Battle of Issus

The battle of Issus, which took place on November 5, 333 BCE, close to the settlement of Issus in modern southern Turkey, was Alexander the Great’s second battle against the Persian army and his first confrontation with King Darius III. Alexander achieved a significant victory when he overcame the Achaemenid Empire and forced Darius III to leave the battleground.

Preparation for Battle of Issus

Alexander’s priority after his father’s passing and his accession to the Macedonian throne was to carry out his father’s ambition of conquering the Persian Empire. Alexander crossed the Hellespont into Asia Minor while claiming to be seeking retribution for Darius I and Xerxes‘ invasion of Greece. At Granicus and Halicarnassus, he routed the Persian soldiers as he proceeded south. In November 333 BCE, he faced another significant opponent at Issus. The Persian soldiers would be routed in both of Alexander the Great’s encounters with King Darius of Persia, the first of which occurred here.

Alexander hurried from Gordium through the Cilician Gates to the port city of Issus after learning of Darius’ presence in the fertile agricultural region surrounding Issus. The harbor acted as a base camp for Alexander’s army, even though the actual fight would occur further south on a constrained plain between the Mediterranean Sea and the Amanus Mountains. He left a lot of injured and ill people there to heal. The recovering Macedonian warriors were tortured and killed by the Persian monarch Darius at the Greek base camp as he led his army to meet Alexander at the River Penarus. Those Macedonian soldiers allowed to live were given a right-hand amputation. This action would encourage Alexander’s army even more to beat the Persians.

Darius shifted his attention northward from Babylon to a region east of the Issus River in preparation for his meeting with Alexander. According to historian Ruth Sheppard’s calculations based on ancient texts, Darius had an estimated army of 300,000 and 600,000 soldiers together with 30,000 Greek mercenaries. More recent estimates range from 25,000 to 100,000 soldiers with just 10,000 Greek mercenaries. Darius pondered staying there to await Alexander, but he later changed his mind hoping to cut off Alexander’s connection to his base at Issus and isolate him. Alexander had moved south from Issus toward Syria, but after learning that Darius was present at Issus, he turned around and headed back in the opposite direction. Darius put his soldiers at a disadvantage by moving further south into the constrained area of territory west of the Amanus. It was raining and chilly when the two armies came together at the River Penarus. However, the region gave Alexander a clear advantage because he could disperse his men while limiting Darius’s mobility.

Battle of Issus

Unfortunately for Darius, he disregarded Charidamus‘ recommendation to divide his forces and give him (Charidamus) the chance to face Alexander alone. Charidamus was one of Darius’ trusted Greek generals. Darius disregarded this advice for reasons that some may interpret as motivated by ego and prestige. Against this young Greek upstart, he could not lose. Charidamus made the error of making some poorly chosen remarks about Persians after being ignored. Since Charidamus was one of Darius’s most capable generals and knew Greek, Darius was upset by the remarks and had him executed immediately. Many people think this was a bad decision.

For Darius, the entire battle did not go well. Despite having the advantage of size, he and his troops soon found themselves on the back foot and unable to move as freely as they wanted. The river valley, the mountains to his left, and the sea to his right hindered Darius’ left flank.

On the other hand, Alexander employed his tried-and-true phalanx formation. His left flank reached the sea, and his right flank reached the mountains. With strong infantry in the middle, he had three battalions to the right and four to the left. Darius deployed his cavalry to attack Alexander’s right after observing his formation to penetrate his right flank. With his Companion cavalry, Darius’ fences and the river bank delayed them, but Alexander advanced swiftly through Darius’ left flank. Alexander unsuccessfully tried to be driven back across the Pinarus.

Alexander turned his army toward the Persian capital, where he saw Darius. Others, the brother of Darius, tried to stop Alexander from charging but were unsuccessful. Darius rode away from the conflict, first in his chariot and then on his horse. Alexander would pursue him till dusk despite suffering a severe thigh wound, but he returned empty-handed. Parmenion was in charge of Alexander’s left flank, which was at odds with Darius’s right.

On the other hand, the Persian forces fled when they saw their commander do so; many of them were crushed to death in the stampede. Alexander only lost 1,200 warriors compared to the Persians’ 100,000-foot soldiers and 10,000 cavalries. Greek estimations serve as the basis for these figures. Modern estimates place Darius’ losses at roughly 20,000 and Alexander’s at 7,000.

In addition to the money and silver, Darius’s mother, wife, and two daughters were discovered in his tent, but Alexander assured them they would not suffer any damage.

Darius offered Alexander half of his kingdom in exchange for his family’s return, but Alexander declined. Darius again fled, but this time he would be killed by one of his own—Bessus—when Alexander challenged him to stand and fight. They would meet again at Gaugamela.

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