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Military Tactics: Alexander the Great Quiz
by Staff
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?

  • He marched his army 60 miles (97 kilometers) around the mountain range. Because of the soldiers' excellent training and loyalty, they did it far faster than the Thessalians expected.
  • He had his troops cut a path into Mount Ossa and sent them directly over the mountain, emerging behind the Thessalians.
  • He used a decoy army to draw them out of the pass, then moved the real army in behind them.

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?

  • His archers rained so many arrows on the Getae that they were forced to retreat from the river.
  • He stole the Getae boats and ferried as many of his troops across at night as possible, unknown to the Getae.
  • He had his troops build a temporary bridge while shield-bearers protected them from arrows.

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

  • The terrain was broken by steep chasms that would have prevented a phalanx from maneuvering.
  • The Thracians had huge clay vats of flammable oil that they planned to use to burn Alexander's troops to death.
  • The Thracians had heavy wagons and carts that they planned to throw onto the oncoming infantry.

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

  • He attacked through a hidden pass the defenders were unaware of.
  • He attacked in the middle of a driving rain storm that obscured his troops' movements.
  • He had his troops perform a drill then "practice" a maneuver that allowed them to quickly turn and attack.

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

  • one-tenth
  • one-quarter
  • one-third

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

  • He simply moved several miles along the river and crossed away from the enemy position.
  • He used the stolen boats at night trick again.
  • He didn't — he bypassed the waiting Persians entirely and moved his campaign to another city.

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?

  • so that Alexander would officially be the ruler of Caria when she died
  • to allow their families to share wealth and property freely
  • to avoid trouble with Phrygian laws about the rights of women and their ability to rule territory

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

  • He liked to use the restricted terrain of a river bank to reduce the advantage of an enemy with superior numbers.
  • He grew up near a river, and much of his early military training was near one.
  • His Macedonian troops were skilled at amphibious assaults.

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

  • secure the high ground that Darius was defending
  • get a more advantageous view of the battlefield
  • send his troops at Darius himself, causing him to flee

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?

  • He had the towers built tall enough so that they could be rolled along the sea floor.
  • He had his troops construct a stone causeway from the mainland to the city walls.
  • He built massive barges that could float the towers close enough.

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

  • his father, Philip II
  • Ptolemy
  • Antigonus

The phalanx was defined by what weapon?

  • bows
  • short swords
  • long spears

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

  • to defend the archers
  • to lead frontal assaults on enemy positions
  • to pin down groups of enemy troops while other elements of the army broke through their lines

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

  • They raised their sarissas, creating a "forest" of spears that blocked many incoming missiles.
  • They dropped their sarissas and raised large, heavy shields.
  • They used quick maneuvers and nearby terrain to avoid missile attacks.

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

  • Sarissas were hollow and therefore not that heavy.
  • They used leather "cups" that held the base of the sarissa in place against their hips.
  • They rested them on the shoulders of the soldiers in the rank ahead of them.

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?

  • They were vulnerable from the sides and rear, so fast units could outflank them.
  • Cavalry charges could get between the spears and break the formation.
  • They had low morale and could be routed by a strong opening attack.

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?

  • because Alexander wanted their family's wealth, which would be transferred to him if Parmenion died
  • because Parmenion had been a key part of the conspiracy
  • to prevent Parmenion from seeking vengeance for his son's death

What tactic did Alexander use to gain control of Egypt?

  • He used his troops' superior training to outmaneuver opponents on open ground.
  • He fought along the Nile.
  • None — the Egyptians loathed being ruled by Persia, welcomed Alexander and made him their king.

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)?

  • an inverted V shape
  • a wedge
  • a straight, steady line

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

  • He strung nets between the sarissas.
  • He had the troops open lanes for the chariots to pass through.
  • He armed each phalanx with crossbows.

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?

  • He had a "double" who looked very much like him and acted as a decoy.
  • He could shout false orders to his troops that deceived his opponents.
  • By moving to different points in his battle line, he could make his enemies think he was planning a charge there.

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

  • He had his phalanxes raise their spears and the reserves raise their shields until the Persians had exhausted themselves.
  • He urged his troops into a sudden charge straight up the walls of the pass.
  • He retreated, regrouped and eventually found a way through the mountains to outflank Ariobarzanes.

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

  • He battered the walls with ballistae for seven months.
  • He built massive earth and stone mounds allowing his troops to easily breach the walls.
  • He had troops who were good at rock climbing scale the cliffs and walls at night.

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

  • He painted vivid eyes and mouths on his banners, which scared the elephants and often made them stampede.
  • He had the troops in a phalanx surround the elephants and use their long sarissas to harass and attack the riders.
  • He dug massive pits, covered them with grass and lured the elephants to charge into them.

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?

  • He used captured elephants from an earlier battle to establish a foothold on the other side of the river.
  • He had his strongest phalanx simply ford the river in formation.
  • He left the bulk of his army downriver, deceiving Porus with false troop movements while crossing quietly upriver.