I shared a bit about Julius Caesar in a previous post and now I am going to share about the greatest Greek General, and possibly greatest military mind, that ever existed.
Alexander III of Macedon otherwise known as Alexander the Great.
Alexander was born in Pella in 356 BC. The son of King Philip II, he succeeded his father to the throne at the age of 20. From there he went on the greatest empire building military campaign in the history of the world. At the time of his death, a mere 12 years later, his kingdom stretched from Greece to India, including all of Persia, and into northeastern Africa, including Egypt.
Alexander studied under the great Aristotle until age 16. This served him well later to learn calm deductive reasoning, which ran counter to his often rash and impulsive nature. And while his mother imbued in him a sense of destiny and immortality (she told he was the son of Zeus) his father provided the competitive impetus, through his own conquests, to drive young Alexander to be even better.
As a child, young Alexander once lamented to a friend about his father. Would leave him “no great or brilliant achievement to be displayed to the world“. A statement that while Alexander recognized his father’s greatness, he sought to downplay it and promote his own victories as more significant. I suppose the rivalry between fathers and sons will always exist.
But victories and brilliant achievements awaited him. Alexander led his troops in no less than 20 major campaigns and no enemy ever defeated him. This despite him often being significantly outnumbered. His military genius, ability to inspire troops, and tactical intelligence are all taught in military institutions even in modern times.
I fought with Alexander only once, at The Battle of Issus, against an army personally led by Darius III. It was Alexander’s second great battle of his Persian Campaign, but the first where the two leaders personally faced one another. Here my Greek brethren showed his superior military genius.
Leading up to the battle, Alexander had already pushed deep into Persia, in the area of modern day Turkey. Darius sought to blunt his advance by moving unexpectedly into position, cutting his supply lines. This maneuver forced Alexander to adjust and march to Darius to secure his flanks as well as re-open supply and communication lines through the narrow mountain passes that traced the region. We faced off against Darius, and established a front. Outnumbered over 2:1 by the most conservative of guesses, still we held a distinct advantage. The significantly larger Persian force could not field itself as long as we could, hence they would be forced to retreat or attack while we could battle from a defensive position.
The battle waged at The Pinarus River, not far from where it emptied into the Gulf of Issus. Our troops struggled against both Grecian mercenaries who fought against us and the overwhelming Persian cavalry who threatened to overwhelm our left flank. General Craterus can be credited with holding them off, at great odds, long enough for Alexander himself to drive a wedge in the Persian line with a wedge of infantry to which I was attached. On this day I saw my father, Ares, smile on the Macedonian king as Alexander splintered the cohesive line of Persians with our infantry charge. That being not enough, Alexander then seized a horse and in conjunction with our cavalry, launched a direct frontal assault on Darius’ personal retinue that routed the opposing king and drove him from the field.
Alexander inspired confidence and loyalty in his generals and troops again and again over the years by fighting with them, not over them and talking to them, not at them. The mark of a great leader is to create a bond that binds followers through obedience only after inspiring them through trust. Great leaders always command the trust of their followers, and they actively work to cultivate that trust by showing the same care for their people as they expect their people to show to them.
If his ego existed, he kept it in check and made sure to lead by example. Never considering himself too good to do what he asked another to do.
This despite believing he was the son of Zeus.