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Alexander the Great

The Macedonian Army

Philip left his son a mountain of gold, all of Greece, and a magnificent army. Of the three, the latter was the most crucial.

The Phalanx

The Macedonian phalanx was Philip's creation, extended by Alexander. Whereas the Greeks still fought in their traditional three battle lines, the phalanx was a flexible unit well drilled and able to take on a variety of formations.

It was usually 16 men on a side, 256 men in each unit, always and exclusively Macedonian. They were armed with the audio gif sarissa, a long spear but at 13 feet actually shorter than the hasta used by Greek hoplites, which was over 16 feet long. The real strength of the phalanx was its many formations and maneuvers. While the square was the usual formation, it could form a line or wedge or other shapes. The soldiers were trained to respond to flag and trumpet signals. No army in the Western world in the 4th century was its equal.

Other Elements

But that wasn't all. The traditional strength of Macedonia was its heavy cavalry, and heavily-armed horsemen continued to be vital. In addition, there were Macedonian light horse and heavy cavalry from other cities. Beyond these were the Cretan archers - among his fiercest warriors - and javelin throwers, slingers, and other infantry units, all fighting according to the style traditional to each city. And, of course, the excellent navies supplied by Athens, Corinth and other cities.

Beyond these were the support elements, which likewise Alexander brought to a condition much superior to any other army at the time. Most important was his adoption of a siege train, well organized and supported by engineers. It included 100 foot battering rams and 150 foot high siege towers with bridges (this was the first known use of bridges on siege towers). Legend says Alexander himself invented the torsion catapult; certain it is that he used it. Like other great commanders, he was a master of logistics and communications.

On the battlefield, Alexander typically placed the Macedonian heavy infantry (the phalanx) in the center. Parmenio commanded the left, Alexander the right, leading the Macedonian cavalry. He preferred an oblique order of attack, with Alexander's wing leading the way. Parmenio's job was the most thankless--he was to engage the enemy and hold. But Alexander's battles are marked by his ability to mix all the elements of his army and bring to bear just what was needed at just the right time.

Qualities of Command

In addition to all these factors, Alexander exhibited tremendous personal bravery. He was always at the front and always in the thick of battle. Generals in pre-modern times usually led their men rather than commanding from behind. This, of course, placed the great man in great jeopardy.

Alexander was wounded in neck and head at the Granicus River, in the thigh at Issus, the shoulder at Gaza. He suffered a broken leg in Turkestan, was wounded on three occasions in Afghanistan, and, most seriously, had his lung pierced by an arrow in India. He more than once was the first man over the wall at the storming of a city.

Alexander never lost a battle. As the victories accumulated, his men came to believe that he was invincible. So did his enemies.

Like other great generals, he knew and loved his men. He remembered their names and deeds, calling them by name when he would speak to them before a battle, citing their exploits. His veterans he sent home for a rest to Greece, allowing them to visit their families. He was liberal in his gifts and honors.

All of these factors created an army that simply could not be stopped. Its accomplishments so far eclipsed anything that had ever been done, Alexander and his Macedonians entered into legend.