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Mounted nomads played a version of polo that was part sport, part training for war, with as many as men on a side.

Death of Alexander the Great

Some stories say Alexander the Great spent time with the Persian royal family when he was young, accompanying his father on diplomatic missions. Writing attributed to the Greek philosopher Aristotle references a diving bell, describing a cauldron forced straight down into water, thus keeping the air within it. There are stories about him visiting the bottom of the ocean in a glass ball during his famous siege of Tyre Lebanon , where it is said Alexander used divers to remove underwater obstacles from the harbour, and that the divers used crude glass diving bells.

These may very well be just legends, but it is conceivable that Alexander, who was curious to learn about everything, had a go in a glass diving bell himself. Thanks to its original inscription, this figure can be definitely identified as Alexander the Great, son of Philip II of Macedon. The bust was unearthed in during an excavation at Tivoli, Italy, organised by Joseph Nicolas Azara — , the Spanish ambassador to the Holy See and later, to France.

Azara presented the sculpture to Napoleon Bonaparteas a diplomatic gift.

The Man Who Would Be God

Today it resides in the Louvre museum in Paris. For a time, this was the only known portrait of Alexander the Great, and it is generally regarded as the surviving portrait that looks the most like him. He lived years after Alexander the Great and contemporary writings were scarce. The spears used by soldiers in a phalanx were long — sometimes as long as five metres — and made of sharpened wood or metal-tipped wood. However, in reality the soldiers in a phalanx would actually not require much armour — coordinated, fast movement was what made the phalanx so effective.

Polyaenus describes the Macedonian infantrymen of the phalanx as being armed with helmets kranos ; light shields pelte ; greaves knemides and a long pike sarissa — notice that armour is conspicuously missing from this list. But while Alexander the Great led one of the most successful armies of all time, surprisingly little is understood about the main type of body armour that both he and many of his men wore — the linothorax — as there are no surviving examples. The linothorax was a type of body armour created by laminating together layers of linen.

We cannot reconstruct the details, but perhaps non-soldiers were to prostrate themselves, soldiers were to bow, and the highest Macedonian officers were to blow a kiss. The introduction was carefully staged and the Iranian officers saluted the new great king as they were used to, but when a courtier made a joke about what was going on, this attempt to unite court and army in one ritual came to naught.

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The Iranian court ritual was so offensive because the Greeks were not used to bow - they only bowed for their gods. So, if Alexander wanted to give a sense of shared values to his army, he had to become a god.


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As it happened, there was a second incident that brought Alexander to the same conclusion. During a banquet, when Alexander was drunk, he killed one of his friends. Immediately, he announced he would commit suicide, which would no doubt result in the violent disintegration of the army. Anyone agreed that this had to be avoided at all costs, and a philosopher convinced the son of Zeus that he had done nothing wrong. After all, he was a king and kings made laws, hence kings were above the law, and anything was allowed if it was done by a king, as if he were justice incarnated.

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After the genocidal campaign in Sogdia had ended, the Macedonians invaded the Punjab. It is hard to reconstruct what lies behind this incident, but it is likely that the Indian leaders recognized the conqueror as avatar of Vishnu. However that may be, they were the first to recognize Alexander as the god he believed he needed to be. Assuming that all of India had now surrendered, Alexander invaded the Punjab, mercilessly killing anyone who resisted.

The main battle was fought in the spring of against the leader of the kingdom of the Paurava, who is usually called Porus in the Greek sources. The battle was won because during a devastating rainshower, the Indian leader could not employ his main weapons: his chariots and elephants slipped away in the mud, the archers could not fix their three-meter tall bows on solid ground.

Immediately after the fight, Alexander issued a new set of coins, showing himself with a lightning bolt in his hand.

Alexander the Great as a God

In other words, the official battle theology was that Alexander had caused the rain to fall, an idea that fitted perfectly in both Iranian ideas about kingship and Macedonian ideas that Alexander was the son of the cloud-gathering Zeus. Did the soldiers believe it? Perhaps not: they refused to invade the kingdom of Magadha along the Ganges, forcing Alexander to return.

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An incident during the return campaign shows how Alexander tried to deify himself: when he was in fact wounded in his sternum as Nearchus tells us , he pretended to have a pneumothorax as the sources have recorded. His soldiers, who knew that a pneumothorax was incurable, must have been impressed when Alexander managed to ride a horse after a surprisingly brief time. This incident also suggests that the Macedonian king himself did not believe that he was a god.

It was only necessary to unify his army. A request to sacrifice to Alexander is not attested, but there are strong indications that by the end of BCE, the king received divine honors. He had already presented himself as Dionysus, and if we are to believe Ephippus one of his courtiers , Alexander also wore the attributes of Heracles occasionally. It was an act, and he still hoped to persuade the Macedonian part of his army to join: if he pretended to be their god, they could pretend that they worshiped him, and they would have a unified army, court, and state.

The Greek towns were certainly willing to join. Later he rose, had a bath and slept.

He then returned to have dinner with Medius and again drank far into the night. Leaving the drinking, he bathed, after which he had a little to eat and went to sleep there. The fever was already on him. During this time he gave instructions to his officers about the coming expedition and sea-voyage, for the land forces to be ready to move on the fourth day, and for those sailing with him to be prepared to cast off a day later. He was carried thence on his couch to the river, where he boarded a boat and sailed across to the garden where he rested again after bathing. Day 3 The next day, he again bathed and performed the prescribed sacrifices.

He then entered his room, lay down and talked to Medius. After ordering the officers to meet him in the morning, he had a little food. Carried back to his room, he lay now in continual fever the whole night. Day 4 In the morning he bathed and sacrificed.

Alexander the Great: between god and man — Museum of the National Bank of Belgium

Nearchus and the other officers were instructed to get things ready for sailing two days later. Day 5 The following day, he again bathed and sacrificed, and after performing them, he remained in constant fever. After a bath in the evening, he was now very ill. Day 6 The next day, he was carried to the house by the diving place, where he sacrificed, and in spite of being very poorly, summoned the senior officers to give them renewed instructions about the voyage. Day 7 The next day he was carried with difficulty to perform the sacrifices, and continued to give orders just the same to his officers about the voyage.

Day 8 The next day, though very weak, he managed to sacrifice.