Battle of Gaza (312 BC)

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Battle of Gaza (312 BC)
Part of: Diadoch Wars
date 312 BC Chr.
place Gaza / Palestine
output Victory of Ptolemy
consequences Establishment of the Seleucid Empire
Parties to the conflict


Coalition of the Diadochi


Demetrios Poliorketes


Troop strength
according to Diodor:
12,500 infantry
5,000 cavalry
43 elephants
according to Diodor:
18,000 infantrymen
4,000 cavalrymen
according to Diodor:
more than 500 fallen
more than 8,000 caught


The Battle of Gaza was a military clash in the Middle East in 312 BC. Chr. She found near Gaza in Palestine instead.

The battle was a military climax of the third Diadoch war in the middle of the age of the Diadochs , which followed the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. Was followed. In this battle, the representatives of particularist interests, who strived for a division of the Alexander empire, faced the supporters of one who was intent on preserving the empire.


Since the death of Alexander in 323 BC Its generals, called "successors" (Diadochi), found themselves in a relentless struggle for supremacy in its world empire. The Macedonian royal dynasty was divided, the kings Philip III. Arrhidaios and Alexander IV. Aigos were mentally handicapped or underage and therefore incapable of governing . The victorious emerged from the second Diadochenkrieg Cassander had v 316th The de facto rule in Macedonia and the formal reign in the Alexander Empire . However, his authority was soon questioned by Antigonos Monophthalmos , who ruled the Asian part and who had previously been his ally. Since Antigonus 316 BC After he had eliminated his most dangerous opponent, Eumenes , in the battle of Gabiene , he had advanced to become the most powerful diadochi by being able to bring the entire Asian part of the Alexander Empire under his control. Here he practically exercised a rule like a king, which he tailored administratively to himself by exchanging provincial governors (satraps) for his own followers.

Among other things, Antigonus drove the satrap of Babylon , Seleukos , who fled to Ptolemy in Egypt . The apparent superiority of Antigonus brought the last independent Diadochi together to form an alliance against him. The initiative came from Ptolemy, who felt threatened directly by Antigonus. He was joined by Kassander in Macedonia, Lysimachus in Thrace and Asandros in Caria . On the other hand, Antigonus had himself proclaimed by a meeting of the imperial army subordinate to him as imperial administrator against Kassander, whom he declared an imperial enemy. He legitimized himself in the name of King Alexander IV, who was in captivity in Kassander. In fact, however, he was striving for royal dignity himself in an undivided Alexander empire. In the spring of 314 BC BC Antigonus opened the fighting for what was now the third war of the Diadochs and quickly brought the Syria , Phenicia and Koile Syria held by Ptolemy under his control, conquered by 313 BC. Successively Gaza and the Phoinikischen seaports like Sidon and Tyros ( Siege of Tyros ).

Then Antigonus turned with his main forces to Asia Minor to devote himself there to the fight against Cassander and Lysimachus. He had appointed his son Demetrios Poliorketes strategos of Syria with the task of defending the front into Egypt. Ptolemy was unwilling to accept the loss of the ports Phoinikiens so important for the rulership of the sea and took advantage of the absence of Antigonos around 312 BC. To start a counter-offensive.

Battle formation

Ptolemy gathered his army in the second half of 312 BC. In Alexandria and marched across Pelusium into Koilesyria, where he set up camp near Gaza . His officer corps also included Seleucus. The core of his troops was mainly made up of Macedonian warriors and mercenary contingents, but as Diodorus noticed for the first time, he also called native Egyptian warriors to his squad. Demetrios was informed of his approach and in turn summoned his army, which camped in his winter quarters, to put the enemy at Gaza to fight. The son of Antigonus was twenty-two years old at this time and had gained his first military experience as a cavalry general at the side of his father in the battles of Paraitakene and Gabiene (316/315 BC) against Eumenes. His appointment as strategos of Syria was his first independent command and he was immediately faced with two of Alexander's best generals. However, his father had provided him with two experienced officers as mentors, Generals Peithon and Andronikos , who were also veterans of the Alexanderzug .

Even before he reached Gaza, Demetrios had his army line up in battle formation. While his infantry as the classic Macedonian phalanx formed the center, he concentrated his cavalry on the left wing. He attached the decisive importance to this in his strategy by pushing with him into the flank of the opposing phalanx and thus trying to defeat him. To do this, he positioned the bulk of his elephants in front of the cavalry, which were the first offensive weapon to smash the enemy's flank protection and thus clear the way for the cavalry. The right wing under Andronikos should be held back to protect the right flank and, if necessary, used as a reserve. Demetrios thus repeated the tactical concept his father had used in the battles against Eumenes.

On the opposite side, Ptolemy and Seleucus initially formed their army according to the same pattern, that is, with the weight of their mounted forces on the left wing. However, when they were informed of the formation of Demetrios by their scouts and thus became aware of the inferior position of their right wing, they spontaneously changed their plans and relocated their cavalry to the right wing, with which they now faced the left of Demetrios directly. They were slightly outnumbered by him in this position, especially since they had to deploy part of their cavalry to secure their left flank. Above all, however, they had to counter the clout of the elephants facing them. To do this, they laid a carpet of iron spikes in front of their cavalry, which in turn were connected to one another with chains. In addition, they position javelin throwers behind it. It is possible that these measures went back to the initiative of Seleucus, who, unlike Ptolemy, had direct experience in the fight against elephants, as the leader of the shield bearers on foot ( hypaspistes ) in the battle of the Hydaspes against King Poros .

the battle formation according to Diodorus:

position position
left wing
(Demetrios and Peithon)
200 guard riders
200 flanking
guard riders 300 flanking Taranto riders
500 lancers ( sarissophoi )
800 mounted companions ( hetairoi )
1,500 additional mounted men in
front of the wing:
30 elephants
1,000 spear throwers and archers
500 Persian slingers
3,000 mounted men in
front of the wing:
javelin throwers and archers of an undisclosed number, as well as nail chains
right wing
(Ptolemy and Seleucus)
phalanx 11,000 infantrymen
consisting of:
2,000 Macedonians
1,000 Lycians and Phamphylians
8,000 mercenaries in
front of the phalanx:
13 elephants
18,000 infantrymen
consisting of:
right wing
1,500 mounted men 1,000 mounted men left wing

The battle

Ptolemy and Seleucus opened the fight by bypassing their iron carpet with their cavalry and attacking the flank of Demetrius's cavalry. Their attack got caught up in a long-lasting hand-to-hand combat that was even between the two sides. Demetrios saw an opportunity in this, as his opponents thereby opened the right flank of their phalanx, in which he now intended to break his elephants. Instead, however, the elephants ran into the trap of the iron chains, the tips and heels of which injured their limbs and caused him to panic. And since the javelin throwers positioned on the carpet threw their weapons specifically at the Indian elephant handlers, the animals turned into uncontrollable beasts. Above all to Demetrios' disadvantage, in whose own cavalry and phalanx they ran into on their panic escape and thus destroyed their unity. In addition, Ptolemy's men were able to capture several elephants. Bit by bit the troops of Demetrios sheared out of the formation to save themselves from the destructive force of the panicked elephants, which degenerated into a general escape. Demetrios could not stop this development and finally decided to retreat, which he wanted to organize as orderly as possible. Shortly after sunset, he and his remaining troops passed Gaza north. Some of his cavalry units left here to save the baggage that was being stored in the city. Because they failed to close the gates behind them in the prevailing disorder, Ptolemy, who was pursuing them, was able to penetrate the city quickly and easily and finally take it.

Demetrios and his remaining troops reached Ashdod , 170 stadiums away that day, at midnight , from where he sent negotiators to Ptolemy to negotiate a funeral for those who fell in the battle. For Demetrios, Gaza proved to be a heavy defeat; among the dead were his mentor Peithon and Boeotos, a close confidante of his father. However, his opponents gave him back unconditionally for his personal luggage and companions who had fallen into captivity, which the biographer Plutarch saw as a particularly humane gesture and a sign of the greatest respect. Demetrios should not forget this and vowed that one day he would reward the same with the same. Then he retired to Tripoli , where the remnants of his army gradually arrived and he sent a request for help to his father in Asia Minor.


The Diadoch Empire after the Third Diadoch War and the Babylonian War.

His victory only paid off for a short time for Ptolemy. He succeeded in occupying several cities of Koile Syria and southern Phoiniki, such as Ake , Joppa , Samaria and Sidon . His triumphant advance was only stopped before Tire , whose commander Andronikos intended to defend the city. This gave Demetrios the necessary time to reorganize his army, with which he planned a counter attack.

However, Seleucus emerged as the true winner of Gaza. Ptolemy intended to open another front against Antigonus and therefore equipped his friend Seleucus with a troop of 800 infantrymen and 200 cavalrymen with whom he could ride through the Syrian desert to Mesopotamia and there successfully recapture his former satrapy of Babylonia. With this he established his rule, which became the starting point for conquering his own empire ( Seleucid Empire ). The year 312 BC BC was also the first year of the Seleucid calendar .

In the spring of 311 BC BC Ptolemy sent his general Killas with an army and the order to subdue the northern Phenicia. In the meantime, Demetrios had also refreshed and rearranged his troops. Near the town of Myus he achieved a complete victory over Killas, who carelessly let his army camp without special security measures. By capturing the general and 7000 men, Demetrios was able to settle his gap from Gaza and inflict a heavy loss on Ptolemy. He immediately released the general into freedom, including gifts of money for Ptolemy in retaliation for his previous generosity. Shortly thereafter, Antigonos personally reached Syria with his troops, which Demetrios joined. Crucially weakened by the defeat of Myus, Ptolemy felt compelled to give up all his conquests made to Gaza, surrendering to Antigonus in order to retreat to safe Egypt. By the end of 311 BC BC Phoinikien and Koilesyrien were again in Antigonidischen hands, with Gaza as border city to Egypt. At the same time, the third Diadoch war ended with a peace between Antigonus, Ptolemy, Kassander and Lysimachus ( Diadoch peace ). Only Seleucus was exempt, whom Antigonus intended to subjugate. In the so-called four-year Babylonian War , however, he did not succeed in this until he finally had to cede Mesopotamia and the " upper satrapies " to Seleucus.

But Antigonus continued to hold on to his claim to be the sole successor to Alexander. After his son's victory in the great double battle of Salamis in 306 BC. He finally took on the title of king. But at the Battle of Ipsos in 301 BC It found its end and with it the Alexander Empire.


The battle of Gaza has been mentioned by several authors of antiquity, but the most detailed account is in the nineteenth book of the Bibliothéke historiké des Diodorus.


  • Leonard C. Smith: The Chronology of Books XVIII-XX of Diodorus Siculus. In: The American Journal of Philology. Vol. 82, No. 3: 283-290 (1961).
  • Hans Hauben: On the Chronology of the Years 313-311 BC In: The American Journal of Philology. Vol. 94, no. 3 (1973), pp. 256-267.
  • Howard Hayes Scullard : The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World. 1974, pp. 95-97.
  • AM Devine: Diodorus' account of the Battle of Gaza. In: Acta classica. Vol. 27 (1985), pp. 31-40.
  • Richard A. Billows: Antigonos the One-Eyed and the Creation of the Hellenistic State. (1997), pp. 124-130.

Individual evidence

  1. The battle of Gaza is generally believed to have occurred in the second half of 312 BC. Dated. It may have taken place at the beginning of winter, since Demetrios' army was already in his winter camp when he called it up. Diodorus and the marble Parium also attribute them to the period in which Polemon was Archon of Athens (312/311 BC). See hoods p. 257 and Smith p. 288–290.
  2. ^ Diodorus 19, 80, 4.
  3. Diodorus 19, 80, 5.
  4. Diodorus 19, 82, 1-4.
  5. Diodor 19, 83, 4-5.
  6. Diodorus 19, 84, 1-3.
  7. Diodorus 19, 84, 5.
  8. Diodor 19, 84, 7–8.
  9. Diodor 19, 85, 1-2; Plutarch, Demetrius , 5, 2. According to Plutarch, there were 5,000 dead and 8,000 prisoners.
  10. Diodor 19, 85, 3; Plutarch, Demetrius , 5, 3.
  11. Diodorus 19, 85, 5.
  12. Diodorus 19, 90, 1; Appian, Syriake , 54. After Appian there were 1000 infantrymen and 300 cavalrymen.
  13. Diodor 19, 93, 1-3; Plutarch, Demetrius , 6, 1-2.
  14. Diodorus 19, 93, 7.