How good was Alexander the Great as a general?

Jul 2017
2,191
Australia
#31
It's hard to tell how much of the tactics and strategy from the Persian expedition, at least up to the strategic capture of the seaboard, was actually thanks to Alexander's own genius, and how much was pre-planned or advised to him.
 
Aug 2009
138
R'lyeh
#32
I think the question depends on which Alexander you look at. At the start of the Persian campaign he was only 20 years old. He had fought in a few engagements but he was still lacking confidence and trying to crawl out from under his father's shadow. The initial stage of the Persian expedition had been fully planned by Philip and his generals. Alexander simply adopted the same plan and relied on his father's generals to advise him. By the time he had conquered Persia, Alexander was a very experienced, supremely confident, battle-hardened commander in his own right. This is the Alexander that many think of when writing about him.
But what, in the sources, do you base this view on? Where do the sources state that it was the generals who determined the battle tactics? And where do they state that this changed, and that their king began to have a say in military matters?
 
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Sep 2018
8
michigan
#33
Some of the statements made about this are wrong as Alexander had a war council before Gaulgamela and Hydaspes. He was not simply a figurehead of charisma that carried his army forward through cult of personality. He was one of the greatest logisticians of all time, maybe even the best, with lots of adaptability and a tactical mind that ranks as one of the greatest in History. If you want to read some of the more recent analysis done on Alexander's batles I highly recommend The Field Campaigns of Alexander the Great by Stephen English. it really highlights some more accurate and in depth variations of what most likely happened in his battles. I highly recommend it if you are trying to form your opinions on how good Alexander was. All the best in that regard.
 
Sep 2016
561
Georgia
#34
It's hard to tell how much of the tactics and strategy from the Persian expedition, at least up to the strategic capture of the seaboard, was actually thanks to Alexander's own genius, and how much was pre-planned or advised to him.
Well, let's look.

Parmenion was not present during Balkan campaign, Sogdian and campaign in India. That includes Battle of Hydaspes as well.

Antigonus was left as governor of Phrygia and did not participate in Battle of Issus, Gaugamela, Tyre, Gaza, Sogdian campaign, Hydaspes and etc.

Seleucus had risen to command of ,, Shield-bearers '' only by the time of Indian campaign. So, he had risen to serious command post only by the end of Alexander's campaign.

Craterus was left on the opposite bank of Hydaspes, while Alexander fought Porus. As we can see, Alexander didn't need Craterus with him on other bank to defeat Porus. Craterus was also defeated by Eumenes. Craterus also didn't participate in charge during Battle of Gaugamela. Craterus stayed with his Taxis to help left flank and before that had no possible way of advising Alexander about situation on right flank or recognize the right moment/gap.

Polyperchon didn't really have great showing during Diadochi Wars. He failed in his attempt to secure Greece and lost Siege of Megalopolis. Than he was driven from Macedon.

Perdiccas utterly failed in his Egyptian invasion. There are also 2 contradictory sources on his role at Thebes.

Leonnatus was defeated by Antiphilus during Lamian war and killed.

Ptolemy is not really known as great military mind.

Lysimachus does not really get mentioned much during Alexander's campaign and wasn't trusted with important missions.

Coenus was talented and showed his skill. However, we don't have that much information on him. His importance during first years of Alexander's campaigns seems to be limited. He gets much prominent role and important tasks later on. Alexander also had Mallian campaign after his death.

Cleitus the Black was killed by Alexander himself. Philotas was found guilty and met his tragic end. Both of them didn't participate in the rest of campaigns.

Antipater was left at home in Macedon.

Philip II was dead.

Eumenes started to be entrusted with military command only by the end of Alexander's wars.

Actions of Alexander at Issus and Gaugamela determined fate of the battle. At Gaugamela, Alexander on right flank coordinated the defensive fight against Persians until gap appeared. He than formed his units into a giant wedge and charged.
 
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Sep 2016
561
Georgia
#35
I agree he was a very good general, but some of his greatest "victories" only came because he didn't bother to send out scouts. There are at least two times this got his entire army almost completely surrounded, and despite this, his army was so superior in terms of equipment, morale, and training that they still succeeded. This indicates less reliance on Alexander's abilities, great though they may be, because there are little tactics he could use in such a situation other than attempt to disengage. Of course, he often didn't need to.
At Issus he wasn't surrounded. Both Darius and Alexander failed in their calculations. Darius himself did not expect to fall on Alexander's rear. Alexander than showed utmost care and caution while approaching Darius. He also immediately recognized what plan of his enemy was and his own weaknesses. Alexander reinforced his left flank with Thessalian cavalry, while readjusting his right flank. Alexander than crushed Persian left flank with quick and decisive attack, after which striking Greek mercenaries in the flank and rear.

Siege of Pelium isn't really considered one of his greatest victories. However, Alexander was much of the reason that they were able to get out of that trap. He showed ingenuity and Theodore Dodge himself was in awe of Alexander's idea.

His conduct prior to engagement at Gaugamela also shows caution and preparedness. Alexander also showed composure during battle itself, where he was containing Persian forces on right flank with his units of right-flank guard, while not engaging in the battle itself till the right moment. When right moment came, Alexander formed his Companions and other units nearby into giant wedge and charged for a gap.

Napoleon was able to destroy Prussian army at Jena-Auerstedt thanks to Davout and simple luck. Napoleon also miscalculated Mack at Ulm and had bit of luck there. Napoleon put up great show, but was also lucky that arrogance of Alexander I and others got better of them and Allies had moronic plans for Battle of Austerlitz. Napoleon really struggled at Arcole and was almost defeated at Marengo. Napoleon was caught by Melas and would've lost that battle if not for Desaix coming to the rescue. Marengo was won thanks to Desaix. Napoleon's Egyptian campaign was also foolish from the beginning.
Don't even need to talk about his defeats and bigger failures later on.

Marlborough didn't really face great French commander until Malplaquet. At Oudenarde, Marlborough got reinforcements and Eugene coming in, while Vendome fought only with half of the forces. At Malplaquet, Marlborough and Eugene suffered terrible losses and gained only Pyrrhic victory.
Victory at Blenheim also belongs equally to Eugene of Savoy and Marlborough.

It can be argued that victory at Lake Trasimene was thanks to Roman's foolishness and lack of scouting as well. Not only Hannibal's skill.
 
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Likes: macon
Aug 2014
3,569
Australia
#36
He was one of the greatest logisticians of all time, maybe even the best, with lots of adaptability and a tactical mind that ranks as one of the greatest in History.
Not at the start of the Persian expedition. He gained experience over time as one would expect. Initially he was very heavily carried by his generals.
 

macon

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
3,466
Slovenia
#38
If a commander deserves a GOAT title, The Greatest, then it should be Alexander in my opinion.

Most of deciding moments and decisions on his anabasis came from him and not only that: he was personally leading the most important breakthroughs. And for his logistics I don't have enough imagination to get it. His move of 40.000 or so to India through some of the roughest terrain seems impossible to me. Because I was reading so much of people with small armies and logistical issues on routes of few hundred kms. Their armies dispersed or caught a disease while camping or got ambushed and slaughtered while on a route or camping.

A question: where there any outbreaks of diseases in Alexander'a army?
 
Likes: Gvelion
Sep 2016
561
Georgia
#39
Not at the start of the Persian expedition. He gained experience over time as one would expect. Initially he was very heavily carried by his generals.
Please give me names of those generals and your sources. You base your claim on nothing.

Read my post about those generals again.

Napoleon had far less experience before taking command of army in Italy. What experience did he have ? Not even close to what Alexander had before Persian campaign.

Alexander had first military experience at the age age of 16 against one of the Thracian tribes. Than he commanded left wing at Chaeronea, surrounded by advisors. After that, Alexander would conduct first independent campaign against Illyrians and Thracians. He had military engagements at Haemus pass, Lyginus, on the opposite bank of Danube river against Getae and Siege of Pelium. Alexander followed this campaign with his incredibly quick march to Thebes and than had battle there as well.

Napoleon was not even close to independently commanding whole army or conducting even a battle, much less whole campaign. He also had some experienced generals in his army.

Charles XII was 18-year old boy at the start of Great Northern war with no military experience at all. However, everyone attributes victory at Narva to 18-year old child. Than everyone praises 19 and 20-year old Charles for achieving victories at Dune and Kliszow. People don't take credit from him. Despite him being literal nobody in military matters and a child before Narva.

Here I will post again information above:

Parmenion was not present during Balkan campaign, Sogdian and campaign in India. That includes Battle of Hydaspes as well.

Antigonus was left as governor of Phrygia and did not participate in Battle of Issus, Gaugamela, Tyre, Gaza, Sogdian campaign, Hydaspes and etc.

Seleucus had risen to command of ,, Shield-bearers '' only by the time of Indian campaign. So, he had risen to serious command post only by the end of Alexander's campaign.

Craterus was left on the opposite bank of Hydaspes, while Alexander fought Porus. As we can see, Alexander didn't need Craterus with him on other bank to defeat Porus. Craterus was also defeated by Eumenes. Craterus also didn't participate in charge during Battle of Gaugamela. Craterus stayed with his Taxis to help left flank and before that had no possible way of advising Alexander about situation on right flank or recognize the right moment/gap.

Polyperchon didn't really have great showing during Diadochi Wars. He failed in his attempt to secure Greece and lost Siege of Megalopolis. Than he was driven from Macedon.

Perdiccas utterly failed in his Egyptian invasion. There are also 2 contradictory sources on his role at Thebes.

Leonnatus was defeated by Antiphilus during Lamian war and killed.

Ptolemy is not really known as great military mind.

Lysimachus does not really get mentioned much during Alexander's campaign and wasn't trusted with important missions.

Coenus was talented and showed his skill. However, we don't have that much information on him. His importance during first years of Alexander's campaigns seems to be limited. He gets much prominent role and important tasks later on. Alexander also had Mallian campaign after his death.

Cleitus the Black was killed by Alexander himself. Philotas was found guilty and met his tragic end. Both of them didn't participate in the rest of campaigns.

Antipater was left at home in Macedon.

Philip II was dead.

Eumenes started to be entrusted with military command only by the end of Alexander's wars.

Actions of Alexander at Issus and Gaugamela determined fate of the battle. At Gaugamela, Alexander on right flank coordinated the defensive fight against Persians until gap appeared. He than formed his units into a giant wedge and charged.

By the way, nobody says that Alexander did all by himself. Every great military commander needs competent staff and officers to achieve success. It was always like that in military history. However, it is ridiculous that some people often try to take the credit from Alexander and present him as just charismatic figure-head, while not giving sources for their claims or names. It also shows ignorance in military matters and in Alexander's campaigns.

A question: where there any outbreaks of diseases in Alexander'a army?
There weren't really massive diseases in Alexander's army, like some others had. However, there were times where his army suffered. His chase of Bessus to Bactria was difficult for the soldiers. Especially, since Bessus also used Scorched earth policy to cover his retreat. There were some problems during crossing of Hindu Kush. Indian campaign was tough for his army. That climate, rain seasons and constant opposition of new enemies were hard blow for the army.
Than he had Gedrosian desert march, of course . Which is heavily criticized and is given as one of the only examples where Alexander had major failure in Logistics.
 
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Likes: macon
Jul 2018
19
Pakistan
#40
Pre
At Issus he wasn't surrounded. Both Darius and Alexander failed in their calculations. Darius himself did not expect to fall on Alexander's rear. Alexander than showed utmost care and caution while approaching Darius. He also immediately recognized what plan of his enemy was and his own weaknesses. Alexander reinforced his left flank with Thessalian cavalry, while readjusting his right flank. Alexander than crushed Persian left flank with quick and decisive attack, after which striking Greek mercenaries in the flank and rear.

Siege of Pelium isn't really considered one of his greatest victories. However, Alexander was much of the reason that they were able to get out of that trap. He showed ingenuity and Theodore Dodge himself was in awe of Alexander's idea.

His conduct prior to engagement at Gaugamela also shows caution and preparedness. Alexander also showed composure during battle itself, where he was containing Persian forces on right flank with his units of right-flank guard, while not engaging in the battle itself till the right moment. When right moment came, Alexander formed his Companions and other units nearby into giant wedge and charged for a gap.

Napoleon was able to destroy Prussian army at Jena-Auerstedt thanks to Davout and simple luck. Napoleon also miscalculated Mack at Ulm and had bit of luck there. Napoleon put up great show, but was also lucky that arrogance of Alexander I and others got better of them and Allies had moronic plans for Battle of Austerlitz. Napoleon really struggled at Arcole and was almost defeated at Marengo. Napoleon was caught by Melas and would've lost that battle if not for Desaix coming to the rescue. Marengo was won thanks to Desaix. Napoleon's Egyptian campaign was also foolish from the beginning.
Don't even need to talk about his defeats and bigger failures later on.

Marlborough didn't really face great French commander until Malplaquet. At Oudenarde, Marlborough got reinforcements and Eugene coming in, while Vendome fought only with half of the forces. At Malplaquet, Marlborough and Eugene suffered terrible losses and gained only Pyrrhic victory.
Victory at Blenheim also belongs equally to Eugene of Savoy and Marlborough.

It can be argued that victory at Lake Trasimene was thanks to Roman's foolishness and lack of scouting as well. Not only Hannibal's skill.
Precisely the answer I was looking for. Thank you.
However, dont you think that Alexander's 3 victories against the Persians were all won usong the same tactic i.e. engaging the enemy with his infantry and then just charging at the weak section of the Persian line with his cavalry. Didnt Napoleon advise against teaching your enemy all your art of war the way Alexander did?
 

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