on 20 December 2012
The absolute merit of this book is the excellent set of plates that illustrate each of Alexander's major campaigns.
This third book of Stephen English's trilogy (The Army of Alexander the Great and The Sieges of Alexander the Great) handles Alexander's great battlefields: at the Granicus River (334 BC), at Issus (333 BC), at Gaugamela (331 BC) and finally at the Hydaspes River (326 BC).
Like in his The Sieges of Alexander the Great, English tries to analyze Alexander's movements, tactics and logistics based on the histories written in antiquity together with the studies, critics and opinions of modern authors. His most favourite sources are Arrian and Diodorus through which he filters out the final plans and battlefields. However, I once again miss clear maps to follow the steps of Alexander, a tool that would have been especially helpful to pinpoint his campaigns all along the route - more so, because English often spends much time discussing and questioning the exact locations. Most frustrating, in my eyes, were those pages where he questions the location of Issus, that of the Pinarus River and the passes over the Amanus Mountains used by Alexander and Darius respectively. English does include a map, but it only shows a general manoeuvre and a handful of names none of which are used in his argumentation (while the ones he discusses are not on the map). What's the point, I wonder, to go through so much detail when you don't show your readers where to find them!
Yet the sets of plates drawn up for each battlefield are among the best one can find to help envision the successive phases of Alexander's attacks and to prove (if need may be) the genius of his attack. As far as I'm concerned, this is the first time I discover the masterly set-up of his army at the Hydaspes and I would even say that I found it far superior to that at the Battle at Gaugamela. We should not forget that by this time Alexander had to do without Parmenion leading his left flank, without Philotas at the head of the cavalry and without faithful Cleitus leading his centre - still the discipline of the Macedonia army is astonishing!