I hate realising after the event that something doesn’t work. Case in point, the title of last Wednesday’s post, The War That Couldn’t Be Won On The Hydaspes. The title is much too long. I should have deleted the last three words.
Well, no use crying over spilt milk; let’s look at what I have been doing in Alexanderland since then.
As it happens, I have managed to read a little more of both Alexander the Great’s Art of Strategy and The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire.
Partha Bose continues to create his own history. On p.142, he refers to Xenophon who ‘defeated the King of Persia’. But the reason why the 10,000 had to make their heroic journey back towards Greece is precisely because they lost the war against the Great King. Their paymaster, Cyrus the Younger, who was trying to overthrow Artaxerxes II, was killed in battle against him and so the Greeks had no choice but to flee.
In a section titled ‘Connective Style’, Bose refers to the fact that Alexander gave his generals the space to carry out their orders. He never,
… intervened or second-guessed the generals once battle had commenced. They came to each other’s aid, but they had gone over the battle plans and strategies so many times that implementing them would come naturally to them.
This is a really good point. Alexander was blessed to have some extremely talented men serving under him. Of course, there were failures along the way (see the breakdown in command that lead to the deaths of Andromachus, Caranus, Menedemus, and Pharnuches et al – Arrian IV.5.3-6.2) but they are very much the exceptions that prove the rule. Philip II said that in all his life he had found only one general – Parmenion. He was exaggerating, of course, but had he lived longer, he would have found many more in men like Perdiccas, Craterus, Coenus, Lysimachus and Nearchus.
In the next section, ‘Getting Himself Over’ Bose talks about Alexander’s ability to connect with his troops.
Alexander had that admirable quality of being able to ‘get himself over’ to his troops, what British field marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein referred to as a pivotal skill in military leadership.
Alexander was not only good at this but a genius. How did he do it? Undoubtedly he would have learnt how to inspire his men but for the most part he was surely using his natural magnetism and charisma. I don’t think you can learn your way to inspiring your men to do the impossible. For some modern examples of intensely charismatic men, see Barack Obama, Tony Blair and – perhaps most of all of recent American Presidents? – Ronald Reagan. I would be willing to bet that they learnt to fine hone their powers of persuasion but that none of them started off being dull.
Apropos of nothing, I like the phrase ‘getting himself over’. I have heard it once before – in the context of American (WWE) wrestling. There, a wrestler behaves in a particular way to get over – become accepted – as either a goodie (babyface) or baddie (heel). It has been a while since I watched the WWE so feel free to correct me on this but if I am right, Alexander was behaving in basically the same fashion. The stakes were rather higher for him, though, so he didn’t want to get over simply as a goodie but as a figure of authority and power and munificence. If he could do it, he knew his men would follow him to the ends of the earth, which is nearly what happened.
In Waldemar Heckel’s The Marshals of Alexander’s Empire, I have moved on to The New Man and have now read about Koinos (Coenus) and Hephaistion. The New Men were the generals of Alexander’s generation and Hephaestion was, of course, pre-eminent among them.
As I found out when I bought Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great, Heckel does not have much time for the son of Amyntor. He regards him as a man of limited military ability and ‘an unpleasant, jealous individual’ (p.83).
Limited Military Ability?
Heckel states that,
What we learn of Hephaistion’s later career as a cavalry-officer confirms our suspicions that his promotion to hipparch was owed to his friendship with Alexander rather than to military genius.
and in his dispute with Craterus, the latter ‘was equally ambitious but more capable’ (p.83).
On the one hand, I am sure that Hephaestion’s friendship with Alexander did him no harm whatsoever. And maybe it did help him to rise through the ranks. However, I am also sure that Craterus also benefitted from the loyalty he had to Alexander the king as well.
On the other, what does it mean that Craterus was the more capable man? There are no recorded incidents in the sources of Hephaestion failing Alexander in any commission that he was given. Whether it was to build a bridge or a city, choose a king or transfer equipment or food, he got the job done. But perhaps Heckel is talking about on the battlefield. Granted, Hephaestion could not be considered to be in the first division of generals, but neither could Craterus be considered to be in the first division of logistical experts. In their respective spheres of influence, both Hephaestion and Craterus were extremely capable. I might add that when they entered into each other’s sphere – when Hephaestion fought in a set piece battle or when Craterus was asked to forage – neither failed in their orders.
An ‘unpleasant, jealous individual’?
Heckel reaches this conclusion in the context of the Philotas Affair. The affair in which Craterus took a leading part as well, by the way. For it wasn’t only Hephaestion who called for Philotas to be tortured (Curtius VI.11.10). He also blames Hephaestion for his dispute with Eumenes (p.85) citing Plutarch’s Life of Eumenes 2. Plutarch, though, does not tell us who started that dispute. For all we know, Eumenes started it and Hephaestion, knowing full well that he could not afford to let the Carian be seen to put one over him, retaliated so that matters went downhill to the discredit of both from there.
I agree with Heckel that Hephaestion had a dark side but so did Craterus, so did Eumenes and, I would wager, so did every other Macedonian general. We all have failings. Hephaestion was just unlucky to have his remembered and recorded because he was so close to the king.
I have been watching more of Shiralyn Mayon’s videos from my Alexander Facebook page. The first is this one on the Battle of Issus,
This video is fairly straight forward and not particularly spectacular. Unfortunately, the graphical quality isn’t great but it does have an actor playing Alexander whose lips reminded me very much of the British Museum Alexander bust. Also, Peter Green – author of Alexander of Macedon 356 – 323 B.C. A Historical Biography – appears in it, and he has a lovely accent.
The second video that I have been able to watch is this one,
If you have time for only one of the above, I would say watch Macedonian Battle Tactics. The visual quality is better and it gives a good overview of what made Alexander’s army so successful. It also includes a reference to the Hammer and Anvil strategy, which I found very useful.