In the year 334 BCE, Alexander the Great crossed the Hellespont into Anatolia and began his conquest of the Persian Empire. In that year, Alexander won his first significant battle against the Persians at the Granicus River and then marched southward along the coast, bringing Greek-populated settlements over to his side through diplomacy or force. In one of the last major events of 334 BCE, Alexander the Great reached the region of Caria (southwest Anatolia) and laid siege to the large city of Halicarnassus. Alexander’s opponent in Halicarnassus was Memnon, a brilliant military strategist from Rhodes who had married into the Persian nobility. Memnon had supplied the city to survive a siege and garrisoned Halicarnassus with a sizable force of native and mercenary soldiers.
Upon arriving at Halicarnassus, Alexander settled his men in for a siege—a very long siege. The defenders were so stubborn at Halicarnassus that Alexander decided to occupy his time by attacking another nearby fortified settlement called Myndus. He expected Myndus to surrender, or for traitors to open the gates, but when this did not happen, he decided that Myndus was not worth the effort, especially after an attempt to breach its walls was unsuccessful. With this distraction over, Alexander set his focus back on Halicarnassus, where he redoubled his efforts to build battering rams, towers and artillery with which to topple the opposing walls.
Alexander and Memnon continued their stalemate as summer transitioned to autumn, with both sides launching sorties against the other every so often. One of the more peculiar of these heated skirmishes near the gates of Halicarnassus reportedly occurred because two Macedonian infantrymen had been in an argument of drunken boasts.
This story was recorded by the Greek-Roman military leader and historian Arrian (c. 90-173+), who is often considered the most trustworthy of the ancient biographers of Alexander the Great. Nevertheless, he was writing centuries after the death of Alexander, so the more far-fetched stories (like the one about to be recounted) should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. Even so, the story of the two drunken infantrymen has value, if only for the sake of enjoyment and the preservation of an ancient tale.
As the story goes, two infantrymen in Alexander’s army were having a conversation in a tent. This conversation took place well into the siege, after the brief excursion to Myndus had been abandoned. At that particular time, the two infantrymen had nothing better to do than sit in their tent and talk over an ample amount of alcoholic beverages. During the course of their conversation, the two men began a battle of boasts. They started listing out their accomplishments and abilities, as well as the feats that they believed they could achieve. As the drinks kept coming, the boasts grew wilder and more outrageous. When their bellies were full of alcohol, and their egos were bursting with intoxicated ambition, the two men strapped on their armor and grabbed their weapons, believing themselves capable of capturing the city of Halicarnassus alone.
Even though the drink was undoubtedly affecting the soldiers’ judgment, the alcohol apparently had not impaired their mobility or fighting ability. Eager to prove their boasts, the inebriated pair charged toward Halicarnassus. In the city, a small group of defenders watched with amusement as the two lone Macedonians scrambled for the walls. Some of the observing defenders decided to go outside of the walls to intercept the approaching soldiers, planning either to capture or kill the pair. The defenders probably thought that they could make short work of the drunk infantrymen, yet when the two sides met, a fierce brawl ensued. The loud skirmish between the two Macedonian infantrymen and the small party of defenders alarmed both sides of the conflict at Halicarnassus. Soldiers from the same battalion as the drunk infantrymen came rushing to the rescue of their comrades, while more defenders also came pouring out of the city as the sound of battle filled the air.
Neither side was prepared for this skirmish—it had not been planned by either Alexander or Memnon, so neither of the generals could respond in time to profit from any benefits the brawl could have provided. The brief clash ended with the defenders from Halicarnassus withdrawing back behind their walls, both sides having sustained some casualties.
The clash caused by the two inebriated infantrymen did not bring about the fall of Halicarnassus. In fact, there were more significant sorties that occurred both before and after the bizarre drink-fueled charge against the walls. Nonetheless, the two boastful infantrymen definitely led one of the more unique skirmishes during the efforts to take the city. In the end, when winter was approaching, Memnon decided to pack his troops onto the ships of the Persian navy and withdrew to the island of Cos, abandoning a preemptively burned Halicarnassus to Alexander.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Roman fresco, presumably of dice-players, from the Osteria della Via di Mercurio (VI 10,1.19, room b) in Pompeii, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Campaigns of Alexander by Arrian, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.
- Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2011.
- Alexander the Great: The Story of an Ancient Life by Thomas R. Martin and Christopher W. Blackwell. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.