Alexander the Great - World Leaders in History

Alexander the Great depicted at the Battle of Issus against Darius III of Persia in 333 BC, as part of a larger Roman floor mosaic dating from around 100 BC.
Alexander the Great depicted at the Battle of Issus against Darius III of Persia in 333 BC, as part of a larger Roman floor mosaic dating from around 100 BC.

5. Early Life

Alexander the Great was the King of the Greek state of Macedon. He would go on to found a huge empire that stretched from Africa to Asia, making it into the largest empire of the Ancient era, and spreading Macedonian culture across much of the known world. Alexander was born in Pella, in what is today the Pella Regional Unit of Central Macedonia, Greece, in 356 BC. He was the son of the reigning Macedonian king, Philip II. In his boyhood, Alexander was tutored by Aristotle, and his school companions included Ptolemy, Hephaestion, and Cassander among them. These boys would later, as men, become his campaign companions. Alexander became especially close to Hephaestion, who would also serve as his personal protector, akin to a modern bodyguard. His training under Aristotle lasted just for 3 years, but it left him with a lasting love for reading and learning.

4. Rise to Power

At the age of 16, Alexander received his first taste of royalty when Philip left to fight the Byzantions. He left Alexander in charge of Macedon as his heir apparent. During this time, the Thracians rebelled against Macedonian authority, and Alexander ruthlessly suppressed their revolt. He got his first chance at trying out the skills and techniques learned in school, and quickly gained a reputation as a battlefield prodigy. His first campaign also bore what would become his trademark ferocity of repression, a feature that would remain constant through his subsequent imperial campaigns. After capturing a particular city, if there was no pressing diplomatic imperative, he generally preferred to kill all the men of military age, and sell off the women and the rest of those too old, young, or unfit for military service into slavery.

In 338 BC, Alexander and Philip embarked on a prolonged campaign against other Greek city-states, particularly those mighty ones centered around Athens and Thebes. Through a series of deft military maneuvers, the father-son duo defeated the attempts of the combined Greek opposition, and dictated the terms of an alliance. In this agreement, the other Greek powers remained in a subsidiary role for local governance, pledging allegiance to an overarching power of Macedon. This unified Greek kingdom would provide the springboard for Alexander's subsequent invasions into the African and Asian continents.

Two years after the Greek successes, Philip II was assassinated and Alexander ascended to the Macedonian throne at the age of 20. He spent the next two years suppressing his rivals, first the other Greek city-states in the Hellenic Alliance, and then the Balkan kingships across the northern border of Macedonia proper.

3. Contributions

His power in Greece assured, Alexander embarked on his famed Asian conquest. In 334 BC, he crossed the Hellespont into Asia. He defeated the Persians at the battle of Granicus, and proceeded along the Mediterranean coast of what is today the Republic of Turkey. He then turned south after Pamphylia into the Levant region and into Syria. In Syria, he faced his most formidable adversary up to that time in Darius III. Nonetheless, Darius was resoundingly defeated in the battle of Issus in 333 BC. With the fall of the strategic city of Tyre to follow in 332 BC, his Syrian conquest was complete, and the Achaemenid rule in the region subsequently crumbled. He marched through Jerusalem, over Gaza, and then on into Egypt. There, for a change, he was invited as a liberator, due to the reign that had been unleashed by the now defeated Achaemenid rulers, after their second conquest of Egypt. In Egypt, he founded the city of Alexandria, which bore his name and would later became one of the most lucrative trade centers and important cultural hubs of the ancient Mediterranean world.

2. Challenges

In 331 BC, Alexander left Egypt and moved eastward into what are present day Iraq and Iran. He first defeated the Assyrians, meeting Darius for the final time in the epic Battle of Gaugamela. Darius was once again resoundingly defeated, and Alexander's way into Babylon was cleared. He marched through Babylon and took on the central forces of the remnants of the Achaemenid Empire in what is today Iran. Taking control of Persia, his armies then marched on into India, but his forces were exhausted by their long campaigns and a punitively stretched supply line, so they found themselves unwilling and unable to proceed any further. His disciplined army showed threatening symptoms warning of impending mutiny for the first time, and Alexander was forced to turn back from the western banks of the Beas River.

1. Death and Legacy

Upon this journey back west, he fell ill and died in Babylon, likely resulting from food poisoning or binge drinking, though scholars are uncertain as to the actual cause of his death. Alexander's dominions stretched over a larger area than any other empire of his time. It did not, however, outlast his own short life for very long. Nonetheless, a number of the resulting "splinter states" that emerged from the Macedonian Empire themselves developed into significant world powers in their own right. The effect of the conquest on commercial and cultural encounters between the hitherto disparate regions had an even more enduring effect, as new lines of travel and communication had been opened. The silk routes were invigorated, and Alexander's own personal, detailed records became invaluable testaments for use by subsequent explorers and merchants. These records ultimately led to a surge in Mediterranean interests regarding Asia. Greek artistic traditions travelled east down the Silk road, and soon became vogue in Indian and Arabian society. Alexander founded 20 cities, many of which bore his own name, over the course of his expeditions, some of which went on to become regional commercial magnates in their own right. Today, many Ancient scholars seldom have anything derisive to say against Alexander, while some others view his as overly brutal and power hungry. None, however, can question his influence. Even the survivors of the powers he defeated could not but hold his military leadership in high regard. The other Greek city states celebrated his image, as did the Romans, who would emerge as the next great superpower to dominate the known world. From Egypt to India, his legend has long signified tremendous bravery and considerable military tactical superiority.


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