Alexander the Great: Organization and Leadership of the Macedonian Army

As leader of the Macedonian army, Alexander the Great showed by example what he wished his soldiers to be. He dressed like his soldiers and interacted with them in camp, which gave his troops a feeling of love and concern from their commander and won great affection (Straker). Coupled with his determination and courage, he was able to win the loyalty of his men that endured even in the most desperate of times (Straker). He would most commonly be found at the front of a charge in clear view of  his men and as an obvious target for his enemy. It is likely that he was wounded in battle more frequently than any of his men (Burn, 140).  He built their morale up from the beginning, instilling in them a sense of moral superiority and the belief that under his command nothing was impossible (Burn, 140).

Alexander kept a relatively small army, never numbering more than 40,000 total cavalry and infantry, giving them the advantage of speed and mobility (Straker).


Hetairoi or companion cavalry was the most prestigious of the mounted troops. During the reign of Phillip II, these soldiers were selected only from Macedonian nobility. Under Alexander, the number increased from 600 horsemen to 3000 troopers. The hetairoi were organized in ilai or “wings” of 200 men, with the exception of the basilike ile (royal squadron) which consisted of 300 to 400 cavalrymen (van Dorst). During battle, these soldiers generally rode in a wedge formation and depending on the circumstances could be heavily or lightly armed. Cavalry men generally always wore metal helmets and body armor (consisting of linen or leather corselets with metal scales, or breastplates made from iron or bronze) and were equipped with heavy thrusting spears, javelins and always carried a sword as a secondary weapon. Shields were reserved for dismounted actions. Prodromoi, the light cavalrymen and scouts of the Macedonian army, were equipped with javelins when on a reconnaissance mission but could be redressed and serve as heavy cavalry (or sarissophori) in battle (van Dorst).It is believed that Alexander’s cavalry forces were an important part of his success in battle, and they were “unmatched on their own ground” (Burn, 141).


Infantry men were recruited territorially. Each Macedonian province provided a single taxis or regiment of pezhetairoi or foot companions, and each regiment consisted of approximately 1500 soldiers (van Dorst). Command of these regiments was usually given to nobles originating from the same province as the men they commanded. The phalanx infantry was much more flexible than the Greek hoplites—equipment and tactics were adjusted to suit different battle situations. Each was equipped with a hoplite shield and normal length spear, which could be traded for light  javelins or a a long pike requiring both hands and a sarissa, or rimpless shield hanging from the shoulder (van Dorst).

Phalanx with Pikes (Wikipedia contributors)

Another very important part of the infantry was the hypaspistai or shield bearers, comprised of 3000 men organized into subunits of 1000 soldiers. The elite formation of shield bearers was the argyraspides or “silvershileds.” Membership in this unit was based entirely upon merit as a soldier in one of the taxes, rather than upon status and nobility (van Dorst). These soldiers were frequently used on special duties and were more likely to carry lighter arms and equipment. In engagements, the shield bearers were generally deployed in the dangerous place of honor—the right flank of the heavy infantry line (van Dorst).


Alexander generally aimed to force his enemy into rapid decisions that would confuse and lower morale. Success depended largely on undermining the confidence of the enemy, and attacking them at weak moments—particularly when the enemy forces were tired after long marches or lack of sleep (van Dorst). He also used tactics such as a fierce cavalry charge on a small portion of the enemy’s forces to break morale and cause panic among the units not yet engaged in the battle (van Dorst).

Works Cited:

Burn. A. R.. “The Generalship of Alexander.” Greece & Rome, Second Series. Vol. 12, No. 2. The Classical Association, Cambridge University Press. 1965. JSTOR. 7 Feb. 2012.

Straker, David. “Alexander the Great.” Changing Minds. Changing Minds. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.

van Dorst, Sander. The Army of Alexander the Great. Ancient Warfare. 2000. Web. 7 Feb 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Macedonian army.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 17 Apr. 2009. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.


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2 responses to “Alexander the Great: Organization and Leadership of the Macedonian Army

  1. silvalupus

    You make a vary interesting point about how he strategically tried to cause his enemies fear. One of the articles I read talked about how his reputation lowered the enemy’s morale – and that many people gave in to him because of that alone.

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