Sunday, February 13, 2011

Is Pir Sar Alexander's Aornos?

Despite worldwide acceptance of Pir Sar as Aornos, accounts of later travellers call for further exploration

Alexander divided his army in two before entering India. The main bulk of the army he placed under the command of his generals Perdiccas and Hephastion, which came down following the river Kabul, captured the capital Peuceloatis (Charsada). Went on to Hund to build a bridge over the Indus and await the arrival of Alexander. He entered India in early 326 BC.

A smaller portion of the army he led himself with generals Perdiccus and Hephaestion, followed the river Kunar and turned east to enter Dir, Swat, Buner and then joined the Macedonian army on the Indus at Hund.

Arrian of Nicomedia writing nearly 500 years after Alexander describes Aornos thus, this is a mighty mass of rock in that part of the country, and even Herakles, the son of Zeus, had found it to be impregnable.

In the case of this rock my own conviction is that Herakles was mentioned to make the story of its capture all the more wonderful. It was ascended by a single path cut by the hand of man, yet difficult.

Alexander on learning these particulars was seized with an ardent desire to capture this mountain also, the story current about Herakles not being the least of the incentives. Pir Sar a natural mountain fastness lies on the right bank of the river Indus opposite Thakot and approximately four miles West as the crow flies from the town which is on the left bank. Pir Sar is at an altitude of 7,100 feet above sea level. The height and circuit of Aornos give by Arrian was 6,600 feet above sea level and circuit 22 miles, whilst Diodorus put the height at 9600 feet and the circuit at 11 miles.

Arrian, here as elsewhere our chief authority for all that concerns the great conquerors campaign, tells us that on hearing of the fall of Ora, the other Assakenoi, i.e. the people of Swat, all left their towns and fled to the rock in that country.

Sir Aurel Stien of the Indian Archeological Survey of India was granted permission by the Wali of Swat Miangul Gul Shahzada Sir Abdul Wadood to explore Pir Sar on the Indus. He was gived an escort and porters and started out from Saidu Sharif capital of Swat and reached Pir Sar on 26 April, 1926 AD.

Aurel Stein on his way to Pir Sar from Saidu Sharif found the Karorai Pass 6400 feet above sea level covered with fresh snow and the Shilkai Pass at 9400 feet above sea level covered with four to five feet of snow which had to be trampled by labourers to allow Steins party to cross over the pass.

Going up towards Pir Sar Stein was told the name of a mountain by a guide Una-Sar. He it seems came to the conclusion that he was near Aornos as it sounded close to Una. Una peak is at a height of 8,721 feet.

On the morning of April 27, 1926 after arriving at Pir Sar the very first thing Aurel Stein states, “The violent gusts of wind that shook my little tent during the night of my arrival on Pir Sar left but a poor chance of sleep before I rose next morning at day break. The icy blasts blowing down the Indus from the snow-covered ranges of Kohistan, comparatively so near, made it difficult to enjoy the view. It was the same throughout the three days that we spent on this exposed height.”

Fugitives from Swat would have died in droves during early March to mid April on Pir Sar from extreme cold winds, exposure and snow on the ground and the lack of supplies. It is inconceivable that Fugitives in thousands who left upper Swat would all have gone to Pir Sar the top of which is approx one mile long and three hundred yards wide. They would not have been able to take their animals to such a height for mere lack of fodder and deep snow in Feb-mid April 326 BC.

A very old Gujjar told Stein that the locals had never heard of Alexander having come to this region. He had heard from his elders that Pir Sar was the summer residence of Raja Sirkap.

The exposure and fatigue to which the men had been subjected during those happy days on the height of Aornos and the marches to and from it obliged me to make a two days’ halt at Chakesar. It felt warm enough down there at an elevation of less than 4,000 feet. Arrian mentions that after operations in Swat valley were completed, Alexander proceeded to take the capital city of Peukelaotis (Charsada). Incidentally it was already in control of the Macedonians.

Had Alexander come down to attack Peukelelaotis (Charsada) he would then on his way to Aornos (Pir Sar) have met up with his army at Hund on Indus. It just did not make sense that Alexander came down South from Swat to Penukelaotis (Charsada) then went close to his army near Hund, then up North to Aornos (Pir Sar) along the Indus.

Arrian describes how Alexander had trees cut to fill up a gully to enable him to attack the fugitives. On the fourth day the fugitives agreed to abandon the heights and disperse. Whilst they were in the process Alexander leading seven hundred of his soldiers clambered up to Pir Sar and killed many whilst some died falling off the cliffs. Where Herakles had failed, Alexander was master of Aornos.

From Pir Sar, Arrian mentions that the brother of Assakenos had taken refuge in the mountains with elephants and host of neighbouring barbarians (region of central Buner). Locals had fled to Abisares, i.e. to the ruler of Hazara. Alexander followed along the Barundu river meeting the Indus.

Ptolemy who was active in the fighting, writing to his tutor Aristotle describes Aornos as as the largest of the cities in the area. He states that it was over twenty miles in circumference and located at a height of eight thousand feet.

Professor Tucci who had done extensive excavation in Swat during the 1960s claims that Pir Sar is unlikely to be Aornos and favours Mount Ilam, 9200 feet above sea level in Buner overlooking the Karakar Pass, 4350 feet above sea level to be Aornos. Mount Ilam has been a sacred spot for Hindus since centuries.

Here again the question arises as to how fugitives from the Swat valley would survive for nearly over a month in open snow over six to eight feet deep.

It is obvious that Arrian and Diodorus were not familiar with the geography or topography of the region. It seems that Alexander did not go to Pir Sar (Aornos).

Despite worldwide acceptance of Pir Sar as Aornos, there is a need not to close the matter but to further explore the actual location of Aornos other than Pir Sar.

The writer is former speaker and foreign minister of Pakistan.

Related: Throne of Origins

1 comment:

  1. HI - Aurel Stein states that when he was on Pir-Sar the wheat was already growing - as you note he came over the Shikai Pass from Chit - that is from the west - But Alexander moved up the Indus from the south. He had a strong habit (nearly always) of eliminating any potential on his flank or future rear as he advanced. His lengthy move from the Caspian, south to Kandhar, then northeast to Kabul and then back over the Khawak pass to the Oxus is an example. Stein notes also that Guijars regularly took their cattle onto Pir-Sar so it was not so totally difficult to do.Although there was deep snow in the high passes he states that there was no snow ON Pir-Sar even though it was an unusually late spring.He records that he had plenty of visitors from surrounding villages and forts while there. When Stein departed he returned back west along the Una ridge and then south west to Chakesar not such a difficult route that the ancient refugees could have used going east. best wishes - john sloan