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Battle of Issus Area Today

A map of the area around the battle positions

Battle of Issus summary

Battle of Issus (5 or 6 November 333 BCE): famous battle during the war between Macedonia and the Persian Empire. The Macedonian king Alexander the Great defeated Darius III Codomannus, won Phoenicia and Egypt, and destroyed the Persian army.

  1. It was early afternoon when Alexander attacked crossing the river Pinarus
  2. Facing Greek mercenaries fighting for the Persians the phalanx was in trouble. They lost cohesion in the crossing and found it had to maintain their positions in the slippery northern bank of the river
  3. Alexander's cavalry, consisted of horsemen from the Greek allies and the Thessalian riders. They had crossed the shallow delta of the Pinarus, but had had been blocked by the Persian horsemen, which were superior in numbers and were commanded by Darius' chiliarch, Nabarzanes.
  4. Within a few minutes, one of the Thessalian squadrons had been annihilated. The Persians started to push back the other Thessalian riders and the Greek allies, into and across the river.
  5. The regrouped Thessalians and Greek allies had to prevent the destruction of the infantry, and could count on the support of the small reserve that Alexander had, with this purpose in mind, placed behind his lines.
  6. The Persian archers who had, at the beginning of the fight, fired at the right wing of the Macedonian phalanx, had returned through the lines of the Kardakes.
  7. It was during the half minute during which the lines were open (for the archers to pass), that the Macedonian elite cavalry, the Companions, charged. The line of the kardakes collapsed.
  8. The right wing of the Macedonian phalanx joined Alexander and the Companions in the fight on the north bank of the Pinarus.
  9. Alexander attacked the flank of the Persian center. In the meantime, the right wing of the Macedonian army continued the slaughter of the kardakes, who were less heavily armed than the Macedonian soldiers.
  10. As in Platea the Persian soldiers were unable to retreat, because the light armed in their rear were pushing them forward. When they were killed by the Macedonians, they fell on the ground, and became obstacles to the living.
  11. The Macedonian Companions had moved to the left and was attacking Darius' Greek mercenaries. This removed the pressure from the Macedonian phalanx, which refound its energy and started to move forward again.
  12. According to Diodorus, Darius wanted to use a second chariot, which suggests that he did not want to abandon the fight. The other sources, however, suggest that the king of kings merely rode away on a horse. When Nabarzanes saw that his king left the field, he ordered the retreat of his successful cavalry.
  13. The fight had, by now, lasted for about half an hour, and the Macedonians were advancing everywhere.
  14. The Greek and Thessalian cavalry did not pursue their numerous adversaries very far, but winged to the right, to attack the unprotected flank of the Greek mercenaries, who now had to defend themselves against two Macedonian wings and the phalanx.
  15. The massacre continued until sunset and there were no survivors, except for a battalion that managed to break through the Macedonian phalanx, reached the southern bank, and escaped. Alexander and the other horsemen, chasing their enemies, killed hundreds of fleeing Persians.