Alexander the Great, king, commander and statesman

série: Alexandre le Grand
éditeur: Paperbacks
auteur: Hammond N.G.L.
classement: biblio2A
année: 1994
format: broché
état: TBE
valeur: 15 €
critère: ***
remarques: English book
Alexander the Great,
king, commander and statesman

- the purpose of this book is to give an accurate assessment about Alexander
in his public life as king, commander and statesman
- the author visited Greece, Thrace and Turkey
as well as the battlefields of Granicus and Issus

- written record of the Macedonian kings called
"the king's ephemerides or daily record",
in fact only Ptolemy had access to Alexander's personal "journal"
- an other influential writer was Cleitarchus but he was rather untrustworthy
- trustful writers were:
a) Marsyas of Pella (a companion of the king)
b) Aristobulus, however mostly describing scientific and geographical events
rather than military and pothos

- other writers were: Nearchus, Onesicritus, Chares and of course Ptolemy
- but we owe our information about Alexander mainly to writers of the early Roman empire
such as Diodorus, Curtius, Plutarch and Arrian, this one being probably the best
because based on Ptolemy's and Aristobulus' records

1/ the inheritance

a) Macedonia
- the country was divided into lower and upper Macedonia,
origin of the Macedonian people
- it was a rich country of pastoralism (horse-racing)
- the native tribes were incorporated formally into the Macedonian kingdom
but they kept their tribal names such as Orestae, Lyncestae and Elimestae

b) the king
- it was a hereditary kingship upon stated prerogatives
and the Macedones under arms decided their candidate within the royal family,
the greatest mistake of Alexander: to leave the begetting of heirs too late,
he should have done so before starting his Asian expedition

- in Macedonia, the state lacked a professional priesthood
and one of the chief functions of the king was religious,
henceforth the many sacrifices given by Alexander and his relation to the gods

- the power of the king was almost absolute
and he was of course head of the army, it was a warrior kingship
- to assist him, the king selected himself his "friends or companions",
the royal pages were selected among the sons of the companions,
it was a man-centered monarchical system,
the companions were chosen for their merit and not for their nobility,
thus there was no possibility of any commoner challenging the king

- the companions were devoted to their king but not servile or obsequious,
they could speak frankly; to this extent, it was a democratic monarchy,
moreover Alexander benefited of a well organized state
and especially of a well-trained army

c) the Balkan empire and the Greek allies
- formation of a federal state among Greek cities after the battle of Chaeronea
>> p. 23 comments on Philip's succession

2/ the armed forces of the king

a) the Macedones
- the higher prestige was enjoyed by the cavalry (hetairos),
they worked not as skirmushers but as shock-troops at close quarters
- Alexander II first introduced and trained the best infantry-men,
known as "foot companions",
Philip improved the infantry on professional lines

b) the Non-Macedones
- Thracian, Paeonian and Scout cavalry (prodromai)
- the archers (mostly from Creta)
- the surveyors (bematistai)
- the fleet = small but of good quality

- the heavy cavalry and the heavy infantry (phalanx) were Macedones,
being an army within the army
- the light cavalry, pancillary services and the personnel of the fleet
were mostly Non-Macedones,
special troops were the heavy Thessalian cavalry and the mercenary soldiers

c) the equipment
- the cavalry could not charge an infantry-line but would help their own infantry,
attacking open flanks or rears of the enemy infantry forces
- the phalanx was heavily equipped with the sarissa for fighting
in a long close-packed line against an enemy-line of a similar kind
- Alexander had at his disposal almost every known variety of cavalry and infantry,
all highly trained
- that also the problems of communication and supply were best solved by Alexander,
is one of the clearest signs of his genius

3/ Alexander in Europe

a) accession of Alexander
>> p. 35-40 background of Macedon and Molossan royal families
- competition with Amyntas (son of Perdiccas III, elder brother of Philipp)
who was executed
b) the assertion of authority
- Thessalia, Thebes and Athens were subdued but the victory at Chaeronea
had not been accepted as final by the Greek states

c) the Balkan campaign
>> p. 45-57 = very good description of the campaign
against Cleitus (Dardanians) and Glaucias (Taulantians)
d) the revolt in Thebes
- the march to Thebes (240 miles in 14 days) was a very remarkable one,
Thebes was defeated and the Persians, distracted by internal troubles at that time,
could not support their Greek allies
- as a political aspect, the destruction of Thebes
was however a disaster for Alexander (negation of liberty)

4/ the conquest of Asia Minor

a) the first victory
- after leaving Antipater in Greece, Alexander crossed the Hellespont,
appearing both as a liberator and a leader

note: Hammond rejects the idea of a battle at dawn after crossing the river,
unopposed by the Persians

- in this battle, Alexander demonstrated his ability to coordinate the various army corps
in a single attack whereas the Persians had failed to perform such a coordination
exposing first he cavalry, then the infantry (Greek mercenaries)
b) the liberation of Asia Minor
- Greek cities paid contribution and Non-Greek cities paid tribute
but none of them were granted membership in the Greek League,
Alexander favored however democracy in Asia Minor
c) subjugation of the Anatolian plateau
- in a single winter campaign, Alexander conquered the Anatolian plateau,
a country as wide as the Balkan empire
- the command of Great Phrygia was entrusted
to Antigorus Monophthalmus (the One-Eyed)

d) the second plot/the war at sea
- the plot of Alexander the Lyncestian and the death of Memnon
enabled Alexander to continue his offensive eastwards

5/ the conquest of the Eastern Mediterranean coast

a) occupation of Cilicia
- campaign of Parmenio during Alexander's sickness
to secure the coast around the gulf of Issus
b) battle of Issus
- originally Darius intended to outflank Alexander with the cavalry on his right
and some infantry on his left (foothills)
whereas the Greek mercenaries would withstand the Macedonian phalanx
- the defeat of Darius consisted on a false disposition of his army in the narrow place
between sea and hills which advantaged the position of Alexander's army

c) occupation of the southwestern satrapies
- Alexander continues his strategic concept:
consolidate the base of operations in the Eastern Mediterranean seaboard
before a major campaign against Persia
- siege of Tyre with a population of 50'000 and with walls 40 m high!
- siege of Gaza
- during these sieges, much depended on the inventiveness
of Alexander's engineers who proved to be quite reliable and efficient
>> p. 120 comments about Darius' mistakes
- foundation of Alexandria, Pella and Gerasa

6/ the widening horizont

a) Egypt, Phoenicia and Syria
- in Egypt, Alexander was accepted as "pharaoh" and as a god on earth,
foundation of Alexandria which was to become a cosmopolitan city,
however under Greek laws
>> p. 126/127 account about the visit at Siwah oasis
>> p. 130 the remarkable administration of Egypt by Alexander

b) movements in Mesopotamia
- game of move and countermove, Darius is waiting for Alexander in the plain
c) Gaugamela
- Arrian is the more dependable account;
Alexander's skill in that battle was again confirmed
and his superbe organization in fighting,
masterly executed by his commanders (delegation)
whereas Darius failed to delegate command,
matching alone his brains and courage with Alexander;
also his flight was too soon

7/ from Mesopotamia to Afghanistan

a) the kingdom of Asia
- with his victory, Alexander has become a lord of Asia,
the question was now whether his resources were still sufficient
to further conquest the upper provinces

b) the resources
- reinforcements from Macedonia were able to replace the dead and wounded,
for garrisoning purposes, Greek allies and mercenaries were mostly used
- the maintenance was the biggest problem,
the army's pay at Gaugamela may have been 20 talents a day (7300 talents a year,
in comparison Philip's mines produced 1000 talents a year),
however the great income was to be found after the victory at Issus
- communications needed two months from Susa to Pella,
meanwhile Antipater defeated Agis' army
but Antipater lacked his king's ability to win by manoeuvre,
thus causing also less casualties
c) leadership and administration
- the greatest danger for Alexander was to be killed in action
and it seems not to have empowered any one to act in his place in case of death
- the hyparchs were deputies of Alexander in financial matters,
otherwise Alexander installed a policy of self-government
>> p. 163 the affair with Harpalus

d) pursuit of Darius
>> p. 170 justification for Persepolis' firing,
death of Darius and end of the Persian empire

e) 3rd plot against Alexander
and conquest of northeastern satrapies
- three continents at that time: Europe, Libya and Asia
being split into Taurus, Parnassus Caucasus and Paropamisus ((Hindu-Kush)
- the inhabited world of this time
stretched from west: the pillars of Herakles (Gibraltar) to east: India
- the North (cold) and the South (heat) were unknown

8/ Ultima Asiae; Bactria and Inddia

a) Bactria
- first defeat of Alexander against Spitamenes
but there were now no longer pitched battles but guerilla wars
- dispute with Cleitus
- Craterus get the reputation of being Alexander's best general (with Antigorus)
- Alexander introduced a new way of life into a very large and populous area,
the hill-tribes adopt a settled life

b) from the Hindu-Kush to the Indus
- offensive on the Aornes rock, again a piece of audacity and efficiency
c) conquest of India
- source of information being the "Indica" of Nearchus
and some report from Erastothenes and Megasthenes
>> p. 211-213 fight against Porus,
Porus prepared his lines in an orthodox formation and wanted, like Darius,
to lure Alexander into a trap but Alexander did not enter the trap,
despite Porus' elephants, the well-trained Macedonian phalanx did not break formation
and took the upper-hand in the aftermath

- Alexander marks the limit of his eastern conquest
by elevating 12 altars representing the 12 labours of Herakles
being the Pillars of Herakles in the east

9/ conquest of Southern India

a) South India
- fight against the Malli, Alexander executed here within 6 months
a masterly plan with his army at the peak of their experience
- the Indus was at the same time route of communication
and natural defense line towards the east
b) conquest of the Southern districs
between India and Mesopotamia
- the army went two months ahead of the sea-expedition
for preparing water and food supplies,
the first sea-communication between India and the Persian gulf was achieved
c) development of Persian gulf
and control of the Central provinces
- exploration of the Arabian coasts, Babylone becomes the new capital
- Asian troops were trained as a "new generation" (being the Epigoni)

10/ the last year and the achievements of Alexander

a) as king of Macedones
- the Macedonian state (administration) travelled with the king,
the principle of persuasion

note: in this chapter, Hammond emphasizes the good human relations
which Alexander entertained with his troops,
however the Opis meeting did not comply with his troops' wishes
but Alexander succeeded finally to impose his will
>> p. 250 during the campaign against the Cossaei,
young Cossaeans were killed as human sacrifices to the dead Hephaestion

- but again, one of Alexander's error was really not to have beget a son
to continue his experience after his death
- the Macedonian assembly at Babylone did not vote Alexander divine honours
(however a splendid funeral) contrary to Philip
- Alexander was certainly a great king but not the greatest
in the opinion of contemporary Macedones,
because Alexander's interests were not Macedonian in a nationalistic sense

b) as hegemon of the Greeks
- Alexander was much more succesful with the Greeks
as the East was now opened to Greek enterprise for
employment, settlement and trade to a degree unparalleled in the past,
it even surpassed that of Timoleon who had liberated the Greeks of the West
from Carthaginian rule, but Alexander did not completely liberate the Greeks in the East,
he made them his subjects in Asia,
except such cases as Thebes, he handled however his allies and subjects
with loyalty and generosity

- one further case to be argued was the recall
and reinstatement of all exiles from the Greek states
- the Greeks (such as Athens) granted "divine honours" to Alexander
but this was not to regard him as a god on earth
however to recognize his services as comparable to those
which a god might render to a community,
however, for most of the Greeks, it was rather an act of flattery

- on the other side, Alexander's aims to develop federalism rather than nationalism
were correct but not yet understood

c) as a commander
- Alexander was a great warrior, courted every danger,
fighting at the head of every formation,
his personality created the myth of being invincible in war,
his authority as a commander was almost absolute
- for some, he was favoured by the gods,
for others he had extraordinary good luck

- he was in battles the ablest judge of situations and the best,
anticipator of future!
he excelled in speed and precision of thought,
calculation of risks and in the expectation of an enemy's reactions

- but a most remarkable quality of Alexander was also the concern for his men
(he used to win economically = having few casualties)

d) as a statesman
- Alexander organized a kind of welfare
(tax reliefs, pensions, etc) for dead and wounded soldiers
>> p. 261 comments on the dismissal of Antipater
- development of international trade and economic revolution in Asia
- Alexander did not want to make the Macedones and Greeks
the masters of the conquered nations
but to create a self-sustaining kingdom of Asia,
he intended the settled peoples to conduct their internal affairs
(up to a certain level) in accordance with their own laws and customs
(contrary to the colonialism later on)
- separation of civil, financial and military functions
(being into different hands)
>> p. 264 story with Cleomenes

- Alexander regarded all men conquered as their equals in social status
(not as barbarians or slaves),
however he compelled nomadic peoples to adopt
a settled way of life (city dwellers)

e) as a personality
- paederasty, rather than homosexual relationship,
between consenting adults was normal form in Greek antiquity
- Alexander (according to the author) could not be accused of patricide
because of his religious sense (always sacrificing)
- what distinguished Alexander from all other conquerors was his divine mission
"come from the gods" and instead of enslaving or destroying native peoples,
he created - albeit for only a few years -
a supra-national community capable of developing concord and partnership
which are so sadly lacking in the modern world

Appendix I
- the "king's journal" on the last days of Alexander

Appendix II
- Alexander: a drinker or a drunkard?
- the king's journal mentions often " he slept after the drinking"
but it must not be forgotten that in Macedonian customs
sociability was inseparable from drinking

Appendix III
- last plans: genuine or forged?
- shrines were intended to be built for Hephaestion (a gigantic ziggurat)
and for Philip (a great pyramid) as well as many temples
(Athena at Troy and Ba'al at Babylone)
- then after the Arabian campaign, the Mediterranean campaign would start,
Alexander wanted to follow the traces of his ancestor Herakles
to the Pillars and to the islands of the West: the Hesperides

>> Hammond is an admirer of Alexander
but at the same time, he is giving genuine details and information,
especially also the maps are of good interest
- the historical and military background (espc. of Macedonia) are quite interesting
- a rather new book (1980) by a modern author

Copyright 2008 - 2024 G. Rudolf