On October 1, 331 BCE, Alexander the Great dealt a psychological death blow to the reign of the Persian King of Kings, Darius III, at Gaugamela. The Persian ruler had a vast numerical superiority during the battle, and the battlefield, itself, at Gaugamela had been flattened and leveled by workers to further the advantage of the Persian chariots and cavalry. Nevertheless, Alexander marched his seasoned warriors to Darius’ location and beat the Persian King of Kings in a fair fight at dawn. As Darius fled from the battlefield, many Persians knew that their leader had no valid excuses for his defeat—Alexander was simply the superior general.
Instead of chasing after the fleeing Darius, Alexander instead moved to seize nearby vital cities while the Persian ruler was too weak to respond. First, he reached Babylon and from there marched to Susa. Both cities accepted the victorious king into their walls without a struggle. Departing from Susa, Alexander and his army entered the territory of the Uxians, a people who controlled a swath of land between Susa and the city of Persepolis, the Persian capital. The Uxians that lived in the plains region willingly submitted to Alexander. Other Uxians living in the hillsides, however, had no intention of bowing to Alexander. They had not even paid tribute to Darius III, despite living in the heart of the Persian Empire, and as such, the Uxians in the hills stanchly wanted to maintain their independence and even demanded that Alexander pay a toll if he should wish to cross through their land. The hill people, however, failed to realize that the Persian Empire was crumbling and a new empire-builder was in town. Unfortunately for the Uxian hill tribes, Alexander had little patience for rogue, obstinate communities in his growing domain.
According to the Roman historian, Arrian (c. 90-173+), who based his book mainly on the eyewitness accounts of Ptolemy and Aristobulus, the Uxians were informed that Alexander’s army would be heading toward a pass in their territory and that the Macedonian king would hand them their just toll. Of course, Alexander and the hill tribes had vastly different ideas of what was justly deserved.
As the message was traveling to the Uxian hill communities, Alexander sent most of his army, under the command of Craterus, to quickly march for the pass in order to seize the high ground. The Macedonian king, however, did not go with the rest of the army. Instead, he stayed behind with a reported force of around 8,000 men and recruited some guides from Susa who knew the Uxian countryside. After waiting long enough for the hill warriors to abandon their homes for the pass, Alexander had the guides from Susa lead his band of troops to known villages on the hillside. Under the cover of dark, Alexander’s raiding party surprised several defenseless villages, pillaging and killing as they combed through the hills.
After his attack on the hill villages, Alexander rushed with such speed for the pass that he arrived there before the Uxians were present. Alexander, himself, took up a position on the high ground of the pass and sent Craterus’ earlier-mentioned portion of the army to a hidden location at the back of the passage.
When the Uxians finally arrived, Alexander did not wait for diplomacy, but instantly sounded a charge from his favorable position on the high ground. The hill warriors, startled both by Alexander’s aggression and his advantageous position, lost the will to fight and fled back for the safety of the opposite hills. The path they choose to flee, however, brought the Uxian hill warriors directly into the clutches of Craterus’ hidden troops. With the hill warriors caught between the forces of Alexander and Craterus, the battle at the pass quickly turned into a massacre.
After the battle was over, Alexander’s bloodlust apparently cooled, for he supposedly let the survivors of the hill tribes keep their land. Of course, this came with stipulations, such as free passage for Alexander’s army and a regular tribute payment of horses, mules and sheep.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Alexander and Porus, painted by Charles Le Brun (1619–1690), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Campaigns of Alexander by Arrian, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.
- Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2011.
- Alexander the Great: The Story of an Ancient Life by Thomas R. Martin and Christopher W. Blackwell. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.