Image: The Battle of Issus, Movements to the battlefield (333 BC)
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The Battle of Issus, Movements to the battlefield
Source: The Department of History, United States Military Academy
The battle took place south of the ancient town Issus, which is close to present-day Turkish town of Iskenderun (the Turkish equivalent of "Alexandria", founded by Alexander to commemorate his victory), on either side of a small river called Pinarus. At that location the distance from the gulf of Issus to the surrounding mountains is only 2.6 km (2 mi), a place where Darius could not take advantage of his superiority in numbers. Speculation on the location of the Pinarus has taken place for over 80 years. Older historians believed it to be the Deli Tchai river, but historians N.G.L. Hammond and A.M. Devine have made convincing claims that the Pinarus is actually the Payas River, the latter using eye-witness examination of the river, which may not have drastically changed since antiquity. Their evidence is based on Callisthenes' accounts of the measurements of the battlefield and distances marched by both armies in the prelude to the battle and distance given by Diodorus after the battle.
Alexander set out into Asia in 334 BC and defeated the local Persian satraps at the Battle of the Granicus. He then proceeded to occupy all of Asia Minor. While Alexander was in Tarsus he heard of Darius massing a great army in Babylon. If Darius were to reach the Gulf of Issus he could use the support from the Persian fleet under Pharnabazus still operating in the Mediterranean Sea, thus easing his supply and possibly landing troops behind the enemy. Alexander kept his main army at Tarsus but sent Parmenion ahead to occupy the coast around Issus. In November, Alexander received reports that the great Persian army had advanced into Syria, to a town named Sochi. Alexander decided to mass his scattered army and advance south from Issus through the Pass of Jonah.
Darius knew that Parmenion held the Pass of Jonah and thus chose a northern route of advance. The Persians captured Issus without opposition, and cut off the hands of all the sick and wounded that Alexander had left behind. Now Darius found out he had placed his army behind the Macedonians and had cut their supply lines. He then advanced to the south and got no further than the river Pinarus before his scouts spotted Alexander marching north. Darius had to set up camp on this narrow coastal plain.