A Badass Moment in History From Gombrich

I am currently reading a book called A Little History of the World by E. H. Gombrich and loving it so far. One episode, in particular, captured my attention and I wanted to share it here to give it some justice.

Let’s go back. Way, way back. Sparta, a Greek state, wins the Peloponnesian War against Athens, another Greek state. Chaos. Then, a foreign tribe takes advantage of this chaos and conquers the Greeks. These were the Macedonians, led by King Phillip.

King Phillip has big goals—he wants to invade Persia to the east (feel free to use the map below). But before he gets a chance, he dies.

Here comes his son, Alexander the Great. He inherits the whole of Greece, along with his native Macedonia. He’s barely twenty years old at the time, but he is not your average guy—take a look at this quote, for instance: “when he was little, he was said to cry whenever his father, King Phillip, conquered another Greek city, saying: ‘Father won’t leave anything for me to conquer when I’m king!'”

Now that he is king, Alexander begins his campaign to invade Persia, conquering Phoenicia and Egypt first to avoid a possible attack from the rear. He then marches to Persia, and despite receiving an offer from the Persian king to receive half of his kingdom, he defeats the Persian army and becomes the king of the whole of Persia. This means that Greece, Egypt, Phoenicia, Palestine, Babylonia, Assyria, Asia Minor, and Persia are all now part of his empire.

His journey to the east.

You’d think he would stop at that point…but he heads to India next. He wants to see the East, having heard about its mystery and goods. (According to the book, the lands west of Greece were places not worth exploring—just a handful of wooded peninsulas inhabited by tribes of stubborn and unruly peasants.) Although the Indians do not give him an easy time, he manages to win the Battle of the Hydaspes and captures Porus, a regional king (whom Alexander had previously lost to). From here, though, his soldiers refuse to go further east—they’re exhausted and anxious. So Alexander decides to turn back, but not by the same route; he wants “new sights and new conquests” (because of course he does). So he and his soldiers begin their not-so-easy journey back home.

On one occasion during this journey, he escapes death by a miracle. It’s also a badass moment in history. Take a look. Straight from p. 68.

He and his soldiers are besieging a fortress. Ladders have been set in place to scale the walls. Alexander is the first one up, reaching the top when the ladder snaps under the weight of the soldiers behind, leaving him alone on top of the wall. His men are shouting to him to jump back down. Instead he leaps straight into the city and, with his back to the ramparts, defends himself with his shield against overwhelming odds.

By the time others scale the wall and get to him, he’s still alive.

Isn’t that insane? And badass? He’s alone on top of the wall of an enemy fortress, and instead of jumping back down and scaling the wall with his men, he just leaps straight into the city alone. He didn’t have to do that. And he manages to survive somehow.

I never cared too much for Alexander before (I tend to read Asian history), but this episode covered in the book was something else. I was just blown away. I can see why he was able to accomplish all that he did—he was no ordinary person. No, not at all. What a person.

Anyway, although I’m sure you weren’t expecting to read about Alexander the Great in my post, I’m hoping that this was fun for you as it was for me! If I encounter any other noteworthy moments in history in this book, I’ll definitely share it here. See you next week!

Note: I mentioned it in my previous post, but I added a follow button below, so feel free to use that! Also, I am not praising everything Alexander did—I just wanted to go over this one notable episode in history and share it with some background.