Alexander the Great as a Military General


Alexander the Great has been described as one of the most successful military strategists of all time. However, even though there is an extensive collection of sources on how magnificent he was, there is also a lot of contradicting information on the same. Whereas some sources claim that Alexander’s military tactics borrowed heavily from those of his father, Philip II of Macedonia, there are critics who believe that they did not.

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Indeed, there are scholars who believe that Alexander was not as great a warrior as history has depicted. All these arguments have created a conundrum that has been referred to as the “problem of Alexander”. The paper will present two sources that discuss the prowess of Alexander the Great. A comparison between the two sources will be given to determine which source offers more details and insights into the topic.

Historical Debate


The two articles chosen are The Extraordinary Ideas of Alexander the Great by Charles Robinson Jr. and Macedonians and Mutiny: Discipline and Indiscipline in the Army of Philip and Alexander by Elizabeth Carney. The two authors have focused on different theses. However, both agree on the relevance and prowess of Alexander the Great as a military leader. Robinson argues that whereas many people believe that the problem of Alexander is either a psychological or historical one, it is, in fact, chronological1.

The author quotes several studies that support his thesis. He adds that looking at Alexander through a chronological lens confirms that he was a great military general. Robison argues that there is enough proof showing that when Alexander inherited his father’s army, he took time to train the soldiers first despite the fact that it was still one of the greatest armies in the world at that point2. Indeed, one can argue that the author’s selection of sources to support his thesis is significant evidence.

On the other hand, Carney focuses on Alexander’s ability to discipline his soldiers as a way of proving his prowess3. The author argues that the two instances that have been defined previously in history as mutiny were actually strategic ways in which Alexander disciplined his troops4. Like Robison, Carney uses previous studies and articles to support her thesis. The sources are relevant to the topic and support her thesis sufficiently.

Interestingly, the author also provides sources that criticize her arguments. One can argue that this is an attempt (by the writer) to enrich her arguments. It is important to point out that even though both authors have focused on two different angles, they both believe that Alexander was indeed an exemplary military general as has been presented over the decades.

Authors’ Understanding of Important Elements

Both authors appear to have a good understanding of the important elements, such as the cultural and political beliefs of that specific time, that might have affected Alexander’s ability to lead effectively. However, it can be stated that Carney puts more emphasis on the importance of the historical events in her arguments as compared to Robinson. Carney provides discussions pertaining to how military groups were treated and disciplined during Alexander’s time, giving examples of Homer and others. She goes further to offer insights on how military discipline was conducted prior to Alexander’s rule5.

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The author goes further to compare Alexander and his father, Philip II of Macedonia, and their different ways of disciplining the same army6. She concludes that Alexander’s strategy was better as it was the long term7.

In comparison, Robinson only uses the history of Alexander, and his (Alexander’s) father’s experiences (to some extent), to expound on his arguments8. However, there is no clear link between the cultures and history of Macedonians and Alexander’s military-style in the text. One of the disadvantages of this is that it does not give the reader enough context. Culture, in regard to both military tradition and societal expectations, was significantly important for Macedonians9.

One can argue that Robinson did not feel the need to clearly demonstrate a clear understanding of the Macedonian culture as he focused mainly on the chronological aspect of Alexander’s reign. The premise suggests that Robinson had to compare events that happened within Alexander’s reign. He had no obligation to also refer to other elements such as culture.

Comparison of Both Arguments

In comparing the chosen articles, one can argue that both scholars provide good arguments that add to the debate on whether Alexander was as great as he has been depicted throughout history. However, on further analysis, one can state that Carny’s arguments are clearer compared to Robison’s in relation to the topic. One of the reasons this is so is the fact that Carny takes time to highlight the norms in relation to the military during that time.

She goes further to show how Alexander’s reign and military expertise differed from the stated norm. Also, Carny compares Alexander’s strategies with those of his father. This is important as both led the same army. However, one is described as more successful than the other. Comparing their styles would ideally showcase why this is so, and Carny manages to do this.


The readings changed how I understood the subject as they highlighted other elements that I would not have considered in this debate. For example, the importance of both the military and societal culture of the Macedonians was not important to the discussion prior to reading the articles. Understanding this importance will help me articulate better arguments of the same. Indeed, my personal background can influence my perspective on the issue.

I have been reading about Alexander the Great since I was a child. The readings that I have been exposed to have hailed him as a respected military leader. This perception may have affected my choice of articles for the assignment. For instance, I chose two articles that agreed that Alexander the Great was an exemplary strategist instead of choosing one that supported and one that rejected the notion.

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Indeed, one can argue that there are some comparisons that can be made in regard to the cultural issues that are presented in the readings and how they compare to current global issues. For instance, the war on terrorism has devastated many nations in the world. Different countries have dedicated their armies and weapons to the fight against terrorism. However, terrorism is still a challenge in both the economic and political global scenes.

One can argue that there is no singular military strategy to eradicate terrorism. Whereas religion was not an issue in Alexander’s era, the willingness to be led (and dutifully follow the leader) was intertwined with the Macedonian culture. In this day and age, the majority of the leaders are self-centered. Indeed, the willingness to lead and be led is also not linked to popular culture and this has led to, for instance, the rise of radicalized groups.


Carney, Elizabeth. “Macedonians and Mutiny: Discipline and Indiscipline in the Army of Philip and Alexander.” Classical Philology 91, no. 1 (1996): 19-44.

Kitto, F. D. Humphrey. The Greeks. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2017.

Robinson, A. Charles. “The Extraordinary Ideas of Alexander the Great.” The American Historical Review 62, no. 2 (1957): 326-44.


  1. Charles A. Robinson, “The Extraordinary Ideas of Alexander the Great” The American Historical Review 62, no. 2 (1957): 326.
  2. Ibid, 328.
  3. Elizabeth Carney, “Macedonians and Mutiny: Discipline and Indiscipline in the Army of Philip and Alexander,” Classical Philology 91, no. 1 (1996): 19.
  4. Ibid, 20.
  5. Ibid, 21.
  6. Ibid, 24.
  7. Ibid, 25.
  8. Charles A. Robinson, “The Extraordinary Ideas of Alexander the Great,” The American Historical Review 62, no. 2 (1957): 329.
  9. Humphrey F. D. Kitto, The Greeks (Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2017), 36
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