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
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
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.