The battle of gaugamela, 331 bc

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The Battle of Gaugamela, 331 BC

The Battle of Gaugamela, 1st October 331 BC

On the 20th September 331 BC, Alexanders scouts reported seeing Darius army on the march.This information turned out to be wrong, as Alexander discovered when he questioned captured Persians.

Alexanders army stopped, pitched camp, and waited for orders.This camp was 7 miles away from Darius army, and Alexander waited there for 4 days.

Shortly before midnight on the 29th September Alexander ordered his army to move.As he came within sight of Darius army Alexander called a halt and gathered his generals together for an emergency council of war. Something in his battle plans seems to have been troubling him.

Most of Alexanders generals urged him to attack immediately, but Parmenio suggested Alexander wait for morning.For once, Alexander took Parmenios advice. Perhaps he had seen that Darius army was lined up ready for battle (the Persians knew he was coming), or perhaps he was overwhelmed by the numbers of Persian soldiers.

If Darius knew Alexander was coming, Alexander would keep him waiting.At least the timing of the battle could be on Alexanders terms.

On the 30th September Alexander surveyed the battlefield.He noticed that the Persians had laid snares and stakes on the ground to hold up his cavalry, while elsewhere they had levelled the ground for their chariots.Alexander also saw the 200 scythed chariots made ready for the battle.

Alexanders army waited, and on the night of the 30th Alexander made a human sacrifice to the god of FearHis generals told him to attack in the dark.Alexander is said to have replied:

Alexander does not steal his victories.

Alexander stayed up late that night.The next morning he slept in late.His generals got so worried that Parmenio gave the order for the army to prepare for battle, and then went to wake Alexander.

How can you sleep as if you had the battle already won? they asked him.

Alexander replied:What? Do you not think that this battle is already won, now that we have been spared from pursuing a Darius who burns his land and fights by retreating?

Alexanders army numbered 47,000 men.Darius army is reported to have been around 250,000 men.

The big danger for Alexander was the prospect of being encircled Darius had 30,000 cavalry against Alexanders 7,000.

Darius had revised his tactics since Issus, and his men now had different weapons more suited to close fighting.His cavalry had been strengthened, and Darius only obvious weakness was his infantry, but Darius did not expect the battle to be won on foot.

Points to note: Darius position and the measures taken to defend him Alexanders positioning of his light infantry The details of the terrain and Alexanders responses to it

Left: Darius on his chariotAbove: Bessus

Alexander rode out in front of his menAlexander called upon his men, in the name of Zeus, to fight hard to strengthen the Greeks.He saw an eagle circling the battlefield and heading towards the Persians. How could his men fail to see the omen which this sight presented?

When Alexanders men came within a mile of the Persians they began advancing obliquely.The Macedonian left, commanded by Parmenio, was at risk from encirclement, but Alexanders Companions were riding away from the area of worst danger

Darius sent his cavalry left to track Alexanders movements, and they stopped him before he could move too far to the right

In the centre, the scythed chariots began their attackFirst, Alexanders archers and javelin throwers moved forward. Their aim was good, but some chariots continued.Then, as they galloped past, some Macedonians slashed at the horses with blades longer than the scythes on the chariots.Those charioteers which reached the phalanx were amazed as gaps opened up in the phalanx and then closed again as the chariots charged through. The chariots careered into the baggage, but did little damage there, and when they finally slowed, the drivers were killed by the reserve troops

A gap had opened up in the Persian lines, between the cavalry on the left as it tried to outflank the Macedonians, and the cavalry and elephants in the centre.Alexander took the opportunity.

Alexander led the wedge-shaped Companion cavalry charge through the gap and straight for Dariuss chariotAgain he threw his spear at the Great King, and again he missed!Alexander had got too close for comfort and Darius escaped.

At first, Alexanders only concern was to finish the defeatHe ignored Darius escape and turned to surround and slaughter the Persians in the centre.Once victory was certain Alexander set off in pursuit of Darius.

Alexander did not catch up with DariusSome versions say that Parmenio was being battered so severely on the left that Alexander received a message and went to relieve himMore probably, however, Darius simply had too much of a head-start and Alexander could not see through the dust

Alexander had again beaten DariusPeople now began to call him the King of Asia, though he could not legitimately claim this title.Darius had again escaped and Alexander had to capture him