Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great is one of the few figures from the ancient world who is widely known today. His reputation as a military genius was established by defeating armies far larger than his own with relentless consistency. His exploits in conquering most of the known world were stupendous. And yet it is easy to forget, looking back on his lifetime, that there was a time when Alexander was an untried and relatively inexperienced youth. That time is the subject of this book.

Alexander unexpectedly inherited the Kingdom of Macedon when his father, Philip II, was murdered. At the time Alexander was only 20 years old. He had fought alongside his father on several campaign, but had never held an independent command. Outside the Macedonian royal family he was known only as a good-looking boy who could be charming when he wanted to be, who read Homer’s heroic verses with passion but who drank more than was good for him. Those opposed to Macedonian power caricatured him as a beardless boy who dreamed of the deeds of ancient legend. Time would show that Alexander was far more than that, but at the time the view was widely held and had much evidence to support it.

The Granicus Campaign would establish Alexander as a capable and talented commander, though it also revealed him as one liable to make mistakes by getting carried away with excitement.

The story of Alexander’s career is relatively well known. The events were dramatic, exciting and far-reaching in their importance so they were well recorded at the time and have been much explored by historians since. Hollywood has made two biopics about Alexander the Great.

What marks all these accounts is that they tend to concentrate on the political side of the conflict. Battles and campaigns, though they are often dealt with in some detail, are seen as background to and results of the intrigues and machinations of the rulers and politicians who fill the pages of these writings. This is understandable, for the ancient sources that we have focus on pretty much the same things.

For a military historian, this can all be rather frustrating. The reasons for battles are given clearly enough and who won them, but only very rarely is there any discussion about how the battles were fought. We read almost nothing about weapons, tactics or logistics. But how were the armies kept supplied with food? How did a Macedonian soldier fight? Why were Alexander’s cavalry so devastating in battle?

This book is an attempt to explain to the general reader the reality of warfare in the year 334bc. It seeks to give a plausible recreation of the tactics used in the Granicus Campaign and to put them into the context of the time. It explains what the weapons were like and how they were used in action. It describes the usual tactics of the different military units involved and how these would have impacted on each other in battle. I have walked the battlefields on foot and have handled replica weapons at some length. I have then used this information to put together an account of the campaign itself.

This is an extract from Alexander the Great at the Battle of the Granicus by Rupert Matthews

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