Darius’ Response to his Defeat at Issus

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 39 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Darius Makes Concessions to Alexander
Alexander Rejects Concessions
Huge Army Assembles in Babylon

The Story

Chapter 39
Darius rode from Issus to Babylon; there, he ‘wrote to Alexander advising him to bear his success as one who was only human and to release the captives in return for a large ransom’. He also offered to give Alexander all Persian territory ‘west of the Halys River’ in return for a ‘treaty of friendship’.

Wikipedia tells me that the the Halys is the modern day Kizilirmak. As you can see from the picture below, Darius was essentially offering Alexander western Asia Minor.


Diodorus now alleges that Alexander forged Darius’ letter and presented it instead of the real one to his Council of Friends. Why might he have done this? Was he worried that his generals would be inclined to accept Darius’ offer of money and land?

Whatever the reason, the forgery did its job and Darius’ envoys were sent away ’empty handed’. According to Diodorus, this represented the end of the Great King’s ‘attempt to reach an agreement with Alexander by diplomatic means’.

Darius now did the only thing he could do and ‘set to work on vast preparations for war’. Re-equipping the survivors of the Battle of Issus who had already made their way to Babylon, and enlisting new recruits, he also ‘sent for… levies from the upper satrapies’.

By the time his new army had assembled it was ‘twice the size of that which had been engaged at Issus’. Diodorus says that it was formed of ‘eight hundred thousand infantry and two hundred thousand cavalry’. The army also included ‘a force of scythe-bearing chariots’.

Darius must now have thought that vengeance would surely be his.

On the one hand, it is touching that having suffered such a great defeat at Issus Darius thought he was in a position to buy Alexander off with land and money. On the other, the fact that he was able to raise such a great army shows he was right to not throw in the towel straight away.

In fact, given the depth of his resources, I wonder why he even bothered to treat with Alexander in the first place. I wonder if the letter was born of the knowledge that while he had a great many men to draw on, they were either untrained or less well trained than the Macedonians. Similarly, while the scythe-bearing chariots looked good, they also represented a type of warfare that was now old fashioned.

I should add that when I say that the scythe-bearing chariots were old fashioned I am speaking from memory. I can’t remember my source so feel free to correct me if you think I am wrong.

According to the Footnotes, Diodorus is the only person to allege that Alexander forged Darius’ letter. They note that according to the sources Darius sent Alexander three letters in all.

Letter One Sent after the Battle of Issus. Arrian, Curtius and Justin state that Darius ‘demanded that Alexander withdraw from Asia’ (my emphasis) which really is amusing given the circumstances. Curtius and Justin add that Darius offered a ransom for the release of his captives. Arrian, on the other hand, makes no reference to a ransom. The Footnotes suggest that Curtius’ letter is the forged one of Diodorus on the basis of it being written in insulting terms.

Letter Two Sent after the fall of Tyre. Darius made further concessions. According to Curtius it was one of his daughters in marriage as well as Asia Minor west of the Halys. According to Justin, Darius made an alternative offer of ‘a share in the kingdom’. As the Footnotes point out, Curtius’ letter is ‘approximately’ Diodorus’ letter in Chapter 39. Arrian’s places at Tyre Letter Three, below.

Letter Three Sent after Alexander’s ‘departure from Egypt and before [the Battle of] Gaugamela’. By-the-bye, the Footnotes say that according to Arrian, Curtius and Diodorus an embassy delivered Darius’ new offer rather than the Great King in a letter (Justin and Plutarch). Either way, Darius now offered ‘the hand of another daughter… cession of all territory west of the Euphrates, and a ransom for the royal women’ which was ten thousand talents according to Plutarch and Arrian, or thirty thousand talents according to Curtius, Diodorus and Justin.
euphratesAs you can see from the image above (via Wikipedia), Darius was now offering Alexander the western Persian empire.

It would not be hard to imagine that Darius’ third letter offered most because Darius was at his most desperate. The Footnotes add, however, that it is ‘connected with Alexander’s kindly treatment of Dareius’ queen’. Well, if nothing else, Darius presents a challenge to men – he was willing to give up half his empire for the woman he loved; would you?

What Would You Give Up For Your Woman?
Philip II A peaceful life
Aegisthus Her husband
Mark Antony My other woman
Ptolemy II My sister. Wait. Sorry, that’s the wrong way round
Narcissus Woman?

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Darius’ Response to his Defeat at Issus

  1. Liked your “poll” in the end of the article…. 🙂


  2. Hi great reading yyour blog


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