GAUGAMELA (331 BC)
A DBA Giant Battle Scenario

By Chris Brantley and Keith Finn

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After his victory at Issus in 333 BC, Alexander occupied the Mediterraranean coast as far as Egypt and than gathered his army, advancing from Syria along the Persian Royal Road, crossing the Euphrates and Tigris rivers into the old Assyrian heart of the Persian empire.  Darius had selected a flat plain about sixty miles west of the town of Arbela (modern Arbil/Erbil/Irbil) as a battlefield, and collected a large army. 

There are numerous, conflicting and occasionally fantastical estimates of the size of Dariusí army at Gaugamela.  According to Arrian, Darius fielded 40,000 cavalry and 1,000,000 infantry.  Diodorus Siculus rounds it down to 1,000,000 million even, but including 200,000 cavalry.   Plutarch also refers to a million in arms, without characterizing foot or mounted. On the low end, Curtius Rufus reports 45,000 cavalry and 200,000 infantry.  Specialist troops referred to in various accounts include the Persian Apple Bearers or Immortals (10,000 strong), 200 scythed chariots, 15 Indian elephants, 1000 Bactrians and 2000 Greek mercenary hoplites.  Modern estimates of Dariusí army range from a low of 50,000 (by Delbruck) to approximately 100,000 (by Warry, Engels and Green).

According to Arrian, Alexanderís army consisted of his Macedonians with Thracian allies and Greek mercenary contingents from the Corinthian League, numbering 7000 cavalry and 40,000 infantry.

Darius placed himself in the center, with his Horse Guards and Immortals, Carians, Indian horse, Greek Mercenaries and Mardian archers. Darius' right wing was commanded by Mazaeus, with his elite horsemen from Cappadocia and Armenia, supported by  subject horse from Syria, Media, Mesopotamia, Parthia, Sacia, Tapuria, Hyrcania, Albania, and Sacesinia.  His left wing was commanded by Bessus, and included a large contingent of war chariots supported by Bactrians, with Persian, Dahae, Arachosian Susian, Cadusian and Scythian horse in reserve.  The unreliable hordes of levy peltasts were presumably posted in a reserve line behind the main army.

Here is how Arrian Anabasis 3.11.5ff] describes the Persian deployments:

At the centre, where King Darius was to be found, the relatives of the king were arranged, along with the Persian Applebearers, the Indians, the "Carian deportees" and the Mardian archers; behind them, in a hollow, were the Babylonians [under the leadership of Mazaeus], the Red Sea contingents and the Sittacenians. Out in front on the left wing, opposite Alexander's right wing, stood the Sacaean horsemen [commanded by Bessus], around 1,000 Bactrians, and 100 scythed chariots. The elephants and 50 scythed chariots stood close to Darius' own royal squadron. At the front of the right wing stood the Armenian and Cappadocian horsemen, with another 50 scythed chariots. The Greek mercenaries were placed on either side of Darius and his Persian followers, directly opposite the Macedonian phalanx, since only they could possibly be a match for the phalanx.

Against this host, Alexander deployed his army into two wings.  Alexander took direct command of the right wing, including his Companion horse, the Paionian and Macedonian light cavalry, and Agrian and Macedonian archers positioned to help cover the right flank of the Parmenionís phalanx.   Parmenion commanded the left flank, with the Greek phalanx deployed in two lines, with his Macedonians at the fore.  The second line of the phalanx, comprised of Greek mercenaries, was tasked to cover Parmenionís exposed left flank against the overlapping Persian horse.  Cretan archers were deployed with Thessalian, Greek and Thracian horse to cover the center gap between the two wings.   Purportedly, Alexanderís battleplan was to hold with Parmenionís left wing and attack on the right, but targeting Darius and the Persian center.  Each end of Alexanderís battleline was echeloned back to draw the Persian horse on the wings away from their center.

The battle began with the charge of the Persian scythed chariots of the left.  Some were intercepted by Agrianian skirmishers, and the balance were received by the Greek phalanx, which had been trained to open their lines, creating lanes for the charging horses, who were then speared from the flanks along with their hapless drivers.  The Persians then launched their cavalry on the wings, seeking to overlap and envelop Alexanderís shorter battleline.   The cavalry battle raged back and forth, with Alexander feeding in mounted reserves on both wings, allowing the Persian horse to advance further and further around his right flank.

Satisfied that Bessusís horse would not be able to interfere with his attack on Darius's center, Alexander launched his redeployed Companions, a large contingent of peltasts and supporting battalions of the phalanx like a giant wedge at the gap between the commands of Darius and Bessus.  Darius sent his Persian cavalry reserves to blunt the Companion's attack, but they were held back by the missiles of the peltasts.  Having gained the flank of Dariusí main line of battle, Alexanderís Companions turned left and drove down the disintegrating line toward the Great Kingís command position.   The Companions overwhelmed Dariusí Royal Guard and his Greek mercenaries, at which point Darius left the field and the remaining troops of the Persian center began to retire, followed by the Persian left wing under Bessus.

With Alexander poised to follow in pursuit, messages arrived from Parmenion that the left wing was hard pressed and nearly overwhelmed. Meanwhile, Persian and Indian horse had broken through the gap in the Macedonian center, but of instead of taking the phalanx in the rear, the horsemen went on to loot the Greek camp and attempted to rescue the captured Queen Mother Sisybambis (who declined to be rescued).  Alexanderís Companions arrived to stabilize the situation, but the winded Companions suffered heavily in the melee with the retiring Indian horsemen.  Mazaeus began to withdraw the Persian right wing, which fell into disorder under close pursuit by the Thessalian and other Greek cavalry.

After the battle, Parmenion rounded up the Persian baggage train, while Alexander and his bodyguard mounted an unsuccessful pursuit of Darius, who escaped along with a small force of Bactrian cavalry, remnants of his Royal Guard and 2000 Greek mercenaries.   Darius planned to raise a new army among his eastern satrapies, but was later murdered by Bessus, who was captured and killed by Alexander as punishment for his treachery.  The Eastern Satraps pledged loyalty to Alexander, who declared himself the new King of Kings.

The Armies

This battle pits Alexandrian Macedonians (DBA II/12) vs. Later Achaemenid Persians (II/7), and is presented as a DBA Giant Battle scenario, but can be easily adapted for Big Battle or even regular DBA gameplay.

The Giant Battle army composition is based on the breakdowns provided by Phil Barker in version 1.0 of the De Bellis Antiquitatis rules, who uses the scale of 1 element = 500 open, 1000 loose or 1500 close formation troops.

Alexander (40 elements):  2x 3Kn (Companions), 2x 3Cv (Thessalians), 2x 3Cv (Greek/Mercenaries), 1x 2Lh (Prodromoi), 1x 2Lh (Paeonian), 1x 2Lh (Odrysian), 3x 4Ax (Hypapists), 12x 4Pk (Phalanx), 2x 2Ps (Archers), 4x 2Ps (Agrianians and Thracians), 6x 4Sp (Greeks), 2x 4Ax (peltasts), 2x 3Ax (Thracians).

(Note:  these should be organized into two commands, lead by Alexander (Kn/Gen) and Parmenion (Pk/Gen).)

Darius (52 elements):  4x SCh, 26x 3Cv, 12x 2Lh, 2x 4Sp (Greeks), 1x 4Bw (Guard), 3x 4Ax (Kardakes), 1x 3Ax (Carians), 2x 3Bw (Mardians), 1xEl..  Barker's OOB omits "...the hordes of Persian levy infantry who took no part in the battle...."

(Note:  these should be organized into three commands, lead by Darius, Bessus and Mazaeus, each depicted as a Cv/Gen.  Darius' command must include the Greek spear, the guard archers, the Kardakes and Carians, at least one element of Mardian bow, and the Elephant..) 

Big Battle Option:

  • Alexander (36 elements in two commands):  1x 3Kn(Gen),1x Pk (Gen), 2x 3Kn, 3x 3Cv, 3x 3Lh, 3x 4Ax, 17x 4Pk, 3x 2Ps, 3x 4Sp
  • Darius (36 elements in three commands):  1x LCh(Gen), 2x Cv(Gen), 6x 3Cv, 6x 2Lh, 3x Sch, 6x 2Ps, 6x 4Sp, 5x 3Ax (plus 1x El).

Deployment

Since the deployments were planned in advance of the battle, ideally, deployment should be done with a screen or on a hand-drawn map so that neither side is influenced by the deployments of the other. Alternatively, the Persian deploys all commands first followed by the Macedonians.  Persian's attack first.

Battlefield Terrain Notes

The battle is fought on a 60 x 30 terrain board, depicting a sandy plain. To facilitate his chariots and horsemen, Darius had the plain smoothed and cleared of excess brush for an estimated width of over 4000 yards.  Some historians suggest the battle was named for the appearance of a nearby hill, resembling a camels hump, which translates into the name Gaugamela, but there is no indication the hill played any role in the battle.  So for purposes of our battle, the field can be depicted as entirely flat good going. 

If desired, a low range of foothills and a river can be deployed in the Macedonian rear with an Assyrian canal (Persian right) and patches of rough bad going (Persian left) placed at the extreme edges of the board to help delineate the cleared battlefield plain.

Victory Conditions

As per Big Battle DBA.

Other Resources

Arrian's the Anabasis of Alexander is probably the most reliable western resource on Alexander's battles.

From Osprey, see The Greek & Persian Wars 500-323 BC (Men-at-Arms 69), Alexander 334-323 BC (Campaign 7). The Army of Alexander the Great (Men-at-Arms 148), and/or the Special Edition series Alexander the Great: His Armies and Campaigns 334-323 BC.


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Last Updated: 18 August 2015

Questions, comments, suggestions welcome.
Send them to Chris Brantley, IamFanaticus@gmail.com.