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the great O Megas,  Meg AlexandrosWho's Who Ancient Greece: Civic Affairs

Alexander the Great (356-323 BC)

Political and military leader

Many believe that Alexander was the greatest military commander of all times. Born in the city of Pella, in Macedonia, he was the son of King Philip II of Macedon and of Olympias, daughter of the king of the Molossi of Ipiros.

Plutarch described him as a youth with exceptional physical endurance and strength, who, at the age of 14, succeeding the the wild and unruly horse, Bucephalos, who then became his inseparable companion.

His father Philip invited Aristotle to the court of Pella in 343 BC, and entrusted him with his son's education. The philospher instilled a love of poetry in the youth, who kept the works of Aeschylus, Sophokles and Euripides with him even during his military campaigns, along with a copy of Homer's Iliad, which he kept under his pillow, having become acquainted with the feats of the hero Achilles in that book, whom he deeply emulated. He first demonstrated his bravery and military genius at the battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC, which established Macedonian rule in Greece.

alexanderA year after inheriting the throne, in 335 BC, he defeated the Illyrian, Triballan and Getan tribes, who also fell under that same rule. During the same year, he put down an anti-Macedonian insurrection led by the city of Thebes, wreaking revenge on that city by ordering it burned to the ground, sparing only the house of the poet Pindar, following which, he summoned a council of representatives from all of the Greek city states to Corinth. At this council he was named Emporer and General of the Greeks, with each city state expected to supply him with troops for his campaign against Asia. Only Sparta refused to send a representative.

The conquest of Persia had been a dream of Alexander's father, Philip, though when carried out by his son, it was done so with the ideological pretense of sacred revenge for the temple desecrations and atrocities visited upon the Greeks during the Persian wars.

Alexander's army, though it numbered fewer troops than the Persian one, was excellently trained, and led by fine generals, of whom the superlative general was Alexander himself.

He left one of his generals in charge of his realm as regent, and set out with 30,000 foot soldiers and 5,000 on horses, using his infantry to first conquer all of the coastal Asia minor lands under Persian control, a most clever strategy, as its rendered the large Persian navy helpless.

He crossed the Hellespont in 334 BC, and visited Troy, placing a wreath on Achilles' tomb. The first defeat of the Persians was at the Grankus River, which opened Asia Minor to Alexander's army.

alexanderInterestingly, he was greeted not only with resistance, but also, in some places, as a liberator. In Sardis he laid foundations for a temple of Olympian Zeus, and from there went on to Ephesos, Miletos, Halikarnassos, Phrygia, Lykia, Pamphilia, and Pisdia, massed his troops at Gordium, and met the Persian army near Tarsus.

The armies battled at Issos, in 333 BC, resulting in Darius' defeat. He fled, leaving his family behind him, at the mercy of the Macdonian commander. It was noted in Hadrian's history that Alexander treated the family with respect.

Next to be conquered by his army were the cities of Sidon, Aradus, Biblus, Gaza, and Tyre, as well as the entire Phoenician fleet, followed by entry into Palestine and Egypt. The Egyptians welcomed Alexander, who represented liberation from the oppressive Persian rule they had endured. Next, in the Libyan desert, he was greeted by the priests in the oasis of Ammon-Zeus as the son of that god, following which he Alexander completed the conquest of the Persians in their own state at Gaugamilia, and went on to conquer the great cities of Babylon, Susa, Persepolis, and Ecbatana, with the fall of both Persepolis and the death of Darius marking the conclusive end.

conquests click to see largerAlexander's dream was of total conquest of the known world of his time, leaving India as the final, and most daunting challenge, given the great distance involved, as well as the exigencies of both terrain and climate.

In 326 BC, the Indian ruler, Porus, was defeated by Alexander's army, this after the crossing of the Indus River. Alexander then founded the cities of Nicea, and Bucephala, the latter for his beloved horse, which died there. The expedition that had begun at the Hellespont ended at the river Hyphasis, with part of the Indus basin conquered.

Though the dream of Alexander was to unite the peoples he had conquered within one global state, his untimely death (at the age of 33), and infighting among his successors prevented his vision from being realized. He did, however, succeed in spreading Greek civilization to all the countries he conquered, Hellenizing Asia in the process, and in turn bringing Eastern thought into Greece.