Author(s): Voјislav Sarakinski
Subject(s): Physical Geopgraphy, Transport / Logistics
Published by: Институт за национална историја

Summary/Abstract: This paper aims to evaluate several episodes, scattered throughout our sources, which deal with the Persian crossing through Macedonian territory during the last Persian conquest in Europe; or, more precisely, to dissect the episodes which describe the construction of the Athos canal, the journey from Doriscus to Thermai, the passage through the Pierian forests, as well as the episodes that describe the return of the Persian army to Asia, with a special emphasis on the position and the relations of the Macedonian king, Alexander I, with the Persians. A brief scrutiny of the Persian preparations demonstrates that – even if one chooses to ignore the millions of Asians portrayed by Herodotus – a venture of such scale demanded careful logistics, meticulous planning and huge preparations. As things stand, it appears that Xerxes fully relied not only on the vast wealth and excessive human resources that he had at his disposal, but also on the expertise of his subjects. An excellent example of this is the Athos canal, probably the most impressive reminder of the brief Persian presence in Europe. Whether the construction really lasted two or three years, as stated by Herodotus, the canal was hardly excessive, unnecessary or vain; having in mind the Persian needs at the time, this waterway was more effective and more useful even than the Corinthian diolkos. Another point not to be bypassed was a careful inspection, maintenance and, where needed, establishment of a road network; and, certainly, all this work would be in vain, if not supported by reliable information from the field. It did not take the Persians long to reach geographical Macedonia; and it is precisely here that the task of the historian becomes thorny. It is quite probable that Herodotus had almost no awareness of the ground, and was therefore unable to clearly describe the journey from Doriscus to Thermai. In principle, determining three topographically logical routes is hardly a problem: for example, on the section leading from Strymon to Thermai, one moira would advance towards the middle flow of Echedorus, the other would march to modern Lachana, while the third would pass through Mygdonia. Built upon а not entirely logical conjecture based on Justin, Hammond moves the northernmost of the three Persian moirai much farther north than necessary, seemingly for a reason that has nothing to do with topography – namely, his claim that Xerxes bestowed upon Alexander I control of a large part of Upper Macedonia. However, despite all attempts to see logic in the passage of Justin, it seems the Macedonian kings would need more time to establish control over Upper Macedonia and its basileis. There were two Persian withdrawals that passed through Macedonia; of these two, the return of a part of the army after the defeat at Salamis is attested to sufficiently enough in the sources. The presentation of this withdrawal, given by the tragediographer Aeschylus, truly befits the nature of his work; however, it does not seem to correspond to reality. On the contrary, it appears that the Persian chain of supply was effective for the duration of the campaign, primarily due to prudent planning; as the army did not depend on supplies left by the fleet, it is safe to assume that the main roads, as well as the lines of communication, were regularly maintained. This was probably possible because the coastal tribes either sided with the Persians, or were prudent enough to never publicly declare allegiance to either side. One would – and, indeed, should – expect to find more information on the events on the northern coast of the Aegean in the turbulent years of the last Persian conquest in Europe. These notes, scattered throughout the text of Herodotus, suggest why things are so. It is quite probable that our major – oftentimes our only – source on these events was neither concerned with nor interested in the peripheral logistics of the Persian army. The Macedonians were obviously counted on as auxiliary troops; they were to take care of the roads and supplies, or at most, to begin a battle with a challenge from distance, but they were never intended to present a main attacking force; that role was reserved for the troops that enjoyed the full confidence of the Great King, usually consisting of Iranians only. As to the war, Alexander's role as an ally or a Persian appears to be rather overestimated; geographical Macedonia was an important station and a kind of supply base during the advance and the retreat of the army of Xerxes, but not much more.

  • Issue Year: 55/2011
  • Issue No: 1-2
  • Page Range: 7-24
  • Page Count: 18
  • Language: Macedonian