Famous Battles in History Alexander at Arbela

About the famous battle at Arbela between Alexander the Great leading the Macedonians and Darius leading the Persians, history and account of the battle.


ARBELA, 331 B.C.

Having conquered the western third of the Persian Empire, Alexander the Great of Macedonia marched with 47,000 veteran troops into Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in 331 B.C. There, Darius III, the Persian king, with 250,000 soldiers, awaited the Macedonian's arrival. Darius had encamped on a carefully chosen battlefield, a wide plain 20 mi. north of the village of Arbela. On Sept. 30, the Macedonians arrived at the heights to the north of the Persian camp. Alexander surveyed the enemy camp and decided to attack the next morning. He ordered his soldiers to eat and sleep well, while he, himself, consulted his personal soothsayer, then went to bed early.

The next morning, when Alexander formed his battle line, he realized that the long Persian line overlapped both flanks of his short front. With his flanks thus exposed, Alexander, for the first time in his career, held back a second line of reserves. Also, he decided to attack at an angle, advancing his west (right) flank while holding back his east (left) flank, thereby limiting the battle to a reduced area. On the west flank, a tremendous cavalry battle developed, with neither side gaining the advantage. On the east flank, the Macedonians were slowly losing ground to the Persians. Then, without orders, a unit of Persian cavalry galloped to the aid of their comrades on the west flank. They left a hole in the center of the Persian line, which Alexander quickly noticed. Leading his elite, personal cavalry, the Companions, Alexander charged into the gap and cut the Persian army in half.

Standing in his chariot watching the Macedonians advance toward him, Darius began to lose his nerve. When his chariot driver was killed by a javelin, Darius panicked, mounted the nearest horse, and deserted his army. With Alexander rampaging through their center, and with their own king fleeing to safety, the Persians turned and ran, their army routed.

The Persians lost between 40,000 and 90,000 men, while Macedonian casualties were only 100 to 500. Darius succeeded in escaping to Bactria (modern Afghanistan), but he was murdered there by his own governor, Bessus. Although Alexander fought eight more years, consolidating his victory and invading India, Arbela was his most decisive battle. At Arbela, the Persian army had been destroyed, and with it the Persian Empire.

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