I have read many books about Alexander the Great recently and have grown fond of him. It is split into several posts since it is so long! I wrote this essay for a class recently and I thought I'd share it with ya'll. Enjoy,
Alexander the Great: The Man, the Life, the Legacy
History is full of remarkable characters. Whether they were noble or unrepentant in their actions those were what made them immortal through our recorded history. One such character is Alexander the Great. Some have accused him as a drunken killer who wanted only to have the world under his rule. Others deem him as a kindhearted man who wanted to better the world by spreading the life of his people. The decision of what is in the right and what is feigning depends foremost on the reader and to what the author attempts to represent. There is much that has been studied and written about Alexander. Since the man made such a profound impact on his and later eras he was and is a very interesting man to discover. Whether some view him as the oppressor or the liberator means little when one first inquires. The curious must first study what happened and then determine why it did. Only then can someone assess the character of the subject. With Alexander the Great, there are three main topics that can be discussed in order for those interested in the man to get a general knowledge of Alexander. First, his leadership; he was an outstanding leader in his own right. His leadership skills on the battlefield and through politics were exceptional. For those reasons he was able to accomplish what he wished. One reason for Alexander’s various and numerous victories in the field was his supreme intelligence as a tactician. Some of the tactics he implemented have never before been achieved or even attempted. Thus was one of Alexander’s masteries. From the beginning of Alexander’s campaign he started to change the world. His legacy began as soon as his army crossed the Hellespont, bringing a whole new culture to share with the people he conquered. Alexander brought with him the Greek culture, art, and language and integrated it all into those liberated from their own rulers and ways, as Alexander believed. He also created foundation cities to improve security and infrastructure. His legacy still lives on because he stopped at nothing to achieve his goals for himself, his men, his culture, and the rest of the world.
But why would someone inform themselves of this man? Why would someone delve so far into history? A person could ask some of our leaders of today such a question. Many of them are interested in history. It could be a result of their personal interest but it could also be of a different motive. As the saying goes, history often repeats itself. That is, in fact, quite thoroughly the truth, for Napoleon suffered an embarrassing defeat fighting during the winter in Russia, and during Operation Barbarossa the largest land invasion in history by Hitler’s armies lost their fight in the cold weather of Russia as well. All of the military blunders resulted at different times but if Hitler had informed himself of the follies of Napoleon during 1812 then he would have known what he would be subjecting his troops to during the Russian winter. Perhaps, if he had done so then World War II would have resulted differently. So why would someone want to read about Alexander the Great? There are numerous reasons why and I will name several. Alexander was one of the few men who deserved the title “the Great”. Most of his defeated were so astonished at his magnanimous treatment they became his most devoted followers. It is believed by many historians that Alexander’s ideas of culture and religion surpassed those of all commanders before him and perhaps even after. In our disturbing modern world full of idealism and religion being seen as out-of-date, those who immerse themselves into ancient history to learn of Alexander the Great will be most enlightened by gaining knowledge of a man who never lost a battle, who loved the Arts, who respected every form of religion, and who tried to bring, with all of his power, mankind together in brotherhood.
Alexander the Great attracts many historians, writers, and those generally interested personally. With so many interested persons there are varying angles of the subject, as would be expected, since emotional reactions of one’s decisions and actions differs from person to person. History is often subject to what an individual decides what facts are important or relevant. This is often based upon the temperament of the individual. Since there are contradictory accounts of Alexander the Great, it is important to try and keep an unbiased mind. To gain the most advantageous knowledge of all history and of Alexander the Great specifically, it is imperative that those interested inform themselves of all accounts, biased for or against. If that is accomplished then it is very possible to come to the conclusion that there is no convincing evidence that Alexander, with extraordinary promise in his youth would deviate from his superb character, and become a tyrannical sot later in life. Such findings by some create inaccuracies and make their word untrustworthy. These degenerate attributes are inconsistent with the fact that when Alexander was both present and distant from his officers, he would always trust in their obedience. When Alexander was still a boy he studied under the legendary Aristotle. Under the philosopher’s guidance young Alexander learned to excel in life through intellect and character. If one achieved that goal of arête then he would be seen as a god among men. In this Alexander excelled. During his earlier years those around him, young and old, were astonished by his perseverance, his steadfast dedication to duty, his indifference to the pleasures of the body, his enduring want for knowledge, and the longing he had to unite the entire world. Because he achieved all of this and so altered the world that historians divided the civilization into its own epoch. In the words of Colonel Dodge,
At the head of these Generals, and in a sense which no captain has ever since reached, stood Alexander, in every respect the leader of his army; its pattern, its hardest worked, most untiring, most energetic, bravest, most splendid member. What he did and the way he did it, roused the emulation of his lieutenants to an unexampled pitch. With Alexander it was never “GO!” but “COME!”…None could vie with him in courage, bodily strength, expert use of arms or endurance. And in every detail of the service, from hurling the Agrianian javelin to manoeuvering the phalanx, from the sarissa drill to the supreme command of the army, he stood without a peer. In his every word and deed he was easily master from qualities of body, mind, and heart.
One of Alexander’s many superior attributes was his commanding leadership. His qualities as a commander were those to be upon the greatest in history. Even in his youth he showed promise to be a god among the men. One very interesting story of his leadership involves his horse, Bucephalus. The able and spirited horse was offered to Philip, Alexander’s father and also King of Macedon at the time, and Bucephalus was being tried by riders. Alexander was most likely under thirteen at the time and was growing tired and aggravated at the failed attempts at calming the horse to be ridden upon. The riders tried to break in the horse but the beast kicked and reared with such savage ability that they began to fear the animal. Philip was not pleased by his son’s criticisms but eventually yielded to them. Alexander found that the horse had its back to the sun and was shying to avoid the moving shadow. When Alexander approached the animal he turned Bucephalus’s head so the shadow fell behind. He caressed the horse, soothed it with words, and quickly mounted after throwing off his cloak. With astonishing swiftness Alexander mastered the horse. Bucephalus never let any other ride him and at one time the horse was stolen from Alexander during the Uxian campaign. Alexander issued a proclamation that if his favorite horse was not returned then the tribe would be slain. Immediately, Bucephalus was brought back.
From the ages of antiquity and to the present, Alexander is described as a military genius. His accomplishments in the art of war were and still are astounding. Hannibal, Caesar, Frederick, and Napoleon studied his military methods thoroughly and all admitted that without the knowledge they gained from Alexander the Great they would have never been able to accomplish what they did. From one great leader, Napoleon, we hear, “Make offensive war like Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar … read and re-read the history of their campaigns. Model yourself on them … that is the only way to become a great captain.” Invariable were his countless successes, whether he fought against disciplined, highly trained troops or guerilla bands of wild hill tribes, on plains or on mountains, deserts, ravines, marshes or rivers, winter snow or burning sun; weather and darkness were not obstacles. Alexander never wasted time. He always arrived before his enemies expected. His men followed him for more than 21,000 miles because they believed he had their best interests in mind. They always counted on him to lead them to victory after victory and he never failed.
There are many reasons that have been presented of how and why Alexander won every one of his battles. He would achieve his victories by first investigating the land where he wished to advance upon. In order to be sure of the safety of himself and his army he would often explore alone over dangerous terrain. In order for men to respect and follow to the ends of the earth one must risk himself. Before meeting his opponents in battle he would study their psychology, their weapons, and their methods of warfare. If any unexpected emergency erupted his intellect would deal with it immediately. With a mere glance of the battlefield and more specifically his enemy’s army Alexander could see the strong and weak points of his enemy and himself. With this knowledge gained he would use exploitation to its greatest effect. In every military situation he left nothing kept undone. He would defeat every enemy entirely, or as he saw it, and so when he traveled over thousands of miles he would find little resistance from his flank.
Alexander the Great also had mastery of politics. It is difficult to retain an empire, especially one as far reaching as Alexander’s, if one only conquers his enemies militarily. Without the support of the leaders and the peoples of the lands keeping an empire intact is impossible. He never felt as a conqueror but rather a liberator of all man. He did not want to simply defeat his enemies militarily. Gaining victories over armies was only the first step. Alexander respected every religion and every culture he became ruler of. Instead of simply killing his opposing leaders he would treat them as his friends and equals if they chose to be so. When King Darius of the Persian Empire was defeated by Alexander he soon learned that his wife, mother, and family had been taken prisoner. He was soon filled with anxiety for he believed their fate would be or was grim and cruel. In fact, quite the opposite was true. His beloved were living comfortably at the palace in Susa. In every way they were treated as royalty. Alexander’s generosity and respect for others was so far reaching that he gave the wife of Darius, who died in childbirth, a funeral befitting a queen. Alexander’s outstanding character never faltered there. King Darius exclaimed that if was indeed his destiny to lose his Kingdom of Persia that he would yield it to no other man except for Alexander the Great. For Alexander it was more than simply winning a battle, a war, or his massive military campaign. He wanted to win the people.
Alexander the Great had numerous and outstanding military victories. To name every one of them would fill many volumes but there are three battles that he won that can be said to be his most decisive and of the greatest importance to his campaign. His first major victory came not too long after his crossing of the Hellespont. King Darius decided to make a stand at the Granicus River and in the plain beyond. In some parts of the river there was a chance to ford but in others the current was much too swift and deep. The banks were too steep for Alexander’s infantry and cavalry to scale safely and with the danger of enemy darts, arrows, and javelins, his odds of getting across the river untouched were next to none. Estimates say that the size of the Persian cavalry compared to Alexander and his Macedonians was about four times as large. Among the enemy cavalry were men from the mountainous areas of Iran, fierce warriors with more battle experience than many of the Macedonians had been alive. On his right Alexander placed his bowmen and Agrianians. Next to these were the Companions with Alexander leading; then the hypaspists and the more heavily-armed infantry, more commonly known as the phalanx; to his left were the Thessalian, Thracian, and Greek cavalry. The numbers of each army were relatively equal but with the Persians having a substantially larger contingent of cavalry, relative numbers meant little. As Alexander’s army neared the Granicus, he noticed a weakness in the Persian line. Darius had his Greek mercenaries on high ground behind his cavalry. Because of this Alexander’s crossing of the river would be much easier. If the strong fighting Greeks were placed at the opposite bank to Alexander his crossing would have been a bloody one. Alexander chose to attack immediately even when his good friend Parmenion argued against and the Macedonian army began to cross the river. Upon observing Alexander’s advance the Persians reinforced their lines along the banks but Alexander found the weakest point in his enemy’s line. With the sound of trumpets and a battle cry Alexander the Great advanced his army forward and across the river. The Persians were intent on Alexander and so reinforced wherever they saw him go. A contingent of Macedonian infantry and cavalry were sent in front and Alexander moved his horsemen upon their right. Soon, the struggle to get up the banks ensued; a shower of arrows and javelins met Alexander and his men while Persian riders fell over the banks trying to bring forward their defense. A bitter struggle raged and when Alexander noticed his infantry having worse difficulties he came to their aid. Slowly the phalanx gained the upper hand and shortly Alexander put himself in the thick of the battle. He splintered his lance twice and with his truncheon he killed many men. A son-in-law and a relative to the King Darius both fell under Alexander’s blows while he suffered an injury to his shoulder. Both sides fought bitterly but when the Persian center broke rout followed. Macedonian casualties were about 150 infantry and twenty-five Companions. The majority of casualties of the Persians were a result of the rout following the battle. 4,000 died and another 2,000 were taken prisoner. Not only did Persia lose many men but also several members of royalty. The victory immediately showed the Persians that the Macedonian army was a formidable foe and led to many cities in Asia Minor to be liberated.
Marching East with 40,000 and some 8,000 cavalry, Alexander led his army deeper into the Persian Empire. An eclipse of the moon on the 20th of September was regarded as a favorable omen and that a victory would be achieved by the end of the month. Alexander wanted to cross the Tigris River but Darius had a massive army waited for him to make the mistake of attempting such. Alexander knew better and so he found his army a safe area to cross. The maneuvers that the opposing armies utilized during the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 B.C. are bewildering to follow but it would be foolish to dismiss important events which led to Alexander’s victory that changed the world for centuries after. It would be impossible to explain the entire battle in text so the diagrams provided will more than suffice. When Alexander was seven miles from his opponent he gave his men a four days’ rest. At that spot he left the baggage trains and hospitals and they began the march to the battlefield from September 29th to the 30th. The men marched with only the weapons they could carry. After the march which was longer than expected was finished Alexander looked upon the army of Darius III. The actual Persian numbers are hard to determine since there are many different sources. Some number the Persian army at over a million but more moderate, and most likely accurate, estimates gives 200,000 infantry, 45,000 cavalry, and 200 scythed chariots. The army is said to have many elephants which instill fear in horses. Since Alexander’s army was grossly outnumbered he decided to take extra precautions to help stem the obvious disadvantage. He called a council of war with his fellow generals. It was decided to inspect the battlefield for traps upon Alexander’s agreement with Parmenion and in the following he gave them a speech explaining that he needed perfect discipline during the whole day of battle in order for their success. Later Parmenion advised Alexander to make a surprise attack but Alexander explained that he would not “steal a victory”.
Darius was at the center of his army surrounded by his kinsmen and other nobles. Various cultures of men reinforced this position. In front of Darius were 50 chariots and 15 elephants and further along the battle line were scythed chariots, their spikes and blades gleaming in the sun. To help stop the Macedonian phalanx mercenaries from Greece were positioned on each side of Darius. Behind him were numerous ethnicities of infantry and on each wing the front consisted of cavalry and were backed by infantry. For the Macedonians the Companions were on the right flank along with other squadrons of other generals who were joined next to them by both lightly and heavily armed phalanx. In front of Alexander were the Agrianians, archers and javelin men. In the center was the phalanx who was flanked on the left by the Thessalian cavalry. Further to the left was Parmenion. Both flanks were strongly reserved because Alexander’s army was severely outflanked. Everything depended upon the opening maneuvers and Alexander advanced his army forward silently while ordering battalions here and there to ensure security in his lines. The Persians made a counter-move in disorder and soon the Macedonian right was engaged. Darius feared that Alexander might travel further than the ground he had leveled for his deadly chariots so he ordered them forward. Unfortunately, Alexander’s army was ready for them. Arrows and javelins frightened and injured the horses and when they reached the Macedonian infantry the phalanx opened up their ranks. The chariots simply passed through the ranks while the horses and drivers were either injured or killed. Persian cavalry in the meantime tried to overlap the right wing of the Macedonians but the move was halted with fierce fighting.
During the fierce fighting Alexander gave orders to ensure his army’s success and kept his Companion cavalry out of combat. This was not cowardice however, rather tactical delay. The time was not yet right for him to engage the famed cavalry upon the enemy. Engage too early and the result might not turn the tide of the battle. Engage too late and the tide might never be turned. When Alexander reached within bowshot of the enemy he sent his reserve horsemen to reinforce the right wing and when the Persians maneuvered to counter this left a hole in their left wing. The time had come for Alexander to make his move. He immediately led his cavalry straight into the exposed area of the Persian line. The first rank of Persians was crushed under the weight and violence of the charge and began to disperse. Soon other Macedonian generals aided the attack and surrounded King Darius. The Persian cavalry attempted to assist their king but they were being chased by the reserve cavalry of the Macedonians. The tide had turned. The left wing of the Persian army collapsed. King Darius, when suddenly seeing his charioteer impaled with a spear saved himself by fleeing the field. Other Persian generals, upon seeing their great king run for his life joined in the rout. Alexander began to pursue the mass of Persians running for their lives when he was told that Parmenion was in need of assistance. The left wing of the Macedonian line had been dealt a serious blow and because of a tactical error by the Persian cavalry they kept their ground. Alexander is said to have exclaimed that Parmenion had lost his head but complied with the call for help. The Companions attacked the rear of the Persian left and a desperate struggle resulted. The Persian commanders saw no use in being slaughtered and so made a skillful retreat, following their king. The pursuit of the army lasted for another thirty-five miles and even after midnight. Many thousands of Persians were slain. Estimates dwell at approximately 50,000 dead and perhaps 180,000 wounded and captured. Macedonian casualties could have been as low as 500.
As with every campaign, they must end. With Alexander’s the end came at the Battle of the Hydaspes River. Alexander was no longer in Persia. In India his triumphs, curiosity, and drive to him. By this time his army was growing tired but Alexander wanted to keep going. Persians were not his enemies anymore. Now he was facing King Porus who ruled the Punjab territory. Alexander wanted to negotiate with the king but Porus told the young conqueror that he would only meet him in battle. Porus moved a moderately organized army on the south bank of the Hydaspes River which consisted of 20,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry, 60 chariots, and 200 war elephants. The problem was for Alexander with his 28,000 men and 8,500 cavalry that to ford the deep and swift river while be engaged by the enemy’s force would have been a complete disaster so Alexander sent men further up the river to find a suitable crossing spot. Every night men traveled down the river and every night Porus shadowed the movements. Finally the Macedonians found a suitable crossing spot about seventeen miles upstream. Alexander’s wanted to divide his army up by having himself lead a larger portion of the army down to the crossing point while leaving one of his generals, Craterus, with the smaller portion to stay at the original camp. If Porus engaged Alexander with all of his troops Craterus was too cross the river and assist but would remain if Porus only used a part of his force to engage. Porus sent his son with chariots and cavalry to stop Alexander’s crossing but he had already moved his army across. A brief skirmish resulted and the enemy was routed with Porus’s son among the dead. Porus moved the bulk of his force to engage Alexander’s larger contingent and left a small force to delay Craterus’s crossing of the river. The massive and armed Indian elephants Porus possessed were a major obstacle for Alexander. He sent attacks on the left wing of the Indian army and tactfully destroyed the enemy’s cavalry without getting his own horses near the elephants. Without the Indian cavalry Porus could not flank the Macedonian phalanx. This, however, did not stop the elephants from charging the phalanx. The beasts were stopped but with heavy casualties. In the end the Macedonians surrounded the Indians who surrendered. Alexander lost 4,000 men and 280 horse. Porus lost 12,000 men, 400 horse, while 9,000 men and 80 elephants were captured. Although Alexander won yet another battle he won with a great loss of life. He was impressed with King Porus and so let the king rule his land but under Alexander’s name. At the end of the battle the army was tired of fighting continuously for eight years and finally Alexander’s campaign was ended.
What do people remember of a person after they have passed? Only a person’s actions are left. In the end we will only remember what people did. Alexander left a lasting legacy that affects the world even today. His most supreme and lasting influence he brought to the world was the extension of Greek culture. When Alexander started his campaign it was actually more like a crusade. He wanted to avenge the Persian invasion of Greece and the destruction they caused. After this mindset had passed he wished to extend the Hellenistic culture throughout the world. When he conquered peoples he brought the life of the Greeks to them, including democratic liberty; the freedom to think and to speak, and the duty of an individual to take part in his government. Throughout Alexander’s empire he founded cities which were built at important junctions of roads which were suited to aid in economics and securing valleys. Every city was planned in a Greek pattern and when finished the young were trained in the militaristic and cultural aspects of the Greek way of life. Six of the certain sixteen remain today, most notably Alexandria, which stayed an economic and academic center for many years after Alexander’s empire divided and disappeared. With Greek culture spreading so did the art of the Hellenes. Even today one can see Greek influence in Indian art both ancient and modern. Even in areas such as Turkestan and China, where Alexander never set a foot upon, various Buddha statues can be seen with Hellenistic modifications. Greek as a universal language throughout Alexander’s empire had far reaching and long lasting results. With a standardized currency and language financial problems were more easily fixed and eradicated at the outset. The Greek language was educated to the young in the new empire which made ideals of the tribes and cultures more uniform. Traditions and customs became more of the same thought and mind. Alexander’s dream of bringing mankind into a brotherhood was achieved to varying degrees. Even after Alexander’s empire was long dead Greek was used as a common language. The Gospels were written in Greek so that a wider audience would understand. Astronomy advanced further when Greeks and Babylonians collaborated with mathematics, science, and astronomy. Throughout the empire Alexander’s example lived on because of his example.
So who was Alexander the Great? Was he the drunken tyrant who used his power, intellect, and drive to take what he wanted only to show that he could? Perhaps he was the perfect man who had no faults and strove only to make the world into perfection. He was, as all men are, neither. Alexander the Great was Man as any one of us is. The better the man the better he must excel. It is by almost every action and thought that Alexander strived for excellence. In every man there are faults but if one excels beyond the sight of vices then only virtue is seen. As the gifted Professor Wright explains,
In the history of our European civilization four names stand out from all other: Alexander, Julius Caesar, Charles the Great, Napoleon. All four were so superior to the ordinary level of human capacity that they can hardly be judged by common standards. … Alexander, both in his works and in his character, is entitled to the first place. … He was the fine flower of Greek civilization … the effects of his conquests in widening the horizon of men’s minds can only be compared with the discovery of America.
From Colonel Dodge,
Starting with a handful of men from Macedonia, in four years one grand achievement after another and without a failure, had placed at his feet the Empire of the Great King. Leaving home with an enormous debt, in fifty moons he had possessed himself of all the treasures of the earth. Thence … he completed the conquest of the known world, marching twenty-two thousand miles in his eleven years’ campaign. And all this before he was thirty-three. … No man ever was a great soldier without the most generous virtues of the soul and the most distinguished power of the intellect.
Alexander the Great was a steadfast leader on the battlefield and on the marble floor. He defeated army after army without ever having his own number above 50,000. He was swift in his decisions and clever with his tactics. He defeated every enemy who stood in his way under every circumstance. He left a world completely changed and thus will his legacy remain, a great one.
Savill, Agnes. Alexander the Great and his time. New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1993.
Originally posted, http://www.generalscollective.com/hi...hp?topic=164.0