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History of Alexander the Great - part 1

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Alexander III of Macedon, commonly known as Alexander the Great, was a King of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon Alexander III of Macedon, commonly known as Alexander the Great, was a King of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon

Part 1 - Life and history of Alexander the Great. Alexander was born in Pella, the ancient capital of Macedonia in July 356 BC. His parents were Philip II of Macedon and his wife Olympias. Alexander was educated by the philosopher Aristotle...

Part 1

The motivation of Alexander the Great was clear: He wanted revenge for the terrible attacks on Greece that the Persians had wrought under Darius the Great and Xerxes.

The purpose of Alexander the Great cannot be agreed on by historians: Did he want to conquer all of Persia? Did he want to teach Darius a lesson? Did he really want to be welcomed as a conquering hero in Egypt and to be looked on by surprise in Bactria and India, so far from the beloved home of his beloved soldiers? Whether he wanted all of these things or not, he got all of them and more.

Greece had weakened the Persian Empire by winning the heroic battles at Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea. But the Greeks soon descended into civil war, from which, technically, Athens emerged the big loser and Sparta the big winner; the reality was that all of Greece lost, for the city-states were too weak after the many years of fighting each other and were ripe for takeover.

Ready to do some conquering of his own was Philip II of Macedon. His civilization at that time was just to the north of Greece proper. Macedon was strong and had strong-minded soldiers, many of whom both envied and despised the Greeks. Philip and his troops moved on Greece, picking off the city-states one by one. Publicly, Philip insisted he was building a federation, one he called the Federal League of Corinth. Privately, however, he coveted Greece.

The mortal mask of Philip b'
The mortal mask, the emblem and the grave of Philip B, king of Macedonia, father of Alexander the Great, at Vergina

This Federal League was announced and put into action in 338 B.C. This followed the major defeat of the Greeks at the Battle of Chaeronea. Of the major city-states, only Sparta was not involved. (In other words, Philip hadn't conquered Sparta yet.) Philip, however, decided to pursue bigger targets: He wanted a piece of the Persian Empire.

Philip was a brilliant military commander and politician as well. He juggled the warring sentiments of the Greeks long enough to keep them ready for assimilation, then assembled them all under his banner into what was really a kingdom designed as a federation. He was a great tactician, and his plans for invading the Persian Empire were brilliantly executed—by his son.

Philip was assassinated on the eve of his invasion of Persia. His son, Alexander, took over the reins of both army and kingdom and put the invasion plans in motion. He was 21.

Schooled in war and politics by his father and in everything else by the legendary Greek philosopher Aristotle, Alexander was filled with knowledge of the world and ambition for conquering it. Like his father, he dreamed of defeating the Persians in battle, something the Greeks had been able to do before, but this time on their own soil. In 334 B.C., two years after Philip's death, Alexander led his troops into Asia Minor.

Historians disagree on just how many (or how few) troops that Alexander started his invasion with: A generally agreed-on figure is 30,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. (These last would come in especially handy. Alexander was a master of the cavalry charge.) Astonishingly enough, Alexander brought with him few fighting ships and very little in the way of treasury. His troops had weapons and food and the hunger for conquest, but that was about it. This would not be the last time that Alexander's determination to succeed despite long odds would be nearly the only thing that carried him to victory.

Persian, Darius empire
map of Darius Persian, empire at Alexander's time

Revenge for Past Sufferings

So the Macedonians and Greek set off, crossing the Hellespont and reversing the great crossing that Xerxes and his million-man army had done decades before. Alexander's army descended on the coastal cities of Asia Minor. His plan was a simple one: Deny the Persian navy, which outnumbered the Macedonian navy by a factor of about a million, from reinforcing its ports. Persian ships were on the prowl in the Mediterranean at this time, and some menaced the Macedonian advance; but Alexander's troops were seasoned from their battles in Greece and made quick work of the coastal defenses. In little more than a year, he controlled the outer rim of Asia Minor. It was time to turn inward.

One of the first major battles in Alexander's campaign came at Granicus, where he actually had more troops than the Persians (according to most sources). Some of the Persian commanders advocated a "scorched earth" policy, whereby they would burn everything in Alexander's path and then withdraw, leaving the invading army nothing to gain by advancing. The majority of the commanders, however, decided against this, mainly because it was their own lands they would be burning. They decided to stand and fight, and stand and fight they did. Alexander proved his military genius by using his cavalry to feint a charge on the Persians' flanks, which resulted in the Persians' moving their cavalry from the center to the flanks, on the theory that Alexander's main attack would be on the flanks. Quick as ever, Alexander shifted tactics again, on the full run, sending his cavalry crashing into the Persian center, smashing their defenses and sending the soldiers running for cover. The same Persian commanders who decided to stand and fight did just that, fighting alongside their men even long after the battle had been decided. Alexander, showing no mercy, encircled his foe, carving them up bit by bit, until they had no more resistance; still, he ordered no halt, resulting in the death of many Persian commanders and making his invasion of Persia itself that much easier. (The Persian Empire was a hierarchical system of satrapies. A satrap was the name of the ruler of a province or a large group of towns or cities. Each satrap reported to Darius, the emperor. Each satrap also had his own army, more or less. When they all went into battle, they took orders from the top down, naturally, but they also commanded their own men and made some of their own decisions.)

battle of Geanicus
The battle of Granicus

By the time that Alexander reached Syria, he had gotten the attention of King Darius, the Persian ruler. Darius, realizing that his navy was out of play and that his army was needed to put things right, began to make plans for battle. He eventually marched toward the invading Macedonian force with a huge number of men, weapons, and equipment. Large armies take time to assemble and equip, of course, and so Alexander's conquests continued.

The Macedonian and Greek troops by this time were getting very good at living off the land. In other words, they were taking what they wanted (food, weapons, supplies, slaves) from the cities that they conquered. The army that had invaded Asia with a small force and few provisions had swelled to a larger, more seasoned fighting force that had money, experience, and now, a reputation.

Teaching Foes a Lesson

Alexander next marched his men along the Mediterranean coast, seizing more coastal cities, this time on the Phoenician coast. One of his main targets was Sidon, the port city that served as the shipyards for the Persian invasions of Egypt and Greece. In 351 B.C., the people of Sidon locked their gates and set fire to the city rather than submit to the Persian leader Artaxerxes. This, of course, made it easer for Alexander to conquer. With all of the other major settlements in the fold, Alexander now had one major obstacle left to his goal of ruling the entire eastern Mediterranean: Tyre.

At first, the powerful city was a mere footnote to Alexander, who wanted to speed his way to Egypt, the far richer prize. He could have ignored Tyre altogether, but he did not. He sent messengers to the city leaders, offering an agreement under which neither side would attack the other. The Tyrians, thinking themselves safe behind their island walls, scoffed at the proposal, killed the messengers, and dumped them into the Mediterranean. Alexander was furious and vowed to take the city by force.

This city was on an island, one-half mile out to sea, and not in any way connected with the mainland. Alexander had brought no navy with him. How could he possibly hope to conquer Tyre? Well, his legendary determination and impatience took over and carried the day.

With the conquest of Sidon, Alexander suddenly had ships. It wasn't a lot, but it was enough to surround Tyre and prevent reinforcements from reaching the island. But the number of ships wasn't enough, either, to transport Alexander's army to the island. What to do? How do you cross a bridge when none exists? Alexander's answer was to build one.

In one of the world's most astounding civil engineering achievements, Alexander masterminded the construction of a 200-foot-wide bridge from the mainland to Tyre. His troops built it—and built it well—all the while defending against attacks from Tyre. The beginning of the projects took place in relative safety; but as the bridge got closer to the island, the work got more and more dangerous. Arrows and stones flew constantly from Tyre's archers. They even sailed a burning barge out to the bridge-in-progress. The resulting fire demolished some of the watchtowers on the bridge and killed several of Alexander's men but only hardened his resolve.

When the city was within artillery range, Alexander let fly with stone throwers and light catapults. That effectively put an end to the long-range Tyrian resistance and allowed the bridge to be completed. Alexander also constructed some naval battering rams, which crushed the walls of Tyre and allowed the Macedonian troops to enter the city. It was a devastating massacre, with the Tyrian death toll topping 7,000. Only 400 of Alexander's men were killed. The king, Azimilik, was spared his life. A full 2,000 men of military age were crucified. The rest of the Tyrians, 30,000 of them, down to the last woman and child, were carted up and taken away as slaves, sold to buyers across the Middle East. Alexander had delivered his message: Defy him and pay the consequences.

Smashing Success at Issus

Alexander was ready to move on, however, preferring not to dawdle in Egypt, as Julius Caesar and Marc Antony would do a few centuries later. And it was a good thing that he was ready to move on, too, for Darius, not being a stupid man, had rallied his forces and come down on Alexander from behind. While the Macedonian king was forcing his way into Tyre and accepting the nominal kingship of Egypt, Darius was rallying an army 100,000 strong and marching down the Phoenician coast after Alexander. Darius's goals were twofold: intercept Alexander's supply lines and trap the invaders far from home, where they were less likely to put up a fight. Darius got all of what he wanted, except for the last part, the intangible part, which proved to be his undoing in the end. For not the last time, Darius underestimated Alexander.

Battle of Issus
The battle of Issus

The Macedonians turned quickly around and marched north. Alexander, kicking himself for assuming that Darius wouldn't come after him, forced his men to march double quick, overnight, for many miles. The two armies met in the Battle of Issus.

It should have been a Persian victory. Darius had more men, who were rested. He had picked the place where he wanted to fight. He was in a defensive position, which Alexander had to attack. In fact, many historians argue, Darius didn't really have to win at all; he just had to avoid losing. If the battle resulted in a standoff, then Alexander would be forced to retreat—toward more Persian forces, coming up from the southeast. But Darius didn't play to tie; he played to win. And this decision cost him dearly.

First of all, Darius deployed his men on a narrow coastal plain, meaning that they would fight in rows, not in a mass formation. Clearly, he did choose the terrain with the idea of using all of his men at once in a mass, hard charge. Secondly, Alexander noticed that Darius had deployed archers near a group of inexperienced young Persian soldiers on the left flank of the main army, where Darius himself stood, in the center. Alexander reasoned that the archers were there because the soldiers couldn't hold the field by themselves. So while the rest of the battlefield raged with hand-to-hand blows, Alexander led his cavalry in a fierce assault on those archers and the experienced infantry they were protecting. Like a carpet, the young Persians folded up and disappeared, with the Macedonian cavalry in hot pursuit. So devastating was the cavalry charge that the entire Persian left flank disappeared, leaving the cavalry with a straight shot at Darius, who quickly led his men in retreat. The emperor, who had counted on a successful defense turning into victory, now found himself in crushing defeat, his armies in full flight, his confidence shattered, the territory he owned rapidly shrinking.

All of this happened so quickly that Alexander and his men acquired many great spoils from this victory, including the entire royal family—Queen Stateira, Queen Mother Sisygambis, Princess Stateira, and Darius's other children. They remained prisoners of Alexander and his men for a very long time.

Source:Social Studies for Kids


Alexander the Great

Go to: Part 2

Last modified onSaturday, 28 March 2020 19:39
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