Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great
Basileus of Macedon

Alexander fighting the Persian king Darius III. From Alexander Mosaic, Naples National Archaeological Museum
Reign 336–323 BC
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
Birthplace Pella, Macedon
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
Dynasty Argead dynasty
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 ancient Greece. By the age of thirty, he had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, 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.[1] Born in Pella in 356 BC, Alexander was tutored by Aristotle until the age of 16. Alexander succeeded his father, Philip II of Macedon, to the throne in 336 BC after Philip was assassinated. Philip had brought together most of the city-states of mainland Greece under a Macedonian hegemony, using both military and diplomatic means.

Upon Philip's death, Alexander inherited a strong kingdom and an experienced army. He was awarded the generalship of Greece, and with his authority firmly established, launched the military plans for expansion drawn up by his father. In 334 BC he invaded Persian-ruled Asia Minor and began a series of campaigns that lasted ten years. Alexander broke the power of Persia in a series of decisive battles, most notably the battles of Issus and Gaugamela. He subsequently overthrew the Persian king Darius III and conquered the entirety of the Persian Empire.i[›] At that point the Macedonian Empire stretched from the Adriatic Sea to the Indus River.

Seeking 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. He founded some twenty cities that bore his name, Alexandria in Egypt being the most important. Alexander's 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 in 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 has become the measure against which generals, to this day, compare themselves, and military academies throughout the world still teach his tactics.[1] ii[›]


Early life

Lineage and childhood

Young Alexander the Great by Lysippos, from Pella, Greece, 3rd century BC

Alexander was born on 20 (or 21) July 356 BC,[2][3] in Pella, the capital of the Ancient Greek Kingdom of Macedon and son of its king, Philip II. His mother was Philip's fourth wife Olympias, the daughter of Neoptolemus I, king of Epirus.[4][5][6][7] Although Philip had seven or eight wives, Olympias was his principal wife for some time, likely a result of giving birth to Alexander.[8]

Several legends surround Alexander's birth and childhood.[9] 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 is 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.[4] Plutarch offers a variety of interpretations of these dreams: that Olympias 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, claiming she either told Alexander, or that she dismissed the suggestion as impious.[4]

On the day that Alexander was born, Philip was preparing himself for a siege on the city of Potidea on the peninsula of Chalcidice. That same day, Philip received news that his general Parmenion had defeated the combined Illyrian and Paeonian armies, and 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. This lead Hegesias of Magnesia to say that it had burnt down because Artemis was away, attending the birth of Alexander.[2][6][10] Such legends may have been circulated when Alexander was king, and possibly at his own instigation, not just to show he was special, but that he was superhuman and destined for greatness from conception.[9]

In his early years, Alexander was raised by a nurse, Lanike, sister of Alexander's future general Cleitus the Black. Later in his childhood, Alexander was tutored by the strict Leonidas, a relative of his mother, and by Lysimachus.[11][12] Alexander was raised in the manner of noble Macedonian youths, learning to read, play the lyre, ride, fight, and hunt.[13]

When Alexander was ten years old, a 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 away. Alexander however, detecting the horse's fear of his own shadow, asked to tame the horse, which he eventually managed.[9] Plutarch states that, Philip, overjoyed at this display of courage and ambition, kissed his son 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.[14] Alexander named the horse Bucephalas, meaning "ox-head", and he would be Alexander's companion through his journeys as far as India. When the animal died (due to old age, according to Plutarch, at the age of thirty years), Alexander named a city after him, Bucephala.[15][16][17]

Adolescence and education

Aristotle tutoring Alexander

When Alexander was thirteen years old, Philip began to search for a tutor, and had considered such academics as Isocrates and Speusippus, the latter offering to resign to take up the post. In the end, Philip offered the job to Aristotle, who accepted, and was 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.[18][19][20][21]

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'. It is here 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 would later to take on his campaigns.[22][23][24][25]

Philip's heir

Regency and ascent of Macedon

Philip II of Macedon, Alexander's father

When Alexander was sixteen years old, his education under Aristotle ended. Philip waged war against Byzantion, and Alexander was left in charge as regent and heir apparent.[9] During Philip's absence, the Thracian Maedi revolted against Macedonia. Alexander responded quickly, defeating the Maedi and driving them from their territory. He colonized it with Greeks, and founded a city named Alexandropolis.[26][27][28][29]

Upon Philip's returned from Byzantium, he dispatched Alexander with a small force to subdue revolts in southern Thrace. During a 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, only to be repelled by Alexander.[30]

Philip and his army joined his son in 338 BC, and they marched south through Thermopylae, taking it after stubborn resistance from its Theban garrison. They went on to occupy the city of Elatea, only a few days march from both Athens and Thebes. The Athenians, led by Demosthenes, voted to seek alliance with Thebes in the war against Macedonia. Both Athens and Philip sent embassies to win Thebes' favor, with Athens eventually succeeding.[31][32][33] Philip marched on Amphissa (theoretically acting on the request of the Amphicytonic League), capturing the mercenaries sent there by Demosthenes, and accepting the city's surrender. Philip then returned to Elatea, sending a final offer of peace to Athens and Thebes, who both rejected it.[34][35][36]

Statue of Alexander in Istanbul Archaeology Museum

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 wing, 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 some time. Philip deliberately commanded his 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 lines of the Thebans, followed by Philip's generals. Having breached the enemy's cohesion, Philip ordered his troops to press forward and quickly routed the enemy. With the Athenians lost, the Thebans were surrounded. Left to fight alone, they were defeated.[37]

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 simply left.[38] At Corinth, Philip established a "Hellenic Alliance" (modeled on the old anti-Persian alliance of the Greco-Persian Wars), which included most Greek city-states with the exception of Sparta. Philip was then named Hegemon (often translated as 'Supreme Commander') of this league (known by modern scholars as the League of Corinth), and announced his plans for a war against the Persian Empire, which he would command.[39][40]

Exile and return

When Philip returned to Pella, he fell in love with and married Cleopatra Eurydice, the niece of one of his generals, Attalus.[41] The marriage made Alexander's position as heir less secure, since if Cleopatra Eurydice bore Philip a son, there would be a fully Macedonian heir, whereas Alexander was only half-Macedonian.[42] During the wedding banquet, a drunken Attalus gave a speech praying to the gods that the union would produce a legitimate heir to the Macedonian throne.[41]

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.[26]

Alexander fled from Macedon, taking his mother with him,[43] dropping her off with her brother, King Alexander I of Epirus in Dodona, capital of the Molossians. He continued to Illyria,[43] where he sought refuge with the Illyrian King and was treated as a guest, despite having defeated them in battle a few years before. However, it appears Philip never have intended to disown his militarily and politically trained son,[43] 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.[26][44][45]

In the following year, the Persian satrap (governor) of Caria, Pixodarus, offered his eldest daughter to Alexander's half-brother, Philip Arrhidaeus.[43] Olympias and several of Alexander's friends suggested this showed Philip intended to make Arrhidaeus his heir.[43] 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 that he wanted a better bride for him.[43] Philip had four of Alexander's friends, Harpalus, Nearchus, Ptolemy and Erigyius exiled, and had the Corinthians bring Thessalus to him in chains.[42][46][47]

King of Macedon


The Kingdom of Macedon in 336 BC

In 336 BC, while at Aegae attending the wedding of his daughter Cleopatra to Olympias's brother, Alexander I of Epirus, Philip was assassinated by the captain of his bodyguard,[›] 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 nobles and army at the age of 20.[48][49][50]

Consolidation of power

Alexander began his reign by eliminating any potential rivals to the throne. He had his cousin, the former Amyntas IV, executed,[51] 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,[51] who was in command of the advance guard of the army in Asia Minor. Attalus was at that time in correspondence with Demosthenes, regarding the possibility of defecting to Athens. Regardless of whether Attalus intended to defect, he had severely insulted Alexander, and following Olympias' murder of Attalus's niece, Cleopatra Eurydice, Alexander may have felt Attalus was too dangerous to leave alive.[52] Alexander spared the life of Arrhidaeus, who was by all accounts mentally disabled, possibly as a result of poisoning by Olympias.[48][53][54][55]

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 advised to use diplomacy, Alexander mustered the Macedonian cavalry of 3,000 men and rode south towards Thessaly, Macedon's southern neighbor. He found the Thessalian army occupying the pass between Mount Olympus and Mount Ossa, and ordered his men to 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. He then continued south towards the Peloponnese.[56][57][58][59]

Alexander stopped at Thermopylae, where he was recognized as the leader of the Amphictyonic League before heading south to Corinth. Athens then sued for peace and Alexander received their envoy, pardoning those involved in the uprising. At Corinth, there occurred the famous encountered between Alexander and Diogenes the Cynic. When Alexander asked Diogenes what he could do for him, the philosopher disdainfully asked that Alexander stand a little to the side, as he was blocking his sunlight.[60] At Corinth, Alexander was given the title of Hegemon ("leader"), and like Philip, appointed commander of the forthcoming war against Persia. Also while at Corinth, he received news of a Thracian uprising to the north.[57][61]

Balkan campaign

Before crossing to Asia, Alexander wanted to safeguard his northern borders. In the spring of 335 BC, he advanced to suppress several revolts. Starting from Amphipolis, he traveled east into the country of the "Independent Thracians"; and at Mount Haemus, the Macedonian army attacked and defeated the Thracian forces manning the heights.[62] The Macedonians marched into the country of the Triballi, and defeated the Triballian army near the Lyginus river[63] (a tributary of the Danube). Alexander then marched for three days forward to the Danube, encountering the Getae tribe on the opposite shore. Surprising the Getae by crossing the river at night, he forced the their army to retreat after the first cavalry skirmish, leaving their town in the hands of the Macedonian army.[64][65] News then reached Alexander that Cleitus, King of Illyria, and King Glaukias of the Taulanti were in open revolt against his authority. Marching west into Illyria, Alexander defeated each in turn, forcing the two rulers to flee with their troops, leaving the northern frontier secure.[66][67]

While Alexander campaigned north, the Thebans and Athenians rebelled once again. Alexander immediately headed south with his army.[68] While the other cities again hesitated, Thebes decided to resist with vigor. The Theban resistance however was ineffective, and the city was razed to the ground and its territory divided between the other Boeotian cities. The end of Thebes cowed Athens into submission, leaving all of Greece seemingly at peace with Alexander.[68] Alexander then set out on his Asian campaign, leaving Antipater as regent of Macedon.[69]

Conquest of the Persian Empire

Asia Minor

Map of Alexander's empire and his route

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,[68] drawn from Macedon and various Greek city-states, mercenaries, and feudally raised soldiers from Thrace, Paionia, and Illyria.[70] His intent to conquer the entirety of the Persian Empire was shown by his throwing a spear into Asian soil and saying he accepted Asia as a gift from the gods.[68] It also showed Alexander's eagerness to fight, in contrast to his father's tendency to try to use diplomacy.[68] 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.[71] At Halicarnassus, in Caria, 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.[72] Alexander left the government of Caria to Ada, who adopted Alexander as her son.[73]

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.[74] At the ancient Phrygian capital of Gordium, Alexander "undid" the hitherto unsolvable Gordian Knot, a feat said to await the future "king of Asia".[75] According to the story, Alexander proclaimed that it did not matter how the knot was undone, and hacked it apart with his sword.[76]

The Levant and Syria

Detail of Alexander Mosaic, showing Battle of Issus, from the House of the Faun, Pompeii

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.[77] 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.[78] 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.[79]

Alexander proceeded to take possession of Syria, and most of the coast of the Levant.[80] In the following year, 332 BC, he was forced to attack Tyre, which he eventually captured after a long and difficult siege.[81][82] After the capture of Tyre, Alexander massacred all the men of military age, and sold the women and children into slavery.[83]


Name of Alexander the Great in hieroglyphs (written from right to left), circa 330 BC, Egypt. Louvre Museum.

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.[84] 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.[85]

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.[86][87]

Alexander advanced on Egypt in later 332 BC, where he was regarded as a liberator.[88] 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.[89] 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.[90][91] During his stay in Egypt, he founded Alexandria-by-Egypt, which would become the prosperous capital of the Ptolemaic Kingdom after his death.[92]

Assyria and Babylonia

Initial dispositions and opening movements in the Battle of Gaugamela, 331 BC.

Leaving Egypt in 331 BC, Alexander marched eastward into Mesopotamia (now northern Iraq) and defeated Darius once more at the Battle of Gaugamela.[93] 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.[94]


From Babylon, Alexander went to Susa, one of the Achaemenid capitals, and captured its legendary treasury.[94] 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.[95] On entering Persepolis, Alexander allowed his troops to loot the city, before finally calling a halt to it.[96] Alexander stayed in Persepolis for five months.[97] 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.[98]

Fall of the Empire and the East

Alexander then set off in pursuit of Darius again, first into Media, and then Parthia.[99] The Persian king was no longer in control of his own destiny, having been taken prisoner by Bessus, his Bactrian satrap and kinsman.[100] 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.[101] Darius' remains were buried by Alexander next to his Achaemenid predecessors in a full regal funeral.[102] Alexander claimed that, while dying, Darius had named him as his successor to the Achaemenid throne.[103] The Achaemenid Empire is normally considered to have fallen with the death of Darius.[104]

Silver coin of Alexander wearing the horns of Ammon-Ra, British Museum

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.[105]

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.[106] 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.[107]

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.[108][109] 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,[109] and he eventually abandoned it.[110] 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.[111] 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.[112]

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.[69] Alexander's sacking of Thebes ensured that Greece remained quiet during his absence.[69] 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.[69] He then referred the punishment of the Spartans to Alexander, who chose to pardon them.[113] There was also considerable friction between Antipater and Alexander's mother Olympias, and both wrote to Alexander complaining about the other.[114] In general, Greece enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity during Alexander's campaign in Asia.[115] Alexander also sent back vast sums from his conquest, which helped stimulate the economy and increased trade between the new areas of his empire.[116] 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.[13]

Indian campaign

Invasion of the Indian subcontinent

The phalanx attacking the centre in the battle of the Hydaspes by Andre Castaigne (1898-1899)

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.[117]

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.[118] 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.[117] 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".[119] 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.[117]

Alexander's crossing of the Hydaspes River.

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.[120] 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.[121] 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[122] and the other Nicaea (Victory) at the site of modern day Mong.[123][124]

Revolt of the army

Alexander's invasion of the Indian subcontinent

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.[125][126]

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.[125]

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.[127]

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).[128] Alexander reached Susa in 324 BC, but not before losing a large number of men to the harsh conditions of the desert.[129]

Last years in Persia

Alexander, left, and Hephaestion, right

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.[130][131] 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.[132] 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.[133] 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.[131] 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.[134]

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.[135][136] 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.[135]

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.[137]

Death and succession

A Babylonian astronomical diary (c. 323–322 BC) recording the death of Alexander (British Museum, London)
Nineteenth century depiction of Alexander's funeral procession based on the description of Diodorus

On either 10 or 11 June 323 BC, Alexander died in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, in Babylon at the age of 32.[138] 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.[139] 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.[140] 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,[141] which is also mentioned as an alternative by Arrian, but Plutarch specifically denies this claim.[139]

Given the propensity of the Macedonian aristocracy to assassination,[142] 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,[53] while both Diodorus and Arrian say that they only mention it for the sake of completeness.[141][143] 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,[144] and having seen the fate of Parmenion and Philotas,[145] Antipater arranged for Alexander to be poisoned by his son Iollas, who was Alexander's wine-pourer.[53][143][145] There is even a suggestion that Aristotle may have had a hand in the plot.[53][143] 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.[146] 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.[147]

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,[148] whereas another recent analysis has suggested pyrogenic spondylitis or meningitis as the cause.[149] Other illnesses could have also been the culprit, including acute pancreatitis or the West Nile virus.[150][151] 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.[148] Another possible cause of Alexander's death is an overdose of medication containing hellebore, which is deadly in large doses.[152][153]

Fate after death

Detail of Alexander on the Alexander Sarcophagus

Alexander's body was placed in a gold anthropoid sarcophagus, which was in turn placed in a second gold casket.[154] According to Aelian, a seer called Aristander foretold that the land where Alexander was laid to rest "would be happy and unvanquishable forever".[155] 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).[156] At any rate, Ptolemy stole the funeral cortege, and took it to Memphis.[154][155] 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.[157] 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.[157]

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.[158][159][160] However, more recently, it has been suggested that it may date from earlier than Abdalonymus' death.[161]

Division of the empire

Kingdoms of the Diadochi, 281 BC

Alexander's death was so sudden that when reports of his death reached Greece, they were not immediately believed.[69] 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.[162] 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".[141] Given that Arrian and Plutarch have Alexander speechless by this point, it is possible that this is an apocryphal story.[163] 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.[141][162]

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.[164]

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.[165]


Diodorus relates that Alexander had given detailed written instructions to Craterus some time before his death.[166] 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.[166] Nevertheless, Alexander's will was read out to his troops by Perdiccas upon Alexander's death.[69] 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"[69]
  • Erection of great temples in Delos, Delphi, Dodona, Dium, Amphipolis, and a monumental temple to Athena at Troy[69]
  • Conquest of Arabia and the entire Mediterranean Basin[69]
  • Circumnavigation of Africa[69]
  • 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."[167]



The Battle of Issus, 333 BC

Alexander earned the epithet "the Great" due to his unparalleled success as a military commander.[68] He is known to have never lost a battle, despite being constantly outnumbered in the many battles he fought.[68] 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.[168][169] The Macedonian phalanx, armed with the sarissa, a spear six meters in length, had been developed and perfected by Philip II through rigorous training,[169] and Alexander used its speed and maneuverability to great effect against the larger but more disparate Persian forces.[169] 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,[97] in the manner of a Macedonian king.[168][169]

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.[170]

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.[170] This enabled Alexander to personally lead the charge in the center against Darius, causing him to flee and his army to rout.[168] 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.[170]

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.[168] 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.[133]

Physical appearance

Roman copy of a statue by Lysippos, Louvre Museum. Plutarch felt sculptures by Lysippos were the most faithful.

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.[171]

Another Greek historian Arrian (Lucius Flavius Arrianus 'Xenophon' ca. 86 – 160) described Alexander as:

[T]he strong, handsome commander with one eye dark as the night and one blue as the sky.[172]

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.[173]

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.[174] Lysippos had often used the Contrapposto sculptural scheme to portray Alexander and other characters like Apoxyomenos, Hermes and Eros.[175] 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.[176]


Alexander fighting an Asiatic lion with his friend Craterus (detail). 3rd century BC mosaic, Pella Museum.

Some of Alexander's strongest personality traits formed in response to his parents.[173] His mother had huge ambitions for Alexander, and encouraged him to believe it was his destiny to conquer the Persian Empire.[173] Olympias' influence instilled great ambition and a sense of destiny in Alexander,[177] and Plutarch tells us that his ambition "kept his spirit serious and lofty in advance of his years".[178] 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.[51] 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.[173] While Alexander worried that his father would leave him "no great or brilliant achievement to be displayed to the world",[12] he still attempted to downplay his father's achievements to his companions.[173]

According to Plutarch, among Alexander's traits were a violent temper and rash, impulsive nature,[178][179] which undoubtedly contributed to some of his decisions during his life.[173] Although Alexander was stubborn and did not respond well to orders from his father, he was easier to persuade by reasoned debate.[18] 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.[23] This was no doubt in part due to his tutelage by Aristotle; Alexander was intelligent and quick to learn.[18][173] 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.[179] He had great self-restraint in "pleasures of the body", contrasting with his lack of self control with alcohol.[178][180]

Alexander was undoubtedly erudite, and was a patron to both the arts and sciences.[23][178] 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).[51][177] He had great charisma and force of personality, characteristics, which made him a great leader.[162][179] 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.[162]

During his final years, and especially after the death of Hephaestion, Alexander began to exhibit signs of megalomania and paranoia.[144] His extraordinary achievements, coupled with his own ineffable sense of destiny and the flattery of his companions, may have combined to produce this effect.[181] 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.[144]

He seems to have come to believe himself a deity, or at least sought to deify himself.[144] Olympias always insisted to him that he was the son of Zeus,[2] a theory apparently confirmed to him by the oracle of Amun at Siwa.[90] He began to identify himself as the son of Zeus-Ammon.[90] 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.[108][109] This behavior cost him much in the sympathies of many of his countrymen.[109] 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.[182][183] Thus, rather than megalomania, such behavior may simply have been a practical attempt at strengthening his rule and keeping his empire together.[97][183]

Personal relationships

A mural in Pompeii, depicting the marriage of Alexander to Barsine (Stateira) in 324 BC. The couple are apparently dressed as Ares and Aphrodite.

The greatest emotional relationship of Alexander's life was with his friend, general, and bodyguard Hephaestion, the son of a Macedonian noble.[135][173][184] Hephaestion's death devastated Alexander, sending him into a period of grieving.[135][185] This event may have contributed to Alexander's failing health, and detached mental state during his final months.[144][148] Alexander married twice: Roxana, daughter of the Bactrian nobleman Oxyartes, out of love;[186] and Stateira II, a Persian princess and daughter of Darius III of Persia, as a matter of political interest.[187] 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.[188][189]

Alexander's sexuality has been the subject of speculation and controversy.[190] 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".[191] 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.[192][193]

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.[173] 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.[194] 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;[195] showing great self-control in "pleasures of the body".[180] Nevertheless, Plutarch describes how Alexander was infatuated by Roxana while complimenting him on not forcing himself on her.[196] 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.[173]


The Hellenistic world view after Alexander: ancient world map of Eratosthenes (276–194 BC), incorporating information from the campaigns of Alexander and his successors.[197]

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.[13] 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.[13]

Hellenistic kingdoms

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,[198] and 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.[199]

Plan of Alexandria in antiquity

The eastern borders of Alexander's empire began to collapse even during his lifetime.[162] 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 Greek sources as "Sandrokottos"), of relatively humble origin, took control of the Punjab, and then with that power base proceeded to conquer the Nanda Empire of northern India.[200]

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.[110][201] The first, and greatest, was Alexandria in Egypt, which would become one of the leading cities of the Mediterranean in the centuries to follow.[110] 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.[110] Following Alexander's death, many Greeks that were settled there tried to return to Greece.[110][201] 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.[110] Several of these cities survive to the present day, while some were abandoned over the course of time, falling into ruin.


Alexander's empire was the largest state of its time, covering apporixamtely 5.2 million square km.

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.[199] That this export took place is undoubted, and can be seen in the great Hellenistic cities of, for instance, Alexandria, Antioch[202] and Seleucia (south of modern Baghdad).[203] 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.[202][204]

The core of Hellenistic culture was essentially Athenian by origin.[202][205] 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.[206] Koine was thus spread throughout the Hellenistic world, becoming the lingua franca of the lands Alexander conquered and eventually the ancestor of modern Greek.[206] 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.[202] Aspects of the Hellenistic culture were still evident in the traditions of the Byzantine Empire up until the mid-15th century.[207][208]

The Buddha, in Greco-Buddhist style, 1st–2nd century AD, Gandhara (Modern Pakistan). Tokyo National Museum.

Some of the most unusual effects of Hellenization can be seen in India, in the region of the relatively late-arising Indo-Greek kingdoms.[209] 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.[209] Several Buddhist traditions may have been influenced by the ancient Greek religion: the concept of Boddhisatvas is reminiscent of Greek divine heroes,[210] 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.[211] One Greek king, Menander I, probably became Buddhist, and is immortalized in Buddhist literature as 'Milinda'.[209] The process of Hellenization extended to the sciences, where ideas from Greek astronomy filtered eastward and had profoundly influenced Indian astronomy by the early centuries AD.[212] For example, Greek astronomical instruments dated to the 3rd century BC have been found in the Greco-Bactrian city of Ai Khanoum in modern-day Afghanistan,[213] while the Greek concept of a spherical earth surrounded by the spheres of planets was adopted in India and eventually supplanted the long-standing Indian cosmological belief into a flat and circular earth disk.[212][214]

Influence on Rome

Alexander and his exploits were admired by many Romans, especially generals, who wanted to associate themselves with his achievements.[215] Polybius started his Histories by reminding Romans of his role, and thereafter subsequent Roman leaders saw him as their inspirational role model. Pompey the Great adopted the epither "Magnus" and even Alexander's anastole-type haircut, and searched the conquered lands of the east for Alexander's 260-year-old cloak, which he then wore as a sign of greatness.[215] Julius Caesar dedicated an Lysippean equestrian bronze statue but replaced Alexander's head with his own, while Octavian visited Alexander's tomb in Alxenadria and for a while changed his seal from a sphinx to an Alexander.[215] The emperor Trajan was also a particularly great admirer of Alexander, as were Nero and Caracalla.[215] 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.[216]

The Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius (reigned c. 200–180 BC), wearing an elephant scalp, took over Alexander's legacy in the east by again invading India, and establishing the Indo-Greek kingdom (180 BC–10 AD).

On the other hand, some Roman writers, particularly Republican figures, used Alexander as a cautionary tale of how autocratic tendencies can be kept in check by republican values.[217] Alexander was used by these writers as an example of ruler values such as amicita (friendship) and clementia (clemency), but also iracundia (anger) and cupiditas gloriae (over-desire for glory).[217]


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.[218] 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."[219]

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,[220] containing many stories about Alexander that are dubious,[218] and translated into numerous languages.[221]

In ancient and modern culture

Alexander the Great depicted in a 14th century Byzantine manuscript

Alexander the Great's accomplishments and legacy have been preserved and depicted in many cultures. Alexander has figured in works of both high and popular culture from his own era to the modern day. The Alexander Romance in particular has had a significant impact on portrayals of Alexander in later cultures, from Persian to medieval European to modern Greek.[221]

Alexander features prominently in modern Greek folklore, more so than any other ancient figure.[222] The colloquial form of his name in modern Greek ("O Megalexandros") is a household name, and he is the only ancient hero to appear in the Karagiozis shadow play.[222] One well-known fable among Greek seamen involves a solitary mermaid that would grasp the prow of a ship during a storm, and ask the captain "Is King Alexander alive?". The correct answer is "He is alive and well and rules the world!", at which the mermaid would vanish and the sea become calm. Any other answer would cause the mermaid to turn into a raging Gorgon who would drag the ship to the bottom of the sea, all hands aboard.[222]

15th century Persian miniature painting from Herat depicting Alexander the Great

In pre-Islamic Persian (Zoroastrian) literature, Alexander is referred with the epithet "gojastak", meaning "accursed", and is accused of destroying temples and burning the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism.[223] In post-Islamic Iran, under the influence of the Alexander Romance, a more positive portrayal of Alexander emerges.[224] In Firdausi's Shahnameh ("The Book of Kings") Alexander is included in a line of legitimate shahs of Iran, a mythical figure who explores the far reaches of the world in search of the fountain of eternal youth.[225] Later Persian writers associate him with philosophy, portraying him at a symposium discussing philosophy with figures such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, in search of immortality.[224]

In the Syriac version of the Alexander Romance, Alexander is portrayed as an ideal Christian world conqueror who prays to "the one true God".[224] In Egypt, Alexander was portrayed as the son of Nectanebo II , the last pharaoh before the Persian conquest of Egypt.[226] His defeat of Darius was depicted as the salvation of Egypt, "proving" Egypt was still ruled by an Egyptian.[226]

The figure of Dhul-Qarnayn (literally "the Two-Horned One") mentioned in the Quran is widely believed by modern scholars to represent Alexander the Great due to similarities with the Alexander Romance.[224] He is a heroic figure who builds a wall to defend against the nations of Gog and Magog.[226] He then travels the known world in search for the Water of Life and Immortality, eventually becoming a prophet.[226]

In India and Pakistan, more specifically the Punjab, the name "Sikandar", derived from Persian, is used the denote a rising young talent.[227] In the medieval Europe he was created a member of the Nine Worthies, a group of heroes encapsulating all the ideal qualities of chivalry.


Texts written by people who actually knew Alexander or who gathered information from men who served with Alexander are all lost apart from a few inscriptions and fragments.[13] Contemporaries who wrote accounts of his life include Alexander's campaign historian Callisthenes; Alexander's generals Ptolemy and Nearchus; Aristobulus, a junior officer on the campaigns; and Onesicritus, Alexander's chief helmsman. These works have been lost, but later works based on these original sources survive. The earliest of these is Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC), followed by Quintus Curtius Rufus (mid to late 1st century AD), Arrian (1st to 2nd century AD), the biographer Plutarch (1st to 2nd century AD), and finally Justin, whose work could date as late as the 4th century AD.[13] Of these, Arrian is generally considered the most reliable, given that he used Ptolemy and Aristobulus as his sources, with Diodorus coming a close second.[13]


See also


^ i:  By the time of his death, he had conquered the entire Achaemenid Persian Empire, adding it to Macedon's European territories; according to some modern writers, this was most of the world then known to the ancient Greeks (the 'Ecumene').[228][229] An approximate view of the world known to Alexander can be seen in Hecataeus of Miletus's map, see Hecataeus world map.
^ ii: For instance, Hannibal supposedly ranked Alexander as the greatest general;[230] Julius Caesar wept on seeing a statue of Alexander, since he had achieved so little by the same age;[231] Pompey consciously posed as the 'new Alexander';[232] the young Napoleon Bonaparte also encouraged comparisons with Alexander.[233]
^ iii:  The name Αλέξανδρος derives from the Greek verb "ἀλέξω" (alexō), "to ward off, to avert, to defend"[234] and the noun "ἀνδρός" (andros), genitive of "ἀνήρ" (anēr), "man"[235] and means "protector of men."[236]
^ iv: "In the early 5th century the royal house of Macedon, the Temenidae, was recognised as Greek by the Presidents of the Olympic Games. Their verdict was and is decisive. It is certain that the Kings considered themselves to be of Greek descent from Heracles son of Zeus."[237]
^ v: "AEACIDS Descendants of Aeacus, son of Zeus and the nymph Aegina, eponymous (see the term) to the island of that name. His son was Peleus, father of Achilles, whose descendants (real or supposed) called themselves Aeacids: thus Pyrrhus and Alexander the Great."[238]
^ vi: There have been, since the time, many suspicions that Pausanias was actually hired to murder Philip. Suspicion has fallen upon Alexander, Olympias and even the newly crowned Persian Emperor, Darius III. All three of these people had motive to have Philip murdered.[239]


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External links

Alexander the Great
Argead dynasty
Born: 356 BC Died: 323 BC
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Philip II
King of Macedon
336–323 BC
Succeeded by
Philip III and Alexander IV
Preceded by
Darius III
Great King (Shah) of Persia
330–323 BC
Pharaoh of Egypt
332–323 BC
New creation King of Asia
331–323 BC

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  • ALEXANDER THE GREAT° — (356–323 B.C.E.), king of Macedonia who conquered most of the Near East and Asia. A legend preserved in Josephus (Ant., 11:329 ff.) tells that when Alexander was besieging Tyre, Sanballat, the leader of the Samaritans, came to him at the head of… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Alexander the Great — ist die englische Bezeichnung für Alexander der Große. der Originaltitel des Historienfilms Alexander der Große (1956) Diese Seite ist eine Begriffsklärung zur Unterscheidung mehrerer mit demselben Wort bezeichnete …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Alexander the Great — 356 323 B.C.; king of Macedonia (336 323): military conqueror who helped spread Greek culture from Asia Minor & Egypt to India: also Alexander III …   English World dictionary

  • Alexander the Great — (356 323 BC) a king of Macedonia who took control of Greece, Egypt, and most of the countries to the east of the Mediterranean Sea as far as India …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Alexander the Great — 356 323 B.C., king of Macedonia 336 323: conqueror of Greek city states and of the Persian empire from Asia Minor and Egypt to India. * * * or Alexander III born 356 BC, Pella, Macedonia died June 13, 323 BC, Babylon King of Macedonia (336–323)… …   Universalium

  • Alexander the Great — King of Macedon Ruled Egypt 332 323 BC.     The son of Philip II, king of Macedon, Alexander was destined to conquer the known world and, after the provinces of the Persian empire fell before him, Tyre besieged and Gaza taken, he finally reached… …   Ancient Egypt

  • Alexander the Great — (356–323 B.C.E.)    The historical Alexander the Great, Macedonian king and world conqueror, was clearly not a medieval figure. However, the character of Alexander became the central figure of a number of medieval ROMANCES, comparable to though… …   Encyclopedia of medieval literature

  • Alexander the Great — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Alexandre le Grand (homonymie). Alexander the Great est un téléfilm américain réalisé par Phil Karlson, diffusé en 1968. Le titre fait référence à Alexandre le Grand (quatrième siècle avant Jésus Christ Sommaire… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Alexander the Great in the Qur'an — Alexander in the Qur an is a theory that holds that the character of Dhul Qarnayn, mentioned in the Qur an, is in fact Alexander the Great. The name Alexander itself is never mentioned in the Qur an. Dhul Qarnayn (in Arabic ذو القرنين) is a… …   Wikipedia

  • Alexander the Great's personal relationships — Alexander the Great s lifelong companion was Hephaestion, the son of a Macedonian noble. Hephaistion was Alexander s closest friend, and held the position of second in command of Alexander s forces until his death, which devastated Alexander.… …   Wikipedia

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