Alexander the Great fought many battles throughout his life, and all held some significance in his long term plans, but his first battle against Darius, the Persian ruler, was very important for both his campaign, and his men’s morale. Although it had a shaky start for Alexander and his men were out numbered, Alexander proved once again his prowess on the battlefield, eventually forcing Darius to flee.
In 333BCE Alexander had won his first major battle in Persia, at Granicus, but he had yet to face the Persian ruler Darius. He and his army marched south through Asia Minor conquering cities, as Alexander travelled through Phoenicia he passed by and conquered the city of Issus. Here he left his sick and wounded to recover, which unfortunately turned out to be a poor decision for those left behind. As Alexander travelled south, on the coastal side of the mountains, Darius waited in a strategically chosen location on the far side of the same range, waiting for Alexander. Unfortunately for Darius, Alexander fell ill and his travel was long delayed, not to mention he was on the wrong side of the mountains. So Darius followed his adisors advice and marched his army across the mountain range to com up behind Alexander. Arrian confirms that when “Alexander heard the report that Darius was in his rear [he] did not believe the report”. He sent a ship back, which returned to confirm the information. Alexander promptly turned his armies and marched back towards Issus. Meanwhile Darius had slaughtered the sick and wounded of Alexander’s army, all those left at Issus, and continued towards Alexander. The two armies met across the river Pinarus, at a place where Darius could not easily use his numerical advantage.
In a narrow field between the mediterranean sea and the mountains, Alexander lined up his troops in classic battle formation. The Macedonian phalanx stood centre, serisas at the ready. On their left was the Thessalian cavalry, behind them the merceneries, and to their right was the companion cavalry, led by Alexander himself. The Hypastists were placed between the phalanx and the companion cavalry, as a communication line from Alexander to his men. He also kept a small group of light infantry behind the rest of the army, who came into play a little later in the battle. The Persians made the first move, as their right wing cavalry attacked the Thessalians, Alexander sent the mercenaries to back them up and sent his phlanx towards the centre of the Persian ranks. Unfortunately this was not as effective as possible because the phalanx ended up split, with half the line on the opposite bank, and half either partway across the river, or still on the southern bank. The Greek Mercenaries, which Darius employed were front and centre, and seeing this gap, charged forward, hoping to take advantage of the gap. Alexander led his companion cavalry on a successful charge into the Persian line. They broke through and at this point the light infantry had marched around the armies, and joining forces with the cavalry the Persian light infantry on Darius’ left soon found themselves surrounded. They retreated, and, realising that his line was broken and his army defeated, Darius too fled.
Alexander’s victory meant a lot to him because he had gone into the battle with a strategical disadvantage. His army was tired from the many months of marching, his force was also smaller and less well organised than Darius’ men, but his military genius and well trained army gained him victory in the end. This was also a morale boost for his tired troops, they had defeated the Persians in a battle they seemed tipped to lose. Not only were his troops on his side, but more than ever home support grew for Alexander. This helped by the propoganda that was sent back to Macedonia and Greece, Arrian wrote that this victory showed that the gods were on Alexander’s side in the invasion of Asia Minor “For it was fated that the Persians should be deprived of the sovereignty of Asia by the Macedonians.” This battle was the first time Alexander had faced Darius in battle and he won decisively, breaking Darius’ power and giving him the upper hand in the battle for Asia Minor.
Alexander was surprised by the Persian army sneaking up behind him, and had the numerical disadvantage in battle, but with his clever tactics and well thought out strategy he beat the Persian force. This gave him the power in the immediate region and meant that Darius’ power was broken.