Alexander the Great Wins the Battle of Issus: Alexander Outmaneuvers King Darius at the Pinarus

Alexander battling Darius at the Battle of Issus

King Darius planned on fighting Alexander on the wide Syrian plains.This tactic would have allowed Darius the opportunity of surrounding Alexander’s greatly outnumbered army. Darius decided to rest his troops at the Pinarus river during his pursuit of Alexander. Alexander learned of Darius’s location and immediately executed his strategy of fighting Darius on the plains of the Pinarus, which was shut in by the mountains and sea. This tactical move prevented Darius from surrounding the Macedonian’s outnumbered army and Alexander’s eventual probable defeat.

King Darius Learned From the Battle of Granicus

The Pinarus had steep banks in its upper and middle course. The Persians used this as an obstacle to defend their front in the same manner that they did at the Granicus.

The mistake that Darius made at the Battle of Granicus was not repeated at the Battle of Issus. Darius’s best troops, the Greek Mercenaries, were positioned in front of the center of the battle. The cavalry was on the right of the Greek mercenaries at the lower part of the Pinarus river. At Granicus, Darius mistakenly placed his cavalry in front next to the steep bank of the river Granicus which prohibited his cavalry from charging Alexander’s army.

The banks of the Pinarus river were flat and the stream did not form an obstacle. The ground was level enough for a cavalry approach. Darius’s remaining troops were placed behind this front. Darius positioned himself in his impressive chariot in the center in back of his Greek mercenaries.

Alexander Demonstrates His Military Genius

Ulrich Wilken points out in his book, Alexander the Great, that the Pinarus was one of Alexander’s most memorable battles. Alexander began the battle, using the oblique formation, by charging with his heavy cavalry over the Pinarus and attacking the left wing of the enemy.

The Persians began to weaken from the terrific impact Alexander made with his heavy cavalry. However, Alexander’s phalangites were thrown back while they attempted to climb the steep bank of the river. The Greek mercenaries immediately recognized this weakness and threw themselves fiercely into the battle at the edge of the river.

Subsequently, both the Macedonians and Greek mercenaries fought each other fiercely, demonstrating their ethnic prejudices towards each other. Fortunately for the Macedonians, assistance was provided them from the nearby phalangites and Alexander himself.

Apparently after overcoming the left wing of the Persians, Alexander had executed the decisive turn and was successfully attacking the Persian center. This decided the battle of Issus. Darius, recognized Alexander’s successful defeating of his main force and retreated northwards in a frantic escape.

Darius’s Escape Caused Great Disaster to His Army

The Persian cavalry continued to fight steadfastly until they learned of Darius’s escape from the battlefield. Then they turned around and commenced a frantic run for their lives. Alexander’s army pursued the fleeing Persians with a vengeance.

The historian, Ptolemy, who rode beside Alexander, recorded that in their pursuit they passed by a ravine, which was filled to the top with the dead bodies of the enemies.

Alexander the Great proved to the world his superior military mind in defeating Darius’s vastly numbered army. He did this by deciding to fight Darius on the plains of the Pinarus which prevented Alexander from being surrounded by King Darius’s heavily numbered army. The victory at Issus marked the realization of Alexander’s dream of Persian domination.


  1. Alexander the Great by Ulrich Wilcken
  2. Alexander the Great, Man of Action, Man of Spirit by Gallimard and Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
  3. The Conquests of Alexander the Great by Waldemar Heckel