Saturday, 1 September 2007

Alexander and the Invasion of Saudi Arabia

After crossing the Indus River and conquering Punjab in present day Pakistan, Alexander the Macedonian King of Greece was ready to return to Europe. He had long since completed his original goal of subjugating and dismantling the Persian Empire and avenging an invasion by them 150 years earlier.

He was already a legend in his own lifetime; he had become a general at sixteen during his father, King Phillip’s reign and assumed the throne at twenty. By the time of his death twelve years later is said to have never lost a battle and controlled a vast empire unparalleled in World history until then.

Although he never lived to see it, Alexander’s conquests initiated the Hellenistic Age, whereby Greek thought, philosophy, theology, political idealism and even the language was adopted by the known World as their model.

It had been Alexander’s dream to annex all segments of the globe and enslave them under the banner of promoting Hellenistic culture and education to irresponsible barbarians abroad.

Greek culture, literature, the fine arts and religion would remain the epitome of European and select Asian nations until Rome replaced some of it with their own designs following the fall of Greece.

Seventy years earlier, Socrates and Plato (in a time period known as the Hellenic Era) had taught and lived in Greece and Aristotle, Alexander’s former teacher, was still alive and well teaching at the Lyceum, an academy he himself had founded.

Greece was thus well placed and eager to resume its place as an advanced and superior civilisation, a World leader and social and economic role model and Alexander aspired to be the one to lead it.

However, Alexander’s last ambition was never realised; the conquest of Arabia. He had been aware of the Peninsula’s existence, desert climate, political make up and tribal animosities.

It seemed like an easy target, although a seaborne invasion might be required to achieve it. After subjugating the Persian Archaemenid Empire, his last major strong adversaries, he aspired to launch a naval expedition to Arabia, but like all other military operations to date, he needed information about it first.

Alexander sent three vessels to the Arabian Gulf between October 325-March 324 BCE (Before the Common Era). A second Arabian adventure was orchestrated during the winter of 324-323 BCE. The two voyages brought back interesting results of the then virtually unknown Peninsula to the Greek World.

Androsthenes, Alexander’s chief admiral in the expeditions recorded his accounts of the journeys in a journal Voyage along the Indian Coast. The work now lost, was similarly quoted and used in later writings of scholars and historians.

Admiral Androsthenes spoke of finding pearls in abundance in Bahrain and its surrounding islands, Bahrain was not then an independent sovereign state, and he further described why the mineral was so highly sought after there.

Strabo of Amasia, a 1st Century writer, quoted the scripts of Androsthenes and commented that the former’s navigator found evidence of shrines, a sanctuary of some kind on the island of Ikaros; a sign of life perhaps and more importantly an additional territory and more subjects to rule.

Today, what was once the island of Ikaros to the Greeks is now known as Failakha, a town in Kuwait. Unknown to the Greeks, the shrines of worship seen there dedicated to Apollo and an oracle of Tauropolos were built by a civilisation over a millennium earlier, by the Dimunites; a Bahraini race.

The fascination of an Arabian offensive intrigued Alexander and Strabo suggests the intention of the Greek monarch was ‘to make it [Arabia] his royal abode after his return from India.’

The new capital of the Hellenic Empire, Alexander’s throne and royal court and official seat of executive government was thus to be shifted from Greece in Europe to Arabia in the Middle East.

Alexander had in fact made preparations for the invasion of Arabia to be launched from the City of Babylon (a place he was familiar with and liked a lot) long before he arrived there as early as 324 BCE.

In the spring of 323 BCE, Alexander wished to revisit Babylon where his imperial fleet of warships and grand imposing army of fresh soldiers were already assembling for the imminent Arabian expedition.

Alexander’s forces had since decimated largely to native regiments of conquered subjects and mercenaries along with local spies and looked much less like the original Macedonian army he had first set out with from Greece.

Prior to the planned assault on Arabia, the Greek army had presumed they were returning to Greece and had earlier rebelled against orders to press forward, citing tiredness and lack of interest in pursuing further territory.

Alexander briefly relented and requested a sign from the ‘gods’ to decide the next step. A flock of birds flying over the horizon some time later seemed to rule in their favour and Alexander accepted the verdict.

By then however, Alexander had since considered himself a supreme god among gods and made worshipping him a requisition among the army and enslaved subjects of the empire.

His legal rulings could not be challenged, grievances against him or his expeditions could not be addressed and he was beyond reproach and sin himself. Only a divine authority could restrain him.

His decisions, right to rule as king, personal legitimacy and orders were all he said, divinely inspired, correct and infallible. Nothing he could do could be wrong, he could only be right.

In Egypt some time earlier, a statue of himself was erected as a god and he was summarily worshipped by the people along with another member of his entourage for as long as he was there.

Although Alexander had agreed to immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all forces from Indian soil, the Arabian naval adventures of his admiral together with his own personal ambitions in travelling there prompted a reverse in policy and he again announced his will to explore and annex the Arabian Peninsula himself.

The Greeks were again on the march. It was meant to be the Hellenic King’s crowning glory and achievement, culminating in a three year operation to conquer the known World.

Despite revolts and assassination attempts on the way, Alexander pushed on with his plans. Babylonian astronomers, namely the Chaldeans, warned Alexander against entering Babylon from where he was to commence the historic sea journey to Arabia and lead them personally in battle himself.

If he did travel to Babylon, they said, he would die. Alexander was a daring monarch who lived to challenge legends, abolish myths and vanquish empires in his short but sharp career across two different continents and several nations. This prediction met the same fate as the rest, he simply ignored it.

At the end of May however, shortly after the prophecy was made, Alexander caught malarial fever (a mosquito had bitten him) and after a brief illness, one week before the anticipated invasion of the Arabian Peninsula, he succumbed to the disease on 11th June 323 BCE. He was 32 years old.

The best, greatest and most powerful Greek general and Hellenic monarch in history, who could not be defeated in battle, dislodged from the throne or killed by human beings, perished in the prime of his life and at the hands of a little fly.

His empire quickly crumbled after his death and his generals each fought for personal supremacy. Although his Persian wife, Roxanne, had bore him a son with the same name, Alexander left no strong heir or will behind him.

By also ordering the death of his own younger half brother from his father’s second marriage earlier, it was now every man for himself. The Golden Age of the Greek Empire was over.

1 comment:

Hina said...

Thanks for writing this.