The battle of the Granicus was the first battle in the campaign of Megas Alexandros, Alexander the Great, in Persia. In this battleAlexander displayed the skills that would lead him to victory many times in the future and pave the way for one of the most famous conquests in history.
The invasion of Persia was long in the making. In 336 BC Phillip II of Makedon was assassinated by a disgruntled noble. The results ofPhilip’s death were enormous and his dream of leading a pan-Hellenic crusade against Persia in revenge for the invasion of Xerxeswas put on hold. His successor was his 20 year old son Alexander. The new king had fought in battle before, but had no experience ruling. To the surprise of all Alexander was able to rise to the challenge and within two years he had defeated and subdued theThracians to his north and west as well as brought low the rebellious cities of Hellas.
By 334 Alexander was leader of the Hellenic world and stood ready to fulfill the dream his father had left behind. So in the spring of that year Alexander declared to his kingdom his intention to gain revenge for the invasion of Xerxes 150 years before. This galvanized his Greek subjects, allowing him to be to wage war without fear of unrest at home. The Macedonian army, built around the elite veterans of Philip’s wars, marched off from Pella to the Hellespont, from which they would cross the straights into Asia Minor. Meanwhile in Persia Alexander’s declaration caught the Shahanshah, Darius III, off guard. But Darius was a cunning and crafty leader. He put into motion a plan to open a six front war against Alexander, which would wear him out and allow Darius’ personal forces to deliver a crushing blow in decisive battle. Unfortunately the Satraps (governors) of Asia Minor had different ideas. In panic they mass converge on the town of Zelea to discuss how to best deal with Alexander and the threat he posed. Present at this meeting was the leader of the Greek mercenaries in Persian service, the Rhodian Memnon. At the meeting Memnon proposes to the Satraps a scorched earth policy. He advised them to burn their land, denying to Alexander much needed provisions, while retreating steadily eastward until the Macedonians are weak and ripe for the picking. But the Satraps rejected the plan, not wishing to burn or leave their lands behind. They made their own plan to stay and defend, hoping to force Alexander to fight on their terms in a defensive battle.
The Satraps moved their forces from Zelea to the Granicus River, where they established a very strong position on the eastern bank of the river. Interestingly the Satraps made their position without the majority of their forces, not believing that Alexander would move quickly. Meanwhile the Macedonian army was just completing its crossing of the Hellespont, but Alexander was not there, instead he had gone ahead of his main force to the ruins of Troy. Alexander, among other things, believed himself a descendent of Achilles, and felt the need to make sacrifices at Troy in the honor of all of the Greek heroes of the Trojan War. He also did so because the Spartanking Agesilaus had done so in his invasion of Persia, and Alexander was noted for his admiration of Agesilaus. It was lastly a great propaganda coup for Alexander and a means of raising morale. After this short stop at Troy Alexander returned to his army and discovered a problem.
By now the scouts had discovered the position held by the Satraps at the Granicus. This was a major kink in Alexander’s plans. He had originally meant to make south after the crossing to liberate the cities of Ionia. But to do so now would leave his flank wide open to attack by the Persians. Alexander was going to have to move fast, and he did. He decided to take his best troops and march towards the Persians double quick. Alexander sent out scouts as before to tell him what was happening. After three days marching the scouts reported back that only the Persian cavalry and some infantry was there. The bulk of the Satraps‘ army was still marching from Zelea. In war council most of the Macedonian commanders advised the king to wait and see what the Persians were up to. But Alexanderdisagreed with his commanders and wanted to attack as soon as he could, knowing that to wait and let the entire Persian force come up would be fatal. According to the later historian Arrian while the Macedonian battle line was drawing up the veteran commanderParmenion was watching the Persians. When Alexander came up to see what he was doing Parmenion told Alexander he felt the current battle plan was fool hardy. In his opinion to cross the river now would fall right into the Persians‘ plans, invite disaster, and possibly put Alexander’s life at risk. He advised to complete the deployment but wait until nightfall to cross the river. Parmenionbelieved that since the Persians would soon note the disparity in numbers between their infantry and the Macedonian they would withdraw at night, making a easy crossing. Alexander disagreed and decided to push ahead anyway, not wanting to delay anymore. When the deployment finished at about mid-day Alexander gave the signal to advance, beginning the great battle of the Granicus.
The Macedonian forces at the Granicus that day were the best of the best, the greatest of Alexander’s army. The battle line thatAlexander the Great made at the Granicus was a classic example of the warfare pioneered by his father Philip. In the center of the line was the six phalanxes of the Pezhetairoi (Foot Companions). These were the bread and butter of Alexander’s army and each contained 1,500 men. To the left was: 150 Thracian Odrysian cavalry, 600 Greek cavalry, 1,800 Thessalian cavalry, and the Pharsaliansquadron under Parmenion. On the right of the Macedonian line was the three phalanxes of the Hypaspistai, each containing 1,000 men. These soldiers were the elite of Alexander’s infantry, handpicked from the best of the Pezhetairoi. Following them was: 600Prodromoi cavalry, 150 Paeonian cavalry, a 200 man squadron of Hetairoi (Companions, the best cavalry of the day), the main unit ofHetairoi with Alexander at the head, 500 Agrianoi javelin men, and lastly 500 Cretan archers. The command structure of theMacedonian line was divided between Alexander and Parmenion, with Alexander commanding the right and Parmenion the left.
The Persian force at the Granicus that day was inferior in quality to Alexander’s forces, but they were still a formidable threat indeed. The Satraps had been surprised by Alexander’s quick response to their presence, they had counted on a sluggish reaction from theMacedonians. The Persian battle line as it stood was arrayed thus: In the center of the Persian line was a mass of cavalry of unknown origin and number, a body of Greek mercenaries stood behind them on high ground. On the left end of the Persian line was Memnon of Rhodes and some unknown (possibly Greek) cavalry, another unit of unknown cavalry, an unknown number of Paphlagoniancavalry, and an unknown number of Hyrcanian cavalry. On the right of the Persian line was 1,000 Median cavalry, 2,000 cavalry of unknown origin, and 2,000 Bactrian cavalry. The command structure of the Persian line was a confused mess, each Satrapcommanded his own unit separate of the others, unified only their pursuit of the common goal of defeating the invaders.
The battle could make or break Alexander’s ambitions. As said above the deployment of the Macedonian line completed at mid-day and Alexander sounded the advance soon after. The first units to be sent across the river were the Prodromoi, Paeonians, and the smaller squadron of Hetairoi. A phalanx of Hypaspistai accompanied them. Alexander meant for this attack to be a feinting action, to draw away some of the Persian troops from the center to allow Alexander to attack. It worked like a charm, the Persians, alarmed by the sudden quick movement against their left began to pour onto the threatened flank. A massive amount of missile fire was directed against the crossing Macedonians, who suffered terrible losses as they first crossed the river, then tried to climb the river bank to get on level ground with the Persians. All of this however fell right into Alexander’s plans, a majority of the Persian cavalry and theSatraps, not to mention Memnon, was now on the left.
When he noticed all this Alexander knew the time was now. He ordered the signal trumpets blown and lead the main body of hisHetairoi across the river straight towards the Persian center. The remainder of the Macedonian right wing then decided to follow their leader and sounded their own advance. To say that the sudden move caught the Satraps by surprise is an understatement, they had not expected Alexander to make such a move and tried vainly to meet it. When the Satraps noticed Alexander’s distinct helmet, and thus that he was on the field they saw a chance for glory. Even in the 4th Century BC the concept of a heroic duel between two commanders had not completely died out. It was this the Persians saw as their chance to gain victory. If one of them could slayAlexander he would be covered in glory and the threat posed by Makedon would be broken. One by one each of the Satraps broke off with their units from what ever they were currently doing and charged Alexander and his Hetairoi. Each attempted to challenge the young king, and each failed. In the midst of the third duel one of the most pivotal events of Alexander’s campaign occurred. In this duel Alexander’s helmet had already been cleaved off during the second, and the third Satrap, named Spithridates, attempted to capitalize on that. Getting behind Alexander he raised his weapon and nearly spilt Alexander’s skull in two. But just in the nick of timeCleitus the Black, the commander of the Royal Squadron, cut Spithridates’ arm from his shoulder, saving Alexander’s life. Slowly but steadily the Macedonians were gaining ground, and as more Satraps died in foolish duels, the more demoralized the Persiansbecame.
The remainder of the Macedonian right wing engaged the Persians at this point, following up on the progress of the Hetairoi. Meanwhile Parmenion was watching the action from the other bank and judging the time right sounded his own advance, spearheaded by the Thessalian cavalry. This event caused much of the Persian light cavalry to break and run from the field. All of the focus now fell on the heavy cavalry, which was primarily engaged against the Hypaspistai. When Alexander attempted to make a bold flanking maneuver around the heavy cavalry the center broke. With the center of the line broken the remaining men on the flanks of the Persian formation broke and ran in a wild mass rout. Even Memnon fled the field in panic. Alexander ordered his men not pursue the fleeing Persians however.
The Greek mercenaries who had stood behind the center immobile had begun to move, taking a position on a small hill. The mercenaries send a envoy to Alexander asking him to accept their surrender. The terms which they sent to the king are unknown, but in any case he refused to accept. Alexander considered any Greeks not serving with him traitors, and he wanted to use the opportunity to make an example. A contingent of Pezhetairoi and Hypaspistai were sent to engage the mercenary phalanx in front, while a mixed group of cavalry attacked the rear and the light troops. The mercenaries are slaughtered and all perished except for 2,000 whichAlexander decided to send back to Makedon to do hard labor. With the defeat of the mercenaries the battle on the Granicus ended inMacedonian victory, the first in a long line for Alexander.
After the battle much happened. In the immediate aftermath of the battle the death of so many Persian leaders had a massive impact on the Persian ability to resist Alexander’s invasion. As a result when Alexander moved on from that battle the majority of Asia Minorwas unable to resist the Macedonian advance. In the Persian camp the defeat had ruined Darius’ III plan to overstretch Alexander, and now a new plan had to be formed. Memnon, who was the only Persian leader to leave the field alive, presented such a new plan. This plan was to re-enforce the naval bases and use the powerful Persian navy to cut off the Macedonian supply line at sea, eventually even raiding Hellas and Makedon. Darius gives the go-ahead despite widespread distrust of Memnon. However the plan fell apart andAlexander was able to conquer the naval bases easily, Memnon died soon after and the first phase of Alexander’s conquest of theAchaemenid Empire came to a close.