ALEXANDER THE GREAT
Alexander the Great, a patient and often devious man; had never struck without careful planning. The youthful, headstrong Alexander liked to settle problems by immediate action. Making decisions with great speed, he took extraordinary risks; his success was achieved by the amount of sheer force and drives to overcome these risks. Alexander was educated as a student by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. The philosopher imbued Alexander with a love of Greek art and poetry, and instilled in him a lasting interest in Philosophy and science.
Within a year of his accession, Alexander extended his dominions northward toward the Danube River and westward towards the Adriatic Sea. He then turned his attention to Greece where Thebes and Athens were threatening to bolt the league with weapons purchased with Persian gold. Also, Athens and Thebes were to unite in war against Macedon. In 335 B.C. Alexander decided to punish the city for what he regarded as treachery. The city was destroyed and its people sold into slavery or killed. All of the city’s buildings were destroyed except for temples and the house of Pindar the poet. Pindar was long dead, but Alexander wanted to prove that even a Macedonian conqueror could be a Hellene. The savage lesson of Thebes brought results, the Athenian assembly quickly congratulated Alexander, and the Greek states, with Sparta as the continuing exception, remained Macedonian allies.
Alexander now took on a project that Philip had planned but never carried out: an invasion of Persia. He decision to do this was purely a political one. For a century Persia had interfered increasingly in Greek affairs and had constantly oppressed the Greek cities in Asia Minor. Alexander had personal reasons too. Avid for glory and for identification with Greece, Alexander knew no better way to win both than by attacking Greece’s ancient foe. In some ways the invasion, the longest military campaign ever undertaken, was a reckless undertaking. It required a large army to move an enormous distance from its supply bases, through and unfamiliar country, against a power incalculably rich in money and men. Furthermore, Persia was governed by a patriotic and devoted military caste that was egar to show its strength in war. However the enemy had a weakness. The current king, Darius III, had come to the throne through the murder of his predecessor and was highly incompetent. “Darius was no leader-in fact; he was not even a brave man. The best of his generals and satraps might have been able to compensate for his shortcomings, but the rigidly structured hierarchy of the Empire did not give them a chance.” Besides the fact that Persia was poorly ruled, Alexander was counting on another shortcoming of the Persian Empire to aide in his conquest. The Persian Empire’s subject were unloyal to and had very little affection towards their ruler(s) and would be unlikely to resist and invading army.
In 334 B.C. Alexander crossed the Hellespont. Something that his father had planned but not fully achieved. He defeated the Persian forces that were gathered on the Asian side of the River Granicus. After this victory Alexander sent three hundred suits of Persian armor back to Athens. The message that went with them read, “Alexander, the son of Philip, and the Greeks, except the Spartans, have won this spoil from the barbarians of Asia,” thus expressing in one brief and self-assured sentence his contempt for the Persians, his even greater contempt for the Spartans, and his conviction that he was furthering a Greek cause. Of all the generals of the ancient world Alexander was surely the greatest. He possessed an almost clairvoyant insight into strategy and was a consummately resourceful tactician.
Alexander could be compared to Napoleon in swiftness and in movement, but Alexander could be patient as well. As he showed in his siege of the fortress of Tire, which lasted for about seven months. The old port of Tire had been abandoned for some time, and the Tyrants were now securely enclosed behind massive walls on an island that was half a mile from the shore. Alexander made attempts to negotiate an entrance into the city but they were halted by a display of force against his envoy by the Tyrants. “Alexander was determined to run every risk and make every effort to save the Macedonian army from being held in contempt by a single undistinguished city.” This commitment turned out to be far more exacting then Alexander could have ever imagined. Nevertheless, his determination and aversion to failure drove him to conjure up a more imaginative approach. He built a solid causeway over the water, half a mile long and two hundred feet wide. Then he constructed siege towers of 150 feet in height. Unfortunately the Tyrants responded to each and every effort with innovations of their own. At one point during the siege, his advisors gave him reason to abandon the assault. However, Alexander was not about to admit that he had labored in vain, nor was he willing to leave Tire behind as a monument of his fallibility. Reinforced by ships from the Persian fleet that had defected to him, Alexander launched a varied assault on the city. Eight thousand Tyrants were said to have perished during the sack. Alexander personally led the attack on a breached section of the city’s wall. The siege was a moderate success in his eyes considering the resources lost. Alexander was a man incapable of shrugging his shoulders and walking away from an unsuccessful effort. If as a result of several futile attempts, frustrated and angry, he would have decided that a quick and sudden attack would rescue him from embarrassment. Victory on the battlefield promised to be more complex. During the intervening two years since the battle of Issus, Darius had assembled some 25,000 horseman from his eastern satrapies, an untold number of infantry, 200 scythed chariots, and even 15 elephants. He was now encamped on a wide plain near Gaugamela. Alexander could only field 7,000 horsemen and 40,000 footmen. His men were superior in discipline and experience in the field, but he was short in numbers and well aware of it. Alexander delayed the attack until he had seen the battle field with his own eyes. Scanning the terrain for advantageous positions to make up for the lacking number of Macedonian forces. The day of the battle came and went with a stunning victory for Alexander. His plan was to create a rift in the center of the Persian troops. For that were where Darius was and where the commands for the Persian army were coming from. Alexander simply charged towards Darius’s chariot. Like Issus this tactic again proved to be successful. Darius fled Gaugamela like he fled at Issus.
Alexander was extremely skillful at dealing with unfamiliar tactics of warfare, such as the use of chariots armed with scythes, elephants deployed in battle, and evasive, encircling movements by nomad horseman. Nevertheless, he sometimes received unexpected help from his enemies. Darius, who was cruel as well as cowardly, treated prisoners with a harshness that embittered the Macedonian soldiers. Alexander saw this and led his army to victory at Issus in 333 B.C., and Gaugamela in 331 B.C., both times Darius fled from the battle field. With these two victories Alexander broke the main Persian resistance and in the autumn of 331 B.C. he entered Babylon, the winter capital of the Persian kings. In December of the same year he entered the summer capital at Susa. Both cities were taken relatively without major problems. From Susa he went on to the ceremonial capital at Persepolis. Persepolis gave Alexander a great deal of wealth/ treasure that would require 20,000 mules and 5,000 camels to remove it. Before leaving Persepolis, Alexander burned the palace of the great king for reasons that have never been made clear. Possibly it was a whim; some sources say that he did it in a fit of drunken excitement, while others say he did it to signify that the Persian invasion of Greece had at last been avenged. Alexander had already considered himself king of Persia, but his right to the throne was in question as long as Darius was still alive and at large. So in the summer of 330 B.C. he marched north in pursuit of Darius. Alexander had almost caught up to him but Darius was slain by his own men, finally brought to rebellion by their long resentment of his mismanagement of the Persian defense. When Alexander came upon Darius’s body he ordered it to be sent back to Persepolis to be buried in the royal cemetery of the Achaemenid kings. Now, at last, Alexander was officially the great king of Persia. In his new role he headed east to take possession of the remaining Persian provinces. After two years he reached and subdued Bactria and Sogdiana; he now controlled all that belonged to Darius.
As the campaign of Persia was ending, Alexander’s plan expanded. Originally his purpose had been simply to destroy the Persian army. He had decided to take over the whole Persian Empire, and he went on to achieve this without losing a single battle. If Alexander thought of the Persian Empire at all, he thought of it simply as a source of wealth. However, as he took over more and more territory, he saw that he could not hold the empire without governing it. To govern it effectively, he had to merge it with the Greek world. Alexander proved to be as skillful at statecraft as he was at military matters since his main concern was to keep the empire functioning, Alexander tolerated many local religious, and social customs. He even, to some extent, permitted each country to keep its national institutions. At the same time he introduced Hellenic ideas. The most important being the Greek city state. As Alexander traveled and conquered he founded many cities, most of which bear his name (Alexandria) The first and most famous one was an Egyptian city, which later (a century) became the center of the Hellenistic world. As his empire grew Alexander saw that Asia could not be administered simply as a colony of Greece. Somehow he had to bring Persians and Greeks together into a single unit. In 327 B.C., partly for political reasons, Alexander married a Sogdian Princess, Roxanne.
Three years later he married the elder daughter of Darius in a purely political union. This wedding was a communal affair: at the same time, on Alexander’s order, 80 of his top-ranking officers married 80 Persian girls of noble birth. Further to consolidate his empire Alexander drafted Persian cavalry into his own army and ordered 30,000 Persian boys to be trained in Macedonian combat techniques. He adopted Persian dress for himself and for a time even tried to get his soldiers to follow the Persian custom of prostration before the king. His Macedonian captains did not take well to this as this custom was implying worship, and Alexander was not a god in the eyes of his soldiers. All of these changes brought his newly conquered empire together.
Alexander mainly wanted his Persian captains to feel that they were the equals of the Macedonians and wanted the Macedonians to accept this equality. Most of Alexander’s ideas for consolidating the Greek and Persian peoples made little impression on his Macedonian companions. They were soldiers, not political scientists. His concept of empire did not fit their own crude ambitions and they had no sympathy for his desire to govern responsibly. Basically they felt that he was setting himself above them, spoiling the old comrade-ship-in-arms which were a well defined characteristic of the Macedonian army.
Realizing that his soldiers were doubtful in following his authority, Alexander himself began to change. His soldiers reported that he became more violent in times of explanation; meaning he became upset if someone couldn’t see something his way increasing loneliness of a growing impatience with those who could not understand the Alexander of 324 was not the Alexander of 334.” Alexander became obsessed about losing the support of the gods and that his Macedonians would grow weary of their expedition. He became increasingly suspicious of his close friends and switched from emotions of fear and intense anger. Despite the resent experiences, Alexander turned south and he added into India. Nearly two centuries before, in the reign of Darius I, the Persian Empire had included part of that subcontinent. Determined to recapture it Alexander crossed the Hindu Kusk Mountains, followed the Kabul River down to the Indus River and crossed overland to the Hydaspes River. It was here where Alexander would fight one of the most difficult battles of his entire career. His opponent was the Indian King, Porus, whose army was several times larger than Alexander’s and superbly trained. It included war elephants which reduced Alexander’s striking power because his horses would not go near them; however Alexander devised a technique that transformed them into a hazard to their own masters. The elephants were positioned fifty feet from the Indian front line. Alexander launched a two-phase cavalry charge against the horsemen and chariots on Porus’s own wing first. When Porus committed horse men from both wings to an attack against what he thought was Alexander’s entire cavalry, hiding horsemen would suddenly appear having Porus’s horsemen in a trap. These tactics enabled Alexander’s infantry, who had been specially trained for the purpose, to deal with the elephants when the enemy was in a state of confusion. Alexander’s men would strike the elephants with two headed axes, making them run around uncontrollably crushing friend and foe. Although victory was inevitable for Alexander, Porus was determined to see it through until he suffered a serious shoulder wound. He, like Darius was forced to retire his elephant from the battlefield. After the battle Porus requested that he meet with the victor. Upon his reconvienience, Alexander asked Porus how he wished to be treated. Porus responded; Treat me, Alexander, like a king.” Alexander was delighted by his response. Despite the victory, Alexander suffered personal loss. Bucephalas, Alexander’s famous steed died of wounds suffered in battle. He was thirty years old, but the two had been through crisis and triumph for most of their lives. A city, Bucephala, was founded in the horse’s name on the west bank of the Jhelum.
Alexander, just inside modern India, had every intention of crossing the Beas River. Like most men of his time, he believed that the Indian continent was a small peninsula jutting eastward that reached to a body of water, called simply Ocean that supposedly encircled the world. Alexander expected to reach Ocean and explore it as the climax of his long campaign. However, his soldiers had heard rumors of vast deserts and fierce warriors with great armies of elephants lying ahead. Veterans who had crossed the Hellespont eight years before felt that they had marched their limits and wanted to return to Macedon. Alexander waited three days for them to change their minds. When he was convinced that they would not, he agreed to start home. In the spring of 323 B.C. he reached Babylon, and began at once to regroup his army and plan an invasion of Arabia. But in June a fever struck him and on the thirteenth of June, 323 B.C., not even 33 years old Alexander died.
For thirteen years Alexander remained unbeaten in his campaigns in Persia, Egypt, and India. His battles against enemy forces were all foresight and his brilliant tactics were executed to achieve victory after victory. Alexander’s fear of being overcastted by his father’s shadow was just, but his conquests dwarfed those of his father. Alexander, driven by brilliance and his view of a Hellenistic world, seized every opportunity to go one step beyond his father. Those steps brought him a great empire that he governed fair and honorable. He treated his captures with both dignity and respect which enabled him to maintain order for so long. He brought with him the Greek culture that he so strongly believed in, and spread that culture all over Asia in the cites that bear his name; Alexandria(s). Nevertheless, the ingeniousness tactics and strategies that he created brought him great success which he rightfully deserved.