Alexander the Great
Alexander was the third King of Macedon and can be regarded as one of the best military personnel the world has ever seen. His military genius brought him tremendous success and managed to stretch the Empire of Macedon from Greece to India. Alexander the Great, as he is known today, is credited with conquering and annexing to his glorious empire nearly half of the world's population during his time. He is undoubtely the most famous figure of ancient Greece.
Tremendously successful in all military coups, Alexander the Great spread the Greek civilization all over the East, till the borders of India, and changed the course of history until he died at the age of 33. In his short life, he managed so many things as to become a legend.
The First Years
Alexander was born in 356 BC in Pella, the capital of the Macedon Kingdom. His father was King Phillip II of Macedon and his mother was Olympias, the daughter of the king of Epirus. The two of them had met in Samothraki island during some religious festivals and, although Phillip also had other wives, Olympias was thought as his primary wife and queen. The myth says that the night Alexander was born, the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was burnt down as the goddess was not there to protect it, being busy to attend the birth of that boy who would later become a legend.
Since he was a little boy, Alexander was taught by the best tutors and had shown special courage in fights. At the age of 10, to everyone's surprise, he managed to tame a very wild horse. Since then, this horse which was named Bucephalus became his companion in all battles and wars.
When Alexander was 13, he came under the tutelage of Aristotle, the famous philosopher. Aristotle taught some very important and interesting subjects to him and his courses covered topics on biology, philosophy, religion, logic and art. During this learning process, Alexander developed favoritism for Homer's literature, especially the epic of Iliad, and became a great fun of Achilles, whom he had as his exemplar.
Ancient sources state Alexander to be short, much shorter than a normal Macedonian, but very tough. His beard was scanty and it is reported that he had a short of spinal problem: his neck was twisted and some believe that he had a congenital spinal disorder.
At 16, when he finished his education, he was constantly involved in fights against the tribe of the Illyrians, who threatened the Macedonian Empire. Along with his father, he participated in the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC and defeated both Athenians and Thebans who had formed an alliance against Macedonia. Together they occupied Central Greece and then marched to Peloponnese. There at Corinth, that Philip got the recognition of Supreme Commander of all Greeks in the war they wanted to launch against Persia.
When King Phillip II returned to his kingdom, he was charmed by a Macedonian noblewoman Cleopatra Eurydice, whom he married soon. Their marriage bore doubts in the minds of many as because their offspring would be true Macedonian blood and a possible heir to the throne. Such thoughts were even spoken aloud in the banquet ceremony before the wedding, which led to a heated exchange of words and actions between Alexander and his father.
Next day, the day of his wedding to Cleopatra, King Phillip was assassinated by Pausanias, his chief bodyguard, for unknown reasons. Some said that it was Olympias who had ordered the assassination of her husband from jealousy. Others believed that the Persians had arranged everything to prevent a war against them, while Alexander himself was also suspect as he faced the danger not to become king, after the birth of Cleopatra's son.
The result was that at the early age of 20, Alexander the great had to take his father's position on the throne. Soon regions of Thebes, Athens, Thessaly and the Thracian tribes revolted against Macedon to acquire their independence now that Phillip was dead. Alexander got the news very quickly and he acted spontaneously. He first crushed the Thessalian forces making them surrender and went south to face other battles.
In Corinth, he met the Athenians who opted for peace and persuaded all the Greeks to make his father's dream true: to start the war against the Persians in order first to take revenge for the Persian Wars, about a century earlier, and then to minimize the risk of a new Persian attack.
Conquering the East
It was in the springtime of 334 BC that Alexander the Great set out to conquer Persia with an army of soldiers from all Greek towns, except Sparta that denied taking part in this war. The generals of his army were all Macedonians. They were Antigonus, Ptolemy and Seleucus. In the ancient city of Troy, close to the River Granicus, the Macedonian army defeated the Persian forces and occupied all the coastline of Asia Minor. While in Troy, the myth says that Alexander paid tributes to the grave of Achilles, his eternal model.
At the Battle of Issus, in 333 BC, the Macedonian army for the first time came face to face with the real Persian army led by King Darius III. Darius was defeated and he succumbed to Alexander, who proclaimed himself to be the King of Asia. Alexander moved then to Egypt, where he was viewed upon as a liberator to free Egypt from the Persians. There he was named Pharaoh and established the city of Alexandria, that exists and flourishes till today. Alexander went on to the west to occupy Babylon, the capital of the Persian Empire.
In Babylon, he resided in the Palace of Darius and married his daughter, princess Statira. The ambitions of Alexander brought his army to modern Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he married the daughter of a local leader, Roxana. This was rather a strange decision and raised many reactions from his general, but Alexander considered it a symbolic action: a Greek king married a local princess and populations of the West and the East could finally unite into one empire, as was his dream.
In the meantime, the relationship of Alexander with his generals was getting bad. After some conspiracies against his life, Alexander didn't trust them any more except for one general, Hephaestion, the son of a Macedon nobleman and long friend of his. The Macedon generals would also protest against some Persian traditions and practices that Alexander demanded from them, such as the custom of kneeling before him. This was a natural practice for the Persians to show their respect to the king but the Greeks kneeled only before the statues of the gods, not to their kings, so the generals considered it as an act of indignity to kneel in front of a man.
After long years of marching and fighting, Alexander the Great had yet reached the borders of India but fighting with the local tribes was very difficult. In fact, in a battle, Alexander lost his beloved horse, Bucephalus. Plus his army was much tired from so many years of wars and they wanted to rest. That is when Alexander decided to return to Babylon for a few months and then come back to conquer India.
However, death prevented him to launch a new expedition. Alexander the Great died in June 323 BC in his palace in Babylon from unknown causes. It could be poisoning, or malaria or even a physical problem that may have caused the death of Alexander. Others say that he died from grief because his companion, Hephaestion, had been killed in a battle some months before.
When he died, his wife Roxana was pregnant to their son but Alexander didn't see his heir being born. After his death, the vast Empire he has created, the Empire that was stretching from Greece and Egypt to India, was split into four parts and was divided to his generals, while his son was killed before adulthood.
Despite his just 33 years of life, Alexander had seen them all in life: love and hate, loyalty and conspiracy, war and peace, virtues and faults. He was happy to fulfil his ambitions and he changed history and the fate of many tribes, as the Greek civilization was spread far and wide. The cities he had conquered and established flourished for many centuries and even today there are tribes in Asia that say they descend from Alexander the Great.
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