After all the books about Alexander's campaigns, The Macedonian War Machine (ISBN 184884618-5) finally gives us an inside view of the entire organization behind the day-to-day business as is suggested by the subtitle, "Neglected Aspects of the Armies of Philip, Alexander and the Successors 359-281 BC". A colossal job!
By now it is common knowledge that Alexander the Great owes his well-oiled and well-drilled army to his father, King Philip II of Macedonia. Alexander made his own additions and improvements, especially during his long march east and the Successors of Alexander reaped the fruits of this entire enterprise as they followed in his tracks.
It is an absolutely fabulous book that discusses so many aspects of the Macedonian army. Beside known and lesser known antique authors, David Karunanithy also closely analyzes wall-paintings and fresco’s, statues and reliefs, coins and medallions, tombs and stelai spread among sites and museums worldwide, with astonishing results. Especially the Alexander Sarcophagus, treasured by the Museum of Istanbul, the famous Alexander Mosaic exhibited in the Museum of Naples and the paintings from the Agios Athanasios Tomb, proud possession of the Museum of Thessaloniki, offer an abundant source of information.
The author systematically scrutinizes the outfit of Macedonian infantry and cavalry distinctively, officers as well as common soldiers and servants: their sandals, their shin or calf-high boots (krepides) with hobnail soles or not; their protection greaves; their felt socks (pellytra) with open toes; their chlamydes (cloaks) and tunics for either winter or summer use; their muscle-cuirasses, gorgets and assortment of corselets; their headgear from leather or woolen kausiai to Boeotian and Phrygian helmets; their bronze decorated and maybe painted and color-coded shields; their kopis (saber) and xiphos (straight sword); spears and sarissai; etc. These outfits and equipment had to be produced at key locations to be hauled and stored at preset points on Alexander’s route. A full-blooded industry is hidden behind these services alone, and workshops and arsenals arose when and where needed with highly skilled and professional workmen.
Training the soldiers was another ongoing business where newcomers were taught how to handle their arms and how to move in formation, with drills and fake combats, forced marches, hunting and all other aspects that would enhance their performance on the battlefield. It is obvious that the cavalry had a training of their own – not to forget that horses had to be acquired, tamed and made ready for combat. Over the years, many mounts had to be replaced and we know what a keen eye Alexander had to select the very best animals any region could produce. His Companion cavalry was privileged with the Nisaean thoroughbreds which were highly praised and celebrated, as they were perhaps closely related to the modern Arabian horse. New breeds of large, strong horses were gradually introduced as the march eastward progressed. A lot of care went into finding the best grazing lands while on the move; stables had to be built even on the way in order to shelter these noble animals.
The troops obviously needed a constant supply of food, arms, armor, horses and clothing. This meant that the importance of the baggage train in Alexander’s army cannot be underestimated and required adequate supervision by a highly reliable transport officer. The author feels that there is a good indication that this was one of Parmenion’s tasks since he had gained inestimable experience under King Philip II. After the general’s death, the post was most likely filled by Craterus or Erigyius. On the move through the many deserts of the East, food supplies were sealed and held at the centre of the baggage train to make sure famished soldiers would not steal any of it.
The book also contains an enlightening chapter about camp-life. It covers the role of the scouts whose task it was to choose the most ideal location to set-up camp. We get an insight in the layout of these camps that followed the Hippodamian plan in which every unit had its pre-established place with the King’s quarters in its very center. A closer look is taken at the different kinds of palisades and entrenchments that were used depending on the terrain and whether or not travelling in a hostile country; the soldier’s tents; the use of distinctive standards and banners; etc. Also, the security measures and signaling routines that applied in camp are discussed.
In fact, the list of topics is endless as David Karunanithy extensively scrutinizes the details of daily life and discipline of the Macedonian army before, under and after Alexander. At the end of his book, he adds extensive information about the technical expertise that was required and widely used for building roads, causeways, bridges, siege machines and all sorts of artillery. These technicians also were proficient in constructing altars, pyres, harbors; deviating water courses; filling up ravines; planning the crossing of the many waterways and digging for wells when water was scarce.
The sources David Karunanithy used to bring this huge amount of information together in an understandable language seem endless, ranging from scant notes from antiquity to modern analysis and studies, of which there are many. As a consequence, his reference bibliography is huge. Useless to say that I couldn’t grasp it all at once and had to re-read the entire book all over again, knowing that I will get back to it time and again.
The Macedonian War Machine underscores once again the massive and unique achievements of Philip II and the genius of Alexander the Great. No wonder that the men who fought under either or both kings thrived on this experience for years, fighting each other in the following decennia to keep the Macedonian aura shining.
Also available as e-Book.
Also available as e-Book.