Posts Tagged With: Getae

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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Arrian I.4.1-8

In This Chapter
Alexander crosses the Danube and leads an assault on the Getae.

The crossing of the Danube took place without any hitches – the 4,00 horse and 10,000 foot who had stood on the opposite bank to oppose him did not stay overnight but withdrew to their tents.

Once on the far side of the river, Alexander waited until dawn before moving his men inland. They crept through a cornfield, the infantry sweeping their sarissas from side-to-side so as ‘to flatten the corn’.

After reaching the end of the cornfield, Alexander ordered his infantry to proceed ‘in rectangular formation’. The king himself took his cavalry off to the Macedonian right wing.

He found the Getaean warriors encamped together. They were shocked by the sight of the Macedonian army and crumbled under ‘the first charge of the [Macedonian] cavalry’.

The warriors of the Getae fled back to their ‘city’ 3.5 miles away. Alexander followed them. Seeing him, the Getae promptly decided to abandon their city and flee into the interior of their homeland. Alexander took the city, gathered anything of value that the Getae had left behind and ordered Meleager and Philip to take it away. As the plunder began its journey south, Alexander destroyed the city and sacrificed to Zeus the Saviour, Herakles and the Danube itself at a site beside the river for not standing in his way during the operation. No Macedonian soldiers were lost during this mission.

Word of Alexander’s exploits travelled far and wide. Ambassadors and envoys came to greet him and declare their people’s friendship. Among them were ‘envoys from Syrmus’ who we saw retreat to the island in the middle of the Danube, and Celts from faraway. Alexander asked them what they feared most; he expected them to say him but had the cheek to call them ‘a pretentious lot’ when they replied that they most feared the sky falling on their heads!

Thoughts
At first sight, the decision of the Getae to leave the Danube river bank seems an inexplicable one but as you read on their reason why quickly becomes clear. As Arrian makes clear, the Getae regarded the Danube as a strong defence against enemy invasion. They reckoned that any attempt to cross it would be difficult and that a bridge would have to be built for the purpose. Thus, when Alexander appeared in front of them having not bothered to build a bridge at all, they were in shock.

Wikipedia describes the ‘shock and awe’ military tactic in the following terms,

Shock and awe (technically known as rapid dominance) is a tactic based on the use of overwhelming power and spectacular displays of force to paralyze the enemy’s perception of the battlefield and destroy their will to fight

Shock and Awe – Wikipedia

This is how Alexander defeated the Getae.
Overwhelming power – Arrian tells us that the Getae found ‘the close-packed phalanx… terrifying’. The sight of the cavalry no doubt also terrified them
Spectacular display of power – the fact that the Macedonian army had so easily managed to cross the Danube – in one night and without needing to build a bridge.

One of Alexander’s numerous strengths as a general was his ability to adapt his tactics according the circumstances. Not just offensively, but also in the matter of defence. So, when the Macedonians approached the Getaeans, the infantry did so in a ‘rectangular formation’, which would protect the men if the Getaeans got the better of them. Alexander’s ability to adapt always allowed him to stay one step ahead of his rivals in the field, and can be considered one of the chief reasons why he remained undefeated in war.

When Alexander followed the Getaean warriors to their ‘city’, he remained very respectful of the enemy. Thus, he ordered his cavalry to ride ahead of the infantry to protect it in case of any Getaean ambush or counter-attack. The Getaens, however, were already done for, and so their ‘city’ was good only to be sacked and razed.

The mission against the Getae seems to foreshadow the lead up to the Battle of the Hydaspes River – in fact, it almost feels like a simpler version of that conflict. The essentials of both conflicts, however, is the same: arrival at a river, working out how to safely cross it, engaging the enemy.

Similarly, the arrival of the ambassadors from various native peoples also reads as a much simpler version of the diplomacy that Alexander carried out in 324/23 BC when he met ambassadors and envoys from ‘practically all the inhabited world’ in 324 BC as described by Diodorus (Dio. XVII.113). On that occasion, they not only came to make friends with him but present gifts, make treaties and seek his judgement.

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Arrian I.3.1-6

In This Chapter
After telling us that Alexander arrived at the Danube river after defeating the Triballians at the Lyginus river, Arrian digresses to give an account of the tribes who live along it.

At the Danube, Alexander was joined by warships from Byzantium (presumably he ordered them to come on a previous occasion; Arrian does not tell us).

After ordering archers and hoplites aboard the ships, Alexander attempted to attack the island where Syrmus had taken refuge. Unfortunately for him, Macedonian numbers were too few, the current too fast, landing sites too steep and Thracian/Triballian opposition too strong for him to succeed in taking it. Alexander gave up and decided to cross the Danube instead, to attack the Getae on the other side.

The Getae were seemingly ready for him – Arrian says that there were 4,000 cavalry and 10,000 foot on the far bank. Alexander, however, had a deep yearning (pothos) to cross the river. Not all of his men would fit onto the ships so he ordered them to ‘stuff their leather tent-covers with hay’ and then sow them up; in addition, he gave orders for local boats to be commandeered. That night, 1500 cavalry and 4,000 men crossed the river.

Thoughts
I once read that the Alexander Historians provide details that are applicable to their own time rather than Alexander’s in their work. This makes me wonder, therefore, if Arrian’s list of Danube tribes comes from the second century AD rather than fourth century BC.

Alexander’s inability to take the island represents a rarity for him – a military failure at which he was present. Because Arrian is a pro-Alexander writer (unlike, say, Curtius), the inclusion of this failure is significant. But perhaps Arrian mentions it because in the greater scheme of things, it didn’t matter. We will see how true this is as we read further.

In this chapter we see the first mention of Alexander’s pothos, his deep yearning to achieve a goal. If you would like to know more about pothos, how it came to be applied to Alexander and its broader meaning, I highly recommend this article from Livius.

Why would Alexander be so keen to cross the Danube? We don’t know for sure, but the notes to my copy of Arrian suggest that ‘he may have wanted to rival the crossing of the Danube by Darius [the Great] in 512[BC]’. With his love of fighting, perhaps he also wanted to fight further and further afield for the glory of it; in this case, the Danube campaign foreshadows the journey beyond the Hindu Kush and into India very strongly.

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