Battle of Gaugamela

Written by Felgr Pavel on .

The Battle of Gaugamela (today village Tel Gomel in north Iraq) was one of the biggest and most important battles in world history and took place 331 BC. Alexander the Great achieved a fantastic victory there over the Persians led by King Darius III.

Two years after the Battle of Issus Alexander dominated the entire eastern Mediterranean coast and Egypt. Then he went to the Persian Empire - Alexander's army crossed the river Euphrates and Tigris and on the plain near the village of Gaugamela, he stood in the way of the Persian army.

Battle preparations

Alexander commanded a total of about 40,000 infantrymen and 7,000 cavalrymen. Macedonian troops were not so numerous as the Persian, however, they exceeded the Persians by its organization, discipline, leadership flexibility and experience in numerous battles.

The core of the troops were heavy infantry organized in phalanx and equipped with a spear nearly 6 meters long. The elite infantry unit was represented by hypaspists (supporters) armed like Greek hoplites, but they were more mobile than hoplites. Macedonian heavy cavalry was made up of Macedonian nobles – the King’s companions. Riders had armour, helmet and spear, which was intended to shock rather than to throw.

The Persian army probably numbered around 150,000 men (some sources states 250,000 soldiers). Among others the army was made up of 20,000 Greek mercenaries, 12,000 heavy riders from Bactria and 200 chariots. Each chariot had sickles fixed to its wheels. Also 15 elephants were included in Persian army.

Darius’ army consisted of a large number of different tribes from Mesopotamia, Persia, Bactria and other eastern countries. Their only advantage was their large number – they lagged behind the soldiers of Alexander the Great significantly in all other aspects. Mostly they lacked motivation, training and valuable battle experience as well. Persian cavalry was composed of troops of central and eastern Iran, followed by Cappadocians and Armenians from Anatolia, as well as the warriors of the southern coast of the Caspian Sea and Central Asia.

Course of the battle of Gaugamela

Alexander used a tactical plan in this battle, which only was used a few times throughout the history. The plan lay in the fact that he decided to grab as many men from Persian cavalry as possible. The aim was to create a gap in Persian line to enable Alexander to strike against Darius personally, because Darius stood in the middle of the Persian army. For the plan to be successful it was necessary precise timing and cooperation of the whole Macedonian army.

Alexander ordered the wings to turn back at the angle of 45 degrees, so that they can capture the Persian cavalry’s attack more. Having thus arranged his men Alexander went to the right side slowly. Darius was alarmed by this manoeuvre and was forced to start the attack against his will (after the experience from the battle of Issus).

Darius started the battle with sending the battle chariots. But the Macedonians prepared a special tactics for the war chariots. The first line should step aside in front of the chariots and open a gap in the line. Horses refused to run against spears of the first line and walk into such a trap, so they can be stopped only with spears of the back line.

Alexander’s deciding attack

After the chariots attack Darius sent the first line of infantry and cavalry into the battle. But a gap occurred between Bessus wing and Darius centre because of a stroke of the Persians on the Macedonian right wing. That’s was exactly what was Alexander waiting for and prepared his heavy cavalry for the deciding attack on the centre of the Persian line. The cavalry in the shape of a giant wedge attacked the Persian centre and then the infantry moved ahead. This wedge was rammed into the weakened Persian centre then, which was formed of the Immortal and Greek mercenaries. Bessus lost connection with Darius and began to move backwards to prevent the encirclement. Darius himself was threatened with cutting off then.

But Alexander could not pursue Darius, because he had to help the troops of Parmenion on the left wing. Alexander's attack on the Persian centre had createda gap, in which Persian and Indian cavalry penetrated. But instead of attacking and encirclement the Parmenion’s phalanx, they set off to plunder the Macedonian encampment.

Consequences of the Battle of Gaugamela

Parmenion captured the whole Persian friction after the battle, while Alexander and his heavy cavalry tried to pursue Darius. Like after the victory at Issus the Macedonians gained immense booty about 4,000 talents and also Darius personal chariot and bow. All war elephants were captured as well.

Darius had managed to escape from the battle towards Ecbatana. Also Bessus and his cavalry caught up with Darius as well as part of the Immortals and about 2,000 Greek mercenaries. Darius wanted to take refuge on the east and gather there a new army for beating Alexander. But meanwhile Mazaeus opened the gates of Babylon to Macedonians and Darius was murdered by Bessus a short time after that.

Message from the Nile

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    The Czech egyptology founder is Frantisek Lexa, the author of up to now evaluated work about ancient Egypt magic and Demotic grammar. Seminar for egyptology started thanks to him in Faculty of Philosophy and Arts of Charles University in Prague in 1925. Two years later Lexa became the first regular professor of egyptology in then Czechoslovakia.

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