Wars of the Diadochi > Battle of Gaza

Battle of Gaza

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Background

The Battle of Gaza (312 BCE) was a major war in the Third War of the Diadochi that occurred between the armies of Ptolemy I Soter who was the leader of Ptolemaic Kingdom and Selecus I Nicator who led the Seleucid Empire against the army of Antigonus I Monophthalmus led by his son Demetrius I Poliorcetes.

The battle occurred when Ptolemy launched an invasion of Coele-Syria in 312 BCE with 18,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry. Meeting at the city of Gaza the two armies faced off. Ptolemy and Seleucus positioned their forces with the center phalanx traditional of the era comprised of 18,000 soldiers. The main line was comprised of light infantry supported be expert javelin throwers and archers. On the right flank they positioned 1,000 cavalry.

Initially Ptolemy and Seleucus had most of their 3,000 elite cavalry on the right but when they saw the war elephants they arranged most of their cavalry to the right before the battle began. The infantry were also equipped with advanced anti-elephant devices that were connected by chains and used to protect the phalanx from the ancient era equivalent of a tank.

Before the battle Demetrius was advised not to fight the more senior military commanders by his advisors and generals. Yet despite this he was resolved to fight and Demetrius positioned his forces with a center phalanx comprised of 11,000 men and had 13 war elephants leading the line. Light infantry protected the main front line as well. On the left flank he positioned 1,500 light infantry and 2,900 elite cavalry along with 30 more war elephants. On the right Demetrius positioned 1,500 cavalry.

The Battle

The Battle of Gaza began when the advance cavalry soldiers of each army engaged each other and Demetrius advanced toward Ptolemy I and Selecus I. The ensuing battle between the two armies was brutal and was evenly matched. After both of each sides cavalry had broken their lances apparently they were reduced to fighting with swords as well.

As the two legions of cavalry engaged each other Demetrius I moved his war elephants and phalanx forward to hopefully crush the opposition. However, with the combination of the anti-elephant spiked devices and the archers and javelin throwers the elephants being animals were scared and were able to be easily controlled. Many elephants were captured and a few were killed during this engagement as their crews were destroyed above.

Witnessing the defeat of the war elephants some the cavalry of Demetrius retreated and he was forced to fall back with his remaining forces in order to maintain the line. During all of this fighting neither phalanx could really make advances towards each other. Soon the Antigonid line collapsed and the army was routed, forced to flee into the desert after laying down their weapons.

In the final account Demetrius had lost 500 men and all of his elephants due to death or capture. 8,000 of his men were taken prisoner and the rest were scattered throughout the hills without their weapons. Demetrius was forced to retreat to Tripolis in the civilization of Phoenicia and managed to survive the engagement but Seleucus and Ptolemy emerged victorious.

Impact

See Babylonian War

The satrap of Babylonia named Peithon would die during this engagement which would make the conquest of the city of Babylon much easier for Seleucus in the following years. This battle would set up the foundations for the events that would lead directly to the Babylonian War.

Sources

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

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