Alexander the Great (Greek: ho Megas Alexandros or ο Μέγας Αλέξανδρος), more formally Alexander III of Macedon (Greek: Alexandros III ho Makedon or Αλέξανδρος Γ' ο Μακεδών), late July, 356 BC - June 10, 323 BC) was King of Macedon; he united the warring and divided city states of Greece and conquered Persia, Egypt and a number of other kingdoms, all the way to the borders of India. The conquests, their attendant spread of Greek culture, and the mixing of Greek culture with more eastern cultures ushered in the age of Hellenistic Greece across several continents.
Born in Pella, Macedon, in present-day Greece, Alexander (a name meaning "Defender of Men") was the son of King Philip II of Macedon and Epirote princess Olympias. According to several legends spread by Alexander himself, Olympias was impregnated not by Philip, who was afraid of her and her affinity for sleeping in the company of snakes, but by Zeus. One legend claims that both Philip and Olympias dreamt of their son's future birth. Olympias dreamed of a loud burst of thunder and that lightning had hit her womb. In Philip's dream, he was sealing her womb with the seal of the lion. Alarmed by this, he consulted the seer Aristander of Telmessus, who determined that his wife was pregnant, and the child would have the character of lion.
Aware of these legends and of their political usefulness, Alexander was wont to refer to his father as Zeus, rather than as Philip. According to Plutarch, his father descended from Heracles through Caranus and his mother descended from Aeacus through Neoptolemus.
Macedon was located in the northernmost part of classical Greece and was regarded by some Greeks (such as Demosthenes) as barbarian but by others (such as Isocrates) not as such. Olympias herself was from Epirus, another state on the edge of classical Greek civilisation, on the northwest of the Greek peninsula. Nonetheless, the Macedonians were keen to adopt classical Greek culture, and Philip selected the noted Athenian philosopher Aristotle, who was born in the Greek city of Stagira on the Chalcidice peninsula, to tutor young Alexander. Their relationship lasted throughout Alexander's life; even after the execution of Aristotle's nephew, Callisthenes, Aristotle continued to receive presents (plant specimens) from the king.
In 336 BC, he succeeded his father on the throne. Philip's assassination, although perpetrated by a disgruntled young man (Pausanias) who had been one of Philip's lovers, is thought to have been planned with the knowledge and possible involvement of either Alexander or Olympias or both.
Period of conquests
Philip having militarily and diplomatically established Macedonian hegemony in Greece, Alexander set off in 334 BC on his famous conquests, the first and most well known of which was the defeat and subjugation of Persia following a vote by a Greek assembly meeting at Corinth. Crossing over into Asia Minor, he defeated a Persian army on the Granicus River, and followed up by liberating the Greek cities on the western coast of Asia Minor.
Alexander proceeded across Asia Minor, defeating the main Persian army of Darius III at the Battle of Issus in 333 BC, and then proceeded down the Mediterranean coast, taking Tyre and Gaza after famous sieges.
In 332 - 331 BC, he conquered Egypt and, after defeating Darius again in the Battle of Gaugamela, occupied Babylon. He proceeded to Media and Scythia, captured Herat and Samarkand and went on to India. He adopted some elements of Persian dress and customs at his court, including notably the custom of proskynesis, a symbolic kissing of the hand that Persians paid to their social superiors, but a practice which the Greeks disdained. This cost him much in the sympathies of many of his Greek countrymen. His attempts to merge Persian culture with his Greek soldiers also included having his officers marry Persian wives en masse, and training a regiment of Persian boys in the ways of Macedonians.
Alexander married several princesses of former Persian territories: Roxana of Bactria; Statira, daughter of Darius III; and Parysatis, daughter of Ochus. However his greatest emotional attachment is generally considered to have been to his companion, and possibly lover, Hephaestion. He also took as lover one of Darius' minions, the eunuch Bagoas, as Plutarch tells us. Roxana eventually gave birth to the boy Alexander IV "Aegus", putatively his son.
Many of his soldiers died when he drove his army further and further east, through deserts and other hostile landscape. Having fought in India, he returned west through Makran trying to consolidate his empire. He invaded India in 326 BC and fought with King Purushotthama or Porus in the Battle of Hydaspes. However, he avoided a war with the Nanda empire that was ruling vast areas of northern India and was then the main power in India. Alexander and his soldiers seem to have only pillaged and vandalized the small, mutually warring kingdoms in what is now Pakistan.
On June 10, 323 BC, before he had returned, he died of a sudden fever, in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. Alexander was only 32 years old.
Legend has it that Alexander was preserved in a clay vessel full of honey.
Legacy and division of the Empire
He left a huge empire of Persio-Greek culture to his successors (the Diadochi or Diadochoi), who jostled for supremacy over portions of his empire. When the dust settled, virtually all of his officers had disposed of their Persian wives, and all but two of his top officers, his mother, his wife Roxana, his son Alexander IV of Macedon ( 323 - 309 BC), his illegitimate son Heracles ( 327 - 309 BC), his sister Cleopatra, his half-sister Euridice, and his half-brother Philip III of Macedon, were dead, only one of whom (Antipater) died of natural causes.
His empire was divided at first into four major portions: Cassander ruled in Greece, Lysimachus in Asia Minor and Thrace, Seleucus I Nicator in Mesopotamia and Syria, and Ptolemy I (or Ptolemy Soter) in the Levant and Egypt.
Soon, Lysimachus obtained Cassander's portion, and the empire was divided into three major portions, controlled by the descendants of Ptolemy Soter in Egypt, Antigonus Monopthalmos (literally "One-eyed") in Greece, and Seleucus in the Mideast. By about 281 BC, only two dynasties remained in Alexander's old empire — the Seleucid dynasty in the north and the Ptolemaic dynasty in the south.
Many eponymous towns remained: Alexandrias, Alexandropolises and other Alexvilles dotting the landscape of this odd cosmopolitan mish-mash he had conquered. Whatever dreams he might have had of some kind of merging of Greek and Persian cultures died shortly after he did, with the Macedonians and Greeks edging the Persians into less powerful positions -- although there were Greek Diadochoi (Eumenes in particular) none of the Diadochoi were Persian.
Alexander is remembered as a folk-hero in Europe and much of western and central Asia, where he is usually called Iskander. In Iran, on the other hand, he is remembered as the destroyer of their first great empire and as the leveller of Persepolis. Ancient sources are generally written with an agenda of either glorifying or slandering the man, making it difficult to evaluate his actual character. Most refer to a growing instability and megalomania in the years following Gaugamela, but it has been suggested that this simply reflects the Greek stereotype of a medizing king. The murder of his friend Cleitus in a drunken rage, something Alexander deeply regretted, is often pointed to, as is his execution of Philotas and his general Parmenio for failure to pass along details of a plot against him, though this last may have been prudence rather than paranoia.
Modern opinion on Alexander has run the gamut from the idea that he believed he was on a divinely-inspired mission to unite the human race, to the view that he was the ancient world's equivalent of a Napoleon or a Hitler, a megalomaniac bent on world domination. Such views tend to be anachronistic, however, and the sources allow a variety of interpretations. Much about Alexander's personality and aims remains enigmatic.
Alexander had a legendary horse named Bucephalus (ox-headed), supposedly descended from the Mares of Diomedes.
According to one story, the philosopher Anaxarchus checked the vainglory of Alexander, when he aspired to the honours of divinity, by pointing to his wounded finger, saying, "See the blood of a mortal, not of a god." In another version Alexander himself pointed out the difference in response to a sycophantic soldier.
Modern historians treat the death of Alexander the Great and the birth of the successor kingdoms as the event that divides Hellenic civilization from Hellenistic civilization. Alexander's conquests and the administrative needs of his Greek-speaking successors promoted the spread of the Greek language and Greek culture across the eastern Mediterranean and into Mesopotamia. At the same time Alexander reintroduced from Persia the concept of divinely-inspired kingship into Hellenic culture.
The ancient sources for Alexander's life are, from the perspective of ancient history, relatively numerous. Alexander himself left only a few inscriptions and some letter-fragments of dubious authenticity, but a number of his contemporaries wrote full accounts. These included his court historian Callisthenes, his general Ptolemy (later Ptolemy I of Egypt), and a camp engineer Aristoboulus. Another early and influential account was by penned by Cleitarchus. Unfortunately, these works were lost. Instead, the modern historian must rely on authors who used these and other early sources. The five main accounts are by Arrian, Curtius, Plutarch, Diodorus, and Justin. Much is recounted incidentally in other authors.
The "problem of the sources" is the main concern (and chief delight) of Alexander-historians. In effect, each presents a different "Alexander," with details to suit. Arrian presents a flattering portrait, Curtius a darker one. Plutarch can't resist a good story, light or dark. All include a considerable leven of fantasy, prompting the historian Strabo (2.1.9) to remark, "All who wrote about Alexander preferred the marvellous to the true." Never the less, the sources tell us much, and leave much to our interpretation and imagination.
Alexander was a legend in his own time. His court historian, Callisthenes portrayed the sea in Cilicia as drawing back from him in proskynesis. Writing after Alexander's death, another participant, Onesicritus, went so far as to invent a tryst between Alexander and Thalestris, queen of the mythical Amazons. (When Onesicritus read this passage to his patron, Alexander's general and later King Lysimachus, Lysimachus quipped "I wonder where I was at the time?")
In first centuries after Alexander's death, probably in Alexandria, a quantity of the more legendary material coalesced into a text known as the "Alexander Romance," later falsely ascribed to the historian Callisthenes and therefore known as Pseudo-Callisthenes. This text underwent numerous expansions and revisions throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages, exhibiting a plasticity unseen in "higher" literary forms. Latin and Syriac translations were made in Late Anqituity. From these mostly developed versions in all the major languages of Europe and the Middle East, including Armenian, Georgian, Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew, Serbian, Slavonic, Rumanian, Hungarian, German, English, Italian, and French. The "Romance" is regarded by most scholars as the source of the account of Alexander given in the Koran (Sura "The Cave"). It is the source of many incident's in Ferdowsi's "Shahnama". A Mongol version is extant.
Some believe that, excepting certain religious texts, it is the most widely-read work of pre-modern times.
Other names used for Alexander the Great in different parts of the world
Because of the diversity of the conquered lands Alexander the Great was known by different names, maybe not in his time but in the stories passed down in generations since then.
Europe -- Alexander the Great
Central Asia -- Iskander
Arab world and parts of India -- Sikandar
Parts of India -- Alakshendra