Battle of Jaxartes

Battle of Jaxartes

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The Battle of Jaxartes was a battle fought in 329 BC by Alexander the Great and his Macedonian
Ancient Macedonians
The Macedonians originated from inhabitants of the northeastern part of the Greek peninsula, in the alluvial plain around the rivers Haliacmon and lower Axios...

 army against the Scythians at the Syr Darya
Syr Darya
The Syr Darya , also transliterated Syrdarya or Sirdaryo, is a river in Central Asia, sometimes known as the Jaxartes or Yaxartes from its Ancient Greek name . The Greek name is derived from Old Persian, Yakhsha Arta , a reference to the color of the river's water...

 River - the modern name for the River Jaxartes. Today the site of the battle straddles the borders of Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan , officially the Republic of Uzbekistan is a doubly landlocked country in Central Asia and one of the six independent Turkic states. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south....

, Tajikistan
Tajikistan , officially the Republic of Tajikistan , is a mountainous landlocked country in Central Asia. Afghanistan borders it to the south, Uzbekistan to the west, Kyrgyzstan to the north, and China to the east....

, Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan , officially the Kyrgyz Republic is one of the world's six independent Turkic states . Located in Central Asia, landlocked and mountainous, Kyrgyzstan is bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west, Tajikistan to the southwest and China to the east...

Kazakhstan , officially the Republic of Kazakhstan, is a transcontinental country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Ranked as the ninth largest country in the world, it is also the world's largest landlocked country; its territory of is greater than Western Europe...

 – just south west of the ancient city of Tashkent
Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan and of the Tashkent Province. The officially registered population of the city in 2008 was about 2.2 million. Unofficial sources estimate the actual population may be as much as 4.45 million.-Early Islamic History:...

  (the modern capital of Uzbekistan) and north east Khujand
Khujand , also transliterated as Khudzhand, , formerly Khodjend or Khodzhent until 1936 and Leninabad until 1991, is the second-largest city of Tajikistan. It is situated on the Syr Darya River at the mouth of the Fergana Valley...

 (a city in Tajikistan).


The battle itself was forced upon Alexander the Great; he had already decided to accept the river Jaxartes as the north-eastern frontier of his empire, as it had been before. While the Macedonians started construction on a new city to mark the frontier, the native Sogdians revolted. During the suppression of the Sogdian rebels, and the heavy fighting that followed, an army of mounted nomadic warriors appeared north of the Jaxartes, eager to join in the struggle and take away the loot. Philip of Macedon
Philip II of Macedon
Philip II of Macedon "friend" + ἵππος "horse" — transliterated ; 382 – 336 BC), was a king of Macedon from 359 BC until his assassination in 336 BC. He was the father of Alexander the Great and Philip III.-Biography:...

, the father of Alexander had inflicted a crushing defeat on the Scythians in 339BC, killing one of the last kings of the second Scythian empire, Ateas
Ateas was described in Greek and Roman sources as the most powerful king of Scythia, who lost his life and empire in the conflict with Philip II of Macedon in 339 BC...

. Revenge and retribution
would also play a factor in their willingness to attack the Macedonian armies.

Disposition of the Armies

The Saccae had occupied the northern bank of the Jaxartes, confident that they could beat Alexander’s men as they disembarked, but underestimating the harmony with which the Macedonian artillery, fleet, cavalry, and infantry collaborated. Firstly Alexander ordered that the crossing would take place en masse, so that the mounted enemy archers would be faced with more targets than they could strike at; and
he ordered his artillery to cover the soldiers in the ships. (Catapults have a longer range than bows.) This is the first recorded incident of such a thing occurring.

The battle

The Saccae were thus forced from the banks by the powerful catapult and siege bows. For the Macedonians, it was now easy to cross the Jaxartes. In all likelihood the Scythians would normally have withdrawn at this point. However Alexander wanted to neutralise the threat to his borders from the nomad armies once and for all and was not about to let the enemy get away so easily. Therefore as a second part of his
strategy he ordered a battalion of mounted spearman to advance and provoke an attack from the horse-lords. The nomads did not recognize this sacrifice for what it was. In their society, in which blood feuds were common, no commander would have sacrificed troops to obtain a better position for the main force. The families of those who had been killed would immediately start a vendetta. Alexander, on the other hand, could send his mounted spearmen on this dangerous mission because his men were well trained and understood that they were not really left alone.
Alexander’s vanguard was immediately surrounded and attacked by the Scythian mounted archers. Once they were engaged, their position was fixed and they were vulnerable to an approach by the Macedonian infantry and Alexander’s cohorts of Cretan archers. The nomads now found themselves caught between the Macedonian mounted spearmen and the rest of Alexander’s army. The Saccae tried to escape to the
wings of the Macedonian lines, but there they were met by Alexander’s infantry.
Phase 2

Phase 3

Aftermath and Consequences

This was the end for the Scythian army - about 1200 Saccae were surrounded and killed, including their commander Satraces. Over 150 prisoners were taken and 1800 horses were captured. As far as the Macedonians and Greeks knew, no commander had ever been able to pin down and destroy a nomad army – including Darius the Great. This was a boost for morale, and a psychological blow for the nomads north of the Jaxartes. Alexander’s main aim, however, had never been to subdue the nomads; he wanted to go to the south, where a far more serious crisis demanded his attention. He could do so now without loss of face; and in order to make the outcome acceptable to the Saccae, he released the prisoners of war without ransom. This policy was successful: the northern frontier of Alexander’s empire was never seriously threatened again.

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