Free Alexander The Great Essay


ALEXANDROS PHILIPPOU MAKEDONON (356-323 BC). More than any other world conqueror, Alexander III of Macedon, or ancient Macedonia, deserves to be called the Great. Although he died before the age of 33, he conquered almost all the then known world and gave a new direction to history.

Alexander was born in 356 BC at Pella, the capital of Macedon, a kingdom north of Hellas (Greece). Under his father, Philip II, Macedon had become strong and united, the first real nation in European history. Greece was reaching the end of its Golden Age. Art, literature, and philosophy were still flourishing, but the small city-states had refused to unite and were exhausted by wars. Philip admired Greek culture. The Greeks despised the Macedonians as barbarians.

Alexander was handsome and had the physique of an athlete. He excelled in hunting and loved riding his horse Bucephalus. When Alexander was 13 years old, the leading Greek thinker and philosopher Aristotle came to Macedon to tutor him. Alexander learned to love Homer's 'Iliad'. He also learned something of ethics and politics and the new sciences of botany, zoology, geography, and medicine. His chief interest was military strategy. He learned this from his father, who had reformed the Greek phalanx into a powerful fighting machine.

Philip was bent on the conquest of Persia. First, however, he had to subdue Greece. The decisive battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC brought all the Greek city-states except Sparta under Philip's leadership. Young Alexander commanded the Macedonian left wing at Chaeronea and annihilated the famous Sacred Band of the Thebans.

Two years later, in 336 BC, Philip was murdered when a young noble in Philip's personal bodyguard pulled a short knife from under his cloak and stabbed the king through the heart, killing him instantly. Alexander's mother, Olympias, probably plotted his death but it could never be proved. Alexander then came to the throne by announcing that he was king. The army, with whom he had been popular since his first campaign, accepted him without question. In the same year he marched southward to Corinth, where the Greek city-states (all except Sparta) swore allegiance to him. Alexander received the congratulations of many famous people at Corinth, but one he particularly wanted to meet was Diogenes the Cynic, a great philosopher of the time and the most famous citizen of Corinth. He was known to sleep in a tub and always carried a lit lantern during the day, explaining that he was looking for an honest man. A believer in a community of all mankind rather than of small separate states, Diogenes coined the word "cosmopolite," meaning "citizen of the world." This concept became increasingly meaningful as Alexander's campaigns of conquest extended the boundaries of the known world.

Thebes, however, later revolted, and Alexander destroyed the city. He allowed the other city-states to keep their democratic governments. With Greece secure, Alexander prepared to carry out his father's bold plan and invade Persia. Two centuries earlier, the mighty Persian Empire had pushed westward to include the Greek cities of Asia Minor--one third of the entire Greek world.

In the spring of 334 BC, Alexander crossed the Hellespont (now Dardanelles), the narrow strait between Europe and Asia Minor. He had with him a Greek and Macedonian force of about 30,000 foot soldiers and 5,000 cavalry. The infantry wore armor like the Greek hoplites but carried a Macedonian weapon, the long pike. Alexander himself led the companions, the elite of the cavalry. With the army went geographers, botanists, and other men of science who collected information and specimens for Aristotle. A historian kept records of the march, and surveyors made maps that served as the basis for the geography of Asia for centuries.

In Asia Minor, Alexander visited ancient Troy to pay homage to Achilles and other heroes of the 'Iliad'. At the Granicus River, in May, he defeated a large body of Persian cavalry, four times the size of his own. Then he marched southward along the coast, freeing the Greek cities from Persian rule and making them his allies. In the winter he turned inland, to subdue the hill tribes.

According to legend, he was shown a curious knot at Gordium in Asia Minor. An oracle had said the man who untied it would rule Asia. Alexander dramatically cut the Gordian knot with his sword.

Alexander's army and a huge force led by Darius III of Persia met at Issus in October 333 BC. Alexander charged with his cavalry against Darius, who fled. Alexander then marched southward along the coast of Phoenicia to cut off the large Persian navy from all its harbors. Tyre, on an island, held out for seven months until Alexander built a causeway to it and battered down its stone walls.

Late in 332 BC the conqueror reached Egypt. The Egyptians welcomed him as a deliverer from Persian misrule and accepted him as their pharaoh, or king. In Memphis he made sacrifices to Egyptian gods. Near the delta of the Nile River he founded a new city, to be named Alexandria after him. Alexandria almost immediately replaced the ravaged Tyre as the major commercial and trade center in the region. In time, it became the first truly international city. Persians and Greeks, Macedonians and Jews, Indians and Africans were all drawn by the opportunities available in this busy port. As they worked together in Alexandria, the fusion of the Greek and Oriental culture that became to be known as Hellenism began to develop and spread, and the cultures of both East and West were changed. "There can be no doubt," wrote Alexander Robinson in his Alexander the Great "that this was the most important concrete result of Alexander's life."

At Ammon, in the Libyan Desert, he visited the oracle of the Greek god Zeus, and the priests saluted him as the son of that great god. Leaving Egypt in the spring of 331 BC, Alexander went in search of Darius. He met him on a wide plain near the village of Gaugamela, or Camel's House, some miles from the town of Arbela on September 30.

Darius had gathered together all his military strength--chariots with scythes on the wheels, elephants, and a great number of cavalry and foot soldiers. Alexander again led his cavalry straight toward Darius, while his phalanx attacked with long pikes. Darius fled once more, and Alexander won a great and decisive victory in October 1, 331 BC. After the battle, he was proclaimed king of Asia. Babylon, the walled Persian city so large, wrote Aristotle, that it took two days for the word of its surrender to reach all its people, welcomed the conqueror, and Alexander made sacrifices to the Babylonians' god Marduk. The Persian capital, Susa, also opened its gates. In this city and at Persepolis an immense hoard of royal treasure fell into Alexander's hands. In March (329 BC) he set out to pursue Darius. When Alexander's men drew near, Bessus and another noble Nabarzanes seized and stabbed Darius when he refused to step down. Alexander found him dying. So the hunted eluded the hunter at last.

His men now wanted to return home. Alexander, however, was determined to press on to the eastern limit of the world, which he believed was not far beyond the Indus River. He spent the next several years campaigning in the wild country to the east. There he married a chieftain's daughter, Roxane. In January 327 BC, he led what was left of his army to the siege on Oxyartes, firmly entrenched in a mountain fortress on the Sogdian Rock.

In the early summer of 327 BC Alexander reached the provinces to the east, in present day India. At the Hydaspes River (now Jhelum) he defeated the army of King Porus whose soldiers were mounted on elephants. Discharging his old and wounded soldiers as colonists, he founded a city, Nicaea, Greek for "victory" - in its honor, and then another for his horse. Then he pushed farther east.

Alexander's men had now marched 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers). Soon they refused to go farther, and Alexander reluctantly turned back in September 326 BC. He had already ordered a fleet built on the Hydaspes, and he sailed down the Indus to its mouth. At last, in July 325 BC, Alexander reached the delta of the Indus River where it flowed into the Indian Ocean. Then he led his army overland, across the desert. Many died of hunger, thirst and disease during the sixty- day march.

Alexander reached Susa in the spring of 324 BC. There he rested with his army. Alexander forged ahead with his plans for fusing East and West. He began projects designed to improve trading facilities and expand the empire's network of commercial routes. He was already eyeing new areas outside his domain he could open up. He spent the money in his treasury freely, giving huge rewards to the soldiers who had been loyal to him for so long. The next spring he went to Babylon. Long marches and many wounds had so lowered his vitality that he was unable to recover from a fever - probably malaria. He died at Babylon on June 13, 323 BC. His body, encased in gold leaf, was later placed in a magnificent tomb at Alexandria, Egypt.

The Hellenistic Age

The three centuries after the death of Alexander are called the Hellenistic Age, from the Greek word hellenizein, meaning "to act like a Greek." A civilization produced during the chaotic period from the death and the subsequent dissolution of Alexander the Great's empire to the victory of the Romans over the Greeks at the battle of Actium (31 B.C.). During this period, Greek language and culture spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean world. Hellenism was unique in that it stood for a set of ideals as well as an historical culture. Among its components were a rational approach to life, use of reason rather than authority, appreciation for a humanistic view of life, the search for the ideal in every field, and a communal-minded expressed as an ideal harmony of individual and state. Hellenism was spread throughout the Mediterranean as a result of Alexander the Great's conquests from 334-325 B.C.

The sudden death of Alexander left his generals without any plan whereby the vast territories he had conquered should be administered. Some of his followers, including the rank and file of the Macedonian army, wanted to preserve the empire. But the generals wanted to break up the empire and create realms for themselves. It took more than 40 years of struggles and warfare (323-280 BC) before the separate kingdoms were carved out. Finally three major dynasties emerged: the Ptolemies in Egypt, the Seleucids in Asia, Asia Minor, and Palestine, and the Antigonids in Macedonia and Greece. These kingdoms got their names from three generals of Alexander--Ptolemy, Seleucus, and Antigonus.

The richest, most powerful, and longest lasting of these kingdoms was that of the Ptolemies. It reached its height of material and cultural splendor under Ptolemy II Philadelphus, who ruled from 285 to 246. After his death, the kingdom entered a long period of war and internal strife that ended when Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire in 30 BC.

The Seleucid Empire was the largest of the three kingdoms. The Seleucids were the most active of the kingdoms in establishing Greek settlements throughout their domain. During the more than 200 years of its existence, the empire continually lost territory through war or rebellion, until it was reduced to Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia in 129 BC. It continued to decline until annexed by Rome in 64 BC.

The Antigonid Kingdom of Macedonia lasted only until 168 BC. Continually involved in wars with other kingdoms and struggles with the Greek city-states, it was finally overtaken by the military might of Rome.

Alexander the Great is, arguably, the most famous worldly figure in history. Alexander's conquests reflected not just his lust for domination but also his belief that East and West could be united under a single system of government and accustomed to one way of life. His vision of empire encouraged a revolutionary interchange of customs and concepts along the axis of unification that his line of march had created.

Some historians believe Alexander the Great to have been a bloodthirsty tyrant whose depredations only ended when his army rebelled; others consider him to have been an apostle of peace, driven by dreams of universal brotherhood. Even today, more than 2,300 years after his death, the memory of Alexander the Great, one of the most brilliant leaders of all time, lives on.

And that is what makes him interesting.

Alexander The Great (356 Bc – 323 Bc)

Alexander the Great is perhaps the most eminent Macedonian king. The reason for that is that he conquered the whole of Persia, acting as an inspiration for later military subjugators who included Napoleon, Caesar, Pompey, and Hannibal. Though his empire did not survive intact after his death, it was the largest empire at the time. In this respect, Alexander the Great is the most influential Macedonian ruler.

Born into a military aristocracy – his father was Philip, Macedonia’s king while his mother was Olympias, a princess from the neighboring kingdom of Epirus – Alexander learned early on that he had to develop military skills to succeed his father. At 12 years of age, he astounded his father when he tamed the wild Bucephalus, a stallion that had resisted all attempts at domestication. His father noted his potential and engaged Aristotle to instruct him in other subjects such as philosophy, medicine, and science. Alexander’s military skills were put to the test when he had to put down a rebellion at 16 years of age. He was rewarded with a command position in the army. He was again tested at 18 year of age when, as an army general, his forces turned an ill-advised invasion of Greece into the Macedonian army’s advantage. Thus, Alexander exhibited a devotion to military activities that received support from his father.

Though Alexander received support from his father, theirs was not the most cordial of relationships. The situation came to a head when Philip tripped and fell while charging Alexander for insulting General Attalus. Attalus had insinuated that Alexander was illegitimate and unworthy of being Philip’s successor to which Alexander took offense. All this occurred at Philip’s wedding reception to Attalus’ niece, Cleopatra. Alexander fled Macedonia and only returned after assurances that his life was not in danger. He was later to succeed his father after Philip’s assassination in 336 BC His first act after ascension was to order the disposition of all the nobles who had antagonized him while his father lived. It was left to Alexander to complete his father’s dream of conquering the whole of Persia, one that he achieved before his death in 323 BC from high fever.

One must accept that despite the fact that his childhood or upbringing was full of domestic strife, Alexander had a very active life that saw him acquire military knowledge. In addition, one has no option but to acknowledge that his father was his greatest influence. In fact, his father’s support saw him get an all rounded education. Though he died 33 years into his life, he managed to conquer the whole of Persia, a feat that eluded his father. Therefore, Alexander is the most influential Macedonian king.
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