Authors: Valerio Massimo Manfredi
Alexander’s companions – Craterus, Philotas and Hephaestion, Leonnatus, Perdiccas, Ptolemy, Seleucus and Lysimachus – following their King’s example, were all fighting in the front line and seeking direct combat with the enemy commanders, many of whom fell wounded or dead. Among them were many relatives of the Great King.
Then the Persian cavalry turned in retreat, chased by the
, the Thessalians and the very fast light cavalry of the Thracians and the Triballians, now wildly engaged in furious hand-to-hand fighting.
Now came the clash between the phalanx of the
and Memnon’s mercenary infantry, who continued to advance compactly, shoulder to shoulder, protected by their large convex shields, their faces covered by light Corinthian sallets. The two armies called out: ‘
’ and rushed forward brandishing their weapons.
Memnon gave the signal and the Greek mercenaries let fly with their spears in a single swarm of iron-tipped shafts and then they unsheathed their swords and threw themselves into the battle before the phalanx had time to reorganize itself. Great blows were unleashed, right, left and centre, as they sought to cut through the shafts of the
to open up a breach in the enemy front line.
Parmenion realized the danger they were in now, and he called up the savage Agrianians and directed them towards Memnon’s flanks. The Greek mercenaries had to hold back to defend themselves.
The phalanx re-formed and the front line started throwing short spears again. Memnon’s troops were completely surrounded now, even from behind, with the Macedonian cavalry approaching on its return from having chased the Persians. But they fought valiantly to the bitter end.
The sun now flooded the plain, illuminating the bodies which lay heaped one upon another. Alexander had Bucephalua brought to him, while the vets took care of his wounded bay, and he inspected his victorious troops. His face was red with blood from his head wound, his breastplate torn by Spithridates’s javelin and his body covered with dust and sweat, but to his men he looked like a god. They beat their spears on their shields just like the day on which Philip had announced Alexander’s birth to his troops and they all shouted:
‘Alexandre! Alexandre! Alexandre!’
The King turned his gaze off to the far right of the line-up of the
and saw Parmenion there. The general was almost seventy years old now and he stood, fully armed, the marks of the battle he had just fought clearly on his body, his sword in his hand, just as solid as any of the young, twenty-year-old soldiers.
Alexander guided Bucephalas over to him, dismounted from his horse, and embraced the old general while his soldiers’ cries rose up to the heavens.
HE TWO AGRIANIAN WARRIORS
leaned over a group of bodies and started stripping them of their best weapons – bronze helmets, iron swords, greaves – which they then threw on to a nearby cart.
In the now fading evening light one of them suddenly spotted a gold bracelet in the shape of a serpent on the wrist of one of the dead bodies; he moved nearer, while his friend’s back was turned, with the intention of keeping this small treasure for himself. But as he bent over to grab hold of it, a dagger came flashing out of the tangle of bodies and cut his throat from ear to ear in a single movement.
The man dropped to the ground in silence. His companion, intent on loading the weapons on to the cart, was making so much noise he did not even hear the sound of the body falling. When he turned round again he found himself alone in the twilight and started calling out for his friend, thinking that he had perhaps hidden himself away as some sort of joke.
‘Come on . . . come out, stop being so stupid and give me a hand here with this stuff. . .’ He didn’t even manage to finish the sentence – the same weapon that had slit his friend’s throat flew blade first into the space between his collarbone and his neck, plunging right up to the hilt.
The Agrianian fell to his knees and instinctively grabbed at the dagger, but he didn’t have the strength to pull it free and he fell face first into the dirt.
Memnon got up then, freeing himself from the pile of bodies in which he had remained hidden up to that moment, and he swayed on his unsteady legs as he moved. He was in a bad state, consumed by fever and losing blood from a large wound on his left thigh.
He took a belt from one of the Agrianians and tied it tightly around his leg just below the groin, then he ripped a piece of chiton to use as a bandage, stemming the bleeding. When he had completed this makeshift dressing, he dragged himself as best he could under a tree, where he waited for night to fall.
He could hear the cries of joy from the Macedonian camp, muffled in the distance, and off to his left, some two stadia away, he could see the glow of the flames in the Persian camp, now completely ransacked by the enemy.
He cut a branch with his sword and set off at a limp, while out of the darkness came packs of wild dogs to feed from the limbs of the Great King’s soldiers, their bodies already beginning to stiffen in death. He dragged himself on, gritting his teeth against the pain and against the tiredness that threatened to drag him down. As he moved forward he felt the wounded leg grow heavier and heavier, almost a dead weight.
Suddenly he saw a dark shadow there in front of him – a lost horse that was returning to the camp to look for its master and which in the darkness now did not know which way to turn. Memnon shuffled towards it slowly, calling gently and reassuringly, and carefully he stretched out his hand to take the bridle that hung from its neck.
He moved even closer, caressed it and then, with an almighty effort, dragged himself up on to its back and urged it on slowly with his heels. The steed set off at a walk and Memnon, holding on to its mane, guided it towards Zeleia, towards home. He almost fell off more than once during the night, exhausted as he was and having lost so much blood, but the thought of Barsine and his children kept him going, gave him the strength to continue right to the very last spark of energy.
In the first glow of dawn, as he was about to collapse altogether, he saw a group of men in the half-light, armed men cautiously skirting the edge of the wood. Then he heard a voice calling him: ‘Commander, it is us.’ They were four mercenaries from his personal guard, out searching for their leader. He barely recognized them as they moved closer, then he lost consciousness.
When he opened his eyes again he found himself surrounded by a patrol of Persian horsemen on a reconnaissance mission to see how far the enemy had penetrated.
‘I am commander Memnon,’ he said in their tongue, ‘and I have survived the Battle of the Granicus together with these valiant friends. Take us home.’
The leader of the patrol jumped to the ground, moved nearer, and then signalled to his men to help him. They laid Memnon under the shade of a tree and gave him something to drink from a flask – his lips were cracked with fever, his body and his face dirty with dried blood, dust and sweat, his hair stuck to his forehead.
‘He has lost a lot of blood,’ said the eldest of his men.
‘Have a cart brought here as quickly as possible,’ the Persian officer ordered his soldiers, ‘together with the Egyptian doctor, if he is still a guest of the nobleman Arsites. And send word to Commander Memnon’s family that we have found him and he is alive.’
The man leaped on to his horse and was swiftly out of sight.
‘What happened?’ the officer asked the mercenaries. ‘We have received conflicting reports.’
The men asked for water, drank and began to tell their tale. ‘It was still dark when they crossed the river and they sent the cavalry against us. Spithridates was forced to counter-attack even though many of his men were simply not ready. We fought to the bitter end, but they overwhelmed us – at one stage we had the Macedonian phalanx in front of us and the cavalry behind us.’
‘I have lost many of my men,’ Memnon admitted, lowering his eyes. ‘Battle-hardened veterans, valiant soldiers I was most fond of. These here with me are among the few I have left now. Alexander did not even give us a chance to negotiate a surrender – it was clear his men had orders to show no quarter. Our massacre was an example for all those Greeks who dare to oppose him.’
‘And what do you think his plans are exactly?’ asked the Persian officer.
‘If we are to believe what he says, the liberation of the Greek cities of Asia, but I really don’t think that’s it at all. His army is a formidable machine, made ready for a much bigger undertaking.’
‘What would that be?’
Memnon shook his head. ‘I do not know.’
A deathly weariness filled his eyes, a grey pallor lay on his face, despite the fever. He trembled and his teeth chattered.
‘Rest now,’ said the officer, covering him with a cloak. ‘Soon the physician will arrive and we will take you home.’ Memnon, completely exhausted, closed his eyes and fell asleep – a tormented slumber, wracked by pain and nightmarish visions. When the Egyptian finally arrived, Memnon was delirious, shouting out nonsense, in the grip of frightful hallucinations.
The doctor had him laid out on the cart, washed his wound with vinegar and straight wine, sewed it up and bandaged the thigh with clean cloth. He also had him swallow a bitter drink that helped relieve the pain and induced a deeper, more restful sleep. It was then that the Persian officer gave the order for them to start off and the cart moved, creaking and swaying, drawn by a pair of mules.
They reached Zeleia in the dead of night. As soon as Barsine saw the convoy at the end of the roadway, she ran to meet them in tears; but the children, remembering all their father had taught them, stood in silence by the door while the soldiers carried Memnon bodily to his bed.
The whole house was illuminated and there were three Greek physicians in the antechamber waiting to examine the commander. The one who seemed to be the most expert of the three was also the oldest. He came from Adramyttion and his name was Ariston.
The Egyptian physician spoke only Persian and Barsine had to interpret during the consultation, which took place at Memnon’s bedside.
‘When I arrived he had already lost a lot of blood and had spent the whole night on horseback. There are no bones broken, he passes water normally and his pulse is weak, but it is regular and this at least gives us ground for hope. How will you proceed?’
‘Compresses of mallow on the wound and some drainage, if it becomes infected,’ replied Ariston.
His Egyptian colleague nodded. ‘I agree, but have him drink as much as possible. I’d give him some broth as well . . . it’s good for the blood.’
When Barsine had finished translating his words, she led him to the door and put a bag of money in his hand. ‘I am most grateful for all you have done for my husband – without you he might have died.’
The Egyptian accepted the payment with a bow, ‘I have done very little, my Lady. He is as strong as a bull, believe me. He lay there all day hidden among the bodies, losing blood from that wound, and then survived the night in terrible pain – men of such temper are few and far between.’
‘Will he live?’ Barsine asked anxiously, and even the soldiers who looked on in silence had the same question in their eyes.
‘I do not know. When a man’s body receives such a serious wound the vital humours flow and carry with them his soul – this is why his life is in danger. No one knows exactly how much blood Memnon has lost and how much is left in his heart, but make sure he drinks as much as possible because even watered-down blood is better than no blood at all.’
He left, and Barsine returned to the room where the Greek doctors were busying themselves with their patient, preparing herbs and infusions and arranging their surgical instruments in case it proved necessary to drain the wound. The handmaids had undressed him and they cleaned his body and his face with cloths soaked in warm water perfumed with a mint essence.
The children, who up until that moment had stood there in silence, came closer and asked for news of their father.
‘You may come to see him,’ said one of the doctors, ‘but do not bother him because he must rest.’
Eteocles, the eldest, was the first to move forward and looked at his father hoping he would open his eyes. Then, seeing there was no movement, he turned towards his brother and shook his head.
‘Go to bed now,’ said Barsine, trying to reassure them. ‘Tomorrow your father will be better and you will be able to speak to him.’
The children kissed the hand that hung motionless from the bed and left with their tutor.
Before they reached their room, Eteocles turned towards Phraates and said, ‘If my father dies I will find this Alexander wherever he may be and I will kill him. I swear I will.’
‘I swear it too on our father’s life,’ repeated the younger brother.
Barsine watched over her husband all night, although the three physicians took turns like guards on watch. Every now and then they changed the compresses of cold water on his forehead. Towards dawn Ariston examined the patient’s leg and saw that it was swollen and reddened. He woke one of his assistants.
‘We must apply leeches to relieve the pressure of the liquids inside. Go to my room and fetch all the necessary equipment.’