Aornos was the site of Alexander the Great's last siege, "the climax to Alexander's career as the greatest besieger in history" according to Alexander's biographer Robin Lane Fox. The siege took place in 327 BCE. It offered the last threat to Alexander's supply line, which stretched, dangerously vulnerable, over the Hindu Kush back to Balkh, though Arrian credits Alexander's heroic desire to outdo his kinsman Heracles, who allegedly had proved unable to take the place Pir-Sar, which the Greeks called Aornos (according to Arrian and Diodorus) or Aornis (according to Curtius), the "birdless" rock; the name is the rendering in Greek of an Indo-iranian *awarana, for "fortified place"). The site was identified with the spur of Pir Sar by the geographer Aurel Stein; it lies north of Attock in Punjab, on a strongly reinforced mountain spur above the narrow gorges in a bend of the upper Indus River. However, the Indologist G. Tucci has proposed to identify the site with the holy summit of Mt Ilam. 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 to submission. Neighboring tribesmen who surrendered to Alexander offered to lead him to the best point of access.
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 m (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, after 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.
- Lane Fox, p. 343ff.
- Lane Fox (1973); Arrian.
- Lane Fox, Robin. Alexander the Great. Penguin, 1973, ISBN 0-14-008878-4.
- Arrian, Anabasis IV chapters 28.1–30.4 (in French)