|Alexander the Great|
|Basileus of Macedon, Hegemon of the Hellenic League, Pharaoh of Egypt, Shahanshah of Persia|
|Alexander fighting Persian king Darius III. From Alexander Mosaic, from Pompeii, Naples, Naples National Archaeological Museum.|
|Spouse||Roxana of Bactria
Stateira of Persia
|Father||Philip II of Macedon|
|Mother||Olympias of Epirus|
Alexander III of Macedon, popularly known to history as Alexander the Great, ("Mégas Aléxandros", Greek: Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας or Μέγας Ἀλέξανδρος,) was an ancient Greek[Note 1] king ('basileus') of Macedon. Born in 356 BC, Alexander succeeded his father Philip II of Macedon to the throne in 336 BC, and died in Bablyon in 323 BC at the age of 32.
Alexander was one of the most successful military commanders of all time and it is presumed that he was undefeated in battle. By the time of his death, he had conquered much of the world known to the ancient Greeks (the 'Ecumene').[Note 2] His father, Philip, had unified most of the city-states of mainland Greece under Macedonian hegemony in the League of Corinth. As well as inheriting hegemony over the Greeks, Alexander also inherited the Greeks' long-running feud with the Achaemenid Empire of Persia. After reconfirming Macedonian rule by quashing a rebellion of southern Greek city-states, Alexander launched a short but successful campaign against Macedon's northern neighbours. He was then able to turn his attention towards the east and the Persians. In a series of campaigns lasting 10 years, Alexander's armies repeatedly defeated the Persians in battle, in the process conquering the entirety of the Empire. He then, following his desire to reach the 'ends of the world and the Great Outer Sea', invaded India, but was eventually forced to turn back by the near-mutiny of his troops.
Alexander died after twelve years of constant military campaigning, possibly a result of malaria, poisoning, typhoid fever, viral encephalitis or the consequences of alcoholism. His legacy and conquests lived on long after him and ushered in centuries of Greek settlement and cultural influence over distant areas. This period is known as the Hellenistic period, which featured a combination of Greek, Middle Eastern and Indian culture. Alexander himself featured prominently in the history and myth of both Greek and non-Greek cultures. His exploits inspired a literary tradition in which he appeared as a legendary hero in the tradition of Achilles.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Accession to the throne
- 3 Alexander's Conquests
- 4 Final Years
- 5 Death
- 6 Succession
- 7 Alexander's Character
- 8 Legacy
- 9 Alexander in Legend and Culture
- 10 Sources
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 Bibliography
- 14 Further Reading
- 15 External links
Alexander was Born in Pella, the capital of Macedon, in 356 BC; the exact date is uncertain. His father was the king of Macedon, Philip II, a member of the Argead Dynasty, and his mother was Philip's fourth wife Olympias, an Epirote princess. Although Philip had either seven or eight wives, Olympias was his principal wife for a time. On his mother's side, Alexander was a second cousin of Pyrrhus of Epirus, who himself would become a celebrated general.
During his infancy, Alexander was raised by his nurse, Lanike, who was his future compatriot Cleitus the Black's elder sister. He was later educated by a strict teacher, Leonidas, himself a relative of Olympias.. Leonidas focused a lot of Alexander's training on building his physical prowess and endurance and living a life of a soldier without kingly comforts. Leonidas reportedly reprimanded Alexander when he threw a large amount of sacrificial incense into a fire, saying that he could waste as much incense as he wished once he had conquered spice-bearing regions; years later, following Alexander's conquest of Gaza he sent over fifteen tons of myrrh to Leonidas as a retort. It was the famous philosopher Aristotle, however, who gave Alexander his most important tutoring. Aristotle trained the youth in rhetoric and literature, and stimulated his interest in science, medicine and especially philosophy, which formed the greater part of his lessons. Aristotle's influence played a considerable role in forging Alexander's famed bibliophilia.
During Alexander's childhood, a certain Philoneicus of Thessaly, brought a superb horse to sell to Philip. However, the horse was so wild that no man could mount it. Young Alexander, recognizing its shadow as the source of its fear, went over and turned it towards the sun. At this it calmed down, and the young man easily mounted and rode it. His father and the others who saw this (having moments before been in turns sceptical, derisive and concerned for his safety) were most impressed. Philip, overjoyed at this display of courage, intellect and ambition, kissed him tearfully: "My boy, you must find a kingdom big enough for your ambitions. Macedonia is too small for you." In accordance with a pre-arranged bet, Alexander was allowed to keep the horse. Its name was Bucephalus, meaning "ox-headed"; but it is also a possible reference to the brand that denoted its origin. Bucephalus would be Alexander's companion throughout his journeys and was truly loved: when he died (due to old age, according to Plutarch, for he was already thirty) (although other sources claim that he died of wounds sustained in a battle in modern-day Pakistan), Alexander named a city after him called Bucephala.
While his peers celebrated Philip's victories, Alexander always felt a brooding impatience. "Boys," he declared, "my father will forestall me in everything. There will be nothing great or spectacular for you and me to show the world." Desirous less of luxury and wealth than of excellence and glory, he knew that the more he inherited from his father the less he would have to take for himself. Philip's successes, he felt, were opportunities wasted on an inferior.
In 340 BC, Philip led an attack on Byzantium, leaving Alexander, now sixteen, to act as regent of Macedon. Shortly after, in 339 BC, Philip took a fifth wife, Cleopatra Eurydice. While Alexander's mother was from Epirus, Cleopatra was a true Macedonian, leading to political machinations over whether or not Alexander was the rightful heir to the Argead throne. During the wedding feast, Attalus, uncle of the bride, gave a toast for the marriage to result in a "legitimate" heir to the throne. Alexander, furious, hurled his goblet at the speaker, shouting, "What am I? A bastard, then?" Phillip drew his sword and moved towards his son but fell in a bibulous stupor over the drinking couches. "Here," declared Alexander, "is the man planning on conquering from Greece to Asia, and he cannot even move from one table to another." Following the episode, Alexander and his mother left Macedon, but his sister, also named Cleopatra, remained. Philip and Alexander eventually reconciled: the son returned home, but Olympias remained in Epirus.
The Rise of Macedon
In 338 BC, Alexander fought under his father at the decisive Battle of Chaeronea against the mainland city-states of Athens and Thebes. Phillip entrusted Alexander with the left wing of his army, which entailed facing the Sacred Band of Thebes, an elite hoplite corps thitherto thought invincible. Although few details of the battle survive, what is known is that Alexander annihilated the Band; according to legend, indeed, he was the first to charge it.
After the battle, Philip led a wild celebration, but his son is notably absent from accounts describing it. It has been speculated that he personally treated Demades, a notable orator of Athens, who had opposed Athenian alignment against Philip. He went on to draw up and present a peace plan, which the assembled Athenian army voted on and approved. Philip was content to deprive Thebes of its dominion over Boeotia and leave a Macedonian garrison in the citadel. A few months later, the League of Corinth was formed and Philip acclaimed Hegemon of the Hellenes.
Accession to the throne
In 336 BC, Philip was assassinated at the wedding of his daughter Cleopatra to her uncle King Alexander of Epirus. Theories abound regarding the motives for the killing, but a common story presents the assassin as a disgraced former lover of the king—the young nobleman Pausanias of Orestis, who held a grudge against Philip because the king had ignored his grievances regarding an outrage on his person.
Others thought (and many still think) that Philip's murder was planned with the knowledge and involvement of Alexander, Olympias or both. Some have suggested that, as a result of Philip's authoritarian parenting style and successful military career, as well as Olympias' overbearing nature and reported beauty, that Alexander might have suffered from an Oedipus complex, resulting in a subconscious desire to kill his father and marry his mother. Still more theories point to Darius III, the recently crowned King of Persia. Regardless, the army proclaimed Alexander, then twenty, the new king of Macedon.
Greek cities like Athens and Thebes, which had been forced to pledge allegiance to Philip, saw in the relatively untested new king an opportunity to regain full independence. Alexander moved swiftly, however, and Thebes, which was most active against him, submitted immediately when he appeared at its gates. The assembled Greeks at the Isthmus of Corinth, with the exception of the Spartans, elected him Capitan-General of the Hellenes against Persia, a title previously bestowed upon his father. Meanwhile, King Darius of Persia was convinced that Alexander was preparing for a war against Persia, and so he sent envoys to the various cities in Greece and Asia Minor with large bags of gold for the purpose of bribing any and all who could be bribed.
The following year (335 BC), Alexander felt free to engage the Thracians and Illyrians in order to secure the Danube as the northern boundary of the Macedonian kingdom. While the Thracians proved no match for Alexander, the Illyrians (Dio Cassius, once governor of that country in the 3rd century AD, described it as especially barbarous) proved to be more difficult to subdue. They had lured Alexander's army into a trap that few believed he would be able to break out of. In response, Alexander paraded his troops in front of the enemy, but in total silence. Like a giant metal porcupine, they moved their long spears in a synchronized formation, up and down, left and right, all while marching in perfect formation as though on the parade ground. The Illyrians could not believe what they were watching. Alexander, at a precise moment, ordered his cavalry to charge the Illyrians, while the infantry broke out into a deafening noise, hitting their swords against their shields and chanting the Macedonian war cry. The shocked Illyrians fell into complete chaos, and were routed by Alexander.
While he was triumphantly campaigning north, the Thebans and Athenians rebelled once more. Alexander reacted immediately, but, while the other cities once again hesitated, Thebes decided to resist with the utmost vigor. The resistance was useless, however, as the city was razed to the ground amid great bloodshed and its territory divided between the other Boeotian cities. Moreover, the Thebans themselves were sold into slavery. Alexander spared only priests, leaders of the pro-Macedonian party and descendants of Pindar, whose house was the only one left standing. The end of Thebes cowed Athens into submission. According to Plutarch, a special Athenian embassy, led by Phocion, an opponent of the anti-Macedonian faction, was able to persuade Alexander to give up his demand for the exile of leaders of the anti-Macedonian party, most particularly Demosthenes.
War with Persia: first phase
Alexander's army crossed the Hellespont with approximately 42,000 soldiers from Macedon, various Greek city-states, mercenaries and tribute soldiers from Thrace, Paionia, and Illyria. After an initial victory against Persian forces at the Battle of the Granicus, Alexander accepted the surrender of the Persian provincial capital and treasury of Sardis and proceeded down the Ionian coast. At Halicarnassus, Alexander successfully waged the first of many sieges, eventually forcing his opponents, the mercenary captain Memnon of Rhodes and the Persian satrap of Caria, Orontobates, to withdraw by sea. Alexander left Caria in the hands of Ada, who was ruler of Caria before being deposed by her brother Pixodarus. From Halicarnassus, Alexander proceeded into mountainous Lycia and the Pamphylian plain, asserting control over all coastal cities and denying them to his enemy. From Pamphylia onward, the coast held no major ports and so Alexander moved inland. At Termessos, Alexander humbled but did not storm the Pisidian city. At the ancient Phrygian capital of Gordium, Alexander "undid" the hitherto unsolvable Gordian Knot, a feat said to await the future "king of Asia." According to the most vivid story, Alexander proclaimed that it did not matter how the knot was undone, and he hacked it apart with his sword. Another version claims that he did not use the sword, but simply realized that the simplest way to undo the knot was to simply remove a central peg from the chariot—around which the knot was tied.
Alexander's army crossed the Cilician Gates, met and defeated the main Persian army under the command of Darius III at the Battle of Issus in 333 BC. Darius was forced to flee the battle after his army broke, and in doing so left behind his wife, his two daughters, his mother Sisygambis, and a fabulous amount of treasure. He afterwards offered a peace treaty to Alexander, the concession of the lands he had already conquered, and a ransom of 10,000 talents for his family. Alexander replied that since he was now king of Asia, it was he alone who decided territorial divisions. Proceeding down the Mediterranean coast, he took Tyre and Gaza after famous sieges (see Siege of Tyre) suffered the most brutal attacks during Alexander's war in Asia. It was after his capture of Tyre that Alexander crucified all the men of military age, and sold the women and children into slavery.
During 332–331 BC, Alexander was welcomed as a liberator in Egypt, which submitted to him without a fight. Alexander visited the Oracle of Siwa in the Libyan desert, where he was pronounced the new "master of the universe" and son of Ammon by Egyptian priests of the deity Ammon Henceforth, Alexander often referred to Ammon-Zeus as his true father, and subsequently depicted himself adorned with ram horns, as a symbol of his divinity, on coinage. Whilst in Egypt, he founded Alexandria, the most famous of his eponymous foundations, which would become the prosperous capital of the Ptolemaic kingdom after his death.
War with Persia: second phase
Leaving Egypt, Alexander marched eastward into Assyria (now northern Iraq) and defeated Darius once more at the Battle of Gaugamela. Once again, Darius was forced to leave the field, and Alexander chased him as far as Arbela. While Darius fled over the mountains to Ecbatana (modern Hamedan), Alexander marched to Babylon.
From Babylon, Alexander went to Susa, one of the Achaemenid capitals, and captured its legendary treasury. Sending the bulk of his army to the Persian capital of Persepolis via the Royal Road, Alexander stormed and captured the Persian Gates (in the modern Zagros Mountains), then sprinted for Persepolis before its treasury could be looted. It was here that Alexander was said to have stared at the crumbled statue of Xerxes and decided to leave it on the ground—a symbolic gesture of vengeance. During their stay at the capital, a fire broke out in the eastern palace of Xerxes and spread to the rest of the city. Theories abound as to whether this was the result of a drunken accident, or a deliberate act of revenge for the burning of the Acropolis of Athens during the Second Persian War. The Book of Arda Wiraz, a Zoroastrian work composed in the 3rd or 4th century AD, also speaks of archives containing "all the Avesta and Zand, written upon prepared cow-skins, and with gold ink" that were destroyed; but it must be said that this statement is often treated by scholars with a certain measure of skepticism, because it is generally thought that for many centuries the Avesta was transmitted mainly orally by the Magi.
Alexander then set off in pursuit of Darius anew. The Persian king was no longer in control of his destiny, having been taken prisoner by Bessus, his Bactrian satrap and kinsman. As Alexander approached, Bessus had his men fatally stab the Great King and then declared himself Darius' successor as Artaxerxes V before retreating into Central Asia to launch a guerrilla campaign against Alexander. Darius' end was pathetic. Darius was found by one of Alexander's scouts, dying, in a baggage train being pulled by an Ox. Before he died, Darius remarked that he was glad that he would not die alone. His remains were buried by Alexander next to his Achaemenid predecessors in a full military funeral. Alexander claimed that, while dying, Darius had named Alexander as his successor to the Achaemenid throne, a striking irony since it was Alexander who had pursued him to his death. Alexander, viewing himself as the legitimate Achaemenid successor to Darius, viewed Bessus as a usurper to the Achaemenid throne, and eventually found and executed this 'usurper'. The majority of the existing satraps were to give their loyalty to Alexander, and be allowed to keep their positions. Alexander, now the Persian "King of Kings", adopted Persian dress and mannerisms, which, in time, the Greeks began to view as decadent and autocratic. They began to fear that Alexander was turning into an eastern despot. Ultimately, however, the Achaemenid Persian Empire is considered to have fallen with the death of Darius. With the death of Darius, Alexander declared the war of vengeance over, and released his Greek and other allies from service in the League campaign (although he allowed those that wished to re-enlist as mercenaries in his army).
His three-year campaign, first against Bessus and then against Spitamenes, the satrap of Sogdiana, took Alexander through Media, Parthia, Aria (West Afghanistan), Drangiana, Arachosia (South and Central Afghanistan), Bactria (North and Central Afghanistan), and Scythia. In the process of doing so, he captured and refounded Herat and Maracanda. Moreover, he founded a series of new cities, all called Alexandria, including modern Kandahar in Afghanistan, and Alexandria Eschate ("The Furthest") in modern Tajikistan. In the end, both of his opponents were defeated after having been betrayed by their men—Bessus in 329 BC, and Spitamenes the year after. After the death of Spitamenes and his marriage to Roxana (Roshanak in Bactrian) to cement his relations with his new Central Asian satrapies, in 326 BC
Invasion of India
Alexander was finally free to turn his attention to the Indian subcontinent. Alexander invited all the chieftains of the former satrapy of Gandhara, in the north of what is now Pakistan, to come to him and submit to his authority. Ambhi (Greek: Omphis), ruler of Taxila, whose kingdom extended from the Indus to the Jhelum (Greek:Hydaspes), complied. But the chieftains of some hill clans including the Aspasioi and Assakenoi sections of the Kambojas (classical names), known in Indian texts as Ashvayanas and Ashvakayanas (names referring to the equestrian nature of their society from the Sanskrit root word Ashva meaning horse), refused to submit.
Alexander thus campaigned against these clans — the Aspasioi of Kunar/Alishang valleys, the Guraeans of the Guraeus (Panjkora) valley, and the Assakenoi of the Swat and Buner valleys. A fierce war ensued with the Aspasioi in which Alexander himself was wounded in the shoulder by a dart but eventually they were defeated. Alexander then faced the Assakenoi, who fought bravely and offered stubborn resistance to him in many of their strongholds, especially Massaga. The fort of Massaga could only be reduced after several days of bloody fighting in which Alexander himself was wounded seriously in the ankle. In the aftermath, many Assakenians fled to a high fortress called Aornos. Alexander followed them and captured the strategic hill-fort but only after four days of fighting. At Massaga, Ora and Aornos, the population was massacred after the successful storming of the city.
Sisikottos, or Sashigupta who had helped Alexander in this campaign, was made the governor of Aornos. According to H. C. Seth and Dr. Ranajit Pal, he was the same as Chandragupta Maurya. After reducing Aornos, Alexander crossed the Indus and fought and won an epic battle against a local ruler Porus (original Indian name Raja Puru), who ruled a region in the Punjab, in the Battle of Hydaspes in 326 BC. After the battle, Alexander was greatly impressed by Porus for his bravery in battle, and therefore made an alliance with him and appointed him as satrap of his own kingdom, even adding some land he did not own before. Alexander then named one of the two new cities that he founded, Bucephala, in honor of the horse who had brought him to India, who had died during the Battle of Hydaspes. Alexander continued on to conquer all the headwaters of the Indus River.
East of Porus' kingdom, near the Ganges River was the powerful Nanda Empire of Magadha and Gangaridai Empire of Bengal. Fearing the prospects of facing other powerful Indian armies and exhausted by years of campaigning, his army mutinied at the Hyphasis River (the modern Beas River) refusing to march further east. This river thus marks the eastern-most extent of Alexander's conquests. Alexander spoke to his army and tried to persuade them to march further into India but Coenus pleaded with him to change his opinion and return. The men, he said, "longed to again see their parents, their wives and children, their homeland". After sulking in his tent for three days, Alexander finally relented, seeing the unwillingness of his men, and the campaign tunred south along the Indus.
Along the way his army conquered the Malli clans (in modern day Multan); during one siege, Alexander jumped into the fortified city alone with only two of his bodyguards and was seriously wounded seriously by a Mallian arrow. His army, believing their king dead, took the citadel and unleashed their fury on the Malli who had taken refuge within it, perpetrating a massacre, sparing no man, woman or child. However, due to the efforts of his surgeon, Kritodemos of Kos, Alexander survived the injury. Following this, the surviving Malli surrendered to Alexander's forces, and his beleaguered army moved on, conquering more Indian tribes along the way. He sent much of his army to Carmania (modern southern Iran) with his general Craterus, and commissioned a fleet to explore the Persian Gulf shore under his admiral Nearchus, while he led the rest of his forces back to Persia by the southern route through the Gedrosian Desert (now part of southern Iran and Makran now part of Pakistan). He nominated his officer Peithon as satrap of the Indus, and Taxiles and Porus in Punjab, with Eudemus in charge of the part of the army that remained in India.
Here, too, a plot against his life was revealed, and one of his officers, Philotas, was executed for failing to bring the plot to his attention. The death of the son necessitated the death of the father, and thus Parmenion, who had been charged with guarding the treasury at Ecbatana, was assassinated by command of Alexander, so he might not make attempts at vengeance. Most infamously, Alexander personally slew the man who had saved his life at Granicus, Cleitus the Black, during a drunken argument at Maracanda. Later in the Central Asian campaign, a second plot against his life was revealed, this one instigated by his own royal pages. His official historian, Callisthenes of Olynthus (who had fallen out of favor with the king by leading the opposition to his attempt to introduce proskynesis), was implicated in the plot, however, there never has been consensus among historians regarding his involvement in the conspiracy.
Discovering that many of his satraps and military governors had misbehaved in his absence, Alexander executed a number of them as examples on his way to Susa. As a gesture of thanks, he paid off the debts of his soldiers, and announced that he would send those over-aged and disabled veterans back to Macedonia under Craterus, but his troops misunderstood his intention and mutinied at the town of Opis, refusing to be sent away and bitterly criticizing his adoption of Persian customs and dress and the introduction of Persian officers and soldiers into Macedonian units. Alexander executed the ringleaders of the mutiny, but forgave the rank and file. In an attempt to craft a lasting harmony between his Macedonian and Persian subjects, he held a mass marriage of his senior officers to Persian and other noblewomen at Susa, but few of those marriages seem to have lasted much beyond a year. Meanwhile, upon his return, Alexander learned some men had desecrated the tomb of Cyrus the Great, and swiftly executed them. For they were put in charge of guarding the tomb Alexander held in honor.
His attempts to merge Persian culture with his Greek soldiers also included training a regiment of Persian boys in the ways of Macedonians. Most historians believe that Alexander adopted the Persian royal title of Shahanshah (meaning: "The King of Kings").
It is claimed that Alexander wanted to overrun or integrate the Arabian peninsula, but this theory is widely disputed. It was assumed that Alexander would turn westwards and attack Carthage and Italy, had he conquered Arabia.
After traveling to Ecbatana to retrieve the bulk of the Persian treasure, his closest friend and possibly lover Hephaestion died of an illness, or possibly of poisoning. Alexander, distraught over the death of his longtime companion, sacked a nearby town, and put all of its inhabitants to the sword, as a 'sacrifice' to Hephaestion's ghost. Alexander mourned Hephaestion for six months.
On either June 10 or 11[Note 3], 323 BC, Alexander died in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, in Babylon, one month short of his 33rd birthday. Plutarch gives a lengthy account of the circumstances of his death, echoed (without firm dates) by Arrian. Roughly 14 days before his death, Alexander entertained his admiral Nearchus, and then, instead of going to bed, spent the night and next day drinking with Medius of Larissa. After this, and by the 18th of Daesius (a Macedonian month) he had developed a fever, which then grew steadily worse. By the 25th of Daesius, he was unable to speak. By the 26th, the common soldiers had become anxious about his health, or thought he was already dead. They demanded to see him to which Alexander's generals aquiesced. They soldiers slowly filed past him, whilst Alexander raised his right hand in greeting, still unable to speak. Two days later, on the 28th of Daesius (although Aristobolus's account says it was the 30th), Alexander was dead. Conversely, Diodorus recounts that Alexander was struck down with pain after downing a large bowl of unmixed wine in honour of Hercules, and (rather mysteriously) died after some agony., which is also mentioned as an alternative by Arrian, but Plutarch specifically refutes this claim.
Given the propensity of the Macedonian aristocracy to assassination, it is scarcely suprising that allegations of foul play have been made about the death of Alexander. Diodorus, Plutarch, Arrian and Justin all mention the theory that Alexander was poisoned. Plutarch dismisses it as a fabrication, whilst both Diodorus and Arrian say that they only mention it for the sake of completeness. The accounts are nevertheless fairly consistent in fingering Antipater, recently removed from the position of Macedonian viceroy, and at odds with Olympias, as the head of the alleged plot. Perhaps taking his summons to Babylon as a death sentence in waiting, and having seen the fate of Parmenion and Philotas, Antipater arranged for Alexander to be poisoned by his son Iollas, who was Alexander's wine-pourer. There is even the suggestion that Aristotle may have had a hand in the plot. Perhaps the strongest argument against the poison theory is the fact that twelve days had passed between the start of his illness and his death and in the ancient world, such long-acting poisons were probably not available.
Several diseases have been suggested as the cause of Alexander's death; malaria or typhoid fever are obvious candidates. A 1998 article in the New England Journal of Medicine attributed his death to typhoid fever complicated by bowel perforation and ascending paralysis, whereas another recent analysis has suggested pyrogenic spondylitis or meningitis as the cause. The death of Alexander the Great--a spinal twist of fate. Other illnesses could have also been the culprit, including acute pancreatitis or the West Nile virus. Another theory is that Alexander may have died as a result of overdosing on Hellebore, a plant at that time used medicinely, but deadly in large doses. Natural cause theories also tend to emphasisee that Alexander's health may have been in general decline after years of heavy drinking and suffering severe wounds (including one in India that nearly claimed his life). Furthermore, it has also been suggested that the anguish that Alexander felt after Hephaestion may have contributed to his declining health.
Fate after death
Alexander's body was placed in a gold anthropoid sarcophagus, which was in turn placed in a second gold casket. According to Aelian, a seer called Aristander foretold that the land where Alexander was lain to rest "would be happy and unvanquishable forever" Perhaps more likely, the successors may have seen possession of the body as a symbol of legitimacy (it was a royal prerogative to bury the previous king). At any rate, Ptolemy stole the funeral cortege[Note 4], and brought it to Memphis. His successor, Ptolemy II Philadelphus transferred the sarcophagus to Alexandria, where it remained until at least Late Antiquity. Ptolemy IX Lathyros, one of the last successors of Ptolemy I, replaced Alexander's sarcophagus with a glass one, and melted the original down in order to strike emergency gold issues of his coinage. Pompey, Julius Caesar and Augustus all visited the tomb whilst in Alexandria, the latter allegedly accidentally knocking the nose off the body. Caligula was said to have taken Alexander's breastplate from the tomb for his own use. In around 200 AD, Emperor Septimius Severus closed Alexander's tomb to the public. His son and successor, Caracalla, was a great admirer of Alexander, and visited the tomb in his own reign. After this, details on the fate of the tomb are sketchy.
The division of the Empire
Alexander had no obvious or legitimate heir, his son Alexander IV by Roxane being born posthumously. This left the huge question mark as to who would rule the newly-conquered, and barely-pacified Empire. According to Diodorus, Alexander's companions asked him when he was on his deathbed to whom he bequeathed his kingdom; his laconic reply was "tôi kratistôi" – "to the strongest". Given that Arrian and Plutarch have Alexander speechless by this point, it is possible that this is an apocryphal story. Diodorus, Curtius and Justin also have the more plausible story of Alexander passing his signet ring, to Perdiccas, one of his bodyguard and leader of the companion cavalry, in front of witnesses, thereby possibly nominating Perdiccas as his successor.
In the event, Perdiccas initially avoided explicitly claiming power, instead suggesting that Roxane's baby would be king, if male; with himself, Craterus, Leonnatus and Antipater as guardians. However, the infantry, under the command of Meleager, rejected this arrangement since they had been excluded from the discussion. Instead, they supported Alexander's half-brother Philip Arrhidaeus. Eventually, the two sides reconciled, and after the birth of Alexander IV, he and Philip III were appointed joint kings of the Empire - albeit in name only.
It was not long, however, before dissension and rivalry began to afflict the Macedonians. The satrapies handed out by Perdiccas at the Partition of Babylon became power bases for each general, from which to launch his own bid for power. After the assassination of Perdiccas in 321 BC, all semblence of Macedonian unity collapsed, and 40 years of war between the 'successors' (diadochi) ensued, before the Hellenistic world settled into 4 stable power blocks: the Ptolemaic kingdom of Egypt, the Seleucid Empire in the east, the kingdom of Pergamon in asia minor, and Macedon. In the process both Alexander IV and Philip III were murdered.
Diodorus relates that Alexander had given detailed written instructions to Craterus some time before his death. Although Craterus had already started to implement some of Alexander's, the successors chose not to further implement them, on the grounds that they were impractical and extravagant. The testament called for military expansion into the Southern and Western Mediterranean, monumental constructions, and the intermixing of Eastern and Western populations. Its most remarkable items were:
- The construction of a monumental pyre to Hephaestion, costing 10,000 talents
- The construction of a monumental tomb for his father Philip, "to match the greatest of the pyramids of Egypt"
- The erection of great temples in Delos, Delphi, Dodona, Dium, Amphipolis, Cyrnus and Ilium.
- The building of "a thousand warships, larger than triremes, in Phoenicia, Syria, Cilicia, and Cyprus for the campaign against the Carthaginians and the other who live along the coast of Libya and Iberia and the adjoining coastal regions as far as Sicily"
- The building of a road in northern Africa as far as the Pillars of Heracles, with ports and shipyards along it.
- The establishment of cities and the "transplant of populations from Asia to Europe and in the opposite direction from Europe to Asia, in order to bring the largest continent to common unity and to friendship by means of intermarriage and family ties."
Green provides a description of Alexander's appearance, based on ancient sources:
"Physically, Alexander was not prepossessing. Even by Macedonian standards he was very short, though stocky and tough. His beard was scanty, and he stood out against his hirsute Macedonian barons by going clean-shaven. His neck was in some way twisted, so that he appeared to be gazing upward at an angle. His eyes (one blue, one brown) revealed a dewy, feminine quality. He had a high complexion and a harsh voice".
Many descriptions and statues portray Alexander with the aforementioned gaze looking upward and outward. Both his father Philip II and his brother Philip Arrhidaeus also suffered from physical deformities, which had lead to the suggestion that Alexander suffered from a congenital scoliotic disorder (familial neck and spinal deformity). Furthermore, as noted above, it has been suggested that this may have contributed to his death.
Alexander's personality is well described by the ancient sources. Some of his strongest personality traits seem to have formed in response to his parents. His mother had huge ambitions for Alexander, and encouraged him to believe it was his destiny to conquer the Persian Empire. Indeed, Olympias may have gone to the extent of poisoning Philip Arrhidaeus so as to disable him, and prevent him being a rival for Alexander. Olympias's influence does seem to have instilled huge ambition and a sense of destiny in Alexander,, and Plutarch tells us that his ambition "kept his spirit serious and lofty in advance of his years" Alexander's relationship with his father seems to have generated the competitive side of his personality; he seemed to have a need to out-do his father, as his reckless nature in battle suggests. Whilst Alexander worried that his father would leave him "no great or brilliant achievement to be displayed to the world", he still attempted to downplay his father's achievements.
One of Alexander's strongest personality traits seems to have been his violent temper and rash, impulsive nature, which undoubtedly contributed to some of his decisions during his life. Plutarch thought that this part of his personality was the cause of his weakness for alcohol. Although Alexander was stubborn, and did not respond well to orders from his father, he seems to have been easier to persuade by reasoned debate. Indeed, set beside his fiery temperament, there was a calmer side to Alexander; intelligent, logical and calculating. He had a great desire for knowledge, a love for philosophy and was an avid reader. This was no doubt in part due to his tutelage by Aristotle; Alexander seems to have been intelligent and quick to learn. The tale of his "solving" the Gordian knot neatly demonstrates this. We are told that he had great self-restraint in "pleasures of the body", contrasting with his lack of self control with alcohol. The intelligent and rational side to Alexander is also amply demonstrated by his ability and success as a general.
Alexander was undoubtedly erudite, and was a patron to both the arts and sciences. However, he appears to have had little interest in sports, or the Olympic games (unlike his father), seeking only the Homeric ideals of glory and fame. He had great charisma and force of personality, characteristics which made him a great leader of men. This is further emphasised by the inability of any of his generals to unite the Macedonians, and retain the Empire after his death – only Alexander had had the personality to do so.
During his final years, and especially after the death of Hephaestion, Alexander began to exhibit signs of megalomania and paranoia. His extraordinary achievements, coupled with his own ineffable sense of destiny, and the flattery of his companions, may have combined to produce this effect. His delusions of grandeur are readily visible in the testament that he ordered Craterus to fulfil, and in his desire to conquer all non-Greek peoples.
He seems to have come to believe himself a diety, or at least sought to deify himself. Olympias has always insisted to him that he was the son of Zeus, a theory apparently confirmed to him by the oracle of Ammon at Siwa. He began to identify himself as the son of Zeus-Ammon. Alexander adopted some elements of Persian dress and customs at his court, notably the custom of proskynesis, a peculiarly Persian practice whereby persons of inferior status has to prostrate themselves before their superiors (in this case, Alexander) Persians paid to their social superiors, and a practice of which the Greeks disapproved. The Greeks regarded the gesture as the province of deities and believed that Alexander meant to deify himself by requiring it; this cost him much in the sympathies of many of his countrymen.
Alexander's sexuality has long been the subject of debate. Although Alexander married at least twice, there is little evidence that he had a strong interest in women, as evidenced by his failure to produce an heir until the very end of his life. Furthermore, we are told that Alexander had great self-control in "pleasures of the body", and although he accumulated a harem in the style of Persian kings, he used it rather sparingly. He does, however, seem to have formed strong friendships with women, even including Darius's mother Sisygambis, who supposedly died from grief when Alexander died.
Undoubtedly the great emotional relationship of Alexander's life was with his companion, general and bodyguard Hephaestion, the son of a Macedonian noble. Hephaestion's death devastated Alexander, sending him into a six month period of grieving. This event may have contributed to Alexander's failing health, and detached mental state during his final months. Whether Alexander's realtionship with Hephaestion was sexual is nowhere explicitly stated by the ancient sources, although it is hinted at. If it indeed was, then this was not at all unusual in Greek culture.
Alexander married two women: Roxana, daughter of a Bactrian nobleman, Oxyartes; and Stateira, a Persian princess and daughter of Darius III of Persia. His posthumus son by Roxana, Alexander IV of Macedon, became a pawn in the power-struggle between the diadochi, and was killed before he reached adulthood, probably in 310 BC.
Alexander's most obvious legacy was the introduction of Macedonian rule to huge new swathes of Asia. Many of these areas would remain in Macedonian hands, or under Greek influence for the next 200–300 years. The successor states that emerged were, at least initially, dominant forces during this epoch, and these 300 years are often referred to as the Hellenistic Period.
The eastern borders of Alexander's empire began to collapse even during his lifetime. However, the power-vacuum he left in the north-west of the Indian subcontinent directly gave rise to one of the most powerful Indian dynasties in history. Taking advantage of the neglect shown to this region by the succesors, Chandragupta Maurya (referred to in European sources as Sandrokotto), of relatively humble origin, took control of the Punjab, and then with that power-base proceeded to conquer the Nanda Empire of northern India. In 305 BC, Seleucus, one of the successors, marched to India to reclaim the territory; instead, he ceded the area to Chandragupta in return for 500 war elephants. These in turn played a pivotal role in the Battle of Ipsus, the result of which did much to settle the division of the Empire.
Hellenization is a term coined by the German historian Johann Gustav Droysen to denote the spread of Greek language, culture and population into the former Persian empire after Alexander's conquest. That this export took place is undoubted, and can be seen in the great Hellenistic cities of, for instance, Alexandria and Antioch. However, exactly how widespread and deeply permeating this was, and to what extent it was a deliberate policy is controversial. Alexander certainly made deliberate attempts to hybridise Greek and Persian culture, culminating in his improbable scheme to homogenise the populations of Asia and Europe. However, the successors explicitly rejected such policies after his death. Nevertheless, Hellenization occurred throughout the region, and moreover, this was accompanied by a distinct and opposite 'Orientalization' of the Successor states.
The core of Hellenistic culture was essentially Athenian by origin. The Athenian koine dialect had been adopted by Philip II for official use, and was thus spread throughout the Hellenistic world, becoming the lingua franca, by Alexander's conquests. Furthermore the town planning, education, local government, and art current in the Hellenistic period were all based on Classical Athenian ideals.
Some of the most unusual effects of Hellenization can be seen in India, in the region of the relatively late-arising Indo-Greek kingdoms. There, isolated from Europe, Greek culture apparently hybridised with Indian, and especially Buddhist influences. The first realistic portrayals of the Buddha appeared at this time; they are modelled on Greek statues of Apollo. Several Buddhist traditions may have been influenced by the ancient Greek religion; the concept of Boddhisatvasis reminiscent of Greek divine heroes, and some Mahayana ceremonial practices (burning incense, gifts of flowers and food placed on altars) are similar to those practiced by the ancient Greeks. Zen Buddhism draws in part on the ideas of Greek stoics, such as Zeno. One Greek king, Menander probably became Buddhist, and is immortalized in Buddhist literature as 'Milinda'.
Influence on Rome
In the late Republic and early Empire, educated Roman citizens used Latin only for legal, political, and ceremonial purposes, and used Greek to discuss philosophy or any other intellectual topic. No Roman wanted to hear it said that his mastery of the Greek language was weak. Throughout the Roman world, the one language spoken everywhere was Alexander's Greek.
Alexander and his exploits were admired by many Romans who wanted to associate themselves with his achievements, although very little is known about Roman-Macedonian diplomatic relations of that time. Polybius started his Histories by reminding Romans of his role, and since then subquent Roman leaders saw him as his inspirational role leader. Julius Caesar wept in Spain at the mere sight of Alexander's statue; when asked to see other great military leaders Caesar said Alexander was the only great one. Pompey the Great rummaged through the closets of conquered nations for Alexander's 260-year-old cloak, which the Roman general then wore as the costume of greatness. Augustus' empire was seen as the more perfect successor of Alexander's. However, in his zeal to honor Alexander, Augustus accidentally broke the nose off the Macedonian's mummified corpse while laying a wreath at the hero's shrine in Alexandria, Egypt. The unbalanced emperor Caligula later took the dead king's armor from that tomb and donned it for luck. The Macriani, a Roman family that rose to the imperial throne in the 3rd century A.D., always kept images of Alexander on their persons, either stamped into their bracelets and rings or stitched into their garments. Even their dinnerware bore Alexander's face, with the story of the king's life displayed around the rims of special bowls.
In the summer of 1995, a statue of Alexander was recovered in an excavation of a Roman house in Alexandria, which was richly decorated with mosaic and marble pavements and probably was constructed in the 1st century AD and occupied until the 3rd century.
Alexander in Legend and Culture
Alexander has figured in works of both "high" and popular culture from his own era to the modern day.
Alexander was a legend in his own time. His court historian Callisthenes portrayed the sea in Cilicia as drawing back from him in proskynesis. Writing after Alexander's death, another participant, Onesicritus, went so far as to invent a tryst between Alexander and Thalestris, queen of the mythical Amazons. When Onesicritus read this passage to his patron, Alexander's general and later King Lysimachus reportedly quipped, "I wonder where I was at the time." (Plutarch, Alex., 46)
In the first centuries after Alexander's death, probably in Alexandria, a quantity of the more legendary material coalesced into a text known as the Alexander Romance, later falsely ascribed to the historian Callisthenes and therefore known as Pseudo-Callisthenes. This text underwent numerous expansions and revisions throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages, exhibiting a plasticity unseen in "higher" literary forms. Latin and Syriac translations were made in Late Antiquity. From these, versions were developed in all the major languages of Europe and the Middle East, including Armenian, Georgian, Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew, Serbian, Slavonic, Romanian, Hungarian, German, English, Italian, and French. The "Romance" is regarded by many Western scholars as the source of the account of Alexander given in the Qur'an (Sura The Cave). It is the source of many incidents in Ferdowsi's "Shahnama". A Mongolian version is also extant. Some believe that, excepting certain religious texts, it is the most widely read work of pre-modern times.
Alexander is also a character of Greek folklore (and other regions), as the protagonist of 'apocryphal' tales of bravery. A maritime legend says that his sister is a mermaid and asks the sailors if her brother is still alive. The unsuspecting sailor who answers truthfully arouses the mermaid's wrath and his boat perishes in the waves; a sailor mindful of the circumstances will answer "He lives and reigns, and conquers the world", and the sea about his boat will immediately calm. Alexander is also a character of a standard play in the Karagiozis repertory, "Alexander the Great and the Accursed Serpent". The ancient Greek poet Adrianus composed an epic poem on the history of Alexander the Great, called the Alexandriad, which was probably still extant in the 10th century, but which is now lost to us.
There are numerous surviving ancient Greek and Latin texts about Alexander, as well as some non-Greek texts. The primary sources, texts written by people who actually knew Alexander or who gathered information from men who served with Alexander, are all lost, apart from a few inscriptions and fragments. Contemporaries who wrote accounts of his life include Alexander's campaign historian Callisthenes; Alexander's generals Ptolemy and Nearchus;Aristobulus, a junior officer on the campaigns; and Onesicritus, Alexander's chief helmsman. Finally, there is the very influential account of Cleitarchus who, while not a direct witness of Alexander's expedition, used sources which had just been published. His work was to be the backbone of that of Timagenes, who heavily influenced many historians whose work still survives. None of these works survives, but we do have later works based on these primary sources.
The five main surviving accounts are by Arrian, Curtius, Plutarch, Diodorus, and Justin.
- Anabasis Alexandri (The Campaigns of Alexander in Greek) by the Greek historian Arrian of Nicomedia, writing in the 2nd century AD, and based largely on Ptolemy and, to a lesser extent, Aristobulus and Nearchus. It is considered generally the most trustworthy source.
- Historiae Alexandri Magni, a biography of Alexander in ten books, of which the last eight survive, by the Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus, written in the 1st century AD, and based largely on Cleitarchus through the mediation of Timagenes, with some material probably from Ptolemy;
- Life of Alexander (see Parallel Lives) and two orations On the Fortune or the Virtue of Alexander the Great (see Moralia), by the Greek historian and biographer Plutarch of Chaeronea in the second century, based largely on Aristobulus and especially Cleitarchus.
- Bibliotheca historia (Library of world history), written in Greek by the Sicilian historian Diodorus Siculus, from which Book 17 relates the conquests of Alexander, based almost entirely on Timagenes's work. The books immediately before and after, on Philip and Alexander's "Successors," throw light on Alexander's reign.
- The Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus by Justin, is highly compressed version of an earlier history by Pompeius, with the selections governed by Justin's desire to make moralistic points, rather than with an eye for the history itself.
In addition to these five main sources some scholars, there is the Metz Epitome, an anonymous late Latin work that narrates Alexander's campaigns from Hyrcania to India, and much is also recounted incidentally by other authors, including Strabo, Athenaeus, Polyaenus, Aelian, and others.
Note 1 Alexander's "nationality" and "ethnicity" are subjects of fierce modern debate. Whilst this debate applies to ancient Macedon more generally, nowhere is the debate more fierce than around the person of Alexander.
The following can be said:
- Moreover the Argead Dynasty, to which Alexander belonged claimed direct descend from Argos
- The consensus amongst historians is that Alexander was Greek, at least in a modern sense.
However, it should be noted that, even amongst (non-partisan) academics, this view is not universally held.
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- Cartledge, Paul. "Alexander the Great: hunting for a new past?" History Today, 54 (2004).
- Fox, Robin Lane, "Riding with Alexander" Archaeology, September 14, 2004.
- Alexander the Great in Fact and Fiction, edited by A.B. Bosworth, E.J. Baynham. New York: Oxford University Press (USA), 2002 (Paperback, ISBN 0-19-925275-0).
- Baynham, Elizabeth. Alexander the Great: The Unique History of Quintus Curtius. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998 (hardcover, ISBN 0-472-10858-1); 2004 (paperback, ISBN 0-472-03081-7).
- Brill's Companion to Alexander the Great by Joseph Roisman (editor). Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2003.
- Cartledge, Paul. Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past. Woodstock, NY; New York: The Overlook Press, 2004 (hardcover, ISBN 1-58567-565-2); London: PanMacmillan, 2004 (hardcover, ISBN 1-4050-3292-8); New York: Vintage, 2005 (paperback, ISBN 1-4000-7919-5).
- Dahmen, Karsten. The Legend of Alexander the Great on Greek and Roman Coins. Oxford: Routledge, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0-415-39451-1; paperback, ISBN 0-415-39452-X).
- De Santis, Marc G. “At The Crossroads of Conquest.” Military Heritage, December 2001. Volume 3, No. 3: 46–55, 97 (Alexander the Great, his military, his strategy at the Battle of Gaugamela and his defeat of Darius making Alexander the King of Kings).
- Fuller, J.F. C; A Military History of the Western World: From the earliest times to the Battle of Lepanto; New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1987 and 1988. ISBN 0-306-80304-6
- Gergel, Tania Editor Alexander the Great (2004) published by the Penguin Group, London ISBN 0-14-200140-6 Brief collection of ancient accounts translated into English
- Larsen, Jakob A. O. "Alexander at the Oracle of Ammon", Classical Philology, Vol. 27, No. 1. (Jan., 1932), pp. 70–75.
- Lonsdale, David. Alexander the Great, Killer of Men: History's Greatest Conqueror and the Macedonian Way of War, New York, Carroll & Graf, 2004, ISBN 0786714298
- Pearson, Lionel Ignacius Cusack. The Lost Histories of Alexander the Great. Chicago Ridge, IL: Ares Publishers, 2004 (paperback, ISBN 0-89005-590-4).
- Thomas, Carol G. Alexander the Great in his World (Blackwell Ancient Lives). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0631232451; paperback, ISBN 063123246X).
- A. Shapur Shahbazi, "Iranians and Alexander", American Journal of Ancient History n.s. 2 (2003), 5–38: the Persian side of the story.
- R.J. van der Spek, "Darius III, Alexander the Great and Babylonian scholarship" in: Achaemenid History 13 (2003), 289–346: an overview of several Babylonian sources
- Two chapters of Jona Lendering's Dutch book Alexander de Grote, which uses the cuneiform sources, are available in translation. In this chapter, he argues that at Gaugamela, Alexander attacked a Persian army that was looking for an excuse to run away; and in this chapter, he offers a Babylonian perspective on Alexander's final days.
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- Plutarch, Of the Fortune or Virtue of Alexander the Great (English)
- Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus (English)
- Alexander the Great: An annotated list of primary sources from Livius.org
- Wiki Classical Dictionary, extant sources and fragmentary and lost sources
- A Bibliography of Alexander the Great by Waldemar Heckel
- Pothos.org: Alexander's Home on the Web
- Alexander III the Great, entry in historical sourcebook by Mahlon H. Smith
- Alexander the Great on the Web, a comprehensive directory of some 1,000 sites
- Alexander The Great in the French museum Le Louvre
- Alexander, The Great Mystery by T. Peter Limber in "Saudi Aramco Magazine"
- Trace Alexander's conquests on an animated map
- Alexander the Great of Macedon, a project by John J. Popovic
- Alexander in the Punjab. A Photo Essay, photos of all sites Alexander visited
- Alexander the Great Coins, a site depicting Alexander's coins and later coins featuring Alexander's image
MinisterForBadTimes/ThemistoclesBorn: 356 BC Died: 323 BC
|King of Macedon
Philip III & Alexander IV
|Great King (Shah) of Persia
|Pharaoh of Egypt
|King of Asia