10 fascinating facts you probably didn’t know about Alexander the Great and his army

6) Alexander’s army built a makeshift pathway over seawater just to effectively siege the island-city of Tyre in 332 BC!

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In the grand scheme of things, the siege of Tyre might have been a lesser incident in Alexander’s brilliant (yet short) career as a conqueror. But the encounter in itself proved how Alexander was an incredibly patient strategist – which was in sharp contrast to his vicious recklessness in the battlefield (as was evident from the Macedonian cavalry wedge formations where Alexander placed himself at the forefront of the ‘spear’). In any case, Tyre was an important and nigh impenetrable commercial hub, by virtue of its ‘island’ location and huge wall defenses – that were 150 ft high in some places, according to historian Arrian! So, Alexander tried to counter the city’s fascinating defensive ambit by actually ordering his army to construct causeways (or moles) over the sea that would directly lead to the island settlement.

The invading Greek forces did manage to construct (and even expand) a causeway from the rubble, rocks and even timber that were salvaged from the old abandoned city of Tyre – which was originally located along the coast. This causeway became the scene of a fierce encounter with Greek siege towers taking the brunt of the fire-laden counterattack by the Tyre-based forces. However, within a few days, Alexander was able to assemble an expansive fleet of ships that ultimately caught Tyre by surprise – thus leading to the ramming and breaching of a small section of the city walls. This tactical breakthrough made Tyre unceremoniously surrender, especially after being viciously assaulted by the hardened Macedonian elite infantry (also known as hypaspists). And in the ensuing aftermath, it is said that over 6,000 inhabitants were butchered by Alexander’s forces (with 2,000 being crucified), while an additional 30,000 people were sold into slavery.

7) Brutal punishments in Alexander’s army did include being trampled by elephants –

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Greater discipline was not the only factor that separated the Macedonian army from the other then-contemporary Greeks forces; Alexander’s phalangites also had to endure stricter disciplinary actions on account of their privileged status in the army. In that regard, cavalry officers were often punished more severely than their infantry counterparts – with actions (like flogging) being taken for minor offences ranging from bathing in warm water to inviting flute-girls into the camp.

However serious offences like mutinies often resulted in death sentences, given by none other than Alexander himself. In some cases, the offenders were put to death by throwing stones and javelins at them. In other cases, more grim measures were undertaken – like throwing the prisoners into a river with tightened chains binding their bodies. However, one particular incident of punishment stands out (as mentioned by Quintus Curtius Rufus), when Alexander’s successors (just after his death) ordered some 300 mutineers to be trampled beneath the feet of elephants – and that too in front of the whole army.

8) Alexander himself might have had a delusional disorder –

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While there are no arguments against Alexander being one of the greatest military strategists and leaders in history, the man himself seemingly suffered from delusions of grandeur during different phases of his lifetime. One of the primary reasons for this god complex-oriented behavioral pattern might have been due the psychological effect of his mother Olympia during Alexander’s childhood. She quite openly claimed that Alexander was the son of Zeus, after supposedly dreaming that her womb was struck by thunder. This extraordinary theory was apparently even ‘proven’ to Alexander by one of the oracles of Amun at Siwa, Egypt. As a result, Alexander began to seriously identify himself as the son of the deity Zeus-Ammon – as is evident from a few ancient silver coins that depict Alexander armed with a thunderbolt.

Alexander the Great also saw himself to be to rightful successor to the fabled Achaemenid emperors after his Macedonian army conquered the length and breath of ancient Persian realm. Such impressive yet influencing achievements in turn fueled Alexander to re-establish many of the Persian customs, like dressing up in the Persian royal attire and the upholding of the proskynesis. This latter mentioned practice entailed the traditional Persian act of bowing or prostrating oneself before a person of higher rank. Suffice it to say, the ‘democratic’ Greeks were averse to such a notion, and as such were alienated by many of Alexander’s megalomaniac decisions.

9) Alexander was a skilled musician and debater; but was also addicted to alcohol –

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According to Plutarch, by the age of ten, Alexander was already quite an expert in playing the lyre, debating and even reciting – all of which were sometimes performed in front of his father’s guests. In fact, both poetry and music continued to inspire Alexander even during his later life – as did the consumption of prodigious volumes of alcohol. To that end, drinking and partying came quite naturally to the young Macedonian general, especially during his extended campaigns and hunting trips.

One particular incident related to Alexander’s penchant for ‘partying’ once again comes from the account of Plutarch, where the noted author goes on to describe the so-called Bacchanalian behavior of the Macedonian army. He mentions how Alexander and his army was returning through Balochistan after their disastrous Indian campaign – and the soldiers in this procession took part in every form of excess and decadence. Alexander himself was seated on a high dais surrounded by his companions – all draped in flowers and enjoying goblets of wine; while this massive platform was slowly drawn by eight horses. As Plutarch continued

Not a shield was to be seen, not a helmet, not a spear, but along the whole march with cups and drinking-horns and flagons the soldiers kept dipping wine from huge casks and mixing-bowls and pledging one another, some as they marched along, others lying down; while pipes and flutes, stringed instruments and song, with reveling cries of women, filled every place with abundant music. Then, upon this disordered and straggling procession there followed also the sports of bacchanalian license, as though Bacchus himself were present and conducting the revel. Moreover, when he came to the royal palace of Gedrosia, he once more gave his army time for rest and held high festival. We are told, too, that he was once viewing some contests in singing and dancing, being well heated with wine, and that his favorite, Bagoas, won the prize for song and dance, and then, all in his festal array, passed through the theater and took his seat by Alexander’s side; at sight of which the Macedonians clapped their hands and loudly bade the king kiss the victor, until at last he threw his arms about him and kissed him tenderly.

10) There is a town in Pakistan that was originally named after Alexander’s horse!

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Given his delusions of grandeur and tendency to deify himself, Alexander is estimated to have christened around 70 settlements (from Africa to Asia) after his own name. The thriving city of present-day Alexandria in Egypt stands as a testament to this personality-promoting pattern. However, Alexander’s obsession with his enviable achievements went beyond his own name, to also include his favorite horse – Bucephalus. Thereupon, Alexander named one of the settlements in (present) Pakistan as Alexandria Bucephalous or Bucephala, to commemorate his beloved horse who was mortally wounded in the hard-won Battle of the Hydaspes in 326 BC.

As if often the case, historians are still not sure of the exact location of this settlement – with some hypothesizing its location to be around the river Jhelum, and some conjecturing its location to be along a road that connected Taxila to the Jhelum (in the latter case, the townsfolk of Phalia sometimes claim their settlement’s original name to be Bucephala).

Honorable Mention –
Alexander had two different colored eyes –

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Most accounts of Alexander portray him as having a fair skin that turned ruddy due to extensive military campaigning during most of his later life. He also had a clean-shaven face (thus making him stand out from the usually bearded Macedonians), and probably possessed a rather short and stocky body, with a slightly twisted neck and a harsh voice. However, Greek historian Arrian added another fascinating anecdote by saying that Alexander had “one eye dark as the night and one blue as the sky.” Later historians (namely Peter Green) have agreed upon this observation, thus suggesting that Alexander might have had a condition known as heterochromia iridum. And, added to all these physical attributes, Alexander may have also boasted of pleasant body odor – as is clearly mentioned in Plutarch’s “Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans,” written 400 years after Alexander’s death.

Other Sources (Book References): Alexander the Great at War (Edited by Ruth Sheppard) / Macedonian Warrior (Osprey Publishing)Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age (Peter Green).

3 Comments on "10 fascinating facts you probably didn’t know about Alexander the Great and his army"

  1. Aryan Truther | August 22, 2016 at 6:21 am |

    “Alexander of Macedon” rightly said “Alexander the Terrible” was a psychopathic mass-murderer and a destroyer of civilizations, he began his destructive and murderous campaign by invading Greece, in the city of “Thebes” alone he massacred thousands of civilians incl. women and children and sold the rest into slavery, then he portrayed himself a Greek claiming his lineage to mythologies and invaded the most advanced, harmonious and peaceful united nations in the World’s History the “Achaemenid Persian Empire” that was ruled by natural laws, social justice and respect to other nations’ customs and ways of life, an Empire that ended millennia of barbarity and bloodshed in the ancient World, and by his invasion Alexander literally put the World into darkness for 500 years when no significant productivity or achievement was created.

    Watch this documentary to know more about his character, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nuat9XItEJI.

    Alexander wasn’t even a good military leader, he didn’t have as hard of tasks as the Persian rulers and military commanders had before him, to put the separated nations and the warring kingdoms together and keep them together for 220 years, Alexander invaded an already consolidated empire, and soon disintegrated it into pieces for his lack of leadership and incompetence. He also killed many of his own generals for his poor management and bad temper and finally himself got killed by his own generals, and his body lost. His mother also killed many innocent people incl. new born children, siblings of Alexander under his own knowledge and out of their hatred, vengeance, greed and lack of ethics, they also assassinated Alexander’s father “Phillip” previously. Thus there is much more to the history of ancient Greece and Macedonia than portrayed by the Hollywood and the Western Media and Academia, these manners are certainly not part of the attributes of any “Great” character in History.

  2. Paul Sandilands | November 19, 2015 at 3:27 am |

    well done

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