Posts Tagged With: The Battle of Gaugamela

X: Diversity in the Armies of Alexander and Darius

21st September – Ten days until the 2,348th anniversary of the Battle of Gaugamela.

In the last post, we saw how large the armies of Macedon and the Persian Empire were. The figures for the latter are, with the possible exception of Curtius, very overinflated, but they do point to a very interesting truth – that his army was a incredibly diverse one.

When I say ‘diverse’, I mean in terms of nationalities represented.

Arrian is our best source for the battle, so let’s look at the peoples he mentions.

Darius’ forces had been augmented by the support of the Indians who bordered the Bactrians, as well as the Bactrians themselves and the Sogdians: all these were under the command of Bessus, the satrap of Bactria. Together with them came the Sacae, who are a Scythian people, one of the tribes of Scythian race inhabiting Asia. They were not subjects of Bessus, but came under the terms of their military alliance with Darius: they were mounted archers, and their leader was Mauaces. Barsaentes the satrap of Arachosia led both the Arachosians and the so-called Mountain Indians; the Areians were led by the satrap of Areia, Satibarzanes; Phrataphernes led the Parthyaeans, Hyrcanians, and Topeirians, all of these cavalry; the Medes were under the command of Atropates, and brigaded with the Medes were the Cadusians, Albanians, and Sacesinians; the tribes bordering the Red Sea were commanded by Orontobates, Ariobarzanes, and Orxines; the Uxians and Susians had Oxathres the son of Abulites as their leader; Bupares commanded the Babylonians, and the transplanted Carians and the Sittacenians were brigaded with the Babylonians; the Armenians were led by Orontes and Mithraustes, and the Cappadocians by Ariaces; the Syrians of both Hollow and Mesopotamiam Syria were commanded by Mazaeus.
(Arrian III.8.3-6)

At III.11.3-7 Arrian gives an account of Darius’ order of battle. As above, he identifies each element of the Persian army by nationality whereas at III.11.8-12.5 he identifies each element of Alexander’s order of battle according to the commander-in-charge.

I’d like to think this is because he wanted to dehumanise Darius’ army and emphasise the humanity of Alexander’s (see this post) but it is more likely because the captured battle plan that the information ultimately came from arranged the information in this way.

Speaking of Alexander’s army, Arrian doesn’t have much to say about how diverse it was though we can glean some information. For example, the Thessalian cavalry served on the far left wing (Ar.III.11.10) and half of the Agrianians formed part of the right flank guard (Ar.III.12.2).

Diodorus (XVII.57) gives us a little more information about where the various parts of the Macedonian army came from. For example, he states that an Elimiote battalion served on the right wing of the phalanx. Curtius (IV.13.29) tells us that Craterus had charge of ‘the Peloponnesian cavalry – to which were attached squadrons of Achaeans, Locrians, and Malians’. These Malians, by the way, should not be confused with the Mallians who almost killed Alexander in India.

Why mention all this? Two begin with, I was just interested to find out the various peoples who were involved in the battle. I wish I had time to go behind the names and find out more about where the likes of the Cadusians and Mountain Indians came from, but that will have to wait for another day.

Looking at how tribally or nationally diverse the armies were also helps me to appreciate firstly how wide ranging the Persian Empire was and, by extension, how wide ranging Alexander’s war had become. Men from Greece to Bactria-India stood on the field of Gaugamela, men who otherwise may never have known that each other existed. This was in a sense a world war.

If only they could have come together in peace. If only. After Alexander’s victory, however, they did. Regretfully, Macedonian xenophobia meant that that peace never amounted to very much.

Categories: Arrian, On Alexander | Tags: | Leave a comment

XI: Size Doesn’t Matter

20th September – Eleven days to go until the 2,348th anniversary of the Battle of Guagamela. But wait; I am publishing this on the 21st. Why so? Read on. Yesterday’s question was, ‘What was the size of the Macedonian and Persian army?’

Here is what the sources say:

Macedonian army (A.III.12.5)
– Cavalry 7,000
– Infantry c.40,000

Persian army (A.III.8.6)
– Cavalry 40,000
– Infantry 1,000,000
in addition (Ibid)
Scythed chariots 200
Elephants c.15

Macedonian army
– Cavalry not given
– Infantry not given

Persian army (IV.12.13)
– Cavalry 45,000
– Infantry 200,000

Macedonian army
– Cavalry not given
– Infantry  not given

Persian army (D. XVII.53)
– Cavalry 200,000
– Infantry 800,000
in addition (Ibid)
Scythed chariots 200

Macedonian army
– Cavalry not given
– Infantry not given

Persian army (J.XI.12)
– Cavalry 100,000
– Infantry 400,000

Macedonian army
– Cavalry not given
– Infantry not given

Persian army (Life 31)
– Cavalry not given
– Infantry 1,000,000

Yesterday, when I compiled these figures, one thing about them struck me, and it became the reason why I am publishing this post a day late. Namely, only Arrian gives the number of Macedonian cavalry and infantry.

A confession: To find the figures, I opened my copy of Arrian et al and skim read the relevant section until I found them.

After I had finished, I was so surprised that none of the others gave the size of the Macedonian army that I feared that actually, they had done so, and in my haste I had passed them by.

Today, I had to take a day off work to go to the dentist, so I used some of the spare time to properly read each source’s account of Alexander’s journey from Egypt to Babylon just to make sure that I didn’t miss their account of his army’s size given perhaps early, perhaps later than the battle itself in the text.

In case you are wondering which sections of the books I covered:-

  • [Arrian III.6.1-16.4]
  • Curtius IV.9.1-V.1.23
  • Diodorus XVII.53-64
  • Justin XI.12-14
  • Plutarch Life of Alexander 31-35

The outcome of this exercise was that I discovered that, no, I had not missed anything out; it is indeed only Arrian who tells us the size of the Macedonian army. I am at a loss to say why.

Given that nearly all the sources – Curtius, of all people, being an honourable exception? – over inflate the size of Darius’ army, I wonder if the writers somehow wanted us to focus on the Persians as a horde, as the ineluctable wave, the seemingly invincible force that Alexander somehow managed to overcome in order to achieve glory.

Perhaps. But I have to admit, it’s not a feeling I get from the texts.

That aside, one thing can be said with certainty – or as much as history ever allows: the Macedonian army was greatly outnumbered at the Battle of Gaugamela. Despite this, it managed to achieve a stunning victory. The question of how this happened will be the focus of an upcoming post.

Categories: Alexander Scholars, Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Justin, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius Rufus | Tags: | Leave a comment

XII: Where and Why Gaugamela?

19th September – just 12 days to go until the 2,348th anniversary of the Battle of Gaugamela, which took place on 1st October 331 BC. It was the second and decisive battle in the war between Alexander and Darius III. The winner would take all.

To celebrate the anniversary, I have decided to write twelve posts, one every day, and each comprising of a single question and answer relating to an aspect of the battle.


Did I say single? Ha ha. I’m touched that I thought I would stick to that rule, so let’s kick off with two questions:-

Where was Gaugamela? And why was the battle fought there?


Where was Gaugamela?

The map below comes, of all places, from an article on LinkedIn titled 5 Things every start up CEO can learn from the battle of gaugamela. I haven’t read it but if you would like to you can do so here.

Personally, I rather doubt the wisdom of applying lessons from a battle in antiquity to business practices of today but never mind, the important thing is the map. As you can see, Gaugamela is north west of Arbela.

Arrian still exists today, though now it is called Erbil. By-the-bye, Plutarch tells us in Chapter 31 of his Life of Alexander that ‘the majority of writers’ say the battle actually happened there – at Arbela. But both he and Arrian both disagree with this. Arrian (VI.11.5) cites Ptolemy and Aristobulos who both state that it was fought at Gaugamela. Why might ancient historians have given the honour to Arbela? Here is Arrian’s view:

Gaugamela was not a city, but only a large village, otherwise unknown and with an odd-sounding name: that is why I think the credit of the great battle was appropriated by the city of Arbela.
(Arrian VI.11.6)

So now we know where Gaugamela is, or was, we can now ask –

Why was the battle fought there?

Alexander was in Egypt. Couldn’t Darius have challenged him there? Or at least marched to the Phoenician coast and faced him somewhere between Issus (at the corner of modern day Turkey and Syria) and the Nile? Or perhaps Alexander or Darius could have marched directly east/west to face their opponent at a site along the way.

Let’s take a look at Google Earth.

After his defeat at Issus in 333 BC, Darius III retreated east to assemble a new army. He mustered it at Babylon, which – according to Wikipedia – is 53 miles south of Baghdad. As you can see from the map above, a vast expanse of desert separates Egypt and Baghdad/Babylon. That would have stopped Alexander marching directly east or Darius marching directly west. Their armies would have been wiped out by thirst or starved to death long before they every met each other.

It’s true Darius could have marched north along the Royal Road and then turned west towards the Phoenician coast. I think the reason he did not do so is because he did not have time. By the time he was able to leave Babylon, Alexander was well on his way from Egypt. It made better sense for Darius to stay in or around Mesopotamia and let Alexander come to him. That way, the Macedonians would arrive footsore and tired while his men would no doubt be ready for battle having been well provisioned by the fertile soil of Mesopotamia.

Of course, the lack of time explains why Darius didn’t march on Egypt. And just as well – Egypt, as Darius would have known, was highly defensible. So much so that even his grand army, comprised of men from all over the Persian Empire, would have found it hard to invade it.

So, Darius let Alexander do all the work and come to him.

To make sure that his men stayed well fed – or as well fed as possible – Alexander marched up the Phoenician coast.

After turning east, he crossed the Euphrates at the well-established crossing point of Thapsacus. In his biography of Alexander, Robin Lane Fox explains that the young king now had two choices.

… either he could turn right and follow the Euphrates south-east to Babylon in the footsteps of Xenophon, along a valley plentifully supplied but broken by canals which could be dammed against invaders; or he could go north from the Euphrates and then swing right to skirt the hills of Armenia, cross the more distant line of the river Tigris and then turn south to Babylon on the Royal Road.
(Robin Lane Fox Alexander the Great 2004, p.226)

Darius wanted Alexander to take the longer, more dangerous, northern route and so sent men to burn the land along the Euphrates. Alexander duly did as the Great King desired.

Robin Lane Fox adds that Darius could not choose the battlefield until he knew which route Alexander was taking. Thus, once he found out that the Macedonian king was taking the northern path, he was able to pick a suitable plain to establish his army.

A plain: that was the sine qua non of Darius’ preparations. At Issus, the Great King had been prevented from using his entire army on account of the battlefield being a narrow stretch of land between the Gulf of Issus and Amanus mountains. He did not want the same handicap this time.

So, why was the battle fought at Gaugamela? It was fought there because the plain was large enough to accommodate Darius’ mighty army. And while he waited for Alexander, Darius smoothed the ground so that his scythe-chariots would be able to roll across it without hindrance.

What we now call the Battle of Gaugamela, therefore, could have been fought somewhere else, but in the end, Gaugamela was chosen quite deliberately by Darius. He believed that it would give him the best opportunity to defeat Alexander once and for all.

Categories: Alexander Scholars, Mapping Alexander | Tags: | Leave a comment

Among the Wounded

III. The Battle of Gaugamela
Read the other posts in this series

About sixty of Alexander’s Companions were killed; among the wounded were Coenus, Menidas, and Hephaestion himself.

I am intrigued by the translation ‘and Hephaestion himself‘ (my emphasis). If it reflects what Arrian wrote, the ‘himself’ cuts Hephaestion off from Coenus and Menidas. It is as if Arrian mentions them for one reason – I believe their rank, unless they had another connexion to Alexander that I am not aware of – and Hephaestion for another – undoubtedly his friendship with the king, which Arrian has already firmly established.


Arrian doesn’t mention any particular source for the information he provides. This is in contrast to i. his account of Alexander at Troy where he writes that ‘[o]ne account says that Hephaestion laid a wreath on the tomb of Patroclus’. Of course, Ptolemy or Aristobulos could be that ‘one account’ but if they are it does seem strange that Arrian doesn’t name them, and ii. the anecdote of Sisygambis’ mistake, which Arrian specifically says doesn’t come from Ptolemy or Aristobulos. Can we, then, make any deductions regarding who the source of the Gaugamela quote might be?

I think Arrian got his information from Ptolemy but that Ptolemy used a source common to himself and Diodorus and Curtius, the other two Alexander historians who mention Hephaestion in this context. My reason for saying this is because all three accounts are very similar. Here is Diodorus’ version.

Of the most prominent group of commanders, Hephaestion was wounded with a spear thrust in the arm; he had commanded the bodyguards. Perdiccas and Coenus, of the general’s group, were also wounded, so also Menidas and others of the higher commanders.

And here Curtius’,

Hephaestion suffered a spear-wound in the arm; Perdiccas, Coenus and Menidas were almost killed by arrows.

So, all three accounts state that Hephaestion was injured. Diodorus and Curtius add the detail that he was stabbed in the arm with a spear. All three accounts also state that Coenus and Menidas were injured. Diodorus and Curtius, however, tell us that Perdiccas was among the wounded.

This is why I think Arrian’s source is Ptolemy. In the first years of the Wars of the Successors, Perdiccas was Ptolemy’s mortal enemy. I think Ptolemy excluded him from his memoir as a form of payback. If he wrote his memoir after 310 B.C., over ten years after Perdiccas died, it was a very petty form of payback but that’s beside the point.

On the issue of Ptolemy’s pettiness, could that be why he doesn’t give Hephaestion’s injury – he’ll mention him if he has to, but he’ll go no further than that.

I’m against this idea. If we are going to have a go at Ptolemy, we might also ask ‘if he didn’t want too much attention given to Hephaestion, why did he bother to mention him at all?’ Could it be that actually, Ptolemy simply wasn’t interested – as a matter of course – in dwelling on people’s injuries*? He was a soldier, after all.


One final point. If Ptolemy, Diodorus and Curtius all used the same source, who could it be? Cleitarchus is the obvious name to mention here but I wonder. I doubt Cleitarchus could have got his information from the Macedonian veterans living in Alexandria at the close of the fourth century B.C. If any of them had fought at Gaugamela near Hephaestion et al I doubt they would have had time to observe them.

Rather, I imagine that Ptolemy took his information directly from Callisthenes’ war reports and/or the royal diaries, which he obtained after stealing Alexander’s body. These would have have confirmed to him what he already remembered learning after the conclusion of the battle in 331 B.C.

* Excluding Alexander. If what I say is correct, Arrian will only mention specific injuries when the narrative demands it or when his source is someone other than Ptolemy

Categories: Hephaestion Amyntoros | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Battle of Gaugamela

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 58-61 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Persian and Macedonian Armies Clash At Gaugamela
Alexander Narrowly Misses Killing Darius
Parmenion Defeats Mazaeus
Darius Flees; Persians Routed

The Story

Chapter 58
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.

Chapter 59
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’.

Chapter 60
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.

Chapter 61
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
Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Road to Gaugamela

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 53-55 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Darius’ Army Arrives Outside Arbela
Offer and Counter-Offer: Kings Reject Each Other’s Terms
Alexander Crosses the Tigris
Persian and Macedonian Armies Camp at Arbela

The Story

Chapter 53
By the time Alexander arrived in Syria, Darius was ready to fight him. As mentioned in Chapter 39 (here) the Great King’s army was eight hundred thousand strong and he had what Diodorus now calls ‘no less than two hundred thousand cavalry’.

As well as great numbers, the new Persian army could also boast new and improved weaponry –  longer swords, and lances, and scythe bearing chariots.

The chariots were two hundred in number and were designed ‘to astonish and terrify the enemy’. Each chariot had scythes attached to its yoke and axle housing. Diodorus doesn’t say how many scythes there were in total but I assume it was four – two on either side – if only for balance purposes.

The scythes attached to the yoke were ‘three spans long’, which the Footnotes say was twenty-seven inches. These scythes, and those attached to the axle housing were straight. If I read Diodorus correctly, the axle-scythes had separate, curved, blades attached to the scythe.

Darius gave his army ‘shining armour’. The regiments of men were led by ‘brilliant commanders’. So far so grand. The Footnotes query both the size of the army and use of scythes, though. They say that Curtius’ figure of two hundred thousand infantry and forty-five thousand horse is more reasonable, and that Diodorus’ positioning of scythes would only be possible if the chariots were pulled by two horses. Trace horses would make them impossible.

Where was Darius when he heard about Alexander’s arrival in Syria? He was already camped outside the village of Arbela in Mesopotamia.

Diodorus explains that after leaving Babylon, Darius marched north between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, through ‘rich country capable of furnishing ample fodder’ for his animals and food for his men.

His aim, according to Diodorus, was to make for ‘the vicinity of Nineveh, as the large plains there were ideally suited for his army. Hence, his arrival outside the village of Arbela.

Once there, Darius drilled his men every day to make sure they were ‘well disciplined’. Diodorus notes that the Great King’s major concern was what confusion might ‘arise in the battle from the numerous peoples assembled who differed in speech’.

Chapter 54
How big a concern was the language issue? As his men drilled, envoys from Darius rode at speed to Alexander bearing a new letter from the Great King. I suspect their journey was occasioned more by Darius’ concern that no matter how good his army was, it would not be able to defeat the Macedonians.

As for the envoys’ letter, it was Darius’ second to Alexander. We met the first in Chapter 39. Diodorus adds a little to his description of the original letter by stating that not only did Darius offer Alexander a peace deal and all Persian territory west of the Halys River (in Asia Minor) but also a ransom of ‘twenty thousand talents of silver’.

The second letter began with a compliment – Darius praised Alexander for the latter’s ‘generous treatment’ of the Queen Mother (Sisygambis) and the other captives. Diodorus says that Darius invited Alexander ‘to become a friend’.

Darius increased his offer to –

  • All territory west of the Euphrates River
  • Thirty Thousand Talents of Silver
  • The hand of one his daughters in marriage

By offering Alexander the chance to become his son-in-law, Darius was also offering to make him his son with, I presume, all that that meant dynastically.

Whereas before, Alexander – so Diodorus claimed – forged Darius’ letter before taking it to his senior officers, this time he took the real thing to his council of Friends for their consideration.

‘He urged each to speak his own mind freely’. Perhaps knowing that Alexander already had a view and to speak – even accidentally – against it would imperil them, his men held back. Except, that is, Parmenion.

‘”If I were Alexander, [Parmenion said,] I should accept what was offered and make a treaty.” Alexander cut in and said: “So should I, if I were Parmenion.” He continued with proud words and refuted the arguments of the Persians, preferring glory to the gifts which were extended to him.”‘

It seems the other officers were wise to keep their opinions to themselves.

Alexander now turned to the envoys. He told them ‘that the earth could not preserve its plan and order if there were two suns nor could the inhabited would remain calm and free from war so long as two kings shared the rule’.

Alexander’s reply to Darius, therefore, was simple. If Darius wanted to reign supreme he had to fight Alexander for that honour. If he wanted to be king under Alexander, however, the son of Philip would grant him that privilege.

With the council concluded and the envoys dismissed, the Macedonians resumed their march to Arbela. ‘At this juncture the wife of Dareius died and Alexander gave her a sumptuous funeral’. The Footnotes state that  (according to Plutarch) Stateira I died in childbirth carrying, I think it is reasonable to assume, Alexander’s child.

Chapter 55
Upon receiving Alexander’s counter-offer, Darius once more ‘gave up any hope of a diplomatic settlement’ and continued to drill his soldiers. He ordered a Friend named Mazaeus to guard a ford on the Tigris River. Other troops were ‘sent out to scorch the earth’ on the Macedonians’ route.

When Mazaeus reached the Tigris, however, he decided not to bother guarding it – the river ran fast and seemed to him uncrossable. Instead, he took his men to join those setting fire to the countryside.

Mazaeus had, of course, acted unwisely. Arriving at the Tigris, Alexander didn’t run away from the problem but did his best to overcome it. Which, neither for the first or last time, he did.

It wasn’t easy, though. When Alexander ordered his men to wade across the river, the current swept many away. So, he told his men to lock arms. A bridge was then made ‘out of the compact union of their persons’.

The bridge enabled the Macedonian army to cross the Tigris but it had been a hard won passage. In acknowledgement of this, Alexander gave his men a day’s rest. The next day, they packed their tents and gear and began the journey to Gaugamela where they ‘pitched camp not far from the Persians’.

Why did Alexander show his officers the real letter this time? Did he know that they would all keep quiet? Probably, but I still suspect that Diodorus is just wrong about the forged letter.

By-the-bye, the Footnotes tell me that by offering Alexander all territory west of the Euphrates, Darius was offering him the same amount of land that would one day became part of the eastern Roman empire.

In Oliver Stone’s Alexander the Persian army is shown as a large and rather loose unit (in comparison to the tight-knit phalanx formation of the Macedonians) I think this has sometimes made me regard it being less well trained as well. Diodorus certainly makes it clear that that was not the case. What he says about the Persian army also speaks against the popular idea (among Greeks) that the Persians were effete etc.

I can’t remember which modern historian says this but I do recall reading once that Mazaeus may – may – have been bribed by Alexander. If that was the case, though, would he have joined the Persians putting the countryside to the torch? Perhaps he was permitted to do so as a cover – the Macedonians had food enough for their journey so it didn’t matter.

We all have our heroes. We must also have Men We Are Glad We Were Not. I’m going to nominate the first man to enter the Tigris either alone or with my arm locked to the chap’s behind me. I hope he got a reward to match the forceful current trying to drown him.

When I first read Diodorus’ account of the making of the Tigris bridge, I imagined a platform being placed on top of the poor men underneath it. I assume that this was not what happened! Rather, they kept the platform steady while engineers either drove pillars into the river bed or secured it on both banks.

The Last Thoughts of Perdiccas
Damn.. how did Alexander get away with it?

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Battle of Gaugamela

Calculating the date on which ancient events happened is a fraught business, and one that is prone to error. I can live with that, especially if the event is the Battle of Gaugamela, which is said to have been fought on this day in 331 BC.
Stop what you are doing, get a glass of wine and toast to Alexander’s triumph, the spread of Hellenism, the fall of the Persian Empire, the end of the Archaemenid dynasty, and feel free to shed tears because you weren’t alive to see it all happen.


“In this struggle, Alexander was once again victorious.”

Categories: On Alexander | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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