Alexander's Campaign > Siege of Massaga

Siege of Massaga

Alexander the Great - Dove Decoration


Alexander followed up the barbarian tribes, and marched to Massaga, the largest oppidum of the Assacenians and their capital.[61] The denizens of this place had acquired the services of 7,000 mercenaries from beyond the Indus.[60] These mercenaries were soldiers of no common order, and as a result of their presence the Assacenians as well as the mercenaries themselves were confident of victory against the Macedonians.[60][61]Upon arriving, Alexander ordered that the camp be set up outside of the oppidum. However, so confident with these mercenaries by their side, the Assacenians decided to instantly attack.[60][61] Seeing an opportunity, Alexander ordered his men to retreat to a hill about a mile distant from the town, which they proceeded to do.[60][62] In pursuing the Macedonians, the Assacenians lost their discipline and became disordered due to their excitement at the prospect of having caught the Macedonians so off guard. However, when they finally came within range of the Macedonian bows, Alexander ordered them to fire on the barbarians.[60][62] The mounted javelin men, Agrianians and archers at once dashed forward to the attack.[60] These were swiftly followed by the phalanx, which Alexander led in person.[60] Alexander was injured during the course of this action and is alleged to have stated, "They may call me son of Zeus, but I suffer none the less like a mortal. This is blood, not ichor!"[62]The proceeding night was spent in preparation for an assault, which proved to be unsuccessful.[63] The professional mercenaries, wherever they had come from, were worth the gold they were getting paid. The next day, Alexander ordered the siege equipment to be brought up and ordered a section of the wall to be battered down.[62] However, the mercenaries knew better than to allow the Macedonians to be successful in such an effort, and were successful in preventing this from taking place.[62] As a result, the King ordered that a tower and terrace be built—it took 9 days to build these.[62] On the day after the completion of these two things, Alexander ordered that the tower be advanced toward the wall.[62] Archers and slingers, most likely from Cyprus, were stationed on the tower as it was moved forward in order to keep the defenders at a distance from their own fortifications.[62] In spite of their expertise in warfare, it is not unlikely that the Indian mercenaries had never come across such a sophisticated siege scheme and equipment. The Macedonians had developed the most advanced form of siegecraft that the world up to that point had known.[64] Although they had obviously been watching the Macedonians build the tower and terrace, it must have been a strange sight for them to watch the Macedonians actually push this, frankly ridiculous, tower forward along the terrace that they had built. No doubt they'd never seen anything like it before.Alexander ordered that a tower and terrace be built—it took nine days—after which time he ordered that archers and slingers be stationed on top of the tower and force the defenders from the ramparts.In spite of this though, the mercenaries fought fiercely, and would not let the Macedonians through.[60] The next day, Alexander ordered that from the tower they extend a bridge and would have the same men who stormed Tyre from the bridges built on the mole to storm the Assacenians. Meanwhile, the archers and slingers would continue to fire as before. However, again the mercenaries put up fierce resistance. While this was going on, Alexander ordered that a unit of Hypaspists charge across the bridge at the mercenaries. However, too many of them rushed upon it too quickly and the hastily built bridge[63] collapsed under their weight.[60] Seeing that they had just gotten an opportunity the barbarians seized upon it. First they started to fire volleys of arrows, stones and even fireballs into the ditch on top of the men.[63] The pit they had fallen into was to be their tomb, and a great many of them were slain once the barbarians made a sortie from one of the side gates and started to kill these largely helpless soldiers in earnest.[63] However, Alexander saved those he could by attacking this sortie with a counter-attack of his own—a number of his men were saved.[65]The next day, the Macedonians built another bridge and attacked in a similar manner.[63] However, during the course of the attack the Macedonians fired a lucky shot and killed the leader of the mercenaries.[66] Consequentially, the Barbarians decided to treat for surrender. Alexander's conditions for their surrender were as follows; they agree to serve under him and they surrender to him the Massagan King's family as hostages.[66] However, they were unwilling to carry out their part of the bargain, as a result of the fact that they were going to have to march over the Indus and fight their fellow Indians as a function of the treaty.[66] They decided to retreat from the encampment they had made near the city after they had surrendered to Alexander.[66] Alexander hearing of this, had his Macedonians surround the hill that they were encamped upon. Seeing the mercenaries—recreant to the treaty they just negotiated—attempting to make their escape, all hell broke loose and the Macedonians became enraged, slaying a great many of them.[66] After this, the Macedonians proceeded back to Massaga and took it with ease, and killed all the soldiers in the garrison of the city. This happening, in spite of the terms that had specifically been negotiated with Massaga.[66] During the course of the siege, the Macedonians had lost no more than 25 men, however a number of them were wounded.[65] It is not specified whether any of the wounded died or not.Events Proceeding Aornus[edit]During the course of the siege of the fortress of Massaga Alexander developed the opinion that the taking of Massaga would strike the tribes in the surrounding territory with fear as to his power and ability.[65] It was as a result of this, and as the siege went on and it was becoming clearer and clearer that the stronghold would surrender,[65] that Alexander decided to dispatch a number of his lieutenants to the surrounding oppidums in order to follow up on this victory. To that effect he issued the following orders, Coenus (Co-eh-nahs) was to proceed to an oppidum by the name of Bazira[65]—he expected this town to capitulate as a result of Massaga.[65] Simultaneously, he sent Alcetas, Attalus and Demetrius to Ora with the very specific orders to blockade the oppidum of Ora until he could arrive himself and take it.[65] It was often Alexander's habit to take up each task in person, himself. There are other occasions, notably the Mallian Campaign where Alexander issueed orders to this same effect. Alexander preferred to let as few of the denizens of these towns escape as possible, as to retain the element of surprise.Upon arriving at Ora, Alcetas was assaulted by the inhabitants that had taken up in Ora.[67] However, Alcetas was easily able to drive this sortie back into the town.[67] Coenus' town of Bazira however, which stood on the precipice of a mountain was fortified by "nature and art" as the saying employed by the ancient authors goes, showed absolutely no signs of capitulating.[67] After receiving the submission of Massaga and massacring its inhabitants[65] treacherously, Alexander set out in the direction of Bazira.[67] However, while proceeding in the direction of this town he received news to the effect that Abisares, the Rajah of Hazara, was going to cross the Indus[68] with forces to interrupt the siege and assist Ora.[67] Alexander changed his plans, he set out for Ora at once with all the forces under his immediate command.[67] In addition to this, he ordered Coenus to create a camp and fortify it as an eventual base of operations against the town of Bazira,[67] being situated as it was in a difficult to reach location; Coenus was then to leave a suitable garrison in that future base of operations to observe Bazira and join the King and his forces at Ora.[67]However, when Coenus left Bazira, the inhabitants of the oppidum sallied out and attacked the encampment he had set up.[67] These tribesmen lost 500 of their fellow tribesmen during the course of this attack, and were easily driven back.[67] A few days later on, the Macedonians were able to take Ora, after which point the denizens of Bazira looked on their cause as lost, and abandoned Bazira to the Macedonians and headed off to Aornus.[67]It was as a result of these conquests that Alexander conquered the Peshawar valley.[67] The Peshawar valley was situated perpendicularly to the Swat river, which was situated on a north-south axis.[67][68] This valley was thereby, more or less, an opening through which Abisares could pass through and make a junction with them.[67] It was therefore critical to take the whole of this valley so that no reinforcements could be brought up into the valley and file through either the north or south exit of the valley and debouch on Alexander while he was besieging Aornus.[67] A noted historian of Alexander's, who took up the issue and examined the topography of the region, had this to say about the strategic situation that Alexander had developed for himself as a result of this campaignto understand the sound strategic reasons which caused Alexander, before attacking Aornus, first to turn south to the Peshawar valley. Once he had consolidated his hold there and made his arrangements for crossing the Indus quite secure, he could safely move up to the right bank and attack the mountain retreat of the Swat fugitives from the south. He thus avoided the entanglement of the mountainous region that would have attended and hampered direct pursuit from the Swat side. The fugitive host could be cut off from retreat to the east of the Indus and from such assistance as Abisares, the ruler on that side, might offer. Finally, when attacking Aornus from the south, Alexander could command all the advantages that the Indus valley and the fertile plains of the Peshawar valley would offer in respect of supplies and other resources[69][70]

Alexander's Campaign

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Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Abbott, J. (1848). Alexander the Great. New York & London: Harper & Brothers

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