The Macedonian king Alexander the Great, one of the greatest conquerors and world-renowned military leaders of all time, created, probably, the greatest empire the world has ever seen. An antique world worshiped him for his outstanding military skills, and such a reverence was explained by certain reasons. To put it shortly, he was an incredible military commander, who had never lost any battle during the entire military campaign; the whole territory, which he captured, had about 5,000,000 square kilometers, and what is the most incredible, is that he achieved all of the above under the age of thirty-two. However, before making any statements about the greatness of Alexander the Great, they must be proved by the historical facts. Otherwise, the truth will be difficult to separate from fiction.
According to various ancient and modern historians, such as Arrian, Diodorus, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius, James Romm, Frederick Fuller, and others, Alexander III of Macedon was the son of the king of Macedon, Philip II and his wife, Olympias. At the age of thirteen, Alexander got famous Greek philosopher and historian, Aristotle, appointed as his teacher and mentor. Aristotle, as a man of supreme eminence in every branch of science, opened Alexander’s eyes to what was out there in the world. He taught him martial arts, natural sciences, history, physics, mathematics, arts, and the common concept of human ethical virtues. As a result, Alexander the Great became an outstanding general and conquered almost the whole world, which has been explored.
At the age of seventeen, Alexander the Great had became the Macedonian king, and when he was twenty, he became a world-known conqueror and a great military leader. During his war campaign, he conquered the Persians, who were known for their invincibility; moreover, all the lands of the Minor Asia, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Syria belonged to him. He crossed the mountains and deserts of central Asia with his army, and turned back with his military campaign only when he had reached the Indian borders. Thereafter, he retreated to Babylon, where he remained for some time. At Babylon he felt very sick and suddenly died at the age of thirty-two. Shortly after his death, his great empire was cracked into the small parts and the world has never known him as a ruler of a great empire, only as a conqueror.
The historical figure of Alexander the Great, the founder and the leader of a vast empire, still interests historians and those, who is keen on various leadership issues, which ancient leaders faced during their reign. What is really interesting is that some historical evidences and facts about the person of Alexander assert that he was rather an inexperienced young bloodthirsty tyrant, who horribly massacred thousands of innocent people and made his way through Europe and East obsessed with the idea of conquering the new lands. Mostly, of course, he was portrayed as a glorious humanitarian, who promoted the ideas of universal brotherhood. But where is the truth? To reveal it, different historical evidences and facts must be compared, and afterwards everyone can make his/her own moral judgment.
Only a few ancient historians profoundly described in their works special features of the person of Alexander the Great, which made him so unique. Among them are Arrian of Nicomedia, Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch, and Quintus Curtius, famous Roman historian. But the most historically valuable and principal facts about the personality of Alexander were provided only by Arrian in his work “The Anabasis of Alexander”, where he the most completely and widely described his character and different facts about him, using such ancient sources, which are mostly lost nowadays. The most important source, which Arrian used, was the Alexander’s biography made by Ptolemy, who was one of the closest Alexander’s friends; moreover, a leading general, who was protecting Alexander from the childhood and up to his death (Romm, 2005, p. 31).
In his work, Arrian asserts that Alexander was rather emotionally unstable, in some ways sentimental, he was very vainglorious and it stimulated him to conquer more and more new lands. Among his weaknesses, except emotionality, there were also alcoholism and lust. He was also accused of different grosser war crimes. In the same time, Arrian not only condemn Alexander, but also excuses him, because, undoubtedly, he was a great commander, and during the twelve years of wars he conquered such a huge territory; something, that no one did before.
In addition, the author gives a number of examples of grandeur of Alexander. For instance, not many rulers during the history of mankind can tell that their teacher and mentor was the great philosopher, Aristotle, a prominent figure, known all over the world after centuries past. The young Macedonian king used to say that his father, Philip II, was the one, who gave him his life, but the Aristotle taught him how to live instead (Romm, 2005, p. 7). Another famous fact about the virtue of Alexander the Great is the story on the way he managed to tame father’s restive horse, Bucephalus, which was so vicious that nobody else could do that.
Moreover, Alexander was exactly the one, who first applied phalanges structures of his army, which had an unthinkable success. The phalanges were a powerful part of the Greco-Macedonian war machine. The plain phalanges were considered to be invincible. They consisted of the rows of warriors, where the first row held a huge range shields and long spears in front of them, while all the next rows – a small shield over their heads, so that the enemy could not notice their movement. Thanks to his father, Alexander managed to train a professional army of well-paid soldiers, who could literally follow him to the edge of the world. This very army helped him to finally defeat the Persians, who were the most devastating force of that time. This decisive battle took place on flat, open plain near Gaugamela, where the Alexander could easily deploy his huge army. As a result, the Persian king Darius was killed and Alexander was proclaimed as the owner of Asia. In an attempt to assert his rule, he started dressing like a Persian and married a Persian dancer Roxana, who born him a son. In that time, such marriage was really an important step to consolidate peace and to assert the authority in conquered Persia.
Probably, the most negative historical fact about Alexander the Great was his participation in assassination plot against his father Philip II. Despite there were no fixed facts about this, it was absolutely obvious, because he and his mother wanted Alexander to become a king as soon as possible. Moreover, he even instructed his mother on the ways to deal with the newborn son of the father of his late wife, so there were no competitors for the throne in future.
After the sudden death of Alexander, his empire was divided between the Macedonian generals and his successors, which became rulers of independent regions. The majority of these kings and rulers continued Alexander’s policies of racial and religion toleration, which he used to implement as a wise and kind leader. Moreover, his ancestors kept the traditions of cultural integration and continued to mix the cultures of different nations between the ancient Mesopotamia and the Greeks.
Arrian wrote that one of the most important facts about the Macedonian conqueror was that he expanded his empire up to the borders of India and died undefeated, probably from malaria. The end of his conquest was explained by the strange and unfamiliar climate of India, which sapped his army and caused numerous illnesses. Nevertheless, Arrian’s work provides a reasonably full account of Alexander’s life during the campaign, but the author does not reveal Alexander’s political, social, and other views, which would be very interesting today.
Another author, Diodorus, writes about the Alexander’s biography as a king and a conqueror, his battles and victories. He much more describes different historical facts, more than some special personal qualities of Alexander. He pays more attention to the different details than other authors, who have written about Alexander the Great.
Plutarch’s “Life of Alexander” describes Alexander’s desire for luxury and richness. The author notices that Macedonian king could not live a day without pleasures and comfortable circumstances (Romm, 2005, p. 21). Plutarch asserted that Alexander used to live more like a Persian, but not a Greek, because he was extremely extravagant and grew up in incredible richness. This is why he succeeded being as a common Greek and Persian ruler.
Quintus Curtius was the one, who wrote an amazing short story about a man, who maintained unforgotten even after thousands of years. The author idealizes the image of Alexander and his opinion is that he is one of the greatest war commanders there ever existed (Romm, 2005, p. 128).
All these ancient writers in the different ways and with the different facts describe the unique personality and inimitable qualities of such an outstanding conqueror and a king of a mighty empire. My very opinion is that Alexander the Great was not a bloodlust tyrant, but rather the contrary, he was a remarkable and genius army commander, who remained victorious during all his numerous battles for twelve years. The person of Alexander the Great is one of the most famous and glorious war commanders and generals, who have ever lived, and his name and achievements will be never forgotten, even after thousands of years.
Romm, J. S. (2005). Alexander the Great: Selections from Arrian, Diodorus, Plutarch, and Quintus Curtius. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co.