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Alexander the Great


Disciplines > Warfare > Military commanders > Alexander the Great

Origins | Army | Traveling | Battle | Rule | Critical factors | See also


Alexander the Great (356BC - 323BC) was the son of King Philip II of Macedonia. Educated by Aristotle, he was inspired by Homer's heroes as he grew up in great privilege but fortunately also great learning.

He became king at the age of 20 when his father was assassinated. Wise beyond his years, he acted fast to secure the Macedonian hegemony. Ever the pragmatist, when he went abroad, he bribed those at home to ensure loyalty and stability (despite being in financial difficulties).

The army

Alexander inherited a well-trained army from his father and trained them even further. Perhaps surprisingly, the size of his army never went over 40,000. What Alexander did value and perhaps what kept his army smaller, was the mobility and speed gave military advantage.

Army pay was meager but was paid promptly. However he ensured they were well-fed. Permitted booty was fair and significant -- thus his soldiers were well motivated to win battles.

He also worked hard in other ways to maintain the loyalty and motivation of his men. He generally dressed like his soldiers and spent time with them, and was often found walking through the camp, stopping to talk and listen to groups of men. This outward appearance of love and concern, allied with his courage and determination, evoked great affection from his soldiers.

He would also ruthlessly bribe, punish and kill. If soldiers betrayed him, he would have no qualms in making an example of them. He brutally put down internal dissent, executing even suspects, including his trusty old general, Parmenio.


Alexander's army traveled far and generally lived off the land they conquered. In between, he sustained a strong supply chain, to sustain food, communication and weapons.

He traveled with builders, engineers, poets, historian, scientists, doctors, slave traders and, importantly, a historian, who wrote up his exploits which were then sent far and wide so his name would be forever respected.

Because he travelled so far, he ruled his empire from wherever he was.

He went as far as India before internal dissent forced a return home.

In battle

In battle, he led from front in battle where he was easily recognizable. This made him a target for the enemy but a stirring inspiration for his troops.

He was unceasingly courageous and was injured on many occasions, yet he continually pushed himself to physical limits. He once commented: 'It is a lovely thing to live with courage and to die leaving behind an everlasting renown'.

He was innovative and cunning in military strategy and was also very good at 'reading the battlefield', which helped him to his amazing record of battle conquests.

Tyre was on an 'impregnable' island. Alexander's siege of it took seven months in which 7000 Tyrians died in its defense. After conquest, Alexander crucified 2000 more and the remaining 30,000 were sold into slavery.

He had long battles with Darius III of Persia. Despite being surprised by Darius' strategic moves, Alexander displayed quickness of mind by turning his army around and arriving
at the battleground before the enemy had fully prepared his defenses or tactical preparations. When he captured Darius mother and daughters he spared them. Later married the daughter.

In rule

In rule he was careful to minimize any problems. He treated royal and political prisoners well and saw the political advantages of unity between diverse
peoples. He was an adept politician, skilled in the arts of intrigue and manipulation, fluent in many the languages.

He also was careful to win over religious figures and was never too proud to bow before the gods of other

He also worked to befriend the people he conquered, but always made sure Macedonians were in overall charge.

Despite his magnanimity, he was ruthless and merciless with those who revolted against him. When the city of Thebes heard he had been killed in northern fighting, they revolted. Alexander force-marched for 13 days to the city, destroyed it, killed thousands of citizens and enslaved the rest.
* Slashed the Gordian knot when he took the city.
- Legend was that who untied it would be a great king.

To secure the Persian conquest he offered partnership and participation. appointing Persian governors and ingratiated himself with nobility.

He admired the civility of the Persians and introduced Persian etiquette into how own court (much to the annoyance of courtiers).

He died at the young age of 32 after a fever, probably weakened by his many battle wounds.

Critical factors:

  • He inherited a well-trained army from his father.
  • He was quick in both decision and action.
  • He was innovative and daring in battle.
  • He always led from the front.
  • He looked after his men who were fiercely loyal.
  • He was ruthlessness and merciless with those who opposed him.
  • He was politically astute: bribed and helped those needed as friends.
  • He understood PR very well and wrote his own history.

See also


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