I'm a great admirer of Alexander the Great .

During the 3rd century bc the then knowm world was ruled by the Persians. Alexander's father, Philip of Macedon was not all that interested to do something about that, however things changed after Philip died and his 17 year old son Alexander took control of the army. He pursued the Persian all the way into their own country, fought major battles in Turkey and the Middle East. He then went to conquer "the world" all the way to India. All his conquests have been recorded at the time, I was fortunate to follow in his footsteps and to touch places that he touched (literally) at the entrance of the tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadea near Persepolis  in South Eastern Iran, I tracked his route as much as I could on two occassion once coming form the east (India) in 1997 and once more starting from Pella where Alexander came from as far as I was able to follow the route in central Syria in 2002. My trusted BMW took me along the goat tracks in southern Turkey which the army followed  to the central highlands to a height of 5000 feet. From there we met once again at the Cilician gates and near the site of the battle of Issus.

In 1997 I was very fortunate to meet descendants of Alexanders soldiers who stayed behind in what is now Pakistan who still consider themselves "not originally from here" although they have been living there for 2300 years.






Information about Alexander The Great



Timeline (full)
359 BC
Death of Perdiccas III, King of Macedonia: Perdiccas leaves infant heir Amyntas; Philip II elected King of Macedonia
358 BC
Philip subdues Paeonians and Agrians
357 BC
Marriage of Philip II and Olympias, mother of Alexander
Philip captures the cities of Amphipolis and Pydna
356 BC
July 20 - Birth of Alexander III at Pella, Macedon
August - Philip captures city of Potidaea
355 BC
Birth of Cassander, son of Antipater, ruler of Macedonia after Alexander
354 BC
Philip captures city of Methone: Philip loses one eye
353 BC
Philip defeats Greek state of Phokis
352 BC
Persian noble Artabazus receives asylum at Philip's court
348 BC
Philip captures city of Olynthus (Chalcidice peninsula)
343 BC
Aristotle appointed as tutor of Alexander
342 BC
Philip's conquests in Thrace
Alexander gets Bucephalas, his personal horse
340 BC
Alexander regent in Macedonia during campaign of Philip against Byzantium; Alexander defeats Thracian tribe
Persia aids city of Perinthus against Philip
Probable end of the tutorship of Aristotle
338 BC
August 2 - Battle of Chaeronea: King Philip defeats Greeks, Alexander commands cavalry
Autumn - Establishment and first meeting of the Corinthian League: Philip confirmed as hegemon of Greece
337 BC
Spring - Second meeting of the Corinthian League: Philip reveals plans for invasion of Persia
Marriage of Philip and Cleopatra; Alexander and Olympias leave for exile
Autumn - Alexander returns from his exile in Illyria
336 BC
Spring - Officers Parmenion and Attalus take advance force into Persia
October [June] - Murder of King Philip; Alexander ascends throne of Macedonia
Autumn - Execution of Amyntas, son of Perdiccas III and heir to the throne; Execution of Cleopatra, widow of Philip, and her newborn son; Third meeting of Corinthian League at Corinth: Alexander confirmed as hegemon of Greece; Possible legendary meeting with philosopher Diogenes
Other events - King Darius III ascends the throne of Persia; Marriage of Alexander of Epirus and Cleopatra, sister of Alexander
335 BC
Spring - Campaign to the Danube; Battle of the Lyginus: Alexander defeats Triballians
May - Alexander crosses river Danube: establishment of northern frontiers
Summer - Attack on Pelium: Alexander defeats Illyrians
September - Alexander ends revolt at Thebes
Other events - Persian commander Memnon stops advance force of Parmenion and Attalus
334 BC
May - Alexander crosses Hellespont into Persia
May/June - Battle of the Granicus: Alexander defeats Persian defense force
Summer - Alexander captures Milete
Autumn - Alexander captures Halicarnassus, Persian stronghold; Alexander grants winter leave to newly wedded soldiers
Other events - Antigonus the One-Eyed appointed as satrap of Phrygia; Queen Ada re-instated as ruler of Caria
333 BC
Winter - Alleged conspiracy: arrest of Alexander of Lyncestis; Legendary miraculous passing of Mount Climax; Campaign against Pisidians
March - Alexander solves riddle of the 'Gordian Knot', Gordium
May - Alexander of Epirus invades Italy (defeated and killed around 331 BC)
May [July] - Alexander leaves Gordium
June/July [Spring] - Memnon dies of illness
Summer - King Darius III and Persian army leave Babylon
September [July] - Alexander falls ill at river Cydnus
September - Alexander arrives at Tarsus, Cilicia
September/October - King Darius III and Persian army arrive at Sochi, base camp near Mediterranean
November - Battle of Issus: Alexander defeats Persian King Darius III; Alexander captures Persian Royal family
Autumn - Parmenion captures Damascus: capture of Barsine, widow of Memnon and future mistress of Alexander and possibly mother of his first child, Heracles
Other events - Idarnes (or Hydarnes) re-captures Milete; Balacrus defeats Idarnes in 332 BC
332 BC
January-July [August] - Siege of Tyre
Spring [Summer 331 BC] - Statira, wife of Darius III, dies in childbirth
Summer - First peace offer of King Darius
July 29 [August] - Fall of Tyre
September-October - Siege of Gaza
November 14 - Alexander crowned Pharaoh in Memphis, Egypt
331 BC
Winter - Oracle of Siwa allegedly confirms divinity of Alexander
April 7 [Winter] - Foundation of Alexandria, Egypt
Spring - Return to Phoenicia
Summer - Second peace offer of King Darius
September 20 - Army witnesses total eclipse of the moon in northern Mesopotamia: single 100% sure dating of the Alexander period
October 1 - Battle of Gaugamela (Arbela): final defeat of Persian King Darius III
October 21 - Alexander enters Babylon
November 25 - Alexander leaves Babylon
December 15 - Alexander enters Susa
December - Campaign against the Uxians
330 BC
January - Alexander forces his way through Persian Gates: defeat of last Persian defence troops
Winter/Spring - Five months stay in Persepolis, ceremonial Persian capital
April - Campaign against the Mardians
May [Summer/Autumn 331 BC] - Battle of Megalopolis: Alexander's Macedonian regent Antipater defeats King Agis III of Sparta
May - Alexander burns Persepolis
July - Persian King Darius III murdered by his kinsmen
Summer - Alexander dismisses allied troops
Autumn [Summer 329 BC] - Alleged but unlikely legendary meeting with the Queen of the Amazons
Autumn - Revolt of Satibarzanes, satrap of Aria; Satibarzanes killed by officer Erigiyus
October - Alleged conspiracy: execution of officers Philotas and his father Parmenion; Craterus becomes second in command; execution of Alexander of Lyncestis
329 BC
Spring - Alexander crosses Hindu Kush into Central Asia
May - Arrest of Bessus, usurper of Persian throne
Summer - Alleged massacre of the Branchidae; Founding of Alexandria-the-Furthest; Battle of the Iaxartes: Alexander defeats Scythians; Rebel leader Spitamenes annihilates Macedonian forces at Maracanda
328 BC
Spring - Submission of Pharasmenes, ruler of the Chorasmians
Spring/Summer/Autumn - Army split in five divisions against rebellions in Central Asia
Autumn - Defeat of rebel leader Spitamenes; Alexander kills officer Cleitus the Black during brawl
327 BC
Winter - Attempt to introduce 'proskynesis'; Alleged conspiracy: execution of court historian Callisthenes
Spring - Alexander captures 'Sogdian Rock', rebel stronghold; Surrender of rebel Chorienes; Defeat of rebels Catanes and Austanes
Spring [August] - Marriage to Roxane, daughter of Bactrian noble Oxyartes
Summer - Invasion of India
326 BC
Winter - Siege of Massaga: Massaga's Queen Cleophis allegedly concieves a son of Alexander (named Alexander)
April - Alexander captures 'Rock of Aornus', Indian stronghold
May [July] - Battle of the Hydaspes: Alexander defeats King Porus; Death of Bucephalas
September - Army refuses further advance at river Hyphasis; Alexander orders retreat
Autumn - Death of officer Coenus; Roxane's first child dies at birth at the river Acesines
November - Start of voyage down the Indus
December - Campaign against the Mallians: Alexander's lung pierced by an arrow
325 BC
June - Craterus leads part of the army through Arachosia towards Carmania
July - Alexander reaches Indian Ocean
August - Alexander starts march through Gedrosian desert
September 20/21 - Fleet under command of Nearchos sets sail for Persian Gulf
October/November - Alexander reaches Pura, capital of Gedrosia
December - Reunion of Alexander and Craterus in Carmania
Other events - Mercenary revolts in Bactria; Desertion of Harpalus
324 BC
Winter [December 325 BC]- First reunion between Alexander and Nearchos near Salmus, Carmania
Winter/Spring - 'Reign of Fear': Alexander punishes and executes Persian satraps who abused power in his absence
January - Restoration of tomb of Cyrus the Great
February - Alexander orders mass wedding at Susa, Persia: marriage to Statira, daughter of Darius III, and to Parysatis, daughter of Artaxerxes III
Spring - Second reunion between Alexander and Nearchos near mouth of the Tigris
April/May - Alexander founds last Alexandria (Charax) at the mouth of river Tigris
July - Mutiny (or strike) of the army at Opis, Mesopotamia
August 4 [September 3] - Alexander issues Exiles' Decree
Summer - Craterus leaves with veterans for Macedonia
October - Death of Hephaestion, Alexander's lifelong friend and lover, in Ecbatana
323 BC
Winter - Campaign against Cossaeans
April - Alexander returns in Babylon
May - Funeral of Hephaestion
June 10 - Alexander dies after ten days of illness
321 BC
Ptolemy hi-jacks Alexander's sarcophagus and brings Alexander's body to Egypt



Macedonian Army

Historical Background

Until the 5th century BC, before Alexander's time, Greek warfare had been a matter of amateur civilian armies on summer campaigns. Summer was the traditional season for war as it presented the opportunity to destroy the enemy's crops and grazing herds. Battles were fought by hoplites, heavily armed footmen lined up in phalanxes - opposing rows, four to eight men deep. Phalanxes would clash frontally until one side gave way. The hoplite carried a large shield, body armor, greaves, a short spear as a thrusting weapon, and a sword.

But in Alexander's 4th century BC warfare was becoming the business of specialist professional mercenaries. As Greece was a poor country, poverty drove men to the military. To hire oneself out as a soldier was just a good way to make a living. The Athenian mercenary general Iphicrates introduced light armed troops - peltasts - next to the phalanx. Peltasts were much faster than hoplites, more effective in rough terrain and they could harrass the enemy phalanx from the flanks or from the rear. The Theban general Epaminondas 'invented' battlefield tactics by concentrating his assault on one selected point of the enemy line.

King Philip II

Alexander's father, King Philip II, spent three years in Thebes from the age of fifteen (367-364 BC). This enabled him to study Epaminondas' Theban army. When Philip ascended to the throne of Macedonia in 359 BC he began to use his genius and experience to develop the brilliant Macedonian war machine. As Greek armies still consisted of both civilians and mercenaries, Philip should be credited for creating the world's first 100% professional army. In doing so, he combined the experience of the trained mercenary with the loyalty of the civilian.

While 'feudal' Asiatic armies were dominated by the mounted nobility and Greek 'democratic' armies by the infantry citizen, King Philip actually created two armies: the Royal Army of nobles and the Territorial Army of levies. This ensured a balance of power and contributed to the stability of the entire military organisation. Above that, Philip did away with seasonal campaigning once and for all. His force was a year round standing army, ready for battle in any season.

Royal Army - Companion Cavalry

Greek armies had used little or no cavalry. There was not one Greek horse at the battle of Marathon in 490 BC. When present, cavalry was used in dispersed formations for skirmishing or to pursue a routing enemy phalanx, but never as the prime weapon of assault. But the Macedonian kingdom traditionally possessed a strong nobility cavalry. What Philip did was to improve this existing Companion cavalry by drilling it to ride and attack in disciplined, dense formations for a concentrated punch. It was Philip who gave cavalry its prominent role on the battlefield.

The cavalry Companions were heavily armored horsemen armed with a thrusting spear and a sword. There were eight Companion units of 200-300 men each, one of which was the élite unit, the Royal Squadron or agema. Its task was to lead the advance on the battlefield and to protect the king when necessary. When Alexander crossed the Hellespont in 334 BC he took 1,800 Companion cavalry with him. They operated together with Alexander on the right wing during battles. Please note ancient cavalry rode without stirrups or saddles; these were not introduced before the 4th century AD.

Royal Army - Hypaspists

Without doubt the hypaspists are the most mysterious units of the Macedonian army. Historians still lack clues about what they exactly looked like and how they were armed. Adding to the controversy are the various names attached to them: Guards, Shield-Bearers and, after the invasion of India, Silver Shields (or argyraspids; their origin is equally disputed). What is certain is that the hypaspists were outstanding infantry troops who were capable of performing a wide range of tasks. During battles they served in close combat as an extension of the phalanx, protecting its right flank, and they were also well equipped for skirmishing, fast marches, storming walls and rapid advances supporting the cavalry.

Common sense indicates the hypaspists must have been, in one way or another, a flexible and mobile adaption of the original Greek hoplite. Philip had developed the hypaspists from his original body of Foot Guards. When Alexander crossed into Asia the hypaspists numbered 3,000 men divided in three divisions, one of which was the élite unit, the Royal Foot Guards or agema. This agema unit had the same role as its cavalry counterpart.

(Before the invasion of India Alexander is said to have added gold and silver to the armor of his troops; probably during this time the name Silver Shields came into being. It may have been that the hypaspists adopted this new name, or that the argyraspids were veteran units recruited from both hypaspist and phalanx battalions. What is practically for sure is that the Silver Shields were 3,000 seasoned warriors, boasting an undefeated record under Alexander. After Alexander's death they were hardly controllable: they betrayed their general Eumenes and killed their commander Antigenes by burning him alive. In the end they were dispatched to distant Arachosia where the local satrap had secret orders to wear them out.)

Territorial Army - Phalanx

King Philip transformed the original Greek phalanx into a devastating and awesome formation, the Macedonian phalanx. Because of their heavy shield, held by the left arm, the Greek hoplites had been restricted to using a relatively short spear in the right hand. Philip did away with the large shield and replaced it by a smaller shield slung over the left shoulder. This enabled the new phalanx to carry a long pike, the sarisa, now with both hands. The sarisa measured 13 up to 17 feet. Philip made the phalanx 16 rows deep; the sarisas of the first five rows were pointing forwards, producing an impregnatabe forest of armor piercing iron. The other rows lifted their sarisas at an angle upwards, forming an effective protection against missiles.

Alexander brought six phalanx battalions into Persia, each consisting of 1500 men and making a grand total of 9,000 Foot Companions, as the phalangists were called. The phalanx was well suited for a defensive role during battles - forming the center of the front and capable of stopping just any enemy attack. Because its effectiveness relied entirely on cohesion, an attacking or advancing phalanx could run into serious trouble, especially on rough or hilly ground. According to Arrian, at the battle of Issus the steep banks of the river prevented Alexander's attacking phalanx from keeping a regular and unbroken front, resulting in serious numbers of casualties. But the prime weapon of the advancing phalanx was the fear it inspired and the demoralizing effect it had on the enemy. In 168 BC the Roman commander Paullus admitted that at the sight of the Macedonian phalanx 'he was smitten at once with astonishment and terror'.

Auxiliary Troops

Heavy Cavalry - Thessalians

From Thessaly came the finest horses and horsemen of Greece and Alexander employed about 1,800 of them as allied heavy cavalry, organised in eight squadrons like the Companion cavalry. Although some sources claim the Thessalians were in fact superior to the Companions, because of political considerations they were stationed on the left wing to defend the flank of the phalanx. The Thessalian élite unit was the Pharsalus Squadron which acted as general Parmenion's personal bodyguard. The Thessalian cavalry was dismissed at Ecbatana in 330 BC although maybe up to 200 of them re-enlisted as volunteers.

Light Cavalry - Allies & Mercenaries

Accompanying Alexander's army during the invasion of Asia were approximately 1,600 light allied cavalry, hailing from Greece, Thrace and Paeonia. These units were equipped with javelins or thrusting spears and carried little or no body armor. Their main function was to protect the heavy cavalry and the phalanx from enemy attacks. In general these units lacked the exclusive discipline and training of the Thessalians and Companions. Most outstanding of the light cavalry were the 600 Thracian prodromoi or Scouts, used for reconnaissance and preliminary attacks. As Alexander was rather deficit in light cavalry during the campaign various mercenary cavalry units were added. After the campaigns in north-eastern Persia units of Sacae, Dahae, Paropamisadae and Sogdians (and Bactrians) were included.

Skirmishers - Agrians & Archers

The 1,000 Agrians (Agrianes, Agrianians) came from the mountainous north of Philip's empire and were invaluable fast and versatile crack skirmisher troops - guerillas if you like - the Ghurka's of Antiquity. Whenever an assault had to be made uphill or through hostile terrain, the Agrians were there. Alexander used them during his attacks on the Pisidians, during the encirclement of the Persian Gates and the challenging sieges of the Sogdian and Indian Rocks. Agrians wore no body armour, perhaps not even a shield.
Alexander also employed 1,000 archers, half of them Macedonian, half of them from Crete. The Cretans had a reputation for being the best bowmen of their era.

Infantry - Hoplites & Peltasts

On crossing the Hellespont Alexander had up to 7,000 allied Greek infantry, consisting of traditional Greek hoplites. Alexander apparently made relatively little use of these troops other than as reserves behind the Macedonian phalanx or as garrisons in conquered cities. From the tribal areas of Philip's Macedonian empire came about 5,000 light infantry peltasts. The traditional Thracian peltast carried a bundle of javelins and a wicker shield. Added to these troops were 5,000 mercenaries, part hoplites and part peltasts. The initial number of mercenaries was relatively low, because Alexander was virtually bankrupt at the start of his campaign. Bosworth however estimates that at the end of his reign 60,000 mercenaries were occupied throughout the empire.


King Philip had equipped his army with artillery and a siege train. The common artillery device was the oxybeles, a missile engine that could shoot deadly darts or bolts over a distance of a quarter of a mile. Alexander's battle with the Scythians at the Jaxartes river has the first recorded use of artillery in the field. The siege train included vital parts for siege ladders, battering-rams and siege towers, and many engines were built on the spot. Alexander's chief engineer was Diades who should be credited as 'the man who took Tyre'.

Persian Army

The armies of the Persian foe were made up of levies of numerous peoples, all dressed and armed according to their national custom. Thus, the Persian army can be seen as a celebration of the heterogenous harmony that - with only a few exceptions - had existed throughout the huge empire: indeed, a sort of 'United Nations peace keeping force' of Antiquity. Just as modern soldiers are willing to sacrifice their lives for abstract ideals - liberty, democracy, freedom - the original Persian soldier was also willing to die for a higher goal: his King. (Maybe one might compare this with the determination of the Japanese in World War II to fight and die for their Emperor.)

The nucleus of Darius' army were the Immortals or Apple-Bearers, the Persian élite counterpart of the Macedonian hypaspists. Traditionally they numbered 10,000 and Darius III fielded something in between 2,000 and 10,000 as his Royal Guards. Immortals carried a spear (with golden or silver apples at the butt), lavish tunics, a bow and a wicker shield. For their fighting skills the Persians hired Greek mercenary hoplites. Darius employed 10,000 of them at Issus, and these heavy infantry enemies were one of the main concerns of Alexander.

The remaining bulk of the forces were cavalry and light infantry from all corners of the empire. Prior to Issus and Gaugamela Curtius Rufus lists heavy Bactrian cavalry, Scythian mounted archers, excellent Hyrcanian cavalry, skilled Mardian archers, Barcanian horsemen armed with double-headed axes, Cossaean tribal levies, Cadusians, Cappadocians, Indians - and the list goes on and on, including "tribes unfamiliar even to their own allies". Persian cavalry was of remarkable standard; though probably not as well disciplined to attack in formation like the Companions, they outclassed Alexander's mercenary and allied horse.

At Gaugamela Darius used about 200 scythed chariots, equipped with sharp rotating spikes to demolish anything that came in their way. They were no challenge however for Alexander's mobile peltasts and Agrians. Heading the army were fifteen war elephants which could not make a lasting impression either.

Indian Army

At the battle of the Hydaspes King Porus' army, significantly smaller than its enemy, forced Alexander's Macedonians to fight their most difficult battle ever. Porus may have fielded up to 200 war elephants; they disrupted the Macedonian phalanx, claiming a toll of almost 75% in killed and wounded Foot Companions according to Diodorus.

The common Indian infantrist was the archer, armed with a huge bamboo bow as large as a man was tall. There seems to have been nothing wrong with Indian morale. Plutarch records that after some serious initial losses the Indians rallied and kept resisting the Macedonians with unsurpassable bravery. One hypothetical explanation might be that in the Hindu caste society one of the four castes were the Kshatriyas or 'Soldier Caste', which had its specific rules of conduct and behavior aimed at warfare.


Arrian - as well as Herodotus - is notorious for recording Persian armies of impossible size. Arrian quotes a Persian army of 600,000 strong at Issus and over 1,000,000 strong at Gaugamela. However, the largest army of Alexander's time that we have reliable evidence of is that of Antigonos the One-Eyed in 306 BC, counting 80,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry. Later Roman armies never exceeded this number: about 80,000 legionaries plus 6,000 cavalry were fighting Hannibal at Cannae in 216 BC and that was reportedly the largest army Rome ever fielded. So, the figure of 80,000 seems to be a sort of natural limit to the size of these ancient armies.

The size limit has to do with the simple need to find provisions. As Herodotus writes, the land itself was the biggest enemy of the traditionally huge Persian forces. Ancient armies did not possess trucks like modern armies do, nor could they be supplied from the air. No matter how ingenious their supply system was, they basically had to live off the land. Passing armies consumed the food supply of a country like a swarm of locusts. They could never retrace their steps: they would starve when returning by the same route. Prior to the battle of Issus King Darius left his base camp at Sochi where a battle could have been fought on favorable ground. Why? It is highly feasible that after one month's stay the Persians had no choice but to move on as they were simply running out of food and water.

Ancient commanders tried to keep their armies as small as possible. Though the Persians firmly believed there was safety in numbers, this basic rule would apply to them as well as to any other nation. Smaller armies were also capable of faster marches. The Macedonians did over forty miles a day during the pursuit of Darius in 330 BC. Armies as large as Arrian records - assuming they could survive at all - would have been incredibly slow. King Darius marched from Babylon to his base camp near in Issus within three months - a distance of 1200 kilometres or 750 miles at least. This he could never have achieved with his alleged 600,000 troops, especially as he marched during the heat of mid-summer and the supply of drinking water alone would have been a sheer impossible task.

Added to the armies were the camp followers. For Alexander's army their numbers are assumed to have been one servant or slave for every cavalry man and one for every ten infantry men. In India Alexander's entire entourage is said to have included 120,000 but his standing army at the Hydaspes is still estimated to have been approximately 40,000 strong - about the same number as he started out with in 334 BC.

Some probable army sizes

Macedonian invasion force of 334 BC - 36,000
Macedonians at Issus - 30,000
Macedonians at Gaugamela - 47,000
Macedonians at the Hydaspes - 41,000
Persians at the Granicus - 25,000
Persians at Issus - 100,000
Persians at Gaugamela - 90,000
Indians at the Hydaspes - 30,000


Fear and panic were the decisive factors in an ancient battle. Now, picture yourself as a simple peltast at the battle of the Granicus or at Issus. The frontlines during these engagements were over 2,500 yards long. You might be able to see what is happening in your direct surroundings, but of what is going on one mile down the front you can not have any clue. (If you had been at the dusty plain of Gaugamela, your area of vision would have been extremely limited.) In the mêlée there are virtually no means of communications - no radios or mobile phones. Even if your own unit is doing quite alright, this does not tell you anything about progress in general. Suddenly you spot some nearby troops running for their lives... What would you do?

Ancient battles were generally over within a couple of hours. In his anabasis Xenophon records how at the battle of Cunaxa in 401 BC the entire wing of the Persian army starts routing just at the sight of the advancing Greek phalanx. Not a single blow had been delivered and the armies were still some forty yards apart. This is not Greek propaganda only - it is a genuine account of what might have happened at many ancient battle fronts. Above that, the weapons of Alexander's time were not as deadly as modern fire arms. Arrows, stones from slings and javelins could hardly pierce through armor and they were rarely lethal. In an ancient battle armies suffered death tolls around 1% or 2% and the ratings of killed and wounded combined were around 12%. The ratio between killed and wounded was 1:10 or 1:12. In the modern battles of the last centuries the number of killed averages 5% and the total of killed and wounded up to 15%. The ratio between killed and wounded is something like 1:2 or 1:3.

In Alexander's time the majority of victims fell after the battle, not during the engagement. The defeated army would run in panic, being mercilessly pursued and butchered. Even on the victors' side many horses might die from exhaustion during the pursuit. (After Gaugamela Alexander's cavalry chased the Persians for seventy miles.) Another problem for the survivors of a defeated army was that their supply system fell completely apart, their provisions being plundered by the victorious enemy. Xenophon relates how after Cunaxa the 'defeated' Greeks had to butcher their own horses for food and scavenged the deserted battlefield for firewood for cooking - arrows, shields, broken chariots, anything that could burn. The lack of appropriate medical treatment hit the victors as well as the defeated; it is unknown how many of the wounded still died afterwards or would have been permanently unfit for further service.

When all this is taken into account some records of ancient authors appear to be quite acceptable. When Diodorus and Curtius Rufus claim that during and after Gaugamela 500 Macedonians were killed against 40,000 up to maybe 90,000 Persians, though this may seem unlikely it is actually rather probable. At Issus the figures of our ancient sources indicate that over 16% of the Macedonians were killed or wounded. This is significantly higher than the average of 12%, suggesting that the Persians were certainly not the 'incompetent' army popular tradition wants us to believe. If Plutarch is correct in saying that the battle of the Hydaspes lasted for eight hours, this confirms the assumption that Macedonian morale was completely wrecked by this devastating, terrible 'Pyrrhic victory'.


agema - élite units of the hetairoi and hypaspistts
argyraspids - Silver Shields; Macedonian veteran crack infantry; 3,000 strong
basilike - ile basilike: the Royal Squadron or agema of the Companions
hetairoi - Macedonian Companion cavalry; heavily armored nobilty horsemen
hipparchy - four ilai of hetairoi
hoplite - heavily armored Greek footman
hoplon - large round shield of the Greek hoplites; wooden core covered with bronze
hypaspists - Macedonian crack infantry; 3,000 strong
ile (plural: ilai) - squadron of hetairoi; 200-300 horsemen
javelin - 4 feet or 5 feet long spear; missile weapon
pelta - wicker shield of the peltasts
peltast - lightly-armed infantry man armed with a bundle of javelins and a wicker shield; Thracian origin
pezhetairoi - Foot Companions of the Macedonian phalanx; infantry carrying the sarisa and a light shield
phalanx - Greece: battle line formation of hoplites, usually 4 to 8 deep; Macedonia: battle line formation of pezhetairoi, usually 16 deep and divided in taxis
prodromoi - Thracian light cavalry; mounted scouts armed with a sarisa
sarisa - 13 feet to 17 feet pike used by the Macedonian pezhetairoi (phalanx)
sarisophori - prodromoi
taxis - Macedonian phalanx battalion of 1,526 pezhetairoi
xyston - short thrusting spear or lance of the hetairoi and Thessalian cavalry

Battle of the Granicus

      Date: probably May/June 334 B.C.

         Location: western Turkey, river Granicus (modern Biga, near Bandirma & Balikeshir)

·          Macedonian army: probably 47,000

·      Persian army: from 6,000 (Delbrück) or 15,000 (Fuller) up to 110,000 (Sekunda)

The Persian defence force facing Alexander after the Macedonians had crossed into Asia Minor was not a 'Royal' army lead by the Great King Darius himself. It was an assembly of forces under command of the satraps of the region. The Rhodian mercenary general Memnon was their foremost commander and the one who had actually advocated a 'scorched earth' strategy against Alexander's invasion rather than an open battle. However, his ideas were apparently dismissed by the Persian satraps who were hesitant to lay waste to their realms. According to most studies the main cause of Persian failure at the Granicus was the lack of consensus or a cohesive battle plan amongst Persian commanders.

Whether you accept Fuller's low estimate of 15,000 or Sekunda's grand total of 110,000, all studies agree that the Persian army at the Granicus was inferior to the invading Macedonians. The only real fighting strength of the Persians were about 10,000 cavalry and probably from 5,000 up to maybe 10,000 Greek mercenary hoplites. Whatever exceeded those numbers may have been hastily drawn levies from the region, with no ability to withstand Alexander's drilled forces. Delbrück even estimated the total Persian numbers as low as 6,000.

There is a nice little passage in Arrian who cites one of the first discussions between the king and his veteran general Parmenion. In all likelyhood it is part of a tradition to downplay Parmenion's role in Alexander's victories and to justify his assassination years later. Parmenion observes that the Persian infantry is greatly outnumbered by the Macedonian infantry (!) and that therefore the Persians would probably withdraw during the night, making the crossing of the Granicus much easier. Alexander rejects this proposal to delay the attack, arguing that adjusting one's plans to the postition of the opponent would only boost the enemy's confidence.

So the battle started, possibly late in the afternoon. According to Fuller Alexander's battle plan was to send some auxiliary cavalry against the enemy flanks, giving the Persians the impression that the main assault would take place there. The Persians reacted in the way Alexander desired: they withdrew cavalry from the center (which was guarding the river) to strengthen the flanks. At that moment Alexander and his Companion cavalry rushed into the Persian center and made the decisive attack there.

Fuller states that we should not forget this still happened in the era of 'heroic warfare'. When the Persian commanders spotted Alexander's major move, they attacked the Macedonians with all bravery and courage you might desire from army leaders. They shared just one simple goal: kill Alexander. Often, they engaged in hand to hand combat in a desperate attempt to save the day. Fuller lists as many as eight Persian commanders fallen on the field, two committing suicide afterwards. Deprived of their commanders, the Persian army routed. It was not the number of eliminated armored forces that secured this victory for Alexander, but the number of their commanders dying a soldier's death.

Not that Alexander had been very save himself. He received a major headwound and was - indeed - almost killed, weren't it that his officer Cleitus the Black helped him out by cutting off the arm of an opponent. (While Cleitus saved Alexander's life at that specific moment, he was eventually murdered by his own king during their infamous brawl in Bactria, six years later.)

As most of the Persian cavalry escaped, Alexander encircled and butchered the Greek mercenaries. But the major impact of Alexander's victory at the Granicus was the loss of so many prominent Persians. His rapid advance through almost the whole of Asia Minor - up until the battle of Issus - was facilitated by the fact that there was hardly any Persian satrap alive anymore who could have organized some proper resistance against Alexander's progress.

Peter Green in his Alexander of Macedon presented a controversial theory that Granicus consisted in fact of two battles: one lost by Alexander - or indecisive at least - after which he retaliated and beat the Persians next day. According to Green this would explain why our sources have done very their best to conceal the truth behind blurred and contradictive accounts. Green is correct in his assumption that the written records of Granicus are too vague to allow for a reliable reconstruction of what happened.

Battle of Issus

·      Date: probably November 333 B.C.

·      Location: Hatay province of present day Turkey, just north of Iskenderun

·      Macedonian army: 30,000 (Fuller, Delbrück) up to maybe 42,000 (Warry)

·      Persian army: from 25,000 (Delbrück) or 108,000 (Warry) up to 600,000 (Arrian/Sekunda)

The site of Issus is now called Dörtyol, an unremarkable town in southern Turkey. Near this undistinguished place on the Mediterranean shore one of the most decisive and influential battles of human history was fought. And - to add only to its legend - it probably lasted less than one hour.

The first credits should go to the Persian Great King Darius. Whatever the forces under his command, and whatever his reputation as an army leader - he completely outsmarted Alexander prior to the battle. Darius had been assembling a massive force to counter the Macedonian invasion and he had moved this incredible number of men - even a low estimate of 108,000 is still a really huge army to feed, quenche and maintain on the road - from Babylon to the Mediterranean within three months. While Alexander was moving south along the coast, Darius took a clever detour and followed in Alexander's rear. We are told by our sources how the Persians feasted on massacring Macedonians unfit for service, who were left behind while Alexander's army had moved on.

Darius had for once intercepted Alexander's lines of supply and had disrupted the Macedonian logistic system. When Alexander realised his mistake, he immediately turned his army northwards. In fact he was trapped like a hunted animal. An unsuspectedly fast, forced, overnight march brought the Macedonians in contact with the Persian army. Darius had employed Cardaces (Kardakes) - young Persian soldiers - at his left flank. But as Alexander observed, they were assisted by archers. For Alexander this was a sign of weakness. If Darius would have had blind trust in his fresh Cardaces, the additional support would have been unnecessary.

While Parmenion lead the defence against the fierce Persian attack at the Macedonian left wing (along the sea shore) Alexander rushed his Companion cavalry towards those inexperienced Cardaces in the hills further inland. They could not stand up to the Macedonian assault. As they routed, they opened the way for Alexander to push his attack towards the center where King Darius was. Darius took to flight and the entire Persian army desintegrated. Game over.

But Alexander's victory did not come a moment too soon. Apart from the pressure on Parmenion's cavalry, the advance of the Macedonian phalanx through the center - against Darius' Greek mercenaries - was not going according to plan. The steep banks of the river Pinarus had disrupted the cohesion of the infantry, resulting in heavy losses to the Persian foe. Still, in the end this did not affect the final outcome of the confrontation.

Delbrück has an interesting analysis of Issus. Because Alexander's army was trapped, the Persians really did not need to score victory. A draw would be enough for Darius to isolate Alexander and force him to surrender. This observation - which was absolutely correct - determined Darius' entire battle plan. The Persians did not employ the full attacking ability of their cavalry but put their hopes on a successful defence. They were hesitant to pursue Parmenion's units, though Parmenion was overclassed and outnumbered - with disastrous results. Darius strategical decisions were sound, but he blundered tactically.

Issus is perhaps my favorite battle. The way Alexander turned great odds into an overwhelming victory is just beyond belief. The sheer contradiction between Darius having made preparations of assembling an epic army over many months, and Alexander totally annihilating his foe's efforts within a matter of minutes, just inspires your imagination.

Issus could arguably be called the most decisive moment of the campaign. After the battle the Persians had lost control over all territories west of the river Euphrates. That implied not only the loss of areas with a vital economic importance, but it also included the impossibility of ever launching a counter attack against Macedonia by sea. Alexander had executed the four basic principles of all military strategy: first organise your defences, then secure your supply lines, then capture your opponent's resources. Only after that, go for the final blow. At Gaugamela, two years later, the Persian Great King was already a beaten man.

The Macedonian victory at Issus was so fast that it enabled Alexander to capture the entire Persian Royal household: Queen Mother Sisygambis, Queen Stateira (Darius' wife) and Princess Stateira (his daughter) and Darius' other children.

Battle of Gaugamela

·      Date: probably October 1st, 331 B.C.

·      Location: Tel Gomel, close to modern Arbil (ancient Arbela), northern Iraq

·      Macedonian army: approximately 47,000 (Warry)

·      Persian army: some 52,000 (Delbrück) or 91,000 (Warry) up to 1 million (Arrian)

The respected lieutenant colonel Theodore Dodge was a great fan of Gaugamela (or Arbela): "Never were dispositions better taken to resist the attacks of the enemy at all points; never on the field were openings more quickly seized; never threatening disaster more skillfully retrieved than here." Although his statement was made over a century ago, it might still be valid today. Again there is a nice little episode in Arrian, in which Parmenion advices his king to try a night attack. Alexander rejects Parmenion's plan, claiming that he is Alexander and that Alexander simply does not 'steal' his victories.

From whatever side you look at it, Alexander must have had the intention not to steal his victory at Gaugamela. It could be argued that at Issus Darius had made the stupid mistake to employ his massive army on a narrow coastal plain, denying himself to take full advantage of his stunning superiority in numbers. But Gaugamela was fought on the wide plains of Asia - and Darius had had sufficient time to prepare 'his' battlefield. If the Macedonians would win here, they would have beaten the Persians on their own ground. For the first and the last time ever Alexander backed up his phalanxes with a second line of allied and mercenary heavy infantry, anticipating on the possibility that he could end up being entirely encircled by Persians. Michael Wood in his tv-series states, and perhaps rightly so, that Alexander in fact wanted this to happen. This should be the victory to end all victories: all circumstances should be in favor of the Persians so a Macedonian victory would remain undisputed forever.

Fearing that dreaded night attack, King Darius kept his army standing in battle formation all night, probably only adding to fatigue and demoralization. Alexander, we are told, had an excellent night's sleep, nearly overslept himself and had to be woken by Parmenion who had to remind his king that it was time for battle. Of course, this is probably a romatizised tale - but it fits perfectly to emphasize on the confidence Alexander had in this ultimate victory.

The battle progress of Gaugamela is far more complex than the earlier confrontations at Granicus and Issus. Parmenion, again, was ordered to take a stand against the Persian attack on the Macedonian left, lead by the capable satrap Mazeus commanding many elite cavalry units of the Persian empire. Alexander meanwhile advanced in an oblique order - some say 'diamond shaped' - against the Persian left.

Then, as the Bactrian satrap Bessus tries to encircle the Macedonian advanced attack forces on the Persian (left) wing, he leaves a weak spot in between the Persian left and the Persian center. Alexander and his Companion cavalry immediately take advantage of this opportunity. They fight their way towards the center where King Darius is.

Satrap Bessus was probably in the best position of all Persian commanders to observe the disaster in the heart of the Persian army. Though Bessus' Bactrians easily outclassed the opposing Macedonians at his wing, Bessus signalled the retreat so most of his Bactrian cavalry could leave the battlefield unharmed. But because Alexander had shifted his attack entirely to the right, a gap had also opened between the Macedonian center and the left flank guarded by Parmenion. And Parmenion's cavalry found itself under the ever increasing pressure of the bulk of Persian forces still willing to fight.

So some controversial elements remain. In the first place, Persian cavalry managed to brake through the Macedonian center. Instead of using this success to harrass the Macedonian front from the rear, the Persians were tempted - or ordered - to sack the Macedonian camp. If Alexander was aware of this danger (in the chaos of battle he might have been ignorant), he chose not to respond to it. Maybe he figured that a decisive victory in the end would compensate generously for anything lost now in the progress of fighting. As the battle turned heavily in favor of the Macedonians, these looting Persian troops were eventually eliminated by the Macedonian reserves which Alexander had deployed behind the phalanx. (There is this nice little tale of these Persians trying to help Persian Queen Mother Sisygambis to escape; but she refuses the offer due to her loyalty to Alexander.)

Secondly, there is this a weird account of Parmenion asking Alexander to help him out against the overwhelming Persian assault. Given the extent of the battle and the distance these messages presumably had to cover, this story is very unlikely. Allegedly, Alexander abandoned his pursuit of Darius to aid Parmenion - but this could easily be anti-Parmenion propaganda once again.

Third, but certainly not last, we do not really know what happened first: did Darius abandon his commanding position under the pressure of Alexander's Companions, causing most of his army to rout? Or did the troops - especially Bessus' cavalry - abandon their king as soon as they noticed that the Persian center was under attack? Accounts differ. Still, the outcome is the same.

In the end, the disastrous news of the collapse of Darius' center and the flight of Bessus reached Mazeus. Parmenion rallied his troops and started pushing back the Persians. By now, the battle was all but over. Alexander chased the fleeing Persians for thirty up to seventy miles before turning back to base camp. If anything, Gaugamela had proven the superiority of the Macedonian army and Alexander's generalship over the otherwise decisive courage of Persian leaders and their high quality cavalry.

The Persian Great King Darius had tried everything within his abilty. He had employed about 200 scythed chariots at Gaugamela, intended to cut down Macedonian infantry like life-size lawn mowers. His army had been accompanied by fiftheen Indian elephants, which strangely enough do not seem to have played any part in the fighting. The six thousand strong Bactrian contingents had included impressive catraphacted cavalry. Even the sceptical Delbrück admits that Alexander was outnumbered in cavalry by 12,000 against 7,000. If any battle has ever justified Alexander to be named 'the Great', this would be it.

Battle of the Hydaspes

·      Date: probably May or July 326 B.C.

·      Location: somewhere near the towns of Malakwal and Haranpur, nothern Punjab, Pakistan

·      Macedonian army: 15,000 up to 25,000 (attack force) plus 11,000 (under Craterus in camp; Fuller)

·      Indian army: 22,000 (Plutarch) or 34,000 (Arrian) plus 85 (Curtius) up to 200 (Arrian) elephants

It had been almost five years since Alexander's victorious forces had fought a pitched battle on the open field. They had been surpressing rebellions and guerilla warfare in Central Asia. They had made incredible attacks on mountain refuges and had laid sieges to reputedly impregnatable strongholds. But an Indian king, Poros, ruling over an empire in what is now northern Pakistan, was the single commander who had the courage to stand up against Alexander in the last of his four great battles.

Poros' army was much smaller than Alexander's. Though Alexander probably employed about some 36,000 troops on the actual battlefield, his entire entourage at these final phases of the campaign is said to have included close to 100,000 men. Poros did not rule 'India'. He ruled a relatively small and modest kingdom; so he could only levy little over 30,000 troops. But Poros played one big trump: 200 war elephants, one of the highest figures of these behemoths ever employed in any battle of Western classical history as far as we know of. Seleucos in 301 B.C. had 500 war elephants but - even as both figures might be exaggerated - Poros' number comes second best. Horses do not like elephants. Such a multitude of pachyderms rendered the Macedonian cavalry useless.

As Poros was guarding the Hydaspes river (modern Jhelum) with his elephant corps, he prohibited Alexander from making a crossing. For about two weeks - according to Robin Lane Fox - Alexander moved his troops up and down the western river bank. And Poros followed suit - until the Indian king became tired of all these false alarms. When Poros was finally 'lulled into sleep', Alexander left officer Craterus with a substantial body of troops in base camp. In secret the hard core of Macedonian forces crossed the river overnight. Craterus had complex instructions: Poros reaction to the Macedonian crossing would determine if Craterus had to cross the river too - or to stay put. At least six different scenario's were discussed, according to Fuller. Summarized, Craterus should only cross the Hydaspes when there were no Indian elephants blocking his way.

When Poros found out about the Macedonian crossing, he sent a small force under command of his son (probaby also called Poros) to intercept Alexander's advance. Already too late. This Indian counter group was annihilated by the strong force of Macedonians who had made it across the Jhelum.

The battle proper opened with a sharp cavalry confrontation on the Macedonian right wing. Arrian says Alexander was determined not to attack the Indian center, because of the elephant herd amassed there. Poros' responded as Alexander had anticipated - by sending his right wing cavalry across the (still empty) battlefield to support the fighting at his left flank. But officer Coenus' and his cavalry had moved to the other side of the ranks, hidden behind the Macedonian infantry lines. Coenus was now able to intervene with the Indian crossfield cavalry move from behind the enemy's rear.

Whatever Alexander's battle plan was, Coenus' attack resulted in disorder in the Indian cavalry regiments. As they had to fall back, the Indian cavalry, infantry and elephant forces became mingled. Maybe this was Alexander's intention: to deny Poros the opportunity to use his forces as separate units. As soon as Alexander saw the Indian confusion, the Macedonian phalanx was ordered to advance. According to our sources everything seems to have ended up in complete mayhem. Wounded elephants do not retreat: they stampede. Friend and foe alike were trampled under rampaging elephants. (To add one more gruwesome detail: elephant riders - mahouts - carried a chisel and a hammer so they could split the skull of their animals when the beasts became uncontrolable.)

In all likelihood the Hydaspes battle was just utter carnage. No pretty battle. Plutarch suggests the fighting lasted for eight hours - exceptionally long for an ancient battle. Curtius Rufus mentions the use of axes and swords by the Macedonians to cut off the elephants' trunks. That Alexander was victorious in the end, was the result of his initial clever river crossing which had enabled him to take Poros by surprise. Even modern logistic experts admire the fact that the Macedonians were able to ship an entire fighting force across a swollen Indian monsoon river in just one single night.

In overview, Alexander had defeated a substantially weaker army at the cost of many lives. Arrian says that after crossing the Jhelum most Macedonians entered the battle already exhausted and out of breath. Diodorus mentions 280 Macedonian cavalry and 700 infantry killed. When you apply normal battle statistics to these figures, this would imply up to 10,000 or 12,000 wounded on the Macedonian side. Plutarch states the Hydaspes confrontation "blunted" the courage of the Macedonians to advance further into India. In Curtius Rufus officer Coenus' claims that the Macedonians by now had lost most of their battle gear, armor and horses. "Will you expose this fine army naked to wild beasts?", he asks Alexander afterwards, trying to persuade his king to avoid a next confrontation with an Indian elephant corps.

Anyway, a few weeks after Hydaspes Alexander ordered the southbound retreat towards Babylon. Some controversial statements were made by (predominantly Indian) historians, hinting at the possibilty that Alexander was actually defeated by Poros. Poros' final statement after the battle - "Treat me like a king" - could be interpreted both ways around for sure. For some food for thought visit Alexander the ordinary, a webpage that advocates Alexander's defeat at the Jhelum.

Fact is that after Hydaspes Alexander only campaigned against minor enemies. His successors became fascinated with elephants as war machines and the later Hellenistic wars involved elephants in large numbers. The Seleucids even established an elephant breeding center in Antioch, at the Mediterranean coast. Whatever the truth is, the Hydaspes remains Alexander's final great battle and by far his most difficult.


If you would summarize Alexander's tactics displayed at the four main confrontations, three essential observations catch the eye. First, Alexander always managed to make his opponents respond in the way he desired. Second, he had an absolutely convincing talent for immediately determining the weak spots in the enemy line. And third, no matter how grim the situation, he never panicked, but always executed his plans in a coherent way.

Fuller observes that other commanders have equalled Alexander's talent to lead an army into battle. But the essence of Alexander's generalship was that he was also extremely succesfull in all other types of armed confrontations: sieges, anti-guerilla actions, ambushes. And it is this strange combination of mastery of all types of war that makes him unique

Sagalassus - 334 BC

'The Pisidians are all fine soldiers, but the Sagalassians were conspicuous even among a nation of fighters.'
Flavius Arrianus Xenophon (Arrian)


After his victory at the river Granicus and his campaign along the Aegean coast, Alexander moved into the interior of Asia Minor. From the southern shores of what is now Turkey the Macedonian army marched for Gordium during winter 334/333 BC. However, on his path Alexander found the hostile Pisidian tribes, fearsome warriors who are determined to stop his progress.

A first confrontation happens near Termessus, a Pisidian mountain citadel. After the initial skirmishes the Pisidians retreat and Alexander, considering a siege would be too time consuming, decides to continue to march northwards. But at Sagalassus, the next Pisidian strongold, the tribal enemy has prepared a second position to resist the Macedonians once more.

Alexander reckons the cavalry would be of little use because of the rough terrain and he advances with his infantry regiments only, the guards, the phalanx and the Thracians. Although the Pisidians at Sagalassus have recieved reinforcements from Termessus and although they managed to surprise the Macedonians by an attack at the flanks, their numbers appear too small to score a victory. After a series of intense skirmishes the way is clear for Alexander's army to proceed.

In any case the confrontation had included fierce fighting as one of Alexander's main commanders, Cleander, was reported killed afterwards. Also, the Pisidians maintained their independence. During Alexander's reign their enclave remained a 'white spot' on the map of the empire. Even during the days of the Roman empire, the Romans never subdued the Pisidians but merely treated them as a client state.

At Sagalassus something extraordinary had happened: in fact, Alexander was outclassed. The historian Arrian writes all Pisidians were notorious for their courage and fighting skills, but even among this race of warriors the Sagalassians were outstanding.


During the struggle at Sagalassus many Macedonian units and leaders were occupied elsewhere. Ptolemy had a force of 3,000 mercenaries and 200 horse at his disposal in Caria while Parmenion was leading all allied contingents via a different route towards Gordium. Above that, Alexander had sent most of his 'newly wed' home for the winter. They returned to the army in Gordium in the spring of 333 BCE under the command of Coenus, Meleager and Ptolemy.

If we take all this into account, we are left with a relatively small number of predominantly Macedonian crack troops who were fighting the winter campaign in Asia Minor. According to Arrian Alexander used the Guards (hypaspists) on the right flank - under his personal command. The right flank was reinforced by the Agrians and the archers. The center, writes Arrian, was occupied by the heavy infantry. As Coenus, Meleager and Ptolemy were leading the troops 'on leave', these troops were probably the phalanx battallions of Amyntas, Phillip, Craterus and Perdiccas. On the left flank Alexander used Thracian units to protect the phalanx. The cavalry played no part in this battle.

Arrian is quite specific about Macedonian leaders at Sagalassus. Alexander had personal command over the right wing. Amyntas, son of Arrabaeus, had command over the heavy infantry battallions near the left flank, while Sitalces had command over the Thracians on the left wing. Cleander, who was killed in this battle, commanded the archers on the right wing. No details are known about the Pisidian enemies.

Persian Gates - 330 BC

'The greatest source of anguish for Alexander's courageous men was [...] their inability to strike back, their being caught and slaughtered like animals in a pit.'
Quintus Curtius Rufus (5; 3)


In January 330 BC Alexander and his victorious army had captured the Persian cities of Babylon and Susa and were marching towards the heart of Darius' empire, the ceremonial capital Persepolis. Alexander had split up his army. Parmenion was leading the baggage train and all allied and mercenary troops along the official road to Persepolis, while Alexander took his crack Macedonian forces on a faster but more difficult route straight across the Zagros mountain range.

The stakes were high. Alexander's intentions were to reach Persepolis before the Persians could evacuate the huge treasures stored in Darius' palaces. But the satrap Ariobarzanes, who governed the satrapy of Persia, had prepared an ambush in the mountain gorge known as the Persian or Susian Gates. When he struck, Alexander was trapped. The Persians were commanding the heights and arrows and stones were raining down mercilessly on the Macedonians. Ariobarzanes had walled the gorge, preventing Alexander from breaking through. In the end Alexander had to retreat, leaving behind many casualties. It was a disgrace. Ariobarzanes had faced the Macedonians before as a cavalry commander at Gaugamela and he must have realised it would take a cunning plan to stop them.

Now Alexander had a problem. If he could not reach Persepolis in time, not only the treasures could be lost, but also Parmenion's column would be an easy victim to a Persian surprise attack. However, a local shepherd claimed there was an obscure mountain path around the Gates. During the hours of darkness Alexander took his elite units on a nightly march, encircling the Persian stronghold whilst relying on the native shepherd as his guide. As dawn broke Alexander suddenly turned up behind Ariobarzanes' lines and the Persians were butchered.

Ariobarzanes barely managed to escape the massacre and returned to Persepolis with a few survivors, only to be denied entrance to the city. News of the outcome of the battle had convinced the citadel commander of Persepolis to surrender the capital to Alexander and stop any further resistance. So Ariobarzanes could not find a save refuge. He was never heard of again.

The local shepherd who guided Alexander around the Persian Gates was rewarded with a sum of money equivalent to a quarter of a million US dollars.


According to Arrian Alexander took with him on his nightly march: the Royal (Agema) squadron of the Companions, another double squadron of cavalry, the Guards (Hypaspists), Perdiccas' battallion, the Agrians and the 'most lightly armed of the archers'. The battallions of Philotas, Coenus and Amyntas received orders from Alexander to proceed in a different direction. Arrian also says Ptolemy had the command over 3,000 troops. Arrian is very clear about what happened to Craterus. He had orders to stay behind and guard the rear of the pass during Alexander's advance. At his disposal were his own battalion and that of Meleager. Furthermore, Craterus had the command over 'a few archers and 500 mounted troops'.

The army of Ariobarzanes must have been drafted from the last resources of the Persian empire. Arrian and Curtius Rufus give no details about the Persian enemy, apart from 700 cavalry and an alleged 25,000 to 40,000 infantry. At the Persian Gates Ariobarzanes is the only Persian leader known by name.

Battle of Mice - Megalopolis 330 BC


'That there never was a more violent conflict is a matter of record: the armies of the two nations with the greatest military reputation were fighting an evenly matched battle.'
Quintus Curtius Rufus (6; 1)


The fierce Battle of Megalopolis is the worst documented major event of the reign of Alexander the Great. Even the actual year in which the battle was fought is still disputed. When Alexander was in Phoenicia in summer 331 BC, preparing for his march towards Mesopotamia and the battle of Gaugamela, news arrived that King Agis III of Sparta had started a war in the Pelopponese. When Alexander arrived in Susa, in December of that year, the outcome of this obscure war was still unknown: from Susa he sent Antipater 3000 talents to continue the war effort. The final news of Antipater's victory must have reached Alexander in summer 330 BC when he dismissed his allied troops - or even much later in spring 329 BC when he crossed the Indian Caucasus into Bactria.

In the fall of 333 BC the Spartan King Agis III had met with the Persian commanders Pharnabazus and Autophradates, somewhere in the Aegean, and revealed them his plans for a war against Alexander in Greece itself. The Persians agreed to support Agis - with a mere 30 talents and just 10 ships. A lousy fee rather than substantial support. But Agis managed to recruit the Greek mercenary survivors of Issus - who had served in the Persian army - a tough force of 8,000 seasoned men hungry for revenge. In the summer of 331 BC Agis defeated Corrhagus, the Macedonian general in the Pelopponese and garrison commander of Corinth.

Meanwhile Antipater, Alexander's regent in Macedonia, was occupied in Thrace where the Macedonian general Memnon was somehow involved in a rebellion. As this Memnon is the same person who later supplied Alexander with new reinforcements in India, the most probable story is that this Memnon was under some pressure in Thrace and Antipater had to rush in to help him out. That solved, Antipater marched against King Agis. Antipater had recruited a large force of over 40,000 strong, with a small Macedonian nucleus and substantial numbers of barbarians from the northern fringes of the empire, reinforced with troops from his Greek allies.

The final battle, fought near Megalopolis, was a terrible massacre. King Agis faced Antipater with 22,000 troops who were at their very best that day. Early in the battle Antipater's lines broke, but in the end it was the sheer weight of numbers that brought victory to the Macedonians. It is written 5,300 died on the Spartan side and 3,500 on the Macedonian side. For the Spartans that meant a death toll close to 25 percent. But even for Antipater's side normal battle statistics would indicate that up to 90 percent of the Macedonian army might have been wounded, just as Curtius Rufus records. King Agis lead his army with unsurpassable courage, but was wounded in the midst of battle and died a hero's death in the end, defending himself until his last breath.

After his victory Antipater carefully avoided any chance of irritating Alexander. Therefore, he did not set the peace terms himself but delegated that job to the league of Greek states. Plutarch records Alexander's reaction when he finally heard about the outcome of the war with Agis III: 'Alexander, when he heard of Antipater's battle with Agis, merely joked about it and remarked, "It seems, my friends, that while we have been conquering Darius here, there has been a battle of mice in Arcadia"' (Plutarch, Life of Agesilaus, 15).


The historian Arrian hardly spends a word on the war of Agis III. Curtius Rufus appears to have written a full account, but ironically most of those passages have been lost. I have based this summary on the excellent commentary of Heckel in the Epitome of Justin and especially on the research of Bosworth in his Conquest and Empire.

Nothing is known about the battle formation, except that the battle was fought in hilly terrain and that the plain where both armies met was too small to contain all the troops involved. It is said Megalopolis was a battle with continuous action and mobility, but also a battle in which many units had to wait for their chance to advance to the front line due to the lack of space.

Antipater's troops were generally inferior to those of Agis. The reason for this is that Macedonia was already beginning to feel the yoke of the war in Persia. Just before Megalopolis Antipater had send 15,000 reinforcements to Alexander. Of these, 6,000 must have been Macedonians, 4,000 Greek allies. So Antipater was beginning to run out of recruits. Also the fact that the Macedonian phalanx broke early in the battle indicates his troops were not of the best standard.

According to all sources Agis III had 20,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry. The nucleus of the Greek army was formed by the survivors of Issus. Mercenary commander Thymodes had lead the 30,000 Greek mercenaries at Issus in the service of King Darius. Nothing is actually heard from Thymodes after Issus and the 8,000 veteran mercenaries were in fact shipped to Sparta by a certain Hippias.

In those ancient days Sparta had two kings at the same time: a king of the Eurypontid house and a king of the Agiad house. King Agis III is the Eurypontid king. King Agis' youngest brother Eudamidas was his successor. Cleomenes II was the Agiad king of Sparta. Though he ruled for 61 years, he was a nonentity who lived a life of inactivity. Acrotatus was a brave Agiad prince and one of the few Spartans who still dared to make bold patriotic remarks after the defeat. Eteocles was a Spartan military commander, mentioned by Bosworth. But only of King Agis we have confirmation that he was active as a Spartan commander at Megalopolis.

Apart from Antipater nothing is sure about the Macedonian commanders. Corrhagus was the garrison commander of Corinth who was defeated by Agis at the beginning of the war. Amphoterus was a Macedonian officer who had been sent to the Aegean and Peloponnese by Alexander to support Sparta's enemies. Amphoterus, a brother of the famous Craterus, was however not very successful in his missions. The son of Antipater Cassander was the later ruler of Macedonia. Cassander was the one who would eliminate Alexander's mother Olympias, as well as Alexander's widow Roxane and her child. Antipater himself, however, does not seem to have had much confidence in his son. After Alexander's death Antipater preferred Polyperchon as regent of Macedonia above his own son, a bitter disappointment to Cassander. As Cassander was born in 355 BC, only two years younger than Alexander, I find it plausible he might have been present at Megalopolis.

Bagae - 328 BC

'The death of this persistent, treacherous and wily foe gave final promise of peace to this territory.'
Theodore Ayrault Dodge (1890)


The Sogdian nobleman Spitamenes might not have been Alexander's most formidable opponent, but he surely was persistent. Spitamenes had fought in Darius' army. Together with Dataphernes he delivered the usurper Bessus to Alexander. But just as he seemed ready to submit himself to Alexander's rule, Spitamenes started a guerilla rebellion which kept the Macedonians busy in Central Asia for roughly two years. His most infamous raid was that on Maracanda when 2,300 Macedonians under Caranus perished.

In 328 BC Spitamenes was on the move again and with 600 Scythians he had ambushed the Macedonians in Zariaspa. By now Alexander had split up his army in five sections. Veteran commander Coenus was appointed to patrol the area where Spitamenes was active. While Spitamenes rallied more Scythians for his cause and his forces peaked to about 4,500 nomad horsemen, Coenus set out to meet him. The final confrontation happened at Bagae, a Sogdian stronghold at the edge of the Scythian deserts. Over 800 enemy horsemen were killed and Spitamenes was forced to withdraw.

Now Spitamenes had failed once to often. His Scythian allies became impatient. They beheaded him and sent his head to Alexander. His companion Dataphernes was imprisoned and delivered to the Macedonians.

Over a year later, far away in India, Coenus was the commander who had the courage to address Alexander in the name of the common soldier and plead for a retreat. Soon afterwards Coenus fell ill and died. His swift victory at Bagae against the notorious Spitamenes remains one of his moments of personal glory.


Historians like Arrian reveal very little details about the fight at Bagae. There are sufficient clues about where and when the confrontation happened and what units were involved. But any information about terrain, battle order and battle progress is lacking.

According to Arrian, Coenus took with him his own and Meleager's battalions, about 400 Companions, "all the javelin men" and troops from Sogdia and Bactria that were in service with Amyntas, Alexander's governor in Zariaspa. We can only guess what "all the javelin men" means.

Arrian says Spitamenes started his raid on Zariaspa with 600 Scythians from the Massagetae tribe. After Zariaspa he enlisted 1,000 more but in a short confrontation with Craterus 150 of them fell. At Bagae Spitamenes enlisted 3,000 fresh Scythian nomads. In total this ends up to 4,450 troops of which at least 1,450 were Massagetae. The Massagetae had earned themselves a reputation by having killed Cyrus the Great in battle, back in the old days of the Persian empire. In Spitamenes' entourage there must have been some rebels from Bactria and Sogdia proper. But nothing is known of their numbers. After Bagae both Spitamenes and Dataphernes were betrayed by their Scythian allies. So it can be assumed that Dataphernes was present at the battle together with to Spitamenes.

(Some sources use the name 'Gabae', not 'Bagae'. I have used 'Bagae' from the translation of Arrian in Penguin Classics.)

Aornus - 326 BC

'I could only wonder that the story of Aornos should have escaped being treated altogether as a mythos.'
sir Aurel Stein (1926)


The spring of 326 BC featured one of the most awe inspiring, yet mysterious feats of Alexander's career. The Macedonian invasion of India started with the conquest of the temperate valleys near the foothills of the Himalayas where the Indian tribe of the Assacenians offered fierce resistance. Fleeing their besieged cities the Assacenians withdrew to the rock fortress of Aornus. The meadows and wells at the high plateau of Aornus could sustain a large number of refugees for a considerable length of time.

Alexander realized it would be a moral victory for the Indians if their resistance was not suppressed. However, Aornus had a reputation for being absolutely impregnable. According to legend even the hero Hercules had failed to capture the rock. But Alexander decided his message had to be clear: no one should be able escape him. So, together with Ptolemy and a small force of his best armed troops he made his way up anyway. By constructing a bridge over a ravine which enabled his siege artillery to fire at the enemy, Alexander proved that even their rock fortress would not be a safe haven for the Assacenians. They lost heart and in desperate attempt to escape most of them found their death by throwing themselves down the steep cliffs.

The story of the Indian rock had long been seen as a myth until sir Aurel Stein pointed out a possible location in 1926. This location, the hill of Pir-Sar in northern Pakistan, has been disputed by some historians. The question where the real rock of Aornus lies and what really happened there might never be fully solved.


Arrian gives the most detailed account of the siege. According to Arrian Alexander took with him to Aornus: the archers, the Agrians, the phalanx battalion of Coenus, the best armed and most active of the other infantry units, 200 Companions and 100 mounted archers. Of these the Agrians, some light armed units (possibly the archers) and a picked company of heavy infantry were the first to attempt the assault. Later on Arrian mentions the number of 700 regarding the heavy infantry unit and he mentions the use of catapults during the siege. In retrospect, Aornus was captured with just a very small force.

In Arrian's account the major role is played by Ptolemy, the later king of Egypt. It is likely that Ptolemy's own history (on which Arrian had based his work) contained a considerable amount of 'personal propaganda' and that Ptolemy used the siege of Aornus to paint a favorable picture of himself. It is remarkable that Ptolemy's alleged achievements at Aornus are completely ignored by the other classical authors like Diodorus and Curtius Rufus.

The Assaceni kingdom initially had a standing army of 2,000 cavalry, 30,000 infantry and 30 elephants. Many of these troops must have been captured or killed during the many sieges in Assaceni territory, like those of the cities of Ora, Bazira and Massaga. It was after these sieges that the last survivors fled to Aornus. It would have been very unpractical for the Assaceni to take their elephants with them to the summit of the rock.

It is obvious the remnants of the Assaceni army considered themselves too weak to risk an open battle with Alexander. Even in the weeks before the assault on Aornus, the Assaceni did not face the Macedonians in the field, but rather preferred to take up defensive positions within their city walls. The king of the Assaceni was called Assacenus, but he was killed during one of the sieges before Aornus. The Assaceni Queen Cleophis had surrendered her capital Massaga to Alexander. (She allegedly conceived a son by Alexander.)

Before the siege of Massaga the brother of King Assacenus, a man called Amminais, had brought in 7,000 mercenaries to reinforce the defenses of Massaga. However, after the surrender of the city these mercenaries and their leader were betrayed and massacred by Alexander. Whether this 'leader' was the same person as the king's brother Amminais, is not clear.

(Note: the Indian Rock is called Aornos in a translation of Arrian, Aornus in a translation of Diodorus and Aornis in a translation of Curtius Rufus. I have used the 'Aornus' form from the Loeb Classical Library translation of Diodorus Siculus.)

Sangala - 326 BC

'The men were exhausted by the hardships of the campaign and wished only to enjoy what profits from it lay closest to hand'
Quintus Curtius Rufus (9; 2)


When Alexander marched through India the character of his campaign had changed. This was not a clean war. The Macedonians met resistance almost everywhere. They were not only battling against enemy armies but also against militant civilians making a last desperate stand to keep their freedom.

At the same time army morale had plunged to far below zero. The Indian monsoon posed havoc on the Macedonians. Alexander's men, unfamiliar with the tropical climate, suffered from illness and fatigue. Their wounds did not heal in this humid climate. It was under these conditions that - a few weeks after their victory at the Hydaspes - they faced a stronghold of resistance at Sangala, the principal city of the Cathaean Indians.

As Arrian relates the Cathaeans (or Chathaei) had the courage to meet Alexander in the field. Near their capital they had occupied a low hill and had strengthened their defensive line with 'carts' from which they hurled missiles. Alexander led the first cavalry attack himself, but as he soon found out the cavalry was of little avail. He dismounted and assisted the infantry in their assault. Once the Cathaeans felt the pressure of the veteran Macedonian footmen, they abandoned their positions and fled within their city walls. After a four day siege Sangala fell. About 8,000 Cathaeans had died and another 9,000 perished when the Macedonians razed Sangala to the ground. About 70,000 citizens were captured as prisoners of war. During continuing raids in the surrounding country even the old, the wounded and the sick were massacred.

Sangala was no glorious victory. It was a dirty struggle under appalling conditions putting a demoralized army against a desperate enemy. The number of Macedonian wounded was exceptionally high. It turned out to be Alexander's last conquest on his march to the east. Days later his army mutinied and Alexander agreed to return homewards.


First of all Arrian says that Alexander sent the mounted archers to the front with orders to fire at long range to prevent an enemy sortie. Arrian continues saying Alexander brought the Agema cavalry ('special squadron') and the Companions of Cleitus to the right, together with the Agrians. The Guards were kept close to the Companions. These 'Guards', otherwise known as the Hypaspists, are believed to have been renamed 'Argyraspids' or Silver Shields shortly before Alexander entered India. On the left, according to Arrian, Alexander posted the Companion unit of Perdiccas and the heavy infantry. Coenus' battallion would have been with Coenus on a foraging party. Hephaistion had taken some troops with him on other assignments too. Still the core of the army must have been with Alexander. This leaves us with the additional phalanxes of Meleager, Attalus and Gorgias. On the front line Alexander had posted two divisions of archers, one on each wing (says Arrian).

The final touch was the arrival of King Porus, now an ally, with reinforcements that actually came to late to participate in the battle. Arrian places Porus' arrival during the actual siege of Sangala, long after the initial engagement. It is only guesswork which reinforcements Porus might have brought. (Just after the Hydaspes battle Alexander had subdued the country of a tribe called the Glausae and had handed their territory over to Porus.) Arrian says the number of Porus' reinforcements was 5,000 and included elephants.

In Arrian's account the attack on Sangala is lead by Alexander and Ptolemy. Except for King Porus, no other Macedonian leaders are mentioned and it is very likely the most prominent figures were employed on other missions. So It is not known who commanded the rearguard. But it is known that just after Sangala the secretary of Alexander, Eumenes, was dispatched with 300 cavalry to raid the countryside. Eumenes later developed to one of the foremost commanders of the Diadochi wars, but this was his first military assignment during Alexander's reign.

The Indian army defended itself with their line of 'carts' from which the Indians hurled missiles. Curtius Rufus actually does not speak of carts, but of chariots 'lashed' together. Whether it were carts or chariots, there was a triple line surrounding the entire hill. What the rest of the Indian army looked like is guesswork. Arrian's accounts show that the average ratio of Indian cavalry against infantry was roughly 1 to 10. Elephants are not mentioned in the accounts of the actual fight at Sangala.

Nothing is known about Indian commanders. A certain Sophites was a king of a more friendly nation in the vicinity of Sangala. The same goes for king Phegeus, though his character is considered to be more mythical than historical. A king named Embisarus is mentioned in Diodorus, but it is just another name for the better known Abisares. Diodorus also mentions an Indian ruler named Sasibisares who governed an area around Sangala. However, none of these individuals is mentioned in connenction with the battle proper.

As historians have observed the name Cathaeans or Cathaei echoes the name of the traditional Hindu caste of soldiers, the 'Kshatriyas'. Alexander's men noticed the people of Sangala practiced the custom of 'suttee'. The Cathaeans were Hindu's. The traditional Hindu society has four castes, the Brahmins (priests), the Khsatriyas (soldiers), the Vaisyas (merchants) and the Sudras (farmers).

First meeting with Darius


The excuse to invade Asia was to liberate the Greek cities taken by the "barbaric" Persians some years before. Alexander's motives must have been a little more ambitious. He crossed the Hellespont in 334 and is supposed to have symbolically thrown a spear into Asian soil as he led the way ashore in full armour.

He fought several pitched battles as he worked towards Babylon. On the way he stopped off at Troy and swiped the armour there which was supposedly from Homer's time.

Eventually he came head to head with King Darius at Issus on the north-east Mediterranean coast. Although Alexander was advancing south he was surprised to find Darius approaching from his North! The two armies had in fact been playing a rather advanced game of hide and seek. Alexander was not phased by the unexpected appearance and simply turned around his well drilled army. Alexander did get one shock which didn't exactly endear Darius to him. He had left hundreds of wounded behind near Issus in a hospital. Darius' army slaughtered them to a man. Not very sporting.

No-one really knows where the battle took place. However - it is almost certain that Alexander was outnumbered anywhere from 8:1 upwards. Even so, he held back a reserve force, apparently the first time this was ever done*. He then routed the Persians and Darius fled.

After the battle came two of Alexander's more famous quotes. The first was when he came upon Darius's tent in all its finery, with golden throne, bath, carpets etc. Alexander was known for living in spartan conditions by comparison and is said to have commented:

"So this is what it means to be a King."

The other famous event is one that gives us a big hint as to how close Alexander and Hephaestion were. Alexander not only captured Darius's throne tent, he also found himself with Darius's complete entourage. Darius hadn't done things by halves! He was somewhat confident in achieving victory and had brought with him:

·      3000 talents of gold (around £2,000,000,000 today - one talent was 27kg of metal (60 lbs) - the amount of weight that a man could carry all day).

·         Darius's mother, Sisygambis.

·      Darius's wife, Stateira.

·  Several other princesses and noblewomen.

Alexander hung on to all the women, and by all accounts treated them with great deference and honour "due to their station". The famous event is that when Alexander and Hephaestion went to meet Sisygambis, she prostrated herself at the feet of the most kingly figure she saw. Unfortunately she chose the taller Hephaestion! Alexander is said to have responded not with a dagger between the shoulder blades but with:

"Don't worry mother, he is Alexander too."

An interesting sideline to this is that later when Sisygambis had a chance to be returned to Persian hands, she refused to go. It is thought she and Alexander became very close.

*I remember 'Macedon' imagining Alexander's generals' reaction to this.

"We're outnumbered eight to one and you are going to keep thousands in reserve?!?!"

Alexander and the Makran Desert

Recently, in a TV documentary, it has again been suggested that Alexander chose the Makran desert route home as a punishment to his army who had mutinied in India by refusing to follow him any further East. Can this seriously be considered as a possibility? We question this view and give our chief reasons in this article.

There are two major considerations in this scenario:

First, the Makran desert itself, an inhospitable, pitiless landscape of rock, dust, sand and baking heat along the southern coast of Iran. The shoreline of today has advanced considerably leaving Alexander’s coastline high and dry, a barren line still visible many miles inland from today’s coast. Extensive geological and archaeological research of the region has been going on for over 50 years so there is considerable knowledge of the possible conditions there in Alexander’s time.

Second, Alexander’s nature. Although undeniably ruthless when the need arose, he could also be unusually compassionate for his times, particularly to women and children. Is it likely that a man who was compassionate by nature (ie not from social pressures) deliberately led not only his men, but the wives and children travelling with them, into one of the worst deserts on Earth? Even if you discount compassion as an element in his character, you cannot discount his supreme abilities as a military commander. For such a man to choose, out of spite, to decimate fit troops who remained after sending the unfit home via an easier route would make no sense at all. They still had to get back to Persia through unconquered lands and have an army large enough to hold the new-won territories.

So what happened? Why did Alexander choose to lead his troops across the Makran desert? To protect and supply, or be supplied by, the fleet. Why the necessity of the fleet’s voyage along this coast? One reason most often suggested was to open up a sea trade route to India. For that to happen, the coast would have to be charted, landing sites and wells would have to be mapped. (This route did indeed open up after Nearchos’ voyage, because of the knowledge which had been gained.) But did he know how bad the Makran would be? Or did he think the route possible, having been deliberately misinformed?

Our main historical source for this incident are the journals of Nearchos (Arrian: Indica). This, we believe, may have been the original plan: That Nearchos, commanding the fleet whose assigned job it was to travel along the coast, would meet with the army at various points, and supply them with grain and provisions. The army’s job, in return, was to provide wells and protection for the fleet whenever it put into shore to take on fresh water. In this way, the army and the fleet would return all the way to the Persian heartland and Susa. Or an alternative explanation for the Makran: the fleet may have been comprised of boats incapable of carrying sufficient supplies to sustain itself for such a long voyage. Therefore, Alexander had to protect and supply the fleet from the land in order for the fleet to survive.

Nearchos, a personal friend of Alexander’s as well as being one of the chief officers, states that Alexander had full knowledge of the difficulty of the terrain over which they were to travel. He also gives another reason for Alexander’s choice of this route: his strong desire to do better than Queen Semiramis and Kyros who had attempted to travel the same route with their respective armies, but had only managed to bring a mere handful through to the other side. While it is true that Alexander always rose to the challenge of outdoing the achievements of others, he was never reckless in his choice of challenges. It is, therefore, possible that Nearchos, who published his book after Alexander was dead, made this particular claim because Nearchos no longer enjoyed the protection of Alexander and had to survive in the hostile world of Alexander’s Successors. He’d probably taken much blame- and continued taking it- for the disastrous march because of his failure to meet with the army as expected. Stating that Alexander planned to cross the Makran whether or not the fleet showed up was a way to take the heat off himself and pass it to Alexander who, safe with the Gods, was beyond harm.

Alexander seemed to have a great deal of luck, but it was the kind of luck that accompanies meticulous planning and very detailed reconnaissance and local knowledge. So what went wrong in Makran? Maybe, for once, the local guides were reckless enough to give him false information, hoping the desert would conquer Alexander. (The people in this region were very hostile to invasion and fought fiercely whenever engaged.) Or it may have been the information was incorrect, supplied by those who thought their knowledge of the current desert conditions was sufficient- a not uncommon problem in some areas even today. Or maybe it was just a sequence of events in which Alexander’s legendary luck failed for the first time...

The army had set out ahead of the fleet and the march to the coast proceeded as expected. The rendezvous point reached, the army waited for the fleet, but the fleet never came and no one knew why. (They later learned that the unexpected length of the monsoon and its prevailing winds had caused the fleet to delay putting to sea.) Meanwhile, the army had to be supplied from the land. It was a barren region and food supplies were soon exhausted. The replacement supplies which were to have sustained them were with the fleet. The land over which they had just travelled had been stripped by their march so they could not return that way, and without food, they could no longer remain where they were to wait for a fleet which might never come - for all they knew, it was destroyed by storm or treachery. Also without the supplies the fleet was carrying, they could not continue the planned march along the coast (even though they seem to have been able to dig wells along this coast and find fresh water). Therefore, the only choice left to Alexander was to order the army to swing inland instead and march through what turned out to be the worst of the Makran. One of the proofs that the soldiers themselves knew this was their only choice was the fact that they did not mutiny again, as in India, when the order was given.

Alternatively, if the fleet had to be supplied by the army and was dependent on the army digging wells and leaving provision dumps, then the army had to cross the Makran to reach the sea, no matter how bad the conditions were. Once they had completed their task, or as much of it as was possible, the same reasoning applies as to the route back into Persia.

So we contend the Makran march was not chosen for punishment or for glory, it was simply the army’s only route home at this point and everyone knew it. (Alexander was an elected king; the army had elected him and expected to be kept informed of what was happening and why. A king who made bad decisions was very soon a dead king according to Macedonian tradition!)

Looking at some of the possible statistics concerning the incident gives another perspective on the march:

Plutarch says that Alexander had 120,000 infantry and 15,000 cavalry in India and yet only one quarter of this fighting force returned from India. In the context, it sounds as though he is stating that three-quarters of them died on the march through Makran. Yet this clearly cannot be the case, for Nearchos says Alexander had 120,000 total combatants when the voyage down the Hydaspes began. Subtracting the troops sent back with Krateros (the unfit veterans of the Companion Cavalry and other unfit troops, three battalions of the phalanx - commanded by Meleager, Antigenes, Attalus), the casualties sustained in India; adding those left behind to occupy and secure the land, plus those left with Leonnatos among the Oreitae, and minus the men who went with the fleet, we are left with an estimated number of 8-10 thousand (Tarn, considered to be too low an estimate) to 60-70 thousand (Strasburger) who entered the Makran.

(Arrian gives the names of various army units with Alexander but he gives no numbers, saying only that Alexander led the greater part of his army into this region and gives a detailed account of the sufferings of the army here.)

Going back to figures, if we accept (Plutarch) that three-quarters died, then one-quarter did not. This means that enough food and water had to have been found to have sustained the survivors through the worst of their march. If we accept Engels' minimum rations (ATG and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army) required for survival as 2 quarts of water per day for desert march and 1.5 lbs of grain or equivalent (we are told they ate the horses and pack animals), halve these minimal survival rations to starvation quantities, and go with Strasburger's higher estimate, we are looking at 18,000 survivors requiring over 4000 gallons of water per day, plus 18,000 eating the equivalent of .75 lbs of grain per day (though this is not considered sufficient to sustain human life) equaling 13,500 lbs of grain per day.

Looking at these figures, it might suggest that the Makran had a marchable route which was not quite so inhospitable during Alexander’s time as research today seems to indicate. For those who believe Nearchos’ story that Alexander had always intended to march through the Makran, maybe Alexander knew something that we do not which made it a more plausible idea. Had his initial plan worked out (ie to have the army be supplied by the fleet, or if the fleet had not been delayed), the disaster might not have happened at all. Alternatively, if the Makran was totally inhospitable territory, then for Alexander to have got even 18,000 through says a great deal for his leadership in a crisis

Alexander's death

In June 323 BC Babylon was living one last glorious moment of its history. Young and full of life, Alexander came back to the capital of his empire after he had got to the end of the known world. He was 32; he walked many miles since he had left Pella wanting to fulfill dreams that seemed impossible to all but him. Believing in himself and in his fate, he led his men to victory against the greatest military force of his time, the Persian Empire.

In Babylon Alexander's disease started suddenly (during a drinking party). The king was making preparations for new adventures and conquests. Although he was feeling weaker and weaker he was determined to start his new expedition. The army would leave, to be followed by the fleet one day later. But Alexander was not strong enough to fight the fever. He summoned his officers to direct that they see all was in order for the expedition; but the expedition was already one day delayed without the king realising it. A few days after this he was too weak to converse and direct his officers. Then the troops, aware from the delay that something was seriously wrong with the king, entered the palace to see him. He was only able to raise his eyes in greeting as they passed by, in their grief as speechless as he. The next day Alexander died.

Modern physicians still argue about the cause of his death. What has been written by ancient historians on Alexander's death seems to be not enough to establish a certain diagnosis. It could have been malaria, pneumonia or even poison that killed him.


Alexander was taken ill in Babylon, and died a few days later. His last few days are carefully documented. It took some days before he was finally declared dead and no one really knows what he died of. Was it poison, or just the endless campaigns catching up with him? If we found his body, which was mummified and hung around in Alexandria for a good 300 years, we might get a better idea. The tomb disappeared a long time ago.

Various people stole his burial gifts, including his nose, cloak, ring, breastplate and shield. The thieves were people like Augustus and Caligula. Even the solid gold sarcophagus got melted down for coinage and replaced with one of glass. The tomb disappeared some time in the 4th century A.D.?

In February 1995 the Greek archaeologist Liana Souvaltzis claimed to have found Alexander's tomb. Her 'new' tomb was located in the Siwa Oasis, Egypt, and not in Alexandria, where it had been visited many times in Antiquity. Should that surprise us? After all he was regarded as a God in many quarters. Perhaps his body was taken to Siwa to save it from the ravages of the dark ages. Anyway, Souvaltzis' discovery proved to be a hoax. So the location of the tomb remains a mystery. Will we ever know?


Callisthenes, a Greek from Olynthos, was a kinsman of Aristotle – his great-nephew – and a well-known historian in his own right. Before he was employed as the historian of the campaign against Persia he had already written a history of Greece covering the period 387-356BC and at some point he had worked with Aristotle on a list of the victors in the Pythian Games.

We do not know whether it was Philip or Alexander who initially engaged Callisthenes to record the war against Persia, but in 334BC he crossed the Hellespont with Alexander’s army. Similarly we don’t know the full extent of his employment although it is clear that, as well as writing a history of the expedition he was at some point put in charge of educating the Royal Pages – as Aristotle had educated Alexander and his peers. During the army’s time in Egypt Callisthenes went on a trip to locate the source of the Nile, and when they reached Babylon he supervised the translation of the Babylonian astronomical records; so his remit was clearly much wider than just writing a journal of the expedition.

But he is best known for writing a history of the expedition which was laden with flattery of Alexander, and he appears to have played a large part in the elevation of Alexander as son of Zeus following the visit to Siwa in Egypt. The history is lost, surviving only in a few fragments cited by later authors.

Callisthenes’ history was probably written in instalments that were sent back to Greece to be disseminated to the states of the League of Corinth – much like modern war reporting in the newspapers. We are not sure exactly where his work ended: it is generally assumed that the battle of Gaugamela was the last major event recorded, but his record probably went up to the death of Bessus in 329BC.

His main ‘claim to fame’ in the extant sources comes during the period when he lost favour with Alexander, which eventually led to his arrest and execution on charges of conspiracy in 327BC (as a member of the ‘Pages Conspiracy’). Callisthenes was an opponent of Alexander’s orientalising, and things came to a head when Alexander attempted to introduce the custom of proskynesis. Although the custom had no religious significance to the Persians prostration was, as far as the Greeks and Macedonians were concerned, only something one did before gods. They saw proskynesis, therefore, as an attempt by Alexander to get them to worship him as a god... and they weren’t having it! Callisthenes spoke out against it and his intransigence was a prime factor in Alexander’s decision to abandon the idea. At this time Callisthenes gained the approval of the Greeks and Macedonians for his views, where before he had been somewhat shunned for his austerity and straitlaced attitudes.

According to Plutarch Aristotle had once remarked that Callisthenes possessed great eloquence but lacked common sense, and this seems to have played a part in his downfall. There is a story in the vulgate that Callisthenes, at a feast, spoke eloquently about the Macedonians’ virtues. Alexander challenged him to speak so eloquently about their weaknesses, which he did. Unfortunately, the Macedonians did not understand the finer points of eristics (the technique of arguing different points of view in order to win the debate, rather than to reach the truth) and took grave offence. Whether Alexander intended it or not, this undermined Callisthenes’ standing with the Macedonian officers, making it much easier for Alexander to have him arrested and arraigned for treason with impunity.

There is no evidence that Callisthenes had any part in the Pages’ Conspiracy. Hermolaos and his confederates revealed the names of all the conspirators under torture, but Callisthenes was not named – Plutarch even cites a letter from Alexander that absolves him from complicity. Aristoboulos and Ptolemy both claimed that he was the instigator of the plot but even Arrian doubts his sources because of their differing accounts of Callisthenes’ death (see below) and we can reasonably assume that Aristoboulos and Ptolemy accused him of complicity in order to defend Alexander’s actions. One story, that when Philotas asked Callisthenes how he could become famous Callisthenes answered “by killing the most famous of men”, is spurious – probably put about by Callisthenes’ opponents; and the tale that he lectured the pages on the virtues of Harmodios and Aristogeiton (the Athenian tyrant killers) is not proof that he was urging them to kill Alexander – as the pages’ tutor he would naturally have lectured on history and the story of the tyrannicides was an important one in Athenian history. However, if these stories are true, even though they prove nothing, they were very convenient for Alexander once he had decided to rid himself of Callisthenes. Nobody is recorded as having objected when Alexander accused him of treason, and his fate was secured.

As for the differing accounts of Callisthenes’ death, it is remarkable how many versions there are. He is variously reported to have been racked and hanged (Ptolemy), or put in chains and carried around with the army until he died of sickness (Aristoboulos); or he was kept in prison for seven months in order to be tried by the League of Corinth, but he died of “excessive corpulence and the disease of lice” around the time Alexander was wounded by the Malli (Chares). Arrian suggests that there were other traditions, too, and remarks on the fact that his two main sources cannot agree on the details of a public event.

Darius III (Codomannus)

Darius III - Roman mosaic (79 B.C.).
Source: www.gaugamela.com.

The last Persian Great King of the Achaemenid dynasty - Darius III Codomannus - is remembered in history as the premier enemy who was beaten by Alexander. Darius had to abandon his commanding battlefield position twice, both at Issus and Gaugamela, under the pressure of the attacks by Alexander and his Macedonian Companion cavalry. With Darius the Achaemenid empire ceased to exist.


Darius had inherited a Persian empire that had been going through a period of revitalisation. Under king Artaxerxes III Ochus - one of the most able but also most violent Achaemenid monarchs - the empire had tightened its grip on the peoples living under its sway. Egypt was reconquered and Persian rule had been firmly re-established throughout West and Central Asia. However, Artaxerxes' harsh methods had made him lots of enemies in the court circles and he was poisoned in 338 BC. The next king, his son Arses, proved to be a weak non-entity who was quickly disposed of in another court intrigue. It is no surprise that Alexander's father Philip II launched his first advance campaign against Persia during the wobbly reign of Arses (a.k.a. Artaxerxes IV). Egypt too had managed to brake away from Persia once more.

This was the situation that Darius III inherited when he ascended to the 'peacock' throne in 336 BC - the very same year that Alexander became king of Macedon. Darius was not a close relative of earlier Persian kings - he might have been a cousin of Artaxerxes III. But the cruel Artaxerxes had already deprived Persia of most of its crown princes, so there were few obvious candidates for the kingship. Darius appeared to have been just the ruler that Persia needed. He was reputedly mild and forgiving - quite a relief from Artaxerxes. But he also had a reputation for bravery in war, having killed a warrior champion of the fierce Cadusians in single handed combat. For this feat, which happened during a military campaign under Artaxerxes probably around 340 BC, Darius had been rewarded with the satrapy of Armenia. In the first year of his rule as a king, Darius reclaimed Egypt. He also sent his foremost general Memnon the Rhodian against the Macedonian advance forces in Asia. Memnon was initially succesful in curtailing the Macedonian exploits.

Some of our main sources have contributed to the popular image of Darius as a cowardly leader who was no match for Alexander's heroism at all. Neither in Arrian nor in Plutarch Darius comes alive as a character. Arrian simply dismisses him as "feeble and incompetent", and that is about it. Curtius has recorded detailed speeches of Darius, but scholars fear these are personal inventions modelled after Herodotus. It is Diodorus who presents us with a totally different approach. Diodorus describes Darius as a clever strategist and an energetic king who "wasted no time". Even his final escape from the battlefield at Gaugamela was executed with brilliant tactical insight, claims Diodorus.


If one examines Darius' conduct of the "great war" one can not ignore the impression that Darius deliberately tried to smother the conflict by creating various - at least six - independent theatres of war in an effort to divert Alexander's attention. Around early 333 BC his trusted general Memnon died of illness. This was an enormous blow for Darius' overall plans. It appears that only after Memnon's death Darius began hastily preparations for a pitched battle against the invaders, which lead to his first solid defeat at Issus. The important contingents from Bactria for example never arrived in time at Babylon to be included in the defense army.

At Issus Alexander 'confiscated' Darius' wife (and sister) Statira, his daughters Statira and Drypetis, his son Ochus and his mother Sisigambis as the 'spoils' of war. Though Alexander treated the Royal family with respect, Darius' wife Statira died in childbirth somewhere within the two years between Issus and Gaugamela. According to Curtius the news of his wife's death reached Darius shortly before his defeat at Gaugamela. That would allow plenty of room for speculation that Statira's child was conceived by Alexander, not Darius. Arrian however goes to great lengths to convice his audience that Alexander never touched "the most beautiful woman in Asia" (Arr. 4.20). If one accepts Arrian, Statira must have died early in 332 BC.

After Issus Darius had returned to Babylon on the double and had again started raising forces. While Issus was fought in November 333 BC, Darius was back in Babylon long before the year was out and according to Diodorus he was "not crushed in spirit". This may be the best indication of the personality we are dealing with. Many other kings might never have survived such a humiliating military disaster. But Darius remained firmly 'in the saddle' and in 331 BC he faced Alexander for the second time, at Gaugamela, now with an improved army that came close to matching the Macedonians.


Darius fled to Ecbatana and in July 330 BC - whilst heading for safety in distant Bactria - he was murdered by his kinsmen Bessus, Nabarzanes and Barsaentes. Our sources are unanimous in stating that Darius had desired to battle Alexander again, even with the ramshakle remnants of his once glorious army. Bessus and his conspirators however must have decided that enough was enough. The big mystery is not why Darius was murdered. The mystery is why he was not disposed of much earlier. He had remained undisputed as the /images/philip.jpgGreat King after Issus and his rule even lasted for many months after the empire had collapsed at Gaugamela, even though the Royal capitals of Susa, Babylon and Persepolis were lost. It is quite difficult to reconcile these facts with the popular image of a feeble, imcompetent and cowardly king.

The common Macedonian soldier Polystratus found the dying Darius, who was pierced by javelins and abandoned, and Polystratus was the last soul to speak to him. He brought Darius his last drink of water, and Darius allegedly complained that he was not able anymore to reward Polystratus for his kindness - then closed his eyes for ever. The traitor Bessus crowned himself as the new Persian king Artaxerxes V, but no historian has ever accepted Bessus' rule as genuine. Bessus and Barsaentes were both executed by Alexander, Nabarzanes was pardoned.

Darius is commonly believed to have been born around 380 BC. He was fifty years of age when he died. His original Persian Royal name was 'Darayavaush', to be translated as "he who is holding the good".

Philip II

During his reign Phillip II (383 B. C. - 336 B. C.) turned the Macedonian army into the fighting force which would be the pride of the ancient world. The 'phalanx' was a very highly trained group of Macedonian soldiers who worked in unison with their 'sarissas' which were spears about 13 - 14 ft. in length. This disciplined force would move on the enemy as a cohesive unit with spears projecting outward and protected on the sides and rear by shields thus making them virtually unbeatable. PhillipII's skilled cavalry was ready at all times to exploit any weakness which might appear in the enemy lines. Under Phillip's generalship, this army helped unite the Greek city states into a body known as the Council of Corinthian League which then elected PhillipII as "Hegemon" (Leader) of the council as well as "Strategos Autokrator" (Supreme Commander in Chief) of all League Forces in the War of Revenge against the Persian Empire. In 336 B. C. the first forces were sent to Asia Minor to commence this campaign. However, later that year, PhillipII was murdered at the wedding of his daughter before he could join them. Alexander III immediately became King of Macedonia, and would later assume his father's role in the war against Persia using the army his father had created.