Alexander's Campaign > Cophen Campaign

Cophen Campaign

Alexander the Great - Dove Decoration


The Cophen Campaign was a military excursion conducted by Alexander III the Great as part of the Indian Campaign between May of 327 BCE and March of 326 BCE. The expedition occurred in the present area of Swat, Pakistan in the Punjab region and was meant to help establish a successful line of communications and supplies before continuing the advance into Indus Valley. In order to keep his army well fed and supplied he needed constant replenishing through the Baggage Train which was a slow and vulnerable procession that carried all of the supplies for the Macedonian Army.

In order to establish a secure line of contact between the territories they conquered Alexander needed to take down a series of fortresses embedded into the mountains. The conflict would eventually be successful following the Siege of Aornos.


It had been Alexander's purpose to conquer the whole of the Persian Empire for some time, who claimed the fealty of—at least in name—as far as Gandara.[38] Darius the Great in former days had sent a commander by the name of Skylax sailed down the Indus.[39] As a result of this expedition, Darius was able to conquer the Indian country up to this neighborhood—and received 350 Euboic talents from it per annum—an extravagant sum.[40] Relatively little is known about the Punjab in Alexander's day.[40] There were a variety of princelings and Republics, which the Indians called, "Kingless"[41] peoples—but they were all vying for power over the region with each other. The Indians, had contempt for these Republics.[38]

The King of Taxila, whom the Macedonians just called Taxila—but in fact his name was Omphis—[42] had invited Alexander to come to his aid in his struggle against the neighboring potentate Porus[38]—who was deemed the most powerful prince in the region, in addition to being capable in his own right. In addition to this, the Indian King, Sisicotus—who had served at Gaugumela in the Persian Army—[38] and had afterwords been Alexander's vassal in some capacity.[37] Allegedly, Alexander received plenty of information concerning the region from these individuals.[37] What information he received is not mentioned.

Alexander had begun planning the expedition two years before, in 329 BC,[43] but had been held up due to a series of revolts that had taken place in Aria, Sogdiana and Bactria. However, he was held up in putting down this revolt as he had been marching through the Hindu Kush mid-winter and decided to camp in the mountains.[44] It was during this time that he founded the city of Alexandria ad Caucasum.[44] This city is some twenty five miles northwest of modern Kabul, in Afghanistan. Returning to Alexandria ad Caucasum in May 327 BC there was a surfeit of victual and supplies ready for the army for its expedition into India.[45] However, there were administrative matters that required his attention.

Both the satrap of the parapamisus Proëxes, and the commander of the garrison Neiloxinus were replaced due to their unsatisfactory conduct. There were a number of tribes [45] that were shuffled around, and other necessary affairs were taken up. At this moment, before he set out for Nicea, he is alleged to have had 150,000 soldiers at this point.[37] Critical scholarship however, is dubious of these numbers. Regardless, the ancient sources universally ascribe a leaven of Oriental troops partaking in the campaigns by this point. These included soldiers from Greece, Thrace, Agriania and a healthy leaven of Oriental soldiers from the new sections of his empire.[37] It has been alleged that 50-60,000 of these were Europeans.[46] Leaving Alexandria ad Caucasum, he marched to Nicea, where he sacrificed to Athena—which was his habit at the beginning of every campaign and began his advance towards the Indus via the Cophen river.

Campaign Phases

First Phase: Aspasians

While on the march Alexander sent ambassadors ahead to the various tribes that were in his front—ordering them to submit and report to him with hostages.[42] Not only Taxila, but a number of other princes came to him bringing him gifts in proof of their vassalage and paying tribute with gifts for the Macedonians—a proof that they were ready to serve him.[42] Including other gifts that the Macedonians had never seen before, the Indian potentates furnished Alexander with a number of Elephants[45]—twenty-five of which were on hand.[47] As he had now effectively replaced Darius as King of Persia, he had replaced him as overlord of the Empire and this region right where Alexander was at present situated was the eastern most Persian province.[48] As a result of this particular outlook, Alexander was enabled to treat any who resisted him as in revolt against him. While descending into the Cophen valley, Alexander informed his new vassals of his intentions; He planned to spend the rest of the Summer and Autumn in reducing the region in his front up to the Indus river,[42] in modern Pakistan. However, as matters eventuated, he found that the campaign he proposed was going to be far more difficult then he had anticipated. From there, he was going to proceed beyond the Indus and punish the Indian nations and tribes which had not recognized him as their overlord and sent him ambassadors with tribute.[42]At Nicea, he took the time to split his army into two separate forces with two objects in mind; to retain the interior lines so that he could reinforce his army at any point should any particular section of his army become threatened during the course of his campaign in the valley of the Cophen. In addition to this, these two forces were to keep the Indians in the region from combining their forces and coordinating against the Macedonians.[49] This is the sign of Alexander's conception of strategy, especially considering the nature of the topography of the region. The army that was going to march along the river Cophen was going to be commanded by Perdiccas and Haphaestion;[47] they were going to have the king of Taxila with them so that they had his knowledge of the region at their disposal.[47][50] They were to proceed along the right, or southern bank, of the Cophen and the forces they were to have at their disposal were as follows; the three brigades of Gorgias, Clitus (The White One) and Meleager, half the Companion (mostly Macedonian noblemen who were equipped with a spear,[51] a shield and were disciplined to such an extent that they've been called, "the first real cavalry")[51] and all the Greek mercenary Cavalry.[47][50] Their instructions were as follows; to follow the river as fast as they could to the Indus—reducing all the cities and oppidums to submission on the way—through either systematic reduction or by terms.[47][49]—and immediately build a bridge upon their arrival at the Indus[47] so that when the King arrived and after the winter when the King had wintered his army in the region—as planned—they could proceed to cross the river and punish the tribes across the Indus.[49]The King, meanwhile had at his disposal the bulk of the forces in his army.[49] These forces were as follows; the shield bearing guards (at this time, they had become known as the "silver shields"), four regiments of Companion cavalry, the Phalanx minus what marched with the first column, the foot agema, the archers, the other half of the horse archers (or Daans) the Agrianians and the horse lancers.[49] Now, Alexander's plan was to march up and down all the valleys that were in between Nicea and the river Indus. To subdue those tribes that had not paid tribute and bring them to heal. Alexander clearly considered this the most difficult work at hand, and took it up. Taking up the task he deemed to be the most difficult is a habit of his that he constantly displays in the course of all his campaigns.Alexander received information to the effect that the Aspasians, the first tribe whose lands he had entered had raced off to their capital. Eager to defeat them, the Macedonians crossed the first river with all the cavalry and eight hundred Macedonian infantry mounted on horses.[52][53] The arrived quickly enough to kill a number of the Indians and drive them within their walls.[53] The rest of the Army came up the next day, and they took the city. However, a number of the Indians decided to make their exit before the city was taken, seeing their cause as lost. The Macedonians followed them up and killed a great many of them.[53] Following up a victory and exploiting it to the utmost capacity, was another habit of Alexander's, as with his father.[54] Alexander's men, who were enraged as their King had been injured during the course of the siege, razed the city to the ground. The Macedonians marched off to the next town, Andaca, which capitulated.[53]The King's campaign through the Aspasians territory.There being so many valleys in this particular region, Alexander came to appreciate that if he held the head of each of these regions with a suitable garrison, he could hold the entirety of each of these valleys.[53] He therefore left Craterus—whom he had probably kept in hand in case of just such an occasion—in command of a force suitable to this task, and continued on his way.[53] Now, the Indians of this region were largely herders and were in possession of very large flocks.[55] These were probably a species of hostages in their own right for the good behavior for the Indians, since at any point which they misbehaved the Macedonians could march into their flocks and slaughter their herds and thereby destroy their livelihoods. As they were in valleys, there is nowhere they could take these herds in time to escape the vengeance of the Macedonians. It is not known whether Craterus received instructions to this effect.Alexander's next destination was Euspla,[53] where the King of the Aspasians was. At this point, deeming their cause lost, the Aspasians burned this city and fled.[53] The Macedonians pursued them, during which an interesting combat took place between Ptolemy I Soter, The Aspasian King and Alexander.[56] One of the barbarians with the Aspasian King thrust his spear right through Ptolemy's breast plate, but the spear did not make contact with him due to the armour stopping the severity of the blow.[56] It was at this point that Ptolemy killed the King of the Aspasians himself by thrusting his spear through both of his thigh's.[56] At this point, in a combat between Alexander, Ptolemy and the Aspasian Kings body guard they fought over the corpse of the fallen king.[56]

Second Phase: Guraeans

After slaying the Aspasians to a satisfactory capacity to put his lines of communication to a point of security beyond peradventure the Macedonians marched towards the Indian oppidum of Arigaeum—which hearing news of Alexander's capacity as a general and besieger—they had burned.[57] It was at this particular point that Craterus returned from settling the affairs of the Aspasian valleys—specifically having left Andaca in a state that Alexander was satisfied with.[57] Alexander put Craterus back to work, ordering him to set up a number of new colonies in the region, including Arigaeum. This city, and Andaca were geographically advantageous for controlling the Choaspes river, and the possession of oppidums with healthy garrisons would prove advantageous in the case of revolts.[57]The Guraeans had retreated after burning their city to join some of their fellow tribesmen. These tribes had effectuated a junction and were preparing to face Alexander.Combat at ArigaeumThe King's force takes up the center of the Macedonian line while Ptolemy and Leonnatus' forces take a circuit to catch the barbarians by surprise.Ptolemy, who had been sent ahead to forage for victual [57] came back to the main contingent of the army under Alexander and reported to the King that there was a very large force of barbarians assembled and preparing to face the Macedonians.[57] The forces not only from the oppidum of Arigaum itself, but also the neighboring vicinity had taken up arms against the Macedonians.[57] The King raced off to meet this force with his wonted speed.[57]When the Macedonians arrived, Alexander divided his army into three parts; Ptolemy taking up the left, had a third of the hypaspists, the brigades of Philip and Philotas, two squadrons of horse archers (a new unit for the Macedonians, an idea they stole from the Persians), the Agrianians and half the other cavalry;[57] Leonnatus was ordered to take up the right flank, with Attalus' and Balacrus' brigades;[58] and the King himself took up the most difficult work in the center—as was his habit—opposed to the Barbarian center.[58] Alexander sent Ptolemy and Leonnatus to their respective flanks by hidden routes that the barbarians could not see,[58] thus hiding these two particular flanks of his army—lined roughly obliquely with his center line[58]—from the eyes and more importantly, the knowledge of the barbarians. Alexander's contingent was comparatively small, and his plan was to lure them out and to fight them in their front while Leonnatus and Ptolemy took them on both of their flanks respectively.[58]As predicted, the Barbarians attacked Alexander's small contingent and after Ptolemy faced rough fighting in his front[58] he was able to effectuate a victory on his flank of the barbarians. Leonnatus' victory was comparatively easier, after which time the barbarians surrendered.[59] Allegedly, all told there were 40,000 captured.[59] This number is highly unlikely.

Third Phase: Assacenians

Proceeding from his most recent victory, Alexander marched down the river by the name of Garaeus—with the intention of subdueing the tribes of this region to tribute paying status. From here he proceeded into the valley of the Suastos—where there was a force of two thousand cavalry, thirty thousand infantry and thirty elephants.[60] Alexander raced forward with the van, planning to do all he could to upset their preparations, while Craterus followed up at a more methodical pace with the main force.[59] It is specifically mentioned that he had the siege engines with him.[59] It was in this region that the results of the Indus flattening the topography started to bear results on the surrounding country, and it must have been a great relief for the Macedonians to proceed into the relatively flat lands of this region compared to the mountainous regions of the proceeding area they had been in.[59] The speed with which the Macedonian van proceeded was such that he was able to prevent a full junction of the enemy from taking place, and each of the barbarian tribes raced off to their respective territories.[61]

Siege of Massaga

Siege of Aornos

Aornos (in Swat, Pakistan) was the site of Alexander the Great's last siege, "the climax to Alexander's career as the greatest besieger in history" according to Alexander's biographer Robin Lane Fox.[71] The siege took place in the winter of 327–326 BCE. The site was satisfactorily identified with the modern mountain Pir-Sar in Swat, Pakistan by Sir Aurel Stein in 1926, and has been confirmed since by archaeologists. It offered the last threat to Alexander's supply line, which stretched, dangerously vulnerable, over the Hindu Kush back to Balkh, though Arrian credits Alexander's heroic desire to outdo his kinsman Heracles, who allegedly had proved unable to take the place Pir-Sar, which the Greeks called Aornis. The site lies north of Attock in Punjab, on a strongly reinforced mountain spur above the narrow gorges in a bend of the upper Indus River. It had a flat summit well supplied with natural springs and wide enough to grow crops: it could not be starved to submission. Neighboring tribesmen who surrendered to Alexander offered to lead him to the best point of access.Ptolemy and Alexander's secretary Eumenes, whose account provided material for all later ones, reconnoitered and reinforced a neighboring spur to the west with a stockade and ditch. His signal fire to Alexander also alerted the defenders of Pir-Sar, and it took two days of skirmishing in the narrow ravines for Alexander to regroup. At the vulnerable north side leading to the fort, Alexander and his catapults were stopped by a deep ravine. To bring the siege engines within reach, an earthwork mound was constructed to bridge the ravine with carpentry, brush and earth. The first day's work brought the siege mound 50 m (60 yards) closer, but as the sides of the ravine fell away steeply below, progress rapidly slowed; nevertheless, at the end of the third day, a low hill connected to the nearest tip of Pir-Sar was within reach and was taken, after Alexander in the vanguard and his first force were repelled by boulders rolled down from above. Three days of drumbeats marked the defenders' celebration of the initial repulse, followed by a surprise retreat. Alexander hauled himself up the last rockface on a rope. Alexander cleared the summit, slaying some fugitives (Lane Fox), inflated by Arrian to a massacre, and erected altars to Athena Nike, Athena of Victory, traces of which were identified by Stein.[72]

Alexander's Campaign

Balkan Campaign

+ Balkan Battles

Persian Campaign

+ Persian Battles

Indian Campaign

+ Indian Campaign Battles


Delbrück, Hans (1990). Warfare in Antiquity: History of the Art of War. Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. p. 604. ISBN 978-0-8032-9199-7.Fuller, J. F. C. (1958). The Generalship of Alexander The Great. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, Ltd.Dodge, Theodore (1890). Alexander. Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books. p. 681. ISBN 978-1-85367-179-1.Smith, Vincent (1914). The Early History of India. England: University of Oxford."Annabasis Alexandri". Retrieved 20 November 2011. |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)Lane Fox, Robin. Alexander the Great. Penguin, 1973, ISBN 978-0-14-008878-6, 1973.Arrian, Anabasis IV chapters 28.1–30.4 (in French)Stein, Sir Aurel (1929). On Alexander's Track to the Indus. Bhavan Books & Prints.

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