Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Drangiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Battle of Chaeronea - Macedonia forged by Philip II - 12

The Battle of Chaeronea (338 BC)
The Greek coalition was very much aware of Philip’s position and immediately realized they had to settle the fate of Greece once and for all in a serious confrontation. If Philip won, Greece was his; if the Greeks won, they expected to keep their freedom and autonomy. A matter of simple calculation. The scene was set later that summer of 338 BC on the plains of Chaeronea, the very heart of Greece with a carefully chosen topography.
[picture graciously shared by Jim]
I finally find myself on more familiar grounds here, since I can pick up the history of 18 years old Alexander serving under his father and already proving his insight and capability on the battlefield. This was not just any battle, but a decisive one that would determine the fate of Greece for many years to come.

The plain of Chaeronea was about three miles wide, bordered by rivers and mountains on the northern and southern sides. The Cephissus River and its marshy lands on the eastern edge limited the fighting space and seriously hampering the movement of Philip’s cavalry. For the opposition, it was in fact the ideal place to stop Philip on his road to Thebes and hence to Athens. Basically both sides more or less equaled in strength: Philip with 30,000 infantry including some allies like Thessaly and 2,000 cavalry; the allied troops commanded by Athens numbered around 30,000 infantry also and 3,800 cavalry, but they could count on extra forces from Boeotia (including the Sacred Band of Thebes), and other cities and islands. Because of their numbers, the allies were in a defensive position and none of them had ever faced the disciplinary trained Macedonian army.

It is interesting to take a closer look at the formation of both armies as they were facing each other. The Greeks stretched out in a long line over the entire width of the plain flanked by a river on each end. Their left wing was headed by the Athenians (with Demosthenes among the defenders of his city) and the right wing comprised of Boeotians including Thebes famous Sacred Band; the other sections assembled the other forces arranged by ethnic units. On the Macedonian side, the left flank was occupied by the cavalry commanded by Alexander (probably assisted by the veteran generals Parmenion and Antipater), facing the Sacred Band from across the marshy fields. King Philip himself commanded the right flank, opposite the Athenians.

We are used to hear how Alexander could judge his enemies’ strategy in a wink, but apparently he inherited this instinct from his father. Here at Chaeronea, Philip immediately understood that the Greeks intended to force his own line to stretch to the point of reducing the depth of his phalanx, which in turn would present less resistance to their attack. We should not forget that the Macedonians had been fighting almost every year and were superbly drilled. They were able to move like clockwork, and they did.

Philip started to move his line of men forward but not parallel the opposition. His right flank was closer to the enemy than his left. The Greeks didn’t budge until Philip’s right wing started to retreat moving slightly further to the right. To face this movement, the allies moved along towards their left, causing their entire line to stretch out thinner – in fact exactly what they had hoped to do to Philip’s army! Only the Theban Band stood put, probably realizing that Alexander was facing them. The disciplined Macedonian army kept their lines closed as the soldiers moved still further to the right till they had reached the Lykuressi stream. By this time a gap had opened in the enemy lines as the Thebans stood their ground. It was the signal Alexander had been waiting for and he charged for the opening in the allied lines while part of his cavalry contingents moved around the flank of the Theban Band which was immediately encircled. Alexander simply had to win this battle, for himself and for his father to prove that he was worth his trust – and so he did by annihilating the entire Theban Band. They fought to the last man, all three hundred of them. After that, Alexander turned to the other Boeotians, defeating them in another fierce battle. Meanwhile Philip had halted his feigned retreat and started a true onslaught as the enemy stood no chance against the long sarissas of his phalanx. He drove the Athenians back, killing one thousand of them, while about two thousand were taken prisoner. The battle was over. Demosthenes managed barely to escape and his glamorous orator carrier was over.

The Battle of Chaeronea totally changed Greece as the “Barbarian” king which Athens had not willingly faced as their equal in previous repeated peace negotiations had now become master of all the free states and city-states that so deeply had believed in their own freedom. Greece was now part of Macedonia and Macedonia ruled over all of Greece! How the tables had turned! I think Justin did Philip right by stating that “as far as he could, he conquered without making anyone feel that he was a conqueror” – again one of those phrases that would or could be used on Alexander later on…

Today we all know the Lion of Chaeronea, which according to the story was erected as a tribute to the bravery of the Sacred Band on the western edge of the battlefield. The original monument was destroyed during the Greek War of Independence and has now been restored. There is still the ongoing argument whether or not the Sacred Band was buried in this spot. Since all 300 men are said to have died in this battle, only 254 bodies were uncovered during the restoration, neatly arranged in seven rows.

Click here to read the full story about Philip II from the beginning

2 comments:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

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    Replies
    1. Warfare is indeed a fascinating subject – unfortunately that is what makes history. We all want peace but we have to fight in order to obtain and preserve it. How contradictory that is for when are we fighting for “the right cause” and what is the definition of a right cause? I’m certain such discussions have been held by politicians, philosophers, kings and generals for centuries without reaching any satisfying conclusion.
      Thanks for taking the time to write your comment.

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