Cultural depictions of Alexander the Great

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The coronation of Alexander depicted in medieval European style in a 15th-century English-Flemish illuminated manuscript containing the romance The History of Alexander's Battles

Alexander the Great's accomplishments and legacy have been preserved and depicted in many ways. Alexander has figured in works of both "high" and popular culture from his own era to the modern day. Some of these are highly fictionalized accounts, such as the Alexander Romance.

Ancient and Medieval literature[edit]

Alexander and Augustus depicted in a Byzantine style painting from 1568. Written on the left is 'Alexander, King of the Hellenes' and 'Augustus, Emperor of the Romans' on the right. From the Katholikon of Docheiariou Monastery, Mt. Athos, Greece.

In the Bible[edit]

Daniel 8:5–8 and 21–22 states that a King of Greece will conquer the Medes and Persians but then die at the height of his power and have his kingdom broken into four kingdoms. This is sometimes taken as a reference to Alexander.[citation needed]

Alexander was briefly mentioned in the first Book of the Maccabees. All of Chapter 1, verses 1–7 was about Alexander and this serves as an introduction of the book. This explains how the Greek influence reached the Land of Israel at that time.

In Middle Persian literature[edit]

Alexander is mentioned in the Zoroastrian Middle Persian work Arda Wiraz Nāmag as gizistag aleksandar ī hrōmāyīg, literally "Alexander the accursed, the Roman",[1][2][3] due to his conquest of the Achaemenid Persian Empire and the destruction of its ceremonial capital Persepolis and burning the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism in its royal archives. The book Arda Wiraz Nāmag was written in the late period of Sassanid Persian Empire, when the rivalry with the Romans was intense. (but see also #In Persian literature).

In the Qur'an[edit]

Alexander in the Qur'an sometimes is identified in Persian and Arabic traditions as Dhul-Qarnayn, Arabic for the "Two-Horned One", possibly a reference to the appearance of a horn-headed figure that appears minted during his rule and later imitated in ancient Middle Eastern coinage.[citation needed] Accounts of Dhul-Qarnayn in the Qur'an, and so may refer to Alexander. Noteworthy is the fact that his favorite horse was named Bucephalus, which means "ram's head", alluding to the shape of a horned ram at its forehead.

References to Alexander may also be found in the Persian tradition. The same traditions from the Pseudo-Callisthenes were combined in Persia with Sassanid Persian ideas about Alexander in the Iskandarnamah. In this tradition, Alexander built a wall of iron and melted copper in which Gog and Magog are confined.

Some Muslim scholars[who?] disagree that Alexander was Dhul-Qarnayn. There are actually some theories that Dhul-Qarnayn was a Persian King with a vast Empire as well, possibly King Cyrus the Great.[citation needed] The reason being is Dhul-Qarnayn is described in the Quran as a monotheist believer who worshipped Allah (God). This would remove Alexander as a candidate for Dhul-Qarnayn as Alexander was a polytheist.

In Persian literature[edit]

15th century Persian miniature painting from Herat depicting Iskander, the Persian name for Alexander the Great

The Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, one of the oldest books written in New Persian, has a chapter about Alexander. It is a book of epic poetry written around 1000 AD, and is believed to have played an important role in the survival of the Persian language in the face of Arabic influence. It starts with a mythical history of Iran and then gives a story of Alexander, followed by a brief mention of the Arsacids. The accounts after that, still in epic poetry, portray historical figures. Alexander is described as a child of a Persian king, Daraaye Darab (the last in the list of kings in the book whose names do not match historical kings), and a daughter of Philip, a king. However, due to problems in the relationship between the Persian king and Philip's daughter, she is sent back to Rome. Alexander is born to her afterwards, but Philip claims him as his own son and keeps the true identity of the child secret. As noted by Ward Brown, "The genealogy attributed to Alexander in the 'Shahnameh' is a kind of belated vindication of the efforts made by Alexander himself in his own lifetime, to effect a reconciliation with the defeated Persians. The effect of centuries on collective memory would eventually bring the Persians, in their great national epic, to claim Alexander as one of their own, rather than a foreign conqueror".[4]

His name is recorded as both Iskandar (اسکندر) and Sikandar (سکندر) in Classical Persian literature.

He is known as Eskandar-e Maqdūnī (اسکندر مقدونی "Alexander the Macedonian") in modern Iranian Persian.

Other references[edit]

He is known as al-Iskandar al-Makduni al-Yunani[5] ("Alexander the Macedonian Greek") in Arabic, אלכסנדר מוקדון, Alexander Mokdon in Hebrew, and Tre-Qarnayia in Aramaic (the two-horned one, apparently due to an image on coins minted during his rule that seemingly depicted him with the two ram's horns of the Egyptian god Ammon), الاسكندر الاكبر, al-Iskandar al-Akbar ("Alexander the Great") in Arabic, سکندر اعظم, Skandar in Pashto.

Alexander is one of the two principals in most versions of the Diogenes and Alexander anecdote.

Tatar legends and the Russian Tver Chronicle attribute to Alexander the founding of Aşlı, a mysterious medieval Volga Bulgarian town - though modern archaeological excavations place its foundation in the 11th century.


Around twenty towns or outposts were founded by Alexander the Great.[6] Some of the main cities are:

The Italian city of Alessandria is not named for Alexander the Great but for Pope Alexander III. However, the Medieval choice of this name was likely influenced by the example of the above cities.

Alexander as City-Planner[edit]

By selecting the right angle of the streets, Alexander made the city breathe with the etesian winds [the northwestern winds that blow during the summer months], so that as these blow across a great expanse of sea, they cool the air of the town, and so he provided its inhabitants with a moderate climate and good health. Alexander also laid out the walls so that they were at once exceedingly large and marvelously strong.
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, volume 8.


  • Dante talks well about him in the Convivio and De Monarchia; the position of Alexander in the Divine Comedy, though, is more uncertain, for though there is a reference to an Alexander being punished in the Circle of the Violent (Canto XII), it is not explicit as to whether this is Alexander the Great. Alexander, however, is notably absent from Dante's depiction of virtuous pagans (Canto IV).
  • Alexandre le Grand, tragedy in five acts by Jean Racine, first staged 1665.
  • In 1868 Tchaikovsky contemplated writing an opera featuring Alexander the Great, taking place in Greece and Babylon and centering on the relations between Hebrews and Greeks. The plot would have featured a Jewish woman falling in love with Alexander and for his sake leaving her Jewish lover, who eventually becomes a prophet. However, though surviving Tchaikovsky letters include details of this planned opera, its plot and characters, he finally abandoned this plan and chose instead for an opera with a Russian background.[7]
  • In 1949, Terence Rattigan's play Adventure Story, based on Alexander the Great, premiered in London.
  • From 1969 to 1981, Mary Renault wrote a historical fiction trilogy on the life of Alexander: Fire From Heaven (about his early life), The Persian Boy (about his conquest of Persia, his expedition to India, and his death, seen from the viewpoint of Bagoas, a Persian eunuch and Alexander's eromenos), and Funeral Games (about the events following his death). Alexander also appears briefly in Renault's novel The Mask of Apollo, and is alluded to directly in The Last of the Wine and indirectly in The Praise Singer. In addition to the fiction, Renault also wrote a non-fiction biography, The Nature of Alexander.
  • French writer Roger Peyrefitte wrote a trilogy about Alexander the great which is regarded as a masterpiece of erudition: La Jeunesse d'Alexandre, Les Conquêtes d'Alexandre and Alexandre le Grand.
  • A further trilogy of novels about Alexander was written in Italian by Valerio Massimo Manfredi and subsequently published in an English translation, entitled Child of a Dream, The Sands of Ammon and The Ends of the Earth.
  • David Gemmell's Dark Prince features Alexander as the chosen vessel for a world-destroying demon king. ISBN 0-345-37910-1.
  • Ivan Efremov wrote a historical novel Thais of Athens about the life of hetaera Thaïs, as she follows Alexander in his campaigns. Alexander and Thaïs have a love relationship in the novel.
  • Steven Pressfield's 2004 book The Virtues of War is told from the first-person perspective of Alexander. Pressfield's novel The Afghan Campaign is told from the point of view of a soldier in Alexander's army. Alexander makes several brief appearances in the novel.
  • Rudyard Kipling's story "The Man Who Would Be King" provides some glimpses of Alexander's legacy. Made into a movie of the same title in 1975, starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine.
  • In Alan Moore's Watchmen, one of the main characters, Ozymandias, goes into detail about how he followed in Alexander the Great's footsteps in order to achieve enlightenment.
  • In Fate/Zero, the light novel authored by Gen Urobuchi, Alexander (going by the name Iskandar) appears as the Servant Rider, and is referred to as the King of Conquerors.
  • In Stephen Baxter's A Time Odyssey series, Alexander plays a part in the first and third books, featuring an encounter with Genghis Khan's horde and the extension of Alexander's empire into the New World.
  • In Nicholas Nicastro's 2004 historical novel Empire of Ashes, Alexander's career is described from the perspective of a skeptical Athenian soldier/historian who must debunk Alexander's official divinity to save himself from a charge of sacrilege.
  • Eternity by Greg Bear features an alternate reality in which Alexander did not die young and his empire flourished instead of collapsing.
  • In the novel by Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels in part III, chapter VII, Gulliver sees and talks to the ghost of Alexander the Great.
  • In the pages of The Haunted Tank from DC Comics, the spirit of Alexander sent the spirit of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart to protect World War II Lieutenant Jeb Stuart Smith and the Light Tank M3 Stuart he commands.[8]
  • In Tom Holt's comic novel Alexander at the World's End an impoverished scholar's life is set upon a new course when he becomes Alexander's tutor.
  • Science Fiction writer Poul Anderson wrote a alternate history story featuring a timeline where Alexander the Great lived to an old age and established a stable empire - with the result that the equivalent to our own time is an enlightened, peaceful and advanced Greek-speaking world culture. Similar "Alexandrian timelines" also appear in several other alternate histories by various writers.



  • Alexander a six-part BBC Radio 4 series by David Wade starred Michael Maloney as Alexander.


Date Title Country Notes IMDB
1941 Sikandar India Starring Prithviraj Kapoor as Alexander, directed by Sohrab Modi depicting Alexander's conquests in North-Western India. [2]
1956 Alexander the Great USA / Spain Starring Richard Burton as Alexander, directed by Robert Rossen and produced by MGM. [3]
1965 Sikandar-e-Azam India A Hindi movie directed by Kedar Kapoor starring Dara Singh as Alexandar depicts Alexandar's battle with the Indian prince Porus. [4]
2004 Alexander Germany / USA / Netherlands / France Starring Colin Farrell as Alexander, directed by Oliver Stone. Based on the biography Alexander the Great (ISBN 0-14-008878-4) by Robin Lane Fox. It was released on November 24, 2004. [5]
2006 Alexander Italy An animated film directed by Daehong Kim, and starring Mark Adair-Rios as the voice of Alexander. [6]
  • Baz Luhrmann had been planning to make a very different film about Alexander, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, but the release of Stone's film eventually persuaded him to abandon the project.[9]


Date Title Artist/Group Notes Lyrics
1973 "Iskander" Supersister This Dutch prog band dedicated a full album to the story of Alexander. Track titles include 'Alexander', 'Dareios The Emperor', 'Bagoas', 'Roxane' and 'Babylon'.
1986 "Alexander the Great" Iron Maiden From the heavy metal album Somewhere in Time. The song describes Alexander's life.
1998 "Alexandre" Caetano Veloso Brazilian epic song about Alexander the Great from the album Livro.
2000 "Alexander the Great" bond String quartet release on the album Born.
2005 "Alexander the Great" Iron Mask Song about Alexander the Great from the album Hordes of the Brave by Belgian band Iron Mask.
2009 "Iskander Dhul Kharnon" Nile Song from the album Those Whom the Gods Detest.
2013 "Age of Glory" Serenity This song, from the album War of Ages, details Alexander's need for conquest while watching his life fade away.

Video Games[edit]

  • Alexander is a character in the computer games Age of Empires and Rise of Nations: Thrones and Patriots.
  • Alexander is a leader of the Greeks in five of six games of the Sid Meier's Civilization series, and the leader of Macedon in Civilization VI. He is a lone Greek leader in the original, third and fifth games, a male leader in the second game (the Amazonian queen Hippolyta being the Greek female leader), and the lone leader of the Greek civilization in the fourth game (until Pericles joins him in an expansion pack) and has the leader traits Aggressive and Philosophical.
  • In the second Rome: Total War expansion pack, Alexander, Alexander the Great's conquests are chronicled in a campaign and six battles are modeled on Alexander's battles.
  • Alexander the Great is also featured in the game called Rise and Fall: Civilizations at War released by Midway games.
  • He is also mentioned in the computer game Age Of Mythology, in the history information text of the unit called Hetairoi.
  • Alexander is also mentioned in Age of Empires II during the Saladin campaign and in the Conquerors expansion pack in the Attila the Hun campaign.
  • In Stainless Steel Studios' 2001 game Empire Earth, several of the levels in the Greek campaign revolve around Alexander's conquests. He is also depicted on the game's cover.
  • In the Chicago level of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, a barber shop is called Alexander the Great Barber shop.
  • In the 'Fate' series, Alexander the Great is called the Iskander, King of Conquerors. His spirit is resurrected and becomes a Rider-Class servant used to fight for the prize of the Holy Grail. Iskandar is briefly mentioned in the first visual novel game and anime series Fate/stay night as an example of the Rider-class Servant. It was hinted that he was the most powerful of the characters, but died in a two-versus-one battle. He is detailed in full as Rider in the prequel, Fate/Zero.
  • In Assassin's Creed II, it is said that a deceased Assassin, Iltani, poisoned Alexander the Great.
  • In BioShock 2, a now hideously mutated and clinically insane researcher, Gil Alexander, who was a part of Big Daddy production refers to himself as Alex the Great.
  • In the video game Dante's Inferno, "the great Alexander" is mentioned as being one that had previously tried to battle his way through Hell.
  • In the fashion of Mike Tyson, many of the enemies in the game God Hand will taunt the main character, Gene, by saying "I'm Alexander the Great!" and "You're not Alexander!"
  • Several games in the Final Fantasy series feature a being called Alexander that can be summoned in battle and appears as a moving fortress with holy-elemental attacks. While most of these appearances do not seem to be related to the historical Alexander, the MMORPG Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, in which he appears as an entire raid dungeon of his own, has made more direct references to Alexander the Great by naming two partitions of the dungeon after Gordias and Midas. An area within Alexander where the player attempts to disable his engine is referred to as the Gordian Knot.


At least two airports have been named after Alexander:



  1. ^ Worthington (2004), p. 298
  2. ^ Religious persecution under Alexander the Great
  3. ^ Alexander the Great by Nigel Cawthorne. Retrieved 2009-11-09. 
  4. ^ Dr. Ward Brown, "Ancient, Medieval and Modern Perceptions of the West by the East and the East by the West" in Anthony Wheatley (ed.) "The Fluctation of Historical Narratives"
  5. ^ "Alexander Historiatus a Supplement by D. J. A. Ross". Retrieved 2009-11-09. 
  6. ^ "Alexander the Great: his towns". Retrieved 2009-04-13. 
  7. ^ David Brown, "Tchaikovsky: A Biographical and Critical Study", Victor Gollancz, London, 1992, Vol. 1, Ch. 5, P. 136
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Kidman: 'Luhrmann Not Doing Alexander Film'",, November 1, 2004
  10. ^ Bank of Greece Archived March 28, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.. Drachma Banknotes & Coins: 100 drachmas. – Retrieved on 27 March 2009.
  11. ^ TSGE Intellectual Property Policy [1] – Retrieved on 19 March 2015.