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Was Alexander the Great Really Greek?

Updated on June 25, 2018
ata1515 profile image

ata1515 is a student of history, focusing on the modern, medieval, and ancient histories of Europe.

Bust of Alexander the Great
Bust of Alexander the Great

Classical Greece

One giant looms over the entire ancient world. This man casts his shadow across history and changed the development of the Mediterranean world forever, but even today people are confused by what ethnicity this man was. Alexander the Great was king of Macedon, but many people believe him to be a Greek. His Greek contemporaries didn’t see him as Greek, but his own men did, as did the survivors of his campaigns. Alexander was a Greek to some degree, not by birth, but through culture.


The Argead

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.

To the Greek city-states this intermingling meant that he was no longer a proper Greek. Those who lived outside the enlightened realm of the Greeks were considered barbarians, and the Thracians of the north were no different.


Greek States During the Pelopennesian War
Greek States During the Pelopennesian War

The Mediterranean 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 by powerful city-states and territories grouped under self-defense leagues, in which Sparta and Athens were the most famous of the two city-states and led the most powerful alliances in Greece.


During the Greco-Persian Wars the Greek city-states united to throw off Persian rule in 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.

Macedonian Empire
Macedonian Empire

Ascension

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 set 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 Persian 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.

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    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 

      5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Yes that's right. I remember mentioning Caesar's inspiration in a series of articles I wrote some time ago. Apparently he wept in front of the statue, bemoaning the fact that he had accomplished nothing in his life up to that point. Napoleon was another admirer of Alexander's and it was his conquests that inspired Napoleon to try and conquer Egypt.

    • ata1515 profile imageAUTHOR

      ata1515 

      5 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

      Thanks for the comment JKenny. As well as Pompey, Julius Caesar was said to have been inspired by a statue of Alexander the Great while he was quaestor in Spain.

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 

      5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Interesting hub ata. Its strange how people seem to automatically associate Alexander with Greece. I'm not quite sure why this is, but I think that Roman historians may have played a role in this, as they were both great admirers of the Greeks and Alexander, and perhaps felt that Alexander was a Greek by virtue of his actions, rather than his birth.

      Pompey admired him so much, that he even cut his hair in the same way as Alexander.

    • ata1515 profile imageAUTHOR

      ata1515 

      5 years ago from Buffalo, New York.

      Thanks for stopping by. The Greeks and Romans both liked to see themselves as people apart from the rest of the world, and this led to both envy and emulation by their contemporaries.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Very interesting article. Yes, I have known that Alexander was a Macedonian, however when you are conquerer, I think you can say just about anything you want. He certainly had close enough ties to Greece to be called Greek, but being called Alexander the Great, is a fitting moniker too.

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