Alexander The Great: The Annihilator
“O my son, look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee.” (In Plutarch’s version of Alexander the Great, King Phillip II, is reported to have said this to his son, Alexander)
Alexander The Great – the very name conjures up an image of a man, who, in the short span of just thirty three years carved a niche for himself and is even today spoken of as the greatest warrior the world has ever known. He referred to himself as the son of God; his friends and admirers called him a military genius and his enemies thought of him as the Devil himself! He can also be referred to as the annihilator because he destroyed everything that came in his path, using deadly weapons of mass destruction, flattening and plundering cities that he conquered, executing prisoners, amassing slaves.
Important Events in the Life of Alexander:
356 BC: July, Born at Pella, Macedonia
340 BC: Serves as Regent and quells the Revolt of Maedi
338 BC: Helps his father win the Battle of Chaeronia
336 BC: Wins the Battle of the Granicus River against Darius III of Persia
333 BC: Defeats Darius in the Battle of Issus
332 BC: Wins siege of Tyre; gains victory against Gaza
331 BC: Wins the Battle of Gaugamela
327 BC: Marries Roxane; starts on journey towards India
326 BC: Defeats Porus at the batlle of the Hydaspes; death of his favorite horse, Bucephalus
324 BC: Dies due to an alleged attack of malaria, on June 10, at Babylon
Early Years of Alexander:
Born in Pella, Macedonia in the year 356 BC, Alexander was the son of the Macedonian King Phillip II and Queen Olympias. His mother played a major role in his life and had him believe that he was the son of the God Zeus and that he was meant for greater things in life. Fed on this hype from his childhood and his subsequent training in the martial arts and military tactics by his father, his confidence grew by leaps and bounds. His taming of the horse Beucephalus further encouraged him to believe that he was truly born for greatness.
Seeing his potential, Alexander’s parents wanted nothing but the best for him and hired Aristotle from Athens as his personal tutor. From Aristotle, Alexander learned philosophy, politics, and ethics and healing, all of which were very useful to him during his campaigns of war.
His Conquests on the Battle Field
Alexander was the conqueror of the Persian Empire and King of Macedonia. He became King of Macedonia upon the assassination of his father, King Phillip II, in 336 BC. He was a visionary and wanted to rule the world. He started his campaign with a victory over Thessaly. In 335 BC he defeated the Thracians and established his victory up to the Danube River and later crushed the army of Illyrians. He then rushed into the city of Thebes, which was in revolt, which suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Alexander who destroyed most of the city. Many of the Greek states subsequently surrendered to him and came under his control. In 334 BC, he declared war on Persia, defeating a small Persian army near the city of Troy. Soon all the states of Asia Minor came under his control. In 333 BC, in the Battle of Issus of Northeast Syria, he defeated the main leader of Persia, King Darius III. In 332 BC he crushed and conquered Tyre, where he slaughtered 8000 men and crucified 2000 prisoners. After this gruesome battle, hundreds of prisoners were taken as slaves, women were raped and in a fit of drunken passion he burned down the famous palace of Darius. He then travelled towards Eastern Mediterranean and started by first capturing Gaza. He then entered Egypt, and eventually gained control over the entire Eastern Mediterranean coastline, establishing the city of Alexandria at the head of the River Nile. He next entered Babylon who surrendered without much of a fight. By 327 BC Alexander was the sole ruler of the entire lands of Central Asia and up to the Southern shores of the Caspian Sea. His final victory was at the Battle of the Hydspases (present day Jhelum River in Pakistan) against Porus in Punjab. However his foray deeper into the Indian Territory was stalled by his soldiers who were tired and refused to go further. He turned back and returned to Babylon where in 323 BC, at the age of 33, he succumbed to a fever, most probably, malaria.
Alexander: The Man behind the Name
Alexander’s mother, Olympias believed that “Alexander the Great was associated with Hercules, son of Zeus, and may have believed himself the son of the Egyptian god Amun”. Added to this, the myths and coincidences surrounding his birth and conception, like King Phillip seeing Olympias in the embrace of a snake (who is believed to be none other than the Greek God Zeus) and the burning down of the temple of Artemis on the day Alexander was born, only strengthened his belief that he was indeed the son of God and that he was supernaturally gifted. It almost got to his head and that probably made him behave the way he did. His highly egoistic nature and his ruthless disregard for people had turned him into a blood thirsty megalomaniac, a psychopath and a dictator. He would hear only what he wanted to hear and crushed opposition with an iron hand. He was a pathological narcissist and refused to see his own faults. Anyone who had the misfortune of having to point these out to him was rewarded with time in the dungeons, torture or brutal death. His hedonistic lifestyle involved heavy binge drinking which led to impulsive decisions and erratic behavior. A case in point would be the burning down the castle of Darius, the king of Persia, after a night long drinking party with his soldiers and friends.
On the other hand, the charisma of Alexander the Great was undeniable. His enormous self confidence drove him to excel beyond boundaries and he did not allow the word ‘impossible’ to enter his life. His prowess on the battle field remains unsurpassed even today. His army was phenomenally well organized and incredibly large. None dared to rebel against him because they knew they would be crushed mercilessly to serve as an example to the rest. A Military genius, and a brilliant strategist, he was able to turn the tide against the opposition. Using his brilliant military tactics, he won the battle of the Hydaspes, against Porus, even though his army was outnumbered one to five. He was a great leader and led by example, always in the front braving his way right into the belly of the opposition.
Alexander and Achilles
Achilles is a legendary figure who was the central hero in Homer’s Iliad, who was invulnerable in all parts of his body except his heel. To Alexander, Achilles was his role model ever since his tutor, Aristotle introduced him to Homer’s Iliad. He got so enamored by this play that he read it time and again, carrying it with him everywhere he went and also slept with this book under his pillow! He was so fascinated by the Greek hero that he tried to emulate him in every which way he could. Like Achilles he was fearless on the battlefield and confident that he would win. Again, like Achilles he led his troops from the front leading by example. Alexander’s quick and wild temper can also be compared to the Greek hero. He set fire to the city of Thebes in a fit of rage just like Achilles who destroyed the Asian city of Troy. Alexander and Hephaestion were soul mates, very much like Achilles and Patroclus and they loved their companions more than their lives.
Was Alexander the Great a Psychopathic killer, a Demi God or a Military Genius? Whereas most historians would have us believe that he was one of the greatest warriors this world has ever seen, fighting against all odds for honor and individual glory, he was after all a human who chose to live like a hero.