How Wars Are Won: The 13 Rules of War—From Ancient Greece to the War on Terror Click here to purchase from Barnes & Noble. Click here to purchase from

The Army Alexander Used to Conquer Persia

Excerpt from How Wars Are Won: The 13 Rules of War—From Ancient Greece to the War on Terror, by Bevin Alexander, page 255

The army Philip [of Macedon] had created was radically different from other armies. Whereas the Greeks relied for protection on large shields carried on their left arms, which kept their right arms free to wield an eight or nine-foot-long spear, the Macedonians sacrificed an amount of shield protection in order to wield a longer, heavier thirteen to fourteen-foot spear, called the sarissa. This was a two-handed pike, and since the Macedonians needed both hands to wield it, they bore only a small round shield slung on the left shoulder. Because the Greeks carried such large shields, they could erect a formidable barrier that was difficult to penetrate, making the Greek phalanx as much a defensive formation as an offensive formation. In contrast, the Macedonian phalanx was an almost totally offensive formation. Due to its longer spears, the Macedonian phalanx could strike a Greek phalanx while still out of range of the Greek defenders, overpowering the Greek shield.

Not only was Philip’s new phalanx thus superior to the Greek phalanx, but his even more important innovation was to turn his cavalry into the main fighting force of his army. Traditional Greek armies employed cavalry only on the wings, as protection. The decisive punching force of Greek warfare was the phalanx. Philip decided that main blows could be delivered by cavalry, equipped with metal-pointed wooden thrusting spears, making the horsemen on each of his flanks the fighting arms, especially the right flank, where he concentrated most of his strength. Thus the Macedonian army was transformed into a highly mobile force that could strike quickly and with great power.

After his success in suppressing revolts, Alexander resolved to use the army his father had created to conquer the Persian Empire, the greatest kingdom on earth, stretching from the Aegean sea and Egypt to the Indus river in present-day Pakistan.

<< More 'Early Wars' Excerpts << Back to top