Was Alexander the Great Really Greek?
One giant looms over the entire ancient world. This man cast his shadow on to history and changed the development of the Mediterranean world forever, but even today people are confused by what this man was. Alexander the Great was king of Macedon, but many people believe him to be a Greek. Alexander was a Greek to some degree, not by birth, but through culture.
Alexander was a member of the Argead dynasty of Macedon. Allegedly the Argead dynasty descended from Greeks that had migrated from the city of Argos, a once powerful city on the Peloponnese. His ancestors had taken over the region of Macedon and subjugated the local tribes but to maintain power they would have inter-married with the leading families, and eventually the Greek blood would have been greatly diluted.
The Mediterranena World
By the time Alexander ascended to the throne of Macedon the world of the Greek city-states had ended. There had been a time when Greece was divided in to powerful city-states and unified under self-defense leagues. Sparta and Athens were the most famous of the two city-states and they led the most powerful alliances in Greece.
During the Greco-Persian Wars the Greek city-states united to throw off Persian rule off of the Greek colonies in Anatolia. After the Greco-Persian Wars Greece descended into chaos. Sparta led the Pelopennesian League in to war with the Athenian led Delian League. This war became known to history as the Pelopennesian War, though to the Greeks it was the world war of their time. This war lost all of the gains of the Greco-Persian War and restored Persian power to Anatolia.
After these devastating non-stop wars the Greeks were weak. King Philip II seized the throne of Macedon from his nephew and began the conquest of Greece. He used diplomacy to weaken the Greeks, and those who would not submit were destroyed. Philip trained a powerful army and developed the phalanx soldiers, which made Macedon one of the strongest kingdoms in the western world.
As Philip II prepared to march east, he was assassinated, and his son, Alexander the Great took up the throne. Alexander was given the greatest army in the world, and he employed it to destroy the Persians. This is why Alexander is known to history and not the man who had lain the groundwork for the conquest, his father.
Alexander spread Hellenism, Greek ideas, throughout the Persian Empire, from the Mediterranean to the border of India. This cultural impact affects the world even today, from city names to ethnic conflicts. Alexander's conquest broke the old empire and this allowed new empires and kingdoms to flourish, much like after Napoleon conquered Europe.
Ethnicity Vs Culture
As a member of the Argead dynasty Alexander would have had Greek ancestors, but not many. Alexander was born in Macedon, he spoke a dialect of Greek, and aspired to Greek ideals. He saw himself as a Greek and equal to his southern neighbors.
Many Greeks did not see him as Greek though. The dialect that the Macedonians spoke made other Greeks see them as barbarians. Furthermore Macedon was a kingdom, not a polis, or city-state. To the Greeks this further showed them to be outsiders with no connection to Classical Greek ideals.
Lastly we can look at Alexander's impact. He spread Greek culture, he felt himself a Greek, and sent Greek colonists all over the Persian world. He was as Greek as his contemporaries, though maybe not through direct lineage.
More by this Author
The Samnite Wars rocked the early Roman Republic. The Battle of Saticula was a near disaster for the Roman army, but the army and maybe even the war was saved by the actions of one Tribune.
Julius Caesar is often considered a tyrant. This article argues that he was simply a popular leader living in a different and difficult time.
Alexander the Great was an amazing commander, but he was not the great general history sometimes sees.