Tactics and Weaponry

If you're wondering how the heck Alexander the Great was able to take over most of the known world, if not all of it, you have come to the right place.

Alexander was a great military mind. He devised ways to lay waste to enemies with more men and resources. Although I consider myself to be reasonably well versed on tactics, I doubt that I can bring Alexander's full intellectual strength to paper. But here goes...

When Alexander's father was killed he had to take over. His enemies thought "Hey, here's a great moment to go waste this weak empire with this inexperienced kid in charge." Little did they know that Alexander had been well taught by military minds and had already taken part in numerous battles with his father.

spear 3.7 K spear 3.7 K Alexander's father, Philip II, developed the phalanx, a box formation for infantry soldiers from 8 to 36 men deep. Alexander was the one who exploited it. The men in the front carried spears of about four to six meters (12 to 18 feet), that were usually held in an upright position. When held vertically, the wall of spears helped hide what was going on with the units behind the formation. When held horizontally, enemies could be killed at a safe range from the formation. The phalanx was revolutionary for its time and was a very potent weapon. It was only surpassed when the Romans developed the legion, another infantry formation with different weapons and armor.

Even though there wasn't much in the way of technological know how compared to modern warfare, Alexander was able to put together a very impressive army. The weapons of the time consisted of spears, bows and arrows, swords, cavalry, chariots and some light and heavy armor. This may not seem very impressive today, but it won many wars for Alexander.

His order of battle was also impressive. He was an expert at organizing his units for complex battle maneuvers, hiding the true numbers and make up of his forces, and managing his army during the flow of the battle.

The soldiers life was similar to today's in some ways and very different in others. These soldiers did not have the variety of uniforms of today, they had only one. There weren't many different jobs for them, but the ones they did have they were very well drilled in. Alexander had his men drill constantly and the morale and discipline was always very high. Alexander had mercenaries come and drill his men along with their regular officers so you get the idea they did know what they were doing.

I have heard many times a saying that applies almost anywhere, " It's the man not the machine." Now, think of this: ten soldiers on one side with shields and swords but they don't really want to be there and haven't been trained very much, so on the whole they don't really want to fight anyone. On the other side one veteran of 5 major battles, hard bitten, well trained and with the same weapons.

In a regular battle, I would bet on the side with the experience rather then side with numerical superiority, wouldn't you? In a few of Alexander's battles this general idea of him being out numbered but with better men could explain his victories. But in most of his battles he fought hard bitten, well trained enemies. This is where tactics and strategy come into play.

For those of you that are military illiterates an explanation is in order. Tactics refers to movements you do every five minutes or so. Strategy is your overall plan. Usually tactics win a battle not strategy. But you have to have a good strategy, or plan of battle, before you can make can make good decisions on the fly. Alexander had brilliant strategies that were used later by other generals like Napoleon.

But a good strategy only worked if your enemies did exactly what you had thought he would do. This was almost never the case, and that's when tactics came into play. You may have a bad plan of battle, but if you have killer tactics, you can still carry the day. (For any of you serious game players out there you know what I mean.) Tactics are developed on the fly as the battle progresses and sometimes they might decide the entire battle.

Alexander riding Bucephalas 58.8 K In Alexander's time many battles were fought with the general or leader off on a distant hill watching the battle progress and giving an occasional order. So when Alexander wasn't at the front fighting with his men he was on a close hill watching the battle and giving orders. Alexander was very good on the fly, developing tactics to overcome the odds. For many years battles proceeded like this. Today, many battles are fought with just low grade officers giving critical orders.

If anyone is wondering where training or discipline comes in, well, its in all the time. A well drilled solider with good discipline, which means he will do what his superior tells him to without question, will stand his ground with just a spear against a charge of cavalry. In Alexander's battles in India discipline and training was very important. Alexander's men had never seen elephants before they entered those battles. When faced with fighting a man up on top of an elephant untrained and undisciplined soldiers would most likely have run, but Alexander's well trained veterans stood their ground. They were confident in their superiors' abilities to tell them what to do. They didn't run, even when faced with these bigger enemies.

If you would like more hands on experience learning about tactics and strategy look into the huge selection of strategy and real-time games. I personally suggest any Warcraft game, or Command and Conquer game. I have personally played them and they are big on strategy, tactics, and weapons. For games that have more things to worry about like towns or empires I suggest any Lords of the Realm game.

If you have played these games and don't like them or would like different choices look for any game with a real-time strategy feel. Even 3-d "shoot em ups" have a great deal of tactics involved. If games are not what you are really into then I suggest the book Men at Arms Series: The Army of Alexander the Great.

There is also an Alexander the Great game available, but I haven't played it personally, so I can't give you a review.