Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great lived before Christ, but he was driven by a vision of global unity as modern as today. Alexander is seen in many roles in our culture. The most famous of these is being a great general and conqueror of the world. During his short life, Alexander conquered the known world and helped spread the culture of the Greeks. Much of what he accomplished must be viewed in the circumstances of his time and his upbringing. Without these we may not have had the spread of Greek culture or even heard of the man called Alexander.

I will discuss how Alexander was able to accomplish all of this in such a short time and the events and strategies that helped him along the way. To understand the events of his life you need to know the man. Alexander’s father, Philip II influenced the events in the military and political areas that eventually helped Alexander in his conquests. When Philip took power in 359 B. C. , Macedonia was in turmoil and he immediately set out to put the people under his control. Philip developed the Macedonian army and formed alliances with the Balkan peoples. Philip established many political reforms that made his state a great power.

He increased the size of the Royal Companions/heairoi, which gave more people positions of power and a sense of belonging to the kingdom. Also, the sons of the nobles were allowed to receive education in the court of the king. The reason for this was that the sons would develop a strong loyalty to the king; furthermore it allowed Philip, in a sense, to keep the sons hostage from their parents, from interfering with his authority. On the military side, the battle of Chaeronea, in August of 338 B. C. , helped put Athenians and Thebans under Macedonia control, which left Sparta the only Greek state not under Philip’s authority.

Also, Philip introduced new weapons to the army, such as the 6-meter sarissa, a wooden pike with a metal tip used by the infantry in the phalanx. The sarissa when held upright in the phalanx (rows of eight), helped hide the maneuvers from the view of the enemy. If held horizontally by the front rows, it could penetrate from 20 feet away. Philip also made the military a full-time occupation that paid a salary, instead of a part-time job that it used to be. By doing this, the army was able to drill regularly, and build unity and cohesion within its ranks.

In addition to the phalanx, Philip used light auxiliaries, archers, siege trains, and a cavalry. This was making of one of the finest military machines ever seen to that day and even later. The system that Philip used in ruling the Greek states helped unify them, and eliminate the notion of being a conquered people. He granted freedom and autonomy to all parties in each state; but, at the same time, established bureaucracies that were stable and loyal to him. This idea of not destroying the conquered people but placing them in charge, is seen consistently later on in Alexander’s Empire.

After this was done, he declared war on Persia with the support of a unified Greece. After all this, before he could start his march on Persia, he was assassinated. Philip by conquest and the organization of rule, helped Alexander inherit a united Greece and Macedonia. This enabled him to be able to conquer other lands and not waste time and effort fighting Greek states. His father, through reform, also developed the finest army of the age. These inheritances paved the way for Alexander’s success. Alexander’s family life was, at the least, dysfunctional. His father, Philip and his mother, Olympias were not a happy couple.

When Philip left Olympias to marry Cleopatra, the family was split and embittered. Some think that Olympia even had a role in Philip’s murder. Alexander clearly owed some of his characteristics to both his parents. Like his father, he was a shrewd and practical politician. But, he also was attached to believing in oracles, cults, and omens, which he inherited from his mother, along with her volatile and emotional temperament. As a father, Philip was proud of his son, but Alexander was always closer to his mother. One thing that Olympias definitely wanted for her son, was that he become heir to the throne.

This is important, for without her protection, Alexander could have very possibly never have been able to claim the throne and accomplish conquering the world. Alexander was born on or around July 20, 356 B. C. His parents realized the potential that their son had and arranged to start his education. His first teacher was Leonidas, who was a strict disciplinarian who instilled in Alexander an ascetic nature. Later, he became famous for living like his soldiers did, very simply. His next teacher was Lysimachus, who taught Alexander to play the lyre and taught him to appreciate the fine arts of music, poetry, and drama.

His most famous teacher was Aristotle, who taught him philosophy, ethic, politics, and healing, all of which became very important to him in later in life. Aristotle also gave Alexander his precious copy of Homer’s The Iliad, and this was the book that Alexander carried with him to India. It has also been said that Alexander looked up to him “like a father”. One point that the two differed on was the status of foreigners. Aristotle saw them as barbarians, like what most Greeks thought of the outside world, while Alexander tried to merge Macedonians and foreigners together.

It seems that Alexander was influenced greatly by each teacher’s strength, but also was able to form his own ideas. Alexander matured very quickly, which his father noticed. In 340 B. C. , when his dad was fighting rebels in Byzantium, Alexander, at 16 years old, was left in charge of Macedonia as regent, with power to rule in Philip’s name during his absence. During this time, the city of Maedi revolted and Alexander put down the revolt, captured the city, drove the rebels up north, and established a Greek colony called Alexandroupolis.

This event shows that Alexander had the skill to be a leader of people, but also had the knowledge and experience in the military arena. Alexander ascended to the throne after his father’s death. Immediately after that, trouble started in the Greek states. Some of the states such, as Athens and Thebes, had pledged loyalty to Philip, not a 20-year-old boy. Also, the barbarians to the north were threatening to break away and create chaos in the northern part of Macedonia. His advisors told him to let Athens and Thebes go and negotiate with the barbarians to avoid a revolt.

Alexander did the exact opposite; he attacked the barbarians swiftly, driving them beyond the Danube River and out of the picture. Then in Thebes, Alex marched right up to the gates in order to let them know it was too late to separate from him. The Thebans sent a small force of soldiers, who were easily repelled by Alexander. The next day, Perdiccas, Alexander’s general, attacked the gates of the city and broke into it. Alexander moved the rest of his force in, to prevent the Thebans from cutting off Perdiccas. The city was stormed and the Macedonians slaughtered everyone in sight, women and children included.

The plunderer, sacked, and burned Thebes, as an example to the rest of Greece. By showing this quick and decisive force, Athens rethought its decision to leave Alexander. If Alexander had waited or listened to his advisors, there would have been no empire or army, to carry out his conquest. He would be labeled as the Macedonian ruler who lost control of his land, not as a great conqueror. By showing the other city/states what would happen if they questioned his authority, he laid the idea of revolt quietly to rest. Alexander was driven to launch his Asia campaigns by his belief that he was invincible and godlike.

His family was thought to be descended from Hercules and Alexander’s hero was Achilles, who he tried to emulate. Favorable omens and miracles that were interpreted for him by his own people also encouraged him. By stating this, his own people would never dare give a bad omen because their head would not be connect to their body very long. He had several specific goals in Asia. He was suppose to be leading a Panhellenic invasion of the Persian Empire to rid the world of oppression. He also sought revenge on the Persians for their invasion on Greece in 490 B. C.

The land that he conquered outside the Persian Empire was a personal longing to see the Ocean that was believed to encircle Europe and Asia at the edge of the world. One of his goals that seemed ridiculous was to seek revenge on the Persian invasion of Greece. The Macedonians never fought, but actually just surrendered. Also the Persians were eventually defeated decisively by the Greeks and would never again invade Greece. You would think that the Persians would be seeking revenge for their defeat at the hands of the Greeks. I believe that Alexander used this as a ploy to unite the Greek city/states even more.

The army that assembled at Amphipolis in North Greece: 32,000 men with another 12,000 in the advance guard, had already crossed over to Persia the previous year. It was one of the toughest and most professional armies in the ancient world. There were also units from non-Macedonian Greeks. For Alexander, the presence of troops from southern Greece helped to justify his claim to be the “General in Chief of the army of the Hellenes. ” In his army, there were many specialized units. Such as engineers, bridge-builders, sappers, surveyors, along with a supply corps. They also carried a siege train, had mobile siege towers, stone-throwing catapults.

They even had medical supplies being sent to the front lines. He was ready to cross the Hellespont, the great divide between Europe and Asia. The world would never be the same again. When Alexander crossed the Hellespont with his army in 334 B. C. , he did it just the way Achilles had crossed it to enter Troy in Homer’s The Illiad. This goes back to Alexander’s image of himself as godlike and invincible. Also by using Homer’s The Illiad, he was presenting himself as a hero to all Greek people. His army encountered King Darius’s army at the crossing of the river Granicus, near the Aegean coast.

Alexander was very aggressive with his forces and defeated the Persians in a fierce hand to hand combat. He then proceeded to march south through Ionia and freed the Greek cities from Persian rule. By doing this, Alexander confirmed his status as the great liberator of civilized men. He then turned northward to Gordion, home of the famous Gordian Knot. The legend of the knot was that he who unravels it, is destined to rule the world. Alexander simply slashed the knot with his sword and unraveled it. This reinforces Alexander’s belief that he is destined to conquer the Persians and beyond. It was his fate to be leader of the world.

In November of 333 B. C. , he and Darius meet again at the mountain pass of Issus. Although the Persian army greatly outnumbered the Macedonians, the narrow field of battle played into the hands of Alexander. He defeated the Persians, but Darius escaped. After the battle, Alexander entered Damascus and captured Darius’s war chest and his family. In the next year that followed, he marched down to the Phoenician coast and received the surrenders of all major cities except for Tyre. A seven-month siege followed, and the city of Tyre eventually surrenders. After securing the Aegean coast he continued south to Egypt.

He arrived in Egypt in 331 B. C. and was welcomed by the people. He ordered a city to be designed and founded in his name at the mouth of the Nile. He was inspired to choose its site due to his interpretation of a scene from Homer’s Odyssey. Alexandria would become one of the major cultural centers in the Mediterranean world in the following centuries. During his stay in Egypt, he made a dangerous trip across the desert to visit the oracle of the temple of a Zeus Ammon. As usually, everything was going his way with abundant rain and the story tells that he was guided across the desert by ravens.

What Alexander spoke to the oracle is unclear, but many speculate that the priest told him he was the son of Zeus Ammon and was destined to rule the world. The Egyptians, who despised living under Persian rule, voluntarily made him pharaoh. He and Darius exchanged letters during this time, and Alexander was even offered a truce with a gift of several western provinces of the Persian Empire. He refused for it was the whole empire or battle that he wanted. He believed he was destined to rule the world and was a son of a god and would not settle for anything less. He left Egypt in the middle of 331 B. C. in pursuit of Darius.

Alexander conquered the lands between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates and found the Persian army on the plains of Gaugamela. The Macedonians spotted the campfires of the Persian army, and encouraged Alexander to lead his attack under the cover of darkness. He refused this action because he wanted to defeat Darius in an equally matched battle, so that the Darius would never again raise an army against the Macedonians. This leads back to Alexander’s theme of being invincible and godlike, because he was a fool not to take advantage of this situation. The two armies met on the battlefield the next morning and the Persians were slaughtered.

Darius escaped again, but Alexander was named King of Asia. He sent letters to all of the Greek cities saying that he had abolished tyranny from Asia. This leads back to his being a Greek hero just like Achilles and defending the civilized world of the Greeks from the savage world of the Persians. He did this to unite the Greek people behind him, and also to give reason to keep conquering these lands. He turned south and obtained the surrenders of Babylon and Susa and acquired great wealth from these areas. He fought his way into Persepolis, the capital of the Persian Empire and rested his army here for several months.

After four months, they burned the royal palace to the ground. There are two possible reasons why they torched the palace: one was to avenge the Persian invasion of Greece or it was set fire by the suggestion of an Athenian woman at the site of Alexander’s drinking parties. In 330 B. C. , a series of allegations was brought against some of Alexander’s officers because of their plot to kill him. Alexander tortured and executed his friend, Philotas, the accused leader of the conspiracy, and several other high-ranking officials in order to eliminate the possibility of an attempt on his life.

This incident contributed greatly to the paranoia that was growing inside of him. Another example of this paranoia, happened later in the year. After a night of feasting and drinking, an argument arose between Alexander and his long-time friend and companion, Cleitus. After taunting by Cleitus, Alexander ran a spear through him. He mourned his friend death excessively and nearly committed suicide due to his guilt. All of Alexander’s associates thereafter feared his paranoia and dangerous temperament, and pretty much stayed out of his way. Alexander continued his pursuit of Darius for hundreds of miles.

When he finally caught him, he found him dead, killed by his own men. Alexander had the assassins executed and gave Darius a royal funeral. As they marched into Parthia, Alexander’s tone changed. He started to dress in the Persian style instead of the Macedonian clothing. This alienated his men who were becoming more reluctant to follow him. The only thing that saved him was his charismatic personality that persuaded his men not to abandon. This was only one part of his grand effort to reconcile Greek and Persian culture. He established a training programs to teach Persians about Greek and Macedonian culture.

He even married a Persian dancer, Roxane. This differs Alexander from other conquerors, for he did not try to destroy other races of people, but intermix his people and the conquered people into one culture. In the spring of 327 B. C. , he marched his men into India. Before he did this, he felt that it was a necessity to trim down the army to accommodate the different climate and terrain that they would face. He burned all of the baggage wagons of Persian booty that hindered his mobility, and dismissed a large number of his soldiers, reshaping his army with several thousand Persian cavalrymen.

The greatest battle fought by Alexander in India was against Porus, one of the most powerful Indian leaders, at the river Hydaspes in July 326 B. C. Alexander’s army crossed the heavily defended river in dramatic fashion during a violent thunderstorm to meet Porus’ forces. The Indians were defeated in a fierce battle, even though they fought with elephants, which the Macedonians had never seen before. Alexander captured Porus and, like the other local rulers he had defeated, allowed him to continue to govern his territory. Alexander even subdued an independent province and granted it to Porus as a gift.

The only tragic note of this battle was the death of Bucephalus, Alexander’s horse. Alexander had ridden him in every one of his battles since Greece. He was grief-stricken and founded a city in his horse’s name. His next goal was to reach the Ganges River, 250 miles away, because he thought that it flowed into the outer ocean. His troops had heard tales of the powerful Indian tribes that lived in that region and remembered the difficulty of the battle with Porus, so refused to go any further east. Alexander was extremely disappointed, but he accepted their decision.

He then persuaded them to travel south down the rivers Hydaspes and Indus, so that they might reach the Ocean on the southern edge of the world. The army rode down the rivers on rafts and stopped to attack and conquer villages along the way. During this trip, Alexander sought out Indian philosophers, the Brahmins, who were famous for their wisdom, and he debated with them on philosophical issues. He became legendary for centuries in India, for being both a wise philosopher and a fearless conqueror. Another scare that happened in India, was the attack of the village of Malli.

They were said to be one of the most warlike of the Indian tribes. Alexander was wounded several times in this attack, most seriously when an arrow pierced his breastplate and his ribcage. The Macedonian officers rescued him in a narrow escape from the village. Alexander and his army reached the mouth of the Indus in July 325 B. C. and turned westward for home. They began to march west across the dangerous Gedrosian Desert. One of his officers, Nearchus, was put in command of a fleet that would take the sea route west rather than marching through the desert.

Alexander, on land, lost nearly three-quarters of his army to starvation and the harsh conditions of the desert. When the survivors reached the region called Carmania, they were welcomed into a prosperous land. Alexander and his men celebrated the end of their ordeal in the desert and traveled in luxury to Harmezeia, where they rejoined Nearchus and his soldiers. Then the whole army marched inland to Persis to rest. In 324 B. C. , Alexander furthered his mission to assimilate Macedonian and Persian cultures when he arranged thousands of marriages between the Greek soldiers and Persian women in Susa.

Alexander himself took a second wife, Stateira, one of Darius’ daughters. In the spring of the same year while the army was stationed in Ecbatana, his best friend, Hepaestion, died of a fever. He was overcome with grief, and he consoled himself by leading a campaign against a tribe of brigands called the Cossaeans. The next year, Alexander traveled with his men to Babylon despite numerous threatening omens. The omens were so frequent and ominous that Alexander feared that he had fallen out of the favor with the gods. He died of a fever that next year, but the death of Alexander the Great is still shrouded in mystery to this day.

It seems hard to believe a 33 year-old man could die of natural causes so suddenly. Many historians have made many attempts to explain what exactly happened. According to Plutarch, there were several bad omens, such as ravens fighting each other over the city wall with some falling dead right in front of him, a man with a deformed liver being sacrificed in the king’s honor, and his best lion was kicked to death by a donkey. The god Serapis told a man to put on the king’s robes and sit upon the throne. For someone that believe omens, oracles and had followed them during his life, Alexander turned a blind eye to these omens and ignored them.

Another story of his death, was that at a banquet, hosted by his friend, Medius. He was drinking heavily and was poisoned. We may never know the truth of his death, but on 7th of June, 323 B. C. , the Macedonians were allowed to file past their leader for the last time and finally, three days later, he succumbed to the illness. He died at the age of 33 on June 10, 323 B. C. The after-results of the career of this great man started off with the immense increase of international trade and the unity of many nations.

The supreme and lasting importance to the world was the extension of the Greek culture; secondly, a vast territory was opened up which had been useless as a desert until the conquered nomad tribes had been trained to follow civilized ways of life, with the resultant impetus given to the building of cities, the creation of harbors, ships and other aids for travel on land and sea; thirdly, financial and economic reforms; and lastly, the partial realization of Alexander’s dream of universal toleration for all religions and the brotherhood of mankind.

These results differed in many regions of the empire, because of the lack of success of Alexander’s successors to follow his visions. Greece and Greek language were forgotten during the Dark Ages, but with the Renaissance their natural supremacy was recognized and became the basis for European culture. Hellenic culture continues to influence the world to this day. The technique of Hellenic art was adapted to Indian buildings and statues. Even in China, where Alexander never penetrated, the Buddha statues are modified by the gracious style of Greece.

Alexander had started out as a crusader, to avenge the invasion and the destruction of Greece, but later had as his goal the extension of Hellenic ways of life throughout his empire. In this he succeeded. Greek democratic liberty-freedom to think and to speak, and the duty of the individual to take his share in the government of his city was instituted, wherever he became master. After the surrender of the robbers and semi-savage tribes of the mountainous regions of Persia. Alexander founded new towns and improved communications.

The so-called ” Foundation cities” were built at the junction of important roads, in positions specially chosen to assist the transit of merchandise and to command the valleys, a precaution necessary for adequate military supervision. The towns were planned on the Greek pattern, with a market square, school, offices, shops, temple, theater, gymnasium, and often a fountain. The young were given instructions in military methods and Hellenic culture with its ideals of chivalrous courage.

The new cities were placed near enough already existing villages to permit association with the native population, yet so far apart that the Macedonian and Greek settlers could maintain their own custom of life. The new colonists, chiefly Greek mercenaries, old and wounded men, introduced Macedonian methods of farming and agriculture to the mountain tribes. Many married Oriental women, thus began the fusing of nations. The free intercourse opened up from the East relieved some of the economic difficulties, which had threatened the West.

The new cities in Asia provided some solution of the unemployed during the time of financial crisis in Greece. Alexander had envisaged vast building projects during his early experience in Egypt. He was also finding and opening up safe trade routes. Babylon to Alexandria, India to Babylon, and Alexandria would develop into a center for an immense exchange of commerce between Egypt and the western Mediterranean. With the advent of Alexander came new methods of government in civil, military, and financial administration.

Just as he was swift to alter and modify his tactics in battle to meet new situations, so also did he adapt new political methods to suit the different regions of his empire. When Alexander adopted Greek as the universal language throughout the empire, it helped with also a uniform currency to simplified commerce and also exchange of ideas. Education in the Greek language extended knowledge of Hellenic culture, so that nations which had followed separate lines of thought, traditions, and customs, became members of a common civilization, citizens of the same world.

With a common language, Oriental knowledge became more accessible to the West. Rapid progress was made possible when Greek and Babylonian scholars collaborated in mathematics, science, and astronomy. The influence and example of Alexander lived on after his death and can still be felt today. No other person in history, has accomplish some much in so many different areas in a short time span, than Alexander the Great. Without this man accomplishing what he did, I can very easily say our world, culture, and history would be completely different. A map of Alexander’s journey.


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