Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great is maybe the best known ruler in the western world. He became king of Macedonia at the age of 20 and in just 13 years conquered most of the whole known world.
Alexander was the son of Olympia, a princess from the mountain region of Epirus, and king Phillipus II of Macedonia. Olympia was known for her passionate outbursts of religious pleasure during festivals. She was also known to practice magic and dance with snakes. Olympia was Phillipus’ fourth wife, one of many before he died, and she gave birth to Alexander of Macedonia in 356 BC in Pella. The yound prince received an excellent education and at the age of 13 was taught by philosopher Aristotle until he was 16 years old. During his years as Aristotles’ student he learned Greek poetry and it is said he was particularly fond of Homer’s Odyssee.
When king Phillipus died, Alexander was only 20 old and not only did he have large shoes to fill, a new king had to prove his worth before getting the loyalty of his people. Greece was busy with organizing a revolt against Macedonia at this time, and the Greeks assumed this new ‘boy-king’ would be easily overthrown. However, when Alexander successfully invaded Boeotia Greece decided to wait until the right time presented itself. At the start of his reign Alexander had made his father’s mission his own, to wage war against the Persian oppression. But before he could do that he had to make sure he wouldn’t be attacked in the back, meaning Illyria and Thracia. During the battles against these tribes he showed his true genius on the battlefield, he defeated them without a problem and they were now loyal to him. Back in Greece the Thebans has erupted into revolt with the help of Darius (the Persian king), but here too Alexander proved too strong and the city of Thebes was burned to the ground. Now that the Greece and its surrounding lands were pacified, he could turn his attention to the Persian empire.
In 334 BC Alexander and his army (counting over 35.000 men already at that time) moved to Hellespont and entered Asia. At the battle of Granikos the Persian were defeated for the first time, the battle was quick and Alexander lost relatively few men but the defeat was shattering for the Persian empire, whose army was now mostly destroyed. This was the second time Alexander showed his true genius as a military commander, but also as a strategist and planner. It is said that Alexander rode out with his soldiers at the front of the line, and positioned himself on the weakest points of his lines.
Alexander’s propaganda for his war was to liberate Greek cities from the Persian and punish them for the devastations done 150 years earlier. However, Asia was also very suitable to colonize and therefore unburden the motherland. But mostly, Alexander was driven by an unequalled ambition to conquer the world, and he came very close to doing so.
In Asia minor Alexander spent the remaining of 334 BC and most of 333 BC consolidating his power in Greek cities around the coast of Asia minor where he replaced the Persian rulers with his own men. He slowly made his way down to Issus, a harbor town in the southeast of Asia minor, to meet Darius in battle. However, Darius fled when it became apparent that his cavalry was useless in this area and he would be defeated. Darius left behind his mother, wife and children in the hands of Alexander whom he left in his encampment. After this, Alexander moved south, through Syria and Phoenicia where every city was taken and those who opposed Alexander would be sold as slaves to pay for his army. So without any resistance Alexander made it to Egypt and was promptly crown king, after disposing of the Persian ruler without any trouble. In Egypt he founded the first of many Alexandria’s, but this city one is the only one that is still of any significance today. Alexandria lies at the Mediterranean Sea and was built as a true Greek city. He travelled further east to the sanctuary of Ammun in the Siva desert where the oracle proclaimed him to be the son of god (for the Egyptians that would be Ammun but the Greek identified him with Zeus), so from now on Alexander was divine.
Meanwhile Darius was gathering a new army in Babylon and was waiting for Alexander to come to him, however this gave Alexander the opportunity to march from Egypt to the heart of the Persian empire and plan a strategic attack on Darius. Darius was convinced that the immensity of his army (it is said to be more than a million soldiers) would crush Alexander once and for all. It was a place called Gaugemela in 331 BC in the north of Mesopotamia that the two armies collided, but again Darius had fled and left his army without its king. Instead of hunting Darius down, Alexander went south and entered the city of Babylon as a hero. This is also where the “easy” part of his conquest ended, up until Babylon cities and regions all celebrated Alexander as a savior, ending the reign of the Persian occupation. However, east of Mesopotamia the Iranian region started and they put up a good fight but they too could not resist Alexander and eventually all the major cities opened up to him, including all the riches of the Achaemenid Empire. In Medes, along the Caspian Sea, Alexander found the body of Darius, he had been killed by a satrap called Bessus from Bactria who wanted to start an Iranian kingdom for himself. Alexander proclaimed himself the heir to Darius’ throne and eventually killed Bessus for this cowardly and treasonous act.
Alexander had started appointing satraps who were not Macedonians and he was starting to act more and more like an Achaemenid, which caused some friction between him and his Macedonian generals. Alexander moved to the northern boundary of the Persian empire, Syr Daria but before he could enter into unknown territory he had to put an end to a dangerous rebellion in Bactria. This cost Alexander two years (329-327 BC.)before the rebellion was put to an end. This rebellion however, was very bloody and many people were executed.
In 327 BC Alexander made his way to Kabul and in the spring of 326 he moved his army towards the Indus. In India Alexander and his troops experienced the Indian territory in full, they were battered by heavy rains, snakes, deceases and fatigue. India was far larger than they had expected and Alexander was forced to retreat and reformulate a plan. He wanted to unite the entire civilized world under his command and India was to be part of that empire. On his way back to Iran, the army got lost in the desert and Alexander lost more men than in all his battled combined. In 325 BC he and the remaining part of his army reached Persus, where his fleet also landed a few month later. In spring 324 BC he travelled to Susa where he organized a mass wedding; his Macedonian men all had to marry Persian women. He himself married Roxanne, a beautiful woman from Bactria. This mass wedding was meant to reconcile the conquerors and the conquered, however this only resulted in a mutiny by his Macedonian veterans. Luckily this was also quickly solved by a large banquet in honor of his veterans.
In 323 BC Alexander started planning his biggest and greatest expedition yet, and he had already gathered a fleet to move from Mesopotamia, going around Arabia, to get to India. However, before anything could be set in motion, Alexander got sick and in less than 2 weeks he died from a very high fever. Alexander was only 33 years old and his son by Roxanne had yet to be born when he died.
Without a legal heir his empire fell into the hands of his generals. This meant that his empire was torn apart into four large pieces and Alexander’s generals spent the first 40 years after his death waging war against each other to keep a world empire from emerging again. In the end 3 kingdom’s remained: in Egypt ruled by Ptolemy, in Asia minor Seleucus and in Macedonia Antigonus. Only in Egypt did the dynasty of the Ptolemies last until the Roman empire.
De Oudheid: grieken en romeinen in de context van de wereldgeschiedenis, F.G. Naerebout & H.W. Singor ( 1995)
Sesam wereldgeschiedenis deel 1 (2005)