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If Alexander had died at the Persian Gate

Aznavour

Well-known member
Published by SLP
#1
So, it's January of 330 and Alexander of Macedon has already won at Issus and Gaugamela, meaning he has Asia, Egypt, the Levant and Mesopotamia (plus Europe south of the Danube), but Darius is at large with the Persian treasury, Persepolis is yet to fall and Persia proper, meaning all the lands between the Indus, Oxus and Tigris are still under Achaemenid control.

To give Darius time to gather yet another army, Ariobarzanes and a small contingent of Persian tried to stop Alexander's crossing of the Zagros mountains (while the main body under Parmenion took the less scenic route) at the Persian Gate, in a pseudo recreation of the Thermopylae that held the Macedonians at bay for a month, until some PoWs/local shepherd/hunchbacked Spartan took Alexander through sone alternate passages, and the rest is history.

But let's tweak things and say some stray projectile kills the reckless and overconfident Alexander during the first ambush, or at least wounds him enough that conditions up in the Zagros during the Iranian winter can do the rest. What next? The detachment returns under Ptolemy and reunites with Parmenion? Earlier war of Macedonian Succession? Peace between rump Persia and Mega Macedonia/ Parmenion's successor empire?



 

Alex Richards

Etched Swiftly.
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Derbyshire
#2
My gut instinct here is that this falls into an awkward spot where Alexander's Empire is too large to just hang together, but too small for it to just be a load of successor states. Darius is building up his army, and the generals are just as likely to use Philip Arrhidaeus as a pawn as undisputed ruler than as a rival to Alexander IV.

So Darius probably turns up with his army facing an Empire that's just starting to fracture. Of course the Persians aren't exactly in a position of strength at this point, so what I can see is that they force through, win a few battles, reclaim Syria and Mesopotamia and then agree to peace that leaves Egypt under one general and a larger Macedonia ruling over Greece and Anatolia. That's probably a temporary state of affairs of course.
 
#3
I can't see the Persians defeating the Macedonian war machine in a pitched battle; as the 'moderate' Athenian politician Aeschines said when rebuking the anti-Macedonian leader Desmothenes for celebrating when Philip II was assassinated as 'ending' the threat of attack on Athens, the only change was that the Macedonian army was minus one man.

If Alexander is merely wounded, the war would be 'on hold' for the duration of his convalescence, and the Macedonians would hang onto Mesopotamia while the Persians rebuild their army behind the barrier of the Persian Gates and (less impenetrable as it has no easily-blocked passes) the Zagros mountains. Darius has lost two major battles and most of his army, plus all his Western provinces , and he was never a skilled campaigner (except in his quick moves in NW Syria ahead of the battle of Issus which may have been suggested by his generals) or noted for his boldness. He offered Alexander a truce and half his empire ahead of Gaugamela, before that crushing defeat made his position precarious; would he have had the nerve to march his Eastern troops into Mesopotamia SW from his base at Ecbatana (modern Hamadan) and tackle the Macedonians if Alexander was merely incapacitated rather than dead, and if his belligerent great nobles like Bessus forced him to do it would they beat an Alexander who was directing his battle from his sickbed in the rear and presumably sending relay messengers to tell his divisional commanders what to do?

The delays to Macedonian reactions in a swift-moving battle might enable the battle to be more equal than if Alexander was commanding 'in the field', but the Persians could probably only win by weight of numbers and after Gaugamela they had less of an advantage in this. (Mazaeus satrap of Babylon had now defected to Macedon with his regional command, which had formed one wing of the Persian army at Gaugamela, and presumably he would be kept a close eye on in any battle to make sure he did not defect back.) The Macedonians retained quicker reflexes in battle, a skilled leadership group of generals used to taking initiatives in command, and more of a 'punch' with their armoured cavalry, plus the spear-bristling infantry 'hedge' of the phalanx; the main threat to them in battle was exhaustion in the heat plus being pushed back by weight of numbers so the Persians' best hope was bringing in Central Asian steppe nomads which would take a year or two to arrange (and how could they pay them after losing so much territory plus the Babylon and Susa treasuries?). Alternatively the bedridden Alexander would appoint the highly competent Parmenion to take his place as overall commander at a battle and leave him to do as he saw fit, or give this role to a contemporary and close aide from the Macedonian nobility, used to taking decisions, like Ptolemy (rumoured to be his half-brother), Hephaistion (military capability unclear but highly trusted),Perdiccas (A's apparent choice as regent for his unborn child when he did die in 323), or Craterus.
If Alexander was dead the only adult Macedonian royal available to be elected King and take nominal command of the army and government was Arrhidaeus, who seems to have been mentally not up to any 'command' role and possibly brain-damaged from babyhood (rumoured to be due to poison by Alexander's ferocious mother Olympias). Alexander was not even married, and his sister Cleopatra was away in Epirus as recently-widowed wife of her uncle King Alexander (k 331 in Italy); A's cousin Amyntas had been murdered at A's accession as a potential rival and had left a small daughter but no son, and the only other distant relatives were the Lyncestid brothers (remote Macedonian royalty) of whom 2 of 3 had already been executed and the third was shortly to be implicated in Parmenion's son Philotas' alleged 'plot'
and killed. If P and his son Philotas tried to get this candidate elected, Alexander's close friends and generals would presumably block it - though Parmenion might then threaten a civil war/ mutiny if he faced arrest. The liklihood is that the Macedonian military elite would temporarily cohere round a nominal candidate as they did in 323, ie Arrhidaeus, and defeat any Persian counter-attack - Ptolemy, Perdiccas and Craterus (and Philotas?) were all competent generals and the army had rehearsed battle-tactics under Philip for many years. But they would not risk an attack through the Persian Gates on Persepolis, and would probably just hold onto what A had conquered so far - with Parmenion, who had wanted A to accept Darius' offer of half the empire earlier, now persuading them to a temporary peace. Arrhidaeus would be married off (to Amyntas' daughter as in OTL?) to provide an heir, but as the Oriental 'fusion', Persian court lifestyle,
and Mesopotamian residence of the new empire were controversial initiatives of Alexander alone this would not occur.
Probably the court would be moved back to Syria to set up a Mediterranean trading city
capital like OTL Antioch, anchored there by the lands and loot acquired by Alexander's ambitious inner elite who were greater figures in the new Eastern empire than they had been in Macedon and could call on garrison troops and local recruits to shore up their new power. The elite had every reason to stay in the Levant and exploit its potential as the new warlords there, not base themselves back in Macedon as 'big fish in a small pond'. Mesopotamia would be an outpost mostly useful for Eastern trade, and the equivalent of the OTL Seleucid and Ptolemaic empires as one state (or breaking up later into more) would be created centred on Syria and Egypt. Alexander would be a 'cult' figure as the centre of dynastic legitimacy and hailed as a semi-divine hero by his former senior commanders, and given their ruthless rivalries it is most likely that any 'figurehead' monarch like Arrhidaeus ('Philip IV') and a son of his would be very lucky not to be pushed aside in a 'War of the Successors' . Logically, Ptolemy - cautious and content to hang onto manageable Egypt in real life - was less likely to gamble on gaining the entire empire by coup or war than Perdiccas, who as in OTL but with more success might try to get hold of A's sister Cleopatra , marry her, and create his own line of royalty. He is the likeliest to hold this smaller than OTL empire together, barring a blocking coup or revolt by his rivals.
As for Darius - in real life he was to be overthrown and killed in 330 after losing Persepolis too, and his ambitious cousin Bessus, satrap of Bactria (basically S and W Uzbekistan/NW Afghanistan) so with his own troops, could depose him if he failed to mount or win a counter-attack in 330-29. Then a 'rump' Achaemenid state survives on the Iranian plateau, minus its W lands and probably reliant on mercenaries from the steppes to survive Macedonian attack so at risk of destabilization and overthrow. The monarchy has now lost most of its central army and richest provinces, so Bessus is unlikely to risk it all on invading the West bar a few morale-raising raids. We then end up with a weaker, Parthian-style state, and either a Macedon/Levant empire (like the early Byzantine state to 602) or a group of feuding military Successor monarchies. Alexander is still a legend, but without the exotic Central Asian/ Indian part of the myths - and without the worst examples for future literary debate of his drinking, wasting his troops' lives (eg in the Gedrosian desert), unrealistic megalomania (eg in marching into India), or murders (eg Philotas Cleitus and Callisthenes).
 

Elektronaut

Cobs? 3? Yes we do.
#4
Don't really think the junta will leave the Persians to regroup when Persepolis is just beyond the gates. Or if they do then some ambitious diadochi will chance his arm a little later and finish the job. That's actually a potential basis on which someone could come to pre-eminence in the struggle - there's a lot of prestige in finishing off the expedition. It could also go tits-up like Perdicas did in Egypt, of course.

It seems a bit deterministic to assume the dice will fall broadly as they did IOTL. Parmenion is still alive, Cleitus is still alive, Craterus will have more influence over events than OTL. There's more of Philip's men still alive and still-powerful and a lot of the men who Alexander later promoted will be minor players. Ptolemy was just a freshly-minted somotophylax at this point.

I actually think this scenario offers a higher likelihood of things remaining as a unit. The empire is far more manageable, and there's dominant figures like Parmenion who have independent standing, rather than the 200 Alexander subordinates situation we had IOTL.
 
#6
Some further thoughts on Alexander scenarios:

1. If Alexander does not succumb to alcoholic poisoning, malaria, poison by Cassander or one of his generals, some form of marsh fever caught on his boat-trip up the Euphrates near Babylon or whatever, does he go on with the Arabian expedition in later 323? Give the state of available food resources along the infertile Arabian coasts and the harsh terrain beyond the lower Gulf, he is running the risk of a repeat of what happened in Gedrosia if he goes further than Oman on land - the terrain between Oman and Aden is particularly harsh. As his health was precarious after his chest injury in battle in Multan in 325, the extra strain of the march could have killed him off then - with his son (b August 323) a few months old at most. This leaves the top generals in the army with a regency to organise but doing this far from Babylon and the empire's centre; they would presumably have to head back to Iraq quickly by sea with a plan arranged en route. But with a live heir, there is no need to bring in Arrhidaeus as co-king, and the sheer task of holding the huge empire together might induce the generals to a coherent 'we stand together or we perish' plan to get a stable regency arranged - possibly bringing in Antipater from Macedon as an honorary co-ruler with Perdiccas so that he does not disrupt matters. And if Craterus does not get killed, Ptolemy remains loyal so there is no confrontation on the Nile in 321, and the Athenians can be suppressed by Antipater or his son Cassander, the army might not fragment and the regency can then defeat any potential rebels. That way we might hear a lot more of talented officers who in OTL got themselves killed or sidelined early on - eg Leonnatus and Peucestas. And Antigonus 'Monopthalmus' (born c. 380 so a generation older than Alexander's marshals) does not get the chance to take over Anatolia and create his new kingdom there; his son Demetrius is also at a disadvantage as not in the East with the main army in the 320s so not in the front rank of Successors.

2. Alternatively, Alexander could have seen sense as the desert became more harsh, embarked all his men on the fleet in Oman, and sailed direct to Aden to set up a new colony / military base there to control the S end of the Red Sea trade from Egypt. Then he heads back up the Red Sea to Egypt and presumably has the Canal of Necho from the Red Sea to the Nile dug out to start the India trade-route up, before returning to Babylon (322/1?).
Logically , if he uses his vast resources and strategic genius plus forceful character to set up a Greco-Egyptian military presence in the Yemen , presumably based at Aden, in 322, we have a much stronger Ptolemaic trade and military presence in the area once his empire breaks up - and long-term implications for the Hellenization of the region and for its inheritance by Rome in 30 BC. Arguably there is a Hellenized province in the Yemen or Axum to supply food and troops and give land to the elite of the new Alexandrian trading colony. And if the Ptolemies control all of the Red Sea, does Cleopatra head off there by sea as Octavian invades Egypt in 30, and set up a refugee regime there with her fleet? (With the Canal restored, she can evacuate her fleet and court to the Red Sea much easier than in OTL). So do we get a 'Cleopatra Queen of Sheba' scenario for a surviving Ptolemaic regime, ruling in Yemen and Axum, or Rome taking it over in the 20s BC to remove this threat?

3. If Alexander, his health failing due to exhaustion after his strenuous Arabian expedition and his reputation shaken by near-disaster due to his over-optimistic planning for the march (again), dies around 320 to 318, presumably he has no time for his planned attack on Carthage. But with a son of around 3-5 to succeed and a possibility of an orderly regency council headed by Perdiccas or Craterus, does his empire survive intact for at least a generation or two? And leave a stronger 'Seleucid' -style regime holding onto all of Persia plus the Oxus region, possibly the Caucasus tribes and /or the Indus valley if Alexander had incorporated these areas long-term.

Given his usual tactics, A would have set up a major port at the mouth of the Indus to control the trade and military supply route to his Indian territory, and probably established overlordship over the Arab tribes of the Bahrein/ UAE/ Oman regions so they supplied troops and tribute. (The OTL mutinies of resentful Greek soldier-settlers in the far East wanting to return home would be unlikely until Alexander was dead, given his ferocity, and ditto the annexation of the Punjab and upper Indus by Chandragupta.) Then it is a much more equal match between Rome and the Successors in the 190s-180s, as the Successors have stronger armies and trade-revenues from the East.