Alexander’s trip to Afghanistan and India is in fact, one of the worst military expeditions in world history. He achieved nothing, lost a considerable part of his empire and returned ignominiously – his chronicles actually did a good job in projecting it as a victory.

In fact, Alexander’s troubles started the minute he crossed into Persia proper. While the Persian Empire paid toll to the untameable tribes like Uxians so that they can manage the passes for the Persians, Alexander wasn’t ready to do so. He refused the customary payment and attacked them only to capture 30,000 sheep and some provisions. After the Battle of Uxian Defile, the Satrap of Persis, Ariobarzanes contested his path, holding Alexander’s troops for more than a month with just 2000 troops. He was eventually defeated but the fight costed Alexander some 5000-7000 troops. But, sensing that Alexander can’t be stopped, Tiridates, the Guardian of the Royal Treasury at Persepolis refused entry to Ariobarzanes into Persepolis. Ariobarzanes’s force returned back and fought with Alexander to the death. After all, Darius is their king and you would see everybody fighting for their king!!

When Alexander entered Persepolis, it was nothing more than a ghost city. Ecabatna was the winter capital and Persepolis is vacated every winter. There were only statues and buildings and very less people. Besides, Alexander’s attack on Uxians means that nothing will come from the West and he can’t force open the passes because of snow.

Alexander had nothing but those 30000 Uxian sheep to spend the whole winter. Winter was taking it’s toll even on their senses – in desperation for a fight, he attacked some mountain tribes living in caves and wrapped in furs. They refused to fight and simply fled. Alexander himself had to pick an axe to unblock a pass. He tried to shift to Pasargadae, Cyrus’s original capital but it was even cold and dreary. A frustrated Alexander ordered a general plunder of Persepolis and in in a drunken stupor, Alexander threw a lighted torch in the Royal Palace of Persepolis and his army followed suit by destroying the greatest city of the contemporary world.

Adding salt to the injury, Darius is in Ecbatana collecting troops and having a comfortable life. By the time Alexander reached Ecbatana, Darius already left towards Afghanistan. But with Darius fleeing Persis, the war should have been over. But, Alexander wanted more misery.

He made it his personal war of conquest and dissolved the Greek formations which enlisted for the fight against Persia. He offered them reenlistment and plunder if they declared loyalty to him and follow him, instead of their city states.

Alexander ultimately caught up with Darius – not exactly Darius but Darius’s body – bound with gold chains and stabbed. Macedonians were happy that the war is over but Alexander wanted to avenge Darius, his predecessor for the Persian throne. His men were not happy staying that far without families – Alexander allowed his men to marry. 10,000 soldiers married and in no time, the camp was full of women and children. Alexander then convinced them that, according to Greek cartographers, the end of the world is only four days afar and his men decided to follow him. But, either Alexander or his cartographers didn’t know what they are doing.

To make Alexander’s persuasions easier, Bessus, the Satrap of Bactria declared himself the new Emperor under the regnal name Artaxerxes. And that means Alexander will fight for Darius’s honour. Didn’t he treat Darius’s family as his own?

Bessus was joined by Satibarzanes, satrap of Areia, and Barsaentes, satrap of Arachosia – even more mountainous and even more remote.

In fact, even the Persian royal roads didn’t exist in those hills. Alexander who simply followed the royal roads and took small detours in case of engagements was completely clueless what to do. Besides, it gave Bessus and his compatriots massive local advantage which as time proved, turned ruinous to Alexander. Bessus’s position was no better either – the Sogdians in the North and the Indians in the South refused to join him and his fight was the fight of these three Satraps.

When Alexander entered Artacoana, the headquarters of Areia, Satibarzanes surrendered and was reappointed the governor. But, it was a ruse – as soon as Alexander left, Satibarzanes killed Anaxippus, Alexander’s representative in Areia. Alexander had to turn back on Artacoana and after a forced march covering 70 miles, he only learnt that Satibarzanes fled to Bessus with the army. 13000 Areians who resisted the advance were put under siege on a rocky outcrop. Unable to take the outcrop, Alexander torched the hill killing most of the people. But, it’s possible that Alexander simply declared victory and left – he knows neither can the Areians attack him nor can he take the hill. Going by the fact that it is the only place in the whole area Timur Lang wasn’t able to take, it is more possible that Alexander left the place without achieving anything.

Now, Arachosia rebelled and Alexander had to go South instead of North. Besides, he knew that Bessus and Satibarzanes marched before him and that means he can’t live off the land. And ultimately, he entered the current Afghanistan, chasing them.

To build his own garrison town and to establish his supply depot, he setup Alexandria-in-Areia. Next halt was at Phrada which he renamed Prophysia(anticipation). In Phrada, a soldier approached Philotas, Alexander’s lover and commander of cavalry with a plot to kill Alexander. When Philotas didn’t take it seriously, the soldier went to Alexander directly. The plot was uncovered and the conspirators were executed. Philotas was superficially pardoned but was forced to confess his role in the plot. He was also executed. But, there is another problem. Philotas’s father Parmenio was Alexander’s second-in-command and ruled all Persia. Parmenio himself was assassinated to cover this shoddy affair and a rumour was spread that Parmenio is involved in the plot.

In early 329, Alexander reached Arachosia. Barsaentes fled into India across the mountain but was sent back. He was executed. In alien lands and with limited resources, instead of taking the headquarters, Alexander built his own city – Alexandria-in-Archosia near Kandahar and waited for winter to pass. In the meanwhile, news came that Satibarzanes returned and the whole of Areia is in rebellion again. And Bactria joined the rebels this time. On the other hand, Bessus sent a cavalry to cut Alexander’s supply lines.

Alexander sent an army to tackle Areia, left an army to manage Arachosia and marched towards Kabul. Bad news for him, even nature didn’t cooperate. It’s possible that Alexander hit a late winter and the half-starved army with massive casualties due to frostbite and snow-blindness finally reached Kabul but found their path blocked by Hindukush. By this time, Alexander was completely clueless where he is. Seeing those lofty mountains, they believed them to be an extension of Caucusus and that Jartaxes is Tanais, a tributary of Don. Accordingly, he setup another city, Alexandria-in-the Caucusus somewhere near Kapisa. Note that, when the word city is used, it’s nothing more than a temporary camp with a few hutments and barricades. They recuperated and the army entered Khawak Pass out of which they emerged after 17 days starving. Bessus destroyed everything and they had to resort to eating their horses and donkeys, that too, raw because there is no firewood. There is nothing much Alexander could do there – he ordered a general pillage of the area and then marched on Bactra through Drapsaca(Kunduz) and Aornos(Khulm). Bessus simply fled across the Oxus with 7000 cavalry and burnt all boats behind him. In the meanwhile, news came that Satibarzanes is killed.

Alexander ordered his men to pursue Bessus but, the army fresh from frost bite is now caught in a 45 mile stretch of desert between Oxus and Balkh, that too, in roasting heat. Unable to handle the heat, many drank wine and that made their position even miserable. Finally when they reached the Oxus, many simply ran to the river to drink water, only to die of sunstroke. The chaos means that Alexander had to order beacons to be lit for the stragglers to reach the camp. Parallel to this, discontent is brewing and the old cavalry which served under Parmenio is discharged. It took five days for Alexander to cross Oxus. Seeing the massive army, two Sogdian nobles Spitamenes and Oxyartes arrested Bessus and sent overtures to Alexander. Alexander sent Ptolemy ahead to bring Bessus back – Ptolemy claimed he seized Bessus after a brisk fight but the reality is that Spitamenes handed over Bessus cheerfully.

He ordered Bessus to be tied to be a pole and be flogged by every passing soldier, then sent to Balkh where his nose and ears will be cut before sending him to Ectabana for execution.

At this point, going by the hardships Alexander had to go through to silence the three Afghan Satraps, it makes one wonder if Alexander himself murdered Darius and blamed it on Bessus.

The Trans-Oxus warlords believed surrendering Bessus will send Alexander away but Alexander had different thoughts. He declared his intent to surpass Cyrus and marched North taking Maracanda, the capital city of Sogdia.

A party of Alexander’s soldiers were ambushed – many were killed and rest taken prisoner. The attackers were cornered on a steep hill and were forced to submit. Alexander himself got a broken leg in the melee. He founded another city – Alexandria-the-Furthest only to find that the whole area from Jaxartes to Hindu Kush is up in rebellion again. The Macedonian garrisons in the Seven Persian Garrisons on the Jaxartes is slaughtered and Spitamenes attacked Maracanda directly, supported by the Scythians and Bactria.

Alexander ordered a general slaughter where men were killed and women and children enslaved – Alexander sent a force of 1500 infantry and 800 cavalry under Pharcuches to Maracanda and personally went towards the Persian fortresses. The toughest to take was Cyropolis and was held by 15000. Craterus was wounded by an arrow and Alexander was bashed in the head by a rock which cost him both sight and speech temporarily. The whole garrison was massacred when Cyropolis fell.

Then, Alexander crossed the river and the disorganized crossing means the lead units were surrounded by the Scythians. Happily, the other units came to the rescue in time and the Scythians retreated. The pursuit stopped only when Alexander caught dysentery.

The Marcanda force relieved the city of Spitamenes’s siege but the force trapped by the Scythians. The cavalry fled across Zaravshan River into safety and the infantry which broke ranks in flight were caught in the river – those who weren’t killed were sold into slavery. Alexander ordered his men not to talk about the disaster and marched South. When Spitamenes saw Alexander’s main force nearing Marcanda, he simply lifted the siege and fled. Alexander, frustrated over the losses and angry that he wasn’t able to catch Spitamenes, ordered another general massacre – kill anyone whether related to the attack or not.

Unable to achieve anything meaningful, Alexander returned to Balkh early in 328 BC. Things are out of control as usual – his governor for Areia, Barzanes was sent to him in chains and Spitamenes slipped through the five flying columns sent to capture him and invaded Bactria. Incapable of siege warfare, they plundered the whole area and when the garrison and Macedonian invalids tried to stop him, they were pushed back amidst much slaughter. Craterus arrived just in time to save the situation – Spitamenes’s troops were caught at the edge of the desert and 150 of them were killed while the rest escaped. Alexander spent the winter of 328-327 BC at Maracanda and in a drunken stupor, he drove a spear through Cleitus, the Governor of Bactria, killing him when he said his father was a better achiever than Alexander.

The climate, rebellions and military failures affected Alexander psychologically and made him more autocratic by the day. The situation for Alexander was that he spent years in these areas unable to achieve anything and draining his troops.

Coenus trapped Spitamenes who was with a force of 3000 and killed 800 of his men. Understanding that the rebellion is almost over, the Massagetae, Spitamenes’s allies seized him and sent his head to Alexander as a peace offering. On the other hand, Oxyartes was cornered on the Sogdian Rock along with thousands of soldiers and ten year worth of supplies. Alexander tried to force the peak but wasn’t able to achieve anything meaningful. He asked for Oxyartes’s daughter in marriage and Alexander’s marriage with Roxane, as it turns out, is the one single incident which changed Alexander’s fortunes in Afghanistan.

With Oxyartes’s help, Alexander levied new troops and left 10000 infantry and 3500 cavalry of his own troop in Bactria to reduce the possibility of rebellion. Alexander, now, had additional 30-40000 troops under him.

The autocrat he has become, Alexander introduced proskynesis, the groveling sort of bow formerly demanded by Persian kings. A new plot to kill him was uncovered in consequence of this and Callisthenes, the court historian was executed.

In the summer, Alexander re-crossed Hindukush into India. The army paused at Alexandria-in-the-Caucasus to receive ambassadors from India. The king of Taxila submitted in the hope that Alexander will help him in his fight against his neighbour Porus.

Alexander invaded India in two columns. Hephaestion led the main column through Khyber Pass and Alexander took an elite troop across Khawak Pass subduing Swat and Bajour areas before joining the main force for the fight against Porus leading to something between a signal defeat and a pyrrhic victory and losing three fourth of his troops on his way back – and he dying of his battle injuries a few months later.

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