Alexanders Conquests Essay

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Alexanders Conquests




The Conquests of Alexander the Great

Alexander was the son of King Philip II of Macedonia born approximately on July
20th in 356 BC. His mother was Olympias, a young princess from Epirus. Alexander was
a remarkable person who loved to recite Homeric poetry. At age fourteen his father sent
him to study science, mathematics, and philosophy with Aristotle of Stagira. Alexander
looked up to Aristotle ‘like a father’, and it can later be seen that Aristotle gave
Alexander the knowledge it took to be one of the greatest rulers in history. Alexander was
a man of extremes and contradictions. At times he would have intense spurts of energy
and then long sulks. He showed extreme generosity and at the same time murderous
cruelty against former friends. One would guess given common knowledge that his
insecurities most likely were originated in his childhood; perhaps the relationship with his
father. 1
After the assassination of his father, King Philip II, Alexander was in direct line to
take over as ruler. Alexander was to go down in history as the “father of the Hellenic
world”, “the unopposed leader of the Greek world”, and last but not least “the Great”, a
title given for his numerous victories.
The mobile elite was Alexander’s Companion Cavalry consisting primarily of the
cream of the Macedonian aristocracy. The backbone of the army was the phalanx.2 The
phalanx was six infantry brigades, capable of fighting a compilation of different types of
warfare, but specializing in set-piece battle in an eight-deep hedgehog formation with five
and a half meter-long spears. The phalanx was the main weapon of warfare; yet, there
were also specialist units: skirmishers, archers, and light infantry with mountain training.
There were also units comprised of non-Macedonian Greeks whom, fighting for
Alexander, helped justify Alexander’s claim to be the “General in Chief of the army of
Hellenes”. 3
Alexander’s Army also had very important back-up units. These units carried a
siege train consisting of mobile siege towers, stone-throwing catapults, and javelin
throwers. Also comprised in the back-up units were engineers, bridge-builders, sappers,
and surveyors. To further insure a well developed army there needed to be non-combatant
personnel as well. They comprised of doctors, scientists, botanists, astronomers,
philosophers, seers, and an official historian record all of the conquests. With this unified
and flawless army Alexander would be able to conquer many lands with great speed and
diligence.
In the same aspect that most of our armies of today say prayers for a victory in
battle so was Alexander’s belief that a homage must be paid to a god for good luck. In the
beginning of his journey, Alexander rode up to the city of Troy where he entered the
archaic temple of the goddess Athena. Here he made a promise that if successful, he
would return to little Ilion and build a gigantic temple to Trojan Athene in gratitude for
her help. This visit would give him the additional benefit of the spirits of the Ancients in
his later conquests of Asia.4
Alexander and his army swiftly marched the plains along the Sea of Marmara. At
the same time Darius, the King of Persia, was busily setting traps in plans to stop the
pursuit of Alexander’s army. Darius had a plan to stop them, he would station several
thousand Greek mercenaries near the Dardanelles. The Persian army had vast resources
and great gold reserves to hire army after army to defeat Alexander’s pursuit. The leader
of the Greek mercenaries, Memnon of Rhodes, decided to burn the countryside to cut off
Alexander’s supplies. The Persian leaders decided against this idea and decided to fight
instead.
At dusk, Alexander approached the river in battle formation. On the opposite side
were the Persians lining the bank ten thousand strong. The Persian plan was just to hold
Alexander off and prevent him from crossing the river. Alexander’s senior general
Parmenio counseled Alexander that they should hold off until the time was right.
Alexander refused and within minutes the blaring trumpets roared as they marched on
into battle. Alexander launched a small attack of fifteen-hundred men to make the
Persians believe the real battle had started. They fell for it and soon the Persians had lost
the majority of their men along the banks. Alexander then proceeded in sending in his
elite cavalry squadrons down into the river and across into the face of his enemies.
Several of the Persian officers tried to kill Alexander himself, in the attempt eight were
killed, including Darius’s son-in-law.
The Greek mercenaries, meanwhile, who were among the Persian’s best troops
watched the battle at the river Granicus. The Persian cavalry retreated and among the
midst came Alexander’s companion cavalry heading straight for them. The phalanx was
set up and war against the mercenaries ensued into the night. The mercenaries were cut in
half before finally surrendering. They were then sent in chains to hard labor for life in the
silver mines of Thrace. This was Alexander’s way of sending a grim message to any other
Greeks considering joining the Persians.5
Memnon, now Darius’s commander-in-chief of Western operations, was setting
up once again in anticipation of Alexander’s arrival. With him were the Athenian
mercenary commanders Ephialtes and Thrasybulos, two men who had been on
Alexander’s hit list for quite some time. This time they believed they had the best
defenses to defeat Alexander’s army. Their town was a fortress fortified by a huge wall
winding up into the hills above Boldrum. It had two or three main gates and the low
ground was protected by deep ditches; it also had forts above the harbor and out in the
bay was a fleet of four hundred ships. This place was so fortified that it was almost
impossible to get in. Fortunately Alexander who had just about any type of weapon
imaginable of this period used his siege-technology6 to gain entrance.
Alexander attacked on the flat ground first on the east side of town. His army
attempted to get in through the wall but this soon failed. Alexander then used his siege
technology to wage war and gain entrance. Memnon launched a massive raid at dawn to
overtake Alexander’s army. This was almost a stalemate until Alexander’s reserve army
came in and inflicted heavy losses, and Ephialtes was killed. Memnon realizing his defeat
retreated and evacuated his forces by sea, setting fire to everything they could not take
with them on the ships. Alexander emerges victorious again.
Although Alexander’s troops had suffered severe losses they still pursued on.
They marched on to Lycia and took over thirty cities here. They then moved along the
Anatolian plateau for about a three weeks’ march until they reached the ancient city of
Gordion.
Alexander came here for strategic reasons. Gordion was not only the main
junction to central Anatolia but also the place known for a weird legend. As legend has it
Gordion was originally the city of Midas whose father Gordius was believed to have
migrated from Macedonia to here in a wooden cart. His arrival fulfilled a local prophecy,
and Gordius became the king of this place. As a thanks offering Gordius left the cart in
the temple of Zeus with a leather knot on the end of it made of cornel bark with invisible
ends on it. The legend of the Gordion Knot7 states that whoever undid the knot would
become ruler of Asia. This of course was irresistible to Alexander who had based so
many of his victories on the strengths of the Gods.
Alexander went up to the acropolis and stood silent trying to figure out how to
undo the knot. As history tells us Alexander said ‘It doesn’t matter how the knot is
loosened’8 and at the same instance he drew his sword and hacked up the knot revealing
the ends inside. Alexander left believing that the legend had been fulfilled and that he
would soon be the ruler of Asia.
Throughout all of Alexander’s conquests the fear remained that Memnon might
attack Greece while Alexander was no where near to defend it. His fears became a reality
when Memnon’s forces, traveling by sea after their retreat at the Battle at Bodrun, made
way to Greece and took the cities of Chios and Lesbos. Luckily, for not only Alexander
but for the rest of the Macedonians, Memnon fell ill and died.
Darius, after learning about Memnon’s death, proceeded to search for an equal
replacement but failed to do so. Darius soon realized that he would have to fight his own
battles. Darius the King of Persia was not only a war leader but a semi-divine being in the
minds of the Persians. Divine being or not, Darius was about to get a reality check by
battling Alexander.
Alexander had journeyed down from central Anatolia to Tarsus. At Tarsus he fell
ill from malaria and almost died. Alexander, a true fighter, recovered and moved down
into the narrow gap between the amanus mountains and the sea. He had hoped to lure
Darius into his narrow battlefield yet Darius wasn’t easily fooled. Darius sent troops to
the rear of Alexander’s army and tried to defeat them like this. Alexander, after learning
of this, pursued Darius to the little town of Issus. The Battle of Issus9 took place in
November 333 BC on the Payas river. Darius’s army was huge in comparison to
Alexander’s. This didn’t stop Alexander before nor would it stop him now. Darius’s plan
was to hold Alexander on the river-line and use his best cavalry on the right, along the
seashore, to break through Alexander’s left-wing army. Alexander assessed the situation
from his standard position up on the right wing. He saw that Darius’s cavalry were
concentrated on his left by the sea, and immediately switched his to the left to back up his
army. Once he realized that there was a weak Persian formation of inexperienced archers
against the foothills, Alexander was sure that Darius did not have enough confidence in
his infantry to hold the line on its own. Realizing Darius’s weakness, Alexander led an
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