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Alexander The Great

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Few historical figures stand out in the same degree as that of Alexander the Great. He was a warrior by 16, a commander at age 18, and was crowned King of Macedon by the time he was 20 years old. He did things in his lifetime that others could only dream about. Alexander single-handedly changed the nature of the ancient world in just over a decade. There were many attributes that made Alexander “Great.” He was a brilliant strategist and an inspired leader; he led by example and was a conqueror at heart. In looking at his early childhood, accession to the throne, conquests, marriage, and death one can see why Alexander the Great is revered in historical contexts as one of the greatest figures of all time.

Alexander was born in Pella, the capital of Macedon, on July 20, 356 B.C. He was the son of King Philip II and his fourth wife Olympias, an Epirote princess. Alexander was bred to be a warrior; his father was a great commander and king, and his mom’s second cousin, Pyrrhus of Epirus, was a celebrated general. So there were noteworthy examples of military genius on both sides of his family. As a child, Alexander’s mother would tell him stories of how he was a descendant to Achilles and Hercules. Achilles was his favorite hero growing up, as he read of his adventures in Homer’s Iliad. From an early age Alexander was practically raised by everyone but his parents. He was originally educated by a strict teacher named Leonidas. Alexander’s father wanted Alexander to become a great man, so he acquired the famous philosopher Aristotle to become his tutor. Aristotle trained him in rhetoric and literature, and stimulated his interest in medicine, science, and philosophy. Aristotle is credited for Alexander’s fascination of the Iliad, as he gave this book to him at a young age. When Alexander was ten years old, a Thessalian brought a wild horse to Philip, but not one man could mount the animal. Alexander, noticing the horse was afraid of his own shadow, brought him into the sun and calmed him down. Young Alexander then jumped on the horse as Philip’s men watched on with amazement. Alexander kept the horse and named it Bucephalus, meaning “ox-headed.” He and the horse were companions throughout Alexander’s journeys and conquests, and when the horse died he named a city after him called Bocephia or Bucephala.

Alexander’s astonishing upbringing ultimately led to his accession to the throne of Macedon. But first, Philip’s life must be viewed in context with Alexander’s to see how this child became a king of a great nation. Philip had many successes in his early years as King of Macedon, particularly because of his speed and decisiveness of action in battle. Within three years of his accession to the throne at the age of 24, Philip had unified Macedonia. Philip’s defeat of the Greek allies at Chaeronea in 338 B.C. is typically regarded as the end of the history of the free Greek world. In joining and making Macedonia secure militarily, Philip granted the conditions from which emerged a Macedonian imperialism. Philip’s efforts are made possible because of the army he had built, which was later the same army Alexander led. The Macedonian army constantly had been a national army. The state was, indeed, the army; its king declared absolutely by the soldiers in arms. By the age of 27, Philip had fashioned a well-equipped and well-trained national army, intensely loyal to him, and hardened with the assurance of victory. All of the previously mentioned events are what helped Alexander once he became King of Macedon, because without Philip’s achievements Alexander might not have been so “Great.” In 336 B.C. Philip was assassinated at the wedding of his daughter, Cleopatra. Some believed that Philip’s murder was planned with the knowledge and association of Alexander, Olympias, or maybe even both. Other theories lead to Darius III, the newly crowned King of Persia. Regardless of how Philip died, the army declared Alexander, then age 20, as the new King of Macedon. Alexander came to more than just the throne of Macedon; he also inherited his father’s Persian campaign. The new king was forced to prove himself, particularly in the south, where the Athenians were ridiculing Alexander as a child and a fool. When Alexander crossed into Asia, he came in a dual capacity. He was both commander-in-chief of the Corinthian League, a position his father held before his death, and the King of Macedon.

From the beginning of Alexander’s reign over his father’s empire, he faced many challenges and took his army around the Middle East conquering many cities. In 334 B.C. Alexander attacked Persia with over 48,000 battle-ready Macedonians. His warriors were better equipped with heavier weapons and had the advantage of better military tactics. By 333 B.C. he and his men had subjected both Ionia and Anatolia to their control. In 331 B.C. Alexander trampled the Achaemenid forces at the Battle of Gaugamala, and within one year the empire founded by Cyrus had disbanded. Alexander then led his forces into Persepolis and declared himself the heir to the Achaemenid rulers. At some point in the celebration, his forces ignited a blaze that ruined Persepolis. Alexander led his army for over 11,000 miles, founding over 70 cities and building an empire that stretched across three continents and covered around two million square miles. The entire area from Greece in the west, south into Egypt, north to the Danube, and as far to the east as the Indian Punjab, was coupled together in an immense international network of trade and commerce. Alexander’s empire was united by a common Greek language and culture.

Although Alexander is portrayed as a great warrior and leader, he did have a soft side. In 328 B.C. Alexander married a woman from Sisimithres, Roxana, who was the daughter of a barbarian, Oxyartes. It was portrayed as a love-match, which may be true, but the political repercussions did not escape Alexander either. By means of a wedding ceremony,

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