Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Alexander’s Advance into Central Asia (329–328 B.C.E.)

Alexander’s Advance into Central Asia
(329–328 B.C.E.)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Alexander’s Macedonian forces
vs. remnants of the Persian army, Bactrian forces under
Bessus, and the Scythians of Sogdiana



MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Conquest of Persia and its

OUTCOME: The region was conquered, and Alexander
used it as a springboard for his conquest of India.




In pursuit of Darius III (d. 330 B.C.E.), king of Persia, who
he had defeated, Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.E.),
emperor of Macedon, approached Babylon. He ran Darius
to ground, but about 60 Persian nobles, led by Bessus (d.
c. 329 B.C.E.), satrap of Bactria, murdered Darius to keep
him out of Alexander’s hands. Alexander pursued the fleeing
remnants of the Persian army. He struck such terror
into the hearts of the enemy troops that Babylon fell to
him without a fight in 331. From here, he rooted out
rebels in the mountains, then destroyed Persepolis, the
ancient capital of Persia, and pressed on in pursuit of the
murderers of Darius. As he did this, he penetrated Central
Asia and continually consolidated his conquests en route.
Alexander advanced relentlessly eastward through
Parthia and into Bactria. Here he captured Bessus, who he
executed, then turned north and crossed the Oxus, penetrating
Sogdiana in Central Asia.
In Sogdiana his forces were repeatedly set upon by
savage Scythian tribesmen, especially as his troops traversed
the mountain passes south and west of the
Jaxartes River. In more than one exchange, Alexander,
always in the vanguard of his army, was wounded, once
gravely. However, he effected a masterly crossing of the
Jaxartes by improvising rafts made of tents stuffed with
hay. As the masses of infantry crossed in this manner,
other infantrymen covered their comrades, defending
against the onslaught of Scythian bowmen along the river
bank. Once landed on the opposite shore, Alexander’s
forces trounced the Scythians. After these tribesmen were
neutralized, Alexander led his forces back to Sogdiana to
crush a revolt led by Spitamenes (d. 328 B.C.E.), the
deposed satrap of the province. The campaign against Spitamenes’s
rebels consumed nearly a year, but by 328, Sogdiana
was firmly within the Macedonian fold, and Alexander
launched out into India.

Further reading: Flavius Arrianus, The Campaigns of
Alexander (New York: Viking, 1976); Peter Green, Alexander
of Macedon, 356–323 B.C.E.: A Historical Biography
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992

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