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Beginnings of the Persian Expedition

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Alexander wasted no time in beginning plans for a Persian invasion. The expedition was his legacy, Philip's lifelong dream. Circumstances left the great Persian empire vulnerable at this opportune moment. Alexander also had more practical reasons for hurrying the mission along: he had inherited a considerable debt from Philip, and his army was expensive to maintain. While Alexander did manage to get by through further loans and gifts, the wealth of the Persian empire offered the best long-term solution to his financial problems.

The army that Alexander assembled was itself a marvelous achievement, described by modern military experts as technically and theoretically near-perfect. The land forces totaled almost 50,000, broken up into 43,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry. Four main components made up the army: native Macedonian soldiers, troops delegated by cities of the League of Corinth, Greek mercenaries, and divisions from Balkan countries in alliance with or subject to Macedonia.

The Macedonian army itself was divided into four main units, each designed to complement the others. First was the phalanx, the main body of the army, organized in about fourteen battalions of 1,500 each, which would engage the enemy and attempt to create a break in its line. At this point the Companion Cavalry, heavily armed men on horses, would swoop in where breaks had been successfully created. The most elite group was known as the Hypaspists, who formed the King's personal corps and bodyguard. Totaling 3,000, they formed the link between the Companions and the phalanx by protecting one side of each while attempting to further exploit any gaps created. The less heavily armed Prodromi served as scouts, and they also protected outside flanks to prevent any attempts to encircle the Companions.

The number of troops Alexander demanded from the League was relatively small–the mission was clearly his and not some kind of Greek crusade. It is likely that he may have demanded these troops only as an attempt to ensure good behavior from the individual city-states while he was away. Many states, especially Athens, were reluctant to contribute. The largest component of the army consisted of mercenaries, who had good reason to expect a lucrative invasion, the Macedonian debt notwithstanding. Rounding out Alexander's troops were groups of archers and javelin throwers, representing Crete and Thrace.

The opposition they would face was a Persian army that drew on an imposing population of approximately fifty million people. In reality, however, the Persian forces were largely makeshift, poorly trained, and poorly equipped. Philip's death had made them even more complacent and lax. Ironically, the most reliable infantry in Persian employment were Greek mercenaries, who were estimated at about 30,000 at the start of the Macedonian expedition.

Alexander set out with his army in the spring of 334 B.C., with Parmenion serving second in command and Antipater left behind as a regent. The underlying purpose of the mission was to free the Greeks under Asia Minor and to avenge wrongs committed against Greece 150 years earlier. Furthermore, Alexander may have been the first commander in antiquity to organize a team officially dedicated to propaganda and publicity. Just as Homer had immortalized Achilles, Alexander appointed Callisthenes, a nephew of Aristotle, as the official historian of the Persian expedition. Alexander even made a stop in Ilium to make a sacrifice to Priam, the legendary King of Troy.

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useful website

by Carter_liam, February 09, 2015

This site should be useful to learn more about the history of this great man