Alexander's Army


In the 4th century bc, the Macedonian army was the best in the world.



Why was the Macedonian Army so good?

A Standing Army

It was remarkable, mainly, because it was a standing army. No other Greek city-state other than Sparta was able to keep an army permanently mobilised.

Philip and Alexander were able to do this because:
1. The gold mines at Amphipolis provided the money
2. The lush valleys of the ‘Highland’ areas of Macedonia provided pasture for thousands of war horses
3. Tens of thousands of slaves – captured in wars – did the farm-work whilst the Macedonian men served in the army.

The Macedonian army was tough:
*  Women were not allowed into the camp
*  Some cavalry were placed behind the army to kill anybody who tried to run away
*  Soldiers were made to wash in cold water
*  Even the officers had to march, up to 30 miles a day, carrying 30 days’ supply of flour
*  They were allowed only one attendant for every ten men
*  They were taught to manage on very little food, and on campaign were expected to ‘live off the land’
*  Long periods were spent drilling and manoeuvring; this was especially crucial for the cavalry, which Alexander commanded, which was able as no other cavalry of the time to wheel round and change the direction of attack (remember that at this time riders had no stirrups, and only elementary bits).


A Nation Used To Warfare

A long-term factor in Alexander’s success was that Greece had been continually at war for at least a century and a half; the Greek were a nation used to warfare, practiced to it and hardened by it. (Remember that Philip had learned his warcraft in the Theban Army under Pammenes, the leader of the Sacred Band of Thebes.)

And this was not just true only for land-battles, but also sieges – Philip had hired Polyeidus of Thessaly, who invented many siege machines, including the twisted bow-string, the covered battering ram, and a huge siege tower (Polyeidus’s pupil, Diades, was with Alexander at Tyre).




The following website will help you complete the task:

This document contains the relevant section of the set
OCR Textbook.

This wikipedia article gives a much more detailed description of the Macedonian Army, if you wish to know more.


The Macedonian Army


Alexander's Army of Invasion

All in all, when he invaded Persia, Alexander’s army numbered perhaps 50,000.
Its main elements were:

1. The Companion Cavalry
Heavy (armoured) cavalry, usually stationed on the right wing, and commanded by Alexander. When he invaded Persia, Alexander took about 4,000 Companion Cavalry. Battles often started with a cavalry charge which first broke the enemy’s cavalry, but was then able to wheel round and crash into the rear of the enemy’s infantry – Alexander led them in a triangle, and they were so well-trained that they could feint and wheel in perfect formation as he chose.
Alexander also had 2000 Thessalian cavalry, lighter-armed, but also crack horsemen, available for use during the battle. They rode in diamond-formation, which also gave them manoeuvrability.

2. The Foot Companions
Heavy infantry, armed with the terrifying 18ft-long sarissa, but also a sword for close fighting. Alexander may have had some 16,000 Foot Companions in Persia. Whooping the war-cry Alalalai, they would advance upon the enemy infantry once it had been disrupted by the cavalry. On flat, open ground they were irresistible.

3. The Shield-bearers
Wearing their shields on their left shoulder, infantry are exposed to their right – especially to a cavalry attack. Philip thus created a force of 3,000 Hypaspists (‘shield-bearers’) to defend their right flank in a battle. These soldiers were nominally archers and slingers, but really they were the ‘commandos’ of the Macedon Army, and would also be used for surprise night attacks, as an advance force … and for all the suicide missions and ‘missions impossible’. Many found it impossible to retire, and were still fighting in their 60s.
The shield-bearers were supported by a band of about 1000 irregular skirmishers/javelin-throwers from Thrace called the Agrianians. They were terrifyingly fierce – one writer has described them as the ‘Gurkhas’ of Alexander’s Army.




Make notes on the composition and strengths of the Macedonian Army as it invaded Persia.