Monday, May 11, 2020

The Granicus

Alexander's Conquest of Persia

Late May, 334 BCE

Macedonians under Alexander III of Macedon,  approx. 18,100 (5,100 cavalry, 13,000 infantry)
Persians under Arsites, Satrap of Phrygia, approx. 30,000 (16,000 cavalry, 14,000 infantry) 


First Light: 05:30  Sunrise: 05:56  Sunset: 20:19  End of Twilight: 20:42
(approximate times calculated from U.S. Naval  Observatory based on location. However as the calculator does not figure for dates prior to 1700, this was based mid May for this year. It may have been a few minutes off.

Location: 40° 13’ N    27° 14’ E  Just northwest of the Turkish town of Gümüşçay on what is now called the Çan Çayı.


Arrian, James Romm (ed) The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander,  2012, Anchor Books, ISBN 978-1-4000-7967-4

Connolly, Peter, Greece and Rome at War, 1998, Greenhill Books, ISBN 1-85367-303-X

Fuller, J.F.C, The Generalship of Alexander the Great, 1960, Da Capo Press, ISBN 0-306-81330-0

Green, Peter, Alexander of Macedon 356-323 BC, 2013, University of California Press, ISBN 978-0-520-27586-7

27 comments:

  1. Fantastic as always, many thanks for all the hard work, really fascinating.
    Dave.

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    1. Thank you so much, Dave. Took awhile but it was fun to do this one. I learned so much myself.

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  2. Too bad Alexander didn't have elephants at this point. Great read as always.

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    1. Alexander never had elephants. And when he first had to confront them, at the Hydaspes, he quickly found a way to neutralize them. Elephants, while dramatic in a battle line, always proved to be far more trouble to the side with them than they were worth. By the time Hannibal, who is most identified with elephants, got into Italy, he had almost none left.

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    2. Alexander indeed had elephants in his army at the Hydaspes. They were from his allies Taxiles Indian forces. They built barges to cross the river with elephants and cavalry but Alexander used these with Craterus' forces to pin Porus in place and do his night march and up river crossing.

      At the actual battle Alexander had no elephants, toward the end Craterus arrived with elephants and cavalry and reinforcements as they had crossed the river unopposed and surrounded Porus' survivors.

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    3. I stand corrected about the elephants. Looked it up. His new ally Ambhi of Taxila did provide him with 30 elephants for use against their mutual enemy, Porus, which he never used in combat, even at the subsequent battle. So, you could say they were in the area. Green points out that it would have taken days to transport them across the river.

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  3. Seeing your updated blog on my RSS feed lighten up my day. So happy to see that you are still keeping us entertained with these studies. Thanks so much for the years of entertainment!

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    1. Well, thank you, too, for being a loyal fan. Obviously I do these to entertain myself, but it is so gratifying that I entertain discerning enthusiasts like you as well.

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  4. GREAT GREAT work ... I have no other words to explain your post. Thanks to share all these info

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    1. And I have no other words to express my appreciation for you compliments, Marco, other than thank you for following my blog.

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  5. Great to see you back! I check this every month and sure enough today I see a new post!

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    1. Sorry this one took so long. I have no excuse...well, other than the research took longer this time. But I'm so glad to have you in my fan club, Michael.

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    2. Well worth the wait and really enjoyed your post! I have been researching the battle of Teugn-Hausen for 1809 and wanted to create a battle map. What programs do you use? I found a very detailed map from 1800 and wanted to create a correct map. I look forward to your next post!

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    3. I use Photoshop for the base map (the digital "sand table") and Adobe InDesign for the deployment overlays and labeling. I found that InDesign makes an excellent platform for fighting a wargame in lieu of miniatures.

      These were both digital tools I've used for years in my career as a creative person in advertising. And one day I thought, hmmmm, I wonder if I could repurpose them to make maps and troops.

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  6. I've been hoping for you to do a post on an ancient battle... you never disappoint with the variety of subject matter. Adding my voice to the chorus of admiration... another stellar post.

    Bil

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    1. Thank you, Bil. I enjoyed venturing out of the age of black powder for once. Just started working on another old battle, Stamford Bridge, 1066 (Harold's victory over the Vikings before Hastings). Don't know how long this will take. The research and writing has taken months on some of these. And the sources are not nearly so definitive (do I trust the Anglo Saxon Chronicles?) so I find myself making more WAGs (Wild Ass Guesses).

      But I appreciate your readership.

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  7. I always enjoy your battle accounts. Good work! Keep them coming!

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  8. Really interesting supposition Jeff. Always thought it was odd that the Persian Cavalry lined the bank of the river (Robin Lane Fox read when I was about 14) and the Macedonians charged them. Never really made any sense, your idea makes much more sense and is a plausible explanation as to why the best Infantry the Persians had (Greek Mercenaries) were not in the frontline in place of the Cavalry.
    Excellent, thought provoking read again. Thank you for all your efforts.

    John

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    1. I had also had that "hey, wait a minute" reaction the first time I read about this battle (at apparently about the same age as you). My and Peter Green's and Diordorus's analysis of what probably happened isn't necessarily right either; they are just more plausible. That's what I love about history; most of it is just interpretation through a more or less biased lens.

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  9. Absolutely fantastic. Not only the amazing map- but the analysis of the ancient sources. A great analysis and conclusion- having gamed all of Alex's battles- and many more with Persians and Greeks besides- the Persian deployment makes little senses. It is never replicated anywhere else- and Diodorus provides a version that has the ring of truth. Thank you- truly impressive- your blog is one of my all time favourites. Don't stop! ( I wonder if you do requests!!)

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  10. Very nice article and presentation. There is a typo in the line where you mention Peter Green for the first time as (David Green).

    When I gamed this battle Twenty years ago- I tried the Arrian story, with the JFC Fuller and other versions of the swing right flank movement as the key amneuver.

    http://www.ancientbattles.com/WAB_Macedonians/Granicus.htm

    Later I did the Diodorus version (not pictured). Both led to Persian defeats. The Persians actually had a chance if the deployment with the hoplites in the center (as in your second map) is allowed.

    Over time I have come to favor Peter Green's account because he tries to stay away from the hero worship. The Persian dispositions do not make sense if they were not engaged in an encounter or meeting engagement. Alexander's swing to the left flank meant all the troops had to move - which explains the Macedonian cavalry running headlong into the Persian hit squads, and the hoplites trailing along to the rear and being defeated in detail.

    Great presentation of both versions.

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    1. Thanks for the alert on the typo, Jeff. I depend on my readers to be my proofreaders (even long after the post date). Corrected.

      I agree that the likelihood of Persian defeat was high, regardless of the scenario (Diodorus' or Arrian's). What interested me was how we so readily tend to accept some versions of events as true, regardless of the illogic of the narrative or bias of the sources.

      Thanks, too, for reading and your compliments.

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  11. Another note. There is much confusion about the term ile with Macedonian cavalry. The tactician manuals describe ile (cavalry troop) as 49 to 64 troopers. This corresponds better with the flexibily of the squadron (which is a group of troops).

    More confusion is caused by Arrian's description of ile as a squadron, then later as regiments/brigades (hipparchia). The confusion boils down to tactical units (troops) and how they are grouped into organizational units (squadrons and regiments/brigades). For example most squadrons had 200 troopers, the royal squadron had 300. Some Macedonian cavalry squadrons had less 150 troopers (lancers prodromoi/Paeonians).

    Arrian points out the ilai (plural) of the Lancers strike the Persians in embolon, striking in eschelon ile after ile and breaking up the Persian formations. Then ile by ile they retire.

    There is a lot of work out there on this subject from Sekunda and others. A new translation of the Tactics of Aelian by Matthew also covers the issue of the smaller ile as the base building block of the Macedonian style wedge, and being less troopers than the Thessalian Rhomboid.

    In Arrian's commentary there are times when groups of squadrons are combined into large embolon (wedges) for penetration of the enemy line. I feel these would still retain their troop frontage and would have been smaller wedges arrayed in depth, much like formations described in Napoleonic battles, such as Macdonald's massed "column" at Wagram, which really was a large hollow square framed by regiments in various formations. Sorry to be so pedantic but your diagrams and maps are top notch and I wanted to clarify at least the wedge one even though I know that version is also published in many spaces. Since this article is about alternative views you may wish to do the deep dive into this particular subject since squadron/ile size is quite important to understanding the Granicus battle.

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    1. The term squadron, as translated from Arrian's text, is a modern designation. The Romans themselves did not use it, so it is doubtful that Arrian or Plutarch used the term as we understand it today. In their day, the contemporary Roman cavalry was organized in troops of 32 (turmae) with 16 making up an alae (equiv of a modern regiment). But I know you know all this.

      I must confess that ancient tactics and organization are not my forte. I have learned what I needed to in researching this battle from the sources I had at hand and online, mostly as a break from my usual concentration on 18th-19th century battles.

      That said, when I was reading about the wedge-shaped formations employed by the Macedonians (evolved from the rhomboid formations of their Thracian allies), it occurred to me that in battle, there probably wasn't the strict, geometric alignment of the cavalry that was more critical in the phalanx, nor of that of early modern cavalry. Rather, I suspect that the actual formations were more herd-like, with the leader out in front and everyone galloping after him higgedly-piggledy.

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  12. Here is an older disscussion related to my previous post:

    http://lukeuedasarson.com/GranicusNotes2.html

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  13. I think Hans Delbruck deserves to be a modern source for the Grancius. Not so much on the specifics of the battle but more with respect to numbers. Of course, Delbruck was always stingy with respect to numbers in ancient battles but his insightful assessment of the Persian system and its feudal nature caused him to suggest, accurately I think, that the Persians never outnumbered the Macedonians in any of the major battles of this campaign.

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    1. I myself have long distrusted strength figures and other numerical "data" cited about ancient and medieval battles. One of the points I was trying to make in this article on Granicus was that a lot of the original sources (like Callisthenes) were nothing more than PR hacks trying to make their bosses look heroic, triumphing against overwhelming odds. And how do we see that today?

      In my articles on Arcola (1796) and Cedar Mountain (1862), and Lexington-Concord (1775) I sought to illuminate the propaganda that has colored our objective understanding of those events. Arcola was an abject failure on Napoleon's part, rewritten to look like a victory. Cedar Mountain was a bloody tie, rewritten to glorify a lethargic Stonewall Jackson's indifferent leadership. And Lexington-Concord was rewritten to glorify the ordinary farmer's superiority over trained soldiers, when the farmers were actually combat veterans of the 7YW and the trained soldiers were nothing of the sort.

      That's why I love history. And I remember reading Hans Delbruck in college. Thanks for the comment.

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