Posts Tagged With: Eordaicus

Arrian I.6-1-11

In This Chapter
How Alexander escaped from a pincer movement

Cleitus and Glaucias could not have asked for better luck. Alexander and his army was caught right between them, and what’s more, both could sally forth and begin the final showdown at their leisure: Cleitus was safe behind the walls of Pellium and Glaucias had the advantage of height as offered by the hills that surrounded the city. In addition to that, the woods that covered them gave him a good protection.

In Chapter Four we saw how Alexander used shock and awe tactics in order to defeat the Getae. Outside Pellium, he used the same tactic but in a very different way.

Rather than attack either the city or the hills hard and fast, or simply retreat, and risk being attacked in his rear, Alexander formed his phalanx up to a depth of 122 rows. Then, after ordering silence, he took his infantrymen through a series of manoeuvres. ‘[S]pears upright’, then down and left and right; he marched the phalanx forward at speed, and wheeled it about on both left and right wings. Finally, he put it into a wedge formation and approached Glaucias’ men who were watching from the foothills. Unnerved by the Macedonian display of discipline and power, they fled back into the hills. Alexander allowed his men to beat their shields and issue their battle cry. This added to the Taulantians’ terror. Those who did not flee into the hills made their way into Pellium.

Having nullified the threat of Glaucias for now, Alexander rode away from the phalanx to dislodge some of the Taulantians who held a hill overlooking the pass that was the Macedonians’ only route to safety. On seeing him come, they fled. The Taulantians were not at all keen fighters. Or maybe they were just realistic ones.

The Phalanx forded the river (Eordaicus). Instead of ordering it to continue marching, Alexander lined it up on the other side of the bank – to discourage the Taulantians from pursuing him and picking off the men at the rear.

This, though, is what they tried to do. As the Taulantians rushed forward, Alexander and his cavalrymen charged them. You will not be surprised to read that, according to Arrian, Glaucias’ men did not stand and fight but once more fled.

The Taulantians made one last attempt to claim some scalps but as the last of the Macedonian army crossed the river, Alexander gave the order for catapults and archers to provide covering fire. This was effective. Alexander lost no men in his retreat.

Alexander may have been forced into a retreat but like Glaucias, he was not above an act of opportunism. Three days later, on hearing that the Illyrians and Taulantians were camped outside Pallium ‘in disorderly fashion’, Alexander led a large company of men back over the Eordaicus ahead of the main body of the army. Cleitus and Glaucias had assumed that Alexander had left the area and not bothered to send any spies to confirm this. This was their undoing.

Alexander came crashing down on the Illyrian and Taulantian men. Many were killed in their beds. Others tried to flee; those who did so successfully were forced to dump their weapons on the way. Cleitus locked himself in Pellium. Seeing no hope for the future there, he burnt the city down and snuck away to rejoin Glaucias in the latter’s kingdom.

Thoughts
In the way he used silence and discipline to overwhelm the Taultantians, Alexander showed himself to be a master of psychological warfare. He knew exactly what would get under his enemy’s skin, what would make it panic and flee. Thanks to the brilliant training of his army – for which he would have had to thank his father, Philip – he was able to execute his idea. If the death of Langarus changed the complexion of the Wars of the Successors (see Arrian I.2.1-6 here) this was a ‘battle’ that was won in 359 BC when Philip became king.

Chapter Six marks the end of the Illyrian campaign. In the next chapter, Alexander heads south to deal with Thebes. What do the Thracian and Illyrian campaigns tell us about Alexander? As a general, this:

– He had a tactically creative mind
– He had supreme confidence in the abilities of his soldiers
– He was able to think on his feet
– He was a calm thinker, not given to panicking
– He did not look down on ‘dirtier’ acts, such as acts of opportunism
– He knew the minds of his enemies
– He lead from the front

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The Thracian Campaign

A few days ago I read the opening pages of Arrian’s Campaigns of Alexander. While doing so, I was struck by his account of Alexander’s Thracian campaign, and what it told me about the Macedonian king’s quality of generalship, even at the young age of 20.

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As you may know, the Thracian campaign took place in the Spring of 335 B.C. Alexander undertook it in order to secure Macedon’s northern borders before he began his expedition to overthrow the Persian Empire.

In the course of a few weeks, the king defeated various tribal armies and armed forces in head-to-head battles, forcing numerous tribes to make peace with him. The campaign came to abrupt end when Alexander heard about Thebes’ revolt.

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The first incident to jump out at me was the famous cart manoeuvre. As Arrian (I.1-2) relates, Alexander took his army into a ‘narrow defile’ below Mount Haemus only to find a Thracian armed force blocking the upper slopes with carts. They pushed the carts over the edge of the slope intending no doubt not only to cause serious injury to the Macedonian soldiers but put the phalanx into disorder (thus making a counter-attack easier).

Alexander, however, avoided any casualties, firstly by ordering those men who could to step out of the carts’ way or, when that wasn’t possible, ordering them to lie on the ground with their shields on their backs so that the carts rode over them.

I have to admit, his response to the threat of the carts is so simple that it is hard to imagine anyone doing anything else. But while I could imagine any general ordering his men to step out of their way, it surely takes a very creative mind to realise that we could make the carts go over us.

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The next incident that stood out was Alexander’s crossing of the Ister (Danube) river. It seems that what he should have done was built a bridge. But, he didn’t. Instead, and as Arrian (I.4) relates, he ordered his men to sew up their tents and stuff them with hay. These were then used as floats during a crossing that took place at night.

This was a very daring plan. Prior to crossing the river, Alexander had assaulted those Triballians and Thracians who were hiding on a mid-river island. He tried to land on it but without success; one reason for this is because the current was too fast. Now, while the water in the open river would have been slower I assume it must have still been flowing at a fair speed in order to become unmanageable ‘through the narrows’ between island and land. If so, that must have made guiding the floats a difficult job. Especially at night time.

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The next example of Alexander’s superior generalship that stood out at me was his response to being caught between Cleitus son of Bardylis in the fortified town of Pelium next to the Eordaicus River and troops belonging to Cleitus and Glaucias who held positions in the ‘commanding heights’ above the town.

Had Alexander made a wrong move here, he could have been killed and his army wiped out. So, how did he even the odds? Not by brute force but by employing psychological warfare.

This sounds very grand but as Arrian (I.6) tells us, Alexander simply drilled his men. Simply? He had them ‘execute various intricate movements’ and had them do so silently.

Glaucias’ and Cleitus’ armies – much larger than Alexander’s – were scared to death by the Macedonians’ discipline. As they watched the enemy soldiers go through their paces the silence must have deafened them. When, finally, Alexander ‘called on his men to raise the war-cry’, well, you can imagine what that must have done to the tribal armies frayed nerves. Unsurprisingly, it lead to those on the heights withdrawing from their positions.

To be fair to the tribesmen, not all fell back. One group stayed on a hill that Alexander needed to cross. When he approached it, however, the enemy fled.

With the hill secured, Alexander made his way to the Eordaicus. Crossing it would bring him to safety. As the Macedonians waded through the water, Glaucias’ men attacked them in the rear. The tribesmen didn’t have the guts for a fight, though, for they were careful to keep out of range of the Macedonian archers. Alexander’s shock-and-awe tactic was an on-going success.

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Of the three events that I  have mentioned in this post, it is the third that impresses me most. It not only required Alexander to make the right decision in a seemingly impossible situation but his army to hold firm as well. This highlights the fact that a great general, even one of genius, as Alexander was, needs a good army in order to display his talents. In the Macedonian army, Alexander was fortunate to have one of the finest ever to march across the earth.

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