So, we come to the end of this second week of themed blog posts. A few days ago, I took a stroll though the New River Walk in Islington, north London. The river, recently drained, had been looking a bit wretched and ripe for some graffiti and vandalism so I was delighted to see that it was nearly full again; indeed, the refilling process was still going on, and as I wended my way along the winding path, I saw a couple of fountain style taps shooting water four or five feet into the air. It was all very pleasing.
But if the fountains were pleasing, something else was interesting – bags stuffed with hay floating in the water. Here they are:
Before setting off on his mission to overthrow the Persian Empire, Alexander had to first pacify the troublesome tribes on Macedonia’s northern borders; these included one called the Getae, Thracians, who lived on the northern side of the Danube river in what is now Bulgaria. This was so they did not cause trouble for Macedonia while he was in Asia and thus threaten his lines of supply.
Alexander set out from Pella (I presume), the Macedonian capital, and – predictably enough, in light of later events – won his first engagements against the enemy. After one such battle, a mixture of Thracians and Triballins took refuge on an island in the middle of the Danube. Alexander tried to reach it but the first moving current would not be gainsaid; the island was also well protected both naturally and by the tribesmen.
In light of this, Alexander decided to ignore the island and cross the river to deal with the Getae tribe who had a settlement on the other side.
But how was he to get his army – comprised of 1,500 cavalry and 4,000 men – across?
Arrian explains how he did it,
[Alexander] joined the fleet… having left instructions for the tents under which the men bivouacked to be filled with hay [my emphasis], and for all available dug-outs to be collected. There were a great many of these boats in the neighbourhood, for they are used by natives for fishing, and for visiting neighbouring tribes up the river and – fairly generally – for plundering expeditions. As many as possible of them were collected, and the troops, or as large part of them as was practicable with this sort of transport, were ferried across.
Alexander crossed the Danube in 336; ten years later, he would employ a similar trick to cross the Hydaspes River in ancient India (modern day Pakistan) on his way to fight the Indian king Porus in what would be Alexander’s last great battle; and which, as you might expect, he won.
At the Hydaspes, which is called the Jhelum river today, Arrian reports that the hay stuffed floats were used to carry the mounted troops across. I presume this is what they did in 336 although Arrian doesn’t say.
So, there we are; now I have to think of another theme for these posts. I shall see you as and when I do!