Alexander III of Macedon, also known as Alexander the Great, was a king of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia. He ascended to the throne in 336 BC at the age of 20 and was known for conducting several military campaigns during his rule.
By age 30, Alexander the Great had created one of the largest empires in history, which stretched from Greece to northwest India. Yet, in all that time, he was undefeated in battle.
Alexander the Great is known today as one of the greatest military minds ever and is considered one of the greatest rulers in ancient history. He used a combination of practical tactics and carefully laid plans to take control of vast regions of territory and defeated enemies in Egypt, India, and the Achaemenid Empire, among others.
The early life of Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great was born in Pella, the capital of the Kingdom of Macedon. Several legends related to Alexander the Great’s birth, as his mother claimed that she dreamt that a thunderbolt struck her before realizing she was pregnant, leading some to believe that Alexander was the son of Zeus. In addition, other signs and omens recorded at the time were used to suggest that Alexander was destined for greatness.
Alexander learned how to read, play the lyre, fight, ride, and hunt during childhood. In his youth, he tamed a horse named Bucephalus, which accompanied him throughout his reign. The famous philosopher and polymath Aristotle tutored Alexander until he was 16. During his time in education, Alexander developed a love for poetry, particularly the works of Homer.
How Alexander the Great became king
Alexander’s education under Aristotle ended when he was 16. As the heir to the throne of Macedonia, he would serve as regent while the king was away at war, which gave him experience in managing the kingdom. In 336 BC, Alexander’s father, Philip II of Macedon, was assassinated at the wedding of Cleopatra of Macedon, Alexander’s sister. Alexander took the throne after the death of his father.
The next year, Alexander the Great initiated the Balkan campaign, taking control of the regions of Thrace and Illyria. This was Alexander’s first military campaign, and it was a huge success. As a result, Macedonia reassigned its Alexander’s advisors had recommended that he use diplomacy to deal with the rebellious areas. Still, Alexander ignored this advice and led 3,000 men to deal with the problem.
Alexander’s methods of alleviating the rebel states differed depending on how they responded to him. Athens sued for peace, and Alexander pardoned all of the rebels. Thebes, on the other hand, attempted to fight Alexander’s forces, and in response, he razed the city and divided its territory among the other cities in the area. This established temporary peace in Greece, which allowed Alexander to think about expanding the part of his kingdom.
Alexander the Great’s conquest
Before his death, King Philip II had begun a campaign against the First Persian Empire, also known as the Achaemenid Empire. When the news of Philip’s death reached the Greek forces, they were demoralized and defeated. Alexander wanted to restart this campaign and conquer the Achaemenid Empire. Alexander amassed an army of over 48,000 soldiers and crossed the Hellespont, known today as the Dardanelles, in 334 BC.
Alexander defeated the forces of the Achaemenid Empire in the Battle of the Granicus and accepted the surrender of their capital city. He then moved along the Ionian coast, granting democracy and autonomy to the cities there. Finally, Alexander the Great captured enough territory to call himself king of Asia, as he took control of Syria, Tyre, and the coast of the Levant. After this, Alexander quickly turned his attention toward Egypt.
Alexander’s forces laid siege to the city of Gaza, which was heavily fortified. His advisors warned him against the blockade, but Alexander continued anyway, eventually taking the city. After taking Egypt, Alexander restored old temples and paid tribute to the Egyptian gods, which made him a popular figure there. As a result, many people regarded Alexander as a liberator rather than a conqueror.
After a long campaign, Alexander finally took the Achaemenid Empire’s capital after the Battle of the Persian Gate. He entered the capital of Persepolis and remained there for five months when a fire broke out and destroyed much of the city. Alexander regretted the damage to the city and ordered his troops to help fight the fire.
After taking the Achaemenid Empire, Alexander the Great began a campaign in the Indian subcontinent. He wanted to reach “the ends of the world and the Great Outer Sea” and invaded India to increase the size of his kingdom. He won an important victory over King Porus at the Battle of Hydaspes but turned back at the Beas River as his troops were tired and wanted to go home to see their families. Alexander had several other campaigns planned, including an invasion of Arabia, but he would not be able to embark on these campaigns.
The Death of Alexander the Great
In June 323 BC, Alexander the Great died in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon, the city he intended to establish as his capital. He was 32 when he died, and the cause of his death is still unknown to historians. Some historians believe that, like his father, Philip II, Alexander the Great was assassinated by one of his enemies. Others suggest he died for other reasons, such as drinking too much-unmixed wine.
His kingdom collapsed after Alexander the Great’s death as he had no clear heir. Alexander’s territory was divided between his generals, ending everything he and his father had fought for. Today, historians acknowledge that Alexander the Great neglected the part he had in favor of expanding his borders. He left no clear heir and ignored his health, which may have contributed to his early death.
What was Alexander, the Great like as a ruler?
Alexander the Great ruled as King of Macedonia for only a short time, just over ten years, and yet in that time, he established a huge Empire that spanned several subcontinents. As a result, he could quickly end rebellions within his territory after his father’s death and promptly expand his territory through a series of quick and decisive victories.
One of the things that made Alexander the Great a popular ruler was his rational thinking. Where possible, he did not expend lives needlessly and would take avenues that led to peace that avoided violence if they were presented to him. This made him a pragmatic ruler. Alexander the Great also observed the customs of other cultures that he wanted to assimilate into his Empire and respected his rivals.
Why is Alexander the Great important to history?
Even though Alexander the Great was the only king of Macedonia for less than 13 years, his actions changed the course of history. He created a huge empire that stretched from Macedonia to Egypt and from Greece to part of India. This not only allowed the Hellenistic culture to extend far beyond its original borders, but it also allowed for trade and travel between very far apart lands.
Some historians consider Alexander the Great to be one of the greatest men because he led one of the world’s largest and most powerful armies. However, Alexander the Great also dominated a huge empire that rivaled some of the world’s largest conglomerates.
By spreading Greek culture across his empire, Alexander the Great laid the groundwork for the global spread of democracy that would come hundreds of years later. He also enabled many aspects of various cultures worldwide to mingle and interact. This exposed many people in his empire to previously-unseen cultures, inventions, foods, music, and stories, all of which broadened his people culturally and spiritually.
Fun Facts about Alexander the Great
- During his reign, Alexander the Great was never defeated in battle.
- Alexander the Great named over 70 cities after himself and one after his horse.
- Alexander the Great’s favorite book was The Iliad, written by Homer.
- During his life, Alexander the Great had three wives.
- Alexander the Great was king for just 13 years.