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Alexander’s Strategy for Conquering Persia

Excerpt from How Wars Are Won: The 13 Rules of War—From Ancient Greece to the War on Terror, by Bevin Alexander, pages 181-82

An invasion into enemy territory can elicit all manner of responses from the defending population, many of them unpredictable....In general, however, a commander can anticipate firm opposition from both the enemy military and the civilian population, and must examine carefully how to meet various kinds of opposition.

A brilliant case in point of doing so is that of Alexander the Great when he set out to conquer the Persian Empire in 334 B.C. He faced a daunting task. His country was modest in size compared to the empire, which was enormous, stretching from Egypt in the west to the Indus river in the east. The actual heart or center of power of the empire lay deep in the interior, around Babylon, in Mesopotamia, and Susa and Persepolis, in present-day Iran. Alexander could not march on this heartland until he had gained a position of strength inside the empire, and until his rear was secure. Otherwise, his army might be cut off from Macedonia and Greece and, without supplies and reinforcements, would perish.

Alexander’s first and most crucial task was to defeat the Persian army that met him more or less on the doorstep when he entered Asia Minor. This victory came at the Granicus river in May of 334 B.C., and ensured him control of western Anatolia. However, the Persian (mostly Phoenician) fleet dominated the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean seas, and, if left undisturbed, might block his supply line back to Macedonia and foment uprisings in Greece. Alexander knew he had to figure a way to eliminate this threat before invading Persia’s heartland. He decided to march down the coast of the Levant to Egypt, occupying all the bases of the Persian fleet, and thereby eliminating the naval threat. His rear was now secure, and he was in possession of several bases that guaranteed his supplies.

Having protected his position, Alexander then advanced into Mesopotamia. There he destroyed Darius’s army at Arbela in 331 B.C. This battle, fought near Babylon, secured him the heart of the Persian Empire, and thereby destroyed Darius’s legitimacy as ruler. Alexander became his successor.

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