The Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC)

The Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC)

The battle, that is considered to be a tactical masterpiece, meant a decisive victory for Alexander the Great against Persia.



Battle of Gaugamela, Alexander the Great, Alexander III, Darius III, 331 BC, Gaugamela, Macedonian Empire, Persian Empire, Persians, Macedonians, Hellenes, phalanx, hoplites, archers, war wagons, hetairoi, infantry, cavalry, Bessus, Parmenion, Mazaeus, war elephants, 4th century BC, military campaign, battle, military history, strategy, tactics, history, antiquity, Iraq

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  • Greek-Macedonian army
  • Persian army

Alexander III started his legendary campaign with the aim of conquering the Persian Empire. The crucial battle between the two armies took place on the plain near Gaugamela. The battle, often referred to as Alexander's masterpiece of tactics, ended in a victory for the Macedonians, in spite of the unequal balance of forces. The fate of the Persian Empire was sealed.

The Persian king fled from the battlefield, but Alexander gave chase. A year later Bessus, satrap of Bactria, captured and murdered Darius. When Alexander found out his respected enemy was dead, he had his body taken back to Persepolis and buried in a ceremony worthy of a ruler. His killer Bessus, on the other hand, received serious punishment for his cruelty.

Greek-Macedonian army

  • defensive left flank (Parmenion)
  • diagonal phalanx
  • rear auxiliary phalanx
  • offensive right flank (Alexander the Great and the Hetairoi)

The Hetairoi

The heavy cavalry (the Companions, Hetairoi in Greek) contributed much to Alexander the Great’s successes. They were the sons of Macedonian nobles, a truly elite unit. In battle, they were always under the personal command of Alexander.

Persian army

  • left flank (cavalry, Bessus)
  • chariots (Darius III) and the war elephants
  • Persian infantry
  • right flank (cavalry, Mazaeus)

The tanks of antiquity

The use of elephants in war dates back to the 2nd millennium BC. The Persians probably learnt this tactical element from the Indians. 15 elephants were used in the battle of Gaugamela against the Macedonians. The presence of the elephants prompted Alexander on the eve of the battle to offer a sacrifice to Phobos, the mythological god of fear.

Stages of the battle

  • defensive left flank
  • diagonal phalanx
  • rear auxiliary phalanx
  • offensive right flank
  • left wing
  • chariots and war elephants
  • Persian infantry
  • right wing


The Macedonian phalanx, attacking in an oblique order, charged towards the Persians. Their chariots and war elephants could not hold them up.

The encircling manoeuvre of the Persian left flank was unsuccessful as well. The hetairoi broke through the weak points of the Persian ranks.

Some units of the Persian army managed to break through the Macedonian phalanx and reached their camp. The Persian cavalry charged the Macedonian left flank.

Alexander’s heavy cavalry charged the Persian cavalry from the rear. After losing his chariot driver, Darius fled from the battlefield.

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