Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Alexander’s Campaigns of Consolidation (335 B.C.E.)

Alexander’s Campaigns of Consolidation
(335 B.C.E.)

PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Alexander the Great vs. rebels in
Thrace and Greece, and the tribes of Illyria

PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Greece and lands along the
Danube River and the Adriatic Sea


MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: After the assassination
of Philip of Macedonia, the system of conquests and
alliances he had pieced together threatened to unravel.

OUTCOME: Ascending the throne upon his father’s death,
Alexander the Great put down a rebellion in Thrace,
conquered new lands in Illyria, and destroyed his rivals
in Greece itself.


CASUALTIES: In Thebes: 6,000 rebels killed, 20,000 sold
into slavery


At the dawn of the 4th century B.C.E., 50 years before the
birth of Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.E.), the Aegean
world was in disarray as a result of the Peloponnese War
Sparta, which had emerged the victor in a conflict
that had pitted Greek against Greek, scourged cities, toppled
governments, and devastated Greek economic life,
would enjoy only a brief and bloody hegemony before its
neighbors—Corinth, Thebes, Argos, and Athens—banded
together to fight the Spartans in the CORINTHIAN WAR from
395 to 387 B.C.E. More than a decade of fighting saw Athens
rise again as a power, backed by the confederacy called the
Athenian League. Thebes, too, having invented a new kind
of battle formation called the phalanx, was able to rout a
full-scale Spartan attack in 371, only to turn in the eyes of
the other Greek city-states from a champion of liberty into
an alarming threat. In the coming years alliances would
fracture, partners switch sides, and new wars rage from one
end of Greece to the other. Athens, campaigning on several
fronts, ultimately met with a string of reversals; Thebes
again conquered Sparta; new treaties would be signed; but
nothing was really solved, and exhaustion alone ended
many of the hostilities.
Little wonder, then, that a number of post-Socratic
Greek thinkers—Plato, Aristotle, Isocrates—would be pre-
24 Alexander’s Army, July Mutiny of
occupied with a better way of governing or that the idea of
a confederacy held together by a powerful leader would
begin to gain currency. Few of those discussing such matters,
however, would have recognized such a paragon in the
young Philip II of Macedonia (382–336 B.C.E.), who was
then gathering his strength in his backward, mountainous
kingdom of rude and dour peasants and brawling, heavydrinking
landowning warriors, despite the claims of his
house to be descended from Heracles. Even so, the Macedonian
conquered Greece, established the Corinthian League,
built a formidable army, and launched an invasion of Persia
Philip was deprived of his victory in Persia when assassinated
in a plot by his wife and jealous nobles, but the Greek
expedition was carried to success by his son, Alexander.
Alexander the Great would come as close as anyone could
to being the kind of king the philosophers imagined might
rule the ancient world.
Born in Pella, Macedonia, in 356, Alexander, a student
of Aristotle, was by 18 commanding a wing of cavalry
after Philip used an incident at Delphi as an excuse to
invade central Greece (see SACRED WAR, THIRD). He was
there when his father called an assembly of states at
Corinth and announced the rules by which Greece would
henceforth be governed. Philip had married Alexander’s
mother, Olympia, who was the sister of the king of Epirus,
at least in part for political reasons. She was determined
that her son should succeed Philip, and, after she had
engineered Philip’s death in 336 B.C.E., Alexander, then 20
years old, became king of Macedonia.
First he had to attend to matters of security at home,
liquidate his rivals, and consolidate his political power. No
sooner had Philip died than the fabric of conquests and
alliances he had carefully woven together showed signs of
unravelling. A revolt broke out in Thrace, and Alexander
marched north to quell it. Since he was there, he led his
phalanxes against the wild tribes of Illyria as well, extending
Macedonia’s empire to the Danube and west to the Adriatic.
Meanwhile, rumors had begun spreading in Greece
that Alexander had been killed in battle, and several members
of the Corinthian League, led by Thebes, rose in rebellion
against Macedonia. Alexander spun around and swept
back into Greece, marching the 300 miles from Illyria in 12
days. Standing before the gates of Thebes, he demanded its
surrender and, when the rebels refused, razed the city. A
total of 6,000 Thebans were slaughtered outright, and
20,000 were sold into slavery. So draconian had been
Thebes’s punishment that Alexander was, perhaps for the
first time in his life, troubled by conscience. After ascending
to the throne he made a pilgrimage to Delphi to expiate
his guilt, then visited Corinth to revive the Corinthian
League and enlist support for the Asian crusade his father
had been planning at his death (see ALEXANDER’S ADVANCE

Further reading: Flavius Arrianus, The Campaigns of
Alexander (New York: Viking, 1976); Peter Green, Alexander
of Macedon, 356–323 B.C.E.: A Historical Biography (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1992).

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