Alexander the Great spent around two years in Uzbekistan during his conquest of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. He experienced there not just some of the most difficult fighting of the entire campaign, but also some of the most remarkable events of his expedition into Asia.
Through 330bc, Alexander had chased the Persian nobleman Bessus around Afghanistan. Bessus was leading the Persian resistance to Alexander, and Alexander had to capture him to ensure the complete submission of the Persian Empire. In 329bc, Alexander crossed the Oxus after leaving the Afghan city of Balkh, and was shortly able to get hold of Bessus, who was sent off for execution. However, Alexander remained in the region to consolidate his power. Perhaps foolishly, he did not make use of his natural allies in the region. Shortly after crossing the Oxus he discovered a town that was inhabited by Greeks, who welcomed him wholeheartedly. However, on discovering that they had collaborated with the Persians when they had invaded Greece in 480bc, he executed the entire settlement and levelled it to the ground. Proceeding northward, he captured Samarkand and then reached the Syr Darya (River Jaxartes) where he founded Alexandria Eschate, 'Alexandria-the-Farthest', modern-day Khojend in Tajikistan.
Despite this immediate success, there was considerable disquiet in the area. Alexander faced a number of uprisings from the indigenous Sogdians and Scythian tribesmen. They were able to employ guerrilla hit-and-run tactics again Alexander, relying on their mastery of horsemanship and archery to strike at his columns from a distance. Alexander had not faced this sort of warfare before, and he had to develop new tactics to defeat the nomadic warriors, including the combined use of catapults and archers, as well as hunting his opponents down to their fortresses and carrying out a conventional campaign of sieges. Despite being badly injured and suffering from dysentery, Alexander was able to lead his men to a notable success against the Scythians on the Syr Darya River.
As Alexander gained the upper hand, his opponents rallied at a fortress called the Sogdian Rock on top of a large escarpment. Its site is not known for certain, but it is thought to be near Samarkand. They thought it impregnable, and taunted Alexander that he would need soldiers with wings to capture it. Alexander was so irked by their jibes that he called for volunteers to scale the sheer cliffs up to the fortress. Three hundred men came forward and, using ropes and tent pegs, they made the ascent in the dead of night. Although 30 were lost in the climb, by morning they were inside the fortress. Alexander's herald shouted that they had found the soldiers with wings, and the defenders, amazed, surrendered immediately.
According to Greek historians, Alexander met on the rock a princess named Roxane, the daughter of one of the local rulers, Oxyartes. They record that he fell in love with her on sight and arranged a marriage with her. Having made such an alliance, he was ready to proceed out of Uzbek lands on his attempt to conquer India. The legend of Roxane still lives today, and many distinguished families in the region claim descent from the union of Alexander and Roxane.