Aornos was the Ancient Greek name for the
site of Alexander the Great's last siege, which took place in April 326, at a
mountain site located in modern Pakistan. Aornos offered the last threat to
Alexander's supply line, which stretched, dangerously vulnerable, over the
Hindu Kush back to Balkh, though Arrian (although disbelieving himself of this
story) credits Alexander's desire to outdo his kinsman Heracles, who allegedly
had proved unable to take a fort that the Macedonians called Aornos (according
to Arrian and Diodorus; Aornis according to Curtius; elsewhere Aornus): meaning
"birdless" in Greek.
According to one theory, the name is a corruption of an Indo-Iranian word, such
as *awarana "fortified place". According to Arrian, the rock had a
flat summit well-supplied with natural springs and wide enough to grow crops:
it could not be starved into submission. Neighboring tribesmen who surrendered
to Alexander offered to lead him to the best point of access.
The geographer Aurel Stein suggested that Aornos was located on Pir Sar
a mountain spur above narrow gorges in a bend of the upper Indus River, just to
the west of Thakot in the Pakistani Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. However, the
Indologist Giuseppe Tucci has instead proposed a site at the summit of Elum
Ghar (Mount Ilam), a site significant in Hinduism, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Ptolemy and Alexander's secretary Myllinas (rather than the famous Eumenes),
reconnoitered and reinforced a neighboring spur to the west with a stockade and
ditch. His signal fire to Alexander also alerted the defenders of Pir-Sar, and
it took two days of skirmishing in the narrow ravines for Alexander to regroup.
At the vulnerable north side leading to the fort, Alexander and his catapults
were stopped by a deep ravine. To bring the siege engines within reach, an
earthwork mound was constructed to bridge the ravine with carpentry, brush, and
earth. The first day's work brought the siege mound 50 metres (55 yd) closer,
but as the sides of the ravine fell away steeply below, progress rapidly
slowed; nevertheless, at the end of the third day, a low hill connected to the
nearest tip of Pir-Sar was within reach and was taken. Afterwards, Alexander in
the vanguard and his first force were repelled by boulders rolled down from
above. Three days of drumbeats marked the defenders' celebration of the initial
repulse, followed by a surprise retreat. Alexander hauled himself up the last
rockface on a rope. Alexander cleared the summit, slaying some fugitives (Lane
Fox), inflated by Arrian to a massacre, and erected altars to Athena Nike,
Athena of Victory, traces of which were identified by Stein. Alexander was now
free to pursue his journey into Punjab. The devastating Battle of the Hydaspes
River lay in the future.