2 – Battle of Issus (333 BC)
After winning at the Granicus, Alexander moved forward and crossed the Dardanelles. He took over a few Greek towns and told the inhabitants to support his army, and they would no longer have to pay tribute to the Persians. Although he had enjoyed a solid year of success, Alexander faced several problems. He had little money left to pay his mercenaries and Memnon, one of the defeated commanders at the Granicus, was terrorizing towns in Greece as he sought revenge.
Alexander didn’t know whether he should keep going forward to try and defeat the Persians or return home to deal with the unrest. According to legend, at Gordium, he managed to undo a particularly perplexing knot. The man who did so was supposed to one day rule all Asia. Alexander was apparently seeking a sign to tell him if he should proceed or return home; the undoing of the knot convinced him to march forward.
By the middle of July 333 BC, Darius finally reacted to the threat and assembled an enormous force. Initially, at least, Darius outsmarted Alexander by not making an approach through the Syrian Gates as his rival was expecting. After having his communication lines cut, the Macedonian leader had no choice but to force his men to march around 70 miles in just two days. Eventually, he arrived at Issus where he was heavily outnumbered by the enemy. As always, estimates vary though it appears as if Alexander had little more than 40,000 men. In contrast, the Persians probably had at least 100,000 soldiers. Ancient estimates of 250,000+ Persians are almost certainly an exaggeration.
In wet and windy weather, the two forces met at the River Penarus. Darius made the mistake of moving his army to this area; it reduced his mobility and the effectiveness of his chariots. He ignored one of his top Greek commanders, Charidamus, who suggested that he fight Alexander alone while Darius divided his forces. Charidamus made some disparaging remarks about Persians and was executed for his trouble. This was another huge mistake as it deprived the Persians of a capable leader.
The river valley, mountains, and sea all hampered Darius’ army, and they were quickly put on the defensive by Alexander and his phalanx formation. Darius failed to break through the Macedonian right flank and was unable to drive his enemy back across the river. The Persian leader was initially forced to flee the battlefield on a chariot, and once his army saw him leave, it panicked. The result was hundreds of Persians trampled to death and an utter failure for Darius.
In their haste, the Persians left behind gold and silver while Darius’ wife and two daughters were found in the king’s tent. Darius offered half of his kingdom in return for his family, but Alexander refused because he wanted to meet his rival on the battlefield once more.