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Classical History - Alexander the Great

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Overview of the Battle at Issus (November 333 B.C.)

Alexander the Great Defeated Darius III (c. 380-330 B.C.) at the Battle at Issus

By N.S. Gill, About.com Guide

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Alexander the Great and the Battle of Issus. Mosaic from Pompeii in the House of the Faun.

Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

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Alexander the Great fought the Battle at Issus soon after the Battle at the Granicus. Like his father Philip, the glory-seeking Alexander aimed to conquer the Persian Empire. Although greatly outnumbered, Alexander was a better tactician. The battle was bloody, Alexander suffered a thigh wound, and the Pinarus River was said to have run red with blood. Despite injury and the steep cost in human lives, Alexander won the Battle at Issus.

Alexander's Opponents

After the recent Battle at the Granicus, Memnon was given command of all Persian forces in Asia Minor. Had the Persians followed his advice at Granicus, they might have won and stopped Alexander in time. In "Upset at Issus" (Military History Magazine), Harry J. Maihafer says Memnon was not only astute militarily, but doled out bribes. A Greek, Memnon almost persuaded Sparta to back him. As Greeks, the Spartans should have been expected to support Alexander, but not all Greeks preferred rule by Alexander to rule by the king of Persia. Macedonia was still Greece's conqueror. Because of mixed Greek sympathies, Alexander hesitated to continue his eastward expansion, but then he sliced the Gordian Knot and took the omen as urging him on.

The Persian King

Believing he was on the right track, Alexander pressed on his Persian campaign. A problem emerged: Alexander learned he had come to the attention of the Persian king. King Darius III was at Babylon, moving towards Alexander, from his capital at Susa, and gathering troops en route. Alexander, on the other hand, was losing them: he may have had as few as 30,000 men.

Illness

Alexander became seriously ill at Tarsus, a city in Cilicia that would later become the capital of that Roman province. While recovering, Alexander sent Parmenio to capture the harbor town of Issus and watch for Darius' approach into Cilicia with his perhaps 100,000 men. [Ancient sources say the Persian army had many more.]

Faulty Intelligence

When Alexander recovered sufficiently, he rode to Issus, deposited the sick and wounded, and traveled on. Meanwhile Darius' troops gathered in the plains east of the Amanus Mountains. Alexander led some of his troops to the Syrian Gates, where he expected Darius to pass, but his intelligence was flawed: Darius marched across another pass, to Issus. There the Persians mutilated and captured the debilitated people Alexander had left behind. Worse, Alexander was cut off from most of his troops.

Darius crossed the mountain range by what are called the Amanic Gates, and advancing towards Issus, came without being noticed to the rear of Alexander. Having reached Issus, he captured as many of the Macedonians as had been left behind there on account of illness. These he cruelly mutilated and slew. Next day he proceeded to the river Pinarus.

Arrian Major Battles of Alexander's Asian Campaigns

Battle Prep

Alexander quickly led the men who had traveled with him back to the main body of the Macedonians and sent out scouting horsemen to learn exactly what Darius was up to. At the reunion, Alexander rallied his troops and prepared for battle the following morning. Alexander went to a mountain top to offer sacrifices to the presiding gods, according to Curtius Rufus. Darius' enormous army was on the other side of the Pinarus River, stretched from Mediterranean Sea to foothills

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