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.)

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  • Not to the north of Greece, but IN northern Greece in what is today 90% still in the province of Macedonia, northern Greece. No one in the ancient world seriously questioned the Hellenic identity of the Macedonians and they themselves strongly identified as the truest of Greeks of the line of Hercules. Philip's goal was to Unite Greece not a conquest: see League of Corinth (also known as the Hellenic League)
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5.4 - Alexander The Great

  1. 1. Alexander the Great
  2. 2. <ul><li>The Peloponnesian Wars ended with Athens’ defeat in 404 BC. </li></ul><ul><li>But, heck, why let that stop good bickering and fighting? </li></ul><ul><li>The city-states continued to fight each other. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Some of Sparta’s former allies joined with Athens and fought Sparta. </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. <ul><li>Thebes dealt Sparta a devastating loss in 371 BC at the Battle of Leuctra </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Remember how the armies would line up in matching phalanxes and march toward each other? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sparta’s aura of invincibility is gone and it becomes a second-rate power. Thebes’ star rises as well as that of the Sacred Band. </li></ul></ul>
  4. 4. Standard phalanx battle lines Red squares indicate best troops Phalanx battle lines at Leuctra – Thebans are on the bottom
  5. 5. <ul><li>Funny enough, by 362 BC, Athens and Sparta had allied against Thebes because they both feared Thebes’ growing wealth and power. </li></ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>This made them ripe for conquering. </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Macedonia (or simply Macedon) was a kingdom to the north of Greece.
  7. 7. <ul><li>The Macedonians, who had strong Greek influences, considered themselves Greek. </li></ul><ul><li>The Greeks, on the other hand, didn’t and looked down on the Macedonians as being semi-barbaric. </li></ul><ul><li>King Philip II ruled Macedon starting in 359 BC. </li></ul>
  8. 8. <ul><li>Philip was actually raised in Thebes as a hostage and so was familiar with Greek military tactics. Philip changed them. </li></ul><ul><li>Introducing the Macedonian phalanx. </li></ul>
  9. 9. <ul><li>The Macedonian phalanx did away with the heavily armed and armored hoplite shock troops. It introduced the phalangites. </li></ul><ul><li>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). </li></ul><ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>They would line up in square formation of 16 by 16 men. </li></ul>
  10. 10. <ul><li>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. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul></ul>
  11. 11. <ul><li>The sarissa was broken down into two sections for carrying – it’s hard to carry an 18 foot pike when marching, after all. It would be reattached before battle. </li></ul><ul><li>The butt spike wasn’t offensive, but served two purposes: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>First, it counterbalanced the spear head. If you hold an 18 foot pole with nearly 15 feet sticking out in front of you and there’s 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. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul></ul>
  12. 12. Intimidating, eh? Modern recreations of a sarissa butt spike and spear head
  13. 13. <ul><li>Philip did more than just improve the phalanx, however. </li></ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul>
  14. 14. <ul><li>He also fully employed combined arms warfare. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul></ul>
  15. 15. <ul><li>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. </li></ul><ul><li>The phalanx was the anvil and the cavalry was the hammer. </li></ul><ul><li>Both Philip and later Alexander the Great use this tactic to tremendous effect. </li></ul>
  16. 16. <ul><li>Macedonian phalanx pros and cons </li></ul><ul><li>Pros </li></ul><ul><li>Nearly invincible from the front. A force couldn’t break through the line of pikes. </li></ul><ul><li>Due to the offensive/defensive nature of the pikes, the phalangites didn’t need to have all the armor that hoplites did. This made arming them far cheaper and the Macedonians could afford the standing army. </li></ul><ul><li>Cons </li></ul><ul><li>The formation had almost no maneuverability. Due to those long pikes, it couldn’t 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 apart </li></ul><ul><li>Could lose formation over uneven terrain and open up gaps that could be exposed by the enemy. </li></ul>
  17. 17. <ul><li>So Philip takes advantage of the Greece’s weakness and attack. </li></ul><ul><li>He defeats a combined Athens-Theban force in 338 BC. </li></ul><ul><li>The fiercely independent Greek city-states become part of the new Macedonian empire. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The great Athenian orator spent almost all his time warning people about Philip and his designs on Greece, but they weren’t taken seriously enough until it was too late. </li></ul></ul>
  18. 18. <ul><li>Unfortunately for Philip, he’s assassinated in 336 BC by one of his bodyguards, Pausanias, while at his daughter’s wedding (it was after the chicken dance, but before YMCA). </li></ul><ul><li>Not sure why. One theory is that Alexander and his mother, Olympias, were behind it. </li></ul><ul><li>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 guy’s friend, and Philip’s 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 doesn’t do anything because it’s his father-in-law. Pau is cheesed off at Philip for failing to avenge his dishonor and so kills Philip in anger. </li></ul>
  19. 19. <ul><li>One interesting side note is that Philip’s remains were possibly found by archaeologists. </li></ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul><ul><li>Based on facial reconstruction, they think this is what he looked like: </li></ul>
  20. 20. <ul><li>Philip’s son, Alexander, becomes king. </li></ul><ul><li>Or he should be Philip’s son. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>According to legend, Olympias had a dream that her womb was struck by lightning – meaning she was impregnated by Zeus. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>This account also holds that Philip was afraid to consort with her because she liked sleeping with snakes. </li></ul></ul>
  21. 21. <ul><li>He was personally tutored by the philosopher Aristotle (who was Plato’s student and Plato was Socrates’ student). </li></ul><ul><li>Aristotle taught him philosophy, ethics, rhetoric, literature, etc. </li></ul><ul><li>Also gave Alex a copy of the Iliad which Alex held dear and read often. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Bear in mind the Iliad contains a lot of heroic bombast and doing great deeds. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>For his part, Alexander helped Aristotle amass a sizable library and financed his work. </li></ul>
  22. 22. <ul><li>Aristotle later goes back to Athens (although he wasn’t 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 didn’t 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). </li></ul>
  23. 23. <ul><li>Anyway, Alexander becomes king and immediately gains the full support of the army (the most important thing). </li></ul><ul><li>Though he was only 20 at the time, he had already proved himself in battle as both an effective warrior and a good commander. </li></ul>
  24. 24. <ul><li>His first job was to put down the rebellion of the Greek city-states which had taken the opportunity of Philip’s death and the transfer of power to throw off the Macedonian yoke. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>First they submitted and then they later rebelled again. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The second time around, most hesitated while Thebes decided to resist. The Thebans were crushed. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>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). </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Everybody else got the message and submitted. The Athenians exiled all the anti-Macedon folks, starting with Demosthenes. </li></ul></ul>
  25. 25. <ul><li>In 334 BC, Alexander invades the Persian empire with 30,000 men. </li></ul><ul><li>Those who had preyed on Greece now became the prey themselves. </li></ul><ul><li>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. </li></ul><ul><li>Alexander was also a lead from the front type of commander. He didn’t stay at the back of the army where he’d be safest. He rode with the cavalry and actively engaged in hand to hand combat. </li></ul>
  26. 26. <ul><li>The Persian king, Darius III, at first doesn’t take Alexander all that seriously. </li></ul><ul><li>Darius is soundly defeated at both Granicus and Issus, however, and Alexander liberates the Greek city-states in Asia Minor. </li></ul><ul><li>At Issus, the Hellenes were outnumbered by around 10 to 1. He also captured Darius’s tent and camp along with 3,000 talents of gold. </li></ul><ul><li>Alexander goes on conquering and defeats the Persians everywhere. </li></ul><ul><li>Eventually, during the siege of Tyre, Darius offers Alexander the western empire and 10,000 talents if he’ll stop. Alexander’s most trusted general, Parmenio says, “I would accept it if I were Alexander.” Alexander’s response: “I would too if I were Parmenio.” </li></ul>
  27. 27. Darius III
  28. 28. <ul><li>In the process, Alexander also examines the famous Gordian Knot at Telmissus </li></ul><ul><li>According to legend, it was tied by King Midas to secure a cart of his father’s (his name was Gordias). </li></ul><ul><li>It was a devilishly complex knot and legend further said that whoever is able to undo it will become king of Asia (Minor). </li></ul><ul><li>Alexander studies it for a few moments, and then slices it in half with his sword. The prophecy didn’t say how it was to be undone, after all. </li></ul>
  29. 29. <ul><li>Alexander goes down to Egypt and conquers it, taking it from the Persians. He then heads back into modern-day Iraq, the heart of the empire. There he engages in the pivotal battle of Gaugamela on 10/1/331 BC. </li></ul><ul><li>The battle was a brilliant display of military tactics. </li></ul><ul><li>Alexander had about 40,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry. Darius, though, had around 56,000 infantry, 35,000 cavalry, 200 chariots, and 15 elephants. Some scholarly estimates go as high as 200,000 Persian troops and as low as 35,000 Alexandrian soldiers. </li></ul><ul><li>The battlefield was wide and flat, perfect for the scythed chariots to operate. In fact, Darius had the terrain leveled even further for his chariots. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The chariots are quickly neutralized (in fact, they cease to be useful war instruments after this battle). </li></ul></ul>
  30. 30. Alexander was positioned on the right with this elite cavalry. Oddly, they start heading right parallel to the battle lines.
  31. 31. <ul><li>When he does this, the Persian cavalry matches his movements for fear that Alexander will try outflanking them or even running away. This opens up a massive gap in the Persian line. </li></ul>(Lunar, up all night)
  32. 32. <ul><li>Alexander wheels about and drives through the gap and decimates the Persian infantry. Peltasts hiding behind them emerge and harass the Persians cavalry left in the dust. </li></ul>
  33. 33. <ul><li>Alexander heads straights towards Darius who panics and runs, leaving his army behind. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Alexander pursues him (he needs Darius’s head, after all, if he going to conquer Persia), but turns around because Parmenio’s infantry on the Macedonian left flank is about to buckle and they need Alexander’s help. </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Alexander, a man of his troops, sacrifices glory for a day in order to save his army. The difference between him and Darius. </li></ul></ul>
  34. 34. Where’s Darius?!
  35. 35. EEEEK! It’s Alexander! I just pooed my pants!
  36. 36. <ul><li>Darius runs and Alexander keeps conquering. He captures the Persian capital Persepolis and burned it down. </li></ul><ul><li>He has Darius on the run and just about when he catches up with the Persian king, one of his own provincial governors, a satrap, kills Darius. </li></ul><ul><li>Alexander has his body buried with royal honors, even marries one of his daughters, and also takes up with one of his eunuchs. </li></ul><ul><li>Alexander saw himself (correctly) as the new Persian king and the successor to Darius, so Darius was treated respectfully. </li></ul>
  37. 37. <ul><li>Many of Alexander’s troops were becoming uneasy with him. </li></ul><ul><li>As he sought to solidify his power and get the support of locals, he starts taking on Persian ways, such as religion, clothing, etc. He also starts requiring people to bow before him (he later gives this up) and starts talking about himself as some kind of divinity. </li></ul><ul><li>This didn’t go over well with his Hellenic soldiers who valued equality and thought all this was hubris. Unsuccessful assassination attempts were made. In one, Parmenion was executed, though he was innocent. </li></ul>
  38. 38. <ul><li>By the time they reach India, the troops have had enough warring. Alexander turns around and travels back to the heart of Persia to solidify instead of expand his empire. He dies of a fever in 323 BC at the age of 33. </li></ul><ul><li>Likely malaria or typhus. Some theorize poisoning. </li></ul><ul><li>He’s buried in a golden coffin filled with honey. </li></ul>
  39. 39. <ul><li>Alexander’s vast empire gets divvied up among three generals </li></ul><ul><li>Ptolemy got Egypt </li></ul><ul><li>Antigonus got Greece </li></ul><ul><li>Selecus got Persia </li></ul><ul><li>Not surprisingly, they immediately began fighting with each other. </li></ul>
  40. 42. <ul><li>By conquering most of the know world, Alexander spreads Greek culture and ideals everywhere. </li></ul><ul><li>Forms a common language, Koine, a Greek dialect. This is the lingua franca that everybody knows in addition to their local language. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The books of the new testament were written in Koine. </li></ul></ul>