Alexander the Great and his father Philip II were two of the greatest military innovators of the ancient world. Philip took control of Greece by renovating the Macedonian military. He outfitted his men in light armor with small shields, and equipped his infantry phalanxes with spears that were much longer than those used by the average Greek hoplite. The result was an infantry force that had long reach, but was also incredibly maneuverable. Philip also modified the doctrine of his cavalry to work closely in tandem with his infantry, and he developed a contingent of military engineers that could create infrastructure and build siege engines. Much of Alexander the Great’s successes can be attributed to his father’s brilliant military innovations, but Alexander perfected what his father developed, and he put into action new, genius war strategies of his own.
One of the areas of war that Alexander the Great revolutionized was the use of ancient artillery in battle. Most ancient generals, including Alexander’s father, thought that machines like catapults were purely siege engines—and in keeping with the name, these devices were usually only used against walls and other settlement fortifications. Alexander the Great, however, being the military genius that he was, envisioned that catapults could be used in far greater a degree than just simply lobbing rocks at walls. Historians cite Alexander the Great as one of the earliest military innovators to use artillery, like catapults, against enemy military formations during battle, and not just during sieges.
Artillery worked well with Alexander’s style of warfare. He liked to surprise his enemy, get into their heads and spread confusion and fear. Firing large projectiles from catapults at infantry formations served as a powerful form of psychological warfare, and any break in discipline caused by Alexander’s artillery gave the Macedonian infantry and cavalry vital advantages to utilize during battle.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2011.
- Alexander the Great: The Story of an Ancient Life by Thomas R. Martin and Christopher W. Blackwell. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.