ALEXANDER THE GREAT’S EARLY BALKAN CAMPAIGNS
This is an excerpt from my post, ‘THRACIANS, REAPERS OF THE BALKANS’.
Alexander and the Thracian hill-men at Mount Haemus:
After Philip’s death, his son Alexander III (the Great) sought to quell rebellions and secure the Greek mainland and Balkans before launching his campaign against Persia. In 335 BCE Alexander marched toward the area of the sword-bearing hill-men known as the Dii or ‘Free Thracians’, those who remained out of the control of Philip II’s earlier Balkan campaign. Alexander arrived at a narrow canyon called the Trojan Pass where the Dii awaited them from the summit of the Haemus Mountains; here the Dii had assembled their carts into a stockade. If Alexander were to march uphill through a narrow and restrictive path against a fortified and entrenched foe his losses would be more than he would’ve thought acceptable. Instead Alexander assumed that the Dii would become impatient enough to force the carts downhill towards Alexander’s tightly formed phalanxes in attempt to disrupt them then rush downhill from their advantageous position to attack Alexander. Expecting this to occur, Alexander devised a plan.
“he ordered the heavy-armed soldiers, as soon as the wagons began to rush down the declivity, to open their ranks, and directed that those whom the road was sufficiently wide to permit to do so should stand apart, so that the wagons plight roll through the gap; but that those who were hemmed m on all sides should either stoop down together or even fall flat on the ground, and lock their shields compactly together, so that the wagons rushing down upon them, and in all probability by their very impetus leaping over them, might pass on without injuring them.” – The Anabasis of Alexander by Arrian of Nicomedia, book 1.
It went as planned so with no injured soldiers Alexander ordered his archers to repel and cut down the Dii (Thracians) while his phalanx drove them away. In the end the Dii discarded their arms and fled.
“About 1,500 of them were killed; but only a few were taken prisoners on account of their swiftness of foot and acquaintance with the country. However, all the women who were accompanying them were captured, as were also their children and all their booty.” – The Anabasis of Alexander by Arrian of Nicomedia, book 1.
Alexander and the Triballi:
Alexander then marched from the Haemus mountains into the land of the Triballi (Thraco-Illyrians) whose king (Syrmus), women and children sought refuge at Peuce island on the Danube River to the north. The Triballi who remained in their home territory marched south to a river Alexander had crossed that same day and encamped there. Alexander heard of their operations and led a surprise assault against the Triballian camp. Surprised, the Triballi fled to a nearby “woody glen along the bank of the river” (Arrian, II). Alexander, wishing to utilize his horsemen and phalanx which did better on open ground, sent his archers and stone-slingers to harass and lure the Triballi out of the wood. Again, just as expected, Alexander was able to lure the enemy out of their advantageous position. As the Triballi rushed forward to attack the archers, Alexander sent his cavalrymen to charge the Triballi on their left and right flank while he himself led his phalanx and cavalry forward to the Triballian center. This flanking formation forced the Triballi to flee into the wooded glen.
“at length they turned and fled through the woody glen to the river. Three thousand were slain in the flight; few of them were taken prisoners, both because there was a dense wood in front of the river, and the approach of night deprived the Macedonians of certainty in their pursuit. Ptolemy says, that of the Macedonians themselves eleven horsemen and about forty foot soldiers were killed.” – The Anabasis of Alexander by Arrian of Nicomedia, book 2.
With the Balkans subjugated Alexander would go on to employ Thracians, Illyrians and the Paeonians (Thraco-illyrians). In his army these Balkan peoples took on the role of cavalrymen, scouts and skirmishers who would either defend his armies flanks and cavalrymen or harass and shred the enemies’ numbers.
“He excited the Illyrians and Thracians by describing the enemy’s wealth and treasures” – Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus by Marcus Junianus Justinus, 11.9.
“When Alexander had conquered and subdued Thrace and was setting out for Asia, fearing that after his departure the Thracians would take up arms, he took with him, as though by way of conferring honor, their kings and officials — all in fact who seemed to take to heart the loss of freedom. In charge of those left behind he placed common and ordinary persons, thus preventing the officials from wishing to make any change, as being bound to him by favors, and the common people from even being able to do so, since they had been deprived of their leaders.” – Stratagems by Sextus Julius Frontinus, 2.11.3.
During Alexander’s campaigns against the Persians and even after his death, the Thracians continued resisting Hellenistic rule. The resistance continued until the famed Eastern Gallic invasion of the Balkans where these Celts undermined and fractured Hellenistic rule while securing their dominion over Thrace. The Gallic grip on Thrace held until 212 BCE when the Thracian king Pleuratus led an assault on the Gallic capital of Tylis which resulted in the expulsion of the Gauls and the reestablishment of Thracian rule.
I cover this invasion and these eastern Celts in my posts:
- GAULS OF THE EAST: PART 1 – BANDITS OF THE BALKANS. In this post I cover the rarely spoken of Gauls of southeastern Europe, their invasion of Greece, employment as mercenaries under Ptolemaic Egypt, their rebellious and warlike society as well as their little known kingdom of Tylis in Thrace. I will also cover their weaponry, armors and some archaeological finds.
- GAULS OF THE EAST: PART 2 – HELLENIZED GALATIANS OF ASIA MINOR. In this post cover the Celts who migrated into Asia Minor, established a Greco-Gallic state, became renowned as warriors and mercenaries, played an integral part in the Hellenistic ‘Game of Thrones’ of the Diadochi (Alexander the Great’s successor), ravaged and terrorized the region, as well as forcing “tribute on the whole of Asia west of the Taurus” (Livy, 38.16.12). I’ll also speak about their armors, weaponry and how they may have inspired some Greek and Roman arms as well as some military units.