ALEXANDER THE [NOT SO] GREAT
Destroying the Myth of Alexander the Macedonian
His Retreat from India (of today) back to Babylon
His Defeat by Swati-Nuristani Republican, Free Tribes & his Death caused by Mallis of Multan
By M A M (2010)
Historians say that in the month of “May of 326 BC,… Alexander did not realize that this was the golden apex of his life. His spirits buoyed at having just won the most adroit and subtle of all his battles in fabled India.” This ‘most adroit’ battle was a bloody and exhausting affair when the free tribes of North Punjab fought the Macedonian invaders and accompanying mercenaries with such heroism that stunned the Macedonian Alexander. He had not confronted such ferocity in valour before. Over half of his army, the 100 thousand that he had amassed from his journeys through Greece, Persia and Central Asia, was destroyed. A multinational army of millions did not do this. It was done by an army fifth his size, with fewer cavalry and infantry.
He and his soldiers were shaken. He, as a leader, and claiming to be a god, could not publicly countenance the prospect and declaration of a humiliating retreat. For the first time in his life he suffered series of defeats by smaller forces. But, “his men had fallen prey to an entirely different appreciation of the situation….”
The “Macedonian and Greek core of his army, in particular, had been with him since he had crossed the Hellespont in 334 BC. After eight years of fighting, their numbers were dwindling and they were exhausted, yet on they marched behind the Invincible one…” That is the description of his own official Greek historians: claiming faith in the individual but accepting that even that god-claiming individual was beaten and his soldiers saw it with their own eyes and experienced it with their own bodies. The army was beaten in its spirit, energy and on the battlefield.
“The army reached the banks of the Hyphasis (Beas) River in July. The city of Sangala had resisted Alexander and now was a corpse-strewn ruin. There was little to savour in the victory. The Indians had fought hard again, inflicting an alarming number of casualties”.
This alarming number of deaths as a result of military action of Punjabi defenders from the Indus valley; their actions in battle against the Greeks meant that most Greeks had been killed in these small battles, on the outer borders of India.
“Rumours flew about the camp that the kingdoms against which Alexander would lead them could muster thousands of war elephants and hundreds of thousands of tough soldiers. Fatigue drained the men’s morale”.
This was the result of two minor campaigns: one in Swat and Buner valleys and the other in North Punjab. Greeks were only on the outskirts of what is now India. Their back had been broken at the gates of North India. The spirit of the invaders had suffered ruinous calamity of heroic military resistance. They doubted Alexander and his leadership. He too would have realised the futility of his effort because destruction of his army was in front of his eyes and he knew that he was not the great god-general he had been making others believe. He was fighting a different creed of people as he entered Nuristan and North Punjab. The resistance by the brave tribesmen and women was such that he had never encountered before and as a result, could not withstand it anymore. He and his army were beaten. He and his army knew that if they left the same way as they entered India, they would not reach home alive. So, he chose the path of rivers and then the Sea, to escape with his life and the lives of the few who were left with him. He was aware of this situation and said to his Greek soldiers, cowering in fear of the next Indian tribe, “He said, should they withdraw now it would be a gross encouragement to peoples in their rear to rise in revolt and contest every inch of the march home”. How had he come to this stage?
“Coenus, an old officer, spoke…He pointed out how few were left of the Macedonians and Greeks who had set out for Asia with him. Many had died in the battles and sieges along the way; more had died of sickness…”. Obviously, this had not happened by coincidence. This was no freak accident of nature. It was the fact, proven by the indefatigable character and relentless courage of the free, democratic tribes of the Indus and the mountain dwellers of Hindukush.
Let us contrast this with his earlier state:
Only a few years earlier, in “330 BC Alexander has the world’s richest crown with riches and wealth of Persian Empire, which would fuel his invasion of Afghanistan. In Afghanistan he faced his fiercest battles and grave loss to his army physically, mentally and financially. After 4 years of battle he passed through Afghanistan to Central Asia and with 100 thousand reinforcements from Greece and newly captured central Asian kingdoms returns to Afghanistan and captures Balkh, Qandahar, Herat, and Kabul and begins his invasion of India”.
But, by this invasion with his 100 thousand Greek and mercenary soldiers, his army was slowly cut down, by one city and another, by one tribe and another, on the fringes of India. His was a multinational army, united under one king. Indian and Afghani were small tribes, fewer soldiers and scattered. Still, they cut this huge army to shreds, in sieges and frontal battles.
Here we shall see where it finally collapsed. The point when the real fear of the defending peoples entered the hearts of the Greeks and 100 thousand mercenaries. This was the battle against Raja Puru, also known as Porus. This is the place and the time, where we can see the souls of the Greeks break. They were beaten and wanted to run back home, under the bosoms of their women. It was not easy pickings anymore. This was for real and the free tribes and cities were serious in defending their freedoms. Alexander’s hallucinatory drunker utterances, claims of celestial ancestry and alcoholic frenzy were not of any use here. His soldiers could see it and he could realise it too. The Punjabi leader from the lands around the river Jhelum came out, with a much smaller force, less than one fifth the invading army. Here is what happened after the battle, which they say Porus lost:
“East of Porus’ kingdom, near the Ganges River (original Indian name Ganga), was the powerful empire of Magadha ruled by the Nanda dynasty. Fearing the prospects of facing another powerful Indian army and exhausted by years of campaigning, his army mutinied at the Hyphasis River (the modern Beas River) refusing to march further east. This river thus marks the easternmost extent of Alexander’s conquests…”
“As for the Macedonians, however, their struggle with Porus blunted their courage and stayed their further advance into India. For having had all they could do to repulse an enemy who mustered only twenty thousand infantry and two thousand horse, they violently opposed Alexander when he insisted on crossing the river Ganges also, the width of which, as they learned, was thirty-two furlongs, its depth a hundred fathoms, while its banks on the further side were covered with multitudes of men-at-arms and horsemen and elephants. For they were told that the kings of the Ganderites and Praesii were awaiting them with eighty thousand horsemen, two hundred thousand footmen, eight thousand chariots, and six thousand fighting elephants”. (Plutarch, Vita Alexandri, 62)
The more you read about Alexander, the more it is clear that he was not as great as described by people who call themselves historians. All the main characters in building his myth are western historians who do not see the ‘other side’ and cannot force themselves to see the reality of what happened to this man. He tried to enter India and fought the free, republican, democratic tribes who did not wish to be enslaved by a king, a tyrant. They beat him first. Few have had the courage to say this!
As he entered India, he fought battles with small armies of city-states, as there was not the empire like the Persians in India that could unite and wipe out this patricidal-barbarian from Macedonia.
In his heart he was not a European. He hated the Greeks, the Athenians and other Peloponnesian city-states. Those never considered Macedonia as a civilised equal and reduced it to a poor relation. He was always a lower class Greek, who was enraged at the treatment of his city and his father, by other Greek city-states. He hated the Greeks, the civilised Greek city-states, the Athenians and the Spartans.
When he became older and started on his frenzy of death and destruction, through drunken rages he suffered he wreaked vengeance on other Greek city-states first. After having crushed them, he turned to Persia, and due to its decaying state, an unwilling-to-fight army, was able to capture it. This was the decadent time for Persia and its greatness had waned over the previous centuries since Cyrus the Great.
After entering India, he met his first real tests in warfare: the Kamboja people. When he could not defeat them in battle, he used unprincipled treachery and deceit, the hallmark of a military psychopath. The Kamboja, a small tribe in the Nursitan (now Afghanistan) had destroyed a quarter of his army, in battle. Then he met the people of Jhelum, in present day Pakistan. Half his remaining army was destroyed there. He did not develop friendship with Raja Puru for nothing. This man, Alexander, who killed his own friends and butchered whole cities, was not able to make friends of enemies overnight. That was for a purpose: survival. His army was devastated, he needed help and Porus, after killing half the Greek army, was the only person who could salvage some of Alexander’s army. That he did.
One cannot rely totally on the accounts written by Diodorus and others, for unbiased accuracy. For one, they are Greek; they were intoxicated by the myth of Alexander and they were official history writers for Greeks. The primal one was Alexander’s own official historian, the one he had executed! These historians were also European (if anything like that existed then), or Roman, intoxicated by the poison of superiority, and minimising the impact of Alexander’s rapid decay, as a man and as general, in India. The later historians, Justin etc. were over 500 years away from the actual events. Plutarch, the most reliable and reflective historian of antiquity, still believed in the fantasy that Alexander was not the son of Philip of Macedon but of Zeus! So much for historical reliability! Others who wrote Greek history also wrote of three hundred Spartans against a ‘million’ Persians, so much for their reliability! Such fantastic writings prove invalidity of some versions of events. At least, there was mass Greek-o-Roman-exaggeration of his leadership in their narratives.
It is time that a more realistic and critical assessment is done of this man and his myth. The more one reads about him the more it seems like a myth, created and perpetuated by western historians, who, as children were in love with the myth of this ‘great warrior’ who went from one corner of the world to the other; as a great European conqueror. Nothing could be further from the truth.
First of all, he was not a great general. His opponents were not so bright. Where they were, he did not fight them, he betrayed them, used treachery and deceit. Or, ran away! He was cruel and barbaric, as he belonged to a barbarian city-state, considered lowly and ignorant, from the very outset, by other civilised, democratic, Athens-like Greek city-states.
Secondly, he did not consider himself as a European or a western Greek. Later European historians who want him to be ‘European and Western’ insert this identity into his persona. That too is fiction. He always carried a Trojan shield, not a Greek shield! He idolised Hector, not Agamemnon. He acquired eastern ways, married eastern women, wanted to live in the east, Egypt or Persia, and died in Babylon, not Athens. He knew that the whole of Europe at that time was noting but barbarian, primitive tribes. There was no civilisation there. The only civilisations were around the Mediterranean Sea, in the east and in India, Asia Minor and Asia major. These were fertile and civilised lands, lived in by developed nations, cities with riches, kingdoms with Rajas and democracies, with equality of citizens as their philosophy. Democracy was not the domain of Athens; Athens was also not the first democracy. Democracy was established in Gandhara, in the Indus valley and in other part of Asia, much before Greece. He was not a democrat and he knew of the ‘fabled land of Scindia’.
Woman Commander Kripa against Alexander
To highlight this thesis of cutting the myth of Alexander down to size, let us see two examples:
His fight in Swat-Nuristan (presently in the north of Pakistan & south of Afghanistan) with the free and democratic nations of Kamboja, in 336 BC—the Aspasios were initially led by a people’s selected war-leader, Assakenos (or Assacanus), and later by his mother Kripa, once he was martyred in battle defending his people, on the 5th day of the battle with the Macedonian armies. Here is the detailed account of historians from that time and a few centuries later, but these are Greek and Roman historians. Diodorus’s account is also contained in this narrative. Even these biased historians, from the opposing nations, with their xenophobic mind-sets, saluted the courage and character of the Kamboja tribes Alexander fought.
They tell us what a battle it was. They also tell us who the real heroes were and whose was the lasting and moral victory. On those hills, even when there was no one else from the tribal side to write their history, of their valour, their courage, while fighting this treacherous invader, these historians have narrated their story.
“Alexander personally took command of the shield-bearing guards, foot-companions, archers, Agrianians and horse-javelin-men and led them against the Kamboja clans—the Aspasios of Kunar/Alishang valleys, the Guraeans of the Guraeus (Panjkora) valley, and the Assakenois of the Swat and Buner valleys”.
“They were brave people and it was hard work for Alexander to take their strongholds, of which Massaga and Aornus need special mention. A fierce contest ensued with the Aspasios in which Alexander himself was wounded in the shoulder by a dart but eventually the Aspasios lost the fight; 40,000 of them were enslaved. The Assakenois faced Alexander with an army of 30,000 cavalry, 38,000 infantry and 30 elephants. They had fought bravely and offered stubborn resistance to the invader in many of their strongholds like cities of Ora, Bazira and Massaga. The fort of Massaga could only be reduced after several days of bloody fighting in which Alexander himself was wounded seriously in the ankle. When the Chieftain of Massaga fell in the battle, the supreme command of the army went to his old mother Cleophis (known locally as Kripa) who also stood determined to defend her motherland to the last extremity. The example of Cleophis assuming the supreme command of the military also brought the entire women of the locality into the fighting.
Alexander could only reduce Massaga by resorting to political stratagem and actions of betrayal.
Alexander personally led a campaign against the Aspasioi and later the Assakenoi. The Assakenoi (Ashvakas) had opposed the invader with an army of 20,000 cavalry, 38,000 infantry and 30 elephants (as stated by Curtius). A contingent of 7,000 Kamboj soldiers were brought from Abhisara. The Ashvakas had fought valiantly and offered a stubborn resistance to the invader in many of their strongholds. Massaga was the scene of the bloodiest fight. Alexander received a serious wound in the fighting at Massaga. The city could not be stormed even after five days (nine days according to Curius) of bloody fighting. On the fifth day, Assakenos, the Chieftain of the Ashvakas fell a martyr in the field. Thereupon, the supreme command of the military operations was assumed by Kripa (Cleophis). Like her son, Kripa (Cleophis) stood determined to defend her motherland to the last extremity. The example of Cleophis assuming the command of the military operations also brought the entire women of the locality into the fighting…”
Diodorus, nowhere refers to any agreement whereby the tribes-men or mercenaries had agreed to join Alexander’s forces but later on backed out and planned to escape under the pall of darkness. Rather, he specifically states that the tribes-people had vacated the fort in accordance with the agreement and had gone about 80 stadia when Alexander, who was ‘actuated by an implacable enmity’ and had kept his troops under arms, ready for action, treacherously fell upon the tribes-people and made a great slaughter of their ranks. Diodorus gives a very graphic and vivid account of the battle that had ensued and also greatly applauds the courage and heroism shown by the tribes-men and their women against Alexandrian forces”.
Still another chronicler Plutarch (Mestrius Plutarchus) prior to Arrian, attests that “Alexander incurred serious losses and accordingly, concluded a treaty of peace with Assaceni but, afterwards, as they were going away, set upon them while they were on the road and committed a complete carnage”. Rightly therefore, Plutarch swears at Alexander for his treacherous action and calls it “a foul blot on his martial fame”. “In view of these clear remarks, the account of Arrian seems to be a tendentious effort to window-dress a despicable act of abject treachery and perfidy”…
Let us consider the reality of these accounts, the meanings hidden and apparent in these words. Greek and Roman historians, brought up on the legend of Alexander, aspiring to be warriors like him, were able, in spite of their emotional baggage about him, to narrate what they saw. Their sight was focussed on the Greeks, but still they saw what was not great about that man, Alexander. They write that, albeit in brief. He was beaten in Swat and Nuristan. He sued for peace and entered into pledges and treaties with the victor tribes. Then by treachery and deceit, not honourable even by the moral standards of antiquity, slaughtered men, women and children, when he was supposed to be at peace with them. In the battle, he had lost. He stopped the battle because he was not victorious, but attacked when he was supposed to be at peace with the Kamboja tribes. This psychopathic barbarian, uncivilised that he was considered by Athenians and Spartans, through excessive alcohol and moral decay, showed his true character.
Here also we see the heroic face of the Kamboja clans, especially two facts appear: they were free people, not slaves or subjects. They did not have kings and were democratic. Secondly, they had war leaders and when the male war leader died, his mother, the woman war leader took control of the battle. And these leaders were selected. Not hereditary leaders but leaders of the people. It was a woman, people’s leader Kripa, who rendered Alexander’s attacks failure till he sought peace with her. It proves that women of that time, in present day Afghanistan and North Pakistan, had the same respect and power as men, that after the heroic martyrdom of their war leader, a general, his mother took over the command. Historians, even the Greek, also tell us that all the women of the tribe fought the Greek and mercenary invaders, alongside their men, shoulder to shoulder. They all fought to their last. They preferred freedom and honour in death to slavery and dishonour in life.
If there is an epic worth remembering, greater than the fables of Sparta and Alexander, this is the one, the greatest of all epics. If there were any heroes greater than all, these were the ones, in Swat and Buner valleys, bigger than Trojan or any other war epics.
“The accounts of Plutarch indisputably prove that the initiative for the peace treaty came not from the Ashvakas but from Alexander himself which clearly indicates that Alexander had suffered severe losses in this battle with the Assakenoi.”
History further emphasises this point that the people in Punjab and Afghanistan were free people, democratic and freedom loving for all citizens, even before the Greeks. The birthplace of democracy, in reality, is not Greece, but the plains and hills of Afghanistan, India and Asia.
“Cleophis really did exist. She was not, however, a queen, for the Assaceni were part of the Asvaka,’ one of the ‘free peoples’ who had neither kings nor queens (if Indians ever were ruled by queens); her son was not king, neither had he died before Alexander came, as Curtius says; every detail in the story is wrong. Her son, in actual fact, was ~ysµwv, the people’s war-leader, and she was merely his mother, a woman with a grown up son”. (WW Tarn, Greeks in India, Alexander the great, 2003).
Multan and the Mallis
His fight in Multan was actually the last fight he ever fought. That was the fight that killed him and with him, his megalomania and psychopathy which resulted in so much death and destruction across the world. They say that he died of malaria, or poisoning, or after a drinking bout. It is also said that he died as a result of the fight he had in the city of Multan, where he was almost beheaded and had a serious wound in the chest and died as a result of complications of that wound. We see historians telling us the real story:
““Alexander, after the meeting with his officer Coenus, was convinced that it was better to return. Alexander was forced to turn south. Along the way his army ran into the Malli clans (in Multan, present day city in south Pakistan). The Malli were the most warlike clans in South Asia during that period. Alexander’s army challenged the Malli, and the ensuing battle led them to the Malli citadel. During the assault, Alexander himself was wounded seriously by a Malli arrow…”.
That was the limit of Alexander’s greatness. He knew that he was beaten and ran out of India in disgrace. He was permanently damaged, badly injured, physically disabled and psychologically broken, dying as a consequence of his physical and emotional injuries he received in Multan.
In Multan, the battle raged and he was encircled and injured in the battle, felled by Multani young men, defending their city…”Alexander’s three protectors dropped inside the wall and rushed to his side. They were an instant too late. Abreas fell with an arrow in the face. Peucestas was throwing his shield in front of his commander when another arrow sped past and struck Alexander in his left lung. Red foam, blood mixed with air, bubbled from the wound through his pierced corselet. The Indians surged forward for the kill, but Alexander continued to defend himself. Finally, blood gushed from the wound and their king slumped forward over his shield. Peucestas and Leonnatus stepped in front of his body to shield him with their own, as arrows, darts and stones rained down on them…”.
This was the end of Alexander! This was his defeat by the small Punjabi tribe, the Malli. This broke him completely. He was carried on his Trojan shield, almost dead. Mallis are still there, called Mallis, in Multan and other parts of Southern Punjab, in Pakistan. These Mallis ended Alexander’s dreams. Alexander chose not to return to Macedonia by the same short route from ewhhc he ebnetered India, for fear of being completely destroyed by the same tribes which had decimated his army. He chose instead to find an escape route from which he could escape unharmed and in hiding from the brave tribes and city states of Gandhara, Punjab, Nursitan and Swat. He built boats and sailed back into his end.
“After his recuperation, the Macedonian king sailed down the Indus to the Indian Ocean and then marched back to Babylon. Although there was more fighting, Alexander’s wound put an end to any more personal exploits. Lung tissue never fully recovers, and the thick scarring in its place made every breath cut like a knife. It probably rendered him vulnerable to whatever microbe finally killed him in Babylon two years later”. (Peter G. Tsouras, June 2004 issue of Military History.)
It is time to accept that Alexander was not great. He was beaten, fair and square, in India and he ran back from battles because he and his Greek army were scared of facing bigger Indian armies, waiting for them across Ganga (River Ganges). If this is not cowardice, what is? If this is not defeat, what is? If this is not flight from battle, what is? How can we call a defeated general, leading a scared army and a bunch of mercenaries, great? Let us detach that long-suffering word ‘great’ attached with his name. Alexander was not so great.
• Alexander the Great: An annotated list of primary sources from Livius.org
• Alexander the Great Alexander the Great forum, articles, and referenced information.
• Wiki Classical Dictionary, extant sources and fragmentary and lost sources
• Plutarch, Life of Alexander
• Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus
• Plutarch, Of the Fortune or Virtue of Alexander the Great
• Arrian, The Campaigns of Alexander, English translation by Aubrey de Sélincourt (1971, first published 1958) Penguin Classics published by the Penguin Group, London ISBN 0-14-044253-7.
• Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca historia, vol. 8
• Peter G. Tsouras, June 2004 issue of Military History
• WW Tarn, Greeks in India, Alexander the great, 2003