Born in the city of Pella in central Macedonia in 356 BC, Alexander was the son of King Phillip II and his fourth wife Olympias. He is often referred to as the Great for his extraordinary military, strategic and leadership skills. After the death of his father, Alexander crushed internal opposition to ensure complete control over Greece, before he began his renowned campaign which resulted in the conquest of the Achaemenid Empire, one of the most powerful empires in history. At the time of his death, the empire of Alexander covered 5.2 million square kilometers and was the largest state at that time. Furthermore his conquests led to many repercussions including increased contact and trade between the east and the west. Here are the 10 major accomplishments of Alexander the Great focusing on his glorious military campaign and the qualities that made them possible.

 

#1 Battle of Chaeronea and defeat of Sacred Band (338 BC)

The rise of Alexander’s father, Philip II of Macedonia, was perceived as a threat by some independent city states in Greece; principally Thebes and Athens. This led to the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC in Boeotia, central Greece; where Alexander at the young age of 18 played a pivotal role, leading the left wing command to help secure victory for his father. The cavalry wing led by Alexander annihilated the Sacred Band of Thebes, an elite corps previously regarded as invincible. This victory placed Macedonia in a commanding position in Greece enabling the future adventures of Alexander.

The Lion of Chaeronea
The Lion of Chaeronea – Erected by the Thebans in memory of their dead during the Battle of Chaeronea

 

#2 Reaffirmation of Macedonian Rule as King (336-335 BC)

After the assassination of Phillip II in 336 BC, Alexander was proclaimed King of Macedonia at the age of 20. The death of Phillip had emboldened many states and tribes; like the Athens, Thessaly and Thebes; to revolt. Alexander was quick to respond riding with 3000 cavalry south to Thessaly forcing them into surrender. Athens soon came into the fold sending their envoy and, in the city of Corinth, Alexander was given the title ‘Hegemon’ of the Greek forces against the Persians.

Bust of Philip II of Macedon
Bust of Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great

 

#3 Series of wins to ensure complete control over Greece (335 BC)

Before his Asian campaign Alexander wanted to secure his northern frontiers. He marched north and crushed the Thracian revolts led by Cleitus, King of Illyria, and Glaukias, King of Taulantii among others. These wins was followed by the razing of the city of Thebes, who had revolted again. These victories finally brought the whole of Greece to accept the rule of Alexander. Within just two years Alexander hence ensured complete control over Greece to concentrate his efforts on Asia.

Bust of Alexander the Great
Bust of Alexander the Great from the Hellenistic era, British Museum

 

#4 Conquest of the Achaemenid Empire – I. Battle of the Granicus River (334 BC)

The Achaemenid Empire (The First Persian Empire) founded by Cyrus the Great was one of the largest empires in history extending from the Balkans and Eastern Europe to Indus in the east. It was managed efficiently through centralized bureaucratic administration using Satraps (similar to governor of provinces) under the King. As Alexander crossed to Asia a gathering of various Satraps and their forces awaited him at the town of Zelea. The Battle was fought on the banks of the river Granicus near Troy in modern day Turkey. By fighting on the bank Alexander had minimized the advantage the Persians had in numbers and had rendered their deadly chariots ineffective on soft and muddy soil. Alexander would continue to use this advantage against the Persians and fight many more battles near river banks. Alexander attacked the left with briskness and, making a hole in the center with his wedge formation, he placed his infantry to strike at the Persian army. Several high-ranking Persian nobles were killed by Alexander himself or his horse companions. The battle was over soon.

Battle of the Granicus River
Battle of the Granicus River – Painting by French artist Charles Le Brun

 

#5 Conquest of the Achaemenid Empire – II. Battle of Issus (333 BC)

After the defeat of the Persians at the Battle of Granicus, Darius III, King of the Achaemenid Emipire, cut the Greek line of supply. He then personally gathered a large army setting up a battle with Alexander’s army south of the village of Isus. By fighting near river Pinarus, Darius had apparently not analyzed his previous defeat. Alexander was on unfavorable ground and he instructed his infantry to hold a defensive position. This surprised Darius, who elected to change position and attack the infantry of the Greeks. Alexander and his Royal Companions attacked the left side of the Persian army up the hill. Cutting up the enemy on a restrictive terrain generated a quick retreat. Then Alexander and his elite cavalry led a direct attack on Darius, who was forced to flee. The Battle of Issus is considered as a major breakthrough in Alexander’s long campaign against Persia.

 

#6 Seige of Tyre and Gaza (332 – 331 BC)

Alexander had realized that before venturing forth against his enemies he needed to secure his chain of supply. The coastal territories of Palestine, Egypt and Phoenicia were the key. Tyre, the largest city-state of Phoenicia, refused Alexander’s peace proposals claiming that they were neutral in the war. Alexander was however unwilling to relent and, in January of 332 BC, he started his long siege of Tyre that lasted almost eight month. During this time an uncompromising Alexander built bridges to the island city; employed siege machines; and fought off the Tyrian navy and army; until the fall of the fort.

After the fall of Tyre, Alexander marched south through Jerusalem to set the siege of Gaza which was fortified hill. The commander of Gaza, Batis, had refused to surrender to Alexander. After three unsuccessful attempts Gaza was finally conquered. The fall of Gaza pushed Alexander into Egypt where he was seen more as a liberator. Here, in 331 BC, he founded the city of Alexandria, which would become the center of Hellenistic culture and commerce in times to come.

Depiction of the Siege of Tyre
Depiction of naval action during the Siege of Tyre

 

#7 Conquest of the Achaemenid Empire – III. Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC)

By 331 BC Alexander had crossed the Euphrates and Tigris and moved towards the heart of the Achaemenid Empire. Darius III had by now gathered a huge army including the finest cavalry from his eastern satraps. The armies were face to face in the Battle of Gaugamela in present day Kurdistan. The Greek army was divided into two parts: the right was commanded by Alexander and the left by his personal friend Parmenion. Darius was in the center with the best of his infantry. The Greek phalanx attacked the center of the enemy lines. Forming a wedge, Alexander struck the weakened center of the Persian army, gaining a clear path to Darius. As the Persian line collapsed, Darius was to flee once again. The Battle of Gaugamela was one of the finest victories of Alexander. Darius was assassinated by one of his own; Bessus. Alexander gained substantial wealth in the Persian capitals of Babylon and Susa; and announced himself the Persian King of Kings.

Darius III flees during the Battle of Gaugamela
18th-century ivory relief showing flight of Darius III during the Battle of Gaugamela

 

#8 Conquest of the Achaemenid Empire – IV. Battle of the Persian Gate (330 BC)

In 330 BC, Persian satrap Ariobarzanes led a last stand of the Persian forces in the Battle of Persian Gate in present day Iran. Alexander was ambushed at a narrow mountain pass (Persian Gate) while traversing to Persepolis; the ceremonial capital of the Persian Empire. Heavy losses were inflicted on the Greek army but after holding the gate for a month, the Persians were finally encircled and defeated. This battle was the last nail in the coffin and Alexander had finally conquered the powerful Achaemenid Empire.

Statue of Alexander in Thessaloniki
Statue of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki, Greece

 

#9 Battle of the Hydaspes in Western India (326 BC)

Alexander had seen the last of the Persian resistance in 328 BC. After his marriage to Roshanak (Roxana) which had cemented his relations with the satrapies of Central Asia, he turned his eyes towards India. Defeating various clans and tribes in the region Alexander crossed the Indus to fight the Battle of Hydrapes against Porus, the ruler of Punjab. An epic battle ensued and Alexander was so impressed by the bravery of Porus that he made an alliance with him, appointing him as the satrap of his own kingdom. This battle was the last among the great battles of Alexander. Besides being a great military tactician and general, Alexander was known for being ruthless, persevering, diplomatic and even kind at some junctures. It was perhaps these qualities that sustained his long and treacherous campaign where he was undefeated in battle.

Battle of the Hydaspes painting
Alexander and Porus during the Battle of the Hydaspes – Painting by Charles Le Brun

 

#10 Alexander the Great is regarded as one of the most influential people in history

At the time of his death, the empire of Alexander was the largest state of its time covering around 5,200,000 square kilometers (2,000,000 sq mi). His conquests introduced Macedonian rule to several parts of Asia and many of these areas remained under Greek influence for the next two-three centuries. His campaigns also greatly increased contact and trade between east and west. Alexander founded around twenty cities that bore his name. Most prominent among these was Alexandria in Egypt, which became the intellectual and cultural center of the ancient west. Alexander and his exploits were greatly admired in the ancient world, especially by the Roman leaders, who saw him as a role model. Alexander the Great is ranked among the most influential people in history. He has figured in both high and popular culture from his time to this day. Considered among the greatest generals in history, his military tactics are still taught in military academies.

Map of the Empire of Alexander the Great
Map of the Empire of Alexander the Great in 323 BC

 

The Phalanx

A phalanx is a body of troops that moves and fights in a close formation. Earliest examples of this have been found in 2500 BC in Sumer through Egypt and then in Greek Literature in the 8th century. It is now usually associated with Greek warfare strategy with mention of its use in many battles, the most popular being the Battle of Marathon (490 BC). The Greek Phalanx was a dense grouping of Greek soldiers (Hoplites) who were armed with 8 foot long spears (Doru) and used interlocking shields amongst them. Phillip II of Macedon enhanced the Phalanx formation providing the Hoplites with better training, introducing a longer spear (sarissa) and masking the formations movement.

The phalanx was a highly effective tool during Alexander’s campaigns. The main unit was the syntagma, normally 16 men deep. Each soldier was armed with a 13 to 20 foot long sarissa, the first five ranks held their spears horizontally in front of the advancing phalanx. The remaining 11 ranks presumably held their spears vertically. The syntagma was surrounded by light infantry with some archers, slingers, and javelin men.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t know if he can be held to just 10 major accomplishments. He is so brilliant in strategy, logistics, and sheer boldness in war, his message of trying to unify the east and west with the mass marriages and the retention of good Persian Satraps seems to be lost in his overwhelming military achievements.

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