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October 1, 331 BC: Alexander the Great defeats the Persians at the Battle of Gaugamela.

Also called the Battle of Arbela, this clash between a twenty-five-year old Alexander the Great and Darius III, who would be the last king of the Achaemenid Empire, was third in a series of major battles between the young Conqueror and the forces of Persian Empire. The other two were the Battles of Granic River (334) and Issus (333). It is considered one of the most decisive battles in history by many, including Sir Edward Shepherd Creasy, who went so far as to say that “… the ancient Persian empire, which once subjugated all the nations of the earth, was defeated when Alexander had won his victory at Arbela.” You can read Creasy’s (very pro-Western) analysis of the battle here, chapter three. He compares the Western conquest of the East to the British Empire’s ” present mission is to break up the mental and moral stagnation of India and Cathay”.

The battle was fought on a flat plain, with around 47,000 troops in the Macedonian army and a contested amount (no more than 100,000, but certainly outnumbering Alexander’s forces) on the Persian side. Darius’s army was a diverse group, including warriors atop scythed chariots, thousands of Persian Immortals, and even war elephants, which impressed even Alexander himself, but they were poorly trained and equipped. The battle ended in a devastating victory for the Macedonians, and Darius fled in humiliating defeat before the battle had even been decided. The king was eventually murdered in 330, but Alexander, who had hoped to capture him alive, granted him a funeral at Persepolis after discovering the body. In 324, Alexander married Darius’s daughter Stateira II. 

Despite having conquered the empire, Alexander (an admirer of the first Achaemenid king, Cyrus the Great) allowed many of the satraps to retain their positions; he also attempted to preserve Persian customs like proskynesis.

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On October 1st, 331 BC Alexander the Great and Darius III clashed in their final and largest battle yet.

Fought early in the day, Alexander refused to follow his general’s advice and launch a night attack that would have seriously crippled Darius. Instead he devised a plan to split the Persian army that would leave Darius vulnerable. For such a strategy to be devised was unheard of during Alexander’s time and his men thought he had gone mad and never expected to win. It was certainly no less than surprising when the plan worked perfectly.

The Persian forces split, leaving a hole for the Macedonians to punch through and Darius fled when the left flank was overcome, forcing Alexander to take his men and save Parmenion, rather than chase Darius. The once great Persian king was later killed by his own men and buried with full royal honors by Alexander.

The Battle of Gaugamela is remembered for Alexander’s almost impossible victory over the Persians. Outnumbered 2-1 by modern estimates, 5-1 by conservative ancient estimates and as much as 20-1 by some of the more wild ancient estimates, the Macedonian army routed the Persian army and drove Darius and his remaining men into the hills, leaving Alexander as King of Asia. 

The Battle of Gaugamela saw Alexander the Great defeat Darius III of Persia. Before the battle, Darius sent a message to Alexander offering all lands west of the Eufrate river and 10,000 talents of gold in exchange for a peace treaty. Alexander’s Generals advised him to accept as messengers had informed them that the Persian army was five times as large as they had seen at Issus. They were right. Alexander’s army was 47,000 strong, compared to 270,000 Persians. 

The “Alexander” film starring Colin Farrell was pretty bad. It glossed over so many details, not to mention his sexuality. It also seemed to add his cosmopolitan vision as an afterthought. 

Well, there was a lot that was really bad about it. 

But it got Gaugamela down beautifully. It is the only movie I’ve seen a phalanx done properly. It has the tactics down beautifully. 

And unfortunately it’s not on YouTube anymore, probably due to copyright concerns. 

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