The Battle of Gaugamela was a prime example of how the terrain was important in battle. This battle took place in 331 BC between Alexander the Great, from Macedon, and Darius III, leader of the Persians. Alexander led his army to victory. The battle was fought in the plains of Macedonia in Gaugamela, which is a small village near modern-day Iraq because Darius wanted to stop Alexander from encroaching even more on the Persian empire (Britannica).
Darius specifically picked out this place to have the battle. It was an “empty plain suitable for cavalry; not even shrubs and short bushes hide the ground, and an unobstructed view is allowed even to objects which are far away” (Curtius 247). Also, “if there was any eminence in the plains, [Darius] gave orders that it should be levelled and the whole rising made flat” (Curtius 247). Darius wanted to ensure a level playing field for the battle (no pun intended).
Alexander had a strong cavalry called the Campanian, or Companion, Cavalry. Since they were heavy cavalry, they wore armor, usually consisting of a metal helmet and breastplate (Worley 156). Their weapon was called a sarissa, “a light, cornel-wood spear” which was about nine feet long. The length, weight, and shape provided easy throwing, smooth riding, and multiple attacking maneuvers (Worley 156).
Darius decided to make his cavalry his strong point, especially since Alexander led such a fine cavalry. It was also advantageous that the land was flat and convenient for cavalry. Darius’ formation included a very strong left wing, with approximately twenty thousand cavalry, which would compete with Alexander’s seven thousand (Sidnell 108-109). Alexander was able to view Darius’ formation from some hills. He noted that “even if he massed all his cavalry on that wing they would be outnumbered three to one, and of course his other flank would be left unprotected” (Sidnell 109).
Anonymous. The Battle of Gaugamela. National Archeological Museum of Spain.
“Battle of Gaugamela.” Britannica, Encyclopaedia. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. n.d. 28 February 2014.
Curtius, Quintus. History of Alexander: Books I-V. Trans. John C. Rolfe. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1946.
Sidnell, Philip. Warhorse. New York: Hambledon Continuum, 2006.
Worley, Leslie J. Hippeis: The Cavalry of Ancient Greece. Boulder: Westview Press, 1994.