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Alexander the Great's designs on China


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Alexander the Great conquered a land mass from Macedonia to western India. His army defeated an Indian force who used elephants even though Alexander's men had never seen elephants before, let alone elephants used in combat. His men hacked the elephants' legs and jabbed at the men atop the animals.

After defeating Porus in India, he proceeded eastwards towards the Ganges. However his troops mutinied after hearing a larger Indian force in the vicinity. Alexander reluctantly agreed to turn back after consulting with his officers.

Was Alexander aware of the Warring States or Zhou civilization in China at the time? If so, what were his intentions had he succeeded in taking India?

Alexander's men used the sarissa or long pike against infantrymen and cavalrymen. A cavalry-mounted sarissa provided a very swift, devastating effect against slow-moving opponents.

The seven Warring States in China were busy fighting one another, and did not have the concept of a unified "China" until Qin accomplished the task several years later after Alexander. But the Warring States did have a powerful weapon in the crossbow, which could penetrate sheets of armor.

How would the Chinese crossbow of Warring States compare against a fast-charging sarissa? One thing to consider is that the sarissa loses its advantage on rough terrain, which is common in China. The sarissa also decreases the mobility of infantrymen who used them. But the chariots used by the Warring States might not have fared very well against cavalry-mounted sarissa.

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nephridium

Strictly speaking Alexander would have lost in China for the same reason he couldn't continue conquering India: the soldiers were too far from home and too demoralized. The constant victories did 'pump' them this far into the east, but at some point the sentiment of "What are we doing here?" and "Why are we doing this?" sets in aggravated by constantly being confronted with strange and alien landscapes, people, customs and weather. Some soldiers would feel homesick or would want to die on 'real' Greek soil and as opposed to nowadays it's not just a hop into the airplane but years of marching home that would help with that.

There is another factor: it becomes increasingly hard to maintain domination over people who's culture differ more from your own. This would have made it extremely difficult for Alexander to keep supplying his armies with ressources to far from home. All through history we can see that conquering is always easier than keeping the peace.

Excluding all these 'strategic elements' and only considering the armies is quite interesting, still. Both sides would engage with trained battle-hardened men. Alexander relied on his Macedonian phalanx holding the line while his exceptionally trained cavalry dismanteled the opponents cavalry and charged home. Though the phalanx is most effective on the plain the Greeks did get as far as India because they weren't to shabby fighting on uneven terrain either.

I don't know about the strength of the Chinese crossbows (seen them, but can't really judge how effective they are in battle), but if they were powerful enough to penetrate the armor of the Macedonian phalangites combined with a sufficiently fast firing rate this would have negated one of Alexander's main battle tactics and he would have to adapt his strategies and tactics. The approach would be to concentrate fire on certain (less enforced) parts of the phalanx and then quickly breaking through with chariots and armored infantrymen; a phalanx in disarray (even with long pikes) is prone to falter and lose the battle.

If on the other hand Alexander could implement his tactics the way he did in all the battles before he should be able to come out victorious. Seeing your general routing off the enemy cavalry is just a huge moral booster (and crushes the spirits of the opponents). In battles like these strong cavalry is worth their weight in gold.

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I don't know about the strength of the Chinese crossbows (seen them, but can't really judge how effective they are in battle), but if they were powerful enough to penetrate the armor of the Macedonian phalangites combined with a sufficiently fast firing rate this would have negated one of Alexander's main battle tactics and he would have to adapt his strategies and tactics. The approach would be to concentrate fire on certain (less enforced) parts of the phalanx and then quickly breaking through with chariots and armored infantrymen; a phalanx in disarray (even with long pikes) is prone to falter and lose the battle.

It must have been suicidal to go on the offensive against a phalanx occupying a fixed standing position. The best bet is to probably take a defensive position against Alexander and let the phalanx take the offensive. The defensive opponent could have their archers launch their projectiles against the incoming phalanx, and then follow through with a cavalry/chariot attack on Alexander's side or rear flanks.

The Qin army had a powerful crossbow where the archer used his feet to aim the bow in the air, and then launch the projectile using his human strength.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Long Zhiren

Alexander got as far as Afghanistan.

Kandahar is a city named after Alexander.

Genetic studies of the Kandahar people show a lot of Greek blood.

India was another demoralizing wake-up call for Alexander that China would have done even more. It seems that Alexander and his army totally underestimated the size of the world. Porus' army wore out Alexander; and that was just the beginning of India. And India was hardly more unified than China at the time.

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The Chinese indeed had difficulties taking the offensive against cavalrymen (the Huns) due to the inferiority of Chinese horses, but cavalry would have had little advantage against fortified Chinese cities guarded by superior artillery. On the ground, the Chinese answer to strong foreign cavelry had been the pikemen, backed by archers and missile units. Strategy wise, I believe neither side lacked brilliant strategists. The Mongols had to conquer the rest of the world before they could take down Chinese cities. If China wasn't so close to the Mongol heartland (as in the case of Alexander the Great -- logistic nightmare), conquering China would have been much more difficult. On the other hand, China's lack of good cavalry forces was a major and at times fatal disadvantage, since it was hard to launch counter offensives against cityless and mobile enimies, despite superior technology and weapons.

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  • 4 months later...
Qingdao Frank

Most interesting..

My major is Chemical Engineering so have no detailed knowledge beyond an Oliver Stone movie and Sun Tzu' s 'Art of War' ( in the version I read the forwrad passage noted that Alexander would have had a tougher time against Chinese Armies of that period. I believe this was indeed linked to the advantage of the Cross bow. )

But all in all this thread is a most enjoyable read..

Just curious how do you think Zhu He's 1420's fleets would have done against a British or European battle fleet of the time?

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If I were the enemy of Alexander the Great, I will probably use Gengkhis Khan strategies. I will use my men on horsebacks and using arrows to rain down on Alexander's phalanx. Hit and run and continue to do so and Alexander's phalanx becomes useless.

I also divide men into smaller groups and ambush Alexander's proudly marching army. When Alexander gets piss he then will divide his force up and start to attack forcefully, I will run and begging for Alexander to chase me down, then my bigger force but in hiding will ambush Alexander's army and trap his army at a hard to maneuver location, and more arrows rain down on his army.

I still don't know why people in the past like to fight upclose and personel when they have horse and arrows. Ghengkhis Khan changed all that!

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  • 1 month later...
TallTravel

Here's a contrary opinion: Alexander lost every region he " conquered " a few years after he won it, so the question is moot. If he had conquered any portion of China he would have lost it soon after: just like he did everything else. He killed a lot of people, coerced them into complying with his wishes for a short time, and then it inevitably fell apart every single time.

To my eyes, Alexander was first and foremost an adventurer, not a ruler. He traveled, attempted to build an empire, but knew nothing about how to build. He knew only about destroying and moving on, not building.

That's my story and I'm stickin with it!

:mrgreen:

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  • 1 month later...

Qingdao Frank:

The guy's name is Zheng He [a Muslim eunuch and adviser to the Ming Emperor], not Zhu He. The fleet is indeed in the 1420's. I bet you probably read the book 1421: The year China discovered America. Or went to some website about this topic. That's in 1420's, Ming dynasty [1368-1644]China. Alexander lived in the 4 century BCE. During Alexander's time, it's indeed Zhou dynasty China. Zhou dynasty is a very militarily advanced although somewhat primitive era in China's history. If Alexander had indeed tried to invade, he would be defeated by the Zhou army. Zhou rulers kept and followed most of the things from the Shang dynasty [oracle bones] before them.

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