Gaugamela: A Journey to Alexander the Great’s Greatest Victory

Before embarking upon an ancient battlefield, I typically engage in meticulous premeditation: prior to venturing into a particular country or region, I diligently scour the internet for precise coordinates and landmarks, and subsequently allocate dedicated time to explore the topography of the battlefield, guided by the map. Perhaps only Alexander the Great chanced upon the Gaugamela battlefield. Inadvertent to its significance, he traversed the hallowed grounds until the tour guide enlightened him, stating, ‘This expanse is the Gaugamela battlefield, a testament to Alexander’s prodigious triumphs.’ As the clock struck 1 am, I peered into the surroundings, hoping to espy monumental edifices. Alas, all that met my gaze were vast plains and scattered gravel. Not a single commendable structure, let alone a monument, could be discerned within a few kilometers.

Stepping into Gaugamela under the vigilant watch of military law enforcement…

It was the vernal season of 2014. Accompanied by a cohort of ten individuals, I embarked on a sojourn through Iraq under the aegis of a British expeditionary agency, shielded by government police vehicles and bristling firearms. The regional state of affairs had grown increasingly turbulent, necessitating the impromptu cancellation of our intended visits to the ancient cities of Assyria and Nineveh. With the aim of showcasing the opulent treasures of heritage tourism to the world at large and enticing international visitors, the local authorities meticulously arranged for us to be received by military and political dignitaries. Television stations conducted interviews and captured footage, while ten armed bodyguards wielding AK47 assault rifles were dispatched to provide escort in two pickup trucks, one of which was equipped with a formidable mounted machine gun. Alas, little did we know that in May of that same year, the Islamic State launched a large-scale insurrection in the region, resulting in the swift collapse of government forces. Only then did we become aware that the pewter gun tips adorning the military and police officers who served as our escorts were no more than illusory safeguards. In the face of terrorists during that perilous period, these individuals would have proven utterly impotent. Contemplating that bygone era, we were, indeed, ensconced within a perilous milieu, and the ramifications of any untoward incident would have been calamitous. Yet, at that time, blissfully ensconced in a false sense of security bestowed by our armed guardians, we traversed Tikrit, the northern homeland of Saddam, Nimrud, the ancient capital of Assyria, and even the autonomous Kurdish region. Verily, it is said that fools are divinely protected: not only did we embark upon a secure voyage, but we also beheld the resplendent vestiges of ancient Assyrian civilization. Subsequent years witnessed the Islamic State’s occupation of this very area, wreaking havoc and engaging in the illicit trade of these monuments. This year, some acquaintances ventured to the same region, only to find that the ancient ruins we beheld with our own eyes had vanished from sight.

Shortly after entering the Kurdish domain and pausing for respite, the venerable British team leader, Jeff, casually divulged, ‘This expanse is none other than Alexander the Great’s Gaugamela battlefield.’ Gaugamela! The most monumental confrontation between the paramount generals in Western military annals! I gasped, hastily rising to my feet, and surveyed the desolate expanse. The barren gravel plain reverberated with the symphony of wind and the rumbling engines of illicitly procured oil tankers.

At the time, Mr. Jeff, aged 78, possessed extensive experience, having led numerous excursions into Iraq, and possessed an intimate familiarity with local customs. Sensing an opportune moment, I beseeched him for knowledge of any nearby monuments or structures where I could pay my respects. Regrettably, the elderly gentleman shook his head and intoned, ‘Do you recall the antiquities we beheld several days prior, the ruins of the Tower of Babel in the southern precincts? The passage of time has rendered those awe-inspiring structures mere formless mounds. As for the Gaugamela battlefield, it lies utterly devoid of undulations. After more than two millennia, what sights do you anticipate encountering?’

How could one well-versed in military history remain oblivious to the Battle of Gaugamela? Western military history reveres the ‘Four Illustrious Generals’: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, and Napoleon. Amongst them, Alexander the Great carved out the most expansive dominion and emerged unscathed from every conflict throughout his lifetime. The Battle of Gaugamela epitomized Alexander’s unparalleled vanquishment of the Persian Empire. Hitherto, I had always presumed that the Gaugamela battlefield existed either within the confines of Turkey or amidst the lands of Syria and Lebanon. Alas, I never fathomedthat the actual Gaugamela battlefield is located in present-day Iraq, near the city of Mosul.

The Battle of Gaugamela took place on October 1, 331 BC, between the forces of Alexander the Great and King Darius III of Persia. It was a decisive confrontation that determined the fate of the Persian Empire. Alexander’s army, though significantly outnumbered, employed superior tactics and maneuverability to secure a resounding victory. Darius III fled the battlefield, and Alexander went on to capture the Persian capital of Babylon, effectively ending the Persian Empire.

Returning to the present day, it is unfortunate that the Gaugamela battlefield has been largely eroded by the passage of time. The sprawling plains that once witnessed the clash of armies are now devoid of discernible landmarks or structures. The remnants of this historic battle lie buried beneath the earth, hidden from view.

While the physical traces of Gaugamela may have disappeared, the significance of this battle endures in the annals of military history. It stands as a testament to Alexander’s military genius and his ability to conquer vast territories. Though we cannot behold the battlefield in its former glory, we can still study and appreciate the accounts and records that have been passed down through generations.

So, while the Gaugamela battlefield may not offer tangible monuments or structures to pay homage to, its historical significance continues to captivate the imagination of scholars, historians, and enthusiasts alike. It serves as a reminder of the pivotal moments that shaped the course of ancient civilizations and the indelible mark left by Alexander the Great on the world stage.

  At this time, Darius III also led the imperial army to march north from Babylon to meet the Greek coalition. The decisive battle between the two sides was imminent. This was the third of the four major battles in Alexander’s life, and it was also the largest and most decisive battle – the Battle of Gaugamela.
The classical decisive battle between needle and wheat

  It should be said that Darius III was an excellent strategist and organizer. He made full use of the two years given by his opponents to regroup. Not only did he assemble a larger force than in the Battle of Issus, he also completed the coordinated training of all arms of the army and even had time to change weapons. Strategically speaking, Darius could not use strategies such as fortifying the wall to clear the country and luring the enemy deep into the enemy’s territory to compete with Alexander. His empire is a multi-ethnic aggregation. If he remains passive and avoids war, there is no guarantee that the various ethnic groups in the empire will become disloyal and fall apart. Therefore, regardless of the analysis of necessity and possibility, Darius’s decisive battle strategy at that time cannot be said to be wrong. And the battlefield he chose is also very reasonable: the Persian army is huge and requires an astonishing amount of supplies. Gaugamela is more than 100 kilometers north of Babylon and still belongs to the northern plain of Mesopotamia. In ancient times, it was a rich grain-producing area. Supplying the army is no problem. Therefore, Darius stationed troops on the banks of the Tigris River to wait for the Greek expeditionary force instead of taking the initiative to attack.

The remains of the Persepolis Palace burned by Alexander on the outskirts of Shiraz, Iran.

  The battlefield was carefully selected in advance and the Persian army even had time to smooth out the slight terrain undulations in the center of the battlefield in order to take advantage of the chariot charge and at the same time use its strength advantage to bypass the enemy’s flanks. It should be said that Darius’s preparations and strategic determination before the Battle of Gaugamela were correct.
  As for Alexander, his attitude was “If you want to fight, then fight.” No matter how large the enemy’s numerical advantage is or how favorable the terrain they occupy, he will rush forward without hesitation and draw his sword. At the tactical level, although Alexander’s army was small in number, its combat effectiveness had been proven for a long time, and he was also deeply confident in his on-site tactical command capabilities, possessing the domineering attitude of a famous general. Therefore, the determination of the commanders of Macedonia and Persia coincided with the decisive battle, and only then could there be a classical decisive battle like Gaugamela in 331 BC.
  The numbers given by classical writers for the strength of both sides in the Battle of Gaugamela were too different. Modern research has shrunk the number of the Persian army to 100,000-120,000, including a large number of cavalry and 200 vehicles equipped with sharp sickles. chariot. Compared with the 40,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry of the Greek coalition, it has an absolute numerical advantage. In response to the Macedonian infantry’s dense phalanx tactics, Darius had foreseen the strategy of using the first line of chariots to disrupt the enemy’s formation before the battle, and then the two wings of infantry and cavalry would use their numerical advantage to open up the battle line to outflank and attack at multiple points. . In order to ensure the safety of the emperor, the central front was heavily surrounded by elite undead army infantry and Persian noble cavalry.
  It should be said that Persia’s tactical arrangements are also completely reasonable. At first glance, Alexander’s pre-battle formation was not surprising. It was still composed of three parts: left, center and right. The focus was on the right wing. He personally led the Guards cavalry in formation on the right wing, ready to launch a decisive charge at any time. However, he expected that the enemy would use their huge numerical advantage to outflank him, so the Macedonian lineup was looser than before, increasing the gap between the phalanx and the heavy troop group, increasing the width of the front, and at the same time avoiding the first round of Persian warfare. The huge momentum of the car’s charge. In order to prevent the loose front from being full of holes, light infantry was also deployed between the heavy infantry and cavalry. In order to deal with the inevitable outflanking of the enemy’s flanks, Alexander deployed two infantry at an angle behind the two wings to fight against the enemy’s cavalry. The most peculiar thing is that the second line of troops deployed some distance behind the first line faces the rear, ready to be surrounded at any time. In this way, the entire Greek army formed a huge hollow trapezoidal phalanx.
  In actual combat, the Greek army’s sparse formation let go of the rampaging Persian chariots, and the outpost archers and gunners who served as cover further disrupted the first round of attacks by Persian chariots and cavalry. Then Alexander personally led the main right wing to advance to the right front to meet the enemy. This is a classic slash tactic, originated from the slash tactic invented by the famous Theban general Epaminondas in the Peloponnesian War. It was still effective in the hands of Frederick the Great of Prussia two thousand years later. Use this formation. The essence of this tactic is to concentrate superior forces on one side, change the frontal confrontation with average force into a concentrated breakthrough, and at the same time try to delay the time for the weak side to contact the enemy to create a time difference.
  However, the Persian side’s strength advantage on the battlefield of Gaugamela was comprehensive. It launched a huge encirclement and launched attacks on both Greek wings at the same time. Alexander’s right wing fell into a hard fight. During the tense battle, the main force of the Greek right wing advanced and the left wing defended. They were all unknowingly extending the front line to resist the outflanking of the superior forces on both wings of Persia. Slowly, a gap appeared between the right wing and the central part of the phalanx. The first tactical flaw appeared on the Macedonian side. Darius III was also very keen. He seized the opportunity and sent the main force of his central cavalry to attack the hole in the center of the Macedonian formation. He broke through the front of the Greek army in one fell swoop and penetrated the Greek coalition formation. !
  So far, the rapidly changing battlefield situation has been in favor of the Persian side, but there are two developments that surprised Darius: First, the Greek troops whose front was penetrated did not collapse, and the Greek troops maintained a hollow phalanx. The general shape of the formation continued to fight hard; secondly, the Persian central cavalry that successfully broke through the formation did not circle around to the left or right to attack any part of the Greek front. Instead, they passed through the formation and rushed towards the Greek camp, breaking up the remaining troops. Greek infantry. Perhaps this second point was not unexpected, but a strict order from Darius III in advance: the emperor’s family members were imprisoned in the Macedonian camp, and the Persian cavalry had to raid the Macedonian camp to rescue them regardless of the fierce battle on the front line.
  Because the Persian central cavalry entered the battle, but did not play a role in the melee on the front line for the time being, Darius III’s central escort force only had undead infantry left, and the defensive force became weak. The Macedonian Guards Cavalry, which had been slowly advancing against the impact of the Persian left cavalry, had not yet entered the battle. The fighter plane Alexander was waiting for finally appeared. Without hesitation, he personally led the Guards Cavalry directly towards Emperor Darius, Greece. The main force of the infantry, the Macedonian heavy infantry phalanx, also cooperated in launching an attack on the center of Persia. This was the moment that turned the tide of the entire battle. Darius III could not withstand the joint attack of Macedonia’s elite arms and fled the battlefield in a hurry. Once the command center collapsed, the entire Persian front collapsed. More than 40,000 people were killed in the subsequent rout. The losses of the Greek coalition forces were approximately About 1,000 people.
Historical echoes: heroes are nowhere to be found

  The Battle of Gaugamela was a life-and-death battle for the Persian Empire. After this battle, the Macedonian Emperor conquered all of Persia without any obstacles. Darius was murdered by his rebellious subjects during his subsequent escape. Alexander pursued him to the capital Persepolis. , a fire burned down the unfinished emperor’s palace, advanced eastward into Central Asia, and crossed the Indus River. The last battle of his four major battles was King Bolas who conquered the Indus River Valley. That was basically the icing on the cake. With the pen, the life work of one emperor through the ages has been completed, reaching the end of the entire world known to the Greeks. On the way back to the army, Alexander died of illness in Babylon at the age of 33.
  On the ancient battlefield of Gaugamela, the old man who led the tour led us to find the remains of a mosque minaret. Fragments of colored glazed bricks may still be found among the surrounding gravel, but they are medieval cultural relics and are not the same as Alexander’s. That battle had nothing to do with it. Perhaps in the ancient, splendid and turbulent history of the Mesopotamia, the Battle of Gaugamela, a turbulent wave, will eventually pass away without leaving a trace. If so, there will indeed be no heroes to be found throughout the ages.

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