We have the following accounts of the Battle of Gaugamela: Arrian 3. 11-15, Plutarch Alexander 31-33, Diodorus Siculus 17. 57-61, Curtius 4. 13-16.
Read through at least two of these and consider to what extent we get a clear and convincing account of the battle.
What does the Battle of Gaugamela show us about Alexander’s abilities as a military leader?
3.10 After Gaugamela
After the victory at Gaugamela and Darius’ headlong flight, the centre of Persian power was open to Alexander. One of Darius’ commanders, Mazaeus, fled to Babylon, but then surrendered the city to Alexander. In due course, Alexander appointed him satrap, though he also installed a Macedonian garrison in the city; he did the same at Susa, where Abulites was in turn rewarded for recognising the inevitable and surrendering the city and its treasures. His usual practice was to employ local figureheads but ensure that the real power lay in the hands of loyal Macedonians. These native satraps proved less than successful; of the eighteen appointed, ten were removed for murder, treason or incompetence.
As he moved on, there was limited opposition, which he easily bypassed. Soon Persepolis was taken, surrendered by Tiridates; here Alexander allowed some freedom to his army after the long campaigns, and there was considerable pillaging and the destruction of the palace.
In the autumn of 330 BC, the so-called ‘conspiracy of Philotas’ came to light and revealed further the tensions within the Macedonian high command. Whatever the truth behind the charges laid against Philotas, Alexander moved decisively and presented his case to the army, who sided with the king. Philotas may have been guilty of no more than ignoring mutterings against Alexander and speaking his mind freely and critically about the king in Macedonian style. The execution of Philotas led to the killing of his father, Parmenio, who was in Ecbatana. As a result of this, there was some reorganisation of the army commands; Alexander promoted Hephaestion though this proved not to be successful.
In 330 BC, news finally came that all was well in Greece after Antipater had dealt with the Spartans at Megalopolis, so Alexander could continue his pursuit of the Persian king. As Darius fled towards Central Asia, his army and advisors began to desert him. In the end, two of his commanders Bessus and Nabarzanes acted against their king, placing him in golden chains, and finally in July they killed him. Alexander was now accepted as the legitimate heir to Darius’ kingdom, which placed on him a duty to avenge his predecessor.
Bessus declared himself king (as Artaxerxes V) and retreated to his satrapy of Bactria and Sogdiana in the north. Alexander may have chosen to adopt Persian dress to a greater extent at this point to emphasise visually his claim to be the rightful king; his Macedonian troops did not find this easy to accept.
Diodorus (17.77) describes the changes made by Alexander at this point:
court chamberlains of Asian race
a bodyguard of Persian noblemen
he wore some elements of Persian dress – the diadem, white tunic, Persian sash
scarlet cloaks for his companions
he took over Darius’ retinue of 360 concubines
As Alexander pursued the murderer across the Hindu Kush into Bactria, founding several cities called Alexandria along the way, Bessus’ fellow leaders turned on their new king and allowed him to be captured and brought to Alexander. Bessus was sent back to Ecbatana to be punished in Persian fashion, while Alexander tried to bring the frontier tribes under control. The foundation of new cities, such as Alexandria Eschate, threatened the way of life in the region, and local leaders, perhaps concerned that they would suffer the same fate as Bessus, proved difficult to subdue. It took two years of campaigning (329-327 BC) before it was possible to use an arranged marriage with Roxane, daughter of Oxyartes, to bring the fighting to an end.
Read Arrian 4.18-19, the account of the capture of the Sogdian Rock.
What does this tell us about Alexander’s skills as a commander?
It was during this period that the death of Cleitus (known as ‘Cleitus the Black’) occurred, during a drinking bout in Maracanda (modern Samarkand) in which tempers became roused.
Read the accounts of the death of Cleitus given by Plutarch (Alexander 50-51) and Arrian (4. 8-12) (you could also use Curtius 8.1.20-8.2.12).
What does this incident show us about Alexander’s state of mind?
What can we learn from this about tensions within the army?
Another significant development that raised tensions within the Macedonian leadership was Alexander’s interest in obeisance (proskynesis). This behaviour had been introduced by Cyrus the Great. In the hierarchical Persian court, it allowed individuals to show that they understood their position in the hierarchy; low-ranking individuals or petitioners might prostrate themselves, but that would not be required of those of higher rank. In return, the Persian king recognised his subjects’ behaviour, and might kiss those closest to him, his kinsmen. The Persians did not regard their king as a god, but behaviour such as this was reserved for the gods in Greek custom. At this time the attempt to introduce such behaviour almost certainly reflects Alexander’s desire to integrate all those now under his rule, rather than an attempt to claim divine honours for himself, though some sources did not take that view.
Read Arrian’s account of the attempt to introduce the obeisance (4. 10-12).
What does this tell us about Macedonian attitudes to the obeisance?
What do you think Alexander was trying to achieve?
Soon after this the so-called ‘Pages’ Conspiracy’ occurred; this may have begun for personal reasons when one of the King’s pages was flogged after an incident while hunting. However it again reflects the tensions within the Macedonian elite (the pages were the sons of leading companions of the king) about Alexander’s plans for the future. Callisthenes, who was tutor to the king’s pages, was caught up in this and was either put to death on Alexander’s orders (Arrian 4. 14.3) or died in custody awaiting trial (Plutarch Alexander 55).
3.11 The final campaign in the Indus valley
Alexander turned his attention to the furthest reaches of the Persian empire to the east in 327 BC. His progress was not without incident, but he was, as always, successful. This led to the confrontation with Porus at the Hydaspes in July 326 BC, which was, after a fierce battle, another success for Alexander. However in the aftermath he confirmed Porus in his position and tried to create some stability amongst the peoples of the area, as needed to secure the eastern frontier of his empire. He established the cities of Bucephala and Nicaea, but there is some doubt about his intentions; Plutarch records (Alexander 62) that the army refused to cross the Ganges and that Alexander retired to his tent in anger; however the river was certainly the Hyphasis, and it is not clear he planned to go further. He began to prepare a fleet which would sail down the Hydaspes to the coast. The campaign through this area almost cost Alexander his life during one attack, but his forces successfully brought in line the various territories they passed through. He sent Nearchus on with the fleet, while he led the army by a difficult route through the Gedrosian desert, which again gave Alexander the opportunity to share the privations of his troops (Plutarch Alexander 66). It could be argued that this was a self-inflicted disaster that cost the Macedonian army a great deal.
3.12 The return to Babylon
As Alexander began his journey back towards the centre of the empire, he found that there had been considerable disruption during his absence, as many had not expected him to return. Harpalus, who had been left as treasurer in Ecbatana on Alexander’s departure, had made free use of the king’s treasure for his own enjoyment (including a succession of Greek courtesans), and in 325 BC fled when news of Alexander’s return reached him. Alexander instigated a thorough review of the behaviour of those he had left in control of the various regions of the empire, and there were significant changes made. Arrian records (7.4):
[Alexander] arrested and killed Abulites and his son Ozathres, because they had administered the Susians badly. Many offences had been committed by those who were in charge of the countries which Alexander had conquered. These related to temples, graves and the subjects themselves, because the king had been undertaking the expedition to India, and it did not seem credible that he would return from such a great number of nations and elephants! They thought that he would be killed beyond the Indus, Hydaspes, Acesines and Hyphasis. The disasters which happened to him in Gadrosia did yet more to encourage the satraps to despise any idea of his return home. Not only this, but Alexander is said to have become quicker in giving credence to accusations at this time, as if they were to be believed all the time, and to give great punishments even to those who were convicted of small offences, because he thought they might carry out great offences based on the same thoughts.
What does this passage tell us about Alexander’s behaviour on his return from India?
On his journey, Alexander visited Persepolis and then went to Susa. Arrian (7.4) and Plutarch (Alexander 70) provide accounts of the marriage ceremonies he arranged there for himself and his companions.
He himself married Barsine, the eldest of the daughters of Darius, and another woman in addition to her, Parysatis, the youngest of the daughters of Ochus, according to Aristobulus. He was already married to Roxanne, the daughter of Oxyartes from Bactria. To Hephaestion he gave Drypetis, another daughter of Darius and the sister of his own wife. For he wanted Hephaestion’s children to be cousins to his own. To Craterus he gave Amastrine the daugher of Oxyartes, Darius’ brother; to Perdiccas, a daughter of Atropates, satrap of Media. Ptolemy, his bodyguard, and Eumenes, the royal secretary, married the daughters of Artabazus, Artacama and Artonis respectively. Nearchus married the daughter of Barsine and Mentor; Seleucus the daughter of Spitamenes from Bactria, and likewise the other Companions – about eighty in all - married the most noble daughters of the Persians and the Medes.
This suggests a determined attempt by Alexander to make strong links between the conquered elite and their conquerors. It is worth noting that no Macedonian or Greek women were married to Persian nobles, so this should not be seen as an attempt to join the two peoples. At about the same time, Alexander took steps to send home those amongst his veterans who were unfit to continue fighting, and brought in to his army the thirty thousand so-called ‘successors’ he had left behind for Greek training in 327 BC. This produced a strong reaction from his Macedonian soldiers, who felt they were being supplanted by the foreigners; Alexander’s reorganisation of his army may have been prompted as much by a shortage of manpower as anything else. There was a brief mutiny and confrontation with the king at Opis, which was over very quickly. The strong and deep connection between the king and his army was re-established, though the ringleaders were condemned to death. Arrian records (7.12) that Alexander declared that he recognised all his Macedonian troops as ‘kinsmen’, the term used by Persian kings for their most distinguished courtiers.
He held a great banquet of reconciliation at Opis: according to Arrian (7.12), there were 9000 guests present. The king sat at the centre with his companions, then next to them were the Persian notables, and the other guests beyond. During the banquet, Alexander is supposed to have made a prayer for agreement and friendship between the Macedonians and the Persians. After this, he arranged for all those who were no longer fit for service to return to Greece.
Alexander appointed Craterus to replace Antipater in Greece, and sent him to convey the veterans returning home back to Greece. In the summer of 324 BC, Nicanor of Stageira was sent to the Olympic games to announce the Exiles’ Decree, which ordered the Greek cities to receive back all exiles, apart from those who were robbers of temples or murderers. This caused considerable problems for some states such as Athens and was not within the terms of the League of Corinth. Another controversial issue amongst historians concerns deification; there is no clear evidence that Alexander put forward a decree asking to be awarded divine honours by the Greek states, though many believe that he did. The subject was certainly discussed in Athens and Sparta. Perhaps Plutarch (Alexander 28) is correct about this:
From these accounts it is clear that Alexander was not affected by, nor did he become conceited through, a belief in his own divinity, but rather used it to overcome others.
From Susa, he went to Ecbatana, where personal misfortune struck: Hephaestion became ill after drinking and died. Alexander’s reaction was extreme:
Writers have given very different accounts of Alexander’s grieving; they all agreed that his grief was very great, but there are different versions of what he actually did, dependent on the goodwill or envy each felt towards Hephaestion or Alexander himself. For those who recorded his reckless excesses seem to me to consider that whatever Alexander did or said in his great grief for the friend closest to him of all men either adds to his glory or bring shame upon him, on the grounds that such behaviour was not fitting for a king or for Alexander. Some say that for the greater part of that day he flung himself down beside the body of his friend groaning and did not wish to be separated from him, until he was forcibly removed by his companions; in other accounts, he lay beside the body all day and all night; other writers say he strung up the doctor Glaucias, either because of the wrong drug being given or because he saw Hephaestion drinking heavily and allowed him to continue. I think it is likely that Alexander cut his hair over the body, especially because he had been eager to emulate Achilles ever since boyhood.
What does this passage suggest about the difficulties assessing Alexander’s behaviour?
This event also raises the issue of divine honours:
According to most historians, Alexander ordered that Hephaestion should always receive rites appropriate for a hero, and some say that he sent to the oracle of Ammon to ask the god whether he allowed Hephaestion to receive sacrifices as a god, but that permission was not granted.
In the last months of his life, Alexander seems to have become very sensitive about religious matters. He had always respected the gods of the countries through which he had travelled, and he regularly fulfilled his religious duties as king. Plutarch, himself a religious man, writes:
Alexander, since he had become troubled about divine matters and fearful in his mind, now treated everything unusual or strange, however insignificant, as a portent or omen. The royal palace was full of people sacrificing and purifying and making predictions of the future. It is true that disbelief in divine matters and contempt for them is a terrible thing, but terrible also is superstition, which, just as water always flows down to the lowest point, now filled Alexander’s fearful mind with foolishness.
Plutarch Alexander 75
3.13 Alexander’s intentions
It is impossible to be certain what Alexander’s exact intentions were at each stage of the campaign. At the outset, he may have intended a relatively short campaign to free the Greek cities of Asia Minor and secure Greek lands freedom from Persian control. However there is uncertainty over his father’s plans, and Alexander seems likely to have wanted to outdo his father. His visits to the acropolis at Gordium and the oracle of Ammon may have raised his ambitions further; the prospect of defeating Darius and capturing the most important Persian cities with their fabulous treasure may also have drawn him on. Once he was accepted as the new king of Persia, he took on the task of avenging the murder of his predecessor. Alexander recognised the need to employ local elites to maintain control over the vast territories of Persia, as earlier Persian kings had done, though there were difficulties integrating oriental court practices to the far different expectations of both the Macedonian elite and the Macedonian army. In India he may have reached the limit of his ambitions, though the sources suggest he wanted to press further. The account of his final days suggests that he had no intention of resting on his achievements; he was already planning further travel, and had his officers preparing for a further expedition to Arabia (and perhaps even further).
There were considerable problems facing him: the Exiles’ Decree had caused considerable concern in Greece, and some states were trying to stir things up, particularly the Athenians. Although he had already decided to replace Antipater with Craterus, it was not clear that this would make the situation in Greece any better, and there was the difficult issue of divine honours. The relationship between Macedonians and Persians had still to settle down, and his proposed absence would allow tensions to surface.
3.14 Alexander’s Legacy
Alexander’s achievements had a considerable impact on his own times, and after his death, the break-up of his empire drew a new map for the future development of the areas he had conquered. The ruling families founded by his companions, such as Ptolemy in Egypt or Seleucus in Babylonia, had a lasting impact on the ruling elites in those areas. Arguably just as important for the spread of Greek influence through the vast areas conquered were the various cities he founded (or refounded): Plutarch (On the Fortune of Alexander 1.5) claims he established ‘more than seventy’, but this is clearly an exaggeration; there may have been as few as eight cities called Alexandria in various parts of the empire, and a larger number of other towns transformed in some way by Alexander’s passing (and in later years at least eager to claim an association with the great man).
Many of these cities were set in strategically important sites: Alexandria on the coast in Egypt at one end of the empire; Alexandria Eschate to the north in Sogdiana; Alexandria on the Hyphasis in the east. The cities were founded for mixed populations: Alexander left behind those of his forces who were not fit to fight any further or whom he no longer trusted, but there were also natives of the region. The effect of the dispersion of Greek culture through the empire helped hold it together over time.
Not all the Greeks and Macedonians settled in this way were happy to be so far from their homeland. There were attempts by the mercenaries settled in Alexandria Eschate to return to Greece, but these were bloodily suppressed.
The most famous of these cities was Alexandria in Egypt, where Ptolemy transformed his satrapy into an empire. Although he originally buried Alexander’s body at Memphis, he later brought it to Alexandria which developed into a major centre of Greek culture over the next few centuries. It was developed by the Ptolemaic dynasty as the capital of Egypt and a major port. The Tomb of Alexander was a major attraction, as was the famous library.
Theme: Developments in the Macedonian Army
4.1 The Macedonian Army under Philip II and Alexander
The victory at Chaeronea in 338 BC was in large part due to the development of the Macedonian army under Philip and the experience of lengthy campaigns over a long period of time. By tradition there was a very strong link between the army and the king from his accession; one significant limitation on the powers of a Macedonian king was that the army had to decide on matters of treason.
Even at the beginning of his reign, Philip was able to muster a significant body of infantry, though the cavalry remained the most important element in the Macedonian army. As his control over his kingdom became more assured, and his success in expanding his influence increased his wealth, he was able to draw on a greater number of men and introduce some important refinements in equipment and tactics. However the limitations of the sources are such that we cannot be sure of the exact sequence of development.
The cavalry were the traditional core of the Macedonian army, and they remained significant under Philip. The ‘companion cavalry’ consisted of Macedonians close to the king, and they played a very significant role in Macedonian success. Philip probably combined together during his reign what had been separate cavalry units from Upper and Lower Macedonia. The Macedonian cavalry wore protective armour (corselet, helmet), may have carried a shield and the main offensive weapon was a strong cornel wood spear, together with a sword. They trained hard to ride in a wedge formation, which allowed them to change direction in response to the leader and to manoeuvre very quickly wherever gaps appeared in the enemy line. It was the speed of deployment in battle that made them such a formidable force against both Greek and Persian armies.
The Macedonian infantry in the fifth century BC was little better than a mob (Thucydides 4, 125), but later kings had tried to improve it by establishing ‘Foot-Companions’ (Pezhetairoi), who were more organised and better trained. Philip continued this development and increased the numbers, as well as improving the training and taking a greater interest in the leadership and equipping of this element in the army. Much of this development is unclear, but Philip had, during his time as a hostage in Thebes, been in a position to observe the organisation and effectiveness of the Sacred Band of Thebes, the strongest fighting force in Greece at the time. They used the sarissa, a pike of about 15-18 feet in length, metal helmet, greaves and a circular shield, together with a dagger. Units fought together in a phalanx, 8 men deep, and were trained to change formation in response to command and conditions. Their training meant that they were an effective force even on uneven and difficult terrain. The main weakness of the phalanx was exposed by an attack at the sides or rear, especially once engaged with the enemy; however Philip’s highly trained cavalry could manoeuvre quickly to reduce or eliminate this risk.
There were also light-armed troops, both mounted and on foot. These allowed for a great deal of flexibility in the way the army was deployed in battle, and contributed to the effectiveness in the field against less well-organised or well-trained opponents. It is difficult to be sure to what extent Philip used these, as the evidence we have is insufficiently detailed. We do have more evidence from the time of Alexander, but it is impossible to decide whether these developments were down to Alexander or were part of his father’s legacy.
Both infantry and cavalry units were commanded by individuals close to the king, and there was a much greater emphasis on training, so much so that by the time of Chaeronea the Macedonian army was significantly better prepared for battle than other Greek armies.
Philip did not rely only on his own forces, but could also draw increasingly on contributions from his allies. Once his influence on Thessaly was assured he could draw on the traditionally strong Thessalian cavalry to support his own. He could also draw on a range of mercenaries, the more so as his successes brought him control of important resources.
It is likely that Philip was responsible for significant tactical developments that contributed to his success. He certainly improved the training of the Macedonian forces and improved the organisation of his forces.