Did Alexander Use The Same Maneuver For Decades?

Battle of Hydraspes


There were never even odds against Alexander the Great. Alexander had a distinct advantage over you on a field of battle. He was a bold commander and had absolute loyalty from his officer corps. His men were well trained and they won so often against larger forces that a field full of Persians didn’t scare them in the least. What Alexander was really good at was exploiting small gaps in the center line as he did at the Battle of Issus in 333 BC. Issus is now at a port town in Turkey called Dortyol. It is a fairly pretty Turkish port city whose bay faces the Mediterranean and at night if you stand on a bridge over the River Pinarus and look out over the city lights you can see soft rolling hills limned into the plains that face the sea.


It was here that Darius III decided to intervene into the affairs of the Macedonian Empire and challenged Alexander with 30,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. Alexander also had 30,000 infantry and 5000 cavalry when the armies faced off against each other over the Pinarus River. Fighting for Darius was a massive contingent of Greek mercenary infantry. Of course Alexander hated these men the most as they not only challenged his authority they were traitors to their own people. To his advantage, Alexander also understood the psychologically devastating effect it had on troops when a smaller force bests your own forces in open daylight. Its unnerving. More often than not, a couple of well placed tactical strikes sufficiently violent was not exactly enough to unnerve the Persians and send them riding for the hills. There was an exception to that. Alexander knew it.


It was while studying Issus that I noticed that Alexander saw an opening in the Persian line in the center, directly across the river – and moved his infantry through the hole, across water, followed by cavalry that circled around the flank and enveloped the panicked Persians. Consider this: It was at Gaugamela in 331 BC that the stretched out Persian line again betrayed a small opening and the Macedonian phalanx punched through it and struck moments away from where Darius was sitting. As in the Battle of Issus, once the leaders started running, the rest of the army was soon to follow. When I looked back at the Battle of Granicus, the first major battle with the Persians and Alexander after the death of Phillip, I discovered something that surprised me: Alexander made the same move often enough that no historian I have seen before has ever connected the dots. Like Issus, vastly outnumbered, and attacking across a river, he forded the river in a bold move at the center of the line. Often he went in at an oblique angle. This approach could defeat the front facings of nine-foot long hoplite dorys in the phallanx. By moving almost sideways, the points of the spears are avoided and pushed aside, creating a hole. Alexander also performed this exact same maneuver at Gaugamela. Alexander attacked straight up the middle in an uneven echelon formation left flank denied. He broke the front line at an angle and opened a hole in the line using the long spears as a lever. Once the hole was opened he quickly attacked the king across the river. Once the king ran, the troops ran.


Often Alexander used an attack on the center as a way to pin troops down so his cavalry could wheel around behind them. He did this at Granicus, Gaugamela and Issus. He also did this very maneuver at the Battle of Hydraspes in 326 while pushing Porus and his Indian troops out of Anatolia. The reason this struck me is that every time I tried memorizing these battles, they all seemed to be the same battle. In many ways, they were.



Battle of Gaugamela, Surprise Attack Up The Middle
Battle of Granicus, Surprise Attack Up The Middle.
Battle of Issus, Surprise Attack Up The Middle



 Source: Wikipedia The Campaigns of Alexander, (Penguin Classics) by Arrian. J. R. Hamilton and Aubrey De Selincourt.  Alecander The Great, Jacob Abbott.   Alexander The Great, Cartledge, 2002, Pan Books. History Channel.


1 thought on “Did Alexander Use The Same Maneuver For Decades?”

  1. I think this sentence is rather misleading: “It was here that Darius III decided to intervene into the affairs of the Macedonian Empire”.
    Darius was intervening in Alexander running around in his (Darius) backyard, and defeating underlings left, right and center. Basically Darius came with the night guard to get rid of this upstart burglar, who was intend on taking over the house.

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