Why did Alexander decide to attack Persia

The war of Alexander the great up to the battle of Issus

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Battle of Granikos
2.1 Army strengths
2.2 Positioning of the Persians
2.3 List of Macedonians
2.4 Course of the battle
2.5 Episodes for Alexander

3. Dissolution of the fleet

4. Submission of Asia Minor

5. Train inland

6. Alexander in Gordia

7. Crossing Anatolia

8. Capture of Cilicia

9. Battle of Issus
9.1 Deployment to the battle of Issus
9.2 Army strengths
9.3 Order of battle
9.3.1 Line up of the Persians
9.3.2 List of Macedonians
9.4 Course of the battle
9.6 Reasons for Alexander's Victory
9.7 Consequences of Alexander's Victory
9.7.1 No final decision
9.7.2 Claim to power and self-image

10. Negotiations with Dareios

11. Conclusion


1 Introduction

"Few personalities in history aroused as much admiration as the Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great"1who conquered all of Persia and led his army as far as the Indus.

"He became a legendary hero in ancient times and over the centuries has remained the role model for all great military strategists, conquerors and for everyone who has strived for the highest power to this day."2

But how could such a young and inexperienced ruler achieve this; who at the beginning of the Persian campaign, on Granikos, rushed into battle so rashly that he almost lost his life; how could this subjugate all of Asia Minor and finally, in the battle of Issus "skillfully and admirably", defeat an imperial contingent of the Archaimenids. Was this Alexander a brilliant ruler and military strategist, or was he often just lucky?

This question is to be dealt with in this work in two parts. The first part is devoted to the war of Alexander up to the battle of Issus. It should be clarified why the Macedonian ruler was even able to take part in the decisive battle at Issus, despite which he made some risky decisions during the campaign and during the individual battles, and the march was always endangered due to the poor financial situation of Alexander.

In the second part, the battle of Issus itself will then be the focus of consideration.

The Battle of Issus is, after the Battle of Granicus, the second of the three great battles that Alexander III, king of the Macedonians, fought against Darius III, the great king of the Persian Empire.

The aim is to explain how the battle of Issus came about, how it went and what significance it had for Alexander's further campaign against the Persian Empire. “The fact that the Battle of Issus is one of the most sensational and momentous events in world history has long been a foregone conclusion. This battle alone meant the redemption of Alexander from the difficulties of the first years of the war and created the basis for a decisive battle with the Persian Empire. "3

At the beginning of the second part of this work it is explained how the battle came about in the narrow coastal plain on the Gulf of Issus, instead of in the wide plain of the East Syrian Sochoi as planned by the Persian great king, Darius III. First, the topography and the marching movements of the two armies in the run-up to the battle are described in more detail. Then the two armies are compared with each other in terms of their strength and the order of battle is shown in detail. To then describe the exact course of the battle. One focus here, subsequently, is the consideration of the reasons for Alexander's victory.

The conclusion is the question of what consequences the victory at Issus had for Alexander himself and the further campaign. Among other things, the negotiations with Dareios are discussed. Finally, the results are summarized in a final analysis.

From the time of this campaign, between 333 and 330 BC. There are almost no records. The most important sources here are the reports of Roman historians, which, however, were only written a few centuries later. A look at these sources makes it clear that they often differ in their content, which is why you have to look at them very critically, this applies in particular to figures and literal quotations.4

Since the beginning of the Persian campaign, Alexander's warfare had to be aimed at quickly gaining enemy land and "the money stored there in state treasuries"5 ; as now at the beginning of November 333 BC On the Gulf of Issus the armies of Alexander the Great and Darius III. met, the Macedonian army could inflict the decisive defeat on his adversary, from which he no longer recovered.6 The battle marked after over three years7 "Constant internal danger and military threat from outside a turning point in the history and biography of Alexander."8

The battle ended the long-term two-front war9 and secured the economic basis for a continuation of the conquest by capturing the Persian war chest. At the same time, Alexander seems to have been recognized as a field army in the Macedonian army,10 "Which was to achieve for him in much of the engine of his actions."11

2. Battle of Granikos

End of May 334 BC It comes to the battle of Granikos, the first battle of the Macedonians against a large Persian army of satraps.12 Memnon of Rhodes, a Greek mercenary and troop leader in the ranks of the Persians, proposed to back away from Alexander, to devastate the abandoned areas and to wait for Darius.13

The controversy surrounding the first battle of Alexander is relatively minor. The location of the battlefield is known and undisputed. Of course, details of the course of the battle are still unclear, but in relation to the other Alexander battles the literature is little.14

The course of the battle is unclear due to the contradicting information from ancient sources. Arrian and Diodorus give detailed, but in some cases contradicting, accounts of the battle; Macedonian propaganda had already distorted the course of the battle early on, possibly in order to conceal unsuccessful partial operations.15

Alexander took the battle on for him unfavorable terrain, since his troops the river Granikos16 had to overcome to attack the Persian army.

The course of the battle can hardly be reconstructed, however, as the sources offer two different versions: According to Diodorus (17.19.), The Persians had taken a position a long way from the river bank, and Alexander crossed the river bed at dawn before the opposing side could attack.

According to Arrian (1.13.), On the other hand, the Persian satraps had their horsemen in a senseless manner17 placed in front of the foot troops and directly on the river bank, which is why Alexander had to cross the embankment under enemy fire and not at dawn, but at dusk.

There is agreement that Alexander led the Macedonian cavalry himself to the decisive attack on the Persian horsemen and was almost killed in the process; he owed it to his hetaires, the "black" Kleitos, that he stayed alive.18

2.1 Army strengths

The satraps were probably far superior to Alexander in terms of cavalry, they had at least 10,000 horsemen, Alexander on the other hand about 32,000 men, including about 5100 horsemen19In any case, the Persian army was probably not inferior to him in terms of infantry either, although the figures given in the available sources, Diodor (17.18.), for example, speaks of more than 100,000 foot soldiers and over 10,000 horsemen, Arrian (1.12.) even of 20,000 Riders, exaggerated and implausible. Both armies were roughly equally strong.20

2.2 Positioning of the Persians

The Persians massed their cavalry on the steep bank of the lower Granikos, placed the infantry behind them and waited. Since then it has often been pointed out that this was not the way to keep a river bank. But that wasn't her real intention at all.

2.3 List of the Macedonians

Alexander's army was in the battle line-up that was customary for him later: the left wing was formed by the Thessalian, Greek and Thracian cavalry troops under the command of Parmenion. Then there were the phalanx and the hypaspits. On the right wing, based on the latter, stood Alexander himself with the hetaires and the lancers. Parmenion advised caution. But Alexander recognized the inequality of forces and rejected the advice.21

2.4 Course of the battle

The battle that followed was mainly fought by the right wing. Alexander first sent some horsemen across, then attacked through the river himself. The Persian leaders desperately attacked him from all sides at the risk of their own lives and tried to kill him.22

Most likely there was no high command on the Persian side, but only a body of generals who carried out a compromise of individual rival plans. The leaderless army of the Persians was soon defeated.23

Finally the Persians collapsed: their men, who were armed only with javelins, could not take on Alexander's heavy cavalry, which apart from the lancers were briefly banned. The rest of the army had now crossed the river, and Alexander surrounded the Greeks and cut them down.24 The enemy losses exaggerated the Macedonian propaganda according to the usual war reporting. At best, the numbers of the fallen Macedonians give a realistic impression of the dimension of the fight, according to Arrian 115, as well as the number of prisoners of war mercenaries, whose number should have been 2000.25

2.5 Episodes for Alexander

The reasons for Alexander's daring and heroic, more than thoughtless behavior in combat, which put his life in danger even on the front line, are quickly found:26 Will emphasizes the fact that Alexander only tried to step out of his father's shadow through personal commitment and bravery in order to win over the army that was largely still sworn to Philip.27 "As a military leader, he founded the myth that was firmly based on personal achievement."28

Kornemann, on the other hand, emphasizes that Alexander had to win a great victory right at the beginning of the war at the risk of his own life, if only because of the repercussions on "unreliable Greek culture".29

After the devastating defeat on Granikos, the Persian satraps of Asia Minor were unable to counter Alexander's advance; as far as they had not fallen or committed suicide after the battle, they fled to Darius III. The Rhodian Memnon initially withdrew to Caria.30

In either case, the battle gave Alexander time and experience. Little had been achieved militarily. Access to the coast of Asia Minor was open, but Memnon's superior fleet controlled the offshore islands.31

Thanks to his military success, Alexander was able to reach the provinces of Caria and Phygria, ruled by Persian satraps32 and conquer Cilicia of the Persian Empire in quick succession. Coastal cities founded by Greeks in Asia Minor largely submitted to it voluntarily. 33 In the Greek cities of Asia Minor, Alexander proclaimed the "liberation of the Greeks from the rule of the Persians"34what Alexander had named as the motivation for his campaign. After the victory, however, Alexander appointed governors for the areas, showing that he did not want to liberate the cities, but to conquer them as Macedonian territory.35

3. Dissolution of the fleet

After successfully taking Miletus, Alexander made one of the riskiest decisions of the Persian campaign; He decided to dissolve his fleet and thus run the risk of being cut off from home and the supply routes, and thus also accepted that the Greek cities of western Linen Asia, which he had just conquered, were defenselessly at the mercy of the Persian counter-offensive at sea. He rightly assumed that the Persian fleet would not succeed in preventing supplies across the Hellespont, or in bringing about a general uprising in Greece, if this should happen, he put his trust in Antipater36.

With the decision about the federal fleet, Alexander had also determined his further course of action in Asia Minor:37 If Alexander's army were to succeed in occupying the remaining coastal cities during a further advance, the Persian fleet would lose its base of operations and thus its effectiveness itself.38

However, Darius did not understand how to use this superior naval power in such a way that it could seriously endanger Alexander and his great plan, and the acquisition of the naval bases led to the dissolution of the fleet after the end of the second year of the war.39

The reasons for this decision are obvious on closer inspection; the numerical alone40 Inferiority, but also the lack of experience41 let Alexander rule out a sea battle from the outset.

Also played the fact that the financial hardship, despite the treasures of Sardis and the hope of tributes and contributions42, made a liquidation of the fleet inevitable in the near future anyway, played a decisive role in this.

While Kornemann, in his World History of the Mediterranean Area of ​​1968, addressed the aspect of lack of money [the maintenance costs for a fleet were very high]43, gives priority to Lane Fox 1974 and Will 1991, they emphasize that Alexander feared not only the military consequences, "a defeat at sea would have to hit the initial glory of the campaign hard"44He also feared the effect of defeat on public opinion in Greece.


1 Mosse, Claude: Alexander the Great. Life and Legends, Munich / Zurich 2004, introduction.

2 Ibid., See also: Keegan, John: The mask of the field army. Alexander the Great, Wellington, Grant, Hitler. Berlin 1997, p.18ff.

3 Wirth, Gerhard: Notes on the Battle of Issos, Sofia 1978, In: Wirth, Gerhard (Ed.): Studies on Alexandergeschichte, Darmstadt 1985, p. 112.

4 In addition, there are still some uncertainties: the location of the Battle of Issus has not yet been determined with certainty, and the details of its course are still unclear and controversial. The deployment to the battle of Issus also raises a number of questions; the troop movements in the run-up to the battle are opaque in terms of course and motivation. Cf. Wiemer, Hans-Ulrich: Alexander der Große, München 2005, p.100f, see also: Seibert, Jakob: Alexander der Große, Darmstadt 1994 (4th edition), p. 98f.

5 Kornemann, Ernst: World History of the Mediterranean Area - From Phillip II. From Macedonia to Muhammed, Munich 1967, p. 101.See also: see: Wiemer, Hans-Ulrich: Alexander der Große, Munich 2005.

6 Wirth, Gerhard: Considerations on the chronology of the year 333 BC Chr., Helikon 17, 1977, In: Wirth, Gerhard (Ed.): Studies on the history of Alexander, Darmstadt 1985, p. 128.

7 Cf. Will, Wolfgang: Alexander the Great - History of Macedonia Volume 2, Stuttgart / Berlin / Cologne / Mainz 1991, p.67.

8 Ibid.

9 This is explained in more detail below.

10 See Will 1991: 67.

11 Ibid.

12 See vol .: 53.

13 After Alexander had crossed the Hellespont he was already expected on the Persian side. The sources report of a council of war which the satraps of western Asia Minor, all men of Persian descent, together with Memnon, who held an extraordinary military command, suggested that Memnon had proposed to avoid open battle and to destroy all states and supplies in the country; the lack of food would inevitably force the enemy to retreat. At the same time the war should be carried over to Greece by means of the Persian fleet in order to induce the Greeks to desert Macedonia. Whether his proposal went so far at this point is controversial. In retrospect, the advantages of this plan are clear: Alexander was dependent on quick successes, and the Macedonian rule in Greece was and remained more than unstable. The satraps assembled in the council of war rejected this proposal, as its execution would have meant devastating their own lands, and the plan also contradicted the Persian concept of war honor. Instead, they decided to face Alexander at the Granikos River. The previous course of the war did not seem to offer any reason to resort to the "scorched earth" tactic. Cf. Tarn, William Woodthorpe: Alexander the Great, Darmstadt 1968, p.18. See also: cf. Wiemer 2005: 93. and cf. Arr. 1.12 ..

14 See Seibert, Jakob: Alexander der Große, Darmstadt 1994 (4th ed.), P. 82.

15 See Will 1991: 53.

16 The west bank of the river on which the Persians had positioned themselves was "extremely high and steep in several places." Arr. 1.13 ..

17 One possible explanation for this is provided by Tarn 19 and Seibert 85; They see the reason for the formation of the Persian cavalry in the need for recognition of the horsemen the satraps] who wanted to kill Alexander in order to stifle the intended war as soon as it broke out, so they did not give the infantry the honorary place in the front row. Tarn 1968: 19. See also: see Seibert 1994: 85.

18 See Wiemer 2005: 93f.

19 See Wiemer 2005: 89.See also: see Diodor 17.1.

20 See Seibert 1994: 85.

21 See Arr. 1.14 ..

22 See Tarn 1968: 19f.

23 See Seibert 1994: 85.

24 See Tarn 1968: 19. See also: see Arr. 1.15f ..

25 See Will 2005: 53.

26 See Lane Fox, Robin: Alexander der Große, Düsseldorf 1974, p. 158.

27 See Will 1991: 53.

28 Lane Fox 1974: 158.

29 Kornemann 1968: 102.

30 Cf. Wiemer 2005: 94f ..

31 See Will 1991: 53.

32 The city of Daskyleion, where the satrap Phygriens resided, surrendered to the victor without a fight. Wiemer 2005: 95.

33 See Seibert, Jakob: The Conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great - on a cartographic basis, Wiesbaden 1985, p. 34.

34 Seibert 1994: 85.

35 The civil administration had to be put in order. A clear concept by Alexander cannot be recognized, apparently the previous Persian administrative structures were retained, as a pragmatic solution had to be found for all problems that occurred in order to be able to move on as quickly as possible. See Will 1991: 54.

36 Antipater was left behind by Alexander as governor of Macedonia.

37 “The Persian War was genuinely Macedonian-Balkan based on robbery and land reclamation.” Kornemann 1967: 101.

38 The Macedonians “turned south along the coast to free the Hellenes

and the Persian fleet stationed in the Aegean Sea to take them to bases. ”Hampl, Franz: Alexander der Große, Göttingen / Zurich 1992 (3rd edition), p. 18. See also: cf. Arr. 1.20 ..

39 See Hampl, Franz: Alexander der Große, Göttingen / Zürich 1992 (3rd edition), p.18.

40 In Miletus the Persian fleet comprised 400 ships. Seibert maps 44 the Macedonian fleet, on the other hand, only 160 ships of the Corinthian League and 60 Macedonian ships. Seibert 1985: 44.See also: see Wiemer 2005: 89.

41 As a peasant people, Macedonia had its strength in the land army; and with Phoenicians and Cypriots, the Persian fleet also had experienced seamen. Kornemann 1967: 204.See also: see Wiemer 2005:

42 See Lane Fox 1974: 173.

43 See Kornemann 1967: 101.

44 Lane Fox 1974: 171.

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