Alexander the Great's Absolute Thrashing of Darius at the Battle of Gaugamela

Overview

334 years before Christ, Alexander of Macedon stormed into Asia Minor and began a series of conquests that would result in the defeat of the mighty Persian Empire, the integration of Greek thought and language throughout the Middle-East and India (Hellenism), and unarguably, the changing of the course of history. Alexander first met the troops of the Persian Empire at the River Granicus. After a decisive victory for Alexander and his men, they made their way down the coast of Asia Minor, beseiging, liberating, and conquering numerous cities before encountering the brunt of the Persian army at the Battle of Issus. Again, the Persian military was soundly defeated, and as a consequence of this loss, the wife, sisters, and a great amount of treasure were lost by the Persian emperor Darius III to Alexander. Ater his liberation of Egypt, Alexander marched north to Tyre in Phoencia and began preparations to meet yet another massive Persian army at Gaugamela.

The Macedonian Empire

In the history of Alexander, this was the pivotal battle that once and for all settled the issue of who was truly "King of Asia." By so severely devastating the army of Darius, Alexander was now essentially in control of the Persian Empire, a feat only dreamed about by his contemporaries, and yet previously planned by his father, Philip II.

The genius of Alexander's military strategy was brilliantly displayed in the battle of Gaugamela. A desperately outnumbered Macedonian army effectively used their advantages of stability, speed, and discipline to exploit the numerical superiority of the Persian army, and ultimately carried out a cavalry strike directed right at the heart of the Persian Empire: Darius III himself.

The Alexander Mosaic

Mosaic recovered from Pompeii, Italy, depicting a battle between the armies of Alexander and Darius. Alexander can be seen on the far left, Darius (in chariot) in the center.
Mosaic recovered from Pompeii, Italy, depicting a battle between the armies of Alexander and Darius. Alexander can be seen on the far left, Darius (in chariot) in the center.
Note the rectangular aspect of the Macedonian army-a crucial formation when dealing with superior numbers
Note the rectangular aspect of the Macedonian army-a crucial formation when dealing with superior numbers

Prelude:

During the summer of 331 B.C., Alexander set out from Tyre with the intention of finding and crushing Darius and his Imperial army once and for all. Meanwhile, Darius was in Babylon, amassing a vast array of troops of numerous nationalites from all over his empire in order to meet the Macedonian threat. Although the reports vary, the ancient source of Arrian places the strength of the Persian army at 1,000,000 infantry, 40,000 cavalry, 200 scythe chariots (see below for description) and several elephants. Given the near impossible task of supporting such a massive army, it is widely assumed that these figures are somewhat inflated. But even so, there is no doubt that Darius commanded a huge army, one that dwarfed the Macedonian force considerably. Alexander's army on the other hand, consisted of 7,000 cavalry and 40,000 infantry. The greatest threat facing Alexander then, was being enveloped. In facing such great numbers, it was a very real possibility that Darius would outflank the entire Macedonian army, encircle it, and attack from all sides.

The Scythed Chariot

  A scythed chariot was a war chariot with sharp blades mounted on the axles.
A scythed chariot was a war chariot with sharp blades mounted on the axles.

"In the Footsteps of Alexander" Part 9-Lord of Asia

First Contact

After crossing the Tigris River, Alexander learned from scouts of the presence of a Persian cavalry force numbering around 1000 in the near vicinity. After a brief skirmish, a number were taken prisoner by Alexander, leading to reports that not far off, an enormous army awaited battle. Accordingly, Alexander rested his men, and constructed fortifications for his baggage camp. Four days later his army was on the move. As the full force of Darius' army came into view, Alexander halted his men and posed a question: Do we attack at once? Or should a detailed reconnaissance be made concerning the lay of the land? Wisely, Alexander's oldest and most experienced general Parmeniosuggested the latter, advice that Alexander heeded.

The terrain was inspected and was found to be free from potentially harmful obstructions, such as ditches or hidden stakes. In fact, the entire ground had been meticulously smoothed over by the Persians. This was done to ensure the rapid and unimpeded movement of Darius' chariots and cavalry, the strongest components of his army.

Charging chariots of the Persian army
Charging chariots of the Persian army

"Upon the conduct of each, depended the fate of all."-Arrian

A council of the Macedonian generals was then held, and during it Alexander implored his commanders to exercise the utmost discipline in battle. They were to advance in complete silence, and when the signal was given, raise such a ferocious battle cry as to imbue the Persian army with great fear. If all was done exactly as ordered, Alexander explained, there should be no reason for their defeat. And most importantly, they were fighting for their lives: A loss in such foreign country would be disastrous, as the Macedonians would simply have nowhere to run. Win or die was what was at stake in this most epic of encounters, but Alexander had complete confidence in their victory, and this sense of calm was surely impressed upon his men. In fact, Alexander was so calm that upon the day of battle, he overslept, and had to be roused numerous times before waking. It is truly quite amazing that in the face of an army of nearly a million men, Alexander evidentally possessed no anxiety, was completely at ease, and utterly confident of victory.

The Battle Begins

On the first of October, 331 B.C., the battle of Gaugamela was fought. While Alexander may have overslept, the Persian forces had no such luxury. Fearful of a night attack, Darius ordered his army to stand at arms all through the night. With no food and no rest for the entire night, the Persian army was clearly at a disadvantage. Alexander couldn't have been more pleased. As his army assembled into formation, Alexander addressed his men, particularly the Thessalian cavalry, and stressed the great importance of holding the line. If the left of his line broke, the consequences would be disastrous, if they held, they would live to fight again, and would be rulers of all of Asia.

overview of the battle of gaugamela
overview of the battle of gaugamela

Various Depictions of Alexander

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Alexander, Son of Philip II
Alexander, Son of Philip II
Alexander, Son of Philip II
Detail of Alexander from "Alexander Mosaic"
Detail of Alexander from "Alexander Mosaic"

Opening Movements

Alexander, in typical fashion, made the first move, and had light infantry and two phalanx battalions advance towards the Persian center in an oblique formation. By minimizing the distance between the two armies, Alexander hoped to render Darius' chariots and archers less effective. As the phalanx began its march, Alexander, with the Companion Cavalry and a group of Agrianians, archers and javelin-men, rode right, parallel to the Persian line. As he continued this advance, Darius, fearing Alexander would reach rough ground that his chariots would be unable to traverse, ordered a contingent of cavalry under Bessus to ride opposite them in order to check any outflanking movements they might attempt. He also unleashed a number of scythed-chariots at this time. The Agrianian disposed of many of them, pelting them with projectiles and dragging their drivers to the ground. Those that did pass the peltasts were met by infantry that simply opened ranks and trapped them with their long sarissas, a weapon that horses would not readily rush into. As Alexander continued to move towards his right, the Persian line thinned, and a hole opened up. At this decisive moment, Alexander raised the battle cry, turned his cavalry 90 degrees to the left, and, in a wedge-formation, rode full speed towards the Persian Emperor himself. A hidden group of peltasts now revealed themselves, and dealt with the cavalry opposite Alexander, while those heavy infantry available pressed into the gap as well. The effect of this crucial blow was terrifying to Darius. A struggle ensued, Macedonians jabbing their spears into the faces of Persian soldiers, and Darius panicked. Much to the dismay of his Persian subjects, the king turned his chariot, and fled.

The Sarissa
The Sarissa

The Hammer Falls

As Darius fled the battlefield, Alexander furiously pursued him, only to discover that Parmenio, in control of the left wing, was under heavy attack. As frustrating as this must have been to Alexander, he nevertheless rode to his general's assistance, and the Persian cavalry under Mazaeus was caught between the reserve column behind the phalanx and the Companion cavalry. This contingent was annihilated, and the Persians retreated. The casualties were heavy for Persia: perhaps 40,000 or more. The Macedonian losses, on the other hand, are estimated to be around 500. An incredible number, especially when considering the substantial disproportion between the two armies.

Alexander the Great - Encyclopedia channel

"Alexander the Great" Iron Maiden (I couldn't resist)

Persian Immortal? Not exactly.
Persian Immortal? Not exactly.
That's more like it.
That's more like it.

Conclusion

With this defeat, the Persian empire fell into Alexander's hands. Though Darius lived through Gaugamela, he was eventually killed by his own subject Bessus, in hopes that he would attain command of the empire.

In the words of Lieutenant-Colonel Dodge: "Never were dispositions better taken to resist the attacks of the enemy at all points; never on the field were openings more quickly seized; never was threatening disaster more skillfully retrieved...The world will never see more splendid tactics."

Alexander finds the body of Darius
Alexander finds the body of Darius

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Comments 23 comments

Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 7 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Very interesting Hub - Such a famous man yet so enigmatic.


This battle was Alexander's third great battle and this one ended Darius's rule over Persia. In this battle, terrain conditions were equal for both sides so no-one can claim that there were any coinci 7 years ago

This battle was Alexander's third great battle and this one ended Darius's rule over Persia. In this battle, terrain conditions were equal for both sides so no-one can claim that there were any coincidences in Alexander's victory.


jreuter profile image

jreuter 7 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

uh, what's your point?


The History Goy profile image

The History Goy 7 years ago

Wow, great site. This is THE place to go for info on Alex. i need to come back several times just to take in all the information. Great job!


jreuter profile image

jreuter 7 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks History Goy, come back anytime!


Silver Freak profile image

Silver Freak 7 years ago from The state of confusion

Wonderful hub just chock full of info and detail!


quotations profile image

quotations 6 years ago from Canada

I enjoyed this hub. I was unfamiliar with this battle before reading your account.


ohkennyabi profile image

ohkennyabi 6 years ago from The East

I am an admirer of Alexander. This is a well done hub on one of Alexander's legendary battles. I enjoyed it. Thank You


jreuter profile image

jreuter 6 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Hmmm....I assume you are looking for Alexander the Great? Well, I hate to disappoint you, but he's been dead for about 2300 years. But, I can take a stab at what he'd say in response to your three requests: 1. Alexander, Son of Philip of Macedon. 2. Mobile, but eventually Babylon. 3. What's a telephone? At this point I can only assume that if he were here, he may feel inclined to poke a sarissa through your sternum. And while I do not condone violence, in this matter, I'd have to believe that the world would indeed be a better place!


cassiekp profile image

cassiekp 5 years ago from London

Wow, a very detailed hub! I love reading about Alexander's military tactics and this is a really fantastic account of Gaugamela. Have you read Lost Battles by Prof. Philip Sabin? There's a chapter on Gaugamela where he presents the evidence and the reader can almost wargame the battle to see how it might have played out for themselves. I think you might find it interesting if you like reading about this kind of thing. Thanks for the hub.


queen cleopatra profile image

queen cleopatra 5 years ago

I admire Alexander the Great as a warrior but his habit of drinking until he drops when not in war defeated him and sent him to his untimely death. But his exploits, like this one you discussed in your hub is definitely a good read. Thanks for sharing! :D


jreuter profile image

jreuter 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Woah woah woah, You better watch the Alexander criticisms here! He was totally awesome and free from all fault and that is all I want to hear!


jreuter profile image

jreuter 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

And I am, of course, kidding, but I did go through a pretty serious stage of Alexander idolization. Which is exactly why I went to Greece and the Middle East, so I suppose it wasn't too bad of an infatuation.

Thanks for your compliment and reading my hub queen cleopatra!


queen cleopatra profile image

queen cleopatra 5 years ago

Hello jreuter :D Haha, sorry to be a wet blanket for a moment here. Wasn't it obvious that I like Alexander the Great? It's Alexander the Man that I, um, doubtful about. I like the way his brains work when creating strategies to win his battles. He would've been an absolutely brilliant chess grandmaster! But I guess, I am a bit of a romantic and was looking for some lovable parts in the personal life of Alexander the Great. :D


jreuter profile image

jreuter 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Oh wow, if you want lovable, read "Alexander the Great and His Time," by Agnes Savill. It's a great read, but I think Agnes had a bit of crush on the guy. She seems to find an excuse for all of his questionable actions, and then goes on to write string after string of adjectives talking about awesome he was. Incidentally, this was the first book I'd read on the guy, hence, the idolization. haha!


queen cleopatra profile image

queen cleopatra 5 years ago

Thank you for giving me the title and author, jreuter. I am definitely intrigued! :D


Casey White profile image

Casey White 5 years ago from United States

I have been working on a multiple-choice quiz on Alexander the Great and am going to send people to your site when they click on "Alexander," as I believe yours is the best hub on him. Thanks and keep up the good work!


jreuter profile image

jreuter 5 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Excellent Casey! Thanks so much for the compliments and the usage. Glad I could be of help!


starvagrant profile image

starvagrant 5 years ago from Missouri

I love Alexander as a figure. A heroic and brilliant guy who dedicated his life to taking the world by force. Battle was his particular genius; he had no interest in ruling and was disappointed when his soldiers were exhausted.


Lone Ranger 4 years ago

Well done, Jason!!!

I am quite enthusiastic about this time period, especially if the time period in question deals with the Old or New Testament.

On a personal note, I truly believe that the Almighty played a role in Alexander's conquest of the Middle East. I think Alexander was acting as God's hammer and through Divine inspiration and protection was able to do things that were extraordinary.

I further believe that the Almighty wanted the Greek language, which was a superior language in many ways and was like the "English" of its day, to carry His Word to the rest of the world in the years that followed.

So, in this regard, Alexander was no longer needed and the Almighty did not want him to restore Babylon to greatness or push deep into India or China. Alexander served his purpose and when that purpose was complete, the Almighty withdrew His hedge of protection and allowed Alexander to succumb to his own passions.

Best wishes, be well and behave - L.R.


masidonia 4 years ago

love this website except vidios dont really work?


ata1515 profile image

ata1515 4 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

While I do not share your enthusiasm for Alexander the Great, I did enjoy your hub. Great writing, voted up and shared!


wba108@yahoo.com profile image

wba108@yahoo.com 4 years ago from upstate, NY

An impressive military for its time. No doubt the Greeks had to advance their warfare or die because of they were surrounded by so many enemies. Necessity is the mother of invention.

Perhaps the Persians enjoyed long periods of uncontested peace because of the vast flat laying lands they controled. The Persians most likely didn't have to deal with the constant threat of warefare therefore didn't develop as advanced an army as the Greeks had.

Alexander seems to take a page out of Sun Tzu's art of war with his military strategy. The first rule of warefare is to concentrate your force and firepower as to gain a decisive local advance which creates a panic, confusion and wreaks havoc behind enemy lines.

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