On 20 August 480 BC, an army of 7,000 Greek warriors (including 300 Spartans) faced off against the might army of Xerxes I of Persia in the Battle of Thermopylae. The battle is known as one of history’s great last stands. After scoring a victory at Thermopylae, the Persians were eventually defeated in the Battle of Plataea and the Battle of Salamis and forced to withdraw. The Greco-Persian Wars would continue until 449 BC, culminating in a Greek victory and stunting Persian advances into Europe. The Greek victory eventually paved the way for Macedonian control and the rise of Alexander the Great.
Alexander rose to power following the death of his father, Philip II of Macedon. Schooled in warfare, Alexander’s military career came to fruition during the Battle of Chaeronea, when he led the left wing of his father’s army. Following Philip’s demise, Alexander gained the title of King of Macedon. Following in Philip’s footsteps, Alexander completed the conquest of Greece before turning his attention east. Alexander and his army of 54,000 crossed the Hellespont in 334 BC invading Persian territory. In May 334 BC, Alexander and his army defeated the Persian’s in the Battle of Granicus. The victory paved the way for Alexander to march south through the Levant and into Egypt, conquering large swathes of territory.
Again turning his attention east, Alexander clashed with the Persian Emperor, Darius III in the Battle of Gaugamela (near modern day Mosul, Iraq). Despite being heavily outnumbered, Alexander’s stunning military skill crushed the Persian army. Alexander continued his march against the Persians, defeating them in the Battle of the Persian Gate (near the ceremonial Persian capital of Persepolis). With the conquest of Persia, Alexander continued east, marching into the Indian subcontinent. It was here Alexander finally halted his military advance. The halt was not a result of a military defeat, but instead a revolt among his troops who had grown tired of campaigning.
Returning west, Alexander lived out the rest of his life in the conquered territory of the Persian Empire. On 11 June 323 BC, he died in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon. His death at the age of 32 had led speculation that he was assassinated by his subordinate commanders. With Alexander’s death his empire was divided up among his most trusted generals (Diadochi), forming powerful empires of their own. The conquests of Alexander also spread Hellenistic culture throughout the Middle East and Asia.
Look for more information regarding the Persian Empire and the eventual conquest by Alexander in the upcoming Strategy & Tactics issue #298 article “Great before Alexander: Cyrus II of Persia” and join the conversation on Facebook!