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Alexander the great – tactical genius or tyrant

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Alexander the great was one of most brilliant military leaders the world has seen. In his lifetime he conquered more than anyone before him, and nobody since has built an empire so big. His effect on ancient society was huge. His success has to be mostly attributed to his strategic if not somewhat ruthless style. From the beginning he set out to unite the east and west in a ” world brotherhood of all men”, and everything he did was part of a plan to achieve this. He was undoubtedly a tactical and strategic genius.

When Alexander was first appointed King of Macedon, after his father Phillip II was assassinated, the first thing he did was get the Macedonian army on his side. His father had had strong ties and a good relationship with the army, and Alexander realised the important part that they would have to play if he was going to achieve world domination. For this reason he presented himself to the embassies and assured that the loyalties that they had show Phillip remained intact. At this time Alexander also found himself surrounded by enemies and conspirators both at home and abroad.

He was only 20 at the time and thus was not uniformly respected as a king. To combat any chance of interference he immediately disposed of anyone who threatened to halt or rival his rise to power, by ordering their execution. Around this time some parts of Greece, who had been under Macedonian rule, were threatening to revolt. It was obvious to Alexander that if he was going to extend his empire beyond its current boundaries he would first have to have the neighbouring countries under his control.

He marched south into Greece and restored Macedonian rule. He was able to do this reasonably quickly and painlessly by employing a tactic that was present throughout his conquests. When entering a new area, or facing a revolt Alexander would make an example of one city by storming and destroying. While this may seem ruthless and cruel, usually after experiencing his power, other surrounding places would fall into line. Alexander could then treat them in a more diplomatic fashion, which was both more practical and economical.

It was this tactic that allowed him to secure large areas in one sweep. In 334BC, with Greece back in Macedonian control, Alexander made the decision to move into the mighty Persian Empire. This was a necessary move as he needed the wealth of the Persians to maintain his large army, and to pay off previous debts. With the Persian Empire in the strong state that it was, Alexander knew if he were going to defeat them he would need a larger, better-equipped army.

He convinced the Greeks that it was in their best interests to join the attack on the Persians by proposing that liberation of Greek cities taken by the Persians as one of the main goals of the expedition. By enlisting Greece Alexander both acquired much needed skilful soldiers, as well as strengthening the relationship. This left him free to concentrate on Persia, without having to worry about them challenging Macedonian rule. Even so when he left for Persia Alexander left Antipater, an experienced general and friend of his late fathers, and over 13, 000 soldiers in Europe to ensure its security.

With previous expeditions into Persia revealing weaknesses Alexander was confident of victory when he crossed the Dardanelles into Persia. One of the keys to Alexander’s extraordinary success was his army. It had an excellent mixture and range of arms; the light-armed Cretan and Macedonian archers, Thracians, and the Agrianian javelin men. The striking force was the cavalry, and the core of the army the phalanx armed with 5m spears. Alexander’s careful selection and running of the army made it both swift and extremely successful.

He knew whom, when and how to use his men, which resulted in victory even though he was often outnumbered. While Alexander knew how to play towards his advantages, he also knew how to avoid his weaknesses. While he had in his possession a mighty and talented army his Navy was not as strong, and by no means a match for the powerful Persian fleets. When Alexander entered Persia, the probability of a battle at sea rose when the city of Miletus refused to surrender, spurred on by the close proximity of the Persian navy.

Realistically Alexander had no hope of victory if it came to a maritime battle, so he refused to fight at sea. ” We will defeat the Persians on land” he announced. He moved in on the coastal cities, and from there was able to force a battle on land, in which he eventually emerged victorious. It was Alexander’s clever and tactical thinking that avoided a potentially disastrous defeat. The success of Alexander’s conquests not only rested on how Alexander and his men conquered the Persian Empire, but also how they ran the Empire.

Once he had conquered a city, Alexander installed a Democratic System of self-government that allowed him to remain independent of the running of the city, but ensured he was ultimately the supreme ruler. Alexander could not afford to stay in the one place very long if he was going to continue to build upon his growing empire, so after he left he appointed officials to run the cities. At the beginning these people were always Macedonian generals or leaders, but as he moved on he started appointing people from the city itself.

When Alexander conquered Egypt in November 332BC, he was able to do so unchallenged. The Persian ruler surrendered and Alexander organised Egypt, employing Egyptian governors. However in these cases he always kept the army and treasury under separate Macedonian control, to protect the empire by avoiding giving the cities enough power to regain independent rule. Some may argue that Alexander was simply a greedy tyrant who was obsessed with power, however even if this were true, it would not detract from his status as a tactical genius.

Right from the start he had a strategy to unite the east and the west, and while some of the things he did may seem cruel and ruthless, he did only what he had to to achieve his dream. He did not do what he did to be mean, his intentions were good. His ability to manipulate and exploit a situation to suit himself and change his strategy to fit the situation played a crucial part in his successes. He was both imaginative and versatile in his tactics, which meant he almost always emerged victorious. There is no doubt he was one of the greatest tacticians the world has seen.

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