Alexander the Great

Raphael’s AlexanderAlexander III of Macedon—Alexander the Great (356 to 324 B.C.)—was perhaps the greatest conqueror of all time. In 334 B.C., at the age of 21, he left the small Greek of Kingdom of Macedonia with 43,000 foot soldiers and 6,000 horsemen to seek revenge against the Persian empire, which had sacked Greece and Macedonia and burnt Athens a century before, and didn’t stop until he conquered much of the known world at that time. [Sources: Richard Covington, Smithsonian magazine, November 2004; Caroline Alexander, National Geographic, March 2000; Helen and Frank Schreider, National Geographic, January 1968. [↔]

During his 13-year march of conquest Alexander claimed a territory that stretched as far east as India and China, and included present-day Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Cyprus, Greece, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan. The same territory would extend from California to Bermuda if it were placed on a map over the United States.

Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the poet John Dryden and Sigmund Freud were among those who canonized Alexander as a romantic hero. St. Augustine and Dante were among those who vilified him as murderer and plunderer. Historians are equally divided. Some see him as a charismatic leader with a bold vision to unite East and West. Others see him as an ancient Cortez, Hitler or Stalin intent on gobbling up as much territory as he could and if cruel means were need to realize that aim then so be it. Other still see him as man of his times—brutal at times, yes, but within what was acceptable in his era—who opened up the world by bringing the West to the East.

Alexander lives on in soap and cigarette ads, the lyrics for a heavy metal song by Iron Maiden, a luxury suite at a Donald Trump hotel and a tattoo on the arm of Greek-Australian tennis player Mark Philippousssis. The mere suggestion that Alexander may be from Macedonia rather than Greece is enough to set offer a major international dispute that required the country of Macedonia to change its name.

Sources, Books and Films About Alexander the Great
Rembrandt’s AlexanderNone of Alexander’s actual words were recorded verbatim. Although there were several eyewitness accounts of Alexander’s campaigns they survive only in fragments written down decades or centuries after his death. Plutarch wrote his biography in the 1st century A.D. The best ancient source on his military campaigns was written by the historian Arian in the 2nd century B.C. Many of the things written about Alexander were written with pro-Alexander or anti-Alexander agendas in mind and thus sometimes it is difficult to sort out fact from fiction and get at the bottom of what really happened.

Frank Holt, an authority of Alexander the Great at the University of Houston, estimates that more than 2,000 books and articles have been written about Alexander in the last 50 years. As of 2005 there were are 700 books in print related to Alexander.

Books: Alexander the Great by Robin Lane Fox (Penguin, 1970s); Alexander the Great by Nick Sekinda and John Warry: Alexander of Macedon by Peter Green; Alexander the Conqueror by Laura Foreman (De Capo) is short on text and insightful scholarship but is rich in illustrations and color photographs. Alexander the Great: The Hunt of a New Past by Paul Cartledge, a historian at Cambridge University.

Film: Alexander the Great directed by Oliver Stone with Colin Farrell as Alexander, Angela Jolie as his mother, Van Kilmer as his father, Christopher Plummer as Aristotle and Anthony Hopkins as Ptolemy. The $150 million film was released in late 2004 got terrible reviews and was colossal flop. Baz Luhrmann ( Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge ) was supposed to make an Alexander film but scrapped the idea. Ilya Salkin (producer of Superman ) plans to release Young Alexander in 2010. Alexander the Great , made in 1956 by Robert Rossen, featured Richard Burton in the lead role in a silly wig. He made his entrance with a dead lion dropped over one shoulder. It too was also a flop.

Video: In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great (May Vision, Maryland Public Television, the BBC).

Philip II, Alexander’s Father
Philip II of Macedonia.Philip II, Alexander the Great’s father, was the King of Macedonia and Olympias. He became king of Macedon in 359 B.C. at about the age of 23 and ruled for 23 years. An adept warrior, strategist and warrior, he transformed Macedonia from a loose confederation of tribes and cities into a powerful kingdom and introduced an agile cavalry and long pikes to warfare as he overhauled his army.

Philip II was blinded by an enemy’s arrow and was lamed in a battle. He enjoyed wine, lavish feasts and women. He had at least seven wives. Like many upper class Greek men, Philip was also reportedly a bisexual. He showed great courage in battle, was a shrewd politician and patronized the arts, filling his court with writers, artists, philosophers and actors.

Rise of Macedon Under Philip II

Most of Philip’s tenure as king was spent consolidating his empire in Macedonia and extending it southward into Greece. He forged his kingdom by winning crucial battles and forming important alliances through his marriages. He increased the wealth and status through trade and diplomacy at a time when Macedonia was regarded by other Greek city states such as Athens and Thebes as a barbarian territory even though the Macedonians spoke Greek and considered themselves Greeks.

Philip II took control of Thrace and Thessaly and declared war on Athens and Thebes and their allies. In August 338 B.C., at the Battle of Chaeronea, Macedonia defeated Athens and Philip became the de facto ruler of Greece. He never conquered Athens but formed an alliance with the city after the battle.

Philip II’s ambition after the victory was to attack Persia, the arch enemy of Greece. In 336 B.C. he began a campaign against the Persians by sending an advance of 10,000 men to Asia Minor. He wasn’t with the army because he had to be at the wedding one of his daughters.

At the wedding Philip II was fatally stabbed through the heart as he entered the outdoor theater where the wedding was held by a disaffected bodyguard and perhaps former lover. Some believed that Alexander may have been involved in the murder but most historians believe that was unlikely. It seems more likely that his estranged forth wife Olympias egged on the bodyguard to kill Philip because she was upset over being recently rejected in favor of a younger wife.

Tomb of Philip II

In November 1977, Dr. Manolis Andronicos, an archaeologist at the University of Thessalonika unearthed a tomb under a mound in Vergina (40 kilometers west of Thessalonika, Greece) that is believe belonged to Philip II or Philip III. [Source: Manolis Andronicos, National Geographic, July 1978]

No inscription or definitive proof was found that linked the tomb to Philip II. Evidence that kinked the tomb to him included the discovery in the tomb of an ivory head thought to be a likeness of Philip and a diadem associated with Macedonian royalty, different size leg armor (possibly an accommodation to Philip II’s bad leg), the high value of the objects and the dating of the objects to the time of Philip II reign. Evidence that refutes the claim are tooth remains usually associated with a man in his 30s (Philip II was 46 when he died).
Philip II of Macedonia Gold Half Stater

The tomb was very deep (23 feet under the ground), presumably to foil grave robbers. It was a barrel- vaulted structure with extraordinary Greek wall paintings with images of Pluto, god of the Underworld , abducting Persephone and a hunting scene with five horsemen with dogs and three hunters with spears pursuing wild boar and lions. These images unfortunately faded after they were exposed to sunlight and air.

Among the he objects found in the tomb were a marble sarcophagus, a large golden casket, a gold larnax (small casket) with a Macedonian star that contained cremated remains, a royal wreath of golden acorns and oak leaves, a gold-and-silver diadem, a golden quiver, purple fabric thread with gold, a perforated bronze lantern, weapons, silver vessels, bronze vessels, bronze armor, an iron helmet, a sword, scepter, sandals, a shield,” spear points, javelins, golden lion heads, and sculpture, possibly of Alexander the Great.

About 450 tombs dating to the 6th century B.C. have been found at a site called Archontiko in the Macedonian part of northern Greece. Archaeologists Pavlos and Anastasia Chrysostomou, of the Greek Ministry of Culture, say they have found scores of warriors buried with armor, swords, shields adorned with gold and silver as well as noble women with gold, silver amber and faience. These give clues to the rich warrior culture was thriving two centuries before Alexander’s birth.
Expansion of Macedon

Alexander the Great’s Early Life

Alexander was born in Pella, near the Aegean coast, on July 20, 356 B.C. to Philip II’s forth wife Olmypias. He was taught warfare by his father, King Phillip II of Macedonia, religion by his mother Olympias and morality by Aristotle. His childhood was tough. He endured meals with little food and long marches. He excelled at everything he did, hung out with hard-drinking soldiers, horsemen and hunters and was inspired by Homer’s tales.

When Alexander was twelve he mounted a wild horse that no one could break, causing Alexander’s father to remark, “O my son, look out for a kingdom worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is not large enough to hold you.” According to one story Alexander broke the horse after figuring out it reared when it saw its own shadow. Before he mounted him he calmly stroked the horse and pointed him towards the sun so he couldn’t see his shadow. The horse, Bucephalas, was with Alexander on his march of conquest. When Bucephalas died at the age of 30 of battle wounds sustained fighting an elephant-mounted army in Pakistan he was given a royal funeral.

The crucial phase of the Battle of Chaeronea was led by 18-year-old Alexander and his elite Companion cavalry unit. They found a break in the enemy line and went straight after the legendary crack Thebes unit, the Sacred Band, who had a reputation for fighting to the death of the last man and were buried, according to their code of honor, in a mass grave underneath a monumental lion.
Aristotle and Alexander the Great

Alexander took the throne in 336 B.C. at the age of 20 after his father was assassinated. Alexander quickly secured the throne by murdering and exiling a number of rivals and put down anti-Macedonian revolts. Within a year he secured a kingdom that stretched from the Danube in the north and the Adriatic to the west. After a revolt in Thebes was put down he slaughtered or sold into slavery 30,000 citizens, and razed the city except for its temples and the house of the revered poet Pindar. After this Athens and other Greek city-states—with the exception of Sparta—pledged an allegiance to the young king. They also promised to provide soldiers and financial support for an invasion of Persia.

Aristotle and Alexander the Great

In 342 B.C., Philip II of Macedonia hired Aristotle to teach science and politics to his 13-year-old son Alexander the Great. Little is known about what transpired between the two. Neither Aristotle nor Alexander the Great had much to say about the other afterwards and neither seem to have much influence on the other.

One of the few things that Aristotle was recorded as saying was: “the young man is not a proper audience for political science. He has no experience of life, and because he still follows his emotions, he will only listen to purpose, uselessly.” Aristotle appears to have written some pamphlets especially for Alexander. They include On Kingship In Praise of Colones and The Glory of Rices.
Alexander bustThe reason Philip chose Aristotle to be Alexander’s teacher is not clear. Aristotle was not a well known philosopher at that time. His father served as court physician for Philip’s father (Alexander’s grandfather) and perhaps Philips choice was a political move aimed at rebuilding Stagira. Aristotle spent three years with Alexander, until he was 16, when he was made a regent while his father Philip was in Asia Minor.

Aristotle was well paid. Philip also helped Aristotle in his studies of nature by assigning gamekeepers to tag wild animals for him. After Alexander became king of Macedonia he gave Aristotle a lot of money so he could set up a school. While he was in Macedonia, Aristotle made friends with the general Antipater, who ran Macedonia while Alexander was on his campaign of conquest. The friendship was close enough that Antipater was the executor of Aristotle’s will. Aristotle no doubt received some financial assistance from him as well.

Alexander had a deep love for Greek literature. He reportedly loved to recite passages from the plays of Euripides from memory. Plutarch wrote: “He regarded the Iliad as a handbook of the art of war and took with him on his campaigns a text annotated by Aristotle, which he always kept under his pillow together with a dagger.” In the end Alexander proved more open minded than Aristotle, who tended to view non-Greeks as barbarians.

Alexander’s Appearance and Image

Macedonia, half-Greek, half-Barbarian, Alexander claimed he was a descendant of Zeus, Hercules and Achilles and saw himself as the Pharaoh of Egypt, the King of Babylon, the Emperor of Persia and the King of Asia.

Like Napoleon, according to some accounts, Alexander was short, perhaps just slightly over five feet. He reportedly was stocky, muscular, with a prominent forehead, and ruddy complexion and was said to be extremely handsome with “a certain melting look in his eye.” Most accounts give him curly, shoulder-length blonde hair and fair skin, according to Plutarch, with a “ruddy tinge.”.especially upon his face and chest.” Alexander reportedly was unable to grow a beard and made it fashionable to go clean shaven.

In his lifetime, Alexander allowed his portrait to be made by three artists: the famous sculptor Lysippos; the acclaimed painter Apellas; and a gem cutter named Pyrogoteles. None of the originals exist although a few copies of Lysippos work remain. These copies as well as mosaics from Pella and Naples, depict a good looking man with blonde hair, big round eyes, no beard, and hair parted in the middle and hanging slightly over the ears. The likeness of Alexander on tetradrachma coins is thought to be accurate except of the horns of divinity.

Plutarch, who wrote Alexander’s biography in the 1st century A.D., wrote Alexander tilted his head slightly to one side and was the source of the “melting look” comment. This description is consistent with a rare eye condition called Brown’s syndrome. If Alexander in fact had this condition he tilted his head to see the world straight.

Alexander the Great’s Personal and Family Life
BucephalusAlexander was very close to his mother, Olympias, a princess from Epirus in northwest Greece. She was proud, strong-willed, superstitious, and religious. She boasted she was a member of the orgiastic, ecstatic Dionysus cult that specialized in handling snakes.

Olympias could also be quite ruthless. After Phillip died she killed Philip’s last wife Eurydice, and Eurydice’s baby daughter, Europa “by dragging them over a bronze vessel filled with fire.” Olympia is thought to have spoiled Alexander royally and he idolized here in return. As for his father, Peter Green, a classic professor at the University of Texas, told Smithsonian magazine that Alexander and Philip II had a love-hate relationship marked by “an ambivalent blend of genuine admiration and underlying competitiveness.”

Richard Covington wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “From his father Alexander is believed to have inherited courage, quickness of decision and intellectual perceptiveness. His mother, who may have tried to turn their son against his father, gave him a will stronger than Philip’s, as well as fervent religiosity.”

Although he was married twice some historians claim Alexander was a homosexual who was in love with his childhood friend, closest companion and general—Hephaestion. Another lover was a Persian eunuch named Bagoas. But many say that his truest love was his horse Bucephalas.

On his march of conquest, Alexander became entranced with a Songdian princess named Roxanne after she was captured in a siege of a Sogdian fortress. Arrian described her as “the loveliest woman in Asia after Darius’s wife. Her married her in 327 B.C., apparently for love but also to give his presence in Asia some legitimacy. Alexander’s second wife was a daughter of his arch-enemy Darius.

Alexander fathered a son with Roxanne, and perhaps another one with his Persian mistress, but sex didn’t seem to have been a big part of his life. He once reportedly said, “Sex and sleep alone make me conscious that I am mortal.” Roxanne died in 311. His son Alexander IV died in 310.

Alexander the Great’s Character
Alexander the Great
refuses to take waterRichard Covington wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “Despite his imperialist accomplishments Alexander has always seemed a melancholy figure, possessed by what ancient Greeks called pothos , a passionate yearning.”.He was a military genius and a hero to his men. He never asked them to do something he would not have done himself, and he bore the wounds to prove it. He also shared his vast riches with his men. When he challenged his army to take the most difficult route, to do the impossible, they amazed themselves when they succeeded.”

Oliver Stone, director of the awful Alexander film, told Smithsonian magazine, “He was the Sun God, the star of all time, Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle rolled into one. Some historians put him.”.in a class with Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun, but they miss the point. No tyrant ever gave back so much. His life was not about money for himself, but about his growing curiosity, engaging and fulfilling his intellect, his consciousness.”.These days we have a strong antipathy for conquerors, but in Alexander’s time, war was a way of life and soldiering a much more honorable profession.”

Young Alexander was very competitive and ambitious. When Alexander heard of one Phillip’s victories he muttered to himself, “My father will be the first to everything. For me he will leave no great or brilliant action.” Once when court philosopher Aanxarchue described the infinite number of worlds in the universe to him, Alexander broke down crying, “There are so many worlds and I have not yet conquered even one.”

Alexander was very religious. He reportedly stopped at all the major temples on his conquest route and made daily sacrifices to the gods. He had been raised to believe he descended from Achilles and Hercules. He had a deep respect for Zeus. Alexander was also a notorious drunk. He is said to have died after coming down with a fever after drunken escapade. Based on other descriptions some think he was an epileptic.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications. Most of the information about Greco-Roman science, geography, medicine, time, sculpture and drama was taken from “The Discoverers” [∞] and “The Creators” [μ]” by Daniel Boorstin. Most of the information about Greek everyday life was taken from a book entitled “Greek and Roman Life” by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum [||].



Wall painting in AcreAlexander the Great (356 to 324 B.C.) was a superb military commander. Believing himself invincible and specially blessed by the gods, he often led the cavalry charges himself, which often proved decisive, and often wore an easy-to-spot white-plumed helmet. He suffered severe sword, lance, arrow and knife wounds. Alexander once told his men, “There is no part of my body.”.which has not a scar.”.and for all your sakes, for your glory and your gain.”

“As a warrior and a strategist, no one compares with Alexander,”Alexander biographer Lane Fox told Smithsonian magazine, “He would have made mincemeat of any Roman who came over the hill. Julius Caesar would’ve gone straight back home as fast as his horse could carry him.” And Napoleon— “Alexander would’ve wiped him out too. Napoleon only fought dodos.”

Alexander had full confidence that his men would follow him. Admiral Ray Smith, a former Navy SEAL told National Geographic, “We have learned that the key to leadership under the toughest possible circumstances is that officers and men undergo the same training. Men know their officer is not asking them to do anything he couldn’t do or hasn’t done.”

Arrian wrote: “The sheer pleasure of battle, as other pleasures are to other men, was irresistible” to Alexander. Once, while fighting at a fortress in Multan, in present-day Pakistan, Alexander found himself stranded without a ladder. Instead of leaping outside the walls to safety he jumped inside where he was surrounded by enemies and fought off his attackers until help arrived. During the clash he sustained a nearly fatal arrow wound that may have punctured his lung. When doctors insisted that officers hold him down to prevent him from squirming while they removed the arrow head Alexander insisted that wasn’t necessary and lay still as doctors cut deeply into his chest to remove the embedded weapon.

Alexander also showed great compassion for his men. “For the wounded he showed deep concern,” wrote Arrian. “He visited them all and examined their wounds, asking each man how and in what circumstances his wound was received, and allowed him to tell his story and exaggerate as much as he pleased.”

Alexander’s Army and Weapons
hopliteAlexander’s army was made up of around 50,000 men (an enormous number at that time when great cities had a population of 10,000 or 20,000). Most were Macedonians or hired Greek mercenaries that were paid in booty from the conquests. As time went on the Greeks were dropped and the army was made up mostly of Macedonians or subjects of the most recently conquered territory. Cambridge historian Nicholas Hammond told National Geographic, “Alexander kept his army supplied by recruiting from the enemy. The fact that he could successfully do this speaks volumes about his leadership.”

Alexander’s force is regarded as the first professional army. At the vanguard were the Companions, an elite highly-skilled cavalry force, and the Macedonian phalanx, a high mobile unit of foot soldiers with long pikes. Cavalry made up about a sixth of the army. The Macedonians had a much more developed cavalry than the Greeks in part because Macedonia had more grasslands to feed horses. Genghis Khan and Alexander had similar-sized armies.

Among the foot soldiers were archers, equipped with short bows; Greek hoplites, skilled veteran soldiers; shield bearers, who carried weapons and assisted the hoplites; slingers, who threw stones with slings; and trumpeters who relayed messages on the battlefield.

Supplying an army of 50,000 men was no easy task. Alexander employed bullocks and oxen (young and old castrated bulls) to carry the supplies, and the tactical range of his army was eight days, the maximum length of time in which an ox can carry supplies and food for itself. Campaigns of longer duration had to stay near ports (where food could delivered) or at settlements that were large enough to supply Alexander’s army with what it needed. [Source: “History of Warfare” by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

Alexander’s soldiers relied on the sarissae , or pike, a 4.3-meter-long spear that was twice as long as a standard spear. Archers used powerful short bows. Slingers threw stones to harass the enemy. Soldiers were armed with swords and wore armored helmet and breastplate like the Greeks and used a round shield for protection. The cavalry rode horses with rudimentary saddles with no stirrups.

While the Persians and others relied on long bows the Greeks amd Macedonians were primarily hand-to-hand combatants who relied on swords and thrusting pikes. Sarissae were wooden pikes. They were generally around three meters longer than the average spear and this gave them a range advantage.

Alexander the Great’s Military Tactics

Alexander liked to strike quickly. Some credit him with perfecting the cavalry charge. He often ignored the advise of his generals who advised caution and seemed little worried if his enemies held the high ground or some other advantageous military position.

At the heart of Alexander’s army were rows of disciplined soldiers with pikes, spears and swords that were organized into a “phalaiazn” and were capable of overpowering far larger enemy groups. The front rows were armed with sarissaes which had a longer reach than their opponents. Rear troops pushed forward and helped the front-row troops press ahead. Archers, slingers and cavalry attacked and defended the sides.

Foot soldiers in Alexander the Great’s army learned to withstand chariot advances by aiming their weapons at the horses first: by employing arrow-proof armor and shields; and by organizing themselves into tight chariot-proof ranks.

Alexander conducted at least 20 sieges, but none within Persia because the empire was supposedly guarded from its perimeter. The three main battles—Granicus, Issua and Guagamale—were fought in open country.

Alexander relied heavily on spies. He also purportedly spied on his own soldiers by intercepting their outgoing mail. According to legend, Alexander was the first commander to require that all of his soldiers be cleanly shaven. This was so that enemies could have nothing to hold on to. ◂

Civilians were often targeted, especially in Lebanon and the Indus Valley, where large number of innocent people were killed for no military reason. The historian Ernst Badian told National Geographic, “Blood was the characteristic of Alexander’s whole campaign. There is nothing comparable in ancient history except Caesar in Gaul.”

Alexander the Administrator

Family of Darius before
Alexander by Paolo Veronese, 1570Alexander showed some skill as an administrator. He tolerated local customs and appointed local administrators. He appointed Persians to many posts and adopted the Persian style of administration even though Persians had long been his sworn enemies. He even wore local clothes of the Persians to earn support of the Persian people, something the soldiers that fought under him took offence to.

Administrative realities sometimes clashed with codes that kept military moral high. Alexander welcomed some Persians into his inner circle and even ordered a royal funeral for his main adversary, Darius III. These moves infuriated some of Alexander’s soldiers and paved the way for a mutiny. Green wrote in his biography Alexander of Macedon “the sight of their young king parading in outlandish robes, and in intimate terms with the quacking, effeminate barbarian nobles he had so lately defeated, filled [his troops] with disgust.” Alexander also angered those close to him by ordering the death of Parmenion, a loyal and venerated general who fought under Phillip and Alexander. and Callisthenes, Aristotle’s nephew.

When Alexander learned that soldiers were plotting to kill him, he arrested seven of the alleged conspirators, including Philotas , the son of Parmenion. Although the evidence against Philotas was weak he and the others were stoned to death. In a pre-emptive move to stem a revenge attack, Alexander also had the 70-year-old Parmenion stabbed to death. From then on “Alexander never trusted his troops,” Green told Smithsonian magazine, “The feeling was mutual.”

Alexander the Great’s Death
Alexander with the AmazonsAlexander died just short of his 33 birthday on June 10, 323 B.C. The cause of his death is unknown. In some accounts he drank a huge amount of wine at a banquet and collapsed with a fever. In other accounts he became sick, perhaps with malaria, on his way back from India. Most scholars believe that was a major factor in his death. In Susa a fakir brought from India had prophesied Alexander’s death.

In early 323 B.C., Alexander entered Babylon to prepare for an Arabian expedition. At a banquet he was seized with abdominal pains and was forced to retire to his quarters. He then came down with a fever and was so ill and soon he couldn’t speak or move. Alexander was ill for two weeks before he died.

Before his death, Alexander’s troops, concerned he was already dead, demanded to see him. Arrian wrote: “Nothing could keep them from the sight of him, and the motive in almost every heart was grief of a sort of helpless bewilderment at the thought of losing their king. Lying speechless as the men filed by, he struggled to raise his head, and in his eyes there was a look of recognition for each individual he passed.”

Some have suggested Alexander died of pancreatitis, alcoholism aggravated by a broken heart over death of his lover, Hephaestion, war wounds, a perforated ulcer, leprosy, syphilis, typhoid, panic, West Nile virus, an infected monkey bite, or even murder by poison. One scholar argued that a perforated bowel—which can cause paralysis and make one look dead before they actually die— could explain the legend that his body did not begin composing until days after his 33rd birthday,

Alexander’s symptoms included a fever, thirst, abdominal pain and paralysis. His symptoms match up well with West Nile virus encephalitis. There were stories that birds dropped dead at his feet when he entered Babylon. West Nile virus encephalitis was not identified until 1937 but is thought to have been around much longer than that. some scholars believe he may have had typhoid-induced ascending paralysis which also makes one look dead before they actually die.

Tomb of Alexander the Great

Ptolemy I Soter (304-283 B.C.) took control of Egypt after Alexander the Great died. He was an ambitious self-made Macedonian general who served under Alexander and was also known as Ptolemy the savior. Ptolemy was crowned pharaoh in 304 B.C. on the anniversary of Alexander’s death. He made offerings to the Egyptian gods, took an Egyptian throne name, and portrayed himself in pharaonic garb.

When Alexander died Ptolemy somehow got his hands of Alexander’s embalmed corpse (some say he stole it as it was being shipped back to Macedonia for burial). The body had been embalmed with honey. Ptolemy put the corpse in class coffin and had it displayed to the public. [Source: Lionel Casson, Smithsonian magazine, June 1985]
Alexander’s Sarcophagus?

Ptolemy brought Alexander’s body to the northern coat of Egypt to shore up his claim on the region and boost his legitimacy. Ptolemy made Alexander’s tomb into one of the world’s first major tourist attractions and through it brought recognition to Alexandria. The corpse was exhibited in an elaborate mausoleum much as the bodies of Lenin and Mao are displayed in class cases in Moscow and Beijing. Tourist reportedly formed long lines to glimpse the famous Macedonian general’s embalmed body. The body is thought to have remained there for six centuries and is thought to have maybe disappeared in riots in the A.D. 3rd century.

In February 1995, Greek archaeologist Liana Souvalzi claimed she had discovered the tomb of Alexander the Great at the Siwa Oasis in Egypt (near the Libyan border), 1,200 miles away from where the Macedonian general died in Babylon. Ruined by an ancient earthquake, the tomb consists of a 12-by-12 foot burial chamber with two antechambers and a corridor flanked by statues of two lions. The tomb, which is similar to the tomb of Alexander’s father, Philip II, was identified by a tablet believed to have been written by Ptolemy I, describing how he brought the body from Alexandria.

After the announcement a Greek delegation toured the site and said there was no proof to corroborate Souvalzi’s claim. A few years later funding of the excavation was stopped. The delegation claimed that what Souvaltzi found may not even be a tomb and that it appeared to have been built more than a century after Alexander’s death. Souvaltzi’s research was funded by her husband. She once said that she sought advice of where to look for promising site from snakes.
Colored Alexander sarcophagus

Alexander the Great’s Empire After His Death

When Alexander was on his deathbed he was asked to name a successor. Arrian reported the empire should go “to the strongest. I foresee a great funeral contest over me.” Roxanne and her son, Alexander IV, born six weeks after Alexander’s death were murdered by a distant relative when the boy was 12 or 13. Alexander’s mother Olympias was also killed.

Alexander the Great’s million-and-a-half square mile empire lasted for only a few decades after he died, but it spread Greek culture to the corners of the known world at that time and ushered in the Hellenistic period. Arrian wrote that in one of his last speeches to his troops Alexander said “I set no limits of labors to a man of spirit, save only that the labors themselves.”.lead on to noble enterprises.”.It is a lovely thing to live with courage, and to die, leaving behind an everlasting renown.”↔

After Alexander died his generals spent 40 years fighting among themselves before three main dynasties merged:the Antigonids of Asia Minor and Greece; the Ptolemies in Egypt (which included Cleopatra); and the Selecuids, who occupied a stretch of land that extended from present-day Syria and Lebanon to Persia.

“Alexander the Great’s Empire fell, in part, because he treated his provincial subjects as defeated enemies,” wrote journalist T.R. Reid in National Geographic. “The Romans treated their subjects as Romans—not outsiders but contributors.”
Alexander empire

Alexander’s Legacy

Although much of Alexander’s empire fell part after his death, he is credited with spreading Greek culture far into Asia, which in turn had an affect on government, art, literature and religion in places that had never heard of Greeks before.

Alexander the Great founded 20 cities and unified the East and West. The cities helped disseminate Greek culture. He is also is credited with exposing Greece and the Western to Eastern culture. Some say he helped civilize the Persians, Sogdians and others. Of the six cities established by Alexander only Alexandria remains.

Borcas, the Greek god of the west wind. was adopted by local people and made its way westward as far as Japan, where he became Fujin, the Japanese god of wind. As he moved eastward Borcas exchanged his wings for a veil as he became Vado the wind god in ancient Kushan in Pakistan. Greek-influenced images of the Buddhist gods Vaisravana and Majakala have been found in Pakistan. Images of Greek soldiers have been found in China.

The Kafir-Kalash (Kafir-Kalaish)—a tribe that lives in the Birir, Bumburet and Rambur valleys off of the Chistral Valley in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan—claim they are descendants of five of Alexander the Great’s warriors. One of a handful of groups that claim Alexander’s army to be their ancestors, the Kalash relate a story of Alexander’s bacchanal with mountain dwellers claiming descent from Dionysus. “They were likely the forbears of the Kalash, who still worship a pantheon of gods, make wine, practice animal sacrifice—and resist conversion to Islam.” Although Alexander’s armies passed through the Chitral region there is little evidence that they reached the remote valleys where the Kalash live today.
Europe and the Near East After Alexander’s Death

Whether Alexander the Great is from the present-day country of Greece or the country of Macedonia is a divisive political issue between those two nations. Each claims Alexander as their own. In 2009, Macedonia raised eyebrows when it proposed building an eight-story-high statue of Alexander the Great in the center of its capital Skopje.

Pierre A. Zalloua of the American University of Beirut Medical Center is studying if the armies of Alexander the Great left behind a genetic legacy in places he conquered.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications. Most of the information about Greco-Roman science, geography, medicine, time, sculpture and drama was taken from “The Discoverers” [∞] and “The Creators” [μ]” by Daniel Boorstin. Most of the information about Greek everyday life was taken from a book entitled “Greek and Roman Life” by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum [||].




Alexander at the Siege of TyreAlexander the Great (356 to 324 B.C.) left Macedonia in 334 B.C. at age of 21 with 43,000 foot soldiers and 6,000 horsemen. He would never return home again. After crossing the Hellesport (now known as the Dardanelles), he marched into Asia Minor and then looped around Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Egypt, and Libya before returning to Asia Minor (this took about four years). Then he and his army zigzagged through Iran and Iraq, where important battles were fought (three years), and continued on through the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan and into Pakistan (three years).

Alexander went as far north as present-day Tashkent in Uzbekistan and as far east as Jammu and Armistar in India. He followed the Indus River in present-day Pakistan to the Arabian Sea (two years). The most difficult and costly part of the journey was the trip home via the forbidding Baluchistan desert in southern Pakistan and Iran (one year).

Before setting out on his mission of conquest Alexander arrived unannounced at the Oracle of Delphi. He demanded to see the seeress, and when she refused he dragged her into a temple and forced her to tell his prophecy. Plutarch writes: “As if conquered by his violence, she said, ‘My son, thou art invincible.’”↔

Why died Alexander undertake his mission of conquest and how did Alexander get his men to go along with him on arduous journey of conquest that had little point. Some say the conquest seems to have been a personal matter for Alexander without further meaning. According to historian Jack Keegan, Alexander was comfortably established as ruler of a half-Barbarian Greek city and seemed to have pillaged Persia “largely for the pleasure of it.” Other say Alexander was partly driven by his desire to emulate Achilles and Hercules.

Alexander Battles the Persians at Granicus at Takes Western Asia Minor

Within two years after becoming king Alexander was ready to do battle with Persia, the most powerful kingdom the world had ever known up until that time. The Persian empire extended from present-day Turkey to Pakistan. Alexander’s aim was to avenge the Persian invasion of Greece by Xerxes a century and a half before.
Alexander-Empire 323 BC

After sailing the three-mile distance across the Hellespont Alexander cast his spear into the sand and claimed Asia as his “spear-won prize.” Alexander’s first destination was Troy. There he he paid homage to Achilles and Patrokolos at their tomb and offered sacrifices and anointed altars with oil and traded his armor for Achilles’ sacred shield at the Temple of Athena.

Alexander’s first encounter with the Persians was at Granicus, 100 kilometers northeast of Troy. At that time the Persians controlled the Greek cities along the eastern Aegean. There he faced an advance Persian force of 15,000 cavalry and 16,000 infantry, a third of them Greek mercenaries.

Alexander showed great leadership. The Persian army were spread out over a vast area so Alexander’s forces were able to break through the Persian infantry lines and surrounded the mercenaries of the Persian king.

After the Battle of Granicus, the Persians fled inland. In about a year Alexander conquered most of western Asia Minor and the Aegean Greek cities of Ephesus, Halicarnassus, Magnesia, Perge and Side, where he was greeted as a liberator. At Gordium (near Ankara), the ancient court of King Midas, Alexander “solved” the famous puzzle of the Gordium’s knot by severing it with blow from his sword. According to legend whoever undid the intricately twisted knot would become the ruler of Asia. ↔

As Alexander’s army moved eastward they were just their buying time until they would face off again against the Persians in larger, more pivotal battles.
Crossing of the Granicus

Alexander Battles With the Persians at Issus

At Issus (near Adana, Turkey) Alexander’s army of about 50,000 men met a Persian force of perhaps 70,000 men. There is some disagreement over the size the Persian force but most historians agree at least it was larger than Alexander’s.

When Alexander’s army arrived in Issus Alexander ordered them to attack almost immediately even though the soldiers were exhausted from a two-day march. Alexander’s cavalry, backed by archers and infantry wielding 5-½ -meter-long pikes outmaneuvered the larger Persian force with well-orchestrated charges. Alexander and his Companions charged into a barrage of arrows and made straight of the chariot of the Persian leader Darius III. Darius freaked and panicked with the Companions bearing down on him and fled, causing the Persian front to collapse and the enemy to lose the battle. Darius fled so quickly he left behind his family, which were captured and held for ransom (although Alexander gave orders that his wife and daughters would not be harmed).

After the battle, Darius offered Alexander one of his daughters in marriage and 10,000 talents in treasures (about a billion dollars in today’s money) and all of the territory west of the Euphrates, but Alexander refused. After conquering Egypt, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, Alexander ventured to Mesopotamia where his forces finished off the Persian army, opening the way for his conquest of Asia.”
Alexander cuts the Gordian Knot

Alexander the Great in the Middle East

As Alexander head down the Mediterranean, nearly all the cities that were under Persian control surrendered and opened their gates to Alexander. The only city that put any resistance was Tyre, a former Phoenician island fortress off the coast of Lebanon.

In the early 6th century, King Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Tyre for 13 years but was unable to conquer it. In 332 B.C., Alexander the Great captured Tyre by using ship-mounted battering rams and catapults to blast a hole in the fortress wall and gangplanks and two large siege towers to launch the assault.

Alexander’s army had spent seven months building a half mile causeway to the island, with debris from an abandoned mainland city, only to be bombarded with stones and arrows when they got near. The Tyrians also launched a boat with blazing cauldrons to set fire to the attackers. This tactic only delayed the inevitable.
Battle of Issus

The victory over Tyre added Lebanon as well as Palestine, Syria and Egypt to Alexander’s empire.Alexander was reportedly so enraged by the loss of time and men used to capture Tyre that he destroyed half the city, and rounded up its residents, who were either massacred or sold into slavery. Seven thousand people were slaughtered after the capture, 2,000 young men were crucified and 30,000 people were sold into slavery.

Alexander the Great in Egypt

Alexander received a hero’s welcome in Egypt, an unhappy vassal of Persia for nearly 200 years. In Memphis, the Egyptian capital, Alexander was recognized as a pharaoh. Hieroglyphics of Alexander’s adventures adorn temples in Luxor.

In 331 B.C., Alexander the Great trekked 300 miles across the Sahara desert for no military reason to Siwa Oasis (near Libyan border), where he met with the oracle at the Zeus-Amum temple and asked questions about his future and divinity. The oracle greeted Alexander as the son of Amun-Re and gave him the favorable omens he wanted for an invasion of Asia. The 24-year-old Alexander arrived at Siwa by camel. He asked the oracle whether was the son of Zeus. He never revealed the answer to that question.
Battle of Issus by Altdorfer

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Alexander’s military campaign was the founding of Alexandria. Arrian wrote that “he himself designed the general layout of the new town, indicating the position of the market square, the number of temples.”.and the precise limits of its outer defenses.” After Alexander died, Alexandria grew into the center of Hellenistic Greece and was the greatest city for 300 years in Europe and the Mediterranean.

Alexander and the Persians Meet at Guagamela

The key battle in Alexander’s campaign took place at Gaugamela (or Arbela, near Mosel in Iraqi Kurdistan, about 420 kilometers north of present-day Baghdad) in 331 B.C. After Alexander rejected Darius’s offers of peace, Darius had little choice but to prepare for all out war, which he did from the Persian winter capital of Babylon.

Alexander’s force was outnumbered 5 to 1. The Persian army was comprised of 250,000 soldiers from 24 different subject or mercenary armies including ones made up of Indians, Bactrians, Dahae, Medes, Mardians, Babylonians, Parthians and Arachosians. Darius’s force was lead by 40,000 Persian cavalry men clad in chain mail with chariots with scythe blades on their wheels. The Persian leader even had some fighting elephants at his disposal (some say this was the first time Europeans were exposed to elephants). Alexander’s army had 40,000 infantry men and a 7,000-strong cavalry.
Battle of Issus detail

Uncharacteristically, Alexander exercised caution. He waited four days to attack and overslept on the morning of the battle, which was one of the largest and most decisive battles in antiquity. Plutarch wrote, “When his officer came to him in the early morning, they were astonished him not yet awake.”

Fighting at Guagamela

Darius pinned his hopes on his specially-designed chariots which essentially had twirling swords attached to their wheels. To give these vehicles an advantage Darius even went as far as leveling the battlefield and clearing away trees and hills in an area of eight square miles so the chariots could maneuver on the plain where the battle was fought.

Alexander’s forces were arranged in a rectangular box while the Persians were drawn out in a long line. Alexander knew he was outflanked anyway so his plan was to protect his flanks and draw the Persian’s there so he could attack the middle, where Darius was surrounded by bodyguards.
Achaemenid Soldiers
in PersepolisAlexander ordered one wing of his cavalry to charge Darius’s far left flank and another to aim for the far right, leaving his own infantry vulnerable in the center. When the battle began Alexander’s forces moved forward. At the last minute, just as the Persians were set up, Alexander tilted his box, and charged the Persian infantry with a wedge at the right side of the middle. The objective was to draw the Persians to the flanks.

The Persians took the bait. Their cavalry attacked the right flank of Alexander’s rectangular box. When the chariots charged Alexander simply ordered his ranks to part with some soldiers given the task of pulling the drivers to the ground when the chariots passed. The rest were picked off with arrows and javelins.

Alexander the Great Defeats the Persians at Guagamela

The Persians then attacked Alexander’s left flank. As Darius’s mounted forces were pulled into opposite direction Alexander and his elite forces took advantage of the weakness in the middle and made their move there. The Companions formed a wedge and opened up a hole and Alexander himself went right after Darius in the heart of the Persian army, splitting it in two.

The Persian king lost his nerve after his chariot driver was killed by javelin and again he fled, on horseback. Ironically the Persians had regrouped and were ready to mount a bold counter attack but when they heard their had leader had abandoned them once gain they abandoned their assault and the Macedonians were able to defeat an army five times their size with relative ease.”

Alexander pursued Darius, who was able to get away, but returned to the battlefield to oversee the massacre of the Persian army. When the dust cleared, the Persians lost an estimated 40,000 to 90,000 men while Alexander’s army lost only 100 to 500.

A military historian at West Point, Col, Cole Kingseed, told National Geographic: “Alexander’s tactic were offensive. He anticipated what the enemy would do, forced the enemy to react to him. Alexander went with the arm of decision—that’s one thing we stress, that the commander’s place is where the decisive action is.”

Looting of the Persian Capital and Darius’s Death
Battle at GaugamelaIn less than five years Alexander had defeated the mighty Persians. From Gaugamela Alexander marched his troops victoriously into Babylon, with its gardens and walls, which according to legend were 300 foot high and wide enough to accommodate two chariots riding abreast. Along the way he picked up 15,000 Greek reinforcements.

After a month’s rest Alexander army moved on to Persepolis, the Persian capital, the home of a grand palace with a golden throne and 100-column hall. There Alexander collected almost 3,000 tons in coins, bullion, gold and silver vessels and jewels (worth perhaps billions in today’s dollars). It was one of the richest hordes ever taken. Afterwards Alexander unleashed his soldiers, who formed a drunken mob and burned the palaces of Xerxes to the sound of flutes and songs in revenge against the burning of Athens 150 years before. They also looted art and valuables and killed any male Persians that crossed their path. Great tapestries were placed on the beams of the great palace to set that on fire.

Alexander “accidently” burned down Persepolis in 330 B.C. To carry the treasure of gold, silver and jewels and other goodies back to Greece reportedly required 10,000 mules and 500 camels.
Death of Darius (1746)
by Piazzetta Giovanni The only loose end that needed to be tied was the capture of Darius. Alexander’s army then headed north, moving at an astounding pace of 36 miles a day. At the Caspian gates in the Elburz Mountains (near Tehran) Alexander caught up with Darius. By this time the Persian so feared Alexander that many soldier, according the historian Arrian, “threw themselves over the cliffs.”

Darius himself had been abandoned was found shackled and accompanied by a loyal dog in cart pulled by wounded oxen. He reportedly had been stabbed by his own generals and died after a sympathetic Greek soldier gave him some water. Plutarch wrote: “When Alexander came up, he showed his grief and distress at the king’s death, and unfastened his own cloak, he threw it over the body.”

With the conquest of Persia complete, Alexander now was King Persia as well as Macedonia, and controlled western Asia. Modern Iranians blame Alexander for the decline of the Persian empire. Even today they call him “Alexander the Accursed.”

Alexander the Great in Central Asia
Alexander cloaks body of DariusAfter Darius’ death rumors spread that the campaign was finished and Alexander was ready to head home. To squash these rumors Alexander called a meeting of his generals and told them, according to a 1st century Roman historian Curtius, “with tears in his eyes, complained he was being brought to a halt in the middle of a brilliant career.”

Alexander then headed into present day Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, where he encountered little resistance. By 329 B.C. he had reached present-day Kabul

The nomadic Turkic tribes that live in Central Asia today say that Alexander had two rams horns on the sides of his head and that is why he wore his hair long. Coins minted after his death show Alexander with horns. Later Muslims would call him Iskander Dhulcarnein—Alexander the two horn. In the Turkoman version of the story still told today only Alexander’s barber knew his secret.”.and he just had to tell someone or something, so he whispered the secret into a well. Reeds began to grow in the well, but whenever someone cut one for a flute, it didn’t make any music it only said “Alexander has two horns.”↔

Alexander’s Conquest’s in Central Asia
Family of Darius before AlexanderAlexander’s goal in Central Asia was to capture Bessus, a Persian traitor and ruler of Bactria. After his men suffered from frostbite and severe hunger while crossing a 3,700-meter-high pass in the Hindu Kush in April, when mountains were still covered in snow, Alexander got his hands on Bessus, who was turned over by his allies. Besses was tied a post on the side of a road. After he was taunted and jeered, his ears and nose were cut off. After that he may have been dismembered but more likely he was crucified.

Central Asia was a major crossroad for Silk Road caravans. Hostels and caravansaries were set up every 17 miles, the distance a camel train covers every day. Alexander captured six cities including Samarkand (then called Maracanda) in three days. He set up a headquarters in Samarkand.

Alexander established a number of garrison towns in western Asia and used them to house troops, encourage trade and defend conquered lands. Herat in Afghanistan is the only of these towns that still remains today. It was known in Alexander’s time as Areion.

Alexander Become Paranoid and Kills His Friend

Not everything went smoothly. Alexander’s forces were harassed by nomadic horsemen called the Spitamneses. They made lighting strikes and then retreated before the Greeks could do anything about it. This and road weariness made Alexander’s men increasingly restless and anxious to return home.

By this time Alexander was drinking heavily and had adopted modified Persian dress and customs, something that did not endear him to his loyal Macedon troops. He became increasingly paranoid and displayed wild fits of temper at perceived disloyalty. During one drunken party, when Alexander was boasting about his victories, Cleitus, a friend that once saved his life, said that Alexander owed thanks to his father and the Macedonian veterans that had stood by side all for so many years. Alexander was incensed by this remark. He accused Cleitus of being coward to which Cleitus accused him of pandering to the Persians. Enraged all the more, Alexander grabbed a spear and thrust it through his friend’s chest, killing him instantly. Alexander was instantly filled with remorse and pulled the spear from Cleitus’s body and tried to impale himself. Some officers managed to wrestle the spear from him. Alexander shut himself in his tent for days, grieving.

In Hyrcania on the Caspian Sea, Alexander was given a beautiful eunuch named Bagais, who became Alexander’s lover. This move was not popular either, nor was Alexander’s desire to be treated like a god and requiring his troops to prostrate themselves in front of him and kiss him. Ephippus, a contemporary of Alexander, wrote: “In his honor myrrh and other kinds of incense were consumed in smoke; a religious stillness and silence born of fear held fast all whom were in his presence. For he was intolerable, and murderous, reputed to be melancholy mad.”
Alexander and Apelles

Alexander the Great in Pakistan

After Central Asia, Alexander then headed into present-day Pakistan because he wanted to add India to his empire. His army of 75,000 men (plus a retinue of perhaps 40,000 more people), now included Persian horseman and many subjects of other conquered kingdoms but only 15,000 Macedonians.

With the Persians gone, Pakistan fell under the under the control of local rulers, none of whom dared to challenge Alexander. His army was able to advance easily and he was given a warm welcome in Taxila. The local ruler there gave him a generous tribute and provided him with fresh soldiers.

In the mountains areas of Central Asia and present-day Pakistan, Alexanders’ armies met fierce resistance from the Dogdians (also known as the Sogdians) and their allies the Masagates (a Saka clan), who retreated to the mountainous areas of the kingdoms and waged guerilla war that halted Alexander’s progress for 18 months.

In the Karakorum range, Alexander’s men used pitons and ropes to assault a supposedly impregnable fortress built into the side of a cliff by the Dogdians at the Rock of Aornos near modern Pir Sar. The soldiers in the fortress had the previous day laughed: “No one can touch us.” When Alexander’s force had taken their positions he said: “Come see my flying soldiers.” The Dogdians in the fortress eventually surrendered and Alexander claimed Roxanne, the daughter of a nobleman, for his wife. Roxanne was reportedly around 12 and Alexander was reportedly quite taken by her beauty. The Rock of Aornos is believed to somewhere in the Hissar mountains but its exact location is unknown.

The Kafir-Kalash, a tribe that lives today in valleys off the Chistral Valley in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, claim to be descendants of five of Alexander the Great’s warriors. The tribe is famous for its their pagan beliefs, lewd songs, provocative dances, partying ways and strange costumes. The women wear black robes, red bead necklaces and cowrie-shell head-dresses.

The Kalash have Caucasian features—sometimes with blonde hair and blue eyes—which gives some credence to their claim they descended from five warriors in Alexander the Great’s army. There are only about 4,000 of them and they have remained pagans despite the fact that everyone around them is Muslim. The Kalash relate a story of Alexander’s bacchanal with mountain dwellers claiming descent from Dionysus. They worship a pantheon of gods, make wine, and practice animal sacrifice. Although Alexander’s armies passed through the Chitral region there is little evidence that they reached the remote valleys where the Kalash live today. Other tribes in Pakistan and Central Asia also claim to be descendants of Alexander’s army.
Alexander and Porus

Alexander the Great Battles Elephants in India

The last great battle of Alexander’s campaign took place at Jhelum on the Indus River (110 kilometers southeast of present-day Islamabad, Pakistan) against King Porus, a massive leader who it is said to have stood nearly seven feet tall and presided over a kingdom that covered much of the Punjab in present-day India and Pakistan.

In the spring of 326 B.C., Alexander’s army engaged King Porus’ force of 35,000 infantrymen, 10,000 cavalry and 200 battle-trained elephants. Curtius wrote, “Porus himself rode an elephant which towered above the other beasts. His armor, with its gold and silver inlay, lent distinction to his unusually large physique.”

The two forces were opposite each other on different sides of the river and Alexander lead his attack in the night during a thunderstorm so the Indian army wouldn’t hear or see him coming. Alexander then concealed part of his cavalry and released the remainder of his army in an attack. Porus committed most army to the Alexander’s charging force and left himself vulnerable to an attack from the concealed cavalry.

In the battle the elephants “kept colliding with friends and foes alike,” according to Arrian. And after several hours the Indians retreated in wild confusion and Porus was captured. Alexander admired Porus’s courage and let him keep his kingdom on the condition he remained loyal to Alexander. Alexander the Great was said to have been rescued from certain death from a charging elephant by a greyhound.

Alexander’s Troops Mutiny

Alexander paused briefly to found a city named Bucephal in honor his horse that died shortly after the battle. The animals died perhaps from old age, perhaps from war wounds. Otherwise Alexander was ready to press on and make further conquests.

But by this time however, the monsoons had set in and Alexander’s men were wet to the bone, tired, homesick and mutinous and perhaps scared of facing off against the Nandas, their next foes, who were referred to in Greeks texts and possessing a formidable army and controlling the Mauryan Empire. Alexander biographer Lane Fox told Smithsonian magazine, “It was pelting with rain, the men were terrified, there snakes everywhere. They were lost and did not feel they could go on anymore.” Historian Peter Green told National Geographic, Alexander was basically screwed by ignorance of geography. He had been telling his men, We’ll just go over the hill, boys—and then suddenly he had the whole of the Ganges plain before him.”

On the banks of the Hyphias (now Beas) River, Alexander ordered his men to head east, the men refused. Alexander was enraged and was little consoled by the words of one of his noble advisors, who told him, “A noble thing, O king, is to know when to stop.” Alexander reacted by saying anyone who disobeyed him would be accused of desertion and went to his tent to sulk. After confining himself to his tent from three days, he consulted his omens and was conveniently told he trouble awaited him in India. On hearing the news his men shouted: “Alexander allowed us, but no others, to defeat him.”Alexander then decided to head back home. In retrospect this may have been a hasty decision as a major Indian army had already been defeated and all of India was within their grasp. ↔

Alexander the Great Arrives at the Arabian Sea
with the AmazonsThe journey back towards Greece proved to be the most arduous part of the journey—more costly than any battle. Instead of returning home the way they came—over the Hindu Kush. Alexander decided to travel south by river with 1,800 ships through what is now Pakistan to the Arabian Sea, a journey that ended up taking months. First they had to fight their way down the Indus River and resistance was met with slaughter on a genocidal scale. In one attack spearheaded by Alexander himself, the great conqueror took an arrow is his lung and to be carried away in a stretcher, but soon after mounted his horse to show his men he wasn’t finished yet.”

Alexander’s army of 87,000 infantry, 18,000 cavalry, 52,000 followers arrived at the Arabian Sea, in a part of the world they were unfamiliar with. Because there were to many men to be carried in boats on the Arabian Sea, Alexander’s divided his army, with a small contingent being carried boats and larger contingent journeying overland. A plan was concocted for the army to march overland across the brutal deserts of what is now southern Pakistan and Iran and be supplied by a fleet sailing on Arabian Sea that would meet up with army at various points along the way. That year the monsoon blew the opposite direction and the ships got stuck in Pakistan and were unable to bring supplies to the tens of thousands traveling overland.

Alexander’s Arduous Journey Home
Marriage of Alexander and RoxanaAlexander led the largest contingent on a march 1,750 kilometers across the Baluchistan desert, a wasteland more forbidding than the Sahara, and southern Iran. They traveled almost exclusively at night because it was simply too hot during the day. Even at night it travel was difficult as temperatures rarely dropped below 35 degrees C (95 degrees F). Because the supply ships never showed the marchers were forced to subsist on the limited food they brought with them.

The temperatures were blistering and what little water there was largely undrinkable. The trip was so arduous pack animals were butchered and eaten, booty was left behind and more than once the royal stores were broken into. Even then many men died of starvation, thirst and heat.

Alexander suffered along with everyone else. Once he was offered a helmet full of water but he poured it into the sand as a sign that he was willing to share the misery of his troops. Even when there water that could spell trouble too. A large number of his retinue drowned when a flash flood caught them in a canyon.

Alexander’s journey across the deserts of Baluchistan has been compared to Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. The journey took 60 days. About 15,000 of Alexander’s men, or nearly half the fighting force that accompanied him, perished—more than all the men killed in battle. By contrast, the fleets reached the Iranian coast, delayed but almost intact.

Alexander Returns to Persia
Wedding of Alexander and RoxaneIn Kirman, Persia Alexander made relations with his men worse when had six of the 20 provincial governors he appointed executed and two more deposed, and then executed 600 men from his own garrisons for raping and pillaging in his absence.

In Susa (Shush, Iran) Alexander took a second wife, Barsine, a daughter of Darius. In a mass wedding—along the lines of those sometimes held by Moonies—10,000 of Alexander’s troops married Persian women and 80 of his officers married daughter of Persian nobles.

Alexander it seemed had become so endeared with Persian culture he had no plans of returning home and instead planned to set up his base of operations in Persia. Some 30,000 noble Persian youths had been taught Greek and methods of Macedonian warfare. As a sort of take off on the Companions they were named the Successors.

By some accounts Alexander’s next destination was Arabia, where he hoped to gain control of area that produced valuable spices. At this time he still “hunted, diced, played ball, joked and banqueted” with his men. In the autumn of 324 B.C., Alexander’s boyhood friend and possible lover Hephaestion became ill with unknown disease and died. Alexander was devastated and had Hephaestion’s doctor crucified.


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