Alexander the Great, the Conquest of Gordium and the Loosing of the Gordian Knot



The sun flashed on spearheads, swords, shields and armour as the vast Macedonian army advanced through the rugged ice-covered steppe of central Anatolia. A local woodman, who was lying unseen among a cluster of straggly frost-coated shrubs, gaped at the dazzling scene.


It was 333 BC, and Alexander the Great, an illustrious warrior and tenacious king, was marching his extensive army towards Gordium, the capital of the Phrygian kingdom. Phrygian territory had, many years before, been overcome by the Persian Empire and was currently being ruled by King Darius III, who was the last Achaemenid king of Persia.


Gordium, a thriving trade centre, was located on the Persian Royal Highway. Because Gordium was the abode of a substantial Persian garrison, the cunning Alexander perceived that taking the city would give him control of Asia Minor, providing an easy path further into the Achaemenian Empire.


If it meant supremacy and success, the monarch was all for it!


The Conquest of Gordian


Surprisingly, Gordian did not put up much of a fight. Whether the troops were daunted by Alexander's prestige, intimidated by his immense army or whether they were under weak military control, the Phrygians were deftly overcome and surrendered after the brief but decisive battle that ensued. Its inhabitants meekly submitted to Alexander's authority.


At the conclusion of the battle, Alexander and a sizable group, which consisted of his most trusted and immediate companions and courtiers, and his personal bodyguard, rode through Phrygia’s wealthy capital.


Alexander was impressed by the prosperous city.


As the king continued his survey of the subjugated city, he studied with appreciation the broad cobbled streets, the nobles’ large stately houses, the ornate temples and the towering city walls.


Finally, King Alexander's entourage arrived at the teeming city centre. Many of the inquisitive townsfolk, shopkeepers and merchants gazed fearfully upon the dozen or so lavishly garbed horsemen as, with a jingle of stirrups and the clatter of hooves, they trotted triumphantly into their midst.


The Gordian Knot & The Ancient Prophecy


Alexander's gaze swept over the bustling city square and came to rest on a sizable object exhibited near the magnificent temple of Zeus. Urging his noble steed Buesophaluous forward for a closer inspection, Alexander beheld a beautiful, ornate chariot.


The chariot's yoke was bound to a pole by a complex knot of cornel bark. This elaborate and intricate knot had been tied such that its end was artfully concealed from view.


The king's soothsayer, mounted beside Alexander murmured mysteriously,

“I believe we have come upon the chariot of Gordius, the ancient founder of Gordium and the father of the legendary King Midas.”


Turning, Alexander prompted him to speak further. So the man continued,

“According to an ancient prophecy, this complex knot will be untied by the one who is destined to conquer Asia. Many great heroes have attempted it, yet none have been successful.”


Upon hearing the legend, Alexander was overcome by an overpowering urge to take up the challenge and undo the knot. Abruptly dismounting, he strode purposely forward and began the task.


Sensing excitement, a large flock of curious bystanders gathered to watch. After a brief, but determined struggle, Alexander threw down the rope and exclaimed,


“It makes no difference how they are loosed!”


The king drew his sword and in a single, deft stroke severed the knot. As the brittle bark rope fell to the ground Alexander resheathed his sword in one swift motion.


A stunned silence settled upon the crowd.


The people were awestruck by this impetuous young king. Satisfied with his success, Alexander remounted and continued calmly on his way.


Indeed, Alexander the Great did eventually vanquish Asia, thus accomplishing the oracle's prophecy. He conquered as far east as the Ganges river valley in India and skirted the edge of the Pamir mountains.


Solving the Gordian Knot brought him ever more glory and victory and the prophesied expansion of his voluminous empire.


Further Reading:

  1. Achaemenian dynasty, Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Achaemenian-dynasty

  2. Alexander the Great, Daily History, https://dailyhistory.org/Gordian-Knot/Alexander the Great

  3. Alexander the Great, Encyclopedia, https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/history/ancient-history-greece-biographies/alexander-great

  4. Alexander the Great, National Geographic, https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/alexander-great

  5. Gordium, Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/place/Gordium

  6. Gordian Knot, Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Gordian-knot

  7. Plutarch on the Gordian Knot, Livius, https://www.livius.org/sources/content/plutarch/plutarchs-alexander/plutarch-on-the-gordian-knot/

  8. Turkey, Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/place/Turkey

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