The Battle of Issus: 333 B.C.

By | November 5, 2019

[November 5, 2019]  It is a military axiom as old as armies have been in existence that the best defense is an offense.  The meaning should be clear; in military circles, the emphasis is always on how to gain the advantage, and that is accomplished by taking the fight to the enemy.  Today, I’ll discuss the significance of the Battle of Issus that occurred on this date, November 5, 333 B.C.

“Carry the battle to them. Don’t let them bring it to you. Put them on the defensive, and don’t ever apologize for anything.” – Harry S. Truman, 33rd U.S. President 

War brings out the best and the worst in humans.  It also brings out the validity (or not) of strategic leadership and, if it works, will bring about great things to those who risk the most.  The Battle of Issus was Alexander the Great’s second battle against the large Persian army and first direct engagement with King Darius III.  Both these men were renowned then and now as some of the greatest leaders to have ever lived.

As I wrote in an earlier article, Alexander the Great was a flexible and adaptable military command leader (link here).  His adaptability was in contrast to King Darius III, who ruled with an iron fist over his subjects and used large, massed, well-organized armies to conquer and defend his territories.  What we have in the Battle of Issus is a flexible, adaptable commander and a commander who was known for bringing large groups of soldiers together for his cause.

Darius III had Greek mercenaries on his side during this battle, showing how good he was at uniting allies.  There is much we can learn from his tremendous capabilities, statesmanship, and cunning.  This battle, however, did not go as Darius III planned.  There is no space here to lay out those reasons but note that Darius’ Persian army had the advantages of knowing the land, a larger force, a better intelligence network, and support of the local population.

The entire battle did not go well for Darius III.  Despite his advantages, he was unable to maneuver as he would have liked his army to do so.  Alexander’s Macedonian army, on the other hand, was able to use his trusted phalanx formation.  The Macedonians were able to crush the Persian center where Darius III was located and forced the Persians into a retreat.  Darius III fled the battlefield to leave his army, his mother, wife, and two daughters behind.  His flight was a cowardly act that will forever sting the reputation of Persians.

Alexander was able to again meet Darius III on the battlefield, this time at Gaugamela, where Darius III would again flee.  This time, however, Darius III met his death by one of his own, Bessus.


The thumbnail used in this article is from a wall painting (a fresco) from the city of Pompeii depicting the Battle of Issus and Alexander the Great.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

16 thoughts on “The Battle of Issus: 333 B.C.

  1. Darryl Sitterly

    I love the mini-series you have discussed about ancient battles. Thanks!

  2. Edward M. Kennedy III

    Let’s look at this simply. First remember that any empire that was ever built by Muslims was one that enslaved everyone except the very few at the top. While there was peace (in the sense that battles were not taking place), there was complete dominance and marginal existence by the population (same today). Second, Persians were an expansionist power and the Macedonians didn’t want to be conquered by those they saw as less than civilized. This is the main reason Alexander attacked Darius’ armies. To build Alexander’s empire, yes, but more to prevent being conquered.

    1. Wilson Cox

      Thank you Mr. Kennedy. I’m one of your fans from since you began posting on Gen. Satterfield’s leadership blog. Great comment.

    2. Nick Lighthouse

      Great analysis. Not much has changed in the Iranian (ie Persian) viewpoint today. They are always at war with the rest of the world because they want to subjugate everyone. We all need to be aware of this and never forget that being dominated by any Muslim power is equal to enslavement.

  3. Crazy Dude

    “Fortune was not kinder to Alexander in the choice of the ground, than he was careful to improve it to his advantage. For being much inferior in numbers, so far from allowing himself to be outflanked, he stretched his right wing much further out than the left wing of his enemies, and fighting there himself in the very foremost ranks, put the barbarians to flight.”
    Plutarch, Life of Alexander

    1. Eric Coda

      We see how the Macedonians viewed the Persians (as barbarians worth conquering). But the Persians were no slouch; the could amass huge armies to repeal any invader. They did stop Alexander but at a terrible cost.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      A clash of civilizations that echoes today in modern-day clashes.

  4. Gil Johnson

    The Persians (read that as Iran) are still making war against the West.

  5. Ed Berkmeister

    What is interesting in this battle is that Alexander the Great (Alexander of Macedonia) took overall command of his army although did allow a war council to offer guidance. Darius III on the other hand had five commanders supporting him.

    1. Ronny Fisher

      The battle finished as a resounding victory for Alexander with Alexander losing 7,000 men to the Persians under Darius III losses of 20,000. In the ensuing battle all five of Darius’ commanders perished.

    2. Tony Custer

      Let’s remember that the glory-seeking Alexander aimed to conquer the Persian Empire.

      1. Walter H.

        Because of mixed Greek sympathies, Alexander hesitated to continue his eastward expansion, but then he sliced the Gordian Knot and took the omen as urging him on.​

  6. Army Captain

    Battles from this long ago are difficult to really get to what actually happened. Even the cowardice of Darius III is questionable because, as we know, “the victor writes the history.” However, this battle is an example of the Greek dominance of that part of the world and the Persian resistance.

  7. Harry Donner

    The number of troops involved in this battle are hard to estimate but apparently numbered over 100,000 on each side. Must have been a bloody mess.

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