Battle of Issus

The battle of Issus was a decisive victory for Alexander the great in many ways. It was the first time a Persian army with the King present was defeated. Much of the success of this battle can be atrributed to the terrain of the area. It limited the size of the Persian army and gave Alexander the advantage. ”[Alexander] said the god was pursuing a better strategy on their behalf, having given Darius the idea of moving his army from an open space into a narrow one, where the terrain would be wide enough for the deployment of their own phalanx, but where the Persians would derive no advantage from superior numbers” (Arrian).


Darius III was the king of Persia. His army was significantly larger than Alexander’s with an army that most scholar’s agree was around 108,000 troops (Warry) while Alexander had a much smaller army of around 30,000 to 40,000 troops (Delbruck). The terrain had it’s own benefits for both armies and it really came down to who could use the terrain the best. “The mountainous terrain presents a string of narrow passes; it was a natural place for the Persians to try to bottle up Alexander” (Sacks). Darius had a better advantage because he was in a defense position. He had passed by Alexander’s small army unnoticed and cut off Alexander’s lines of communication with the main part of his army under the direction of Parmenio, one of Alexander’s generals (Moerbeek). He was able to do this because the armies were separated by a small group of mountains. As soon as Alexander learned that Darius had cut off his communications, he began making preparations to attack and take back the city of Issus.  



From The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander


 Darius has his army spread out by the mouth of the Issos river and Alexander has to march out of the mountains in order to face Darius. He recognized that the mountains would give Persian archers a great advantage over his army. He made the decsion to keep his army moving at a steady pace until they were within range of the archers. They did this to help keep the phalanx together and at peak effectiveness, as running made it more difficult to keep the phalanx together and effective. As soon as they were within range of the archers they began to run to decrease the damage taken by the hailstorm of arrows, which had the byproduct of intimidating the Persian army. It also made it more difficult to keep the Macedonian phalanx together.      



From The Landmark Arrian: the Campaigns of Alexander

As the two armies engaged, the Persians broke through the Alexander’s phalanx. “Darius’ Greek mercenaries attacked the Macedonian phalanx when a gap appeared in the right wing; for when Alexander dashed zealously into the river coming to blows with the Persians posted there and driving them off, the Macedonians at the center did not apply themselves with equal zeal, and when they came to the banks, which were steep at many points, they could not keep their front line in proper order” (Arrian). At nearly the same time as the Greek mercenaries fighting with the Persians broke through the Macedonian phalanx, Alexander’s cavalry broke through the Persian lines near Darius and attacked the mercenaries from behind. Darius ended up fleeing the battle for fear of his life with the his army following him once they saw him leaving. Alexander won many decisive small victories that led to this successful battle at Issus.



Works Cited

Arrian, Pamela Mensch, and James S. Romm. “Issus.” The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander ; Anabasis Alexandrous: A New Translation. New York: Pantheon, 2010. 67-73. Print.

“Battle of Issus.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 July 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2014.

Delbrück, Hans. Warfare in Antiquity. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1990. Print.

Hammond, Nicholas G. L. “Alexander’s Charge at the Battle of Issus in 333 B.C.” Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte 41.4 (1992): 395-406. Jstor. Franz Steiner Verlag. Web. 7 Mar. 2014.

Moerbeek, Martijn. “The Battle of Issus.” Warfare in Hellas. N.p., 21 Jan. 1998. Web. 7 Mar. 2014. <;.

“” Major Battles. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2014. <;.

Sacks, David, Oswyn Murray, and Lisa R. Brody. “Alexander the Great.” Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek World. New York: Facts on File, 1995. 23. Print.

Warry, John. Warfare in the Classical World: War and the Ancient Civilizations of Greece and Rome. London: Salamander, 1998. Print.

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