Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great also known as Alexander III of Macedon, had became a near-mythical figure in his own lifetime, stories about his journey went on to form a staple of regional literature and fable from Europe to the borders of China. Alexander, leader of the Greeks, overlord of Asia Minor and pharaoh of Egypt became 'great king' of Persia at the age of 20's, and by the age of 33 he had conquered most of the known world and created an empire that would shape the cultures of the Mediterranean and the Near and Middle East for centuries to come. The most crucial moment of his legendary journey was his visit to the Oracle of Ammon at the Siwa Oasis, deep in the North African desert. Although the story of this visit has become a legend, it remains shrouded in mystery.

Alexander was born on 20 (or 21) July 356 BC, in Pella, the capital of the Ancient Greek Kingdom of Macedon. He was the son of Philip II, the King of Macedon. His mother was Philip's fourth wife Olympias, the daughter of Neoptolemus I, the king of Epirus. Alexander the Great owed a great deal to his father. Philip extended the reign south into Greece, west to the Adriatic Sea, east to the Black Sea, and north to the Danube River. When Alexander need a tutor, Philip hired Aristotle to teach him about philosophy and literature and politics. When he was sixteen, his tutorship under Aristotle came to an end. Philip gave him command over the Macedonian cavalry and his first taste of military victory. In 340 BC, as Philip prepared to invade Persia, he appointed Alexander regent.

Alexander and his tutor, Aristotle

Once he ascended on the Macedonian throne, Alexander quickly disposed of all of his domestic enemies by ordering their execution. But soon he had to act outside Macedonia. Philip’s death caused series of rebellions among the conquered nations and the Illyrians, Thracians, and Greeks saw a chance for independence. Alexander acted swiftly. He forced his way into Greece despite the roads leading to the country being blocked by the Thessalians. The Greek commander Memnon and his men considerably slow down the advance of Alexander and many Macedonians died during the long and difficult sieges of the Greek cities of Halicarnassus, Miletus, Mylasa. But at the end the Macedonian army defeated the enemy and conquered the coast of Asia Minor. As soon as he restored Macedonian rule in northern Greece, he marched into southern Greece. His speed surprised the Greeks and by the end of the summer 336 BC they had no other choice but to acknowledge his authority.

In 332 BCE Alexander ‘invaded’ Egypt. In practice he had already defeated the forces of Darius III, king of Persia, in the Near East, and Darius had fled back to Persia. Egypt, which had never been a willing subject of the Persian king, was left essentially unguarded and welcomed the arrival of Alexander as a redeemer and liberator. Alexander was undefeated in battle and is considered one of the most successful commanders of all time. His line traced their ancestry back to Hercules, a demi-god and the son of Zeus. Perhaps Alexander already believed the connection might be more direct. The Egyptians had proclaimed him to be a son of the gods and the greatest of the Egyptian gods, AmunRa, was considered to be simply another name for Zeus.

Alexander the Great founded Alexandria in 331 BCE after he left Memphis and travelled back north to the coast, but hung around just long enough to lay out the basic street plan and get construction underway. And then strategically placing it to become a great trading centre. He then travelled east along the coast of what the ancients called Libya, receiving tributes, before turning south and, accompanied only by a small escort and some guides, striking deep into the hostile desert. His target was the Oasis of Siwa, home of the oracle of the god Ammon. The journey was difficult and dangerous. Two centuries earlier the Persian king Cambyses had sent an army to conquer Siwa, but it vanished into the desert and was never heard of again. No pharaoh had ever been. Alexander’s companions tried to persuade him not to risk the journey, but he would not listen.

As they struggled through the desert Alexander’s party were assailed by near disaster on more than one occasion. First they ran out of water, but were saved by a sudden rainstorm. Then they became lost in a massive sandstorm, but were apparently led out of trouble by a pair of ravens. Finally the party reached the Oasis at Siwa. Alexander did not wait to rest or recuperate, but immediately made his way to the temple of Ammon, the Ammoneion, home of the oracle. Alexander was then accorded the rare honour of being invited into the adyton, the inner sanctum or holy-of-holies, to question the oracle. Exactly what was asked, and how it was answered, will never be known.

On re-emerging into the temple forecourt Alexander would only tell his companions that he had received the answer he sought, and that he would only tell the ‘secret prophecies’ to his mother, and only face to face on his return to Macedon. However, it is generally assumed that Alexander asked about his paternity – specifically, whether or not he was of divine paternity. According to various ancient historians, Alexander first asked whether any of the assassins who had murdered his father, Philip, were still alive.

Philip’s assassination was very much a public event. It took place at Aegae in 336 BC at a festival celebrating the marriage of his daughter (and Alexander’s sister) Cleopatra to another Alexander, the king of Epirus. As the king’s entourage moved toward a theater, Philip lagged behind the procession so that he could enter more dramatically. His bodyguards fanned out around him. One of them, Pausanias, stepped forward, stabbed the king, and fled. Three others chased Pausanias and killed him. Alexander moved quickly to secure the throne. At Philip’s funeral, he put to death several potential rivals. He seized command of the army, subdued rebellions to the south and north, and led his troops into Persia. Clearly, therefore, Philip’s death advanced Alexander’s ambitions. But just because Alexander benefited from the murder doesn’t mean he had a part in it. Indeed, according to Aristotle, Pausanias’s actions were the result not of a conspiracy but a personal grudge. “Philip...was attacked by Pausanias,” Aristotle wrote in his 'Politics', “because he permitted him to be insulted by Attalus and his friends.” Aristotle’s brief mention is the only extant account of the assassination by a contemporary Of Philip and Alexander. Others who were alive then wrote about it, among them Callisthenes, Ptolemy, Nearchus, and Cleitarchus. But none of their works survived.

Over the next eight years he was to drive his army across deep into uncharted territory, conquering nations to the borders of China and into India, crossing huge mountain ranges and ‘impassable’ deserts, overcoming all odds to become the richest man in the world and the greatest conqueror in history. The conquests of Alexander created a vast Hellenic empire.

However, in the years following Alexander's death a series of civil wars tore his empire apart which resulted in the formation of a number of states ruled by the Diadochi – Alexander's surviving generals. It broke up into smaller kingdoms shortly after his death, profoundly influenced the history and culture of the Near and Middle East for centuries to come. Few years later, one of his generals, Ptolemy Soter, took control of Egypt and made Alexandria his capital, building great palaces and temples, including a temple to the Muses (or Museum). Alexander once asked to be buried at the home of the oracle, Ammoneion. His body was brought back to Egypt, but his tomb has never been found. Most scholars expect to find it in Alexandria, but some believe it was located near Siwa.

Sources :
Mysteries In History: “From Prehistory to the Present” by Paul D. Aron;
Secret Histories: “Hidden Forces that Shaped the Past” by Joel Levy;;;

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Rational νεόφυτος said...

Alexander was interesting in that he helped bring a common tongue, Koine Greek, to the hub of civilization at the time, Rome.

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Yugo said...

Alexander the great is one of my favorite characters in history. A bright man and a great conqueror.

A very interesting article.

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