In his many conquests across the Classical known world, Alexander the Great fought wars against a myriad of adversaries, triumphing over them all.
Alexander’s victories over King Darius, ruler of the Achaemenid Empire in Persia, and King Porus in India are recalled as his most famous military achievements. However, the intrepid conqueror faced a wide array of other foes, including the Illyrians, Triballi, Phoenicians, Sogdians, and fellow Greeks.
For Alexander the Great, nothing short of the conquest of the entire world would be a sufficient achievement. During his tireless campaigns, Alexander and his armies marched all the way from Macedon to northwestern India. Ultimately, he died at the age of 32 before achieving this seemingly insurmountable goal, but his name has echoed throughout the centuries since.
What made Alexander the Great such a capable general?
Alexander the Great is widely regarded to be one of, if not the greatest general of all time. the king of Macedon is frequently ranked highly by historians alongside other military geniuses like Chinggis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte, Hannibal Barca, and Julius Caesar.
Of course, it certainly helped that Alexander had inherited an efficient and capable fighting force pioneered by his father, Philip II. Alexander took this army and further refined it, making great use of combined arms warfare.
Combined arms warfare is the use of different types of military units in tandem. Against the Persians for example, Alexander interspersed his skirmishers with the heavy cavalry. Other units also worked together. For example, the unwieldy but relentless phalanx was supported by more lightly equipped skirmishers and hypaspists who could maneuver more easily.
By working together, military units can enhance their capabilities and one unit can compensate for the vulnerabilities of another. Combined arms remain a key tenet of warfare today and Alexander was one of its earliest and most successful proponents.
In the many wars he fought, Alexander also encountered a wide range of physical obstacles on the battlefield. During his campaigns in the Balkans and in India, he had to conduct opposed river crossings, which are highly complex military maneuvers. In Bactria, his forces scaled the Sogdian Rock, under the cover of darkness, so surprising his enemies that they surrendered.
Alexander was also adept in siege warfare. His most famous feat in this regard was accomplished during the siege of Tyre. When Alexander’s troops could not reach the island Tyre was located on by sea, he constructed a kilometer-long two hundred foot wide causeway, linking the island to the mainland, so that his forces could push their siege engines to the walls. With the use of the causeway and ships fitted with siege equipment, he was able to scale the walls and take the city.
Alexander the Great’s personal qualities were just as important as his more technical military expertise. Above all else, his men respected him for his courage. He was wounded several times in battle but was not dissuaded from leading from the front.
“There is no part of my body, in front at any rate, remaining free from wounds, nor is there any kind of weapon used either for close combat or for hurling at the enemy, the traces of which I do not bear on my person,” the Macedonian king told his troops during a speech intended to rouse their courage.
He was also willing to share the hardships endured by common soldiers. This is best demonstrated by an anecdote of the disastrous Gedrosian Desert crossing in which many of Alexander’s men died from thirst.
According to the Roman writer Curtius Rufus, based on accounts by earlier Greek authors, some of Alexander’s men found water in the desert and brought it to their king, Alexander refused to drink and told them “I cannot bear to drink alone and it is not possible for me to share so little with everybody.
It was for these reasons that Alexander the Great maintained the loyalty of his men over countless wars and against insurmountable odds. His brilliance as a tactician was matched only by his tenacity on the battlefield and a willingness to endure the deprivations of a life spent at war.