“It is a lovely thing to live with great courage and die leaving an everlasting fame.”
Alexander The Great
Long before the birth of Christ, the land directly above what we know as Greece today, was called Macedonia. Macedonia still exists, but it is now Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and modern Greece. Macedonia was considered to be part of ancient Greece, but the people of these two countries couldn’t be more different. No people in history ever gave so much to the human race as the ancient Greeks. They produced architectural monuments, four of the greatest dramatic actors who ever lived, one of the most brilliant statesmen and two of the greatest historians. Scientists, philosophers and artists all thrived in this country. The political system we call democracy had its roots in this culture.
The Macedonians in comparison with their Greek neighbors were crude and fierce in their outlook. They were a rough people. They never produced any artists, philosophers, or great actors. But they produced Alexander The Great – a man with a legacy so remarkable that it has challenged the minds of men ever since.
Alexander was born to conquer the world. His life was bold and from beginning to end, it was etched with dramatic clarity. Every important event in his life brought him one step closer to fulfilling his ambition. He was the first leaders, like Caesar and Napoleon, who partly be accident and partly by design, set out to gather the whole world into their fists, unify it, rule it and enlighten it.
But unlike the other great giants of history, Alexander was a shooting star whose blaze of glory ended with his death, at not quite thirty-three years old…
Alexander was born in 356 BC to King Philip of Macedonia and his wife, Olympias. On the day of Alexander’s birth, Philip was away in battle. A courier brought Philip the message of his son’s birth, along with two other messages – Philip’s horse had won first prize in the Olympic Games and his army had just won a very important battle. With three pieces of good news at once, Philip always thought his son’s arrival into the world came with an omen of good luck.
As Crown Prince of Macedonia and at that time, his father’s only heir, Alexander was raised to inherit his father’s kingdom. Alexander was good at sports and even as a young child showed a very ambitious streak. One of his courtiers commented on how well he ran and suggested that he compete in the Olympic foot races. Alexander refused and replied that we would only run against kings, so that he could be sure that no one threw the race in his favor.
As a young boy, Alexander began to show many of the traits that made him famous – courage, cleverness and complete self-confidence. Once when Alexander’s father brought home several horses, one horse in particular caught Alexander’s eye. It was an enormous black horse and one that none of King Philip’s men seemed to be able to mount and ride. Alexander approached his father and asked for the horse. On a dare and a bet from his father, Alexander did what no one else had been able to do, mount and ride the horse. The horse, Bucephalus, became one of the most famous horses in history and for most of the sixteen years of his life was the only horse that Alexander ever rode in battle. When Bucephalus died, Alexander gave him a funeral worthy of a king and named a city after him.
Alexander’s education is said to have been the most expensive in history. Philip persuaded Aristotle, the Greek philosopher and scientist to be Alexander’s tutor. In addition to the large sum of money paid to Aristotle for his years of service as a teacher, Philip also agreed to rebuild the town where Aristotle had been born (which Philip had destroyed in a raid) and permit its exiled citizens to return.
Aristotle introduced Alexander to many things, but in particular he instilled in Alexander the love of books. Alexander’s favorite was Homer’s Iliad, which he learned by heart. Throughout his entire life, whereever he was, Alexander slept with two things under his pillow – a dagger for protection and a copy of the Iliad.
When Alexander was seventeen, his father left him temporarily in charge of Macedonia while he attended state matters in Greece. While his father was away, a tribe in a northern province, apparently hoping to take advantage of Alexander’s youth and inexperience started a revolt. Alexander gathered his army, marched against the rebels, beat them in battle and captured their chief city. He renamed their city after himself Alexandropolis.
By the time Alexander was eighteen, things were not well between his parents. What has started, as a love match between Philip and Olympias had become a hateful and vengeful relationship. Philip decided to marry again, taking a second Queen. Alexander, who had always had a good relationship with his father, but loved his mother deeply, sided with her. During the next two years Alexander and Philip held a troubled truce. When Philip was assassinated, whispers emerged that his first wife, Olympias was involved in the plot. Within days of Philip’s death, Olympias had her husband’s second wife and her infant son murdered, so as to not shed any doubt on Alexander’s claim to the throne.
At twenty, Alexander was king of Macedonia. He set about restoring order in Macedonia and Greece with a vengeance. During this time, a serious revolt broke out in Thebes, a city in Greece. Alexander and his army marched against Thebes and burned it to the ground. Over thirty thousand Thebans were sold into slavery. In the entire city, Alexander spared only one house – the home of a poet called Pindar, whose poetry Alexander has always liked.
The battle of Thebes was the first of many atrocities that Alexander committed. The memory of the battle lingered and Alexander’s reputation spread. He never had any difficulties in keeping the Greeks in line after this campaign.
Alexander admired courage in all forms. Many times he spared the lives of people who showed courage in the face of pain or death.
In 334 BC, Alexander set out to conquer Persia. No expedition like it had ever been undertaken and few rival it since. Alexander’s army was small by that day’s standard, but it was very efficient. Alexander was also something of a military genius and he systematically set about to overtake parts of Persia in a series of smaller and victorious battles. He then moved on to Asia Minor, the Mediterranean coast and Egypt. By the time Alexander was twenty-four most of the known world at that time was under his rule.
In Egypt, Alexander founded Alexandria, which is still one of the chief world ports today. When Alexandria was completed it was one of the most impressive cities in the world. The streets were lettered or numbered and it was the first city in history to have lights at night.
Four years after Alexander set out to conquer Persia he finally met the Persian king in battle. Alexander won. The battle was called the Battle of Arbela and marked the end of Persian power. Alexander became King of Persia, along with being King of Macedonia, Greece, Egypt and Asia. He was twenty-six.
Alexander married when he was twenty-eight. Because he had spent the majority of his time since becoming an adult in Persia, it was no surprise that he married a Persian princess. Everyone knew that Alexander and his Queen were friends and liked each other. But because Alexander spent most of his life surrounded by his male friends, rather than seek relationships with women, the marriage was known as one of duty to produce an heir than a love match for either Alexander or Roxana.
Alexander’s battle for India was his last battle of any consequence. He won the battle against the great Indian king, Porus. But Alexander’s army was getting tired. They had been away from home and fighting for over eight years. After overtaking more than 5000 towns and villages in India, Alexander’s army wanted to go home. They started the long trek back to Macedonia. During this time, the army never lost a battle and they never broke ranks. When they made it to Persia, two major events happened. First, to further his political ties with Persia, especially since he was heading back to Macedonia, Alexander decided to marry another Persian princess. He also orchestrated the marriages of 9000 of his men to Persian women, just to solidify the two countries. Second, he watched his best friend, constant companion and general of his armies’ die of fever. Alexander, mad with grief became a drunken wreck almost overnight. He became manic in his dealings.
Alexander never returned to Greece. He died in Persia of fever, similar in symptoms to Malaria. After he died, Alexander was buried in Alexandia.
Roxana, Alexander’s first wife and mother to his first born son, had the second wife and her child murdered, hoping to secure Alexander’s throne. Roxana and her child were murdered as well, and Alexander’s kingdom went to one of Alexander’s generals, rather than an heir.
Alexander The Great lived a life, which in human terms has never been matched. His contributions to history, despite his faults, will never dim. The stories of his exploits will live forever.