Alexanders Conquests

The Conquests of Alexander the Great
Alexander was the son of King Philip II of Macedonia born approximately on July
20th in 356 BC. His mother was Olympias, a young princess from Epirus. Alexander was
a remarkable person who loved to recite Homeric poetry. At age fourteen his father sent
him to study science, mathematics, and philosophy with Aristotle of Stagira. Alexander
looked up to Aristotle like a father, and it can later be seen that Aristotle gave
Alexander the knowledge it took to be one of the greatest rulers in history. Alexander was
a man of extremes and contradictions. At times he would have intense spurts of energy
and then long sulks. He showed extreme generosity and at the same time murderous
cruelty against former friends. One would guess given common knowledge that his
insecurities most likely were originated in his childhood; perhaps the relationship with his
After the assassination of his father, King Philip II, Alexander was in direct line to
take over as ruler. Alexander was to go down in history as the father of the Hellenic
world, the unopposed leader of the Greek world, and last but not least the Great, a
title given for his numerous victories.

The mobile elite was Alexanders Companion Cavalry consisting primarily of the
cream of the Macedonian aristocracy. The backbone of the army was the phalanx.2 The
phalanx was six infantry brigades, capable of fighting a compilation of different types of
warfare, but specializing in set-piece battle in an eight-deep hedgehog formation with five
and a half meter-long spears. The phalanx was the main weapon of warfare; yet, there
were also specialist units: skirmishers, archers, and light infantry with mountain training.

There were also units comprised of non-Macedonian Greeks whom, fighting for
Alexander, helped justify Alexanders claim to be the General in Chief of the army of
Alexanders Army also had very important back-up units. These units carried a
siege train consisting of mobile siege towers, stone-throwing catapults, and javelin
throwers. Also comprised in the back-up units were engineers, bridge-builders, sappers,
and surveyors. To further insure a well developed army there needed to be non-combatant
personnel as well. They comprised of doctors, scientists, botanists, astronomers,
philosophers, seers, and an official historian record all of the conquests. With this unified
and flawless army Alexander would be able to conquer many lands with great speed and
In the same aspect that most of our armies of today say prayers for a victory in
battle so was Alexanders belief that a homage must be paid to a god for good luck. In the
beginning of his journey, Alexander rode up to the city of Troy where he entered the
archaic temple of the goddess Athena. Here he made a promise that if successful, he
would return to little Ilion and build a gigantic temple to Trojan Athene in gratitude for
her help. This visit would give him the additional benefit of the spirits of the Ancients in
Alexander and his army swiftly marched the plains along the Sea of Marmara. At
the same time Darius, the King of Persia, was busily setting traps in plans to stop the
pursuit of Alexanders army. Darius had a plan to stop them, he would station several
thousand Greek mercenaries near the Dardanelles. The Persian army had vast resources
and great gold reserves to hire army after army to defeat Alexanders pursuit. The leader
of the Greek mercenaries, Memnon of Rhodes, decided to burn the countryside to cut off
Alexanders supplies. The Persian leaders decided against this idea and decided to fight
At dusk, Alexander approached the river in battle formation. On the opposite side
were the Persians lining the bank ten thousand strong. The Persian plan was just to hold
Alexander off and prevent him from crossing the river. Alexanders senior general
Parmenio counseled Alexander that they should hold off until the time was right.

Alexander refused and within minutes the blaring trumpets roared as they marched on
into battle. Alexander launched a small attack of fifteen-hundred men to make the
Persians believe the real battle had started. They fell for it and soon the Persians had lost
the majority of their men along the banks. Alexander then proceeded in sending in his
elite cavalry squadrons down into the river and across into the face of his enemies.

Several of the Persian officers tried to kill Alexander himself, in the attempt eight were
killed, including Dariuss son-in-law.
The Greek mercenaries, meanwhile, who were among the Persians best troops
watched the battle at the river Granicus. The Persian cavalry retreated and among the
midst came Alexanders companion cavalry heading straight for them. The phalanx was
set up and war against the mercenaries ensued into the night. The mercenaries were cut in
half before finally surrendering. They were then sent in chains to hard labor for life in the
silver mines of Thrace. This was Alexanders way of sending a grim message to any other
Greeks considering joining the Persians.5
Memnon, now Dariuss commander-in-chief of Western operations, was setting
up once again in anticipation of Alexanders arrival. With him were the Athenian
mercenary commanders Ephialtes and Thrasybulos, two men who had been on
Alexanders hit list for quite some time. This time they believed they had the best
defenses to defeat Alexanders army. Their town was a fortress fortified by a huge wall
winding up into the hills above Boldrum. It had two or three main gates and the low
ground was protected by deep ditches; it also had forts above the harbor and out in the
bay was a fleet of four hundred ships. This place was so fortified that it was almost
impossible to get in. Fortunately Alexander who had just about any type of weapon
imaginable of this period used his siege-technology6 to gain entrance.

Alexander attacked on the flat ground first on the east side of town. His army
attempted to get in through the wall but this soon failed. Alexander then used his siege
technology to wage war and gain entrance. Memnon launched a massive raid at dawn to
overtake Alexanders army. This was almost a stalemate until Alexanders reserve army
came in and inflicted heavy losses, and Ephialtes was killed. Memnon realizing his defeat
retreated and evacuated his forces by sea, setting fire to everything they could not take
with them on the ships. Alexander emerges victorious again.
Although Alexanders troops had suffered severe losses they still pursued on.

They marched on to Lycia and took over thirty cities here. They then moved along the
Anatolian plateau for about a three weeks march until they reached the ancient city of
Alexander came here for strategic reasons. Gordion was not only the main
junction to central Anatolia but also the place known for a weird legend. As legend has it
Gordion was originally the city of Midas whose father Gordius was believed to have
migrated from Macedonia to here in a wooden cart. His arrival fulfilled a local prophecy,
and Gordius became the king of this place. As a thanks offering Gordius left the cart in
the temple of Zeus with a leather knot on the end of it made of cornel bark with invisible
ends on it. The legend of the Gordion Knot7 states that whoever undid the knot would
become ruler of Asia. This of course was irresistible to Alexander who had based so
many of his victories on the strengths of the Gods.

Alexander went up to the acropolis and stood silent trying to figure out how to
undo the knot. As history tells us Alexander said It doesnt matter how the knot is
loosened8 and at the same instance he drew his sword and hacked up the knot revealing
the ends inside. Alexander left believing that the legend had been fulfilled and that he
Throughout all of Alexanders conquests the fear remained that Memnon might
attack Greece while Alexander was no where near to defend it. His fears became a reality
when Memnons forces, traveling by sea after their retreat at the Battle at Bodrun, made
way to Greece and took the cities of Chios and Lesbos. Luckily, for not only Alexander
but for the rest of the Macedonians, Memnon fell ill and died.
Darius, after learning about Memnons death, proceeded to search for an equal
replacement but failed to do so. Darius soon realized that he would have to fight his own
battles. Darius the King of Persia was not only a war leader but a semi-divine being in the
minds of the Persians. Divine being or not, Darius was about to get a reality check by
Alexander had journeyed down from central Anatolia to Tarsus. At Tarsus he fell
ill from malaria and almost died. Alexander, a true fighter, recovered and moved down
into the narrow gap between the amanus mountains and the sea. He had hoped to lure
Darius into his narrow battlefield yet Darius wasnt easily fooled. Darius sent troops to
the rear of Alexanders army and tried to defeat them like this. Alexander, after learning
of this, pursued Darius to the little town of Issus. The Battle of Issus9 took place in
November 333 BC on the Payas river. Dariuss army was huge in comparison to
Alexanders. This didnt stop Alexander before nor would it stop him now. Dariuss plan
was to hold Alexander on the river-line and use his best cavalry on the right, along the
seashore, to break through Alexanders left-wing army. Alexander assessed the situation
from his standard position up on the right wing. He saw that Dariuss cavalry were
concentrated on his left by the sea, and immediately switched his to the left to back up his
army. Once he realized that there was a weak Persian formation of inexperienced archers
against the foothills, Alexander was sure that Darius did not have enough confidence in
his infantry to hold the line on its own. Realizing Dariuss weakness, Alexander led an
attack himself down the river on the right. The Persian archers failed to protect the land
from Alexanders pursuit. Alexanders Companion Cavalry marched down across the
river and annihilated the Persian infantry line. Now the path was cleared to reach the
Persian center comprised mainly of Greek mercenaries. The mercenaries held their own
for a short while against Alexanders phalanx, but soon they would realize they were
being surrounded. The mercenaries realized they lost and retreated. Alexanders main
The main goal of the Battle of Issus was to capture or kill Darius. Alexander got
very close to Darius yet not close enough. Alexanders army got close enough to where
Dariuss kinsmen were fighting hand-to-hand in order to protect their king. Dariuss
forces were being wounded quickly left and right. His only option was to stay alive, so his
bodyguard took him and fled. Darius left his leaderless army at this point to fend for
themselves. Once again Alexander emerges victorious yet without his goal – Darius.

Through the years Alexander swept the Persians away from the coast of Phoenicia
and in 332 drove them out of Egypt, a land they had held for two centuries. The Egyptians
welcomed him as a liberator and recognized him as their pharaoh. Alexander and his
army marched on to Tyre and met great opposition. The Tyrians fought off Alexanders
army as long as they could but soon enough they too would surrender their city to
Alexander. One year later Alexander and Darius would meet again.
On October 1st 331 BC , Alexanders troops pursue Darius into the town of
Gaugamela. The Battle of Gaugamela10 would later be called one of the most decisive in
history. Alexander once again showed great war-skills by luring the Persians into a
premature assault to weaken the backbone of their army. At the same time the Persians
attacked Alexanders right and made a gap in the phalanx. Through this gap the Persians
swept around Alexanders army and had a chance at victory. Alexander made quick
decisions and reformed his phalanx and charged at the gap at the Persian front. Darius
once again was exposed and his army was retreating. The battle was lost and with it the
destiny of the Persian monarchy; the greatest empire which had yet existed in history.

The victory at Gaugamela wore out Alexanders troops so Alexander led them to
Babylon. Here at Babylon, Alexander was greeted with gifts and given the city. His army
rested and recuperated. Alexanders army marched on Susa on November 25th. His army
was replenished and reinforced to 70,000 strong. Susa had been a war zone since the
beginning of history yet the governor of Susa met Alexander by the Tigris river bearing
gifts. The governor gave Susa to Alexander with no opposition. From here Alexander
marched on to the ancient city of Xerxes and Darius about a month later.
On Alexanders journey through the outskirts of Susa he met up with natives of the
Afghan-hills. These natives demanded tolls for Alexander to pass like they had done to
previous kings before him. Alexander was not the sort of person to stand for this so he
had them killed. Alexander had his eyes set on a bigger goal – Persopolis.11
Persopolis was the huge Persian palace with royal tombs and shrines. It was the
heart of the Persian empire. This was a trophy to acquire in Alexanders eyes. He led his
reinforced army of now 80,000 right to the gates of Persopolis. The gates were closed and
there seemed to be no easy way of gaining entrance. Alexander interrogated prisoners in
hopes of finding a way in; this was of no help. A local shepherd told Alexander of an
alternative route to gain entrance through the rear of Persopolis. This route was the only
one known and it was through rocky terrain. Alexander proceeded with 15,000 of his men
through the long valley of Mulla Susan to the back of the pass. Alexander and his fearless
army were ready to conquer. At daybreak, Alexanders army captured the Persians in a
surprise attack from the rear. The Persians put up a good fight but it was not enough to
save them. This victory has been called one of the most hazardous, audacious, and
certainly the most profitable of mountain campaigns in the annals of history.

Alexander achieved his goal and captured the great city of Persopolis yet he was
not yet satisfied. He still wanted Darius dead or alive. In July Alexander pursued in a
quest to find Darius. He marched on in the sweltering heat across the Great Salt Desert
towards Afghanistan. Finally after a long an arduous journey, Alexander reached a place
called Thara in which he learned that Darius had been overthrown by his own
commanders the night before. Eager to still pursue Darius, Alexander pressed on through
the Ahuran pass. By the time Alexander caught up with the Persian leaders, they were
already fleeing. At the same time they stabbed Darius and left him there for dead. One of
Alexanders soldiers met up with him and gave him some water. Darius conveyed a
message to Alexander thanking him for his honorable treatment of his mother and family
throughout all this. Darius was dead by the time Alexander got there. Alexander covered
the body with his cloak and was shocked by the premature death of the King of the
Alexander would go on through many different cities conquering anything in his
way for the next three years. In the spring of 327 BC Alexander and his troops invaded
India.12 They first went to Taxila and met some opposition; but in a few minutes King
Ambi of Taxila welcomed Alexander to his new conquest. Alexander stayed here shortly
and then pressed on to the Battle on the Jhelum River. The opposition was the Indian
army led by Rajah Porus consisting of 30,000 men. Alexanders army pressed on across
the river Jhelum and soon through a tough battle defeated Poruss army. The most
personal loss of this war was Alexanders beloved horse Bucephalus who died from
wounds in battle. It was here that Alexander named the town after his war-horse.
The majority of Alexanders army, tired from battles and homesick, decided they
would not push any further into the rest of India or in their time the ends of the Earth as
they knew it. Alexander, after giving the idea serious thought, decided that he needed to
take over the rest of India before heading home to Macedonia. The army agreed and they
moved out plowing through city by city until they made their way back to Susa in 324
BC. In the journey from Susa to Babylon Alexander met with some Chaldean wise men
who told him that their god Bel had told them that for the king to enter the city at this
time would be fatal to him. They urged him not to go westward now but to go eastward
instead. Alexander bypassed Babylon for a while but the sceptic Anaxagoras told the king
to disregard the curse and press through in despite the curse. Anaxagoras was soon put to
death after Alexander learned of his plot to get him to enter Babylon and be killed. While
in Babylon, Alexander developed a strong distrust with his friends and he started drinking
very heavily. Alexander drank to forget himself for two days and then he developed a
raging fever. With this fever he became delirious and thirsty, so he drank more. In the end
he died from this ravaging fever on June 10th 323 BC at the age of thirty-two. The fever
most likely was brought about by strychnine poisoning in the unmixed wine or possibly
by liver failure due to extreme drinking. Nevertheless a great man had died and with him
a legacy for all the world to remember: Alexander the Great – King of the World.13
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New York: Franklin Watts, Inc., 1969
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Penguin Publishing, USA., 1994
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University of California Press, 1992
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University of North Carolina Press, 1997
Higgins, Andrew. To Buoy Itself Up, Besieged Macedonia Is Grasping at History
Wall Street Journal: Friday, April 9, 1999; front page
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New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1962
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Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997