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The last city of the Brahmins, called Harmatelia,1 was proud of the valour of its inhabitants and of the strength of its location. Thither he sent a small force of mobile troops with orders to engage the enemy and retire if they came out against them. [2] These were five hundred in number, and were despised when they attacked the walls.2 Some three thousand soldiers issued out of the city, whereupon Alexander's task force pretended to be frightened and fled. [3] Presently the king launched an unexpected attack against the pursuing natives and charging them furiously killed some of the natives, and captured others.

A number of the king's forces were wounded, and these met a new and serious danger.3 [4] The Brahmins had smeared their weapons with a drug of mortal effect; that was their source of confidence when they joined the issue of battle. The power of the drug was derived from certain snakes which were caught and killed and left in the sun. [5] The heat melted the substance of the flesh and drops of moisture formed; in this moisture the poison of the animals was secreted. When a man was wounded, the body became numb immediately and then sharp pains followed, and convulsions and shivering shook the whole frame. The skin became cold and livid and bile appeared in the vomit, while a black froth was exuded from the wound and gangrene set in. As this spread quickly and overran to the vital parts of the body, it brought a horrible death to the victim. [6] The same result occurred to those who had received large wounds and to those whose wounds were small, or even a mere scratch.

So the wounded were dying in this fashion, and for the rest Alexander was not so much concerned, but he was deeply distressed for Ptolemy, the future king, who was much beloved by him. [7] An interesting and quite extraordinary event occurred in the case of Ptolemy, which some attributed to divine Providence. He was loved by all because of his character and his kindnesses to all, and he obtained a succour appropriate to his good deeds. The king saw a vision in his sleep. It seemed to him that a snake appeared carrying a plant in its mouth, and showed him its nature and efficacy and the place where it grew. [8] When Alexander awoke, he sought out the plant, and grinding it up plastered it on Ptolemy's body. He also prepared an infusion of the plant and gave Ptolemy a drink of it. This restored him to health.4

Now that the value of the remedy had been demonstrated, all the other wounded received the same therapy and became well. Then Alexander prepared to attack and capture the city of Harmatelia, which was large and strongly fortified, but the inhabitants came to him with suppliant branches and handed themselves over. He spared them any punishment.

1 The name appears also as Harmata (Stephen of Byzantium).

2 Curtius 9.8.17-19 ("at the extremity of the realm of Sambus"); Arrian. 6.16.5. The same figures are given by Curtius, who identifies the "five hundred" as Agriani.

3 Curtius 9.8.20-28; Justin 12.10.1-3 (in the realms of King Ambus).

4 Arrian's failure to mention this incident, favourable as it is to Ptolemy, raises some question as to whether Ptolemy included it in his history. It is mentioned also by Strabo 15.2.7.

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  • Cross-references to this page (3):
  • Cross-references in notes from this page (4):
    • Strabo, Geography, 15.2.7
    • Arrian, Anabasis, 6.16.5
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 9.8.17
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 9.8.20
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