|There are 4 major battles in the campaigns of Alexander: 3 in the Persian campaign (Granicus, Issus and Gaugamela) and 1 in the India Campaign (Hydaspes). Generally speaking one of these battles comes up most years in the Ordinary exam.
A typical battle question is often broken into 3 parts. The (a) part calls for an explanation of some facts about the prelude to the battle, e.g. the layout of the terrain or some event that had a direct bearing on the actual battle. The (b) part that carries most marks generally calls for an outline of the battle and the (c) part usually focuses on the immediate consequences of the battle.
Here are some examples.
2005 Ordinary Level
(i) Alexander won his first victory in Asia at the Battle of Granicus.
(a) Describe the place where the battle was fought. (15)
(b) Give an account of the battle. (25)
(c) How did Alexander honour the Macedonian dead? (10)
2000 Ordinary Level
(iv) (a) Why did the site of the Battle of Issus suit Alexander’s army more than the
The army of the Persians? (15)
(b) Briefly describe the course of the battle. (35)
2010 Ordinary Level
(iii) In 331BC Alexander defeated Darius at the Battle of Gaugamela.
Why did Alexander refuse to fight on the night before the battle actually took place? (10)
Give a brief account of the battle. (30)
Mention one important result of the battle. (10)
2002 Ordinary Level
(iv) (a) Despite the presence of Porus, the Indian king, on the opposite bank, how did
Alexander succeed in crossing the river Hydaspes? (30)
(b) Describe the course of the battle which followed. (20)
The following notes are intended for Ordinary students as they are based exclusively on Arrian. Higher level students should use the additional information on Plutarch along with these notes in their exam preparation. See the last pages.
The Build-up to Granicus
The Council of Zeleia
Whilst Alexander was in Troy the Persian satraps met in the nearby town of Zeleia and held a war council. Memnon of Rhodes: a Greek mercenary commander, was also present. He urged the satraps not to offer Alexander battle because the Macedonians outnumbered the Persians and because Darius was not there in person whereas Alexander was. Instead he urged a retreat and a scorched earth policy, which would force Alexander back across the Hellaspont to feed his army whereupon the Persians would march back and close the Hellaspont to him. Arsities (the satrap of Phrygia) however refused to allow Memnon to burn his province and ruin his economy and rather advised a battle on the river Granicus. The other satraps supported him because they suspected Memnon of being afraid to lose the satrapy of Hellaspontine-Phrygia to which Darius had just recently appointed him.
The River Granicus
When Alexander’s scouts reported that the Persians had taken up position along the Granicus, Alexander convened a war council.
Parmenio advised Alexander not to cross the river because it had steep muddy banks, it was fast flowing and it was deep with an uneven river bed, which made crossing it dangerous for an army. Instead he advised that Alexander made camp on the Macedonian side in the hope that their numbers would intimidate the enemy into withdrawing leaving the river free to cross at dawn.
Alexander responded angrily saying, “I would disgrace the Hellaspont now were I to shy from a mere stream like the Granicus” meaning that having crossed the Hellaspont with his army he should not fear a small river simply because there were Persians on the far side because he had crossed the Hellaspont to invade Persia in the first place.
Alexander’s army was divided into two parts: the Left and Right Wings. He gave full command of the Left Wing to Parmenio, although Craterus commanded the left wing infantry whilst he led the Right Wing himself. In general the elite troops made up the right wing because that was the offensive side of his army but the Left Wing mirrored the Right despite being made up of lesser troops. On the extreme right at Granicus Alexander posted his light cavalries under Amyntas and similarly other light cavalries on the extreme left wing. After these he posted his skirmishing troops: archers and the Agrianian spearmen. Then came his heavy Companion Cavalry. He placed the heavy Thessalian cavalry with Parmenio on the left. After them came the light infantry guards: Nicanor’s hypaspists i on the right and other light infantry guards on the left who protected the flanks of the central heavy infantry phalanxes on either wing.
The Persians posted their cavalry along the banks of the river and Memnon’s Ionian mercenary infantry were stationed behind the ridge making these troops redundant in the battle.
Give an account of the Battle of Granicus
Arrian says that the first to cross the river was Amyntas who commanded the skirmishers on the extreme right wing. The Persians fired missiles and arrows down on his troops and they suffered heavy casualties. Some were driven back.
Alexander and his Companion cavalry next led the right wing on a charge across the river. He stood out on the battlefield because of his shiny armour. He crossed the river diagonally towards the Persian centre so that his troops would come out of the river in a line.
Getting out of the river on the other side was difficult because the Persian cavalry lined the steep and muddy banks but the length of the Macedonian sarissas pushed them back and allowed the Macedonians to gain a foothold.
A fierce struggle ensued between the two cavalries. Arrian describes it as “a cavalry battle fought with infantry tactics, man against man and horse against horse.”
Meanwhile Parmenio’s left wing was crossing the river too.
Eventually Alexander managed to force a gap in the Persian lines and immediately led the royal squadron of Companions on a charge in wedge formation towards the Persian satraps.
Alexander personally killed two satraps: Mithridates (Darius’ son-in-law) and Rhoesaces but received a heavy blow to the head in the process. He was nearly killed by Spithridates (satrap fop Lydia and Ionia) who came from behind only Cleitus chopped off his sword arm .
With the Macedonians safely across the river the Persians were put to rout. Arrian says about 1,000 were killed as they tried to flee but Alexander stopped the pursuit and turned his attention to the Ionian mercenaries who Arrian says had been taken by surprise at the suddenness of the rout. Alexander ordered them surrounded and butchered them.
Alexander’s treatment of the dead and wounded
Alexander paid his personal sculptotr Lysippus to make statues of the 25 companions who fell in the battle and had them sent to the sanctuary of Zeus at Dium in Macedonia.
He have permission for the 60 other Macedonian cavalrymen and some 30 infantrymen to be buried with their arms as a mark of respect (as usually the arms would be recycled) and exempted their families from paying tax.
He personally visited all the wounded and allowed them to tell him their war stories.
He also allowed the Persians to bury their dead according to their own customs.
He sent 300 full suits of captured Persian armour back to Athens bearing the inscription, “Alexander, the son of Philip, and the Greeks (except the Spartans) won these spoils from the Persians who live in Asia.”
He sent the captured mercenaries to hard labour in Macedonia for defying the League of Corinth by fighting against Greece for Persia.
He appointed Calas, who had commanded the Thessalian cavalry, as governor of the region and moved on into Asia Minor
The Battle of Issus
How did Issus come to be the site of the battle?
Alexander had been delayed in Tarsus due to an illness and also because he had held games in honour of the gods. When he was finished he moved his army along the coast to the Amanic mountains. From here there were two ways of to proceed. He could enter Assyria via the Amaniac Gates or continue along the coast to the Assyrian Gates and onto Phoenicia. Since he was committed to his coastal policy he opted for the latter but sent Parmenio with half his army to watch the Amaniac Gate just in case Darius was coming that way. Parmenio returned without any word of Darius being nearby so Alexander continued along the coast to Issus where he left his wounded and crossed the Pinarus river on his way south to the Assyrian Gates.
There was a Macedonian traitor in Darius’ court called Amyntas who advised the King not to move from Sochi in the Assyrian plain assuring him that Alexander would seek him out no matter what. Darius however allowed himself to be persuaded by his flatterers (who Arrian says “have always been and always will be the curse of kings”) that Alexander had remained in Tarsus so long because he was afraid to face Darius. The Great King marched his army north on the eastern slopes of the Amaniac mountains and passed through the Amanian Gates to the plain of Issus where he found Alexander’s wounded and had them massacred. He stopped at the Pinarus river and waited for Alexander to return.
Issus is a narrow coastal strand bordered by the sea on one side and the mountain on the other.
Alexander at first did not believe his scouts and so sent some of his companions back by sea to see if the news was true: that Darius was now behind him. When they confirmed the report he rested his army that night and held a war council the following morning in which he addressed his officers.
Summaries Alexander’s speech to his men at Issus
The Macedonian army has faced danger before
This time the Macedonians face an enemy that they have already defeat once at Granicus
God is surely on Macedonia’s side because he has tempted Darius’ huge army into a confined space that favours the Macedonians smaller force
The Persians and Medes are merely a host of conscripted slaves who are used to luxuriant lifestyles
The Macedonians are battle-hardened soldiers and free men
Although there are free-born Greeks in Darius’ army they are poorly paid mercenaries whereas the Greeks in the Macedonian army fight for Greece
Foreign troops like the Thracians, Paeonians, Agrianes and Illyrians are the strongest Europe has to offer and they will face the softest troops that Asia can muster
Darius leads the Persians but Alexander leads the Macedonians!
This time they were fighting the King of Persia himself not just his satraps like at Granicus
This will be the decisive battle of the war because once beaten Darius will be forced off the throne
The Greeks beat the Persians before: Xenophon’s 10,000 defeated the Persian army outside Babylon and he did not even have a cavalry or skirmishing troops like Alexander
The Macedonians cheered and rushed forward to clasp Alexander’s hand and cheered for him to lead them on against Darius.
Darius and his kinsmen were positioned at the centre of his army surrounded by his Cardaccian heavy infantry with Greek mercenaries in front. On his right he placed his cavalries and on his left climbing up into the higher ground he placed his infantry lines. Behind he placed mixed infantries and cavalries in what Arrian calls a “great mass”. The only order they had was that they were grouped in their ethnic groups.
Owing to what Arrian calls “the strange geography of the place” part of Darius’ left wing was positioned on the high-ground in what became Alexander’s rear. Here he initially placed infantry and cavalry there but realising that the higher ground was unsuited to horses he redeployed the cavalry to his right wing so that Parmenio faced nearly the entire host of the Persian cavalry on the seaward side. Darius however showed his hand by having the cavalry move to his right wing in view of Alexander.
As usual Alexander placed skirmishing troops (archers and the peltasts) on the extreme wings of his army but behind his cavalry on the left wing. On his right he was forced to make them face the Persians positioned in the high ground to his rear. At first he stationed the Thessalian heavy cavalry with them but seeing Darius move his left cavalry to support his right he ordered them to join Parmenio’s left wing by moving around the back of his army so Darius would not see them doing it. He left a small contingent of light cavalry along with the skirmishers to check the Persians in the hills. Facing the Persians across the river on his right he stationed his light cavalries and then his Companion heavy cavalry. This formation was mirrored on Parmenio’s left wing with the Allied Greek and Thessalian cavalries. As usual his light infantry guards protected the vulnerable flanks of his central heavy infantry phalanxes: Nicanor’s hypaspists on the right and other light infantry guards on the left. Alexander held supreme command on the right wing and although Craterus commanded the infantry on the left the full command of the left wing rested with Parmenio. Alexander also orders his men to march slowly, keeping discipline and concentration fixed as even the slightest gap in the lines could spell disaster for the entire army.
Outline of the Battle of Issus
Leading the Companion heavy cavalry on a charge across the river his right wing quickly smashed through the Persian left wing, which was made up of light infantries. Once through the front lines he immediately turned towards the Persian centre making straight for Darius’ position.
Meanwhile on his left wing Parmenio had on Alexanedr’s orders extended his cavalries right out to the sea to prevent the Persians from outflanking him and was having a hard time holding the Persian cavalry at bay.
By now the Macedonian phalanxes had forded the river and were struggling to climb out of the river on the steep shingly banks. Their efforts were further complicated by the Ionian mercenaries that occupied the front lines of Darius’ centre and a fierce patriotic battle was waged here between Darius’ Greeks and Alexander’s Macedonians.
Alexander was by this stage in sight of Darius whereupon the Great King fled leaving the battle field at first in his chariot and then later when he had reached unlevel ground he unyoked his horse and rode it to safety abandoning his chariot, his cloak and his bow to Alexander.
Once the “great mass” of Persians saw their king fleeing the battlefield they to fled which led to a general rout. Alexander pursued Darius until sunset but he got away.
Immediate outcomes of Alexander’s victory at Issus
Alexander seized Darius camp where his wife, mother, two daughters and his infant son fell in his hands.
Parmenio seized the treasury at Damascus soon afterwards
Alexander gave funerals for the dead and even though he was wounded in the thigh walked around to visit the wounded.
He pardoned the town of Soli and cancelled a fine imposed on the city by Darius of 50 talents
He treated Darius’ family very well sending Leonnatus (one of his personal bodyguards) to the noble women to assure them that Darius was still alive and that no harm would come to them as guests of Alexander.
Arrian tells the story related by Ptolemy (which he thinks may be true) that on entering the tent the next day with Hephasetion Darius’ mother bowed to Hephasetion because he seemed the taller and when corrected by Hephasetion Alexander laughed off the mistake saying that Hephaestion was “also an Alexander” (Alexander means protector or men). Arrian admires Alexander for this both for his compassion towards the captured ladies and also for the respect he showed for his friend.
The Battle of Gaugamela
Having returned out of Egypt to Tyre and settled matters there Alexander turned inland and went in search of Darius. When he reached the Euphrates he found that his advance troops had nearly completed two bridges across the river. The Persian general Mazaeus (left there to stop Alexander from crossing into Mespotamia) withdrew when he saw Alexander come in person leaving the construction force free to complete the bridges.
Some Persians were captured during the march through Mesopotamia who reported that Darius was waiting at the Tigris intend on stopping Alexander from crossing into Persian but having doubled his speed Alexander found the Tigris abandoned and the only difficulty he faced was the current of the river. Once across he rested his army and there was an eclipse of the moon that night which Aristander interpreted to mean that Alexander would be victorious within the month.
The next day Alexander’s scouts reported that a Persian cavalry force had been sighted nearby. Alexander led two squadrons of the Companions, including his own personal royal squadron, the Peaonians in support and gave orders that the rest of the army were to follow. The Persians fled but some were taken captive and gave up Darius whereabouts on the plain of Gaugamela.
Alexander rested his men for four days. He also built a fort ringed by a ditch in which he left the baggage animals and the wounded defended by the Thracian peltasts. Then he marched his army onwards carrying nothing but their weapons. He stopped again on the crest of a ridge from which he saw the Persians for the first time. There was now just 4 miles between the two armies.
Alexander accepts Permnio’s advice
Holding a war council, Parmenio adviced Alexander not to attack straight away but instead to carry out reconnaissance of the area. Alexander agreed and personally led Companion cavalry and the hypaspists to inspect the battlefield.
Alexander rejects Parmenio’s advice about a night attack
Having conducted reconnaissance of the field and resolved to fight the next day Arrian says that some sources say that Parmenio came to Alexander’s tent that night and advised a night attack, which Alexander flatly rejected saying, “I will not steal a victory”.
Arrian feels that this pompous reply was a statement of confidence in danger rather than valour for Arrian, himself a military man, explains the unpredictable nature of night fighting, which is more the act of a desperate commander than a good one.
Alexander also did not want to give Darius any excuse for losing other than being the poorer general because at Issus he had blamed his defeat on the narrowness of the field.
In case of a defeat Alexander also did not want to place his army in the position where they were surrounded by enemies in unfamiliar terrain like Xenophon’s 10,000.
Darius had learned his lesson. His army at Gaugamela mirrored Alexander’s in terms of the diversity of his forces. Darius placed himself and his kinsmen protected by his heavy infantry known as the Apple-bearers (because of the ornamental apple butt of their spears) at the centre of his army. In front of these he posted Greek mercenaries. On either side of his centre he placed mixed infantres and cavalries extending towards the heavy cavalries on either wing. Command of his left wing was given to Bessus, satrap of Bactria. It was made up of the Bactrian heavy cavalry supported by the mounted archers known as the Daae and other light cavalries from the fringes of his Eastern empire. These postings were mirrored on the right wing under the command of Mazaeus by the heavy Persian and Median cavalries supported by the Parthians and a unit of mounted Scythian archers known as the Sacae. In advance of his left wing facing Alexander’s right he posted 100 scythed chariots, 50 war chariots and the 15 Indian war elephants, along with auxiliary Bactrian and Scythian cavalry units. In advance of his right wing facing Parmenio’s left he posted 50 sycthed chariots along with two other light cavalries. In the rear he stationed the rest of his vast infantry from the heartlands of his empire. In total according to Arrian, Darius commanded 40,000 cavalry and 1 million infantry, 200 war chariots and a small complement of 15 Indian elephants.
Alexander as usual took supreme command of his right wing whereas Parmenio commanded the left. In advance of the extreme right wing he posted one half of the skirmishers: the Agrianian spearmen along with archers and peltasts. He posted the other half of the skirmishers behind at an ontuse angle along with the mercenary unit known as “The Old Guard” commanded by Cleander. On the tip of the actual right wing he posted his light cavalries: the Paeonians and his advance scouts. This was mirrored on the left wing with similar skirmishing troops and light cavalries only at an acute angle, so that looking down Alexander’s army resembled a chevron.
Moving in from his light cavalries at each wingtip Alexander’s heavy companion cavalry made up the heavy cavalry on the right, whilst the Thessalians mirrored them on the left. As always the vulnerable flanks of the central heavy infantry phalanxes were protected by Nicanor’s hypaspists on the right and similar light infantry guards on the left. Alexander placed a second line of auxiliary infantry in the rear with orders to turn around in case the Persians outflanked the army. In the extreme rear guarding the Macedonian camp he posted the Thracian peltasts.
In total, according to Arrian, Alexander commanded 7,000 cavalry and 40,000 infantry. Darius’ army outnumbered Alexander’s over 20:1.
An Account of the Battle of Gaugamela
The Battle of Gaugamela began when Alexander moved his right wing on a feint to the right. As Alexander’s heavy Hetarioi (companion) cavalry supported by his lighter Paeonians and prodromoi (scouts) moved to the right Darius ordered Bessus to shadow the move with his Bactrian cavalry and eventually fearing that Alexander would reach the unlevelled ground where his scythe chariots would be useless ordered Bessus to cut him off by enveloping him and put his war chariots into play. Bessus’ sudden move however opened a gap in the Persian lines, which Alexander instantly moved to exploit by turning round and charging in wedge formation. At the same time his infantry easily adjusted their positions allowing the chariots to pass harmlessly by whereupon the drivers were shot and the chariots neutralised. The Persian left wing was at this stage beginning to break however Alexander’s rapid move to exploit the gap had caused a similar gap in his own lines between the left wing and the centre, which Darius’ right wing commander Mazaeus exploited. The Persian heavy cavalry had by now broken through the Macedonian lines cutting off Simmias’ phalanx of light infantry from joining the main phalanxes with Alexander and had all but enveloped Parmenio’s heavy Thessalian and lighter allied Greek cavalries on the left wing. Meanwhile Alexander had broken through the Persian lines and was within sight of Darius himself when the Great King lost his nerve and fled, which caused a general rout of the Persians. Alexander pursued but at this stage received a message from Parmenio calling for aid as the Persian cavalry had broken through to the Macedonian camp and the left wing was in danger of breaking. Not wanting to lose his left wing Alexander reluctantly broke off his pursuit of Darius to rescue Parmenio but by the time he arrived the Thessalian cavalry had sewn things up on the extreme left and his camp was safe thanks to the double valour of the Thracian auxiliaries left to defend it and the fact that his reserve phalanxes had wheeled about as they had been ordered to do in case they were outflanked. Thus Alexander won the battle.
Outcomes of the Battle of Gaugamela
This was the decisive victory over Darius after which Alexander marched into Babylon and then gained access to the Persian heartland itself taking Susa and Persepolis.
Owing to Alexander having to turn around and rescue Parmenio’s left wing Darius and Bessus escaped though Alexander continued the pursuit after the battle to no avail.
Several of the Companios were wounded including Hephasetion and Coenus.
Battle of Hydaspes
Having stopped in the city of Taxila on the junction between the Indus and Hydapses rivers Alexander made an alliance with Taxilles and welcomed some Indian mercenaries into his army before moving on into the Punjab to confront an Indian king called Porus.
Alexander halted on the Hydaspes river where he saw Porus on the far side wasiting for him. It was monsoon and the river was in flood. Alexander at first decided to wait until the winter when the water level dropped.
He began by splitting his army into smaller parts and posting them up and down the river at various spots that might offer a good place to for it but he was shadowed by Porus’ lookouts on the far bank. Next he led his army on a series of night marches up and down the river and order his men to make as much noise as possible. The rouse had the result that Porus marched up and down in pursuit expecting the Macdonians to cross. Eventually Porus tired of these antics and merely had his lookouts check the positions of the noisy Macedonians. This is what Alexander had been waiting for.
Then leaving Craterus in command of his left wing he led his right inland first away from the river and under the cover of jungle he marched some 18 miles north of his original position to where an island in the middle of the river offered him a good place to cross the river. Craterus’ orders were to cross the river only if Porus moved off with the majority of the elephants. Alexander also left a party of mercenaries half way between them with similar orders to cross if and when possible. In advance of this mission ships had been brought to Alexander’s chosen bridging place from the Indus and assembled in the jungle ready to float across the river and under cover of darkness one stormy night Alexander crossed over to the island and again to the far bank. The remainder of his force improvised floats from stuffed tent awnings in the same way as they had done to cross the Danube during the Balkan Campaign.
This far bank however proved to be yet another island which caused Alexander considerable distress as dawn was fast approaching and he would have to ford to the actual far bank without the use of his ships. The crossing was difficult and slow and had to made in column but eventually Alexander’s cavalry got across whereupon they were spotted by Porus’ son with a cavalry contingent.
The Skirmish with Porus’ son
Arrian offers 3 different alternate accounts for this skirmish: one from Aristobolous, another from the vulgate tradition and a third from Ptolemy with whom he agrees. Aristobolous’ account holds that Porus’ son in command of a squadron of war chariots passed by and allowed Alexader to complete his crossing. Against these Alexander sent the Daae and in the course of events Porus’ son was killed. The other account holds that Porus’ son attempted to prevent Alexander from crossing and in the ensuring battle Porus’ son personally stabbed Alexander and struck the fatal blow that killed Bucephalus. Ptolemey’s account states that Porus’ son’s scouting party did indeed consist of 120 chariots but that there was also a cavalry numbering 2,000. Alexander first sent the Daae against them and followed behind with a cavalry charge. The Indians fled and Porus’ son along with the charioteers were killed in the process. Some 400 Indians were killed but the rest escaped back to Porus and brought him the news that Alexander had crossed to the north of his position.
Porus left a small contingent of his troops along witha few elephants to check Craterus’ crossing and moved to confront Alexander. Choosing a sandy plane inland from the muddy banks he waited for the Macedonians.
Porus had positioned his elephants in front of his infantry, which were ranged in block behind and between the elephants. His infantry also extended beyond the limits of his elephant line on either side. On his extreme wings he positioned his cavalry with war chariot in front.
Alexander remember only had is right wing, so he improvised a left wing by keeping Coenus’ regiment hidden from view. Alexander himself assumed total command of his smaller than usual force. The Companions, Persian and Bactrian cavalry made up the right wing, with the Daae (mounted archers) in advance, whilst the hypaspists and other guards as usual protected the vulnerable flanks of his two heavy infantry battalions. He also posted his skirmishers: the archers and Agrianian spearmen at either side of his phalanxes to further protect their flanks.
Outline of the Battle of Hydaspes
Alexander first sent the mounted archers known as the Daae across the battlefield against Porus’ right wing cavalry. The Daae made short work of the chariots and forced Porus to redeplot his right wing cavalry over to support his left. As soon as he did this, Alexander ordered Coenus’ regiment to swoop in a wide arc behind the ridge to the side of the battlefield and around to come up in the rear of the right wing cavalry. At the same time Alexander himself led the rest of right wing cavalry against Porus left wing. Caught in a pincer movement between Alexander’ charge and Coenus in their rear the Indian cavalry withdrew quickly into the Indian centre in no particular order. This spread panic throughout the Indian army. The Macedonian cavalry now proceeded to contain the Indians by heading off any attempted sortie from the confines of the herd of mixed infantry, cavalry and elephants. Meanwhile Alexander’s central phalanxes had advanced. Here the elephants began to stampede and became a danger not only to the Macedonians but to the Indians as well. The Macedonians could at least move to dodge their charges but when they turned and ran back into the Indian lines there was nowhere for the Indians to go. Gradually the Macedonian infantry managed to neutralise the elephants by the long reach of their sarissas running in for a stab and retreating when the elephants turned on them whilst another party did likewise from the other direction. Slowly the elephants were killed off and by that stage Craterus had arrived with the left wing. Finding themselves totally surrounded the Indians sold their lives dearly and a bitter hand-to-hand combat ensued during which time the Indian’s strength and numbers were gradually sapped. By the end of the day the massacre was nearly complete. Porus himself though wounded came before Alexander to surrender and the battle was over.
How Alexander treated Porus
Alexander was impressed by Porus bravery and stature. When asked how he wished to be treated by Alexander Prous replied, “as a king” and when pressed further to explain Porus explained that everything he wanted was contained in that one request. Alexander did treat him like a king. In fact he made an alliance with him, installed him as governor of the Punjab and by the time Alexander withdrew from India Porus commanded much more land than he had done before Alexander’s arrival.
Death of Bucephalus
Arrians says the Bucephalus died not from any wounds but simply of old age being warn out at 30 years of age. Alexander founded two cities in the Punjab: Nicaea (to commemorate his victory at Hydaspes – nike means victory in Greek and Bucephalia after his horse Bucephalus.
Higher Level students should remember to state that their answers are based mostly on Arrian’s history at the beginning of the essays and bring in alternative or extra information that Plutarch provides during the course of his biography.
Plutarch on Granicus
His leading the right wing across the Granicus as “the desperate act of a madman rather than a wise commander” and the fact that butchering the Ionian mercenaries was “an act of passion” from the battle rather than a carefully thought out plan. Also, Plutarch says that it was Rhoesaces who attempted to kill Alexander but that Cleitus ran him through with a sarissa.
Plutarch on Issus
Plutarch corroborates the fact that Alexander was wounded in the thigh but credits the stabbing to Darius himself by the historian Chares’ account of the battle although he mentions that Alexander mentioned no such thing in a letter to Antipater in which he mentions the wound.
Plutarch on Gaugamela
Plutarch says that Parmenio’s first message to Alexander related to the potential loss of the baggage camp to the Persian cavalry. Alexander’s response was that since only victors care for spoils Parmenio had best continue fighting and concern himself with dying with honour rather than material wealth. His second message was about the buckling of the left wing. According to Callisthenes’ account related by Plutarch Parmenio was at fault here possibly due to being now too old for command or because his jealousy for Alexander’s greatness made him weak.
Plutarch on Hydaspes
Plutarch corroborates Ptolemy’s account of the initial skirmish between Indian cavalry and chariots although his numbers are off and although he cites the historian Onesecritus as the source of the story that Buecphalus simply died of exhaustion being now 30 years old he mentions that all other historians say he died of wounds received in the battle.
Typical Battle Questions
1999 Higher Level
(ii) Give an account of the main units in Alexander’s army (infantry and cavalry), and
the uses to which Alexander put them in his campaigns. (50)
2009 Higher Level
(i) At the Granicus River Alexander won his first victory over a Persian army.
(a) Give a brief account of the battle. (30)
(b) What do we learn about Alexander’s qualities of leadership from this battle? (20)
2002 Higher Level
(ii) (a) How did it happen that Issus became the site of the battle between
Alexander and Darius? (15)
(b) Explain why Darius lined up his forces as he did. (15)
(c) Briefly outline the course of the Battle. (20)
2005 Higher Level
(iii) At the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 B.C., Alexander’s forces defeated the Persians
Describe the preparations of both sides for the battle. (10)
Give an account of the battle. (25)
Comment on the tactics employed by Darius and Alexander. (15)
2011 Higher Level
(iv) (a) Describe how Alexander succeeded in crossing the Hydaspes Rover unopposed. (20)
(b) Analyse the reasons for Alexander’s victory over Porus at the Battle of the Hydaspes. (30)
2006: Higher Level, Topic 2
(a) Describe the main components of Alexander’s army. (25)
(b) In the battle of Issus what use did Alexander make of his cavalry and infantry? (25)
We find out about Alexander’s army in JR Hamilton’s introduction to Aubrey de Salincourt’s Penguin translation (your book, pp.34-40) of Arrian’s Campaigns of Alexander, (i.e, your book)
Alexander’s army is composed of various different troops with different functions, speeds, weapons and strengths. All of them combine to make Alexander’s army deveastating on the battlefield.
To start with Alexander employs lightly armed troops like the archers, slingers, Thracian peltasts or Argianian spearmen as skirmishers on the extreme right and left wings. Their job is to provide a screen of covering fire to protect the cavalries and to harass the enemy lines causing panic and confusion before the cavalries to hit them. On account of the fact that they wear almost no armour and carry very light weapons like javelins or bows they are very quick and adaptable but they are also very vulnerable and Alexander merely relies on them as complements to his main army.
Next we have his cavalries both light and heavy. The heavy Hetairoi (Companion) cavalry is the main striking force of his army on the right wing; the ancient equivalent to a tank squadron, and this strike force is mirrored on the left wing by the Thessalians during the Persian Campaigns and then by the Bactrian cavalry in India. The heavy cavalrymen wear armour, carry a cavalry version of the infantry sarissa and often charge in wedge formation to force a gap in the enemy lines on the right wing or form up in blocks on the left wing when checking the enemy’s advance. The heavy cavalry is supported by light cavalries. These rangers carry lighter arms and wear less amour. As a result they are quicker off the mark than the heavy cavalries and shore up the gaps in the lines during a charge as well as supporting the flanks of the heavy cavalry from attack. The Paeonians and Promdromoi (advance scouts) act as light cavalry on the right wing, whereas the allied Greek or Scythian cavalries (after Gaugamela) act as their mirror on the left wing. After Gaugemela Alexander even makes use of mounted archers like the Iranian Daae to great effect at the Battle of Hydaspes.
Finally we come to the infantry again like the cavalry there are light and heavy infantries. Starting with the heavy infantrythe pezhetairoi (foot-companions) make up the central units of Alexander’s army on the right and left wings. They wore heavy armour (bronze helmets, body armour and leg greeve) carried a medium round shield strapped to one arm and carried their main weapon a long sarissa pike some 14ft long. They marched in units called phalanxes in which the first five line could lowere their sarissas forming an inpregnable and unstoppable hedgehog of sarissas points. Owing to the extreme weight of their armour and weapons however they were quite slow to react and were vulnerable to attack on the flanks and in the rear. Thus we now move on to what are often translated as ‘guards’ on the right of the heavy infantry phalanxes and other light infantry on the left. Their role is to shore up the gap between the heavy infantry centre and the cavalry wings. Arrian does not mention where the difference lies between the heaving infantry and these guards but owing to the inclusion of the word aspis (the distinctive large round shield of the Greek hoplite) in the word hypaspist meaning shield bearer it is likely that they were hoplites. As such they probably carried larger shields than the pezhetairoi, probably carried shorter 2-3m long dory spears and wore a leather cuirass instead of a bronze breast plate. Although they too marched in phalanxes they were probably more dynamic and when pushed to it they could always resort to their secondary weapon: the short xiphos sword for hand-to-hand combat in combination with the aspis shield.
From skirmishers, to light and heavy cavalry and on into light and heavy infantry Alexander’s army spanned right across the battlefield from one wing to the other and moved as a solid mass with devastating speed and accuracy.
We might sum up Alexander’s main strategy at Issus by the analogy of a blacksmith’s hammer and anvil. At Issus Alexander’s right wing cavalry charge acts like a hammer smashing through the enemy’s left wing which was composed on the extreme wings mainly of an assortment of light infantry; no match for Alexander’s heavy cavalry charge. The hammer then continued to force a path through the heavier Cardaccian infantry that protected Darius.
Meanwhile Alexander’s central phalanx is also advancing slowly across the river. Granted that they are stalled by the patriotic valour of the Greek mercenaries but the sarissa wielding pezhetairoi (foot-companions) gradually pushed their way onto the banks of the river. It is here where the anvil comes into play. Once out of the river, which was the main obstacle, the phalanxes are like a slow moving impreganable and unstoppable hedgehog of sarissa points. They are the hard surface of Alexander’s anvil against which his right wing cavalry hammer will smash the Persians into pieces, which is just what Alexander does and why Darius ultimately flees knowing that he has lost the battle. In fact, Arrian says Darius himself lead the rout.
On the other side of this however one has to remember that none of this is possible without Parmenio’s left wing, which has to operate as a holding mechanism. It is vitally important to the success of the hammer and anvil strategy that Alexander’s army is not outflanked on the left otherwise the Macedonians will find the table reversed and themselves caught between the Persian heavy cavalry hammer and the “great mass” of infantry anvil. Fortunately at Issus, Parmenio holds the left wing secure and the Persians are caught between Alexander’s favourite pincer movement between the cavalry and infantry phalanxes.