“With a king like this to lead us, no force on Earth can stand against us.” –Arrian, Campaigns of Alexander
With today’s episode, we move on from the Spartans — the supreme collective expression of the Warrior Archetype in the ancient world – to the person who, to my mind, embodied the supreme individual expression of that ideal …
Alexander the Great.
Who was Alexander?
Alexander swept down out of the north, from his own nation of Macedonia, and overcame all Greece. This was 140 years after Thermopylae. Alexander was twenty years old.
Leaving half his army to garrison the states of Greece, Alexander turned east with the intention of conquering the Persian empire, the richest and most powerful the earth had ever seen … the same empire that had invaded Greece under its king Xerxes. By twenty-five, Alexander had conquered it.
Two stories from the ancient sources, to give us the flavor of who Alexander was and how he led:
Once Alexander was leading his army through a waterless desert. The column was strung out for miles, with men and horses suffering terribly from thirst.
Suddenly a detachment of scouts came galloping back to the king. They had found a small spring and had managed to fill up a helmet with water. They rushed to Alexander and presented this to him. The army held in place, watching. Every man’s eye was fixed upon their king. Alexander thanked his scouts for bringing him this gift. Then, without touching a drop, he lifted the helmet and poured the precious liquid into the sand. At once a great cheer ascended, rolling from one end of the column to the other. A man was heard to say, “With a king like this to lead us, no force on earth can stand against us.”
In other words, Alexander was declaring for all to see, without a word, that he was a soldier just like them … that he would never ask his men to endure any perils or make any sacrifices that he wasn’t prepared to undergo himself.
Second story: in India, after years on campaign, Alexander’s men threatened to mutiny. They were worn out. They wanted to go home. Alexander called an assembly. When the army had gathered, the young king stepped forth and stripped his tunic, displaying across the flesh of his chest and arms and legs, even his head and face, the marks from dozens of wounds, all received in battles he had fought alongside the comrades who threatened to abandon him now.
These scars on my body,” Alexander declared, “were got for you, my brothers. Every wound, as you see, is in the front. I have been shot by arrows, speared, burned, slashed by swords. Nearly every bone in my body has been broken in action, including my skull, which has been fractured from falls from city walls, from flung boulders got in sieges storming enemy fortresses. Barely an inch of my body remains unscarred, as you see.
Let that man stand forth from your ranks, brothers, who has bled more than I, or sweated more than I, or endured more than I, for your sake. Show him to me, and I will yield to your weariness and go home.” Not a man came forward. Instead, every warrior hung his head in silence. After moments, a great cheer arose from the army. The men begged their king to forgive them for their want of spirit and pleaded with him only to lead them forward.
When we talk about the King archetype (which is of course superior to the Warrior Archetype), we’re speaking of a persona, a living persona within each of our psyches.
It’s that archetype (and the archetypes beyond it, the Queen, the Sage, the Magician) that we want to access as we grow and mature.
Alexander lived out in his person and deeds, and in the mythos he created of himself for the army, a certain kind of king.
He embodied the warrior virtues we’ve spoken of, as evinced by the Spartans and the Athenians and other Greeks, in a form that was more dramatic and more personal than any king before him.
Why study Alexander? For me, I want to access my inner king. I want to think and act from that place, I want to make decisions from that place.
When the king is strong and healthy, the kingdom prospers.
When the king rules with wisdom and justice, the land flourishes and the people are happy.
I really like the kind of simple written article so people can understand it and people can understand what message the author wants to convey. Your style is very unique but it’s easy to understand what you want to say in this discussion.
A good moto speech lasts about 3 minutes, or until you walk away and start thinking about what you’ve been ordered to do.
When I was walking up a mined minefield in Afg, knowing the officer who ordered the patrol it was leading gave me the confidence that we’d make it. We all did, which increased our confidence and trust in him for future ops. That’s Marine leadership lesson 101: never order your men to do something you won’t. Sikunder Gul knew it, but it seems a lost art today.
The combination of two archetypes that developed great leadership qualities in Alexender is explained beautifully in this episode.
It would be interesting to know where Alexander got his concept of leadership. He was devoted to Homer, kept the scroll texts under his pillow, so they say. But Homeric behavior is more about chest-thumping and the challenge of individual combat. So it must have been his father Philip. As I recall, Philip as a youth was a hostage in Thebes, where he soaked up lessons on military strategy and leadership by the example of Epaminondas, who beat the Spartans. Then again, maybe such lessons are known instinctively, such as by the Marine officer referenced above.
Very interesting shift from the Warrior archetype to the King archetype.
Very interesting question about where Alexander got it. As a career military guy, I’ve come to believe that leadership is trainable. That is not to say some people have greater God-given talent in this capacity, but I think this video series alone, and most of Steve’s writing (both fiction & non-=fiction) are great lessons in leadership.
Sports are another classroom for leadership. While the Marine Officer Andrew mentioned may have higher than average talent in leadership, I would credit his actions in Afghanistan to his training, Marine culture, and is superior leaders who set the example/expectations in theater.
As for the ancients–maybe we can credit our mirror neurons for learning others’ successful behaviors.
This is another good one. I love the image of Alexander dumping precious water. “If you don’t drink, I don’t drink,” and the boisterous response of his phalanx. Thinking of how we’re inspired to follow a true leader by virtue of our love for him or her (contrast with its shadow, where enablers follow out of fear or desire for their own personal power).
In the genuine love that troops feel for the leader they can tell also loves them, I’m reminded of this short video where Mattis is “ambushed” by young troops in Afghanistan. You can feel the love moving in both directions.
Joe; what an outstanding example of the bond between a CO and his troops!!
“…A King does not abide within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field…”
As always with a terrific bonus to Steve’s written or spoken word. I truly don’t know how you are able to find such terrific videos. Mattis 2020…oh, that’s over, Mattis 2024.
When he said, “…rambunctious…” you saw the twinkle in his eye.
I agree 100% that it is the actions of the leader that instill confidence. Marine Infantry Officers are certainly a cut above.
I have not read the archetypes book Steve recommended, nor am I well versed in Jungian psychology. It is my rudimentary understanding of the archetypes as growth stages. I cannot help but think that to be a King, one must first be a successful Warrior. Could you imagine Alexander the Great, King Leonidas, General Eisenhower having a special dinner at a fancy restaurant violating their own rules during a pandemic?
One of my brother’s former shipmates was telling me about a study someone did with Tylenol. The students who took Tylenol were less empathetic afterwards. I find this to be so interesting, and yet so intuitive. If we shelter ourselves from the pains of the world, we are unable to feel the pain others are suffering.
Steve–is there a way you can make this video course mandatory for all elected government leaders from City to POTUS?
…the cynic in me thinks they would either not get it, or believe they are ‘sacrificing’ for all of us.
Great stuff again. I feel late to the party. Had a busy morning, and missed my Monday morning dose of Pressfield.
I thought I should pull a Joe Jansen and actually cite my reference. Here is very short article in at AmericanHealth.org about the empathy killing side-effects of Tylenol:http://americanhealthcouncil.org/4599/
There are articles in Washington Post, The Epoch Times, and a few other news organizations, but AmericanHealth struck me as the most credible/without agenda.
Some of the scientists talk about the neuro-chemical reactions, and what parts of the brain Tylenol impacts.
That may be true, but I think, in context of this video series–it is sheltering oneself from pain that is the problem. It is not how King Leonidas nor Alexander the Great operated. Maybe there is a clue here about how we operate with our nearly obscene wealth in the US. How we treat one another. How we look at other countries. How we look at other points of view.
I’m more of an Advil guy when trying to numb a headache, and I haven’t seen any studies about Advil numbing empathy–but my suspicion is that it does. Maybe it numbs our spirit. Maybe there is a certain amount of pain, we as human beings, need to see and act with compassion, kindness, and to see clearly.
I try and bookmark the good stuff when I see it. It also doubles as evidence of my Resistance… surfing instead of working. Don’t tell my wife I’ve been looking at videos instead of sending stuff out, or she’ll make me go get a job at the knife counter at Cabela’s.
Insert side-headed laughing emoji!
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A tiny glimpse into what Steven Pressfield taught me about combat leadership through his understanding of ‘warrior ethos’ and ‘combat leadership’…this understanding manifested itself in the characters in his books…Dienekes, Alcibiades, Alexander, Junah and of course, Telamon. Thank you Steve. Thank you.
I figured out a long time ago how I wanted to treat my men. I knew there was something special, a way in which to look at the men who were put under my care. I could not think of any greater gift than to train men and lead them in combat. Combat to me was, and always will be the ultimate test for a man. I knew that I cared for my men, but how would I frame that care on a daily basis? It came to me one day out of the blue…I would treat my men like I would want someone to treat my own son. Do you understand? How much would you want the leader of your children to care for them in battle? How hard would you want them to train prior to war? In Afghanistan when I would look at the members of my team, often times I would see their children’s faces, and even sometimes, children who were not even born yet. I would see their futures. They were more important to me than life itself. Would you not want a man leading your son, who loved him as much as he did his own children? One who would gladly give his life for them? To this day my greatest sorrow is that I was unable to give my life for my team so that they would know for eternity how much I loved them. In my own mind when I thought or spoke of my “team”, it said my “family”. The terms were one and the same.
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