Battle of Gaugamela

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Battle of Gaugamela
Part of: Alexanderzug
The battle at Arbela (Gaugamela) between Alexander and Darius, who is in flight (1696) .jpg
date October 1, 331 BC Chr.
place Gaugamela , Assyria
output Macedonian victory
Parties to the conflict

Macedonians , reinforced by Greek and Thracian auxiliaries



Alexander the Great

Dareios III.

Troop strength
47,000, including about 7,000 cavalrymen possibly up to approximately 200,000

500 (possibly also higher)


The Battle of Gaugamela , also Battle of Arbela (today Tel Gomel in northern Iraq ), on October 1, 331 BC. BC was one of the most important battles in world history and formed the climax of the Alexanderzug , which pursued the goal of conquering the Achaemenid Empire .


Dareios III. was Alexander the Great , the assignment of all areas west to end the war of the Euphrates , high ransom payments for his in the battle of Issus captured Harem offered and the hand of his daughter, but what this turned down. This left the great king no choice but to accept the final battle for his kingdom, knowing full well that he had closed the gap left by the death of his proven general Memnon in the summer of 333 BC. Chr., Could not fill militarily.

The opponents

Alexander's army

Alexander had 40,000 infantry and 7,000 horsemen . The troops were outnumbered, but mostly consisted of experienced fighters who were well trained and experienced. In particular, the short lines of command were crucial in the course of the battle. The Macedonian troops formed the core, followed by Greek, Thessalian and Thracian units.

The Macedonian armed forces included the Hetairen Reitererei , equipped with helmets and armor as well as lances , which were primarily intended for thrusting and less often for throwing, the Hypaspistas , which were probably equipped similarly to the Greek hoplites but were relatively mobile, and the Pezhetaires ( Fellow combatants on foot), equipped with extremely long spears ( sarissa ) about 5.5 meters in length. There were also the usual lightly armed troops, consisting of peltasts , slingshots and archers .

Alexander's father Philipp had built a powerful army from the loose Macedonian tribal forces, supplied the soldiers with land and settled them in cities. In this way he had also secured constant readiness for combat and drilled the army through constant campaigns. In addition, many allies and mercenaries from Greece and from all over the Balkans fought in Alexander's army .

Alexander the Great (Alexander battle mosaic, originally in the Casa del Fauno in Pompeii , today in the Galleria Nazionale di Capodimonte in Naples , approx. 150-100 BC)

From his father he took over the tactic of using the infantry only on the defensive, in order to bring about the decision at the right moment through a personally led attack of the heavy hetairian cavalry. As in the two previous battles against the Persians, this risky approach also proved successful at Gaugamela.

Persians under Darius III.

Dareios, warned by the surprising defeat at Issus, mobilized all available forces in the next two years. According to the sources, almost every man capable of arms was recruited from all corners of the kingdom. His army, which was ethnically very mixed, consisted of foot soldiers and horsemen from Mesopotamia , Babylonia and the coasts of the Persian Gulf . Its core was the Kara (the army ban), which was permanently under arms. The largest part consisted of the mobilization of the eastern parts of the empire. The foot troops were mainly servants equipped with a piece of land, who had hardly any combat experience, but could be of decisive importance due to their number.

Above all, the huge cavalry contingent, which consisted of tried and tested fighters, had an impact. It also included 30,000 Greek mercenaries, 12,000 heavy Bactrian horsemen, 200 sickle chariots and 15 war elephants . The cavalry consisted of central and eastern Iranian equestrian associations, Cappadocians and Armenians from Anatolia and warriors from the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. In addition there were Bactrians , Sogdians , Scythian equestrian nomads and many other equestrian associations, who enjoyed a good reputation. The Indians provided war elephants for battle. In addition, an old weapon of war was used, the sickle wagon; through him the Macedonian phalanx was to be opened. Finally, the royal guard and mercenary units of Greek hoplites were also deployed.

Most of the Persian army consisted of poorly or poorly trained units that were not used at all during the battle. In the end there was a mass panic.

The exact troop strength of the Persian army is controversial in research due to the often very fantastic and therefore implausible information in the sources. In older research, Hans Delbrück only assumed a superiority of the Persian cavalry of up to 12,000 men after a methodical investigation and gave the troop strength of Darius at 52,000. The four most important sources ( Arrian , Diodor , Plutarch and Curtius Rufus ) sometimes give different figures, with Curtius Rufus giving relatively low figures (200,000 infantry and 45,000 cavalry), which were often followed. One of the arguments against Delbrück's theory is that with such a slight superiority of Darius, Alexander would hardly have aligned his army in a sloping defensive position, but would have taken the initiative himself, and further that Darius would certainly not have taken the risk with an army of almost the same size To encircle Alexander on both sides at the same time, a maneuver which had a chance of success only if there was a great superiority. It should be noted that modern research assumes a numerical superiority of the Persians, but absolutely reliable information is not possible; However, the sometimes extremely high information provided by the sources is unimaginable from a logistical point of view.

Course of the battle

Course of the battle

Formation of the armies

Dareios had scouted the battlefield beforehand and had it leveled for his cavalry and chariots . For the first time, the troops of Dareios distributed footbars (colloquially wolves) as obstacles on the battlefield. In the front line, Dareios placed a large part of his cavalry, as well as sickle chariots and war elephants. On the right flank these were Armenian and Cappadocian cavalry, followed in the center by two groups of 50 sickle chariots each, the 15 Indian war elephants and another 100 sickle chariots. The left flank of the front line was formed by the heavy Bactrian and Scythian cavalry. The second line consisted of other cavalry, mainly archers and infantry, in the center of which was Darius himself, flanked by the Greek mercenary hoplites. The third line served as a reserve and was composed of infantry troops, which were set up in deep echelons behind the center. The formation of the troops was staggered over a width of three to four kilometers. An encirclement by the numerically inferior Macedonian forces was not to be feared.

Alexander's troops were essentially set up in just one line because of their smaller number. In the center stood the hoplites set up in a phalanx , between and in front of which javelin throwers, slingshots and archers were distributed in smaller groups. The left wing was composed mostly of cavalry and a few infantry units under the command of Parmenion . The right wing was under the command of Alexander and comprised the Hetaires cavalry as well as the Paeion cavalry under Aretes and other mounted mercenaries under Menidas . Behind the center, Alexander had another phalanx and infantry set up as a mobile reserve. This should intervene in the event of an encirclement by the numerically clearly superior Persian army.

Beginning of the battle

Initial order of the battle.
The battle of Gaugamela in an ivory relief from the 18th century.

Alexander opened the battle by letting the hetaires' cavalry of the right wing extend into a wide encircling movement against the Persian left wing. As he had hoped, Darius responded by sending the Scythian and Bactrian cavalry on his left wing into an interception maneuver. Alexander's mercenary cavalry under Menidas now tried in a quick attack to pierce the gap between the Persian left wing and the center. After this attack was initially repulsed, Aretes took over the advance with the Paeion cavalry, at the same time Alexander swung in with the Hetairen cavalry. In the heavy fighting that followed, the Persian cavalry on the left wing was wiped out and put to flight.

While the fighting on the left Persian and right Macedonian wing was in full swing, Darius let the sickle chariot attack the center of Alexander's troops. The phalanges had prepared for this attack and opened corridors in front of the attacking carriages, so that they literally ran into nothing. The car crews were attacked from all sides immediately and killed in a short time. The dreaded Persian sickle chariot was completely eliminated and had only caused minor losses in Alexander's troops. Then the phalanges formed again and advanced to attack the center of the Persian army.

The situation was much more difficult on the Macedonian left wing, which was supposed to hold a defensive position. Darius had ordered his right wing, the Armenian and Cappadocian cavalry under the command of General Mazaios , to attack the Macedonians directly on the left flank. Even if the troops under Parmenion were able to hold their position according to their mandate, they found themselves increasingly difficult to find. At the same time Darius set his war elephants on the march to finally break the resistance of Parmenion's troops.

The decision of the battle

At this point in the engagement two events occurred that would determine the course of the battle. After the collapse of the Persian left wing, the complete annihilation of the sickle chariot and the advance of the war elephants on the Macedonian left wing, the Persian center with Darius was completely open. Alexander started a direct attack on Dareios' position with his cavalry. At the same time, the hoplite phalanges in the center also advanced to this position. Dareios III. seems to have panicked and turned to flee, which subsequently led to the collapse of the Persian center.

The decision by direct attack.

At the same time, a gap was torn between the advancing phalanges in the center of the Macedonians and the left wing, which was still involved in the toughest defensive battles, into which the Persian and Indian cavalry from the second row of the Persian right wing advanced successfully. After the breakthrough, these separated into two divisions, one of which stormed in a straight line towards the Macedonian base camp, which was about 5 km to the rear, while the other began an encircling movement against Parmenion's troops. Parmenion, facing the complete collapse of his wing, dispatched a messenger to Alexander asking for immediate help. The news reached Alexander at the moment of the collapse of the Persian center. Thereupon he renounced an immediate pursuit of the enemy and turned his hetaires cavalry to a relief attack for Parmenion's troops.

Even while the messenger was riding to Alexander, his infantry reserve reacted to the Persian breakthrough. Some of them streamed in the direction of their own base camp in order to confront the enemy there and to save their own stage from destruction, which they succeeded. Another part rushed to the aid of Parmenion's troops. For reasons unknown, the attack by Mazaios' troops collapsed and they turned to retreat. It may be that the news of Darius's escape had arrived or that the Macedonian infantry that had arrived turned the situation around. Some of Mazaeus' troops, including himself, clashed with the cavalry led by Alexander. Mazaios was wounded in the heavy fighting and most of the troops accompanying him wiped out.

The end of the battle

Now that the entire Persian army was on the run, Alexander let all the troops attack. Parmenion, who with his cavalry had already started to pursue the remains of Mazaios' troops, was able to take the Persian base camp a little later. Alexander continued the pursuit of the Persian troops until sunset and rested his troops until midnight, when the pursuit resumed. He hoped to be able to pick up Darius in the city of Arbela, about 120 km away , but the Persian great king had given up any rest and had already fled further.


The victory at Gaugamela against a numerically superior army had brought the decision for Alexander in the fight against Darius; After the great king's flight, he lost his legitimacy in the eyes of many of his subordinates and was finally murdered by Bessos . Nevertheless, the fight for Alexander was not yet decided, the campaigns in Iran and on the border with India were still long and hard.

Reception of the battle

In Oliver Stone's film Alexander , the battle of Gaugamela is shown in detail.


  • Albert Brian Bosworth: Conquest and Empire. The Reign of Alexander the Great . Cambridge 1988, pp. 74ff.
  • AM Devine: The Battle of Gaugamela: A Tactical and Source-Critical Study . In: Ancient World 13 (1986), pp. 87-116.
  • AM Devine: The Macedonian Army at Gaugamela: Its Strength and the Length of Its Battle-Line . In: Ancient World 19 (1989), pp. 77-80.
  • Robin Lane Fox : Alexander the Great . Stuttgart 2004, p. 296ff.
  • Hans-Joachim Gehrke : World Empire in the Dust Gaugamela, October 1, 331 BC Chr . In: Battles of World History. From Salamis to Sinai . 2nd Edition. Munich 2002.
  • GT Griffith: Alexander's Generalship at Gaugamela . In: The Journal of Hellenic Studies (1947), pp. 77-89.
  • Siegfried Lauffer : Alexander the Great . 3. Edition. Munich 1993, p. 92ff.
  • EW Marsden: The Campaign of Gaugamela . Liverpool 1964.
  • Daniele Morandi Bonacossi: Where Alexander the Great Defeated Darius. Gaugamela, the origin of Hellenism . In: Antike Welt, 51 (2020), Issue 4, pp. 63–71.
  • Jakob Seibert : The conquest of the Persian Empire by Alexander the Great on cartographic basis, I . Wiesbaden 1985.
  • John Warry: Alexander 334-323 BC. Conquest of the Persian Empire . In: David G. Chandler (Ed.): Osprey Military Campaign Series Volume 7 . London 1991.
  • Karl-Wilhelm Welwei : The fight for the Macedonian camp at Gaugamela . In: Rheinisches Museum 122 (1979), pp. 222–228.

Web links

Commons : Battle of Gaugamela  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Hans Delbrück , History of War Art in the Framework of Political History , Volume 1: Das Altertum, 3rd Book, Chapter 4th here online , was very conservative and assessed the numerical superiority of the Persians rather marginal. In modern research, however, the Persians are considered to have a quantitative superiority, which, however, is impossible to quantify in exact numbers, cf. Bosworth, Conquest and Empire , p. 78; see also Lauffer, Alexander the Great , pp. 95f., note 4.
  2. Lane Fox, Alexander the Great , p. 323. For general information on Alexander's army, see Bosworth, Conquest and Empire , p. 259ff.
  3. ^ Curtius Rufus 4, 12, 13.
  4. See Lauffer, Alexander der Große , pp. 95f., Note 4.
  5. ^ Bosworth, Conquest and Empire , p. 78.