Military Tactics: Alexander the Great Quiz

HISTORY

Staff

4 Min Quiz

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About This Quiz

You might think Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world by having a massive, well-equipped army, but he was outnumbered at most of his battles. Still, he never lost a single battle. How much do you know about his military tactics?

When Thessaly revolted in the wake of Alexander's father's death, Alexander outflanked their army, holding a difficult mountain pass. How did he do it?

The path Alexander's army cut into Mount Ossa can be seen today, and is known as Alexander's Ladder.

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While battling a Thracian tribe called the Getae (sometimes known as Getai), Alexander faced a difficult battle — the Getae held strong positions on the opposite side of the Danube River. How did he successfully attack across the river?

Crossing the river at night let Alexander make a surprise attack in the morning, routing the Getae despite their superior numbers.

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Why did Alexander have his troops spread out instead of marching in their usual tight phalanx formation when attacking the Thracians at Mount Haemus?

Alexander's troops were able to avoid the heavy carts thrown down by the Thracians.

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At Pelium, how did Alexander surprise troops guarding a key pass?

Alexander's training session on the battlefield confused his enemies. The sudden attack stunned them and forced a retreat.

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When he assaulted Thebes, how much of his army did Alexander hold in reserve?

Although a relatively simple tactic, holding one-third of his troops in reserve to fill in gaps and press advantages was a key element of his victory in Thebes.

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How did Alexander accomplish another difficult river crossing at the Battle of the Granicus?

The crossing was accomplished easily some distance away, but Alexander still relied on surprise, attacking immediately after the crossing instead of resting his troops.

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Following the battle at Halicarnassus, Alexander made the wise decision (more strategic than tactical) to place Ada of Caria in charge of the region. She then adopted Alexander as her son. Why?

Caria was loyal to Ada, and Ada to Alexander. By making themselves mother and son, they ensured a smooth transition when she died.

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Why were so many of Alexander's battles fought near rivers?

Alexander used rivers to eliminate his enemies' advantages, especially when they had larger armies.

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At Issus, Alexander defeated Darius by creating a gap in the Persian line and pushing his infantry through it so he could do what?

Alexander was able to drive Darius off the battlefield by sending troops through a gap in the lines. With its leader gone, Darius' army fled the battlefield as well.

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Alexander had difficulty taking Tyre, a walled island city nearly impervious to attack. He accomplished it with a long siege, a naval blockade and massive siege towers. How did he get the towers close enough to the walls to attack?

The causeway couldn’t quite reach the walls, but they got the towers close enough to attack. The causeway was still visible in the 20th century, but today the land bridge between mainland Lebanon and Tyre is covered in houses and streets.

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Alexander was known for his use of the Macedonian phalanx, a military organizational structure developed by whom?

Philip II developed earlier ideas about assembling large units of troops into the Macedonian phalanx.

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The phalanx was defined by what weapon?

The Macedonian phalanx used spears (called sarissa) of sufficient length that four or five ranks of soldiers could bring their weapons to bear on an enemy approaching the front rank.

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What was the phalanx's primary role in a battle?

A phalanx was so difficult to attack that they were used to pin down or push back enemy troops. Alexander's heavy cavalry and elite infantry were used to make assaults and break through enemy lines.

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How did the soldiers in a phalanx protect themselves against arrows and stones?

Soldiers in the rear ranks kept their sarissas raised to deflect incoming attacks. The front ranks kept theirs raised until the last possible moment.

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How did soldiers keep the heavy sarissas directed at the enemy?

The compact formation of the phalanx allowed soldiers to rest their sarissas on the shoulders of the men ahead of them. The front rank could anchor theirs in the ground if necessary to stop a charge.

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One of the reasons Alexander never lost a battle is because his phalanx was nearly unbeatable, especially when used defensively. What was the phalanx's primary weakness?

Outflanking was the key to defeating the phalanx, but Alexander used terrain and other troops to protect this vulnerability.

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Alexander could be brutal and ruthless. When Philotas was found guilty of conspiring to kill him, Alexander had him executed. He then had Philotas' father, Parmenion, killed as well. Why did Alexander do this?

Parmenion was assassinated without a trial or any evidence he'd been part of the plan to kill Alexander, solely because Alexander feared he would seek a reprisal for his son's death.

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What tactic did Alexander use to gain control of Egypt?

After being made king, Alexander moved on to other battles, leaving Egyptians in charge of their own administration. Sometimes the best tactic is just being less of a jerk than your enemy.

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At Gaugamela, Alexander defeated Darius with a smaller army on an open battlefield. His final charge, which smashed through Darius' lines, was in what shape (which Alexander used frequently)?

Alexander often used a wedge shape when making decisive charges.

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Darius had chariots equipped with scythes to cut into the phalanx lines. How did Alexander have his troops negate them?

The soldiers allowed the chariots to pass through. Then reserve troops surrounded them and destroyed the chariots.

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Alexander used his presence on the battlefield to inspire his troops and lead important charges, and he also was able to "fake out" opposing forces. How did he do this?

Alexander would often move to a flank to make his enemies think he would lead a charge there. This would draw some of their troops in that direction as a response, often opening up a gap or weak point for Alexander's forces to exploit (there are rumors that he used a double at Hydaspes, to make it appear he was still at his main camp).

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How did Alexander respond when his troops were ambushed by Ariobarzanes in the narrow pass called the Gate of Persia?

Alexander's discovery of a path through the mountains (possibly by treachery) mirrors in some ways the famous battle of Thermopylae about 150 years earlier. In that case it was an outnumbered band of Greeks defending a pass against Persians who learned of a secret way through the mountains.

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How did Alexander take the Sogdian Rock, a fortress with high walls atop steep cliffs?

When it was revealed that the climbers had breached their "unconquerable" fortress, the defenders surrendered.

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When he invaded India, Alexander encountered armies with powerful elephants. How did he adjust his tactics to defeat them?

The sarissas turned out to be excellent anti-elephant weapons.

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The Battle of the Hydaspes brought all of Alexander's tactical skill as a general to bear. It featured a difficult river crossing, a much larger enemy army and a brilliant outflanking maneuver. How did Alexander cross the river this time, even though his opponent, Porus, was closely watching him?

Alexander forced Porus to divide his attention by leaving part of his army at camp while he crossed upriver.

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