School of American and Global Studies Faculty Publications with a Focus on History, Philosophy, Political Science, and Religion
‘Surprise, surprise:’ The Tactical Response of Alexander to Guerilla Warfare and Fighting in Difficult Terrain
Alexander the Great is most famous as the undefeated general who conquered the Persian Empire only to die suddenly in his mid-thirties. Most works on his leadership focus on his strategic brilliance or on his pitched battles and sieges. But perhaps the most striking part of Alexander’s generalship was his effective responses to irregular warfare throughout his campaigns. Alexander had to overcome numerous guerilla forces and battles in difficult terrain during his campaigns.1 Of most interest to military historians today is his solution to dealing with the problems of invading the Hindu Kush and the regions around what is now Afghanistan in what proved to be one of the most difficult periods of Alexander’s campaign. Others have discussed well his strategic goals in these areas.2 Instead this paper will examine his use of tactics on the battlefield in Asia, as well as in his other campaigns against enemies reliant on guerilla tactics or in difficult terrain. This analysis will focus on a comparison with modern counterinsurgency tactics as propounded by the current US military. I will show how Alexander’s tactics, in particular of speed and secrecy of action and tactical flexibility, were what ensured his overall strategic success, and that these are the same tactics still used to achieve success against guerilla forces today.
The Ancient World
Wrightson, Graham, "‘Surprise, surprise:’ The Tactical Response of Alexander to Guerilla Warfare and Fighting in Difficult Terrain" (2015). School of American and Global Studies Faculty Publications with a Focus on History, Philosophy, Political Science, and Religion. 10.
This is the peer-reviewed Post-print manuscript. The Version of Record is published in The Ancient World (2015) 46(2).