The Battle of Gaugamela (Arbela)

  By Maciek

This battle was Alexander's third great battle and this one ended Darius's rule over Persia. In this battle, terrain conditions were equal for both sides so no-one can claim that there were any coincidences in Alexander's victory.

On the basis of this battle we can assume that before a battle, there was a very detailed planning process, which unfortunately no source has described. But all the recorded deeds and bold decisions can be considered as proof that before the battle, a very professional reconnaissance was performed, which Alexander utilized throughout all of his campaign. It had an extremely important meaning before and during the battle. He knew exactly the terrain and capabilities of his opponent. Despite that he only knew some elements of Persian tactics (such as the use of chariots) from Xenophon's book, he planned and foresaw most of the main factors and he was completely unsurprised by any of the ruses prepared by Darius. Alexander didn't attack right from the march, as he had done until this moment. He didn't use any orthodox schemes of activity and because of that he became unpredictable to the enemy. When the Persian army was in view, he ordered his army to stop and they camped there.

Battle Summary Map - This map shows, in Pseudo 3D, the most important movements of the Battle.


The basic positions of both armies were similar to those shown in the picture no 1 except that Alexander's army was half the length of the Persian army (according to Arrian). At the beginning, Alexander saw that the terrain was leveled and the chariots would easily attack and break phalanx formation. Darius thought that Alexander would start in the same way as in both the earlier battles and would launch a direct attack on the opposite wing. Alexander again organized his forces in oblique order with the right wing stronger. Again Parmenion had "only" to stop the enemy's forces and the main attack had to be under Alexander's command. The Persian forces were so much superior to Alexander's that he decided to change the tactic. Instead of a fast attack he advanced forward-right. Also in other sources that I read about, there were obstacles prepared by the Persians that would damage Alexander's rapidly-attacking army. I have shown them on the map in the front of Persian line.


When Alexander closed up on the level ground, Darius decided to start the attack, because after a moment his chariots would be useless (on unleveled ground). He launched his right wing and part of the left wing to stop Alexander's movement. Bessos had a special task: to round Alexander's wing on the right and attack the phalanx from the back. Alexander developed his right (Parmenion - left) wing to guard. The Persian cavalry was stopped and had to fight to break through to the phalanx.



Among Darius's forces, some misunderstanding occurred (Fuller gives few explanations), and almost all the cavalry from the Persian left wing moved to Alexander's left wing guard, while Darius actually wanted to send part of it to attack Alexander. The young levies who had to fill the gaps in the Persian line, did not protect Darius's flank well enough. Alexander had waited for just the right moment and his companions very quickly performed a wedge formation that moved fast into the gap in the Persian line. Meanwhile, the hypaspists and four battalions of phalanx moved forward to the front of Darius's center. A gap occurred in the Alliance's forces and the Persians made their way to Alexander's camp.




The rear phalanx took care of the cavalry which broke through. Alexander, with his companions, attacked Darius's center. At the sight of this, the Persian king fled. The Persians tried to attack Alexander's back (1), but the Agrians which secured his relieved the situation (2).



Fuller claims that at this moment, Alexander didn't pursue Darius, but intead turned back and cleared his right wing from the enemy. After this he received the famous message from Parmenion where he asked Alexander for help. The Companions moved to the left wing to help Parmenion. Subsequently, Alexander started to pursue Darius, but it was too late to catch him.

An important the tactic in this battle was the oblique formation. But most importantly, one must to be "economical" with his forces. Alexander had to keep a much superior enemy away from his phalanx as long as the situation would give him opportunity to attack.



All Battle Maps are (c) by and are the works of Maciek.