4 – Battle of Gaugamela (331BC)
This was the battle that resulted in Alexander finally defeating the Persians. Once again, he came up against Persian King Darius III, this time at Gaugamela on the Persian plains in 331 BC. Darius appeared to have learned from his defeat at Issus as he ensured the battleground favored his army. Gaugamela offered a flat terrain which was ideal for his scythe-wheeled chariots. In fact, Darius ordered the territory to be plowed and leveled to make it as flat as possible.
Estimates vary significantly with regard to the size of the respective armies. One of the best-known ancient sources, Arrian, claims the Persians had an army of one million men. He is supported in this claim by Plutarch and Diodorus Siculus, but these numbers are almost certainly complete exaggerations if not fabrications. While Hans Delbruck claims the Persians probably didn’t have more than 50,000 men, it is possible that Darius had over 100,000 men at his disposal. Most historians agree that Alexander’s army had no more than 47,000 soldiers. Regardless of the actual numbers, it seems likely that the Macedonian commander was heavily outnumbered.
Once he arrived at Gaugamela, Alexander assembled a small scouting team and was fortunate to capture an advance party sent by Darius. He was able to get information regarding the size of the Persian army along with details about various obstacles and traps on the field. Armenia was one of Alexander’s trusted commanders, and he recommended a night assault, yet Alexander disagreed and decided to wait. He gave a speech about the upcoming battle and assured his men that the eclipse of the moon was a sign of a certain victory.
If Alexander was nervous, he certainly didn’t show it as he allegedly overslept on the morning of the battle. While his men were well-fed and well-rested, the Persians were exhausted as they stayed up all night waiting for an attack that never materialized. After another speech, Alexander took the right flank; Parmenio commanded the left while the phalanx and archers held the middle. Also, Alexander placed infantry at the rear and on the right and left flanks to protect against a Persian flanking maneuver.
Historians claim Alexander tricked the Persians by continuing to move right; he knew the enemy would be forced to move left to contain him. In doing so, the Persians ended up on less suitable terrain and an opening was created which the Macedonian commander charged through. Meanwhile, Darius’s idea to attack the center with chariots was a disaster as the phalanx simply moved aside and allowed the chariots through. Alexander’s infantry then attacked and soon, the Persians were overwhelmed. It is alleged that Alexander threw a spear at Darius and missed him by inches.
The Persian army fled, and Darius managed to escape. However, he was murdered by Bassus, one of his commanders. Alexander was outraged to see a respected rival murdered in such a manner and gave the former Persian king a dignified funeral ceremony at Persepolis. He hunted down Bassus and had him executed. The death of Darius is usually recognized as the official fall of the Achaemenid Empire.