Posts Tagged With: Thessalian cavalry

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.

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

The Battle of the Granicus River

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 19-21 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Macedonians and Persians Clash
Black Cleitus Saves Alexander’s Life
Persian Cavalry Routed
Undefended, Persian Infantry Crumble
Alexander Wins First Major Battle of Reign

The Story
Learning of the satrapal army’s approach, Alexander ‘advanced rapidly’ to the Granicus River where he set up his camp on the opposite bank to the Persians. At this point, the satraps had the advantage: Alexander would not only have to cross the river to meet them but climb up the bank on the opposite side before doing so. This would be sure to put the Macedonian phalanx into disorder and make Alexander’s men easy pickings.

Or so you would have thought. At dawn the next day, Alexander lead his men across the river and not only managed to scramble up the bank but was able to deploy it ‘in good order’ before [the Persians] could stop him’.

Now faced with an organised Macedonian army, the satraps deployed their cavalry at the front of their own line. Here is how satrapal army lined up:

Left Wing (flank to centre)

  • Memnon and Arsamenes – each in command of his own cavalry
  • Arsites – in command of the Paphlagonian cavalry
  • Spithrobates – in command of the Hyrcanian cavalry

Right Wing

  • Median cavalry – 1,000 in number / commanded by ?
  • Rheomithres – with 2,000 horse / in command of ?
  • Bactrian cavalry – 2,000 in number / commanded by ?


  • Various ‘national contingents’


  • Cavalry 10,000+
  • Infantry ‘not fewer than’ 100,000

NB The question marks regarding the right wing commanders reflects the fact that I am not clear about what Diodorus is saying here. It may be that Rheomithres was in charge of the Medes and Bactrians but that isn’t the impression I get when I read his text (see below).

We come now to the battle itself. I have broken it down into the following parts to make writing, and – hopefully – reading about, it easier. Do feel free to let me know if you find this arrangement useful or not.

One The Persian and Macedonian cavalry ‘joined battle spiritedly’. Diodorus singles out the Thessalian cavalry for praise. Under the command of Parmenion, it ‘gallantly met the attack of the troops posted opposite’.

Two Alexander, leading ‘the finest of the riders on the right wing’ charged at the Persians and inflicted ‘substantial losses upon them’.

Three The satrapal army ‘resisted [the Macedonian attack] bravely. Spithrobates, Darius’ son-in-law, threw himself at the Macedonians ‘with a large body of cavalry, and… forty companions, all Royal Relatives of outstanding valour’.

Four Seeing the success of Spithrobates’ attack, Alexander turned to meet him.

Five Spithrobates saw Alexander coming and saw an opportunity to end the menace of the Macedonian king once-and-for-all. He threw his javelin at him. It pierced Alexander’s shield and ‘right epomis’ and ‘drove through [his] breastplate’. This sounds serious. The Footnotes tell us, however, that according to Plutarch, Alexander wasn’t injured. Alexander shook the javelin off and drove his spear into Spithrobates’ chest. This movement caused both armies to cry out ‘at [his] superlative display of prowess’.

Six The movement was not a complete success, though. The point of the spear broke and the length recoiled in Alexander’s hand. Spithrobates ‘drew his sword and drove at Alexander. Fatally for him, he was not quick enough. Alexander ‘recovered his grip’ upon the spear and thrust it into Spithrobates’ face.

Seven Spithrobates fell to the ground. Just then, Spithrobates’ brother, Rhosaces, rode up behind Alexander and brought his sword down on the king’s head with such force that ‘it split his helmet’. Despite this, Alexander’s only physical wound was ‘a slight scalp wound’. Before Rhosaces could strike him again, Cleitus the Black ‘dashed up on his horse and cut off the Persian’s arm’.

Eight Diodorus now reports that Spithrobates’ companions, the Royal Relatives, threw their javelins at Alexander. Somehow, he managed to survive this deadly shower and the Relatives next, close-up, attack. Not without harm, though, Diodorus says Alexander suffered – ‘two blows on the breastplate, one on the helmet, and three on the shield’ it being the shield he had taken from Athena’s sanctuary. Back then, things were clearly made to last!

Nine Diodorus now lists some of the Persian commanders who died during the battle. They included Atizyes, Pharnaces (Stateira I’s brother), and Mithrobuzanes who commanded the Cappadocian cavalry contingent.

Ten With ‘many of their commanders’ dead and ‘all the Persian squadrons… worsted’ the Royal Relatives fled from Alexander. Seeing them retreat, other cavalry officers followed them. From what Diodorus says it seems that the flight of the Relatives allowed Alexander to claim the credit for being the ‘chief author of the victory’ in the whole battle (Do you remember how – in Book XVI Ch. 86 – we saw Philip II claim the victory at the Battle of Chaeronea after he put the Athenian-Boeotian soldiers to flight, despite the fact that the real damage had already been done by Alexander?). Diodorus also singles out the Thessalian cavalry again for praise.

Eleven Despite the route of the cavalry, the battle was not over yet. It soon would be, though, for the Persian soldiers were no match for the Macedonian phalanx. As Diodorus notes, they were also rattled by the cavalry’s retreat.

Twelve By the time that the Persian infantry was put to flight, the satrapal army had lost ‘more than ten thousand’ men. ‘[N]ot less than two thousand’ cavalry officers were killed, and 20,000 prisoners taken.

Thirteen Following the battle, Alexander ‘gave magnificent obsequies to the dead, for he thought it important by this sort of honour to create in his men greater enthusiasm to face the hazards of battle’.

Fourteen From the Granicus River, Alexander then marched through Lydia, taking over Sardis. Perhaps having heard of the Macedonians’ success at the Granicus River, Lydia’s satrap, Mithrines, gave up the city, its citadels and their treasuries without a fight.

If you are familiar with the other Alexander historians, specifically Arrian, you might have noticed that Diodorus gives a different time for Alexander’s crossing of the Granicus. He has it happening at daybreak on the day after the Macedonian army’s arrival at the river; Arrian, on the other hand,  places it in the late afternoon on the day of their arrival.

Diodorus doesn’t explain how on earth the Persians allowed the Macedonians not only to make a successful crossing of the river but make their way up the bank and form up, afterwards. Either he is incorrect regarding what happened or the Persians were negligent. The former is more likely the case as Arrian describes the Persians attacking the Macedonians from the get-go, and his source was someone who was there.

Regarding my uncertainty over who was in charge of the cavalry divisions on the Persian right wing, here are Diodorus’ own words, ‘The right wing was held by a thousand Medes and two thousand horse with Rheomithres as well as Bactrians of like number’.

In the last post we saw that there was rough agreement between our sources over the size of the Macedonian army. This is not the case in regards its Persian opposite. Here are the figures quoted by the Footnotes:

  • Justin 600,000
  • Arrian 20,000 foot, 20,000 horse

There is surely an extra zero or two in Justin’s figure.

During the course of his career Alexander sustained numerous injuries but never came as close to death on the battlefield as he did at the Granicus River. As for Black Cleitus – his timely arrival would not only have implications for Alexander’s life but the spread of Hellenism across the world. If we were compiling a top ten of historically influential Macedonian commanders his intervention here would surely be Number One. In my opinion, the only other officer to come close to him is Ptolemy, for his building of the Museum of Alexandria and the role of the Library (e.g. in the translation of the Septuagint and its patronage of great scientists and writers), but if Rhosaces had landed his blow and killed the Alexander, Ptolemy would never have become king of Egypt in the first place.

Diodorus omits to mention how many Macedonian soldiers died in the battle. The Footnotes give us the other historians say.

  • Justin 9 foot, 120 horse
  • Plutarch 9 foot, 25 horse
  • Arrian 20 foot, 60 horse

Well. All I can say is if Macedonian casualties were really that low then the army was in inspired form that day. Staying at the bottom of the page, the Footnores also give the other historians’ figures for Persian casualties.

  • Plutarch 20,000 foot, 2,500 horse
  • Arrian 1,000 horse + ‘most of the Greek phalanx’ minus 200 who were captured

I’m a little surprised by how quickly Diodorus moves on from the battle. In one line, Alexander is performing his ‘magnificent obsequies’ the next he is on the way through Lydia. If Alexander took the Persian camp maybe Diodorus omitted that on the grounds of repetition – Alexander would do the same to greater effect after Issus (which we will come to in Ch. 35)

Wanted – Darius. Dead or Alive.
Wanted – A new army. Contact Babylon ASAP
For Sale –  Persian Hopes. Going Cheap

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

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