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Minor Battles

This paragraph is an excerpt of six articles I wrote for in 1999.

Sagalassus - 334 B.C.
Persian Gates - 330 B.C.
Battle of Mice - Megalopolis 330 B.C.
Bagae - 328 B.C.
Aornus - 326 B.C.
Sangala - 326 B.C.

Sagalassus - 334 BC

'The Pisidians are all fine soldiers, but the Sagalassians were conspicuous even among a nation of fighters.'

Flavius Arrianus Xenophon (Arrian)


After his victory at the river Granicus and his campaign along the Aegean coast, Alexander moved into the interior of Asia Minor. From the southern shores of what is now Turkey the Macedonian army marched for Gordium during winter 334/333 BC. However, on his path Alexander found the hostile Pisidian tribes, fearsome warriors who are determined to stop his progress.

A first confrontation happens near Termessus, a Pisidian mountain citadel. After the initial skirmishes the Pisidians retreat and Alexander, considering a siege would be too time consuming, decides to continue to march northwards. But at Sagalassus, the next Pisidian strongold, the tribal enemy has prepared a second position to resist the Macedonians once more.

Alexander reckons the cavalry would be of little use because of the rough terrain and he advances with his infantry regiments only, the guards, the phalanx and the Thracians. Although the Pisidians at Sagalassus have recieved reinforcements from Termessus and although they managed to surprise the Macedonians by an attack at the flanks, their numbers appear too small to score a victory. After a series of intense skirmishes the way is clear for Alexander's army to proceed.

In any case the confrontation had included fierce fighting as one of Alexander's main commanders, Cleander, was reported killed afterwards. Also, the Pisidians maintained their independence. During Alexander's reign their enclave remained a 'white spot' on the map of the empire. Even during the days of the Roman empire, the Romans never subdued the Pisidians but merely treated them as a client state.

At Sagalassus something extraordinary had happened: in fact, Alexander was outclassed. The historian Arrian writes all Pisidians were notorious for their courage and fighting skills, but even among this race of warriors the Sagalassians were outstanding.


During the struggle at Sagalassus many Macedonian units and leaders were occupied elsewhere. Ptolemy had a force of 3,000 mercenaries and 200 horse at his disposal in Caria while Parmenion was leading all allied contingents via a different route towards Gordium. Above that, Alexander had sent most of his 'newly wed' home for the winter. They returned to the army in Gordium in the spring of 333 BCE under the command of Coenus, Meleager and Ptolemy.

If we take all this into account, we are left with a relatively small number of predominantly Macedonian crack troops who were fighting the winter campaign in Asia Minor. According to Arrian Alexander used the Guards (hypaspists) on the right flank - under his personal command. The right flank was reinforced by the Agrians and the archers. The center, writes Arrian, was occupied by the heavy infantry. As Coenus, Meleager and Ptolemy were leading the troops 'on leave', these troops were probably the phalanx battallions of Amyntas, Phillip, Craterus and Perdiccas. On the left flank Alexander used Thracian units to protect the phalanx. The cavalry played no part in this battle.

Arrian is quite specific about Macedonian leaders at Sagalassus. Alexander had personal command over the right wing. Amyntas, son of Arrabaeus, had command over the heavy infantry battallions near the left flank, while Sitalces had command over the Thracians on the left wing. Cleander, who was killed in this battle, commanded the archers on the right wing. No details are known about the Pisidian enemies.

Persian Gates - 330 BC

'The greatest source of anguish for Alexander's courageous men was [...] their inability to strike back, their being caught and slaughtered like animals in a pit.'

Quintus Curtius Rufus (5; 3)


In January 330 BC Alexander and his victorious army had captured the Persian cities of Babylon and Susa and were marching towards the heart of Darius' empire, the ceremonial capital Persepolis. Alexander had split up his army. Parmenion was leading the baggage train and all allied and mercenary troops along the official road to Persepolis, while Alexander took his crack Macedonian forces on a faster but more difficult route straight across the Zagros mountain range.

The stakes were high. Alexander's intentions were to reach Persepolis before the Persians could evacuate the huge treasures stored in Darius' palaces. But the satrap Ariobarzanes, who governed the satrapy of Persia, had prepared an ambush in the mountain gorge known as the Persian or Susian Gates. When he struck, Alexander was trapped. The Persians were commanding the heights and arrows and stones were raining down mercilessly on the Macedonians. Ariobarzanes had walled the gorge, preventing Alexander from breaking through. In the end Alexander had to retreat, leaving behind many casualties. It was a disgrace. Ariobarzanes had faced the Macedonians before as a cavalry commander at Gaugamela and he must have realised it would take a cunning plan to stop them.

Now Alexander had a problem. If he could not reach Persepolis in time, not only the treasures could be lost, but also Parmenion's column would be an easy victim to a Persian surprise attack. However, a local shepherd claimed there was an obscure mountain path around the Gates. During the hours of darkness Alexander took his elite units on a nightly march, encircling the Persian stronghold whilst relying on the native shepherd as his guide. As dawn broke Alexander suddenly turned up behind Ariobarzanes' lines and the Persians were butchered.

Ariobarzanes barely managed to escape the massacre and returned to Persepolis with a few survivors, only to be denied entrance to the city. News of the outcome of the battle had convinced the citadel commander of Persepolis to surrender the capital to Alexander and stop any further resistance. So Ariobarzanes could not find a save refuge. He was never heard of again.

The local shepherd who guided Alexander around the Persian Gates was rewarded with a sum of money equivalent to a quarter of a million US dollars.


According to Arrian Alexander took with him on his nightly march: the Royal (Agema) squadron of the Companions, another double squadron of cavalry, the Guards (Hypaspists), Perdiccas' battallion, the Agrians and the 'most lightly armed of the archers'. The battallions of Philotas, Coenus and Amyntas received orders from Alexander to proceed in a different direction. Arrian also says Ptolemy had the command over 3,000 troops. Arrian is very clear about what happened to Craterus. He had orders to stay behind and guard the rear of the pass during Alexander's advance. At his disposal were his own battalion and that of Meleager. Furthermore, Craterus had the command over 'a few archers and 500 mounted troops'.

The army of Ariobarzanes must have been drafted from the last resources of the Persian empire. Arrian and Curtius Rufus give no details about the Persian enemy, apart from 700 cavalry and an alleged 25,000 to 40,000 infantry. At the Persian Gates Ariobarzanes is the only Persian leader known by name.

Battle of Mice - Megalopolis 330 BC

'That there never was a more violent conflict is a matter of record: the armies of the two nations with the greatest military reputation were fighting an evenly matched battle.'

Quintus Curtius Rufus (6; 1)


The fierce Battle of Megalopolis is the worst documented major event of the reign of Alexander the Great. Even the actual year in which the battle was fought is still disputed. When Alexander was in Phoenicia in summer 331 BC, preparing for his march towards Mesopotamia and the battle of Gaugamela, news arrived that King Agis III of Sparta had started a war in the Pelopponese. When Alexander arrived in Susa, in December of that year, the outcome of this obscure war was still unknown: from Susa he sent Antipater 3000 talents to continue the war effort. The final news of Antipater's victory must have reached Alexander in summer 330 BC when he dismissed his allied troops - or even much later in spring 329 BC when he crossed the Indian Caucasus into Bactria.

In the fall of 333 BC the Spartan King Agis III had met with the Persian commanders Pharnabazus and Autophradates, somewhere in the Aegean, and revealed them his plans for a war against Alexander in Greece itself. The Persians agreed to support Agis - with a mere 30 talents and just 10 ships. A lousy fee rather than substantial support. But Agis managed to recruit the Greek mercenary survivors of Issus - who had served in the Persian army - a tough force of 8,000 seasoned men hungry for revenge. In the summer of 331 BC Agis defeated Corrhagus, the Macedonian general in the Pelopponese and garrison commander of Corinth.

Meanwhile Antipater, Alexander's regent in Macedonia, was occupied in Thrace where the Macedonian general Memnon was somehow involved in a rebellion. As this Memnon is the same person who later supplied Alexander with new reinforcements in India, the most probable story is that this Memnon was under some pressure in Thrace and Antipater had to rush in to help him out. That solved, Antipater marched against King Agis. Antipater had recruited a large force of over 40,000 strong, with a small Macedonian nucleus and substantial numbers of barbarians from the northern fringes of the empire, reinforced with troops from his Greek allies.

The final battle, fought near Megalopolis, was a terrible massacre. King Agis faced Antipater with 22,000 troops who were at their very best that day. Early in the battle Antipater's lines broke, but in the end it was the sheer weight of numbers that brought victory to the Macedonians. It is written 5,300 died on the Spartan side and 3,500 on the Macedonian side. For the Spartans that meant a death toll close to 25 percent. But even for Antipater's side normal battle statistics would indicate that up to 90 percent of the Macedonian army might have been wounded, just as Curtius Rufus records. King Agis lead his army with unsurpassable courage, but was wounded in the midst of battle and died a hero's death in the end, defending himself until his last breath.

After his victory Antipater carefully avoided any chance of irritating Alexander. Therefore, he did not set the peace terms himself but delegated that job to the league of Greek states. Plutarch records Alexander's reaction when he finally heard about the outcome of the war with Agis III: 'Alexander, when he heard of Antipater's battle with Agis, merely joked about it and remarked, "It seems, my friends, that while we have been conquering Darius here, there has been a battle of mice in Arcadia"' (Plutarch, Life of Agesilaus, 15).


The historian Arrian hardly spends a word on the war of Agis III. Curtius Rufus appears to have written a full account, but ironically most of those passages have been lost. I have based this summary on the excellent commentary of Heckel in the Epitome of Justin and especially on the research of Bosworth in his Conquest and Empire.

Nothing is known about the battle formation, except that the battle was fought in hilly terrain and that the plain where both armies met was too small to contain all the troops involved. It is said Megalopolis was a battle with continuous action and mobility, but also a battle in which many units had to wait for their chance to advance to the front line due to the lack of space.

Antipater's troops were generally inferior to those of Agis. The reason for this is that Macedonia was already beginning to feel the yoke of the war in Persia. Just before Megalopolis Antipater had send 15,000 reinforcements to Alexander. Of these, 6,000 must have been Macedonians, 4,000 Greek allies. So Antipater was beginning to run out of recruits. Also the fact that the Macedonian phalanx broke early in the battle indicates his troops were not of the best standard.

According to all sources Agis III had 20,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry. The nucleus of the Greek army was formed by the survivors of Issus. Mercenary commander Thymodes had lead the 30,000 Greek mercenaries at Issus in the service of King Darius. Nothing is actually heard from Thymodes after Issus and the 8,000 veteran mercenaries were in fact shipped to Sparta by a certain Hippias.

In those ancient days Sparta had two kings at the same time: a king of the Eurypontid house and a king of the Agiad house. King Agis III is the Eurypontid king. King Agis' youngest brother Eudamidas was his successor. Cleomenes II was the Agiad king of Sparta. Though he ruled for 61 years, he was a nonentity who lived a life of inactivity. Acrotatus was a brave Agiad prince and one of the few Spartans who still dared to make bold patriotic remarks after the defeat. Eteocles was a Spartan military commander, mentioned by Bosworth. But only of King Agis we have confirmation that he was active as a Spartan commander at Megalopolis.

Apart from Antipater nothing is sure about the Macedonian commanders. Corrhagus was the garrison commander of Corinth who was defeated by Agis at the beginning of the war. Amphoterus was a Macedonian officer who had been sent to the Aegean and Peloponnese by Alexander to support Sparta's enemies. Amphoterus, a brother of the famous Craterus, was however not very successful in his missions. The son of Antipater Cassander was the later ruler of Macedonia. Cassander was the one who would eliminate Alexander's mother Olympias, as well as Alexander's widow Roxane and her child. Antipater himself, however, does not seem to have had much confidence in his son. After Alexander's death Antipater preferred Polyperchon as regent of Macedonia above his own son, a bitter disappointment to Cassander. As Cassander was born in 355 BC, only two years younger than Alexander, I find it plausible he might have been present at Megalopolis.

Bagae - 328 BC

'The death of this persistent, treacherous and wily foe gave final promise of peace to this territory.'

Theodore Ayrault Dodge (1890)


The Sogdian nobleman Spitamenes might not have been Alexander's most formidable opponent, but he surely was persistent. Spitamenes had fought in Darius' army. Together with Dataphernes he delivered the usurper Bessus to Alexander. But just as he seemed ready to submit himself to Alexander's rule, Spitamenes started a guerilla rebellion which kept the Macedonians busy in Central Asia for roughly two years. His most infamous raid was that on Maracanda when 2,300 Macedonians under Caranus perished.

In 328 BC Spitamenes was on the move again and with 600 Scythians he had ambushed the Macedonians in Zariaspa. By now Alexander had split up his army in five sections. Veteran commander Coenus was appointed to patrol the area where Spitamenes was active. While Spitamenes rallied more Scythians for his cause and his forces peaked to about 4,500 nomad horsemen, Coenus set out to meet him. The final confrontation happened at Bagae, a Sogdian stronghold at the edge of the Scythian deserts. Over 800 enemy horsemen were killed and Spitamenes was forced to withdraw.

Now Spitamenes had failed once to often. His Scythian allies became impatient. They beheaded him and sent his head to Alexander. His companion Dataphernes was imprisoned and delivered to the Macedonians.

Over a year later, far away in India, Coenus was the commander who had the courage to address Alexander in the name of the common soldier and plead for a retreat. Soon afterwards Coenus fell ill and died. His swift victory at Bagae against the notorious Spitamenes remains one of his moments of personal glory.


Historians like Arrian reveal very little details about the fight at Bagae. There are sufficient clues about where and when the confrontation happened and what units were involved. But any information about terrain, battle order and battle progress is lacking.

According to Arrian, Coenus took with him his own and Meleager's battalions, about 400 Companions, "all the javelin men" and troops from Sogdia and Bactria that were in service with Amyntas, Alexander's governor in Zariaspa. We can only guess what "all the javelin men" means.

Arrian says Spitamenes started his raid on Zariaspa with 600 Scythians from the Massagetae tribe. After Zariaspa he enlisted 1,000 more but in a short confrontation with Craterus 150 of them fell. At Bagae Spitamenes enlisted 3,000 fresh Scythian nomads. In total this ends up to 4,450 troops of which at least 1,450 were Massagetae. The Massagetae had earned themselves a reputation by having killed Cyrus the Great in battle, back in the old days of the Persian empire. In Spitamenes' entourage there must have been some rebels from Bactria and Sogdia proper. But nothing is known of their numbers. After Bagae both Spitamenes and Dataphernes were betrayed by their Scythian allies. So it can be assumed that Dataphernes was present at the battle together with to Spitamenes.

(Some sources use the name 'Gabae', not 'Bagae'. I have used 'Bagae' from the translation of Arrian in Penguin Classics.)

Aornus - 326 BC

'I could only wonder that the story of Aornos should have escaped being treated altogether as a mythos.'

sir Aurel Stein (1926)


The spring of 326 BC featured one of the most awe inspiring, yet mysterious feats of Alexander's career. The Macedonian invasion of India started with the conquest of the temperate valleys near the foothills of the Himalayas where the Indian tribe of the Assacenians offered fierce resistance. Fleeing their besieged cities the Assacenians withdrew to the rock fortress of Aornus. The meadows and wells at the high plateau of Aornus could sustain a large number of refugees for a considerable length of time.

Alexander realized it would be a moral victory for the Indians if their resistance was not suppressed. However, Aornus had a reputation for being absolutely impregnable. According to legend even the hero Hercules had failed to capture the rock. But Alexander decided his message had to be clear: no one should be able escape him. So, together with Ptolemy and a small force of his best armed troops he made his way up anyway. By constructing a bridge over a ravine which enabled his siege artillery to fire at the enemy, Alexander proved that even their rock fortress would not be a safe haven for the Assacenians. They lost heart and in desperate attempt to escape most of them found their death by throwing themselves down the steep cliffs.

The story of the Indian rock had long been seen as a myth until sir Aurel Stein pointed out a possible location in 1926. This location, the hill of Pir-Sar in northern Pakistan, has been disputed by some historians. The question where the real rock of Aornus lies and what really happened there might never be fully solved.


Arrian gives the most detailed account of the siege. According to Arrian Alexander took with him to Aornus: the archers, the Agrians, the phalanx battalion of Coenus, the best armed and most active of the other infantry units, 200 Companions and 100 mounted archers. Of these the Agrians, some light armed units (possibly the archers) and a picked company of heavy infantry were the first to attempt the assault. Later on Arrian mentions the number of 700 regarding the heavy infantry unit and he mentions the use of catapults during the siege. In retrospect, Aornus was captured with just a very small force.

In Arrian's account the major role is played by Ptolemy, the later king of Egypt. It is likely that Ptolemy's own history (on which Arrian had based his work) contained a considerable amount of 'personal propaganda' and that Ptolemy used the siege of Aornus to paint a favorable picture of himself. It is remarkable that Ptolemy's alleged achievements at Aornus are completely ignored by the other classical authors like Diodorus and Curtius Rufus.

The Assaceni kingdom initially had a standing army of 2,000 cavalry, 30,000 infantry and 30 elephants. Many of these troops must have been captured or killed during the many sieges in Assaceni territory, like those of the cities of Ora, Bazira and Massaga. It was after these sieges that the last survivors fled to Aornus. It would have been very unpractical for the Assaceni to take their elephants with them to the summit of the rock.

It is obvious the remnants of the Assaceni army considered themselves too weak to risk an open battle with Alexander. Even in the weeks before the assault on Aornus, the Assaceni did not face the Macedonians in the field, but rather preferred to take up defensive positions within their city walls. The king of the Assaceni was called Assacenus, but he was killed during one of the sieges before Aornus. The Assaceni Queen Cleophis had surrendered her capital Massaga to Alexander. (She allegedly conceived a son by Alexander.)

Before the siege of Massaga the brother of King Assacenus, a man called Amminais, had brought in 7,000 mercenaries to reinforce the defenses of Massaga. However, after the surrender of the city these mercenaries and their leader were betrayed and massacred by Alexander. Whether this 'leader' was the same person as the king's brother Amminais, is not clear.

(Note: the Indian Rock is called Aornos in a translation of Arrian, Aornus in a translation of Diodorus and Aornis in a translation of Curtius Rufus. I have used the 'Aornus' form from the Loeb Classical Library translation of Diodorus Siculus.)

Sangala - 326 BC

'The men were exhausted by the hardships of the campaign and wished only to enjoy what profits from it lay closest to hand'

Quintus Curtius Rufus (9; 2)


When Alexander marched through India the character of his campaign had changed. This was not a clean war. The Macedonians met resistance almost everywhere. They were not only battling against enemy armies but also against militant civilians making a last desperate stand to keep their freedom.

At the same time army morale had plunged to far below zero. The Indian monsoon posed havoc on the Macedonians. Alexander's men, unfamiliar with the tropical climate, suffered from illness and fatigue. Their wounds did not heal in this humid climate. It was under these conditions that - a few weeks after their victory at the Hydaspes - they faced a stronghold of resistance at Sangala, the principal city of the Cathaean Indians.

As Arrian relates the Cathaeans (or Chathaei) had the courage to meet Alexander in the field. Near their capital they had occupied a low hill and had strengthened their defensive line with 'carts' from which they hurled missiles. Alexander led the first cavalry attack himself, but as he soon found out the cavalry was of little avail. He dismounted and assisted the infantry in their assault. Once the Cathaeans felt the pressure of the veteran Macedonian footmen, they abandoned their positions and fled within their city walls. After a four day siege Sangala fell. About 8,000 Cathaeans had died and another 9,000 perished when the Macedonians razed Sangala to the ground. About 70,000 citizens were captured as prisoners of war. During continuing raids in the surrounding country even the old, the wounded and the sick were massacred.

Sangala was no glorious victory. It was a dirty struggle under appalling conditions putting a demoralized army against a desperate enemy. The number of Macedonian wounded was exceptionally high. It turned out to be Alexander's last conquest on his march to the east. Days later his army mutinied and Alexander agreed to return homewards.


First of all Arrian says that Alexander sent the mounted archers to the front with orders to fire at long range to prevent an enemy sortie. Arrian continues saying Alexander brought the Agema cavalry ('special squadron') and the Companions of Cleitus to the right, together with the Agrians. The Guards were kept close to the Companions. These 'Guards', otherwise known as the Hypaspists, are believed to have been renamed 'Argyraspids' or Silver Shields shortly before Alexander entered India. On the left, according to Arrian, Alexander posted the Companion unit of Perdiccas and the heavy infantry. Coenus' battallion would have been with Coenus on a foraging party. Hephaistion had taken some troops with him on other assignments too. Still the core of the army must have been with Alexander. This leaves us with the additional phalanxes of Meleager, Attalus and Gorgias. On the front line Alexander had posted two divisions of archers, one on each wing (says Arrian).

The final touch was the arrival of King Porus, now an ally, with reinforcements that actually came to late to participate in the battle. Arrian places Porus' arrival during the actual siege of Sangala, long after the initial engagement. It is only guesswork which reinforcements Porus might have brought. (Just after the Hydaspes battle Alexander had subdued the country of a tribe called the Glausae and had handed their territory over to Porus.) Arrian says the number of Porus' reinforcements was 5,000 and included elephants.

In Arrian's account the attack on Sangala is lead by Alexander and Ptolemy. Except for King Porus, no other Macedonian leaders are mentioned and it is very likely the most prominent figures were employed on other missions. So It is not known who commanded the rearguard. But it is known that just after Sangala the secretary of Alexander, Eumenes, was dispatched with 300 cavalry to raid the countryside. Eumenes later developed to one of the foremost commanders of the Diadochi wars, but this was his first military assignment during Alexander's reign.

The Indian army defended itself with their line of 'carts' from which the Indians hurled missiles. Curtius Rufus actually does not speak of carts, but of chariots 'lashed' together. Whether it were carts or chariots, there was a triple line surrounding the entire hill. What the rest of the Indian army looked like is guesswork. Arrian's accounts show that the average ratio of Indian cavalry against infantry was roughly 1 to 10. Elephants are not mentioned in the accounts of the actual fight at Sangala.

Nothing is known about Indian commanders. A certain Sophites was a king of a more friendly nation in the vicinity of Sangala. The same goes for king Phegeus, though his character is considered to be more mythical than historical. A king named Embisarus is mentioned in Diodorus, but it is just another name for the better known Abisares. Diodorus also mentions an Indian ruler named Sasibisares who governed an area around Sangala. However, none of these individuals is mentioned in connenction with the battle proper.

As historians have observed the name Cathaeans or Cathaei echoes the name of the traditional Hindu caste of soldiers, the 'Kshatriyas'. Alexander's men noticed the people of Sangala practiced the custom of 'suttee'. The Cathaeans were Hindu's. The traditional Hindu society has four castes, the Brahmins (priests), the Khsatriyas (soldiers), the Vaisyas (merchants) and the Sudras (farmers).

Written by nick