Arrian and Plutarch on the Battle of Gaugamela (331bc)


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(you may be interested to compare the accounts below with that of Diodorus)
Arrian, Anabasis of Alexander 3.9–15
When the Persians scouts he had captured told Alexander about Darius’ preparations for the battle, he stayed where he was when he heard this information from them for four days; he gave his army some time for rest after their journey, and fortified his camp with a ditch and a palisade; he decided to leave behind his baggage animals and all the soldiers who were not fit for combat, while he would march out to battle himself with those who were ready for battle carrying nothing except their weapons. He took his army out of the camp at night and marched them off at about the second watch, as he wanted to engage with the barbarians at dawn. When Darius was informed that Alexander was already approaching, he got his army ready for battle; in just the same way, Alexander was leading his men in battle formation. The armies were about 60 stades apart, but they could not yet see each other; there were hills in front of both armies.

When Alexander had covered about half the distance, and his army was just beginning to come down the hills, he caught sight of the enemy forces and brought his own phalanx to a halt. Once again, he summoned his companions, generals, squadron leaders and the commanders of allied and mercenary forces and held a council of war to discuss whether he should press on towards the enemy from where they were straightaway, or follow Parmenio’s advice to set up a camp where they were and reconnoitre the whole area, in case there was something suspicious or a serious obstacle, or ditches anywhere, or stakes concealed in the ground; the organisation of the enemy forces could also be checked more carefully. It was decided to follow Parmenio’s advice, and they set up camp where they were, organised ready for the coming battle.

Alexander took with him some light armed troops and the companion cavalry, and made a circuit of the whole area where the purpose of the whole expedition would be decided. When he returned, he summoned again the same leaders, and told them they needed no encouragement from him for the battle ahead; for a long time they had received their encouragement from their acts of bravery and the noble deeds so often accomplished already. However he thought that they should rouse up the men under their command, each man his own company or squadron, since in the coming battle they would not be fighting over Hollow Syria or Phoenicia or Egypt, as before, but the decision was to be made at that very time about who would control the whole of Asia. There was no necessity for long speeches to encourage towards noble deeds men who possessed the right qualities, but they should urge each man to consider in time of danger his own place in the great scheme of battle; they should be completely silent, when that was called for in the advance, and again should make a great shout, when shouting was called for, and they should make their battle cry as fearful as possible, when the time came for the charge and the battle cry; the leaders should obey orders sharply when they received them, and deliver those orders sharply to their squadrons; and every one of them should remember that the whole enterprise was at risk if they did not attend to their duties, but if they put all their energy into what they were doing, they would together achieve success .
Alexander offered these brief words of encouragement, and was in turn encouraged by his commanders to have confidence in them; he ordered his army to eat and get some rest. Some authorities say that Parmenio went to him in his tent, and advised him to attack the Persians at night, as they would not be expecting this and would not be in battle order and would be in a more anxious frame of mind because of the darkness. But, because others were also listening to this conversation, Alexander replied that stealing the victory would be shameful, and that Alexander ought to win his battles openly and without trickery. These noble words of his showed confidence amid dangers rather than arrogance; in my opinion, he accurately estimated what would happen in some such way as this: at night, whether armies have been prepared well or badly for battle, many things happen contrary to expectation, and confound the stronger side, while offering an opportunity for victory to the weaker side against the expectations of both. Alexander took many risks during his campaigns, but he realised that fighting at night was dangerous; in addition, if Darius was again overwhelmed, but in a secret nocturnal attack by the Macedonians, he might deny that he was weaker and led weaker troops, and further if his own forces suffered a setback unexpectedly, all the territory around them was friendly to their enemies who knew the area well, while they did not know the terrain and were surrounded by hostile forces, not the least element of which were the prisoners of war, who would join in the attack against them at night not just if they suffered a defeat, but even if they appeared to be less than completely successful. For these reasons, I praise Alexander, and also for his arrogant preference for open dealings with his enemies.
During the night Darius and his army remained drawn up for battle as they had been from the start, because they did not have a secure camp around them and they feared as well a night attack by the enemy. More than anything else, Persian preparedness for the crisis was undermined by their having stood so long in battle formation and by the fear which usually is felt before great danger; this was not produced by the immediate crisis of battle, but nagged at the soldiers’ morale over a long period of time and dominated their thoughts.

[11.3 – 12 omitted]
When the armies were very close to each other, Darius and his immediate entourage were clearly visible; there were the Persians, who had golden apples on their spears, together with Indians, Albanians, the ‘transplanted’ Carians and the Mardian archers, all drawn opposite Alexander himself and the royal squadron.

Alexander kept leading his forces a little to the right, and the Persians mirrored what he was doing, moving their left wing far beyond the edge of Alexander’s army. The Scythian cavalry were riding along Alexander’s line, and were already engaging those who were drawn up in front of Alexander’s men; nonetheless, Alexander still kept leading his men to the right and had almost made his way clear from the area trampled level by the Persians.

At that point, Darius was afraid that if the Macedonians got to the ground that had not been levelled, his chariots would be useless, so he ordered those troops drawn up in front of his left-wing to ride around a Macedonian right-wing where Alexander was leading, to prevent them going any further to the right. When this happened, Alexander ordered the mercenary cavalry, led by Menidas, to attack. The Scythian cavalry and those of the Bactrians who were stationed with them charged at then in response, and as there were considerably more of them against a small force, put them to flight. Alexander ordered the mercenaries and the Paeonians under the command of Ariston to charge, and the barbarians gave way. The rest of the Bactrians engaged with the Paeonians and the mercenaries, and turned back to the battle those of their own number who were fleeing, making this a full-scale cavalry battle. Greater numbers of Alexander’s men were dying, hard pressed by the number of barbarians and also because the Scythians and their horses were better protected for the fight. Even so, the Macedonians withstood their charges, attacked them strongly, squadron by squadron, and began to break their formation.

In the meantime, the barbarians sent into battle their scythe-bearing chariots towards Alexander himself, in an attempt to disrupt his phalanx. They had no success in this, for as soon as they began to get close, the Agrianians and the javelin throwers led by Balacrus, who were drawn up in front of the cavalry of the companions, hurled their weapons; they grabbed hold of the reins, dragged the men out of the chariots and stood around the horses and struck them. There were a few that got through the Greek battle line, for, as they had been ordered to, the Greeks moved apart at those points were the chariots attacked; this was the reason some got through safely and passed through those they were attacking without doing any damage. The grooms of Alexander’s army and the royal guards finished them off .

When Darius engaged with the whole of the battle line, Alexander ordered Aretas to attack those of the Persian cavalry who were riding around the right wing to encircled him; he himself led those with him for a short time further to the right, but when the cavalry who had been sent to help against the Persians who were encircling the right wing had broken their frontline to some extent, he turned through the gap and made a wedge formation with the companion cavalry and the part of the main phalanx stationed there, and then led them at a run with a full battle cry straight at Darius himself.

For a short time there was hand-to-hand fighting; but when the cavalry around Alexander and Alexander himself pressed strongly on the Persians, thrusting them back and striking their faces with their spears, and the dense Macedonian phalanx, bristling with pikes, had already fully engaged with them, Darius himself, who had now been terrified for a long time, could only see dreadful things around him and was the first to turn and flee; those of the Persians who were riding round the right wing were also thrown into abject terror when those with Aretas attacked forcefully. It was at this point that the rout of the Persians became general, and the Macedonians, following after them, began to slaughter those fleeing.

But the men with Simmias were no longer able to keep up with Alexander in the pursuit, as they were fighting where they stood, because it was reported that the left wing of the Macedonians was in trouble. When their formation was broken, some of the Indians and Persian cavalry made a dash through the gap as far as the baggage animals of the Macedonians; and the fighting there became desperate. The Persians boldly pressed their attack, most of their opponents being unarmed and not expecting anyone to cut through the double line of the phalanx and attack them. In addition, when the Persians attacked, the foreign prisoners of war joined in the assault upon the Macedonians. However the forces assigned to support the first phalanx realised what was happening, and changing their formation, just as they had been ordered, fell upon the Persians from the rear, and killed many of them massed around the baggage, though some escaped and fled. The Persians on the right wing had not yet realised that Darius had fled, but had outflanked Alexander’s left wing and attacked the troops with Parmenio.

At this point in the battle, when the Macedonians were fighting on two fronts for the first time, Parmenio sent a messenger to Alexander saying that that his forces were struggling in the battle and were in need of assistance. When Alexander heard this message, he stopped his pursuit of Darius, and turned with the companion cavalry and charged at the right wing of the barbarians.

First of all, he attacked the enemy cavalry that was fleeing the battlefield, the Parthyaeans, some Indians and the Persians who formed the strongest and most numerous part of the enemy army. This turned out to be the bloodiest cavalry encounter in the whole battle. The barbarians were drawn up in depth by squadrons; they turned and engaged at close quarters with Alexander’s men; there was no longer any javelin throwing or manoeuvring, as you usually get in cavalry encounters, but everyone strained every sinew to make a breakthrough for himself, as the only way of achieving safety, and they fought without holding back, as if they were no longer fighting for somebody else’s victory, but for their very own safety. Here fell about 60 of Alexander’s companions, and Hephaestion himself and Coenus and Menidas were wounded. Alexander defeated these enemies as well.

All of those who broke through Alexander’s men began to flee as fast as they could; Alexander was now on the point of engaging with the right wing of the enemy. In the meantime, the Thessalian cavalry fought outstandingly and were the equals of Alexander in the engagement. The Persian right-wing was already beginning to flee when Alexander attacked them, so Alexander turned away and started once again his pursuit of Darius; he pursued him as long as it was light. The forces with Parmenio pursued those they had been fighting and followed them. Alexander crossed the river Lycus and set up camp there to allow his men and horses a short rest; Parmenio captured the Persian camp, together with their baggage, elephants and camels.

Alexander allowed the cavalry with him to rest until the middle of the night and then again went on as quickly as he could to Arbela, intending to catch Darius there with his money and other royal equipment. He arrived at Arbela next day, having travelled in pursuit all of 600 stades after the battle. He did not capture Darius at Arbela, as he had kept fleeing without any rest; but he did capture his treasure and all his equipment, and once again Darius’ chariot was captured together with his shield and his bow. About 100 of Alexander’s troops died, and more than 1000 horses from wounds and from their suffering during the pursuit; about half of these came from the companion cavalry. The barbarian dead numbered about 300,000, but many more than this were captured alive, together with the elephants and all the chariots which had not been destroyed in the battle. Such was the ending of the battle of Gaugamela, in the month Pyanepsion when Aristophanes was archon in Athens; Aristander’s prophecy turned out to be true that Alexander’s battle and victory would be in the same month in which the moon suffered an eclipse.

Plutarch, Life of Alexander 31–33
When Alexander had brought all the territory from the Greek coast to the Euphrates under his control, he began to march against Darius, who was coming to face him with a million men.

One of his companions told him (as something very amusing) that the camp followers for fun had divided themselves into two groups and had appointed a leader and general for each side, calling one Alexander and the other Darius; at first they hurled lumps of earth at each other, then fought with their fists, and finally, overexcited by the contest, they went as far as stones and clubs, as there were many men on either side and they did not want to stop. When Alexander heard this, he told the leaders to fight in single combat, and he provided the armour for the leader dubbed ‘Alexander’, while Philotas did the same for ‘Darius’. The whole army watched the spectacle, as they considered that the result would give an indication of what would happen in the future. The battle was a tough one and in the end the one called Alexander was victorious and received as a prize 12 villages and the right to wear Persian dress. This is the story told by Eratosthenes.

The great battle against Darius did not take place at Arbela, as many writers say, but at Gaugamela. Men say that this name means ‘camel’s home’ in the local language, since one of the ancient kings escaped his enemies on a swift camel and gave the beast a home there, with villages and tax revenue to pay for its upkeep. There was an eclipse of the moon during September about the time of the beginning of the Mysteries at Athens, and on the 11th night after the eclipse, when the armies were in sight of each other, Darius kept his forces at arms and went through the ranks by torchlight, but Alexander, while his Macedonian forces were resting, stayed in front of his tent with the seer Aristander, performing secret rites and offering sacrifices to the god Phobos.

The older of his companions, amongst them Parmenio, when they saw the whole plain between the River Niphates and the Gordyaean Mountains bright with the fires lit by the barbarians and heard a confused din of voices like the roar of the open sea, were amazed at the number of the enemy, and told each other that it would be a great and difficult task to win so great a battle in the light of day. They went up to the king when he completed his sacred rites and tried to persuade him to attack the enemy by night and in this way the cover up the most terrifying aspect of the coming contest with darkness. Alexander gave a memorable reply, “I do not steal my victory”. Some thought this a childish and empty headed reply, as if he were making light of so great a danger. However there were others who felt that Alexander showed confidence at a critical moment and that he had weighed up what would happen correctly, as he didn’t want to give Darius any reason for confidence in another battle if he were defeated, blaming the night and the darkness as before he blamed mountains and narrow passages and the sea. Alexander knew that Darius would not stop fighting through lack of weapons or men since he had so great an army and so vast an empire, but only when he gave up any hope of success and was convinced by clear-cut and utter defeat.

When his companions had left, Alexander is said to have slept in his tent for the remaining part of the night, much more deeply than he usually did; when his commanders came to his tent in the morning they were amazed and gave the order themselves for the soldiers to have breakfast. Then, as the right moment for battle was approaching, Parmenio went into his tent and standing beside the bed called his name two or three times. When he had woken him he asked Alexander how he could sleep as if he had just won a victory, when he was about to fight the greatest battle all those he had fought. Alexander replied with a smile, “Why do you say that? Don’t you think we have already won a great victory as we are freed from chasing through this vast expanse of desolate land after Darius as he flees from battle?”

Not only before the battle, but also in the very midst of dangers he showed himself great and confident in the calculations he had made. In the battle on the left wing Parmenio was pushed back and was in difficulty, when the Bactrian cavalry fell on the Macedonians violently and with great force; Mazaeus sent some cavalrymen around the edge of the battle to attack those who were protecting the Macedonian baggage. Then Parmenio, concerned by both these events, sent messengers to Alexander to tell him that the camp and the baggage were lost, unless he sent very quickly some strong assistance from the front line to those at the rear. At that point, Alexander happened to be giving the signal to advance to those with him; when he heard the message from Parmenio, he said that Parmenio was not thinking straight but had forgotten in his confusion that those who were victorious gained whatever the enemy had in addition to their own, while those who were being defeated must not think about money or about slaves but how best they might fight bravely and die a noble death.

Alexander sent this message to Parmenio and then put on his helmet – he had been wearing the rest of his armour since he left his tent; he wore a belted Sicilian tunic, with a double breastplate over it which was part of the spoils captured at the battle of Issus. His helmet was made of iron, though it gleamed like pure silver, made by Theophilus; there was a neck piece fitted to it, also made of iron, set with precious stones; he had a sword marvellous for its lightness and tempering, a gift from the king of Citium, and he used a sword for the most part in his battles. He wore a cloak more elaborate in its craftsmanship than the rest of his armour; it had been made by Helicon the ancient, and was a mark of respect from the city of Rhodes, which had presented it to him; he also usually wore this in battle. As long as he was riding through his troops, issuing orders or encouraging them, giving instructions or reviewing his men, he used another horse, sparing Boucephalas as he was past his prime; but when he set out for battle, Boucephalas was brought to him, and he mounted him and at once led the attack.

On this occasion he said a great deal to the Thessalians and the other Greeks; when they urged him to lead them against the barbarians, he took his spear in his left hand and with his right, as Callisthenes says, he appealed to the gods in prayer that if he truly was the son of Zeus they should protect and strengthen the Greeks. Aristander the seer, in a white cloak with a golden garland on his head, rode along pointing to an eagle which hovered above the head of Alexander and then made a straight flight towards the enemy, which brought great encouragement to those who saw it; after encouraging each other, the cavalry raced at full speed towards the enemy, and the infantry phalanx rolled forward like a wave. Before those at the front could engage with the enemy, the barbarians gave ground, and the Greeks came after them, as Alexander drove those who were conquered into the middle of the battlefield where Darius was. He saw him from a distance through the dense ranks of the Royal Squadron, a tall, noble looking man, travelling in a high chariot, protected by many splendid cavalrymen, drawn up in close order around his chariot and ready to face the enemy. But when they saw Alexander close by, terrible in appearance and driving those who were fleeing towards those who stood their ground, they were terrified and the majority scattered. The best and most noble of them were slaughtered in front of the king and falling on top of one another hindered the pursuit, entangling both riders and horses.

But Darius, as all the terrors of the battlefield were before him and he could see the forces assigned to his protection driven back towards him, left his chariot and his weapons, and, they say, mounted a mare which was newly foaled and escaped from the battlefield. For it was not easy to turn his chariot and ride away on it, as the wheels were blocked, entangled with so many dead bodies, and the horses were trapped and hidden by the great number of those who had fallen, and were rearing up and terrifying the charioteer. It is believed that he would not have escaped if some of the cavalrymen of Parmenio had not come to Alexander, asking him to bring help, as there was still a considerable force of the enemy in the field where they were, and they were not yet surrendering. Many have blamed Parmenio for being sluggish and ineffectual in this battle, either because old age had already undermined his bravery or, as Callisthenes says, he was depressed and envious of the authority and self-importance of Alexander’s power. At this point, the king, although he was annoyed by the summons, did not tell his soldiers the truth, but recalled his forces, on the grounds that it was dark and he wanted to stop the slaughtering. As he rode towards the part of his forces that was in danger, he heard as he was travelling that the enemy had been completely vanquished and was in flight.