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Alexander the Great vs. The Roman Empire

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At its height the Roman Empire covered over two million square miles, about one fourth of the current United States. The Roman Empire began in the year 330 BC and died out in 1453 AD. Its start was only 7 years before the fall and death of Alexander the Great. Because of the success of Alexander the Great there is no doubt that the Romans took notice of what he did as they plotted their expansion. The Romans derived many of their military tactics from Alexander the Great, but they also incorporated military tactics that were different from Alexander the Great’s strategy.
Alexander and the Romans each used their navies differently. The Roman Navy was considered to be the most prestigious and powerful branch of its military. The Romans navy patrolled the Mediterranean Sea combating pirates and other naval enemies that would harm Roman ships. They also used their navy to supply and transport their troops into other parts of the Mediterranean region. (Goldsworthy, The Complete Roman Army, 114). Alexander’s conquest spread throughout the Mediterranean Region, he had complete control of the sea and its ports. Alexander needed his navy so his enemies could not use theirs. He blockaded their ports to cut off trade and supply. That was his weakness and his enemies were always trying to capitalize on this. Alexander’s army had become so powerful that he did not need his navy as much, but the Romans did. (Cartledge, Alexander The Great, 150).

The Romans and Alexandrians relied on their navies differently. Alexander’s military preferred to fight on land over sea. Alexander did not need his navy as much because most of his conquest took place on land-locked Persia. Alexander also did not see his navy as a very valuable asset. (Cartledge, 123). The Roman ships evolved and became much more powerful and better trained. The Romans took the time to develop a navy which grew to be a dominant force in their conquest. Their navy was their main asset because Italy was surrounded by water. If Alexander had taken time like the Romans did, his navy would have become a strong military asset, but it would not have been necessary because of how dominant his army was. (Caven, The Punic Wars, 27).
The Persians had a very powerful navy that Alexander had to eliminate in order to expand his empire. “So Alexander, who had no navy worthy of mention, quickly neutralized the enemy’s advantage by attacking seaports from land and destroying the hostile fleet’s support bases.” (Seize the Night). Alexander’s only choice to winning was to use his army by land to weaken the Persian’s navy. Alexander had the most powerful army but the Persian navy was always trying to exploit his navy. Taking out this naval asset turned the tide of the invasion. Earlier when the Persians invaded the Greeks it was a huge victory of the Athenian navy over the Persian navy at Salamis that stopped their invasion. During these ancient wars, the navy proved to be a huge asset and whoever could stop the other navy first usually won the war.
The Roman army was able to attract more soldiers than Alexander’s army. The Alexandrian army was made up of Greek soldiers and Macedonians. Alexander’s soldiers were fighting for Greece and pride. The Greek soldiers had a pride that gave them a boost in those crucial battles. The Greeks had been fighting the Persians for so long that they had a built up hatred. Some of Alexander’s soldiers were not as strong because he had to enlist help wherever he could find it unlike the Romans. Alexander did not have a central location that he returned to after battles. He was always on the move, conquering and living on the battlefields. Alexander could not return after each battle to resupply his soldiers. (Guy Rodgers, Alexander, 69). The Romans in contrast, recruited their soldiers from the best. Their large population and central location allowed them to choose who they wanted in their army, and they recruited the finest. The Roman ability to pick and choose gave them a more solid supply of soldiers and a strong military. (Goldsworthy, 51).
The goals of the Romans and Greeks were also different. The Greek goal was Greek pride. The Greeks were very prideful people, and that was most important to them. It is what they believed in and fought hardest for. (Alexander, 70). The Roman soldiers’ goal was to be given full Roman citizenship for their service. That Roman citizenship was what people wanted in that day. The Romans bribed soldiers to stay in service because they knew how much people wanted to be Roman citizens. They did not have the pride that the Greeks did but they did have a reason to fight. The Romans were more like athletes because they were fighting for the reward of citizenship and do not care as much about national pride. (Goldsworthy 51).
The Roman and Alexandrian army forces consisted of similar units. Alexander had a cavalry and infantry leading into battle. The Romans had lighter armed soldiers backing up their front lines surrounded by cavalry. The Roman and Alexandrian ranks were similar in this sense. (The Roman World From 753-146 BC, 337). The Romans also used the phalanx which Alexander adapted from the Spartans. The phalanx is made up of many rows of soldiers pushing forward to the front. The men in front would in turn stab oncoming enemies. Soldiers who were a part of the phalanx would defend the person fighting next to them and if someone fell the person behind them would jump right in. It was the most dominant military formation used in the ancient times. This is one of the striking similarities between the two dominant empires of the Romans and the Alexandrians. (Alexander, 70).
The Alexandrians and Romans relied heavily on the phalanx formation. Alexander’s men had long spears. The long spears were key for the phalanx formation. Alexander adopted the original phalanx which fought with swords. The spears provided more damage and had longer range. (Fisher, Alexander the Great; Seize the Night). The Romans also had the lighter armed soldiers in the back. They did not need the strong armor in the back because they were not constantly attacked by the opposing soldiers. They also put the less strong soldiers in front because it was where people were in more danger in the phalanx formation. The Romans continued to use this formation, but Alexander’s was much stronger. (The Roman World).
Alexander and the Romans had different tactics to get rid of mounted enemies.
The armed chariots used in war by Antiochus and Mithridates at first terrified the Romans, but they afterwards made a jest of them. As a chariot of this sort does not always meet with plain and level ground, the least obstruction stops it. And if one of the horses be either killed or wounded, it falls into the enemy's hands. The Roman soldiers rendered them useless chiefly by the following contrivance: at the instant the engagement began, they strewed the field of battle with caltrops, and the horses that drew the chariots, running full speed on them, were infallibly destroyed. A caltrop is a machine composed of four spikes or points arranged so that in whatever manner it is thrown on the ground, it rests on three and presents the fourth upright. (Brevik, Digital Attic).

The Romans took out the chariots by using a type of throwing star. This disabled the Turkish chariots and forced the enemy to fight on ground, giving the Romans a significant military advantage. Alexander used stealth techniques to take out his mounted opponents. He especially had a problem with elephants. Although mesmerized by elephants, he had to conquer many. This was successful in surprising the slow and easily startled elephants. Both dominant empires found ways to topple mounted enemies which had become problematic opponents. (Nossov, War Elephants, pg. 19).
The Roman and Alexandrian armies had a variety of different armors. Alexander’s armor consisted of “vest made in Sicily and over this a breast plate of two ply linen taken from the spoils of Issos. The helmet he wore was a work of Theopholis made of iron” (Alexander, 113). Alexander’s troops had much protection on their head and chest. This could be because their troops were more valuable and not as replaceable as the Romans who also had protective armor but not as heavy. The Romans carried more light armor for better mobility. To the Romans speed was more important than defense. They did not fight like a unit as much as the Alexandrians did, it was more stagnant and vicious. If the Alexandrians had had more of a constant flow of incoming soldiers they could have played a more aggressive attack as the Romans did. (The Roman World).
The Romans and Alexandrians used similar weaponry. Alexander had “pike men with sarissas, 14 foot long pikes twice the length of normal spears. Supporting the sarissa units were highly mobile light infantry and cavalry troops.” (Alexander the Great; Seize the Night). These pike men were very helpful when in the phalanx formation. Also the light infantry was very strong in open battle.
The infantry (armatura) was heavy, because they had helmets (cassis), coats of mail (catafracta), greaves (ocrea), shields (scutum), larger swords (gladius maior), which they call broadswords (spatha), and some smaller, which they name half-broadswords (semispathium), five weighted darts (plumbata) placed in the shields, which they hurl at the beginning of the assault, then double throwables, a larger one with an iron point of nine ounces and a stock of five and one-half feet, which was called a pilum, but now is called a spiculum, in the use of which the soldiers were especially practiced, and with skill and courage could penetrate the shields of the infantry and the mail of the cavalry. The other smaller had five ounces of iron and a stock of three and one-half feet, and was called a vericulum but now is a verutum. The first line, of hastati, and the second, of principes, were composed of such arms. Behind them were the bearers (ferentarius) and the light infantry, whom now we say are the supporters and the infantry, shield-bearers (scutum) with darts (plumbata), swords (gladius) and missiles, armed just as are nearly all soldiers today. There were likewise bowmen (sagittarius) with helmet (cassis), coat of mail (catafracta), sword (gladius), arrows (sagitta) and bow (arcus). There were slingers (funditor) who slung stones (lapis) in slings (funda) or cudgel-throwers (fustibalus). There were artillery-men (tragularius), who shot arrows from the manuballista and the arcuballista. (Roman Infantry Equipment, Stephenson, 56).
The front of the Roman line was strongly stocked like Alexander’s. Towards the back they had the light infantry which was also similar to Alexander’s. Later in their empire, the Romans incorporated the larger spears for thrusting. The Romans and Alexandrian forces had similar weaponry that lead to their dominance.
The forces of both supreme armies had leaders that believed they were gods. “Another statue of Caesar was placed in the temple of Quirinus with the inscription ‘To the Invincible God.’” (UNRV History, Heaton). Caesar and other leaders believed that they were gods. This sense of being a god gave a sense of immortality. This caused a supreme confidence in these leaders which would explain their aggressiveness.
After a visit to the great Egyptian temples, Alexander came to believe in his own divine origin. His troops, who already worshiped him for his leadership and tremendous bravery in the midst of the fiercest fighting, seemed to have little difficulty in accepting his godliness” (Seize the Night).
Alexander was aggressive in battle. Even when it looked like victory was impossible against the virtually unstoppable Persians, Alexander’s aggression led him to victory. This god-like power was a main reason these empires were so successful. Being like a deity led to confidence. (Seize the Night).
The sense of deity of these military leaders led to their deaths and in some cases the end of their empire.
He believed he was immortal, Alexander had not groomed or named a replacement. His only guidance had been to leave his empire in the hands “of the strongest.” Unfortunately, no one had the strength of Alexander. Within a year, his empire and army broke into a multitude of warring factions, and Alexander’s empire ceased to exist. (Seize the Night).

Alexander ultimately died from malaria after bathing in a cold river. He did not believe that he was mortal and did not think of the consequences of his actions. Once Alexander went down, his empire collapsed around him. Caesar, on the other hand, knew of the possibility of something going wrong. He could not resist the idea of being named king, which is what the senators said to lure him to the trap. This would add to his god-likeness which he thought of as most important even if it risked his life. The idea of god-likeness led to the deaths of two of the most important rulers in ancient world history. Alexander’s death led to the end of his empire. Caesar died at only the beginning of the Roman Empire. (UNRV Roman History).
The Roman and Alexandrian forces were similar in many ways. The close proximity in time periods contributed to these military similarities. The Romans took notice of how dominant Alexander was when he was conquering the area and mimicked some of his tactics. They saw how he never stopped his aggression and reconstructed tactics like the phalanx formation. The Romans also added the dominant navy which made them strong. The one characteristic of Alexander was his Greek pride, and no empire could ever recreate the depth of pride the ancient Greeks embodied.

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This article has 7 comments. Post your own now!

History said...
today at 8:06 pm
Persia was not a landlocked nation. In fact a huge sea , the Persian gulf is named after Persia which sits on Persia's Western coast. In 2016 the Persian Navy and Pirates were challenging the mighty Navy of the United States and created world tensions by capturing small US Navel boats and holding them captive during the weak Obama administration.
simplyGreek said...
Oct. 17, 2013 at 2:19 am
I'm not got at timeline but the article is very nice.Don't be so cruel.
Mr. Gauthier said...
Apr. 2, 2013 at 12:20 pm
Thank you for this very informative, well-organized article!
Yeah92848291 said...
Mar. 24, 2012 at 10:47 am
I stopped reading at, " The Roman Empire began in the year 330 BC ". The Roman EMPIRE didn't begin until 27 BC. The Republic began at 509 BC. Not good to kill an article's credibility in paragraph 1.
Northpal replied...
Oct. 9, 2013 at 2:05 pm
Rome had begun annexing provinces in the 3rd century BC
rbss replied...
Feb. 22, 2014 at 3:02 pm
The 3rd century BC is from 201 BC to 300 BC, so in any case the date is still wrong. While Rome was an empire before Caesar Augustus, it was not formally the Roman Empire but rather the Roman Republic before then.
Hmm.. replied...
Oct. 23, 2014 at 7:36 am
This article is not too reliable. Romans did NOT fight in phalanx formations. They only did so in the beginning due to hellenistic teachings. However, they abandoned the more cumbersome formation due to the samnite tribes' more mobile and agile troops. furthermore, there was a statement which ticked me off a bit. The roman army was the epitome of formation and unit based fighting. The Gladius and Scutum prove this. A short infantry sword against the other longer swords wielded by their enemi... (more »)
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