When Alexander The Great traveled over 10 years, with his army through dangerous land, to conquer almost all of the Persian Empire, then died on the way home from drinking too much booze and partying too hard:
Esther Scroll; dedicated in honor of Ezra Somekh; Kolkata, India; 19th–20th Century.
Esther scrolls in elaborate cases, recounting the Purim story of the salvation of the Jews in the Persian Empire, were often given as betrothal gifts and passed on from one generation to the next as veritable family heirlooms. This scroll from Kolkata invokes the biblical blessing of Joseph to protect the groom, Ezra Somekh.
Ancient Coin with the Image of the Persian God Baaltars
This silver stater was struck around 379 to 374 BC under the rule of the Persian satrap Phanabazos II at Tarsos (Tarsus) in Cilicia. The obverse bears the image of Baaltars seated and holding a lotus tipped scepter with ‘BLTRZ’ inscribed behind. The reverse shows a bearded and helmeted male head (possibly Ares) with the inscription 'FRNBZW HLK’. Stunning natural iridescent toning. Extremely Fine.
Baaltars (combination of “Baal” and “Tarsus”) was a deity of the Persian Empire, the Baal or Zeus of the city of Tarsus. His depiction appears on coins of the Persian kings or satraps of Cilicia at Tarsus before Alexander the Great in the 5th and 4th century BC and also on the coins of the early Seleucids.
“Excavation of Persepolis (Iran): Throne Hall, Southern Wall, West Jamb of Western Doorway: View of Uppermost Register Picturing Enthroned King Giving Audience under the Winged Symbol with Partly Encircled Figure of Ahuramazda”
“average ancient greek general founded 3 cities named after himself” factoid actualy just statistical error. the median greek general founded 0 cities named after himself. Alexander the Great, who conquered the Achaemenid Persian Empire and founded over 10,000 Alexandrias in his lifetime, was a statistical outlier adn should not have been counted
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
Anabasis, or: The Persian Expedition, or: the time a bunch of idiot Greek mercs got way too involved in Persian royal family drama
Xenophon was an aristocratic Greek from the city of Athens in the fifth century BC, a student of the philosopher Socrates, a contemporary of Plato, a historian, philosopher and major political thinker in his own right, and one time when he was an idiot twenty-something he managed to get himself involved in the dumbest piece of military adventurism in the Middle East of all time.
Later he wrote a book about it.
It’s called Anabasis, which is Greek for ‘Upgoing’, and it is my current favourite adventure story. It is full of big personalities, political drama, people getting stressed out about crossing rivers, and stupid battles. I really wanted to share it with you all, but I can’t make everyone read the whole thing, so instead I present Book 1 of the Anabasis, chapters 1-8, abridged:
Chapter One: Prince Cyrus has a bright idea
So in the fifth century BC the Persian Empire - with its heartland in modern Iran/Iraq, and its territory stretching as far as Egypt, Turkey, India, and the Black Sea - is the biggest deal around. It’s the heart of civilisation. The Persians have the best cavalry in the world, and also invented gardening. Meanwhile Ancient Greece is basically forty cats in a sack, where the cats are city-states and the sack is ‘which city-state has the biggest dick?’
The Serpent Column, also known as the Serpentine
Column, Plataean Tripod or Delphi Tripod, is an ancient bronze column. It is
part of an ancient Greek sacrificial tripod, originally in Delphi and relocated
to Constantinople by Constantine I the Great in 324. It was built to
commemorate the Greeks who fought and defeated the Persian Empire at the Battle
of Plataea (479 BC). The serpent heads of the 8-metre high column remained
intact until the end of the 17th century.
Together with its original golden tripod and bowl (both long
missing), it constituted a trophy, or offering, dedicated to Apollo at Delphi.
This offering was made in the spring of 478 BC, several months after the defeat
of the Persian army in the Battle of Plataea (August 479 BC) by those Greek
city-states in alliance against the Persian invasion of mainland Greece.
Pictured are two reconstruction proposals and pictures of the actual column.
If you’re driving through a Jewish area this Saturday night or Sunday, don’t be surprised if you see lots of children in the streets wearing fancy dress and masks, or people going from house to house delivering presents of food and drink. The reason is that we’ll be celebrating Purim, the most boisterous and exuberant of all Jewish festivals.
Which is actually very odd indeed, because Purim commemorates the story told in the book of Esther, when Haman, a senior official of the Persian Empire, persuaded the king to issue a decree to annihilate all Jews, young and old, men, women and children, on one day: a warrant for genocide. Thanks to the vigilance of Mordechai and the courage of Esther, the decree was not carried out, and ever since, we’ve celebrated by reading the story, having parties, giving to the poor and sharing gifts of food with friends.
I used to be very puzzled by this. Why such exhilaration at merely surviving a tragedy that was only narrowly averted? Relief, I can understand. But to turn the day into a carnival? Just because we’re still here to tell the story?
Slowly, though, I began to understand how much pain there has been in Jewish history, how many massacres and pogroms throughout the ages. Jews had to learn how to live with the past without being traumatised by it. So they turned the day when they faced and then escaped the greatest danger of all into a festival of unconfined joy, a day of dressing up and drinking a bit too much, to exorcise the fear, live through it and beyond it, and then come back to life, unhaunted by the ghosts of memory.
Purim is the Jewish answer to one of the great questions of history: how do you live with the past without being held captive by the past? Ours is a religion of memory, because if you forget the past, you’ll find yourself repeating it. Yet it’s also a future-oriented faith. To be a Jew is to answer the question, Has the Messiah come?, with the words, Not yet.
There are so many parts of the world today where ancient grievances are still being played out, as if history were a hamster wheel in which however fast we run we find ourselves back where we started. Purim is a way of saying, remember the past, but then look at the children, celebrate with them, and for their sake, put the past behind you and build a better future.
Detail of a Sasanian silver bowl depicting a hunting scene. The capital of the Sassanid Persian Empire, Seleucia-Ctesiphon, (near modern-day Baghdad and ancient Babylon) was the largest city in the world until its destruction in the 7th century CE. Freer and Sackler Galleries of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
Underside of a green jasper scarab-amulet, depicting a ruler holding a staff before lotus plants, with a crescent moon above. Thought to be Mesopotamian (either Neo-Babylonian or Achaemenid Persian), but incorporating Egyptian elements (e.g. the was-scepter held by the ruler). Artist unknown; ca. 600-400 BCE. Now in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. Photo credit: Walters Art Museum.
Pre-Islamic Iran - Cyrus the Great, father of the Persian, King of Persia, who ruled over what is modern-day Iran over 1000 years prior to the Islamic conquest of Iran, defined success as the drive to be kind, generous, and just!