Alexander the Great’s Letter to the Persian King Darius
A defiant response followed by war
A lot we know about Alexander the Great comes from the great Greek philosophers Plutarch and Arrian, and both of them were born centuries after Alexander died. However, historians consider their work very reliable.
Keeping that in mind, let’s go back to 333 BC, when the Battle of Issus was fought between the Macedonian King Alexander the Great and the Persian emperor Darius III.
Both sides faced a massive number of casualties during the battle. But despite being outnumbered and facing tremendous resistance, Alexander, armed with a sword, spear, and adrenaline, pushed through the gaps and got really close to Darius. Alexander’s fearlessness and confidence gave goosebumps to Darius and he fled the battle. The Macedonian army chased their fleeing enemy until the sun went down. However, they failed to arrest Darius alive.
But Darius’s family was captured by Alexander. After losing the battle and his family, Darius realized who he had offended and sought truce to protect himself, his family, and his remaining empire.
Darius’s First Letter to Alexander After His Defeat at Issus
Darius wrote to Alexander first. He requested the release of his family and asked Alexander to be his ally and stop the war. He reminded Alexander how the Macedonians and the Achaemenid Empire (The First Persian Empire) used to be in good terms.
He mentioned that Alexander’s father King Phillip II used to be in friendly terms with the Persian emperor Artaxerxes. But when he died, Phillip II failed to establish the same healthy relationship with the new emperor Arses.
Darius accused the Macedonians of initiating hostility towards the Persian empire. After Arses died, Darius III became the emperor of Persia. And after Phillip II died, Alexander was crowned as the king of Macedon.
Darius was expecting Alexander to be the bigger person and restore the old friendship. Instead, according to Darius’s letter, Alexander invaded Persia and he had no choice but to fight back and defend his empire.
Alexander’s First Reply to Darius
“Your ancestors invaded Macedonia, and the rest of Greece, and did us harm. Although we had not done you any previous injury.”
In his response, Alexander rejected all the claims of Darius. He also denied that his invasion of Persia was unjust. Instead, he accused the Persian empire of inflicting a lot of pain and deaths upon the Macedonians, and that he was now seeking revenge for all their past wrongdoings.
Alexander then listed some events that had offended him. He wrote that Darius helped the people of Perinthus to fight against his father Phillip II. Not only this but Alexander also blamed Darius for the assassination of Phillip — which is a big accusation, although historically unproven. Alexander didn’t hold back with his accusations. Darius was also accused of killing his predecessor, King Arses of Persia, to gain power.
“You killed Arses with the help of Bagoas and gained your throne through unjust means in defiance of Persian custom.”
Alexander also wrote that Darius tried to bribe other Greek city-states in order to turn them against him. He said that Darius wrote letters to the Greeks, badmouthing him and pushing them to war against him. Thus, Alexander totally disapproved of Darius’s claims of being the “nice guy” and a peace-loving emperor, and boldly stated that it was all Darius’s fault.
“Your envoys corrupted my men and sought to destroy the peace which I established amongst the Greeks.”
Alexander also warned Darius to not talk to him as an equal. He reminded Darius that he was now the lord of every bit of the Persian kingdom, thus, it was very inappropriate of Darius to address him as an equal. Alexander invited Darius to meet him and state his demands in-person, instead of hiding at a distant and writing letters like a coward. Alexander said that if Darius still claimed to be the emperor of Persia, he should fight for it instead of fleeing. If not, Alexander warned that he’ll chase him wherever he hides.
“In the future, whenever you communicate with me, send to me as the King of Asia — do not write to me as an equal.”
Darius’s Second Letter to Alexander
In 332 BC, when Alexander the Great was laying siege to Tyre, a city in present-day Lebanon, he received another letter from Darius.
Darius’s tone changed from ‘whining and justifications’ to an offer. In his new letter, he proposed to offer three gifts to Alexander to end the enmity between the two empires — a ransom of 10,000 drachmae in exchange for his captured family, all territory to the west of the Euphrates river, and his daughter’s hand in marriage.
Back in the day, influential people widely used intercultural marriages and offerings like land or money to end conflicts. In some parts of the world, this tactic is still prevalent.
Darius knew that Alexander was not in a mood for any further explanation and that he needed a more logical solution to the problem — not just an emotional one, such as, “Hey, we used to be friends. Remember?”
Alexander’s Final Reply to Darius
War causes loss and destruction for both the winner and the loser. Darius knew this, and Alexander knew this, too. One of the most senior and trusted generals of Alexander, Parmenion, told Alexander to take the offer. Just so know, Parmenion was forty-four years older than Alexander and had served as a general for Alexander’s father, King Phillip II, as well.
Parmenion was old, diplomatic, and probably tired of bloodshed. However, Alexander was young, bold, and energetic. Why would Alexander settle for half the empire when he could have all of it? Why would he settle for a measly 10,000 drachmae when he could loot all the Persian royal treasure? Why would he need Darius’s permission to marry his daughter who was already in his captivity?
Alexander disagreed with Darius’s offer — again. In his response, Alexander emphasized that going forward, he should be addressed as the Lord of Asia and Darius should meet him in person in order to negotiate any future settlement. But Darius was too scared to meet Alexander in person, so they met on the battlefield instead. This time, in the battle of Gaugamela (331 BC).
Alexander the Great dominated Darius III one more time, making him flee the battlefield again. Even after losing for the second time, Darius didn’t give up and started marching eastwards to secure new alliances to face Alexander.
But imagine this: What would your soldiers think about you if you leave them alone on the battlefield and flee? Will your subordinates trust you after you lose battle after battle? What will happen to your team’s morale if they don’t see victory for years?
You guessed it right. They’ll lose faith in their leader and either go their own way or join the enemy. And that’s exactly what happened to Darius III. He was trying hard to keep his army’s spirit high, but it was all in vain. And one day, Bessus, one of Darius’s governors, murdered him.
Even though Alexander and Darius were enemies and wanted to destroy each other’s empires, Alexander had a lot of respect for him. Alexander pursued and executed Bessus for betraying his own king. Darius’s remaining subordinates were spared and allowed to retain their royal titles. But the Achaemenid Persian Empire ended with the death of Darius III.
This was one of the noteworthy traits of Alexander — he was very kind and respectful towards brave people. This is what made Alexander different to every other king in the history of mankind. Even Genghis Khan had this quality, but Alexander took it to the next level. He even let the defeated Indian king Porus keep his throne because of his bravery on the battlefield.
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