26th September – Five days to go until the 2,348th anniversary of the Battle of Gaugamela. Today, I am asking ‘What could Darius have done to win the battle?’
As we saw a few days ago, the Persians lost the battle after (a) Alexander successfully drew its cavalry to the Macedonian right, creating a hole in the Persian centre. He then led his cavalry into the breach and fought his way closer and closer to Darius. Seeing this, the Great King fled from the battlefield, and (b) Mazaeus’ attempt to destroy the Macedonian left wing failed.
So, Darius could have won if a number ‘ifs’ had happened:-
- If Darius had been able to stop his horsemen from being pulled to their left and successfully enveloped the Macedonian right wing, or
- If his infantry had been able to withstand the Companion Cavalry’s attack and caught Alexander out during the close fighting, or
- If Mazaeus had successfully destroyed the Macedonian left wing and enveloped its centre
Then maybe – very likely in the case of (3) – Darius would have won the battle.
There’s more. On his way back to help Parmenion (or on his way back to camp, according to Curtius), Alexander was confronted by a fleeing Persian cavalry unit which, seeing him and his men blocking their way, engaged the Macedonians in a fierce fight.
Once Parmenion’s safety was assured, Alexander returned to the pursuit of Darius. As he and his men rode, they slaughtered any of the enemy in their way.
However, if the fleeing cavalry unit or one of the fleeing Persians had managed to kill Alexander this would almost certainly have led to the disintegration of the Macedonian army.
Admittedly, not at the battle itself as our question requires, but in the days following. Look at how worried the senior Macedonian commanders were when Alexander was badly injured against the Mallians in India (VI.12.1-2), and look at what happened in Babylon after he did indeed die.
The Macedonian army relied utterly on Alexander for its success. Without him, it was liable to break apart. This helps us appreciate what a precarious position the Macedonian army was in on 1st October 331 BC. If Alexander had been killed – and all it would have taken is a stray arrow – his army would have been destroyed either on the battlefield or in the days / weeks following as it splintered and came under the control of the various commanders, all of whom would be a weak opposition for a Persian king.
For their part, however, the Persians could have afforded to lose Darius. For example, had he been killed and Mazaeus been victorious on the Persian left wing, a successor would have been named and the Persian Empire continued.