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Alexander the Great at War: His Army - His…

Alexander the Great at War: His Army - His Battles - His Enemies (2008)

by Ruth Sheppard

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Alexander the Great at War:
His Army – His Battles – His Enemies

Editor Ruth Sheppard

Osprey, Hardback, 2008.

4to. 256 pp. Contains previously published material. Lavishly illustrated.

First published thus, 2008.


1. Greece and Persia in the 5th century
2. Greece in the 5th and 4th centuries
3. Persia in the 5th and 4th centuries
4. The Rise of Macedon
5. Alexander’s Accession
6. Alexander’s Army
7. Alexander Enters Persia
8. The Battle of the River Granicus
9. The Battle of Issus
10. Phoenicia and Egypt
11. The Battle of Gaugamela
12. Alexander Takes Persia
13. The Invasion of India
14. The Journey Back
15. The Death of the Conqueror


This massive quarto hardback is a skilfully done medley from no fewer than 19 different volumes published by Osprey in seven different series. With apologies to the authors for omitting them, the titles are as follows:

Essential Histories 26: The Wars of Alexander the Great 336–323 BC
Essential Histories 27: Peloponnesian War 431–404 BC
Essential Histories 36: The Greek and Persian Wars 499–386 BC
Elite 7: The Ancient Greeks
Elite 42: The Persian Army 560–330 BC
Elite 66: The Spartan Army
Elite 121: Ancient Siege Warfare
Campaign 7: Alexander 334–323 BC
Campaign 182: Granicus 334 BC
Men-at-Arms 69: The Greek and Persian Wars 499–386 BC
Men-at-Arms 137: The Scythians
Men-at-Arms 148: The Army of Alexander the Great
Men-at-Arms 360: The Thracians
Warrior 27: Greek Hoplite 480–323 BC
Warrior 103: Macedonian Warrior
Fortress 40: Ancient Greek Fortifications 500–300 BC
New Vanguard 78: Greek and Roman Siege Machinery 399 BC – AD 363
New Vanguard 89: Greek and Roman Artillery 399 BC – AD 363
New Vanguard 132: Ancient Greek Warship 500–322

This is a huge amount of material, roughly amounting to some 1,300 pages. The editing is expertly done to produce a narrative without the dubious benefit of blank spots and repetitions. As obvious from the title, the text concentrates on Alexander’s army, battles and enemies. Subjects like armour, weaponry and military tactics are discussed in considerable detail and make for a surprisingly absorbing read. The text is clear and concise, written with authority yet without undue academic dryness and obscurity. Technical terms do occur now and then, but you can find all of them in the Glossary. Foot- or endnotes there are none, but the narrative is firmly based on the ancient sources about Alexander’s life and character (Arrian, Clintus Curtius Rufus, Diodorus Siculus, Justin and Plutarch). All of these are secondary sources based on lost primary accounts. They are examined carefully and critically. When they contradict each other, this is made clear. As usual with ancient history, it is just as important to know what we actually don’t.

The main body of text is aided by numerous light-brown boxes which give additional information on sundry subjects. These range from chronological tables that conveniently sum up whole centuries to character sketches of historians or generals. Some tell stories, for instance how Cleitus apparently saved Alexander’s life by the river Granicus, others tell about siege warfare, special troops, the aftermath of battles, the soldier’s life in Alexander’s army and countless other things that make history much more engrossing than it otherwise would be. One particularly fascinating essay is dedicated the so-called “March of the Ten Thousand” as described in Xenophon’s Anabasis, an often overlooked document from which some revealing conclusions about the Greek attitude to Persia can be drawn. This is done with rare detachment and impartiality here.

You will notice that no fewer than four chapters are devoted to the background against which Alexander emerged. This is neither accidental nor gratuitous. Nothing will come of nothing, a wise old man once said. Quite true! Alexander didn’t come of nothing, either. He was largely, though not, one likes to believe, entirely, a product of Greece weakened by the constant wrangling of the city states and of Macedonia made strong in the north by his father. Philip II is often unjustly overshadowed by his brilliant son. Not so here.

The book does not shirk from addressing the obvious big question. One section from the last chapter is boldly titled “Alexander the Great?” – and that’s a very good question. What is so great about Alexander the Great? Well, the only indisputably great thing about him is his genius as a military commander. But it’s just as well to make it clear that for the rest we just don’t know. So to speculate how successful he would have been as a ruler is futile. He spent most of his life travelling, fighting and conquering lands from Ionia to India, and never had time to rule the vast empire he forged with stunning speed. The chances are that he would not have done better than other brilliant generals like Julius Caesar and Napoleon. And they didn’t do very well. But the truth about Alexander is, I repeat, that we just don’t know.

Last but not least, the illustrations are magnificent. This is what, of course, you would expect from Osprey. Many of the original plates in full colour by the late great Angus McBride and lesser masters like Simon Chew and Christa Hook are retained, although most of them, naturally, are not reproduced full-page. Other reproductions range from ancient Athenian vases and Persian reliefs to grandiose European paintings from the 16th and 17th centuries, just as magnificent as they are misleading (or “romantic” as the caption puts it) about Alexander’s exploits. There are photographs of ruined palaces (e.g. Persepolis and Pela), weapons, armour, coins and what not related to the historical period in question. There are also several depictions of Alexander in stone or mosaic (see the cover), but all of them, disappointingly, date from centuries after his death, so whether he was quite as cute as Colin Farrell, the actor with the most expressive eyebrows ever, remains a mystery. Maps and diagrams are generously provided, too.

All in all, this Osprey volume is a marvellous introduction to Alexander the Great. It lives up to the publisher’s high standards. My only quibbles are that the book is printed on very heavy paper and typeset in awkward fonts like Truesdell and Centaur MT. Never mind. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Apr 27, 2016 |
Excellent compilation of Ospreys previous works on Alexander. Author does a great job of examining the weapons, tactics and the battles. ( )
  Luftwaffe_Flak | Feb 7, 2014 |
The excellent Osprey publishing house produced this excellent review of Alexander at war filled with abundant maps and illustrations which explain the Prince's battles, tactics, troops, and deployment conquering most of the known ancient world. Osprey has few equals with their popular series of books geared towards the general reader. In contrast to their usual short, but abundantly illustrated series this particular work is a full-length book reviewing Alexander's key battles, route, composition of his army, and related matters. The fuller treatment befits the importance of the subject and greater appeal to the general reader.
  gmicksmith | Aug 2, 2012 |
An enjoyable introduction to Alexander the Great in an easy to read style ( )
  BookMarkMe | May 26, 2009 |
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"Upon the assassination of his father King Philip II in the summer of 336 B.C. Alexander took over the reins of power of a now united Greece. When he led his combined Macedonian and Greek army into Asia a year later he began the greatest career of military conquest in world history. In 11 short years he overcame the might of the Persian Empire and campaigned across the face of the known world. Fully illustrated, this book covers the development of his army, all his campaigns and battles, and the world in which he lived."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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Osprey Publishing

2 editions of this book were published by Osprey Publishing.

Editions: 1846033284, 1849084807

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