Alexander the Great
Alexander III of Macedon, popularly known as Alexander the Great, was born in Pella, Macedonia, in 356 B.C. to King Philip II and Queen Olympias, the princess of neighboring Epirus. Philip II was an impressive military man, who turned Macedonia into a force to be reckoned with. Probably at his instance, Alexander was taught to fight and ride since his early days by Leonidas, a relative of his mother. At age 12, Alexander showed impressive courage when he tamed the wild horse Bucephalus, an enormous stallion with a furious demeanor, which ultimately became his battle companion for most of Alexander’s life.
King Philip II intended his son to grow up as a man of refined taste to become the future king of his kingdom. So, he hired Lysimachus of Acarnania to teach the boy reading, writing, and to play the lyre. This invaluable teaching inculcated a lifelong reading habit and love for music in Alexander. At the age of 14, he was introduced to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, whom Philip chose as his teacher and provided the Temple of the Nymphs in Mieza as a classroom. In return, Philip agreed to rebuild Aristotle's hometown of Stageira, which Philip had razed, and also to repopulate it by buying and freeing the ex-citizens who were made slaves, or pardoning those who were in exile. In the next three years Aristotle taught him about medicine, philosophy, morals, religion, logic, and art. Under Aristotle's guidance, Alexander developed a passion for the works of Homer, and in particular the Iliad.
In 340, Philip went to battle the Byzantiums, leaving his 16 years old son to rule Macedonia in his absence as regent. Immediately, the Thracian Maedi took the opportunity of Philip’s absence and revolted against Macedonia. Alexander responded quickly and defeated the Maedi comprehensively. He captured their stronghold, and renamed it after himself to Alexandropolis.
After two years, in 338 BC, as the Macedonian army invaded Greece, Philip gave Alexander a commanding position among the senior generals and at the Battle of Chaeronea, Alexander displayed his exemplary bravery, while his cavalry decimated the elite Greek force, the Band of Thebes.
In 336, King Philip was assassinated by the captain of his bodyguards, Pausanias, while the King was attending the wedding of his daughter, Cleopatra. Consequently, Alexander was proclaimed king on the spot by the nobles and the army at the age of 20.
by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris
Alexander began his reign by eliminating potential rivals one by one. In the meantime, the news of Philip's death encouraged many states into revolt, including Athens, Thebes, Thessaly, and the Thracian tribes north of Macedon. With 3,000 Macedonian cavalry, Alexander rode towards Thessaly. Alexander was sharp enough to observe that, the Thessalian army was occupying the pass between Mount Olympus and Mount Ossa. So, he ordered his men to cross over Mount Ossa. Next morning, when the Thessalians found Alexander in their rear, they had no other way but to surrender, adding their cavalry to Alexander's force. Next, he stopped at Thermopylae, where he was recognized as the leader of the Amphictyonic League before heading south to Corinth. Athens sued for peace and Alexander pardoned the rebels. To safeguard his northern borders, before proceeding towards Asia, Alexander advanced to suppress several revolts in the spring of 335 BC. Starting from Amphipolis, he attacked and defeated the Thracian forces, marched to Triballi and defeated their army near the Lyginus River, crossed the Danube River at night and forced the surprised army of the Getae tribe to retreat.
In 334 BC, Alexander crossed the Hellespont (the Dardanelles), a narrow strait, connecting the Sea of Marmara with the Aegean and the Mediterranean Sea. With his army of about 48,100 soldiers, 6,100 cavalry and a fleet of 120 ships with crews numbering 38,000, he faced the combined force of the Persians and the Greeks, at the Granicus River. Alexander won and accepted the surrender of the Persian provincial capital and treasury of Sardis. Further south, at Helicarnassus in Caria, he proceeded towards the mountainous Lycia and the Pamphylian plain, asserting control over all the coastal cities.
During the spring of 333 BC, Alexander crossed the Taurus into Cilicia and encountered a massive Persian army led by King Darius III, near the town of ‘Issus’ in southern Turkey. Though Alexander’s forces were greatly outnumbered, he used his flair for military strategy to create formations in such a way that, it created confusion and panic among his opponents. With the progress of the war it became evident that Darius had no chance to win. Finally, Darius fled the battle, causing his army to collapse, and left behind his wife, his two daughters, even his mother Sisygambis and a fabulous treasure.
After conquering the Phoenician cities of Marathus and Aradus, Alexander rejected a plea from Darius for peace and took the towns of Byblos and Sidon. In January 332 BC, he laid siege to the heavily-fortified island of Tyre. As Tyre was surrounded by water, Alexander instructed his men to build a causeway to reach the island. But, time and again, the Tyrian forces thwarted his clever attempts to gain entry. At the end, Alexander amassed a large fleet and breached the city’s walls in July 332 B.C. While most of the brave men of Tyre were massacred, others, along with the women and the children were sold into slavery.
After the destruction of Tyre, most of the towns on the route to Egypt quickly surrendered to Alexander. However, he met with resistance at Gaza. However, after three unsuccessful assaults, the stronghold fell and as in Tyre, men of military age were executed, while the women and children were sold into slavery. He advanced in Egypt in later 332 BC, and founded Alexandria-by-Egypt, which would become the prosperous capital of the Ptolemaic Kingdom after his death. In Egypt, Alexander was regarded as a liberator and was pronounced as the son of the deity Amun at the Oracle of Siwa Oasis in the Libyan Desert.
Leaving Egypt in 331 BC, Alexander marched towards east into Mesopotamia (now northern Iraq) and again faced Darius and his massive troops at Gaugamela in the month of October, 331 BC. Following fierce fighting and heavy losses on both sides, Darius fled over the mountains to Ecbatana, while Alexander captured Babylon. From Babylon, he went to Susa, one of the Achaemenid capitals, and captured its treasury. After that, Alexander stormed the pass of the Persian Gates and then hurried to Persepolis before its garrison could loot the treasury. While in Persepolis, he allowed his troops to loot the city for several days. He stayed in Persepolis for five months and then started to chase Darius, first into Media, and then Parthia. In the meantime, at the instance of Bessus, another Persian leader, the Great King was fatally stabbed and Bessus declared himself Darius' successor as Artaxerxes V. However, Alexander could not let the claim stand. He viewed Bessus as a usurper and set out to defeat him, before proclaiming himself the King of Persia. Ridiculously, after some time, Bessus was cornered by his own troop and handed over to Ptolemy, Alexander’s close friend. Bessus was mutilated and executed and with Bessus out of the way, Alexander had full control of Persia.
To win the hearts of the Persians and to gain popularity among them, Alexander started to dress like a Persian and adopted the practice of ‘proskynesis’, a Persian court custom of bowing down and kissing the hand of others, depending on the ranks. But, the Macedonians were not at all thrilled with the changes in Alexander and refused to practice proskynesis. They were irritated and some of them started to plot his death. Gradually, Alexander became paranoid, and in 330 BC, he ordered the death of one of his most esteemed generals, Parmerio and his son Philotas, as Philotas was convicted of plotting an assassination attempt against Alexander. In 328 BC, Alexander, in a fit of rage, personally killed Cleitus with a spear. Cleitus was also a general and a close friend of Alexander, who saved his life at Granicus. It was alleged that, during a violent drunken altercation, Cleitus accused Alexander of several judgmental mistakes and ridiculed him for adopting oriental lifestyle, ignoring his Macedonian heritage.
In 327 BC, Alexander marched on Punjab in India, where some of the tribes surrendered to him peacefully. However, in 326 BC, he had to face King Porus of Paurava at the Hydaspes River. After a fierce battle in a raging thunderstorm, Porus was defeated. But, in the process, Alexander lost his beloved horse, Bucephalus. Alexander had the intention to conquer the whole of India, but his tired and homesick soldiers refused, and his officers convinced him to return to Persia. Alexander did not try to pursue his men, and in early 324 BC, he reached the city of Susa in Persia.
By 323 BC, Alexander was the head of an enormous empire. He earnestly wished to unite the Persians and Macedonians and create a new race loyal to him. Accordingly, he pursued many of his officers to marry Persian princesses. Even, he also took two more wives for himself. But, as the Macedonian army resented the idea of Alexander’s attempt to change their culture and many of them openly protested against it, Alexander took a firm stand and replaced Macedonian officers and troops with Persians and his army backed down.
Alexander had the tremendous urge for world supremacy. He had a dream plan to conquer Arabia. But he did not live to see it happen. Alexander the Great died on 10th or 11th June 323 BC, in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, in Babylon, at the early age of 32.
There are two different versions of Alexander's death. Several natural causes have been suggested, including malaria and typhoid fever. However, acute pancreatitis, infectious spondylitis or meningitis is also suggested. Some tended to emphasize that heavy drinking habit was responsible for Alexander’s declining health. However, historians like Diodorus, Arrian and Justin mentioned the theory that Alexander was poisoned.
Alexander the Great is revered in history as one of the most powerful and influential leaders the ancient world ever produced. He was a strongly built man of below average height with wild blonde hair like a lion’s mane. He was fair-skinned and said to have light coloured eyes, sharply pointed teeth, a high-pitched, sometimes harsh voice and a quick, nervous gait. He was intelligent, calculating and perceptive, but also impulsive, stubborn and violent-tempered.
By his courage, bravery and military intelligent, Alexander established the largest empire the ancient world had ever seen. In fact, he never lost a battle in his life. He was charismatic and ruthless, brilliant and power hungry, diplomatic and bloodthirsty. Alexander inspired such loyalty in his men that, they would follow him anywhere and, if necessary, die in the process. Alexander the Great died before realizing his dream of uniting a new realm, but he had a profound influence on Greek and Asian culture, and it inspired a new historical epoch period, known as the Hellenistic Period.