Alexander the Great
|Alexander the Great|
|Basileus of Macedon|
Alexander fighting the Persian king Darius III. From Alexander Mosaic, Naples National Archaeological Museum
|Full name||Alexander III of Macedon|
|Greek||Μέγας Ἀλέξανδροςiii[›] (Mégas Aléxandros, Great Alexander)
Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας (Aléxandros ho Mégas, Alexander the Great)
|Titles||King of Macedon
Hegemon of the Hellenic League
Shahanshah of Persia
Pharaoh of Egypt
Lord of Asia
|Born||20 or 21 July 356 BC|
|Died||10 or 11 June 323 BC (aged 32)|
|Place of death||Babylon|
|Predecessor||Philip II of Macedon|
|Successor||Alexander IV of Macedon
Philip III of Macedon
|Wives||Roxana of Bactria
Stateira II of Persia
Parysatis II of Persia
|Offspring||Alexander IV of Macedon|
|Father||Philip II of Macedon|
|Mother||Olympias of Epirus|
|Religious beliefs||Greek polytheism|
Alexander III of Macedon (20/21 July 356 – 10/11 June 323 BC), commonly known as Alexander the Great (Greek: Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας, Aléxandros o Mégas ), was a king of Macedon, a state in northern Greece. By the age of thirty, he had created one of the largest empires in ancient history, stretching from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas. He was undefeated in battle and is considered one of the most successful commanders of all time. Born in Pella in 356 BC, Alexander was tutored by the famed philosopher Aristotle. In 336 BC he succeeded his father Philip II of Macedon to the throne after Philip was assassinated. Philip had brought most of the city-states of mainland Greece under Macedonian hegemony, using both military and diplomatic means.
Upon Philip’s death, Alexander inherited a strong kingdom and an experienced army. He succeeded in being awarded the generalship of Greece and, with his authority firmly established, launched the military plans for expansion left by his father. In 334 BC he invaded Persian-ruled Asia Minor and began a series of campaigns lasting ten years. Alexander broke the power of Persia in a series of decisive battles, most notably the battles of Issus and Gaugamela. Subsequently he overthrew the Persian king Darius III and conquered the entirety of the Persian Empire.i[›] The Macedonian Empire at that point stretched from the Adriatic Sea to the Indus River.
Following his desire to reach the “ends of the world and the Great Outer Sea”, he invaded India in 326 BC, but was eventually forced to turn back by the near-mutiny of his troops. Alexander died in Babylon in 323 BC, without realizing a series of planned campaigns that would have begun with an invasion of Arabia. In the years following Alexander’s death a series of civil wars tore his empire apart which resulted in the formation of a number of states ruled by the Diadochi – Alexander’s surviving generals.
Alexander’s legacy includes the cultural diffusion his conquests engendered. Alexander founded some twenty cities that bore his name. His settlement of Greek colonists and the resulting spread of Greek culture in the east resulted in a new Hellenistic civilization, aspects of which were still evident in the traditions of the Byzantine Empire until the mid-15th century. Alexander became legendary as a classical hero in the mold of Achilles, and features prominently in the history and myth of Greek and non-Greek cultures. He became the measure against which generals, even to this day, compare themselves and military academies throughout the world still teach his tactical exploits. ii[›]
Lineage and childhood
Alexander was born on 20 (or 21) July 356 BC, in Pella, the capital of the Ancient Greek Kingdom of Macedon. He was the son of Philip II, the King of Macedon. His mother was Philip’s fourth wife Olympias, the daughter of Neoptolemus I, the king of Epirus. Although Philip had either seven or eight wives, Olympias was his principal wife for a time, likely as a result of giving birth to Alexander.
As a member of the Argead dynasty, Alexander claimed patrilineal descent from Heracles through Caranus of Macedon.iv[›] From his mother’s side and the Aeacids, he claimed descent from Neoptolemus, son of Achilles;v[›] Alexander was a second cousin of the celebrated general Pyrrhus of Epirus, who was ranked by Hannibal as, depending on the source, either the best or second-best (after Alexander) commander the world had ever seen.
According to the ancient Greek biographer Plutarch, Olympias, on the eve of the consummation of her marriage to Philip, dreamed that her womb was struck by a thunder bolt, causing a flame that spread “far and wide” before dying away. Some time after the wedding, Philip was said to have seen himself, in a dream, sealing up his wife’s womb with a seal upon which was engraved the image of a lion. Plutarch offers a variety of interpretations of these dreams: that Olympia was pregnant before her marriage, indicated by the sealing of her womb; or that Alexander’s father was Zeus. Ancient commentators were divided as to whether the ambitious Olympias promulgated the story of Alexander’s divine parentage, some claiming she told Alexander, others that she dismissed the suggestion as impious.
On the day that Alexander was born, Philip was preparing himself for his siege on the city of Potidea on the peninsula of Chalcidike. On the same day, Philip received news that his general Parmenion had defeated the combined Illyrian and Paeonian armies, and that his horses had won at the Olympic Games. It was also said that on this day, the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus—one of the Seven Wonders of the World—burnt down, leading Hegesias of Magnesia to say that it burnt down because Artemis was attending the birth of Alexander.
In his early years, Alexander was raised by his nurse, Lanike, the sister of Alexander’s future friend and general Cleitus the Black. Later on in his childhood, Alexander was tutored by the strict Leonidas, a relative of his mother, and by Lysimachus. Alexander was raised in the manner of noble Macedonian youths, learning to read, play the lyre, ride, fight, and hunt.
When Alexander was ten years old, a horse trader from Thessaly brought Philip a horse, which he offered to sell for thirteen talents. The horse refused to be mounted by anyone, and Philip ordered it to be taken away. Alexander, however, detected the horse’s fear of his own shadow and asked for a turn to tame the horse, which he eventually managed. According to Plutarch, Philip, overjoyed at this display of courage and ambition, kissed him tearfully, declaring: “My boy, you must find a kingdom big enough for your ambitions. Macedon is too small for you”, and bought the horse for him. Alexander would name the horse Bucephalas, meaning “ox-head”. Bucephalas would be Alexander’s companion throughout his journeys as far as India. When Bucephalas died (due to old age, according to Plutarch, for he was already thirty), Alexander named a city after him, Bucephala.
Adolescence and education
When Alexander was thirteen years old, Philip began to search for a tutor. Many people were passed over including Isocrates and Speusippus, the latter of whom was Plato‘s successor at the Academy and who offered to resign to take up the post. In the end, Philip offered the job to Aristotle, who accepted, and Philip provided the Temple of the Nymphs at Mieza as a classroom. In return for teaching Alexander, Philip agreed to rebuild Aristotle’s hometown of Stageira, which Philip had razed, and to repopulate it by buying and freeing the ex-citizens who were slaves, or pardoning those who were in exile.
Mieza was like a boarding school for Alexander and the children of Macedonian nobles, such as Ptolemy, Hephaistion, and Cassander. Many of those studying by Alexander’s side would become his friends and future generals, and are often known as the ‘Companions’. At Mieza, Aristotle taught Alexander and his companions about medicine, philosophy, morals, religion, logic, and art. Under Aristotle’s tutelage, Alexander developed a passion for the works of Homer, and in particular the Iliad; Aristotle gave him an annotated copy, which Alexander was to take on his campaigns.
Regency and ascent of Macedon
When Alexander became sixteen years old, his tutorship under Aristotle ended. Philip, the king, departed to wage war against Byzantion, and Alexander was left in charge as regent and heir apparent of the kingdom. During Philip’s absence, the Thracian Maedi revolted against Macedonian rule. Alexander responded quickly; he crushed the Maedi insurgence, driving them from their territory, colonised it with Greeks, and founded a city named Alexandropolis.
After Philip’s return from Byzantium, he dispatched Alexander with a small force to subdue certain revolts in southern Thrace. During another campaign against the Greek city of Perinthus, Alexander is reported to have saved his father’s life. Meanwhile, the city of Amphissa began to work lands that were sacred to Apollo near Delphi, a sacrilege that gave Philip the opportunity to further intervene in the affairs of Greece. Still occupied in Thrace, Philip ordered Alexander to begin mustering an army for a campaign in Greece. Concerned with the possibility of other Greek states intervening, Alexander made it look as if he was preparing to attack Illyria instead. During this turmoil, the Illyrians took the opportunity to invade Macedonia, but Alexander repelled the invaders.
Philip joined Alexander with his army in 338 BC, and they marched south through Thermopylae, which they took after stubborn resistance from its Theban garrison. They went on to occupy the city of Elatea, a few days march from both Athens and Thebes. Meanwhile, the Athenians, led by Demosthenes, voted to seek an alliance with Thebes in the war against Macedonia. Both Athens and Philip sent embassies to try to win Thebes’ favour, with the Athenians eventually succeeding. Philip marched on Amphissa (theoretically acting on the request of the Amphicytonic League), captured the mercenaries sent there by Demosthenes, and accepted the city’s surrender. Philip then returned to Elatea and sent a final offer of peace to Athens and Thebes, which was rejected.
As Philip marched south, he was blocked near Chaeronea, Boeotia by the forces of Athens and Thebes. During the ensuing Battle of Chaeronea, Philip commanded the right, and Alexander the left wing, accompanied by a group of Philip’s trusted generals. According to the ancient sources, the two sides fought bitterly for a long time. Philip deliberately commanded the troops on his right wing to backstep, counting on the untested Athenian hoplites to follow, thus breaking their line. On the left, Alexander was the first to break into the Theban lines, followed by Philip’s generals. Having achieved a breach in the enemy’s cohesion, Philip ordered his troops to press forward and quickly routed his enemy. With the rout of the Athenians, the Thebans were left to fight alone; surrounded by the victorious enemy, they were crushed.
After the victory at Chaeronea, Philip and Alexander marched unopposed into the Peloponnese welcomed by all cities; however, when they reached Sparta, they were refused, and they simply left. At Corinth, Philip established a “Hellenic Alliance” (modeled on the old anti-Persian alliance of the Greco-Persian Wars), with the exception of Sparta. Philip was then named Hegemon (often translated as ‘Supreme Commander’) of this league (known by modern historians as the League of Corinth). He then announced his plans for a war of revenge against the Persian Empire, which he would command.
Exile and return
After returning to Pella, Philip fell in love with and married Cleopatra Eurydice, the niece of one of his generals, Attalus. This marriage made Alexander’s position as heir to the throne less secure, since if Cleopatra Eurydice bore Philip a son, there would be a fully Macedonian heir, while Alexander was only half Macedonian. During the wedding banquet, a drunken Attalus made a speech praying to the gods that the union would produce a legitimate heir to the Macedonian throne.
At the wedding of Cleopatra, whom Philip fell in love with and married, she being much too young for him, her uncle Attalus in his drink desired the Macedonians would implore the gods to give them a lawful successor to the kingdom by his niece. This so irritated Alexander, that throwing one of the cups at his head, “You villain,” said he, “what, am I then a bastard?” Then Philip, taking Attalus’s part, rose up and would have run his son through; but by good fortune for them both, either his over-hasty rage, or the wine he had drunk, made his foot slip, so that he fell down on the floor. At which Alexander reproachfully insulted over him: “See there,” said he, “the man who makes preparations to pass out of Europe into Asia, overturned in passing from one seat to another.”
— Plutarch, describing the feud at Philip’s wedding.
Alexander fled from Macedon taking his mother with him, whom he dropped off with her brother in Dodona, capital of Epirus. He carried on to Illyria, where he sought refuge with the Illyrian King and was treated as a guest by the Illyrians, despite having defeated them in battle a few years before. However, it appears Philip never intended to disown his militarily and politically trained son, and Alexander returned to Macedon after six months in exile due to the efforts of a family friend, Demaratus the Corinthian, who mediated between the two parties.
The following year, the Persian satrap (governor) of Caria, Pixodarus, offered the hand of his eldest daughter to Alexander’s half-brother, Philip Arrhidaeus. Olympias and several of Alexander’s friends suggested to Alexander that this move showed that Philip intended to make Arrhidaeus his heir. Alexander reacted by sending an actor, Thessalus of Corinth, to tell Pixodarus that he should not offer his daughter’s hand to an illegitimate son, but instead to Alexander. When Philip heard of this, he stopped the negotiations and scolded Alexander for wishing to marry the daughter of a Carian, explaining to him that he wanted a better bride for him. Philip had four of Alexander’s friends, Harpalus, Nearchus, Ptolemy and Erigyius exiled, and had the Corinthians bring Thessalus to him in chains.
King of Macedon
In 336 BC, whilst at Aegae, attending the wedding of his daughter by Olympias, Cleopatra, to Olympias’s brother, Alexander I of Epirus, Philip was assassinated by the captain of his bodyguard, Pausanias.vi[›] As Pausanias tried to escape, he tripped over a vine and was killed by his pursuers, including two of Alexander’s companions, Perdiccas and Leonnatus. Alexander was proclaimed king by the Macedonian army and by the Macedonian noblemen at the age of 20.
Consolidation of power
Alexander began his reign by eliminating any potential rivals to the throne. 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. Olympias had Cleopatra Eurydice and her daughter by Philip, Europa, burned alive. When Alexander found out about this, he was furious with his mother. Alexander also ordered the murder of Attalus, who was in command of the advance guard of the army in Asia Minor. Attalus was at the time in correspondence with Demosthenes, regarding the possibility of defecting to Athens. Regardless of whether Attalus actually intended to defect, he had already severely insulted Alexander, and following the murder of Attalus’s niece, Alexander probably felt Attalus was too dangerous to leave alive. Alexander spared the life of Arrhidaeus, who was by all accounts mentally disabled, possibly as a result of poisoning by Olympias.
News of Philip’s death roused many states into revolt, including Thebes, Athens, Thessaly, and the Thracian tribes to the north of Macedon. When news of the revolts in Greece reached Alexander, he responded quickly. Though his advisors advised him to use diplomacy, Alexander mustered the Macedonian cavalry of 3,000 men and rode south towards Thessaly, Macedon’s neighbor to the south. When he found the Thessalian army occupying the pass between Mount Olympus and Mount Ossa, he had the men ride over Mount Ossa. When the Thessalians awoke the next day, they found Alexander in their rear, and promptly surrendered, adding their cavalry to Alexander’s force, as he rode down towards the Peloponnesus.
Alexander 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 received the envoy and pardoned anyone involved with the uprising. At Corinth, where occurred the famous encounter with Diogenes the Cynic, who asked him to stand a little aside as he was blocking the sun, Alexander was given the title Hegemon, and like Philip, appointed commander of the forthcoming war against Persia. While at Corinth, he heard the news of the Thracian rising to the north.
Before crossing to Asia, Alexander wanted to safeguard his northern borders; and, in the spring of 335 BC, he advanced to suppress several apparent revolts. Starting from Amphipolis, he first went east into the country of the “Independent Thracians”; and at Mount Haemus, the Macedonian army attacked and defeated a Thracian army manning the heights. The Macedonians marched on into the country of the Triballi, and proceeded to defeat the Triballian army near the Lyginus river (a tributary of the Danube). Alexander then advanced for three days on to the Danube, encountering the Getae tribe on the opposite shore. Surprising the Getae by crossing the river at night, he forced the Getae army to retreat after the first cavalry skirmish, leaving their town to the Macedonian army. News then reached Alexander that Cleitus, King of Illyria, and King Glaukias of the Taulanti were in open revolt against Macedonian authority. Marching west into Illyria, Alexander defeated each in turn, forcing Cleitus and Glaukias to flee with their armies, leaving Alexander’s northern frontier secure.
While he was triumphantly campaigning north, the Thebans and Athenians rebelled once more. Alexander immediately cut short his campaign and headed south with his army, but, while the other cities once again hesitated, Thebes decided to resist with the utmost vigor. However, the resistance was ineffective, and the city was razed to the ground amid great bloodshed, and its territory was divided between the other Boeotian cities. The end of Thebes cowed Athens into submission, leaving all of Greece at least outwardly at peace with Alexander. Alexander then set out on his Asian campaign, leaving Antipater as regent of Macedon.
Conquest of the Persian Empire
Alexander’s army crossed the Hellespont in 334 BC with approximately 48,100 soldiers, 6100 cavalry and a fleet of 120 ships with crews numbering 38,000, drawn from Macedon 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. Alexander left the government of Caria to Ada, who adopted Alexander as her son.
From Halicarnassus, Alexander proceeded into mountainous Lycia and the Pamphylian plain, asserting control over all coastal cities in order to deny the Persians naval bases. 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 story, Alexander proclaimed that it did not matter how the knot was undone, and hacked it apart with his sword.
The Levant and Syria
After spending the winter campaigning in Asia Minor, Alexander’s army crossed the Cilician Gates in 333 BC, and defeated the main Persian army under the command of Darius III at the Battle of Issus in November. Darius fled the battle, causing his army to break, and 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 massacred all the men of military age, and sold the women and children into slavery.
When Alexander destroyed Tyre, most of the towns on the route to Egypt quickly capitulated, with the exception of Gaza. The stronghold at Gaza was built on a hill and was heavily fortified. At the beginning of the Siege of Gaza, Alexander utilized the engines he had employed against Tyre. After three unsuccessful assaults, the stronghold was finally taken by force, but not before Alexander received a serious shoulder wound. As in Tyre, the male population was put to the sword and the women and children were sold into slavery.
Jerusalem, on the other hand, opened its gates in surrender, and according to Josephus, Alexander was shown the book of Daniel’s prophecy, presumably chapter 8, where a mighty Greek king would subdue and conquer the Persian Empire. Thereupon, Alexander spared Jerusalem and pushed south into Egypt.
Alexander advanced on Egypt in later 332 BC, where he was regarded as a liberator. He was pronounced the new “master of the Universe” and son of the deity of Amun at the Oracle of Siwa Oasis in the Libyan desert. Henceforth, Alexander often referred to Zeus-Ammon as his true father, and subsequent currency depicted him adorned with ram horns as a symbol of his divinity. During his stay in Egypt, he founded Alexandria-by-Egypt, which would become the prosperous capital of the Ptolemaic Kingdom after his death.
Assyria and Babylonia
Leaving Egypt in 331 BC, Alexander marched eastward into Mesopotamia (now northern Iraq) and defeated Darius once more at the Battle of Gaugamela. Once again, Darius was forced to leave the field, and Alexander chased him as far as Arbela. Gaugamela would prove to be the final and decisive encounter between Darius and Alexander. Darius fled over the mountains to Ecbatana (modern Hamedan), and Alexander marched to and captured Babylon.
From Babylon, Alexander went to Susa, one of the Achaemenid capitals, and captured its legendary treasury. Sending the bulk of his army to the Persian ceremonial capital of Persepolis via the Royal Road, Alexander himself took selected troops on the direct route to the city. Alexander had to storm the pass of the Persian Gates (in the modern Zagros Mountains) which had been blocked by a Persian army under Ariobarzanes and then made a dash for Persepolis before its garrison could loot the treasury. On entering Persepolis, Alexander allowed his troops to loot the city, before finally calling a halt to it. Alexander stayed in Persepolis for five months. During Alexander’s stay in the capital a fire broke out in the eastern palace of Xerxes and spread to the rest of the city. Theories abound as to whether this was the result of a drunken accident, or a deliberate act of revenge for the burning of the Acropolis of Athens during the Second Persian War. Arrian, in one of his infrequent criticisms of Alexander, states “I too do not think that Alexander showed good sense in this action nor that he could punish the Persians of a long past age.”
Fall of the Empire and the East
Alexander then set off in pursuit of Darius again, first into Media, and then Parthia. The Persian king was no longer in control of his destiny, having been taken prisoner by Bessus, his Bactrian satrap and kinsman. As Alexander approached, Bessus had his men fatally stab the Great King and then declared himself Darius’ successor as Artaxerxes V, before retreating into Central Asia to launch a guerrilla campaign against Alexander. Darius’ remains were buried by Alexander next to his Achaemenid predecessors in a full regal funeral. Alexander claimed that, while dying, Darius had named him as his successor to the Achaemenid throne. The Achaemenid Empire is normally considered to have fallen with the death of Darius.
Alexander, now considering himself the legitimate successor to Darius, viewed Bessus as a usurper to the Achaemenid throne, and set out to defeat him. This campaign, initially against Bessus, turned into a grand tour of central Asia, with Alexander founding a series of new cities, all called Alexandria, including modern Kandahar in Afghanistan, and Alexandria Eschate (“The Furthest”) in modern Tajikistan. The campaign took Alexander through Media, Parthia, Aria (West Afghanistan), Drangiana, Arachosia (South and Central Afghanistan), Bactria (North and Central Afghanistan), and Scythia.
Bessus was betrayed in 329 BC by Spitamenes, who held an undefined position in the satrapy of Sogdiana. Spitamenes handed over Bessus to Ptolemy, one of Alexander’s trusted companions, and Bessus was executed. However, when, at some point later, Alexander was on the Jaxartes dealing with an incursion by a horse nomad army, Spitamenes raised Sogdiana in revolt. Alexander personally defeated the Scythians at the Battle of Jaxartes and immediately launched a campaign against Spitamenes and defeated him in the Battle of Gabai; after the defeat, Spitamenes was killed by his own men, who then sued for peace.
Problems and plots
During this time, Alexander took the Persian title “King of Kings” (Shahanshah) and adopted some elements of Persian dress and customs at his court, notably the custom of proskynesis, either a symbolic kissing of the hand, or prostration on the ground, that Persians paid to their social superiors. The Greeks regarded the gesture as the province of deities and believed that Alexander meant to deify himself by requiring it. This cost him much in the sympathies of many of his countrymen, and he eventually abandoned it. A plot against his life was revealed, and one of his officers, Philotas, was executed for failing to bring the plot to his attention. The death of the son necessitated the death of the father, and thus Parmenion, who had been charged with guarding the treasury at Ecbatana, was assassinated by command of Alexander, so he might not make attempts at vengeance. Most infamously, Alexander personally slew the man who had saved his life at Granicus, Cleitus the Black, during a drunken argument at Maracanda. Later, in the Central Asian campaign, a second plot against his life was revealed, this one instigated by his own royal pages. His official historian, Callisthenes of Olynthus (who had fallen out of favor with the king by leading the opposition to his attempt to introduce proskynesis), was accused of being implicated in the plot; however, there has never been consensus among historians regarding his involvement in the conspiracy.
Macedon in Alexander’s absence
When Alexander set out for Asia, he left his general Antipater, an experienced military and political leader and part of the “Old Guard” that had served under Philip II, in charge of Macedon. Alexander’s sacking of Thebes ensured that Greece remained quiet during his absence. The one exception was a call to arms by the Spartan king Agis III in 331 BC, whom Antipater defeated and killed in battle at Megalopolis the following year. He then referred the punishment of the Spartans to Alexander, who chose to pardon them. There was also considerable friction between Antipater and Alexander’s mother Olympias, and both wrote to Alexander complaining about the other. In general, Greece enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity during Alexander’s campaign in Asia. Alexander also sent back vast sums from his conquest, which helped stimulate the economy and increased trade between the new areas of his empire. However, Alexander’s constant demands for troops and the migrations of numerous Macedonians to the various parts of his empire depleted Macedonian power, greatly weakening it in the years after his death, ultimately leading to its defeat and subjugation by Rome.
Invasion of the Indian subcontinent
After the death of Spitamenes and his marriage to Roxana (Roshanak in Bactrian) to cement his relations with his new Central Asian satrapies, Alexander turned his attention to the Indian subcontinent. Alexander invited all the chieftains of the former satrapy of Gandhara, in the north of what is now Pakistan, to come to him and submit to his authority. Omphis, ruler of Taxila, whose kingdom extended from the Indus to the Hydaspes, complied, but the chieftains of some hill clans, including the Aspasioi and Assakenoi sections of the Kambojas (known in Indian texts also as Ashvayanas and Ashvakayanas), refused to submit.
In the winter of 327/326 BC, Alexander personally led a campaign against these clans; the Aspasioi of Kunar valleys, the Guraeans of the Guraeus valley, and the Assakenoi of the Swat and Buner valleys. A fierce contest ensued with the Aspasioi in which Alexander himself was wounded in the shoulder by a dart but eventually the Aspasioi lost the fight. Alexander then faced the Assakenoi, who put up a stubborn resistance to Alexander in the strongholds of Massaga, Ora and Aornos. The fort of Massaga could only be reduced after several days of bloody fighting in which Alexander himself was wounded seriously in the ankle. According to Curtius, “Not only did Alexander slaughter the entire population of Massaga, but also did he reduce its buildings to rubbles”. A similar slaughter then followed at Ora, another stronghold of the Assakenoi. In the aftermath of Massaga and Ora, numerous Assakenians fled to the fortress of Aornos. Alexander followed close behind their heels and captured the strategic hill-fort after the fourth day of a bloody fight.
After Aornos, Alexander crossed the Indus and fought and won an epic battle against a local Punjabi ruler Porus, who ruled a region in the Punjab, in the Battle of the Hydaspes in 326 BC. Alexander was greatly impressed by Porus for his bravery in battle, and therefore made an alliance with him and appointed him as satrap of his own kingdom, even adding land he did not own before. Additional reasons were probably political since, to control lands so distant from Greece required local assistance and co-operation. Alexander named one of the two new cities that he founded on opposite sides of the Hydaspes river, Bucephala, in honor of the horse that had brought him to India, and had died during the battle and the other Nicaea (Victory) at the site of modern day Mong.
Revolt of the army
East of Porus’ kingdom, near the Ganges River, was the powerful Nanda Empire of Magadha and Gangaridai Empire of Bengal. Fearing the prospects of facing other powerful Indian armies and exhausted by years of campaigning, his army mutinied at the Hyphasis River, refusing to march further east. This river thus marks the easternmost extent of Alexander’s conquests.
As for the Macedonians, however, their struggle with Porus blunted their courage and stayed their further advance into India. For having had all they could do to repulse an enemy who mustered only twenty thousand infantry and two thousand horse, they violently opposed Alexander when he insisted on crossing the river Ganges also, the width of which, as they learned, was thirty-two furlongs, its depth a hundred fathoms, while its banks on the further side were covered with multitudes of men-at-arms and horsemen and elephants. For they were told that the kings of the Ganderites and Praesii were awaiting them with eighty thousand horsemen, two hundred thousand footmen, eight thousand chariots, and six thousand war elephants.
Alexander spoke to his army and tried to persuade them to march further into India but Coenus pleaded with him to change his opinion and return; the men, he said, “longed to again see their parents, their wives and children, their homeland”. Alexander, seeing the unwillingness of his men, eventually agreed and turned south, marching along the Indus. Along the way his army conquered the Malli clans (in modern day Multan), and other Indian tribes.
Alexander sent much of his army to Carmania (modern southern Iran) with his general Craterus, and commissioned a fleet to explore the Persian Gulf shore under his admiral Nearchus, while he led the rest of his forces back to Persia through the more difficult southern route along the Gedrosian Desert and Makran (now part of southern Iran and Pakistan). Alexander reached Susa in 324 BC, but not before losing a large number of men to the harsh conditions of the desert.
Last years in Persia
Discovering that many of his satraps and military governors had misbehaved in his absence, Alexander executed a number of them as examples, on his way to Susa. As a gesture of thanks, he paid off the debts of his soldiers, and announced that he would send those over-aged and disabled veterans back to Macedon under Craterus. But, his troops misunderstood his intention and mutinied at the town of Opis, refusing to be sent away and bitterly criticizing his adoption of Persian customs and dress, and the introduction of Persian officers and soldiers into Macedonian units. After three days, unable to persuade his men to back down, he began to give select Persians command posts in the army and Macedonian military titles were conferred upon Persian units. The Macedonians quickly begged forgiveness, which Alexander accepted, and that evening he held a great banquet which was attended by several thousands of his men at which they ate together. In an attempt to craft a lasting harmony between his Macedonian and Persian subjects, he held a mass marriage of his senior officers to Persian and other noblewomen at Susa, but few of those marriages seem to have lasted much beyond a year. Meanwhile, upon his return, Alexander learned some men had desecrated the tomb of Cyrus the Great, and swiftly executed them, because they were put in charge of guarding the tomb Alexander held in honor.
After Alexander traveled to Ecbatana to retrieve the bulk of the Persian treasure, his closest friend and possible lover, Hephaestion, died of an illness, or possibly of poisoning. Arrian finds great diversity and casts doubts on the accounts of Alexander’s displays of grief, although he says that they all agree that Hephaestion’s death devastated him, and that he ordered the preparation of an expensive funeral pyre in Babylon, as well as a decree for the observance of a public mourning.
Back in Babylon, Alexander planned a series of new campaigns, beginning with an invasion of Arabia, but he would not have a chance to realize them, as he died shortly after his return to Babylon.
Death and succession
On either 10 or 11 June 323 BC, Alexander died in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, in Babylon at the age of 32. Details of the death differ slightly – Plutarch‘s account is that roughly 14 days before his death, Alexander entertained his admiral Nearchus, and spent the night and next day drinking with Medius of Larissa. He developed a fever, which grew steadily worse, until he was unable to speak, and the common soldiers, anxious about his health, demanded and were granted the right to file past him as he silently waved at them. Diodorus recounts that Alexander was struck down with pain after downing a large bowl of unmixed wine in honour of Hercules, and died after some agony, which is also mentioned as an alternative by Arrian, but Plutarch specifically denies this claim.
Given the propensity of the Macedonian aristocracy to assassination, allegations of foul play have been made about the death of Alexander. Diodorus, Plutarch, Arrian and Justin all mention the theory that Alexander was poisoned. Plutarch dismisses it as a fabrication, while both Diodorus and Arrian say that they only mention it for the sake of completeness. The accounts are nevertheless fairly consistent in designating Antipater, recently removed from the position of Macedonian viceroy, and at odds with Olympias, as the head of the alleged plot. Perhaps taking his summons to Babylon as a death sentence in waiting, and having seen the fate of Parmenion and Philotas, Antipater arranged for Alexander to be poisoned by his son Iollas, who was Alexander’s wine-pourer. There is even a suggestion that Aristotle may have had a hand in the plot. Conversely, the strongest argument against the poison theory is the fact that twelve days had passed between the start of his illness and his death; in the ancient world, such long-acting poisons were probably not available. In 2010, however, a theory was proposed that indicated that the circumstances of his death are compatible with poisoning by water of the river Styx (Mavroneri) that contained calicheamicin, a dangerous compound produced by bacteria present in its waters.
Several natural causes (diseases) have been suggested as the cause of Alexander’s death; malaria or typhoid fever are obvious candidates. A 1998 article in the New England Journal of Medicine attributed his death to typhoid fever complicated by bowel perforation and ascending paralysis, whereas another recent analysis has suggested pyrogenic spondylitis or meningitis as the cause. Other illnesses could have also been the culprit, including acute pancreatitis or the West Nile virus. Natural-cause theories also tend to emphasise that Alexander’s health may have been in general decline after years of heavy drinking and his suffering severe wounds (including one in India that nearly claimed his life). Furthermore, the anguish that Alexander felt after Hephaestion‘s death may have contributed to his declining health.
Fate after death
Alexander’s body was placed in a gold anthropoid sarcophagus, which was in turn placed in a second gold casket. According to Aelian, a seer called Aristander foretold that the land where Alexander was laid to rest “would be happy and unvanquishable forever”. Perhaps more likely, the successors may have seen possession of the body as a symbol of legitimacy (it was a royal prerogative to bury the previous king). At any rate, Ptolemy stole the funeral cortege, and took it to Memphis. His successor, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, transferred the sarcophagus to Alexandria, where it remained until at least Late Antiquity. Ptolemy IX Lathyros, one of the last successors of Ptolemy I, replaced Alexander’s sarcophagus with a glass one so he could melt the original down for issues of his coinage. Pompey, Julius Caesar and Augustus all visited the tomb in Alexandria, the latter allegedly accidentally knocking the nose off the body. Caligula was said to have taken Alexander’s breastplate from the tomb for his own use. In c. AD 200, Emperor Septimius Severus closed Alexander’s tomb to the public. His son and successor, Caracalla, was a great admirer of Alexander, and visited the tomb in his own reign. After this, details on the fate of the tomb are sketchy.
The so-called “Alexander Sarcophagus“, discovered near Sidon and now in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, is so named not because it was thought to have contained Alexander’s remains, but because its bas-reliefs depict Alexander and his companions hunting and in battle with the Persians. It was originally thought to have been the sarcophagus of Abdalonymus (died 311 BC), the king of Sidon appointed by Alexander immediately following the battle of Issus in 331. However, more recently, it has been suggested that it may date from earlier than Abdalonymus’ death.
Division of the empire
Alexander’s death was so sudden that when reports of his death reached Greece, they were not immediately believed. Alexander had no obvious or legitimate heir, his son Alexander IV by Roxane being born after Alexander’s death. This left the huge question as to who would rule the newly conquered, and barely pacified empire. According to Diodorus, Alexander’s companions asked him when he was on his deathbed to whom he bequeathed his kingdom; his laconic reply was “tôi kratistôi”—”to the strongest”. Given that Arrian and Plutarch have Alexander speechless by this point, it is possible that this is an apocryphal story. Diodorus, Curtius and Justin also have the more plausible story of Alexander passing his signet ring to Perdiccas, one of his bodyguard and leader of the companion cavalry, in front of witnesses, thereby possibly nominating Perdiccas as his successor.
In any event, Perdiccas initially avoided explicitly claiming power, instead suggesting that Roxane’s baby would be king, if male; with himself, Craterus, Leonnatus and Antipater as guardians. However, the infantry, under the command of Meleager, rejected this arrangement since they had been excluded from the discussion. Instead, they supported Alexander’s half-brother Philip Arrhidaeus. Eventually, the two sides reconciled, and after the birth of Alexander IV, he and Philip III were appointed joint kings of the Empire—albeit in name only.
It was not long, however, before dissension and rivalry began to afflict the Macedonians. The satrapies handed out by Perdiccas at the Partition of Babylon became power bases each general could use to launch his own bid for power. After the assassination of Perdiccas in 321 BC, all semblance of Macedonian unity collapsed, and 40 years of war between “The Successors” (Diadochi) ensued before the Hellenistic world settled into four stable power blocks: the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, the Seleucid Empire in the east, the Kingdom of Pergamon in Asia Minor, and Macedon. In the process, both Alexander IV and Philip III were murdered.
Diodorus relates that Alexander had given detailed written instructions to Craterus some time before his death. Although Craterus had already started to carry out some of Alexander’s commands, the successors chose not to further implement them, on the grounds they were impractical and extravagant. Nevertheless, Alexander’s will was read out to his troops by Perdiccas upon Alexander’s death. The testament called for military expansion into the southern and western Mediterranean, monumental constructions, and the intermixing of Eastern and Western populations. Its contents included:
- Construction of a monumental tomb for his father Philip, “to match the greatest of the pyramids of Egypt”
- Erection of great temples in Delos, Delphi, Dodona, Dium, Amphipolis, and a monumental temple to Athena at Troy
- Conquest of Arabia and the entire Mediterranean Basin
- Circumnavigation of Africa
- Establishment of cities and the “transplant of populations from Asia to Europe and in the opposite direction from Europe to Asia, in order to bring the largest continent to common unity and to friendship by means of intermarriage and family ties.”
Alexander earned the epithet “the Great” due to his unparalleled success as a military commander. He is known to have never lost a battle, despite being constantly outnumbered in the many battles he fought. This success was due to a successful use of terrain, mastery of phalanx and cavalry tactics, bold strategy, and particularly the ability to inspire fierce loyalty among his troops. The Macedonian phalanx, armed with the sarissa, a spear six meters in length, had been developed and perfected by Philip II through rigorous training, and Alexander used its speed and maneuverability to great effect against the larger but more disparate Persian forces. Alexander also recognized the potential for disunity among his diverse army, which had different language and weapons, and overcame it by being personally involved in the action, in the manner of a Macedonian king.
In his first battle in Asia, at Granicus, Alexander used only a small portion of his strength, perhaps 13,000 infantry with 5,000 cavalry, against a much larger Persian force of 40,000. Alexander placed the phalanx at the center and cavalry and archers on the wings, so that his line was the same length as that of the Persian cavalry line he faced, about 3 km (1.86 mi) (by contrast, the Persian infantry was stationed behind the cavalry). This ensured that he would not be outflanked, while his phalanx, armed with long pikes, had a considerable advantage over the scimitars and javelins of the Persians, and Macedonian losses were negligible compared to those of the Persians.
At Issus in 333 BC, his first confrontation with Darius, he used the same deployment, and again the phalanx at the center pushed through with the advantage of its long pikes. This enabled Alexander to personally lead the charge in the center against Darius, causing him to flee and his army to rout. At the decisive encounter with Darius at Gaugamela, Darius had equipped his chariots with scythes on the wheels to break up the phalanx and his cavalry with pikes. Alexander arranged a double phalanx, with the center advancing at an angle, parting when the chariots bore down and then reforming. The advance was successful and broke Darius’ center, causing the latter to flee once again.
When faced with opponents who used fighting techniques he was unfamiliar with, such as in Central Asia and India, Alexander was quick to adapt his forces to his opponents fighting style. Thus, in Bactria and Sogdiana, Alexander successfully used his javelin throwers and archers to prevent outflanking movements, while massing his cavalry at the center. In India, when confronted by Porus’ elephant corps, the Macedonians were victorious by opening their ranks to envelop the elephants and using their sarissas to strike upwards and dislodge the elephants’ handlers.
Greek biographer Plutarch (ca. 45–120 AD) describes Alexander appearance as:
1 The outward appearance of Alexander is best represented by the statues of him which Lysippus made, and it was by this artist alone that Alexander himself thought it fit that he should be modelled. 2 For those peculiarities which many of his successors and friends afterwards tried to imitate, namely, the poise of the neck, which was bent slightly to the left, and the melting glance of his eyes, this artist has accurately observed. 3 Apelles, however, in painting him as wielder of the thunder-bolt, did not reproduce his complexion, but made it too dark and swarthy. Whereas he was of a fair colour, as they say, and his fairness passed into ruddiness on his breast particularly, and in his face. 4 Moreover, that a very pleasant odour exhaled from his skin and that there was a fragrance about his mouth and all his flesh, so that his garments were filled with it, this we have read in the Memoirs of Aristoxenus.
Another Greek historian Arrian (Lucius Flavius Arrianus ‘Xenophon’ ca. 86 – 160) described Alexander as:
British historian Peter Green (born 1924) provides a description of Alexander’s appearance, based on his review of the statues and some ancient documents:
Physically, Alexander was not prepossessing. Even by Macedonian standards he was very short, though stocky and tough. His beard was scanty, and he stood out against his hirsute Macedonian barons by going clean-shaven. His neck was in some way twisted, so that he appeared to be gazing upward at an angle. His eyes (one blue, one brown) revealed a dewy, feminine quality. He had a high complexion and a harsh voice.
Ancient authors record that Alexander the Great was so pleased with portraits of himself created by Lysippos that he decreed no other sculptor would make his image. Lysippos had often used the Contrapposto sculptural scheme to portray Alexander and other characters like Apoxyomenos, Hermes and Eros. Lysippos’ sculpture, famous for its lifelike naturalism, as opposed to a stiffer, more static pose, is thought to be the most faithful depiction of Alexander.
Some of Alexander’s strongest personality traits formed in response to his parents. His mother had huge ambitions for Alexander, and encouraged him to believe it was his destiny to conquer the Persian Empire. Olympias’ influence instilled great ambition and a sense of destiny in Alexander, and Plutarch tells us that his ambition “kept his spirit serious and lofty in advance of his years”. However, it was his father Philip who was Alexander’s most immediate and influential role model, as the young Alexander watched him go out on campaign practically every year, winning victory after victory while ignoring the severe wounds he received in battle. Alexander’s relationship with his father generated the competitive side of his personality; he had a need to out-do his father, as his reckless nature in battle suggests. While Alexander worried that his father would leave him “no great or brilliant achievement to be displayed to the world”, he still attempted to downplay his father’s achievements to his companions.
According to Plutarch, among Alexander’s traits were a violent temper and rash, impulsive nature, which undoubtedly contributed to some of his decisions during his life. Although Alexander was stubborn and did not respond well to orders from his father, he was easier to persuade by reasoned debate. Indeed, set beside his fiery temperament, there was a calmer side to Alexander; perceptive, logical, and calculating. He had a great desire for knowledge, a love for philosophy, and was an avid reader. This was no doubt in part due to his tutelage by Aristotle; Alexander was intelligent and quick to learn. The tale of his “solving” the Gordian knot neatly demonstrates this. The intelligent and rational side to Alexander is amply demonstrated by his ability and success as a general. He had great self-restraint in “pleasures of the body”, contrasting with his lack of self control with alcohol.
Alexander was undoubtedly erudite, and was a patron to both the arts and sciences. However, he had little interest in sports, or the Olympic games (unlike his father), seeking only the Homeric ideals of honor (timê) and glory (kudos). He had great charisma and force of personality, characteristics, which made him a great leader. This is further emphasised by the inability of any of his generals to unite the Macedonians and retain the Empire after his death – only Alexander had the personality to do so.
During his final years, and especially after the death of Hephaestion, Alexander began to exhibit signs of megalomania and paranoia. His extraordinary achievements, coupled with his own ineffable sense of destiny and the flattery of his companions, may have combined to produce this effect. His delusions of grandeur are readily visible in the testament that he ordered Craterus to fulfil, and in his desire to conquer the known world.
He seems to have come to believe himself a deity, or at least sought to deify himself. Olympias always insisted to him that he was the son of Zeus, a theory apparently confirmed to him by the oracle of Amun at Siwa. He began to identify himself as the son of Zeus-Ammon. Alexander adopted some elements of Persian dress and customs at his court, notably the custom of proskynesis, a practice of which the Macedonians disapproved, and were loath to perform. This behavior cost him much in the sympathies of many of his countrymen. On the other hand, Alexander was a pragmatic ruler who was well aware of the difficulties of ruling such an array of culturally disparate peoples, many of whom lived in kingdoms where the king was divine. Thus, rather than megalomania, such behavior may simply have been a practical attempt at strengthening his rule and keeping his empire together.
The greatest emotional relationship of Alexander’s life was with his friend, general, and bodyguard Hephaestion, the son of a Macedonian noble. Hephaestion’s death devastated Alexander, sending him into a period of grieving. This event may have contributed to Alexander’s failing health, and detached mental state during his final months. Alexander married twice: Roxana, daughter of the Bactrian nobleman Oxyartes, out of love; and Stateira II, a Persian princess and daughter of Darius III of Persia, as a matter of political interest. He apparently had two sons, Alexander IV of Macedon of Roxana and, possibly, Heracles of Macedon from his mistress Barsine; and lost another child when Roxana miscarried at Babylon.
Alexander’s sexuality has been the subject of speculation and controversy. Nowhere in the ancient sources is it stated that Alexander had homosexual relationships, or that Alexander’s relationship with Hephaestion was sexual. Aelian, however, writes of Alexander’s visit to Troy where “Alexander garlanded the tomb of Achilles and Hephaestion that of Patroclus, the latter riddling that he was a beloved of Alexander, in just the same way as Patroclus was of Achilles”. Noting that the word eromenos (ancient Greek for beloved) does not necessarily bear sexual meaning, Alexander may indeed have been bisexual, which in his time was not controversial.
Green argues that there is little evidence in the ancient sources Alexander had much interest in women, particularly since he did not produce an heir until the very end of his life. However, he was relatively young when he died, and Ogden suggests that Alexander’s matrimonial record is more impressive than his father’s at the same age. Apart from wives, Alexander had many more female companions. Alexander had accumulated a harem in the style of Persian kings but he used it rather sparingly; showing great self-control in “pleasures of the body”. Nevertheless, Plutarch describes how Alexander was infatuated by Roxana while complimenting him on not forcing himself on her. Green suggests that, in the context of the period, Alexander formed quite strong friendships with women, including Ada of Caria, who adopted Alexander, and even Darius’s mother Sisygambis, who supposedly died from grief upon hearing of Alexander’s death.
Alexander’s legacy extends beyond his military conquests. His campaigns greatly increased contacts and trade between East and West, and vast areas to the east were significantly exposed to Greek civilization and influence. Some of the cities he founded became major cultural centers, many surviving to this day. His chroniclers recorded valuable information about the areas through which he marched, while the Greeks themselves got a sense of belonging to a wider world, beyond the Mediterranean.
Alexander’s most immediate legacy was the introduction of Macedonian rule to huge new swathes of Asia. At the time of his death, Alexander’s empire covered some 5.2 million square km in area, ans was the largest state of its time. Many of these areas would remain in Macedonian hands or under Greek influence for the next 200–300 years. The successor states that emerged were, at least initially, dominant forces during this epoch, and these 300 years are often referred to as the Hellenistic period.
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), of relatively humble origin, took control of the Punjab, and then with that power base proceeded to conquer the Nanda Empire of northern India.
Founding of cities
Over the course of his conquests, Alexander founded some twenty cities that bore his name, most of them east of the Tigris. The first, and greatest, was Alexandria in Egypt, which would become one of the leading cities of the Mediterranean in the centuries to follow. The cities were founded taking trade routes as well as defensive positions into account. At first the cities must have been inhospitable, and little more than defensive garrisons. Following Alexander’s death, many Greeks that were settled there tried to return to Greece. Yet a century or so after Alexander’s death many of the cities he founded were thriving, with elaborate public buildings and substantial populations, which included both Greeks and local peoples. Several of these cities survive to the present day, while some were abandoned over the course of time, falling into ruin.
Hellenization is a term coined by the German historian Johann Gustav Droysen to denote the spread of Greek language, culture, and population into the former Persian empire after Alexander’s conquest. That this export took place is undoubted, and can be seen in the great Hellenistic cities of, for instance, Alexandria, Antioch and Seleucia (south of modern Baghdad). However, exactly how widespread and deeply permeating this was, and to what extent it was a deliberate policy, is debatable. Alexander certainly made deliberate efforts to insert Greek elements into Persian culture and in some instances he attempted to hybridize Greek and Persian culture, culminating in his aspiration to homogenise the populations of Asia and Europe. However, the successors explicitly rejected such policies after his death. Nevertheless, Hellenization occurred throughout the region, and moreover, was accompanied by a distinct and opposite ‘Orientalization’ of the Successor states.
The core of Hellenistic culture was essentially Athenian by origin. The close association of men from all over Greece in Alexander’s army directly led to the emergence of the largely Attic-based “koine“, or “common” Greek dialect. Koine was thus spread throughout the Hellenistic world, becoming the lingua franca of the lands Alexander conquered and eventually the ancestor of modern Greek. Furthermore, town planning, education, local government, and art current in the Hellenistic period were all based on Classical Greek ideals, evolving though into distinct new forms commonly grouped as Hellenistic. Aspects of the Hellenistic culture were still evident in the traditions of the Byzantine Empire up until the mid-15th century.
Some of the most unusual effects of Hellenization can be seen in India, in the region of the relatively late-arising Indo-Greek kingdoms. There, isolated from Europe, Greek culture apparently hybridised with Indian, and especially Buddhist, influences. The first realistic portrayals of the Buddha appeared at this time; they are modelled on Greek statues of Apollo. Several Buddhist traditions may have been influenced by the ancient Greek religion: the concept of Boddhisatvas is reminiscent of Greek divine heroes, and some Mahayana ceremonial practices (burning incense, gifts of flowers, and food placed on altars) are similar to those practiced by the ancient Greeks. Zen Buddhism draws in part on the ideas of Greek stoics, such as Zeno. One Greek king, Menander I, probably became Buddhist, and is immortalized in Buddhist literature as ‘Milinda’.
Influence on Rome
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 their 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 Alexander’s tomb in 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.
There are many legendary accounts surrounding the life of Alexander the Great, with a relatively large number deriving from his own lifetime, probably encouraged by Alexander himself. His court historian Callisthenes portrayed the sea in Cilicia as drawing back from him in proskynesis. Writing shortly after Alexander’s death, another participant, Onesicritus, went so far as to invent a tryst between Alexander and Thalestris, queen of the mythical Amazons. When Onesicritus read this passage to his patron, Alexander’s general and later King Lysimachus reportedly quipped, “I wonder where I was at the time.”
In the first centuries after Alexander’s death, probably in Alexandria, a quantity of the more legendary material coalesced into a text known as the Alexander Romance, later falsely ascribed to the historian Callisthenes and therefore known as Pseudo-Callisthenes. This text underwent numerous expansions and revisions throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
In Persian literature
In Pre-Islamic middle Persian texts, Aleskandar is always accompanied by the title Gojastak or Gojaste which means damned. He is said to have originated from Arum which generally refers to the Byzantine empire or ancient Greece. In Bundahishn he is mentioned as Aleksandar Kaisar who defeated Dara and burned the holy book of the Zoroastrians, Avesta. The rule of Iranians on Iran was considered to be revived many years later by Ardashir and as such Alexander was thought to be first in line of the Parthian kings.
However, after the Islamic conquests there is a change in this stance and as early as the time Shahnameh was written, he was considered to be a legitimate Persian king, one who was son of Darab the Persian king and Nahid (Lydia) daughter of Philqus. Due to her bad breath, Darab sent back the girl to her homeland and there she bore a child named Eskandar, who later rose to power and waged war with Iran. Dara was another son of Darab, who was eventually killed by his men and the Iranians accepted Eskandar as their new king and praised him. Some literature critiques believe that this change in the reputation was due to the use of a specific source by ferdowsi which no longer exists.
Later it is mentioned that the name Eskandar was given because of the remedy it provided for his mother. Arab historians then referred to him as al-Iskandar. Based on that same source or other sources available, Nizami composed a Persian epic poem about Eskandar which is considered to be completely fictional and marks the finally evolved figure of Alexander which remained popular in Iran. In this poem Alexander is first a conqueror, then he searches unsuccessfully for the fountain of life and gradually becomes a man of wisdom, has debates with Greek and Indian philosophers and eventually becomes a prophet.
In ancient and modern culture
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 the Middle Ages he was created a member of the Nine Worthies, a group of heroes encapsulating all the ideal qualities of chivalry.
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, in translation, “Alexander wins so many battles that he loses the war”. It is used to address anyone who is good at winning but never takes advantage of those wins.