ALEXANDER THE GREAT DEFEATS THE PERSIANS AT GAUGAMELA

GAUGAMELA


Battle of Guagamela

The key battle in Alexander's campaign took place at Gaugamela (or Arbela, near Mosel in Iraqi Kurdistan, about 420 kilometers north of present-day Baghdad) in 331 B.C. After Alexander rejected Darius's offers of peace, Darius had little choice but to prepare for all out war, which he did from the Persian winter capital of Babylon.

Alexander's force was outnumbered 5 to 1. The Persian army was comprised of 250,000 soldiers from 24 different subject or mercenary armies including ones made up of Indians, Bactrians, Dahae, Medes, Mardians, Babylonians, Parthians and Arachosians. Darius's force was lead by 40,000 Persian cavalry men clad in chain mail with chariots with scythe blades on their wheels. The Persian leader even had some fighting elephants at his disposal (some say this was the first time Europeans were exposed to elephants). Alexander's army had 40,000 infantry men and a 7,000-strong cavalry.

Uncharacteristically, Alexander exercised caution. He waited four days to attack and overslept on the morning of the battle, which was one of the largest and most decisive battles in antiquity. Plutarch wrote, "When his officer came to him in the early morning, they were astonished him not yet awake."

Darius’s Attempts to Cut a Deal with Alexander

Arrian wrote: “While Alexander was still occupied by the siege of Tyre, ambassadors came to him from Darius, announcing that he would give him ten thousand talents in exchange for his mother, wife, and children; that all the territory west of the river Euphrates, as far as the Grecian Sea, should be Alexander’s; and proposing that he should marry the daughter of Darius, and become his friend and ally. When these proposals were announced in a conference of the Companions, Parmenio is said to have told Alexander, that if he were Alexander he should be delighted to put an end to the war on these terms, and incur no further hazard of success. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]


Darsius III on a coin

“Alexander is said to have replied, So would he also do, if he were Parmenio, but as he was Alexander he replied to Darius as he did. For he said that he was neither in want of money from Darius, nor would he receive a part of his territory instead of the whole; for that all his money and territory were his; and that if he wished to marry the daughter of Darius, he would marry her, even though Darius refused her to him. He commanded Darius to come to him if he wished to experience any generous treatment from him. When Darius heard this answer, he despaired of coming to terms with Alexander, and began to make fresh preparations for war.

Later, after Alexander left Egypt and returned to Phoenicia, Plutarch wrote, “Darius wrote him a letter, and sent friends to intercede with him, requesting him to accept as a ransom of his captives the sum of a thousand talents, and offering him in exchange for his amity and alliance all the countries on this side the river Euphrates, together with one of his daughters in marriage. These propositions he communicated to his friends, and when Parmenio told him that, for his part, if he were Alexander, he should readily embrace them, "So would I," said Alexander, "if I were Parmenio." Accordingly, his answer to Darius was, that if he would come and yield himself up into his power he would treat him with all possible kindness; if not, he was resolved immediately to go himself and seek him. But the death of Darius's wife in childbirth made him soon after regret one part of this answer, and he showed evident marks of grief at thus deprived of a further opportunity of exercising his clemency and good nature, which he manifested, however, as far as he could, by giving her a most sumptuous funeral. 906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ]

“Among the eunuchs who waited in the queen's chamber, and were taken prisoners with the women, there was one Tireus, who, getting out of the camp, fled away on horseback to Darius, to inform him of his wife's death. He, when he heard it, beating his head, and bursting into tears and lamentations, said, "Alas! how great is the calamity of the Persians! Was it not enough that their king's consort and sister was a prisoner in her lifetime, but she must, now she is dead, also be but meanly and obscurely buried?" "O king," replied the eunuch, "as to her funeral rites, or any respect or honour that should have been shown in them, you have not the least reason to accuse the ill fortune of your country; for to my knowledge neither your queen Statira when alive, nor your mother, nor children, wanted anything of their former happy condition, unless it were the light of your countenance, which I doubt not but the lord Oromasdes will yet restore to its former glory. And after her decease, I assure you, she had not only all due funeral ornaments, but was honoured also with the tears of your very enemies; for Alexander is as gentle after victory as he is terrible in the field."


Gaugamela location

“At the bearing of these words, such was the grief and emotion of Darius's mind, that they carried him into extravagant suspicions; and taking Tireus aside into a more private part of his tent, "Unless thou likewise," said he to him, "hast deserted me, together with the good fortune of Persia, and art become a Macedonian in thy heart; if thou yet ownest me for thy master Darius, tell me, I charge thee, by the veneration thou payest the light of Mithras, and this right hand of thy king, do I not lament the least of Statira's misfortunes in her captivity and death? Have I not suffered something more injurious and deplorable in her lifetime? And had I not been miserable with less dishonour if I had met with a more severe and inhuman enemy? For how is it possible a young man as he is should treat the wife of his opponent with so much distinction, were it not from some motive that does me disgrace?"

“Whilst he was yet speaking, Tireus threw himself at his feet, and besought him neither to wrong Alexander so much, nor his dead wife and sister, as to give utterance to any such thoughts, which deprived him of the greatest consolation left him in his adversity, the belief that he was overcome by a man whose virtues raised him above human nature; that he ought to look upon Alexander with love and admiration, who had given no less proofs of his continence towards the Persian women, than of his valour among the men. The eunuch confirmed all he said with solemn and dreadful oaths, and was further enlarging upon Alexander's moderation and magnanimity on other occasions, when Darius, breaking away from him into the other division of the tent, where his friends and courtiers were, lifted up his hands to heaven and uttered this prayer, "Ye gods," said he, "of my family, and of my kingdom, if it be possible, I beseech you to restore the declining affairs of Persia, that I may leave them in as flourishing a condition as I found them, and have it in my power to make a grateful return to Alexander for the kindness which in my adversity he has shown to those who are dearest to me. But if, indeed, the fatal time be come, which is to give a period to the Persian monarchy, if our ruin be a debt that must be paid to the divine jealousy and the vicissitude of things, then I beseech you grant that no other man but Alexander may sit upon the throne of Cyrus." Such is the narrative given by the greater number of the historians.”

Alexander’s Forces March into Syria


Arrian wrote: “As soon as spring began to appear, he went from Memphis to Phoenicia, bridging the stream of the Nile near Memphis, as well as the canals issuing from it. When he arrived at Tyre, he found his fleet already there. In this city he again offered sacrifice to Heracles, and celebrated both a gymnastic and musical contest. While there, the state vessel called the Paralus came to him from Athens, bringing Diophantus and Achilleus as envoys to him; and all the crew of the Paralus were joined with them in the embassy. These men obtained all the requests which they were despatched to make, and the king gave up to the Athenians all their fellow-citizens who had been captured at the Granicus. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“Being informed that revolutionary plans had been carried out in the Peloponnese, he sent Amphoterus thither to assist those of the Peloponnesians who were firm in their support of his war against Persia, and were not under the control of the Lacedaemonians. He also commanded the Phoenicians and Cyprians to despatch to the Peloponnese other ships in addition to those which he was sending with Amphoterus. He now started up into the interior towards Thapsacus and the river Euphrates, after placing Coeranus, a Beroean over the levy of tribute in Phoenicia, and Philoxenus to collect it in Asia as far as the Taurus. In the place of these men he entrusted the custody of the money which he had with him to Harpalus, son of Machatas, who had just returned from exile. For this man at first had been banished, while Philip was still king, because he was an adherent of Alexander; as also was Ptolemy, son of Lagus, for the same reason; likewise Nearchus, son of Androtimus, Erigyius, son of Larichus, and his brother Laomedon. For Alexander fell under Philip’s suspicion when the latter married Eurydice and treated Alexander’s mother Olympias with dishonour.

“But after Philip’s death those who had been banished on Alexander’s account returned from exile and were received into favour. He made Ptolemy one of his confidential body-guards; he placed Harpalus over the money, because his bodily strength was unequal to the fatigues of war. Erigyius was made commander of the allied Grecian cavalry; and his brother Laomedon, because he could speak both the Greek and Persian languages and could read Persian writings, was put in charge of the foreign prisoners. Nearchus also was appointed viceroy of Lycia and of the land adjacent to it as far as mount Taurus. But shortly before the battle which was fought at Issus, Harpalus fell under the influence of Tauriscus, an evil man, and fled in his company. The latter started off to Alexander the Epirote in Italy, where he soon after died. But Harpalus found a refuge in Megaris, whence however Alexander persuaded him to return, giving him a pledge that he should be none the worse on account of his desertion. When he came back, he not only received no punishment, but was even reinstated in the office of treasurer. Menander, one of the Companions, was sent away into Lydia as viceroy; and Clearchus was put in command of the Grecian auxiliaries who had been under Menander. Asclepiodorus, son of Eunicus, was also appointed viceroy of Syria instead of Arimmas, because the latter seemed to have been remiss in collecting the supplies which he had been ordered to collect for the army which the king was about to lead into the interior.”

Alexander’s Forces Cross the Euphrates and Tigris


Greek soldier

Arrian wrote: “Alexander arrived at Thapsacus in the month Hecatombaion, in the archonship of Aristophanes at Athens; and he found that two bridges of boats had been constructed over the stream. But Mazaeus, to whom Darius had committed the duty of guarding the river, with about , cavalry, , of which were Grecian mercenaries, was up to that time keeping guard there at the river. For this reason the Macedonians had not constructed the complete bridge as far as the opposite bank, being afraid that Mazaeus might make an assault upon the bridge where it ended. But when he heard that Alexander was approaching, he went off in flight with all his army. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“As soon as he had fled, the bridges were completed as far as the further bank, and Alexander crossed upon them with his army. Thence he marched up into the interior through the land called Mesopotamia, having the river Euphrates and the mountains of Armenia on his left. When he started from the Euphrates he did not march to Babylon by the direct road; because by going the other route be found all things easier for the march of his army, and it was also easier to obtain fodder for the horses and provisions for the men from the country. Besides this, the heat was not so scorching on the indirect route. Some of the men from Darius’s army, who were dispersed for the purpose of scouting, were taken prisoners; and they reported that Darius was encamped near the river Tigris, having resolved to prevent Alexander from crossing that stream. They also said that he had a much larger army than that with which he had fought in Cilicia. Hearing this, Alexander went with all speed towards the Tigris; but when be reached it he found neither Darius himself nor any guard which he had left.

“However he experienced great difficulty in crossing the stream, on account of the swiftness of the current, though no one tried to stop him. There be made his army rest, and while so doing, an eclipse of the moon nearly total occurred. Alexander thereupon offered sacrifice to the moon, the sun and the earth, whose deed this was, according to common report. Aristander thought that this eclipse of the moon was a portent favourable to Alexander and the Macedonians; that there would be a battle that very month, and that victory for Alexander was signified by the sacrificial victims. Having therefore decamped from the Tigris, he went through the land of Aturia, having the mountains of the Gordyaeans on the left and the Tigris itself on the right; and on the fourth day after the passage of the river, his scouts brought word to him that the enemy’s cavalry were visible there along the plain, but how many of them there were they could not guess. Accordingly he drew his army up in order and advanced prepared for battle. Other scouts again riding forward and taking more accurate observations, told him that the cavalry did not seem to them to be more than , in number. Alexander therefore took the royal squadron of cavalry, and one squadron of the Companions, together with the Paeonian scouts, and marched with all speed; having ordered the rest of his army to follow at leisure.”

Darius’s Army at Gaugamela


Persian soldiers

Arrian wrote: “The Persian cavalry, seeing Alexander advancing quickly, began to flee with all their might. Though he pressed close upon them in pursuit, most of them escaped; but a few, whose horses were fatigued by the flight, were slain, others were taken prisoners, horses and all. From these they ascertained that Darius with a large force was not far off. For the Indians who were conterminous with the Bactrians, as also the Bactrians themselves and the Sogdians had come to the aid of Darius, all being under the command of Bessus, the viceroy of the land of Bactria. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“They were accompanied by the Sacians, a Scythian tribe belonging to the Scythians who dwell in Asia. These were not subject to Bessus, but were in alliance with Darius. They were commanded by Mavaces, and were horse-bowmen. Barsaëntes, the viceroy of Arachotia, led the Arachotians and the men who were called mountaineer Indians. Satibarzanes, the viceroy of Areia, led the Areians, as did Phrataphernes the Parthians, Hyrcanians, and Tapurians, all of whom were horsemen. Atropates commanded the Medes, with whom were arrayed the Cadusians, Albanians, and Sacesinians. The men who dwelt near the Red Sea were marshalled by Ocondobates, Ariobarzanes, and Otanes. The Uxians and Susianians acknowledged Oxathres son of Aboulites as their leader, and the Babylonians were commanded by Boupares. The Carians who had been deported into central Asia, and the Sitacenians had been placed in the same ranks as the Babylonians. The Armenians were commanded by Orontes and Mithraustes, and the Cappadocians by Ariaces. The Syrians from the vale between Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon (i.e. Coele-Syria) and the men of Syria which lies between the rivers were led by Mazaeus.

“The whole army of Darius was said to contain , cavalry, ,, infantry, and scythe-bearing chariots. There were only a few elephants, about fifteen in number, belonging to the Indians who live this side of the Indus. With these forces Darius had encamped at Gaugamela, near the river Bumodus, about stades distant from the city of Arbela, in a district everywhere level; for whatever ground thereabouts was unlevel and unfit for the evolutions of cavalry, had long before been levelled by the Persians, and made fit for the easy rolling of chariots and for the galloping of horses. For there were some who persuaded Darius that he had forsooth got the worst of it in the battle fought at Issus, from the narrowness of the battle-field; and this he was easily induced to believe.”

Alexander’s Preparation for the Battle at Gaugamela

Arrian wrote: “When Alexander had received all this information from the Persian scouts who had been captured, he remained four days in the place where he had received the news; and gave his army rest after the march. He meanwhile fortified his camp with a ditch and stockade, as he intended to leave behind the baggage and all the soldiers who were unfit for fighting, and to go into the contest accompanied by his warriors carrying with them nothing except their weapons. Accordingly he took his forces by night, and began the march about the second watch, in order to come into collision with the foreigners at break of day. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“As soon as Darius was informed of Alexander’s approach, he at once drew out his army for battle; and Alexander led on his men drawn up in like manner. Though the armies were only sixty stades from each other, yet they were not in sight of each other, for between the hostile forces some hills intervened. But when Alexander was only thirty stades distant from the enemy, and his army was already marching down from the hills just mentioned, catching sight of the foreigners, he caused his phalanx to halt there. Calling a council of the Companions, generals, cavalry officers, and leaders of the Grecian allies and mercenaries, he deliberated with them, whether he should at once lead on the phalanx without delay, as most of them urged him to do; or, whether, as Parmenio thought preferable, to pitch their tents there for the present, to reconnoitre all the ground, in order to see if there was anything there to excite suspicion or to impede their progress, or if there were ditches or stakes firmly fixed in the earth out of sight, as well as to make a more accurate survey of the enemy’s tactical arrangements.

“Parmenio’s opinion prevailed, so they encamped there, drawn up in the order in which they intended to enter the battle. But Alexander took the light infantry and the cavalry Companions and went all round, reconnoitring the whole country where he was about to fight the battle. Having returned, he again called together the same leaders, and said that they did not require to be encouraged by him to enter the contest; for they had been long before encouraged by their own valour, and by the gallant deeds which they had already so often achieved. He thought it expedient that each of them individually should stir up his own men separately; the infantry captain the men of his company, the cavalry captain his own squadron, the brigadiers their various brigades, and each of the leaders of the infantry the phalanx entrusted to him. He assured them that in this battle they were going to fight, not as before, either for Coele-Syria, Phoenicia, or Egypt, but for the whole of Asia. For he said this battle would decide who were to be the rulers of that continent.


Battle of Gaugamela 1


“It was not necessary for him to stir them up to gallant deeds by many words, since they had this valour by nature; but they should see that each man took care, so far as in him lay, to preserve discipline in the critical moment of action, and to keep perfect silence when it was expedient to advance in silence. On the other hand, they should see that each man uttered a sonorous shout, where it would be advantageous to shout, and to raise as terrible a battle-cry as possible, when a suitable opportunity occurred of raising the battle-cry. He told them to take care to obey his orders as quickly as possible, and to transmit the orders they had received to the ranks with all rapidity; each man remembering that both as an individual and in the aggregate he was increasing the general danger if he was remiss in the discharge of his duty, and that he was assisting to gain a victory if he zealously put forth his utmost exertions.”

“With these words and others like them he briefly exhorted his officers, and in return was exhorted by them to feel confidence in their valour. He then ordered the soldiers to take dinner and to rest themselves. It is said that Parmenio came to him in his tent, and urged him to make a night attack on the Persians; saying that thus he would fall upon them unprepared and in a state of confusion, and at the same time more liable to a panic in the dark. But the reply which he made, as others were listening to their conversation, was, that it would be mean to steal a victory, and that Alexander ought to conquer in open daylight, and without any artifice. This vaunting did not appear any arrogance on his part, but rather to indicate self-confidence amid dangers.

“To me at any rate, he seems to have used correct reasoning in such a matter. For in the night many accidents have occurred unexpectedly to those who were sufficiently prepared for battle as well as to those who were deficiently prepared, which have caused the superior party to fail in their plans, and have handed the victory over to the inferior party, contrary to the expectations of both sides. Though Alexander was generally fond of encountering danger in battle, the night appeared to him perilous; and, besides, if Darius were again defeated, a furtive and nocturnal attack on the part of the Macedonians would relieve him of the necessity of confessing that he was an inferior general and commanded inferior troops. Moreover, if any unexpected defeat befell his army, the circumjacent country was friendly to the enemy, and they were acquainted with the locality, whereas the Macedonians were unacquainted with it, and surrounded by nothing but foes, of whom there were a great number prisoners. These would be a great source of anxiety, as they would be likely to assist in attacking them in the night, not only if they should meet with defeat, but even if they did not appear to be gaining a decisive victory. For this way of reasoning I commend Alexander; and I think him no less worthy of admiration for his excessive desire to fight in open daylight.”


Battle of Gaugamela 2


Alexander the Great Before the Battle Gaugamela

Plutarch wrote: “To return to Alexander. After he had reduced all Asia on this side the Euphrates, he advanced towards Darius, who was coming down against him with a million of men. In his march a very ridiculous passage happened. The servants who followed the camp for sport's sake divided themselves into two parties, and named the commander of one of them Alexander, and the other Darius. At first they only pelted one another with clods of earth, but presently took to their fists, and at last, heated with contention, they fought in good earnest with stones and clubs, so that they had much ado to part them; till Alexander, upon hearing of it, ordered the two captains to decide the quarrel by single combat, and armed him who bore his name himself, while Philotas did the same to him who represented Darius. The whole army were spectators of this encounter, willing from the event of it to derive an omen of their own future success. After they had fought stoutly a pretty long while, at last he who was called Alexander had the better, and for a reward of his prowess had twelve villages given him, with leave to wear the Persian dress. So we are told by Eratosthenes. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ]

“But the great battle of all that was fought with Darius was not, as most writers tell us, at Arbela, but at Gaugamela, which, in their language, signifies the camel's house, forasmuch as one of their ancient kings having escaped the pursuit of his enemies on a swift camel, in gratitude to his beast, settled him at this place, with an allowance of certain villages and rents for his maintenance. It came to pass that in the month Boedromion, about the beginning of the feast of Mysteries at Athens, there was an eclipse of the moon, the eleventh night after which, the two armies being now in view of one another, Darius kept his men in arms, and by torchlight took a general review of them. But Alexander, while his soldiers slept, spent the night before his tent with his diviner, Aristander, performing certain mysterious ceremonies, and sacrificing to the god Fear. In the meanwhile the oldest of his commanders, and chiefly Parmenio, when they beheld all the plain between Niphates and the Gordyaean mountains shining with the lights and fires which were made by the barbarians, and heard the uncertain and confused sounds of voices out of their camp, like the distant roaring of a vast ocean, were so amazed at the thoughts of such a multitude, that after some conference among themselves, they concluded it an enterprise too difficult and hazardous for them to engage so numerous an enemy in the day, and therefore meeting the king as he came from sacrificing, besought him to attack Darius by night, that the darkness might conceal the danger of the ensuing battle. To this he gave them the celebrated answer, "I will not steal a victory," which though some at the time thought a boyish and inconsiderate speech, as if he played with danger, others, however, regarded as an evidence that he confided in his present condition, and acted on a true judgment of the future, not wishing to leave Darius, in case he were worsted, the pretext of trying his fortune again, which he might suppose himself to have, if he could impute his overthrow to the disad vantage of the night, as he did before to the mountains, the narrow passages, and the sea. For while he had such numerous forces and large dominions still remaining, it was not any want of men or arms that could induce him to give up the war, but only the loss of all courage and hope upon the conviction of an undeniable and man ifest defeat.


Battle of Gaugamela 3


“After they were gone from him with this answer, he laid himself down in his tent and slept the rest of the night more soundly than was usual with him, to the astonishment of the commanders, who came to him early in the morning, and were fain themselves to give order that the soldiers should breakfast. But at last, time not giving them leave to wait any longer, Parmenio went to his bedside, and called him twice or thrice by his name, till he waked him, and then asked him how it was possible, when he was to fight the most important battle of all, he could sleep as soundly as if he were already victorious. “And are we not so, indeed,” replied Alexander, smiling, “since we are at last relieved from the trouble of wandering in pursuit of Darius through a wide and wasted country, hoping in vain that he would fight us?” And not only before the battle, but in the height of the danger, he showed himself great, and manifested the self-possession of a just foresight and confidence. For the battle for some time fluctuated and was dubious. The left wing, where Parmenio commanded, was so impetuously charged by the Bactrian horse that it was disordered and forced to give ground, at the same time that Mazæus had sent a detachment round about to fall upon those who guarded the baggage, which so disturbed Parmenio, that he sent messengers to acquaint Alexander that the camp and baggage would be all lost unless he immediately relieved [202] the rear by a considerable reinforcement drawn out of the front.

“This message being brought him just as he was giving the signal to those about him for the onset, he bade them tell Parmenio that he must have surely lost the use of his reason, and had forgotten, in his alarm, that soldiers, if victorious, become masters of their enemies’ baggage; and if defeated, instead of taking care of their wealth or their slaves, have nothing more to do but to fight gallantly and die with honor.When he had said this, he put on his helmet, having the rest of his arms on before he came out of his tent, which were a coat of the Sicilian make, girt close about him, and over that a breastpiece of thickly quilted linen, which was taken among other booty at the battle of Issus. The helmet, which was made by Theophilus, though of iron, was so well wrought and polished, that it was as bright as the most refined silver. To this was fitted a gorget of the same metal, set with precious stones. His sword, which was the weapon he most used in fight, was given him by the king of the Citieans, and was of an admirable temper and lightness. The belt which he also wore in all engagements, was of much richer workmanship than the rest of his armor. It was a work of the ancient Helicon, and had been presented to him by the Rhodians, as a mark of their respect to him. So long as he was engaged in drawing up his men, or riding about to give orders or directions, or to view them, he spared Bucephalas, who was now growing old, and made use of another horse; but when he was actually to fight, he sent for him again, and as soon as he was mounted, commenced the attack.”


Battle of Gaugamela 4


“He made the longest address that day to the Thessalians and other Greeks, who answered him with loud shouts, desiring him to lead them on against the barbarians, upon which he shifted his javelin into his left hand, [203] and with his right lifted up towards heaven, besought the gods, as Callisthenes tells us, that if he was of a truth the son of Jupiter, they would be pleased to assist and strengthen the Grecians. At the same time the augur Aristander, who had a white mantle about him, and a crown of gold on his head, rode by and showed them an eagle that soared just over Alexander, and directed his flight towards the enemy; which so animated the beholders, that after mutual encouragements and exhortations, the horse charged at full speed, and were followed in a mass by the whole phalanx of the foot.”

Persian Tactics at Guagamela

Darius pinned his hopes on his specially-designed chariots which essentially had twirling swords attached to their wheels. To give these vehicles an advantage Darius even went as far as leveling the battlefield and clearing away trees and hills in an area of eight square miles so the chariots could maneuver on the plain where the battle was fought.

Arrian wrote: “Darius and his army remained drawn up during the night in the same order as that in which they had first arrayed themselves; because they had not surrounded themselves with a completely entrenched camp, and, moreover, they were afraid that the enemy would attack them in the night. The success of the Persians, on this occasion, was impeded especially by this long standing on watch with their arms, and by the fear which usually springs up before great dangers; which, however, was not then suddenly aroused by a momentary panic, but had been experienced for a long time, and had thoroughly cowed their spirits. The army of Darius was drawn up in the following manner: for, according to the statement of Aristobulus, the written scheme of arrangement drawn up by Darius was afterwards captured. His left wing was held by the Bactrian cavalry, in conjunction with the Daans and Arachotians; near these had been posted the Persians, horse and foot mixed together; next to these the Susians, and then the Cadusians. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]


Battle of Gaugamela 5


“This was the arrangement of the left wing as far as the middle of the whole phalanx. On the right had been posted the men from Coele-Syria and Mesopotamia. On the right again were the Medes; next to them the Parthians and Sacians; then the Tapurians and Hyrcanians, and last the Albanians and Sacesinians, extending as far as the middle of the whole phalanx. In the centre where King Darius was, had been posted the king’s kinsmen, the Persian guards carrying spears with golden apples at the butt end, the Indians, the Carians who had been forcibly removed to Central Asia, and the Mardian archers. The Uxians, the Babylonians, the men who dwell near the Red Sea, and the Sitacenians had also been drawn up in deep column. On the left, opposite Alexander’s right, had been posted the Scythian cavalry, about , Bactrians and scythe-bearing chariots. In front of Darius’s royal squadron of cavalry stood the elephants and chariots. In front of the right wing the Armenian and Cappadocian cavalry with scythe-bearing chariots had been posted. The Greek mercenaries, as alone capable of coping with the Macedonians, were stationed right opposite their phalanx, in two divisions close beside Darius himself and his Persian attendants, one division on each side.

“Alexander’s army was marshalled as follows: The right wing was held by the cavalry Companions, in front of whom had been posted the royal squadron, commanded by Clitus, son of Dropidas. Near this was the squadron of Glaucias, next to it that of Aristo, then that of Sopolis, son of Hermodorus, then that of Heraclides, son of Antiochus. Near this was that of Demetrius, son of Althaemenes, then that of Meleager, and last one of the royal squadrons commanded by Hegelochus, son of Hippostratus. All the cavalry Companions were under the supreme command of Philotas, son of Parmenio. Of the phalanx of Macedonian infantry, nearest to the cavalry had been posted first the select corps of shield-bearing guards, and then the rest of the shield-bearing-guards, under the command of Nicanor, son of Parmenio. Next to these was the brigade of Coenus, son of Polemocrates; after these that of Perdiceas, son of Orontes, then that of Meleager, son of Neoptolemus, then that of Polysperchon, son of Simmias, and last that of Amyntas, son of Andromenes, under the command of Simmias, because Amyntas had been despatched to Macedonia to levy an army. The brigade of Craterus, son of Alexander, held the left end of the Macedonian phalanx, and this general commanded the left wing of the infantry. Next to him was the allied Grecian cavalry, under the command of Erigyius, son of Larichus. Next to these, towards the left wing of the army, were the Thessalian cavalry, under the command of Philip, son of Menelaüs. But the whole left wing was led by Parmenio, son of Philotas, round whose person were ranged the Pharsalian horsemen, who were both the best and most numerous squadron of the Thessalian cavalry.”


Battle of Gaugamela 6


Alexander’s Tactics at Guagamala

Alexander's forces were arranged in a rectangular box while the Persians were drawn out in a long line. Alexander knew he was outflanked anyway so his plan was to protect his flanks and draw the Persian's there so he could attack the middle, where Darius was surrounded by bodyguards. in Persepolis Alexander ordered one wing of his cavalry to charge Darius's far left flank and another to aim for the far right, leaving his own infantry vulnerable in the center. When the battle began Alexander's forces moved forward. At the last minute, just as the Persians were set up, Alexander tilted his box, and charged the Persian infantry with a wedge at the right side of the middle. The objective was to draw the Persians to the flanks.

Arrian wrote: “In this way had Alexander marshalled his army in front; but he also posted a second array, so that his phalanx might be a double one. Directions had been given to the commanders of these men posted in reserve, to wheel round and receive the attack of the foreigners, if they should see their own comrades surrounded by the Persian army. Next to the royal squadron on the right wing, half of the Agrianians, under the command of Attalus, in conjunction with the Macedonian archers under Briso’s command, were posted angular-wise (i.e. in such a way that the wings were thrown forward at an angle with the centre, so as to take the enemy in flank) in case they should be seized anyhow by the necessity of folding back the phalanx or of closing it up (i.e. of deepening it by countermarching from front to rear). [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]


Battle of Gaugamela 7


“Next to the archers were the men called the veteran mercenaries, whose commander was Cleander. In front of the Agrianians and archers were posted the light cavalry used for skirmishing, and the Paeonians, under the command of Aretes and Aristo. In front of all had been posted the Grecian mercenary cavalry under the direction of Menidas; and in front of the royal squadron of cavalry and the other Companions had been posted half of the Agrianians and archers, and the javelin-men of Balacrus who had been ranged opposite the scythe-bearing chariots. Instructions had been given to Menidas and the troops under him to wheel round and attack the enemy in flank, if they should ride round their wing. Thus had Alexander arranged matters on the right wing. On the left the Thracians under the command of Sitalces had been posted angular-wise, and near them the cavalry of the Grecian allies, under the direction of Coeranus. Next stood the Odrysian cavalry, under the command of Agatho, son of Tyrimmas. In this part, in front of all, were posted the auxiliary cavalry of the Grecian mercenaries, under the direction of Andromachus, son of Hiero. Near the baggage the infantry from Thrace were posted as a guard. The whole of Alexander’s army numbered , cavalry and about , infantry.”

A military historian at West Point, Col, Cole Kingseed, told National Geographic: "Alexander's tactic were offensive. He anticipated what the enemy would do, forced the enemy to react to him. Alexander went with the arm of decision---that's one thing we stress, that the commander's place is where the decisive action is."

Fighting at Guagamela

Alexander's forces were arranged in a rectangular box. At the last minute, just as the Persians were set up, Alexander tilted his box, and charged the Persian infantry with a wedge at the right side of the middle. The objective was to draw the Persians to the flanks. The Persians took the bait. Their cavalry attacked the right flank of Alexander's rectangular box. When the chariots charged Alexander simply ordered his ranks to part with some soldiers given the task of pulling the drivers to the ground when the chariots passed. The rest were picked off with arrows and javelins. The Persians then attacked Alexander's left flank. As Darius's mounted forces were pulled into opposite direction Alexander and his elite forces took advantage of the weakness in the middle and made their move there.

Plutarch wrote: ““Before they could well come to blows with the first ranks, the barbarians shrunk back, and were hotly pursued by Alexander, who drove those that fled before him into the middle of the battle, where Darius himself was in person, whom he saw from a distance over the foremost ranks, conspicuous in the midst of his life-guard, a tall and finelooking man, drawn in a lofty chariot, defended by an abundance of the best horse, who stood close in order about it, ready to receive the enemy. But Alexander’s approach was so terrible, forcing those who gave back upon those who yet maintained their ground, that he beat down and dispersed them almost all. Only a few of the bravest and valiantest opposed the pursuit, who were slain in their king’s presence, falling in heaps upon one another, and in the very pangs of death striving to catch hold of the horses.” [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ]

Arrian wrote: “When the armies drew near each other, Darius and the men around him were observed; viz. the apple-bearing Persians, the Indians, the Albanians, the Carians who had been forcibly transported into Central Asia, the Mardian archers ranged opposite Alexander himself and his royal squadron of cavalry. Alexander led his own army more towards the right, and the Persians marched along parallel with him, far outflanking him upon their left. Then the Scythian cavalry rode along the line, and came into conflict with the front men of Alexander’s array; but he nevertheless still continued to march towards the right, and almost entirely got beyond the ground which had been cleared and levelled by the Persians. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]



“Then Darius, fearing that his chariots would become useless, if the Macedonians advanced into uneven ground, ordered the front ranks of his left wing to ride round the right wing of the Macedonians, where Alexander was commanding, to prevent him from marching his wing any further. This being done, Alexander ordered the cavalry of the Grecian mercenaries under the command of Menidas to attack them. But the Scythian cavalry and the Bactrians, who had been drawn up with them sallied forth against them, and being much more numerous they put the small body of Greeks to rout. Alexander then ordered Aristo at the head of the Paeonians and Grecian auxiliaries to attack the Scythians; and the barbarians gave way. But the rest of the Bactrians drawing near to the Paeonians and Grecian auxiliaries, caused their own comrades who were already in flight to turn and renew the battle; and thus they brought about a general cavalry engagement, in which many of Alexander’s men fell, not only being overwhelmed by the multitude of the barbarians, but also because the Scythians themselves and their horses were much more completely protected with armour for guarding their bodies. Notwithstanding this, the Macedonians sustained their assaults, and assailing them violently squadron by squadron, they succeeded in pushing them out of rank. Meantime the foreigners launched their scythe-bearing chariots against Alexander himself, for the purpose of throwing his phalanx into confusion; but in this they were grievously deceived. For as soon as some of them approached, the Agrianians and the javelin-men with Balacrus, who had been posted in front of the Companion cavalry, hurled their javelins at them; others they seized by the reins and pulled the drivers off, and standing round the horses killed them. Yet some rolled right through the ranks; for the men stood apart and opened their ranks, as they had been instructed, in the places where the chariots assaulted them. In this way it generally happened that the chariots passed through safely, and the men by whom they were driven were uninjured. But these also were afterwards overpowered by the grooms of Alexander’s army and by the royal shield-bearing guards.”

Alexander the Great Defeats the Persians at Guagamela

The Companions formed a wedge and opened up a hole and Alexander himself went right after Darius in the heart of the Persian army, splitting it in two. The Persian king lost his nerve after his chariot driver was killed by javelin and again he fled, on horseback. Ironically the Persians had regrouped and were ready to mount a bold counter attack but when they heard their had leader had abandoned them once gain they abandoned their assault and the Macedonians were able to defeat an army five times their size with relative ease." Alexander pursued Darius, who was able to get away, but returned to the battlefield to oversee the massacre of the Persian army. When the dust cleared, the Persians lost an estimated 40,000 to 90,000 men while Alexander's army lost only 100 to 500.

Arrian wrote: “As soon as Darius began to set his whole phalanx in motion, Alexander ordered Aretes to attack those who were riding completely round his right wing; and up to that time he was himself leading his men in column. But when the Persians had made a break in the front line of their army, in consequence of the cavalry sallying forth to assist those who were surrounding the right wing, Alexander wheeled round towards the gap, and forming a wedge as it were of the Companion cavalry and of the part of the phalanx which was posted here, he led them with a quick charge and loud battle-cry straight towards Darius himself. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“For a short time there ensued a hand-to-hand fight; but when the Macedonian cavalry, commanded by Alexander himself, pressed on vigorously, thrusting themselves against the Persians and striking their faces with their spears, and when the Macedonian phalanx in dense array and bristling with long pikes had also made an attack upon them, all things at once appeared full of terror to Darius, who had already long been in a state of fear, so that he was the first to turn and flee. The Persians also who were riding round the wing were seized with alarm when Aretes made a vigorous attack upon them. In this quarter indeed the Persians took to speedy flight; and the Macedonians followed up the fugitives and slaughtered them. Simmias and his brigade were not yet able to start with Alexander in pursuit, but causing the phalanx to halt there, he took part in the struggle, because the left wing of the Macedonians was reported to be hard pressed. In this part of the field, their line being broken, some of the Indians and of the Persian cavalry burst through the gap towards the baggage of the Macedonians; and there the action became desperate. For the Persians fell boldly on the men, who were most of them unarmed, and never expected that any men would cut through the double phalanx and break through upon them. When the Persians made this attack, the foreign prisoners also assisted them by falling upon the Macedonians in the midst of the action. But the commanders of the men who had been posted as a reserve to the first phalanx, learning what was taking place, quickly moved from the position which they had been ordered to take, and coming upon the Persians in the rear, killed many of them there collected round the baggage. But the rest of them gave way and fled. The Persians on the right wing, who had not yet become aware of the flight of Darius, rode round Alexander’s left wing and attacked Parmenio in flank.”


“At this juncture, while the Macedonians were doubtful as to the result of the battle, Parmenio sent a messenger to Alexander in haste, to tell him that their side was in a critical position and that he must send him aid. When this news was brought to Alexander, he immediately turned back again from the pursuit, and wheeling round with the Companion cavalry, led them with great speed against the right wing of the foreigners. In the first place he assaulted the fleeing cavalry of the enemy, the Parthians, some of the Indians, and the most numerous and the bravest division of the Persians.

“Then ensued the most obstinately contested cavalry fight in the whole engagement. For being drawn up by squadrons as it were, the foreigners wheeled round and falling on Alexander’s men face to face, they no longer relied on the hurling of javelins or the dexterous deploying of horses, as is the common practice in cavalry battles, but every one on his own account strove eagerly to break through what stood in his way, as if this were their only means of safety. They struck and were struck without quarter, as if they were no longer struggling to secure the victory for another, but were contending for their own personal safety. Here about sixty of Alexander’s Companions fell; and Hephaestion himself, as well as Coenus and Menidas, was wounded. But even these troops were overcome by Alexander; and as many of them as could force their way through his ranks fled with all their might. And now Alexander had nearly come into conflict with the enemy’s right wing, but in the meantime the Thessalian cavalry in a splendid struggle, had not fallen short of Alexander’s success in the engagement. For the foreigners on the right wing were already beginning to fly when he came on the scene of conflict; so that he wheeled round again and started off in pursuit of Darius once more, keeping up the chase as long as there was daylight. Parmenio’s brigade also followed in pursuit of those who were opposed to them. But Alexander crossed the river Lycus and pitched his camp there, to give his men and horses a little rest; while Parmenio seized the Persian camp with their baggage, elephants, and camels. After giving his horsemen rest until midnight, Alexander again advanced by a forced march towards Arbela, with the hope of seizing Darius there, together with his money and the rest of his royal property. He reached Arbela the next day, having pursued altogether about stades from the battle-field.

Darius flees as the Persians Are Routed

Plutarch wrote: “Darius seeing all was lost, that those who were placed in front to defend him were broken and beat back upon him, that he could not turn or disengage his chariot without great difficulty, the wheels being clogged and entangled among the dead bodies, which lay in such heaps as not only stopped, but almost covered the horses, and made them rear and grow so unruly, that the frighted charioteer could govern them no longer, in this extremity was glad to quit his chariot [204] and his arms, and mounting, it is said, upon a mare that had been taken from her foal, betook himself to flight. But he had not escaped so either, if Parmenio had not sent fresh messengers to Alexander, to desire him to return and assist him against a considerable body of the enemy which yet stood together, and would not give ground. For, indeed, Parmenio is on all hands accused of having been sluggish and unserviceable in this battle, whether age had impaired his courage, or that, as Callisthenes says, he secretly disliked and envied Alexander’s growing greatness. Alexander, though he was not a little vexed to be so recalled and hindered from pursuing his victory, yet concealed the true reason from his men, and causing a retreat to be sounded, as if it were too late to continue the execution any longer, marched back towards the place of danger, and by the way met with the news of the enemy’s total overthrow and flight.” [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ]


Darius's flight

Arrian wrote: “Darius went on fleeing without taking any rest, he did not find him at Arbela. However the money and all the other property were captured, as was also the chariot of Darius. His spear and bow were likewise taken, as had been the case after the battle of Issus. Of Alexander’s men about were killed, and more than , of his horses were lost either from wounds or from fatigue in the pursuit, nearly half of them belonging to the Companion cavalry. Of the foreigners there were said to have been about , slain, and far more were taken prisoners than were killed. The elephants and all the chariots which had not been destroyed in the battle were also captured. Such was the result of this battle, which was fought in the archonship of Aristophanes at Athens, in the month Pyanepsion; and thus Aristander’s prediction was accomplished, that Alexander would both fight a battle and gain a victory in the same month in which the moon was seen to be eclipsed.” [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“Immediately after the battle, Darius marched through the mountains of Armenia towards Media, accompanied in his flight by the Bactrian cavalry, as they had then been posted with him in the battle; also by those Persians who were called the king’s kinsmen, and by a few of the men called apple-bearers. About , of his Grecian mercenaries also accompanied him in his flight, under the command of Paron the Phocian, and Glaucus the Aetolian. He fled towards Media for this reason, because he thought Alexander would take the road to Susa and Babylon immediately after the battle, inasmuch as the whole of that country was inhabited and the road was not difficult for the transit of baggage; and besides Babylon and Susa appeared to be the prizes of the war; whereas the road towards Media was by no means easy for the march of a large army.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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