Alexander vs. Darius

The Battle of Issus  333 BC

Part III Duncan Head  Kardakes and Issus OOB source material
(edited by Jeff)

Part I: The Campaign and Battle       Part II: The Battle as a Wargame

Part III: Duncan Head's analysis and sources      Part IV: Sources and references

Part III Duncan Head  Kardakes and Issus OOB source material

During the research effort while writing AtG I had the extreme fortune to have Duncan Head's assistance at times.  When I was stumped, he graciously helped me with any query, and has given permission to reposte this letter here on the web. Duncan is of course the author of the premier work on the Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars, a Wargames Research Group Publication illustrated by Ian Heath, and the excellent source on the Achaemenid Persian Army printed by Montvert Publciations (currently out of print).

The issue of the strength anf armament of Darius' kadakes troops is really the key to determining the OOB of the battle. I hope this material allows the reader to understand the judgements made to recreate the battle and OOB, and the statlines in AtG. Duncan's evaluation of the comparative strengths given by different sources is an invaluable exercise, and I post it here so that the reader can use the material to come to their own conclusions.
I have added notes since some of the comments are directed to DBx gamers, there I have tried to translate the comments into the equally arcane "WAB speak". Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars is referred to as AMPW.

Thanks to Duncan, and enjoy!

On Kardakes:

Ah, have you not read the Montvert Persian book? I address this issue there. Basically I don't think that Alexander did  charge headlong into the kardakes, so the problem doesn't arise.
Brief summary:

- Yes, Xenophon says that the kardakes used bows and javelins, for hunting and policing
- (Cornelius) Nepos' Life of  Datames mentions kardakes serving in the army, armament unspecified but also "slingers of the same origin"
- At Issos, Arrian says that there were 60,000 kadakes hoplites to the flanks of the Greek mercenaries
- Polybios (quoting Kallisthenes) describes peltasts next to the mountains on the inland flank
- Curtius describes two separate bodies of infantry, one of 20,000 "barbarians" and one of 40,000, both apparently to the left of the Greeks.

Since Curtius' two bodies add up to 60,000, they match Arrian's kardakes in numbers and Kallisthenes' peltasts in position. This is the key to resolving the problem. Both Arrian's and Kallisthenes' testimonies go back to eye-witnesses and it seems unlikely that any Greek would mistake hoplites for peltasts, or vice versa. Therefore, I suggest there were two bodies of infantry, not one; one force (probably the 40,000, though it's hard to be sure) armed as peltasts, the other as kardakes hoplites. Alexander would have charged the peltasts. (Given that the Nepos quote suggests there may have been such a thing as kardakes slingers, "kardakes" may mean an origin rather than a style of armament, so it is conceivable that the peltasts were "kardakes" too.) Sekunda takes the "barbarian" bit of Curtius' description to mean non-Persian as well as non-Greek, which is partly why he thinks that the kardakes were new "barbarian" mercenary regiments.

So leave it as you have it, or rewrite completely; but I'd rather not be directly quoted for something I don't believe any more! You could try something like:


At Issos, we hear of infantry called kardakes whose armament and origin has caused confusion. Arrian explicitly describes them as hoplites, which would imply large shields and possibly armour, similar to the reorganised Persian Guards' equipment. But Polybios quotes the contemporary Kallisthenes as describing peltasts; while Xenophon used "kardakes" to mean an unpaid training corps of Persian young men, who served as police, and accompanied the King on hunts. Their traditional training involved javelins, light shields and bows, implying that they were light troops or at best peltasts. But where both Arrian and Kallisthenes mention only one type of infantry, Curtius' account of Issos has two separate units, who add up to the same (possibly exaggerated) 60,000 as Arrian's kardakes. The likely solution is that (as Duncan Head has suggested in The Achaaemenid Persian Army) there were two separate forces present, one of kardakes equipped as hoplites and the other of peltasts. Alexander's headlong frontal charge into their ranks would have been directed at the peltasts. Whether these kardakes were the Persian youth corps called out by Darius to bolster the army, or a different force entirely, is uncertain.

Ah, hold it: I've just found my description of the kardakes, quoted from the Persian book, in an email I did on the OOB at Issos for someone on dbmlist. I'll attach it.

Sources on the kardakes:

“The most enigmatic of the later Persian infantry troops are the kardakes mentioned in several sources.  There is no general agreement on their status or tactical role, and several interpretations have been proposed.

Strabo says that Persian youths undergoing military training (as described in "Persian military training", above) were called kardakes "for karda means the manly and warlike spirit" (XV.3.18).  Another possible meaning for kardakes is "Kurdish" - Xenophon calls the Kurds Kardouchoi, and Lukshu the mercenary Kardaka has been mentioned above; so the kardakes in Achaemenid armies have sometimes been identified as Kurdish mercenary troops.

Bodies of troops called kardakes occur in two fourth-century armies.  Autophradates in 367 had 100,000 kardakes and 3,000 slingers "of the same kind" (Nepos, Datames VIII.1).  At the battle of Issos, Arrian (II.8) says that Darius III supported his Greek mercenaries with "60,000 Persian hoplites, called kardakes, half on each of their flanks".   This is our only specific reference to the kardakes' equipment.  But Polybios, discussing the account of Issos given by the contemporary writer Kallisthenes, says (XII.17.7) says that the mercenaries were drawn up with peltasts next to them, in a line reaching to the hills.  This is usually taken to imply, in contradiction to Arrian, that the kardakes were peltasts.  Most scholars have simply assumed that one author or other is wrong, and J F C Fuller's suggestion (The Generalship of Alexander the Great, 1958) that they must have been peltasts, since otherwise Alexander would not have charged them frontally with cavalry, has been the most influential.  As an alternative, I have previously suggested (Head, 1982 [that is, AMPW]) that their equipment might have conformed exactly neither to the Greek idea of a hoplite nor to that of a peltast. 

But the "peltasts" Kallisthenes mentions might not be the kardakes at all; his description of the "peltasts" formed next to the Greek mercenaries, reaching as far as the hills, does not quite fit with Arrian's kardakes in two bodies on both flanks of the mercenaries.   And Curtius' description of the battle line has two bodies of infantry, one of 20,000 mentioned next to the Greeks, and one of 40,000 next in line.  The combined strength of these two bodies is the same as Arrian's kardakes-hoplites; the position of the second fits with that of Kallisthenes' peltasts.  If the first body was composed of kardakes-hoplites and the second of the familiar "Persian peltasts", we need not dismiss either account completely.  In that case, the widely-held view that the kardakes were a Persian attempt to create an effective close-fighting infantry, by copying the Greek hoplite, would be correct; but Alexander's successful cavalry charge will have been directed, not at an unbroken line of kardakes-hoplites, but at the peltasts deployed next to them.”

Duncan Head


OOB issues at Issos

Issos, 333 BC

There is no agreement on the size of the Persian army at Issos, nor any really convincing full list of units.  Arrian and Plutarch claim 600,000 men; Diodoros 400,000 foot and 100.000 horse; Curtius 250,000.  Arrian (II.8) and Curtius (III.9.1-6, and III.2.1-9) give the most detailed breakdowns.

Darius sends 30,000 mounted and 20,000 light infantry across the river to cover his deployment. 30,000 Greek mercenaries opposite the Macedonian infantry, with 60,000 Persian kardakes hoplites half on each of their flanks. These are all the troops the ground will allow. On the hills, to their left, “another division about 20,000 strong, some of which actually worked round to Alexander’s rear”. Behind the Greeks and kardakes “a great mass of light and heavy infantry” drawn up too deep to be of much use. Darius then recalls the troops across the river, and sends most of them to his right by the sea - “nearly all” the Persian cavalry end up there.

Right wing, Nabarzenes with 30,000 cavalry, 20,000 slingers and archers
Also right wing, Thimodes with 30,000 Greeks
Left wing, Aristomedes the Thessalian with 20,000 barbarian infantry and “the most warlike tribes” in reserve
Darius himself also on the left with 3,000 guard cavalry and 40,000 infantry
Hyrcanian and Median cavalry, and cavalry of other nationalities
In front of these, 6,000 javelinmen and slingers

It may be worth comparing Curtius’ earlier account of the army mustering, in III.2.1-9, which would profess to be a list of the units available at Issos:
30,000 Persian cavalry, 60,000 infantry
10,000 Mede cavalry, 50,000 infantry
2,000 Barcanian cavalry with axes and small shields like the caetra, 10,000 infantry similarly armed (I don’t know who these are meant to be: perhaps Herodotos’ Parikanians?)
7,000 Armenian cavalry, 4,000 infantry
6,000 excellent Hyrkanian cavalry
1,000 Tapurian infantry
2,000 Derbikes cavalry, 40,000 infantry with spears or fire-hardened sticks
200 Caspian Sea cavalry, 8,000 infantry
Lesser tribes, 4,000 cavalry, 2,000 infantry
30,000 Greek mercenaries

Arrian (600,000 combatants)

Curtius (250,000)

Persian advanced forces:

Persian right wing to the beach:

30,000 cavalry (* later sent to the right flank)    

Nabarzanes' cavalry (the 30,000 Persians of III.2.4?)

20,000 light infantry 

20,000 slingers, archers



Persian right wing:

Persian right wing:

30,000 kardakes       

30,000 Greeks



Persian center:


30,000 Greeks         




Persian left wing to the hills:

Persian left wing to the hills:

30,000 kardakes       

20,000 “barbarian” infantry; Darius III with 3,000 guard cavalry and 40,000 infantry



Troops in the hills surrounding Alexander:

Troops in the hills to the far left:

20,000 in the hills   

10,000 Median and 6,000 Hyrkanian cavalry,

6,000 javelinmen, slingers



Totals: 30,000 horse and 170,000 foot

Totals: 49,000 horse  and 116,000 foot



** Unaccounted Persian Levies in reserve:  400,000 light and heavy infantry drawn up in great depth

**Unaccounted Persian Levies in reserve:  85,000



 Although the numbers look exaggerated, there is quite a high degree of correspondence between the two accounts - even though Arrian and Curtius did not always use the same sources.

 (*One point of comparison above is, I now think, wrong: in the above comparison, taken from the book, I suggested Arrian puts 30,000 cavalry on the right wing. In fact, what he says is that 30,000 cavalry were sent across the river at the start of the battle: they may not all have been the right-wing force. Indeed Arrian says Darius sends “most of them” to his right, so by his own account the right-wing cavalry should be fewer than the 30,000 advance force.)
(Jeff Note: I agree with Duncan here, and since Curtius gives us 16,000 cavalry were sent to the hills, then my assumption is that the far left of the Persian line included some light cavalry as well as those sent as part of the surrounding forces)

**Other contingents were deployed behind the main line, but neither writer identifies them: they look like good candidates for DBM Hd (O) filler.
(Jeff Note: These would be Satrapal levies in AtG.)

The Persian numbers seem to have been exaggerated in the sources, but may have been exaggerated fairly consistently
All we can check against these figures is:

- The 3,000 Guard cavalry may be correct - there are 2,000 such in Herodotos, for instance, and 1,000 kinsmen cavalry plus others at Gaugamela)
- The 30,000 for the ethnic Persian cavalry is mirrored elsewhere
- Arrian says that at least 8,000 Greeks survived the battle, so there were probably 10,000 at least to start with, and perhaps not many more.


Frontages give you an important guide: roughly, the Persian right-wing cavalry matched the Greek allied and Thessalian cavalry, while the Greeks and kardakes matched the phalanx - six 2,000-man taxeis (to follow Luke’s arguments, rather than the more usually-stated 1,500) plus 2,000 or 3,000 hypaspists, drawn up eight deep. The Persian peltasts to the left of their hoplite-phalanx were probably opposite Alexander’s Companions. Their left-wing troops outreached his right.

 Therefore, the frontage of the Macedonian phalanx - assuming your OOBs are at the “correct” rules scale of about 1 element per 250 men, reduce accordingly if you’re scaling the Macedonians down - would be 28-30 elements (14-15,000 at 250 per element, 2 elements deep).

If you assume that the line of Greeks plus kardakes-hoplites matches the frontage of the Macedonian phalanx then Greeks and kardakes will also have a total frontage of about 30 elements (perhaps 20 Greeks and 10 kardakes), or a total strength of 60 if they were also deployed eight ranks/two elements deep (they may very well have been deeper, 12 and 16 are common 4th-century hoplite depths).

 Check this by assuming:

(a) that I am right in identifying Curtius’ 20,000-man contingent as kardakes-hoplites and the 40,000-man contingent as peltasts, and
(b) that the Greeks were really 10,000 strong, and
(d) that the strengths of the contingents are exaggerated in a consistent proportion, so that the kardakes-hoplites were still 2/3 of the Greek strength, say 6,500 men:

- then you get a total of 40 elements of Greeks and 26 elements of kardakes, giving you - if you assume they’re eight ranks, or two elements,deep - a frontage of 28!

I would start the operation from here, but note that if you change any of the assumptions - like assuming that Arrian is correct and there were twice as many kardakes hoplites as Greeks - then your answers will change accordingly.


Some of the “cavalry” will have been LH in DBM terms, but it is difficult to be sure about who’s what, except:
- Some of the right-wing cavalry rode armoured horses (Cv(S)), as Curtius mentions them fighting the Thessalians (JeffNotes: Half barded in AtG)
- The Bactrians, Sogdians, Indians, and other Easterners didn’t arrive in time for this campaign, so do not need to be allowed for


I would probably limit the Persians to two commands - Darius and Nabarzanes. Note that Curtius speaks of a main division into two, right and left with no mention of a centre, although he does mention two other commanders. Two generals would make Persian command suitably clumsier than the Macedonian. In particular I’m concerned that the far left sub-division under Aristomedes would manage to swamp the outnumbered Macedonian right if it had its own general. If it’s part of Darius’ command, then in the first few bounds when the rest of the Persians are just standing behind the river, the left may get enough PIPs to work some troops round the Macedonian flank, as happened. But hopefully later, with the main Persian line engaged, they won’t get the PIPs to exploit it.

The disadvantage with this is that putting the Persians in two big commands is going to make those commands hard to break.

Duncan Head

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