The Afghan Campaign


Steven Pressfield




Date Reviewed:

February 5th, 2020

he Afghan Campaign is the story of Alexander the Great's expedition into Afghanistan, as his conquering armies marched ever eastward. For some reason that is not explained in the book, Alexander had to subdue Afghanistan before he could turn his sights onto India, even though India is directly east of the Persian empire, which Alexander had already defeated. Why couldn't he have just crossed the Indus River and attacked India directly?

The Afghan Campaign is told in first person by Matthias, the youngest of three sons from Macedonia. His father dies gloriously serving under Alexander. His two older brothers are currently serving with him now. As soon as he is old enough, Matthias ignores the pleas of his mother to tend the family farm, and off he goes to seek glory and wealth. By the time he joins the army, Alexander has already completed his conquest of the Persian empire, taken Egypt, and is now marching eastward. Will Alexander conquer the entire world before Matthias has his chance to participate? The reality, of course, is quite different than battle descriptions sung by the bards.

Matthias service of course begins with tough training - drills with weapons, long marches, and tough superior officers. Plus, Afghanistan is a long way from Macedonia, these new troops have to march for months simply to reach the main army. When Matthias and company finally get involved in the army, the discover how vicious and barbaric the fighting is. The Afghans commit atrocities, no one can be trusted. Torture, scalping, crucifixtion - any soldier captured by the Afghans suffers are grisly fate. Alexander's army responds in kind, whole villages are butchered or enslaved in retaliation.

The fighting is guerilla style - with raids on outposts and supply lines, then retreating into the vast and trackless Afghan countryside. The Macedonians can take villages and forts, but the wily Afghans will circle around behind and attack targets in the rear.

The women are treated in appalling fashion. They are used as pack animals to haul heavy loads. And, like mules, they are beaten and abused. The Afghans despise any women who is captured by Alexander's army, even if it is not her choice, the woman is considered dishonorable and must be killed. Matthias falls in love with one of these Afghan woman, Shinar, but she doesn't return his affection, saying he cannot understand her predicament.

The Afghan campaign lasts 3 years, longer than any other foe has held out against Alexander the Great. Matthias writes of the army life and battles. The voice is authenticate, he describes situations and routines as if he had lived them. Pressfield must have done a ton of research of the life of the soldiers, but his information is not conveyed as tedious information dumps, but instead is described in natural conversation. It gives a complete picture of Matthias life and times.

I was surprised how much Matthias sounds like a modern man. His ethics and deeds seem like the actions of a citizen of the 21st century, rather than how I imagine an ancient Greek would think. For example, there is very little superstition or praying to Zeus. Other than the weapons employed, this could easily be a story told by a modern day warrior fighting in Afghanistan.

I enjoyed this book. I previously read Pressfield's Gates of Fire, and that also was a worthwhile read. I will have to look for other books by Pressfield.