The legendary Alexander the Great built an empire that, at its height stretched from Ancient Greece to today’s India. One of his strongest and most formidable enemies was the Persian Empire of Darius III. In 334 BC, Alexander led a fleet of Greek and Macedonian ships across the hostile environments of Dardanelles Straits and into Asia Minor. When he reached the shore, Alexander spoke the famous words, “We will either return home in Persian ships or we will die here” That alone shows the courage of his greatness which motivated his troops deeply enough that today we still remember him today. They knew they had to win to survive because there was no other way to go back home. Alas, in general, Alexander is known by avoiding any kind of naval warfare given the lack of experience and trust in his Athenian naval fleet. But he used his fleet for transportation of his troops and acquired goods from places he had conquered. Although he is not known from his reputation of naval warfare, he almost never lost a battle on sea.

Alexander used the 160 triremes of his allied Greek navy to transport his army across the Dardanelles from Sestos to Abydos. At the time being, Persian fleet had not been mobilized at the time so the operation proceeded without interference and Alexander took another 60 smaller ships on a sightseeing excursion to the nearby city of Troy.

Secondly, in the capture of Miletus from Alexander. The 160-ship allied Greek fleet under Nicanor arrived at Miletus three days in advance of the Persian fleet and anchored at the island of Lade, directly across from the city. The anchorage was promptly fortified and strongly garrisoned by 4.000 Thracian troops and Greek mercenaries. Thus when the 400-ship Persian fleet arrived, it was forced to base itself nine miles away at Mytale, the nearest usable anchorage that was available.

When Alexander launched his final attack on Miletus, the greek allied navy was ordered to block the harbor entrance, with the Greek fleet to prevent the Persian fleet from reinforcing the city. When reaching the harbor, the Greeks, whose ships were heavily loaded with troops, formed in a line across the harbor mouth, bows facing outward. Upon its arrival, the Persian fleet declined to force the strongly held harbor entrance, and the city quickly fell to Alexander by assault. Thus the contribution to the greek allied navy in the fall of Miletus was decisive.

Later, Alexander decided fo disband his fleet, except for 20 Athenians triremes. His allied fleet had transported the Macedonian army across the Hellespont, provided initial supplies for his army until lie could establish a functioning land-based supply net in Asia Minor, and assisted in conquering the coastline of Ionia and the outlying islands as far south as Miletus.

Alexander the Great Naval Fleet
Alexander the Great Naval Fleet

Why Greek allied fleet was disbanded

Some claim  that the greek allied fleet was disbanded because of being suspects to Alexander for changing sides. However the reasons behind Alexander’s decision are also among the following:

• The 160 triremes of Alexander’s navy were inferior mostly in numbers and secondly to seamanship in comparison to the 400 triremes of the Persian navy. The Greek fleet did not stand a reasonable chance of winning a battle against the Persian fleet, and its inferiority at sea would doubtless adversely influence Alexander’s strategy on land because he would be continually forced to take steps to protect it.
• The cost to maintain the Greek fleet was 160 talents a month. Alexander crossed over into Asia with a mere 60 talents in his treasury and his campaign in Asia Minor had not resulted in the acquisition ol much revenue to this point because ihe main Persian treasury reserves were not stored there, but in the central Persian Empire. The cost of the fleet was a continuing and heavy drain on his already meager resources and was probably imperiling his ability to meet the wage expenses of his large army
• The navy was no longer needed for supply transport. Alexander now controlled enough Persian grain-producing areas in Asia Minor to be able to dispense with his waterborne supply pipeline to Greece.
• The 32,000 seamen ol the fleet weie an unnecessary burden on his supply net. There were almost as many men in the fleet as in his army, but their strategic value was small. The 50 tons of grain they consumed daily was disproportionate to their current usefulness.


However Alexander found himself to be partly wrong in his decision at the example of Tyre. After several reverses at Tyre, it became clear to Alexander that it would not be possible to take the island city without a navy. The Tyrian naval supremacy allowed them to launch highly destructive raids against his mole at will, undoing much of the construction that had been so laboriously undertaken. Only a strong navy could protect the mole until its completion. Alexander, having the problem of previously disbanding his allied greek fleet, he tried to recruit a new allied fleet.

During some weeks, 20 ships arrived from Rhodes and Soli, one from Macedonia, 120 ships more came from Cyprus and finally Byblos, Aradus and Sidon together provided him with a navy of 80 ships. Alexanders combined fleet of 221 ships now, having again its majority from his Greek allies and he considerably outnumbered the ships at Tyre’s disposal, giving him naval supremacy in the eastern Mediterranean and finally had an important role in the fall of Tyre.


Another silenced story is the one of Siphnos. Antipater had ordered Proteus (son of Andronicus) to assemble ships from Eboea and Peloponnese to guard Greece against a Persian invasion. Learning that Datames was anchored near Siphnos with 10 ships ot the Persian fleet, he sailed from Chalcis that night with 15 greek ships. Arriving at the island of Cythnus at dawn, Proteus lay at anchor all day to obtain intelligence of the Persian disposition. When Proteus attacked just before dawn on the following day Datames was taken completely by surprise and in the naval battle following, he had eight of his Persian ships sunk in rapid succession from the greek ships of Proteus. He then fled back to the Persian fleet with the remaining two ships ot his force.

The fleet of Nearchos

Significant was also the contribution of Nearchos fleet . Nearchos was made admiral of a fleet that consisted of 80 triaconters and 2,000 service ships -horse transports, grain barges, etc. Most of the ships had been built during the previous two months on the river or commandeered locally. Onesicritus was designated as Nearchus’ second-in-command. In early November 326 B, 8,000 troops embarked aboard the fleet at jalalpur. including the hypaspists and the Companion cavalry. Craterus marched along the west bank of the river with a portion of the cavalry and infantry, while Hephaestion moved down the cast bank with the remainder of the army, which included the elephants. From the total of 32 ships, the captains who were appointed as trierarchs, or rear admirals, were twenty-four Macedonians, eight other allied Greeks, and only one Persian, the eunuch Bagoas.


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