Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 58-61 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here
Persian and Macedonian Armies Clash At Gaugamela
Alexander Narrowly Misses Killing Darius
Parmenion Defeats Mazaeus
Darius Flees; Persians Routed
As we saw in the last post, Diodorus dedicates the whole of Chapter 57 to the formation of the Macedonian army. At the start of this chapter, he restricts his description of the Persian army’s formation to saying that that it was based ‘on the characteristics of its national contingents’. I take this to mean that like the Macedonians, each battalion was formed of men from a particular region.
The only other detail that we are given is Darius’ position. Diodorus places him opposite Alexander, on the Persian left wing. The Footnotes, however, state that he actually fought in the centre.
Darius and Alexander ordered their men forward. As the two sides came up to each other, their trumpeters gave the signal to attack. Diodorus says that ‘the troops charged each other’ although if the Macedonians were carrying their sarissae, I find that unlikely. Be that as it may, the Battle of Gaugamela now begun.
One The Persians’ scythed chariots leapt forward. At first, and just as Darius intended, they ‘created great alarm and terror among the Macedonians’, all the more so since Mazaeus, who was ‘in command of the cavalry’, sent them forward with ‘dense squadrons of horse’.
1A After the initial shock, however, the Macedonians remembered Alexander’s instructions and they began beating their shields loudly. The tactic worked. Most of the Persian horses were unsettled and turned back. Some, however, continued forward. Again, just as Alexander ordered, the phalanx divided so that the chariots could pass harmlessly through.
1B This tactic was only partially successful. It is true that some chariots passed straight down the newly created channels while others were stopped when the driver was killed with a javelin. But other chariot drivers ‘wrought death’ upon the Macedonians, with their scythes slashing the enemy from neck to leg.
Two The Macedonian phalanx and Persian infantry now came within shooting distance of each other. Arrows, slingshot and javelins flew threw the air
Three Hand-to-hand combat between the cavalry began. In Chapter 57 I got the impression that the Macedonian cavalry ran from the right to left wing – just as it had at the Granicus River and Issus. From what Diodorus now says, however, it appears that, actually, it was on the right wing only. As this was so, Diodorus continues, Darius himself ‘led his kinsman cavalry against them’. These were the Royal Relatives, whose flight presaged the Persian defeat at the Granicus River.
Four The Persian cavalry was supported in its attack by a unit known as the ‘Apple Bearers’, so-called because of the apple-shaped butt on their spears, the Mardi and Cossaei, household troops and ‘the best fighters among the indians’. They enjoyed a superiority of numbers over the Macedonians and pressed hard against them.
Five Diodorus now tells us that Mazaeus was in charge of the Persian right wing. Either his horse had swift feet or this is a mistake as a moment ago Mazaeus was somewhere in the centre or left wing overseeing the scythed chariots’ attack. My uncertainty on this point comes from the fact that Diodorus doesn’t say where exactly the chariots were while the Footnotes suggest they were situated on the left wing – they must be referencing another historian.
5A Mazaeus had ‘the best of the [Persian] cavalry under him’, and with it he wreaked havoc on the Macedonians killing ‘not a few of his opponents at the first onslaught’.
5B As the Persian cavalry drove at the Macedonians, Mazaeus ordered ‘two thousand Cadusii and a thousand picked Scythian horsemen’ to sweep round the Macedonian flank and hit the baggage train. Their orders were to capture the Macedonian baggage, people as well as objects. The Footnotes suggest that this may have been, effectively, a rescue operation to free the Persian women (e.g. the royal family).
Six The Cadusii and Scythian horsemen entered the Macedonian camp. Persian prisoners-of-war rose up to join them.’Most of the female captives rushed off to welcome the Persians’. But not Sisygambis. She ‘neither trusted the uncertain turns of Fortune nor would sully her gratitude toward Alexander’.
Seven The Persian horsemen returned to Mazaeus ‘to report their success’.
Eight Meanwhile, Darius’ cavalry continued to press against their Macedonian opposites, forcing them ‘to give ground’.
Nine Seeing the Persian cavalry force his men back, Alexander decided it was time to intervene. Leading the ‘royal squadron and the rest of the elite horse guards’ he ‘rode hard against Darius’.
Ten The Persians defended themselves by flinging javelins at Alexander and his men. Dodging the missiles, Alexander returned fire – throwing a javelin at Darius himself. It missed – but only just; instead, it struck Darius’ chariot driver, knocking him to the ground.
Eleven The driver’s fall was the turning point of the battle. The Persians around Darius cried out at this near-miss. Their concern was misinterpreted by soldiers further away, who thought it meant that Darius had been killed.
Twelve Fearing the worst, the soldiers further away began to flee from the battlefield. The men fighting next to them followed. ‘[S]teadily, little by little, the solid ranks of Dareius’s guard disintegrated’.
Thirteen One can imagine Darius’ frustration as he saw his men fleeing from the battlefield. Nevertheless, he fought on until ‘both flanks [of his guard?] became exposed’. Then, filled with alarm, he retreated.
Fourteen Seeing Darius’ chariot flee, the Persian army began a general collapse. Alexander and his men searched for Darius but in the swirl of dust, thrown up by the Persian cavalry, it was impossible to find him.
Fifteen Despite Darius’ departure, the battle was not yet over. Mazaeus was pushing the Thessalian cavalry hard on the Persian right (/Macedonian left). He might have routed lesser foes, but the Thessalians were the finest horsemen of their time and ‘put up a stout resistance’. Under Parmenion’s leadership, they were even able to take the upper hand.
Sixteen Mazaeus, however, had superior ‘weight and numbers’ and took control of the fight. There was a ‘great slaughter’ and Parmenion feared his men would be defeated. He sent horsemen to ask Alexander for help but they were unable to catch up with him – his pursuit of Darius had taken him a ‘great distance from the battlefield’.
Seventeen The horsemen returned to Parmenion. Despite what must have been a bitter disappointment, Parmenion did not give in. And what happens when you don’t give in? You win. That’s what Parmenion did. He routed Mazaeus’ cavalry. The Battle of Gaugamela was now over.
Eighteen As he rode away from the battlefield, Darius took advantage of the dust cloud hiding him and swung round to the Macedonian rear. In doing so, he escaped his pursuers.
Nineteen Following the Persian army’s defeat on the battlefield and the route that followed here are the casualty figures as Diodorus gives them.
- Persian Cavalry and Infantry ‘more than ninety thousand’
- Macedonian Cavalry and Infantry ‘[a]bout five hundred’ + ‘very many wounded’
Twenty Some high-profile Macedonians were injured during the battle. Hepahestion was wounded in the arm by a spear thrust. Perdiccas and Coenus were also injured. Diodorus also mentions a cavalry officer named Menidas (‘and others of the higher commanders’) who I am not familiar with being hurt.
In Chapter 58, Diodorus describes how the Persian scythed chariots ‘cut through necks and sent heads tumbling to the ground with the eyes still open and the expression of the countenance unchanged’. This is obviously an indication of how quickly the scythes killed their man but it also reminded me of the story (I don’t know if it is true) of how, after she was guillotined, Charlotte Corday’s head was lifted up and slapped to see if it was possible for someone to survive decapitation even if only for a few seconds. Corday is said to have looked indignantly back at the man who assaulted her. There is more on this gruesome story on her Wikipedia page.
The Footnotes state that Diodorus’ mention of the Cossaei in Four (one of the units that supported the Persian cavalry on the left wing) is an error ‘since they were not subjects of the king’
At the start of Chapter 60, Diodorus says ‘The Persian king… hurled javelins against his opponents’. In Ten, above, I have limited myself to saying that the Persians flung javelins as I can’t bring myself to believe that Darius himself did so. What do you think? Is it likely that he would have himself?
Still in Chapter 60 – in Eleven I described how the fall of Darius’ driver led to the Persians around the royal chariot anxiously crying out. Their dismay at how close Alexander had come to killing the Great King was misinterpreted by Persians further away who thought it meant that Darius had been killed. They began fleeing the battlefield, thus initiating the end of the battle. How far away were these Persians? The reason I wonder this is because Darius was supposed to be quite tall, was he not? Were these Persians too far away to see him standing up? Was Darius, at that moment, leaning down to tend to his driver? Was he cowering in his chariot?
With reference to Sixteen, the Footnotes are very interesting regarding Parmenion’s message to Alexander. The historians are divided as to what happened.
- Arrian ‘Alexander received the message and returned’
- Curtius and Plutarch ‘Alexander received the message but did not turn back’
- Diodorus Alexander did not receive the message and did not return
The Footnotes give the casualty figures according to the other historians.
- Persian Dead Three Hundred Thousand
- Macedonian Dead One Hundred
- Persian Dead Forty Thousand
- Macedonian Dead Three Hundred
Writer of P. Oxyrhynchus 1798
- Persian Dead Fifty Three Thousand
- Macedonian Dead One Thousand Foot + Two Hundred Horse