After eight years of campaigning, Alexander had conceived a plan to conquer the rest of the world, which in his time, was thought to end in eastern India.
Alexander’s initial move in fulfilling this grand ambition was his assault on the Sogdian Rock, a fortress north of the province of Bactria in the Himalayan region of northern India.
The Siege of the Sogdian Rock 327BC
Presenting himself before the fortress, Alexander ordered the garrison to capitulate, which they refused to do. At that,Alexander called for volunteers to climb the cliffs that underpinned the fortress.
Some three hundred of Alexander’s men were experienced mountaineers.
They climbed the cliff in the dark, using tent pegs and lines made of flax. Thirty of them lost their footing, fell and were killed, but the remainder made it to the top.
To signal their success to the Macedonians waiting below, the climbers waved to them with pieces of linen. At this, Alexander sent a herald to shout out the news that the advance posts of the Sogdian Rock were about to be assaulted.
It was a deliberate ruse, but it came as a profound shock to the defenders who had been completely unaware of the Macedonians’ cliff-climbing exploit. They were so shocked, in fact, that they did as they were told, and surrendered.
Siege of Aornos, 327-326BC
The site of Alexander’s next siege was the presentday city of Swat in Pakistan. In Alexander’s time, it was called Pir-sar, or Aornos by the Greeks and it was a vital target because it threatened the Macedonian supply lines.
Aornos was a particularly tough objective, for it was a mighty fortress set on a spur in the mountains above narrow gorges of the upper Indus River. The fortress was vulnerable on its north side, but the way to reach it was obstructed by a deep ravine.
Alexander needed to get his catapults close enough to Aornos for their missiles to reach inside the fortress. For this purpose, he set his men to building a mound of earth that could form a bridge across the ravine.
By this means, the Macedonians managed to get within reach of a low hill close to Aornos. But the defenders had been alerted to their approach and rolled boulders down the hill into their path.
Alexander’s men were unable to move forward against this landslide and once they realised it, the defenders celebrated for three days by loudly beating drums.
Then, suddenly, inexplicably, the defenders retreated. With that, Alexander, reali
zed that he had won after all and used a rope to haul himself up to the summit of the hill. Once there, he set up altars to Athena Nike, the Greek goddess of victory as thanks for his latest triumph.
Battle of the Hydaspes River, May 326BC
Alexander’s next enemy was King Porus whose realm was located in the Punjab region near presentday Bhera in Pakistan. The two kings met in battle at Kshatriya on the River Hydaspes.
Porus arrayed his forces on the south bank of nearby River Jhelum, which was sufficiently deep and fast-running to prevent Alexander’s forces from making a successful crossing. Alexander, however, found a more ‘friendly’ crossing some 17 miles.upstream where he led a small, crack force over the river.
King Porus in dire straits
The dismayed Porus reacted by sending cavalry and chariots to confront Alexander, but the Macedonians soon sent them packing and killed their leader, Porus’ son. Next, Porus sent in the bulk of his army which consisted of cavalry on both left and right flanks, with his war elephants at the front and his infantry behind.
Alexander answered this by dispatching his mounted archers to shower the left wing of Porus’ cavalry with a mass of arrows. Once they were in disarray, he launched his own cavalry and destroyed them.
Porus ordered his force of war elephants to charge the Macedonians, but they managed to surround them. At this, Porus’ men were obliged to surrender.
After the Hydaspes River
The Battle of the Hydaspes River was Alexander’s last major battle. For where the kings of ancient India had been no more successful in halting his run of victories than Darius of Persia or Batis of Gaza, India itself brought Alexander’s wars to a close after eight years of campaigning and almost 1,100 miles. on the march.
After Hydaspes, Alexander wanted to continue eastwards, but his troops had had enough and when his priests told him that the gods had turned against him, he was forced to turn back and head for home.
Though supremely valiant and skillful in battle, the Macedonians were beset by difficulties even they could not handle. Monsoons turned the land into swamps. The rains corroded their armour and weapons and rotted their supplies of grain.
India’s rivers featured turbulent currents that endangered anyone daring to get across them. The Macedonians set off westwards in the autumn of 326BC.
The death of Alexander
The way home was punctuated by occasional battles against tribes living along the Indus River by sandstorms, heat-stroke, flash floods and in some places poisonous snakes that entered the Macedonians’ tents at night.
The experience was so brutal that almost two thirds of the Macedonians died on the way. The survivors reached Macedon in December 325BC. Alexander himself returned to Babylon, where he considered he was King. He died there on the afternoon of June 11, 323BC, aged only 32, possibly the victim of malaria.
Alexander the Great died so suddenly and so young in that proper arrangements were not made for the future of his empire. Inevitably, there was much rivalry over the spoils among his commanders.
The struggle was not settled for more than twenty years, until the battle of Ipsus in western Anatolia, Turkey in 301BC. between the Diodechi, Alexander’s successors.
After that, Alexander’s empire was divided between his former generals. Cassander received Macedon, Lysimachus took over Thrace, Seleucus ruled Mesopotamia and Persia and Ptolemy I Soter, the Levant and Egypt. Ptolemy founded a new dynasty of pharaohs in Egypt in 305BC. Alexander’s Indian conquests were handed over to Chandragupta Maurya, the first of the Maurya emperors who ruled India’s first great empire.