Alexander the Great Conqueror of Worlds, Architect of Empires
The raindrops danced upon the windowpane on a serene, rainy day as a grandfather and his grandson, Rumi, cozied up in their living room. Rumi, with a twinkle in his eye and a tray of delectable snacks in hand, approached his grandfather. He knew that their conversations often took fascinating turns, and today would be no exception. As the aroma of freshly baked treats wafted through the air, the grandson settled himself, eager to listen to the stories that would unfold. With a knowing smile, the grandfather took a sip of his tea, preparing to transport Rumi to a distant time and place through the captivating tale of Alexander the Great.
Grandfather: Hey Rumi, did you know that 2,346 years ago, on 11th June 323 BC, a remarkable man named Alexander the Great passed away in Babylon after a night of heavy drinking? But what made him so extraordinary? Let me share with you the story of this remarkable individual who conquered the world before turning 30.
Rumi: Wow, Grandpa! I’d love to hear more about Alexander the Great. Please tell me!
Grandfather: Alexander was born in the year 356 BC in a city called Pella, which was the capital of Macedonia, located north of Greece. As a young boy, he had the privilege of being tutored by the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle, and his mother, Olympias, instilled in him a burning ambition. Interestingly, some legends even claim that he was the son of Zeus.
Rumi: That’s fascinating, Grandpa! But what about Alexander’s father?
Grandfather: Ah, his father, Philip II, often gets overshadowed by his son’s accomplishments. When Philip came into power in 359 BC, Macedonia was in a terrible state, facing threats from Thrace, Illyria, and the Greek cities, and it was on the verge of collapse. However, Philip proved to be the right leader at the right time.
By the end of Philip’s reign, Macedonia had become the most powerful state in the region. He subdued Thrace and Illyria, defeated the Greek cities, and effectively became the leader of Greece. Philip was an astute diplomat, an inspired general, and a sharp reformer.
Rumi: But what happened after Philip’s reign?
Grandfather: Unfortunately, in 336 BC, Philip was assassinated by a bodyguard named Pausanias, who sought fame desperately. The story goes that Pausanias believed the best way to become famous was by murdering the most famous man alive. As a result, Alexander, who was only twenty years old at the time, was declared the new king.
Rumi: What was Alexander’s first task as king?
Grandfather: Alexander’s initial priority was to secure his position and suppress the rebellions that emerged after Philip’s death. He ruthlessly eliminated rivals to the throne, quelled revolts in Thrace and Illyria, and asserted his dominance over Greece by destroying the city of Thebes.
Once he had established his authority, Alexander embarked on the campaign that his father Philip had prepared for: an invasion of the Persian Empire, also known as the Achaemenid Empire. For two centuries, the powerful and wealthy Persians had been the mortal enemies of the Greeks.
Rumi: That must have been quite a challenging undertaking!
Grandfather: Indeed, it was an extraordinary endeavor. With his battle-hardened Macedonian soldiers, who were trained under Philip’s leadership, and supported by a group of capable generals, Alexander pushed eastward out of Europe, through present-day Turkey, and into Mesopotamia, the heart of the Persian Empire. It was an incredibly swift and unstoppable march.
During this time, there’s an interesting myth surrounding Alexander. In a place called Gordium, there was a famously intricate knot that tied an oxcart to a post. According to the legend, whoever managed to untie the knot would become the ruler of Asia. Alexander approached the knot and simply cut it with his sword, bypassing the need to untangle it.
Rumi: What happened when Alexander encountered the Persian Emperor?
Grandfather: The Persian Emperor, Darius III, gathered all his vast armies from across the numerous nations he ruled, aiming to halt Alexander’s advance. The two forces clashed at the Battle of Issus, located on the modern Turkish-Syrian border, where Alexander achieved a decisive and resounding victory.
Darius, realizing the magnitude of the threat posed by Alexander, offered him a deal: half of the Persian Empire in exchange for peace. Parmenion, one of Alexander’s generals, suggested that he would accept such terms if he were in Alexander’s position. Surprisingly, Alexander replied, “So would I, if I were Parmenion.” He rejected the peace deal.
Rumi: It sounds like Alexander’s ambitions didn’t stop there.
Grandfather: Indeed, they did not. After the Battle of Issus, Alexander went on to conquer Egypt and then proceeded to Mesopotamia, where he decisively defeated Darius at the Battle of Gaugemala, despite being heavily outnumbered. This took place in the year 331 BC, effectively bringing an end to the Persian Empire and realizing the great Greek dream.
Undeterred, Alexander pressed onward, expanding his conquests into what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. He achieved remarkable victories and remained undefeated in battle until his death.
Rumi: It’s incredible how far his empire extended!
Grandfather: Yes, it truly is. Alexander had even planned an invasion of Arabia, but his ambitious plans were halted when his troops mutinied in northwestern India. They longed to return home after being away for less than ten years. By the age of thirty, Alexander had conquered half of the known world.
When you compare the kingdom that Alexander inherited to the one he created, you realize that he was undeniably one of history’s greatest military strategists and leaders. His brilliance was matched only by his audacity.
Rumi: It seems like Alexander was not only a skilled conqueror but also had a knack for shaping his image.
Grandfather: Absolutely, Rumi. Alexander was a master of public relations, as it turns out. During his campaigns, he made sure to bring along the finest poets, artists, and writers of the time. From his “official” historian Callisthenes to the sculptor Lysippos, the painter Apelles, and the engraver Pyrgoteles, he surrounded himself with artistic talent.
Furthermore, Alexander named his two sons Alexander and Hercules, showcasing his admiration for Greek mythology. He also had a penchant for founding cities and naming them after himself, such as Alexandria in Egypt, which later became one of the world’s greatest cities. In fact, there’s a map that shows all the cities he named after himself, spanning from Greece to Afghanistan.
But his actions weren’t merely driven by ego; Alexander’s careful curation of his image aimed to establish political legitimacy and stability. He sought to blend Graeco-Macedonian culture with that of Persia, encouraging intermarriage between his generals and Persian nobles and incorporating their customs to create a multicultural empire.
Rumi: Did his efforts to merge cultures face any challenges?
Grandfather: Yes, indeed. When Alexander demanded “proskynesis,” the traditional act of bowing down to greet a Persian king, the Greeks and Macedonians refused. They reserved proskynesis for their gods and considered it inappropriate to perform it for Alexander.
Sadly, on 11th June 323 BC, Alexander’s life came to an end when he returned to Babylon, despite an ancient prophecy by astronomers warning him to stay away. After a day and night of drinking, he passed away at the young age of 32. Some believe he was poisoned, although the exact cause of his death remains debated.
Following his demise, a period known as the Wars of the Diadochi ensued. These were conflicts among Alexander’s leading generals, such as Ptolemy, Perdiccas, Seleucus, and Antigonus Monophthalmus, who fought over control of the empire he had established. These wars persisted for several decades.
Rumi: So, what ultimately became of Alexander’s empire?
Grandfather: Alexander’s empire eventually disintegrated rapidly, but several of the kingdoms established by his successors endured for centuries. Examples include Ptolemaic Egypt, Antigonid Macedonia, and the Seleucid Empire. These kingdoms only ceased to exist when they were eventually conquered by the Romans.
In the long run, Alexander’s legacy gave rise to the “Hellenistic Age.” By shattering the Persian Empire and connecting the West with the East, he spread Greek language and culture throughout Eurasia. His impact on the world, culturally and historically, cannot be understated.
For over two thousand years, from the Delhi Sultanate to Christian Europe and everywhere in between, Alexander has held a significant place in political, religious, poetic, and popular culture. He even finds mention in the Bible and the Quran. He truly stands as one of the few universally revered heroes transcending cultural boundaries.