National Geographic : 1968 Jan
In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great first recorded invasion of Asia, nearly a thou sand years earlier, and the exploits of Alex ander's hero, Achilles. Alexander deemed the Iliad the "perfect portable treasure of all mili tary virtue and knowledge," and slept with it beside his dagger under his pillow. For Alexander, then, the journey to Troy became a plea for favor from the demigod of his dreams and a way to obtain a potent sym bol of good luck. Sacred armor from the Tro jan War, legend tells us, lay in Troy's Temple of Athena. Exchanging pieces of his own ar mor for the shield that eight years later was to save his life near the Indus, Alexander marched north to face the Persians. Today's Trickle Was Yesterday's Torrent The River Granicus, today the Kocabas, waters a region of rich, rolling farmland. In lowland fields baggy-trousered women stoop to plant seedling rice. On the hills, green spring wheat gleams like wind-rippled silk, and fat cattle graze in lush pasture. Alexander found the Persian army spread along the Granicus near the present town of Biga. From a hilltop we looked down at the river. Drained by diversion for irrigation, the Granicus was only a brown trickle. Not so in Alexander's time; then, a torrent surged down the riverbed. Parmenion, the aging general whose wisdom Philip had trusted implicitly, urged caution. "I should disgrace the Hellespont should I fear the Granicus," Alexander declared. Shouting for his men to follow, he spurred his horse into the river. Persian arrows and spears pelted them, but the speed and fury of the assault carried the Macedonians across the river. The Persians broke in disorder. Alexander ordered the Macedonian dead buried with honors, and their families ex empted from taxes and military conscription. He chatted with the wounded, encouraging each to brag of his deeds, further strengthen ing the growing loyalty of his men. Victory at the Granicus gave Alexander a firm foothold in Asia. The main body of the Persian army, still more than 1,000 miles to the east, posed no immediate threat. But the Persian fleet, numerically superior to the Greek navy, controlled the seas. Alexander de termined to break Persian sea power by over running its maritime provinces. He turned south toward the Turkish coast. Centuries earlier, Greek immigrants had established in this area cities as grand as any in Greece, But the Persians had conquered them. When Alexander arrived, he found many cities ripe for revolt. At Ephesus the people stoned the Persian officials and welcomed the Macedonians. Alexander spread word that he came as a liberator, not as a conqueror. City after city opened its gates to him. He restored demo cratic government and remitted taxes. When asked why he did not reap more tribute from so rich an empire, Alexander replied, "I hate the gardener who cuts to the root the vege tables of which he ought to cull the leaves." With hardly a skirmish, he marched swiftly toward Miletus and Halicarnassus, where large Persian garrisons held out. The Mace donians stormed the towns. Within seven months Alexander controlled the coast. A road now follows the rugged shore where Alexander marched. It passes through Izmir, where the fragrance of roasting lamb per vades vine-garlanded streets and the swoosh of NATO jets counterpoints the gentle clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages at sunset. South of Izmir the road winds past rock coves where fishing villages drowse in the sun and sponge divers spread their pungent harvest to dry. Turkish Performers Keep Past Alive All through southern Turkey the past forms a backdrop for the present. We camped beneath cliffs honeycombed with tombs, in pine forests beside streams flowing past ancient walls. We slept in the shadow of cities Alexander knew (next page). At Ephesus we sat on a fallen Corinthian column and watched Turkish wrestlers, slick with olive oil, heave and grunt in the old marketplace (pages 18-19). Near an ancient Greek theater at Ka§ we listened to a saz player twang old melodies on his two-stringed instrument. At Aspendus Turkish actors in a Roman theater performed Sophocles' master piece, Oedipus Rex. Near Phaselis, where Alexander rested his troops, a boy hitched a ride with us. "I am studying English," he offered hesitantly. "Perhaps you can help us," I said. "Is there a market nearby where we can buy food?" "You can get some at my village." Soon he signaled me to a stop, and I fol lowed him along a path between stone-walled compounds. We entered a courtyard where a girl milked a cow under an apricot tree and a woman stooped over a round earthen oven. "My home," the boy said.