The World of the Ancient Greeks - Warfare

The Age of Alexander: History | Warfare

Alexander's Balkan campaign

Before crossing to Asia, Alexander wanted to safeguard his northern borders and, in the spring of 335 BC, he advanced into Thrace to deal with the revolt, which was led by the Illyrians and Triballi. At Mount Haemus, the Macedonian army attacked and defeated a Thracian garrison manning the heights. The Macedonians were then attacked in the rear by the Triballi, who were crushed in turn. Alexander then advanced on to the Danube, encountering the Getae tribe on the opposite shore. The Getae army retreated after the first cavalry skirmish, leaving their town to the Macedonian army. News then reached Alexander that Cleitus, King of Illyria, and King Glaukias of the Taulanti were in open revolt against Macedonian authority. Alexander defeated each in turn, forcing Cleitus and Glaukias to flee with their armies, leaving Alexander's northern frontier secure.

While he was triumphantly campaigning north, the Thebans and Athenians rebelled once more. Alexander reacted immediately, but, while the other cities once again hesitated, Thebes decided to resist with the utmost vigor. This resistance was useless, however, as the city was razed to the ground amid great bloodshed and its territory divided between the other Boeotian cities. The end of Thebes cowed Athens into submission, leaving all of Greece at least outwardly at peace with Alexander.

The Conquest of Persia

In 334 BC, Alexander crossed the Hellespont into Asia. Even though it took over one hundred triremes (boats with oars) to transport the entire Macedonian army, the Persians decided to ignore the movement. Had Darius attempted to contest the crossing, he may well have been able to end the war before it even began. The Persians, who were never known for strategy but instead usually relied on sheer numbers, appeared to take the Macedonian threat too lightly early in the war. Alexander believed Darius, who was known to surround himself with eunuchs and concubines, to be a weak man. As such, he repeatedly counted on Darius to miscalculate and never use the full potential of his army against him. If Darius had ever decided to use his entire army to put down Alexander, he may well have been able to stop Alexander. As Alexander advanced through Asia Minor (modern Turkey), he liberated several Greek towns that had been placed under the Persian yoke. They capitulated, one by one, with little or no resistance.

In these early months, Darius still refused to take Alexander seriously or mount a serious challenge to Alexander's movements. Memnon of Rhodes, the Greek mercenary who aligned himself with the Persians, advocated a scorched Earth strategy. He wanted the Persians to destroy the land in front of Alexander, which he hoped would force Alexander's army to starve, and then to turn back. According to , the reason the Persians did not listen to Memnon was likely because they had vast estates with hoards of slaves, and they wanted to continue their easy living. Eventually, however, with Alexander advancing deeper into Persian territory, Darius put Memnon in control of an army, and told him to finally confront Alexander.

Battle of the Granicus River

The Battle of the Granicus River in May 334 BC was fought in Northwestern Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), near the site of Troy. After crossing the Hellespont, Alexander advanced up the road to the capital of the Satrapy of Phrygia. The various satraps of the Persian empire gathered with their forces at the town of Zelea and offered battle on the banks of the Granicus River. Alexander ultimately fought many of his battles on a river bank. By doing so, he was able to minimize the advantage the Persians had in numbers. In addition, the deadly Persian chariots were useless on a cramped, muddy river bank.


Arrian, Diodorus, and Plutarch all mention the battle, with Arrian providing the most detail. The Persians placed their cavalry in front of their infantry, and drew up on the right (east) bank of the river. The Macedonian line was arrayed with the heavy Phalanxes in the middle, and cavalry on either side. The Persians expected the main assault to come from Alexander's position and moved units from their center to that flank.

Alexander's second-in-command, Parmenion, suggested crossing the river upstream and attacking at dawn the next day, but Alexander attacked immediately. This tactic caught the Persians off guard. The battle started with a cavalry and light infantry attack from the Macedonian left, so the Persians heavily reinforced that side. However, by this point, Alexander led the horse companions in their classic wedge-shaped charge, and smashed into the center of the Persian line. Several high-ranking Persian nobles were killed by Alexander himself or his bodyguards, although Alexander was stunned by an axe-blow from a Persian nobleman named Spithridates. Before the noble could deal a death-blow, however, he was himself killed by Black Cleitus. Alexander's horse was killed, although he was not at the time riding his beloved Bucephalus, either because Bucephalus was lame or because Alexander believed this battle to be too dangerous for Bucephalus. The Macedonian cavalry opened a hole in the Persian line, and the Macedonian infantry charged through to engage the poor quality Persian infantry in the rear. At this, and with many of their leaders already dead, both flanks of the Persian cavalry retreated, and the infantry was cut down as it fled.

Alexander consolidates his support in Asia Minor

After the battle, Alexander buried the dead (both Greeks and Persians), and sent the captured Greek mercenaries back to Greece to work in the mines, as an abject lesson for any Greek who decided to fight for the Persians. He sent some of the spoils back to Greece, including three hundred panoplies (complete Persian suits of armor) back to Athens to be dedicated in the Parthenon with the inscription “Alexander, son of Philip and the Greeks, Lacedaemonians (Spartans) excepted, these spoils from the barbarians who dwell in Asia”.

Antipater, whom Alexander had left in charge of Macedon in his absence, had been given a free hand to install dictators and tyrants wherever he saw fit in order to minimize the risk of a rebellion. As he moved deeper into Persia, however, the threat of trouble seemed to grow. Many of these towns had been ruled for generations by heavy handed tyrants, so in these Persian towns, he did the opposite of what he did in Greece. Wanting to appear to be a liberator, he freed the population and allowed self government. As he continued marching into Persia, he saw that his victory at Granicus had been lost on no one. Town after town seemed to surrender to him. The satrap at Sardis, as well as his garrison, was among the first of many satraps to capitulate.


As these satraps gave up, Alexander appointed new ones to replace them, and claimed to distrust the accumulation of absolute power into anyone’s hands. There appeared to be little change from the old system. Alexander, however, appointed independent boards to collect tribute and taxes from the satrapies, which appeared to do nothing more than improve the efficiency of government. The true effect, however, was to separate the civil from the financial function of these satrapies, thus ensuring that these governments, while technically independent of him, never truly were. Otherwise, he allowed the inhabitants of these towns to continue as they always had, and made no attempt to impose Greek customs on them. Meanwhile, ambassadors from other Greek cities in Asia Minor came to Alexander, offering submission if he allowed their 'democracies' to continue. Alexander granted their wish, and allowed them to stop paying taxes to Persia, but only if they joined League of Corinth. By doing so, they promised to provide monetary support to Alexander.

Siege of Halicarnassus

The Siege of Halicarnassus was fought in 334 BC. Alexander, who had no navy, was constantly being threatened by the Persian navy. It continuously attempted to provoke an engagement with Alexander, who would have none of it. Eventually, the Persian fleet sailed to Halicarnassus, in order to establish a new defense. Ada of Caria, the former queen of Halicarnassus, had been driven from her throne by a usurping relative. When that relative died, Darius had appointed Orontobates satrap of Caria, which included Halicarnassus in its jurisdiction. On the approach of Alexander in 334 BC, Ada, who was in possession of the fortress of Alinda, surrendered the fortress to him. Alexander and Ada appear to have formed an emotional connection. He called her "mother", finding her more amicable than his megalomaniacal snake-worshiping mother Olympias. In return for his support, Ada gave Alexander gifts, and even sent him some of the best cooks in Asia Minor, realizing that Alexander had a sweet tooth. In the past, Alexander had referred to his biological father, Philip, as his "so-called" father, and preferred to think of the deity Amon Zeus as his actual father. Thus, he had finally managed to divorce himself from both of his biological parents.

Orontobates and Memnon of Rhodes entrenched themselves in Halicarnassus. Alexander had sent spies to meet with dissidents inside the city, who had promised to open the gates and allow Alexander to enter. When his spies arrived, however, the dissidents were nowhere to be found. A small battle resulted, and Alexander's army managed to break through the city walls. Memnon, however, now deployed his catapults, and Alexander's army fell back. Memnon then deployed his infantry, and shortly before Alexander would have received his first (and only) defeat, his infantry managed to break through the city walls, surprising the Persian forces and killing Orontobates. Memnon, realizing the city was lost, set fire to it and withdrew with his army. A strong wind caused the fire to destroy much of the city. Alexander then committed the government of Caria to Ada; and she, in turn, formally adopted Alexander as her son, ensuring that the rule of Caria passed unconditionally to him upon her eventual death.


After spending the winter campaigning in Asia Minor, Alexander's army crossed the Cilician Gates in 333 BC, and met and defeated the main Persian army under the command of Darius III at the Battle of Issus in 333 BC. Darius was forced to flee the battle after his army broke, and in doing so left behind his wife, his two daughters, his mother Sisygambis, and a fabulous amount of treasure. He afterwards offered a peace treaty to Alexander, the concession of the lands he had already conquered, and a ransom of 10,000 talents for his family. Alexander replied that since he was now king of Asia, it was he alone who decided territorial divisions.


Alexander proceeded to take possession of Syria, and most of the coast of the Levant. However, the following year, 332 BC, he was forced to attack Tyre, which he eventually captured after a famous siege. It was after his capture of Tyre that Alexander crucified all the men of military age, and sold the women and children into slavery.[

Battle of Issus

After Alexander's forces successfully defeated the Persians at the Battle of the Granicus, Darius took personal charge of his army, gathered a large army from the depths of the empire, and maneuvered to cut the Greek line of supply, requiring Alexander to countermarch his forces, setting the stage for the battle near the mouth of the Pinarus River and south of the village of Issus. Darius was apparently unaware that, by deciding to stage the battle on a river bank, he was minimizing the numerical advantage his army had over Alexander's.

Initially, Alexander chose what was apparently unfavorable ground. This surprised Darius who mistakenly elected to hold the wrong position while Alexander instructed his infantry to take up a defensive posture. Alexander personally led the more elite Greek Companion cavalry against the Persian left up against the hills, and cut up the enemy on the less encumbering terrain generating a quick rout. After achieving a breakthrough, Alexander demonstrated he could do the difficult and held the cavalry successfully in check after it broke the Persian right. Alexander then mounted his beloved horse Bucephalus at the head of his Companion cavalry and led a direct assault against Darius. The horses that were pulling Darius' chariot were injured, and began tossing at the yoke. Darius, about to fall off his chariot, instead jumped off. He tossed off his royal diadem, mounted a horse, and fled the scene. The Persian troops, realizing they had lost, either surrendered or fled with their hapless king. The Macedonian cavalry pursued the fleeing Persians for as long as there was light. As with most ancient battles, significant carnage occurred after the battle as pursuing Macedonians slaughtered their crowded, disorganized foe.

The Battle of Issus occurred in southern Anatolia, in November 333 BC. The invading troops led by Alexander, were outnumbered more than 2:1, defeated the army personally led by Darius III of Achaemenid Persia.The battle was a decisive Macedonian victory and it marked the beginning of the end of Persian power. It was the first time the Persian army had been defeated with the King (Darius III at the time) present. Darius left his wife and an enormous amount of treasure behind as his army fled. The greed of the Macedonians helped to persuade them to keep going, as did the large number of Persian concubines and prostitutes they picked up in the battle. Darius, by now fearing for both his throne and his life, sent a letter to Alexander where he promised to pay him a substantial ransom in exchange for his prisoners of war, agreed to sign a treaty of alliance with Alexander, and agreed to give to Alexander half of his empire. Darius received a response from Alexander, which began "King Alexander to Darius". In the letter, Alexander blamed Darius for his father's death and claimed Darius to be a vulgar usurper who planned to take Macedonia. He agreed to return the prisoners without ransom, but told Darius that he and Alexander were not equals, and that Darius was to address Alexander as "King of all Asia". He also told Darius that, if he wanted to dispute Alexander's claim to the Achaemenid throne, that he would have to stand and fight Alexander, but if he fled, Alexander would pursue and kill him. By this, Alexander revealed for the first time that his plan was to conquer the entire Persian Empire.


When Alexander destroyed Tyre, most of the towns on the route to Egypt quickly capitulated, with exception of Gaza. The stronghold at Gaza was built on a hill and was heavily fortified. At the beginning of the Siege of Gaza, Alexander utilized the engines he had employed against Tyre. After three unsuccessful assaults, the stronghold was finally taken by force, but not before Alexander received a serious shoulder wound. When Gaza was taken, the male population was put to the sword and the women and children were sold into slavery.

Alexander now advanced in Egypt in later 332 BC, where he was as a liberator in Egypt. He was pronounced the new "master of the Universe" and son of the deity of Amun at the Oracle of Siwa Oasis in the Libyan desert. Henceforth, Alexander often referred to Zeus-Ammon as his true father, and subsequent currency depicted him adorned with ram horns as a symbol of his divinity. During his stay in Egypt, he founded Alexandria-by-Egypt, which would become the prosperous capital of the Ptolemaic kingdom after his death.

Battle of Gaugamela

The Battle of Gaugamela took place in 331 BC in what is now northern Iraq, possibly near Mosul, and resulted in a decisive victory for the Macedonians. After the Siege of Gaza, Alexander advanced from Syria towards the heart of the Persian empire, crossing both the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers without any opposition. Darius was building up a massive army, drawing men from the far reaches of his empire, and planned to use sheer numbers to crush Alexander. While Darius had a significant advantage in numbers, most of his troops were of a lower quality than Alexander's.

The battle began with the Persians already present at the battlefield. Darius had recruited the finest cavalry from his eastern satrapies. Darius placed himself in the center with his best infantry as was the tradition among Persian kings. The Macedonians were divided into two, with the right side of the army falling under the direct command of Alexander, and the left to Parmenion. Alexander began by ordering his infantry to march in phalanx formation towards the center of the enemy line. Darius now launched his chariots, which were intercepted by the Agrianians, and quickly rendered useless. Alexander, while leading the charge, formed his units into a giant wedge, which quickly smashed right into the weakened Persian center. Darius' charioteer was killed by a spear, and chaos rang out as everyone (incorrectly) thought it was Darius who had been killed. The Persian line then collapsed, and Darius fled. Darius escaped with a small core of his forces remaining intact, although the Bactrian cavalry and Bessus soon caught up with him. The remaining Persian resistance was quickly put down. In all, the Battle of Gaugamela was a disastrous defeat for the Persians, and possibly one of Alexander's finest victories.


From Babylon, Alexander went to Susa, one of the Achaemenid capitals, and captured its legendary treasury. Sending the bulk of his army to the Persian ceremonial capital of Persepolis via the Royal Road, Alexander himself took selected troops on the direct route to the city. However, the pass of the Persian Gates (in the modern Zagros Mountains) had been blocked by a Persian army under Ariobarzanes, and Alexander had to storm the pass. Alexander then made a dash for Persepolis before its garrison could loot the treasury could. It was at Persepolis that Alexander was said to have stared at the crumbled statue of Xerxes and decided to leave it on the ground—a symbolic gesture of vengeance. During their stay at the capital, a fire broke out in the eastern palace of Xerxes and spread to the rest of the city. Theories abound as to whether this was the result of a drunken accident, or a deliberate act of revenge for the burning of the Acropolis of Athens during the Second Persian War.

Fall of the Empire and the East

Alexander then set off in pursuit of Darius again, first into Media, and then Parthia. After the The Persian king was no longer in control of his destiny, having been taken prisoner by Bessus, his Bactrian satrap and kinsman. As Alexander approached, Bessus had his men fatally stab the Great King and then declared himself Darius' successor as Artaxerxes V before retreating into Central Asia to launch a guerrilla campaign against Alexander. Darius was found by one of Alexander's scouts, dying, in a baggage train being pulled by an ox. Before he died, Darius remarked that he was glad that he would not die alone.[citation needed] His remains were buried by Alexander next to his Achaemenid predecessors in a full regal funeral. Alexander claimed that, while dying, Darius had named Alexander as his successor to the Achaemenid throne. The Achaemenid Empire is considered to have fallen with the death of Darius.

Alexander, now viewing himself as the legitimate successor to Darius, viewed Bessus as a usurper to the Achaemenid throne, and set out to defeat him. This campaign, which was initially against Bessus, would turn into a grand tour of central Asia, Alexander founding a series of new cities, all called Alexandria, including modern Kandahar in Afghanistan, and Alexandria Eschate ("The Furthest") in modern Tajikistan. The campaign took Alexander through Media, Parthia, Aria (West Afghanistan), Drangiana, Arachosia (South and Central Afghanistan), Bactria (North and Central Afghanistan), and Scythia.


Bessus was betrayed in 329 BC by Spitamenes, who held an undefined position in the satrapy of Sogdiana. Spitamenes handed over Bessus to Ptolemy, one of Alexander's trusted companions, and Bessus was then executed. However, when, at some point later, Alexander was on the Jaxartes, Spitamenes raised Sogdiana in revolt against Alexander. Alexander therefore launched a campaign against Spitamenes, and after he was defeated in the Battle of Gabai, Spitamenes was killed by his own men, who then sued for peace. The majority of the existing Eastern satraps swore loyalty to Alexander, and were allowed to keep their positions.[citation needed] Alexander, taking the Persian title "King of Kings" (Shahanshah), adopted Persian dress and mannerisms, which, in time, the Greeks began to view as decadent.

Problems and plots

During this time, Alexander adopted some elements of Persian dress and customs at his court, notably the custom of proskynesis, either a symbolic kissing of the hand, or prostration on the ground, that Persians paid to their social superiors. The Greeks regarded the gesture as the province of deities and believed that Alexander meant to deify himself by requiring it. This cost him much in the sympathies of many of his countrymen. Here, too, a plot against his life was revealed, and one of his officers, Philotas, was executed for failing to bring the plot to his attention. The death of the son necessitated the death of the father, and thus Parmenion, who had been charged with guarding the treasury at Ecbatana, was assassinated by command of Alexander, so he might not make attempts at vengeance. Most infamously, Alexander personally slew the man who had saved his life at Granicus, Cleitus the Black, during a drunken argument at Maracanda. Later in the Central Asian campaign, a second plot against his life was revealed, this one instigated by his own royal pages. His official historian, Callisthenes of Olynthus (who had fallen out of favor with the king by leading the opposition to his attempt to introduce proskynesis), was implicated in the plot, however, there never has been consensus among historians regarding his involvement in the conspiracy.

Invasion of India

After the death of Spitamenes and his marriage to Roxana (Roshanak in Bactrian) to cement his relations with his new Central Asian satrapies, Alexander was finally free to turn his attention to the Indian subcontinent. Alexander invited all the chieftains of the former satrapy of Gandhara, in the north of what is now Pakistan, to come to him and submit to his authority. Omphis, ruler of Taxila, whose kingdom extended from the Indus to the Hydaspes, complied, but the chieftains of some hill clans, including the Aspasioi and Assakenoi sections of the Kambojas (known in Indian texts as Ashvayanas and Ashvakayanas), refused to submit.

In the winter of 327/326 BC, Alexander personally led a campaign against these clans; the Aspasioi of Kunar valleys, the Guraeans of the Guraeus valley, and the Assakenoi of the Swat and Buner valleys. A fierce contest ensued with the Aspasioi in which Alexander himself was wounded in the shoulder by a dart but eventually the Aspasioi lost the fight. Alexander then faced the Assakenoi, who fought bravely and offered stubborn resistance to Alexander in the strongholds of Massaga, Ora and Aornos. The fort of Massaga could only be reduced after several days of bloody fighting in which Alexander himself was wounded seriously in the ankle. According to Curtius, "Not only did Alexander slaughter the entire population of Massaga, but also did he reduce its buildings to rubbles."[citation needed] A similar slaughter then followed at Ora, another stronghold of the Assakenoi. In the aftermath of Massaga and Ora, numerous Assakenians fled to the fortress of Aornos. Alexander followed close behind their heels and captured the strategic hill-fort after the fourth day of a bloody fight.

After reducing Aornos, Alexander crossed the Indus and fought and won an epic battle against a local ruler Porus, who ruled a region in the Punjab, in the Battle of Hydaspes in 326 BC. After the battle, Alexander was greatly impressed by Porus for his bravery in battle, and therefore made an alliance with him and appointed him as satrap of his own kingdom, even adding some land he did not own before. Alexander then named one of the two new cities that he founded, Bucephala, in honor of the horse who had brought him to India, who had died during the Battle of Hydaspes.

East of Porus' kingdom, near the Ganges River, was the powerful Nanda Empire of Magadha and Gangaridai Empire of Bengal. Fearing the prospects of facing other powerful Indian armies and exhausted by years of campaigning, his army mutinied at the Hyphasis River, refusing to march further east. This river thus marks the easternmost extent of Alexander's conquests.

Last years

Discovering that many of his satraps and military governors had misbehaved in his absence, Alexander executed a number of them as examples, whilst on his way to Susa. As a gesture of thanks, he paid off the debts of his soldiers, and announced that he would send those over-aged and disabled veterans back to Macedon under Craterus, but his troops misunderstood his intention and mutinied at the town of Opis, refusing to be sent away and bitterly criticizing his adoption of Persian customs and dress and the introduction of Persian officers and soldiers into Macedonian units. Alexander executed the ringleaders of the mutiny, but forgave the rank and file. In an attempt to craft a lasting harmony between his Macedonian and Persian subjects, he held a mass marriage of his senior officers to Persian and other noblewomen at Susa, but few of those marriages seem to have lasted much beyond a year. Meanwhile, upon his return, Alexander learned some men had desecrated the tomb of Cyrus the Great, and swiftly executed them. For they were put in charge of guarding the tomb Alexander held in honor.

After Alexander traveled to Ecbatana to retrieve the bulk of the Persian treasure, his closest friend and possibly lover Hephaestion died of an illness, or possibly of poisoning. Alexander, distraught over the death of his longtime companion, sacked a nearby town, and put all of its inhabitants to the sword, as a 'sacrifice' to Hephaestion's ghost. Alexander mourned Hephaestion for six months.


On either June 10 or 11, 323 BC, Alexander died in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, in Babylon, one month short of his 33rd birthday. Plutarch gives a lengthy account of the circumstances of his death, echoed (without firm dates) by Arrian. Roughly 14 days before his death, Alexander entertained his admiral Nearchus, and then, instead of going to bed, spent the night and next day drinking with Medius of Larissa. After this, and by the 18th of Daesius (a Macedonian month) he had developed a fever, which then grew steadily worse. By the 25th of Daesius, he was unable to speak.[100] By the 26th, the common soldiers had become anxious about his health, or thought he was already dead. They demanded to see him, and Alexander's generals acquiesced. The soldiers slowly filed past him, whilst Alexander raised his right hand in greeting, still unable to speak. Two days later, on the 28th of Daesius (although Aristobolus's account says it was the 30th), Alexander was dead. Conversely, Diodorus recounts that Alexander was struck down with pain after downing a large bowl of unmixed wine in honour of Hercules, and (rather mysteriously) died after some agony, which is also mentioned as an alternative by Arrian, but Plutarch specifically refutes this claim.

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Source: Wikipedia

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