Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great

(356-323 b.c.)

Born in Pella, Macedonia, Alexander was the son of King Philip II (see no. 5) and ‘Olympias, an Epirean princess. He studied under the Greek philosopher Aristotle, and from an early age, showed both a keen mind and a talent for leadership. Alexander came of age at the Battle of Chaeronea (338 B.C.), where he led the Macedonian cavalry in a charge that swept the Athenians and Thebans from the field.Alexander became king of Macedonia after the death of his father in 336 B.C.

In the spring of 334 B.C., Alexander and 33,000 battle-hardened troops crossed the Dardanelles into Asia Minor. He won his first engagement against the Persians at the Granicus River and proceeded to the city of Gordium, where he cut the famous Gordian Knot. The Gordian Knot was a knot of cornel bark tied around the yoke of a chariot. A leg¬ end had developed that the man who could untie the knot would become the ruler of all Asia. Alexander simply pulled out his sword and cut through the knot that had perplexed countless men before him.

Marching south he met the assembled army of Darius III, the King of Kings and the ruler of the Persian Empire. At the Battle of Issus (333 B.C.), Alexander used the mobility of his troops to confuse and defeat the much larger Persian army.

Alexander led his men into Lebanon and spent seven months reducing the Phoenician city of Tyre (TY-ree). He finally conquered that island city by building a causeway of earth and stones which still exists. He then went to Egypt, where high priests acclaimed him as a god. The Macedonian army left Egypt and marched into Persia proper, where Alexander fought and won a second great bat¬ tle with Darius, this time at a site called Arabela (331 B.C.). Darius escaped from the field, was pursued with a vengeance, and finally fell at the hands of one of his own gen¬ erals.

Alexander then devised a plan for “homonoia,” to bring Greeks, Persians, and Macedonians together into one ethnic group. He married 10,000 of his soldiers to 10,000 Persian women in a one-day wedding ceremo¬ ny for this purpose.

He brought his men all the way to the Indus River and fought a battle against Indian troops and their elephants (the first time the Greeks had faced such animals). Finally, in 326 B.C., Alexander’s Macedonian soldiers demanded he lead them back to Persia. Angry, Alexander led them back by way of the harsh Gedrosian desert, where many lives were lost to hunger and thirst.

Alexander made his capital at Babylon where he died after a fever that was probably caused by drink. Since he left no male heir to succeed him, his vast empire was divided among his top generals. Greek became the common language of much of the Middle East and Hellenistic culture became dominant from Greece to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.