Posts Tagged With: Issus

Artemis in the Air

The Nature of Curtius
Book Three Chapters 11 – 13
For other posts in the series click here

Chapter Eleven
A Ridge with a View
The Battle of Issus got underway. Upon seeing that Darius was trying to surround his army, Alexander ‘ordered two cavalry squadrons to maintain a position on [a] ridge’ overlooking the battlefield. It appears from Curtius’ text that they remained there for the rest of the battle.

The battle effectively ended when, fearing that he was about to be captured by Alexander, Darius fled. Before doing so, he threw ‘off his royal insignia so they could not betray his flight’. The consecrated eagle on his chariot had already been left behind, now he divested himself of the hawks attacking one another.

We should not be surprised by Darius’ actions. When he cited tradition as his reason for refusing to split his army up, Codomannus proved himself to be a man living in the shadow of past Persian Great Kings rather than their worthy successor. His willingness to shed the marks of his kingship simply takes his unworthiness to sit upon the Persian throne one step further; it proves that he was their shadow.

Once Darius fled, the Persian army quickly followed. Some of the men returned to their camp through the pass, while others began the journey back to Persia. These latter took different routes with some crossing the plains and others travelling across the ‘sequestered mountain passes’. Alexander was also on the move – doing his best to chase the Great King down.

Chapter Twelve
Altars by the Shore
Thanks to horse relays, Darius escaped. Thwarted, Alexander made his way to the Persian camp. That night, as he banqueted with his ‘most intimate friends’ a loud cry issued from the Persian royal family’s tent. The women were lamenting what they believed to be the death of their king.

When Alexander visited them the next day, Sisygambis –  the Queen Mother – made her famous mistake when she paid homage to Hephaestion thinking him to be the king instead of Alexander who was standing next to him.

Later, Alexander ‘consecrated three altars on the banks of the river Pinarus to Jupiter, Hercules and Minerva’. I can only wonder why he chose to carry out the sacrifice next to the river.

Chapter Thirteen
Snow Outside Damascus
Alexander’s journey now takes a back seat as Curtius follows Parmenion to Damascus. He had been sent there to retrieve the Persian royal treasury.

While Parmenion was still on the road, the governor of Damascus decided to surrender. He sent a message to Alexander to that effect.

Parmenion intercepted this message. After reading it, he ordered the messenger to return to Damascus – presumably to inform the governor that his surrender had been accepted.

On the way back, though, the messenger escaped from his Macedonian escort, and it seems he did not return to his master, for on seeing Parmenion approach, the governor thought his offer to surrender had been turned down.

Anxious to avoid a fight, he ordered his porters to march out of the city before sunrise carrying the royal treasury. It was a cold and windy morning. Upon a moment, the weather turned; it began to snow.

To protect themselves against the porters put on ‘the gold-and-purple-embroidered clothing’ that they had been carrying along with the money and other valuables.

In Chapter Ten we saw how Alexander pointed out those in the ‘enemy line’ who were wearing gold and purple. Curtius says that these clothes belonged to ‘high-ranking men and… distinguished women’. Perhaps the men’s clothes belonged to the same men that Alexander had pointed out to the Illyrians and Thracians.

The porters’ actions were in absolute contravention of Persian protocol, but ‘the king’s misfortunes meant that even the dregs could flout his authority’.

Upon seeing the richly clad men approach him, Parmenion mistook them for soldiers and prepared for a fight.

Fortunately for all concerned, however, the porters had good eyes. Despite the snow, they saw the Macedonian force in front of them; and as soon as they did, they dropped their loads and took to their heels.

Rather than pursue them, the Macedonians set about recovering the treasures – reaching into bramble-bushes and sinking their hands into mud in order to reach it.

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Echoes of War

The Nature of Curtius
Book Three Chapters 7 – 10
For the other posts in this series, click here

Chapter Seven
The City of Issus
Once Alexander had recovered from his illness he marched south from Tarsus via Soli to Mallus on the Cilician coast. In order to enter the city, he had to cross the Pyramus River. He did so by constructing a pontoon bridge.

Curtius gives no details regarding how the bridge was built but perhaps Alexander used the same method by which he crossed the Danube in 335 B.C. and would cross Jaxartes in 329; namely, by having his men stitch their tents together and filling them with hay so that they acted as floats.

As it happens, Alexander was not the only bridge builder at this time. Just before he crossed the Pyramus, Darius had crossed the Euphrates, possibly at Thapsacus according to the Notes. In order to do so, the Great King also built a pontoon bridge. Again, Curtius doesn’t explain how the bridge was built. But it must have been sturdy, as it was good enough to survive the trudge of soldiers’ feet for five days while the Persian army made its way across.

From Mallus, Alexander made his way to Castabalum – a day’s march along the road. There, he met Parmenion. The old marshal made up for having incorrectly accused Philip of Arcanania of betraying the king by delivering some good news*.

He reported that not only had he taken control of a ‘pass through which [the Macedonians] were obliged to march to reach the city called Issus’ but he had won the city itself. Furthermore, his men had ‘dislodged the Persians holding positions within the [Taurus] mountains’.

Alexander marched on through the newly won pass and into Issus. There, he called his senior officers together to discuss whether to continue marching or wait for reinforcements that were on the way from Macedon**.

Parmenion was unequivocal in his response – they should wait in Issus. If they did so, the ‘narrow pass’ outside the city would nullify the size advantage of the Persian army. If they carried on into the plains, the Persians would be able to constantly replenish their front line or use their superior size to surround or trap the Macedonian army in a ‘pincer-movement’. Alexander saw the sense in this argument and ‘decided to await his enemy at the narrowest part of the pass’.

* One can only wonder whether Parmenion’s good news was enough to make Philip forgive him
** The Notes say that no other source mentions these reinforcements and that they may be Curtius’ invention

Chapter Eight
Darius’ Inflexibility
The similarities between Darius’ and Alexander’s journeys extend beyond the building of pontoon bridges. The Great King too received advice regarding how to fight his enemy, and Darius also had the chance to influence where his army would form up against the Macedonians. But unlike Alexander, Darius proved unable to accept the advice and was therefore unable to influence where the battle would take place.

When I say unable I mean he could have accepted it but through weakness failed to do so. Let’s look at what happened.

At an unspecified point after crossing the Euphrates River, Darius received a message from his Greek mercenaries. They ‘strongly urged’ him ‘to retreat and head for the plains of Mesopotamia’.

At the very least, the mercenaries said, you should split the army in two so that if even if you lose the upcoming battle your kingdom will not be put in peril.

To his credit, Darius took the advice seriously – in contrast to his courtiers who not only dismissed the counsel but said that the idea of splitting the army up showed that the mercenaries wanted to ‘hand over to Alexander whatever part was entrusted to them’!

Again, to his credit, Darius dismissed the courtiers’ wild claims. But critically he did not do as the mercenaries advised. Instead, he sent a message back thanking ‘them for their concern’ and confirming he would not retreat as that would destroy his reputation, which would ‘certainly’ cause the loss of his kingdom to Alexander.

Darius also rejected the idea of splitting the army up. And here is why he was weak. To break the army in two, he said, would mean ‘breaking with tradition’. In any case, Alexander – ‘formerly… a fearsome figure… had taken to a hiding-place in the narrow parts of a mountain valley’ and was ‘deceiving his own soldiers with a feigned illness’.

To be fair, Darius’ concern for his reputation is a reasonable point. Arsames’ scorched earth policy, which we read about in the last post, caused him to lose his with his mountain guards who then promptly deserted. I find it hard to believe, though, that Darius’ influence over his men was so light that they would desert simply as a result of any decision to retreat.

Darius’ decision to keep the army whole on the grounds that that’s what his ancestors did is lamentable. In a way, he didn’t need to split his army – after being defeated at Issus, he still managed to form a new one for the Battle of Gaugamela – but that is besides the point. Darius’ reason for keeping it as one shows that he was unable to adapt to circumstances.

I can’t help but feel that when Darius told the mercenaries that Alexander was feigning illness, he was not acting on even faulty intelligence, but simply deluding himself. He wanted – or needed – to believe that his enemy was a fraud and so convinced himself of the ‘fact’.

In this, Darius was being every bit as inflexible as the French generals who did nothing to protect the Ardennes forest against a Nazi advance as they were determined to believe that Hitler’s troops would attack along the Maginot Line.

So, Darius continued on his way, and his delusion continued with him. Around the time that the Persians passed through the Amanic Gates, Darius discovered that Alexander had left Issus. Why? The delusion provided the answer: He had abandoned it and was in retreat.

A number of stragglers from the Macedonian army were caught. Darius had them mutilated before making them inspect the Persian forces. He wanted them to tell Alexander what they had seen and put the fear of Darius’ strength in him.

When that was done, Darius crossed the Pinarus River in pursuit of his ‘fleeing’ rival. The mutilated stragglers, meanwhile, caught up with their army and reported to Alexander what they had seen. The king could not believe that the Persians were behind him, so sent scouts to investigate.

They passed along the coast and the sound of crashing waves soon gave way to the duller thud thud thud sound of marching men.

Alexander had been concerned to learn whether Darius was coming with his entire army. On hearing that he was, he happily set up camp in the pass they were currently situated. So much Darius’ attempt at shock and awe.

From passes to ridges. That night, Alexander climbed ‘to the top of a high ridge’ and ‘sacrificed to the tutelary gods of the area’. The next day, the Macedonian army approached the Persian force in a narrow defile. When told about this, Darius was incredulous, and his army ‘alarmed’.

As the Persians took up their weapons, some of the men climbed hilltops to get a view of the enemy. Darius thought about doing the same with a view of using it to organise an encircling movement of the Macedonians. In the end, Curtius says, he was undone, by fortune. ‘Some of the Persians were too frightened to carry out their orders, [while] others obeyed them to no effect’.

How different it might have been Darius he had listened to the mercenaries and returned to the Mesopotamian plains.

Chapter Nine
In the Defile
This short chapter covers the disposition of the Macedonian and Persian armies. At the end, Curtius notes the very simple way in which Alexander adapted to his environment. While the defile remained narrow, the phalanx marched with no protection on its flanks (except that afforded by the rocks). As it widened, though, Alexander placed cavalry cover there.

Chapter Ten
The Art of Rhetoric
At the start of the battle, the two armies sought to gain a psychological advantage by issuing their battle cries. These echoed ‘from the mountain tops’ no less ‘and vast forests’.

Alexander rode ahead of his men, inspiring them with talk of conquering the entire world. ‘It would not be fruitless labour on the sheer rocks and crags of Illyria and Thrace: they were being offered the spoils of the entire East.’

And just as he adapted his strategy according to the lay of the land, Alexander adapted the way he spoke to his men in order to get the best result from them. ‘Since the Illyrians and Thracians usually made their living by looting, Alexander told them to look at the enemy line agleam with gold and purple… They [the Illyrians and Thracians] should exchange their rugged mountain-tops and barren hill-trails permanently stiff with frost for the rich plains and fields of the Persians’.

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The Macedonian Mole Approaches Tyre

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 40, 41 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Requests Permission To Enter Tyre
Tyre Refuses To Let Alexander In
Construction of Mole Begins
Sea-Monster: What Are The Gods Saying?

The Story
Chapter 40 begins a new year in Diodorus’ chronology but takes us back to the Macedonian camp immediately after the Battle of Issus. After burying his dead, and ‘those of the Persians who had distinguished themselves by courage’, Alexander sacrificed to the gods and gave rewards to those of his men ‘who had borne themselves well in battle’. Once these tasks were over, he let the army rest for a few days before beginning the southward journey to Egypt.

In southern Phoenicia, Alexander came to the island city of Tyre. There, he told the Tyrians that he ‘wished to sacrifice to the Tyrian Heracles’ only to be refused permission to enter the city. Angered by this, Alexander threatened to take the city by force ‘but the Tyrians cheerfully faced the prospect of a siege’.

Diodorus explains that the Tyrians’ decision to bar Alexander was motivated by a desire to ‘gratify Darius’. They also thought that by this show of loyalty ‘they would receive great gifts from the king’.

As he prepared to lay siege to the city, Alexander saw that Tyre would be impossible to take by sea ‘because of the engines mounted along its walls and the fleet that it possessed’. Neither was taking it by land an option as Tyre lay four furlongs away from the coast.

The obvious answer to this dilemma was simply to leave Tyre where it was and continue on to Egypt. But in Alexander’s eyes, this would cause his army to be ‘held in contempt by a single undistinguished [!] city’ and he could not allow that.

His first action was to demolish Old Tyre and start the construction of a mole (a causeway), two hundred feet wide, to bridge the gap between shoreline and city. This kind of project was going to need a large workforce to complete, and Diodorus says that Alexander ‘drafted into service the entire population of the neighbouring cities’ in order to get it done. Which in due course, they did, with some speed.

Chapter 41
At first, though, the Tyrians did not take the mole seriously. They sailed up to it ‘and mocked the king, asking if he thought that he would get the better of Poseidon’. This contempt only lasted as long as it took for the Tyrians to realise that the mole was approaching their city with ‘unexpected rapidity’. An assembly was held and a vote taken. It was decided to

  • Transport all women, children and ‘old men’ (not old women?) to Carthage
  • Post ‘the young and able-bodied to the defence of the walls’
  • Prepare the navy – eighty triremes strong – for battle

Diodorus reports that some women and children – and presumably old men – were removed to Carthage but that the rest were forced to stay in the city by the rapid advance of of the mole.

As you can see by the map below (from Wikipedia’s page dedicated to the siege), Tyre’s two ports were land-facing. Perhaps as the mole progressed this put the ships within range of Alexander’s catapults making their movement impossible.


Having said that, as the Footnotes point out, in Chapter 46 Diodorus says that ‘most of the non-combatants’ were taken out of the city.

Whether or not the women and children got away, the men in the city set about constructing catapults and other anti-siege engines. Work went well ‘because of the [number of] engineers and artisans… who were in the city’.

Strange events now interrupted the siege and caused confusion among the Macedonians and Tyrians alike. As the mole ‘came within [firing] range’ of the Tyrians, a tidal wave caused ‘a sea-monster of incredible size’ to crash into the mole. Neither were harmed and after a while the monster (a whale?) swam back into the sea. But what did it mean? Was it a good or bad omen? Both sides asked themselves this question. And both sides decided it was a sign that Poseidon was on their side.

Around the same time, the Macedonians reported that their rations of bread ‘had a bloody look’. And in Tyre, a man claimed to have had a vision ‘in which Apollo told him that he would leave the city’. He was accused of wanting to ‘curry favour with Alexander, and some of the younger citizens set out to stone him’. The man was rescued by the city magistrates; he hid in the temple of Heracles.

So not everyone believed the man’s vision but enough were convinced, and they tied golden cords round their statue of Apollo to prevent the god from deserting them.

Why did Alexander really lay siege to Tyre? Out of anger, as Diodorus suggests? I agree with anyone who says that his request was a either a ploy to get into the city, whereupon he would take control of it, or a pretext to lay siege to it. Tyre was pro-Persian. That made it too dangerous to leave unconquered. Had Alexander bypassed the city he would have handed the Persians a sea and land base from which to attack him.

No city is an island – even when it is. Notwithstanding the Tyrians’ trust in their strength, it is interesting to note that Tyre hoped Carthage, a colony, would help them out. Diodorus says that part of the Tyrian objective was to hold Alexander up and give Darius time to assemble his army. A Carthaginian attack would surely, though, have allowed Tyre to take the fight to Alexander.

I like the fact that Alexander justified the siege in terms of his army’s honour. Very crafty – even though I think he had sound military reasons for destroying Tyre, telling the men they were going to build the mole to save them from contempt could only have appealed to their pride.

Diodorus doesn’t mention the possibility that Alexander’s ships – he still had some after dismissing his fleet following the siege of Miletus (Ch. 22) – had an influence on Tyre’s inability to evacuate its women and children though they must have been present.

Young men are really not coming off well in Diodorus’ history. First we saw how they failed to break Ephialtes’ army during the siege of Halicarnassus – and had to be saved by the Macedonian veterans; then there was the case of the young men of Marmares who killed their families and fled their city despite resolving to die for its freedom; now, the young Tyrians nearly lynched the visionary. Is there a lesson to be drawn from this? I’ll let you decide.

There is no joke at the end of this post
as I am too tired to make one

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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?

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The Aftermath of the Battle of Issus

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 35, 36 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Macedonian Army Loots Persian Camp
Alexander Pursues Darius

The Story
Chapter 35
Once Darius’ army had been routed, Persian soldiers fled for their lives. Macedonian soldiers chased them until nightfall whereupon they gave up their pursuit ‘and turned to plunder’.

Their target was, of course, the Persian camp. Diodorus tells us that the Macedonians were ‘particularly attracted by the royal pavilions because of the mass of wealth that was there’.

The pavillions contained ‘much silver, no little gold and vast numbers of rich dresses… and likewise a great store of wealth belonging to the King’s Friends, Relatives, and military commanders’.

There were also the ‘gilded chariots’ of Darius’ Relatives and Friends and ‘ladies of the royal house’ who had travelled with ‘a store of rich furniture and feminine adornment, in keeping with their vast wealth and luxury’.

Some of these ladies now ‘burst wailing out of the tents’. Diodorus describes them as being dressed only ‘in a single chiton’, a humiliation in a culture where women covered up their bodies. The women tore their clothes and cried out to their gods. Tearing off their jewellery, they attempted to flee.

Perhaps some escaped. Others, however, were dragged off by their new masters. The ‘lucky’ women were simply dragged by the hair – presumably to the soldiers’ tents – while the (even) less fortunate had their clothing torn off and were punched and struck with spear-butts ‘thus outraging the dearest and proudest of the Persian possessions’.

Chapter 36
Not all Macedonians behaved so ruthlessly. Diodorus says that ‘the most prudent… looked on this reversal of fortune with compassion and felt pity’ for the women.

In a world that worshipped authority it is not surprising to read that what ‘particularly moved to tears of pity those who saw it’ was the Persian royal family’s suffering. ‘In their case, the change in fortune and the magnitude of their loss of position, incredible as it was, was a spectacle that might well inspire compassion’.

As the royal family wondered what had happened to Darius, Macedonian soldiers broke into their tent to loot it. They would not have done so had they known who the women and young boy cowering in front of them was but at that point they were still ignorant.

Meanwhile, Alexander’s pages entered Darius’ tent to prepare a bath and dinner for their king. He had not yet entered the Persian camp, leading the pursuit of Darius after the battle.

Diodorus concludes the chapter with the casualty figures that I mentioned in the last post.

By our standards the Macedonians’ behaviour in (a) looting the Persian camp, and (b) their treatment of the Persian women is lamentable. Looting, however, was regarded then as an acceptable practice. I imagine it was one of the reasons why the Macedonians’ went to war. Alexander may have had high-blown ideas about spreading Hellenism but his men were more interested in getting rich. As for the Persian women – they didn’t have too many rights, anyway; now, though, I guess they were seen as a living plunder that could be dealt with (within reason?) as their new owners wished.

I wonder why it was the ‘most prudent’ Macedonians who felt pity for the Persian women. Could they have been aware that what had happened to the women might easily have happened, or still could, to Macedonian women?

Booty Call – Macedonian Dictionary
To break into the enemy’s camp and steal one or more of his women for sex or sale
“Hey, Amyntas! The Persian camp is undefended. It’s time for a booty call.”
“I’m with you. Unity of Mankind? I just want to have fun and get rich.”

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The Battle of Issus

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 33, 34 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Macedonians and Persians Clash at Issus
Darius Nearly Killed by Own Horses
Persian Cavalry Routed
Macedonian Phalanx Inflicts Heavy Casulaties
Alexander Wins Battle
Darius Flees

The Story
Alexander’s scouts were the first people to see Darius’ army. They reported to the king that it was approaching in battle formation. The scouts were afraid but ‘Alexander grasped that this was a god-given opportunity [for him] to destroy the Persian power in a single victory’. He ‘roused his soldiers with appropriate words for a decisive effort’ and prepared the army for battle.

Didorus spends next to no time on the Macedonian army’s battle order. He explains that Alexander lined the cavalry up in front of the infantry, that Alexander placed himself on the right wing (the king’s traditional location), and that the Thessalian cavalry – ‘outstanding in bravery and skill’ – was posted on the left wing.

The battle began once the two sides came ‘within missile range’.

One The Persians launched their missiles in such numbers that, rather comically, ‘they collided with one another in the air’. Less amusingly for the Persians, this ‘weakened the force of their impact’..

Two The trumpeters ‘blew the signal of attack’. The Macedonians raised their war cry first. The Persians responded and ‘the whole hillside bordering the battlefield echoed back the sound’ of half a million men. What a racket that must have been!

Three Alexander looked around anxiously for Darius. Seeing him, he ‘drove hard with his cavalry’ at the Great King.

Four As Alexander rode towards Darius, ‘the [cavalry] battle raged indecisively’ for the two sides were ‘evenly matched’. So much for the Persians being so effete.

Five Diodorus describes how men on both sides died on their feet, facing the enemy, ‘their fury [having] held to the last breath’. It must have been a truly frightening experience. The high numbers of men involved meant that ‘[n]o javelin cast or sword thrust lacked its effect’.

Six The officers on both sides also fought bravely, inspiring their men as they did so. Interestingly, Diodorus singles out a Persian for praise rather than a Macedonian. Oxathres was Darius’ brother, ‘and a man highly praised for his fighting qualities’. Seeing Alexander ride at Darius, Oxathres feared for the Great King’s life but was also ‘seized with a desire to share his brother’s fate’. He lead his men forward. They intercepted the Macedonians and ‘slew many of them’.

Seven The Macedonians, however, were the better soldiers and soon ‘many bodies’ lay piled up around Darius’ chariot.

Eight ‘Many of the noblest Persian princes’ died protecting their king. Diodorus names Antixyes, Rheomithres and the satrap of Egypt, Tasiaces, as being among the dead. Many Macedonians also fell but they are not named. Diodorus does mention, however, that Alexander ‘was wounded in the thigh’.

Nine Darius’ horses were heavily wounded and started to panic. They ‘came close to carrying off Dareius into the midst of the enemy’ but he managed to bring them under control just in time. Despite this, when a second chariot was brought to him, Darius ‘changed over to it’. The change was not carried out calmly. According to Diodorus, ‘in the face of constant attack [Darius] fell in a panic[ed] terror’.

The Alexander Mosaic, below, captures the moment that Darius, wild-eyed with fear, flees from the battlefield in the second chariot.


Ten Seeing their king’s abject fear, ‘the Persians with him turned to flee’. Soon, ‘the whole Persian cavalry’ was in flight. Diodorus reports that in their haste the horsemen ‘clashed and trampled on one another’.

Eleven Didorous does not state when the Macedonian and Persian infantry began to fight. When they did, though, the contest was a brief one. The destruction of the Persian cavalry had ended the Persian army’s effectiveness as a fighting force.

Twelve As it happens, Didorus doesn’t give the battle’s casualty figures until the end of Chapter 36. I think, though, it makes sense to give the numbers here as Chapters 35 and 36 concern the aftermath of the battle.

Persian Dead

  • Cavalry ‘not less than ten thousand’
  • Infantry ‘more than one hundred thousand infantry’ (and the Macedonian phalanx only fought them briefly!)


  • Cavalry One hundred and fifty
  • Infantry Three hundred

The Battle of Issus followed the same pattern as that of the Granicus River – A cavalry battle followed by a brief confrontation between the infantry of the two armies.

Given that the Thessalian cavalry were regarded so highly by Alexander, I wonder why did it not fight on the right wing? I don’t know the answer to this but perhaps it was because the soldiers on the left were the ‘weakest’ in the line so the best cavalry were placed there to help them out.

I’ve also been wondering about the significance of Diodorus singling Oxathres, a Persian, out for praise during the battle rather than a Macedonian. It can’t be bias as he did the same for Black Cleitus at the Granicus. I am guessing that, like a good reporter, Diodorus is just going where the story takes him.

Here are some of the significant Persian dead as given by the other Alexander historians, and mentioned in the Footnotes.

Arrian Arsames, Atizyes, Bubaces, Rheomithres, ‘Sabaces of Egypt’
Curtius Atizyes, Rheomithres, ‘Sabaces, satrap of Egypt’

According to the Footnotes it is possible that Diodorus’ Antixyes is the Atizyes who he mentions in Ch. 21 as dying at the Battle of the Granicus River but this is not certain. Note also that the satrap of Egypt is given a different name by Diodorus than that provided by Curtius and Arrian.

Finally, the Footnotes remind us that Ptolemy describes the Persians fleeing from the Issus battlefield as doing so across ‘a deep gully on the piled up bdies of the dead’. It is a very evocative description for a writer who I get the impression is supposed to have been a rather straight-down-the-line type of man. At any rate, it leads the Footnotes to say wryly, ‘[e]ven a king, it seems, might draw the long bow on occasion in writing history’. I had never heard that idiom before. I shall certainly try and use it again.

A Persian Cabbie Writes
I had that Darius in the back of my chariot once. ‘e says to me, ‘e says, I want to go ‘ome pronto and I’ll pay you double if you take the direct route. I says, Guv, it’s a good job you ain’t American otherwise you would ‘ave said direct route and I would ‘ave ‘ad to say, In fairness, guv, that’s the way you just came. He looked at me like I was mad. Lovely, fellow, though. Very quiet. Let me do the talking. A shame the roads were murder.

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Alexander and Darius Draw Close to One Another

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 32 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander of Lyncestis Arrested
Darius Strips Down Army to Fighting Corps
Royal Family to Arrive In Damascus Presently
Alexander Occupies Issus

The Story
Around the time that Alexander fell ill, or just after, he received a letter from his mother ‘warning him to be on his guard against the Lyncestian Alexander’.

Diodorus does not give the reason for Olympias’ warning, though he probably doesn’t need to. As the Footnotes say, Alexander of Lyncestis belonged to the ruling family of his region. This made him ‘a possible rival for the throne of Macedonia’.

I am rather surprised, though, that news of Lyncestian Alexander’s threat travelled out of Alexander’s camp and all the way to Olympias’ ear in Macedon rather than out of Lyncestian Alexander’s tent and straight into King Alexander’s close by.

As Alexander of Lyncestis sat down to contemplate a very uncertain future, King Alexander learnt ‘that Dareius was only a few days march away’. He gave Parmenion orders to seize the Syrian Gates, which the general did.

Meanwhile, Darius had decided to ‘make his army mobile’. Given that it was on the march from Babylon, I thought it already was. I think Diodorus means ‘faster’ as he says that the Great King ‘diverted his baggage train and the non-combatants to Damascus in Syria’. Among those to leave were the Royal Family. They would not see their lord again.

Not long later, Darius discovered that Alexander now held the Syrian Gates and set off to confront him.

As he marched, Darius was met by villagers of the country through which he travelled. Previously loyal to Alexander, the villagers were impressed by the ‘great size’ of the Persian army versus ‘the small numbers of the Macedonians’. They bought with them gifts of ‘food and other materials’.

The chapter concludes with a reference to Alexander taking the city of Issus ‘which was terrified into submission’.

Could Alexander of Lyncestis really have been plotting against King Alexander? Diodorus says that there ‘were many other plausible circumstances joining to support the charge’ so he and his sources certainly believed so.

If he was, he certainly deserved to get caught for being so reckless in how he conducted his conspiracy. By way of a contrast, if Antipater really did assassinate Alexander, he didn’t communicate his wishes to Iollas who was already with the king but sent Cassander with the poison. I know it is a big if, though, and I admit it is not one I believe happened.

On the other hand, Olympias is the woman who unnecessarily killed Cleopatra Euridike and her infant daughter no doubt to make her son’s accession absolutely and utterly secure. I am quite sure she would have been quite happy to condemn Alexander of Lyncestis at the drop of a Phrygian cap.

Incidentally, Arrian reports the affair a little differently. He says that Alexander of Lyncestis went over to Darius’ side. The Great King then offered him 1,000 gold talents and the Macedonian throne if he would assassinate King Alexander. The plot was exposed, however, when Darius’ go-between, a man named Sisines, was captured by Parmenion. I have not found any reference to the matter in Plutarch. Curtius may have discussed it in his missing books.

Diodorus informs us that the reason Darius set off for the Syrian Gates is because he thought that Alexander ‘would never dare to fight in the plain’. According to Plutarch, ‘a Macedonian exile named Amyntas, who was acquainted with Alexander’s character’ tried to persuade Darius that he ‘”… need have no fear”‘ that Alexander would fight in the plain. Unfortunately for Darius, he never took this man’s advice. Arrian tells the same story slightly differently. According to him, Amyntas ‘urged’ Darius not to move from an Assyrian plain, which would suit his large army. Whenever Alexander failed to appear, he did, eventually fighting the Macedonian king on land that offered him no ‘little advantage’.

I was surprised when I read that Parmenion took the city of Issus. I have always been used to thinking of it as a river. I will need to double check now to make sure I have not got it wrong all this time.

New Comic-Book Series Out Now
BAM! See Demosthenes choke on his values and accept Persian gold
WHACK! Gasp as Memnon conquers the Aegean before a heart attack conks him
THUD! Marvel at how fast Alexander of Lyncestis’ goes from being a HERO to ZERO

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