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Maciej Milczanowski - Gaugamela


Maciej Milczanowski


Gaugamela 330 BC


March 2004


Bellona, Poland


In this book, I wanted to show that the Persian empire was not rated by Alexander as lightly as is often used as an argument, by people who want to dwarf his performance.

On the other hand it shows what the real explanation of Alexander’s military success was. Also very popular is the argument, which sounds strange to me, that he was lucky! Luck is important in life but it can’t be the explanation for such great conquests. I also wanted to show all the new methods of war techniques. I have tried to show elements used in modern warfare, whose idea could be taken from Alexander’s conquest. Almost all the great conquerors in history are known to have studied military history and they often reached back to ancient warfare. Often they were under the strong effect of ancient conquerors.

I have included a great number of maps to better illustrate the battles. It has always been a minus, in my opinion, in every book that describes Alexander’s warfare, that there is only one map or even none at all. It is impossible to imagine the formations before the battle and changes during it without graphical imagination.

This book finishes in Babylon – the last paragraph is only a brief description of all the rest of his journey to India and back to Babylon. I have promised the editor that I will finish the second part which will be called “Hydaspes 326 BC” and there I will write about the rest of his conquests.

From the chapter "Battle Preparation"
(translated from Polish)

On the basis of this battle we can assume that before a battle, there was a very detailed planning process, which unfortunately no source has described. But all the recorded deeds and bold decisions can be considered as proof that before the battle, a very professional reconnaissance was performed, and Alexander used the information from it throughout all his campaigns. It had an extremely important meaning before and during the battle. He knew exactly the terrain and capabilities of his opponent. Despite the fact that he only knew some elements of Persian tactics (such as the use of chariots) from Xenophon’s book, he planned and foresaw most of the main factors and he was completely unsurprised by any of the ruses prepared by Darius. Alexander didn’t attack right from the march, as he had done until now. He didn’t use any orthodox schemes of activity and because of that, he became unpredictable to the enemy. When the Persian army was in view, he ordered his army to stop and they camped there.

During the evening before the battle, his soldiers’ spirit wasn’t optimistic. Also they were influenced by the sight of the enemy’s camp – hundreds of thousands of bonfires, which made the impression of a huge blaze. Alexander gathered his companions together, but we don’t know any details of that meeting. Just after that, there was a famous discussion with Parmenion, which shows that most of the men didn’t believe in the possibility of victory when circumstances were so unfavourable.

Parmenion advised him to use surprise and attack by night. Alexander didn’t accept this plan, saying: “I don’t want a stolen victory”. Such statement we can call brave or honourable, but from another perspective it can be seen as naïve and even dangerous, because apart from gaining the aims of the whole expedition, his duty as a monarch was to take care of his men so he should use every possibility to minimise the losses of his own troops. If we look closer at this decision it shows many practical factors: First that a “stolen” night victory would give a good basis for other candidates for the Persian throne to claim that the incoming army was dishonourable and not worth any credibility in the Persian people and other people under Persian rule. It could cause further mobilisation in the huge Asian territories, which were still unconquered. Alexander wanted to sort out the Great King’s army and then, by negotiations, concessions and different kinds of goodwill gestures, convince the people of the conquered regions that he was the rightful ruler of all Asia. He wanted to fight fairly on Persian land on their conditions, and to keep any eventual successors without any basis that would help with claims to the Persian crown. (…)

From the chapter "Gaugamela"
(translated from Polish)

(…) Fuller claims (on the basis of solid calculations) that at this moment Alexander didn’t pursue Darius, but turned back and cleared his right wing from the enemy where Bessos’ unit caused heavy losses to the right-guard units. After clearing the situation in this wing he received a message about the critical situation in the left one. He moved there to help Parmenion. An unexpected attack from behind also finished the fight in this section.

Victory was decided by being “economical” with the forces. All of his forces had to defend against breaking or being surrounded, and attack from the back. They had to keep a much superior enemy away from his phalanx until the self-confident Persians, by sending their next troops, lost their formation. Then the break in the Persian line gave him the opportunity to attack.

The next rule broken by Alexander was the use of the second echelon. In fact Alexander formed a second echelon assembled of Greek mercenaries in the battle of Issos but its use in the main part of the battle was marginal then, because Alexander wanted to isolate them from the mercenaries in Persian side. In this battle, the second echelon was trained to turn round and complete a rectangle formation. At the same time throwing units protected the flanks where cavalry was also placed, which defended them from flanking assaults. Such manoeuvrability was gained thanks to a Thessalian formation received by the Macedonian army. Noting all aspects of such a composition it can seen as similar to Napoleon’s square formations (only with the difference that it couldn’t make a turn and change the direction of movement).

Excerpts submitted to by Maciej Milczanowski. © Maciej Milczanowski.