Posted on June 16, 2013
Those interested in the astonishing life of Alexander the Great will enjoy The Generalship of Alexander the Great by J. F. C. Fuller, a brilliant work of scholarship that draws on the many classical sources, as well as the author’s profound knowledge of military history.
John Frederick Charles Fuller was a British staff officer during the Boer War and World War I who developed a new theory about the mechanization of warfare that the British didn’t pay much attention to. Unfortunately for humanity, the Germans did. They used Fuller’s ideas to conquer Poland, France, and a good many other countries.
Fuller was a fascist and a friend of Hitler’s, but this does not detract from the insights he provides about Alexander. Far from it. As a military genius himself, he is able to show the reader how Alexander accomplished his amazing conquests.
You probably know Alexander inherited the greatest army in the history of the ancient world from his father, Philip of Macedon, who made mincemeat of the Spartans, the Thebans, the Athenians and the rest of the Greeks — and that was just for starters.
After he died, Alexander used this fighting machine, and the tactics he had learned, to conquer Persia, Mesopotamia, Afghanistan and parts of India, and Fuller is just the guy to explain how he did it. Alexander was impetuous, as we know, but he was patient, too. Fuller describes how he takes his time, using logistics and strategy.
After defeating the Persian emperor Darius in two initial battles, Alexander takes time out to secure his home base in the Mediterranean. The Persian fleet, which would be a menace in his rear, is manned by sailors from Sidon and Tyre in Phoenicia, so he takes these cities to neutralize this threat. Then he conquers Egypt.
Everywhere he goes, he lowers taxes and sacrifices to the local gods, so he doesn’t have to leave large garrisons. Considering how crappy the governments were back then, you could regard him as a liberator. And he is careful to leave one guy in charge of governance, one guy in charge of the military, and another guy in charge of collecting taxes, so nobody is in a position to challenge him.
Then, when he has his final showdown with Darius, he flat out beats him with generalship, and it goes like this: they line their armies up and try various flanking maneuvers until Alexander sees a chance to break the enemy’s line. With Darius it was a corps of cadets from his military academy. Alexander hit them with his patented cavalry charge, which he led himself, as he always did, and the rest was history.
Once the line is broken, the Persians have the option of running away as fast as they can or being massacred. This made Alexander the master of Anatolia and Mesopotamia. Alexander’s Macedonian veterans wanted him to stop there. They had achieved everything they ever wanted. But Alexander has to go on to India. They’re grumbling about having to take a city there and he runs up a scaling ladder and reaches the top of the wall, where he gets hit by an arrow and falls inside the wall!
They rescue him, of course, and take the city, but you can tell they’re like, “Enough already!”
I think Alexander was told by a fortuneteller that he could not be killed in battle, and he was trying to see if it was true.
This is truly one of the greatest stories in history, and Fuller is definitely the one to tell it.