Alexander the Great

Early Life

Alexander the Great was born on July 20, 356 B.C. He was the son of Philip II, King of Macedonia, and Olympias, the princess of Epirus. He spent his childhood watching his father transforming Macedonia into a great military power, winning victory after victory on the battlefields throughout the Balkans. When Alexander was thirteen years old, Philip decided that Alexander needed a higher education, and he began to search for a tutor. Many people were passed over including Isocrates and Speusippus, Plato's successor at the Academy, who offered to resign to take up the post. In the end, Philip offered the job to Aristotle, who accepted, and Philip gave them the Temple of the Nymphs at Mieza as their classroom During the next three years, Aristotle gave Alexander training in rhetoric and literature and encouraged his interest in science, medicine, and philosophy, all of which became important in Alexander’s later life. In 340, when Philip put together a large Macedonian army and invaded Thrace, he left his 16 years old son with the power to rule Macedonia in his absence as regent, which shows that even at such a young age, Alexander was recognized as quite capable.

Rise to Power

When Alexander began his rise to power, he had his potential rivals to the throne murdered. He had his cousin, the former Amyntas IV, executed, as well as having two Macedonian princes from the region of Lyncestis killed, while a third, Alexander Lyncestes, was spared.


Alexander's army crossed the Hellespont in 334 BC with approximately 42,000 soldiers from Macedonia and various Greek city-states, mercenaries, and feudally-raised 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. From Halicarnassus, Alexander proceeded into mountainous Lycia and the Pamphylian plain, asserting control over all coastal cities. He did this to deny the Persians naval bases. Since Alexander had no reliable fleet of his own, defeating the Persian fleet required land control. 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.

After spending the winter campaigning in Asia Minor, Alexander's army crossed the Cilician Gates in 333 BC. They defeated the main Persian army under the command of Darius III at the Battle of Issus in November. 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 afterward 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.
Alexander proceeded to take possession of Syria, and most of the coast of the Levant. However, the following year, 332 BC, he was forced to attack Tyre, which he eventually captured after a famous siege. After the capture of Tyre, Alexander crucified all the men of military age, and sold the women and children into slavery.


Alexander's most obvious legacy was the introduction of Macedonian rule to huge new parts of Asia. Many of these parts would remain in Macedonian hands or under Greek influence for the next 200–300 years. The eastern borders of Alexander's empire began to collapse even during his lifetime. However, the power vacuum he left in the northwest 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 successors, Chandragupta Maurya (referred to in European sources as Sandrokotto) 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.
Alexander and his exploits were admired by many Romans who wanted to associate themselves with his achievements. Polybius started his Histories by reminding Romans of his role, and thereafter subsequent Roman leaders saw him as his inspirational role model. Julius Caesar reportedly wept in Spain at the sight of Alexander's statue, because he thought he had achieved so little by the same age that Alexander had conquered the world. Pompey the Great searched the conquered lands of the east for Alexander's 260-year-old cloak, which he then wore as a sign of greatness. In his zeal to honor Alexander, Augustus accidentally broke the nose off the Macedonian's mummified corpse while laying a wreath at the Alexander's tomb Alexandria. The Macriani, a Roman family that in the person of Macrinus briefly ascended to the imperial throne, kept images of Alexander on their persons, either on jewelry, or embroidered into their clothes.
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 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.

In Punjab, the land of his final conquest, the name "Secunder" is commonly given to children even today. This is both due to respect and admiration for Alexander and also as a memento to the fact that fighting the people of Punjab fatigued his army to the point that they revolted against him.

A common proverb in the Punjab, reads jit jit key jung, secunder jay haar, translation, "alexander wins so many battles that he loses the war" used to address anyone who is good at winning but never taking advantage of those wins.


On either 10 or 11 June 323 BC, Alexander died in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, in Babylon at the age of 32. 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 18 Daesius (a Macedonian month) he had developed a fever, which then grew steadily worse. By 25 Daesius, he was unable to speak. By 26 Daesius, the common soldiers had become anxious about his health, or thought he was already dead. They demanded to see him, and Alexander's generals acquiesced. The soldiers slowly filed past him, whilst Alexander raised his right hand in greeting, still unable to speak. Two days later, on 28 Daesius (although Aristobolus's account says it was 30 Daesius), Alexander was dead. Conversely, Diodorus recounts that Alexander was struck down with pain after downing a large bowl of unmixed wine in honor of Hercules, and (rather mysteriously) died after some agony, which is also mentioned as an alternative by Arrian, but Plutarch specifically refutes this claim.
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By: Joseph Semus and Drew McCartney