The Life and Successes of Alexander the Great

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Part 5: In the Footsteps of Gods

Egypt had been conquered by Persia several times and had always managed to throw off the yoke. This last time, however, Persia had made it stick. Egypt was conquered and didn't like it one bit. They were eager to throw off their masters and saw their opportunity when Alexander came calling. Rather than put up a fight, they lay down their weapons and opened their arms, proclaiming Alexander to be the son of Re (the sun god). In one of the strange instances that make for wonderful historical asides, Alexander traveled by himself through the desert to visit a temple to Re, going days without food or water before finally finding what he was looking for. As only he could, he returned and proclaimed that he had been visited by Re himself and that the god had anointed Alexander the new ruler of Egypt. The Egyptians, believing in signs and seeing a way out of the Persian predicament, agreed.

The result of all this was that Alexander was proclaimed ruler of Egypt. To commemorate the Egyptian people's faith in him, Alexander designed and had built a city, named after himself, naturally. This was the fabled Alexandria (one of many such-named cities), which would become one of the most famous cities in the world.

Two years later, Darius desperately wanted to avoid the mistakes that led to his defeat at Issus. He was still the emperor of the Persian Empire, and he still commanded an army of many thousands. (Some historians, notably Arrian, claim that the Persian army numbered 1 million at this battle.) He could still also choose the field of battle. At Gaugamela, he chose a wide open plain, in which he could deploy his entire army to its best effect.

By this time, Alexander was flush with victory again, having rolled up much of the western part of what used to be the empire. He still hadn't lost a battle and was considered a military genius who would take any advantage in order to win the day. He had still inferior numbers, but that hadn't stopped him from winning before. One of Alexander's commanders, a man named Parmenion, advised Alexander to attack at night and gain the element of surprise. Alexander decided against it, but Darius feared that sort of attack all to well and kept his men standing on the battlefield all night. Fearing the worst, Darius created the worst. Alexander and his men, on the other hand, had a good night's sleep.

The battle unfolded in much the same way as the Battle of Issus, with the Persians taking early advantage and then Alexander's cavalry delivering a knockout blow near the end. The deciding factor again was Alexander's ability to see what was happening during the fighting and shift resources were they were needed most or could take full advantage. In an era of communication by messenger and long before aerial reconnaissance, this ability of Alexander's was a prime factor in his being able to win when winning seemed out of the question. Alexander's victory at Gaugamela, however, viewed from Darius's point of view, must have been all the more puzzling, especially since the emperor was sporting some surprise new weapons this time around: some war elephants imported from India and 200 fully armed war chariots. The Macedonian army made quick work of it all, though, and drove their point home. Darius, again, was sent packing, far to the east.

Next page > Taking Over a Huge Empire > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

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David White