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Alexander the Great

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.

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

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, Alexander 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, if counter-productively, in Egypt, where his successor Ptolemy’s descendants adopted the local custom of pharaonic marriage to siblings. 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.

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.
Alexander was ambitious, capable of fierce anger, ruthless, willful, an innovative strategist, and charismatic.

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.

Important Facts About Alexander the Great

  • Born around July 20, 356 B.C.
  • Son of King Philip II of Macedon and Olympias, daughter of King Neoptolemus I of Epirus. Olympias was not the only wife of Philip and there was much conflict between Alexander’s parents.
  • Tutored by Leonidas (possibly his uncle) and the great Greek philosopher Aristotle.
  • During his youth, Alexander tamed the wild horse Bucephalus. Later, when his beloved horse died, Alexander renamed a city in India for Bucephalus.
  • In 340 B.C., while father Philip went off to fight rebels, Alexander was made regent in Macedonia. During Alexander’s regency, the Maedi of northen Macedonia revolted. Alexander put down the revolt and renamed their city Alexandropolis.
  • In August 338 Alexander showed his mettle helping Philip win the Battle of Chaeronea
  • In 336 B.C. his father Philip was assassinated, and Alexander the Great became ruler of Macedonia.
  • Had several rivals executed in order to secure the throne.
  • Alexander the Great had three wives: Roxane, Statiera, and Parysatis.
  • Children: Herakles, son of Alexander’s mistress Barsine, and Alexander IV, son of Roxane. Both children were killed before they reached adulthood.
  • One of the legends about Alexander the Great is that when he was in Gordium, in Turkey, in 333 B.C., he undid the Gordian Knot which had been tied by the legendary King Midas. The prophecy about the Gordian knot was that the person who untied it would rule all of Asia. Alexander the Great is said to have undone the knot by slashing through it with a sword.
  • In 323 B.C. Alexander the Great returned to Babylonia where he became ill suddenly, and died at age 33. The cause of his death is unknown. It could have been disease or posion.

Timeline of Alexander the Great

  • July 356 B.C. – Born at Pella, Macedonia, to King Philip II and Olympias
  • 338 B.C. August – Battle of Chaeronea
  • 336 B.C. – Alexander becomes ruler of Macedonia
  • 334 B.C. – Wins Battle of the Granicus River against Darius III of Persia
  • 333 B.C. – Wins Battle at Issus against Darius
  • 332 B.C. – Wins siege of Tyre; attacks Gaza, which falls
  • 331 B.C. – Founds Alexandria. Wins Battle of Gaugamela against Darius”In the year 331 B.C. one of the greatest intellects whose influence the world has ever felt, saw, with his eagle glance, the unrivalled advantage of the spot which is now Alexandria; and conceived the mighty project of making it the point of union of two, or rather of three worlds. In a new city, named after himself, Europe, Asia, and Africa were to meet and to hold communion.”
    – Charles Kingsley on the founding of the city of Alexandria
  • 329 B.C. – Crosses Hindu Kush; goes to Bactria and crosses the Oxus river and then to Samarkand.
  • 328 B.C. – Kills Black Cleitus for an insult at Samarkand
  • 327 B.C. – Marries Roxane; begins march to India
  • 326 B.C. – Wins Battle of river Hydaspes against Porus; Bucephalus dies
  • 324 B.C. – Troops mutiny at Opis
  • June 11, 323 B.C. – Dies at Babylon in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II
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