5.4 - alexander the great

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The glories of Alexander the Great. His conquering and his battle tactics. (I made this a long time ago, but recently discovered I hadn't published it here.)

TRANSCRIPT

  • Alexander the Great

  • The Peloponnesian Wars ended with Athens defeat in 404 BC.But, heck, why let that stop good bickering and fighting?The city-states continued to fight each other.Some of Spartas former allies joined with Athens and fought Sparta.

  • Thebes dealt Sparta a devastating loss in 371 BC at the Battle of LeuctraRemember how the armies would line up in matching phalanxes and march toward each other?In this battle, Thebes stacked its left flank with 50 ranks of soldiers. When it clashed with the Spartans 12 ranks deep right flank (which also had the best, most solid and experienced troops), they were completely overrun.The Theban right flank was in echelon (angled), so when the Spartan right flank is obliterated, the less experienced center and left flank panic and run before most of the rest of the Theban line even engages.Spartas aura of invincibility is gone and it becomes a second-rate power. Thebes star rises as well as that of the Sacred Band.

  • Standard phalanx battle linesRed squares indicate best troopsPhalanx battle lines at Leuctra Thebans are on the bottom

  • Funny enough, by 362 BC, Athens and Sparta had allied against Thebes because they both feared Thebes growing wealth and power.The point is, because the major Greek city-states had been in a near constant state of periodic war for nearly 80 years, they were weakened in wealth, military ability, and manpower.This made them ripe for conquering.

  • Macedonia (or simply Macedon) was a kingdom to the north of Greece.

  • The Macedonians, who had strong Greek influences, considered themselves Greek.The Greeks, on the other hand, didnt and looked down on the Macedonians as being semi-barbaric.

    King Philip II ruled Macedon starting in 359 BC.

  • Philip was actually raised in Thebes as a hostage and so was familiar with Greek military tactics. Philip changed them.

    Introducing the Macedonian phalanx.

  • The Macedonian phalanx did away with the heavily armed and armored hoplite shock troops. It introduced the phalangites.These soldiers were armed with 18 foot pikes called sarissas with iron spear heads and butt spikes. The sarissa weighed about 12 pounds (quite heavy for a battle weapon).Because of its weight and length, it needed to be wielded by both hands. This meant the left arm was no longer free to effectively use the large aspis shield. They instead used a smaller shield called a pelte that was slung around the neck and rested on the left arm.They would line up in square formation of 16 by 16 men.

  • The first five ranks would stick their sarissas out in front of the formation. This created rows of spears at 5 different lengths that an opposing force had to get past in order to attack the phalangites directly.The rest of the troops angled their sarissas up, ready to lower it if they need to move up and replace a fallen soldier in the first rank. They also served to break up the path of incoming arrows and other projectiles.

  • The sarissa was broken down into two sections for carrying its hard to carry an 18 foot pike when marching, after all. It would be reattached before battle.The butt spike wasnt offensive, but served two purposes:First, it counterbalanced the spear head. If you hold an 18 foot pole with nearly 15 feet sticking out in front of you and theres a weight on the end, you need an even heavier weight on the short end balance it out. Otherwise, it would be impossible to hold up for more than a few minutes.Second, the phalangites could drive the butt spike into the ground, thus anchoring the sarissa. If they did this, the phlanax was nearly impossible to move or to attack.

  • Intimidating, eh?Modern recreations of a sarissa butt spike and spear head

  • Philip did more than just improve the phalanx, however.First off, he created the first real professional standing army. No longer was it a part-time endeavor of yeomen when needed. They were paid and this was their job. The constant training made them very good.

  • He also fully employed combined arms warfare.Instead of just having the phalanx infantry being almost the only fighting force, he employed other battle elements: heavy and light cavalry, peltasts (lightly armed men who used slings and javelins), archers, and infantry that resembled traditional Greek hoplites.

  • The main tactic used was that the phalanxes would hold the opposing force in place while the cavalry would outflank the opposition and attack its flanks or rear.The phalanx was the anvil and the cavalry was the hammer.Both Philip and later Alexander the Great use this tactic to tremendous effect.

  • Macedonian phalanx pros and consProsNearly invincible from the front. A force couldnt break through the line of pikes.Due to the offensive/defensive nature of the pikes, the phalangites didnt need to have all the armor that hoplites did. This made arming them far cheaper and the Macedonians could afford the standing army.ConsThe formation had almost no maneuverability. Due to those long pikes, it couldnt turn or protect its flanks; it could only go straight ahead. This meant a fast and/or maneuverable enemy could outflank it and tear it apartCould lose formation over uneven terrain and open up gaps that could be exposed by the enemy.

  • So Philip takes advantage of the Greeces weakness and attack.He defeats a combined Athens-Theban force in 338 BC.The fiercely independent Greek city-states become part of the new Macedonian empire.The great Athenian orator spent almost all his time warning people about Philip and his designs on Greece, but they werent taken seriously enough until it was too late.

  • Unfortunately for Philip, hes assassinated in 336 BC by one of his bodyguards, Pausanias, while at his daughters wedding (it was after the chicken dance, but before YMCA).Not sure why. One theory is that Alexander and his mother, Olympias, were behind it.Another theory is that Pausanias was a lover of Philip, but was spurned when Philip started shacking up with a younger guy. Pausanias mercilessly taunts the younger guy until he commits suicide. The guys friend, and Philips father-in-law, Atalus is angry at Pausanias for this. He invites Pau to dinner, gets him drunk, and then rapes him. Pau tells Philip about Atalus raping him, but Philip doesnt do anything because its his father-in-law. Pau is cheesed off at Philip for failing to avenge his dishonor and so kills Philip in anger.

  • One interesting side note is that Philips remains were possibly found by archaeologists.Excavated royal tombs in Vergina in Macedonia in 1977 revealed the cremated remains of a skull that had severe blinding damage to the right eye. Philip was blinded in his right eye by an arrow during a battle.Based on facial reconstruction, they think this is what he looked like:

  • Philips son, Alexander, becomes king.Or he should be Philips son.According to legend, Olympias had a dream that her womb was struck by lightning meaning she was impregnated by Zeus.This account also holds that Philip was afraid to consort with her because she liked sleeping with snakes.

  • He was personally tutored by the philosopher Aristotle (who was Platos student and Plato was Socrates student).Aristotle taught him philosophy, ethics, rhetoric, literature, etc.Also gave Alex a copy of the Iliad which Alex held dear and read often.Bear in mind the Iliad contains a lot of heroic bombast and doing great deeds.For his part, Alexander helped Aristotle amass a sizable library and financed his work.

  • Aristotle later goes back to Athens (although he wasnt himself Athenian, he was Stageiran) and opens his own school. When Alexander dies, the Athenians charge him with impiety (due to his association with their conqueror, many prominent Athenians didnt like Aristotle) and Aristotle goes into voluntary exile, declaring that he will not allow the Athenians to sin twice against philosophy (by executing him like they did Socrates).

  • Anyway, Alexander becomes king and immediately gains the full support of the army (the most important thing).Though he was only 20 at the time, he had already proved himself in battle as both an effective warrior and a good commander.

  • His first job was to put down the rebellion of the Greek city-states which had taken the opportunity of Philips death and the transfer of power to throw off the Macedonian yoke.First they submitted and then they later rebelled again.The second time around, most hesitated while Thebes decided to resist. The Thebans were crushed.As punishment and as a warning to others, Alexander razed the city sold the populace into slavery (6,000 killed and 30,000 sold for 440 talents of silver).Everybody else got the message and submitted. The Athenians exiled all the anti-Macedon folks, starting with Demosthenes.

  • In 334 BC, Alexander invades the Persian empire with 30,000 men.Those who had preyed on Greece now became the prey themselves.Not only did Alexander thirst for power, adventure, and especially glory, but he also wanted to get revenge on Persia for its ill-treatment of Greece.Alexander was also a lead from the front type of commander. He didnt stay at the back of the army where hed be safest. He rode with the cavalry and actively engaged in hand to hand combat.

  • The Persian king, Darius III, at first doesnt take Alexander all that seriously.Darius is soundly defeated at both Granicus and Issus, however, and Alexander liberates the Greek city-states in Asia Minor.At Issus, the Hellenes were outnumbered by around 10 to 1. He also captured Dariuss tent and camp along with 3,000 talents of gold.Alexander goes on conquering and defeats the Persians everywhere.Eventually