Battle of the Granicus

Battle of the Granicus

In 336 BCE the aristocrat Pausanias, a member of the king’s bodyguard and reportedly also his former lover, assassinated Philip II, king of Macedon. Pausanias was almost immediately slain. Philip’s 20-year-old son Alexander III (356–323) succeeded to the throne.

Two years before, Philip had defeated the principal Greek city-states in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 and made himself master of all Greece through the Hellenic League, an essential step prior to his planned great enterprise of invading and conquering the Persian Empire. On ascending the throne, Alexander quickly crushed a rebellion of the southern Greek city-states and mounted a short and successful operation against Macedon’s northern neighbors. He then took up his father’s plan to conquer the Persian Empire.

Leaving his trusted general Antipater and an army of 10,000 men to hold Macedonia and Greece, in the spring of 334 Alexander set out from Pella and marched by way of Thrace for the Hellespont (Dardanelles) at the head of an army of some 30,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. Among his forces were men from the Greek city-states. His army reached the Hellespont in just three weeks and crossed without Persian opposition. His fleet numbered only about 160 ships supplied by the allied Greeks. The Persian fleet included perhaps 400 Phoenician triremes, and its crews were far better trained; however, not a single Persian ship appeared.

Alexander instructed his men that there was to be no looting in what was now, he said, their land. The invaders soon received the submission of a number of Greek towns in Asia Minor. King Darius III was, however, gathering forces to oppose Alexander. Memnon, a Greek mercenary general in the employ of Darius, knew that Alexander was short of supplies and cash. Memnon therefore favored a scorchedearth policy that would force Alexander to withdraw. At the same time Darius should use his fleet to transport the army and invade Macedonia. Unfortunately, Memnon also advised that the Persians should avoid a pitched battle at all costs. This wounded Persian pride and influenced Darius to reject the proffered advice.

The two armies met in May. The Persian force, which was approximately the same size as Alexander’s force, took up position on the east bank of the swift Granicus River in western Asia Minor. The Persians were strong in cavalry but weak in infantry, with perhaps as many as 6,000 Greek hoplite mercenaries. Memnon and the Greek mercenaries were in front, forming a solid spear wall and supported by men with javelins. The Persian cavalry was on the flanks, to be employed as mounted infantry.

When Alexander’s army arrived, Parmenio and the other Macedonian generals recognized the strength of the Persian position and counseled against an attack. The Greek infantry would have to cross the Granicus in column and would be vulnerable while they were struggling to re-form. The generals urged that since it was already late afternoon, they should camp for the night. Alexander was determined to attack but eventually followed their advice.

That night, however, probably keeping his campfires burning to deceive the Persians, Alexander located a ford downstream and led his army across the river. The Persians discovered Alexander’s deception the next morning. The bulk of the Macedonian army was already across the river and easily deflected a Persian assault. The rest of the army then crossed.

With Alexander having turned their position, the Persians and their Greek mercenaries were forced to fight in open country. Their left was on the river, and their right was anchored by foothills. The Persian cavalry was now in front, with the Greek mercenary infantry to the rear. Alexander placed the bulk of his Greek cavalry on the left flank, the heavy Macedonian infantry in the center, and the light Macedonian infantry, the Paeonian light cavalry, and his own heavy cavalry (the Companions) on the right flank. Alexander was conspicuous in magnificent armor and shield with an extraordinary helmet with two white plumes. He stationed himself on the right wing, and the Persians therefore assumed that the attack would come from that quarter.

Alexander initiated the battle. Trumpets blared, and Alexander set off with the Companions in a great wedge formation aimed at the far left of the Persian line. This drew Persian cavalry off from the center, whereupon Alexander wheeled and led the Companions diagonally to his left, against the weakened Persian center. Although the Companions had to charge uphill, they pushed their way through a hole in the center of the Persian line. Alexander was in the thick of the fight as the Companions drove back the Persian cavalry, which finally broke.

Surrounded, the Greek mercenaries were mostly slaughtered. Alexander sent the 2,000 who surrendered to Macedonia in chains, probably to work in the mines. It would have made sense to have incorporated them into his own army, but Alexander intended to make an example of them for having fought against fellow Greeks.


Green, Peter. Alexander of Macedon, 356–323 B.C.: A Historical Biography. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

Hammond, Nicholas G. L. Alexander the Great: King, Commander, and Statesman. 3rd ed. London: Bristol Classical Press, 1996.

Sekunda, Nick, and John Warry. Alexander the Great: His Armies and Campaigns, 332– 323 B.C. London: Osprey, 1988.

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