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When the armies of Alexander of Macedon and Darius of Persia met at the Battle of Issus in 333, Alexander controlled nearly every Greek state in and around the Aegean. Yet, according to the figures provided by our sources, more Greeks fought for Persia than for Macedon at Issus (Arrian 2.8.6; Quintus Curitus 3.2.9; Diodorus 17.17.4). The significant Greek mercenary presence in Darius’ army has been explained as a matter of Darius’ need for superior Greek soldiers and his unmatched ability to pay them. In this view, the Greek involvement on the Persian side reveals how divorced the motivations and allegiances of the Greek mercenaries were from the political alliances and orientations of their home poleis (Parke 177-84; Seibt 110-114; Trundle 143-46, but see also 159-164).

To the contrary, I argue that Greek mercenary service in the Near East was most often politically motivated and that the Greek contingent in Darius III’s army was provided in large part by Athens. Despite her official alliance with Alexander as part of the League of Corinth, Athens covertly sought to undermine Macedonian power in Greece by providing mercenary soldiers to Persia. The Athenian participation at Issus is one example of politically motivated Greek mercenary service in the fourth century Near East, which heretofore has been unacknowledged or underestimated in much of the relevant scholarship.

I begin with a brief review of Athenian mercenary activity in the fourth century Near East. Among the Greek poleis, Athens in particular had a long history of sending its generals to Persia and Egypt as mercenary commanders whenever it was politically expedient (Pritchett 59-116). This is attested, for example, by Conon’s service with Pharnabazus in the 390s (Xen. Hellenica 4.8.7-12), Charbrias’ commitment in Egypt in the early 380s followed by Iphicrates’ presence in the Persian army after the King’s Peace of 387 (Diodorus 15.29.1-4), and Apollodorus’ employment by the Persians at Perinthus in 340 (Diodorus 16.74.2-75.2; Pausanias 1.29.10).

I then move to the particular evidence for an Athenian presence at Issus. I argue that most of Darius’ Greeks were raised by two generals: the recently deceased Memnon of Rhodes, whom inscriptional evidence indicates had political connections to Athens (Rhodes and Osborne 98), and the recently exiled Athenian general Charidemus (Diodorus 17.30; Quintus Curtius 3.2.10), whose very status as an exile made him an ideal liaison between Darius and the strong anti-Macedonian faction at Athens. This faction had been in contact with Persian envoys for some time before the war (Diodorus 17.4.7-8). Several other pieces of evidence suggest strong Athenian support for Darius’ army, including the presence of Athenian soldiers with Memnon at Halicarnassus (Diodorus 17.25.6), the participation of the Athenian Iphicrates the Younger on the Persian side at Issus (Arrian 2.15.2; Quintus Curtius 3.13.15), the official embassy sent to Alexander in Memphis seeking the return of Athenian prisoners (Arrian 3.6.2), and the lukewarm support given to Alexander by Athens throughout his campaign (Hornblower 288).


  • Hornblower, Simon. The Greek World 479-323 BC. 3rd Edition. New York: Routledge, 2002.
  • Parke, H. W. Greek Mercenary Soldiers: From the Earliest Times to the Battle of Ipsus. Chicago: Ares, 1933.
  • Pritchett, W. Kentrick. The Greek State at War. Vol. 2. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974.
  • Rhodes, P. J., and Robin Osborne. Greek Historical Inscriptions 404-323 BC. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Seibt, Gunter F. Griechische Söldner im Achaimenidenreich. Bonn: Habelt, 1977.
  • Trundle, Matthew. Greek Mercenaries: From the Late Archaic Period to Alexander. New York: Routledge, 2004.

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