Saturday, March 10, 2012

618 (3/3)

Alexander the Great
The same year of Darius III's accession, 336 BC, Philip of Macedon was assassinated.  His son Alexander reestablished control over Greece, before being able to invade Anatolia in 334.  Around the end of May, a group of satraps confronted him in the northwest at Granicus River.  Most of them died attacking Alexander in a cavalry charge; their infantry retreated and Greek mercenaries surrendered only to be executed by Alexander.

He then besieged and captured the Persian-occupied cities.  Meanwhile, Memnon, leader of the Greek mercenaries at Granicus, launched a successful naval campaign against the Macedonians in Greece.  However, in the summer of 333, he fell ill and died.

That fall, Darius recalled his Greeks and assembled a large army.  At Issus in November, Alexander forced Darius to retreat by defeating his cavalry; the infantry retreated with heavy losses.  Alexander's lieutenant Parmenion rode to Damascus and kidnapped Darius' family.  Darius offered ransom for them; Alexander refused.  Over 332, he conquered Phoenicia and thus the Persian naval arm.  Egypt surrendered, its troops having been lost at Issus.

Darius' next army dug in on the bank of the Tigris near Mosul and Alexander attacked on Oct. 1, 331.  It appears that again Alexander's cavalry forced Darius to abandon his army, though another account claims his army abandoned him.

Babylon surrendered in October, Susa in November.  Persepolis put up a difficult fight, but surrendered after the Persian Gate was forced in January, 330.  Alexander refused Darius' concession of the western empire, wishing instead to be recognized as Great King.  Darius headed east, hoping to fight again, but Bessus, satrap of Bactria, arrested him and offered to deliver him to Alexander, perhaps hoping to avoid being deposed himself.  Alexander refused, pursuing Bessus' men, who murdered Darius on the road outside Choara in July.

With Darius dead, Alexander and Bessus both claimed the kingship of Persia.  Alexander buried Darius with honors at Persepolis, then sought the support of the Persians by launching a campaign against Bessus to avenge his dead rival.

Alexander sought continuity with the Achaemenid dynasty in other ways:  He wore Achaemenid regalia, continued the satrapy system, took Iranians into his army and, in 324, married Darius' daughter Barsine (better known as Stateira II), at the same ceremony marrying many of his officers to Iranian princesses.  Historian Pierre Briant even described him as "last of the Achaemenids."  But he failed on some levels, including his understanding of Iranian religion, while alienating the Macedonians by assuming the post of their former enemy.

Fugue state
With Alexander's death in 323, his generals descended into civil war and tore apart his empire.  Ironically, the largest kingdom to emerge from this mess consisted largely of the core territories of the Persian empire, and was ruled by Seleucus, the only one of Alexander's officers who didn't divorce his arranged Iranian wife, Apama; their son Antiochus inherited the throne.

Among the Persians there remained the memory of a great empire, but over the centuries, it became mingled with ancient legends.  During the Sassanid dynasty (AD 224-651) it was said that their ancestor, Sasan, was descended from "Darab, son of Darae" (just as the Safavids in the 17th century would claim descent from Musá ibn Ja‘far al-Kazim, thus connecting them with the legendary Sassanid princess Shahrbānū).  In the Šāhnāmeh (written circa 1000), this Darab is clearly the same as Darius III, but rather than an Achaemenid, he is the last of the Kayanids, mythical kings in the Avestas.  His enemy, Eskandar (Alexander), is a king of Rum (Rome, meaning the Byzantine empire).  Likewise, Persepolis itself came to be called Takht-e Jamshīd ("Throne of Jamshīd"), after another legendary king.  It was, ironically, in the Graeco-Roman histories that some understanding of the Achaemenids survived.

Next up:  Pants.

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