Alexander the Great

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Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great, also known as Alexander III, lived from July 20, 356 BC to June 10, 323 BC. He was an ancient Greek king of Macedon from 336 to 323 BC. Alexander, highly educated (had been tutored by Aristotle), fearless and ambitious, was an astute politician and intent upon finishing what his father had begun. Phillip II's death had been the signal for rebellions throughout the budding empire, but Alexander wasted no time crushing them, making an example of Thebes by razing it to the ground. After restoring order, he turned his attention to the Persian empire and marched his army of 40,000 men into Asia Minor in 334 BC. He was one of the most successful military commanders in history, and was undefeated in battle. By the time of his death, he had conquered most of the world known to the ancient Greeks.

>== Essential Question ==

How has Alexander the Great impacted today's modern life?

Summary of Research

Alexander the Great was the son of King Philip II. He was a very powerful ruler, conqured many kingdoms and made examples of many others.


The Early Years

Bust of Alexander the Great
Born in Pella, capital of Macedon, Alexander was the son of King Philip II of Macedon and of his fourth wife Olympias, an Epirote princess. On his mother's side, he was a second cousin of Pyrrhus of Epirus, who himself would go on to become a celebrated general; thus, there are notable examples of military genius on both sides of his family. According to Plutarch, his father was descended from Heracles through Karanus of Macedon and his mother descended from Aeacus through Neoptolemus and Achilles. Plutarch relates that both Philip and Olympias dreamt of their son's future birth. In Philip's dream, he sealed her womb with the seal of the lion. Alarmed by this, he consulted the seer Aristander of Telmessos, who determined that his wife was pregnant and that the child would have the character of a lion. Another odd coincidence is that the temple of Artemis in Ephesus was set afire on the night of his birth. Plutarch's explanation is that the Gods were too busy watching over Alexander to care for the temple.

According to five historians of antiquity (Arrian, Curtius, Diodorus, Justin, and Plutarch), after his visit to the Oracle of Ammon at Siwa, rumors spread that the Oracle had revealed Alexander's father to be Zeus, rather than Philip. In support of this, Plutarch claims that Philip avoided Olympias' bed because of her affinity for sleeping in the company of snakes.

In his early years, Alexander was raised by his nurse Lanike, who was Cleitus' older sister. Later, Alexander was educated by a strict teacher: Leonidas, himself a relative of Olympias. Leonidas' frugal ways are known to us through the extant record: reportedly, when Alexander threw a large amount of sacrificial incense into a fire, Leonidas reprimanded him, telling him that he could waste as much incense as he wished once he had conquered the spice bearing regions. Years later, following Alexander's conquest of Gaza, a city directly on the Persian spice trade route, the young king sent back over 15 tons of myrrh to Leonidas as a retort. Philip and Olympias wanted nothing less than the best for their son, so when he was 13, his parents hired Aristotle from Athens to be his personal tutor. The two of them spent time at Mieza, a temple about 20 miles from the palace at Pella. Under Aristotle, Alexander learned philosophy, ethics, politics, and healing, all of which became of the utmost importance for Alexander in his later life. The two later became estranged, due to their difference of opinion on the status of foreginers; Aristotle saw them as barbarians, while Alexander sought to merge Macedonians and foreigners. His gift to Alexander, a copy of the Iliad, was purportedly among the young king's most prized possessions--and was kept under his pillow, along with a dagger.

When Alexander was ten years old, a Thessalian brought a horse of such quality to sell to Philip that it was labeled a prodigy. As it turned out, though, the horse was so wild that no man could mount him. Alexander, however, publicly defied his father and claimed that he could handle the horse. The bet between Philip and Alexander was that if Alexander could ride the it, Philip would buy it, if not, Alexander would have to pay the price of the horse, which was 13 talents, an enormous sum for a boy of Alexander's age to have. Young Alexander, recognizing that the horse's own shadow was the source of its fear, went to the steed and turned him towards the sun. Upon doing so, the horse calmed down, and the young king easily mounted and rode him. His father and other people who saw this were very impressed; Philip kissed him with tears of joy and said "My son, seek thee out a kingdom equal to thyself; Macedon has not room for thee." This horse was named Bucephalus, meaning "ox-headed" though there is the possibility that the name refers to the brand that denoted the horse's origin. Bucephalus would be Alexander's companion throughout his journeys, and was truly loved: when the horse died (due to old age, according to Plutarch, for he was already 30; other sources claim that Bucephalus died of wounds sustained in a battle in India), Alexander named a city after him called Bocephia or Bucephala.

In 340 B.C.E., when Philip went to Byzantium to fight rebels, Alexander, a mere 16 years old, was left in charge of Macedonia as regent, with the power to rule in Philip's name in his absence. That Alexander was given such a position at such a young age indicates that he was already accomplished in battle, i.e., he had made his first kill and most likely several others. During his time as regent, the Maedi of northen Macedonia revolted. Alexander traveled up there, put down the revolt, captured the city, drove the survivors north, and established a Greek colony, naming it Alexandroupolis.

Family Dysfunction

Alexander the Great on his horse Bucephalus
The family essentially was split apart irreparably when in 339 BC Philip took a fifth wife, Cleopatra Eurydice, a Macedonian. During the wedding feast, Attalus, the uncle of the bride, supposedly gave a toast for the marriage to result in a legitimate heir to the throne of Macedon i.e., one that was pure Macedonian. Alexander responded by hurling his goblet at Attalus, shouted "What am I, a bastard then?" and some sources say Alexander killed him. Enraged, Philip drew his sword and charged at Alexander, only to trip and fall on his face in his drunken stupor. Alexander, rather upset at the scene, is said to have shouted:

"Here is the man planning on conquering from Greece to Asia, and he cannot even move from one table to another without losing his balance."

Following this episode, Alexander moved Olympias back to Epirus, and he went to Illyria. He only returned when Demaratus of Corinth, a close friend of Philip, asked how Philip could care so much for his troops abroad and so little for his family at home. Eventually Philip and Alexander would reconcile. The son returned home, but Olympias remained in Epirus. In 338 BC Alexander fought under his father at the decisive Battle of Chaeronea against the 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 hitherto regarded as invincible. Though few details of the battle survive to us, what is known is that Alexander annihilated this corps. After the battle, Philip led a wild celebration; Alexander is notably absent from the accounts describing it. It is speculated that Alexander 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 Phillip was acclaimed Hegemon of the Hellenes.

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 behind the killing, but a common story presented the assassin as a disgraced former lover of the king--the young nobleman Pausanias of Orestis. He held a grudge against Philip because the king had ignored his grievances regarding an outrage on his person. Some believed that Philip's murder was planned with the knowledge and involvement of Alexander, Olympias, or both. Still other theories pointed to Darius III, the recently crowned King of Persia. Regardless, after Philip's death, the army proclaimed Alexander, then aged 20, as the new king of Macedon.

Alexander and Greek Conflicts

Alexander ascended to the Macedonian throne after the murder of his father, and the kingdom was in trouble immediately. Greek cities, like Athens and Thebes, which had pledged allegiance to Philip, were unsure if they wished to do the same for a twenty year old boy and they saw an opportunity to regain full independence. Likewise, northern barbarians that Philip had subdued were threatening to break away from Macedonia and wreak havoc in the north. Alexander's advisors suggested that he let Athens and Thebes go and to be gentle with the barbarians to prevent a revolt. However, Alexander felt that the best thing to do was to be decisive and swift. Alexander moved swiftly and Thebes, which had been most active against him, submitted when he appeared at its gates. The assembled Greeks at the Isthmus of Corinth, with the exception of the Spartans, elected him to the command against Persia, which had previously been bestowed upon his father. The next year 335 BC, Alexander felt free to engage the Thracians and the Illyrians in order to secure the Danube as the northern boundary of the Macedonian kingdom.

Arrian related the story of how Alexander dealt with Thebes and Athens. There were rumors in these cities that Alexander had been killed, and that the time was right for them to separate themselves from Macedonia. Instead, in the fall of 335 B.C.E., Alexander marched up to the gates of Thebes, and let them know that it was not too late for them to change their minds. The Thebans responded with a small contingent of soldiers, which Alexander repelled with archers and light infantrymen. The next day, Alexander's general, Perdiccas, attacked the gates. Arrian claims that he did so before Alexander gave a signal; Diodorus says that the signal had been given. Regardless, the battle had begun. Perdiccas broke through and into the city, and Alexander moved the rest of his force in behind to prevent the Thebans from cutting Perdiccas off from the rest. The Macedonians then stormed the city, killing almost everyone in sight, women and children included. The surviving Thebans themselves were sold into slavery. Alexander spared only the priests, the leaders of the pro-Macedonian party, and the descendants of Pindar, whose house was the only one left standing. They plundered, sacked, burned and razed Thebes, as an example to the rest of Greece. Athens then rethought its decision to abandon Alexander. He came to terms with them that maintained the status quo as under Philip. While visiting Athens to seal the pact, Alexander visited the Oracle at Delphi, despite it being a day when giving prophecy was forbidden. In his attempts to drag the priestess to the place where she gave her oracles, she screamed:

"My son, you are invincible!"

That was all that Alexander wanted to hear, and he departed, in the spring of 334 B.C.E. for Asia.


Map of Alexander's Empire

356 BC

344 BC

343 BC

340 BC

338 BC

337 BC

336 BC

335 BC

334 BC

334-333 BC, winter

333 BC

332 BC

331 BC

330 BC

328 BC

327 BC

326 BC

326-324 BC

325 BC

324 BC

323 BC


The content relates to the essential question because it shows how well of a leader Alexander the Great was. He made bold choices about war and always came out victorious.


Alexander the Great has impacted todays modern life very much. One of the impacts Alexander was the extension of Greek culture. Secondly, a vast territory that was not being used became occupied by conquered nomad tribes. The people in the nomadic tribes had been trained to follow civilized ways of life, with the resultant momentum given to the building of cities and the creation of harbors, ships and other aids for travel on land and sea. There were also financial and economic reforms. Finally, the partial realization of his dream of universal toleration for all religions and the brotherhood of mankind.


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