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Alexander the Great Study Guide

Biography, Timeline, and Study Questions

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Mosaic of the Battle of Issus showing Alexander and Bucephalus, from House of the Faun in Pompeii.

Battle of Issue mosaic showing Alexander on Bucephalus

Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Alexander fighting a lion mosaic

Alexander fighting a lion mosaic

Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great

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Study Guides > Alexander the Great

World Leader: Overview of Alexander the Great

The Extent of His Empire

Alexander the Great, King of Macedon from 336 - 323 B.C., may claim the title of the greatest military leader the world has ever known. His empire spread from Gibraltar to the Punjab, and he made Greek the lingua franca of his world, the language that helped spread early Christianity.

After his father, Philip II, unified most of the reluctant city-states of Greece, Alexander continued his conquests by taking Thrace and Thebes (in the area of Greece), Syria, Phoenicia, Mesopotamia, Assyria, Egypt, and on to the Punjab, in northern India.

Alexander Assimilated and Adopted Foreign Customs

Alexander founded possibly more than 70 cities throughout the Mediterranean region and east to India, spreading trade and the culture of the Greeks wherever he went. Along with spreading Hellenism, he sought to interbreed with the native populations, and set an example for his followers by marrying local women. This required adaptation to the local customs -- as we see very clearly in Egypt, where his successor Ptolemy's descendants adopted the local custom of pharaonic marriage to siblings [although, in his excellent Antony and Cleopatra, Adrian Goldsworthy says this was done for other reasons than the Egyptian example]. As was true in Egypt, so it was also true in the East (among Alexander's Seleucid successors) that Alexander's goal of racial fusion met resistance. The Greeks remained dominant.

Larger-Than-Life

The story of Alexander is told in terms of oracles, myths, and legends, including his taming of the wild horse Bucephalus, and Alexander's pragmatic approach to severing the Gordian Knot.

Alexander was and still is compared with Achilles, the Greek hero of the Trojan War. Both men chose a life that guaranteed immortal fame even at the cost of an early death. Unlike Achilles, who was subordinate to the great king Agamemnon, it was Alexander who was in charge, and it was his personality that kept his army on the march while holding together domains that were very diverse geographically and culturally.

Problems With His Men

Alexander's Macedonian troops were not always in sympathy with their leader. His apparent adoption of Persian customs antagonized his men who were not apprised of his motives. Did Alexander want to become a Great King, like Darius? Did he want to be worshiped as a living god? When, in 330, Alexander sacked Persepolis, Plutarch says his men thought it a sign Alexander was ready to return home. When they learned otherwise, some threatened to mutiny. In 324, on the banks of the Tigris River, at Opis, Alexander executed the leaders of a mutiny. Soon the disaffected soldiers, thinking they were being replaced with Persians, asked Alexander to accept them back again.
[Reference: Pierre Briant's Alexander the Great and His Empire]

Evaluation

Alexander was ambitious, capable of fierce anger, ruthless, willful, an innovative strategist, and charismatic. People continue to debate his motives and capabilities.

Death

Alexander died suddenly, in Babylon, on June 11, 323 B.C. The cause of death is not known. It could have been poison (possibly arsenic) or natural causes. Alexander the Great was 33.

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