Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 324 Alexandria in Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)


Monday, January 16, 2017

The Lycian Way by Kate Clow

The Lycian Way by Kate Clow (ISBN 0-9539218-2-4) is the best walking guide you can find to navigate the 530 kilometers long route throughout Lycia in southern Turkey.

The Lycian Way follows ancient Greek and Roman roads as well as traditional nomad trails and forest tracks, which are linked up to form a continuous walking route. The walker will travel at the pace of the farmers and goat herders who roamed through Lycia for eons. Since it once was one of the richest and most densely populated areas, signs of ancient civilizations are plentiful. Because of its rugged landscape, the area has not been spoiled by modern hotels and other facilities.

This book simply provides you with all the information you need, whether you travel solo or with a group, whether you are interested in history, botany, wildlife, geology or simply want to enjoy the quietness of nature.

The route is always clearly marked with white and red stripes on rocks or trees and sign-posted in green and yellow where it leaves the asphalted road. An excellent detachable map is included giving full details about the elevation, the terrain to cross, pertinent points of reference and the water points and cisterns. GPS Data can also be downloaded from their website which is regularly updated.

An entire chapter is devoted to what to bring and what to wear, followed by one centered around traveling in Turkey, shopping and first aid and rescue. If you read these carefully, you are fully prepared to start walking through this magnificent region. The book even contains hints about what to look out for if you are not acquainted with recognizing remnants of antique cities like theaters, temples, city walls and necropolises.

The Lycian Way by Kate Clow is to be your travel companion. You can start your walk at any point and stop wherever you like. For each stretch of the route, the book provides full information about shops and water availability, lodging possibilities, the length of the walk and the time it will take you, with in between key points you’ll have to cross-check on the way – keep your eyes peeled and you most certainly will get there.

For those who truly fall in love with Lycia (as I did) the book also provides a rather complete and very comprehensive history of the region as well as a handy list of Turkish vocabulary for trekkers.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Two key afterthoughts on Gaugamela

The Battle of Gaugamela is generally seen as an overall victory for Alexander and that is what has been recorded in history. Yet, there are two factors or rather personages that call for some serious afterthoughts.

The first is about King Darius III who turned his chariot around and left the scene before the battle was over. In the thick swirling cloud of dust and heavy fighting, it makes me wonder how soon Alexander noticed Darius’ retreat. There may have been a sudden opening in the Persian lines when the Ten Thousand Immortals and Darius’ personal retinue pulled out to escort their king in their sworn duty to protect him. In any case, Darius was the whole reason for the battle to take place and Alexander was not going to give up at this stage. He cannot have been aware of the overall situation on the battlefield as every soldier simply fought the enemy that appeared in front of him in the obscuring dust, but the Macedonians were well drilled and extremely disciplined. They knew what Alexander expected of them and performed to excellence as against all odds, they were able to keep their overall frontline intact – amazing when you consider they were outnumbered six to one.

As soon as he knew that Darius had left the battlefield, Alexander dashed in his pursuit with about 2,000 cavalry. Some claim that he abandoned his army for the sole scope of capturing Darius, but his generals had their instructions and would further fulfill their duty without hesitation. Alexander knew that he could rely on them as he also knew that he needed to capture Darius if he ever wanted to be King of Asia.

Alexander’s pursuit was not without danger or obstacles. Let’s not forget that he was not alone heading in the general direction of Babylon. In fact, he had to thrust through the cloud of dust created by the masses of Persian cavalry on the run who, still faithful to their king tried to stop Alexander and his men. The ensuing fighting was particularly savage and it is known that at least sixty of Alexander’s companions were wounded, including Hephaistion. By the time Alexander shook off the enemy cavalry, Darius had gained a decent head start and had crossed the Great Zab River where he exchanged his chariot for a horse. He soon reached the Royal Road near Arbela, one of the main intersections in the Persian road system. By the time Alexander passed the Great Zab River darkness started to fall and it was obvious that he couldn’t catch up with Darius that day. He decided to get some rest and allow the horses a well-deserved breather.

By midnight he was in the saddle again and reached Arbela in the early morning hours. Here he learned that Darius had taken a sizeable head start, taking a shortcut through the hills. His trail led through the Kurdish mountains with 3,000 meter-high passes where Alexander would be in unchartered terrain and prey to a hostile enemy. He was realistic enough to know that he had to give up his chase. It is clear that he was very disappointed but at the same time, he realized that his first priority now was to take possession of Babylon. The capture of Darius had to wait.

The second case is about Mazaeus, the commander of Darius’ cavalry who fought on his right wing opposite Parmenion.

Records of the Battle of Gaugamela are obviously concentrating on Alexander and only scattered information transpires about what happened on his left wing, except the tale that Parmenion sent a message to Alexander for extra support. This message is a very questionable one and even in antiquity authors do not agree on the details. What is fact and what is fiction? Besides, it seems near impossible to anyone to find Alexander in the commotion and heavy dust bowl on the battlefield. But that is another subject of discussion.

Yet, we do have a contemporary version of the facts recorded in the so-called Babylonian astronomical diaries. One of those cuneiform tablets has been deciphered at the British Museum in London and although it is damaged the text contains the omens and foretells the outcome of the battle. (The full text of these clay tablets has been reproduced in detail on Livius’ site together with a more scholarly report also on this Livius’ site.) Through the fragments, it transpires that some high-ranking officers, including Mazaeus, deserted Darius with a number of men from Battle of Gaugamela. The text says that “the troops of the king deserted him” which could mean that these Persians either joined Alexander and fought on his side, or that they simply refused to fight. This theory of troops deserting King Darius raises speculations that Alexander possibly bribed his Persian enemy – a process that was not at all uncommon in antiquity. Maybe the scheme had been planned on the banks of the Euphrates three months earlier?

When Hephaistion was building his two bridges over the Euphrates, Mazaeus observed the works from the opposite side of the river. Both men faced each other for several days as Hephaistion did not risk finishing his bridges fearing that Mazaeus would immediately destroy them. This game of cat and mouse ended when Alexander in person appeared with the bulk of his troops. At this point, Mazaeus and his 2,000 Greek mercenaries turned around and proceeded to scorch more earth in front of the enemy’s advance as ordered by Darius. It is pure speculation but not impossible that Hephaistion and Mazaeus exchanged messages (Mazaeus having been satrap of Cilicia did speak Greek) while troops on both sides (all Greeks) shouted back and forth over the water.

The fact remains that as soon as Mazaeus saw Darius riding away from the battlefield at Gaugamela, he hurried to Babylon. When Alexander arrived there some three weeks later, he was welcomed in appropriate style by Mazaeus and other Persian noblemen.

In the end, I guess we’ll never know the entire story, neither about Darius’ reason to flee nor about the role played by Mazaeus who, let’s not forget, was Alexander’s first Persian to be appointed as governor in one of his conquered cities.

Interestingly, among the clay tablets, there is another fragment that seems to be a part of Alexander’s address to the people of Babylon, in which he reassures them that he will not “go into their houses”. This corresponds to known Greek sources mentioning that the Macedonians were not allowed to loot Babylon when they entered the city after their victory at Gaugamela.

[Pictures from Oliver Stone's movie Alexander]

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Crossing the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers

River crossings are generally considered as mere accessory events in Alexander’s campaign, but I think they are widely underestimated. On their way east, the Macedonians had to cross countless rivers, streams, and rivulets. Each of these, however, came with its own challenges: some were mere sandy flats while others were filled with rocks; some banks were steep and slippery while others were marshy and swampy; some streams were lazy water ribbons while others were torrential white waters; and some were hazardous while others were placid.

Over the years, Alexander crossed many major rivers among which the most important are the Danube, the Nile, the Euphrates and the Tigris, the Oxus and the Jaxartes, and finally the Indus including the entire Punjab, i.e. the Hydaspes (Jhelum), the Acesines (Chenab), the Hydraotes (Ravi), and the Hyphasis (Beas). This time, let us concentrate on the Euphrates and the Tigris which were major barriers on Alexander’s march through Mesopotamia.

In mid-July 331 BC, Alexander sent Hephaistion ahead to build two separate bridges over the Euphrates. In antiquity, such crossing points were well-known and Alexander’s intelligence must have provided the necessary information. The most amazing part of such expeditions is the logistic involved. It is said that Alexander transported his ships in separate elements from Phoenicia to be re-assembled on the banks of the Euphrates. Even in a straight line from the eastern Mediterranean, let’s say from Antioch (Antakya) to Thapsacus (Carchemish), we are talking about a distance of more than 200 km, implying that he must have planned this colossal move early on, maybe even while he was still at Tyre. As always, his invaluable scouts did a thorough reconnaissance job, for Alexander could not take chances to expose Hephaistion and his advance forces to enemy attacks on the way. What’s more admirable even, is the timing of the entire operation since the bridges had to be completed by the time Alexander and the bulk of his army arrived.

Hephaistion’s forces included carpenters and engineers who directed the hauling of the ship’s parts, but also enough soldiers to do the foraging and to withstand any unexpected attack by local tribes or those people still faithful to the Persians. The crossing point was near Thapsacus where the river was about 800 meters wide. Unfortunately, the river banks are now flooded by yet another dam further upstream and it is not possible for archaeologists to investigate this in any way.

Meanwhile, King Darius was very much aware that Alexander had to cross the river and he sent his most experienced general Mazaeus with instructions to burn the crops ahead of the enemy route. This order was carried out although the harvest had already taken place and there was not much left to burn. Besides, this policy had no effect since Alexander took a more northerly route which Darius had not expected.

Anyway, we know that Mazaeus arrived on the eastern bank of the Euphrates and watched Hephaistion’s construction progress for several days. Hephaistion stopped his operation short of the opposite river bank as he did not want to see the end of his bridges destroyed by Mazaeus. There was little else to do for Mazaeus but to wait, but when Alexander appeared with the bulk of his army he turned around and left to further execute his orders of scorching the earth.

By now, it must have been mid-August and soon the two bridges were completed. This means that Hephaistion accomplished his task in maximum six weeks times – speaking of engineering prowess! Of course, these were no bridges in the true sense of the word but boats and rafts tied together with ropes and chains. A walkway of planks was placed over the boats and the passage was created to move the nearly 50,000 troops across, as well as the thousands of horses. It seems it took the army five days to cross the Euphrates.

Alexander led his troops further east and on the road he learned from spies that Darius was encamped on the Tigris River. As an army is most vulnerable when crossing a river, Alexander force-marched his troops and reached the Tigris two weeks later. Here he found no sign of Darius and nobody to stop his army. The obvious fording location has been pinned at Abu Dhahir, near the Persian Royal Road.

There was no need to build a floating bridge over the Tigris River since its waters were shallow although fast flowing and men could simply wade through. Well, this is the simple version which most historians like us to believe, but Diodorus tells a very different story. According to him, Mazaeus had decided that the river could not be crossed at the time because it ran too deep and its current was too swift. Consequently, the Persian general did not find it necessary to guard the crossing. So, when Alexander arrived at the ford, the water was above a man’s breast and the current swept away those who entered the river. At this stage, Alexander ordered all his men to lock arms with each other and “to construct a sort of bridge out of the compact union of their persons”.

Yet the most vivid and perilous report is given by Curtius. He mentions that Alexander cautiously sent a few of his cavalry to test the river. The water rose up to the flanks of their horses and by the time the horses were mid-channel to their necks. “Tigris” in Persian means “arrow” and the river owes its name to its current running as fast and an arrow. Alexander ordered his troops in formation with the infantry in the center. The men had to carry their weapons above their heads as they waded through the river with great difficulty. Like in a battle formation, the cavalry was posted on either side where the horses upstream would break the strong current and the cavalrymen downstream would catch those soldiers who lost footage and were swept away. Alexander directed the operation like on a battlefield, pointing his troops in this or that direction and encouraged them to move on. They all landed safely without any loss of life, only some material losses.

Once one dry land, Alexander gave his men a well-deserved rest. This was at the time of the moon eclipse that occurred on 20 September and it has been recorded that Alexander sacrificed to the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth.

[Bottom picture is from World Archaeology]

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Where on earth is Paphlagonia?

Paphlagonia is one of those less known regions in northern Turkey, although it is considered to be one of the most ancient civilizations of Anatolia. We are much more familiar with Asia Minor and its early Greek colonies and with those regions conquered by Alexander the Great and his followers in Caria, Lycia, Pamphylia and Pisidia to name only a few. Generally, excavations are carried out in that part of the country to the disadvantage of regions like Paphlagonia.

But being forced into excavations after reported treasure hunters carried out their own digging, a rather impressive burial chamber from the 2nd century BC has been exposed in the Kastamonu Province, roughly northeast of Ankara.

This burial chamber measures 22 meters in diameter and its walls are five meters high. Apparently, much of the funeral monument had been torn down by the looters leaving the stone blocks scattered around. Archaeologists had to bring in a crane to lift each unique block weighing between 800 kg and 8,5 tons and after sorting them out they were able to replace each one on its own spot.

This is very first such burial chamber ever found in Paphlagonia and it is thought to belong to an aristocrat. It very much resembles Roman tumuli from Italy.

Now that the loose blocks are back into place, archaeologists will proceed with the overall restoration work and the landscaping around the grave monument.

This burial site is a first in the region and it will be interesting to closely follow future excavation in Paphlagonia.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Finding Cassope in Epirus

Epirus is not often in the news and most people cannot even locate it on a map. That is not really surprising for the country as such existed only in antiquity and today it is split between Greece and Albania. Yet it was the country where Queen Olympias, Alexander’s mother, was born and as such it is worth mentioning.

Recently Epirus has been in the news with the well-preserved remains of Orraon or Horraon, in north-western Greece. Today it is the turn of Cassope, which is overlooking the Ambracian Gulf on the slopes of the Zalongo Mountains. Amazingly, Cassope is one of the best examples of a city built according to the Hippodamian Plan in Greece and could easily compete with Olynthus.

Cassope was founded in the 4th century BC, but flourished one century later as testified by the many public buildings that we can still find there today. The most striking remains include those of the Cyclopean walls, the Agora, the Bouleuterion and the Theater, as well as the Prytaneion (meeting place for the officials of the city). The city was not to enjoy a long life for it was destroyed by the invading Romans in 168-167 BC and disappeared from history in 31 BC when the remaining population was moved to nearby Nicopolis, just like what happened in Orraon.

Today, Cassope is making headlines because a crowdfunding campaign has been launched in order to restore the city’s ancient theater that could seat at least 6,000 people. The target is set at 80,000 Euros and the purpose is to make this theater fit to be used again for modern events. Additional amounts may go to the restoration of the Bouleuterion and the Stadion of Cassope

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Ingenious Tower of the Winds in Athens

The Horologion of Andronikos or best known as the Tower of the Winds is an octagonal tower built from Pentelic marble by the architect and astronomer Andronicus of Cyrrhus in Macedonia. It stands near the eastern Propylon on the Roman Agora and dates from Hellenistic times, probably from the 2nd century BC (although some are inclined to date it to around 50 BC).

It is one of those buildings that proves – if proof is needed – the highly developed knowledge about wind and water in antiquity.

The Tower of the Winds has just been cleaned and restored (2016) and is truly worth the visit. The tower is 12 meters high and measures eight meters in diameter. The top of its conical roof that is still in place was topped in antiquity by a bronze weather vane like we know from our own church steeples. Each of the eight sides of the tower faces a specific wind direction that is illustrated with appropriate friezes: Boreas for the North, Kaikias for the Northeast, Eurus for the East (but according to some it is the god of the southeastern winds), Apeliotes for the Southeast (although he is the god of the rising sun and thus East), Notus for the South, Lips for the Southwest, Zephyrus for the West, and finally Skiron for the Northwest. Underneath each relief is a sundial, eight in total, making it the first clock tower in history.

Inside the tower, a mechanism powered a water clock or clepsydra driven by the water coming down from the Acropolis. The mechanism has recently been compared to that of Anticythera. It functioned thanks to water pressure created by the interior of a cylindrical space situated on the south side of the monument. The water channels are clearly visible in the tower’s pavement.

The construction has been preserved over the centuries as the tower was converted into a Byzantine church and during Ottoman rule, it was used by the whirling dervishes. It is hard to imagine that by then the tower had sunk into dust and dirt, meaning that only the upper half was still visible.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Aphrodisias, the city of Aphrodite (Turkey)

The city of Aphrodisias was founded in the 5th century BC and was built on top of a settlement from the Bronze Age. It developed as a Hellenistic city to reach its heydays under the Roman Empire, between the 1st century BC and the 4th century AD. Aphrodisias became known as Stavropolis in the 6th century AD and as the capital of Caria it was called Caria, which in turn became Geyre in Turkish. The ancient city disappeared after the 13th century when it was buried after repeated earthquakes.

After its first excavations in 1904, steady diggings were carried out from the 1960’s onward exposing a great part of Aphrodisias. The Temple of Aphrodite is still in good condition, thanks to the fact that it was converted to a Christian Basilica. Over the years, the Tetrapylon (200 AD), the entrance to the great temple, was re-erected; and the Bouleuterion (2nd-3rd century AD) as well as the Stadium that could receive as many as 30,000 spectators belong to the best-preserved examples in the eastern Mediterranean. As so often, the Baths of Hadrian have survived in pretty good condition together with a wonderful Sebasteion.

The main feature and a quite unique one, however, is the huge pool, which is set amidst a park. It is 30 meters long and 1.70 meters wide, with an overall depth of one meter. The park is the only one ever recovered from Roman times and stands out with its mixture of trees, architecture and water. This pool was a true statement to show the power of Aphrodisias, even if the city was not that big. Research has revealed many inscriptions and graffiti with religious motives and mind games which the people left around the pool as they met and socialized. A water channel ran around the pool to ensure the water circulation and thus to keep the pool clean. Palm trees stood inside this channel as well as around the pool itself. This special pool has been placed on the World Heritage List of the UNESCO, although the excavations will not be completed until next year.

Aphrodisias was known, above all as a center for the arts. Its School of Sculpture followed a style of its own and statues from the city’s workshops have been found all over the Roman world, from as far as Spain to modern Germany.

[Picture of the Tetrapylon is from Wikipedia; the picture of the pool from the Hurriyet Daily News] 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Bello come un dio

Right, “Bello come un dio”, as beautiful as a god – only this actually is a god and what’s more the father of all gods, Zeus.

This statue of the seated Zeus was found in Soluntum, the Greek Soloeis on the north coast of Sicily. Soluntum was one of the three main Phoenician settlements on the island. Together with Panormus and Motya, Soluntum was able to hold its position against the advancing Greek colonies till it eventually fell into the hands of the Carthaginians.

The considerable remains of the city, which are visible near modern Solanto, are clearly from Roman times although Soluntum’s origin seems to go back to the 7th century BC. The remains, however, have never been totally explored.

The statue of Zeus that was found inside a sacred building was broken into many pieces. It has just recently been restored and is now on display at the Archaeological Museum Antonio Salinas in Palermo, which itself is undergoing in-depth restoration and reconstruction works.

This rather impressive image of the seated Zeus reminds us very much of the one that once stood inside the temple of Zeus in Olympia, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The father of the gods is sitting on a throne which is decorated with reliefs of Ares being crowned by Nike, Aphrodite, Eros and the Graces. His head is carved in white marble while the rest of the statue is made of local soft limestone. It has been dated to 150-100 BC.

It is indeed a true beauty!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Battle of Gaugamela

The Battle of Gaugamela is Alexander’s best-known battle and some have even labeled it as being his biggest battle since it was a turning point in his conquest of the Persian Empire.

After the inconclusive confrontation with Darius at Issus, both kings were well aware that another battle was inevitable to establish their supremacy. There was too much at stake for the King of Persia was not ready to give up his throne and Alexander was most determined to make Persia pay for their repeated invasions and destructions of Greece and for occupying the Greek cities in Asia Minor. As we know, Alexander was, however, in no hurry and made sure to safeguard his rear by taking possession of the coastal cities and territories of the eastern Mediterranean first. After being recognized as Pharaoh in Egypt, he marched back through Syria, ready to meet his opponent in Persia.

Alexander was in Harran (today in southern Turkey) when his scouts reported that the massive Persian army was marching north from Babylon. Allowing his army a few days rest, Alexander then ordered a forced march of 350 km to the Tigris as he aimed to reach the river before any enemy force would stop him from crossing as he was told by the Persian scouts he had captured.

Darius had had two years to prepare this decisive battle and he may have learned from his mistakes (or shall we say misjudgments) at Issus. The King of Kings chose his battlefield with great care and took position in the wide plain on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, above the Boumelus River (modern Khazir), a tributary of the Great Zab, called Gaugamela. His total force has often been over-estimated but it is generally accepted that he had about 35,000 cavalry and 250,000 infantry, as well as two hundred Scythian chariots. The Persian forces were six times larger than Alexander’s and these sheer numbers alone must have caused our conqueror some headaches.

The news of Gaugamela reached Alexander before crossing the Tigris at Abu Dahir (nearly 80 km north of modern Mosul), from where he could follow the Persian Royal Road towards the battlefield.  On the fourth day of his easterly march, some stragglers informed him of the precise position of the Persian army some 25 km away. He decided to allow his troops a four days’ rest and to prepare them for further action while he would reconnoiter the layout of the battlefield. Once this was accomplished he moved his army to a base camp and the following night he took his fighting forces across the intervening hills where he rested his men. So far, there had not been any visual contact since a ridge of high ground separated both armies and it was only after passing this last ridge that Alexander had the first view of his opponent stationed about four miles away. He immediately sent for his staff and commanders to discuss the plan of action. They agreed that a careful inspection of the terrain was imperative and with a group of Companions Alexander spent a full day on valuable reconnaissance. Meanwhile, his 47,000 troops were to stay where they were. By the evening, the king summoned and briefed his senior officers again as he had decided to proceed with the attack the very next morning.

Alexander’s address to his soldiers was quite different from his constant encouragements at Issus, for here everyone knew how important a victory over the King of Persia was from the onset. Nevertheless, he stressed that every soldier should preserve his discipline in the hour of danger, that all orders must be obeyed promptly and that all officers, whatever their rank, were to pass their commands to their subordinates without hesitation or delay. Most importantly, Alexander stressed that the conduct of each of his men was crucial to the fate of all. In other words, if everyone did his duty as expected their success was assured, but if only one man neglected it the entire army would be in peril. Strong talk! If this is not a pure example of leadership, I don’t know.

Just like at Issus, Alexander then ordered his troops to rest and eat; the men had time to discuss their commander’s words and to mentally prepare for the upcoming battle. The Macedonians, at least, got more rest than the Persians who, fearing a night attack were in a constant state of alert.

For once, we know the exact date on which the battle took place thanks to the recorded eclipse of the moon on 20 September at 9 pm, predicting disaster for the Persian army and good omens for Alexander. The actual fight took place eleven days later, on October 1, 331 BC and by dawn, Alexander appeared at the head of his men wearing his resplendent ceremonial armor – ready as he ever could be!

On this wide plain, which had been cleared by the Persians of any obstacle that might hinder their chariots and their cavalry, the enemy must have felt pretty confident. Darius had placed his strongest forces on his left wing, the one that would be facing Alexander’s right. These were the best horsemen to be found, the Bactrians and Scythians with in front of them half of the scythe chariots; 50 more chariots were posted near the Royal Squadron of Darius’ cavalry and another 50 in front of his right wing. Darius took up his position at the center of his line, flanked by his Greek mercenaries followed by individual units of cavalry. Darius’ right was put under the orders of Mazaeus, his most capable general who would be facing Parmenion and his troops.

Alexander, as usual, commanded his right wing with his Cavalry Companions, linked by the 3,000 Shields Bearers to the 10,000 strong phalanx that occupied the center. In front of the cavalry, Alexander had posted his archers, slingers and javelin throwers who were his long-range weapons. The Thessalian cavalry was posted on the left under the command of Parmenion. The disposition seems to be the same as the one displayed at Issus, with these exceptions that Alexander added on both flanks a series of block formations, a mixture of heavy cavalry and light infantry in a downward line from his main front and making a near junction with his reserve line of some 20,000 mercenary infantry in the rear posted in parallel with his main forces. It obviously shows that Alexander was well-aware that he would be outflanked by the more numerous Persian forces but at the same time, he was also ready to meet an attack from any direction.

Once that his forces were in place, Alexander rode up and down his lines to lift the spirits of every man and every squadron with a last word of encouragement. Everything depended indeed on the commitment of each and every one of Alexander’s troops to maintain the line and avoid any gap in the formation that could be exploited by the Persians.

With the Persian army stringed out far beyond that of Alexander, he immediately started to advance obliquely, leading his Companions forward but as he came closer, he suddenly turned the entire force to the right in a sideways movement. He knew that by doing so he would expose Parmenion to a more serious encirclement threat but at the same time, he knew that if he pressed on beyond the end of the Persian left the enemy most probably would follow his momentum. By doing so, the Persians would eventually leave a gap in their line and this was exactly what Alexander was aiming for.

Darius was quick to respond to Alexander’s move by ordering his horsemen to start a flanking maneuver in order to envelop Alexander and his right wing. The operation seemed successful but as Alexander stopped his spurt, the Scythian and Bactrian horsemen fighting for Darius rushing straight for Alexander were attacked by his concealed troops, his mercenary cavalry, his infantry flank guards and his several thousands of veteran mercenaries hidden among them. As the rest of the Persian left rushed to support the Scythians, the chariots were also commanded forward (while Alexander was still within the leveled ground), but these were made useless by a joined action of the javelin throwers and archers. All these movements on the Persian left had created the effect Alexander expected, an opening towards Darius’ chariot at the center.

It makes you wonder how amidst this commotion and heavy clouds of dust Alexander was still able to order his Companion Cavalry into their customary wedge formation, leading his foot brigades to the offensive against the Persian center. The Shield Bearers, at this point, rushed forward followed on the double by the massive phalanx, probing their sarissas into the enemy lines. Alexander now plunged forward and threw a spear at the Great King (see also: Breathtaking, Alexander the Great at Gaugamela). He missed but killed his charioteer instead. It is probably at this moment that Darius turned his chariot around and fled, closely followed by his Immortals and rather shaken Royal guards.

Parmenion, from his end, must have fought a nearly impossible battle in order to keep his squadrons from being encircled and/or dislodged by the Persians under the capable command of Mazaeus. He was outflanked only by a charge of some 3,000 enemy cavalry who rushed through to the Macedonian baggage camp where the Queen Mother Sisygambis and her grandchildren were still held in Alexander’s custody. It is unclear whether she refused to accompany her rescuers or if they simply didn’t reach her as the attackers had not reckoned with Alexander’s line of mercenary reserves that made short work of the enemy forces.

Parmenion being pinned down and hopelessly outflanked left an inevitable gap on the left of the phalanx. A few units of Persian cavalry took their chances and broke the Macedonian line of defense. Their success was short lived as the disciplined phalanx soon pushed the Persians back.

Although the battle was not over, the news of Darius’ flight traveled quickly through his ranks and must have demoralized his troops. In the end, it is not clear whether it was Alexander’s supremacy that won the battle or if the Persians lost their drive as their commander in chief had fled. With bits and pieces, the Persian army turned its back to the battlefield and even Mazaeus felt he could not desert his king.

Amazingly and against all odds, Alexander had been able to maintain his line of defense. His men had not let him down!

The details of this battle are very complex. Nobody, not even Alexander, could have a comprehensive overview on how the fight unfolded and the historical accounts tell only a very partial story. The battlefield was too vast and too dusty to make any sense of what was going on beyond anyone’s immediate space. The main conclusion is that the battle was won, but with Darius on the run Alexander could not yet claim his crown of King of Persia.

[Pictures from Oliver Stone's movie Alexander, except the picture of Harran which is mine]