Alexander the Great (356 BC - 323 BC) was the outstanding military leader of the ancient world, leading Greek forces to the conquest of much of the Middle East, including Persia.
As is commonly the case with great conquerors, historians vary greatly in their opinions of Alexander. On the one hand he is seen as a civilizer who unified much of Europe and Asia, bringing advanced Hellenistic culture which flourished for centuries. The Roman historian Plutarch saw him as a philosopher-king with a universal vision of a harmonious world. The Romans admired him greatly for setting the stage for their own Empire, which in many ways was a continuation of his. Others saw Alexander as a ruthless, blood-thirsty tyrant, so self-centered that his only goal was to feed his insatiable need for power and lust for battle.
Alexander was born in 356 BC to Philip II of Macedon. While growing up, Alexander was tutored by Aristotle from whom he learned philosophy and geography among other subjects. Alexander's father was a warrior and unified Greece under his overall rule after defeating them militarily. A young Alexander successfully led a cavalry regiment during this campaign in the decisive Battle of Chaeronea. Phillip planned to conquer Persia next, but was assassinated in 336. It is generally agreed that Alexander was not part of the plot, although his mother who was estranged from Phillip might have been.
Philip II, himself a student of Epaminondas prized his own education in the liberal arts and spared no expense in his education. To this end he recruited the famous Aristotle to be his constant companion and tutor until Alexander crossed into Asia.
Ruler of Macedonia
His father's death left a twenty-year-old Alexander king of Macedonia and Greece. The Greeks had no love of being ruled by anyone, especially not by "barbarians" (What they called the Macedonians who generally lacked their level of sophistication and refinement.) With the death of Phillip, they revolted believing they could easily break away from the new young ruler. They were about to become the first people to experience the depth of his military genius.
Once Alexander reconquered Greece, he decided to put into action his father's plan of conquering Persia, led by the Persian king Darius. He formed an army of thirty thousand foot soldiers, five thousand cavalry men, and engineers to build siege engines.
Conquest of Persia
In four years Alexander conquered the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon, the countries of Canaan and Egypt, the Persian cities of Susa and Persepolis, and many other lands. Wherever he went, Alexander triumphed and spread Greek language and culture. Palestine fell in 332, and Greek conquest and Hellenization became a new threat to Judaism and its traditions. The Persians first attempted to stop Alexander at the Battle of Granicus in 334 and then offered resistance to Alexander with massive armies in two great battles, the Battle of Issus in 333 and the Battle of Arbela in 331. Alexander won every battle. The failure of the huge battles left the Persians helpless. The Persian capital was captured and sacked shortly after that. Alexander wasn't satisfied with just conquering Persia. He also wanted to conquer the unknown and continued east into India. Finally when he reached the Indus River, his homesick army decided that they would go no farther. Alexander sadly withdraw from extending his military conquests and decided to set up a capital for his new empire in Babylon. He had never been defeated in battle. Alexander sought to bring about a blending of Greek and Persian cultures, even encouraging his men to take Persian wives.
In 323 BC, after a period of very heavy drinking, Alexander died of fever. He had ruled in Babylon for about a year. To what extent he could have continued to bring about a harmony of cultures is unknown. Failing to appoint an heir to carry on his legacy, his vast Empire descended into a generation of civil strife known as the Wars of the Diadochi upon his death. During this period Alexander's empire broke up into four parts which would never be re-unified.
- Bosworth, B. and ynham, eds. Alexander the Great in Fact and Fiction (2000).
- Cartledge, P. Alexander the Great (2004). scholarly biography
- Flower, Michael A. "Not Great Man History: Reconceptualizing a Course on Alexander the Great," Classical World, Volume 100, Number 4, Summer 2007, pp. 417–423 in Project MUSE
- Hamilton, J. R. Alexander the Great (1973), very good short biography
- Heckel, Waldemar. The Wars of Alexander the Great, 336-323 (2003) online edition
- Mossé, C. Alexander: Destiny of a Myth, (2004), by leading scholar
- O'Brien, John Maxwell. Alexander the Great: The Invisible Enemy: A Biography (1994) online edition
- Roisman, Joseph. Brill's Companion to Alexander the Great (2003) online edition, 400pp
- Stoneman, Richard. Alexander the Great (2004) online edition. 126pp
- "In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great," PBS special, good place to start
- animated map
- short biography by scholar Ellis Knox
- A short sophisticated overview by John J. Popovic, features a good annotated bibliography, with links to sources
- Edwyn Robert Bevan, "Alexander the Great" Encyclopedia Britannica, (11th edition, 1910), vol 1, pp 545-550; excellent short biography that summarized the scholarship of a century ago
- Benjamin Ide Wheeler, "Alexander's Victory at Issus," (1899)
- Benjamin Ide Wheeler, "Alexander the Great. The Invasion of Asia and the Battle of the Granicus" (1899)