Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
THE RIVER OR THE MOUNTAINS?
 BUT although they had now seen the last of Tissaphernes, the Hellenes were
still a very long way from the end of their journey. Difficulties of another
and more serious kind still lay before them, and the question of their
further route caused the generals great anxiety. For in front of the
fruitful valley in which they were encamped, there stretched before them a
stern and rugged mountain-country inhabited by a nation of savages.
The limit of this mountain district was the river Tigris, and the only way
of avoiding it was by crossing the Tigris. No path could be found by which
they could pass between the mountains and the river, for immense rocks
stretched out far over the water, so that there was not space for even a
single person to go by.
But the river was far too deep and broad to be forded, and they had no other
means of crossing. When they tried to measure its depth with their long
spears, they could not reach the bottom, even close to the shore.
Whilst the generals were consulting together as to what could be done, a
Rhodian soldier came to them to ask for an audience, and said, "If you will
promise me a
talent of silver,
and provide me with all that I shall need for carrying
out my plan, I will build you a bridge over the Tigris capable of bearing
two thousand hoplites."
Then he went on to explain his plan. "We have here," he said, "a great many
cows, sheep, goats and asses. All these animals must give me their skins,
for I shall want two thousand leather bags. I shall also want all the straps
used for the baggage animals. The skins must be inflated, and tied up
securely. I shall then attach one of the straps to either end of each skin
so that it can be fastened to the next one, and steady it in the water with
large stones let down from the under side to serve as anchors. When the
skins are all in their places and fastened together, I shall cover them
thoroughly with earth and brushwood to prevent them from being slippery, and
the bridge will be complete. Each skin will bear the weight of two men, so
that you will have a bridge able to carry four thousand."
The generals agreed that it was an excellent idea, but unhappily they could
not turn it to any account, for on the further side of the river, troops of
Persian cavalry were already collected to oppose their crossing, and by them
the men employed in working at the bridge would be shot down one by one,
long before it was sufficiently finished to carry the soldiers across.
The crossing of the river was thus out of the question, and there remained
nothing but the road over the mountains, although they knew not whither it
led. They were like mariners driven out of their course by violent storms,
who neither know where they are, nor what is before, or behind, or on either
side of them.
Gladly would the Hellenes have given a good deal of their scanty store of
money for a small sheet of paper which to-day can be bought anywhere for a
few pence,—a map of the country that lay before them. But in those
days no such thing had ever been heard of.
All they could do was to question the prisoners, and from them they learnt
that southwards, in the direction from whence they had come, were the
provinces of Babylonia and Media, to the east were the cities of Susa and
Babylon, to the west the provinces of Lydia and Ionia, and that the road
northwards over the mountains would lead them through the land of the
Carduchians, a fierce, war-loving race, who had never been conquered. Once
the Great King had sent into their country an army of 120,000 men, to subdue
them, but of all that great host not one had ever seen his home again.
If the Hellenes should succeed in getting through the country of the
Carduchians, they would then reach the province of Armenia, and after that
they would be able to journey on without further hindrance.