Friday, 21 February 2014

Alexander the Great at the Granicus - the First Night

Alexander the Great at the Granicus - the First Night

The soft twilight of an early summer evening saw the two armies camped on opposite sides of the Granicus River. None of the surviving sources give a very clear account of what happened during those hours of darkness. However, it is fairly easy to reconstruct what passed by looking at what happened the following morning and working back, using comparisons with what happened in similar circumstances on other occasions, to reconstruct the missing events.

The Persian satraps would have been pleased with the events of the first day on the Granicus. The Macedonians had advanced along the road to Cyzicus, as Memnon had correctly predicted they would do. Arriving at the Granicus, they had launched a probing attack with cavalry to test the strength of the Persian defences. That had been thrown back with what seemed to be relatively heavy losses. Now the Macedonians had withdrawn to camp.

So far as the Satraps were concerned, their plan was going exactly to expectations. Alexander had been drawn forward to find his way blocked at a defensive position of the Persians’ choosing. The strength of that position had been shown by the repulse of the cavalry attack that had taken place in late afternoon. The satraps must have been certain that things were going their way. They will have looked forward confidently to the following day when Alexander might renew his assault. No doubt, the satraps thought, any new attack would be driven back decisively.

When dusk fell, the Persian troops would have trailed back to their camp, which seems to have been located fairly close to the river. Persian camps were famously comfortable affairs - it was bad enough being on campaign without being forced to rough it. Certainly the satraps and officers would have had comfortable tents and pavilions with servants, fine foods and entertainments. With a battle due on the morrow, it is unlikely that any of the satraps or senior officers indulged themselves too much. For the soldiers of the royal army there would have been food, tents and servants as well, though not of such high quality.

The bulk of the local militia would not have been so well served. They had to make do with whatever they had brought with them. This might have amounted to not much more than a sack of bread and hard cheese, with a thick blanket for cover. But the night seems to have been a dry and warm one - none of the sources speak of any inclement weather. Diodorus, with his interest in the conditions for the ordinary soldier, would have been bound to mention any rain or cold. No doubt the men were comfortable enough, though they had no luxuries.

from  Alexander the Great at the Battle of Granicus: A Campaign in Context [Illustrated] [Hardcover]  by Rupert Matthews

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