Saturday, October 9, 2010

At the Granicus

THE army marched slowly eastward, covering scarcely eight miles a day. Alexander was not commonly a general who spared his troops; but he was, for the present, almost timidly careful of them. A large Persian force had, as he knew from his spies, been massed for several weeks within striking distance of his point of disembarkation. Thanks to the supineness or pride of the Persian leaders, he had been allowed to make good his footing on Asian soil without opposition; but he would not be suffered, he knew perfectly well, to advance without having to force his way. He wanted to fight his first battle with every advantage on his side; a victory would produce an immense impression in Western Asia, a check on the other hand would be almost fatal. To bring his army into the field perfectly fresh and unimpaired in numbers was, for the present, his chief object. About noon on the fourth day his scouts came racing back with the intelligence that the Persians were posted on the right or eastern bank of the Granicus, a torrent-like stream which came down from the slopes of Ida. A halt was immediately called, and a hasty council of war held. The general opinion of the officers summoned, as expressed by Parmenio, was to delay the attack till the following day. The king, who was as ready to overrule his advisers as great generals commonly are, decided to fight at once. His men were flushed with high spirits and confidence. Their strength had been so carefully husbanded that they would be still perfectly fresh after a few more miles marching. The king's only fear was lest the enemy should decamp before he came up with them. "I thanked the gods," he said, in announcing his decision to the council, "that the enemy did not offer me battle when I was landing my army. I shall thank them not less fervently, if the enemy do offer it now when I am better prepared to meet them than I shall ever be again."

It was about an hour from sunset when Alexander, who was riding in advance with a small staff, came in sight of the Persian army. It was, indeed, but a single mile distant; and through the clear air, unencumbered by the smoke of modern artillery, every detail of its formation could be distinctly seen. The bank was lined with cavalry. On the right were the Medes and Bactrians, wearing the round-topped cap, the gaily-coloured tunic, and the scale armour which were distinguishing parts of their national dress; the Paphlagonians and Hyrcanians, equipped in much the same way, occupied the centre. Memnon the Rhodian, the ablest of the counsellors of Darius shared with a Persian satrap the command of the right. He had a few Greek troopers with him, but most of his men were Asiatics. These were, however, the best horsemen that the vast empire of Darius could send into the field. The descendants of the Seven Deliverers, with the flower of the Persian youth, in all the pride of a caste that claimed to rule more than a hundred provinces, stood in all the splendour of their gilded arms, to dispute the passage of the river.

The stream, greatly diminished indeed from its volume in early spring, when it is swollen by the melting snows of Mount Ida, but not yet dwindled to the slender proportions of summer, was flowing with considerable volume. The ford was many hundred yards in length, and for all this distance the right bank opened out into level ground. The whole of this was occupied by the cavalry. On the rising ground behind, marking the extreme limit reached by the floods of water, or, rather, of early spring, the infantry, both Greek and Asiatic, were posted in reserve. Mounted on his famous steed Bucephalus, the king rode along the line, addressing a few words of encouragement to each squadron and company as he passed it, and finally placed himself at the head of the right division of the army. (There were, it should be remembered, but two divisions.) For some minutes the two armies stood watching each other in silence. Then, as the Persian leaders recognized the presence of Alexander on the right wing of his own force—and it was easy to distinguish him by his gilded arms, his splendid charger, and the movement of the line as he rode along it—they began to reinforce their own left. The fame of his personal prowess had not failed to reach them; and they knew that the fiercest struggle would be where he might be in immediate command. Alexander saw the movement, and it hastened his own action. If he could catch his antagonists in the confusion of a change he would have them at a disadvantage. The word to advance was given, and the whole army moved forward towards the river, the right wing being somewhat in advance. Here was the famous corps d'élite, a heavy cavalry regiment that went under the name of the "Royal Companions." This was the first to enter the river. A number of javelin-throwers and archers covered them on either flank; and they were followed by some light horse, and by one of the regiments of light infantry. This happened to be Charidemus's own; he had begged and obtained permission to return to his place in its ranks.

The van of the attacking force made its way in fair order through the stream. The bottom was rough and uneven, full of large stones brought down by winter floods, with now and then a hole of some depth, but there was no mud or treacherous sand. The first onset on the defenders of the further bank was not successful. A line of dismounted troopers stood actually in the water, wherever it was shallow enough to allow it; on the bank above them (the summer bank, as it may be called, in distinction from that mentioned before as the limit of the winter floods) was ranged a dense line of horsemen, two or three files deep. The combatants below plied their swords, or thrust with their short spears; those above them showered their javelins upon the advancing enemy, and these, not only finding their footing insecure, but having to struggle up a somewhat steep ascent, failed to get any permanent hold on the coveted bank. The few who contrived to make their way up were either slain or disabled, and the rest were thrust back upon the troops that followed them. These were of course checked in their advance, and it was not till the king himself at the head of the main body of his army took up the attack that there appeared a prospect of success. Then indeed the tide of battle began to turn. For the first of many times throughout these marvellous campaigns the personal strength, the courage, the dexterity in arms of Alexander, a matchless soldier as well as a matchless general, changed the fortune of the day. He sprang forward, rallying after him his disheartened troops, struck down adversary after adversary, and climbed the bank with an agility as well as a daring which seemed to inspire his companions with an irresistible courage. What a few minutes before had seemed impossible was done; the first bank of the Granicus was gained.

But the battle was not yet won. The Persians had been beaten back from their first line of defence, but they still held the greater part of the level ground in what seemed overwhelming force. And now they could deliver charges which with the superior weight of horses and men might be expected to overthrow a far less numerous foe. Again Alexander was in the very front of the conflict. His pike had been broken in the struggle for the bank. He called to one of the bodyguards, a man whose special office it was to hold his horse when he mounted or dismounted, and asked for another. The man, without speaking, showed him his own broken weapon. Then the king looked round on his followers, holding high the splintered shaft. The appeal was answered in an instant. This time it was a Greek, Demaratus of Corinth, who answered his call, and supplied him with a fresh lance. It was not a moment too soon. A heavy column of Persian horse was advancing against him, its leader, Mithradates, son-in-law of Darius, riding a long way in advance of his men. Alexander spurred his horse, charged at Mithradates with levelled pike, struck him on the face, and hurled him dying to the ground. Meanwhile another Persian noble had come up. He struck a fierce blow at the king with his scymetar, but in his excitement almost missed his aim, doing no further damage than shearing off the crest of the helmet. Alexander replied with a thrust which broke through his breastplate, and inflicted a mortal wound. There was a third antagonist behind, but his arm was severed by a sword-cut from a Macedonian officer just as it was in the act of delivering a blow. The mêlée, however, still continued with unabated fury. The Persian nobles pressed forward with a reckless courage; and it was not till almost every leader had fallen that the cavalry gave way.

In other parts of the field the resistance had been less obstinate. The élite of the Persian army had been brought together to oppose Alexander, and the remainder did not hold their ground with the same tenacity. When the phalanx, after meeting no opposition in making the passage of the river, formed again on the other shore, and made its way over the level ground, it encountered no resistance. All the defending force either had perished or was scattered in a wild flight over the plain.

A force, however, still remained unbroken, which, had it been properly handled, might have been found a serious difficulty for the conquerors. The infantry had remained, during the conflict just described, in absolute inaction on the rising ground, watching without attempting to share in the battle that was being fought on the plain below. They had no responsible leader; no orders had been issued to them. The Persian nobles had felt, in fact, so blind a confidence in the strength of their own special arm, the cavalry, that they had treated this important part of their resources with absolute neglect. And yet, not to speak of the native troops, there were not less than ten thousand Greek mercenaries, resolute, well-armed men, got together and supported at a vast expense, who were never utilized in the struggle, but simply left to be slaughtered. These now remained to be dealt with. The king had recalled his cavalry from their pursuit of the flying Persians, and had launched them against the unprotected flanks of the Greek infantry. Not content with what he had already done in the way of personal exertion—and it was, perhaps, his one defect that he was incontrollably eager in his passion for "drinking the delight of battle," he charged at the head of the troopers, and had a horse killed under him by a thrust from a mercenary's lance. This horse was not the famous Bucephalus, which, as it had fallen slightly lame in the course of the battle, he had exchanged for another charger.

While he was waiting for another horse to be brought to him, the light infantry came up, and with it Charidemus and his Theban friend. "Ah!" cried the king, recognizing the two comrades, with whom indeed he had exchanged a few words several times on the march from the place of landing, "the crowns of victory have fallen so far to the horsemen; now it is your turn." He had scarcely spoken when he remembered that one at least of the two might find former friends or even kinsmen in the hostile ranks, for many Thebans, he knew, had, after the fall of their city, taken service with Persia. With the thoughtful kindness that distinguished him till his temper had been spoilt by success and by absolute power, he devised for the young man an escape from so painful a dilemma. Hastily improvising a reason for sending him away from the scene of action he said, "You must be content to help me just now as an aide-de-camp: run to Parmenio with all the speed you can command and deliver to him this tablet. It contains some instructions which I should like him to receive at once."

As a matter of fact the instructions contained nothing more than this, "Keep the messenger with you till the battle is over."

The final struggle of the day, from which the young Theban thus unconsciously received his dismissal, was fierce, but not protracted. The light-armed infantry, following the charges of the cavalry, acquitted themselves well, and Charidemus especially had the good luck to attract the notice of Alexander by the skilful way in which he disposed of a huge Arcadian. But the mercenaries continued to hold their own till the phalanx came up. The native levies which supported them broke in terror at the sight of that formidable array of steel; and even the hardy Greeks felt an unaccustomed fear. Some indeed, having served all their time in Asia, had never seen it in action before. With slow resistless advance it bore down upon the doomed survivors of the infantry. The front ranks fell before it; the rest stood for a few moments, wavered, and then broke up in hopeless confusion. Two thousand were admitted to quarter; some escaped by feigning death as they lay amidst the piles of their comrades' corpses; but more than half of the ten thousand perished on the field.

After this nothing was left but to collect the spoils and to bury the dead. This latter duty Alexander caused to be performed with special care. The enemy received the same decent rites of sepulture as were accorded to his own men.

Late that night, for it was already dark before the battle was over, the two friends sat talking in the tent which they shared over the events of the day.

"What think you of our king now?" said the young Macedonian. "Was there ever such a warrior?"

"No," returned the Theban. "I compared him in my mind with our own Epaminondas. Epaminondas was as brave; but he was less possessed with the passion for fighting. Our great general felt it his duty to do everything that a common soldier could be asked to do; he thought it a part of a general's work; and, consequently, he was lost to his country when he was most needed. The life for which ten thousand talents would have been but a poor equivalent was expended in doing something for which one that would have been dear at a score of drachmas would have sufficed. It has always been a puzzle to me, but doubtless so wise a man must have known what was best. But to your king the fighting is not a duty but a pleasure. He is greedy of it. He grudges it to others. He would like to do all of it himself. Yes; you are right, he is an incomparable warrior. He is a veritable Achilles. But I tell you he won my heart in quite another way to-day. I have been thinking over his sending me on that message, and I can see what he meant. I did in fact see more than one face that I knew opposite to me, and though I should have done my duty, I hope, it was a terrible dilemma. The general who can think of such a thing on a battlefield, the king who can remember a humble man like myself, is one to be honoured and loved. Yes, after to-day I can follow your Alexander everywhere."

Charidemus grasped his hand, "The gods send us good fortune and a prosperous issue!" he exclaimed.


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