THE DEATH OF ALEXANDER
 IN the autumn of 325 B.C. Alexander began to march through
the desert of Gedrosia on his way to Babylon.
was terrible, and the soldiers were soon parched with
thirst, while sinking sand added to the hardship of the
Alexander tramped by the side of his men across the
dreary waste, sharing all their privations and cheering
them by his presence. But before he left the desert of
Gedrosia, the king had lost more than a fourth part of
the army that had set out with him from India two short
At length the exhausted soldiers reached Susa, and here
the king allowed them to rest. He himself found much
to do, for many of the satraps whom he had left in
charge of different provinces had betrayed their trust.
They had treated cruelly those who were in their power,
and had formed plots to make themselves kings over
their own provinces. It may be that they thought
Alexander would never come back from his perilous
journey in the East.
When he had punished those who had proved faithless,
were they Macedonians or Persians, he turned to a
matter on which his heart was set—the union of the
peoples of the East and the West.
The king tried to accomplish this in different ways.
He had already built cities in the East, and left in
them Greeks and Macedonians along with the native
Now he himself wedded Statira, the daughter of Darius,
Hephæstion married her sister, while several
 generals, following the example of the king, took the
daughters of Persian nobles to be their wives. Many of
the soldiers, too, married women of the East.
Alexander hoped that little by little the two races
would learn to know each other better and to have the
In the spring of 324 B.C. Alexander went to Ecbatana,
where the Persian kings had been used to spend the
summer months. Shortly afterwards he met his whole
army at Opis, not far from Babylon, and discharged many
of the Macedonian veterans who were no longer fit to
fight because of old age or because of the wounds from
which they had suffered. The king promised to provide
for these old warriors for the rest of their lives. He
expected them to welcome their dismissal and their
But the Macedonians had been growing more and more
jealous of the favours Alexander had been showing to
the Persians, and now the feelings that they had been
forced to hide found words.
They bade the king discharge not only the veterans but
his loyal Macedonians. Some even dared to shout, "Go
and conquer with Zeus, your father."
The king, in sudden anger, sprang from his seat, down
among the angry throng, and ordered thirteen of the
ringleaders to be put to death. He then bade the
others go away if they wished. They had been only poor
shepherds on the hills of Macedon, he reminded them,
until his father Philip had made them rulers of Greece.
He had shared with them the wealth of the East, and had
kept nothing for himself, save his purple robe and his
Alexander then went to his palace, and in three days he
sent for the Persian nobles, to whom he gave the posts
of honour which until now had been held by the
Plutarch tells us that when the Macedonians, who had
stayed in their quarters in spite of their dismissal,
 Alexander had done, "they went without their
arms, with only their undergarments on, crying and
weeping, to offer themselves at his tent, and desired
him to deal with them as their baseness and ingratitude
deserved . . . yet he would not admit them to his
presence, nor would they stir from thence, but
continued two days and nights before his tent,
bewailing themselves, and imploring him as their lord
to have compassion on them. But on the third day he
came out to them, and seeing them very humble and
penitent, he wept himself a great while, after a gentle
reproof spoke kindly to them and dismissed those who
were too old for service with magnificent rewards, and
with recommendation to Antipater that when they came
home, at all public shows and in the theatres, they
should sit in the best and foremost seats, crowned with
chaplets of flowers."
During the summer which he spent at Ecbatana, a great
sorrow befell the king. Hephæstion, his dearest
friend, took ill, and in seven days he was dead. For
three days the king would touch no food. No one could
comfort him, for well the king knew that no one would
ever fill the place that Hephæstion had held in his
heart. The body of his friend the king ordered to be
taken to Babylon, where it was burnt on a pyre adorned
with great magnificence. Chapels were built in his
honour in Alexandria and other cities.
In June 323 B.C., a month after the funeral rites,
Alexander, who was preparing for a great expedition by
sea, went to the river Euphrates to inspect some new
harbours which he had ordered to be built.
The place was unhealthy, because of the many marshes
that lay round about the river, and the king was
attacked by fever. He refused to take any care and
daily he grew worse, until at length he was forced by
weakness to stay in bed.
A rumour that he was dead reached the Macedonians, and
they hastened to the palace, begging to be allowed to
see their king once more.
 Alexander was not dead, but he was too weak to speak,
as one by one the soldiers were permitted to walk
quietly past his bed. With an effort he looked at them
as they passed, and feebly raised his hand in farewell.
With an effort he looked at them as they passed
"After I am gone will you ever find a king worthy of
such heroes as these?" he murmured as they slowly filed
out of the room.
Then he drew his signet ring from his finger and gave
it to an officer, saying that he left his kingdom "to
the best man." So the great king passed away at the
age of thirty-three.