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Strengths and weaknesses of Alexander the Great as a military leader and ruler; a skeptical historiography.

Strengths and weaknesses of Alexander the Great as a military leader and ruler; a skeptical historiography.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by James Cussen. Originally submitted for CK101 - Arts at University College Cork, with lecturer Dr Carl O'Brien in the category of Ancient and Classical Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by James Cussen. Originally submitted for CK101 - Arts at University College Cork, with lecturer Dr Carl O'Brien in the category of Ancient and Classical Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
 Strengths and weaknesses of Alexander the Great as amilitary leader and ruler; a skeptical historiography.
 
 Abstract 
A
lexander the Great is the doyen of self-help literature in the Western world; marketing andmanagement gurus will wax lyrical of the achievements which resulted from his leadership style ina way that would cause even biographer Arrian, nicknamed 'Colax' (the flatterer), to blush – for thatis to extent to which such gurus are sometimes divorced from a knowledge of what actuallyhappened; or at least their knowledge of the Hellenistic period is facile
in extremi
s. Alexander was a brutal conqueror and his errors ought to provide analytical meat sooner than his touted successes.Although the author was tasked with appraising both successes and failures of Alexander the Greatthe end result proved distinctly negative in tone; something which is not inhibited but in factenriched by a careful, nuanced, reading of some of the more hagiographical Alexandrine primarysources (including Plutarch.) The author's analysis stands, of course, upon the shoulders of giantslike A.J.B Bosworth
et al 
. but also on the most recent francophone scholarship now available toIrish universities in translation; such as that by Claude Mossé.
Key Words:
Alexander the Great;
Strategic Errors
; Great Battles;
Succession Crisis
; MacedonianBody-Politic;
Hindsight Bias
.
 
IntroductionPaul Cartledge attests to the plurality of opinion in Alexandrine historiography by remarking thateach scholar his or her own vision of the great general: 'Wilcken's reasonable Alexander ... (the)Führer-like Alexander of Schachermeyr ... (the) Homerically heroic Alexander of Fox ... the amoraland ruthlessly pragmatic Alexander of Badian and Bosworth.'
1
 If I tended toward a particular schoolat all it would be the latter; as it accounts for the cynical political acumen which belies thoseelements of Alexander's personal propaganda which the other authors clearly have provensusceptible to. How but to view Alexander as all-mighty when, at the close of the campaign in Asiain 324 B.C., Athens was willing to offer the Macedonian Hegemon a statue in the Agora that would be inscribed
theos anikêtos
– invincible god?
2
 I have settled on a strictly functional schema for this short discussion of Alexander's strengths andweaknesses. Brevity forces me to omit any proper treatment of Alexander's rise to power and betokens no negative judgment of that achievement. That Alexander emerged intact from themaelstrom of ambitious heirs, some with either better claims to the throne than he or more adequateresources, demonstrates his capabilities.
3
That said though, a note ought to be struck for Alexander'sreliance on others: while the quick disposal of his rivals was prudent, he had required the support of  both Parmenion and Antipater; and these king-makers duly had to be accommodated by theMacedonian regime for some years to come.
4
Instead, my assessment will be preoccupied withinterrogating the simple dichotomy of Alexander's achievements as a military leader first and as a
1Paul Cartledge, 'Some more talk of Alexander' in Claude Mossé,
 Alexander: Desinty and Myth
, (Baltimore, MD.,2004), p. vii2P. Cartledge, op. cit., p. ix; cf. C. Mossé, op. cit., p. 81ff.3cf. Plutarch,
 Alexander 
, 11.1 – 'At the age of twenty he succeeded to the throne of Macedonia ... a perlious andunenviable inheritance'; Arrian,
 Anabasis Alexandri
, 1.25.2 – on the episode of Alexander, son of Areopus'treachery, Arrian recalls how this traitor had accompanied Alexander the Great into the royal palace on Philip'sdeath 'armed like his master', suggesting that the aftermath of Philip's assassination was a time a tense with theexpectation of civil war; A. B. Bosworth,
Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great 
, (Cambridge,1988), p. 25 – 'the supporters of Attalus will certainly not have welcomed the accession, and there were other figureswho might oppose him or form a focus for opposition'.4A. B. Bosworth, op. cit., p. 26 – 'there followed a general acclamation (of Alexander), probably engineered byAntipater ... ';
idem.
, p. 28 – 'such support necessarily had its price ... Parmenion and his sons were at the top of themilitary hierarchy during the first years of the reign.' cf. Plut.,
 Alex
., 10.7 – for the summary execution of Philip'salleged assassins on the day of the funeral; cf. Curtius Rufus, 8.1.3 for Parmenion's contrivance of Attalus' death andwith it the extinguishment of the main bastion of dynastic strife.

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