Author: Aatmesh; Learner, Age 14 years
This is a self determined project for individual research based work. The organization of material, questions and directions are entirely the work of the learner.
Author Objectives : My learning objectives were mainly to understand the life of Alexander the Great, the legend behind him and his attitude, how he impacted the world and the reasons behind his actions. I also wanted to look at what we can learn from his failures and successes. Also the origin of his title “ the great “.
Organization of Material
- Birth and Childhood
- Education in ancient Greece
- Education of Alexander the great
- Early influences
- Adulthood and campaigns
- Threats to the throne
- Internal threats
- External threats (Campaigns)
- Inspirations and goals
- Macedon in Alexander’s absence
- Death, Legacy
- Cause of death
- Greatness, legacy
Note : There will be a short analysis on certain facts after many sub topics.
- Birth and Childhood
Alexander the great, born Alexander the third of Macedon came into the world on 20th July 356 BC. He was birthed to king Philip the second and his fourth wife Olympias.
Alexander was raised by a nurse until he began schooling. He was educated like all other Macedonian youths of a similar socioeconomic class. He was taught to read, write, ride horses, fight and hunt from an early age. Alexander learned these skills from a private tutor. At the age of thirteen, Alexander was sent to study with Aristotle. Philip sent him to study with Aristotle harboring hopes that Alexander would return with necessary knowledge on the governing of Macedon. Aristotle was a well renowned philosopher, Philip was certain that Alexander could gain invaluable knowledge on many topics from him. Alexander’s schooling shaped him and influenced him to become the man he was. His schooling, was similar to that of many other children of nobility in ancient Greek city-states.
- Education in Ancient Greece and Macedon :
In ancient Greece the system of education was centered around the needs of the Greek people. Ancient Greece was made up of various city-states. Each city-state had its own government and were bent on expanding their borders as well as protecting their own territory. They were constantly fighting among each other. For this reason, ancient Greeks needed to be well versed in the art of battles and war. For this, the Greeks focused a lot on physical fitness.
In ancient Greece, the education was different and based on social standings. Only males were given formal education, females were normally taught (By their mothers) how to cook, clean and run a household.
Youth that belonged to the lower class, were educated and taught in whatever trade their fathers knew. They were taught by their parents and could not afford to go to school. They could only learn how much their parents knew. For example, if a lower class boy’s father was a blacksmith, he would be taught the art of becoming a blacksmith by his father. Many of the lower class boys were sent to apprentice under a master of a trade (Carpentry, masonry etc) and would spend most of their adult life with him.
Youths of the middle class began their education at around the age of seven. Before that, they normally learnt manners and morals from their parents at home. When they became seven, they were sent to gymnasiums. There they were physically conditioned for war, health as well as to look beautiful. The Greeks believed that before developing one’s mind one must have a developed body. After becoming physically developed, most middle class youths were sent to study under a philosopher or go to a college of sports. Some of the middle class couldn’t afford this so they were enrolled in the army. They were physically trained just like the rich, but instead of being intellectually educated, they were taught about war and focused on formations (Used in a battle, like a phalanx). They (The middle class) were most likely to be foot soldiers, until they proved skilled enough to be promoted to a higher position.
The nobles or the extremely wealthy, had enough money to hire a teacher (These teachers were often great philosophers) to teach their sons. Some of the middle class (They could be considered the upper-middle class) had enough money to send their sons to institutes or colleges. In these colleges, students were taught subjects like Astronomy, Biology and Geometry by teachers. Most students learnt through discussion and dialogue with their tutors. The teacher and student would discuss their views, doubts so they could both increase their knowledge. The key difference between the noble’s tutors and the middle class’ tutors were the quality. The nobles hired the best philosophers in all the land (For a lot of money) and these people were in charge for the education of their sons. The middle classes did not normally get to study under the best of the best, but still received a similar education. The nobles (The adolescent nobles) received a higher form of education because they needed enough knowledge in order to run a city-state (In the future).
Note : The nobles receiving better education can also be seen as the higher class’ way of ensuring that they remained in power. If the lower classes also received the same education, then they could have the tools to be rulers. With only the higher class receiving the knowledge to run a city-state, they could be the only ones qualified. This cycle would go on for generations, allowing the higher classes to remain in power.
- Education of Alexander the great :
Alexander the great went through a form of education similar to that of the nobles. He was physically trained at home by a strict tutor. Later he was taught how to ride horses and fight at a royal and private gymnasium. When he was old enough, he was sent to study with a philosopher. His tutor was the renowned philosopher Aristotle. Philip was determined to get the best possible education for his son, because he felt that to be the king of Macedon (In the future) Alexander needed to be well educated.
Alexander and Aristotle had discussions and on Loyalty, Beauty, Truth, Greatness. Aristotle also taught him about the heavens (Astronomy), governance etc. During this period, Alexander read about heroes like Achilles and Hercules. He was inspired by them and tried to model himself around them. At the same time, he was trained in war tactics, strategy and all the while continued his physical training.
Alexander the great’s behavior, aims and even his skills were developed from his early life and education.
Note : When he was trained by a strict tutor, he was taught morals and how to act as a prince. His teachings could have influenced his thoughts, making him believe that he was great (maybe destined to be great) or better than normal humans (people who weren’t nobles). This could have given him the confidence to actually mount campaigns and take decisions. It also might have made him overconfident in his abilities. I think, him projecting this image of greatness (His father once told him that Macedon was too small for him and that the world should be his to conquer) actually boosted the morale of his troops which allowed him to defeat numerous enemies. He was a god-like figure amongst his troops and maybe he believed that himself too.
- Adulthood and campaigns
Alexander the great was heir to the king of Macedon. After graduating or finishing his learning with Aristotle, he joined the army. At the age of around 18, Alexander was required to take command as commander of the Macedonian army (as his father was busy warring against the Byzantine empire) for a short period. At this time, Alexander repelled rebel attacks and won numerous skirmishes.
From the young age of 18, Alexander was somewhat of a general and helped the Macedonian army in numerous ways. He fought alongside his father Philip, and was respected as much as the most experienced and proven generals.
Alexander was considered the perfect heir to the throne. He was a great general, very well educated and considered to be godly. After a dispute with his father, Alexander was exiled. His father (after a long time) decided to bring back his military trained son (he was after all, still the heir), in hopes to repair their relationship and have him be the prince. Alexander came back with mixed feelings. He was still loved by the Macedonian people and was their choice for king.
In 336 B.C, Philip the second was assassinated. Following this event, Alexander ascended the throne with approval from the militia and nobles.
Note : Before Philip’s assassination, he had banished Alexander from Macedon after an argument. Some say that Alexander initiated the assassination because of his banishment. I think that he didn’t hate his father enough to have him assassinated, but that Alexander had made plans in case his father died. He had thought about what to do if his father died, but did not kill him.
Following his crowning as king, Alexander sought to eliminate all his threats. He had two threats, internal ones and external ones.
All of his internal threats were people who could potentially threaten his position as ruler. They were mainly family members such as cousins. Alexander ordered all of his threats to be killed and also killed his father’s daughter (from his second wife, not Alexander’s mother). Alexander also killed many general, ministers or other such politically strong figures who might have the gall to challenge him or even kill him.
It was considered normal or even necessary for all rulers to kill their rivals. Alexander himself might have been killed had someone like Philip’s brother become king.
Note: Alexander had reportedly not killed one of his cousins. I think he spared him because Alexander saw that cousin as someone helpless. Alexander didn’t think of that cousin as much of a threat and didn’t want to kill a defenseless human (That particular cousin is portrayed in historical accounts as naive, physically and mentally weak). He definitely would have had that cousin under watch or threatened him.
- External (Campaigns)
Alexander’s External threats prompted his campaigns and invasions.
After securing his place of power, Alexander was ready to then destroy the external threats which were the other Greek city-states that were rebelling. If Alexander had not removed his internal threats, they (People who had power enough to threaten Alexander’s rule) could have the opportunity to overthrow Alexander while he tried to conquer or pacify the rest of the city-states.
After Philip’s death, some city-states that were under the rule of Macedon starting rebelling. Alexander assembled a group of Macedonian foot soldiers to remind them who was in charge. The Macedonians marched upon them, fully armed and dangerous. Most of the city-states surrendered upon seeing Alexander and his soldiers. These states promptly added their own troops to Alexander’s existing 3000 soldiers as a sign of peace. Having accomplished his goal of preventing a rebellion, Alexander looked to do greater things.
Alexander’s goal was now, to unite all of the Greek city-states to fight against a common enemy, the Persians.
The Greeks and Persians had been at war forever. Neither foe could completely defeat the other. Philip himself had attempted to vanquish the Persians but had been unsuccessful. Philip had convinced all of the Greek city-states, save Sparta to combine their forces in an effort to remove the threat of the Persians. This alliance was called the league of Corinth. It was a combination of the best Greek warriors and generals, and was headed by one person. During Philip’s time, he himself headed the league. Alexander headed the league as well.
With Alexander as the supreme commander, the Greeks started planning. First they secured their borders, suppressed all revolts. The Greek armies then headed straight for the Persians, who lived in modern day Asia. The Greeks battled and fought their way to reach the heart of Persia. They conquered lots of new land and gained many riches along the way. After the defeat of each city, the soldiers from the cities were taken into Alexander’s army.
This process lasted for ten years after which Alexander and his army finally defeated the Persians.
Alexander now ruled and controlled massive amounts of land. He had conquered Egypt, Persia, Syria, Mesopotamia. Extending the Macedonian empire from Greece all the way to the Indian borders. He was the high king of the Macedonian empire and the high king of the Persian empire as well as Pharaoh of Egypt. During this time, he adopted fashion and other traits from the Persians and Egyptians.
With each victory, Alexander’s empire expanded and gained wealth, area, new borders and new enemies or threats to the borders. Alexander defeated a small portion of India (as shown in the map below). He wanted to be able to conquer the entirety of Asia, but he could not conquer India. By the time his army reached India, they were home sick and after a fearsome battle against an Indian tribe whose leader was Porus, they were frightened and had had enough of fighting, trekking and living in harsh conditions.They suffered heavy losses against Porus, but in the end prevailed. Alexander allowed Porus to continue ruling in that area, but Porus now had to answer to Alexander. After this battle, the weary, tired and homesick troops didn’t want to fight anymore. His entire army refused to go any further, threatening to leave Alexander in India, so they all journeyed back to Macedonia.
This map shows the land Alexander conquered. He didn’t conquer Arabia, but sought to do so later. His death prevented him from doing so.
This was the extent of Alexander’s campaigns. His empire was ruled by different kings all over (most of which were earlier defeated by Alexander), each of them answered to Alexander. Throughout his years of campaigning, Alexander and his army had tackled and defeated fearsome foes, encountering things they had never seen before (for example, the army fought elephants in India, creatures they had never seen before).
Note : Alexander may have allowed Porus to be his general for various reasons. I think he did it so that the locals would be happy. This would then lend their loyalties to Alexander. His fight against Porus’ tribe had been fierce and savage, Porus was also a good leader so Alexander rewarded him by making him a general. He also allowed various local kings to continue ruling because he had defeated them in battle. A fact that would dissuade them from attacking Alexander. Also letting the local generals govern the local people makes sense. They know the needs of the people better than anyone.
Started campaigns 335 BC aged 21.
333 BC to 331 BC Alexander conquers Egypt and Mesopotamia in order to defeat the Persians aged (at the end) 25.
331 to 328 BC He defeats the Persian forces completely aged 28.
327 to 326 BC, Attacks India aged 30 by the end.
326 to 323 BC, Journeys back to his empire’s capital Babylon and dies, aged 33.
- Inspirations and goals
Alexander would not have campaigned and fought well if he didn’t have any goals, inspirations or reasons to fight for. Alexander had a few primary driving forces.
Alexander was inspired by heroes like Achilles and Hercules. He wanted to emulate them and looked up to them. He tried to accomplish feats like them.
Alexander wanted to complete his father’s goal of defeating the Persians. Alexander attacked them while it was day, because he wanted to defeat Darius “fairly”. This would mean that Darius would never dare attack them because he was beaten in a fair fight.
Another goal for Alexander, was being able to do what no man had done before. Some part of him had to be better than everyone else past present or future. He wanted to be better than his father and other predecessors. This ambition could have increased after the fallout with his father. Proof of this is Alexander once boasting about being the greatest Macedonian leader ever.
Alexander’s goals when extending his empire, were to gain new land, wealth and defeat any opposition. He also (as mentioned above) wanted to be the greatest leader and to achieve the unachievable.For example, Alexander had plenty of wealth upon reaching India, but he wanted to be able to “ See where land meets sea “ a sight no other Greek had achieved before.
Alexander didn’t even have to fight all the battles. He also could have sent his generals and soldiers while he stayed in his empire, but he chose to extend the reach of his empire personally. This allowed him to use his vast knowledge of combat and gain new knowledge (after encountering elephants, he used them for his army). He always wanted to improve his army’s technology.
All of Alexander’s goals and Inspirations made him the man he was. His inspirations and goals arose from his environment and the people and things that he was around.
Note : Alexander would have to have been deeply driven. He was not tired or homesick after many long years of campaigning. He would have continued trying to conquer India, if his troops hadn’t refused. To have the heart to keep going, Alexander must have been a person who needed to accomplish his goals. Someone who drove themselves to achieve what they wanted. All of the above reasons could have been his inspirations and goals, but without his self drivenness nothing would have been accomplished.
- Macedon in Alexander’s absence
While Alexander was off battling and fighting, he could not be overseeing Macedon. In his stead, Alexander had appointed a man of his father’s old guard as ruler. Alexander appointed a man who was an experienced general and was accustomed to ruling. The man’s name was Antipater.
Antipater was a general with great experience. He was a general alongside Alexander when Philip was alive. When Philip went to fight the Persians, he left Antipater as the ruler. Alexander did the same thing upon recommendations from various people. Alexander had to have trusted Antipater, for he left him control of Macedon and arguably most of Europe (Greece to be precise).
Antipater didn’t face many problems while Alexander was gone. Alexander had frightened the other Greek troops by sacking and utterly destroying a few city-states and there were not many rebellions. The Spartans fought against Antipater, but they were unsuccessful. At that time Alexander had conquered Persia and commanded all the Persian forces he had more than enough man power. This period of Alexander’s absence from Greece was one of the most peaceful times in Greek history.
One of the key reasons for peace in Greece (In the absence of Alexander) was a treaty. This treaty was part of the League of Corinth, it was called the “Common Peace” treaty. All of the Greek city-states except Sparta, had signed this treaty which stated that they must not fight among each other as well as other conditions. Sparta hadn’t signed this treaty and Athens had disregarded it. Sparta waged war against the Macedonians, only to lose to Antipater’s forces.
The Athenians refused to assist Antipater (The treaty stated that they must always provide assistance) but did not directly fight the Macedonians. Athens was tired of the Macedonians being at the head of power. Many of the Greek city-states felt that the common peace treaty was Alexander’s way of asserting his and Macedonian rule over all the Greeks.
The main reasons that Macedonians occupied powerful positions were numerous. It would seem that a mixture of fear and respect (Of the other Greek city-states) allowed Macedonians to reach high positions. Alexander realised that only continuous demonstrations of Macedonian invincibility, or power would maintain a rule of any sort over the Greeks. This put Macedonians a step above any others. The other Greeks didn’t like this. It could allow the Macedonians to rule Greece for years to come.
Nothing major affected Macedon in Alexander’s absence. Antipater made sure that no enemy took hold of power. He provided Alexander with fresh troops as often as possible, and Alexander provided Antipater and Macedon with enormous riches.
It can be observed later in history, that Alexander’s constant request for troops left the Greeks vulnerable to Roman attack. This is of course, after the time of Alexander. Nothing however directly impacted Alexander (Some theories about Alexander’s death suggest that he was poisoned. The idea of poisoning Alexander – If at all true – would have come about in his absence from Macedon, from his rivals).
- Death, Legacy
Alexander the great died on 10th or 11th June 323 BC. He died in Babylon, the cultural capital and his empire’s capital after conquering the Persian empire.
Alexander and his troops had returned after a thirteen year long conquest. At the time of his return, Alexander was only 33 years old. His troops and he had persevered and endured many hardships. Alexander ordered his troops to march to Babylon, where they could rest, celebrate the victories and regroup/plan for their next conquest.
Before entering, Alexander was warned of bad omens. He respected these omens and took measures to avoid them, (Alexander tried to enter the city from the East, but the terrain made it impossible to march as planned, and therefore, Alexander was forced to enter Babylon heading west) but they were in vain.
Alexander had gone to Babylon to plan for an attack against Arabia, this was his latest conquest.
Arabia was located west and south of Mesopotamia, Babylon was a city-state of Mesopotamia (Babylon was located near modern day Baghdad).
Babylonia is the civilization that began in Babylon, so Babylon is located in it (On the map). Arabia was located west and south of Mesopotamia, Babylon was a city-state of Mesopotamia (Babylon was located near modern day Baghdad).
- Cause of death
After reaching Babylon, Alexander celebrated his achievements with a few of his friends. They drank heavily (wine or some form of alcohol) and late into the night. This happened for a few days continuously, by the third day Alexander had developed a bad fever and was not able to party or celebrate.
His fever got worse as the days wore on, he was getting weaker and weaker. Alexander went to a temple everyday to offer sacrifices to the gods in order to better his health. Slowly he hadn’t the energy to make the journey to the temple, he could only lay in bed feverishly. Alexander now gave commands to his officers (regarding his plans for Arabia) while in bed, using minimal conversation.
The mighty Alexander suffered for ten days, before dying on the night of the tenth. The cause of Alexander’s death (fever) is still in dispute. There are many theories about Alexander’s death. Historians have different information, views and their portrayals of Alexander are all different. Much of the information is based on questionable sources and without finding Alexander’s body, it is impossible (As of now) to be certain of the cause of his death. From what we know, he could have been killed of poison, over-drinking or a disease or something else entirely.
There are two prevailing theories. The first one states that Alexander was poisoned and died a painful death (he might have developed a fever due to the poison) and the second states that he died of a ten day long fever attributed to over drinking or disease.
Alexander being poisoned was dismissed as nonsense at first. The evidence against it was that there was a span of around two weeks between the beginning of Alexander’s illness and his death. Such slow acting poisons were not thought to be there. Later scientists have found poisons that can indeed act over longer periods of time. These poisons may have been the cause of Alexander’s death.
Another possible cause can be Alexander’s heavy drinking and many battles that lead to a decline in health that ultimately ended his life. The many fights may have had some part in Alexander’s health, but many records show that Alexander did not necessarily drink that heavily. Still heavy drinking may have caused liver failure amongst many other problems that could have lead to his death.
The theory of Alexander dying of a malady has been widely supported. It seems (It “seems” the most plausible based on the various records and reports) the most credible, with accounts from Alexander’s own general supporting it.
Ptolemy, one of Alexander’s generals had written that Alexander could not have died of over-drinking and that he had died of disease. Ptolemy provides evidence for this by stating that Alexander did not usually drink without restraint, if he did then it was out of the ordinary. He also stated that Alexander’s illness was already developing before he celebrated. Ptolemy and many historians say that Alexander began drinking in excess, because he already had a fever, which increased his thirst. Which means that Alexander had died of a disease. A disease like malaria could have done the job.
The conclusion is that with no proper or definitive evidence, we cannot be sure as to what caused Alexander’s death. What we have is a load of theories and thoughts from philosophers, historians and other people over time.
Something else to take into consideration is the sources. Almost every record has a different version of how Alexander behaved, whether he could control himself or not, whether he was more just or cruel, or whether he was actually a great ruler or just a tyrant. The various views on Alexander may have influenced theories about his death. Alexander the third of Macedon was given the title “great”, is dying of a common disease more likely to happen to an almost god-like figure, or are is he more likely to be murdered by conspirators that poisoned him (cowardly)? These questions must all be considered, removing truth from fact may not be entirely possible in the case. Alexander’s death may have been exaggerated or changed based on his legend or to make him seem more great and awesome. Or basing all facts on his death (poisoning, assassination and other theories like them) being myths might cause people to oversee or dismiss something that actually could have transpired.
- Greatness, legacy
Alexander the great was considered one of the greatest military leaders of all time. There are many reasons why he was considered great and what he did to maintain that image.
Alexander may have been considered great for his accomplishments, his impact on the world or simply his legend.
Alexander’s great accomplishment were numerous. He was the first Greek to conquer the Persian empire. He united the Greeks and defeated their arch nemesis after centuries of fighting between the two. He is famed to have never lost a battle because of his amazing tactics and formations as well as his ability to adapt to any situation. Alexander fought and lead his troops for twelve years and his troops looked unto him like a god. He lead his troops with authority and confidence which was extremely important. Alexander famously said, ” I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.”
The impact Alexander has on the world is interesting. Although he conquered a lot of land while alive, after his death, his contributions were greater.
Alexander (It began while he was alive, but really blossomed long after his death) managed to increases communication, interaction and trading globally. His entire empire was in some ways connected. Due to this connection, ideas, material and languages spread further than they ever would, diversifying the ancient world for centuries to come. It began while he was alive, but really blossomed long after his death.
The information and sciences that Alexander learned of in his campaigns, was sent all over his empire, with this information, he created vast libraries and other learning places.
Alexander’s three generals formed dynasties that lasted long in the wake of Alexander’s death. The Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt, the Antigonid dynasty in Greece and the Seleucid dynasty in Persia.
Alexander changed the world forever, perhaps that is why he was great.
The legend behind Alexander depicts him as strong, brave, clever and charismatic. His legend portrays him as a man who possessed the powers of a god. Although there is a lot of proof that Alexander the third of Macedon did exist and did accomplish many great things, there are no records of him that were written while he was alive (that have survived). This leaves his life and accomplishment to be possibly exaggerated or made into legend.
Sites (Sources) used for pictures in this article
- http://www.ancientmoney.org/non_greek_kingdoms/arabia_mesopotamia_persia_map.html (map 2)
- http://schoolworkhelper.net/alexander-the-great-empire-history/ (map 1)
A project by Aatmesh…