Alexander the Great
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The facts of Alexander's life are extraordinary, and it's no surprise that two major Hollywood films on his life are in production. Born Alexander III, king of Macedonia, and the first king to be called the Great, he was born in 356 BC and brought up as crown prince. Taught for a time by Aristotle, he acquired a love for Homer and an infatuation with the heroic age. When his father Philip divorced Olympias to marry a younger princess, Alexander fled. Although allowed to return, he remained isolated and insecure untilP hilip's mysterious assassination about June 336. Alexander was at once presented to the army as king. Winning its support, he eliminated all potential rivals. No sooner had Alexander ascended the throne, than the Illyeians and other Northern tribes, which had been subdued by his father Philip, erupted into Macedonia, but they were quickly dispatched by the armies of Alexander. Some Grecian states, with Athens and Thebes at their head, thinking this a favorable oppurtunity, attempted to shake off the macedonia yoke; but the sudden appearance of the youthful Alexander in their midst soon put an end to all resistance. Thebes was taken by strom and razed to the ground, only the house of the poet Pindar and several other dwellings being spared; and the inhabitants were sold into slavery. Athens and the other Greek states immeaditly submitted, and were generously pardoned by Alexander. Then he took up Philip's war of aggression against Persia, adopting his slogan of a Hellenic Crusadeagainst the barbarian. He defeated the small force defending Anatolia, proclaimed freedom for the Greek cities there while keeping them under tight control, and, after a campaign through the Anatolian highlands (to impress the tribesmen), met and defeated the Persian army under Darius III at Issus (near modern Iskenderun, Turkey). He occupied Syria and--after a long siege ofTyreE--Phoenicia, then entered Egypt, where he was accepted as Pharaoh. From there he visited the famous Libyan oracle of Amon (or Ammon, identified by the Greeks with Zeus). The oracle hailed him as Amon's son (two Greek oracles confirmed him as son of Zeus) and promised him that he would become a god. His faith in Amon kept increasing, and after his death he was portrayed with the god's horns. After organizing Egypt and founding Alexandria, Alexander crossed the Eastern Desert and the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and in the autumn of331 defeated Darius's grand army at Gaugamela (near modern Irbil, Iraq). Darius fled to the mountain residence of Ecbatana, while Alexander occupied Babylon, the imperial capital Susa, and Persepolis. Alexander acted as legitimate king of Persia, and to win the support ofthe Iranian aristocracy he appointed mainly Iranians as provincial governors. Yet a major uprising in Greece delayed him at Persepolis until May 330 and then, before leaving, he destroyed the great palace complex as a gesture to the Greeks. At Ecbatana, after hearing that the rebellion had failed, he proclaimed the end of the Hellenic Crusade and discharged the Greek forces. He then pursued Darius, who had turned eastward. Darius was assassinated by Bessus, the satrap of Bactria, who distrusted his will to keep fighting and proclaimed himself king. As a result, Alexander faced years of guerrilla war in northeastern Iran and central Asia, which ended only when he married (327) Rozana, the daughter of a localchieftain. The whole area was fortified by a network of military settlements, some of which later developed into major cities. During these years, Alexander's increasing preoccupation outside of Greece led to trouble with Macedonian nobles and some Greeks. Parmenion, Philip II's senior general, and his family originally had a stranglehold on the army, but Alexander gradually weakened its grip. Late in 330, Parmenion's oldestson, Philotas, commander of the cavalry and chief opponent of the king's new policies, was eliminated in a carefully staged coup d'etat, and Parmenion was assassinated. Another noble, Cleitus, was killed by Alexander himself in a drunken brawl. (Heavy drinking was acherished tradition at the Macedonian court.) Alexander next demanded that Europeans follow the Oriental etiquette of prostrating themselves before the king--which he knew was regarded as an act of worship by Greeks. But resistance by Macedonian officers and by the Greek Callisthenes (a nephew of Aristotle who had joined the expedition as the official historian of the crusade) defeated the attempt. Callisthenes was then executed on a charge of conspiracy. With discipline restored, Alexander invaded (327) the Punjab. After conquering most of it, he was stopped from pressing on to the distant Ganges by a mutiny of the soldiers. Turning south, he marched down to the mouth of the Indus, engaging in some of the heaviest fighting and bloodiest massacres of the war. He was nearly killed while assaulting a town. On reaching the Indian Ocean, he sent the Greek oooooofficer Nearchus with a fleet to explore the coastal route to Mesopotamia. Part of the army returned by a tolerable land route, while Alexander, with the rest, marched back through the desert of southern Iran, chiefly to emulate various mythical figures said to have done this. He emerged safely in the winter of 325-24, after the worst sufferings and losses of the entire campaign, to find his personal control over the heart of the empire weakened by years of absence and rumors of his death. On his return, he executed several of his governors and senior officers and replaced others. In the spring of 324, Alexander held a great victory celebration at Susa. He, and 80 close associates, married Iranian noblewomen. In addition, he legitimized previous so-called marriages between soldiers and native women and gave them rich wedding gifts, no doubt to encourage such unions. When he discharged the disabled Macedonian veterans, after defeating a mutiny by the estranged and exasperated Macedonian army, they had to leave their wives and children with him. Because national prejudices had prevented the unification of his empire, his aim was apparently to prepare a long-term solution (he was only 32)by breeding a new body of high nobles of mixed blood and also creating the core of a royal army attached only to himself. In the autumn of 324, at Ecbatana, Alexander lost his boyhoodfriend Hephaestion, by then his grand vizier--probably the only person he had ever genuinely loved. The loss was irreparable. After a period of deep mourning, he embarked on a winter campaign in the mountains, then returned to Babylon, where he prepared an expedition for the conquest of Arabia. Weakened from numerous battles, he died in June 323 without designating a successor. His death opened the anarchic age of the Diadochi. Alexander at once became a legend. Greek accounts blended almost incredible fact with pure fiction (for example, his meeting withthe Queen of the Amazons). What remains as fact are Alexander's indisputable military genius and his successful opportunism and timing in both war and politics. The success of his ambition, at immense cost in terms of human life, spread Greek culture far into central Asia, and some of it--supported and extended by the Hellenistic dynasties--lasted for centuries. It also led to an expansion of Greek horizons and to the acceptance of the idea of a universal kingdom, which paved the way for the Roman Empire. Moreover, it opened up the Greek world to new Oriental influences, which would lay the groundwork for Christianity.
Grove Press, 9780802141491, 480pp.
Publication Date: June 29, 2004