Alexander and the Battle of Granicus River

Relief of Persian spearmen

In 334 BC, Alexander the Great and his army faced the Persian forces of Darius III at the Battle of Granicus River.


This would be Alexander's first major victory against the Persian king. However, the Persian army was commanded not by Darius III but by a group of Persian satraps and Greek mercenaries. 


By using a unique strategy, he was able to win decisively against the forces of Darius III and secure his place as one of history's greatest military commanders.


Darius III was the king of Persia, one of the largest empires in the world at that time. He had a massive army that was well-trained and equipped.


On the other hand, Alexander's army was smaller and relatively inexperienced. In addition, Darius III's army had the advantage of fighting on his home turf.


Alexander had only just become king of Macedon in 336 BC, after the assassination of his father Phillip II.


He was only 22 years old when he faced the Persians at Granicus River. Despite being outnumbered and outmatched, Alexander was determined to defeat the Persian king.


Given these circumstances, it would have been easy for Alexander to lose hope and give up before even engaging in battle.


However, he didn't let this deter him. Instead, he formulated a plan that would allow him to take on Darius III and win.

Statue of Alexander the Great riding a horse

Alexander's invasion of Asia Minor

Alexander's first step was to invade Asia Minor, which is present-day Turkey. In May of 334 BC, Alexander and his army crossed the Hellespont (present-day Dardanelles) into Persian territory. 


Once in Asia Minor, Alexander visited the ruins of the ancient city of Troy. He paid homage to the Trojan king Priam and offered sacrifices to the gods.


This was a symbolic gesture, as it established Alexander as the new Achilles - the great hero of Greek mythology.

From Troy, Alexander and his army marched inland towards Granicus River. Along the way, they passed through several cities that surrendered to them without a fight.


The people of these cities welcomed Alexander as their liberator from Persian rule.


By the time he reached Granicus River, Alexander had built up a large force of allies and supporters.


He also had momentum on his side, as he had yet to be defeated in battle. Darius III, on the other hand, was facing mounting pressure from all sides.


He needed to stop Alexander before he could gain any more ground.

The Battle of Granicus River

In May, 334 BC, the two armies met at Granicus River. The Persian army had around 10,000 cavalry, including 5000 Greek mercenary soldiers, while Alexander had around 13,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry.


The different armies were situated on separate riverbanks. Darius' forces were led by a Greek mercenary commander, called Memnon of Rhodes, who wanted to use the river as a defensive obstacle.


Since it was late afternoon when the armies met, Parmenion, one of Alexander's most devoted generals and commander of his left flank, advised Alexander that they should postpone the assault until morning.


According to Plutarch, Alexander responded that it would be "disgraceful" for him to fear the river of Granicus since he had already crossed the much more dangerous Hellespont, and ignored Parmenion's advice.


Alexander's strategy appears to have been quite simple: draw the Persian commanders out of safety and defeat them as quickly as possible.


Once the commanders were dead, Alexander hoped the rest of the army would flee or surrender.


To start the battle, Alexander sent forward units of archers and skirmishers. As predicted, the Persian cavalry, including the commanders, moved forward to counter-act them.


The Macedonian unit then fell back, leading the Persians to believe they were fleeing.


Once the Persian commanders were out in the open, Alexander quickly lead his cavalry units and charged forward into the river, towards the opposite cavalry.

Alexander may have hoped that his bravery would encourage his men to follow him, and he wore prominent white feathers on his helmet to ensure his soldiers could see him.


However, Alexander advanced up the opposite riverbank too quickly for the rest of his men to keep up and was surrounded by the defending enemy.


The Macedonian phalanxes struggled up the muddy banks to help their commander.

Risks to Alexander's life

During the fierce fighting, Alexander noticed that Mithridates, Darius's son-in-law, was close by with the Persian cavalry and attempted to chase after him.


However, Rhoesaces, another Persian commander, intervened to defend Mithridates and swung his sword at Alexander.


The blow cut off part of the feathers on Alexander's helmet and left a crack the metal. Alexander survived though, and quickly killed Rhoesaces. 


Then, Spithridates, yet another Persian commander, raised his own sword to attack Alexander, but one of the Macedonians, called Cleitus the Black struck back.


He cut Spithridates's arm and saved Alexander.

The rapid loss of a number of the Persian commanders sent the defenders into disarray.


The Persian army broke and was defeated. The battle was a very short affair, which was over quicker than either side expected.


The ancient historians of this battle note that the Greek mercenaries who were in the Persian army did not take part in the fighting.


They appeared to remain in their positions behind the Persian battle line. However, when the Persian forces fled, the mercenaries were caught up in the slaughter. 


Only 2,000 of the 5,000 Greek mercenaries survived, and they were sent to Macedonia to work the mines; the rest were murdered.


Also, Alexander sent the captured gold and treasures back home to his mother, Olympias.

Aftermath of the battle

The Battle of Granicus River may have only lasted a few hours at most, but it was a crucial victory for Alexander.


It was the first time he had faced the Persian army in open battle and emerged victorious.


This win boosted his confidence and helped him gain more supporters in Asia Minor.


Alexander's success at Granicus River can be attributed to several factors. First, he took a bold risk by crossing the Hellespont into Persian territory.


This showed Darius III that he was not afraid to take on the mighty Persian Empire. Second, Alexander had built up a large force of allies and supporters before reaching Granicus River.


This meant that he had both numbers and momentum on his side. Finally, Alexander was a skilled commander who knew how to make use of his resources.

What made Alexander's strategy at Granicus River so effective was its element of surprise.


The Persians were expecting a standard frontal assault, but they were not prepared for Alexander's innovative approach.


This allowed him to take them by surprise and achieve a decisive victory.

The Gordian Knot

After the victory at Granicus River, Alexander continued his march inland. He soon arrived at the city of Gordium, the capital of Phrygia.


Here, he came across a strange sight. There was a large wagon in the middle of the temple, and it was tied to a pole with an intricate knot. 


Alexander heard that this was the famous Gordian Knot. It had been tied by Gordius, the king of Phrygia, many years ago.


An oracle had predicted that whoever could untie this knot would become the ruler of all Asia.

Many people had tried to untie the Gordian Knot, but no one had been successful. When Alexander saw it, he immediately went to work trying to untie the knot. After a few minutes, he became frustrated and angry.


He was about to give up when he had an idea. He took out his sword and sliced through the knot with one stroke.


 Alexander's decision to simply cut through the Gordian Knot instead of trying to untie it was a symbolic act.


It showed that he was not going to be bound by tradition or convention. He was going to forge his own path and create his own destiny.


This momentous event helped Alexander gain even more support among the people of Asia Minor.


In conclusion, the Battle of Granicus River was a significant victory for Alexander the Great.


It allowed him to gain a foothold in Asia Minor and establish himself as a powerful ruler.


Additionally, the Gordian Knot incident demonstrated Alexander's willingness to break with tradition and forge his own path.


These two events helped pave the way for Alexander's ultimate success in conquering the Persian Empire.