First Defeat of Darius – Battle of Issus, 333BC

With Memnon of Rhodes’ forces destroyed at the first major battle of the Persian invasion by the Macedonians, Alexander led his blood-thirsty army – which had little need for any recovery time – along Anatolia’s Aegean Coast, bribing, frightening and besieging the ports into submission. Consequently, he had diminished Persian naval dominance around the Greek homelands, but had not gained full control of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Alexander intended to head into Syria and attack the Levant, where, on the shores, the infamous town of Tyre was located. At the same time as he was sending his soldiers in a curving direction exiting Anatolia, he learnt of King Darius III army massing in Babylon. Between the rocky Nur Mountain Range and the sea, Alexander commanded his men to continue south into a narrow strait which was at some points only a couple miles wide. Expecting Darius to thrust up North through the Amanus mountains, he set up camp facing in that direction and prepared for a battle.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, Darius diverted his men to the North and instead drove South into the channel of the Nur and Eastern Mediterranean, catching Alexander’s army off guard and approaching not far behind them. Consequently, the Macedonian King was forced to fully rotate his troops around to counter the advancing threat.

However, the Greeks had natural geography to their advantage. As the plain was merely a few miles wide, the chances of encirclement by the Persians were drastically reduced. Banked begins the Pinarus River, the Macedonians prepares to make a stand.

Alexander, with the League of Corinth, oversaw a force comprised of about 22,000 heavy infantry sarissa-bearers in a densely packed phalanx formation, 13,000 peltasts – lighter infantry armed with javelins and large, circular shields covered in goatskin – and about 6,000 total cavalry, organised into mixed, Elite and Companion divisions.

On the contrary, Darius is said by ancient historians, such as Arrian, to have had about six-hundred-thousand men, however this is a huge exaggeration. Persian armies would probably have only been under 100,000 men as the requirements of building, controlling and moving this army would require extreme logistics efforts. Probably, there were units of lighter infantry numbering in the tens of thousands, possibly 50,000, and 10,000 Persian “immortals”. These were backed up by about 10,000 cavalry – though possibly more – and, yet again, 8,000-12,000 Greek mercenaries.

Palmenion, one of the greatest Macedonian generals, was ordered by Alexander to take the Thessalian cavalry on the left wing whilst the Macedonian king controlled the Companion horsemen on the right.

Initially, Alexander led his right-wing cavalry towards the Persian left for a powerful blow, and quickly overran the Persians, forcing them far back. Meanwhile, the Macedonian phalanx grouped and began their march to the Persian centre, where they found it extremely difficult to force forwards. Eventually, the sarissa-bearers began to cede ground to the Greek mercenaries. If the phalanx couldn’t destroy Darius’ middle, then the battle would be lost. Additionally, Palmenion was struggling on the left wing against the Persian cavalry. He put up a desperate, strong fight, but he still knew that if, at any point, he reduced resistance and let the Persians advance through the left wing, then the Macedonians would be able to envelop the Greek army and destroy them.

Palmenion sent an urgent request to Alexander for help, and the Greek king, who was having success assaulting the Persian left flank, turned and headed for Darius in the centre. King Darius and his men, fearing the power of Alexander and his army, reversed and fled the battlefield, followed by their rapidly disintegrating centre line. Within long, the intense fighting at the left wing slackensed, the Persian army fell apart and Darius’ forces were routed. They were quickly torn down by Alexander and his cavalry, and the Persian king’s wife and children were captured by the Greeks, who treated them very well. It is said that when Darius died, his wife didn’t mourn, but when Alexander, her captor died of fever in Babylon, she starved herself.

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