ALEXANDER THE GREAT BATTLES THE PERSIANS AT ISSUS

ISSUS


Alexander in the Battle of Issus mosaic

After his conquests in Asia Minor, Alexander faced off again against Darius and the Persians at Issus (near Adana, Turkey). Alexander's army of about 50,000 men met a Persian force of perhaps 70,000 men. There is some disagreement over the size the Persian force but most historians agree at least it was larger than Alexander’s.

When Alexander's army arrived in Issus Alexander ordered them to attack almost immediately even though the soldiers were exhausted from a two-day march. Alexander's cavalry, backed by archers and infantry wielding 5-½ -meter-long pikes outmaneuvered the larger Persian force with well-orchestrated charges. Alexander and his Companions charged into a barrage of arrows and made straight of the chariot of the Persian leader Darius III. Darius freaked and panicked with the Companions bearing down on him and fled, causing the Persian front to collapse and the enemy to lose the battle. Darius fled so quickly he left behind his family, which were captured and held for ransom (although Alexander gave orders that his wife and daughters would not be harmed).

After the battle, Darius offered Alexander one of his daughters in marriage and 10,000 talents in treasures (about a billion dollars in today's money) and all of the territory west of the Euphrates, but Alexander refused. After conquering Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, Alexander ventured to Mesopotamia where his forces finished off the Persian army, opening the way for his conquest of Asia."

Websites on Ancient Greece: 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 ; ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia hsc.edu/drjclassics ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization pbs.org/empires/thegreeks ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Ancient-Greek.org ancientgreece.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Ancient City of Athens stoa.org/athens; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Ancient Greek Sites on the Web from Medea showgate.com/medea ; Greek History Course from Reed web.archive.org; Classics FAQ MIT rtfm.mit.edu; 11th Brittanica: History of Ancient Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ;Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu;Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu

Darius Advances Towards Issus


Darius in the Battle of Issus mosaic

Plutarch wrote: “Darius was by this time upon his march from Susa, very confident, not only in the number of his men, which amounted to six hundred thousand, but likewise in a dream, which the Persian soothsayers interpreted rather in flattery to him than according to the natural probability. He dreamed that he saw the Macedonian phalanx all on fire, and Alexander waiting on him, clad in the same dress which he himself had been used to wear when he was courier to the late king; after which, going into the temple of Belus, he vanished out of his sight. The dream would appear to have supernaturally signified to him the illustrious actions the Macedonians were to perform, and that as he, from a courier's place, had risen to the throne, so Alexander should come to be master of Asia, and not long surviving his conquests, conclude his life with glory. Darius's confidence increased the more, because Alexander spent so much time in Cilicia, which he imputed to his cowardice. But it was sickness that detained him there, which some say he contracted from his fatigues, others from bathing in the river Cydnus, whose waters were exceedingly cold. [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 ]

“There was at this time in Darius's army a Macedonian refugee, named Amyntas, one who was pretty well acquainted with Alexander's character. This man, when he saw Darius intended to fall upon the enemy in the passes and defiles, advised him earnestly to keep where he was, in the open and extensive plains, it being the advantage of a numerous army to have field-room enough when it engaged with a lesser force. Darius, instead of taking his counsel, told him he was afraid the enemy would endeavour to run away, and so Alexander would escape out of his hands. "That fear," replied Amyntas, "is needless, for assure yourself that far from avoiding you, he will make all the speed he can to meet you, and is now most likely on his march toward you." But Amyntas's counsel was to no purpose, for Darius immediately decamping, marched into Cilicia at the same time that Alexander advanced into Syria to meet him; and missing one another in the night, they both turned back again. Alexander, greatly pleased with the event, made all the haste he could to fight in the defiles, and Darius to recover his former ground, and draw his army out of so disadvantageous a place. For now he began to perceive his error in engaging himself too far in a country in which the sea, the mountains, and the river Pinarus running through the midst of it, would necessitate him to divide his forces, render his horse almost unserviceable, and only cover and support the weakness of the enemy. Fortune was not kinder to Alexander in the choice of the ground, than he was careful to improve it to his advantage. For being much inferior in numbers, so far from allowing himself to be outflanked, he stretched his right wing much further out than the left wing of his enemies, and fighting there himself in the very foremost ranks, put the barbarians to flight. In this battle he was wounded in the thigh, Chares says, by Darius, with whom he fought hand-to-hand. But in the account which he gave Antipater of the battle, though indeed he owns he was wounded in the thigh with a sword, though not dangerously, yet he takes no notice who it was that wounded him.”

Arrian wrote: “Darius had been spending a long time with his army, having chosen a plain in the land of Assyria which stretches out in every direction, suitable for the immense size of his army and convenient for the evolutions of cavalry. Amyntas, son of Antiochus, the deserter from Alexander, advised him not to abandon this position, because there was plenty of room for the great multitude of the Persians and for the vast quantity of their baggage. “So Darius remained. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

Later, “Darius crossed the mountain range by what are called the Amanic Gates, and advancing towards Issus, came without being noticed to the rear of Alexander. Having reached Issus, he captured as many of the Macedonians as had been left behind there on account of illness. These he cruelly mutilated and slew. Next day he proceeded to the river Pinarus. As soon as Alexander heard that Darius was in his rear, because the news did not seem to him trustworthy, he embarked some of the Companions in a ship with thirty oars, and sent them back to Issus, to observe whether the report was true.. The men who sailed in the thirty-oared ship discovered the Persians encamped there more easily, because the sea in this part takes the form of a bay.”


Issus location

Alexander Advances Towards Issus

Alexander stayed for a long time at Tarsus on account of his illness. Plutarch wrote: “However it happened, none of his physicians would venture to give him any remedies, they thought his case so desperate, and were so afraid of the suspicions and ill-will of the Macedonians if they should fail in the cure; till Philip, the Acarnanian, seeing how critical his case was, but relying on his own well-known friendship for him, resolved to try the last efforts of his art, and rather hazard his own credit and life than suffer him to perish for want of physic, which he confidently administered to him, encouraging him to take it boldly, if he desired a speedy recovery, in order to prosecute the war. At this very time, Parmenio wrote to Alexander from the camp, bidding him have a care of Philip, as one who was bribed by Darius to kill him, with great sums of money, and a promise of his daughter in marriage. When he had perused the letter, he put it under his pillow, without showing it so much as to any of his most intimate friends, and when Philip came in with the potion, he took it with great cheerfulness and assurance, giving him meantime the letter to read. [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 ]

“This was a spectacle well worth being present at, to see Alexander take the draught and Philip read the letter at the same time, and then turn and look upon one another, but with different sentiments; for Alexander's looks were cheerful and open, to show his kindness to and confidence in his physician, while the other was full of surprise and alarm at the accusation, appealing to the gods to witness his innocence, sometimes lifting up his hands to heaven, and then throwing himself down by the bedside, and beseeching Alexander to lay aside all fear, and follow his directions without apprehension. For the medicine at first worked so strongly as to drive, so to say, the vital forces into the interior; he lost his speech, and falling into a swoon, had scarce any sense or pulse left. However in no long time, by Philip's means, his health and strength returned, and he showed himself in public to the Macedonians, who were in continual fear and dejection until they saw him abroad again.

Arrian wrote: At Soli Alexander “offered sacrifice and conducted his army in procession, and moreover spent some time in marching against the Cilician mountaineers, Darius was induced to swerve from his resolution. He was also not unwilling to be led to form whatever decision was most agreeable to his own wishes; and being influenced by those who gave him the advice which they thought would be pleasant to him, without consideration of its utility (for kings will always have associates to give them bad advice), he came to the conclusion that Alexander was no longer desirous of advancing further, but was shrinking from an encounter on learning that Darius himself was marching against him. On all sides they were urging him on, asserting that he would trample down the army of the Macedonians with his cavalry. Nevertheless, Amyntas, at any rate, confidently affirmed that Alexander would certainly come to any place where he heard Darius might be; and he exhorted him by all means to stay where he was. But the worse advice, because at the immediate time it was more pleasant to hear, prevailed; moreover he was led by some divine influence into that locality where he derived little advantage from his cavalry and from the sheer number of his men, javelins and bows, and where he could not even exhibit the mere magnificence of his army, but surrendered to Alexander and his troops an easy victory. For it was already decreed by fate that the Persians should be deprived of the rule of Asia by the Macedonians, just as the Medes had been deprived of it by the Persians, and still earlier the Assyrians by the Medes.” [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

Alexander’s Speech to his Army Before Issus


Alexander addresses his officers before the Battle of Issus

Arrian wrote: “They therefore brought back word to Alexander that Darius was at hand. Alexander then called together the generals, the commanders of cavalry, and the leaders of the Grecian allies, and exhorted them to take courage from the dangers which they had already surmounted, asserting that the struggle would be between themselves who had been previously victorious and a foe who had already been beaten; and that the deity was acting the part of general on their behalf better than himself, by putting it into the mind of Darius to move his forces from the spacious plain and shut them up in a narrow place, where there was sufficient room for them to deepen their phalanx by marching from front to rear, but where their vast multitude would be useless to their enemy in battle. He added that their foes were similar to them neither in strength nor in courage; for the Macedonians, who had long been practised in warlike toils accompanied with danger, were coming into close conflict with Persians and Medes, men who had become enervated by a long course of luxurious ease; and, to crown all, they, being freemen, were about to engage in battle with men who were slaves. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“He said, moreover, that the Greeks who were in the two armies would not be fighting for the same objects; for those with Darius were braving danger for pay, and that pay not high; whereas, those on their side were voluntarily defending the interests of Greece. Again, of foreigners, the Thracians, Paeonians, Illyrians, and Agrianians, who were the most robust and warlike of men in Europe, were about to be arrayed against the most sluggish and effeminate races of Asia. In addition to all this, Alexander was commanding in the field against Darius. These things he enumerated as evidences of their superiority in the struggle; and then he began to point out the great rewards they would win from the danger to be incurred. For he told them that on that occasion they would overcome, not merely the viceroys of Darius, nor the cavalry drawn up at the Granicus, nor the , Grecian mercenaries, but would overcome all the available forces of the Persians and Medes, as well as all the other races subject to them dwelling in Asia, and the Great King present in person. After this conflict nothing would be left for them to do, except to take possession of all Asia, and to put an end to their many labours. In addition to this, he reminded them of their brilliant achievements in their collective capacity in days gone by; and if any man had individually performed any distinguished feat of valour from love of glory, he mentioned him by name in commendation of the deed. He then recapitulated as modestly as possible his own daring deeds in the various battles.

“He is also said to have reminded them of Xenophon and the ten thousand men who accompanied him, asserting that the latter were in no way comparable with them either in number or in general excellence. Besides, they had had with them neither Thessalian, Bœotian, Peloponnesian, Macedonian, or Thracian horsemen, nor any of the other cavalry which was in the Macedonian army; nor had they any archers or slingers except a few Cretans and Rhodians, and even these were got ready by Xenophon on the spur of the moment in the very crisis of danger. And yet even these put the king and all his forces to rout close to Babylon itself, and succeeded in reaching the Euxine Sea after defeating all the races which lay in their way as they were marching down thither. He also adduced whatever other arguments were suitable for a great commander to use in order to encourage brave men in such a critical moment before the perils of battle. They urged him to lead them against the foe without delay, coming from all sides to grasp the king’s right hand, and encouraging him by their promises.”

Greeks and Persians Face Off at Issus

Arrian wrote: “Alexander then ordered his soldiers to take their dinner, and having sent a few of his horsemen and archers forward to the Gates to reconnoitre the road in the rear, he took the whole of his army and marched in the night to occupy the pass again. When about midnight he had again got possession of it, he caused the army to rest the remainder of the night there upon the rocks, having posted vigilant sentries. At the approach of dawn he began to descend from the pass along the road; and as long as the space was narrow everywhere, he led his army in column, but when the mountains parted so as to leave a plain between them, he kept on opening out the column into the phalanx, marching one line of heavy armed infantry after another up into line towards the mountain on the right and towards the sea on the left. Up to this time his cavalry had been ranged behind the infantry; but when they advanced into the open country, he began to draw up his army in order of battle. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]



“First, upon the right wing near the mountain he placed his infantry guard and the shield-bearers, under the command of Nicanor, son of Parmenio; next to these the regiment of Coenus, and close to them that of Perdiccas. These troops were posted as far as the middle of the heavy-armed infantry to one beginning from the right. On the left wing first stood the regiment of Amyntas, then that of Ptolemy, and close to this that of Meleager. The infantry on the left had been placed under the command of Craterus; but Parmenio held the chief direction of the whole left wing. This general had been ordered not to abandon the sea, so that they might not be surrounded by the foreigners, who were likely to outflank them on all sides by their superior numbers.

“But as soon as Darius was certified of Alexander’s approach for battle, he conveyed about , of his cavalry and with them , of his light-armed infantry across the river Pinarus, in order that he might be able to draw up the rest of his forces with ease. Of the heavy armed infantry, he placed first the , Greek mercenaries to oppose the phalanx of the Macedonians, and on both sides of these he placed , of the men called Cardaces, who were also heavy-armed infantry. For the place where they were posted was able to contain only this number in a single phalanx. He also posted , men near the mountain on their left and facing Alexander’s right. Some of these troops were also in the rear of Alexander’s army; for the mountain near which they were posted in one part sloped a great way back and formed a sort of bay, like a bay in the sea, and afterwards bending forwards caused the men who had been posted at the foot of it to be behind Alexander’s right wing. The remaining multitude of Darius’s light-armed and heavy-armed infantry was marshalled by nations to an unserviceable depth and placed behind the Grecian mercenaries and the Persian army arranged in phalanx. The whole of the army with Darius was said to number about , fighting men.

“As Alexander advanced, he found that the ground spread out a little in breadth, and he accordingly brought up his horsemen, both those called Companions, and the Thessalians as well as the Macedonians, and posted them with himself on the right wing. The Peloponnesians and the rest of the allied force of Greeks he sent to Parmenio on the left. When Darius had marshalled his phalanx, by a pre-concerted signal he recalled the cavalry which he had posted in front of the river for the express purpose of rendering the arranging of his army easy. Most of these he placed on the right wing near the sea facing Parmenio; because here the ground was more suitable for the evolutions of cavalry. A certain part of them also he led up to the mountain towards the left. But when they were seen to be useless there on account of the narrowness of the ground, he ordered most of these also to ride round to the right wing and join their comrades there. Darius himself occupied the centre of the whole army, inasmuch as it was the custom for the kings of Persia to take up that position, the reason of which arrangement has been recorded by Xenophon, son of Gryllus.”

Alexander Changes the Disposition of his Forces

Arrian wrote: “Meantime when Alexander perceived that nearly all the Persian cavalry had changed their ground and gone to his left towards the sea, and that on his side only the Peloponnesians and the rest of the Grecian cavalry were posted there, he sent the Thessalian cavalry thither with speed, ordering them not to ride along before the front of the whole array, lest they should be seen by the enemy to be shifting their ground, but to proceed by stealth in the rear of the phalanx. In front of the cavalry on the right, he posted the lancers under the command of Protomachus, and the Paeonians under that of Aristo; and of the infantry, the archers under the direction of Antiochus, and the Agrianians under that of Attalus. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]



“Some of the cavalry and archers also he drew up so as to form an angle with the centre towards the mountain which was in the rear; so on the right his phalanx had been drawn up separated into two wings, the one fronting Darius and the main body of Persians beyond the river, and the other facing those who had been posted at the mountain in their rear. On the left wing the infantry consisting of the Cretan archers and the Thracians under command of Sitalces were posted in front; and before these the cavalry towards the left. The Grecian mercenaries were drawn up as a reserve for all of them.

“When he perceived that the phalanx towards the right was too thin, and it seemed likely that the Persians would outflank him here considerably, he ordered two squadrons of the Companion cavalry, viz. the Anthemusian, of which Peroedas, son of Menestheus, was captain, and that which was called Leugaean, under the command of Pantordanus, son of Cleander, to proceed from the centre to the right without being seen. Having also marched the archers, part of the Agrianians and of the Grecian mercenaries up along his right in the front, he extended his phalanx beyond the wing of the Persians. But when those who had been posted upon the mountain did not descend, a charge was made by a few of the Agrianians and archers at Alexander’s order, by which they were easily put to the rout from the foot of the mountain. As they fled to the summit he decided that he could make use of the men who had been drawn up to keep these in check, to fill up the ranks of his phalanx. He thought it quite sufficient to post horsemen to watch the men on the mountain.”

Battle of Issus

Arrian wrote: “Having thus marshalled his men, he caused them to rest for some time, and then led them forward, as he thought the enemy’s approach was very slow. For Darius was no longer leading the foreigners against him, as he had arranged them at first, but he remained in his position, upon the bank of the river, which was in many parts steep and precipitous; and in certain places, where it seemed more easy to ascend, he extended a stockade along it. By this it was at once evident to Alexander’s men that Darius had become cowed in spirit. But when the armies at length met in conflict, Alexander rode about in every direction to exhort his troops to show their valour; mentioning with befitting epithets the names, not only of the generals, but also those of the captains of cavalry and infantry, and of the Grecian mercenaries as many as were more distinguished either by rank or merit. From all sides arose a shout not to delay but to attack the enemy. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“At first he still led them on in close array with measured step, although he had the forces of Darius already in full view, lest by a more hasty march any part of the phalanx should fluctuate from the line and get separated from the rest. But when they came within range of darts, Alexander himself and those around him being posted on the right wing, advanced first into the river with a run, in order to alarm the Persians by the rapidity of their onset, and by coming sooner to close conflict to receive little damage from the archers. And it turned out just as Alexander had conjectured; for as soon as the battle became a hand-to-hand one, the part of the Persian army stationed on the left wing was put to rout; and here Alexander and his men won a brilliant victory. But the Grecian mercenaries serving under


Battle of issus mosaic


“Darius attacked the Macedonians at the point where they saw their phalanx especially disordered. For the Macedonian phalanx had been broken and disjoined towards the right wing; because Alexander had charged into the river with eagerness, and engaging in a hand-to-hand conflict was already driving back the Persians posted there; but the Macedonians in the centre did not execute their task with equal speed; and finding many parts of the bank steep and precipitous, they were unable to preserve the front of the phalanx in the same line. Here then the struggle was desperate; the aim of the Grecian mercenaries of Darius being to push the Macedonians back into the river, and regain the victory, though their own forces were already flying; the aim of the Macedonians being not to fall short of Alexander’s good-fortune, which was already manifest, and not to tarnish the glory of the phalanx, which up to that time had been commonly asserted to be invincible. Moreover the feeling of rivalry which existed between the Grecian and Macedonian races inspired each side in the conflict. Here fell Ptolemy, son of Seleucus, after proving himself a valiant man, besides about one hundred and twenty other Macedonians of no mean repute.”

Persians Defeated and Darius Flees

Arrian wrote: “Hereupon the regiments on the right wing, perceiving that the Persians opposed to them had already been put to rout, wheeled round towards the Grecian mercenaries of Darius and their own hard-pressed detachment. Having driven the Greeks away from the river, they extended their phalanx beyond the Persian army on the side which had been broken; and attacking the Greeks on the flank, were already beginning to cut them up. However the Persian cavalry which had been posted opposite the Thessalians did not remain on the other side of the river during the struggle, but came through the water and made a vigorous attack upon the Thessalian squadrons. In this place a fierce cavalry battle ensued; for the Persians did not give way until they perceived that Darius had fled and the Grecian mercenaries had been cut up by the phalanx and severed from them. Then at last the flight of all the Persians was plainly visible. Their horses suffered much injury in the retreat, because the riders were heavily armed; and the horsemen themselves, being so many in number and retreating in panic terror without any regard to order along narrow roads, were trampled on and injured no less by each other than by the pursuing enemy. The Thessalians also followed them up with vigour, so that no fewer of the cavalry than of the infantry were slaughtered in the flight. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“But as soon as the left wing of Darius was terrified and routed by Alexander, and the Persian king perceived that this part of his army was severed from the rest, without any further delay he began to flee in his chariot along with the first, just as he was. He was conveyed safely in the chariot as long as he met with level ground in his flight; but when he lighted upon ravines and other rough ground, he left the chariot there, divesting himself of his shield and Median mantle. He even left his bow in the chariot; and mounting a horse continued his flight. The night, which came on soon after, alone rescued him from being captured by Alexander; for as long as there was daylight the latter kept up the pursuit at full speed. But when it began to grow dark and the ground before the feet became invisible, he turned back again to the camp, after capturing the chariot of Darius with the shield, the Median mantle, and the bow in it. For his pursuit had been too slow for him to overtake Darius, because, though he wheeled round at the first breaking asunder of the phalanx, yet he did not turn to pursue him until he observed that the Grecian mercenaries and the Persian cavalry had been driven away from the river.



“Of the Persians were killed Arsames, Rheomithres, and Atizyes who had commanded the cavalry at the Granicus. Sabaces, viceroy of Egypt, and Bubaces, one of the Persian dignitaries, were also killed, besides about , of the private soldiers, among them being more than , cavalry. So great was the slaughter that Ptolemy, son of Lagus, who then accompanied Alexander, says that the men who were with them pursuing Darius, coming in the pursuit to a ravine, filled it up with the corpses and so passed over it. The camp of Darius was taken forthwith at the first assault, containing his mother, his wife,—who was also his sister,—and his infant son. His two daughters, and a few other women, wives of Persian peers, who were in attendance upon them, were likewise captured. For the other Persians happened to have despatched their women along with the rest of their property to Damascus; because Darius had sent to that city the greater part of his money and all the other things which the Great King was in the habit of taking with him as necessary for his luxurious mode of living, even though he was going on a military expedition. The consequence was, that in the camp no more than , talents were captured; and soon after, the money in Damascus was also seized by Parmenio, who was despatched thither for that very purpose. Such was the result of this famous battle (which was fought) in the month Maimacterion, when Nicostratus was archon of the Athenians.

“Darius fled through the night with a few attendants; but in the daytime, picking up as he went along the Persians and Grecian mercenaries who had come safely out of the battle, he had in all , men under his command. He then made a forced march towards the city of Thapsacus and the river Euphrates, in order to put that river as soon as possible between himself and Alexander.”

Darius Wife and Mother Captured

Plutarch wrote: “Nothing was wanting to complete this victory, in which he overthrew above an hundred and ten thousand of his enemies, but the taking the person of Darius, who escaped very narrowly by flight. However, having taken his chariot and his bow, he returned from pursuing him, and found his own men busy in pillaging the barbarians' camp, which (though to disburden themselves they had left most of their baggage at Damascus) was exceedingly rich. But Darius's tent, which was full of splendid furniture and quantities of gold and silver, they reserved for Alexander himself, who, after he had put off his arms, went to bathe himself saying, "Let us now cleanse ourselves from the toils of war in the bath of Darius." "Not so," replied one of his followers, "but in Alexander's rather; for the property of the conquered is and should be called the conqueror's." Here, when he beheld the bathing vessels, the water-pots, the pans, and the ointment boxes, all of gold curiously wrought, and smelt the fragrant odours with which the whole place was exquisitely perfumed, and from thence passed into a pavilion of great size and height, where the couches and tables and preparations for an entertainment were perfectly magnificent, he turned to those about him and said, "This, it seems, is royalty." [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 as he was going to supper, word was brought him that Darius's mother and wife and two unmarried daughters, being taken among the rest of the prisoners, upon the sight of his chariot and bow, were all in mourning and sorrow, imagining him to be dead. After a little pause, more lively affected with their affliction than with his own success, he sent Leonnatus to them, to let them know Darius was not dead, and that they need not fear any harm from Alexander, who made war upon him only for dominion; they should themselves be provided with everything they had been used to receive from Darius. This kind message could not but be very welcome to the captive ladies, especially being made good by actions no less humane and generous. For he gave them leave to bury whom they pleased of the Persians, and to make use for this purpose of what garments and furniture they thought fit out of the booty. He diminished nothing of their equipage, or of the attentions and respect formerly paid them, and allowed larger pensions for their maintenance than they had before.


Battle of Issus by Altdorfer 1529


“But the noblest and most royal part of their usage was, that he treated these illustrious prisoners according to their virtue and character, not suffering them to hear, or receive, or so much as to apprehend anything that was unbecoming. So that they seemed rather lodged in some temple, or some holy virgin chambers, where they enjoyed their privacy sacred and uninterrupted, than in the camp of an enemy. Nevertheless Darius's wife was accounted the most beautiful princess then living, as her husband the tallest and handsomest man of his time, and the daughters were not unworthy of their parents. But Alexander, esteeming it more kingly to govern himself than to conquer his enemies, sought no intimacy with any one of them, nor indeed with any other women before marriage, except Barsine, Memnon's widow, who was taken prisoner at Damascus. She had been instructed in the Grecian learning, was of a gentle temper, and by her father, Artabazus, royally descended, with good qualities, added to the solicitations and encouragement of Parmenio, as Aristobulus tells us, made him the more willing to attach himself to so agreeable and illustrious a woman.”

Kind Treatment of Darius’s Family

Arrian wrote: “The next day, Alexander, though suffering from a wound which he had received in the thigh from a sword, visited the wounded, and having collected the bodies of the slain, he gave them a splendid burial with all his forces most brilliantly marshalled in order of battle. He also spoke with eulogy to those whom he himself had recognised performing any gallant deed in the battle, and also to those whose exploits he had learnt by report fully corroborated. He likewise honoured each of them individually with a gift of money in proportion to his desert. He then appointed Balacrus, son of Nicanor, one of the royal body-guards, viceroy of Cilicia; and in his place among the body-guards he chose Menes, son of Dionysius. In the room of Ptolemy, son of Seleucus, who had been killed in the battle, he appointed Polysperchon, son of Simmias, to the command of a brigade. He remitted to the Solians the fifty talents which were still due of the money imposed on them as a fine, and he gave them back their hostages. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“Nor did he treat the mother, wife, and children of Darius with neglect; for some of those who have written Alexander’s history say that on the very night in which he returned from the pursuit of Darius, entering the Persian king’s tent, which had been selected for his use, he heard the lamentation of women and other noise of a similar kind not far from the tent. Inquiring therefore who the women were, and why they were in a tent so near, he was answered by some one as follows:—“O king, the mother, wife, and children of Darius are lamenting for him as slain, since they have been informed that thou hast his bow and his royal mantle, and that his shield has been brought back.” When Alexander heard this, be sent Leonnatus, one of his Companions, to them, with injunctions to tell them:—“Darius is still alive; in his flight he left his arms and mantle in the chariot; and these are the only things of his that Alexander has.” Leonnatus entered the tent and told them the news about Darius, saying, moreover, that Alexander would allow them to retain the state and retinue befitting their royal rank, as well as the title of queens; for he had not undertaken the war against Darius from a feeling of hatred, but he had conducted it in a legitimate manner for the empire of Asia.

“Such are the statements of Ptolemy and Aristobulus. But there is another report, to the effect that on the following day Alexander himself went into the tent, accompanied alone by Hephaestion, one of his Companions. The mother of Darius, being in doubt which of them was the king (for they had both arrayed themselves in the same style of dress), went up to Hephaestion, because he appeared to her the taller of the two, and prostrated herself before him. But when he drew back, and one of her attendants pointed out Alexander, saying he was the king, she was ashamed of her mistake, and was going to retire. But the king told her she had made no mistake, for Hephaestion was also an Alexander. This I record neither being sure of its truth nor thinking it altogether unreliable. If it really occurred, I commend Alexander for his compassionate treatment of the women, and the confidence he felt in his companion, and the honour bestowed on him; but if it merely seems probable to historians that Alexander would have acted and spoken thus, even for this reason I think him worthy of commendation.”


Alexander and the family of Darius

In regard to what was going on with Darius, Arrian wrote: “After the battle which was fought at Issus between Darius and Alexander, the eunuch who was guardian of Darius’s wife escaped and came to him. When Darius saw this man, his first inquiry was, whether his children, wife, and mother were alive? Ascertaining that they were not only alive, but were called queens, and enjoyed the same personal service and attention which they had been accustomed to have with Darius, he thereupon made a second inquiry, whether his wife was still chaste? When he ascertained that she remained so, he asked again whether Alexander had not offered any violence to her to gratify his lust? [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“The eunuch took an oath and said: “O king, thy wife is just as thou didst leave her; and Alexander is the best and most chaste of men.” Upon this Darius stretched his hands towards heaven and prayed as follows:—“O King Zeus, to whom power has been assigned to regulate the affairs of kings among men, do thou now protect for me especially the empire of the Persians and Medes, as indeed thou didst give it to me. But if I am no longer king of Asia according to thy behest, at any rate do thou hand over my power to no other man but Alexander.” Thus not even to enemies, I ween, are chaste actions a matter of unconcern. Oxyartes, hearing that his children were in the power of Alexander, and that he was treating his daughter Roxana with respect, took courage and came to him. He was held in honour at the king’s court, as was natural after such a piece of good fortune.”

Alexander the Great Tells His Soldiers to Treat Persian Captives Humanely

Plutarch wrote: “Of the rest of the female captives, though remarkably handsome and well proportioned, he took no further notice than to say jestingly that Persian women were terrible eyesores. And he himself, retaliating, as it were, by the display of the beauty of his own temperance and self-control, bade them be removed, as he would have done so many lifeless images. When Philoxenus, his lieutenant on the sea-coast, wrote to him to know if he would buy two young boys of great beauty, whom one Theodorus, a Tarentine, had to sell, he was so offended that he often expostulated with his friends what baseness Philoxenus had ever observed in him that he should presume to make him such a reproachful offer. [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 ]

“And he immediately wrote him a very sharp letter, telling him Theodorus and his merchandise might go with his good-will to destruction. Nor was he less severe to Hagnon, who sent him word he would buy a Corinthian youth named Crobylus, as a present for him. And hearing that Damon and Timotheus, two of Parmenio's Macedonian soldiers, had abused the wives of some strangers who were in his pay, he wrote to Parmenio, charging him strictly, if he found them guilty, to put them to death, as wild beasts that were only made for the mischief of mankind. In the same letter he added, that he had not so much as seen or desired to see the wife of Darius, nor suffered anybody to speak of her beauty before him. He was wont to say that sleep and the act of generation chiefly made him sensible that he was mortal; as much as to say, that weariness and pleasure proceed both from the same frailty and imbecility of human nature.”

Darius’s Letter, and Alexander’s Reply


Alexander meets the mutilated Greek captives of the Persians

Arrian wrote: “While Alexander was still in Marathus, ambassadors came bringing a letter from Darius, entreating him to give up to their king his mother, wife, and children. They were also instructed to support this petition by word of mouth. The letter pointed out to him that friendship and alliance had subsisted between Philip and Artaxerxes; and that when Arses, son of Artaxerxes, ascended the throne, Philip was the first to practise injustice towards him, though he had suffered no injury from the Persians. Alexander also, from the time when Darius began to reign over the Persians, had not sent any one to him to confirm the friendship and alliance which had so long existed, but had crossed over into Asia with his army and had inflicted much injury upon the Persians. For this reason he had come down in person, to defend his country and to preserve the empire of his fathers. As to the battle, it had been decided as seemed good to some one of the gods. And now he, a king, begged his captured wife, mother, and children from a king; and he wished to form a friendship with him and become his ally. For this purpose he requested Alexander to send men to him with Meniscus and Arsimas, the messengers who came from the Persians, to receive pledges of fidelity from him and to give them on behalf of Alexander. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“To this Alexander wrote a reply, and sent Thersippus with the men who had come from Darius, with instructions to give the letter to Darius, but not to converse about anything. Alexander’s letter ran thus: “Your ancestors came into Macedonia and the rest of Greece and treated us ill, without any previous injury from us. I, having been appointed commander-in-chief of the Greeks, and wishing to take revenge on the Persians, crossed over into Asia, hostilities being begun by you. For you sent aid to the Perinthians, who were dealing unjustly with my father; and Ochus sent forces into Thrace, which was under our rule. My father was killed by conspirators whom you instigated, as you have yourself boasted to all in your letters; and after slaying Arses, as well as Bagoas, and unjustly seizing the throne contrary to the law of the Persians, and ruling your subjects unjustly, you sent unfriendly letters about me to the Greeks, urging them to wage war with me. You have also despatched money to the Lacedaemonians, and certain other Greeks; but none of the States received it, except the Lacedaemonians. As your agents destroyed my friends, and were striving to dissolve the league which I had formed among the Greeks, I took the field against you, because you were the party who commenced the hostility. Since I have vanquished your generals and viceroys in the previous battle, and now yourself and your forces in like manner, I am, by the gift of the gods, in possession of your land. As many of the men who fought in your army as were not killed in the battle, but fled to me for refuge, I am protecting; and they are with me, not against their own will, but they are serving in my army as volunteers. Come to me therefore, since I am lord of all Asia; but if you are afraid you may suffer any harsh treatment from me in case you come to me, send some of your friends to receive pledges of safety from me. Come to me then, and ask for your mother, wife, and children, and anything else you wish. For whatever you ask for you will receive; and nothing shall be denied you. But for the future, whenever you send to me, send to me as the king of Asia, and do not address to me your wishes as to an equal; but if you are in need of anything, speak to me as to the man who is lord of all your territories. If you act otherwise, I shall deliberate concerning you as an evil-doer; and if you dispute my right to the kingdom, stay and fight another battle for it; but do not run away. For wherever you may be, I intend to march against you.” This is the letter which he sent to Darius.”

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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