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  • Martin Boulter

Clash of Empires The Battle of Issus 333 BC

Updated: Jun 1

To coincide with the release of Clash of Empires: The Hellenistic World strategy game I’ve decided to use the Clash Battle System to recreate Alexander the Great’s stunning victory over the Persians at the Battle of Issus in 333 BC.


Background

After the Macedonian success at Granicus in Asia Minor the Persian King Darius III decided to face Alexander in person. Having learned that the Macedonian leader with some 30,000 troops was moving into Syria, Darius at the head of a 100,000 plus strong army advanced into Syria. Then unobserved, because of a mountain range, Darius managed to place himself behind Alexander and across the Macedonian line of communications, near the small port of Issus in southern Anatolia. This settlement lay on the shore between the Gulf of Issus (Iskenderun) and the surrounding mountains. The initial surprise gained by this manoeuvre, however, was fleeting as Darius had now restricted his army to a narrow battlefield which negated much of his numerical advantage. Alexander was quick to recognize the Persian King’s mistake and obligingly turned his army around and marched north to confront the Persian host, which had taken up a defensive position behind the narrow and low flowing river Pinarus. Here the Persians were drawn up in a very deep formation with 30,000 heavily armed Greek mercenaries along with 60,000 Persian infantry (kardakes) forming the central vanguard. On each flank was positioned a large force of Persian cavalry. Darius himself rode in his chariot and was in the centre from where he could easily issue orders to the left and to the right. Behind the vanguard the rest of the Asiatic host was strung out in groups across the narrow plain. On the other side of the river the Macedonians were deployed in their standard tactical array with the main body of the phalanx in the centre and echeloned to the left rear. The passive left flank was guarded by the Thessalian and allied cavalry under the command of Parmenio. On the right flank was the Companion cavalry commanded by Alexander himself and supported on the right by Agranian javelinmen.

The battle began with a slow advance by the Macedonian phalanx across the riverbed. The Persians countered with an offensive by the Greek mercenaries and a massed cavalry assault against the Macedonian left and Parmenio’s cavalry. Crucially these held. In the centre the Macedonian phalanx found it hard going against the Greek mercenaries, but the superior quality of the phalangites and the support of the elite Hypaspists enabled them to prevail. Meanwhile, Alexander had already put into effect his plan to smash the Persian left. At the head of his Companion cavalry Alexander charged the opposing Persian cavalry. These disintegrated under the impact, but rather than pursue the defeated cavalry Alexander rallied his own horsemen and wheeled westward into the now exposed Persian centre. Panicked by this sudden turn of events Darius fled the battlefield leaving his leaderless army to its bloody fate. In the catastrophic rout that followed more than 50,000 Persians were killed. Furthermore, the Persian royal household was captured, including Darius’s queen, children and mother. After this great victory Alexander resumed his plan to secure the Mediterranean seaboard and thereby negate the power of the vastly superior Persian fleet.  


Clash of Empires

Using the Clash of Empires rules the battle strength and capabilities of the belligerents can be shown as follows: -


Alexandrian Macedonian Army

The Macedonian army consists of 24 units inclusive of cavalry. It is a Mixed army which uses a 1D10 and 1D6 (highest scoring die only) for its Battle Dice and has an army ratio of 3:1. The primary army type is the Standing Macedonian Phalanx and the secondary army type is the Citizen Hoplite Phalanx made up of Greek allies and mercenaries. The Pre-generated Army Ratio Table in the rulebook shows that an army of 24 units in the ratio 3:1 will consist of 18 Primary units and 6 Secondary units. This means that there will be 18 Macedonian Phalanx units at Combat Rating and 6 Hoplite Phalanx units at Combat Rating . On the Combat Rating to Fighting Bonus Conversion Table in the rulebook this equates to +14 FB for the 18 Macedonian units and +3 FB for the 6 Greek Hoplite units. This gives a total of +17 for the Fighting Bonus which is added to the Battle Roll. The primary Battle Bonus belongs to the Macedonian Phalanx and is 1D10 (x2) which can be activated on an odds or evens score on the Battle Dice. The (x2) is a double bonus which is awarded on odds or evens dice and an Initiative win. The Macedonians also have a Heavy Cavalry upgrade which gives them a +1D8 Battle Advantage Die as well as the normal +1 to Initiative for cavalry. As for Alexander he is ranked as a Great Commander and rolls 2D6 (highest scoring die only) for Initiative and he also has a good store of Destiny points which enables him to increase his chance of success on the battlefield. The Macedonian army has a superior command structure +2 Initiative and for this battle Alexander has decided to place 20% of his army’s FB (i.e., +3) in reserve to protect vulnerable points in his battle line. This means that the normal -2 penalty to Initiative for an unwieldy Macedonian Phalanx is reduced to -1. Therefore, the Macedonian army rolls 2D6 +2 for Initiative.


Later Achaemenid Persian Army

The Persian army consists of a massive 80 units inclusive of cavalry. It is also a Mixed army which uses 2D6 (highest scoring die only) for its Battle Dice and has an army ratio of 3:1. The primary army type is the Persian Feudal Sparabara. By this period this formation was obsolete but can still be used due to the high proportion of archers and slingers in the Persian host. The secondary army type is the Citizen Hoplite Phalanx which is made up of Greek mercenaries. The Pre-generated Army Ratio Table in the rulebook shows that an army of 80 units at the ratio 3:1 will consist of 60 Primary units and 20 secondary units. This means that there will be 60 Persian Feudal Sparabara units at Combat Rating and 20 mercenary Hoplite Phalanx units at Combat Rating . On the Combat Rating to Fighting Bonus Conversion Table this equates to +18 FB for the 60 Persian units and +10 FB for the 20 Greek Hoplite units. This gives a total of +28 for the Fighting Bonus which is added to the Battle Roll.  The Primary Battle Bonus belongs to the Sparabara and is Arrow Storm +1D6 (x2) which can be activated by an odds or evens score on the Battle Dice. The (x2) is a double bonus which is awarded on odds or evens dice and an Initiative win. The Persians also have a Heavy Cavalry upgrade which gives them a +1D8 Battle Advantage Die and associated +1 to Initiative for cavalry. As for Darius he is a competent commander but not in the same league as Alexander and rolls 1D6 for Initiative. Therefore, the Persian army rolls 1D6 +1 for Initiative. The most significant advantage that the Persian army has is that it outnumbers its opponent by more than 2-1 so gets +2D6 Battle Advantage Dice.


Clash Battle System

After rolling for Initiative the Battle Roll for each army consists of the following procedure: -

Roll Battle Dice (highest scoring die only)

Plus, Combat Rating (CR) to Fighting Bonus (FB) (conversion dependent upon number of units)

Plus, Fighting Technique Battle Bonus (activated by odds or evens Battle Dice)

Plus, Advantage Dice (representing a numerical, tactical or other special advantage)

Highest score wins and the difference between the two Battle Rolls determines the number of casualties.


Battle Log


Alexandrian Macedonian


Initiative

Battle Dice

No. of Units

CR to Fighting Bonus/Battle Bonus if applicable

Battle Advantage Dice

Total Score

2D6 +2 =   

5 and 3

(Highest die only)

 

5 + 2 = 7

1D10/1D6 =

9 and 4 (5)

(Highest die only)

x3 Destiny points expended to increase 4 to 5 and thereby two odd numbers.

24

 

(30,000 troops incl. of cavalry)

❸ x 18 = +14 FB

❷ x 6 = + 3 FB  

Total = +17 FB – 3 FB

(Reserve) = +14 FB

Battle Bonus 

Macedonian Phalanx

1D10 (x2)

8 x 2 = 16

Heavy Cavalry +1D8

Tactical Advantage +2D6

 

5 + 6 + 2 = 13

9 + 14 + 16 + 13 = 52

 

 

 

Note: - The Macedonian army convincingly wins Initiative by 3 or more which yields a +2D6 Tactical Advantage. Furthermore, the expenditure of 3 Destiny points ensures the activation of the Macedonian Phalanx Battle Bonus by increasing the 4 to 5 on the one Battle Die. Having won Initiative as well they gain a double bonus and roll an 8 on 1D10 which is multiplied by 2 giving a score of 16. This enables the Macedonians to break through the Persian line and decisively win the battle. The Macedonians lose 4 units killed or wounded.


Later Achaemenid Persian


Initiative

Battle Dice

No. of Units

CR to Fighting Bonus/Battle Bonus if applicable

Battle Advantage Dice

Total Score

1D6 +1 = 3

2D6 = 5 and 4

(Highest die only)

 80

 

(100,000 troops incl. of cavalry)

❶ x 60 = +18 FB

❷ x 20 = +10 FB

Total = +28 FB

Battle Bonus

(Arrow Storm)

1D6 (x2) = N/A

 

Heavy Cavalry +1D8

Opponent outnumbered more than 2-1 +2D6

 

4 + 5 + 1 = 10

5 + 28 + 10 = 43

 

 

 

Note: - A pitifully low Initiative roll loses any chance of a tactical advantage for the Persians and effectively negates their superiority in numbers. This woeful situation is made worse by a failure to activate Arrow Storm. They needed two odd or two even numbers on the Battle Dice but roll one odd and one even number instead. Unlike Alexander Darius hasn’t got enough Destiny points to adjust this score. This condemns the Persian army to a catastrophic defeat. The difference between the two Battle Rolls means that the Persians lose 60 units killed, wounded or scattered.



The Macedonians clash with the massive Persian army at Issus where Alexander wins a great victory. Figures by Irregular Miniatures from their 25mm Greek & Persian range. Painted by Silurian and from the author’s own collection. The numerical strength of each army is denoted by blank coloured poker chips. Game board from the Clash of Empires: The Hellenistic World Game.



At this critical stage of the battle the Macedonian phalanx presses forward with renewed vigour against the wavering Greek mercenaries while Alexander at the head of his Companion cavalry charges into the Persian centre. Soon the entire Persian army like Darius himself is in full flight. A mix of figures from Essex, Magister Militum and Xyston from their 15mm Ancients ranges. Painted by Silurian and from the authors own collection. Army composition calculated by the Clash Conversion Table for Wargaming.


Sources

Boulter, M. L. 2009/2024: Clash of Empires: The Hellenistic World. Silurian War Games Ltd.

Dupuy, R. E. and Dupuy, T. N. 1993: The Collins Encyclopaedia of Military History. Harper Collins Publishers. 

Mellersh, H.E.L. 1995: Chronology of the Ancient World, 10,000 BC – AD 799. Helicon Publishing Ltd.

Warry, J.1991: Alexander 334-323 BC. Conquest of the Persian Empire. Osprey Publishing Ltd.

Article Front Page Picture

Alexander the Great in battle with Persian King Darius III. Alexander the Great Issus 331 BC. Mosaic Pompeii 100 BC. After Alamy (IY04291776).

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