Alexander´s Empire

Philip Builds Macedonian Empire

Philip II (359-336 BC) turned Macedonia into the greatest European Power after conquering all of Macedonia's neighbors - Illyrians, Thracians, and Greeks.Philip reorganized his kingdom, gave it access to the sea, expanded its power, and conquered the Greek city-states, which never regained their independence. He modernized the Macedonian ecenomy, improved the army, and ended several military alliances, to achieve this. The result of this was a powerful empire, as strong as its king.


Philip's Army

When Philip took power the Macedonian army was structured along the lines of a typical Tribal Kingdom. Philip had a royal squadron of Companion cavalry, each armed with a lance. The infantry was comprised of a poorly organized mass that fought in irregular formation with spears.

As Macedonia was poor, with no middle class able to purchase hoplite armor, Philip armed his light infantry shield, greaves, helmet and sarissa, and trained them to fight in an extra-dense formation. This lightly armed but highly disciplined "Macedonian phalanx" combined the solid strength of dense heavy infantry formations with some of the speed and ability of light infantry.
Philip trained his Companion cavalry to maneuver in a face-forward wedge formation that disguised directional change and allowed a flexible, rapid response.

To augment his phalanx and Companions and round out this formidable combined arms field army, Philip added auxiliaries, trained to scout, forage, skirmish and pursue, and a siege train to provide artillery support.
In battle, the resultant advantages gained in initiative and flexibility allowed the Macedonian phalanx to engage and pin the enemy battle line while pressing to create a breach. When a breach was obtained, the Companions would quickly move into position and rush the gap, attacking the enemy infantry in flank and rear. If the breach was fully exploited before it could be plugged, the entire enemy force was disrupted, with the battle quickly degenerating into a rout.

As a result, a properly exploited breach became the key to victory. In effect, the phalanx was the anvil while the Companions provided the hammer blow to break the enemy army. In the ensuing pursuit, if a walled city were not close enough to retreat into, then Philip's aggressive use of "extended pursuit" would devastate the enemy forces.


Alexander Defeats

The Persians, 331 BC

Printer Friendly Version »>
Alexander began his war against the Persians in 334 BC. At the time the Macedonian leader was twenty-two years old. At his death eleven years later, Alexander ruled the largest empire of the ancient world. His victory at the battle of Gaugamela on the Persian plains was a decisive conquest that insured the defeat of his Persian rival King Darius III.

Darius was prepared for battle having selected this spot to meet his enemy. After his defeat at Issus two years previously, Darius made sure that this battleground favored his army and its tactics - particularly the use of his feared scythe-wheeled chariots. The ground here was flat, perfect for chariots. Darius made it even flatter by ordering the terrain plowed and leveled. All was ready and on October 1, 331 BC the Persian army of possibly 200,000 (ancient texts exaggerate the number up to 1 million) faced off against Alexander's 35,000. The Macedonian leader immediately sized up the Persian's tactical advantage and countered by ordering his cavalry to shift to the right hoping to move his enemy away from its flat field. Darius took the bait ordering his troops to follow. Soon the Persians found themselves on rough, rock-strewn terrain. Seeing the thinning Persian line, Alexander led the charge that crashed through to the Persian rear. As at the battle of Issus, Darius fled, leaving the field and victory to Alexander.

The Battle of Gaugamela

The following description of the battle of Gaugamela was written by the Greek historian Arrian in the second century AD. His account is based on contemporary sources and is considered well written and accurate:

"When the armies drew near each other, Darius and the men especially around him were observed opposite Alexander himself and his royal squadron of cavalry. Alexander led his own army more towards the right, and the Persians marched parallel along with him, far outflanking him upon their left. Then the Scythian cavalry rode along the line and came into conflict with the front men of Alexander's army; nevertheless he still continued to march towards the right, and almost entirely got beyond the ground that had been cleared and leveled by the Persians. Then Darius, fearing that his chariots would become useless if the Macedonians advanced upon the uneven ground, ordered the front ranks of his left wing to ride round the right wing of the Macedonians, where Alexander was commanding, to prevent him from marching his wing any further.

Darius unleashes
his scythed-wheeled
[Translator's note: This led to countermoves by Alexander and precipitated a general cavalry engagement; the Greeks suffered severely, but sustained the assaults, and] assailing the enemy violently squadron by squadron, succeeded in pushing them out of rank. Meanwhile the Barbarians launched the scythed-chariots against Alexander himself, to throw his phalanx into confusion; but in this they were grievously deceived. For as soon as they approached the [Macedonian] javelin men, who had been posted in front of the 'Companion' cavalry, hurled their darts at some of the horses; others they seized by the reins and pulled the drivers off, and standing round the horses killed them. Yet some got right through the ranks; for the men stood apart, and opened their ranks, as they had been taught, wherever the chariots attacked. Thus commonly the chariots went through safely, and their drivers were unhurt, but the [rear guard] later overpowered them.

As soon as Darius set his whole battle line in motion, Alexander ordered Aretes to attack those who were riding clear around his right wing; and up to that time he was himself leading his men in column. But when the Persians made a break in the front line of their army, when their cavalry

from a mosaic on
a Pompeiian wallcharged to aid those executing the flanking movement, Alexander wheeled towards the gap, and forming a wedge as it were of the 'Companion' cavalry and of the part of the phalanx which was posted here, he led them with a quick charge, and a loud battle cry straight towards Darius. Then came a short hand-to-hand melee; but when the Macedonian horse, led by Alexander himself, pressed on vigorously, thrusting themselves against the Persians and striking their faces with their spears, and when the Macedonian phalanx in dense array, bristling with long pikes, had joined in the attack, general terror smote Darius, whose courage already had been shaken; so that he was the first to turn and flee. Likewise the Persians who were trying to outflank, panic-stricken at the vigorous attack of Aretes, took to flight; and in this quarter the Macedonians chased after and slaughtered the fugitives.

[Elsewhere on the battlefield, however, the Persians pressed boldly; broke through the Macedonian line and began to plunder Alexander's camp; while others attacked Parmenio's division on the flank, putting it in great straits. At the news of Parmenio's peril] Alexander turned back from the pursuit, and wheeling round with the 'Companion' cavalry led them at full speed against the Barbarian's right wing. Here ensued the most obstinately contested cavalry fight in the whole battle. For drawn up by squadrons, the foreigners wheeled round in deep column, and falling on Alexander's men face to face, no longer relied on javelin casting, or skillful deploying of horses, as is usual in cavalry battles, but every man for himself strove desperately to break through what stood in his way, as his only means of safety. Here about 60 of Alexander's 'Companions' fell were wounded. But these foes, too, Alexander overcame; and such as could force their way through his ranks fled with all their might.

Meantime the Thessalian cavalry in a splendid struggle were not falling short of Alexander's own success in the combat. For the Barbarians on the right wing were already beginning to fly when be came on the scene of [this] conflict; so that again he wheeled, and started in pursuit of Darius once more, keeping up the chase while daylight lasted. [After resting his men till midnight, Alexander pursued again all next day, but did not take the king, for] Darius went on fleeing without any rest. However, the money and all his other wealth were captured, likewise his chariot; and his spear and bow were also taken, as they had been after Issus.

Of Alexander's men about 100 were killed and more than 1000 of his horses; either from wounds or exhausted in the pursuit… Of the Barbarians there are said to have been 300,000 slain, and far more taken prisoners than were killed."

   Davis, William Stearns, Readings In Ancient History (1912); Fox, Robert Lane, Alexander The Great (1994).

How To Cite This Article:
"Alexander Defeats The Persians, 331 BC," EyeWitness to History, (2000).

Alexander the Great`s Legacy


Alexander the Great changed the world in several significant ways. He gave the Greeks a new way of fighting. He showed the Persians the Greek way of life.

In his reign, Alexander never lost a battle/war. He won smashing victories over armies who were superior in numbers. Alexander's success layed in his tactics, like the phalanx, which allowed its enemies little openings for attack. He understood the importance of cavalry as an offensive weapon.

Also known for his anger, he could also be merciful. When one settlement wouldn't enforce his authority, he took it as a disrespect and burned the settlement it to the ground. This was shown in a great victory over Darius, the Persian king, Alexander captured Darius's wife and daughter and showed them kindness, not cruelty.

He treated his soldiers well. His soldiers were inspired by his example and followed him in all his endeavors and through it all, he never lost sight of his ultimate goal: to spread the light of Greece into the darkness of the world.

Alexander in India
in 326 B.C, Alexander and his army reached the indus valley. At Hydaspes river, a powerful indian army after winning the battle Alexander´s soldiers had walked more than 11000 in 11 years so their morale was low and they retreated because of heavy monsoon rains. After they got home Alexander announced plans to unify and organize the empire, that he would construct new roads, cities and harbors and conquer India. He died after becoming seriously ill at the age of 32.

Alexander's Other Conquest

Asia Minor
Alexander's army was approximately 42,000 soldiers, and crossed the Hellespont in 334 BC from Macedon, After an initial victory against Persian forces at the Battle of the Granicus, Alexander accepted the surrender of the Persian provincial capital and treasury of Sardis and kept going to the Ionian coast.

Alexander's army crossed the Cilician Gates in 333 BC, and defeated the main Persian army under the command of Darius III at the Vattle of Issus in November. Darius was forced to flee the battle after his army broke. He afterwards offered a peace treaty to Alexander, the concession of the lands he had already conquered, and a ransom of 10,000 talents for his family. Alexander proceeded to take possession of Syria, and most of the coast of the Levant.

When Alexander destroyed Tyre, most of the towns on the route to Egypt quickly surrendered, except Gaza. The stronghold at Gaza was built on a hill and was heavily protected. At the beginning of the Siege of Gaza Alexander used the engines he had gained against Tyre. After failing 3times, the stronghold was broke by force.


Alexander conquers Persia
After his defeat, Darious tried to negotiate a peace settlement with Alexander. He offered Alexander all of his lands west of the Euphrates River. Many people encouraged Alexander to accept, but he was confident, so he rejected the offer and announced his plan to conquer the Persian Empire. His conquest started in 332 B.C when he entered Egypt, the Egyptians welcomed him as a liberator and crowned him pharaoh. The two armies met in a small village, Alexander launched a phalanx attack that the Persian couldn't fight back at. Alexander's victory at Guagamels ended Persia's power.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License