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Alexander Blog

It is useful, in an attempt to more fully understand the world-shaking conquest of Alexander the Great, to view the context of his campaign. In learning about the state of the territories that he was to invade, both physically and in other, more temporary aspects, such as the political and cultural status’ of these lands, we discover elements that help to explain some of Alexander’s exceptional military success during his short reign.

The State of Greece

Alexander III of Macedon rose to power in 336 BC, following the assassination of his father Philip II by a royal bodyguard. His father’s accomplishments include the founding of the League of Corinth, a federation of Greek States, formed for mutual defense, as well as with intentions of conquering Persia, though Philip II died before any such campaign could be undertaken. The extent of his control can be seen in this map, where all the marked territories excepting Sparta, Crete, and the Persian Empire (naturally) could be considered his, though parts of it were still, at least in name, “independent” (such as Thrace and Molossia).

thumb

Upon Philip’s assassination, Alexander was the heir apparent and laid claim to the throne, though Thebes, Athens, Thessaly, and the some of the Thracian tribes in the northern reaches of the kingdom attempted to rebel. This was something of a kick-start to Alexander’s conquest, however, as his magnificent success in reconquering these rebellious territories–including the total destruction of Thebes–helped secure his native kingdom and established him in the eyes of his army as a capable leader from the very beginning of his campaign. Hence, when he turned toward Persia in 334 BC, his base in the Greek peninsula was stable.

The State of the Achaemenid Persian Empire

Achaemenid [Converted]

Interestingly, Darius III of the Achaemenid Persian Empire ascended the throne as the Persian “King of Kings” in the same year Alexander did, also as the result of his predecessor’s assassination, though his reign was fated to end far sooner than that of his contemporary, Alexander.

The vizier of the Persian empire for some years before 336 BC was a eunuch named Bagoas. Notably, during his time in that office, he was effectively the ruler of the Empire. Those emperors who attempted to assert dominance during this time were poisoned and replaced. However, when he selected Darius III as the new emperor after poisoning most of the family of Artaxerxes IV (as well as the man himself, naturally), Darius showed himself immediately to be dominant and, being forewarned of Bagoas’ tactics, forced his adviser to drink the poison intended for Darius. However, it appears that Darius may have had a harder time establishing his control in his Empire, as Alexander would make quite an indentation in the Persian border before meeting any real opposition from the Emperor.

The Terrain of Alexander’s Route

MacedonEmpire

Alexander spent much of his early conquest of Persia trying to remain close to river banks and the ocean, typically only departing from this approach when it was necessary to conquer a strategic target.. This was a mixed bag for him: it was basically necessary, assuming he wanted supplies to be able to reach his army quickly, and as it allowed his forces to minimize the advantage the more numerous Persian armies that (eventually) opposed them had, but at the same time this left them open to harassment by the Persian navy (sadly, until he conquered enough of Persia’s ports, Alexander had little to no navy of his own). When he did move inland, much of his travel was through mountainous terrain, particularly as he progressed closer to Alexandria Eschate (lit. “the furthest), the final reach of his stretch into Persia.

“File:Map Macedonia 336 BC-en.svg.” Wikimedia Commons. January 28, 2017. Accessed September 30, 2018. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_Macedonia_336_BC-en.svg.

The Editors of the Encyclopedia Britannica. “Bagoas.” Encyclopædia Britannica. April 11, 2016. Accessed September 30,2018. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Bagoas.

Kia, Mehrdad. The Persian Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2016.

“Wars of Alexander the Great.” Wikipedia. September 24, 2018. Accessed on September 30, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wars_of_Alexander_the_Great.

“File:The Achaemenid Empire at its Greatest Extent.jpg.” Wikimedia Commons. August 19, 2017. Accessed on October 1, 2018. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Achaemenid_Empire_at_its_Greatest_Extent.jpg.

caltrop101

 

What kind of troops would be effective?

Assuming we have around 60,000 total troops, choosing which types to bring requires us to understand what the enemy has. In one battle described by Kaushik Roy, Alexander fought against chariot archers, lightly armed cavalry, and disorganized infantry (Roy, 2004). Around 45,000 heavily armored men in the phalanx won’t have much difficulty with the enemy’s infantry, and around 5,500 heavy cavalry (called the companion cavalry) can help against the enemy’s chariots and cavalry.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achaemenid_Empire.

The bigger issue is that India has lots of elephants. When one of the massive beasts charges the phalanx, the dense group of soldiers get trampled and impaled by the iron tipped trunks. A charging elephant can eliminate large groups of men very fast. To help combat this, the phalanx must split up. Instead of being in a big group, they can be divided into smaller groups that stay close enough together to prevent the enemy from surrounding them, but also providing enough room for them to spread out when an elephant charges. They can surround it and attempt to drive it back into the enemy infantry. If it doesn’t work quite so perfectly, it will at least help reduce losses.

Another important group of units would be around 1,500 horse archers. Societies like the Scythians are excellent horse archers, recruit as many of them as possible to help with the not as excellent Macedonian mounted archers (Mounted Archery). Elephant riders would often carry poisoned spikes they could stab into the head of the elephant if it ever turned on its own troops. Archers could pick of the riders to leave the beast uncontrollable and aid in driving it back into the opposing infantry.

The remaining 8,000 troops could contribute to the phalanx or cavalry, but there are some other units that could be useful. Lighter infantry, possibly mercenaries, could make up a lighter infantry that can fight where the phalanx can’t. More archers can be beneficial, especially if they have high power bows that can pierce metal. War elephants can be good, but overall not many should be used because of their unpredictability. Elephants might be more useful as a pack animal, but still require a large amount of food and care.

How do we deal with our troops?

As conquering continues, cities will be established and provides an excellent opportunity to leave behind those who are severely wounded and those who have served their time and would like to stay.  To transport the sick and wounded, they can be carried in a wagon or slung over a pack animal in what is called a litter (Sternberg, 1999). New troops can be recruited from conquered regions and hired as mercenaries. It can be dangerous and expensive to do so, but will help maintain the number of troops. Winning battles will help keep mercenaries on our side.

 

Sources

Mounted Archery. Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mounted_archery

Roy, K. (2004). India’s Historic Battles: From Alexander the Great to Kargil. Orient Blackswan.

Sternberg, Rachel Hall. “The Transport of Sick and Wounded Soldiers in Classical Greece.” Phoenix, vol. 53, no. 3/4, 1999, pp. 191–205. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1088983.

wingedhussar420

 

Alexander the Great Logistics

The first problem faced by any army is how to provide adequate food and water for a large number of soldiers. In the hot, dry Middle Eastern climate Alexander’s army would have marched through on their way to India, each soldier would require a minimum of 3,400 calories a day, including 70 grams of protein, and at least 9 quarts of water. With around 65,000 soldiers, the army would have to take along about 195,000 pounds of grain, 325,000 pounds of water, and about 375,000 additional pounds of grain to feed pack animals.

Another common problem was the issue of speed and flexibility. In the past, the ox-cart was the most common means of transport for armies traveling long distances. While it allowed more supplies to be moved, the carts only moved about two miles an hour for five hours. Ox-carts also required almost constant repair, necessitating the presence of repairmen, extra lumber, and tools, which added to the overall burden armies had to carry and slowed them even further. The Assyrians were the first to introduce the horse to military operations, allowing their armies greater speed and the ability to move over all types of terrain. While it took five horses to pull a load carried by one ox-cart, horses required almost half the amount of forage and were able to move the load at four miles an hour for eight hours. By the time of the Persians, the rapid growth of army size had created a logistical burden so large that speed and operational flexibility was becoming severely limited. The Persians’ use of horses as part of their military operations did a lot to remedy this issue, though they still relied heavily on the ox-cart. Phillip II and Alexander became the first to make horses a major part of their logistics train.

The mobility issue was further resolved by Phillip of Macedon, who was the first military commander to forbid the presence of camp followers in his armies. Before this, a typical army of 30,000 would bring with it almost the same number of attendants, wives, and various service providers. The logistics burden of his army was reduced by nearly 2/3 without the presence of these people, increasing the army’s combat power as well as the speed at which they were able to travel. Alexander’s army also maximized the speed at which it was able to travel by requiring each soldier to carry his own food and equipment. As a result, soldiers carried nearly 1/3 of the load normally hauled by horses and oxen and the army required almost 5,000 less pack animals.

http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/le-brun/

Alexander the Great Logistics

The first problem faced by any army is how to provide adequate food and water for a large number of soldiers. In the hot, dry Middle Eastern climate Alexander’s army would have marched through on their way to India, each soldier would require a minimum of 3,400 calories a day, including 70 grams of protein, and at least 9 quarts of water. With around 65,000 soldiers, the army would have to take along about 195,000 pounds of grain, 325,000 pounds of water, and about 375,000 additional pounds of grain to feed pack animals.

Another common problem was the issue of speed and flexibility. In the past, the ox-cart was the most common means of transport for armies traveling long distances. While it allowed more supplies to be moved, the carts only moved about two miles an hour for five hours. Ox-carts also required almost constant repair, necessitating the presence of repairmen, extra lumber, and tools, which added to the overall burden armies had to carry and slowed them even further. The Assyrians were the first to introduce the horse to military operations, allowing their armies greater speed and the ability to move over all types of terrain. While it took five horses to pull a load carried by one ox-cart, horses required almost half the amount of forage and were able to move the load at four miles an hour for eight hours. By the time of the Persians, the rapid growth of army size had created a logistical burden so large that speed and operational flexibility was becoming severely limited. The Persians’ use of horses as part of their military operations did a lot to remedy this issue, though they still relied heavily on the ox-cart. Phillip II and Alexander became the first to make horses a major part of their logistics train.

The mobility issue was further resolved by Phillip of Macedon, who was the first military commander to forbid the presence of camp followers in his armies. Before this, a typical army of 30,000 would bring with it almost the same number of attendants, wives, and various service providers. The logistics burden of his army was reduced by nearly 2/3 without the presence of these people, increasing the army’s combat power as well as the speed at which they were able to travel. Alexander’s army also maximized the speed at which it was able to travel by requiring each soldier to carry his own food and equipment. As a result, soldiers carried nearly 1/3 of the load normally hauled by horses and oxen and the army required almost 5,000 less pack animals.

Sources Cited:

Kast, Bernahrd. “The Logistics of Alexander the Great.” Military History Visualized. April 19, 2016. Accessed September 23, 2018. http://militaryhistoryvisualized.com/logistics_alexander_the_great/.

“Alexander the Great Needed Great Supply Chains.” SCM Globe. March 17, 2014. Accessed September 23, 2018. https://www.scmglobe.com/alexander-the-great-needed-great-supply-chains/.

“Ancient Macedonian Army.” Wikipedia. August 31, 2018. Accessed September 23, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Macedonian_army.

“Military Supply Chain Management.” Wikipedia. March 9, 2016. Accessed September 23, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_supply_chain_management.

artemisia189

 

Navigation in Ancient Times

Being able to get from place to place was important, not only for regular citizens, but especially for military campaigns.  Alexander would have used every possible tool at his disposal in his conquest of Persia and Asia. Basic maps would have been had among the military, but the real information about the terrain would have come from the native populations.

Alexander was known for using guides from the newly conquered people in order to move to the next place.  These guides often gave accurate information, but sometimes used their position of trust to deceive and mislead.  Treachery of this sort was swiftly dealt with, as the cost in time, supplies and even lives mattered a great deal.  (Engels, 331) Either the guides themselves acted as hostages for their own good performance, or else family members of the guides were taken to insure proper intelligence gathering. (Engels, 331-332)

Another tactic was to use social connections to be introduced in new places.  These friends or kinsmen led the way to the new location and made introductions with the locals in charge. (Stark, 107)  Having the personal connection made it much easier to overtake cities.

It is also important to note that trade routes and roads were used on some of the campaigns.  (Stark, 110) These roads were important not only for the movement of troops, but also for communication sent via horseback.Trekking_the_Old_Roman_Road

By Davidbena [CC BY-SA 4.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

For naval use, the employment of sounding weights would have given navigators information about the depth of the water and general topography of the seafloor.  The weight was usually dropped to measure the depth of the water near the shore, but also in times of inclement weather. (Oleson, 119-120)

Interesting Tidbits from the Research

As I was researching this topic, I came across several references to Zoroastrianism in Persia. Alexander got in quite a bit of trouble for going counter to their traditions.  In one instance, Alexander ordered the crucifixion of Bessus, and for the soldiers to keep the vultures away from the body. This upset the Zoroastrians, who believed that it was important for the dead to be devoured by birds and wild beasts. (Livius, 2.12)

People during this time were highly superstitious, and armies often had magicians and soothsayers as part of their advisors.  The final battle between Alexander and Darius III was foretold to spell doom for Darius because of a lunar eclipse. In fact, the omen was so widely known for its negative prediction that many in Darius’ army deserted before the battle began.  (Livius, Alexander the Great)

http://www.livius.org/articles/person/alexander-the-great/

http://www.livius.org/articles/person/alexander-the-great/alexander-2.12/

Engels, Donald. “Alexander’s Intelligence System.” The Classical Quarterly 30, no. 2 (1980): 327-40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/638503.

Oleson, John Peter. “Testing the Waters: The Role of Sounding Weights in Ancient Mediterranean Navigation.” Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome. Supplementary Volumes 6 (2008): 119-76. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40379301.

Stark, Freya. “Alexander’s March from Miletus to Phrygia.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 78 (1958): 102-20. doi:10.2307/628929.

iamcamalot

 

Punjab and Indus Valley, Approx. 327 BCE.

A well-planned and executed baggage train is essential for any successful military march, or at least for any march in the 4th century BCE. Alexander the Great’s cavalcade was no exception. The efficiency of a baggage train was generally rooted to the ability of its animals in terms of speed, survivability, and strength.

Before addressing the animals, it’s important to know what the “baggage” of a baggage train is. This is all of the army’s provisions: food, equipment, tents, medicine, firewood, etc. It’s also important to note that the followers in this march were not solely comprised of soldiers. In fact, the numbers were greatly bolstered by non-military individuals, as listed by Donald W. Engels:

Traveling with the Macedonians were bodyguards, older Macedonians exempt from combat duty, hostages, servants, seers, physicians, sophists, poets, a historian, a tutor, secretaries, surveyors, the transport guard, Egyptian and Babylonian soothsayers, Phoenician traders, courtesans, a harpist, a siege train, engineers, and as the expedition advanced further into Asia, women and children. (Engels 11)

Alexander was conscious of the size of his following, and took measures to downsize when appropriate. One method was to burn excess baggage and unnecessary carts (Engels 13). It goes without saying that limiting the number of wagons and carts and their respective beasts of burden would speed the march up.

As previously stated, a baggage train is only as good as its animals. Mules, horses, and camels would have been Alexander’s primary “motive power.” Between these three animals, Alexander’s march would be able to transport its cargo with relative speed and efficiency. Mules and horses were effective at weathering down a path for the army to follow (Hammond 28). Camels were capable in the same terrains as mules and horses, but were more strongly suited for desert terrain(Hammond 28). Donkeys and oxen were not used as they were too slow and unfit for long journeys (Hammond 14-15). These animals, though able to be loaded with packs, would have hindered the march.

camel

Having inherited his army from Philip, Alexander would have maintained most of the practices previously in place, including the general unfriendliness towards the usage of carts. Only carts carrying essential battle equipment of medical supplies were allowed (Engels 15). Among whatever other reasoning exists for this decision. It was thought that the usage of carts might encourage individuals to try and bring along cargo that was unimportant and a waste of space (Engels 16). As a general rule, personnel were to carry their own smaller possessions— weapons, armor, utensils, etc.— rather than take up valuable space in wagons or carts (Engels 12). The smaller the train was in both size and weight the easier it would be to traverse and troublesome terrain. According to Livius, the march would have ran into trouble when the Himalayan snows melted and filled rivers in the surrounding valleys. In cases such as these, smaller was better.

alexander-the-great-refusing-water-in-the-desert

As far as amounts go, Engels asserts that, “About 800 pack animals were required by each legion to carry its noncomestible supplies, or about one animal per seven combatants” (17), and notes the increase of Alexander’s army as time went on as he continues, “After crossing the Hellespont, there were about 48,000 soldiers in Alexander’s army and about 6,100 cavalry horses… 1,300 baggage animals would be required” (18).

Bibliography

“Alexander 2.13.” Livius, Last modified January 16, 2017. http://www.livius.org/articles/person/alexander-the-great/alexander-2.13/.

Engels, Donald W. Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980.

Hammond, N. G. L. Army Transport in the Fifth and Fourth Centuries. Cambridge: Clare College, 1982.

Loaded CamelKisspng. Accessed September 30, 2018. https://www.kisspng.com/png-dromedary-bactrian-camel-baby-camels-clip-art-came-1464809/.

Lovell, Tom. “ Alexander The Great Refusing Water In The Desert.” . American Gallery. Accessed September 30, 2018. https://americangallery.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/tom-lovell-1909-1997/alexander-the-great-refusing-water-in-the-desert/.

aganippe

 

How do we know these things?

Using primary and secondary sources, historians and researchers have been able to piece together most of the information.  Some things have to be inferred based on other historical evidence not related to this particular campaign, but similar in both time period and other methodology.  Additionally, sources are useful for what they spell out, but they are equally useful for what they do not expressly tell. Depending on the audience intended for the original documents, certain information would have been left out based on social norms or the expectation that the intended audience would have already had some of the information.  

iamcamalot

 

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Hello all!  I chose the username iamcamalot as a play on words.  I love the story of King Arthur, along with the musical Camelot, and it works because of the nickname I get called sometimes.  I am not as well versed in Ancient and Medieval history as I’d like, and I thought that this class might give me some more insights into that time period.  Plus, who doesn’t like learning about ancient smackdowns?

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