For the past 23 centuries, the incredible story of Alexander the Great has continued to intrigue and fascinate the entire world. Alexander the Great literally changed the direction of human history.
Getting acquainted with the culture and customs of Hellenic city states, Macedonians imitated Greeks. They also thought up to themselves a genealogy, which was descended from myth’s Heroes. Alexander regarded himself as the descendant of Heracles. Greek Alexandros means “Defender of Men”.
Alexander III was born in 356 BC in Pella, the capital at the time being of the Macedonian kingdom. He was the son of the Macedonian king Philip II and Olympias, princess of Molossians in Epirus.
The ascendance of Macedon
Macedon was located in the northernmost part of classical Greece. In an effort to unite the rest of the Greek world against the ascendant power of Philip II, Demosthenes and others derided the Macedonians as barbarians. Olympias herself was from Epirus, another Greek state on the edge of classical Greek civilization, on the northwest of the Greek peninsula.
Education of Alexander the Great
Everyone knows today that Alexander was educated by the famous philosopher Aristotle. However, not many know that Alexander was also influenced by his earlier tutors, Leonidas of Epirus and Lysimachus the Acarnanian. Plutarch, gives us plenty of information regarding Alexander’s education.
Plutarch, Alexander 5, 7-8
There were, not surprisingly, a large number of nurses pedagogues and teachers appointed to supervise Alexander’s rearing, all of them under the direction of Leonidas, a man of stern character and a relative of Olympias. He did not refuse the title “pedagogue”, since the position was an important and honorable one, but to everyone else, because of his standing and kinship, he was known as “Alexander’s tutor” or “the professor”. It was Lysimachus, an Acarnanian by nationality, who assumed the formal role and title of the pedagogue. He was not a man at the distinction in general, but he attained popularity and held second place to Leonidas because he would call himself Phoenix, Alexander, Achilles and Philip, Peleus.
Plutarch, Alexander 7, 1- 4
Philip could see that Alexander had an inflexible nature that resisted coercion, but could be easily led bv reason to what needed to be done, and so he would try persuasion rather than an authoritarian approach. He had little confidence in the average teachers of arts and science to give the boy direction and training… and so he sent for the best known and most erudite of the philosophers, Aristotle to whom he paid a handsome and appropriate fee. Aristotle hailed from Stageira, which had been destroyed by Philip. The king now resettled it bringing back those of its citizens who had been exiled or enslaved.
For their period of instruction and study Philip assigned to the two a place close to the nymphvum of Mieza where, down to this day, the stone benches and shaded walkways are on display for the visitor.
Plutarch Alexander 8, 2-4
Alexander was by nature fond of learning and reading. He regarded the Iliad as a guide-book to military excellence, and called it such; and, according to Onesicritus history, he took with him Aristotle’s revised version -the so-called “casket copy” – which always lay under his pillow along with his dagger ‘ Finding access to other books difficult in the interior of Asia, he instructed Harpalus to send him some. Harpalus sent him the hooks of Philistus, numerous tragedies by Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus, and the dithyrambs of Telesles and Philoxenus.
Initially, he had great regard for Aristotle, whom he loved no less than his lather, as he used to say – thanks to the one he had life, and thanks to the other he knew how to live well. Later, he regarded Aristotle with some suspicion, not enough to want to do him harm, and hate the fact that his familiarity with him lacked its former intensity and warmth indicated a rift in their relationship.
“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.” Alexander The Great
“I am not afraid of an army of lions led by sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” Alexander The Great
“Remember, upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.” Alexander The Great
“I had rather excel others in the knowledge of what is excellent, than in the extent of my power and dominion.” Alexander The Great
“A tomb now suffices him for whom the whole world was not sufficient.” Alexander The Great
“Through every generation of the human race there has been a constant war, a war with fear. Those who have the courage to conquer it are made free and those who are conquered by it are made to suffer until they have the courage to defeat it, or death takes them.” Alexander The Great
“True love never has a happy ending, because there is no ending to true love.” Alexander The Great
“You shall, I question not, find a way to the top if you diligently seek for it; for nature hath placed nothing so high that is out of the reach of industry and valor.” Alexander The Great
“Whatever possession we gain by our sword cannot be sure or lasting, but the love gained by kindness and moderation is certain and durable.” Alexander The Great
“Bury my body and don’t build any monument. Keep my hands out so the people know the one who won the world had nothing in hand when he died.” Alexander The Great
“Without Knowledge, Skill cannot be focused. Without Skill, Strength cannot be brought to bear and without Strength, Knowledge may not be applied.” Alexander The Great
“For my own part, I would rather excel knowledge of the highest secrets of philosophy than in arms.” Alexander The Great
“I would rather live a short life of glory than a long one of obscurity.” Alexander The Great
“Toil and risk are the price of glory, but it is a lovely thing to live with courage and die leaving an everlasting fame.” Alexander The Great
“Every light is not the sun.” Alexander The Great
“The end and object of conquest is to avoid doing the same thing as the conquered.” Alexander The Great
“There is something noble in hearing myself ill spoken of when I am doing well.” Alexander The Great
“Are there no more worlds that I might conquer?” Alexander The Great
“How great are the dangers I face to win a good name in Athens.” Alexander The Great
“As for a limit to one’s labors, I, for one, do not recognize any for a high-minded man, except that the labors themselves should lead to noble accomplishments.” Alexander The Great
“Let us conduct ourselves so that all men wish to be our friends and all fear to be our enemies.” Alexander The Great
“With the right attitude, self-imposed limitations vanish” Alexander The Great
“In the end, when it’s over, all that matters is what you’ve done.” Alexander The Great
Aristotle and Alexander
Thus Alexander succeeded his father’s throne, when he was 20. From all parts the power of Macedonia was in danger. Greece was going to return their freedom. Alexander with a Macedonian army directed their steps to the north. He put down the revolt of Thracian. After that, he went against the rebelling Greeks. Despite heroic resistance of Thebes, the city was destroyed. About 30 000 inhabitants were sold into slavery. This action broke the spirit of rebellion in other Greek states.
Bucephalus (meaning ox-head) was Alexander the Great’s horse. One of the horses in the statue group in the Piazza del Quirinale in Rome is named after him.
Bucephalus was supposedly a terror, unable to be ridden and devouring the flesh of all who tried. Alexander, however, managed to tame him. Plutarch tells the story of how an 11-year old Alexander won the horse. A horse dealer offered the horse to Philip for the sum of 13 talents. Since no one could tame the animal, Philip wasn’t interested, but Alexander was and promised to pay for the horse should he fail to tame it. Alexander spoke soothingly and turned the horse away so that it didn’t see the shadow that seemed to distress it, and so tamed the horse.
The horse died in 326 BC, and Alexander promptly founded a city in honor of the horse, Bucephala. The city lay on the west bank of the river Hydaspes (modern-day Jhelum).
Alexander the Great's Early Career
His brave spirit was shown in early youth. Philip left Alexander to control a governing of Macedonia, when he was absent. Alexander justified hopes of the father; he managed with the Thracian revolt. The king was proud of him, but later the relationship between son and father were destroyed, because Philip has divorced with his mother – Olympia and married Cleopatra.
The ambitious youngster got used to consider himself as one legal heir and he horrified the idea about the second child of Cleopatra. During this time Alexander began secret negotiation with Persians, preparing to marry the daughter of Persian deputy. No one knows which measures would be taken against Alexander, if Philip hasn’t had been killed at that moment. The reasons for crime, have remained unknown. It was talking that the organizers were Alexander and his mother, despite the fact Alexander has immediately killed the murderer and all suspected in participating in the plot against Philip. Some people considered that it was made to provide a silence of all people knowing about his participation. At once after Philips death the child who was born from his second marriage was killed.
After the death of Philip, Alexander, was acclaimed by the army as the new king of Macedon. He immediately ordered the execution of all of his potential rivals and marched south with his armies in a campaign to solidify control of Greece and confront the Persian Empire.
Thus Alexander succeeded his father’s throne, when he was 20. From all parts the power of Macedonia was in danger. Greece was going to return their freedom. Alexander with a Macedonian army directed their steps to the north. He put down the revolt of Thracian. After that, he went against the rebelling Greeks. Despite heroic resistance of Thebes, the city was destroyed. About 30 000 inhabitants were sold into slavery. This action broke the spirit of rebellion in other Greek states.
In the spring of 334 up to AD, Alexander forwarded the army through Gellespont and began the cheekiest battle. On the western and northern coasts of Asia there were located the cities of Greece. Most of the inhabitants served in the army of the Persian king and it was important for Alexander to wake a heroic spirit of Greek to provide by their support. For this purpose, it’s the best way to present a campaign of Macedonian as a continuation of the secular struggle between Europe and Asia. Alexander called to the aid of history and mythology.
Top 10 reasons Alexander The Great was a great commander
Alexander – even today, 23 centuries after his death, his name still has the power to inspire. His achievements have stood the test of time and remain amongst the most remarkable in the whole annals of military history. With an army of typically only around 40,000 men, he conquered the largest, richest and most powerful empire the world had ever seen; and all of this in less than a decade.
When Alexander became king, his military career began when he launched a campaign against Macedonia’s northern neighbours. This is a campaign that we know little about, but we can assume that it was remarkably successful given that Antipater, his regent, never had any difficulty from that region. From there, Alexander marched in central Greece, and sent a terrible message with the destruction of the ancient city of Thebes.
In 334, Alexander crossed the Hellespont and invaded Asia. He soundly defeated the Persians in large set-piece battles at the Granicus River, Issus and finally Gaugamela in 331. During this period he also captured the great fortresses of Halicarnassus, Tyre and Gaza. After the death of Darius, Alexander spent several years campaigning in Afghanistan and India; a brutal period culminating in the defeat of the Indian king Porus at the battle of the Hydaspes.
In India, the army had finally had enough and refused to march further into the unknown. They turned back and made a disastrous march through the Gedrosian Desert. After a final siege during which Alexander was struck by an arrow that punctured his lung, he returned to Babylon where he died in 323.
Alexander’s incredible string of successes was not accidental; listed here are the 10 main reasons for them (in no particular order). You can find out more about Alexander as a military commander in my books, The Army of Alexander The Great and The Sieges of Alexander The Great, both published by Pen & Sword.
1. Philip of Macedon
Philip, Alexander’s father, was one of the finest military minds of the ancient world; but he is completely overshadowed by his son. Philip took a broken kingdom that was about to be overrun by foreign enemies, and turned it into the most powerful state in Greece. Shortly before his death he sent an expeditionary force to Asia Minor to conduct an initial campaign against the Persians whilst he prepared for a larger invasion.
Had Philip lived – he is believed to have been buried at Aigai – he clearly would have expanded upon this expeditionary campaign with a full scale invasion. It is always interesting (but ultimately fruitless) to speculate how Philip would have fared compared to Alexander.
Alexander had a first rate military education watching the successes of his father, and evidently was worried that there would be nothing left for him to conquer if his father continued too long; the assassin’s blade ensured that this would not be the case.
Could Alexander have achieved what he did without his father’s foundation? This is a difficult question to answer, but I would suggest that Alexander had the ability, but his character would likely have let him down. Alexander clearly had the ability to reorganise the army and to develop innovative strategies and tactics as required, as well as his natural military genius. We must recognise, however, that it would certainly have taken rather longer because the army would have needed to be trained and turned into the machine that Philip had already created, and the question also remains as to whether Alexander would have had the patience to delay his ambition; patience is not a trait that Alexander ever demonstrated to any great degree.
2. The Army
Alexander’s greatest inheritance was the Macedonian army. At the time of the invasion of Asia Minor, the historian Diodorus tells us that it consisted of 5,100 cavalry and 32,000 infantry. This was a respectable size by Greek standards, but tiny in comparison with the number of troops Darius could put in the field. Of the 37,100 troops, the Macedonian contingent was relatively small: 1,800 Companion Cavalry and 12,000 infantry. These were by far the most important troops Alexander commanded, and the main weapon with which he gained an empire.
This army was a very complex organisation of interlocking and mutually supportive parts. Alexander created what was probably the first combined arms force in world history: he developed a series of units that excelled at specific tasks, but retained tremendous operational flexibility. Individual units were highly trained and some were highly specialised: the hypaspists, for example, were employed to maintain a cohesive link with the Companion Cavalry during the set-piece battles; if they failed then a gap would have opened in Alexander’s line that the Persians could have exploited.
Light infantry, specifically the Agrianians, were assigned specialised tasks, and even fought alongside the cavalry units at Gaugamela. Later the Dahae horse archers were deployed with devastating effect against the Indians at the Hydaspes. The heavy infantry could operate together, or as individual taxis (battalions). Each of the individual units of Alexander’s army were dangerous if engaged independently, but when combined formed an army that was one of the finest the world had yet seen; when this was coupled with the tactical genius of an Alexander, the results are there to see. Each element of the army was highly trained and supported every other element. This was a true combined arms force as described The Army of Alexander The Great.
Another, perhaps more accurate word, would be stubbornness. Alexander was remarkably stubborn and never let any obstacle, be it natural or manmade, stand in his way. When faced with the city of Tyre, he refused to allow it to remain a “free city” offering safe harbour to both Greek and Persian fleets. He did not possess any significant navy at the time so he set about constructing a mole to join the island fortress to the land. Later in his career, we see a string of similar sieges on the north-east frontier and in India where he had to build a series of wooden bridges over deep ravines. He repeatedly captured seemingly impregnable fortresses, like Aornus, and never accepted any obstacle as being insurmountable.
This is a much over-used word in today’s society, but by whatever measure we employ, Alexander was without question a military genius, perhaps the greatest the world has ever seen. Alexander was the finest strategist and tactician the ancient world had yet seen. He repeatedly demonstrated an ability to successfully fight campaigns in every theatre of war the ancient world had to offer (although his naval experience was limited to the later stages of the siege of Tyre), and to continuously adapt his strategies and tactics to every emerging circumstance.
Alexander also demonstrated an ability to analyse the evolving circumstances that the Afghanistan region presented, and changed the organisation of the army to deal with the new threat of guerrilla warfare. Alexander’s sense of timing during his set-piece battles was also remarkable. The timing of his decisive cavalry charge was always immaculate, and the result devastating. He had a genius for analysing a situation and instantly making a judgement of what was needed. His set-piece battles are analysed in my forthcoming book The Field Campaigns of Alexander the Great.
I touched on this in an earlier point, but Alexander showed throughout his career an amazing ability to adapt to changing situations and circumstances. He essentially used a relatively small number of successful tactics and tactical ideas, but these were constantly being adapted and modified as circumstances changes.
Alexander’s fundamental tactic was to attack in more than one direction simultaneously. We see this in his set-piece battles where he times his attacks so that the Companion Cavalry strike the flank of the enemy infantry at the same time the heavy infantry attack from the front. The battle of Issus – depicted on the Alexander sarcophagus – is a perfect example of this; this battle is a series of brilliantly executed flanking manoeuvres.
We also see this during his many siege operations. At Tyre, Alexander attacks from the mole, but also had artillery, siege towers and scaling ladders mounted on ships so the fortress can be attacked from multiple directions. This happens at Gaza too, where the city is attacked from all directions to distract from the main thrust of the assault.
Alexander’s sub-commanders are a remarkable array of talented individuals, many of whom became kings in their own right after Alexander died and his empire was broken up. These successors, the so called diodochi, included men like Antipater, Ptolemy, Seleucus, Antigonas, Perdiccas and Lysimachus and Cassander. Any successful general required his subordinates to have some measure of ability. He needed his orders to be conveyed to the rank and file, and he needed them to be carried out. This would not have happed with a rather less talented bunch. There is no question it helped Alexander to have commanded such a talented group of individuals, but the question for another day must be: would these men have been kings and statesmen without Alexander? We will never know, but their careers were certainly helped by the Great Macedonian.
We hear very little about the Macedonian logistics system in the sources, but we know that it was very good because we also hear of very few instances where it failed and the army struggled. The baggage train, which the Macedonian army could not have done without, was kept to a minimum size during Alexander’s early career, following reforms by Philip. This enabled the army to move rapidly and strike without warning. It also meant that the army could move quickly from region to region without exhausting the resources of any area.
The main example of the failure is the march through the Gedrosian desert. Many died of thirst or hunger during the march. The army and the logistics system were simply not prepared for this environment. This is an example of Alexander’s stubbornness getting the better of him. Apart from the (usually) excellent supply of food and water, we hear almost no examples of a lack of horses, weapons or armour. The only possible hint of difficulties is in India when the army rebelled against the prospect of further conquest.
This is a concept that we usually associate with the German army of World War II, and the changes that Heinz Guderian introduced. In the most basic of terms it revolved around rapidity of movement and the concentration of force. Alexander was its first exponent in history. The Macedonian army under Alexander was capable of remarkable feats in terms of their rate of march. They frequently exceeded 30km per day, and could keep this up for several days allowing them to arrive at a battlefield long before they were expected, and before the enemy was prepared. When news reached Alexander that Thebes had rebelled, he was in the Balkan region, having recently captured Pellium. He marched 390 km in 13 days to arrive at the walls of Thebes before they had properly prepared their defences. This is a remarkable rate of march, but when we consider the mountainous terrain of the Greek mainland, it is even more amazing. During the brief siege, the troops showed no signs of fatigue, either.
9. Motivational Leadership
Alexander had remarkable personal charisma; he had an almost superhuman ability to inspire his men to ever greater pinnacles of achievement. He led an army from the Balkans to the heart of India before they showed any major signs of discontent. When they left Macedonia in 334, many did not return home, and those that did had been away for 10 years or more.
Alexander’s ability to inspire his men is one of his most admirable qualities. He did this in a number of ways; certainly he made speeches before battles, all ancient commanders did, but more than this he made a point of leading from the front. He never expected his men to undertake any dangers that he was not prepared for himself. He was the first over the wall at the siege of the city of the Mallians, for example. He also made a point of trying to remember the names and achievements of some of his rank and file, and to comment to them whenever he had the opportunity. This is a tradition that was carried on during the Roman period and became the hallmark of a good general.
Anyone who is successful in any field needs luck, and Alexander was no exception. He is certainly lucky to have survived as long as he did; he was wounded by almost every weapon of war available to the ancient world, and came so very close to being decapitated at the battle of the Granicus in 334. He is also lucky he had Philip for a father, and that he inherited the finest war machine the world had yet seen. Xenophon’s march to Cunaxa had demonstrated that the Greeks were capable of defeating the Persians, if only someone could unite (or conquer) the Greeks long enough to do it. Philip looked like he could have been that man, but in the end Alexander was the one to finally bring down the Persian Empire. Alexander’s career represents a remarkable nexus of events rare in history. He was exactly the right man in the right place at the right time, and he grasped his opportunity for immortality.
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The Making of the Greatest Army in History
Alexander’s fearlessness is well documented by even his worst enemies, but if often becomes simple to forget how well he planned and executed his designs. Alexander was a master tactician who analyzed an upcoming battle using information as varied as geography, weather, troop numbers, history and any other variable that can be imagined. It is a grave mistake for us to accept that Alexander’s military successes rested solely with his determination to enter the field, no matter what the risk to his person was.
No general, not even Alexander, can win without an army up to the task, “but what makes it even more unique is the faith Alexander had in his soldiers. Great generals have often been let down in battle by less than stellar troops”. This observation from the new online magazine points to the critical component of any military campaign and even more so when it is as prolonged and covers as much distance as Alexander’s foray into Asia. Yet, what many forget is his father’s role in the creation of the Macedonian army; one that is grossly overlooked.
As a hostage of the Thebans Philip had ready access to some of the most brilliant military tacticians of the time. Robin Lane Fox states, “the two boldest generals of the age, Epaminondas and Pelopidas, were already experimenting with the deep lines and slanting battlefronts which Philip and Alexander later favored”. The Macedonian phalanx, infamous for its precision movements and its long spears (around 14-15 feet) may also have been an idea borrowed from Greeks in Egypt or even from a fellow Macedonian, Iphicrates, who was fighting in Asia. If nothing else, Philip must be commended by all historians for his willingness to study the martial practices of all he came into contact with. In the novel, Patrida, Philip engages Persian traders in a conversation that is indicative of his “need to know”.
The Hellenes of this time have always been lauded for their toughness, their ferocity and their unbending will, whether fighting with one another or against foreign invaders. It is a Greek characteristic, ingrained for thousands of years. Philip recognized this, but also saw a need to remove what he perceived as unnecessary comforts from the army. Personal servants, women and even food were severely restricted. Living off the land, undergoing forced marches with thirty pound backpacks and eschewing the use of carriages for the officers created an army that could go as far as the ends of the earth.
How Philip modified his tactics to best utilize this “new” army will be the focus of another article. But as stated above, Philip eagerly pursued those who could provide him with the knowledge to further his goals. The writings of Xenophon, the use of mercenaries, the reports from troops already in Asia allowed him to build a military portfolio that would blueprint the most successful military strategy for many, many years. One interesting story related by the noted historian Robin Lane Fox is of Polyeidus of Thessaly, an engineer. Philip “sponsored his inventions” one of which propelled arrows from the catapult at twice the distance known. Fox even suggests that the principal of torsion was invented under the auspices of Philip II”.
Greatness can be determined by many things. Alexander the Great is who he was. One cannot, however, minimize the foundation that Philip built for Alexander. The Macedonian army was the army that Philip built, trained and put into battle. His passing opened the door for Alexander but without Philip there would not have been the means to go through that door.
Battle of Chaeronea 338 B.C.
Athens’ clever orator, Demosthenes, used his skills as a politician to convince long time enemies, the Thebans, to form a coalition against Macedonia. It is interesting to note that although the battle settled which Greek power would dominate Greece, Sparta sat this one one and allowed the other Greek powers to settle the score.
In 338 BC, the three Greek powers battled for control of Greece. Although Philip’s forces were larger than the combined Athenian and Thebans forces, the battle proved vicious and led to the end of the legendary “Sacred Band” of Thebes. A young Alexander led the charge that ended one of the histories most fierce and feared military units, ever! Diodorus of Sicily, World History 16.85.5-86, states that Philip failed to forge an alliance with the Boeotians (Thebes) and therefore decided to fight them both. Philip, had an advantage in terms of experience, especially with the best of Athens’ commanders already dead, Iphicrates, Chabrias and Timotheus.
At Chaeronea the battle was fought. It was fierce with no clear advantage held by either side. The Macedonians and the Athenian/Thebean alliance saw many of their brave warriors fall. Greek killing Greek. A young prince named Alexander challenged the Sacred Band with a charge from his cavalry and emerged victoriously, the legendary Band was obliterated. Philip had become Hegemon of the League of Corinth. Philip ruled Greece.
The death of Philip
In early summer of 336 B.C., Phillip II was assassinated by Pausanias, (a young member of his personal guard) under rather mysterious circumstances; quite possibly, though never proven, under the instigation of Queen Olympias. At the age of 20, her only son now came to the throne as Alexander III, not only inherit his father’s kingdom, but also Phillip’s stated intention to cross the Hellespont into Persian held Asia Minor with an invading Macedonian army. It promised to be an incredibly ambitious undertaking by any measure, but one much suited to Alexander’s nature, which thrived on the prospect of military conquest and glory. After all, was he not a direct descendant of Achilles?
The destruction of Thebes
The destruction of Thebes, took place in 335 B.C., has been identified by many as a sign of Alexander’s ruthlessness. However, according to ancient sources, responsible for the destruction of the city, are the Greek allies of Alexander. Women and children, and any surviving Theban men, they would sell into slavery, with the exception.
The Theban dead numbered more than 6,000 and the men were taken prisoner upwards of 30,000. The amount of money that was taken as plunder was beyond belief. The king saw the burial of the more than 500 Macedonian dead.
The Art of the Siege
The film, Alexander, had its strengths and weaknesses, but one area that was not addressed at all was Alexander’s mastery of the siege. He revolutionized the taking of a walled city and set the framework for hundreds, if not thousands of sieges that would follow over the next two thousand years. The city of Tyre although not Alexander’s only siege is a masterpiece of the art.
Tyre, an ancient Phoenician city partly located offshore (in effect making it almost an island) could have been a blueprint for how to create a fortress. Surrounded mostly by water, possessing an effective fleet of warships and barricaded by formidable walls it defined defense. Throw in a defiant government and a hardy, unafraid people and questions arise as to whether the capture of Tyre would be a worthwhile endeavor.
Alexander wanted Tyre. The Phoenicians were perceived as problematic due to their expertise on the water and their mercenary nature. They could be friends or enemies. Alexander also recognized the religious and political importance of controlling Tyre. The capture of this city would allow him to control the Aegean from both commercial and strategic viewpoints. On a more personal level, Alexander believed himself destined to occupy Tyre; in fact he dreamt that Herakles was welcoming him into the city. Aristander, Alexander’s seer, told him that he would succeed but that it would be a great “labor”, the type Herakles was famous for.
Tyre gambled that a long siege would give Darius enough time to come to their rescue so they rejected Alexander’s overtures of peace. Now Alexander had a fight on his hands. The first thing he had to do was get close to the city whose geography added a natural barrier. Alexander began by building a mole from Old Tyre to the island Tyre. Of course, his workers were constantly attacked by Tyre’s navy so Alexander, using what he had in a unique fashion, fashioned towers that were armed with artillery machines. He used these elevated structures to fire upon the Tyrean ships. This was very effective.
The Tyreans were not to be subjugated so easily. They loaded ships with flammable materials and sailed them right into the towers which promptly caught fire. In the confusion, Tyrean soldiers attacked the Macedonians and were able to destroy other siege engines that Alexander was setting up to attack the city. Alexander did not let this faze him and renewed his efforts by enlarging the mole and rebuilding the siege machines. However, in the end, it was a series of alliances that gave Alexander his victory.
The Persians abandoned their efforts in the Aegean. Consequently, the Cypriots and other Phoenicians joined the fight against the city of Tyre. Bombarded from land and by sea, Tyre’s spirit was crushed. Alexander, who had taken a break from the siege to attack some Arab tribes returned to see his troops ready to storm the city that had successfully held out for seven months. In a coordinated attack Alexander used both land and ship based siege machines to pummel the walls of Tyre. He knocked down a significant part of the wall and showing great courage or foolhardiness, Alexander personally led troops through the wall to occupy the city. His second in command on that mission, Admetus, was killed but, Alexander, protected by his Gods and ancestors went as far as the palace where he gained control of the royal family precipitating the surrender of Tyre.
Some call this siege an example of Alexander’s brutality. It must be noted however that this city was given the opportunity for a peaceful resolution and Alexander was well-known for honoring his agreements. But Tyre took a chance by allying themselves with the Persians (who ultimately deserted them). The brutality of this campaign was simply a summation of a seven month battle that gave no quarter on either side.
Alexander killed, exiled and crucified thousands as an example to be held up for others considering aping Tyre’s resistance. Was this brutal? No question. But examined in the light of that time, Alexander only did what others did which was sending a message to anyone foolish enough to resist him. Other sieges would follow as some ignored Tyre, but Alexander would never fail to take a city.
Was Alexander the Achilles of his age?
There is absolutely no question that Alexander modeled his plans and much of his behavior on the heroes of the Iliad. Homer’s epic never left his side (it was said he even slept with a copy under his pillow). For Alexander, Troy was a mythic reality whose ultimate fate was inextricably linked to his own.
Both Philip and Alexander considered the war in Asia a crusade whose roots went back to the days of ancient Troy. When Alexander finally set off for Asia he purposely retraced “what he believed to have been Agamemnon’s path to Troy”. It was reported by many that Alexander knew the Iliad by heart and he was eager to share the stories from the epic with his comrades. Of course the hero who meant most to Alexander was Achilles.
Alexander, in effect, believed himself to be an Achilles. Hephaestion was his Patroclus. Asia was his Troy. Everlasting infamy was his as it was his ancestor’s. And an early death provided the final seal on the comparison of the two.
In character, Achilles and Alexander were eerily similar. Both were known for their passions and fearless courage in battle. Neither shied away from individual duels and both were always at the forefront of any conflict. At times they could show great compassion and charity. At other times both could display insatiable cruelty. Alexander, whose lineage is traceable to Achilles through his mother, Olympias, could perhaps not be blamed for trying to emulate the Homeric hero as one would try to emulate one’s own father or grandfather.
Alexander made it a point to visit Troy. While there he sacrificed to appease the murdered king of Troy, Priam. Alexander cultivated the connection by encouraging the mythic connection: even artists of that time portrayed Alexander in coins and statues as Achilles. The job was probably made easier by the fact that like Achilles, Alexander was fair to look at and maintained his youthfulness until the end.
Other coincidences are noted. Alexander, like Achilles, sulked in his tent when his men refused to march for him. Until they came begging, his heart remained hard. Achilles was criticized for the pursuit of personal glory rather than that of the Greeks. Alexander too was questioned as to his quest to conquer all of Asia became a fanatical crusade that almost destroyed his army and might have even contributed to his own death.
Great men are always studies in contradictions. Alexander and Achilles, separated by hundreds of years, nevertheless were inseparable spirits. One cannot begin to understand Alexander until one studies Achilles for it is an Achilles’ mythos that helped drive the young Alexander to become the greatest conqueror of all time.
Alexander the Great. Robin Lane Fox.
The Life of Greece. Will Durant.
The Hellenistic Age. F.W. Walbank
The Conquest of the Persian Empire
Landing at Asian Minor, first of all the king visited ruins of Troy, made a magnificent festival in honor of the heroes of the Troyan War, especially Achiles. He was considered a descendent of the Macedonian kings. The sense of these celebrations was clear for everybody. It was descendent – Alexander continued the matter of the ancestor. He became a leader of Greeks to finish the war.
Meanwhile, the Persian deputies collected their armies and took the convenient position on the abrupt coast of the river. Macedonians should be forwarded through this river in order to penetrate into the country. The crossing through the river, which was protected by the Persians, was a difficult job. All of Alexander’s commanders could not support this idea. They indicated a depth of the river and speed of its current, on the inaccessibility of the position borrowed by Persians and advised to postpone crucial battle and to try to find the way, which would be less dangerous. Contrary to all advisers, Alexander decided to attack the Persians and he wanted to beat them out from a borrowed position. Observing this attack, the eyes-witnesses informed that the whole undertaking seemed to be crazy. Many commanders considered that Alexander led the armies to inevitable decease. However, the attack was victorious.
They said that in that battle, the Persians loosed about 20 000 of the infantry and 2 500 of the horsemen. The big spoils, which Alexander took, were sent to inhabitants of Athens in order to win their favor and to provide himself a strong rear in Greece. The victory of this place gave the Macedonian conqueror access to Asia Minor. One by one, Greek’s towns that were situated in Asia surrendered without resistance. Soon, the other parts of Asia Minor became Alexander’s land.
One day, the king of Macedonia saw a chariot that had a pole. The most complicated bundle fixed this pole. There was a legend, that one who would manage with this bundle; he should become a world ruler. Ambitious and vain Alexander decided to be successful by any means. However the bundle resisted all efforts. Alexander snatched out a sword and spat cords. The court flatterer said that it was a good sign and foretold him a conquest of the world.
During this time, Alexander found out, that Persian’s king -Dary III with his army moved against Macedonians and Alexander forwarded. Both armies met near the Syrian city – Issa. The quantity of the Persians army exceeded the Greeks, but Dary couldn’t use this advantage. Dary and his people saved themselves by running. The message about his running served as a signal for the retreat. The Persians were beaten.
As Alexander prepared to land then move his troops toward the Granicus River, the Persian military leaders Arsames, Rheomithres, Petines, Niphates and Arsites met to discuss how to meet this menace from Greece. Invited to this consultation was the leader of the Greek mercenary troops, Memnon of Rhodes. A renowned warrior, victorious in many battles, including against advance troops of mainland Greeks, Memnon had become an invaluable member of Darius’ military staff.
Darius created one of the largest armies of ancient (even modern) times. But it was an army of different ethnicities and races. In fact, Darius is not given enough credit for who he recruited. His army really was the elite of the elite. And Memnon was his star. In this Greek, Darius had someone who understood the Greek mentality, tactics and psychology. He was also a good judge of human character and he took this knowledge to his Persian superiors.
Memnon’s plan was simple. He knew that he had a numerical advantage in cavalry divisions but lesser numbers of infantry. Unlike the Persians, he knew the Macedonian phalanx was almost invincible and without corresponding numbers of his own infantry, he was doomed. His suggestion was to utilize a “scorched earth policy”. Memnon advocated burning and/or destroying everything in the path of Alexander. He knew that the Macedonians were low on supplies, had not been paid and if they were to stay in Persia needed to have a base from where they could feed and rest the troops and the inevitable baggage train.
The Persians disagreed. Arrian states that, “Arsites…would not consent to the destruction by fire of a single house”. Bad decision. The Persian reliance on their cavalry and defensive positioning proved no match for Alexander. Memnon fought hard and in fact effected the most damage to Alexander’s troops. The Persians fought gamely and with a lot of courage but with an ineffective infantry they were unable to hold their side of the river. Memnon managed to escape the fate of the other Greek mercenaries (they were executed) and lived to fight another day.
History would prove Memnon right. Napoleon then Hitler took massive armies into Russia. Between the winters and the destruction of everything in their paths by the Russians, these massive, hitherto successful armies were destroyed. If the spirit of Alexander’s men had been broken by starvation, poor morale and exposure to the elements, Hellenism may have been stopped cold in its tracks and we would be writing about Darius the Great, not Alexander.
Arrian, The Campaigns of Alexander
Alexander in Egypt
After that, Alexander directed his steps to Egypt. The empire of the Persians burdened the population of Egypt for a long time and that is why they were happy of Macedonian coming. Alexander was considered as a liberator of Egypt. He wanted to reinforce the sympathies of the Egyptians and to interest in their benefits of trade, which would bring to Egypt an opportunity of the entry in the world society.
Trying to win friendly feelings of the inhabitants, Alexander underlined his respect to Egyptians religions and customs. Soon he went in the difficult campaign through a desert. There was an oasis – a small piece of green earth. The Egyptians thought that there was a temple of the sun god. Also, there were priestesses, which retold the future. That campaign nearly destroyed the army, but when the king got to that place, the priestess named him a son of Zeus and predicted that he became the Lord of the World. Since Alexander began to speak about his god’s origin, wasn’t surprised when one named him a God. He believed that the gods helped him and no one circumstance can stop him.
- Crown Price of Macedon: 356-336
- Descendent of Achilles: 356-323
- Regent of Macedon: 340-336
- King of Macedon: 336-323
- Hegemon of Corinthian League: 336-323
- Son of Ammon-Zeus: 333-323
- Pharaoh of Egypt: 332-323
- King of Asia: 331-323
- Shahanshah(?) of Persia: 331(?)-323
Main cities founded by Alexander
- Alexandria, Egypt
- Alexandria Asiana, Iran
- Alexandria in Ariana, Afghanistan
- Alexandria of the Caucasus, Afghanistan
- Alexandria on the Oxus, Afghanistan
- Alexandria of the Arachosians, Afghanistan
- Alexandria on the Indus, Pakistan
- Alexandria Eschate, “The furthest”, Tajikistan
- Kandahar (Alexandropolis), Afghanistan
The defeat of the Persian empire
The power of the Persians was finally destroyed in the battle of the September 331 A.D. Alexander hadn’t more serious opponents and he could declare himself as the king of the whole of Asia. Borrowed ancient Persian capital, the king lodged in the imperial palace. When Greeks and Macedonians saw him on the throne, they triumphed, but not many of them had an idea that Alexander became the same despot who was before him.
The aspiration to humiliate Persians, forced him on the action that threw a shadow on his name and glory of the winner, but it didn’t matter for him. Under the pretext of revenge, he destroyed a remarkable monument of Persian art – Persian Temple. When Dary was killed, Persians hoped that Alexander stopped his campaign. But it was wrong. Despite the facts that soldiers were against that fighting, Alexander couldn’t stop his ambitions. It caused disagreements between the king and his army.
The irritation against the king was showed in the mockery at his close and behavior, after that it developed in the plots and attempts on his life. The king began killing all of that who was dissatisfied by his political action.
The Sacking of Persepolis
For too long Alexander has been vilified for the destruction of Persepolis, one of Persia’s most beautiful and advanced cities. Many of the artifacts and texts of the Zoroastrian faith were stored here and their destruction by fire is considered the most heinous crime against the religion of all time. To Zoroastrians, there is only Alexander the Destroyer. Add to this Alexander’s wholesale slaughter of Persepolis’ male population as well as the enslavement of the survivors and it appears the opening statement reflects the actions of the Greek conqueror.
But as historical revisionists are apt to do there is too much focus on the occurrence and not enough on the circumstances or reasons for it. Every scholar of note acknowledges the following:
Persepolis had lived off the avails of Greek slaves for many, many years.
• Alexander’s army was greeted by 800 Greeks who had all their extremities amputed by the Persians. Needless to say, Alexander and his men were moved to grief.
• Alexander gave these amputees lifetime pensions, guaranteed their safety and gave them passage back to Greece.
• Persepolis was the launch point of every Persian army that had invaded Greece.
• As the center of Persian culture and powerful in its own right, Persepolis represented the empire to Alexander and it was important for his army to win a moral as well as the tactical battle over the city.
• Men were slaughtered or imprisoned. Alexander put out a strict edict that women were not to be harmed. This is hardly the action of a heartless monster.
• The burning of Persepolis is now considered to have occurred by accident. Thais, an Athenian courtesan encouraged Alexander to burn the palace of the man (Xerxes) who had burned down her city of Athens. Too much wine got everyone riled and Thais tossed the brand that started the fire. A cedar roof and much material caught fire instantly.
• Alexander often stated that he regretted the damage done to the city. And considering how he spared almost every other city, there is no reason to doubt this.
Interestingly enough, Alexander’s attitude toward Asia changed after this event. His focus on a religious crusade of punishment was supplanted by an acceptance of the great civilization he was encountering. In the future he would be far more merciful and respectful of the Persian tradition.
It is universally accepted that Alexander spread Hellenism. In fact, if he had lived, we would all be speaking Greek today. However, the razing of Persepolis created a mind-set in Alexander that may have benefited (to a certain extent) the Persians. At great personal sacrifice he honored the society he conquered, respected its traditions and embraced its knowledge. Because of Alexander we know much about this civilization and there is no question that other conquerors, like the Celts or Huns would never have treated the Persians as well as Alexander. So, as tragic and misguided as Persepolis was, it created within Alexander a certain empathy for its people which would have far reaching, long term effects.
The invasion of India
Alexander’s next campaigns to the east (330-327 B.C.) were hard-fought and difficult, becoming the stuff of legends beyond count. It was during this time that Alexander slews his longtime friend Cleitus the Black after a violent argument. Also during this period he impulsively married a tribal leader’s daughter in Sogdia, a deceptively strong-willed girl of 16 named Roxanne, someone destined to become of enormous dynastic importance.
Eventually he crossed the Hindu Kush (327-326 B.C.), reaching the western part of ancient India where in May of 326 B.C., he fought the last (and perhaps most brilliant) of all his major battles, defeating the Indian monarch Porus at the river of Hydaspes. Only when his bone-weary and ragged troops finally refused to go any further did Alexander lead them back to Mesopotamia in triumph. After a mere eight years of campaigning, Alexander was now the sole ruler of a truly massive empire, the largest and most populous the ancient world would ever see.
The sexuality of Alexander
It was in the middle of the winter of 325 BC, and Alexander, arriving at Carthage, made sacrifices to the gods, both for his victory in India and for the safe passage of his army through the desert of Gedrosia. Afterwards artistic and athletic competitions took place.
During the festival, Vagoas won some kind of prize. Then the winner came over to the theater and sat next to Alexander. The Greeks and the Macedonians in the theater began to applaud and then cried Alexander to kiss the winner. Alexander turned to Vagoa, embraced him and kissed him. Some historians have denied that this episode happened. But what this kiss means for their relationship is a little less clear.
These relationships seem to be primarily educational and cultural, although there was usually an erotic dimension. These relationships seem to be popular in Athens during the 5th and 4th centuries BC. If Plutarch used the word “lover” to describe Vagoa in the same way that the term was used by the Athenian writers of the 5th and 4th centuries, then we must agree with Plutarch that there was some erotic relationship between Alexander and his Vagoa.
Many historians have come to the conclusion that Alexander was gay. Other historians, citing the fact that Alexander married three women, gave birth to two children, but also the fact that he had the Darius harem, consisting of 365 concubines, claimed that Alexander was essentially a heterosexual man. But modern sexual, homosexual or heterosexual categories cannot be accurately used to describe Alexander’s sexuality.
Alexander The Great: The Weddings in Susa
In February 324, Alexander forced many Macedonian officers to marry native women. The Greek author Arrian of Nicomedia describes this event in section 7.4.4-5.6 of his Anabasis. He himself married Barsine, the eldest of Darius’ daughters, and, according to Aristobulus, another girl as well, Parysatis, the youngest of the daughters of Ochus.
He gave Drypetis to Hephaestion, she too a daughter of Darius and a sister of his own wife; his intention was that the children of Hephaestion should be cousins of his own children. They took them by the hand and kissed them; the king began the ceremony, for all the weddings took place together. The bridegrooms after receiving their brides led them away, each to his own home, and to all Alexander gave a dowry. And as for all the Macedonians who had already married Asian women, Alexander ordered a list of their names to be drawn up; they numbered over 10,000, and Alexander offered them all their wedding gifts. It is said that up to 20,000 talents were distributed to the army on that occasion. He also crowned with golden wreaths those conspicuous for bravery, first Peucestas who had covered him with his shield, then Leonnatus for the same service. With the forces left to him, he opposed them in battle, and in other respects and Alexander offered them all gifts for rebelling Oreitans and their neighbors.
She was then 13 years old and she was the most beautiful woman in the East. Alexander fell in love with her when she saw her. Roxanne, whose name in Arabic means “the light source,” had been the beautiful daughter of the satrap of the Parietakenis (of today’s Tajikistan) Oxydri. Although historians attribute this marriage to serving political purposes, mutual love affection appears to have contributed to this decision, given that Roxanne was the most beautiful woman throughout Asia (along with the daughter of Darius Staater, whom Alexander also was to become his wife).
So Roxanne, from the daughter of a local ruler, was found overnight as the queen of the greatest empire that had seen the earth until then.
The Birth of Alexander IV and the Battle of the Succession
Suddenly, in June 323 BC. Alexander died. Roxane was 6 or 8 months pregnant. But her future was very uncertain. Alexander was also married to Statiera (who was also pregnant), daughter of Darius III, and he is also believed to have had a third wife, Parysatida, daughter of Artaxerxes III. Eventually the Sogian princess brought to the world a boy who received his father’s name. His mother had to secure the life and succession on the throne in every way. According to Plutarch, Roxanne, with the help of the governor of Perdiccas, killed Stareira as well as her daughter Drypeti, potential rivals for the throne. The fate of Parysatida, who was also a princess, is unknown, although according to a modern theory, it may have been the one that Roxane killed, not Drippeti.
Alexander the Great and his Confirmed Children
Alexander the Great sired two children that are known of (although there are reports of more, legitimate and illegitimate). Roxanne, one of his wives, bore him Alexander IV. His mistress Barsine game birth to Herakles (Hercules in the name’s Romanized version). Alexander believed he was descended from the legendary hero Herakles.
Some sources claim Roxane bore him two children, but those are unconfirmed and cannot be verified, therefore, cannot be taken as fact at this time.
Herakles was Alexander’s first child born around 326 B.C. to his mistress Barsine. Vaerio Massimo Manfredi’s second book of the Alexander trilogy, The Sands of Ammon, writes of the Persian wife of Memnon. Memnon was a Greek mercenary, a traitor to his people, but undeniably loyal to the Persians once the price was set. Widowed, Barsine became Alexander’s mistress and gave birth to Herakles.
Roxanne, daughter of a Persian noble, was said to have captured Alexander’s heart. A case of love at first sight. Roxanne gave birth to Alexander IV, after Alexander died.
Kassander, a player for power back in Greece, ordered the ultimate execution of both Herakles and Alexander IV. Thus ending the line of succession in the Argead Dynasty.
Alexander's Great Empire
Legacy and division of the Empire
At Susa in 324 B.C, Alexander began the complicated process of solidifying his empire, starting with his marriage to Barsine (also known as Stateira) the eldest daughter of Darius III. To further promote this union between Macedonians and Persians, he forced many of his top commanders to do likewise at the same ceremony. To his faithful comrade Hephaestion, he gave Barsine’s younger sister Drypetis, for it was his strong desire that his and Hephaestion’s future children would be cousins.
Upon returning to Babylon, Alexander’s fabled luck began to run out. Still not fully recuperated from an arrow wound to his chest taken during the Indian campaign, he now suffered the sudden and untimely death of Hephaestion, which came after a brief fever. The loss so unhinged him that for a time, many feared for his continued sanity. Shortly thereafter, he was himself stricken with fever-probably malaria-and began a rapid decline. On June 11, 323 B.C., just four months shy of his 33rd birthday, Alexander succumbed within the royal palace of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon.
Various theories have been proposed for the cause of his death, which includes poisoning by the sons of Antipater, murder by his wife Roxane, and sickness due to a relapse of malaria he had contracted in 336 BC. According to legend, Alexander was preserved in a clay vessel full of honey for food and interred in a glass coffin (due to the rarity of transparent glass in the ancient world, it would have been an incredibly expensive sarcophagus).
Prior to his demise, when asked to whom he wished to leave his empire, he supposedly whispered to Perdiccas, senior of his commanders gathered around his deathbed, “To the best.”
In the long and confusing hours immediately following Alexander’s death, only one person had the will and ambition to act quickly in her own self-interest. Roxanne, pregnant with Alexander’s child-and fearing the possibility that Barsine might also be pregnant-arranged to have her rival brutally murdered. She wanted no possible rival to share in her child’s anticipated inheritance.
What eventually led to the fragmentation of Alexander’s great achievement began within a few days of his passing. His generals agreed that Arridaeus, a mentally deficient half-brother of Alexander, henceforth called Phillip III, and the new-borne son of Roxanne, Alexander IV, should both be recognized as joint kings. As senior commander, Perdiccas was appointed guardian and regent. To stabilize the empire during this time of transition, it was also decided that the governing of the vast territories would be as follows; Antipator in Macedonia, Ptolemy in Egypt, Lysimachus in Thrace, Antigonus in Asia Minor, and Seleucus in Babylonia. (Collectively known as the Diadochi, ‘Successors’).
Alexander the Great Tomb
It was always the intent of his generals that Alexander’s body is interred back in Macedonia’s ancient and ceremonial hill fortress of Aegae. Towards this end, they spent a full two years constructing a massive, jewel-encrusted sarcophagus of gold to hold his embalmed body, plus an equally elaborate funeral car to transport it a thousand miles up the old Royal Road of Persia to the Mediterranean.
To this end, no expense was spared, for even in death, his contemporaries considered him to be a virtual god. But when this slow-moving catafalque reached Syria, the entire plan fell apart. Under the pretense of paying a last homage, Ptolemy set out with an army and effectively hijacked the entire funeral cortege, diverting it down into Egypt. There, Ptolemy declared himself a king, eventually installing Alexander’s mortal remains in his new capital of Alexandria (soon famed for its great Light of Pharos.) By its mere presence, he believed the shrine would somehow bestow legitimacy to the dynasty he wished to establish. And his ploy worked. Placed within a special temple called the Soma, the body was venerated in Alexandria.
What eventually became of Alexander’s body. Unfortunately, the history books have nothing to tell us. Sometime in the latter half of the first century, all truly reliable historical references to the shrine abruptly cease, no explanation given. Under what exact circumstances, this happened, no one knows. Theories abound, of course, but, as with writers such as myself, it remains all pure speculation. In point of fact, Alexandria today is so much altered from what it was in ancient times that modern archaeologists and historians really have no knowledge of exactly where the Soma once stood.
Appearance/Body of Alexander the Great
Unfortunately very few portaits of Alexander have currently survived, despite the great admiration about Alexander in antiquity. Our few available ancient sources depicting Alexander are the famous Alexander’s Mosaic in Pompeii, the Azara herm and some coins. Other than that we have some literary accounts – not always trustful – since most of them lived long after Alexander.
Based on literary accounts and one statue of Alexander, i tried to depict how Alexander could possibly look like. Most surviving accounts refer to him as having curly, dark blond hair, fair skinned and having different colours in his eyes, a blue and a dark one.
Here is a somehow possible depiction of Alexander the great.
Plutarch, Alexander 4.1-7
Alexander’s physical features are best depicted in those statues of him made by Lysippus, the only artist by whom Alexander felt he should be sculpted. As a matter of fact, the features which most of the successors and Alexander’s friends later tried to affect have been accurately caught by the artist: the angle of the neck, slightly inclined to the left and the languishing
Aelian, Varia Historia 12.14
They say that Alexander, son of Philip, enjoyed natural good looks, with curly-fair hair hut they add that there was something in his appearance that aroused tear.
Itinerary of Alexander 6
He himself was of sharp expression and had a somewhat aquiline nose; his forehead was almost all hare, though quite thickly fringed from exercise because ol the speed at which he would ride; he let this be the deciding factor here, and as a result he had made his hair curl upwards and lie back and away from his face. He used to say that this was more becoming lor a soldier than if his hair were to hang downwards. He was a young man medium in stature, somewhat shrivelled in his limbs though they were not such as to make him any the slower when his blood was up, a fact which aided him in action even if it did not benefit his appearance, knotted indeed as his body was, with a good number of protruding muscles, it was with remarkable coordination of the sinews that his strength was exerted. Tireless in running at any goal he chose, he was vehement in attacking his threatened victim; excessive in the convulsive effort ot hurling a spear, he was still skilled in aiming at his target. Hot-blooded in his onrush where boldness was railed for, resolute in taking on a confident adversary, he was certain of his intention when at a distance from the enemy, and full of violence at close quarters; on horseback he lacked foresight, and was quite wild – on foot, fearless and unrelenting in combat. He seemed to be everywhere to give orders in difficult situations, vet he laid an even heavier burden on his men by the incentive of the personal example he set them: tor he thought it shameful to be outdone by anyone in some valiant piece of work, as he energetically demanded of his body the due contribution of its youthful strength. As for the care which anyone would quite rightly take of himself, he would wish this for himself, certainly either in his role as general or merely as a soldier. Now that i have given you a portrait of Alexander, it is for you to look to yourself, for flaterry has not been my intention, and i refuse to seem pleasing to your ears when all your men may take the judgement of you with their eyes.
Quintus Curtius Rufus 3.12.16-17
Whereupon some of the captive eunuchs pointed out the real Alexander, and Sisigambis flung herself at his feet apologizing for not recognizing him on the ground that she had never before seen him. Raising her with his hand.
The above description is also supported by the majority of moderd historians. His complexion was ruddy, and when exercised he face and chest would take a high color. His hair is variously described as blond or tawny. It was thick, and he wore it swept back and to the sides to resemble, as many said, a lion’s mane.[..] His eyes were said to be of different colors, one brown and the other green. That alone would have arrested those who met him, but in the ancient world it was a magical sign of divine favor as well. What was truly magical was the look of the eyes. Contemporaries said they had a “melting” charm.
Was Alexander the Great a Greek?
The Macedonian Royal House
The Macedonian royal house was called “Argeads” or “Temenidae“. According to the tradition, the founder of the royal house Perdiccas – even if the name of the founder differs in reference to the ancient source used – along with his brothers, the “Temenidae” came to the place called Macedonia from the Greek city of Argos. These Temenidae were descendants of Heracles, through Temenus, thus they were called also ‘Heracleids‘.
Since the time of Alexander I, who was better known as the “Philhellene“, Macedonian kings participated in Olympic games, which as we all know only Greeks could take part. The Argive origin of the Macedonian royal house was well-attested and widely believed both from Macedonians, as well as the rest of Greeks. Rifles like the political intricacies of Demosthenes against Philip is the tenuous exception to the general rule.
Philip II, the father of Alexander, was the son of the Macedonian king Amyntas III and Eurydice, a Lyncestian princess. Lyncestians was incorporated earlier to Molossians, hence we could find them in ancient sources as ‘Molossian Ethne’ or as Lyncestian Macedonians. A strong Illyrian influence can be recognized in the nearby Lyncestian kingdom, but their royal house was widely believed in the ancient world to be descendants of the Greek Bacchiades coming from Corinth. Eurydice was the daughter of a Lyncestian princess, daughter of Arrabaios, king of Lyngos and Sirras – a person shrouded in great darkness – since his ethnicity is obscure. There are conflicting theories which identify him either as Illyrian or as a native Lyncestian. We can only conclude, Philip’s Greek ancestry is proved beyond doubt by the traditions of the Greek royal houses both in Macedon and Lyngos.
Molossian Royal House
Now we will analyze the lineage coming from the mother of Alexander, the Molossian Olympias. Her original name as a child was called Polyxena, and then, at marriage, Myrtale; later in life she was also known as Olympias and Stratonice. The name Olympias was given to her, according to the tradition, after her husband Philip won in the Olympic games.
The members of the Molossian royal house, the so-called ‘Aeacidae‘ thought of themselves as descendants of Acchiles son, Neoptolemus and Andromache. They both took refuge in the area in the aftermath of Troy’s fall. Their son was Molossus, the founder of Molossians. Olympias herself, was the daughter of Neoptolemus, king of Epirus and most likely of an Epirotan woman, Anasatia. In the early 6th century, the tyrant of Sicyon Cleisthenes wished to find a suitable husband for his daughter Agariste. He invited “the best of the Greeks” in order to decide which one would marry his daughter. Among the Greek contestants was the Molossian king Alkon. The conclusion of the above is that the members of the Molossian royal house considered themselves as Greeks and were viewed as such by the rest of Greeks.
So far we have examined the lineages of the royal houses connected with Alexander. What remains is another crucial question to our issue. What did Alexander perceive himself to be?
From all the ancient sources we are receivers of the same message. Alexander the Great never missed a chance to verify his pride for his Greek ancestry. His parents had Greek origins. Alexander considered himself as a Greek. He spoke Greek. He grew up and was educated from famous Greek teachers like Aristotle and had as his favorite book Iliad of Homer. He worshipped the same gods as the rest of the Greeks. He undertook and accomplished a military campaign based on the long-term hostility between Greeks and Persians, as leader of the Greeks. Both he and his army spread the ancient Greek language and culture to the fringes of India and therefore Alexander has justifiably been used for centuries as a symbol of Greek civilization.
Evidence on the Greek ethnicity of Ancient Macedonians
Alexander’s Greek descent, and in general Argead Greek lineage went unquestioned by ancient Greek and Roman writers, revealing a wide belief in ancient Greek and Roman world (including of course Macedonians themselves), the Argead royal house were the Greeks descended from Argos of Peloponnese. The founder of their house belonged to the royal house of Argos, the “Temenidae”, descendants of Temenus, whose ancestor was Heracles, son of Zeus. (Diod. 17.1.5, 17.4.1; Plut, Alex 2.1-2, Fortuna 1.10 = Moratia 332a; Justin 11.4.5, 7.6.10-12, Theop. (FGTH US F3SS – Tzetzes, ad Lycophr 1439); Paus. ‘Description of Greece’ 1.9.8, 7.8; Velleius Paterculus: “The Roman History” Book I.5; Isocrates: ‘To Philip’ 32; Herod. 5.22.1-2, 8.43; Thuc. 2, 99, 3; Curt. 4.6.29)
Earliest accounts, verify the earliest Macedonians as Greeks
The earliest literary accounts like Hesiodus (700 BCE) identified the earliest Macedonians as part of the Greek world thus Greek-speakers. Obviously, if the Macedonians weren’t Greeks, but foreign people to Greeks, they wouldn’t be part at all in Hesiodus’ account as Greek. After all its really irrational to have a supposedly ‘non-Greek’ people while migrating to rename existing foreign toponymies into Greek, like the renaming from the earliest Macedonians of the original Phrygian place-name ‘Edessa‘ to the Greek ‘Aigae‘.
Ancient Macedonians considered themselves as Greeks
The surviving literary and archaeological evidence during Classical and Hellenistic Ages shows clearly that Macedonians considered themselves to be Greek, carriers to spread the Greek language and civilization to Asia, while revenging Persians for their “crimes against Macedonia and the rest of Greece”.(Herod. 9.45; Diod. 16.93.1; Arrian 2.14.4, 3.18.11-12, I.16.10, “Indica” XXXIII; Plut- Alex. XXXIII, Moralia 332A; Curt. 5.6.1, 5.8.1; Joseph 11.8.5; Polyvius 7.9.4, 18.4.8; Liv. XXXI,29, 15; IG X,2 1 1031)
Foreign nations considered Macedonians as Greeks
The ancient Roman, Persian, Indian, Jewish, Babylonian and Carthagenian testimonies are listed Macedonians among the other Hellenes, speaking the same language and in general Macedonians are portrayed as Hellenes fighting the Barbarians. (Curt. 3.3.6, 3.7.3, 3.12.27, 4.1.10, 4.5.11, 4.5.14, 4.6.29, 4.8. 13-14, 4.10.1, 5.6.1, 5.7.3, 5.7.11, 6.9.35, 7.5.36, 7.6.1, 7.6.35; Liv. XXXI.29.15, XLV, 32.22; Cicero Orations; Ceasar ‘Civ. Wars’ 111.103.3; Vel. Patercul. ‘Roman history’ I.5; Justinus Un. History 7.1, 11.3.6; Aelian ‘Var Historia’ VII.8, 12.37(39); Pliny ‘Natural history’; Tacitus ‘Annals of Imperial Rome’ Chap. 8 pg 221; Persian inscr. of ca 513, Persian story of Zulqarneen, Bahram Yasht 3.34; Edicts of Ashoka V & XIII; Maccabees 1:10, 8:18, Megillah 11a, Dan 11:2, 10:20, Isiaiah chap. 19.20, 19.23, Joel Cahp 3.v6, Habacoum cap. 2.v5; Josephus ‘Antiquities of the jews’ Book 11 par 337, 109, 148, 184, 286, Book 8 para. 61, 95, 100, 154, 213, Book 10 para. 273, Book 12 para. 322, 414, Philo of Alexandria, Maimonides; Babylonian Diaries Diary No -168. A14-15)
Macedonian names are Greek
In contrast with all their non-Greek neighbors (Illyrians, Thracians, etc.) ancient Macedonian names are either Greek or derive from Greek roots in a percentage of over 95%. According to the encyclopedia Bolsaya Sovetskaya “In 200 names born from Macedonians born before the ascent of Philip II (359 B.C.), hardly 5% are of non-Greek origin. Non Greek names in small numbers can also be found in other Greek tribes. We know some names of Gods and Heroes worshiped by the Macedonians. Among them, 39 are either pan-Hellenic or worshiped by other Greek tribes, either purely Macedonian, but with a Greek etymology. All of the names of Macedonian Feasts that we know are Greek. Regarding the names of the months, 6 are common with other Greek calendars, and at least two more are also purely Greek. The idea that the Macedonians took the names of the months during their ‘hellenisation’ is out of the question, as in that case they would have taken an integral Greek calendar instead of creating an amalgam of different Greek calendars and, more important, they would never invent themselves two Greek names of months. ” All these of course are taking place at a time where the Illyrian and Thracian names have in their vast majority non-Greek etymologies.
Ancient Macedonian was a Greek dialect
According to the eminent linguist, Olivier Masson, writing in 1996 for the “Oxford Classical Dictionary: ‘Macedonian Language”. “For a long while Macedonian Onomastics, which we know relatively well thanks to history, literary authors, and epigraphy, has played a considerable role in the discussion. In our view the Greek character of most names is obvious and it is difficult to think of a Hellenization due to wholesale borrowing. ‘Ptolemaios’ is attested as early as Homer, ‘Ale3avdros’ occurs next to Mycenaean feminine a-re-ka-sa-da-ra- (’Alexandra’), ‘Laagos’, then ‘Lagos’, matches the Cyprian ‘Lawagos’, etc. The small minority of names which do not look Greek, like ‘Arridaios’ or ‘Sabattaras’, may be due to a substratum or adstatum influences (as elsewhere in Greece). Macedonian may then be seen as a Greek dialect, characterized by its marginal position and by local pronunciations (like ‘Berenika’ for ‘Ferenika’, etc.). Yet in contrast with earlier views which made of it an Aeolic dialect (O. Hoffmann compared Thessalian) we must by now think of a link with North-West Greek (Locrian, Aetolian, Phocidian, Epirote). This view is supported by the recent discovery at Pella of a curse tablet (4th cent. BC) which may well be the first ‘Macedonian’ text attested (provisional publication by E. Voutyras; cf. the Bulletin Epigraphique in Rev.Et.Grec.1994, no.413); the text includes an adverb ‘opoka’ which is not Thessalian. We must wait for new discoveries, but we may tentatively conclude that Macedonian is a dialect related to North-West Greek.”(Pausanias Messeniaka XXIX.3; Strabo 7.7.8; Plutarch Pyrrhus II.1, XI.4; . Livius XXXI.29.15, XLV; Curtius VII.5.29, VII 9.25 – 11.7)
Alexander’s campaign Pan-Hellenic character
Alexander the Great launched a Pan-Hellenic campaign against Persia and through his conquests spread Hellenism in a vast colonizing wave throughout the Near East and created economically and culturally, a single world stretching from Greece to Punjab in India with Greek (Koine) as lingua Franca. He built a network of almost thirty Greek cities throughout the empire, a building program that was expanded by later Hellenistic rulers. These became enclaves of Greek culture. Here gymnasia, baths, and theaters were built. The upper classes spoke Koine Greek, wore Greek dress, absorbed Greek learning, adopted Greek customs, and took part in Greek athletics. Ancient sources reports as such and the pan-Hellenic character of his campaign were the definitive statements of the Macedonian royalty and nobility. (Aelian ‘Varia Historia’ 13.11; Arrian I.16.7, I12.1-2, Plutarch Ages. 15.4, Moralia I, 328D, 329A, Alex. 15, 33, 37.6-7; Diod. 16.95.1-2, 17.67.1; Callisthenes 2.3.4-5, 2.4.5, 2.4.7-8, 3.1.2-4; Arrian “Indica” XXXIII, XXXVIII, XXIX, ‘Anab.’ Arrian I.16.7, II, 14, 4, 3.18.11-12 ; Polybius IX.35.2, IX.34.3, 17.4.9; Curtius 3.3.6, 4.1.10-11, 4.5.11, 4.14.21, 5.6.1, 5.7.3, 5.7.11, 8.1.29)
Macedonians shared the same religion as the rest of Greeks
Nowadays, historians agree that Macedonians had the religious and cultural features of the rest Hellenic world. Like other Greek regions, regional characteristics have also to be noted especially near the borders.
Its quite interesting the fact that Macedonians also gave these deities the familiar Greek epithets, such as Agoraios, Basileus, Olympios, Hypsistos of Zeus, Basileia of Hera, Soter of Apollo, Hagemona and Soteira of Artemis, Boulaia of Hestia, etc. The worship of the twelve Olympian gods in Macedonia is undoubted and it is shown explicitely in the treaty between Philip V and Hannibal of Carthage “`In the presence of ZEUS, HERA and APOLLO…and in the presence of ALL THE GODS who possess Macedonia AND THE REST OF HELLAS“. (Arrian I 11.1-2, I.11.6; Diod. 16.95.2, 16.91.5-6; Pausanias 6.18.3, 9.39.3; Ath. Deipnos. XII.537d-540a, XIII 572d-e; Diogenes Laert. 1.8; Curtius 3.7.3, 3.12.27, 4.13.15, 6.10.14, 8.2.32, 8.11.24, Plutarch ‘Alexander’ 33; Polybius 7.9.1-7)
Language of the Ancient Macedonians
The name Macedonia itself is a Greek word “in root and in ethnic termination.” (The Macedonian State, N G L Hammond p.12) As Hammond continues, it means ‘highlander’.
Hammond looks in detail at the ancient historian Hesiod’s writings which point to the Greek speech of the Macedonians. Macedon is stated as being the brother of Magnes. As inscriptions show that the Magnetes people spoke the Aeolic dialect of Greek, it is no leap to think they spoke the Aeolic dialect of Greek.
Hesiod continues by making the brothers “Macedon and Magnes the first cousin’s of Hellens three sons – Dorus, Xouthus, and Aeolus – who were the founders of three dialects of Greek speech, namely Doric, Ionic, and Aeolic. Hesiod would not have recorded this relationship, unless he had believed, probably in the seveth century, that the Macedones was a Greek-speaking people.” (Hammond, p. 12-13). However, this evidence can suggest that the Macedonians of ancient times could have potentially spoken any one of these three particular Greek dialects. (Kanavos 2006)
Hammond continues in his writings by analyzing Hesiod and Hellanicus and establishing the fact that “…Hellanicus, visited Macedonia and modified Hesiod’s genealogy by making Macedon not a cousin, but a son of Aeolus, thus bringing Macedon and his decedants firmly into the Aeolic branch of the Greek-speaking family.” (Hammond p.13)
The Persians also offer much evidence of the Greek speakers of Macedonia. “At the turn of the sixth century the Persians described the tribute-paying peoples of their province in Europe, and one of them was the ‘yauna takabara’, which meant ‘Greeks wearing the hat’.” (Hammond, p. 13 and J.M. Balcer in Historia 37 (1988) 7.) These Greeks wearing the hat, were the Macedonians.
“Hesios, Persia, and Hellanicus had no motive for making a false statement about the language of the Macedonians, who were then an obscure and not powerful people. Their testomonies should be accepted as conclusive.” (Hammond p. 13)
Valerio Massimo Manfredi’s trilogy of novels of Greece’s warrior king Alexander leaves dozens of references to the Hellenic character of Macedonians, not the least being language. I will mention but the one here, Manfredi makes reference on how the young Macedonian warrios (Seleucus, Leonnatus, Craterus, Perdiccas, Philotas, Ptolemy, Hephaestion and Lysimachus) in Alexander’s inner circle addressing their teacher, Leonidas, as ‘Didaskale’, which is Greek for a teacher in ancient and modern times.
Much has been written on this topic, but for the reason of keeping this brief, I will conclude this article for the time being. Macedonian was a very interesting dialect, and for some Greeks difficult to understand at times, but conclusively Greek.
THE MACEDONIAN STATE, The Origins, Institutions and History
by N. G. L. Hammond, CLARENDON PAPERPABACKS
ALEXANDER, The Sands of Ammon, Volume II
by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, Washington Square Press, Published by Pocket Books
Legacy of Alexander the Great
The weight of Alexander the Great’s accomplishments meant that his legend left its indelible mark on world history – if not while he was still alive – immediately after his death in 323BC. His legacy was unique in world history in that it became so prevalent in the Eastern as well as a Western cultural tradition.
Alexander the Great has been portrayed as anything from cultured scholar to drunken sadist, chivalrous knight to the bloody monster, drunken womanizer to pious, even celibate and bisexual, benign multi-culturalist to racist imperialist. He became the world’s wealthiest man and the ruler of many nations. His affect on those who met him was as great as his affect on the course of world history. Ultimately, after his death, he was even to be worshipped as a God by many in the ancient world.
Alexander’s legacy lingers in the Kalash people in Western India who still speak fragments of the archaic Greek dialect, in the warlords of Afghanistan who still fight under a flag they claim was once his, and in the incantations of modern Greek fisherman, trying to ward off a storm.
This section will illustrate the many, including the more obscure and less known, forms in which Alexander’s legacy has evolved in two millennia since his death.
Alexander: Dionysian Reveler or Alcoholic
Much has been made of the role of alcohol in Alexander’s life. Unquestionably, the Macedonians were hardy drinkers who partook often in all-night parties where it appears the primary purpose was to drink more than your neighbor. What confounds many modern historians is whether or not Philip, the Macedonians or Alexander fit the current definition of alcoholics.
John Maxwell O’Brien in his biography, Alexander the Great: The Invisible Enemy explores this issue in detail. He takes an interesting perspective, however, it was the relationship the Macedonians had to the god, Dionysus that hurtled them to the self-destructive behavior of excessive alcohol consumption. Couple this with the fact that Macedonians treated the wine itself differently and one can see why so many have asked about the role of wine in that culture.
Ancient Greeks diluted their wine with water—possibly for the economy, but certainly to discourage intemperance. Moderation was the hallmark of the civilized, while gulping was for the vulgar, and drunkenness was the way of the barbarian. The Greeks were highly critical of Macedonians, who, like barbarians, drank wine undiluted and in prodigious amounts. (O’Brien 1992)
The mythology that Macedonians were not Greek, first spread by Demosthenes in his tirades against Philip (the Philippics) was fueled by differences, especially destructive ones like alcohol abuse. To the Athenians, Spartans and even other Macedonians, temperance was a virtue. But to Philip, according to O’Brien, if you didn’t drink with the “boys” you were not part of the inner circle. The ageless motto “fight hard, live hard” lionized warriors of Philip and Alexander’s abilities who could win great battles in the morning and drink and carouse all night. Philip exemplified this ideal.
It is unfortunate that excessive drinking occasionally got the better of Philip’s judgment. Although O’Brien quotes the odd contemporary who said that Philip was often inebriated there is no real evidence from any of the plethora of scholars who wrote of Philip. There is no doubt that after the battle Philip could celebrate like no other. We must, however, examine how much of the reveling was orchestrated. Philip was a master tactician in every facet of his life. From his alliances, multiple marriages and victories on the battlefield every move was planned. How else could the rest of the fractious Greeks be brought into one united federation like the Corinth League? Philip held elaborate celebrations to reward, cajole and manipulate friends and enemies. Alcohol was a critical component of that exercise.
Sadly, excessive alcohol consumption got in the way of his and Alexander’s relationship. The infamous story of how he stumbled at a party and Alexander made a disparaging remark has been chronicled incessantly. Even a statesman and conqueror like Philip could fall victim to wine.
The Gordian Knot
Gordium was the capital of ancient Phrygia – modern day Yassihüyük – 70-80 km Southwest of Ankara, where the river Sangarius flows beside it. The city was most famous for the ‘Gordian Knot‘.
According to an old myth, the Gordian knot was named after Gordius, king of Phrygia, who tied a cart yoke to a pole with an extremely complex knot. The oracle of Telmisus further predicted that the one to loose the knot would rule all Asia. Many tried, but all failed.
According to Curtius description, Alexander, after reducing the city into his power, entered the temple of Jupiter. There he saw the wagon in which it was known that Gordius, the father of Midas rode, and it was in no way more elegant than ordinary ones in everyday use. The noteworthy feature was the yoke, which was made fast with a great number of thongs, closely tangled with one another and concealing their interlacing. Thereupon, since the natives declared that the oracle had predicted that whoever should loose the intricate fastening would rule over Asia, the desire entered Alexander’s mind of fulfilling that prophecy. The series of thongs were so closely bound together that where a hidden interlacing began or where it ended could be made out neither by the eye nor by calculation; and the king’s attempt to undo the tangle made the throng anxious lest a failure should be regarded as an omen.
After having struggled for a long time, Alexander has cut through all the throngs with his sword.