After two years of successful campaigning, Alexander seemed unstoppable as he moved on into Mesopotamia, heading for the heart of the Persian empire.
The destruction of Tyre sounded a grim warning to other towns in the area and most of them quickly surrendered to Alexander. Except, that is, for Gaza which stood on a hill and was heavily fortified.
Alexander’s Siege of Gaza 332BC
Gaza had a great deal to lose, for as the main Nabatean port, it was the centre of lucrative trade. Alexander, however, had learned from his success at Tyre and used the same weapons he had utilized to capture that city.
Even so, Batis, the commander of Gaza fortress, refused to surrender. In 332BC, Alexander mounted three assaults on Gaza before his army managed to take it. After the surrender, the entire male population was executed and the women and children were sold as slaves.
Alexander resorts to torture
Alexander reserved a special punishment for Batis who had infuriated him by his haughty manner, his refusal to kneel in front of him and his evident contempt for the young Macedonian king. Alexander ordered that a spike should be used to force a rope through Batis’s ankles and the rope tied to a chariot. Batis was still alive when the chariot was driven round the walls of Gaza, dragging the commander behind it.
After the capture of Gaza, Alexander proceeded into Egypt where the Persians were much hated. As the conqueror of the Persians, therefore, Alexander received a heartfelt welcome and was greeted as the new Egyptian pharaoh.
Confronting King Darius again
Leaving Egypt, Alexander proceeded to Syria and from there crossed the Euphrates and Tigris rivers heading for the heart of the Persian empire. This far, Alexander met no opposition. But the Persian king, Darius III, still smarting from his humiliating defeat at Issis, had been preparing his revenge.
Darius built up a massive army, once more expecting to defeat Alexander by weight of numbers. However, the result was not as the Persian king expected when, in 331BC, he met Alexander again.
The site was the battlefield at Gaugamala, which lay on the Persian plain around some seventy miles. north of present day Irbil in Iraq.
The Battle of Gaugamala 331BC
In the Persian royal tradition, Darius took up a position at the centre of his forces, alongside his best infantrymen. Alexander, meanwhile, divided his men in two and prepared to lead the left wing. His most trusted general, Parmenion led the right.
The Macedonian infantry was ordered to form a phalanx and head for the centre of the Persian line. At this, King Darius ordered his chariots into action, but they ran into the Agrianians , the ferocious Macedonian mountain warriors who numbered about one thousand men. To Darius’ horror, the Agrianians made short work of his chariots.
Next, Alexander led a charge at the now weakened Persian centre. When Darius’ charioteer was killed , the rumour soon spread that it was the Persian king who had died. At this dire ‘news’, the Persian battle line fell apart and Darius was yet again forced to run from the battlefield.
Darius plots revenge
When Darius III and his bodyguard fled from the battlefield of Gaugamala, Alexander set off in pursuit. But he was momentarily diverted by the fabled wealth of Persian cities like Babylon and Susa.
Alexander headed for both these cities, and in Susa found more riches than he had ever seen: it amounted to six times the yearly income of the city state of Athens.
While Alexander was enriching himself in Babylon and Susa, Darius was eaten up with fury over the latest defeat he had suffered at the youthful Macedonian’s hands. Bent on revenge, the Persian king headed east, hoping to raise another army so that he could challenge the brilliant young king again.
There was little chance of that. The satraps who were the provincial governors of the Persian empire, were nominally loyal to Darius but realised, as he did not, that it was futile to try to resist Alexander any longer: they capitulated to him instead.
The murder of Darius
One particularly ambitious satrap, Bessus of Bactria, had his own ideas of how to deal with Darius. He stabbedthe Persian king, leaving him mortally wounded. Darius was still alive when Alexander’s scouts came across him. The dying king held tightly to the hand of one of the Macedonians, thanking him for not leaving him to die deserted and alone.
Darius, the last king of the Achaemenid dynasty of Persia, was given a full-scale military funeral by the Macedonians before being buried with his royal ancestors.
Bessus had notions of succeeding Darius as King of Persia, but so did Alexander, who regarded Bessus as a brutal usurper. To rid himself of this inconvenient rival, Alexander had Bessus hunted down and killed.
The Battle of the Persian Gates 330BC
Then, he headed for Susa, which he captured and before moving on against Pasargadae, in the province of Persis.
Buty conquering Persis was not a simple matter. To approach the city, Alexander would have to make his way through a narrow mountain pass called the Persian Gates: the pass was tailor made for ambush and, in fact, Ariobarzanes, the satrap of Persis had set exactly this type of trap to catch Alexander and his army.
For once, Alexander made a serious miscalculation: he thought that he would not have to face any more enemies along the route of his march through Persia. But as soon as his forces entered the Persian Gates, Alexander discovered just how wrong he was.
Ariobarzanes men pelted the Macedonians with rocks while his archers shot a blizzard of arrows at them and catapults hurled boulders. Alexander’s forces suffered very heavy casualties, but the young king was not deterred.
He had sufficient forces left to surround Ariobarzanes and his troops and in a massive assault, broke through the Persian defences. This was the last stand of the Persian forces against Alexander. After Persis, Alexander moved on to the city of Persepolis which he captured and looted four months later.