Alexander’s desire to conquer the world

Alexander the Great

There is not much more that can be said about Alexander the Great. He has been the subject of countless books, several movies, and hundreds of years of speculation. People have varying opinions about Alexander. Many doubt that he should be referred to as Alexander the Great, because he destroyed so many civilizations and cultures that had prospered for years before his reign. Others believe that he deserved the moniker because he expanded the Greek empire into territories far beyond those it controlled prior to his reign. In fact, Alexander was credited with conquering the known world. Therefore, even though opinions vary, there is little doubt that Alexander the Great had a tremendous impact on the world, and that his impact continues to shape the face of the world today.

However, what if Alexander’s desire to conquer the world had been thwarted? There can be no doubt that the face of the modern world would be dramatically changed if Alexander had not conquered the Greek city-states, and then gone on to conquer the known world. Since his death more than 2000 years ago, there has been a tremendous amount of discussion about the impact of his victories. In contrast, relatively little attention has been paid to discussing whether Alexander’s victories were inevitable. Instead, the inevitability of Alexander’s success has been treated as if it was a given. This attitude overlooks two critical facts. The first critical fact is that Alexander’s later successes were largely dependent upon his early success. The second critical fact is that Alexander’s early success was not due solely to Alexander’s military might, but was greatly due to luck. However, Alexander’s early successes may have been partially based on luck, but they helped establish the myth of Alexander. This mythology helped make Alexander almost invincible. Therefore, Darius’ only actual opportunity to defeat the Macedonian may have been to attack the armies controlled by Alexander’s generals, Parmenion and Attalus, when Alexander sent them in to secure Greek support for Alexander as the king of Macedonia. In fact, if Darius III had attacked the armies of Parmenion and Attalus, he may have been able to defeat Alexander before Alexander established control of all of the armies that had previously been controlled by Philip II of Macedon. Without these armies, Alexander would not have had the support of the city-states, and would have been unsuccessful in his efforts to conquer the world.

In order to determine whether or not Darius would have been successful, it is important to investigate whether or not Greece’s allegiance to Alexander was ever in question. History demonstrates that it was. Alexander’s father, King Philip II, had divorced Alexander’s mother. Therefore, whether or not Alexander would actually succeed to the throne was uncertain during Philip’s lifetime. However, Philip’s assassination worked to Alexander’s favor, because Philip had failed to name another successor. Therefore, Alexander appeared as the de facto successor.

Despite that, many leaders of the Greek city-states were not convinced that Alexander had the ability to lead Macedonia. Therefore, they were not immediately willing to pledge allegiance to Alexander. However, Alexander had demonstrated his leadership ability to the Macedonian army, and it was the army that proclaimed Alexander the new king of Macedonia. The fact that the army supported Alexander really had little impact on the opinions of the leaders of the Greek city-states. However, it would be incorrect to assert that the army’s support was insignificant. In fact, the army’s support gave Alexander the ability to execute all of his potential rivals for the leadership of Macedonia. The importance of the army’s support was largely due to changes that Philip II had instituted in military life. For example, Philip not only introduced new military tactics, but he also made the military a full-time occupation, which gained lifelong loyalty from soldiers. The support of Macedonia was essential to Alexander’s ability to take over the leadership of Greece. Likewise, the support of Greece was essential in Alexander’s plan to conquer the Persian Empire. Conquering the Persian Empire was a tremendous goal because the Persian Empire was immense in both land and time. It had “dominated the ancient world for over two centuries.” In addition, dominating the Persian Empire helped display Alexander’s military prowess; his relatively small army was able to defeat the immense army commanded by Darius, which was reputed to have as many as 1,000,000 troops.

It is one thing to suggest that Darius should have attempted to attack the armies of Parmenion and Attalus in order to prevent Alexander from taking control of Greece. It is quite another thing to suggest that Darius had the military strength and strategic ability to be able to do so. However, an examination of Darius’ past military engagements reveals that he was a strong and capable warrior and led an impressive army. Furthermore, an examination of the pivotal battles that occurred between the armies led by Darius and Alexander illuminates the areas where a few simple changes in battle strategy would have permitted Darius to emerge as the victor of those disputes. Looking at these two components, it becomes clear that Darius had both the military strength and the ability to prevent Alexander the Great from conquering the world.

In the year 336 BC, King Darius III became the king of the Persian Empire. At the time he inherited the kingdom, Persia was immense, spanning from Libya to the Himalayas in India. In addition, Persia had been the dominant world power for over two centuries. In fact, it would not be an unfair comparison to classify Persia as the greatest empire in the historical period preceding Alexander the Great’s empire. However, even before Alexander became a ruler, the Persian Empire was not free of problems. The predecessors to Darius III, King Artaxerxes III of Persia and his son King Arses, were both killed by the chiliarch Bagoas. Bagoas:

sought to install a new monarch who would be easier to control. He chose Codomannus, distant relative of the royal house who had distinguished himself in a combat of champions in a war against the Cadussi and was serving at the time as a royal courier…Codomannus took the regal name Darius III, and quickly demonstrated his independence from his assassin benefactor. Bagoas then tried to poison Darius as well, but Darius was warned and forced Bagoas to drink the poison himself. The new king found himself in control of an unstable empire, large portions of which were governed by jealous and unreliable satraps and inhabited by disaffected and rebellious subjects.

In addition to having internal problems, Persia faced problems from outside of its borders. Before Darius became king, Egypt had withdrawn from Persia. Therefore, Darius’ first act as a ruler was to attempt to recapture Egypt, or at least part of Egypt. “Darius immediately launched a campaign and restored the Nile as a Persian river in January 334 BC.” It was during his Egyptian campaign that Darius was first introduced to the military power of Alexander the Great’s army. In May of 334 BC, just four months after Darius began his Egyptian campaign, Alexander brought his troops into Asia Minor and “crushed the Persians in battle at the river Granicus.” The Macedonian victory was unsurprising because “Darius had made no serious preparations to resist the invasion, Alexander defeated an Achaemenid army at the Granicus and, by the following year, had won most of Asia Minor and reached Cilicia.” The one thing that makes Alexander’s victory at Granicus remarkable is that his army won in hand-to-hand combat, despite the relatively larger size of Darius’ army.

The battle at Granicus was only the first of the battles between Darius and Alexander. Darius experienced a setback when his general Memnon died. Memnon’s death was devastating because he had been in charge of the western defense troops. After Memnon’s death, Darius’ confidence in his ability to defeat Alexander by taking only a defensive stance was greatly diminished. Therefore, after Memnon died, Darius responded by raising a full scale Royal army to face Alexander. However, facing Alexander directly in the field proved to be Darius’ first major tactical mistake. In November 333 BC, Alexander’s forces decimated Darius’ army, and then captured the royal family. Darius was able to escape. He took what he had learned from the previous battle to make improvements to his army. These improvements enabled him to stand against Alexander’s army and provide some resistance to Alexander’s forces. However, Alexander was eventually successful, and Darius lost the battle of Gaugamela.

The battle of Gaugamela may not have marked the official end of Darius or his army, but it is now widely regarded as the end of the Persian Empire. The battle of Gaugamela resulted in Alexander’s capture of Babylon, Susa, and Persepolis. More importantly, it placed Alexander and his armies in a superior position. Rather than being able to face the Macedonians in battle, Darius and his army was forced to continuously retreat from them. However, it was not Alexander who ended Darius’ reign as the last great king of Persia. Instead, while under false arrest and retreating from the Macedonians, Darius was killed by one of his subjects.

Because the battle at Gaugamela marked the turning point in the battle between the Macedonians and the Achaemenids, it is clear that if Darius was to have been able to defeat Alexander and his troops, he would have needed to do so before the battle at Gaugamela. Therefore, it is important to look at the opportunities that Darius had to attack Alexander and his troops prior to that battle. Looking at those opportunities, it becomes clear that Darius’ best chance to defeat Alexander’s army would have been to attack Alexander before he had the chance to gain the support of the Greek city-states. To do that in the most successful manner, Darius would have needed to attack the armies of Parmenion and Attalus. This would have permitted Darius to defeat Alexander before Alexander could have obtained complete control of Philip II’s army. However, defeating those armies would only have been a successful battle tactic if Darius had the type of character that would have allowed him to gain the support of the Greek city-states that eventually supported Alexander.

Many of the available sources seem to suggest that Darius was a man of astounding character. Unlike many rulers of antiquity, Darius prided himself on being one with the common man. In fact, Darius went to his coronation dressed like a commoner. On some level this was a characteristic shared by Alexander. For example, Alexander made certain to personally participate in his battles and fraternized with his troops. However, Alexander also took great pains to separate himself from the common man. Alexander actively encouraged the rumors of his divinity, hoping that his troops, and, more importantly, his enemies would see him as somehow above death.

In addition, it appears that Darius had the type of character required to inspire loyalty from his troops, even when those troops were composed of conquered people. Darius “was loyal to those who supported him. He felt responsible for the well-being of the troops under his command, even if they hailed from alien nations and practiced customs which were culpable to his Persian courtiers.” Therefore, it seems very likely that Darius would have been able to garner the support of the Greek city-states if he had taken an offensive position when Alexander first appeared to be a threat to the Persian Empire.

However, a further investigation of Darius’ personality reveals a central weakness that greatly reduces the likelihood that Darius ever would have been able to mount a successful campaign against Alexander. It is undeniable that Alexander was brilliant in battle and more than one person has suggested that his brilliance was due partially to his arrogance and his belief that he could not be defeated. Darius did not share this same arrogance. On the contrary, Darius may have been too accommodating and willing to compromise:

Before Gaugamela he made three peace offerings to Alexander. In the first one he addresses Alexander as “Alexander” and himself as “His Majesty.” In the third one he is virtually down on his hands and knees. Prior to the final battle Darius in prayer expresses his hopes that after him Persia will be ruled by his “merciful victor.”

While this type of accommodation may have marked Darius as a good politician, it did nothing to protect him or his troops from Alexander’s eventual onslaught. Instead, in retrospect, it demonstrates that Darius did not have a firm understanding of the enemy that he was facing. Darius seemed to approach the idea of battle with Alexander from the position that both leaders would desire peace. However, had he made a more careful study of Alexander’s military advances, he would have come to the conclusion that Alexander was not interested in offers of peaceful coexistence. Alexander was interested in domination, not accommodation. Therefore, Darius should have made it clear that he was not willing to make concessions to Alexander. By demonstrating his willingness to come to a compromise, Darius demonstrated that he did not believe that he would be able to conquer Alexander’s troops in battle. Obviously, by the time of the battle of Gaugamela, this may have been true. However, if Darius had gone on the offensive before that time it is possible that he may have been able to gather a larger offensive force than the one commanded by Alexander, which may have been sufficient to assure him of success when they eventually met in battle.

Regardless of the size of his army, one of the aspects about Darius that makes it less likely that he would ever have been capable of defeating Alexander is that some historians characterize him as somewhat indecisive. For example, the Greek historian Arrian indicated that “Darius was always ready to believe what he found most agreeable to believe. He accepted any council that told him what he like to hear.” Furthermore, Arrian describes Darius as “feeble and incompetent in military matters.” Obviously, if the real Darius matched Arrian’s description of him, it is unlikely that Darius would have been able to capture the support of the Greek city-states by moving on the armies of Parmenion and Attalus. In fact, if Darius was actually a feeble and incompetent military leader, he may actually have hastened his decline by opening him up to attacks that would have weakened his army before he ever had occasion to meet Alexander in the field.

However, it does not seem very likely that Arrian’s accounts of Darius’ personality are accurate. After all, Darius did not hesitate to attempt to recapture the Nile valley for the Persian Empire. Furthermore, Darius managed to hold his own against Alexander, making the outcome of their dispute appear uncertain. The mere fact that Darius was not immediately and resoundingly defeated by Alexander supports the notion that Darius was a capable military leader. Few question that Alexander was a brilliant battle engineer, and to be able to face him in battle, Darius must have been somewhat brilliant as well.

The historian Diodorus believed that Darius was a brilliant military strategist. According to Diodorus, Darius’ “overall policy to handle the Macedonian invasion was sound and realistic.” Furthermore, Diodorus believes that Alexander’s victory was not due to Darius’ failures as a leader, but to mere circumstance. He believed that Darius “should have been successful in defending Persia, were it not that his foremost commander Memnon suddenly died in the winter of 334/333 BC.” In fact, Diodorus believed that Memnon’s death changed the nature of the war and was the key to Alexander’s victory.

Diodorus backs up his confidence in Darius’ military leadership ability with facts about Darius’ prior success in military engagements. In fact, according to Diodorus, Darius was selected as the king because of his bravery in war.

Darius’ selection for the throne was based on his known bravery, in which quality he surpassed the other Persians. Once when king Artaxerxes [III Ochus] was campaigning against the Cadusians, one of them with a wide reputation for strength and courage challenged a volunteer among the Persians to fight in single combat with him. No other dared accept, but Darius alone entered the contest and slew the challenger, being honored in consequence by the king with rich gifts, while among the Persians he was conceded the first place in prowess. It was because of this prowess that he was thought worthy to take over the kingship.

As a military commander, Darius entered into a one-on-one battle with a Cadusian warrior champion, which led to the return of the Cadusians to the Persian Empire. This act was significant because the Cadusians were reputedly tremendously able and loyal warriors. Therefore, the fact that Darius alone was able to bring them under Persian control indicates that there was a strong likelihood that early military victories against the armies of Parmenion and Attalus would have given Darius the leverage to ally with the Greek city-states.

In fact, history supports the portrait that Diodorus paints of Darius, while not actually lending support to the histories given by historians like Arrian. After all, Darius was able to successfully reconquer Egypt, a task which had eluded the prior king. Furthermore, the manner in which Darius managed to do so indicates a brilliant military strategist. He was able to mobilize an entire royal army in a six-month time period. Furthermore, even though his army was decimated at Issus, Darius did not give up hope. In fact, within two years he had rebuilt the Persian army. The significance of this ability is revealed when one realizes that even during the height of the Persian Empire, King Xerxes took twice as long to accomplish the same task. If Darius was able to accomplish that task within two years without the support of the Greek city-states, it stands to reason that he could have done so in a much shorter time with their support. Rebuilding his army more quickly would have placed Darius in a position to take more offensive action against Alexander. It also might have placed him in a position to take offensive action against Alexander before Memnon’s death.

In addition, it is important to understand that Alexander did not invent the concept of global war or global domination. On the contrary, all evidence suggests that the region was involved in a global war long before Alexander managed to take over his father’s role as the leader of Macedonia. However, that changed when first Philip II, then his son Alexander took leadership of Macedonia. Under them, it appeared that Macedonia was no longer willing to honor whatever agreements had secured peace between Macedonia and Persia prior to Philip II’s time. There is no formal record of any type of treaty, but the facts strongly suggest that there was an official peace between the countries:

Macedonia had a long history of friendly relations with Persia. It had submitted itself voluntarily to Persian suzerainty in 512 BC and in 492 BC all Macedonians were formally subjugated by Darius I. Persian ambassadors paid regular visits. Around 352 BC Artabazus, the satrap of Phrygia, rose in revolt against Artaxerxes. After his failure Artabazus received asylum at Philip’s court in Pella and stayed there until the Persian general Mentor reconciled him with his Great King in 343 BC.

In 340 BC, Philip II attacked the city of Perinthos. This attack signaled a desire by the Macedonians to obtain control of the straits separating Europe and Asia. More importantly, this attack signaled a direct challenge to Persian control of that region, which had been in effect for several hundred years. Furthermore:

in 336 BC Philip II of Macedon was authorized by the League of Corinth as its Hegmon to initiate a sacred war of vengeance against the Persians for desecrating and burning the Athenian temples during the Second Persian War. He sent an advance force into Asia Minor under the command of his generals Parmenion and Attalus to “liberate” the Greeks living under Persian control.

The Persians were not willing to give into the Macedonians without a fight. Not only did those areas represent territory, they represented important territory. Whoever controlled the straits separating Europe and Asia also effectively controlled trade between the two continents. Therefore, a challenge to Persian control of that territory was also a challenge to Persia’s dominance in the region. Artaxerxes reacted to Philip’s actions as if he perceived them as Macedonia’s attempt to establish dominance in the region; Artaxerxes “ordered his satraps of the region to start preparing for the defense of Persia.”

These preparations proved necessary because two significant events had occurred by the end of 338 BC. The first event is that Philip II had managed to conquer Greece. Philip’s dominance over Greece paved the way for his son Alexander to eventually lead all of the Greek city-states. However, the fact that Philip was a foreign conqueror could have given Darius leverage had he attempted to gain the favor of the Greek city-states before Alexander won their loyalty. Greece was not accustomed to paying homage to the Macedonians. In fact, each city-state retained its own separate leadership and only supported Philip II because they believed him to be a capable and strong leader. After his death, the leaders of most of the city-states were reluctant to follow Alexander. Alexander was extremely young and had not had many opportunities to prove himself in battle. Therefore, the leaders of the other city-states doubted that he had the ability to protect Greece. Furthermore, many of the leaders also resented that Alexander, the son of a foreign conqueror, would be permitted to take such a prominent position in the leadership of Greece. In contrast, Persian dominance of the region had been the status quo for hundreds of years. Furthermore, Greece had maintained a favorable status while Persia ruled the region. Therefore, it is very likely that Darius would not have been greeted as a tyrannical conqueror, but as a liberator, if he had engaged in the earlier battles necessary to gain the support of most of Greece.

The second significant event of 338 BC was the assassination of Artaxerxes. Artaxerxes was a typical Persian king, and he was revered as a good leader. However, his replacement, King Arses, was not a strong leader. Philip II seized the opportunity of a weakened Persia to announce his intention to conquer the Persian Empire. Arses did little in response, which gave Philip II plenty of time to amass troops and develop battle strategies that would facilitate his march into the Persian Empire. During the first part of 336 BC, Philip II sent an “advance force into Persia to prepare a foothold for the invasion.” In June of 336 BC, Arses was assassinated, but the damage had been done. The Macedonians were entrenched in the Persian Empire. Routing them would require the next king, Darius III, to wage a war on multiple fronts. First, he would be required to wage a defensive war, to keep the Macedonians from advancing further into the interior of the Persian Empire. In addition, he would have to wage an offensive war, to defeat those troops already established in Persia, and reassert Persian dominance of the region.

While it is impossible to know whether or not the rumors are true, there is tremendous speculation that Darius responded to the Macedonian threat in an extremely decisive manner. Shortly after Darius’s coronation, Philip II was assassinated. There are suggestions that Darius was responsible for the assassination. In fact, Alexander is reported to have blamed Darius for Philip II’s death. “From Darius’ perspective the assassination would have been the right thing to do. Philip’s son Alexander had just celebrated his twentieth birthday in July. From an inexperienced youngster there was far less to fear than from the seasoned warlord, certainly according to Persian common sense.”

However, Darius made a very significant tactical mistake after his alleged assassination of Philip II. Instead of immediately striking Macedonia after Philip’s death, when it was the most vulnerable and there was still a considerable amount of doubt concerning the eventual leadership of the region, Darius turned his attention to recapturing Egypt. However, it would be incorrect for one to suggest that Darius ignored the growing Macedonian problem. On the contrary, Darius sent 5,000 mercenaries, led by his trusted general Memnon, to Asia Minor to drive the Macedonians out of Persian territory. Memnon proved to be as capable in battle as his brother Mentor, who had led Artaxerxes’ army. Memnon was able to contain the Macedonians. Furthermore, he had some limited success in driving them out of Persia. For example, Memnon almost recaptured Cyzicus, which had been captured by the Macedonians. In addition, in his early actions against the Macedonians Darius demonstrated political savvy, which Alexander could not match. For example, Darius bribed the Greek city-states. In turn, these city-states used their bribe money to fund revolts against the Macedonians. By using bribes, Darius was able to ensure that Alexander could not devote all of his energy to maintaining the Macedonian presence in Persia, because he would need to devote some of his energy to quelling rebellion at home. More importantly, Darius was able to do this without risking additional members of his army.

However, by the time Darius’ forces faced Alexander’s troops at Granicus, Darius was beginning to fall victim to the legend of Alexander. It did not help that the Persian defensive line had again been breached by the Macedonians. Therefore, Darius and his general Memnon made Alexander’s death the primary goal of the battle at Granicus. The problem with that strategy is that Alexander was a superior soldier. If the Persians had concentrated on defeating the entire Macedonian army, they might have been successful. However, the satraps concentrated on trying to kill Alexander. They were unsuccessful, which had two detrimental effects. First, it weakened morale for them to realize that an entire army could not accomplish the singular goal of killing one man who presented himself on the battlefield. Second, it elevated Alexander’s status as a soldier, and made him appear that much more formidable to those who would be called upon to face him in battle. However, even though Darius’ plans to assassinate Alexander showed some savvy, he was not prepared to face a united Greece. In fact, “Darius’ greatest error was in underestimating Alexander’s strength. Darius used the wrong tactics in battle and was forced to flee to Ecbatana and then eastward to Bactria.”

The battle at Granicus did have a positive result for the Persian army. Darius appointed Memnon as the supreme commander for the war against the Macedonians. This appointment may have been Darius’ most brilliant political move. Memnon proved to be a capable and effective commander. He quickly established a formidable presence in the Aegean, which challenged the Macedonians’ claim to Greece. Memnon continued to spread bribes throughout that region, which helped shift support from Alexander to Darius. In fact, there is substantial evidence proving that Darius attempted to bribe people to assassinate Alexander. In addition, Memnon engaged mercenaries and prepared an impressive battle fleet. By the end of 334 BC, Memnon’s preparations were complete and he made the announcement that he would sail to Euboea, which would shift the war from Persia to Macedonian-occupied territories. This was a brilliant battle strategy. The location of battles can actually be the most influential variable in a battle because leaders are likely to worry about the spillover effect that war has on civilians and property. By confronting the Macedonians outside of Persia, Memnon would have made them bear the brunt of any damage that was incidental to war. Unfortunately, Memnon fell ill and died before he could carry out his plans to take Alexander’s war to Alexander.

Several sources suggest that Darius was almost incapacitated by Memnon’s death. Historical facts seem to disprove that suggestion. Darius actually responded to Memnon’s death by raising an immense army, which he personally led in pursuit of Alexander and his forces. In addition to proving his ability to organize a large army, the events after Memnon’s death also gave Darius an opportunity to demonstrate his strategic ability. For example, Darius was able to organize an efficient and accurate intelligence service, which permitted him to keep constant tabs on Alexander’s movements.

With his superior army and superior intelligence, it seems as if Darius should have been ensured victory at Issus. However, Alexander’s charisma and leadership abilities seem to have played a pivotal role in the outcome of that battle. For example, despite being greatly outnumbered, Alexander’s army did not retreat from Darius’ army, but met them in battle. The very fact that a battle was necessary seemed to come as a bit of surprise to Darius. Furthermore, despite the fact that Darius was a battle-proven soldier, he proved to have grown a little too soft for the battlefield. When defeat appeared inevitable, Darius fled from the battlefield, abandoning his men and the royal family to the Macedonians. It is impossible to retroactively measure how such an action would have affected morale, but it highly unlikely that they would think highly of a man that fled, in disguise, from battle, leaving behind his family. In addition, it revealed that Darius was no longer holding himself to the same standards that he had before the battle at Issus. Prior to the battle, he had refused to separate his troops because he believed that soldiers needed to be able to look to their king in the battlefield for inspiration. However, during the battle, he abandoned those same troops.

In addition, it is important to understand that Alexander was not seen as an oppressor at the battle at Issus. Egypt had been free from Persian occupation for almost 60 years, and had only been reoccupied for the last 11 years. Therefore, the Egyptians viewed Alexander as a liberator. Alexander took advantage of this sentiment by exploiting the Egyptian desire for freedom. In return, after Issus, the Egyptians proclaimed Alexander the Pharoah, and later claimed he was the son of Ra. Alexander built upon this proclamation, declaring himself the king of Macedonia and even saying that he was a manifestation of Zeus.

Despite this apparent about-face, Issus did not signal inevitable defeat for the Persians. Instead, it was the events after Issus that suggested that the Persian Empire was slated to lose its long-held dominance. For example, one of Darius’ most successful tactics had been to bribe the governors and nobles of the Greek city states. However, after Issus, “the local governor of Damascus betrayed Darius by handing over both the treasure as well as the nobles to the enemy.” In addition, Alexander’s troops managed to move the battlefield back into Persian-controlled territories, once again forcing Persia to bear the brunt of any incidental damages.

Darius did manage to get support from some of the city-states. For example, Persia recaptured Milete, and enlisted their ships to battle the Macedonians in the Aegean. In addition, the Spartans raised an army in order to drive the Macedonians from Corinth. However, the Persians were largely unsuccessful. In fact, by 331 BC, Alexander’s victory seemed certain. The Macedonians’:

campaigns now extended into areas of Asia Minor like Paphlagonia, previously left untouched by the conflict. Darius’ supreme commander in the west, Pharnabazus, was captured by Hegelochus and Amphoterus at the island of Chios. An Athenian ally of Darius, Chares, was driven out of his stronghold Mytilene.

In response to what appeared to be an impending Macedonian victory, Darius responded in a very typically Persian fashion. The Persian Empire had been renowned for its politics and diplomacy. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Darius attempted to negotiate with Alexander. Accounts of these peace overtures vary, but historians agree that he sent at least two peace offerings. The first offer asked Alexander to exchange the Persian royal family for a large amount of gold. Alexander refused. The second offer asked Alexander to end the war in exchange for control of a large portion of Persian-controlled lands. Again, Alexander refused. Furthermore, Alexander made it clear that he was not interested in peace, but only interested in obtaining total control of Persia. Therefore, Darius was left with only two alternatives: surrender or battle.

It is impossible to know whether Darius would have seriously considered the possibility of surrender, because there was an important intervening factor. Darius’ wife died while a prisoner of the Macedonians. The death of his wife enraged Darius and he blamed the Macedonians for it. However, he was convinced by his wife’s eunuch that her death was not a result of mistreatment at the hands of Alexander or his troops. Darius made a final peace overture, which Alexander rejected. This rejection effectively closed the door on the possibility that Darius could end the war without losing face.

The world will never know how the battle of Gaugamela would have ended if Alexander and Darius had actually met each other in an equal playing field. A Greek soldier named Bion, deserted from the Persian army and revealed Darius’ careful strategy to Alexander. “He revealed the hidden traps set by the Persians and informed Alexander about Darius’ battle formation.” Even with this news, Alexander initially encountered tremendous difficulties at Gaugamela. The Persians were able to advance against the left wing of the Macedonian army and staged a successful raid on the Macedonian camp. As a response, Alexander decided to destroy Darius. Alexander was unable to kill Darius in battle, but did manage to get close enough to him to kill his driver. The Persian army responded with alarm, and its ranks disintegrated as soldiers attempted to protect the king.

Darius managed to escape from the battlefield. While historians now consider Gaugamela to herald the end of the Persian Empire, it is clear from his actions immediately following that battle that Darius did not share that belief. Upon fleeing from Gaugamela, Darius immediately attempted to round up more troops. He was determined to once again meet Alexander in battle. However, Darius did not meet his end in battle, as he had anticipated. Instead, he met his end at the hands of men he had considered allies: Bessus, Nabarzanes, and Barsaentes. Darius confronted the men after they tried to have him name Bessus as the king. At that time, a Greek mercenary informed Darius that the nobles had been plotting to murder him. However, Darius felt honor bound not to distrust Nabarzanes and Bessus. The nobles arrested Darius and fled from Alexander’s advancing army, taking the wrongly-imprisoned king with them. The king died as a prisoner. However, the traitors did not gain the favor of the conquering Alexander; on the contrary, he had two of them executed once he gained control of Persia.

Obviously, the strategy that Darius employed did not work, largely because he underestimated Alexander as both a military commander and a political leader. Would anything have been different if Darius had recognized that Alexander posed a considerable threat and made a preemptive attempt to prevent Alexander from ever gaining control of Greece? It is doubtful that anything Darius would have been able to do would have been effective in preventing Alexander from gaining control of Greece. This is because Alexander engaged in a type of warfare that differed substantially from the types of warfare that Darius had seen. Darius’ previous military engagements had been against more traditional military leaders. In contrast, Alexander engaged in psychological warfare. Alexander involved noncombatants and refugees in the war, ignoring the tradition to spare them from intentional violence. Furthermore, he employed various forms of torture, such as crucifixion on captured enemy troops. Together, these two practices led people to believe that he was ruthless in warfare, which made enemies less willing to face him in battle.

Alexander also used psychology in a positive manner. He worked hard to encourage loyalty and bravery in his troops. Alexander took part in all of his major battles. In fact, Alexander “was the last great commander in history to take this personal risk.” While Darius participated in battles until he felt as if he were at risk, Alexander played a meaningful and significant role in his battles. The difference in their leadership styles is significant. In modern times, Darius is remembered for commanding a huge army, while Alexander is still considered one of the most outstanding military commanders ever.

While one cannot ignore the role that luck played in Alexander’s successes, it should be clear that Alexander would not have been able to conquer Greece or the Persian Empire simply because of luck. It is true that Alexander began with an advantage in both Greece and Persia because his father had taken over those regions. However, Alexander was wholly responsible for taking control of Greece. After Philip’s death, when Alexander’s ascension to the throne was uncertain, Alexander took all of the steps necessary to secure his leadership. Not only did he move his armies into Greece, but he also assassinated those politicians that would threaten his claim to the throne. In Persia, he advanced immediately, increasing his father’s progress into the Persian Empire. Moreover, Alexander demonstrated an uncanny knowledge of human behavior. He refused to allow the Persians to gain a foothold in Greece, where they may have been greeted as liberators. Using the same type of logic, he exploited anti-Persian sentiment in Egypt to help him secure support from the Egyptian people, which may have helped sway the outcome at Issus. Alexander’s uncanny grasp of human behavior, combined with his apparent belief that he was, if not immortal, at least touched by divinity, made him an extremely formidable opponent. Because he was so formidable, it is highly unlikely that Darius would have been able to prevent Alexander from taking over the Persian Empire, regardless of when Darius decided to stand against him.

Annotated Bibliography

Darius III,” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. 2005. New York: Columbia University Press. Online. Available from, Accessed June 5, 2006.

The Columbia Encyclopedia is an encyclopedia published by Columbia University and is among the most complete encyclopedias ever produced.

Darius III,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2006. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. Online.

Available from Encyclopaedia Britannica Premium Service, Accessed June 5, 2006.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica is the most comprehensive English-language encyclopedia, and its articles are written by experts in their fields.

Diodorus. World History. C. Bradford. Welles, translator. Darius’ accession. Online.

Available from, Accessed June 5, 2006.

Diodorus of Sicily was a Greek Historian who wrote from about 60 BC to 30 BC, and compiled a history of the world.

Lendering, Jona. 2005. Son of Ammon. Online. Available from, Accessed June 5, 2006.

Jona Lendering is the major contributor for, a website on ancient history. In addition, Mr. Lendering is a teacher and the author of 7 books.

Untereker, Jed, James Kossuth, Bill Kelsey. 1996. Alexander in Persia. Williamstown,

Massachusetts: Williams College. Online. Available from Williams College

Purporting to be Alexander the Great’s homepage, this student-created website provides a comprehensive but compact overview of the life of Alexander the Great.

Untereker, Jed, James Kossuth, Bill Kelsey. 1996. That group that went hog-wild in Asia for 11 years. Williamstown, Massachusetts: Williams College. Online. Available from Williams College

Purporting to be Alexander the Great’s homepage, this student-created website provides a comprehensive but compact overview of the life of Alexander the Great.

Welman, Nick. 2005. General introduction. Online. Available from,, Accessed June 5, 2006.

Nick Welman is a lecturer at Fontys University and has written about Alexander the Great and Darius on two websites, and

Welman, Nick. 2004. King Darius III. Online. Available from,, Accessed June 5, 2006.

Nick Welman is a lecturer at Fontys University and has written about Alexander the Great and Darius on two websites, and

Wikipedia contributors. 2006. Alexander the Great. Online. Available from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.,, Accessed June 5, 2006.

Wikipedia is the free online encyclopedia, which anyone can edit.

Wikipedia contributors. 2006. Darius III of Persia. Online. Available from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.,, Accessed June 5, 2006.

Wikipedia is the free online encyclopedia, which anyone can edit.

Wikipedia contributors. 2006. Alexander the Great. Online. Available from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.,, Accessed June 5, 2006.

Untereker, Jed, James Kossuth, Bill Kelsey. 1996. That group that went hog-wild in Asia for 11 years. Williamstown, Massachusetts: Williams College. Online. Available from Williams College, Accessed June 5, 2006.” Welman, Nick. 2005. General introduction. Online. Available from,, Accessed June 5, 2006

Wikipedia contributors. 2006. Darius III of Persia. Online. Available from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.,, Accessed June 5, 2006.

Welman, Nick. 2004. King Darius III. Online. Available from,, Accessed June 5, 2006.

A” “Darius III,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2006. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. Online.

Available from Encyclopaedia Britannica Premium Service, Accessed June 5, 2006.

Untereker, Jed, James Kossuth, Bill Kelsey. 1996. Alexander in Persia. Williamstown,

Massachusetts: Williams College. Online. Available from Williams College, Accessed June 5, 2006.

Welman, Nick. 2004. King Darius III. Online. Available from,, Accessed June 5, 2006.

Diodorus. World History. C. Bradford. Welles, translator. Darius’ accession. Online.

Available from, Accessed June 5, 2006.

Welman, Nick. 2004. King Darius III. Online. Available from,, Accessed June 5, 2006.

Wikipedia contributors. 2006. Darius III of Persia. Online. Available from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation Inc.,, Accessed June 5, 2006.

Welman, Nick. 2004. King Darius III. Online. Available from,, Accessed June 5, 2006.

A” “Darius III,” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. 2005. New York: Columbia University Press. Online. Available from, Accessed June 5, 2006.

Lendering, Jona. 2005. Son of Ammon. Online. Available from, Accessed June 5, 2006.

Welman, Nick. 2004. King Darius III. Online. Available from,, Accessed June 5, 2006.

Welman, Nick. 2005. General introduction. Online. Available from,, Accessed June 5, 2006

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