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Alexander The Great's Ability As A Leader

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A;exander the Great's ability as a leader

There has been much controversy over time about Alexander the Great's ability as a leader. There are five surviving sourced for knowledge of Alexander, the most reliable two written by Arrian (though his admiration for Alexander sometimes caused bias in his writing) and Plutarch. As stated by CB Welles, "there have been many Alexanders. No account of him is all together wrong".


1) Bradley, P (1988), Ancient Greece Using Evidence, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

2) Stevens, V, Merchant, W, Hampson, M, Bradshaw, G, (2003), HSC Ancient History Macquarie Revision Guide, Macmillan Education Australia Pty Ltd.

3) Roberts, P, (2003), Excel HSC Ancient History Book 1, Pascal Press






There is no question among historians that Alexander was a military genius:

"No soldier in history is more undisputedly Ð''great' than Alexander"

- Burn

There were two main aspects of his military brilliance, the first being his tactical insight and strategic planning. He was able to modify and adapt his tactics to suit each opponent and was not afraid to vary the disposition of his troops. At Granicus, he focused on cavalry, he used a larger army at Gaugamela to overcome the danger of being encircled, and at Hydaspes he substituted his cavalry for infantry to enable them to face the elephants. He made the phalanx formation mobile and was flexible in his approach, often taking the enemy by surprise and forcing them to change their plans Ð'- such as at Gaugamela where he forced the Persians into rough, rocky terrain. Alexander also ensured that their communication lines were carefully guarded, so that any reinforcements were able to reach the main army.

The second main aspect of Alexander's military genius was the leadership of his men. Alexander fought alongside his men, sharing the danger with them. He used the psychology of all their victories to encourage them to keep fighting, and he knew how to keep their affections. He knew when to relax discipline, kept their morale up with amusements such as athletic and musical contests, and rewarded them with money.

Alexander the Great was known to be a very generous man. Following every battle, he would visit each hospital tent and talk with the men that had been injured in battle and allow them to boast about their bravery. He kept very little of the treasure they captured from the Persians for himself, instead using it to reward his soldiers. According to Plutarch, "Alexander was by nature exceptionally generous and became even more so as his wealth increased. His gifts were always bestowed with grace and courtesy".

Alexander was very much war orientated, and sometimes even became a little too obsessed with his military life. For a long time he put off getting married and starting a family, as he was much more concerned with fame than what would happen to his empire should he be killed. In fact, he was more concerned with fame and glory than anything else:

"He cared nothing for pleasure or wealth but only for deeds of valour or glory".

- Plutarch

He did eventually marry, to two Persian princesses, Starter and Parysatis, and to Roxanne of Bactria, who was pregnant at his death.

However, this obsession with fame and military sometimes went too far and lost some of the loyalty of his troops. One time this happened was when Alexander tried to convince his troops to cross the Hyphasis River. According to Arrian, having to watch Alexander undertake "an endless succession of dangerous and exhausting enterprises was beginning to depress them", and they refused. Another instance that this loss of loyalty occurred was when Alexander sentenced several of his top officials, including Menader, to death before marching into India. Plutarch says that "by this time he was already feared by his men for his relentless severity in punishing and dereliction of duty".

Alexander's troops also lost some of their affection for him after the execution of Parmenio, one of Alexander's most loyal generals, and his son Philotas. Philotas was executed under suspicion of plotting against Alexander, and since the Macedonian law then stated that the relatives of a man convicted of treason must also be put to death, Parmenio was executed alongside his son. Even thought the "execution of Parmenio was judicial" Ð'- Robinson



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