alexander the great, alexander the great statue
Associated Press
Statue of Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia

November 03, 2010
by Colleen Brondou
As the forceful and charismatic king of Macedonia, Alexander the Great overthrew the Persian Empire, laying the foundation for the Hellenistic period. He became a hero of legends that would survive centuries after his death.

Alexander the Great’s Early Life

Born in 356 B.C. in Pella, Macedonia, Alexander III was the son of Philip II of Macedon and Olympias, daughter of King Neoptolemus of Epirus. Alexander’s parents wanted him to receive the finest education possible, and arranged for him to study under Aristotle, regarded as one of the greatest scholars who ever lived. From the ages of approximately 13 to 16, Aristotle instructed Alexander in languages, philosophy, medicine, rhetoric and scientific investigation.

Before Alexander was born, the Persian Empire dominated this part of the world, but Alexander’s father was also a strong leader. Philip II built an impressive army and established the Macedonian kingdom; he was even planning an invasion of Persia shortly before his death.

While his father attacked Byzantium in 340, Alexander was left in charge of Macedonia. As a young man, he showed great courage in defeating the Thracian Maedi and commanding the army at the Battle of Chaeronea. Alexander’s succession to his father’s throne was jeopardized, however, when Philip and Olympias divorced. Mother and son fled to Epirus, but later Alexander and his father reconciled.

In 336, Philip was assassinated with a Celtic dagger by Pausanias, one of his guards. “Although it was obvious that the assassin had a personal grudge, there are indications that other people were involved, or knew what was about to happen,” writes Jona Lendering, author of an Alexander the Great biography.

After Alexander was cleared as a suspect, he succeeded his father without opposition, and executed those alleged to be responsible for his father’s murder, as well as all rivals. He was just 20 years old.

Alexander the Great as King of Macedonia

Alexander, just 20 years old, succeeded his father without opposition, and executed those alleged to be responsible for his father’s murder, as well as all rivals. He then headed south and was named “generalissimo” for the invasion of Persia, which Phillip had planned before his death.

In the spring of 334, Alexander led the army created by his father across the Hellespont into Asia. Some 5,500 cavalry and 43,000 infantry made it “the most formidable military expedition ever to leave Greece,” according to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “The first to reach Asiatic soil, Alexander leapt ashore, cast a spear into the land, and dramatically claimed the continent as ‘spear won.’”

Alexander’s first course of action was to liberate the Greek cities on the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea. He paid homage at Troy, and then soundly defeated the Persian army at the Granicus River, sending a strong message to Darius III, leader of the Persian Empire.

In 333, Alexander faced Darius again at Issus, a mountain pass. The Macedonian army was greatly outnumbered but able to work the narrow mountain passageway to their advantage. Although Darius was surprised by Alexander’s strategic ability, he managed to escape. Continuing down the Mediterranean Coast into Damascus, Alexander captured Darius’ family. He then continued down the Phoenician coast, taking every city in his path.

After securing the eastern edge of the Aegean, Alexander and his army turned their attention to Egypt. In 332, he claimed Egypt as part of the Greek Empire. After being crowned Pharaoh in Memphis, Alexander sailed down the Nile and, “prompted by a dream, he began his most lasting contribution to civilization,” Tour Egypt reports. On a natural harbor, he built a port city and named it Alexandria. 

With the Heptastadion, a causeway, he connected the island of Pharos, located in the bay, to the mainland. Eventually, the Pharos Lighthouse, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, would tower over it all, and the Library of Alexandria would make the city one of the great cultural centers of the world.

When Alexander left Egypt in 331, he was still intent on meeting up with Darius again. After taking the territory between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers (present-day Iraq), Alexander’s army met the Persians at the Plain of Guagamela. The outnumbered Macedonians defeated the Persians, but Darius escaped once again. Alexander was crowned leader of Asia, and ordered his army to burn the royal palace in Persepolis, the capital of the Persian Empire.

After heading into Central Asia, going as far as the Indus Valley, Alexander’s army was ready to return home. In 323, however, Alexander developed a fever and died 10 days later at Babylon. He was just 33 years old.

Alexander the Great’s Legacy

By the time Alexander died, he had managed to overthrow the Persian Empire, conquer approximately two million miles of territory, march his army more than 22,000 miles and establish new cities throughout his campaign, Awesome Stories reports. But he had failed to name a successor, and soon his great empire fell apart. His generals divided up the lands he had conquered, establishing the many kingdoms that would comprise the Hellenistic period (323-31 B.C.)

What happened to Alexander’s body after his death has been disputed. Alexander himself wanted his corpse to be thrown into the Euphrates River so that it would disappear and “his survivors might perpetuate the myth that he was whisked off to heaven in order to spend eternity at the side of the god Ammon, who had allegedly fathered him,” Archaeology magazine reports.

This wish was ignored, however, and the great leader was embalmed according to Egyptian custom and enshrined in a tomb in Memphis. Later, his mummy was moved to Alexandria and then moved again to a communal mausoleum in Alexandria. But modern-day archaeology digs have failed to locate the exact location of Alexander’s tomb, and his final resting place remains a mystery.

More than 2,300 years after his death, a statue of Alexander the Great threatened to stir up tensions between Greece and Macedonia. In 2009, Macedonia announced plans to construct a giant statue of Alexander the Great. Greece, meanwhile, believes the conqueror was born on Greek soil, and argues that Macedonia has no right to call itself Macedonia. Thus, Greece considers another country using the name as being disrespectful to Greek territory and culture.

Hollywood also had its way with Alexander the Great’s legacy: Oliver Stone’s film “Alexander,” starring Colin Farrell as Alexander and Angelina Jolie as his mother, was released in 2004.

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