Issus, Turkey (333 BC)
The Battle of Issus was the second of the three major battles between the armies of Macedon under Alexander the Great and Persia under Darius. It is also generally considered to be the most pivotal, as it was a decisive victory for the Macedonians and essentially paved the way for the fall and conquest of the mighty Achaemenid Empire of Persia. It also marked, for the first time, the ascendancy of a European power expanding into the Middle East. The field, located along the modern-day Payas River, was later the site of other great battles, and even today is of strategic importance as part of the supply route for refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria.
The Persian Empire spent the better part of the 5th and 4th centuries BC attempting to conquer Greece in its effort to expand northwestwards into Europe. After many failures, it was finally the turn of the Greeks, specifically the Macedonians, to take the war to Asia. Under one of the greatest military leaders in history, Alexander the Great, an army of Macedonians and their other Greek allies crossed into Asia Minor and soundly defeated a superior Persian army at Granicus.
Following the Battle of Granicus, Alexander’s forces wrecked havoc across Asia Minor, defeating province after province of the Persian Empire. By 333 BC, the Persian emperor, Darius, had had enough of the upstart Greeks. He marshaled an immense army of perhaps a hundred thousand men (some sources give a much higher number), one of the largest forces the world had yet seen, and personally led them in a campaign to defeat Alexander.
The Greeks worked their way along the coast, destroying Persian garrisons and preventing the powerful Persian fleet from aiding Darius’ land forces. The Persians marched to stop the Greeks at Issus. Both sides suffered from poor scouting reports; however, the Persians were less well informed. Believing that Alexander’s army was split (it had been, but was reunited before the battle), the much larger Persian force was maneuvered into a difficult position along the Pinarus River southeast of Issus.
The result was a disaster for the Persians. At first it looked as though Darius might have the victory, as Persian cavalry units pressed hard to fold the Greek flank and separate Alexander from the sea. But the Greeks held out long enough to exploit weakness among the Persian auxiliary units. At a decisive moment in the battle, Darius fled the field, and seeing this his army collapsed. Tens of thousands of Persians were slaughtered in the rout. Alexander’s victory shook the Persian Empire to the core, and opened the way to further conquest in Mesopotamia in the following years.
The Issus Battlefield is known among local military history officianados if not particularly visited. The two most popular sites associated with the battle are the Pinarus River, where the engagement actually took place, and the hill known as the Pillar of Yunus to the south, where Alexander had his camp before the battle.
The Issus Battlefield is located approximately 25 miles north of the modern day city of Iskanderun and 300 miles southeast of Ankara. The battlefield is an open site. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.goturkey.com (official tourism website of Turkey).