In This Chapter
How The Battle of the Granicus River Unfolded
On the far right of the Macedonian line…
Amyntas son of Arrhabaeus and Socrates son of Sathon led their men across the river.
As they approached the far bank, the Persians attacked them from the bank side with a volley of javelins.
That wasn’t all. Persian cavalrymen had also come down to the water’s edge to create an extra line of defence and attack. As the Macedonians tried to get out of the river, therefore, they did their best to push them back into it.
As well as being in a disadvantageous position, Amyntas and Socrates and their men were outnumbered; in consequence, they suffered many injuries at the Persians’ hands.
Alexander joins the battle
It’s worth asking why Alexander sent Amyntas and Socrates ahead first. I wonder if he wanted to use the far right attack to draw as many Persian cavalry as possible into the river to make fighting them a little bit easier. If so, it kind of worked, albeit at a high cost.
Whatever his reasoning, Alexander did not wait long to join the fight. He charged forward at the head of the Macedonian cavalry right wing and crashed into the Persian horse.
Arrian isn’t clear as to when Alexander managed to complete his crossing of the river. From what he says, though, it looks like he engaged the Persians after reaching the bank side rather than while in the water. Arrian writes,
The fighting was from horseback, but in some respects it was more like an infantry battle, a tangled mass of horse against horse and man against man, as each side struggled to achieve its aim – the Macedonians to drive the Persians once and for all away from the bank and force them onto open ground, and the Persians to block their exit and push them back into the river… [my emphasis]Arrian I.15.4
Given how Amyntas and Socrates had received a mauling, Alexander must have first engaged, and wiped out or pushed back, the Persians on the water’s edge. This is because by the time he engaged the Persian cavalry on the bank side, the Macedonian infantry were able to cross the river without meeting any resistance.
Arrian states that once Alexander engaged the Persians on terra firma, the Macedonians had the advantage. He gives two reasons for this: 1. The Macedonians’ superior ‘strength and experience’ and 2. their superior weapons – their lances were made of cornel-wood; tougher than whatever wood the Persian light javelin was made of.
A Close Shave
Alexander and his men had fought hard to take the advantage back from the Persian army but almost lost it when the satrap of Lydia, Rhoesaces, brought his scimitar down on Alexander’s head. The sword ‘sheared’ his helmet but also turned the blow away. Alexander must have been shocked by the force of it but still managed to throw Rhoesaces off his horse and kill him. As he was doing so, however, Rhoesaces’ brother, Spithridates, came up to the Macedonian king and prepared to deliver a killing blow. But just as he raised his scimitar, a Macedonian officer named Black Cleitus swung his sword and cut Spithridates’ arm off at the shoulder.
As all this was going on, the Macedonian phalanx continued to scramble out of the water to join the fight.
In this chapter we don’t hear anything about the Persian centre and right wing, although both were present. NB The centre did not comprise of the Greek mercenaries mentioned yesterday. As we shall tomorrow, they were further back.
Arrian says that, during the fight on the far bank, Alexander saw a Persian officer named Mithridates ride ahead ‘of the others’. Who were the others? I presume that the non-mercenary infantry were right behind the cavalry at the bank side. If so, these others must have been the Greek mercenaries? Or is Arrian just talking about other cavalry?
It is, perhaps, not a surprise that Arrian represents the turning of the tide at precisely when Alexander joins the fray.
Hammond, Martin (tr.) Arrian: Alexander the Great (Oxford, OUP, 2013)
Romm, James (ed.) The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander (New York, Pantheon, 2010)