How history’s greatest battle helped me build my startup - Part 1

David (Dudu) Ring
Jan 16, 2018 · 13 min read

Part 1 | Part 2

I would like to tell you a true story.

It’s a story about courage. It’s a story about ambition. It’s a story of faith and determination. It’s a story about creativity and creative thinking. It’s a story about fighting against impossible odds. It’s the most amazing story about the power of one young man to change the world.

And so, our story begins 2.5 thousand years ago, in ancient Greece. In the land where democracy was created. In the land where the greatest philosophers of all times lived. With the great philosopher Socrates, and his student Plato, and Plato student Aristotle. And Aristotle also had a young student, his name was ‘Aléxandros ho Mégas’.

This story is Aléxandros story.

Those were the times that Persia ruled the world. Greece was in a sharp decline. It suffered greatly from its wars against Persia at the battle of Marathon (490BC), at the battle of Thermopylae (480 BC), and at the battle of Salamis (480BC). Moreover, Greece had also strongly suffered from the civil war between its two most powerful cities, Athens and Sparta, in the Peloponnesian war (431–404 BC).

As a result, out of Great Greece, only a small republic remained. One that was considered to be much less significant. It was called ‘Macedonia’. Mighty Greece was fading away fast.

Aléxandros was a young prince of Macedonia. He was born in 356 BC to King Philip the second. And because he was born in Macedonia, we all know him for his more common name ‘Alexander Macedon’.

Aléxandros ho Mégas 356–323 BC

While Alexander grew, king Philip worked hard to recover his army and to unify all Greece under his ruling against the Persian empire. And when Alexander reached the age of 20, King Philip was assassinated by poison, so Alexander took over and became the king of Greece.

And then he decided to do the impossible. He decided to conquer Persia and rule the world.

We can see how the ancient world looked like at those years. We can see how mighty the Persian empire was. They were undoubtedly the superpower of that period. They ruled more than half of the known world. It was a mighty empire, with a mighty army. Its borders, relative to today’s countries, spread from part of India and Pakistan. And included Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, Israel, Libya, and Egypt.

Persian king at Alexander’s ruling period was Darius the third.

Persia and Greece already had their share of fighting one against another (as was mentioned above), with the battle of Marathon (490 BC), and the battle of Salamis (480BC), against the Greek Athenians, and at the battle of Thermopylae (480 BC) against the Greek King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans. Persia even conquered and burned Athens, Greece largest city, to the ground.

But Greece never thought about invading Persia. They were simply too great to conquer.

Going against Persia was unthinkable for Macedonia. It was as if Cuba today shall declare war against the US.

Alexander invading Persia at 334 BC

But still, all this didn’t stop Alexander, and in 334 BC he raised his best available army and he marched fearlessly into Persia territory.

Alexander battles against Darius III

His first battle was at Granicus river in 334 BC. Alexander took the Persians by surprise. They never expected him to invade. He faced a relatively small force. He won this battle and continued.

A year later, in 333 BC, Alexander faced Darius’ army again at Issus, now led by Darius himself. Darius’ army heavily outnumbered Alexander’s, but Issus was a small place, and Darius couldn’t use his numerical advantage of his army. Alexander won the battle of Issus and continued with his conquests.

During the Issus battle, Alexander captured Darius’ wife (Hellenes), mother (Sisygambis), and two daughters (Stateira I, Stateira II). Alexander treated the captured women with great respect, that was suitable for their royalty position. Later Alexander even married Stateira II.

Alexander continued his journey south, going through Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt. Where they later named a city after him, “Alexandria”. Darius then realized that Alexander is a real force to be reckoned with and that he would need to put his full power against him. Darius spent his next two years raising the largest army the world had ever seen, and he sent a word to Alexander that he would meet him at Gaugamela for the final and decisive battle. Alexander knew that he had to defeat Darius in order to fulfill his ambitions, and he accepted this challenge. And so, both kings met, in 331 BC, at Gaugamela, for the battle that was about to decide which king will rule the world. Both kings placed all betting on this final battle. There was no recovery for the loser. Four years of battling one another had come to the decisive moment.

The battle of Gaugamela

The world will never be the same again

What made the battle of Gaugamela so interesting was the fact that Alexander, willingly and with open eyes, came to this battle when all odds were so clearly against him. And he did it against all his advisers.

Let’s look at the obvious facts for Alexander:

1. He was in an unknown territory.

2. He was far away from home with heavy logistical problems - Gaugamela was located in what is now, Iraq. And Alexander was already 5 years on his journey with his large army.

3. He was in a hostile environment - Everyplace he looked there were enemies and Darius’ spies.

4. He had a huge disadvantage in weapons - Furthermore, Darius prepared a special weapon specifically for the battle of Gaugamela. This weapon was called ‘Scythed Chariots’, which purpose was to cut through the Macedonians strong phalanx formation. The Macedonian were fighting in a phalanx formation. This weapon aimed to break it and Alexander needed to find an answer to Darius’ new weapon.

Darius’ Scythed Chariots

5. The battlefield location was chosen by Darius himself - And Darius had learned from his mistakes at the battle of Issus. He had chosen Gaugamela because it was flat and wide, so Darius can use his huge army to his advantage. Actually, Darius’ people came months before the fight to prepare the battlefield. They removed every stone, every bush, and every obstacle. So, Darius’ army could move without interference.

Darius’ army at Gaugamela

6. But most important, and above all, Darius’ army outnumbered Alexander’s ten-to-one - Darius’ army was enormous. He had more than half a million infantries, gathered from all over his empire. Among them, his own personal guards, his elite division, his 10 thousand immortals. He had 50 thousand cavalries, he held 200 scythed chariots, and also 15 elephants. Alexander only had 40 thousand infantries, and 7 thousand cavalries. In fact, Darius’ army was so huge, that when it was placed in a battle formation, it spread out along 5 kilometers long. Actually, Darius’ army was equal to an army of more than 10 million soldiers at today’s numbers. This was definitely not an even match for Alexander.

The battle of Gaugamela view at 331 BC

So, if you’re Alexander, what do you do against these impossible odds? How do you win this impossible situation?

Let see … if Alexander would have looked at this problem with a traditional military thinking, this is how he would have looked at it:

With military strategy thinking:

  1. You reach for the high ground
  2. You arrange your army in a battle formation
  3. Infantry vs. Infantry
  4. Cavalry vs. Cavalry
  5. You move forward hard and strong
  6. You hold your formation
  7. You try to cut through your enemy line
  8. And you try to break your enemy battle formation

This military strategy was how everybody, including Alexander, used to fight at those times. But Alexander knew that this military strategy thinking was useless against Darius’ huge army. He knew he had to change things. He had to think differently. He needed to break convention and create new thinking methods.

But how?

The thing that came to his aid was that Alexander was not an ordinary military tactician. Probably the most brilliant military tactician in the history of mankind. Alexander was also the student of the great Greek Philosopher Aristotle. And Aristotle taught Alexander to think different. He taught him to be a creative thinker.

And as a creative thinker, you look at this problem totally different.

As a creative thinker:

  1. You think different
  2. You change things
  3. You challenge known consensus
  4. You change the game
  5. You innovate
  6. You break the problem into smaller solvable pieces
  7. You move fast & improvise
  8. You decentralize authority
  9. You always collect & analyze real-time data
  10. And you continually measure & learn your enemy

We will later see how Alexander implemented those creative thinking military strategy at the battle of Gaugamela.

October 1st, 331 BC. The two largest armies in the world are facing one another at Gaugamela, for the battle that will decide who will rule the world.

World War One of the ancient world is coming to its decisive end, and the greatest battle in the history of mankind is about to begin …

Gaugamela’s battle

The greatest battle that changed history forever

October 1st, 331 BC. Both armies faced one another at Gaugamela. We can see Alexander’ army on the bottom blue, and Darius’ army at the top red.

Gaugamela initial battle positions

Alexander moved forward. But he didn’t move forward in a traditional battle formation. He moved forward at an angle with his reserved forces behind, which seemed to be a very strange battle formation in the eyes of Darius. This battle formation was meant for 4 main purposes: 1st, confuse the enemy. 2nd, have an answer to Darius’ deadly scythed chariots. 3rd, focus his attack on Darius’ center-wing. And 4th, have the reserved to protect from all side attacks.

Alexander’ angel battle formation

We can see how it looked like from above view. Where we see Alexander’ relatively small army on the right, ordered in an angle formation, and Darius’ huge army on the left.

Gaugamela battle formation view

And there was another very important difference between the two armies. Darius’ army was very centralized. All his elite soldiers, with his central command with Darius himself, were located at the center of his army. Alexander, on the other hand, divided his army into 4 different legions. And each legion commander had the freedom to take initiative and make decisions during the battle. Alexander had taken advantage of this major difference later on at the battlefield.

October 1st, 331 BC. The two largest armies in the world are facing one another at Gaugamela, for the battle that will decide who will rule the world. World war one of the ancient world is coming to its decisive end. And the greatest battle in the history is about to begin.

And so, the battle of Gaugamela had begun.

Darius made his first move. He sent his right-wing cavalry to surround Alexander. Alexander had to stop it, or the battle would have been lost, so he sent his uncle Parminius, that commanded Alexander’ left-wing, to engage with Darius’ forces.

Darius attack on Alexander’ left-wing

Then Alexander did a very unusual move. He took his right-wing cavalry, led by himself, and led them away from the battle to the right. By doing so, he forced Darius to send his left-wing cavalry to move in parallel with him.

Alexander move to the right with his cavalry

Then Darius sent his deadly scythed chariots forward. Alexander anticipated this move, he knew it was coming, this is why he left an open gap for them to attack. And he instructed his soldiers to hold their position and hold their nerves until the last moment. And when Darius’ chariots came closer, the Macedonian moved aside, opened gaps in their ranks, and let the chariots go through. Because Alexander knew that no horse would go into a mass of spears if you will give him a gap to go through. At that point, the Macedonian released a massive attack of arrows on Darius’ horses and on the chariots riders. And whoever managed to get through, had faced the Macedonian reserved with their arrows. And in minutes, Darius’ most deadly weapon was gone.

Darius’ chariots attack

But the battle had only begun. Now, Darius sent his middle infantries and cavalry forward, breaking Alexander’ front formation. Alexander had the reserved phalanx exactly for this purpose, and they engaged with Darius’ forces.

Darius attack on Alexander’ center-wing, breaking the front formation

Alexander had no time to deal with it, now it was his turn to attack. So he sent his middle infantry forward, in a strong phalanx formation, to attack Darius’ center-wing. So now, shortly after Alexander’ soldiers engaged with Darius’ center, a gap opened at Darius’ center-wing formation. Alexander had planned it and waited for this gap to open. And when he saw it, he took most of his right-wing cavalry to attack Darius’ center-wing and to penetrate their gap.

Alexander attack on Darius’ center

Alexander strategy was simple. To weaken, insulate, attack, and break the Persian center-wing. Alexander had tempted Darius to send his right-wing cavalry, to send his left-wing cavalry, to send his middle infantry and cavalry, and to send his scythed chariots forward. Then Darius’ center-wing was weakened and Alexander could insulate it, attack it, surround it, and break it between his infantry and his cavalry. Because Alexander knew there was no way he could beat the entire army of Darius. So, he breaks this unsolvable problem into smaller pieces. Then he realized that he only needed to break and win Darius’ center-wing.

Alexander set his trap on Darius’ center

Fighting a superior number army is like wrestling with a bear, you need to put your blade in the bear’s heart before the bear surrounds you with his tail and strangles you. This is exactly what Alexander did, he stabbed Darius at the heart of his army, at his center-wing, where it hurts the most.

Actually, Darius was so overwhelmed with Alexander’s attack on his center-wing, that he just ran away from the battlefield, leaving behind his family and his royal treasury. Seeing that, all Darius’ left-wing army also retreated with him. Alexander’ right-wing soldiers then managed to overtake Darius’ troops.

Darius ran away from the battlefield, and Alexander took over the right-wing

But the battle was not over yet. Parminius at Alexander’ left-wing was fighting a very hard battle. He suffered heavy casualties and was on the verge of collapse. Alexander got word about it. And now he had to face a very crucial decision. Chase Darius and kill him, or go back and save his own army.

It was a hard choice to make, but Alexander made the smart choice. He let Darius escape and went back to save his own army and finish the battle.

Alexander wins Gaugamela battle

Gaugamela battle was mighty in every sense. 600 thousand soldiers were fighting over world domination. And so, at late noon, when the battle was finished, more than 200 thousand Persians were killed, and the rest just fled away, while only few thousand Macedonian died. Alexander’s victory was so decisive, that no king had ever challenged him again.

Alexander chased Darius, but the two kings never met again. Darius was killed a year later by his own personal guards. When Alexander reached Darius body he gave him a royal funeral and chased Darius’ killers and killed them.

Alexander continued with his conquest and spread his empire even more, to the borders of China. He declared himself as king of Greece and Persia and no one could ever deny it. Alexander died at a very young age, when he was only 32, in the same way as his father, by poisoning, leaving no heir to his empire.

When he was asked whom to give his empire to, he said: “to the strongest one”. And when he died, his empire was divided among his 20 generals, leaving the infrastructure to the middle east countries as we know them today.

And never again in the history of mankind will one man conquer so much.

Alexander changed the world forever. And he didn’t do so only because he built an empire. He did so because he changed completely the manner in which countries wage war. No one will ever fight the same way after Alexander. No one will ever fight the same way after the battle of Gaugamela. Alexander changed that. He created methods of fighting that were completely unfamiliar at those times.

Alexander ways of fighting were thousands of years ahead of his time. He came to the battle of Gaugamela, knowing that if he would fight in traditional ways he would certainly lose. So, he changed his fighting methodology completely.

Alexander created:

  1. Combat mobility
  2. Dynamic fighting
  3. Responsibilities distributions - Empowering leaders
  4. Decentralize authority
  5. Joint forces combat - infantries and cavalries works as one unit
  6. Battle real-time data analysis
  7. Exploiting enemy weaknesses in real-time
  8. Reserved forces usage

Alexander used creative thinking in order to accomplish his goals.

His fighting methods were all new concepts at those times. Alexander created modern military fighting. That is why he never lost a battle in his life. That is why he could beat armies 10 times larger than his. And that is why we all know ‘Aléxandros ho Mégas’ as: ‘Alexander the Great’.

In my next post (Part 2), I will show how to apply Alexander’s creative thinking strategy in order to build startups and by doing so, how to build an ‘unfair’ advantage against larger companies.

Part 1 | Part 2

Thanks to Jeremy Stein

David (Dudu) Ring

Written by

Founder of eToro, Colu & Ogmenti. Was the head of gaming R&D at Hold M.Sc,B.Sc & MBA. Writer and lecturer on entrepreneurship. Bitcoin & Blockchain fan

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