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The Battle at Gaugamela

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    Alexander the Great’s battle and war campaign against the Persians was perhaps one of the greatest military advancements in history. At the battle of Gaugamela, his great military tactics, intelligence, and the keen ability to think on his feet led him to a glorious victory over the mighty Persian Empire. For this reason, he is certainly worthy of his title, “great”. Alexander of Macedonia’s ingenious military strategies provided him a number of wins, which created a long passageway into the Persian Empire until he approached an area near the city of Gaugamela.

    Upon his arrival, Alexander was greeted by the Persian Emperor, Darius, as well as his army. Darius offered him land and money in exchange for peace (Cartledge, 191). Alexander refused the offer. He wanted to fight. Up until that point in his campaign against Persia, Alexander had used an extremely effective strategy against the separated armies of Persia. He called it the “hammer and anvil” tactic. He would arrange all of his infantry in such a way that they would be grouped together in a collection of 256 men; a square 16 across by 16 deep.

    This method of arranging the infantry was called the “phalanx” and it is believed to be one of the most potent weapons of war in the ancient world (Cartledge, 189). Alexander then had all of the phalanx march directly into the enemy line while all of the cavalry would circle around the back of the opposing army. The phalanx would keep the enemy in place with the use of there longer spears and the cavalry would drive them towards the phalanx, causing the enemy to be trapped. This is why the military technique is known as the “hammer and anvil”, because the infantry would act as the anvil and the cavalry as the hammer.

    In the past, this maneuver had worked perfectly for the Macedonian army, but because at Gaugamela the Persian army was stretched nearly two and a half miles wide with 200,000 men, Alexander and his army of 47,000 knew that the regular hammer and anvil tactic was useless and so, he re-strategized. Alexander’s challenge was to use his phalanx and cavalry to best advantage. His ingenious solution turned traditional strategy on its head. Rather than face the enemy head on, he arranged for his outnumbered infantry to face the Persian line at an angle to the left, looking outwards to be prepared to stop an expected, oncoming flank.

    This strange maneuver confused the enemy, who had never seen an approach to battle like this before. The war trumpet was sounded and the battle had begun. Immediately the angled, Macedonian infantry began to march forward. On the other side of the battlefield, in the front line of the Persian force, stood the “immortals”; Darius’ elite group of soldiers. They were known as the immortals, because when one was killed, another stepped up to the plate to replace the lost soldier. As the Macedonian phalanx drew closer, Darius believed Alexander’s angled approach had given the Persians an enormous advantage.

    Darius saw an opportunity in the open ground between the his own cavalry and Alexander’s troops. However, Alexander was a very smart tactician. He knew that if he offered a cavalry-heavy force open ground, the cavalry would charge across the open ground. It was a given in the mind of the Macedonian king that if he offered space, Darius would take advantage of it, and he did. The Persian king ordered his cavalry to charge the Macedonian left. The Macedonian left flank was under the command of Parmenion, Alexander’s chief general. He waited for the charge, knowing that his task was to keep the Persian line engaged (Cartledge, 95).

    Meanwhile, on the other side of the battlefield, Alexander truly displayed one of the best qualities a military commander could have; the ability to think and devise a plan in the spur of the moment. He did something totally unexpected in the eyes of Darius. He turned his cavalry to the right and began to ride parallel to the Persian front line. The curious Darius became concerned that Alexander might ride off of the prepared battlefield at Gaugamela or more importantly, that he might be able to get so far that he would be able to get around the Persian line and flank them.

    He became so worried about Alexander that he sent his cavalry to ride parallel with him, matching the Macedonian’s progress. This unorthodox tactic became unsettling for Darius, but he had little time to be concerned, for in the center of the battlefield, the unbreakable phalanx of Alexander’s army was about to clash with the elite guard of the Persian force. As the centers clashed, Alexander and his cavalry continued to ride to the right, all the while the Persian cavalry copying their pace. However, much to the Persians not yet known dismay, Alexander had a hidden advantage.

    Running on foot between the horses of the Macedonian cavalry was a complete regiment of “peltists”, all light infantry. Peltists were the skirmishers, who were seen all around the battlefield, in and out with a large variety of weapons such as short bows, javelins, and slings. With the peltists hidden from the Persians, Alexander moved steadily across the battlefield. Although these skirmishers may have seemed to be of not much use, they were all an essential part of Alexander’s plan. As Alexander rode away, the Persian army began to feel the full power of the Macedonian phalanx.

    Seeing his elite troops pushed back, Darius began to worry and decided to deploy his most feared weapon; the scythed chariot. A scythed chariot was basically a regular, two-wheeled chariot with scythes or blades attached to the wheels like an extended axel. As the chariot rode, the scythes would cut down the people who they hit (Renault, 149). 200 scythed chariots, the supreme weapon of the Persian army, now burst forth from Darius’ front line. Previous opposing commanders had seen only two defenses against such at attack; either stand their ground or retreat away from the blades and regroup later.

    However, Alexander had known this attack was coming and had previously devised a third defense against the chariots. He had taught his men to “trap” the chariots simply by creating a space for the horse to run into. Once the horse ran into that space, they were gutted and the driver of the chariot suffered the same fate as the horses. Within minutes the threat from the Persian chariots was neutralized, as were the weapons themselves (Renault, 150). While the battle raged on, Parmenion’s left flank was under heavy attack and near collapse.

    Yet, on the other side of the battlefield, Alexander and his cavalry were still riding away from the fight. Parmenion desperately tried to contact Alexander in hopes of reinforcements, but his message did not get through. As Parmenion struggled, Alexander continued to ride to the right, neither charging nor retreating. Darius’ fleet kept pace with them. As they kept riding, they actually rode off of the prepared battlefield, which made Darius pull more cavalry out of his line to keep from being out-flanked.

    When this happened, the Persian line completely thinned out in the middle. As this happened, the center of the enemy line could not shift over to cover the gap left. Alexander immediately spotted the hole in the Persian line of battle. In one swift move, Alexander turned his entire fleet of cavalry 160o so that they were charging towards the large gap. At that moment, finally, the hidden peltists immerged and sent a hail of sling ammunition, javelins, and arrows at the Persian cavalry, preventing them from perusing Alexander and the Macedonian, charging fleet.

    The Macedonians forced their way through the enemy lines. In doing so, they were able to circle around the Persians and drive them from the rear. The phalanx was now the anvil and the cavalry was the hammer. Stuck between the two were the Persians. The phalanx encountered no resistance. They charged forward. The Persian army now broke and began to run. The Macedonians finished off what remained of the Persians and then began to celebrate their victory. The legend of Alexander the Great had begun, for he was now in control over the entire Persian Empire.

    In conclusion, Alexander the Great’s campaign against Persia was nothing short of exceptional. The battle at Gaugamela provides a perfect example of just how much of a military genius he was. His incredible mind gave him the ability to have a vast knowledge of military strategies and to make quick decisions that always won him the battle. No other tactician in history was as brilliant as he was, giving him the deserved title of Alexander the Great. Books Ash, Maureen. Alexander the Great (World’s Great Explorers). Chicago: Childrens, 1991.

    Ash devotes chapters to how Alexander was raised as the heir to King Phillip II of Macedon and how he subdued the Greek states following his father’s assassination, then moving on to the invasion of Persia, the defeat of the Persians and the siege of Tyre, extending his empire to Egypt, invading India, and his death at the age of 33 after carving out an “Empire of Many Faces. ” This book also had a good amount of information about the battles against Persia, but the most useful thing it contained was many maps with the trail of where both sides went during a certain time period.

    It too provided a lot of cultural background. This book wasn’t all that helpful, but it did give me a summary of the battle of Gaugamela, as well as that for his entire Persian campaign. It was a bit general, but it gave me an overview and some background information that I needed to know. Cartledge, Paul. The Cambridge Illustrated History of Ancient Greece. Cambridge, U. K. : Cambridge UP, 1998. This book devotes as much attention to social, economic and intellectual aspects as to politics and war. Paul Cartledge ask what it was like for an ordinary person to partake in “the glory that was Greece. They examine the influences of the environment and economy; the experience of workers, soldiers, slaves, peasants and women; and the roles of myth and religion, art and culture, and science and education. This is a cultural history from the bottom up, which lays bare the far-reaching linguistic, literary, artistic and political legacy of ancient Greece, and seeks justification for Shelley’s claim that “we are all Greeks. ” This book gave me a good understanding of the culture of what was going on during Alexander’s time period. It also provided a few good paragraphs on his campaign against the Persians.

    This book gave quite a bit of information on Alexander’s entire Persian campaign, which helped me understand the context of the battle of Gaugamela. Demi. Alexander the Great. New York: Marshall Cavendish Children, 2010. This book is just a summary of Alexander’s life. It had a little bit of information on his Persian campaign and some specific battles. This book was a bit childish, but it really helped me to initially understand Alexander the Great’s entire Persian campaign, because it spelled it out for me in plain language that I was able to comprehend easily. Renault, Mary.

    The Nature of Alexander. London: Allen Lane, 1975. Starting with the legends that grew up around him in his own lifetime and continue down to this day, Renault explores Alexander not only as a king and a general, but as a man, a figure at once simple and complex, for whom the words doubt and failure simply didn’t exist. She takes us through his childhood with his battling parents, his mother’s possible role in the murder of Philip, and Alexander’s subsequent accession to the throne of Macedon and his campaign to liberate the Greek city-states of Asia from Persian domination.

    Interestingly, as Renault shows us, Alexander didn’t set out to Asia to conquer the known world; it was when he saw the quality of the opposition that he realized he could do a much better job of being Great King than the current title holder. This book provided me with much of my information, given the facts that it has 45 pages on Alexander’s Persian campaign. It gave much detail on almost every battle he fought against the Persians and gave some of his battle strategies. It also gave me a good understanding of the Persian setting during that time and why they were uprising against him.

    This book was where the majority of my information came from. Not too general, nor too specific. Very nice descriptions of all the battles contained in his conquest over Persia. Journal Articles “Alexander. ” Calliope 21. 4 (2011): 24. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Web. 3 Mar. 2011. This journal article is just a summary of Alexander the Great’s life, form his birth into royalty, to his campaigns against Persia and Asia, to his famous death, as well as his achievements, accomplishments, and nearly everywhere in between.

    It focuses primarily on his early and later life and legacy rather than on his kingship and battle strategies. This article gave me all the background information I needed on Alexander including his life before his kingship and his legacy after he passed away. It did have a short summary of all of his campaigns, but that wasn’t very helpful at all. v “Alexander the Great: Master of the Ancient World. ” Scholastic Scope 58. 17 (2010): 14. Primary Search. EBSCO. Web. 3 Mar. 2011. This journal article is all about Alexander the Great’s campaigns.

    It goes into much detail concerning his tactics and battle strategies in his campaigns against the ununified Greece, Persia, and Asia. This article was the most helpful I found in my research, for it contains, in much detail, his entire military campaign. So, I was able to skim over the other campaigns and read just the Persian campaign. Primary Source Life of Alexander by Plutarch This source is in short a long and very detailed biography of Alexander the Great written by a Greek scholar by the name of Plutarch.

    It was originally written in comparison of Julius Caesar and is one of the very few surviving ancient documents about Alexander the Great. It was written sometime during his lifetime, which is estimated to be from about 40 to 120 CE. So, between the two is a little over 300 years, however, Plutarch used other ancient documents and writings that we no longer have that have gotten lost to write his piece. This source was very helpful, but it is also very long, because it contains so much detail on Alexander. I was not able to finish reading over it yet, because of its length, but so far, it has been a very nice help in my research.

    The Battle at Gaugamela. (2019, May 01). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-battle-at-gaugamela/

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