Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria Ariana (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Battle of the Granicus

Strangely enough the Persian army had made no effort to stop Alexander and his army when crossing the Hellespont, a missed opportunity no doubt, but they now awaited the Macedonian king near the Granicus River in Hellespontine Phrygia, a satrapy that stood under control of Persia.

With my travelling companions of Peter Sommer’s In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great, we head in that direction. The landscape is monotonous and uninspiring. After parking the minivan we walk a short distance over a local asphalted road to the wooden railing of a bridge. It is here that I lay eyes on the Granicus River for the first time, a river like so many, a good 25 meters wide and probably not deeper than one meter. I find it hard to believe that such a decisive battle was actually fought on this lazy rivulet. I am itching to go down to the edge of the water in an urge to get as close as possible to the thick of the fight. Meanwhile locals have stopped by to investigate what we are doing here. I wonder where they all come from, so sudden out of nowhere. They disagree about the location of the fight [a proof that even today Alexander is still being remembered!] and point us further upstream near the remains of a Roman bridge, but Peter has done his research and proves his right based on ancient descriptions of the terrain. At the horizon I can see the wedge in the mountain range through which the Persians had marched to their position.

Alexander arrived at the Granicus late in the spring afternoon in 334 BC, but it is not clear whether he attacked the Persians right away or if he waited till the next morning as Parmenion cautioned him. Alexander’s reply that he would not be stopped by this trickle of water after crossing the Hellespont does not explain either decision. I personally like to think that Alexander attacked immediately as the afternoon sun would shine in the faces of the Persians and might hamper their perception of the enemy – but that is only a personal opinion, of course.

[YouTube with thanks to Jim Cleary]

Both riverbanks are very steep and we scramble down about four meters to the water level. The grass stands high and is very slippery. It’s easier to slide down that to get a good foothold and I wonder how the hypaspists managed with their leather sandals or boots to keep on their feet, let alone in formation! To actually stand here, however, is absolutely thrilling! Peter opens Arrian’s Campaigns of Alexander and starts reading out loud how the fight evolved. It’s a story we all know, but hearing it here on the very spot where both armies clashed is quite unique. There are many frogs jumping around the edge of the river and for some reason they all join in as a loud croaking audience. More frogs have heard the signal and move in, drowning Peter’s voice. The louder he speaks, the louder the croaking. When he stops, they stop. It is great fun, but a very unusual deafening chorus. Spirits from the past, I wonder?

Anyway, here I’m facing the entire Persian army lined up along the opposite river bank and it takes my breath away. They are about 20,000 cavalry having taken position on a very broad front while the infantry (probably not as many as 20,000 as reported by Arrian) behind them – a strange and incomprehensible strategy for the cavalry had no space to charge and the infantry didn’t have the opportunity to fight until it was too late. Peter’s reading is so lively that I can almost feel the Persian presence. With Alexander and most of the Companion cavalry I am standing at the head of the right wing alongside the phalanx that is flanked on the left by the Thessalian and Thracian cavalry under Parmenion’s command.

Arrian writes that there was “a profound hush as both armies stood for a while motionless on the brink of the river”. Everybody’s adrenaline must have risen to an unbearable level! Who was going to shout the battle-cry first? Right, the Macedonians of course, and hell broke loose! Alexander first sent a small battalion across, a new stratagem known as the pawn sacrifice whereby a small detachment was used as a pawn to split up the enemy ranks. This distraction maneuver kept the Persians occupied while Alexander and the right wing set out to cross the river. I look up and down the bank where I am standing. Surely not here? It is too steep! But Alexander’s front spread out over one mile, meaning that he was positioned further upstream where the slope of the riverbank was gentler. The crossing was done diagonally, expanding the Macedonian frontline and enabling them to ride up the opposite riverbank in a continuous formation once again. Parmenion at the other end had moved in much the same way. The Persians defended their precious position and in a hand-to-hand struggle Alexander’s troops ferociously forced their way out of the water while the Persians did all they could to prevent them from getting there. It is impossible to put this clash in a time frame, but once Alexander himself was on the Persian bank he was immediately taken in the thick of the fight and charged straight for the spot where the Persian commanders stood surrounded by serried ranks of their cavalry. Meanwhile the Macedonian infantry was making steady progress and company after company made their way across the river. A fierce fight developed, man against man, horse against horse, each side being determined to take the upper hand. Alexander’s men had been well trained by his father and most had years of experience. Armed with their long sarissai they had a clear advantage over the light lances of the Persians.

In the heat of the fight, Alexander’s spear broke and he called one of his grooms for another one, but the groom had only a stub of his own spear left which he showed to Alexander. He then has to call for one of his bodyguards who luckily could help out his king. At the same time Alexander caught a glance of Mithridates, Darius’ son-in-law riding ahead of a squadron of horse in his direction. He did not hesitate and instantly galloped forward and hit his opponent in the face with his freshly acquired spear. At this point Rhoesaces (satrap of Ionia) rode up to revenge Mithridates and hit Alexander on the head with his scimitar, seriously damaging his helmet but that did not stop Alexander to kill him. Then Spithridates (satrap of Lydia) rode up to him with raised scimitar but was intercepted by Cleitus (the Black) who chopped off his arm with scimitar and all. By now nearly all of the troops had come across and were fighting fiercely. The Persians were pinned down between the push of the Macedonians and their own infantry that was mingling among their horses. Their rout was complete.

The foreign mercenaries fighting for the Persians under command of Memnon of Rhodes had been kept aside and were still holding their original position, apparently struck by the suddenness of the Macedonian attack. Instead of pursuing the fleeing Persian army, Alexander focused on these mercenaries instead, ordering a combined attack of cavalry and infantry to butcher them all. He deeply resented the fact that men from Greece were chosen to side with the Persian king and against him!

Persians losses evidently were high. As for the Macedonians, Arrian mentions that no more than 25 Companion cavalry were killed during the first assault for which Lysippos was ordered to make bronze statues. The group stood in Dion (Greece), the Macedonian religious centre at the foothills of Mount Olympus, till it was moved to Rome in 148 AD by Metellus Macedonicus, having made Macedonia a Roman Province. All in all about sixty cavalry and thirty infantry are said to have fallen at the Granicus. These figures are subject to debate as logically they must have been much higher, but the dead were buried in style with their arms and equipment, and their direct family was exempted from taxes. No records of the wounded were kept; I guess that they must have run in the thousands. It is however, recorded that Alexander visited them all, talking to them about their fight and their injuries, and even examining their wounds.

Alexander then made an offering to Athena and in a gesture to let the Greeks participate in the honors of his victory; he sent 300 full suits of Persian armor to Athens. The inscription that accompanied his gift read as follows: Alexander, son of Philip, and the Greeks (except the Lacedaemonians) dedicate these spoils, taken from the Persians who dwell in Asia. The other spoils, including purple garments were sent as a present to his mother, except for a few items he kept for himself.

This was Alexander’s first victory over the Persians, but he must have realized that although he had won the battle he had not yet defeated the King of Persia. Another confrontation with Darius was inevitable, but when or where was only known by the gods. For now, he had to take advantage of his momentary supremacy and move on to deliver the Ionian cities from their Persian oppressors.


  1. War is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.