Alexander the Great’s Brush with Death at Granicus

Alexander the Great‘s brush with death at the Battle of the Granicus River is a particularly memorable episode from his early conquests against the Persian Empire. This event underscores not just the dangers of ancient warfare but also the personal risks Alexander was willing to take as a leader on the front lines.

Alexander the Great came really close to losing his life at the Battle of the Granicus in modern-day Turkiye. Being true to his nature, the warrior didn’t stay back in a safe position. Instead, he led his Companion cavalry into the fray, positioning himself in the thick of combat. Image: The Battle of the Granicus (1665) by French painter Charles Le Brun depicts Alexander the Great at the center of the cavalry battle.

The Incident

During the heat of the battle at the Granicus River in 334 BC, Alexander led his Companion Cavalry in a charge against the Persian left flank.

As the Macedonians clashed with the Persian cavalry on the river’s banks, Alexander found himself in a particularly perilous situation.

He faced a Persian noble named Rhoesaces, who threw a javelin at Alexander, striking him on the helmet but not penetrating deeply enough to cause a severe injury.

As Alexander grappled with Rhoesaces, another Persian nobleman, Spithridates, approached Alexander from behind with the intent to deliver a fatal blow.

Just as Spithridates raised his weapon, however, Cleitus the Black, one of Alexander’s trusted companions, intervened. Cleitus sliced off Spithridates’ arm, saving Alexander from what might have been a fatal blow.

READ MORE: Major Events in the Life of Alexander the Great


During the Battle of the Granicus River in 334 BC, Alexander the Great displayed both his military prowess and his tendency to place himself in the thick of combat, which led to a particularly perilous situation. Image: Alexander Mosaic, National Archaeological Museum, Naples.

This close encounter highlighted several aspects of Alexander’s character and leadership:

Alexander was not just a military strategist directing from the rear; he was an active combatant, leading his troops from the front. This brought him admiration from his soldiers but also put him in personal danger, as evidenced by the Granicus incident.

While Alexander was undoubtedly a military genius, the incident shows that his successes were also due to the loyalty, bravery, and quick actions of his close companions and soldiers.

Events like these, where Alexander faced death and emerged unscathed, contributed to the growing aura around him. They added to his larger-than-life image and the perception of his divine favor and invincibility, which would be a valuable psychological tool against future enemies.

Did you know…?

Alexander often believed in his divine protection and destiny. His escape from death at the Granicus might have further solidified this belief, fueling his ambitions and the legend that grew around him. Image: Alexander conquering the air. Jean Wauquelin, Les faits et conquêtes d’Alexandre le Grand, 1448–1449

The Macedonian warrior-king opted for a bold and direct assault across the river, despite the Persians holding the high ground. This tactical decision was risky and showcased his aggressive approach to warfare.

The act of saving Alexander at Granicus led to a unique bond between Cleitus and Alexander. However, their relationship had its ups and downs, culminating in a tragic incident years later during a banquet in Maracanda (Samarkand), where Alexander, in a fit of rage and possibly under the influence of alcohol, killed Cleitus.

Alexander the Great and Cleitus the Black

The Killing of Cleitus, by French artist André Castaigne (1898–1899)


In summary, Alexander’s brush with death at Granicus offers a snapshot into the dangers of ancient warfare, the valor of the Macedonian king, and the unyielding loyalty of his followers. It’s one of the many episodes that contribute to the legend of Alexander the Great.

Also, the conqueror’s near-death experience at Granicus underscores his daring nature. Had he been killed at the outset of his Persian campaign, the course of history might have been vastly different.

10 Major Facts about the Battle of the Granicus in 334 BC

The Battle of the Granicus River was not just a military victory but a psychological one. It demonstrated Alexander’s unwavering commitment to his campaign against Persia and established his reputation as a formidable military strategist. Image: Alexander the Great in the battle against the Persians at the Granicus. Dutch painter Cornelis Troost, 1737.

The Battle of the Granicus River was a pivotal moment early in Alexander the Great’s campaign against the Persian Empire.

Here are some key facts about this significant battle:

  • The battle took place in May 334 BC near the Granicus River in Asia Minor, which is modern-day Turkey. The river is in the Troad area, now known as the Biga River in modern-day Çanakkale Province in northwestern Turkiye.
  • Alexander’s Macedonian-Greek army faced off against a Persian force consisting of satraps (governors) of Asia Minor and their troops.
  • The Granicus battle was Alexander’s first major engagement with the Persian army. A victory here was crucial to securing his foothold in Asia Minor and providing a launchpad for further invasions.
  • The Persians awaited Alexander’s forces on the opposite bank of the river, holding the high ground. Instead of employing a flanking maneuver, Alexander opted for a direct assault across the river.

Location of the Battle of the Granicus in May 334 BC

  • Led by Alexander himself, the elite Companion cavalry played a pivotal role in the battle, successfully engaging the Persian heavy cavalry and turning the tide in favor of the Macedonians.
  • The Macedonians suffered relatively few casualties compared to the Persians. Many Persian nobles and leaders, including several satraps, were killed in the engagement.
  • The victory at the Granicus River opened up Asia Minor to Alexander, allowing the Macedonian king to proceed with his campaign without a major Persian force threatening his rear or supply lines.
  • The Persian army included a contingent of Greek mercenaries. After the battle, these mercenaries were captured. Instead of treating them leniently, Alexander saw them as traitors to the Greek cause and had them sent back to Macedonia in chains to work in forced labor.
  • The events at the Granicus showcased Alexander’s audacity and tactical brilliance. It set the tone for subsequent battles in which Alexander consistently outmaneuvered and out-thought larger Persian armies.
  • Following the victory at Granicus, Alexander proceeded to liberate the Greek cities of Asia Minor, solidifying his control over the region before moving deeper into the Persian Empire.

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