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Despite the victory at Marathon, won by the Greeks in 490 BC, the Persian Empire continued to be a serious threat to Hellas for another century and a half. Just ten years after the marathon defeat, the king of Persia, Xerxes, made a new attempt to invade the Balkans. His huge army, significantly superior to the army that his father Darius sent to Marathon, suffered a severe defeat at Plataea, and the fleet was crushed by the Greeks at Salamis. But despite this heavy defeat, Persia regained its strength, while the city-states of Greece were embroiled in a series of bloody feuds.
First, Sparta crushed Athens during the Peloponnesian War, and then itself was defeated by Thebes. In the end, internal wars weakened Greece to such an extent that Philip II of Macedon, assisted by his son Alexander, was able to advance south and conquer most of the Balkan Peninsula.
Although Persia remained a great empire after the invasion of Xerxes, it never again aroused the same awe among the Greeks as before. The victories at Marathon, Salamis and Plataea gave a powerful impetus to the growth of national identity and pride in Greece. At the burial place of the great playwright Aeschylus, who fought at Maraforn, it was carved on the rock: "Aeschylus lies under this stone … A grove near Marathon, or the long-haired Persians who know him well, can tell about his noble skill." There was not a word about his plays, although he even dedicated one of them to his enemies, and it was called “The Persians”. Aeschylus showed the Persians as lovers of luxury, inferior in firmness and stamina to the Greeks. However, for his contemporaries, he was primarily not a playwright, but a man who stood in the ranks of the phalanx at Marathon.
However, the seeds of propaganda sown by Aeschylus bore fruit, and now other playwrights, for example, Aristophanes, began to portray the Persians as pampered and even effeminate. In Greek society, which once trembled before the army of Darius, completely different ideas about the sworn enemy took root - now the Persians were considered weak and cowardly barbarians who could not resist the Greek army.
How it all began…In truth, on the eve of the invasion of Alexander's army, the Persian Empire was probably at the zenith of its power. In the IV century BC. she was the only superpower of the then world. Its area was about 7.5 million square kilometers, and the borders stretched from the Aegean Sea to India. The population of the empire was likely to be over forty million - twice the rate in France under Louis XIV. Persia possessed the largest army in the world and riches beyond the imagination of Alexander.
Alexander himself, in turn, although nominally ruled Greece, united as part of the conquest campaigns of his father Philip, was in a rather difficult position. Most Greeks considered Macedonia a wild, almost barbaric country, and Alexander himself, although he took lessons from Aristotle himself, seemed to them a savage. Most regions of Greece could not tolerate Macedonian rule, and Sparta generally remained unconquered. When Alexander's father, King Philip II, conquered Greece, he sent a warning to the Spartans: "If I enter Laconia, I will destroy Sparta to the ground." The Spartans answered shortly: "If." The precarious position of Macedonian power in Greece forced Alexander to leave significant forces in the Balkans when he was preparing to march on Persia.
Beginning his expedition in 334 BC, Alexander crossed the Hellespont and landed in Asia Minor. There he met a hastily assembled Persian army along the Granik River. In the course of a stubborn battle, during which Alexander himself almost died, the Macedonians defeated the army of the Persians, and thereby opened their way to the interior regions of Anatolia. Over the next few months, Alexander's troops expanded the boundaries of the captured territory, and in the spring of the following year, 333, Macedonian troops passed through the Cilician gate and entered the Levant. There, at Issus, Alexander met the main Persian army, commanded by the Great King Darius III himself. And again the battle turned out to be stubborn, and for a long time the scales did not tilt on either side, until, finally, Alexander personally led the elite cavalry units into battle. With a powerful blow, the Macedonian cavalry crushed the right flank of the Persian army, and then unexpectedly attacked the detachments of the Greek mercenaries of Darius - his best forces. The formation of the Persian army cracked and fell, the soldiers fled. Darius himself in a hurry left his marching treasury, due to which Alexander paid salaries to his soldiers over the next few years. Darius also left his wife, mother and two daughters. Curtius Rufus, one of the historians of Alexander's campaigns, left us an interesting description: “Around the chariot of Darius lay his most famous commanders, who died in front of their king, accepting a glorious death, and now everyone lay face down where they fought, wounded only in breast".
The victory at Issus temporarily eliminated the threat posed by Darius and the Persian forces, but Alexander spent 333 and 332 BC. to conquer the Levant, where he besieged the cities of Tire and Gaza. The siege of Tire was given to the Macedonians so hard that when the city fell, they knew no pity for the locals. The siege of Gaza was also not easy, and during one of the storming of the city walls, Alexander himself was wounded in the shoulder. The inhabitants of Jerusalem turned out to be more cunning - not wanting to repeat what happened in Tire, they themselves opened the gates in front of the Macedonians, and then showed Alexander the book of the prophet Daniel, in which it was predicted that the great Greek king would crush the Persian Empire. Pleased with the prophecy, Alexander spared the city and went on to Egypt. There he was greeted as a liberator and proclaimed a living god.
Forward to the heart of Persia
By the beginning of 331 BC, after the establishment of Macedonian rule in Egypt and the founding of Alexandria, the young conquering king was ready to head to the heart of the Persian Empire. It is difficult to say why Darius allowed Alexander to force the Tigris and Euphrates rivers - most likely, he expected that the Macedonians would go slightly south of the route that they eventually chose, and waited for them there. Be that as it may, the Great Tsar was in no hurry - he was gathering forces, since he rightly believed that only a decisive and unconditional victory in one general battle would allow him not only to eliminate the Macedonian threat, but also to restore the shaken prestige. A wide plain near the town of Gaugamela was chosen as the symbol of the future great battle.
Waiting for the arrival of the Macedonians, Darius did not allow his army to relax, keeping it in constant combat readiness. In order to cheer up the soldiers, he left his dear tent and rode in a chariot between the soldiers' bonfires, showing people that at that hour he was with them. However, such vigilance ultimately left the Persians sideways, because while they tirelessly awaited an attack, allowing themselves only a short rest, the Macedonians were gaining strength.
Alexander's army slowly approached the valley at the end of September 331 BC. Parmenion, one of the best Macedonian generals, advised his king to attack the Persians at night, but Alexander rejected this idea, saying: "I will not humiliate myself by stealing victory like a thief." Probably, this position also contained a certain pragmatism - the Macedonian king understood the full danger of a night attack, during which his ideally synchronized and aligned troops could lose order.
After a proper rest, the Macedonians began to form in battle formations shortly before dawn on October 1, 331 BC, but Alexander himself was not visible. Concerned, Parmenion rushed to the royal tent, expecting the worst, but found that the emperor was simply asleep, and the commander even had to make considerable efforts to push Alexander aside. Finally, after all organizational issues were resolved, the Macedonian army moved forward - to Gaugamela, where the Persians were waiting for it.
And what about Darius?
Darius, as already mentioned, gathered all the forces at his disposal for the battle. In the center of this huge army, the Great Tsar himself took a position, surrounded by his personal guard - the "immortals". On either side of this elite squad were Greek mercenaries, the only force in the entire Persian army capable of fighting the Macedonian phalanx head-on. On the edges stood the Babylonians, Hindus and other subjects of the empire, and in front was the secret weapon of Darius - fifteen war elephants and about a hundred sickle chariots. The left flank of the Persian army was led by Bess, the closest military leader to the king, who led the Bactrians to the Gaugamels, who were natives of the regions he ruled. The right flank was ruled by another prominent military leader - Mazey.
Despite the large number, the army of Darius had a number of shortcomings. The first was that, despite the presence of elite units, the bulk of the troops had rather low combat qualities. Darius's veterans, his finest warriors, were mostly killed fighting the Macedonians at Granicus and Issa, and these experienced soldiers were now sorely lacking when it came to managing such huge masses. This was the second significant drawback of the imperial army - it was to a significant extent a poorly organized crowd of gigantic proportions. Alexander's army was significantly inferior to the Persians in numbers - the Macedonian king brought about seven thousand horsemen and forty thousand infantrymen to the field near Gavgamel, but his soldiers were superior to the enemy in quality. Realizing, nevertheless, that the enemy, simply due to its large numbers, would be able to attempt an encirclement, Alexander ordered the flanks to deviate back at an angle of 45 degrees relative to the center. Realizing that the fate of the battle would most likely be decided on the Macedonian right flank, the young king settled there.
Finally, as the Macedonian army approached closer and closer, Darius ordered his cavalry to bypass the enemy's right flank and strike the enemy in the rear. Bess immediately threw a thousand of his Bactrian horsemen into battle. Seeing this, Alexander gave the order to Menidus to lead a counterattack, but he had only four hundred men with him, therefore, after a short but stubborn battle, the Greek detachment rolled back. When Menid retreated, Alexander dispatched his heavy cavalry against the Persians, and this blow crushed the Bactrians. Bess tried to rectify the situation, throwing more and more reinforcements into battle, and on the right flank of the Macedonian army every hour a bloody whirlpool grew, drawing in troops from both sides.
Darius was shocked - he placed his best cavalry under the command of Bessus and clearly made a significant bet on this flank attack, but there was still no result. When the Macedonian cavalry began to overpower, and the Bactrians began to withdraw from the battle and retreat one by one, the Great King realized that I urgently needed something in my plans for battle. And then he gave the order to join the battle with his serpentine chariots, directing them to the slowly advancing Macedonian infantry. But the Greeks were ready for this. The phalanx hoplites deliberately left corridors between their buildings, literally inviting the chariots there. In reality, it was a trap, and as soon as the Persians approached fast enough, a shower of arrows and stones from archers and slingers fell upon them. Some of the shells hit the horses, they fell, wounded or dead, and created congestion, interfering with other drivers. In this chaos, light Greek infantrymen emerged from the clouds of dust and quickly finished off the chariot carriages, then disappearing as suddenly as they appeared.
When the chariots attack
The chariot attack failed, the Macedonian infantry continued to move, and at that moment Alexander noticed that a hole had formed among the orders of the Persian army. Previously, the troops of Bessus stood at this place, then attacked the Macedonian right flank, but now they were scattered, and the remaining troops of Darius did not have time to close their formation and eliminate this gap. The Macedonian king gathered several detachments of cavalry into a fist, intending to wedge into this space and, thus, cut the formation of all the Persian army. This attack broke the order of the army of Darius, and it became clear to the Great King that the battle was lost. A fierce battle boiled around his chariot, the "immortals" covered the sovereign with themselves, giving him the opportunity to leave the battlefield. Alexander, who was leading the attack, for the first time in all the years of the war with the Persians saw firsthand his main enemy, and was filled with a desire to overtake the Persian sovereign by all means. Perhaps it would have happened, but a messenger suddenly arrived, delivering disturbing news - the left flank of the Macedonian army, led by Parmenion, was surrounded and was about to be destroyed. This experienced Mazei, who commanded the Persian right wing, took advantage of the distraction of the main Macedonian forces to other sectors of the front, and attacked. Overnight, the almost achieved victory threatened to turn into defeat, because if Parmenion's forces were destroyed, there would no longer be any sense in the capture of Darius - Alexander simply would not have the strength to keep the conquered territories in his power. A conqueror without an army - how long would he last? The young king had to make a decision on which the fate of many thousands of people would depend. And he turned back to help his left flank.
Soon it was all over - the cavalry of the Macedonian king, who swooped in like a whirlwind, decided the fate of the battle. However, Darius fled, and now he was hiding out of nowhere. But even without his capture, it was the greatest triumph both in the life of Alexander and in the entire history of the Greco-Persian wars. Was taken a fantastic booty in the amount of 4000 talents in gold, the Greeks captured Darius's personal chariot, his bow, war elephants and other treasures. The Greeks had never seen anything like it before.
Darius, as already mentioned, managed to escape with a detachment of soldiers who did not take part in the battle. The great king was not going to surrender - moreover, he sent letters to the governors of the eastern regions of the empire with orders to collect a new army. However, they already understood where the wind was blowing and decided to change the owner. Bessus, who was considered one of the most loyal generals of the Great King, betrayed Darius and killed him, and then fled east. When Alexander discovered the body of his enemy, he gave the order to bury Darius with all the honors due to a great ruler - the last Great King of the Persian Empire found his last refuge in the royal tomb in the city of Persepolis. Bess was captured the following year and executed, after which the rest of the governors of the eastern provinces, who had not yet submitted to Alexander, laid down their arms. So the history of the Persian Empire ended and the era of Hellenism began.
Continuing the story of the great commander, the story of how Alexander the Great arranged an alcoholic competition and why it ended badly