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Battle on the Granicus


Detail of the Alexander mosaic, found in Pompeii. National Archaeological Museum, Naples (Italy). In the last days of May or the first days of June 334, Alexander's army clashed with a Persian army on the boards of the river Granicus. The Persian king Darius III was not present; the Macedonians and Greeks had to fight against the armies recruited from the satrapies of Asia Minor. The Greek author Plutarch of Chaeronea describes the battle in section 16 of his Life of Alexander.

The translation was made by Mr. Evelyn and belongs to the Dryden series.

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Map of the battle at the river Granicus. Design Jona Lendering.
Battle at the Granicus

In the meantime, Darius' captains, having collected large forces, were encamped on the further bank of the river Granicus, and it was necessary to fight, as it were, in the gate of Asia for an entrance into it.

The depth of the river, with the unevenness and difficult ascent of the opposite bank, which was to be gained by main force, was apprehended by most, and some pronounced it an improper time to engage, because it was unusual for the kings of Macedonia to march with their forces in the month called Daesius. But Alexander broke through these scruples, telling them they should call it a second Artemisius [1]. And when Parmenion advised him not to attempt anything that day, because it was late, he told him that he should disgrace the Hellespont, should he fear the Granicus.[2]

The Granicus. Photo Marco Prins.
The Granicus

And so, without more saying, he immediately took the river with thirteen troops of horse, and advanced against whole showers of darts thrown from the steep opposite side, which was covered with armed multitudes of the enemy's horse and foot, notwithstanding the disadvantage of the ground and the rapidity of the stream; so that the action seemed to have more frenzy and desperation in it, than of prudent conduct.

However, he persisted obstinately to gain the passage, and at last with much ado making his way up the banks, which were extremely muddy and slippery, he had instantly to join in a mere confused hand-to-hand combat with the enemy, before he could draw up his men, who were still passing over, into any order.

For the enemy pressed upon him with loud and warlike outcries; and charging horse against horse, with their lances, after they had broken and spent these, they fell to it with their swords. And Alexander, being easily known by his buckler, and a large plume of white feathers on each side of his helmet, was attacked on all sides, yet escaped wounding, though his cuirass was pierced by a javelin in one of the joinings. And Rhoesaces and Spithridates, two Persian commanders, falling upon him at once, he avoided one of them, and struck at Rhoesaces, who had a good cuirass on, with such force that, his spear breaking in his hand, he was glad to betake himself to his dagger. While they were thus engaged, Spithridates came up on one side of him, and raising himself upon his horse, gave him such a blow with his battle-ax on the helmet that he cut off the crest of it, with one of his plumes, and the helmet was only just so far strong enough to save him, that the edge of the weapon touched the hair of his head. But as he was about to repeat his stroke, Clitus, called the black Clitus, prevented him, by running him through the body with his spear. At the same time Alexander dispatched Rhoesaces with his sword.

While the horse were thus dangerously engaged, the Macedonian phalanx passed the river, and the foot on each side advanced to fight. But the enemy hardly sustaining the first onset soon gave ground and fled, all but the mercenary Greeks, who, making a stand upon a rising ground, desired quarter, which Alexander, guided rather by passion than judgment, refused to grant, and charging them himself first, had his horse [...] killed under him. And this obstinacy of his to cut off these experienced desperate men cost him the lives of more of his own soldiers than all the battle before, besides those who were wounded.

The Persians lost in this battle twenty thousand foot and two thousand five hundred horse. [3] On Alexander's side, Aristobulus says there were not wanting above four-and-thirty, of whom nine were foot-soldiers; and in memory of them he caused so many statues of brass, of Lysippus' making, to be erected. And that the Greeks might participate in the honor of his victory he sent a portion of the spoils home to them particularly to the Athenians three hundred bucklers, and upon all the rest he ordered this inscription to be set:

Alexander the son of Philip, and the Greeks,
except the Lacedaemonians [4],
won these from the barbarians who inhabit Asia.
All the plate and purple garments, and other things of the same kind that he took from the Persians, except a very small quantity which he reserved for himself, he sent as a present to his mother.
The plain east of the Granicus, site of the battle. Photo Jona Lendering.
The plain east of the Granicus
Note 1:
Alexander added a leap month. The normal leap month was Dios, which had been half a year ago.

Note 2:
Diodorus of Sicily writes that Alexander followed Parmenion's advise to attack at dawn (World History, 17.19.3); all other authorities agree that the Macedonians attacked immediately - just as Plutarch would have it. The difference between these sources is that Diodorus uses the now lost History of Alexander by Cleitarchus as his source, and the others are based on the Deeds of Alexander by Callisthenes of Olynthus, Alexander's court historian. Callisthenes had reasons to be hostile to Parmenion, and Cleitarchus' description of the battle is to be preferred. It is probable that the Macedonian king followed the instructions of the experienced general.

Note 3:
This number probably refers to the complete strength of the Persian army.

Note 4:
The official name of the Spartans, who had not joined the Corinthian league (more).

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