The Battle at Gaugamela

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Alexander the Great’s battle and war campaign against the Persians was perhaps one of the greatest military advancements in history. At the battle of Gaugamela, his great military tactics, intelligence, and the keen ability to think on his feet led him to a glorious victory over the mighty Persian Empire. For this reason, he is certainly worthy of his title, “great”.

Alexander of Macedonia’s ingenious military strategies provided him a number of wins, which created a long passageway into the Persian Empire until he approached an area near the city of Gaugamela. Upon his arrival, Alexander was greeted by the Persian Emperor, Darius, as well as his army. Darius offered him land and money in exchange for peace (Cartledge, 191). Alexander refused the offer. He wanted to fight.

Up until that point in his campaign against Persia, Alexander had used an extremely effective strategy against the separated armies of Persia. He called it the “hammer and anvil” tactic. He would arrange all of his infantry in such a way that they would be grouped together in a collection of 256 men; a square 16 across by 16 deep. This method of arranging the infantry was called the “phalanx” and it is believed to be one of the most potent weapons of war in the ancient world (Cartledge, 189). Alexander then had all of the phalanx march directly into the enemy line while all of the cavalry would circle around the back of the opposing army. The phalanx would keep the enemy in place with the use of there longer spears and the cavalry would drive them towards the phalanx, causing the enemy to be trapped. This is why the military technique is known as the “hammer and anvil”, because the infantry would act as the anvil and the cavalry as the hammer. In the past, this maneuver had worked perfectly for the Macedonian army, but because at Gaugamela the Persian army was stretched nearly two and a half miles wide with 200,000 men, Alexander and his army of 47,000 knew that the regular hammer and anvil tactic was useless and so, he re-strategized.

Alexander’s challenge was to use his phalanx and cavalry to best advantage. His ingenious solution turned traditional strategy on its head. Rather than face the enemy head on, he arranged for his outnumbered infantry to face the Persian line at an angle to the left, looking outwards to be prepared to stop an expected, oncoming flank. This strange maneuver confused the enemy, who had never seen an approach to battle like this before.

The war trumpet was sounded and the battle had begun. Immediately the angled, Macedonian infantry began to march forward. On the other side of the battlefield, in the front line of the Persian force, stood the “immortals”; Darius’ elite group of soldiers. They were known as the immortals, because when one was killed, another stepped up to the plate to replace the lost soldier.

As the Macedonian phalanx drew closer, Darius believed Alexander’s angled approach had given the Persians an enormous advantage. Darius saw an opportunity in the open ground between the his own cavalry and Alexander’s troops. However, Alexander was a very smart tactician. He knew that if he offered a cavalry-heavy force open ground, the cavalry would charge across the open ground. It was a given in the mind of the Macedonian king that if he offered space, Darius would take advantage of it, and he did. The Persian king ordered his cavalry to charge the Macedonian left. The Macedonian left flank was under the command of Parmenion, Alexander’s chief general. He waited for the charge, knowing that his task was to keep the Persian line engaged (Cartledge, 95).

Meanwhile, on the other side of the battlefield, Alexander truly displayed one of the best qualities a military commander could have; the ability to think and devise a plan in the spur of the moment. He did something totally unexpected in the eyes of Darius. He turned his cavalry to the right and began to ride parallel to the Persian front line. The curious...
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