There at a place known as the Gardens of Midas, where young Alexander would one day be tutored by Aristotle, the brothers from Argos established a kingdom that in time spread down from the highlands to the rich farmland along the coast. The elder Alexander began his rule during the Persian Wars against Greece during the early fifth century and, after the victories of Athens and Sparta against Persia, was eager to connect his royal family to the winning side.
Thus the foundation story of Macedonia should be taken with a large grain of salt, though it is possible to see a glimmer of history beneath the fairy tale. The divine Greek origins of the Macedonian royal family are fanciful, but the gradual spread of a local highland tribe from the hills near Mount Olympus to the coastal plains beyond the city of Vergina is quite plausible. The takeover of nearby winter grazing lands by a warlike tribe from the highlands would have provided a strong nucleus for a future Macedonian kingdom. Whatever truth was in the tale, Alexander I was not about to let Herodotus continue on his travels without a few more stories to prove his undying love for the Greeks.
According to Alexander, when the Persians invaded nearby Thrace, they sent envoys to the court of his father, Amyntas, requiring him to submit to the Great King by the symbolic act of giving him earth and water. Old Amyntas was terrified and agreed, even inviting them to a feast that evening. During dinner the Persian ambassadors began shamelessly to fondle the wives and daughters of the royal family who were present, but the old king was too afraid to object. Young Alexander was beside himself with anger, though he remained outwardly composed and merely suggested that his father retire for the evening.
After the king was gone, his son declared to the Persians that they were most welcome to the company of the Macedonian women for whatever pleasure they might desire. But, with a wink, he suggested the women be allowed to withdraw for a few minutes to freshen up before the orgy began. Macedonian men might treat their women as chattel, but woe to any foreigner who touched them.
And yet, if this story is true, it is remarkable that just a few years later the elder Alexander, now king, gave his own sister to a high-ranking Persian official in marriage and was considered a loyal ally of the Great King. If the Greeks were later willing to forget about the duplicity of the elder Alexander and even honor him as a friend of the Greeks, it can only be that they needed his timber and mineral resources more than they wanted revenge for his treachery.
Alexander I was a master diplomat who played all sides against one another to expand his kingdom. He was a faithful subject of the Persian Empire when it suited him and a Greek patriot when the Great King turned his back. Perdiccas was murdered by his illegitimate son Archelaus who—amid the swirl of treachery, violence, and vicious love triangles, heterosexual and homosexual, that were part of everyday life in the Macedonian court—took the throne and began an intensive program of Hellenization.
Earlier kings had long encouraged Greek culture among the nobility, but Archelaus made it a top priority. Though the common people scoffed and continued to live as they had for centuries, the Macedonian court under the new king became a center for Greek artists and scholars. Among the many intellectuals wooed to the palace with lavish gifts was the Athenian playwright Euripides, who visited in his waning years and wrote the Bacchae there—a wild tale of sex, murder, and insanity that surely owes its inspiration to life among the Macedonian nobility.
In , the same year Socrates was forced to drink hemlock in Athens, Archelaus was murdered during a hunting expedition by his friend and lover Craterus. Macedonia was soon plunged into bloody dynastic struggles and debilitating frontier wars. Kings quickly rose and fell, sometimes several in a single year, until at last Amyntas III, grandfather of Alexander the Great, clawed his way to the top and seized the throne in His long reign, however, brought little stability to the kingdom and palace intrigues raged unchecked, including an unsuccessful plot by his wife, Eurydice, and her young paramour to murder him.
When Amyntas died, surprisingly of old age, in , his son Alexander II succeeded him, only to be murdered by his cousin Ptolemy the following year. Ptolemy in turn was slain by Perdiccas III two years later. Perdiccas himself soon died fighting against the resurgent Illyrians, leaving the last surviving son of Amyntas to take the deeply troubled throne. The untested young man faced an almost hopeless situation. Macedonia was in chaos with the nobility pitted against each other in civil war, barbarians invading on all sides, and the Greeks, especially the Athenians, working tirelessly to weaken, divide, and dominate the beleaguered kingdom.
No one believed the new king, Philip, stood any chance of saving Macedonia. Years later in Asia, Alexander and his men were feasting one night after their hard-won victories. Alexander joined in, boasting that his own victories from the Danube to the borders of India rivaled those of the god Hercules and were not to be compared with the petty conquests of his father. You would be nothing, he declared, without the achievements of your father—a far greater man than you will ever be.
History has been so fascinated with Alexander the Great that it has overlooked the genius of his father. But by his supreme skill at diplomacy, his mastery of intrigue, and his revolutionary innovations in warfare, Philip laid the foundation for everything his son achieved. Yet when young Philip came to the Macedonian throne after the death of his brother, few would have wagered the new ruler or his kingdom would survive.
At first glance Philip was a typical Macedonian nobleman—fiery in temperament, excessive in drink, and exceedingly fond of war, horses, beautiful women, and handsome young boys. But he possessed a keen understanding of the hearts of men and a boundless vision for Macedonia. When he was only fifteen, he had been sent as a hostage to the Greek city of Thebes by his brother the king. The ancient city of Thebes had lacked the influence of Athens and Sparta, but at the beginning of the fourth century it had taken advantage of the power vacuum created by the end of the Peloponnesian War to build its army into the most powerful force in Greece.
The Macedonians immediately negotiated an alliance with Thebes and sent hostages to guarantee their good intentions. If Macedonia behaved itself, the hostages would be treated as honored guests. If not, they would be tortured and killed. Philip was fortunate to be assigned to the household of the Theban general Pammenes, who was a great friend of Epaminondas, the victor of Leuctra. While the other Macedonian hostages feasted and chased local girls, Philip spent every moment learning the latest techniques in warfare from the Theban generals.
Like their counterparts in the Middle Ages, these Macedonian knights saw themselves as the epitome of heroic warfare and treated the lowly farmers and shepherds in the infantry as so much fodder for enemy spears. But Philip discovered a very different kind of. The Thebans had perfected the art of hoplite warfare. Each hoplite was a proud citizen who could afford to equip himself with a bronze helmet, a thick breastplate, greaves to protect the legs, and an iron-tipped spear eight to ten feet long used for thrusting, not throwing.
In addition, each man carried a razor-sharp iron sword and heavy shield hoplon almost three feet wide on the left arm. As each hoplite was unshielded on his right side, he relied on the man next to him for protection, encouraging by necessity a strong sense of unity in battle. When a hoplite line advanced shoulder to shoulder against the enemy, it was a wall of death. The Theban hoplites drilled endlessly and, whether common soldier or wealthy cavalryman, were ruled by iron discipline. The very best of the Theban warriors were chosen for membership in the Sacred Band, an elite corps of infantry consisting of pairs of male lovers funded by the state.
As lovers, the soldiers fought all the more furiously to protect and impress their partners. They had been crucial in the defeat of the Spartans at Leuctra and were the finest soldiers Greece had ever produced. Philip also watched and learned from the democratic assembly at Thebes. He saw the grave weakness of a system in which every man could voice his opinion and vote. Debates in the assembly were endless, while political parties worked to destroy the power of their rivals.
Philip began to see how an old-fashioned monarchy like Macedonia could act much more decisively than a Greek city and be unstoppable on the battlefield—if it were ruled by the right king. After three years in Thebes, Philip returned to Macedonia when his brother Perdiccas slew their cousin Ptolemy and took the throne. When Perdiccas marched off to fight the Illyrians a few years later, Philip was left in charge as regent. A few weeks later, Perdiccas and four thousand Macedonian soldiers lay dead on the battlefield. Now Bardylis, king of Illyria, was poised to strike at the Macedonian heartland while the Paeonians on the northern border were already taking advantage of the chaos by raiding deep into Macedonia.
In addition to external troubles, at least five other Macedonian nobles were vying for the throne. Philip quickly arrested and executed one brother, forced the other two into exile, then bribed the Thracians to murder their favorite. Finally he struck a secret deal with the Athenians to withdraw support from their candidate, Argaeus, who soon found himself marching against Philip with only the few mercenaries he had hired with his own funds.
Philip easily defeated him and made a great show of sending home unharmed the Athenians among the mercenaries. By the autumn of , Philip was ensconced as king of Macedonia, but his hold on the throne was tenuous at best. Illyrians, Paeonians, Thracians, Athenians, and especially other Macedonian nobles were waiting for their chance to dispose of this clever young ruler. Philip began that winter to build the army he had dreamed of in Thebes. Discipline came first. Troops were drilled until they could execute complex battlefield maneuvers in their sleep.
Philip marched them countless miles over the mountains with full packs until they were ready to drop from exhaustion. Officers who had previously thought themselves above petty military rules soon learned otherwise. One nobleman lost his command for taking a bath in camp, another was publicly whipped for drinking a cup of water before he had been dismissed. Philip knew, however, that discipline and esprit de corps would not be enough against either wild barbarians or Greek hoplites. He needed a radically new kind of army if he was to defeat hordes of screaming Illyrians or the spit-and-polish professionals of the Sacred Band.
He knew his troops stood little chance in traditional warfare, especially against hoplites. The troops. This increased his pool of potential soldiers far above that of any Greek city. But how could such lightly armed peasants hope to stand against the fearsome hoplites? The answer lay in a brilliant innovation developed by Philip—the sarissa. Standard hoplite spears were eight to ten feet in length, but the sarissa was almost eighteen feet long. This allowed the Macedonian infantry to march in close formation with overlapping sarissas lowered in front of them to skewer hoplites before the enemy spears could reach them.
Of course, the effectiveness of the sarissa depended on the disciplined Macedonians acting as a unit. If even one infantryman swung his sarissa too far to the left or right, the whole line would become hopelessly tangled. But control of the sarissa was made possible by the elimination of heavy armor and weapons so that Macedonian foot soldiers, unlike their Greek or barbarian counterparts, could use both hands to hold and thrust their spears to deadly effect. The Macedonians drilled to such perfection with their long spears that soon they could turn together in any direction, open and close a line in an instant, and charge the enemy with frightening speed.
The sarissa was made to destroy hoplites, but the deadly formation would work equally well on barbarian warriors charging the Macedonian lines. Along with the development of a new kind of infantry, Philip reformed the cavalry to act in coordinated units with his foot soldiers. No longer would Macedonian nobles ride forth on their own in search of glory. Philip also was one of the first generals in history to create a highly trained corps of engineers.
In time these men would be able to span raging rivers, cut roads across soaring mountains, and take any city by siege with awesome new engines of war. Details of the battle are sketchy, but we know Philip brought with him at least ten thousand soldiers—almost every man of fighting age in Macedonia. Philip was determined to secure his western border and prove his worth as a general. It was a tremendous gamble, for if he had been defeated not only would his reign have come to an end but Macedonia itself would have been fatally weakened and carved up by its neighbors.
Even though Bardylis brought almost as many men to the field, he was hesitant when he saw the force before him and sent Philip a message offering a truce—but the Macedonian king would have none of it. He personally led his infantry forward against the Illyrians, though instead of striking their front line head-on, he employed a seemingly odd strategy of hitting the enemy with an angled formation. This meant the Macedonian front line struck the Illyrian troops on their left, while the right side of the Illyrian line watched.
The Illyrian commanders tried to keep their right side in position, but the men were naturally drawn to the left to engage the enemy and protect themselves. It was exactly what Philip was counting on. The Macedonian horsemen successfully concentrated all their effort on breaking through to the rear of the Illyrian forces and throwing the enemy into chaos. The battle raged for hours, but eventually the Illyrians were completely surrounded and thousands were slaughtered on the battlefield.
It was an inspired and innovative strategy that Philip would refine and use with devastating effect in future battles, as would his son Alexander. Bardylis sued for peace and Philip, having made his point, graciously accepted. The Illyrian leader agreed to withdraw from all the territories of western Macedonia that he had previously occupied. To sweeten the deal, he offered Philip his daughter Audata in marriage. As was the case elsewhere in the ancient world, marriage was used in the Balkans to guarantee treaties and seal alliances.
Love was. The wife expected no affection aside from that needed to sire a child, preferably a son. If her husband took other wives, concubines, or boys to bed, this was no concern of hers. All that mattered to the bride in such political marriages was that her status as a queen was respected and that any son she produced was granted his proper place in line for the throne. Philip took to marriage alliances with a gusto unusual even for a Macedonian king and was notorious in antiquity for adding a new wife whenever he went to war.
By the time of his death, he had married seven brides. After Audata died giving birth to a daughter, he married Phila from the southern mountain region of Elimeia as part of his grand strategy to bind the highland tribes of Macedonia more closely to him. She too died soon after, leaving the twenty-five-year-old Philip without a queen and, more important, without a male heir. He quickly married two women from Thessaly to strengthen relations with the kingdom on his southern border.
The first Thessalian bride eventually bore him a daughter, named Thessalonica, for whom a great city would be named.
Alexander the Great
The second at last gave Philip a son in the year The proud father named him Arrhidaeus—but it soon became clear that the boy was mentally handicapped and unfit to inherit the throne. The eldest son of Philip was quietly put away and rarely appeared in public for the next thirty years. It was then the king looked to the kingdom of Epirus roughly modern Albania on the Adriatic coast just south of Illyria and north of Greece. Epirus had long suffered Illyrian raids, so an alliance with Macedonia to contain their mutual enemy was beneficial to both.
The head of the royal house of Epirus, Arybbas, had no daughters available and had already married his eldest niece himself, but his younger niece was still unmarried. Her name was Olympias. They fell in love and pledged to marry, with the consent of her uncle Arybbas. Samothrace is a small, mountainous island in the northern Aegean lying between Macedonia and Troy. Its one claim to fame was a religious center on the northern coast dedicated to twin gods known as the Cabiri, who, along with powerful goddesses worshiped at the site, protected travelers, promoted fertility, and promised immortality to initiates.
The Macedonians had recently taken an interest in Samothrace and had contributed generously to the temple, perhaps from genuine religious motivation or more likely from a desire to integrate themselves into an ancient Greek cult. That young Philip chose to be initiated into the local religion is no surprise, given his crafty use of diplomacy, spiritual and otherwise, to build alliances and strengthen his ties to the Greek world.
But why would an Epiriote princess and her uncle the king just happen to be on a remote island far from home during the same summer festival as a royal Macedonian prince? It seems that Arybbas was very deliberately arranging a meeting between his niece and the young Philip in hopes of laying the groundwork for a future alliance between the kingdoms. Philip himself may well have been in on the plan before he arrived on Samothrace and it is probable that he was more interested in practical discussions with Arybbas about countering the Illyrian threat than gazing into the eyes of the teenage Olympias.
Still, he may have liked what he saw in the young woman—beauty, intelligence, passion—all qualities appealing to an up-and-coming prince with hopes of producing a son worthy of his throne. In addition, her family claimed descent from Achilles, the greatest of the Greeks to fight at Troy. To mingle the blood of his. Olympias was no more than eighteen when she married Philip, but she was an experienced hand at palace intrigue and rivalries.
In Epirus, however, she had at least been among family and friends, but in the Macedonian capital of Pella she was alone. On her wedding night she was led veiled into the bridal chamber, after which Philip entered and shut the door. As she fulfilled her most important duty as a wife for the first time, a chorus of maidens stood outside the doors and sang hymns to the goddess of fertility. Later stories say that on the night before the wedding as she lay sleeping a peal of thunder crashed around the palace and a lightning bolt shot into her room, striking her womb without harming her.
Such stories of miraculous conceptions and divine parentage were common for heroes in the ancient world, but if Philip had any doubts that Olympias was a virgin when he took her to bed that first night, she would have been sent back to her uncle in disgrace. During those first few weeks of married life together Philip must have devoted himself wholeheartedly to siring a son with Olympias. He would soon be away on campaign for long stretches of time with no opportunity for conjugal visits.
Philip was a vigorous young man well known for his sexual appetites, so his young bride from Epirus received his frequent attention. But, according to Plutarch, late one night during those first few weeks of marriage Philip arrived at the bedroom of Olympias fully up to the task before him when he saw his wife sleeping next to an enormous snake. He had known Olympias was particularly devoted to exotic forms of worship common to women from her mountain homeland. He did not object to such sacred activities, many of which involved snakes, as long as they were conducted discreetly, but he was deeply disturbed that she brought serpents into her bed for private ecstatic rituals.
Fearful that she might place a spell on him or that he might offend some divinity, he withdrew quietly and thereafter made only rare visits to her bedchamber. We can be certain that whether the job was done by Philip or one of the gods—as Olympias would later claim—she was soon pregnant. Nine months later, in the hot Macedonian summer of , while Philip was conquering the town of Potidaea and awaiting news of his horse at the Olympic games, his wife gave birth to a son.
Again, as with many ancient heroes, stories were repeated in later years of extraordinary events surrounding the birth of Alexander. It was said that the great temple of the goddess Artemis at Ephesus on the western coast of Asia Minor burned to the ground while the distracted goddess was busy in Macedonia attending the birth of the new prince.
The Persian priests known as Magi who were resident in Ephesus reportedly ran madly about the ruins of the temple beating their faces and declaring that one who would bring calamity on Asia had been born that day. Other writers more soberly pointed out that the highly flammable temple had burned down repeatedly in the past and on this occasion had been set ablaze by a mentally disturbed man. As was normal in royal households, Olympias turned over the day-to-day affairs of child rearing to a matron from a distinguished family. Alexander did not, however, grow up a spoiled and pampered prince.
From almost the day he could walk he began his training in war. Few days passed when Alexander did not mount a favorite horse and tear across the Macedonian plains. His first tutor was a crusty old tyrant named Leonidas, who had all the charm and subtlety of his namesake, the indomitable Spartan king who had fought against the Persians at Thermopylae.
Leonidas was a kinsman of Olympias from Epirus, but he showed no favoritism to his young charge. He was so parsimonious that one day when Alexander took a whole handful of incense to throw on the altar fire, Leonidas rebuked the boy, saying that once he had conquered the spice markets of Asia he could waste good incense but not before. Years later, when Alexander had taken the entire Near East, he sent his aged tutor an enormous shipment of frankincense and myrrh with a note saying he could now stop being so miserly to the gods.
Yet Alexander loved his cantankerous teacher and thought of him as a second father. Other tutors taught the precocious Alexander the arts of reading and writing so that from an early age he learned to love Greek literature, especially the poetry of Homer. The prince also showed an unusual talent for music and became an accomplished lyre player. His other favorite tutor in these early years was a coarse but lighthearted Greek named Lysimachus, who was better known for his sense of humor than personal hygiene. One of the earliest stories about Alexander tells how when Philip was away on campaign yet again, the young prince, perhaps seven or eight years old, met ambassadors from the Great King of Persia who had come to the Macedonian court.
Alexander was gracious and charming to the guests, winning their respect by not asking after trivial matters but inquiring into the length and conditions of Persian roads, how far it was to the Persian capital, what kind of man the Great King was, and what sort of army he possessed. One of these men was Artabazus, an important Persian leader who had been involved in a revolt by fellow satraps against the king a few years earlier.
His son-inlaw, Memnon, a Greek from the island of Rhodes, was another of the exiles, along with an Egyptian named Menapis. They had come to Macedonia seeking a safe haven to weather the turmoil of the Persian court. These men would have been a treasure trove of information about Persia for the young Alexander, and it is not difficult to imagine the boy learning everything possible about the great empire to the east from them during their time at Pella.
Even at this early age, he dreamed of kingdoms to vanquish. With the city largely undamaged and the grateful inhabitants unharmed, this strategic gateway to the east became a crucial garrison town and commercial center controlling the timber and mineral resources of the whole Strymon valley. The next year his army again struck to the. Never modest, Philip now did something unprecedented in the Greek world and named the town after himself. From that day forward until Saint Paul visited in Roman times and founded the first Christian church in Europe on the site, the old Thracian town was known as Philippi.
With the revenues from the mines above Amphipolis and Philippi, the young Macedonian king was able to enlarge his army and equip it with the finest weapons and horses. With these new resources Philip laid siege to Methone in in a final attempt to drive the Athenians from the Macedonian heartland. It was a furious fight, but in the end Philip took the town. The price he paid was the loss of an eye. Whether this was just an unlucky blow or the divine consequences of gazing on Olympias in bed with her serpentine lover, as was later claimed, Philip remained blind in one eye the rest of his life.
Undeterred by his infirmity, Philip began to extend his influence south into Thessaly at first by alliances, then by seizing the key port of Pagasae. His incorporation of large numbers of the renowned Thessalian cavalry into his army became a central component of his military power, as it would be for Alexander. Next, Philip again invaded the Chalcidice peninsula in and attacked the city of Olynthus.
This well-protected settlement had long been the center of commercial activity in the area and had served as the capital of the Chalcidic Confederacy against Sparta, then against Athens. The city had been on friendly terms with Macedonia, but when Philip took Amphipolis the citizens had seen the writing on the wall and allied themselves with Athens for protection. The Athenians promised assistance, but somehow the Athenian assembly could never quite agree on what should be done. As the noose tightened on Olynthus, the Athenians debated and delayed until at last Philip had the city surrounded.
When he at last took the town, Philip was uncharacteristically harsh. He sacked the city, leveled the site, and sold the survivors into slavery. By the devastation of Olynthus, Philip was sending a message to the Greeks—he could be merciful, but if opposed, he could also be ruthless. The famed Athenian orator Demosthenes—who, according to legend, had overcome a childhood speech impediment by talking loudly with pebbles in his mouth—was one of the first Greeks to realize that Philip posed a deadly threat to the ancient cities of Greece. Have you seen how he has risen from weakness to strength?
First he takes Amphipolis, then Pydna, not to mention Potidaea. After that comes Methone and Thessaly. Then he invades Thrace, removing their chieftains and replacing them with his own men. Although his oratorical skills were unsurpassed, Demosthenes was unable to motivate the apathetic Athenians to offer more than token resistance to Philip and his Macedonian army. Most Greeks were simply unwilling to believe that barbarians from beyond Mount Olympus posed any serious threat to their way of life.
The embassy the Athenians sent to Pella was easily charmed by the lyre playing of ten-year-old Alexander, then bribed by Philip to make peace and look the other way while he swallowed up more Greek territory.
The sanctuary of Delphi, home to the greatest oracle of the god. Apollo, had long been a sacred gathering place for all of Greece. Kings, warriors, shopkeepers, and peasants could freely travel to the temple there and ask the god for advice—should they go to war, open a new business, or marry the girl next door?
Delphi lay high on the slopes of Mount Parnassus in the region of Phocis in central Greece. In , the same year Alexander was born, a dispute had broken out between the local inhabitants around Delphi and the cities of the Amphictyonic Council, a regional organization of towns dedicated to protecting the oracle. Soon the dispute erupted into a bitter conflict known as the Sacred War between the people of Phocis and their allies from elsewhere in Greece— including Athens—and the council members, most notably Thebes.
The war dragged on for years with neither side able to gain the advantage. In the weary Thebans called on Philip to join them and crush the Phocian rebels once and for all. The Macedonian king hesitated, as he wanted to avoid a direct war with Athens, but the Athenians —constantly harangued by Demosthenes—were finally beginning to take seriously the threat Philip posed. Embassies traveled between Athens and Pella in an attempt to settle the conflict peacefully.
Promises were made and oaths were exchanged, but the dark cloud of war loomed over the land. At last, Philip took a bold risk and marched for Thermopylae, the gateway to Greece. There, where the Persians had crushed the Spartans on their way to destroy Athens, Philip, backed by his army, at last forced the Amphictyonic Council to take decisive action against the Phocian rebels and end the impasse. Faced with Macedonian troops on their border, the Phocians capitulated and Philip was granted a place of honor on the council.
Athens was not pleased, but it was unwilling to press the matter. Philip, through a skillful combination of diplomacy and military threats, was now the dominant member of the most powerful political alliance in Greece. One day when Alexander was about twelve years old, he made a friend who would follow him all the way to India. Philip himself was present that day, a rare event, when a horse breeder from Thessaly named Philoneicus had arrived at the small town of Dion beneath Mount Olympus and asked if he could show the king his wares.
Philip, always keen for a new stallion to ride in battle, gladly agreed and along with Alexander accompanied the trader to the grassy plains just outside town. Philoneicus then led Bucephalas forward to the astonishment of the crowd. This incredible price was enough to support a man for a lifetime, but Philip merely shrugged. Even a horse as splendid as Bucephalas was useless to the king if he could not be ridden.
Philip ordered the animal taken away, but Alexander confronted his father and proclaimed he was losing a priceless stallion because he lacked the courage and skill to manage him. The king was not used to being chastised before his men, especially by his young son, but Alexander was beside himself with frustration and repeated his charge. Philip was angry now and glared at his son with his eye. Do you really think that you know horses better than we do? I can handle him better than any man alive! But he agreed to the bargain and told his groomsmen to lead the horse to Alexander.
Bold he was, but Alexander was not foolish. While the warriors of the court had seen only the wild nature of Bucephalas, the young boy had noticed something more—the horse became uncontrollable only when the sun was behind him. It was his own shadow on the ground that had frightened Bucephalas. Alexander cleverly took the reins and gently turned the stallion toward the sun so that he cast no shadow before him. He then stroked the horse and spoke to him gently for several minutes until he was calm. Bucephalas was ready to fight, but the boy held him on a tight rein as they started trotting across the plain.
Little by little, as Alexander got the measure of the animal, he began to loosen the reins and let the mighty stallion gallop across the grasslands at full speed. Everyone was terrified that the prince would be killed, but Alexander and Bucephalas raced far away from the crowd then back at last toward his father.
A great cheer went up from all assembled and Philip, bursting with pride, shed tears of joy and kissed his son as he dismounted. If he was someday to be king and take his place at the head of the rising power in the Greek world, he needed the kind of training that could come from only the greatest mind of the age. To Philip, this could be only one man—Aristotle. He was an unusual choice, since at this time Aristotle was a virtually unknown refugee living in exile, but the man who would one day become one of the most famous philosophers in history had known Philip since they were both boys.
Philip was only a year or two younger than Aristotle, so the boys had grown up together. At seventeen, Aristotle had left Macedonia and traveled to Athens, where he spent the next twenty years as a student of Plato at the famous Academy. When Plato died, Aristotle had expected to take over leadership of the school, but instead had been driven out of town by Demosthenes and the anti-Macedonian party because of his connections to Philip. He remained there three years and even married the adopted daughter of the tyrant, but when Hermias was murdered, he retreated to the nearby island of Lesbos to teach and study the local flora and fauna.
Aristotle was an inspired teacher. Just as Socrates had taught Plato and Plato in turn had instructed Aristotle, now the philosopher from Stagira would show Alexander the wonders of the universe. With his skinny legs, small eyes, persistent lisp, outrageous clothing, and gaudy rings, Aristotle must have made a laughable impression on the Macedonian prince, but when the man spoke, Alexander knew he was in the presence of genius. Unlike Plato, who valued theory and speculation above all else, Aristotle was a practical man. He was passionately curious about how things worked and was as likely to be found knee-deep in a swamp collecting tadpoles for dissection as in a library studying the art of poetics.
In an age before specialization, Aristotle studied and wrote about everything. He practically invented logic and deduced that the universe must have been created by an all-powerful prime mover. Aristotle was the first great experimental scientist, with physics, astronomy, biology, embryology, meteorology, and much more in his realm of expertise. He knew from observation and experimentation that the earth was a sphere and that whales were mammals, not fish.
He pioneered the study of ethics and argued that the greatest virtues come from moderation. He declared that man was a political animal—that is, a creature who finds his true home in the polis or city. No person could lead a meaningful life isolated from others, he declared, for a life without friends would not be worth living. But he also believed, as did almost everyone at his time, that slavery was a natural state of affairs and that men by nature were superior to women.
He also held that people of barbarian nations were inferior to Greeks and should be treated as such. Alexander must have studied all these ideas and more under Aristotle, but the subjects that seemed to have interested him the most were medicine, science, and poetry. Aristotle learned the healing arts from his own father and passed the knowledge on to Alexander. The Macedonians quickly begged forgiveness, which Alexander accepted, and held a great banquet for several thousand of his men at which he and they ate together.
Afterwards, Alexander travelled to Ecbatana to retrieve the bulk of the Persian treasure. There, his closest friend and possible lover, Hephaestion , died of illness or poisoning. Plutarch 's account is that roughly 14 days before his death, Alexander entertained admiral Nearchus , and spent the night and next day drinking with Medius of Larissa. The common soldiers, anxious about his health, were granted the right to file past him as he silently waved at them. Given the propensity of the Macedonian aristocracy to assassination,  foul play featured in multiple accounts of his death.
Diodorus, Plutarch, Arrian and Justin all mentioned the theory that Alexander was poisoned. Justin stated that Alexander was the victim of a poisoning conspiracy, Plutarch dismissed it as a fabrication,  while both Diodorus and Arrian noted that they mentioned it only for the sake of completeness. Perhaps taking his summons to Babylon as a death sentence,  and having seen the fate of Parmenion and Philotas,  Antipater purportedly arranged for Alexander to be poisoned by his son Iollas, who was Alexander's wine-pourer. The strongest argument against the poison theory is the fact that twelve days passed between the start of his illness and his death; such long-acting poisons were probably not available.
Several natural causes diseases have been suggested, including malaria and typhoid fever. A article in the New England Journal of Medicine attributed his death to typhoid fever complicated by bowel perforation and ascending paralysis. The anguish that Alexander felt after Hephaestion 's death may also have contributed to his declining health. Alexander's body was laid in a gold anthropoid sarcophagus that was filled with honey, which was in turn placed in a gold casket.
While Alexander's funeral cortege was on its way to Macedon, Ptolemy seized it and took it temporarily to Memphis. Ptolemy IX Lathyros , one of Ptolemy's final successors, replaced Alexander's sarcophagus with a glass one so he could convert the original to coinage. This would fit with the intended destination of Alexander's funeral cortege. Pompey , Julius Caesar and Augustus all visited the tomb in Alexandria, where Augustus, allegedly, accidentally knocked the nose off. Caligula was said to have taken Alexander's breastplate from the tomb for his own use. His son and successor, Caracalla , a great admirer, visited the tomb during his own reign.
After this, details on the fate of the tomb are hazy. The so-called " Alexander Sarcophagus ", discovered near Sidon and now in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum , is so named not because it was thought to have contained Alexander's remains, but because its bas-reliefs depict Alexander and his companions fighting the Persians and hunting. Alexander's death was so sudden that when reports of his death reached Greece, they were not immediately believed. Arrian and Plutarch claimed that Alexander was speechless by this point, implying that this was an apocryphal story.
Perdiccas initially did not claim power, instead suggesting that Roxane's baby would be king, if male; with himself, Craterus , Leonnatus, and Antipater as guardians. However, the infantry, under the command of Meleager , rejected this arrangement since they had been excluded from the discussion. Instead, they supported Alexander's half-brother Philip Arrhidaeus. Eventually, the two sides reconciled, and after the birth of Alexander IV, he and Philip III were appointed joint kings, albeit in name only.
Dissension and rivalry soon afflicted the Macedonians, however. The satrapies handed out by Perdiccas at the Partition of Babylon became power bases each general used to bid for power. Diodorus stated that Alexander had given detailed written instructions to Craterus some time before his death.
Alexander's will called for military expansion into the southern and western Mediterranean, monumental constructions, and the intermixing of Eastern and Western populations. It included:. Alexander earned the epithet "the Great" due to his unparalleled success as a military commander. He never lost a battle, despite typically being outnumbered. He overcame this by being personally involved in battle,  in the manner of a Macedonian king. In his first battle in Asia, at Granicus, Alexander used only a small part of his forces, [ citation needed ] perhaps 13, infantry with 5, cavalry, against a much larger Persian force of 40, By contrast, the Persian infantry was stationed behind its cavalry.
This ensured that Alexander would not be outflanked, while his phalanx, armed with long pikes, had a considerable advantage over the Persians' scimitars and javelins. Macedonian losses were negligible compared to those of the Persians. Alexander arranged a double phalanx, with the center advancing at an angle, parting when the chariots bore down and then reforming. The advance was successful and broke Darius' center, causing the latter to flee once again.
When faced with opponents who used unfamiliar fighting techniques, such as in Central Asia and India, Alexander adapted his forces to his opponents' style. Thus, in Bactria and Sogdiana , Alexander successfully used his javelin throwers and archers to prevent outflanking movements, while massing his cavalry at the center. Greek biographer Plutarch c. The outward appearance of Alexander is best represented by the statues of him which Lysippus made, and it was by this artist alone that Alexander himself thought it fit that he should be modelled.
For those peculiarities which many of his successors and friends afterwards tried to imitate, namely, the poise of the neck, which was bent slightly to the left, and the melting glance of his eyes, this artist has accurately observed. Apelles, however, in painting him as wielder of the thunder-bolt, did not reproduce his complexion, but made it too dark and swarthy.
Whereas he was of a fair colour, as they say, and his fairness passed into ruddiness on his breast particularly, and in his face. Moreover, that a very pleasant odour exhaled from his skin and that there was a fragrance about his mouth and all his flesh, so that his garments were filled with it, this we have read in the Memoirs of Aristoxenus. The semi-legendary Alexander Romance also suggests that Alexander exhibited heterochromia iridum : that one eye was dark and the other light. British historian Peter Green provided a description of Alexander's appearance, based on his review of statues and some ancient documents:.
Physically, Alexander was not prepossessing. Even by Macedonian standards he was very short, though stocky and tough. His beard was scanty, and he stood out against his hirsute Macedonian barons by going clean-shaven. His neck was in some way twisted, so that he appeared to be gazing upward at an angle. His eyes one blue, one brown revealed a dewy, feminine quality. He had a high complexion and a harsh voice. Ancient authors recorded that Alexander was so pleased with portraits of himself created by Lysippos that he forbade other sculptors from crafting his image.
Some of Alexander's strongest personality traits formed in response to his parents. His mother had huge ambitions, and encouraged him to believe it was his destiny to conquer the Persian Empire. According to Plutarch, among Alexander's traits were a violent temper and rash, impulsive nature,  which undoubtedly contributed to some of his decisions.
The Romance of Alexander the Great: Are the Legends Really True?
He had a great desire for knowledge, a love for philosophy, and was an avid reader. Alexander was erudite and patronized both arts and sciences. During his final years, and especially after the death of Hephaestion, Alexander began to exhibit signs of megalomania and paranoia. He appears to have believed himself a deity, or at least sought to deify himself. He lost another child when Roxana miscarried at Babylon.
Alexander also had a close relationship with his friend, general, and bodyguard Hephaestion , the son of a Macedonian noble. Alexander's sexuality has been the subject of speculation and controversy in modern times. No ancient writer, however, explicitly describes Alexander's relationship with Hephaestion as sexual, though the pair was often compared to Achilles and Patroclus , whom classical Greek culture painted as a couple. Aelian writes of Alexander's visit to Troy where "Alexander garlanded the tomb of Achilles, and Hephaestion that of Patroclus , the latter hinting that he was a beloved of Alexander, in just the same way as Patroclus was of Achilles.
Green argues that there is little evidence in ancient sources that Alexander had much carnal interest in women; he did not produce an heir until the very end of his life. Alexander accumulated a harem in the style of Persian kings, but he used it rather sparingly,  showing great self-control in "pleasures of the body". Alexander's legacy extended beyond his military conquests. His campaigns greatly increased contacts and trade between East and West, and vast areas to the east were significantly exposed to Greek civilization and influence. His chroniclers recorded valuable information about the areas through which he marched, while the Greeks themselves got a sense of belonging to a world beyond the Mediterranean.
Alexander's most immediate legacy was the introduction of Macedonian rule to huge new swathes of Asia. The eastern borders of Alexander's empire began to collapse even during his lifetime. Taking advantage of this power vacuum, Chandragupta Maurya referred to in Greek sources as "Sandrokottos" , of relatively humble origin, took control of the Punjab , and with that power base proceeded to conquer the Nanda Empire.
Over the course of his conquests, Alexander founded some twenty cities that bore his name , most of them east of the Tigris. At first, the cities must have been inhospitable, little more than defensive garrisons. Hellenization was coined by the German historian Johann Gustav Droysen to denote the spread of Greek language, culture, and population into the former Persian empire after Alexander's conquest. This culminated in his aspiration to homogenize the populations of Asia and Europe.
However, his successors explicitly rejected such policies. Nevertheless, Hellenization occurred throughout the region, accompanied by a distinct and opposite 'Orientalization' of the successor states. The core of the Hellenistic culture promulgated by the conquests was essentially Athenian. Some of the first and most influential figurative portrayals of the Buddha appeared at this time, perhaps modeled on Greek statues of Apollo in the Greco-Buddhist style.
Greek astronomical treatise and Paulisa Siddhanta texts depict the influence of Greek astronomical ideas on Indian astronomy. Following the conquests of Alexander the Great in the east, Hellenistic influence on Indian art was far-ranging. In the area of architecture , a few examples of the Ionic order can be found as far as Pakistan with the Jandial temple near Taxila.
Several examples of capitals displaying Ionic influences can be seen as far as Patna , especially with the Pataliputra capital , dated to the 3rd century BC. Alexander and his exploits were admired by many Romans, especially generals, who wanted to associate themselves with his achievements. Pompey the Great adopted the epithet "Magnus" and even Alexander's anastole-type haircut, and searched the conquered lands of the east for Alexander's year-old cloak, which he then wore as a sign of greatness. On the other hand, some Roman writers, particularly Republican figures, used Alexander as a cautionary tale of how autocratic tendencies can be kept in check by republican values.
Pausanias writes that Alexander wanted to dig the Mimas mountain today at the Karaburun area , but he didn't succeed. He also mention that this was the only unsuccessful project of Alexander. Legendary accounts surround the life of Alexander the Great, many deriving from his own lifetime, probably encouraged by Alexander himself. Writing shortly after Alexander's death, another participant, Onesicritus , invented a tryst between Alexander and Thalestris , queen of the mythical Amazons.
When Onesicritus read this passage to his patron, Alexander's general and later King Lysimachus reportedly quipped, "I wonder where I was at the time. In the first centuries after Alexander's death, probably in Alexandria, a quantity of the legendary material coalesced into a text known as the Alexander Romance , later falsely ascribed to Callisthenes and therefore known as Pseudo-Callisthenes.
This text underwent numerous expansions and revisions throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages ,  containing many dubious stories,  and was translated into numerous languages. Alexander the Great's accomplishments and legacy have been depicted in many cultures.
Alexander has figured in both high and popular culture beginning in his own era to the present day. The Alexander Romance , in particular, has had a significant impact on portrayals of Alexander in later cultures, from Persian to medieval European to modern Greek. Alexander features prominently in modern Greek folklore, more so than any other ancient figure. Any other answer would cause the mermaid to turn into a raging Gorgon who would drag the ship to the bottom of the sea, all hands aboard. In pre-Islamic Middle Persian Zoroastrian literature, Alexander is referred to by the epithet gujastak , meaning "accursed", and is accused of destroying temples and burning the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism.
The figure of Dhul-Qarnayn literally "the Two-Horned One" mentioned in the Quran is believed by scholars to be based on later legends of Alexander. The Syriac version of the Alexander Romance portrays him as an ideal Christian world conqueror who prayed to "the one true God". According to Josephus , Alexander was shown the Book of Daniel when he entered Jerusalem, which described a mighty Greek king who would conquer the Persian Empire.
This is cited as a reason for sparing Jerusalem. The song written by bass player Steve Harris captures and summarises Alexanders battles and life. It was one of the first Maiden albums to use guitar synths. Apart from a few inscriptions and fragments, texts written by people who actually knew Alexander or who gathered information from men who served with Alexander were all lost. Their works are lost, but later works based on these original sources have survived. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
This article is about the ancient king of Macedonia. For other uses, see Alexander the Great disambiguation. King of Macedonia. Royal titulary. Further information: History of Macedonia ancient kingdom. Further information: Government of Macedonia ancient kingdom. Main article: Alexander's Balkan campaign. Further information: Siege of Gaza. Further information: Battle of Gaugamela. Further information: Battle of the Persian Gate. Main article: Indian campaign of Alexander the Great.
Main article: Death of Alexander the Great. See also: Tomb of Alexander the Great. Main articles: Partition of Babylon and Diadochi. Main article: Personal relationships of Alexander the Great. Main article: Hellenistic period.
Alexander the Great - Wikipedia
Further information: List of cities founded by Alexander the Great. Main article: Hellenistic civilization. Main article: Alexander the Great in legend. Main article: Historiography of Alexander the Great. History portal Greece portal Iran portal Egypt portal War portal. The Macedonians were a Greek tribe. Historiography and scholarship agree that Alexander the Great was Greek. All three of these people had motive to have Philip murdered. Diodorus also referred to an advance force already present in Asia, which Polyaenus , in his Stratagems of War 5. Retrieved 4 June Primary sources Arrian Anabasis Alexandri The Campaigns of Alexander.
Penguin Books. Quintus Curtius Rufus Rolfe, John ed. History of Alexander. Loeb Classical Library. Retrieved 28 April Siculus, Diodorus CH Oldfather, translator. Perseus Project. Retrieved 14 November Plutarch Perrin, Bernadotte ed. Plutarch, Alexander. Retrieved 6 December Babbitt, Frank Cole ed. On the Fortune of Alexander. Retrieved 26 November Trogus, Pompeius Justin ed. John Selby Watson, translator. Forum romanum. Secondary sources Barnett, C. Baynes, Norman G Berkley, Grant Moses in the Hieroglyphs.
Retrieved 13 January Bose, Partha Alexander the Great's Art of Strategy. Bosworth, A. New York: Cambridge University Press. Cawthorne, Nigel Alexander the Great. Connerney, R. The upside-down tree: India's changing culture. Curtis, J. Forgotten empire: the world of ancient Persia. University of California Press. Dahmen, Karsten Danforth, Loring M. Once, therefore, after supper and in his cups, he led a band of revellers to the statue and crowned it with many of their garlands, thus in pleasantry returning no ungraceful honour for the past association with the man which he owed to Aristotle and philosophy.
Alexander read the letter and placed it under his pillow, without showing it to any one of his friends. The belief arose from the time which he would spend over each cup, talking than in drinking, always holding some long discourse, and this too when he had abundant leisure.
This is proved by his life, which, though altogether brief, he filled to overflowing with the greatest exploits. Often, too, for diversion, he would hunt foxes or birds, as may be gathered from his journals. Not only was he himself carried away into blustering, but he suffered himself to be ridden by his flatterers.
The one course they thought disgraceful, the other had its perils. There it stood, and that was the prescribed limit of expenditure for those who entertained Alexander. But the rest of the army also was filled with wealth. The Editor's Notes: 1 Macedonian names for Bacchantes. Hecatombaeon corresponds nearly to July. The context makes the verse suggest the murder of Attalus, Philip, and Cleopatra.
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