Battle of Gaugamela

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Battle of Gaugamela
Part of the Wars of Alexander the Great
Battle of Gaugamela (Arbela).PNG
Battle of Gaugamela, Flemish tapestry, first half of 18th century
Date October 1, 331 BC
Location Probably Tel Gomel (Gaugamela) near Mosul, not far from Irbil (Arbela), which also is a name of the battle (Battle of Arbela)
Result Decisive Macedonian victory, Persian military capabilities are crippled
Alexander wins Babylon, half of Persia, and all parts of Mesopotamia not already under his control
Hellenic League Achaemenid Empire
Greek mercenaries
Commanders and leaders
Alexander the Great
Simmias of Macedon
Darius III
Orontes II 
47,000[citation needed][1]
(See Size of Macedonian army)
34,000[2]–100,000[3] (modern estimates)
250,000–1,000,000 (ancient sources) (See Size of Persian army)
Casualties and losses
100 infantry and 1,000 cavalry
(according to Arrian);
300 infantry
(according to Curtius Rufus);
500 infantry
(according to Diodorus Siculus)
(according to Curtius Rufus)
(according to Welman)[4]
(according to Diodorus Siculus)
300,000+ captured
(according to Arrian)[5]

The Battle of Gaugamela (/ˌɡɔːɡəˈmlə/; Greek: Γαυγάμηλα) took place in 331 BC between the Hellenic League, led by Alexander the Great of Macedon and the Persians led by Darius III. Also called the Battle of Arbela, it was a decisive victory for the Hellenic League and led to the fall of the Persian Empire.


Darius chose a flat, open plain where he could deploy his larger forces, not wanting to be caught in a narrow battlefield as he had been at Issus two years earlier, where he was unable to deploy his huge army properly. Darius had his soldiers flatten the terrain prior to the battle, so as to give his 200 war-chariots optimal conditions. However, this did not matter. On the ground were few hills and no bodies of water that Alexander could use for protection, and in the autumn the weather was dry and mild.[6] The most commonly accepted opinion about the location is (36°22′N 43°15′E / 36.36°N 43.25°E / 36.36; 43.25), east of Mosul in modern-day northern Iraq – suggested by Sir Aurel Stein in 1938 (see his Limes Report, pp. 127–1)


Alexander had besieged the city of Tyre for 7 months, and during that period; he received one of 3 offers from Darius. But Alexander refused and replied to Darius saying, "From King Alexander to Darius: If you wish to dispute your throne, stand up and fight for it, and do not run away. Wherever you hide, I will find you." Darius had no option then but to assemble an army and prepare for battle.[7] During the two years after the Battle of Issus, Alexander occupied the Mediterranean coast and Egypt. He advanced from Syria against the heart of the Persian empire,[8] crossing the Euphrates and Tigris rivers without any opposition. Darius was building up a massive army, drawing men from all parts of his empire, more than 100,000 soldiers (including more than 40,000 cavalry) against approximately 47,000 Greek soldiers (including 7,000 cavalry).[9] Just before the battle, Darius offered Alexander a generous peace agreement: he would cede half the Persian Empire if Alexander ceased his invasion of Persia, but Alexander declined without any consideration. One of Alexander's generals, Parmenion, said that if he were Alexander he would gladly accept the more-than-generous offer. Alexander replied, "And I would too, if I were Parmenion."

Size of Persian army[edit]

Modern estimates[edit]

Units Low estimate High estimate[clarification needed]
Peltasts 10,000[10] 30,000[citation needed]
Cavalry 12,000[10] 40,000[4]
Persian Immortals 10,000[citation needed] 10,000
Bactrian cavalry 1,000[5] 2,000
Archers 1,500 1,500
Scythed chariots 200 200
War elephants 15 15
Total 52,930[10] 87,000[1]

Some ancient Greek historians suggest that the main Persian army numbered between 200,000 and 300,000, but some modern scholars[who?]suggest that it was no larger than 50,000 because of the logistical difficulty of fielding more than 50,000 soldiers in battle at the time. However, it is possible that the Persian army could have numbered over 100,000 men.[1] One estimate is that there were 25,000 peltasts,[1] 10,000 Immortals,[11] 2,000 Greek hoplites,[5] 1,000 Bactrians,[5] and 40,000 cavalry,[4] 200 scythed chariots,[12] and 15 war elephants.[13] Hans Delbrück estimates Persian cavalry at 12,000 because of management issues, Persian infantry (peltast) less than that of the Greek heavy infantry, and Greek mercenaries at 8,000.[10]

Warry estimates a total size of 91,000; Welman 90,000; Delbrück (1978) 52,000; Engels (1920) and Green (1990) no larger than 100,000.

Ancient sources[edit]

According to Arrian, Darius's force numbered 40,000 cavalry and 1,000,000 infantry,[13] Diodorus Siculus put it at 200,000 cavalry and 800,000 infantry,[14] Plutarch put it at 1,000,000 troops[15] (without a breakdown in composition), while according to Curtius Rufus it consisted of 45,000 cavalry and 200,000 infantry.[16] Furthermore according to Arrian, Diodorus, and Curtius, Darius had 200 chariots while Arrian mentions 15 war elephants.[13] Included in Darius's infantry were about 2,000 Greek mercenary hoplites.[5]

While Darius had a significant advantage in numbers, most of his troops were of a lower quality than Alexander's. Alexander's pezhetairoi were armed with a six-metre pike, the sarissa. The main Persian infantry was poorly trained and equipped in comparison to Alexander's pezhetairoi and hoplites. The only respectable infantry Darius had were his 2,000 Greek hoplites[5] and his personal bodyguard, the 10,000 Persian Immortals.[11] The Greek mercenaries fought in a phalanx, armed with a heavy shield but with spears no longer than three metres, while the spears of the Immortals were 2 metres long. Among the other Persian troops, the most heavily armed were the Armenians who were armed the Greek way, and probably fought as a phalanx. The rest of Darius's contingents were much more lightly armed; the main weapon of the Achaemenid army historically was the bow and arrow, and javelin.

Size of Macedonian army[edit]

Modern estimates[edit]

Units Numbers
Heavy infantry 31,000[citation needed]
Light infantry 9,000[citation needed]
Cavalry 7,000

Alexander commanded Greek forces from his kingdom of Macedon and the Corinthian League along with Thracian allies. According to Arrian, the most reliable historian of Alexander (who is believed to be relying on the work of the eye-witness Ptolemy) his forces numbered 7,000 cavalry and 40,000 infantry. Most historians agree that the Macedonian army consisted of 31,000 heavy infantry, including the mercenary and hoplite from other allied Greek states in reserve, with an additional 9,000 light infantry consisting mainly of peltasts with some archers. The size of the Greek mounted arm was about 7,000.

The battle[edit]

Initial dispositions[edit]

The battle began with the Persians already present at the battlefield. Darius had recruited the finest cavalry from his Eastern satrapies and from an allied Scythian tribe and deployed scythed chariots, for which he had ordered bushes and vegetation removed from the battlefield to maximize their effectiveness. He also had 15 Indian elephants supported by Indian chariots.[17]

Initial dispositions and opening movements.

Darius placed himself in the centre with his best infantry as was the tradition among Persian kings. He was surrounded by, on his right, the Carian cavalry, Greek mercenaries, and the Persian horse guards. In the right-center he placed the Persian foot guards (Apple Bearers/Immortals to the Greeks), the Indian Cavalry and his Mardian archers.

On both flanks were the cavalry. Bessus commanded the left flank with the Bactrians, Dahae cavalry, Arachosian cavalry, Persian cavalry, Susian cavalry, Cadusian cavalry, and Scythians. Chariots were placed in front with a small group of Bactrians. Mazaeus commanded the right flank with the Syrian, Median, Mesopotamian, Parthian, Sacian, Tapurian, Hyrcanian, Caucasian Albanian, Sacesinian, Cappadocian, and Armenian cavalry. The Cappadocians and Armenians were stationed in front of the other cavalry units, and led the attack. The Albanian and Sacesinian cavalry were sent around to flank the Greek left.

The Macedonian were divided into two, with the right side under the direct command of Alexander, and the left of Parmenion.[18] Alexander fought with his Companion cavalry. With it were the Paionian, and Greek light cavalry. The mercenary cavalry was divided into two groups, veterans on the flank of the right and the rest in front of the Agrians and Greek archers, which were stationed next to the phalanx. Parmenion was stationed on the left with the Thessalians, Greek mercenaries, and Thracian cavalry. There they were to pull off a holding maneuver while Alexander landed the decisive blow from the right.

On the right-centre were Cretan mercenaries. Behind them were Thessalian cavalry under Phillip, and Achaean mercenaries. To their right was another part of the allied Greek cavalry. From there came the phalanx, in a double line. Outnumbered over 5:1 in cavalry, with their line surpassed by over a mile, it seemed inevitable that the Greeks would be flanked by the Persians. The second line were given orders to deal with any flanking units should the situation arise. This second line consisted of mostly mercenaries.

Beginning of the battle[edit]

Alexander began by ordering his infantry to march in phalanx formation towards the center of the enemy line. The Macedonian advanced with the wings echeloned back at 45 degrees to lure the Persian cavalry to attack. While the phalanxes battled the Persian infantry, Darius sent a large part of his cavalry and some of his regular infantry to attack Parmenion's forces on the left.

During the battle Alexander used an unusual strategy which has been duplicated only a few times. While the infantry battled the Persian troops in the center, Alexander began to ride all the way to the edge of the right flank, accompanied by his Companion Cavalry. His plan was to draw as much of the Persian cavalry as possible to the flanks, to create a gap within the enemy line where a decisive blow could then be struck at Darius in the center. This required almost perfect timing and maneuvering, and Alexander himself to act first. Alexander would force Darius to attack (as they would soon move off the prepared ground) though Darius did not want to be the first to attack after seeing what happened at Issus against a similar formation. In the end Darius' hand was forced, and he attacked.

The cavalry battle in the Hellenic right wing[edit]

The Scythian cavalry from the Persian left wing opened the battle by attempting to flank Alexander's extreme right. What followed was a long and fierce cavalry battle between the Persian left and the Macedonian right, in which the latter, being greatly outnumbered, were often hard pressed. However, by careful use of reserves and disciplined charges, the Greek troopers were able to contain their Persian counterparts, which would be extremely vital for the success of Alexander's decisive attack.

As told by Arrian:

"Then the Scythian cavalry rode along the line, and came into conflict with the front men of Alexander's array; but he nevertheless still continued to march towards the right, and almost entirely got beyond the ground which had been cleared and levelled by the Persians. Then Darius, fearing that his chariots would become useless, if the Macedonians advanced into 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. This being done, Alexander ordered the cavalry of the Grecian mercenaries under the command of Menidas to attack them. But the Scythian cavalry and the Bactrians, who had been drawn up with them, sallied forth against them, and being much more numerous they put the small body of Greeks to rout. Alexander then ordered Aristo at the head of the Paeonians and Grecian auxiliaries to attack the Scythians; and the barbarians gave way. But the rest of the Bactrians, drawing near to the Paeonians and Grecian auxiliaries, caused their own comrades who were already in flight to turn and renew the battle; and thus they brought about a general cavalry engagement, in which more of Alexander's men fell, not only being overwhelmed by the multitude of the barbarians, but also because the Scythians themselves and their horses were much more completely protected with armour for guarding their bodies. Notwithstanding this, the Macedonians sustained their assaults, and assailing them violently squadron by squadron, they succeeded in pushing them out of rank."[19]

The tide finally turned in the Greek favor after the attack of Aretes' Prodromois, likely their last reserve in this sector of the battlefield. By then however the battle has been decided in the center by Alexander himself.

"The Persians also who were riding round the wing were seized with alarm when Aretes made a vigorous attack upon them. In this quarter indeed the Persians took to speedy flight; and the Macedonians followed up the fugitives and slaughtered them."[20]

Attack of the Persian Scythed chariots[edit]

Darius now launched his chariots at those troops under Alexander's personal command, many of these were intercepted by the Agrianians and other javelin throwers posted in front of the Companion cavalry. Those chariots who made it through the barrage of javelins charged the Macedonian lines, which responded by opening up their ranks, creating alleys through which the chariots passed harmlessly. The Hypaspist and the armed grooms of the cavalry then attacked and eliminated these survivors.

Alexander's decisive attack[edit]

As the Persians advanced farther and farther to the Greek flanks in their attack, Alexander slowly filtered in his rearguard. Alexander disengaged his Companions, and prepared for the decisive attack. Behind them were the guards brigade along with any phalanx battalions he could withdraw from the battle. He formed his units into a giant wedge, with him leading the charge. The Persian infantry at the center were still fighting the phalanxes, hindering any attempts to counter Alexander's charge.

Alexander's decisive attack
Darius flees (18th-century ivory relief)

This large wedge then smashed into the weakened Persian center, taking out Darius's royal guard and the Greek mercenaries. Darius was in danger of being cut off, and the widely held modern view is that he now broke and ran, with the rest of his army following him. This is based on Arrian's account:

"For a short time there ensued a hand-to-hand fight; but when the Macedonian cavalry, commanded 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 and bristling with long pikes had also made an attack upon them, all things together appeared full of terror to Darius, who had already long been in a state of fear, so that he was the first to turn and flee."[20]

A less common view is that Darius's army was already broken when Darius ran, and is supported by an astronomical diary from Babylon written within days of the battle:

The twenty-fourth [day of the lunar month], in the morning, the king of the world [i.e., Darius] [erected his] standard [lacuna]. Opposite each other they fought and a heavy defeat of the troops [of the king he inflicted]. The king [i.e., Darius], his troops deserted him and to their cities [they went]. They fled to the land of the Guti.[21]

The left flank[edit]

Alexander could have pursued Darius at this point. However, he received desperate messages from Parmenion (an event which would later be used by Callisthenes and others to discredit Parmenion) on the left. Parmenion's wing was apparently encircled by the cavalry of the Persian right wing, and being attacked from all sides were in a state of confusion. Alexander was faced with the choice of pursuing Darius and having the chance of killing him, ending the war in one stroke, but at the risk of losing his army, or going back to the left flank to aid Parmenion and preserve his forces, thus letting Darius escape to the surrounding mountains. He decided to help Parmenion, and followed Darius later.[22]

While holding on the left, a gap had opened up between the left and center of the Macedonian phalanx, due to Simmias' brigade of pezhetairoi being unable to follow Alexander in his decisive attack, as they were being hard pressed. The Persian and Indian cavalry in the center with Darius broke through. Instead of taking the phalanx or Parmenion in the rear, they continued towards the camp to loot. They also tried to rescue the Queen Mother, Sisygambis, but she refused to go with them. These raiders were in turn attacked and dispersed by the rear reserve phalanx as they were looting.

What happened next was described by Arrian as the fiercest engagement of the battle, as Alexander and his companions encountered the cavalry of the Persian right, composed of Indians, Parthians and "the bravest and most numerous division of the Persians", desperately trying to get through to escape. Sixty Companions were slain in the engagement, and Hephaestion, Coenus and Menidas were all injured. Alexander prevailed, however,and Mazaeus also began to pull his forces back as Bessus had. However, unlike on the left with Bessus, the Persians soon fell into disorder as the Thessalians and other cavalry units charged forward at their fleeing enemy.


After the battle, Parmenion rounded up the Persian baggage train while Alexander and his bodyguard pursued Darius. As at Issus, substantial loot was gained, with 4,000 talents captured, the King's personal chariot and bow, and the war elephants. It was a disastrous defeat for the Persians and one of Alexander's finest victories.

Darius managed to escape with a small corps of his forces remaining intact. The Bactrian cavalry and Bessus caught up with him, as did some of the survivors of the Royal Guard and 2,000 Greek mercenaries.

At this point, the Persian Empire was divided into two halves–East and West. On his escape, Darius gave a speech to what remained of his army. He planned to head further east and raise another army to face Alexander, assuming that the Greeks would head towards Babylon. At the same time, he dispatched letters to his eastern satraps asking them to remain loyal.

The satraps, however, had other intentions. Bessus murdered Darius before fleeing eastwards. When Alexander discovered Darius murdered, he was saddened to see an enemy he respected killed in such a fashion, and gave Darius a full burial ceremony at Persepolis, the former ceremonial capital of the Persian Empire, before angrily pursuing Bessus, capturing and executing him the following year. The majority of the remaining satraps gave their loyalty to Alexander and were allowed to keep their positions. The Persian Empire is traditionally considered to have ended with the death of Darius.


  1. ^ a b c d and Warry (1998) estimates a total size of 91,000, Welman 90,000, Delbrück (1978) 52,000, Thomas Harbottle 120,000,[1] Engels (1920) and Green (1990) no larger than 100,000.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Alexander Defeats the Persians, 331 BC, website
  4. ^ a b c Welman
  5. ^ a b c d e f Arrian 1893.
  6. ^ Hanson 2007, p. 69–72.
  7. ^ Wepman, Denis (1986). World leaders: Past and Present: Alexander. USA: Chelsea House Publishers. pp. 64–65. ISBN 0-87754-594-4. 
  8. ^ Hanson 2007, p. 68.
  9. ^ Hanson 2007, p. 72.
  10. ^ a b c d Delbrück 1990.
  11. ^ a b Quintus Curtius Rufus 1880.
  12. ^ Arrian 1893, 3.11.
  13. ^ a b c Arrian 1893, 3.8.
  14. ^ Diodorus Siculus 1963, 17.53.
  15. ^ Plutarch 1936, 31.1.
  16. ^ Quintus Curtius Rufus 1880, 4.12.13.
  17. ^ Hanson 2007, p. 70–71.
  18. ^ Hanson 2007, p. 61.
  19. ^ Arrian 1893, 3.13.
  20. ^ a b Arrian 1893, 3.14.
  21. ^ A contemporary Babylonian account of the battle of Gaugamela
  22. ^ This is shown reliably in the movie Alexander.


Ancient sources
Arrian (1893). Chinnock, E. J., ed. Anabasis Alexandri. 
Diodorus Siculus (1963). Welles, C. Bradford, ed. Library of History 8. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-99464-5. 
Plutarch (1936). "On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander". In Babbitt, Frank Cole. Moralia 4. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 379‑487. ISBN 978-0-674-99336-5. 
Plutarch (1919). "Life of Alexander". In Perrin, Bernadotte. Lives 7. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 707‑741. ISBN 978-0-674-99110-1. 
Justin (1853). Watson, John Selby, ed. Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus. London: Henry G. Bohn. 
Quintus Curtius Rufus (1880). Vogel, Theodor, ed. Histories of Alexander the Great. London. 
Modern sources
Delbrück, Hans (1990). History of the Art of War. Translated by Walter J. Renfroe Jr. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-6584-4. 
Doge, Theodore Ayrault (1918). Alexander: A History of the Origin and Growth of the Art of War from the Earliest Times to the Battle of Ipsus, B.C. 301. Tales End Press. ISBN 978-1-105-60250-4. 
Engels, Donald W. (1980). Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Greek Army. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-04272-8. 
Fox, Robin Lane (2006). Alexander the Great. Penguin UK. ISBN 978-0-14-192598-1. 
Fuller, J. F. C. (1987). A Military History of the Western World: From the earliest times to the Battle of Lepanto. A Military History of the Western World 1. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-80304-8. 
Green, Peter (2013). Alexander of Macedon, 356–323 B.C.: A Historical Biography. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-95469-4. 
——— (1993). Alexander to Actium: The Historical Evolution of the Hellenistic Age. Hellenistic Culture and Society 1. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-08349-3. 
Hanson, Victor Davies (2007). Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power. Anchor Books. ISBN 978-0-307-42518-8. 
De Santis, Marc G. (2001). "At The Crossroads of Conquest". Military Heritage 3 (3): 46–55, 97. 
Van der Spek, R. J. (2003). "Darius III, Alexander the Great and Babylonian Scholarship". In Henkelman, W.; Kuhrt, A. A Persian Perspective: Essays in Memory of Heleen Sancisi-Weerdenburg. Achaemenid History 13. Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten. pp. 289–342. ISBN 978-90-6258-413-0. 
Warry, John (1998). Warfare in the Classical World. Barnes & Noble. ISBN 978-0-7607-1696-0. 
Welman, Nick. "Major Battles". 
Welman, Nick. "About Alexander's Army". 

External links[edit]