Alexander the Great’s Balkan Campaign
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Few leaders in history have inspired as much awe as Alexander the Great. In his time as the king of Macedonia, Alexander conquered most of the known world, with his empire extending from Greece to the Indian subcontinent. While Alexander is known today as a great leader and military commander, upon ascending the Macedonian throne, many nonetheless challenged his rule.
Vassal states of the kingdom, particularly Thrace, Athens, and Thebes, took Alexander’s ascension to the throne as the moment to throw-off Macedonian rule and assert their independence. Intent on conquering the Persian Empire, Alexander made it his mission to bring these smaller kingdoms in line before he set out on his primary military goal.
Alexander’s Pacification of Thessaly
Shortly after the death of Alexander’s father, Philip II, nobles in Thessaly sought to challenge Alexander’s rule. Unwilling to compromise or use diplomacy, Alexander rode to Thessaly with a force of 3,000 cavalry. Arriving at the pass between Mount Olympus and Mount Ossa, Alexander found the Thessalian army arrayed in a defensive position. In a spark of strategic brilliance, Alexander ordered his army to cross over Mount Ossa at night and positioned himself behind the Thessalians’ rear. Outmaneuvered, the Thessalians surrendered to Alexander and joined his growing army.
Alexander continued his march south to the Peloponnese peninsula, convincing Athens and Corinth to submit to his rule. During his march, Alexander was also given many titles, including leader of the Sacred League and Hegemon of the Corinth League.
Revolts in Thrace
The following spring, Alexander sought to shore up Macedonia’s northern frontier by quelling revolts in Thrace and Albania stirred up by Triballi and Illyrian tribesmen. The chief engagement in this stage of the campaign was the Battle of Mount Haemus, where Macedonian heavy infantry defeated a large Triballi force that had built a palisade on the mountain. When Alexander was unable to dislodge a large Triballi garrison on the island of Peuce, he marched down the Danube River and sought an engagement with another group of Thracians, the Getae. Impressed by Alexander’s military prowess and the performance of his cavalry, the Getae retreated before the large Macedonian force.
In late 335 BC, Alexander turned his attention to the revolting Illyrian tribes of modern-day Albania. Alexander concentrated his attack on the pass at Pelium, which controlled access to southern Greece. Relying on the aid of his heavy infantry troopers, Alexander was able to defeat the Illyrians, earning him the respect of Danubian tribesmen in the area and further allowing his army easy access to southern Greece.
Destruction of Thebes
Alexander’s military operations against the Triballi and Illyrians led Thebes to assert its independence from Macedonia. Leaders of the revolt were spurred on by money from the Persian King Darius III and news that Alexander had been slain in the fight. Disturbed by the development, Alexander marched his army to the city and prepared for battle. At first, Alexander opted for a cautious approach. Settling his camp far from the city, Alexander offered generous terms to Thebes, promising to spare the city if the leaders of the revolt surrendered to him. When Thebes denied Alexander’s terms, he ordered his army to destroy the city after an intense battle. Additionally, Alexander ordered the execution of all male residents of Thebes and enslaved the women and children.
Alexander the Great’s Balkan campaign allowed the young Macedonian king to concentrate on the coming war with the Persian Empire. Alexander’s military conquests in the campaign quelled any lingering dissent against his rule in the kingdom, permitting him to turn his focus to expanding his empire into the east. Alexander’s destruction of Thebes further provided a powerful example of the punishment that would await any of his subjects if they chose to question the legitimacy of his reign.
Categorized in: Ancient Greek History
This post was written by Greek Boston