Alexander's Campaign > Gordian Knot

Gordian Knot

Alexander the Great - Dove Decoration

Background

The ancient capital city of Phrygia known as Gordium held the European equivalent of the stone in the sword in the ancient world. This was a massive convoluted mass of rope that was tied into various knots that no one knew how to untie it anymore.

It was said that the person who could untie the knot would conquer all of Asia so Alexander thought he would take a swing at it. Literally, he unsheathed his sword and walked up the Gordium Knot and hacked it to pieces in front of the shocked villagers. He soon proclaimed the prophecy was true and he would defeat Darius III and conquer all of Asia. We cannot exactly say he was wrong.

During all this time Parmenio had remained in the western part of Asia Minor with a considerable body of the army. As the spring approached, Alexander sent him orders to go to, whither he was himself proceeding, and meet him there. He also directed that the detachment which had gone home should, on recrossing the Hellespont, on their return, proceed eastward to Gordium, thus making that city the general rendezvous for the commencement of his next campaign.One reason why Alexander desired to go to Gordium was that he wished to untie the famous Gordian knot. The story of the Gordian knot was this. Gordius was a sort of mountain farmer. One day he was plowing, and an eagle came down and alighted upon his yoke, and remained there until he had finished his plowing. This was an omen, but what was the signification of it? Gordius did not know, and he accordingly went to a neighboring town in order to consult the prophets and soothsayers. On his way he met a damsel, who, like Rebecca in the days of Abraham, was going forth to draw water. Gordius fell into conversation with her, and related to her the occurrence which had interested him so strongly. The maiden advised him to go back and offer a sacrifice to Jupiter. Finally, she consented to go back with him and aid him. The affair ended in her becoming his wife, and they lived together in peace for many years upon their farm.They had a son named Midas. The father and mother were accustomed to go out sometimes in their cart or wagon, drawn by the oxen, Midas driving. One day they were going into the town in this way, at a time when it happened that there was an assembly convened, which was in a state of great perplexity on account of the civil dissensions and contests which prevailed in the country. They had just inquired of an oracle what they should do. The oracle said that "a cart would bring them a king, who would terminate their eternal broils." Just then Midas came up, driving the cart in which his father and mother were seated. The assembly thought at once that this must be the cart meant by the oracle, and they made Gordius king by acclamation. They took the cart and the yoke to preserve as sacred relics, consecrating them to Jupiter; and Gordius tied the yoke to the pole of the cart by a thong of leather, making a knot so close and complicated that nobody could untie it again. It was called the Gordian knot. The oracle afterward said that whoever should untie this knot should become monarch of all Asia. Thus far, nobody had succeeded.Alexander felt a great desire to see this knot and try what he could do. He went, accordingly, into the temple where the sacred cart had been deposited, and, after looking at the knot, and satisfying himself that the task of untying it was hopeless, he cut it to pieces with his sword. How far the circumstances of this whole story are true, and how far fictitious, no one can tell; the story itself, however, as thus related, has come down from generation to generation, in every country of Europe, for two thousand years, and any extrication of one's self from a difficulty by violent means has been called cutting the Gordian knot to the present day.IllustrationThe Bathing in the River Cyndus.At length the whole army was assembled, and the king recommenced his progress. He went on successfully for some weeks, moving in a southeasterly direction, and bringing the whole country under his dominion, until, at length, when he reached Tarsus, an event occurred which nearly terminated his career. There were some circumstances which caused him to press forward with the utmost effort in approaching Tarsus, and, as the day was warm, he got very much overcome with heat and fatigue. In this state, he went and plunged suddenly into the River Cydnus to bathe.Now the Cydnus is a small stream, flowing by Tarsus, and it comes down from Mount Taurus at a short distance back from the city. Such streams are always very cold. Alexander was immediately seized with a very violent chill, and was taken out of the water shivering excessively, and, at length, fainted away. They thought he was dying. They bore him to his tent, and, as tidings of their leader's danger spread through the camp, the whole army, officers and soldiers, were thrown into the greatest consternation and grief.A violent and protracted fever came on. In the course of it, an incident occurred which strikingly illustrates the boldness and originality of Alexander's character. The name of his physician was Philip. Philip had been preparing a particular medicine for him, which, it seems, required some days to make ready. Just before it was presented, Alexander received a letter from Parmenio, informing him that he had good reason to believe that Philip had been bribed by the Persians to murder him, during his sickness, by administering poison in the name of medicine. He wrote, he said, to put him on his guard against any medicine which Philip might offer him.Alexander put the letter under his pillow, and communicated its contents to no one. At length, when the medicine was ready, Philip brought it in. Alexander took the cup containing it with one hand, and with the other he handed Philip the communication which he had received from Parmenio, saying, "Read that letter." As soon as Philip had finished reading it, and was ready to look up, Alexander drank off the draught in full, and laid down the cup with an air of perfect confidence that he had nothing to fear.Some persons think that Alexander watched the countenance of his physician while he was reading the letter, and that he was led to take the medicine by his confidence in his power to determine the guilt or the innocence of a person thus accused by his looks. Others suppose that the act was an expression of his implicit faith in the integrity and fidelity of his servant, and that he intended it as testimony, given in a very pointed and decisive, and, at the same time, delicate manner, that he was not suspicious of his friends, or easily led to distrust their faithfulness. Philip was, at any rate, extremely gratified at the procedure, and Alexander recovered.Alexander had now traversed the whole extent of Asia Minor, and had subdued the entire country to his sway. He was now advancing to another district, that of Syria and Palestine, which lies on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea. To enter this new territory, he had to pass over a narrow plain which lay between the mountains and the sea, at a place called Issus. Here he was met by the main body of the Persian army, and the great battle of Issus was fought. This battle will be the subject of the next chapter.

While Alexander had made great gains against the Persian Empire he had only dealt with the lesser command structure. The Persians were led at this time by Darius III and he did not view Alexander and his army initially as a threat.

In fact Darius considered him a child and demanded his generals bring Alexander to him bound hand and foot. Upon hearing of Alexanders entire acquisition of Asia Minor however, he soon began to realize that maybe that was not going to be so easy.

Around 333 BCE Alexander really started to launch an invasion straight into the heart of ancient Persia.B.C. 333

Alexander's Campaign

Balkan Campaign

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Persian Campaign

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Indian Campaign

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