Alexander the Great's Absolute Thrashing of Darius at the Battle of Gaugamela
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.
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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
"In the Footsteps of Alexander" Part 9-Lord of Asia
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.
"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.
Before Gaugamela, there was "The Spanking of Tyre!"
- Alexander the Great and the Spanking of Tyre
Uh oh. Here comes the mole! In the winter of 332 B.C., Alexander the Great and his army approached the island city of Tyre. After decisively defeating the Persian king Darius III in the battle of Issus, it...
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.
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Various Depictions of AlexanderClick thumbnail to view full-size
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.
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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.
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Great links to sites about Alexander and Gaugamela
- Battle of Gaugamela - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Alexander Defeats The Persians, 331 BC
- What happened at Gaugamela?
- Google Earth Community: Alexander: Battle of Gaugamela
- Alexander the Great
- The Battle of Gaugamela - Alexander's Improvement on "Decisive ...
- HistoryNet » Battle of Gaugamela: Alexander Versus Darius
- JSTOR: Alexander's Generalship at Gaugamela
Various Components of Ancient Armies
Skirmishers are infantry or cavalry soldiers stationed ahead or alongside of a larger body of friendly troops. They are usually placed in a skirmish line to either harass enemy troops or to protect their own troops from similar attacks by the enemy
peltast A peltast (ancient Greek πελταστής) was a type of light infantry in Ancient Greece who often served as skirmishers
cavalry n. , pl. -ries . A highly mobile army mounted unit.
- Persian Immortals
Persian Immortals A Persian Immortal wielding a spear, wicker shield, dagger, and bow. The Achaemenid Persian Immortals, also known as the Persian
hoplite ( ) n. A heavily armed foot soldier of ancient Greece. [Greek hoplītēs , from hoplon , armor.] hoplitic hoplit ' ic
Bactria An ancient country of southwest Asia. It was an eastern province of the Persian Empire before its conquest by the Greeks in 328 B.C
- Scythed Chariot
Scythed Chariot The charge of the Persian scythed chariots at the Battle of Gaugamela , by Andre Castaigne (1898-1899)
- War Elephant
war elephant The elephant's thick hide protects it from injury. The high riding position gave the rider a good view but made them a visible target
A catapult is any one of a number of non-handheld mechanical devices used to throw a projectile a great distance
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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."
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