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Alexander's War Tactics at the Battle of Issus

by A.C.


Life of Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great was a great man and soldier. He came from royal blood and had great teachers to help him learn everything he had to know to be a great soldier and leader. Here is some information on Alexander the Great:

  • Born on the 6th of Hecatombaeon (July-August) 356 BCE (Fuller 55-66)
  • He was the son of Olympias and Philip, the queen and king of Macedonia (Fuller 55-66)
  • Alexander claimed his descent from Achilles and Heracles (Fuller 55-66)
  • He was very fond of drink and got quite violent when he drank (Fuller 55-66)
  • Although he was never in love, Alexander married twice for political reasons (Fuller 55-66)
  • Inherited throne in 336 BCE when Philip was murdered (Fuller 55-66)
  • Alexander died in Babylon in 324 BCE (Fuller 55-66)


The great philosopher Aristotle, Alexander's personal teacher, taught Alexander many things, such as:

  • Philosophy, medicine, botany, zoology, and geography
  • Inspired him with a love for poetry and Greek culture (Fuller 55-66)
  • Gave Alexander his first copy of the Iliad, which was said to be Alexander's constant companion in battle (Fuller 55-66)
  • Inspired Alexander's detestation for Persians (Fuller 55-66)


  • Alexander led more campaigns than any other general of his day (Fuller 55-66)
  • Commanded respect from his soldiers and his enemies, and he respected them (Fuller 55-66)
  • Alexander conquered more than half of the known world during his lifetime(Fuller 55-66)

Battle of Issus

The battle of Issus was considered a great victory by Alexander. He was considerably outnumbered and his men were very tired. Alexander won the battle, but it was not a decisive victory for him. Here is some information on the Battle of Issus:

  • The battle was not fought at Issus, it was fought on the Pinarus River on the south-eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea (Hammond 96)
  • The battle was between Alexander and Darius, the Persian general (First meeting with Darius)
  • The Persians had 600,000 men, Alexander only had 75,000 (Arrian 155)
  • Alexander held back a reserve force, the first time it had ever been done (First meeting with Darius)
  • In all 124,950 soldiers died during the battle, 110,000 Persians (Fuller 162), 450 Macedonians died and 4500 were wounded, and 10,000 Greek mercenaries (Green 162, 235)
  • The battle was won by Alexander and the Macedonians


Both Alexander and Darius had allies from other lands at the Battle of Issus, they were:

  • Darius and the Persians: Greek mercenaries, and the Kardakes (Arrian 153-155)
  • Alexander and the Macedonians: the Thessalians, and the Agrianes (Arrian 155-157)

Beginning of battle

The beginning of the battle is the opening manuevers, before any actual fighting takes place. The Battle of Issus began as follows:

Darius entered Issus in late October or early November, 333 BCE. Alexander had taken his men on a forced march to Myriandrus, thinking this was where Darius was going (Fuller 154). Alexander had left all of his sick and wounded at Issus. When Darius got to Issus, he killed all of Alexander's hospital cases. Darius learned of Alexander's position and took his troops to the Pinarus and took a defensive position on the northern bank, right along Alexander's line of communication (Green 224-226). Once Alexander learned of Darius' position, he gave a rousing speech to his men and positioned his men for battle. Alexander put his cavalry, the Thessalians, allies of the Macedonians, and his Macedonians on the right, and other allies on the left. Darius stationed 30,000 Greek mercenaries against the Macedonian phalanx and on either side 60,000 Kardakes, who were allies of the Persians, he also put 20,000 men on the ridge to face Alexander's right (Arrian 147-155). Darius was in the center of his army behind the Royal Bodyguard. Darius moved all of his best troops against Alexander's left, so Alexander moved the Thessalians to the left as reinforcements. Both armies deployed, but the Macedonian army stopped when thy got to within arrow shot of the Persians, hoping they would attack, but Darius had a good defensive position, and was not leaving it (Green 228-230).

Middle of battle

This is where the actual fighting starts. The middle is where the Macedonians and the Persians jockey for position, before the battle is decided.

Alexander had thrown out his right wing in advance at the Persian left-center, right where Darius was stationed (Montross 26). The Persian left gave way very quickly, a quick victory for the Macedonians (Arrian 161). The Macedonian phalanx had lost its solidarity while crossing the Pinarus (Montross 26). A gap opened in the right flank of the Macedonian phalanx and the Greek mercenaries took advantage, driving a deep wedge into the Macedonian line. Alexander swung his cavalry around against the rear files of the mercenaries (Green 231).

End of battle

The jockeying for position has taken place and Alexander is about to come out on top.

Alexander's battalions went to help out in the center. The Persian cavalry would not give way, but attacked the Thessalian squadrons, during this time, Darius took flight and the Persian army soon gave way without its leader (Arrian 163-165). Only the Greek mercenaries stood their ground, dying as they were attacked from all sides (Montross 26). The Persians suffered their heaviest loses in retreat (Arrian 165). The Macedonian army and Alexander took off after Darius, but couldn't catch him, he had a half-mile head start (Green 233).

After the battle

The battle is over, the Macedonians have won. However, the story isn't quite over.

Once Alexander had gotten to the Persian camp, he and his soldiers proceeded to loot it, Alexander getting the best things, things from Darius' tent. While there, Alexander found Darius' mother, wife, and children mourning for Darius because they had found Darius' armor, which he had thrown off in flight, and thought him dead. Alexander sent someone to clear up the misunderstanding and treated them with the respect deserving of a royal family (Green 233). Finally, they had a funeral for the Macedonian dead (Arrian 168). Darius and the Persians suffered heavy losses at the Battle of Issus: 100,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry were killed (Fuller 162). Alexander and the Macedonians lost only 450 infantrymen, but had 4500 wounded (Green 162).

Victories during battle

During every battle there are always minor victories in different parts of the battlefield that influence the overall outcome, these are the minor victories during the Battle of Issus:

  • At the very start of the battle, the right wing of the Macedonian army had a quick victory against the left wing of the Persian army (Arrian 161)
  • The Greek mercenaries, allies of the Persians, defeated the right flank of the Macedonian phalanx during the early stages of the battle (Green 231)
  • Since the Persian left wing had been defeated so quickly, Alexander moved his right wing to the center to help out, this caused Darius to retreat since he was in the center, and then the rest of the Persian army soon gave way (Arrian 163-165)
  • However, the Greek mercenaries stood their ground, but they were attacked from all sides and of them were killed except 10,000 (Montross 26)

In closing

The Battle of Issus was a great battle between Alexander and Darius. However, it wasn't the last. But, Alexander won, and changed the face of modern-day war.


Works Cited

"Alexander the Great: First Meeting with Darius." 14 Dec 1998. Online. 14 Oct 1999 Http:// D=7.

Arrian. Arrian: History of Alexander and Indica 1. Trans. E. Iliff Robson. Cambridge: Harvard, 1967.

Fuller, John Frederick Charles. Generalship of Alexander the Great. Rahway, New Jersey: Quinn & Boden, 1960.

Green, Peter. Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B. C. : A Historical Biography. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

Hammond, Nicholas G. J. Alexander the Great: King, Commander, and Statesman. New Jersey: Noyes, 1980.

Keegan, John. A History of Warfare. New York: Knopf, 1993.

Montross, Lynn. War through the Ages. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1960.

Other Alexander the Great Links

Alexander "The Great" by Plutarch

Beyond Renault: Alexander the Great in Fiction, WWI-Present /j/r/jrz3/beyondrenault.html

Alexander the Great Project

Alexander the Great History Project

Alexander of Macedon Temple

Great Page of Alexander

Alexanderama http://www-

Some great none Alexander links

Rich East web site

My 4th Amendment web site

History and Thought of Western Man
Rich East High School * Park Forest, IL 60466

This page was created by A.C. Last revised 5/11/2000.

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