Alexander the III of Macedon, Hegemon of the Hellenic league, Pharaoh of Egypt, Lord of Asia, Khaleesi of the great grass sea, mother of dragons, breaker of chains, considered among the greatest commanders of all time, tutored by aristotle, given command of an army at 16, proclaimed king by 20, conquered the Perisan empire by the age of 26, and dead by 32. In terms of personality alexander was calculating, clever and charismatic, however he was prone to violent bursts of anger, impulsiveness and arrogance. Despite this Alexander never lost a battle. But how did he do this?
Citizens army - Alexander became king after his father was assisinated in 336 BC, he inherited a large army. This army was a professional army made up of macedonian citizens. This army was paid a good wage and was able to be drilled everyday. This was not a mob of peasants and conscripts, this was their job. Each company of troops came from the same area of macedon, ensuring close bonds of friendship and shared culture which lead to greater cohesion on the battlefield.
Combined arms - Alexander made sure every possible man was part of the action. He used variety, his army could be made up of Phalanxes, archers, javelin throwers, siege towers and companion cavalry. Each unit would be assigned a job that played to their strengths and complimented the other units weaknesses.
The Phalanx - The phalanx was often the most used unit in alexanders army. 256 men arranged 16 across and 16 deep. Each armed with a small shield and a Sarissa, this 18ft macedonian pike gave the phalanx greater reach than the spearman. This formation was a bristling hedgehog of spearpoints. Although inflexible. The phalanx was Skilled at both defense and offense. The phalanx dominated the ancient battfields of persia and asia minor.
Hammer and the anvil - Alexanders preffered tactic and highly effective, the phalanx would pin the enemy in place either by a frontal assualt or a defense. Remember horses would not charge a row of spears. While the enemies main force was engaged. Alexander would send his companion cavalry on the flanks. This cavalry was heavily armoured and the finest in the ancient world, this is called “Shock cavalry” their frightening charge and long lances would force the enemy to retreat inward. The enemy now completley surrounded would be sandwhiched between the infrantry and the cavalry.
Flexibility - Alexander was a clever man. Tutored by aristotle himself. This is shown most prominently at he battle of Gaugamela. Alexander faced a persian force commanded by darius III, estimates vary but the persian army was around 250,000 strong compared to the macedonian force of 40,000 men Alexander took his cavalry and rode parralel to the persian heavy cavarly. He had hidden spear throwers and skirmishers called peltasts behind the cavalry, they ran beside him, keeping up with the pace of the horses. Alexander was taunting darius and he took the bait. The persian heavy cavalry gave chase and left a hole in the battle lines, alexander did a 160 turn and poured his cavalry into the gap, his skirmishers let loose at the persuing persians, which unbalanced the perisan cavalry preventing them from turning and chasing alexnader. Alexander then cut a bloody path to darius, who fled into the mountains. The battle was won.
Leading by example - Alexander realised morale was key. He led his personal unit of companion cavalry, 300 strong into battle. Fighting alongside the men in his army, giving them hope and courage. He suffered wounds himself in battle, and bled beside his veterans. At Gaugamela, alexander cut off his pursuit of darius and turned to rescue his friend and general Parmenion. Showing his troops he really did care about their wellbeing.
Campaigning through egypt, babylon, and asia minor. At its height his empire stretched from greece to northwest India.
If you have any ideas for what I should post for next military monday, it can be anything, a battle, a leader, an idea, a concept or tactic, a military unit or formation. Do not hesitate to send in your suggestions, either by message or comment.
“There is nothing impossible to him who will try” - Alexander the great
Alexander was born in Pella, the ancient capital of Macedonia on July 20th, 356 BC. His parents were Philip II of Macedon and his wife Olympias. Alexander was educated by the philosopher Aristotle. Philip was assassinated in 336 BC and Alexander inherited a powerful yet volatile kingdom. He quickly dealt with his enemies at home and reasserted Macedonian power within Greece. He then set out to conquer the massive Persian Empire. Against overwhelming odds, he led his army to victories across the Persian territories of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt without suffering a single defeat. His greatest victory was at the Battle of Gaugamela, in what is now northern Iraq, in 331 BC. The young king of Macedonia, leader of the Greeks, overlord of Asia Minor and pharaoh of Egypt became ‘great king’ of Persia at the age of 25.
Over the next eight years, in his capacity as king, commander, politician, scholar and explorer, Alexander led his army a further 11,000 miles, founding over 70 cities and creating an empire that stretched across three continents and covered around two million square miles. The entire area from Greece in the west, north to the Danube, south into Egypt and as far to the east as the Indian Punjab, was linked together in a vast international network of trade and commerce. This was united by a common Greek language and culture, while the king himself adopted foreign customs in order to rule his millions of ethnically diverse subjects.
Alexander was acknowledged as a military genius who always led by example, although his belief in his own indestructibility meant he was often reckless with his own life and those of his soldiers. The fact that his army only refused to follow him once in 13 years of a reign during which there was constant fighting, indicates the loyalty he inspired. He died of a fever in Babylon in June 323 BC.
Caltrops, nails or spikes twisted so that one side is always sticking up while the other three form a stable base. Still used today, they have a surprisingly ancient history. Referred to as “crow’s-feet” by the Macedonian author Polyaenus, caltrops were deployed by the Persian leader King Darius III during the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BCE. The Macedonian army of Alexander the Great was renowned for their horses and chariots, and the caltrops were really really bad for them. Of course Alexander the Great won anyway. He even used caltrops himself in later battles.
Today 2,345 years ago the Battle of Gaugamela took place.
On the 1st of October 331bce, Alexander the Greats army versed Darius III Persian army on the plains of modern day Iraq. According the Graeco-Roman historian Arrian, Darius III had 40,000 cavalry, 1,000,000 infantry and 200 scythe-bearing chariots. However the logistics of this make it unlikely that any army in antiquity could have commanded more than 50,000. Alexander had at his command seasoned warriors inherited from his father Philip II amounting to 40,000 infantry, 7,000 cavalry with the elite force that Alexander led personally, the Companions.
Alexander the Great, King of Macedon had already inflicted two defeats upon the Persian King, but on both these occasions it was said that the battle ground had been chosen in favour of the Macedonians where Darius could not exercise his full military power. As such Alexander let Darius choose the battle ground for their third conflict, where the Persian King would have the advantage of using his scythed chariots which needed level ground to operate. The night before the battle Alexanders generals tried to persuade their king to launch a night attack on the camping Persian army, but Alexander replied stating that he would not steal his victory like a thief in the night.
Having already scouted the battle grounds Alexander devised a plan to counteract Darius’ chariots. On the day he placed his forces slightly to the left of the Persian centre, and when he advanced he did so on the oblique moving further to the left. This caused Darius’ own strategy into disarray and he launched his chariots prematurely, depriving them of the cavalry cover they needed for protection.
(Pictured above. The mosaic from Pompeii, 1st century. Showing Alexander perusing a fleeing Darius.)
When the Persians made a break in the front line and in consequence the cavalry was launched in confusion to assist those surrounding the right wing, Alexander having previously drawn away part of the Persian cavalry in chase wheeled around towards the gap in the Persian front. Charging ahead with his Companions and the Phalanx that was stationed there, Alexander engaged in hand-to-hand combat and fought his way through towards Darius. There are two accounts of Darius reaction, one suggested by Arrian is that Darius fearing for his life fled, however Diodorus Siculus writes Darius as ‘raining javelins on his enemies’ and ‘as the two kings closed…a javelin hurled by Alexander missed Darius by impaled the chariot driver beside him’. Either way the outcome was that Darius did indeed flee the battle ground. It is said that the casualties among the Macedonians reached 300, while the Persian casualties reached 35,000. King Darius had lost the battle and more importantly lost his entire empire in that single day. Alexander thus won an empire stretching from Sahara to the Himalayas. Alexander perused Darius afterwards, but the Persian King was assassinated by his own generals.
Watch this to see an accurate and brilliant recreation of the battle from the film ‘Alexander’.
The Battle of Gaugamela saw Alexander the Great defeat Darius III of Persia. Before the battle, Darius sent a message to Alexander offering all lands west of the Eufrate river and 10,000 talents of gold in exchange for a peace treaty. Alexander’s Generals advised him to accept as messengers had informed them that the Persian army was five times as large as they had seen at Issus. They were right. Alexander’s army was 47,000 strong, compared to 270,000 Persians.