The price of Glory: The wounds of Alexander the Great.

The Macedonian king Alexander the Great has been one of the most well-known and admired figures of Antiquity. Cesar, Pompey, Mithridates of Pontus, Trajan, or Napoleon himself, much more recently, are some of the characters who pretended, without succeeding in most cases, emulate their achievements to have their glory.

In order to know details about his figure and the wounds he suffered, throughout the extensive geography that he traveled through in life, we will follow four historians as historical sources: Diodoro Sículo, Curtio Rufo, Plutarco and Arriano, who in turn were informed in the writings of some of the companions of Alexander as Callisthenes, nephew of Aristotle and official chronicler of the court of Alexander, Ptolemy, Aristóbulo, Nearco, etc.

Alexander led his armies from the front line. Like his father Philip II of Macedon, he did not hesitate to launch an attack and play his life too often. He urged something described in ancient texts as «pothos», the longing or longing to reach the unknown. His impulsive temperament led him to take unnecessary risks on numerous occasions. He was fascinated by hand-to-hand combat, victory. His ideal was to overcome the heroes of Greek mythology and especially to found a new empire.

His strategic ability, together with his temerity, brought him countless successes, enormous territories to govern, a hole in our memory and, of course, numerous wounds that will allow us to follow the path of his expeditions. Some phrases that are attributed to him in reference to the wounds he received are famous, such as:

«I do not have a single part of my body, at least in front, that does not have scars; there is no weapon, that is used closely, or that it is launched from afar, of which it does not bear the mark. Moreover, I have been wounded by the sword, hand in hand; with arrows, I have been hurt from a catapult and many times I have been hit with stones and clubs. »

«Everyone swears I’m Jupiter’s son, but this wound is proclaiming that I’m a man.» Seneca (Letters to Lucilo, Letter LIX).

Throughout his campaigns he suffered 8 important injuries that we can group in different ways. For example, by the degree of importance, we could say that there were four minor, three serious and one almost mortal. For the instrument that caused them: catapult projectile, darts, arrows, spears and sword and mallet. Let’s now list them one by one:

1st WOUND. CAMPAIGN OF THE BALKANS AND DESTRUCTION OF THEBAS (FROM THE SPRING UNTIL SEPTEMBER OF 335 BC). (TWO WOUNDED)

After the death of his father Philip in a conspiracy in 336 a.C. Alexander is proclaimed king of Macedonia by the nobles and the army. He is also named «hegemon» of the Greek forces against Persia. However large territories and many cities like Thebes or Athens will see their opportunity to rebel against the new and young king who will lead his army, just beginning the spring. The campaign will be settled with the submission of Thrace and Illyria, where he is recognized as undisputed monarch. The price for dominion over these lands will be two wounds: a stone thrown with a sling and a hammer blow in Illyria. The wounds will not have greater importance at the medical level but political. Paul Faure, (in «Alexander» Edaf, 1990) tells us what happened in Greece «Demosthenes presented at the Athens Assembly a combatant who said he saw Alexander fall to him. In fact, he had only been injured by a stone thrown by a sling and by a hammer blow in Illyria. »

His wounds were intentionally exaggerated by the Athenians who, believing him dead, rebelled against the Macedonian predominance. Alexander, after his victories on the Danube, allowed his army to march south of Greece, completely destroying the city of Thebes, which refused to surrender, all its inhabitants being killed or reduced to slavery. Before such destruction, Athens, the other great city rebelled against the Macedonians, will submit to Alexander who, from this moment, will have his hands free to achieve the dream he shared with his father: defeat and conquer the Persian Empire.

2nd WOUND. BATTLE OF THE GRANICO (MAY / JUNE 334 BC)

Nothing else to cross the Hellespont Alexander, teacher in the symbolic gestures, throws his spear to the coast of Anatolia. As a symbol of his intention to conquer, being the first to disembark dressed in full combat armor. He goes with his army to Troy to pay homage to the tombs of Achilles and Patroclus. From there he goes to the capital of the Persian satrapy of Phrygia, where he confronts and defeats the Persians for the first time in the Battle of the Granic.

It will be in this confrontation when Alexander, very visible by his way of dressing in battle, in the middle of combat, is harassed by two Persians and receives his second wound. Plutarch tells us perfectly in his «Parallel Lives»:

«Generals Resaces and Espitridates came at the same time and stole the body to this one, Resaces, armed with armor, threw (to Alexander) a boat of lance, and broken this put hand to the sword. Bracing the two, he approached, on the flank, his horse Espitridates, and, getting ready, threw him with the scorpion that these barbarians used, with which he destroyed the plume, taking away one of the wings; the morion withstood the blow with difficulty, so much, that it still penetrated the tip and came to touch him in the hair. Espitridates was ready to repeat the blow, but Clito the Negro interposed, passing him from half to half with the spear. At the same time, Resaces fell, wounded by Alexander. »

We can conclude that, in this battle, Alexander, in addition to the victory, took a strong blow to the head that dented his helmet. Years later Alexander will kill Clito in a fit of anger in the middle of a banquet, after recriminating him to his general and king who:

«All the glory you have is thanks to your father. Without me you would have perished in the Granicus. »

3rd WOUND. BATTLE OF THE ISSOS RIVER (NOVEMBER OF 333 BC)

After the victory and free of Persian pressure, Alexander descends along the present coast of Turkey and captures or is received as a liberator in the cities of Ephesus, Halicarnassus, Pergamum or Miletus. It spends the winter in the city of Gordión, old capital of Frigia, where the famous episode of the «Gordian knot» takes place. In the middle of winter it goes down to the south and collides again with the Persians on the river Issos. The boldness and military talent of the Macedonian are worth a new victory before the Persians flee in disarray leaving in the hands of the Greeks their camp with the royal treasury and the family of Darius III included. The audacity in the combat of Alexander pushed him to throw himself in front of his troops, to the most bitter of the battle, trying to hunt down the Persian sovereign. He did not manage to make him a prisoner, but he did receive his third major wound in combat. A cut of sword in the thigh that fortunately will end closing without consequences.

4th WOUND. SITE OF GAZA (SEPTEMBER / NOVEMBER 332 BC)

Alexander, instead of pursuing his escape to Persia, continues his process of conquest of the entire Phoenician coast. The cities will go under without difficulty with the exception of Tire that, trusting in its insularity and its high walls, refuses to surrender to the Macedonian. Alexander enraged poses a prolonged siege that will last eight months because of the bitter resistance of the Phoenicians. Finally, after building a land language from the coast, the Greek forces assault the city by blood and fire destroying it from its foundations and murdering or enslaving all its inhabitants. The last obstacle to get to Egypt was the important city of Gaza. Well defended by its high walls and a powerful garrison led by the Persian commander Batis, who tried to resist the Macedonians as long as possible to give their sovereign time to recover from the defeat of Issos.

The besieged made a quick exit that aimed to destroy the siege engines and the embankment that the besiegers were building towards the wall. They almost achieved it, although Alexander’s quick intervention avoided it. The Macedonian paid a high tribute for this small victory as a machine from the walls launched a projectile that hit him squarely. The impact split the shield in two, pierced his armor and padding underneath and finally reached Alexander’s shoulder, hurting him severely.

5th WOUND. CLOSE TO SAMARKANDA. (329 BC)

Alexander will recover from the previous injury and will spend a period of almost three years without serious damage.

After the capture of Gaza enters Egypt where he is welcomed as a liberator and finds a very weak resistance. Funda Alexandria in January 331 a.C. In April of that year he is back in Tire, crosses the Beca Valley and reaches the Euphrates, crosses Assyria and reaches the Tigris. The Macedonians had traveled almost 2,500 kilometers in just six months.

Darío is waiting again for the Macedonians on the other side of the river on the plain of Gaugamela and is again defeated by Alexander who had four times fewer soldiers. It is the decisive defeat. Dario’s army disperses and he flees with some of his satraps. Alexander is named «King of Asia». After less than six years of campaigns and almost 9,000 kilometers on their legs, the Macedonians enter Babylon. the capital of the world, which submits without resistance. Babylon will be followed by Susa and the ancient Persian capital Persépolis, which is destroyed by the Greeks.

Alexander will not abandon at any time the persecution of Darío that finally will be assassinated by Bessos, satrapa of Bactriana, supporter to continue the fight. That is where the Macedonian army will lead, being forced to engage in a guerrilla struggle in the high mountains that will wear down its troops. In spite of everything it manages to catch and execute Bessos, but its forces will be attacked with stones, bows and arrows by some tribes near Samarkand, nailing one of these arrows in the leg of Alexander. The arrow will reach the bone and cause a fracture.

6th WOUND. CIRÓPOLIS. (329 BC)

Alexander had not fully recovered from his crush on his leg when he was forced to put down a new revolt in Cirópolis (a city founded by King Cyrus the Great). The Macedonian carried his men through a dry bed under the enemy walls to sneak into the city through its sewers. After forcing the entrance they get inside the enemy fortress, but inside the defenders, far from wanting to surrender, defend themselves aguerridamente against the Greeks with a lot of hardness and determination. Alexander himself will receive stones in his neck and head that will leave him in shock. Crátero another of Alexander’s generals will also be seriously wounded but by an arrow. Finally the Sogdians will pay dearly for their audacity, all the men of the city executed, the women drawn between the soldiers and the children sold as slaves.

7th WOUND. ASEGIO DE MASAGA (327 BC) (TWO INJURIES)

Back in Bactria, Alexander marries the beautiful Roxana with the intention of winning the favor of the Sogdians. They are bad times because his men are increasingly annoyed by the authoritarianism of their king. Finally they choose to conspire, but they are discovered and are being executed. Calisthenes himself, official chronicler of Alexander the Great and nephew of Aristotle is one of the executed. Clito, who saved the life of the Macedonian monarch in the Battle of Granico, in 334 a. C., also dies during a discussion with Alexander. After these deaths and the failure of the known as «Conspiracy of the pages» in the spring of 327 a. C Alexander crosses the Hindu Kush. In the route towards there, it engages terrible fights against the tribes of the zone. First he is wounded by an arrow in the shoulder in a hard battle against the aspasioi. Then he has to face the Assakenoi who oppose him from the city of Massaga, strongly defended by a contingent of 7,000 mercenaries, who resists the attacks of the Macedonian. In one of the exits of the besieged, the Macedonian king threw himself into combat in an almost suicidal way, finally being hit by an arrow in the ankle that will fracture the bone. After the negotiations and the death of the mercenary chief of the city in combat fail, the place is taken and both the mercenaries and their inhabitants will be massacred.

8th WOUND. THE MOST SERIOUS CAUSED IN THE ASSAULT TO A CITY MALIA (326/325 WINTER)

Now that Alexander has the free road to India, he divides his forces. Hefestion by a way goes advancing until the Indus and by another combat in Swat and at the end of winter it captures Aomos. The resistance emerges on all sides and the Macedonians march without mercy until reaching the Punjab. There on the bank of the Hidaspes River, the Indian King Poros awaits the Macedonians at the head of a powerful army that has more than 80 elephants. Again the courage and the military genius of Alexander give him the victory and the submission of Poros. There he founded the city of Bucefala, in honor of his horse Bucéfalo, killed because of the wounds received in that battle.

The soldiers of Alexander are exhausted and wounded by so many battles, it is raining torrentially and in that moment they refuse to continue with the continuous campaigns of Alexander, who after a few days of anger and meditation will be forced to accept the will of his men and to undertake the painful road back to Persia. Alexander has reached his particular «end of the world». Build a fleet and descend through the Hydaspes in search of the sea. In the middle stands the city of Multán. Impatient to take the city of the malios, he recklessly throws himself into the assault. Climb a ladder to the top of the wall at the head of a small group of men. There, at the top, they were too exposed to the projectiles that the defenders threw from all directions and decided to jump into the city. Leaning on a tree he held on until three of his men joined him. It is then, when an arrow penetrates to the lung, Alexander loses knowledge. Fortunately his men (Peucestes, Tineo, Leonato, and Aristono) protect first and then lead the Macedonian to his tent, where the doctors will cut the shaft to immobilize the iron that is armed with tongues. This last maneuver forced Critobulo, the surgeon, to widen Alexander’s wound, which again bled profusely and lost consciousness for the second time. Finally, already fearing for his life, the hemorrhage could be contained, and according to Curcio, after seven days, even when he had not healed, the wound improved.

The reality is that this wound almost killed him and that he left sequels for life, weakening his state of health, already exhausted by excesses of all kinds, significantly.

After endless hardships, 15,000 of the 60,000 men who accompanied the Macedonian to conquer India managed to reach the Persian outpost of Pura (now Iranshabr) in December 325 a. C.

Alexander had become a tanned general, covered in scars, tormented by the pain of his old wounds. After two nights of banquets and excesses of all kinds. He dies in June of 323 a. C. It is not clear if what killed him was malaria, poison or if, simply, his organism, too weakened by the succession of excesses and overexertions ended up failing (as defends Rupert Gebhard).

At his death his successors disputed his legacy and his huge empire broke up in a very short time. Although that, it is already another story.

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