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The Wars and Conquests of Alexander The Great
Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great

The Wars and Conquests of Alexander The Great

 

Alexander the Great, son of Philip of Macedon, became the greatest conquerer of the ancient world in a short twelve years, Alexander consolidated control over his native Balkans in Europe, invaded and conquered the mighty Persian Empire, subjugated the tribes of Central Asia and Afghanistan, and invaded India. At the time of his death, he also had plans to push his conquests into Arabia, Rome, Carthage, and what is now known as Spain. Alexander died at the age of 33, and his huge empire was divided among his warring generals. Among his legacies was the spread of Hellenistic (or Greek) culture into the Middle East, and Egypt. Some historians see Alexander as a civilizing force, by bringing Western (Greek) culture to the East, while other historians, look at the huge numbers of human deaths resulting from Alexander's wars, and compare him to other conquerers such as Hitler.

Whether he was a precurser to Caesar, Napoleon, or Hitler, one thing is certain; Alexander the Great did spread Hellenic culture over an important part of the world, and his military genius was emulated by many conquerers and generals throughout history.

This page looks at the wars and conquests of Alexander the Great.

Alexander's Balkan Campaigns

Alexander of Macedon was only 19, when an assassin named Pausanias of Orestis, killed Alexander's father, Philip II, King of the Greek-speaking Kingdom of Macedon. Philip had forged a powerful military force and had conquered most of Greece and the surrounding Balkans. Philip's contribution to military history was not just in his son, Alexander the Great, but also (and perhaps more importantly), his development of the military formation known as theMacedonian Phalanx. Based on the famed Greek (or Spartan) Phalanx, which was the basic armed unit of Ancient Greek warfare. The phalanx was a formation of heavy infantry which sought out face-to-face combat with enemy formations. The Macedonian application of the phalanx was uniquely deadly with use of the sarissa, a very long and heavy spear(up to 20 feet long) that had to be held with two hands, as opposed to the earlier Spartan spear that was a one-handed thrusting weapon. This longer and heavier spear enabled the Macedonian phalanx to overwhelm and destroy the lighter-armed phalanxes of the southern Greeks. Thus, by the time of Philip's assassination in October 336 BC, at the age of 46, he had brought most of Greece, as well as Thrace, the region north of his native Macedonia, under his rule. It was this nascent empire and Philip's powerful and technologically superior veteran military that Alexander inherited.

Upon Philip's death, several rebellions broke out in the Greek regions he had conquered. Alexander's first task, before launching the invasion of Persia that his father had planned, was to crush those in rebellion to his rule. The rebel cities included Thebes, Athens, Thessaly, as well as the Thracian tribes to the north of Macedon. The Greek cities surrendered quickly, and they proclaimed him 'Hegemon' of the Greek forces against the Persians, the title that Philip had taken in preparation for the new Persian wars. Alexander then marched north with his army to put down the rebellion in Thrace.

In the terrritory north of Macedon, Alexander's army faced the forces of the Illyrians and the Triballi. He defeated them, and then marched to the Danube River where he defeated the Getae tribe. Alexander then marched to the Illyrian city of Pelium, which fell to him after a siege. With his rear now secure, Alexander could then march south to deal with the once-again rebellious cities of Thebes and Athens.

When Alexander entered the vicinity of Thebes and Athens, only the Thebans voted (as these cities practiced democracy, a Greek-invented political system whereby decisions were made by a vote of citizens), to go to war with Alexander to gain their freedom. Alexander's forces assaulted the city and made their way through an unguarded gate. After fierce street-by-street combat inside of the city, Thebes fell to the Macedonians. The city of Thebes was burnt to the ground, and 6,000 Thebans died in the battle, and 30,000 civilians, men, women, and children, were made captive and then sold into slavery. After the Battle of Thebes, in December, of 335 BC, none of the Greek city-states dared rise in rebellion against Alexander.

Alexander's pattern as a conquerer can be seen in how he defeated the various rebel cities and peoples. He ignored the advice of his generals and other advisors, many of whom urged caution. Instead, Alexander launched fast, heavy attacks on his foes, choosing to defeat them through the trauma of heavy combat and shock tactics. Cities that stood in his way, such as Thebes, were destroyed, their populations killed or sold into slavery. While Greek warfare of the past usually paid no mind to killing civilians in cold blood or selling losers into slavery, Alexander's conquests throughout Greece and Asia would drench the land with blood. Any city, nation, or tribe that opposed him faced utter destruction.

Map of Alexander the Great's Conquests

Map of Alexander the Great's Conquests

Courtesy of the United States Military Academy Department of History

 

 

SOURCES:

1. Kohn, George C. Dictionary of Wars. New York: Facts On File Publications. 1986.

2. Hansen, Victor Davis. Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power (also available as a Kindle ebook at Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise to Western Power (Kindle Edition)

3. Steems, Peter and William L. Langer., ed. An Encyclopedia of World History. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

4. Banks, Arthur S., ed. Political Handbook of the World. 5th ed. Binghamton, NY: CQ Press, 2004.

5. R. Ernest, Dupuy, and Dupuy Trevor N. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History: From 3500 BC to the Present. New York: Harper & Row, 1970.

 



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