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Alexander The Great

Updated on October 22, 2011

The story of Alexander the Great is the tale of one of the most extraordinary people in history. He ascended the throne at twenty. By the time he was 30, he had created an empire the likes of which the world has seldom seen. Stretching from the Balkan Mountains to the Indus River, most of the known world came under the command of this young and dynamic leader, who unfortunately died at the young age of thirty-two. But, just who was this enigmatic conqueror? Was he real life superman of the ancient world, a political visionary or a tyrannical ruler in search for glory?

Alexander was born in 356 BC His father was Philip II, who had become the king of Macedonia in 359, conquered Greece by 338 and had single-handedly created the Macedonian kingdom out of disparate tribes and principalities. Alexander's mother, Olympias, was a young princess from Epirus, the mountainous region bordering Albania.

Alexander was raised to be a ruler. He had been personally taught by Aristotle, and saturated with high ideals and aspirations. When his father was assassinated in June 336 BC, Alexander immediately became king. At age 20, he quickly rid the country of his enemies by execution. After winning the allegiance of the Greeks, he proceeded to pick up the war against the Persians where his father had left off. Alexander had inherited an efficient military machine, and he had learned lessons in good military strategy and diplomacy. Moreover, among kings he was exceptional: he could plan like a master chess player, and in battle he was bold and quick in seeing sudden shifts in advantages and disadvantages. He was perhaps foolhardy about his own safety but not toward the safety of his troops, and because of his care and tactics his casualties would be lighter than those of his enemies.

In 334 BC, Alexander started his army eastward toward Asia Minor, supported by an army of nearly forty thousand, including secretaries, scientists and philosophers. Alexander's opponent was the forty-six year-old Darius III, the ruler of Persia. In sixty boats, Alexander's army crossed the strait called Hellespont (the present day Dardanelles) into Asia Minor, and met Darius' army on the opposite side of the Granicus River. The disorderly ranks of the Persian infantry became easy targets for the long spears and solid ranks of the Macedonians and Darius fled. News of Alexander's victory spread fast through the Mediterranean region and West Asia. Greek cities in Asia Minor began setting up democracies and opening their gates to Alexander. Awed by Alexander's success, various cities proclaimed Alexander a divinity.

Alexander then turned east, to win his second victory over the Persian army, at Issus in the autumn of 333 BC, causing Darius to flee from the battleground and abandon his army. After taking Tyre and Gaza in epic sieges, Alexander turned towards Egypt, where he spent the winter of 332 / 331 BC. The Egyptians had been under Persia's rule, so they gladly accepted his rule and welcomed him, believing he was a reincarnation of the Egyptian god Amon. While there, Alexander founded the city of Alexandria, which became a center for trade and learning.

Returning north in 331 BC, Alexander again defeated Darius. This time he took Susa, Babylon, and Persepolis, proclaiming himself as the new king of Persia. From Persepolis, he headed off to find Darius, who had moved towards Bactria. But before Alexander could reach him, the leader of Darius' Bactrian cavalry, Bessus, and some accomplices, assassinated Darius. Bessus then proclaimed himself Darius' successor and commenced guerrilla warfare on Alexander's army. In pursuit, Alexander pushed eastward into Bactria. Eventually Bessus was executed and in 327, Alexander married Roxana (i.e origin of name Ruksana), daughter of one of Bessus's chieftains, apparently more for good relations with a local ruler than for love.

To completely finish off the Persian conquest, he invaded the Punjab all the way to the river Hydaspes (now Jhelum), and a further marched eastwards until, at the river Hyphasis (now Beas), but his soldiers got tired and refused to go any further. Turning back, Alexander descended the river Indus, subduing any tribe which refused to submit, and reached the delta in July 325 BC. He then sent his fleet westwards, while he marched through the deserts of southern Baluchistan to rendezvous with it in southeast Iran in December, and to return to Susa early in 324 BC.

Alexander's close friend Hephaestion died in 324 BC. After a period of depression, he returned to Babylon and prepared for an expedition to Arabia. However, all further plans of conquest were cut short by his death in June 323 BC. Because he wasn't expecting to die so soon, no designated successor existed, and a time of anarchy ensued.

Even though Alexander's life was so short, he managed to leave his mark on world's history forever. His rule is however shrouded among the widest divergence of opinion. Alexander was, evidently, a man of extremes and contradictions. His story is full of brave acts, sound military planning yet brutal acts against humanity. He is portrayed as one of the noblest souls who ever lived, and as well as a murderous conqueror. Despite the fact that so many years have passed since Alexander's era, his conquests and his rule still continue to be a source of interest and intrigue for anyone concerned with ancient history.

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    • Lucky Dog profile image

      Lucky Dog 9 years ago

      I always love history lessons. Good Job!

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