Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Alexander is no good said Hanson: The fearful Macedonian army was a creation of Philip’s alone

I am reading JFC Fuller's Alexander the Great, and your Soul of Battle.

Why are the conclusions about Alexander’s life and legacy so different? Fuller paints an image of a man committed to not only unifying all of Greece, but also unifying conquered territories into a single great empire, not as conquered peoples, but as citizens in Alexander’s greater Mideast empire. You called Alexander a wine bibber, yet Fuller claims he had so much self-control that he submitted all passions to his ultimate goals.

Hanson: I don’t think I said “wine bibber” though in his later years he apparently devolved into what we would call a chronic binge drinker, whose consumption of alcohol went way beyond what was considered sort of normal for the time.
Perhaps it is the age in which we write that explains our differences and our radically divergent approaches. He is a military man of the nineteenth and earlier twentieth centuries. So while he naturally is impressed with the genius shown at Alexander’s four triumphs on the battlefield, I see a more mixed picture of slaughtering tens of thousands of civilians (at Thebes and Granicus, as well as the sieges in the Middle East and the dirty wars in Bactria)—as well as killing more Greeks in a decade than did the Persians in a century and a half. All this is amply documented in Arrian, Plutarch, Diodorus, and Curtius, and ancients believed it was unusual even for the times.

Few believe Alexander had much self-control at the end of his life, thus his early demise. Whatever we think of him, he drank, caroused, and drove himself beyond the limits of what most others could have tolerated. I do believe he had a vision, but it was the old one of the conqueror who says ‘bear with me until I finish, then I will be good’—the same disease of a Caesar or Napoleon who likewise draped their slaughter in intellectual or philosophical pretension. I think scholars are beginning to see that the fearful Macedonian army was a creation of Philip’s alone, and that his 20-year subjugation of the city-states was almost as remarkable a military achievement as Alexander’s decade-long romp to the Indus.

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