How 'Great' was Alexander as a Military Commander?


The Secondary Historiography

It is almost universally-accepted that, whatever his limitations as a person or a ruler, Alexander was a brilliant general. 


The military historian JFC Fuller (1960) reviewed his military abilities, drawing especial attention to his inspirational leadership of an army that was diverse, troublesome and 'semi-barbaric': 'through his overmastering personality and his genius for war he won their trust and devotion'.

The jacket-cover for Bill Yenne's 2010 book claimed that: 'Exhibiting the best traits of a battlefield leader, Alexander was audacious, aggressive, fearless and victorious. His unfailing integration of strategic vision and tactical genius took him to the ends of the earth, and into immortality as a military leader ... and the scope of his military prowess remains awe-inspiring to this day'.


This view, however, is not without challenge.  In 1999, Ian Worthington suggested that Alexander's strategies were flawed and often unnecessary, and that his victories were lucky, and exaggerated by writers he employed to exaggerate them 'we ought to note that Alexander's men twice mutinied on him (326 and 324), hardly a sign of confidence in a general and a king'.



The Primary Record

Writers at the time recorded Alexander's victories.  However, as Ian Worthington points out, it is likely that he told Callisthenes exactly what to say about those victories, and the other key witnesses (Aristobulus and Ptolemy) were generals in his army.  So it is vital to remember at all times that the primary record is not history, but propaganda, and some of it is obviously exaggerated to a huge extent.


In addition to your set sources, it might be worthwhile reading Alexander's speech to his men when they rebelled at Opis (in Arrian,7.9-10) which reheared his military successes, e.g.:

Who is there of you who knows that he has endured greater toil for me than I have for him? Come now, whoever of you has wounds, let him strip and show them, and I will show mine in turn; for there is no part of my body, in front at any rate, remaining free from wounds...; though oftentimes I have been [wounded] for the sake of your lives, your glory, and your wealth, I am still leading you as conquerors over all the land and sea, all rivers, mountains, and plains.




The following websites will help you complete the task:

You can read Ian Worthington's negative comments on Alexander's generalship here.



Draw a table with two columns, headed 'Positives' and 'Negatives', and then:

Go through the EVENTS of Alexander's military campaigns and battles, selecting key illustrative moments, categorising them as 'positive' or 'negative' depending on whether they support, or detract from, Alexander's claim to be a 'great' general.
Make sure you include details and minor events, as well as just the 'big things', and to include Alexander's relations with his men, as well as just dry battles, tactics and strategies.


Go through the SOURCES of Alexander's life, selecting key illustrative passages, categorising them as 'positive' or 'negative' depending on whether they support, or detract from, the idea that Alexander was a great general.
Remember to evaluate their validity - a single reliable source about Alexander's greatness will outweigh a dozen passages illustrating weakness but which are all imaginary or full of errors.

In your opinion, how 'great' was Alexander as a general?