Battle of Gaza (312 BC)
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Armies and deployment
Demetrius deployed 2,900 elite cavalry, 1,500 light infantry, and 30 Indian war elephants under his command on the left. The Antigonid phalanx of some 11,000 was deployed in the center, with 13 war elephants in front and light infantry protecting the main line. On the Antigonid right, there were 1,500 cavalry. Demetrius's generals, friends, and advisors advised him not to fight, but Demetrius offered battle against Ptolemy and Seleucus, who were more experienced.
Ptolemy and Seleucus originally had put most of their cavalry on the left, but when they learned of Demetrius' disposition, they transferred their strongest 3,000 cavalry to the right, under their personal command. Anti-elephant spiked devices were connected by chains and thrown in front of the cavalry. These were supported with javelin men and archers in front of the main battle line. The center was composed the 18,000 man phalanx, and 1,000 cavalry were deployed on the right.
The battle opened with the advance guards of the stronger cavalry wings engaging each other. Demetrius drove off the enemy. Ptolemy and Seleucus responded by riding around Demetrius's left flank to attack. A fierce melee ensued, with the cavalry of both sides fighting with their swords after their lances had been shattered. While the cavalry battle on the flank was taking place, Demetrius brought forward his elephants apparently hoping to demoralize the Ptolemaic phalanx. As the elephants approached, the Ptolemaic archers and javelinmen began showering the elephants and their crews. This, along with some elephants stepping on the spiked chains, led to them becoming panicked. After shooting down nearly all the crews, the Ptolemaic light infantry were able to capture and kill most of the elephants. The loss of the elephants panicked Demetrius' cavalry and many of his men retreated. The infantry then engaged, and the fight was stiff. However, neither phalanx could gain the upper hand. After trying to keep more cavalry from retreating, Demetrius and the remaining cavalry fell back but still managed to stay in formation while retiring over the open plain. This discouraged Ptolemy and Seleucus from pursuing the enemy. The Ptolemaic phalanx began to push back the Antigonid phalanx, and the Antigonid Phalangites threw down their arms and retreated in chaos. Ptolemy and Seleucus had won a hard-fought victory.
Demetrius lost, losing 500 men killed, a further 8,000 taken prisoner, including generals such as Andronicus of Olynthus, and losing all his elephants. He retreated to Tripolis in Phoenicia.
Battle Order and Deployment at Gaza
- left wing: 2,900 cavalry, 1,500 light infantry and 30 war elephants under Demetrius command
- center: 11,000 infantry phalanx and 13 elephants
- right wing: 1,500 cavalry
- left wing: 3,000 cavalry
- center: 18,000 phalanx
- right wing: 1,000 cavalry
Alfred Duggan's novel on the life of Demetrius, Elephants and Castles, covers the battle.
The third novel in Christian Cameron's Tyrant series, Funeral Games features the Battle of Gaza.