingship was recognized from the shores of the Mediterranean to the first cataract. A few waverers in the provinces continued to date official documents by the reign of the great king Artaxerxes II—hedging their bets—but the Persians had troubles of their own. An army of reconquest, assembled in Phoenicia to invade Egypt and restore order to the rebellious satrapy, had to be diverted at the last moment to deal with another secession in Cyprus. Having thus been spared a Persian onslaught, Amenirdis might have been expected to welcome the renegade Cypriot admiral when he sought refuge in Egypt. But instead of rolling out the red carpet for a fellow freedom fighter, Amenirdis had the admiral promptly assassinated. It was a characteristic display of Saite double-dealing.

Despite such ruthlessness, Amenirdis did not long enjoy his newly won throne. By seizing power through cunning and brute force, he had stripped away any remaining mystique from the office of pharaoh, revealing the kingship for what it had become (or, behind the heavy veil of decorum and propaganda, had always been)—the preeminent political trophy. Scions of other powerful delta families soon took note. In October 399, a rival warlord from the city of Djedet staged his own coup, ousting Amenirdis and proclaiming a new dynasty.

To mark this new beginning, Nayfaurud of Djedet consciously adopted the Horus name of Psamtek I, the most recent founder of a dynasty who had delivered Egypt from foreign rule. But there the comparison ended. Ever wary of Persian reprisals, Nayfaurud’s brief reign (399–393) was marked by feverish defensive activity. His most significant foreign policy was to cement an alliance with Sparta, sending grain and timber to assist the Spartan king Agesilaos in his Persian expedition.

In 393, when Nayfaurud’s heir Hagar became king, a native-born son succeeded his father on the throne of Egypt for the first time in five generations. Despite having a name that meant “the Arab,” Hagar was proud of his Egyptian identity and was determined to fulfill the traditional obligations of monarchy. A favorite epithet at the start of his reign was “he who satisfies the gods.” But piety alone could not guarantee security. After barely a year of rule, the internecine rivalry between Egypt’s leading families struck again. This time, it was Hagar’s turn to be deposed, when a competitor usurped both the throne and the monuments of the fledgling dynasty.

As the merry-go-round of pharaonic politics continued to spin, it was only another twelve months before Hagar won back his throne, proudly proclaiming that he was “repeating [his] appearance” as king. But it was a hollow boast. The monarchy had sunk to an all-time low. Devoid of respect and stripped of mystique, it was but a pale imitation of past pharaonic glories. Hagar managed to cling to power for another decade, but his ineffectual son (a second Nayfaurud) lasted barely sixteen weeks. In October 380, an army general from Tjebnetjer seized the throne. He represented the third delta family to rule Egypt in just two decades.

However, Nakhtnebef (380–362) was a man in a different mold from his immediate predecessors. He had witnessed firsthand the recent bitter struggle between competing warlords, including “the disaster of the king who came before,” and understood better than most the throne’s vulnerability. As an army man, he knew that military might was a prerequisite for political power. Therefore, his number one priority, with the country living under the constant threat of Persian invasion, was to be a “mighty king who guards Egypt, a copper wall that protects Egypt.” But he also appreciated that force alone was not sufficient. Egyptian kingship had always worked best on a psychological level. Not for nothing did Nakhtnebef describe himself as a ruler “who cuts out the hearts of the treason-hearted.” If the monarchy were to be restored to a position of respect, it would need to project a traditional, uncompromising image to the country at large. So, hand in hand with the usual political maneuvering (such as assigning all the most influential positions in government to his relatives and trusted supporters), Nakhtnebef embarked upon the most ambitious temple building program the country had seen for eight hundred years. He wanted to demonstrate unequivocally that he was a pharaoh in the traditional mold. In the same vein, one of his very first acts as king was to assign one-tenth of the royal revenues collected at Naukratis—from customs dues on riverine imports and taxes levied on locally manufactured goods—to the temple of Neith at Sais. That achieved the twin aims of placating his Saite rivals while promoting his own credentials as a pious king. Further endowments followed, not least to the temple of Horus at Edfu. Nothing could be more appropriate than for the god’s earthly incarnation to give generously to his patron’s principal cult center.

Nakhtnebef was not simply interested in buying credit in heaven. He also recognized that the temples controlled much of the country’s temporal wealth, agricultural land, mining rights, craft workshops, and trading agreements, and that investing in them was the surest way to boost the national economy. This, in turn, was the quickest and most effective method of generating surplus revenue with which to strengthen Egypt’s defensive capability, in the form of hired Greek mercenaries. So placating the gods and building up the army were two sides of the same coin. Yet it was a tricky balancing act. Milk the temples too eagerly, and they might come to resent being used as cash cows.

A wise student of his country’s history, Nakhtnebef moved to avoid the dynastic strife of recent decades by resuscitating the ancient practice of co-regency, appointing his heir Djedher (365–360) as joint sovereign to ensure a smooth transition of power. However, the greatest threat to Djedher’s throne came not from internal rivals but from his own cavalier domestic and foreign policies. Sharing none of his father’s caution, he began his sole reign by setting out to seize Palestine and Phoenicia from the Persians. Perhaps he wished to recapture the glories of Egypt’s imperial past, or perhaps he felt the need to take the war to the enemy to justify his dynasty’s continued grip on power. Either way, it was a rash and foolish decision. Even though Persia was distracted by a satraps revolt in Asia Minor, it could hardly be expected to contemplate the loss of its Near Eastern possessions with equanimity. Moreover, the vast resources needed by Egypt to undertake a major military campaign risked putting an unbearable strain on the country’s still fragile economy. Djedher badly needed bullion to hire Greek mercenaries, and was persuaded that a windfall tax on the temples was the easiest way of filling the government’s coffers. Hence, alongside a tax on buildings, a poll tax, a purchase tax on commodities, and extra dues on shipping, Djedher moved to sequestrate temple property. It would have been difficult to conceive of a more unpopular set of policies. To make matters worse, the Spartan mercenaries hired with all this tax revenue—a thousand hoplite troops and thirty military advisers—came with their own officer, Egypt’s old ally Agesilaos. At the age of eighty-four, he was a veteran in every sense of the word, and he was not about to be palmed off with the command of a mercenary corps. Only command of the entire army would satisfy him. For Djedher, that meant shunting aside another Greek ally, the Athenian Chabrias, who had first been hired by Hagar in the 380s to oversee Egyptian defense policy. With Chabrias placed in charge of the navy, Agesilaos won control of the land forces. But the presence of three such large egos at the top of the chain of command threatened to destabilize the entire operation. With resentment in the country at large over the punitive taxes, an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia pervaded the expedition from the outset.

The most vivid account of events surrounding Djedher’s ill-fated campaign of 360 is provided by an eyewitness, a snake doctor from the central delta by the name of Wennefer. Born fewer than ten miles from the dynastic capital of Tjebnetjer, Wennefer was just the sort of faithful follower favored by Nakhtnebef and his regime. After early training in the local temple, Wennefer specialized in medicine and magic, and it was in this context that he came to Djedher’s attention. When the king decided to launch his campaign against Persia, Wennefer was entrusted with keeping the official war diary. Words had great magical potency in ancient Egypt, so this was a highly sensitive role for which an accomplished magician and archloyalist was the obvious choice. Yet no sooner had Wennefer set out with the king and the army on their march into Asia than a letter was delivered to the regent in Memphis implicating Wennefer in a plot. He was arrested, bound in copper chains, and taken back to Egypt to be interrogated in the regent’s presence. Like any successful official in fourth-century Egypt, Wennefer was adept at extricating himself from compromising situations. Through some astute maneuvering, he emerged from his ordeal as a loyal confidant of the regent. He was given official protection and showered with gifts.

In the meantime, before a shot had been fired, most of the army had begun to desert Djedher in favor of one of his young officers—no less a personage than Prince Nakhthorheb, Djedher’s own nephew and the Memphis regent’s son. Agesilaos the Spartan reveled in his role as kingmaker and threw his lot in with the prince, accompanying him back to Egypt in triumph, fighting off a challenger, and finally seeing him installed as pharaoh. For his pains, he received the princely sum of 230 silver talents—enough to bankroll five thousand mercenaries for a year—and headed home to Sparta.

By contrast, Djedher, disgraced, deserted, and deposed, took the only option available and fled into the arms of the Persians, the very enemy he had been preparing to fight. Wennefer was promptly dispatched at the head of a naval task force to comb Asia and track down the traitor. Djedher was eventually located in Susa, and the Persians were only too glad to rid themselves of their unwelcome guest. Wennefer brought him home in chains, and was showered with gifts by a grateful king. In a time of political instability, it paid to be on the winning side.

Development of the Hoplite Structure

A shift in ancient Greek social and political organization resulted in the emergence of the hoplite military structure, which represented the land- owning classes with a stake in society, replacing the aristocratic military caste that preceded it. The Greek Dark Ages (1200-1800 BCE) had been characterized by horse-mounted warriors representing the wealthier strata of Greek society. The hoplite reform that emerged at the end of this period resulted in the inclusion of citizen- farmers of the evolving city-states, which while granting political representation also required military obligations for the defense of the state. The hoplite structure also created new tactical military strategies exemplified by the phalanx.

For 300 years, between approximately 650 and 350 BCE, the hoplite military structure dominated the Greek world. During this period, no other military tactic was able to engage the Greek phalanx effectively. The phalanx consisted of a close formation of heavily armed warriors, characterized by their round shields known as hoplons. They also carried a long spear, usually as long as the height of the soldier. In terms of armor, they would have a breastplate, which made them vulnerable at the neck and at the groin. It did not provide any protection for the back. Hoplites would also have greaves to protect their legs, from their kneecaps to their ankles. A Corinthian helmet would cover most of their face but would allow limited eyesight for close combat. Leather padding would create a level of protection for the hoplite, but a strong enough impact could still cause considerable bodily harm.

The main difference between the hoplite phalanx and previous and subsequent military procedures in ancient Greek tactical formations is the efficient combination of military service with the civilian sense of duty to the nation-state. The inclusive and egalitarian nature of the phalanx placed friends, family, and locals fighting for the defense of the community and for esprit de corps. Rather than reliance on a caste of elites fighting in a small-scale engagement, the phalanx pitted citizen-soldiers from one polis (city-state) against another. The auxiliary forces in the form of archers and skirmishers were typically formed from the lower strata of the city-states and did not command much respect in the hoplite ranks.

Distinctive military traditions emerged as a result of the development of the hoplite organization. Among the most famous example is the city- state of Sparta, renowned for the military prowess and the lifelong commitment of its hoplites. Young boys would enter military training at the age of five and carry on in military life past middle age. The spirit of fighting for the honor and glory not only of the city-state but also for family honor was important for Spartans. The weight of the armor necessitated Spartans to maintain a proper physique, which resulted in intense physical preparedness in the form of gymnastics and an intense exercise regime. Strength and agility were necessary to be able to carry heavy armor while engaging in battle. Other Greek city-states maintained comparable rituals to those of the Spartans in regard to physical preparedness.

Bibliography Hanson, Victor Davis, ed. Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience. New York: Routledge, 1991. Lendon, J. E. Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity. New Haven, CT: Princeton University Press, 2005. Martin, Thomas R. Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.

The Nature of Hoplite Combat

The Greek Military Revolution I

The Greek Military Revolution II

The Sarmatians

The steppe lands north of the Black Sea were inhabited by a powerful nation of mounted nomad warriors known as the Sarmatians. The Sarmatians were the cultural group that included the Alani and Aorsi population who occupied the northern Caspian region. Ancient Roman sources suggest that the Sarmatians were divided into at least five large sub-nations that shared common ethnic and cultural features, but each had their own rulers, territories and political interests. During the first centuries AD, the Sarmatians began to expand their range and power westwards across the steppe lands that led from the Ural Mountains in southern Russia into Central Europe. They conquered many steppe-dwelling Scythian populations and absorbed them into their wider culture.

By the end of the first century AD, the Alani and Siraces occupied lands stretching west from the Caspian Sea to the River Don. On the north coast of the Black Sea the plain between the Don and the Dniester was claimed by a Sarmatian people called the Roxolani. Beyond the Dniester was the territory of the Iazyges who moved west to the plains of Hungary and the Danube frontier of the Roman Empire. The Sarmatians were therefore in a position to control crucial population movements across the northern steppe and threaten Roman interests in Europe.

Greek and Roman sources suggest that the Sarmatians had a similar lifestyle to traditional Scythians (mounted steppe nomads). Herodotus describes the Scythians as having `no established cities or fortresses, just house-bearers and mounted archers who live, not by tilling the soil, but by cattle-rearing and carrying their dwellings on wagons’. These customs made the steppe nations `invincible and unapproachable’. Writing in the Augustan era, Strabo describes how the Sarmatians `spend their lives in felt tents fitted to wagons, while around them are the herds that provide the milk, cheese, and meat that provide them with sustenance’. They did not store liquids in metal or fragile pottery vessels, as even bronze water jars would burst and fracture when their contents froze in the harsh steppe winters.

The Sarmatians could establish fortified compounds, but most of their population had no fixed habitations and no sacred temples.  When Ammianus describes the Alani, he reports `An unsheathed sword is fixed downward in the ground and they reverently worship it as their God of War and the presiding deity of the lands that they range across.’ Pliny suggests that the early Sarmatians considered decorative tattoos to be a symbol of honour and reports that even their infants were marked with tattoos. During the winter months the Sarmatians led their ox-driven wagons down to meadowlands near shores of the Black and Caspian Seas. In summer they moved north again to graze their horses, cattle and sheep on the vast open steppe. Strabo explains, `They follow the grazing herds. In time they move to other places that have grass, living in the marsh-meadows about Lake Maeotis (Sea of Azov) in the winter and the plains in the summer.’ Their wagons followed the course of rivers on seasonal journeys across the Eurasian steppe which meant that their routes were mainly along a north-south range. The old, infirm and the women remained with the wagons, while mounted bands of male warriors gathered for hunting, raiding or war. Writing in the fourth century AD, Ammianus describes how the Alani remained one of the leading Sarmatian groups and preserved their nomadic lifestyle throughout antiquity.

Strabo describes how Sarmatian horses were comparatively small and difficult to control, but they were extraordinarily fast. The horses used for riding and war were castrated to better manage their temperament. This ensured that they remained silent and obedient when Sarmatian war-bands concealed themselves for ambush attacks. On long-range expeditions, mounted Sarmatians rode with spare mounts and used a relay system to cover great distances at a relentless pace. Ammianus explains that `they cover vast spaces in pursuit or retreat, on swift manageable horses, sometimes each rider leading one or two spare chargers, so they can preserve their strength by alternate rest periods.’ With this advantage Sarmatian armies might cover more than 50 miles per day.

Early Sarmatian warriors carried wicker shields and wore helmets and breastplates fashioned from thick layers of raw ox hide. They carried bows, but were also prepared for close combat with spears and swords. According to Strabo, in a pitched battle this light weaponry was not effective against a disciplined unit of well-armoured Greek infantry. He describes how in 100 BC, during a battle for control over the Crimea, a force of 50,000 Roxolani was overcome and massacred by a phalanx comprising only 6,000 Hellenic troops.

During this period the Sarmatians served as mounted mercenary forces in foreign wars occurring close to the Pontic-Caspian steppe by various kingdoms and other factions. The chief of the Sarmatian Siraces was said to have mobilized 20,000 mounted warriors to support Pharnaces II of Pontus (97-47 BC). Strabo thought that the Aorsi (Alani) might be able to field over 200,000 horsemen in the defence of their own territories. He estimated that this number might be larger if the more distant steppe clans mobilized, `for they held dominion over more land and rule over most of the Caspian coast’. The Greek writer Lucian heard stories from the Chersonesos kingdom about wars fought with the assistance of steppe allies. In one of these accounts 20,000 Alani and other mounted Sarmatians were recruited by a Hellenic king to fight an enemy force including 30,000 Scythians. These accounts suggest the scale of warfare conducted in the Pontic-Caspian region and Chinese records confirm that the Caspian Steppe (Yancai) could support over 100,000 mounted warriors.

In the early first century AD the Romans probably considered the Sarmatians to be a manageable threat. In AD 49, Julius Aquila, a Roman commander stationed in the Crimea, had to deal with a rebellion in the Chersonesos kingdom led by a dignitary who summoned cavalry support from the Siraces. Pro-imperial forces included native troops equipped in the Roman military manner backed by a small number of Roman cohorts numbering several thousand soldiers. But this army required cavalry support, so Aquila consequently formed an alliance with a Aorsi chief named Eunones who offered horsemen to fight for the Roman cause. Tacitus reports, `It was agreed that Eunones should engage the enemy with his cavalry and the Romans undertake the siege of towns.’

The Roman-Aorsi army advanced against the rebel districts with the armoured cohorts and the native infantry forming the centre point of the battle line and the Sarmatian horsemen formed up along the front and rear. They assaulted a fortified rebel town called Uspe which was defended by moats and earthwork ramparts created by heaping layers of soil between wickerwork hurdles. The Roman army used spears and firebrands to drive back the garrison from their wooden towers and burn their wickerwork defences. By nightfall large parts of the defences were destroyed and the Roman army prepared to assault the town using ladders to scale the breached earthworks. Spokesmen from the town sought terms and offered the entire population of 10,000 people as slaves if their lives were spared. Tacitus reports that the offer was rejected since it would have been `extremely difficult to maintain a cordon of guards round such a multitude. It was better they should die by the law of war.’ When the inhabitants of Uspe were massacred, the shocked communities from surrounding districts quickly renounced their support for the rebellion. This conflict demonstrated how quickly urban settlements on the northern coast of the Black Sea could transfer their allegiance and resources between dominant factions.

By this period the Sarmatians were adopting new forms of armour and equipment that greatly increased their military prospects. Mounted Sarmatians began to wear conical metal helmets and distinctive coats of scale-armour made from the hard plates of horse hooves strung together with strong sinew or sewn onto ox hide. When Pausanias visited Athens he saw Sarmatian armour displayed in the Temple of Aesculapius, the Greek god of medicine who was venerated with snake imagery. Pausanias describes this Sarmatian armour as being `like a reptile’ and fashioned `like a closed pine cone’. He explains that `Sarmatian breastplates are as well-crafted and sturdy as those of the Greeks, for they can withstand the blows of missiles.’ It was confirmation that these `foreigners are as skilled artisans as the Greeks’. Ammianus confirms that horn-armour was still utilized in the fourth century AD when the Alani fought `in cuirasses made from smooth and polished pieces of horn, fastened like scales to linen shirts’. Some Sarmatian armour could have been crafted from small iron or bronze plates riveted onto leather or sewn onto heavy cloth. When Tacitus describes the Roxolani he reports that `their princes and all their nobility wear iron scales and hard hide and although this armour is impenetrable to blows, it is difficult for the wearer to get up when thrown from his mount.’

A first century Roman poet named Valerius Flaccus imagined an attack by `fierce Sarmatians who thronged together with savage yells, their corselets ridged with flexible chain mail which also covered their steeds’. Trajan’s Column depicts the armour-encompassed Sarmatian mercenaries who fought for the Dacian kingdom in their war against the Empire (AD 101-106). The reliefs show fleeing Sarmatian horsemen dressed in long-sleeved scale-covered coats and protective leggings with a barde that extends down to their horses’ hooves. As this length of barde would have restricted the movement of the horse, these images must be based on inaccurate eye-witness descriptions.

The Sarmatian cavalry fought with long slashing swords and the remains of these weapons have been found on the steppe in small grave mounds known as kurgans. Armoured warriors also began to carry long lances held in both hands to spear enemy combatants with a direct forward charge. When Tacitus describes Sarmatian warriors in AD 68 he reports that long-swords and twohanded lances of `excessive length’ were part of their standard arms and `it is not their custom to use shields.’ Valerius Flaccus describes these lances as `a pinewood shaft that stretches out over the head and shoulders of their horse, which they rest firmly on their knees. The lances cast a long shadow over the field of conflict ready to be driven with the might of warrior and steed swift through the midst of the foe.’ Arrian reveals that the Romans called these lances `contus’ and suggests that they were a particular innovation of the Sarmatians. Tacitus explains that this combination of lance and heavy armour meant that `when the Sarmatians charge on horseback, hardly any battle-line can withstand their assault.’ Sarmatian riders were also skilled in the use of lassoes and Pausanias reports that they could `throw a lasso around any enemy, then by turning around on their horses take them off-balance’.

Sarmatian armies rode into battle with draco (dragon standards) made from a hollow metal head with a long sleeve-like streamer attached made from brightly coloured silk. When the riders charged at an enemy these banners became dramatically animated. The wind whistled through the funnel head and the silk `tail’ thrashed about to resemble dragons flying above the heads of the riders. Scenes from Trajan’s Column depict captured arms and equipment including draco standards with fish, wolves and dog-heads.

The Late Roman army adopted Sarmatian-style standards for their own military units and Ammianus describes how the Emperor Julian addressed his troops in front of a carefully arranged display of gilded ensigns (AD 357). He was `surrounded by gold and jewelled dragons, woven from purple fabric fixed to spearpoles. The broad mouths of the dragons were open to the breeze and they hissed as if animated by anger, as their tails wound in the wind.’ In his war against the Persians, Julian was able to rally a unit of Roman cavalry as they fled the battlefield. He rode into their midst with his distinctive standard and Ammianus reports, `They recognised his purple dragon ensign, fitted to the top of a very long lance and spreading out like the slough of a serpent. The tribune of one of the squadrons stopped and although pale and shaken with fear, he rode back to renew the battle.’

Ammianus had served as a soldier in the fourth century Roman army and he claimed that the Sarmatians were `more suited to predatory incursions than to regular war’. They did not maintain garrisons or conduct long-term sieges, but they became a substantial threat to the Empire due to opportunistic attacks that inflicted substantial losses on Roman armies and damage to imperial territory. Their expansion also caused population movements that created fear and disorder on the Roman frontiers.

Achaemenid Empire Administration and Army

The Median Empire was overthrown by the king of Anshan, Cyrus II, either in 554/553 or 550/549 BCE. The new dynasty founded by Cyrus adopted the administrative practices of the Medes. Once Cyrus expanded his empire to incorporate Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, and parts of Central and South Asia, the newly founded empire required a new and more elaborate administrative structure. The principal challenge for a vast empire, which ruled diverse geographical regions and contained numerous ethnic, linguistic, and religious communities with their own social organizations, was how to collect taxes and generate sufficient revenue to pay the salaries of the king’s officials and troops. Beginning with Cyrus the Great but particularly during the long reign of Darius I (r. 522–486 BCE), the Achaemenids divided their empire into provinces, or satrapies. The Persian king appointed a governor, or satrap, to each province. The satraps were not hereditary rulers. They were appointed by the Persian king and served at the pleasure of their royal master. Every new country or region that had been conquered was assessed for taxes. At times for purely administrative purposes, neighboring regions were joined to a newly conquered area in a single unit (Herodotus: 3.89). The satrap was responsible for maintaining security in the area under his control, making sure that the cultivation of land would not be disrupted. Each satrap had his own army, and he could use it to defend the territory under his jurisdiction. The satraps also provided troops to the king’s army during military campaigns, thereby contributing to the central government’s cavalry and infantry forces. In a long paragraph in his Oeconomicus, the Greek author Xenophon described the relationship between the Persian king and the provincial power centers in the following words:

We agree that he [the Persian king] is seriously concerned about military matters, because he gives orders to each man [governor] who is in charge of the countries from which he receives tribute to supply provisions for a specified number of horsemen, archers, slingers, and light-armed troops who will be capable of controlling his subjects and of protecting the country if an enemy should attack. And besides these he maintains guards in the citadels. And the officials to whom this duty has been assigned supplies provisions for the guards. The king holds an annual review of the mercenaries and the other troops who have been ordered to under arms, assembling all of them, except those in the citadels, at the “place of muster.” He personally inspects the troops near his own residence and he sends men whom he trusts to review those who live farther away. And those garrison commanders and chiliarchs [commander of a thousand] and satraps who show up with the full complement of soldiers assigned to them and present them equipped with horses that are well groomed and weapons that are well maintained he promotes with honours and rewards with valuable gifts. But those commanders whom he finds either showing a lack of concern for their garrisons or making a private profit from them, he punishes severely, removing them from office and appointing other men to take charge. Furthermore, he himself examines all of the land that he seized as he rides through it, and by sending men whom he trusts he surveys the land he does not examine personally. And those governors whom he observes presenting densely populated land and fields under cultivation stocked with the trees and crops that grow in that region, to these he gives additional territory and he lavishes gifts on them and rewards them with seats of honour; but those whose lands he seized uncultivated and sparsely populated, because of the governor’s harshness or arrogance or lack of concern, he punishes, removing them from office and appointing other governors. Since he does these things, does he seem to be less concerned that the earth be well cultivated by the inhabitants than that it be well protected by the garrisons? Separate officials are appointed by him for each of these activities, not the same men: some are in charge of the inhabitants and the workers, and collect tribute from them; others command the armed troops and the garrisons. If the garrison commander does not adequately defend the country the official concerned with the inhabitants and agricultural production brings an accusation against the commander on the grounds that the people are not able to do their work because they are not properly protected. But if the garrison commander provides peace for farming, whereas the civil governor presents under populated, unproductive land, the garrison commander, in turn, brings an accusation against him. For, on the whole, those who cultivate the land poorly are unable to support garrisons or pay tribute. But wherever a satrap is appointed, he is concerned with both areas of activity. (Xenophon: IV.5–12)

After the collapse of the Persian Empire in 330 BCE, Alexander and his Macedonian generals continued with the administrative practices of the Achaemenid kings. The short-lived empire of Alexander and the Seleucid state, which succeeded it in Iran, Mesopotamia, and parts of Asia Minor, relied on a system of vassals who paid tribute and taxes to their Seleucid overlords. The Seleucids, who ruled from Antioch in Syria (present-day southern Turkey), also relied on Greek colonies, which had been founded by Alexander during his conquests.

Achaemenid Army

The Achaemenid army was the backbone of the Achaemenid state. The army served as the principal instrument for maintaining order in the empire. As the Achaemenid state grew from a small kingdom in southern Iran to the largest empire the world had ever seen, the Persian army went through a major transformation. The armies of Cyrus II the Great, the founder of the state, consisted of Persian tribal units, which had initially supported his rebellion against the Medes. As the small Persian state expanded and converted itself into an empire, the Achaemenid monarchs developed a professional army. As displayed by the magnificent wall carvings of Persepolis in southern Iran, the core units of the standing army were recruited from the Persians and the Medes. The “royal cavalry guard and the ‘Immortals’ composed the core of this standing army” (Frye: 104). According to Herodotus, the Immortals corps “was known as the Immortals, because it was invariably kept up to strength; if a man was killed or fell sick, the vacancy he left was at once filled, so that its strength was never more nor less than 10,000” (Herodotus: 7.83). The pool for recruiting the Achaemenid army was vast and deep, as ancient Persians were educated in the art of warfare since childhood. As young boys, they learned how to ride and draw bows. Sport events and hunting expeditions were organized as the means of military training.

The Achaemenid army reflected the ethnic, linguistic, and religious diversity of the Persian Empire. It was a multinational force, which included fighting men from the diverse communities that resided in the empire. Commanders of infantry units were mostly Persians, related to the king either by blood or marriage. The army units were divided into units of tens, hundreds, and thousands (Herodotus: 7.81). Before embarking on a campaign, spies were dispatched to collect information on the ruler and the country that was about to be attacked. Prior to a military campaign, all army units assembled in a gathering place for inspection. The tradition among the Persians was to begin a march after sunrise (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.8). The signal for the march was given by trumpet from the king’s tent. To make the king’s tent visible to all, “a representation of the sun gleamed in a crystal case” above it (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.8). The “order of the line of march was as follows: in front, on silver alters, was carried the fire which the Persians called sacred and eternal” (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.9). After the fire alters came the magi singing hymns, “followed by 365 young men in scarlet cloaks, their number equaling the days of the year,” then “the chariot consecrated to Jupiter [Ahura Mazda], drawn by white horses, followed by a horse of extraordinary size, which the Persians called ‘the Sun’s horse’” (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.9). Next came various cavalry units, including “the cavalry of twelve nations variously armed”; the Immortals, “10,000 in number”; the “15,000 men called ‘the king’s kinsmen’”; and finally the unit that looked after the king’s wardrobe (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.13–14). All these units “preceded the royal chariot on which rode the king himself, towering above all others” (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.15). The king appeared in magnificent attire: “his tunic was purple, interwoven with white at the center, and his gold-embroidered cloak bore a gilded motif of hawks, attacking each other with their beaks” (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.17). His “royal head-dress” was “encircled by a blue ribbon flecked with white” (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.19). A unit of “10,000 spearman carrying lances” followed “the king’s chariot, and to the right and left he was attended by some 200 of his most noble relatives” (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.21). At the end of this column came 30,000 foot soldiers followed by 400 of the king’s horses. The female members of the royal family, including the king’s mother, wives, concubines, children, and their attendants and nurses accompanied the king in his campaigns. They were guarded among others by “a troop of women” (Quintus Curtius Rufus: 3.3.22).

The Achaemenid state was originally a land power. As the boundaries of the empire expanded and reached the shores of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, the Achaemenids turned their attention to establishing Persian supremacy on the eastern Mediterranean and launched a navy. The Achaemenian navy was “the domain of Phoenicians and to some extent the Inonian” and Cyprian Greeks, but Iranian marines constituted an important component of the Achaemenian naval forces and “fought on the ships” (Frye: 107). The Phoenicians had joined the Persian navy of their own free will and enjoyed enormous power in the military decision-making process. For example, when the Achaemenid king Cambyses II ordered his fleet to attack Carthage, the Phoenicians “refused to go, because of the close bond which connected Phoenicia and Carthage” (Herodotus: 3.19). With the Phoenicians “out of it and the remainder of the naval force too weak to undertake the campaign alone, the Carthaginians escaped Persian domination” (Herodotus: 3.19). Darius, who wished to know where Indus joined the Indian Ocean, sent an expedition down the river under the command of the Inonian naval admiral Scylax of Caryanda (Herodotus: 4.44). The naval expedition followed the course of the river eastward until it reached the ocean; then, “returning westward, the ships followed the coast, and after a voyage of some thirty months,” reached Egypt (Herodotus: 4.44). This allowed Darius to make regular use of the Indian Ocean and complete his conquest of the Indus Valley (Herodotus: 4.44).

While the Achaemenid army was the principal instrument of territorial expansion and preservation of security and order, military might was used not only to wage war but also to conduct co-option and peace. To the astonishment of their enemies, the Achaemenid kings generally treated the rulers they defeated with kindness and magnanimity. According to Herodotus, Cyrus treated Astyages, the defeated king of Media, “with great consideration and kept him at his court until he died” (Herodotus: 1.130). Cyrus displayed the same benevolent generosity and forgiveness toward Croesus, the king of Lydia (Herodotus: 1.88–91). If a king sought peace he was pardoned, and at times he or one of his sons was restored on the throne. There are “many instances from which one may infer that this sort of generosity” and compassion was a common practice among ancient Iranians (Herodotus: 3.15). As Herodotus remarked, the Persians were in “the habit of treating the sons of the kings with honor, and even of restoring to their sons the thrones of those who have rebelled against them” (Herodotus: 3.15). If, however, after being defeated and pardoned a king tried to organize a revolt among his people, he was condemned to death.