Battle of Gaugamela

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Battle of Gaugamela
Part of the Wars of Alexander the Great
Image:Battle of Gaugamela.jpg
Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1602, The Battle of Arbella, or The Battle of Issus
Date 1 October, 331 BC
Location Probably Tel Gomel (Gaugamela) near Mosul, not far from Irbil (Arbela), which also is a name of the battle (Battle of Arbela)
Result Decisive Macedonian victory
other Greek allies
Alexander the Great Darius III
50,000 infantry
7,000 cavalry (according to Arrian)
200,000 Persian infantry,
45,000 cavalry
200 scythed chariots
war elephants (according to Curtius)
3,000 infantry
1,000 cavalry
50,000 killed 180,000 wounded and captured
Wars of Alexander the Great
ChaeroneaGranicusIssusTyreGaugamelaHydaspes River

In the Battle of Gaugamela (IPA: /ˌgɔgəˈmilə/) in 331 BC Alexander the Great of Macedonia defeated Darius III of Persia. The battle is also inaccurately called the Battle of Arbela.


[edit] Combatants

Alexander commanded a force from his kingdom of Macedon, Thracian allies and the Corinthian League that, according to Arrian, the most reliable historian of Alexander, who is believed to be relying on the work of the eye-witness Ptolemy numbered 7,000 cavalry and 40,000 infantry.<ref>Anabasis 3.12</ref>

Darius's force numbered according to Arrian 40,000 cavalry and 1,000,000 infantry,<ref name=a38>Anabasis 3.8</ref> Diodorus Siculus 200,000 cavalry and 800,000 infantry<ref>Library of History 17.53</ref>, Plutarch 1,000,000 troops<ref>Saying of Alexander,12</ref> which he does not break them down by type, while according to Curtius Rufus 45,000 cavalry and 200,000 infantry.<ref>Life of Alexander 4.12.13</ref> Furthermore according to Arrian,<ref>Anabasis 3.11</ref> Diodorus and Curtius Darius had 200 chariots while Arrian mentions 15 war elephants.<ref name=a38/> Included in Darius's infantry were about 20,000 Greek mercenary hoplites.

Other historians point out that in 490 BC Darius the Great sent Datis and Artaphernes in a campaign to punish Athens and Eretria (that ended in the battle of Marathon), a minor campaign by Persian standards, a force of 600 triremes, that were manned by 138,000 troops, not including forces in support and dedicated transport ships. Thus numbers given by ancient sources for the Persian army in Gaugamela are not beyond the realm of possible, especially since Darius had two years to gather them and did not need to transport them over distances as great as those of the Greco-Persian Wars of the previous century, and thus other historians accept this. [1] General Sir Percy Sykes analysed the situation and conluded that Darius' army numbered over one million.<ref>Sykes, Sir Percy, History of Persia, 1915</ref> Despotopoulos accepts that one of the numbers mentioned by ancient historians is correct<ref>Ιστορία του Ελληνικού Έθνους(History of the Greek Nation) vol. Δ, Ekdotiki Athinon, Athens 1974</ref>.

However, while Darius had a significant advantage in numbers, his troops were of a far lower quality than Alexander's. Alexander's pezetairoi were armed with a 6 meter spear, the sarissa. The main Persian infantry was - though better armed than two years earlier - at a poor quality compared to Alexander's hoplites. The only hoplites Darius had were his 20,000 Greeks and his personal bodyguard, the ten thousand Persian Immortals. The Greek mercenaries fought as an Argos phalanx, armed with a heavier shield but with spears no longer than three meters, while the spears of the Immortals were 1.2 meters long. Among his other troops the most heavily armed were the Armenians who were armed the Greek way, probably as an Argos phalanx. The rest of his contingents were much more lightly armed, the main weapons of the Achaemenid army historically was the bow and arrow.

[edit] Location

Darius chose (or smoothed out, depending on accounts) a flat plain where he could deploy his numerically superior forces. The location of the battle, i.e., that of Gaugamela, cannot be established definitively. Supposedly, the battle was held near a hill in the form of a camel's hump, hence the name etymology: Tel Gomel or Tel Gahmal, which translates as "Mount Camel" in Hebrew. Others translate the name as "camel's stall" (Plutarch: "camel's house", in his Life of Alexander), and associate the place with a settlement. The most commonly accepted opinion about the location is (36.36° N 43.25° E), east of Mosul in northern modern-day Iraq – suggested by Sir Aurel Stein in 1938 (see his Limes Report, pp. 127-1).

[edit] Prelude

During the two years after the Battle of Issus, Alexander proceeded to occupy the Mediterranean coast and Egypt. He then advanced from Syria against the heart of the Persian empire. Alexander crossed both the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers without any opposition.

[edit] The battle

[edit] Initial dispositions

The battle began with the Persians already present at the battlefield. Darius had recruited the finest cavalry from his Eastern satrapies and from an allied Scythian tribe. Darius also deployed scythed chariots for which he had prepared cleared terrain in front of his troops. He also had 50 Indian elephants supported by Indian chariots, although these seemingly played no role in the battle. Before the battle, Darius ordered bushes and vegetation removed from the battlefield, to maximize the chariots' effectiveness.

Image:Battle gaugamela initial.gif
Initial dispositions and opening movements.

Darius placed himself in the center with his best infantry as was the tradition among Persian kings. He was surrounded by, on his right, the Carian cavalry, Greek mercenaries, and the Persian horse guards. In the right-center he placed the Persian foot guards (Apple Bearers/Immortals to the Greeks), the Indian Cavalry and his Mardian archers.

On both flanks were the cavalry. Bessus commanded the left flank with the Bactrians, Dahae cavalry, Arachrosian cavalry, Persian cavalry, Susian cavalry, Cadusian cavalry, and Scythians. Chariots were placed in front with a small group of Bactrians. Mazaeus commanded the right flank with the Syrian, Median, Mesopotamian, Parthian, Sacian, Tapurian, Hyrcanian, Albanian, Sacesinian, Cappadocian, and Armenian cavalry. The Cappadocians and Armenians were stationed in front of the other cavalry units, and led the attack. The Albanian and Sacesinian cavalry were sent around to flank the Macedonian left.

The Macedonians were divided into two, with the right side of the army falling under the direct command of Alexander, and the left to Parmenion. Alexander fought with his Companion cavalry. With it were the Paionian, and Macedonian light cavalry. The mercenary cavalry was divided into two groups, with the veterans being stationed on the flank of the right, and the rest being put in front of the Agrians and Macedonian archers which were stationed next to the phalanx. Parmenion was stationed on the left with the Thessalian, Greek mercenary, and Thracian cavalry units. There they were to pull off a holding maneuver while Alexander landed the decisive blow from the right.

On the right-center of the formation were Cretan mercenaries. Behind them was a group of Thessalian cavalry under Phillip, and Achaian mercenaries. To their right was another part of the allied Greek cavalry. From there came the phalanx, which was placed into a double-line. Outnumbered over 5:1 in cavalry, with their line surpassed by over a mile, it seemed inevitable that the Macedonians would be flanked by the Persians. The second line were given orders to deal with any flanking units should the situation arise. This second line consisted of mostly mercenaries.

[edit] Beginning of the battle

During the battle Alexander used a unique strategy which has been duplicated only a few times throughout history. His plan was to draw as much of the Persian cavalry as possible to the flanks. The purpose of this was to create a gap within the enemy line where a decisive blow could then be struck at Darius in the center. This required almost perfect timing and maneuvering, and the Great King himself to act first. The Macedonians advanced with the wings echeloned back at 45 degree angles to lure the Persian cavalry to attack. Alexander forced Darius to attack (as they would soon move off the prepared ground) though Darius did not want to be the first to attack after seeing what happened at Issus against a similar formation. In the end Darius's hand was forced, and he attacked.

Darius now launched his chariots, some of which were intercepted by the Agrianians. It is said that the Macedonian army had trained for a new tactic to counter these devastating chariots if they ran into their ranks. The first lines would step aside, opening a gap. The horse would refuse to run into the lances of the front ranks, and enter the "mouse trap", only to be stopped by the lances of the rear ranks. The charioteers could then be killed at leisure. The chariots were rendered useless.

[edit] Alexander's decisive attack

As the Persians moved farther and farther to the Macedonian flanks in their attack, Alexander slowly filtered in his rear-guard. Alexander disengaged his Companions, and prepared for the decisive attack on the Persians. Leading the way, he formed his units into a giant wedge, with him leading the charge. Behind them was the guards brigade along with any phalanx battalions he could withdraw from the battle. These were follow-up light troops. Alexander took most of his cavalry and moved parallel to Darius's front lines, heading off of the prepared battlefield. In doing so, Darius ordered his cavalry in the front lines to block Alexander's force. Unbeknownst to Darius, Alexander hid a force of peltists (light infantry armed with slings, javelins, and shortbows) behind his horsemen and Alexander slowly sent his force into an angle, heading toward the Persian host, until finally a gap opened between Bessus's left and Darius's center and Alexander sent in his cavalry force to drive down the gap in the Persian line. At the same time, the peltists engaged the cavalry, so as to keep them from riding back to engage Alexander's charging cavalry.

Image:Battle gaugamela decisive.gif
Alexander's decisive attack

This large wedge then smashed right into the weakened Persian center, taking out Darius's royal guard, and the Greek mercenaries. Bessus on the left, now cut off from Darius, and fearing he himself would be struck with this wedge, began to pull back his forces. Darius was in danger of himself being cut off, and the widely held modern view is that he now broke and ran, with the rest of his army following suit. This is based on Arrian's account (Anabasis 3.14):

"For a short time there ensued a hand-to-hand fight; but when the Macedonian cavalry, commanded by Alexander himself, pressed on vigorously, thrusting themselves against the Persians and striking their faces with their spears, and when the Macedonian phalanx in dense array and bristling with long pikes had also made an attack upon them, all things together appeared full of terror to Darius, who had already long been in a state of fear, so that he was the first to turn and flee."[2]

A less common view is that Darius's army was already broken when Darius ran, and is supported by an astronomical diary from Babylon written within days of the battle:

The twenty-fourth [day of the lunar month], in the morning, the king of the world [i.e., Alexander] [erected his] standard [lacuna]. Opposite each other they fought and a heavy defeat of the troops [of the king he inflicted]. The king [i.e., Darius], his troops deserted him and to their cities [they went]. They fled to the land of the Guti. [3]

[edit] The left flank

Alexander could have pursued Darius at this point. However, he received desperate messages from Parmenion (an event which would later be used by Callisthenes and others to discredit Parmenion) on the left. Alexander was faced with the choice of pursuing Darius, but losing his army, or going back to the left flank to aid Parmenion and preserve his forces. In the end, he made the decision to help Parmenion, and follow Darius later.

While holding on the left, a gap had also opened up between the left and center of the Macedonian line. The Persian and Indian cavalry units stationed in the center with Darius broke through. Instead of taking the phalanx or Parmenion in the rear, however, they continued on towards the camp to loot. They also tried to rescue Queen Mother Sisygambis but she refused to go with them. On their way back, the Indians slew over 60 of the Companion cavalry.

Meanwhile, as the center and Darius broke, Mazaeus also began to pull his forces back as Bessus had. However, unlike on the left with Bessus, the Persians soon fell into disorder as the Thessalians and other cavalry units charged forward at their fleeing enemy.

[edit] Aftermath

After the battle, Parmenion rounded up the Persian baggage train while Alexander and his own bodyguard chased after Darius in hopes of catching up. As at Issus, substantial amounts of loot were gained following the battle, with 4,000 talents captured, as well as the King's personal chariot and bow. The war elephants were also captured.

Darius had managed to escape the battle with a small core of his forces remaining intact. The Bactrian cavalry and Bessus managed to catch up with him, as did some of the survivors of the Royal Guard and 2,000 Greek mercenaries.

At this point, the Persian Empire was divided into two halves – East and West. Alexander would go on to proclaim himself Great King. On his escape, Darius gave a speech to what remained of his army. He planned to head further East, and raise another army to face Alexander while he and the Macedonians headed to Babylon. At the same time he dispatched letters to his Eastern satrapies asking them to remain loyal.

[edit] References


[edit] Bibliography

[edit] External links

  • tells the story of Alexander and quotes original sources. Favors a reconstruction of the battle which heavily privileges the Babylonian astronomical diaries.
  • [4] provides a new scholarly edition of the Babylonian Astronomical Diary concerning the battle of Gaugamela and Alexander's entry into Babylon by R.J. (Bert) van der Spek.cs:Bitva u Gaugamél

de:Schlacht von Gaugamela et:Gaugamela lahing es:Batalla de Gaugamela fr:Bataille de Gaugamèles it:Battaglia di Gaugamela he:קרב גאוגמלה ka:გაუდამელას ბრძოლა lt:Gaugamelų mūšis mk:Битка кај Гавгамела ja:ガウガメラの戦い no:Slaget ved Gaugamela pl:Bitwa pod Gaugamelą pt:Batalha de Gaugamela sr:Битка код Гаугамеле fi:Gaugamelan taistelu sv:Slaget vid Gaugamela

Battle of Gaugamela

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