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Hellenes supporting Persian king. Are they traitors?
#31
Quote:I asked the question because it seemed that some believed that the tactical system of Alexander is what allowed him to take on Persia. I was pointing out that the earlier Greeks might have fared just as well on the field.

As to you point about fractiousness, you are very right- Sparta was never a threat because her hegemony was so tenuous back home. It would take some improbable series of events like the Spartans allowing Thebes to raze Athens like they wanted to, and then the Spartans razing Thebes as the Macedonians did, coupled with some sort of inclusive reform like what Lysander may have been hatching to raise the number of homoioi and enfranchise the other members of the league.

I don't think the Persians could have simply bought off the Thracian's though- far better would be the promise of plunder in joining the Greeks. The Greeks would also presumably control the seas and so not have to waste time subduing the coast like Alexander did.

I am always fascinated by cultures that are subject to that Fratricidal/suicidal urge to not let any of their number have power over them. I see this in Greeks, Kelts, Medieval Italians, and Slavs- who would sooner follow avars or Norsemen than elevate one of their own. Perhaps now us. I wonder what drives this.
I'm working on a lengthy reply. Suffice it to say that I don't think tactics are as important as Alexander's fearsome and cohesive army, his ability to control his 'allies' by fear, and his unbelievable luck. Greek fractiousness is also hugely important- in 480 BCE pan-Hellenic propaganda was hardly born. And the Persians never entirely lacked good heavy infantry, despite the prejudices of our sources. Aegesilaeus only faced the border satraps rather than the Great King, while the troops who fled before Cyrus' mercenaries contained a large and unwilling contingent of just-reconquered Egyptians.
Nullis in verba

I left this forum around the beginning of 2013, but I hope that these old posts have some value
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#32
Ave Paul,

Here is the lengthy response I promised. Like I said, I agree with you that tactical changes were not crucial to Alexander's success (although they probably did make his army more effective, and Macedon needed heavy infantry to achieve its conquests). The Persian army of 330 BCE was also quite different from that of 480 BCE: it had cataphracts, but fewer sparabarai for example, and had learned to respect Greeks over 150 years of warfare. But that is another story …

First off, there is no way all the Greeks would go along with conquering the empire without someone to force them. They were reluctant enough to work together resisting a Persian invasion and leading a counter-attack in the Aegean. As you say, one polis would have to destroy at least one of Athens and Thebes and intimidate the others in a series of wars before it could be accepted as leader of an invasion. Remember that Alexander was glory-mad, and a warrior king. He had to conquer someone important rather than spend his reign consolidating his hold over Greece and Macedon, because if he didn’t his authority would have collapsed. There would have been much less pressure on a Greek hegemon to launch a war of aggression.

Now, the empire of Philip and Alexander included both Greece and Macedon, with allies from the Balkans, and was substantially stronger than Greece alone. Philip had created probably the best army Europe had yet seen, a cohesive and veteran force experienced in a dozen hard mountain campaigns. His and Alexander’s allies were terrified of it. So a Greek coalition would have been weaker than Alexander’s invasion force- it would draw on a smaller territory, and not have had so much experience fighting as one army. Even when Alexander invaded the odds were very much against him- had he died, by chance like Frederick Barbarossa or through glory-seeking like Gustav Adolph, or lost a single battle the invasion would have been over. If he had not lived, nobody would believe anyone could do what he had done. The strengths of both sides had changed in other unpredictable ways too. Both sides were used to fighting each other, and the 4th century BCE was a hard time for the Persian empire. Greek society was changing too. Greek and Persian armies had undergone significant changes between 480 and 330 BCE. And so on …

Now for the argument that the Persians never developed a counter to Greek heavy infantry. I don’t believe this is quite right, but assume it is true. If the empire never developed a massed corps of heavy infantry, I suggest it never needed to until it was too late. Sparabara (the mixed formations of pavise-bearing spearmen and archers that Herodotus describes) strike me as perfect infantry to face nomad horse archers, for example: the shields keep out arrows, the massed bows beat horse archers, and the spears and shield-wall keep light cavalry from charging effectively. They would also be very effective in a siege, and there were plenty of light infantry spearmen to form storming parties. And Greeks, Egyptians, Mesopotamians, and kardakes seem to have provided enough heavy infantry for the needs of most Great Kings. (I believe that the kardakes were a corps of heavy infantry, probably recruited from the Medized elite of the empire and a few myriads strong. Arrian and Cornelius Nepos mention them in fourth-cemtury Persian armies. At Issus, they and the Greek mercenaries were beating Alexander’s phalanx before they were taken in the flank). Darius III raised better-armed shock troops before Gaugamela, but the omens were against him, Alexander lead his army well as always, and the Persian army broke up. I have written a long essay for a university class showing that Greeks and Persians were perfectly able and willing to learn from each other’s styles of warfare.
Nullis in verba

I left this forum around the beginning of 2013, but I hope that these old posts have some value
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#33
I agree with your analysis. Many of these "what ifs?" are hard to compare and a change of date of a decade often changes the picture. For example, I agree that the state that Phillip created was crucial to Alexander's success, and that it would not be available to an earlier Greek expedition.

On the other hand, an earlier expedition will have caught Persia without Egypt to draw from- a source of some of their best heavy infantry. All of the other heavy infantry, with the exception of Assyrians, in Persian service came from western Anatolia which would have been defeated quickly if we can judge by Agiselaos experience.

I agree that the Persians did not ignore the threat of hoplite infantry, but as of Agiselaos' time they had still not come up with an answer- perhaps because hiring other hoplites was usually so easy.

The only way I see that Persia could have stopped an invasion of a happy, united (a.k.a. mythological) Greece would be to catch them in a manner similar to Carrhae. Again we look to history and find them unable to do this when faced with the almost cavalry-less 10,000- I don't believe that they could have stood off and shot them up but decided not too, it is simply too much fun shooting arrows at massed hoplites. A true invasion force would probably have included Thessalonian and Thracian elements as well as cavalry raised in Anatolia.

Oddly the Spartans might have saved Persia. The most megalomaniacal Spartans, Agiselaos and Lysander were both reigned in by a cautious home government. Imagine if it were an Athenian empire headed by Alcibiades as demagogue leading the greeks in Asia. He would have marched to China even if all of Greece fell into barbarian hands.
Paul M. Bardunias
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A Spartan, being asked a question, answered "No." And when the questioner said, "You lie," the Spartan said, "You see, then, that it is stupid of you to ask questions to which you already know the answer!"
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