Just how great was Alexander the Great? – Joshua Hehe – Medium
The Basileus of Macedon, Hegemon of the Hellenic League, Pharaoh of Egypt, Shahanshah of Persia, and Lord of Asia
Alexander the Great was undoubtedly one of the greatest men to ever live, if not the greatest man of all time, but what was it about Alexander that made him “Great”? The question is simple enough, but, as is often the case, it requires a rather complicated answer. For one thing, as of the time of this writing, the legendary historic figure was born 2,375 years ago, so the story of his life has been told and retold time and time again. As such, there are many different versions of the classic tale, and this is but one of them. To begin with, it’s important to understand that, in the ancient world, virgin births were often attributed to highly significant people. In line with this, Zeus, Philip, and Olympias were said to have conceived their son Alexander more than three and a half centuries before Jehovah, Joseph, and Mary gave birth to Jesus. Since the gods and goddesses usually appear in animal form, Zeus manifested as a serpent in the dreams of Olympias, thus impregnating her with a demigod who was destined for greatness. So, the Hellenic Supreme Being Zeus-Ammon was not only the Father of the ancient Greek and Egyptian pantheons, but also the direct ancestor of Alexander the Great. Alexander was also the grandson of King Neptolemus, on his mother’s side, and their line claimed descent from Achilles in ancient Greece. Plus, Alexander was said by some to be an incarnation of Horus in ancient Egypt. Simply put, his greatness was believed to be ordained by God, thus people came from far and wide to see him, once he was born. According to Plutarch, even Artemis, the goddess of childbirth, came to bear witness the day he was born, on July 21st of 356 BCE. It is said that in her absence, the Temple of Artemis burnt down. So, it’s no wonder that Alexander the Great went on to be worshiped as a deity, in both life and in death.
In the year 344 BCE, when Alexander was only twelve years old, a trader from Thessaly named Philonicus brought King Philip II a stunning stallion, which he offered to sell to him at a very high price. However, the rambunctious horse refused to be mounted, so Philip II of Macedon simply ordered it away. The thing was that Alexander III had fallen in love with the majestic steed, at first sight. He was a breathtakingly beautiful 18 hand black horse with a large white star on his brow. More importantly, as a keen observer, the boy was sure that he had noticed something that no one else had. The horse was just afraid of his own shadow, not buck wild like everyone thought. So, Alexander asked his father for the right to tame him, vowing to pay the high price for the animal himself if need be. As such, King Philip II realized how serious his son was about the whole ordeal, so he rather reluctantly gave the boy a chance. Then, to everyone’s amazement, Alexander did, in fact, tame the wild beast. On top of that, the prince and the stallion immediately formed a lifelong bond. According to Plutarch, Philip was overjoyed at this display of courage and ambition. He kissed his son tearfully, declaring: “My boy, you must find a kingdom big enough for your ambitions. Macedon is too small for you”. Then, he immediately bought the horse for him. Alexander the young horse-whisperer then named his new companion Bucephalas, after a branding mark on his haunch depicting an ox’s head. In no time at all, the two became nearly inseparable.
In 343 BCE, Philip II of Macedon began to search for a suitable tutor for the heir to his throne. He considered hiring such academics as Isocrates and Speusippus. The latter was even willing to resign from his stewardship of Plato’s Academy, which was the first school of higher learning in the world. In the end, though, Philip II chose Plato’s star pupil, the renowned philosopher Aristotle. He taught Alexander and other students in a classroom within the Temple of the Nymphs at Mieza. This was like a boarding school for Alexander and the children of Macedonian nobles, such as Ptolemy and of course Hephaestion. The latter was not only Alexander’s best friend but also his dominant gay lover. Many of his classmates would go on to become his close friends and even his future generals. Under Aristotle’s tutelage, Alexander the Great also developed a passion for the works of Homer. He gave the boy an annotated copy of the Iliad, which Alexander later carried on his campaigns. Years after that, in 335 BCE, Aristotle decided that he wanted to open his own school in Athens, which soon rivaled the Academy. This was because Aristotle ran the Lyceum very different from the way that Plato had told Xenocrates to run the Academy. In this way, Alexander provided Aristotle with the resources that he needed to found the Peripatetic school of philosophy in the sacred grove of the wolf-god, Apollo Lyceus.
During the summer of 336 BCE, while attending the wedding of his daughter to Olympias’s brother, Alexander I of Epirus, Phillip II of Macedon was assassinated by the captain of his bodyguards, a man named Pausanias. As the culprit tried to escape, he tripped over a vine and was killed by his pursuers, including Alexander’s henchmen Perdiccas and Leonnatus. At that point, Alexander III of Macedon was proclaimed king at the age of 20. He immediately began his reign by eliminating all the potential rivals to the throne. Several people were killed outright. For instance, Alexander ordered the murder of Attalus, who was in command of the advance guard of the army in Asia Minor and was also Cleopatra’s uncle. Meanwhile, Olympias had Cleopatra Eurydice and Europa, her daughter by Philip II, burned alive. The news of Philip’s death also roused many states into revolt, including Thebes, Athens, and Thessaly. Although he was advised to use diplomacy, Alexander mustered 3,000 Macedonian cavalrymen and rode south towards Thessaly looking for a fight. Then, he marched his men south to Corinth. There, Alexander took on the title of Hegemon of the Hellenic League, and, like his father before him, he was appointed commander for the coming war against Persia. Plus, while he was in town, Alexander the Great also had his famous encounter with Diogenes the Cynic. Following this, in the spring of 335 BCE, Alexander advanced to suppress several more revolts. News had even reached him that King Cleitus and King Glaukias were in open revolt against his authority. In the end, having triumphed over all the rebel forces, Alexander the Great was able to secure his northern frontier. So, he set out on his epic campaign of conquest, never losing a single battle in the process.
Alexander was a formidable warrior and a master strategist, who led his men from the front of the ranks, not the back like most commanders. This was because, very early on in his military career, the Pythia at the Oracle at Delphi in the Temple of Apollo told Alexander the Great that he was invincible, so he fought fearlessly on the front-line. Plus, he was an alcoholic bloodthirsty goal-driven mass-murdering megalomaniac to begin with. Along with this, his ruthless army made use of advanced ancient technology, including things like bolt throwers and siege towers. He also made use of revolutionary new tactics on the battlefield. This is what Darius III, the Persian king of the Achaemenid Empire, soon discovered. In the spring of 333 BCE, Alexander crossed the Taurus into Cilicia. Then, he defeated Darius at the Battle of Issus. Of course, nothing in the history of any military compares to the Siege of Tyre. Initially, the Macedonian Army was unable to capture the city, which was a strategic coastal base on the Mediterranean Sea. Conventional means were useless against a walled island city, so Alexander did something highly unconventional, as he often did. He blockaded the area with 200 ships that had also been fitted with battering rams to knock holes in the outer wall, which went right up to the shoreline. He and his men besieged Tyre for seven months, by building a causeway that eventually allowed them to breach the fortification. By the time it was all said and done, Alexander the Great had become so enraged by the loss of his troops that they massacred 8,000 Tyrian civilians. He then raized part of the city and abducted 30,000 residents and foreigners, mainly women and children. They were all sold into slavery.
That same year, Alexander and his men quickly advanced on Egypt, where he was regarded as a liberator. Upon arrival, he even went to visit the Oracle at Siwa Oasis to consult the gods via a resident priest. There, the Oracle pronounced Alexander III of Macedon to be the god-king son of the deity Amun, or Ammon in the Hellenic and Hellenistic traditions. Henceforth, Alexander often referred to Zeus-Ammon as his true father. During his stay, Alexander the Pharaoh of Egypt founded the first of many cities that were named after him. As such, the original metropolis came to be known as Alexandria-by-Egypt. This would go on to become the prosperous capital of the Ptolemaic Kingdom after his death. There was even currency which depicted him adorned with the horns of a ram, the totemic animal spirit of Amun. Regardless, the original Alexandria was meant to serve as a model city in the spread of Greek civilization. Simply put, after Athens, but before Rome, there was the great city of Alexandria. Alexander would even go on to name dozens of cities Alexandria during his roughly decade-long reign of conquest from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Alexandria-by-Egypt was ideally situated to be the central hub between the East and West in the Old World. It was designed by the visionary Greek architect Dinocrates. This was the first time that cities were all based on a modern uniform grid design and they were established at numerous sites across more than half the circumference of the Earth. Alexander went “everywhere” in the known world at the time, which was completely unprecedented. By the time he would be finished, the Macedonian Empire would stretch from the Adriatic in the west to the Punjab in the east, and from Russia in the north to Ethiopia in the south.
Along the way, leaving Egypt in 331 BCE, Alexander III marched eastward into Mesopotamia and set out to defeat Darius III, yet again. There the Macedonian Empire won the epic Battle of Gaugamela, on the Tigris River. In one of Alexander the Great’s last great victories, Darius III fled, fearing for his life. Alexander III chased him as far as Arbela, then Darius III fled over the mountains to Ecbatana, and Alexander captured Babylon. From there, Alexander the Great went to the Achaemenid capital city of Susa and captured its treasury. The Macedonian Army then stormed the pass of the “Persian Gates” in the Zagros Mountains. Alexander even rushed to Persepolis where he allowed his troops to loot the treasury. They remained there for five months and during that time Alexander set fire to the eastern palace of Xerxes. He drunkenly burned part of the city in this way as an act of retaliation because Xerxes I had previously set fire to the Acropolis of Athens, during the Second Persian War. Alexander the Great was rather notorious for engaging in these intoxication-driven crimes of passion that would consume him with regret and remorse. Alexander III then chased Darius III, first into Media, and then Parthia. However, the Emperor of Persia was taken prisoner by one of his own men, named Bessus. As the Macedonians approached, Bessus had his men fatally stab Darius and then declared himself successor as Artaxerxes V. Then, he retreated into Central Asia to launch a guerilla campaign against Alexander the Great. Meanwhile, Alexander buried Darius’ remains next to his Achaemenid predecessors in a regal funeral. He then claimed that, while he was dying, Darius III had named Alexander III as his successor to the Achaemenid throne. Finally, in 329 BCE, a man named Spitamenes betrayed Bessus to Ptolemy I, and Bessus was summarily executed. Thus, Alexander the Great became the Shahanshah of Persia. From that point on, he became increasingly despotic, even requiring people to prostrate themselves in his presence. His soldiers saw this as sacrilegious, and they began turning against him. As if that wasn’t bad enough in their eyes, as the so-called “Lord of Asia”, Alexander took an Asian woman as his bride, not European, and this deeply upset the Macedonians. In many ways, this all marked the beginning of the end for Alexander the Great.
Then, to make matters worse, in the summer of 326 BCE, Alexander’s beloved steed Bucephalas tragically sustained a number of fatal injuries at the Battle of the Hydaspes. Although Alexander the Great and his men did defeat King Porus, it came at great cost, including the loss of Bucephalas. Alexander III of Macedon was completely devastated by the loss of his trusty warhorse. He was utterly lost without him. So, Alexander the Great promptly founded a city, named Bucephalas in honor of his fallen comrade. The city lay on the west bank of the Hydaspes River in what is now Pakistan. The modern-day town of Jalalpur Sharif is said to be the final resting place of Bucephalas. Then, less than two years after his favorite horse died, Alexander lost someone else who was very near and dear to him. In the spring of 324 BCE, his homosexual partner Hephaestion left Susa for Ecbatana. The army arrived in the fall and it was there, during games and festivals, that Hephaestion fell ill with a fever. According to Arrian, after the fever had run its course for a week, Alexander had to be summoned to Hephaestion, who was now in critical condition. However, by the time he got there, Hephaestion was already dead. Alexander never forgave himself for not making it there to see him in time. This was even more tragic than the loss of his father had been, all those years earlier. He was totally devastated by the unexpected loss of his best friend and long-time lover. Alexander the Great was reduced to a state of apathy, refusing to eat and unable to sleep for days on end. He was wholly consumed by grief.
To make matters worse, the reign of Macedonian Emperor Alexander the Great came to a gruesome end, beginning on June 1st in 323 BCE, when he contracted typhoid fever in Babylon. At first, he just experienced severe stomach pains, but he was soon confined to bed. The disease brought on ascending paralysis which moved up his body starting from his feet. The sepsis eventually put him in a coma, but before it did he was asked who the empire should go to, and his last words were: “To the strongest.” Then, on June 11th he finally passed away, in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II. After that, there was great debate over who should get to lay his body to rest, and where. Alexander’s corpse was then embalmed and placed in a golden coffin. It remained there for two years until the funeral cart was finally ready. His coffin was then sent off in a funeral procession to Aegae in Macedonia. However, the governor of Egypt, Ptolemy I intercepted the caravan and confiscated the coffin. In 321 BCE, Alexander’s body was then housed in Memphis, Egypt. After the battle of Ipsus in 301 BCE, Ptolemy I had Alexander moved to his new tomb in Alexandria. Later, in 215 BCE, Ptolemy IV Philopater moved Alexander’s body to a new burial complex. He was interred alongside the Ptolemaic rulers. In 89 BCE, Ptolemy X melted down the golden sarcophagus and replaced it with one made of glass. Then, after the death of Cleopatra in 30 BCE, the Romans took possession of Alexandria and everything in it, including Alexander. Numerous Roman emperors came to Soma in Alexandria to visit his tomb. Caligula even looted his breastplate. Finally, in 391 of the common era, Christians took over Alexandria and since then the final resting place of Alexander III of Macedon has been lost to history. This mystery only adds to his legacy. It is for this and so many other reasons that he really is the one and only Alexander the Great. That’s just how great he was.