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Alexander the Great

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Alexander the great (ancient Greek. Ἀλέξανδρος Γ' ὁ Μέγας; presumably 20/23 July or 6/10 Oct 356 BC — 10/13 June 323 BC) king of Macedonia from the dynasty Areado (336 BC), the distinguished commander, Creator of the world powers, disintegrated after his death. Having ascended the throne at the age of 20 after the death of his father, Philip II, he suppressed the Thracian revolt and re-subjugated Greece, where the rebellious Thebes was destroyed. In 334 BC, Alexander crossed into Asia Minor, thus starting a war with the Persian power. At Granicus, he defeated the satraps, and at Issus (333 BC) - King Darius III himself, after which he subjugated Syria, Palestine and Egypt. In 331 BC, Alexander won a decisive victory at Gavgamela in Mesopotamia. Darius was later killed; Alexander, having occupied the interior of Persia, assumed the title "king of Asia", surrounded himself with representatives of the Eastern nobility and began to think about conquering the world. In three years (329-326 BC), he conquered Central Asia. When the king invaded India, he also began to gain victories there, but his army, tired of the long campaign, mutinied, so Alexander had to turn back. In 324 BC, he arrived in Babylon, which became its capital. The following year, while preparing for a campaign in Arabia, Alexander died at the age of 32.

The power created in the course of the conquests soon collapsed, divided between the king's diadochi generals. Nevertheless, thanks to Alexander's campaigns, the spread of Greek culture in the East began, laying the foundation for Hellenism.

Bust of Alexander the Great in the image of Helios. Capitoline Museum, Rome
Bust of Alexander the Great


Alexander belonged to the Argead dynasty, which ruled Macedonia from the beginning of its history. Ancient authors place this dynasty among the Heraclides; according to legend, Temenides Karan (the younger brother of King Phidon of Argos and an eleventh-generation descendant of Heracles) or his son Perdiccas migrated from the Peloponnese to the north in the 7th century BC, where they founded their kingdom. Perdiccas ' son Argaeus gave his name to the dynasty. His distant descendant was Alexander III.

Until the fourth century BC, Macedonia was a small and weak kingdom, suffering from Thracian and Illyrian invasions from the north and Hellenic expansion from the south; although the Macedonians apparently spoke one of the dialects of Greek, the Greeks considered them barbarians. Alexander's grandfather Amyntas III, who belonged to the younger branch of the dynasty and seized power by killing his predecessor, retained his position only by maneuvering between different states of Hellas. His son Philip II was able to dramatically increase state revenues, create a strong army, subdue the princes of Upper Macedonia, defeat the northern neighbors and begin to conquer the Greek poleis one by one. Philip's wife and Alexander's mother was Princess Olympias of Epirus, daughter of King Neoptolemus I of the Pyrrhic dynasty, whose ancestry is traced back to Achilles. Thus, Alexander, both on the male and female lines, was considered a descendant of the gods and the greatest heroes of antiquity. The realization of this fact significantly influenced the formation of his personality.

Philip II was married a total of seven times, and lived with all his wives at the same time. Alexander's full sister was Cleopatra. In addition, Alexander had a half-brother Arridaeus (from Filinna of Larissa) and half-sisters: Thessalonica (from Nikesipolida of Pherae), Kinana (from the Illyrian Princess Audata), Europa (from Cleopatra). Arrydaeus was a year older than his brother, but he suffered from dementia, so Alexander was considered the only possible heir to his father.

Roman fresco with Alexander the Great, Pompeii, 1st century AD

State policy of Alexander the Great

Alexander used the death of his father to deal with all potential sources of threat to his power. Two Linkestids (representatives of the princely family from Upper Macedonia), Arraveus and Geromenes, were crucified on crosses at the grave of Philip. Aminta, Alexander's cousin and son-in-law, was killed; one source reports that the king's own brother, Karan, was also killed. Attalus was executed on charges of treason, and his fate was shared by all the closest male relatives. Finally, Olympias forced the last of Philip's wives, Cleopatra, to commit suicide, and ordered her newborn daughter to be killed. As a result, Alexander had no potential enemies left inside Macedonia. The new tsar attracted the nobility and people to his side by abolishing taxes, not paying attention to the empty treasury and 500 talents of debt.

At the time of Alexander's rise to power, the Kingdom of Macedon was a major territorial power: it included not only Lower Macedonia, but also Upper, as well as Thrace, part of Illyria, and the entire northern coast of the Aegean Sea, previously controlled by independent Greek poleis. Epirus (ruled by Philip's brother-in-law and son-in-law, who owed him the throne), the Thessalian League (Philip was his tagus), and the Corinthian League, which included the rest of Greece except Sparta and recognized Philip as its hegemon with broad powers. The Greeks formally submitted not to Macedonia, but to its king, and after the latter's death considered themselves independent. Macedonian enemies in Athens openly rejoiced at Philip's murder, and Thebes and Ambrace tried to drive out the garrisons Philip had left behind.

Greece and Macedonia in 336 BC

In this situation, Alexander acted decisively. He quickly marched south with his army, won his election as Lord of Thessaly, and then entered Central Greece and set up camp near Thebes. Not expecting this, the Greek poleis showed their submission and sent their delegates to Corinth, where the treaty concluded after the Battle of Chaeronea was confirmed. While maintaining formal independence, all of Hellas (except Sparta) was now subject to Alexander — the hegemon of the Corinthian Alliance and the autocratic strategist in the upcoming campaign against the Persians; many poleis admitted Macedonian garrisons.

Before returning to Macedonia, Alexander met the Cynic philosopher Diogenes in Corinth. According to legend, the king asked Diogenes to ask him what he wanted, and the philosopher replied:"Do not block out the sun for me." The tsar was so impressed by the philosopher's pride and greatness, who treated him with such disdain, that on the way back he said: "If I were not Alexander, I would like to be Diogenes." Later, Alexander also visited Delphi; he demanded from the pythia that she tell his fate, and heard "You are invincible, my son!".

Meanwhile, in the north, the Illyrians and Tribals were preparing for war. The king decided to launch a preemptive strike: in the spring of 335 BC, he moved a 15-thousandth army to Istra. In the battle of Mount Emon, Alexander defeated the Thracians, who held a strong position on the hill, and then defeated the Tribals. The ruler of the last Sirmas took refuge on the island of Pevka in Istra. The Getae had gathered on the northern bank of the river, and Alexander considered this a challenge: he had used improvised floating vehicles to ferry the army across the Istrian, defeated the Getae, and thus deprived the Tribals of their last hope of success. Accepting the surrender of this tribe, Alexander moved to Illyricum. There he besieged the fortress of Pelion, was surrounded by enemies, but was able to break through, and then deceptively lured the Illyrians from the hill to the plain and defeated them.

During this campaign (March—May 335 BC), Alexander demonstrated an outstanding generalship talent, the ability to improvise and an equally important ability to reliably control fairly large and diverse military contingents. P. Faure even calls this campaign "perhaps the most brilliant and rapid" in Alexander's biography. The king was able to completely secure the northern borders of Macedonia for the following years, replenished his army with Thracian, Illyrian and Triballian soldiers, and captured valuable loot. But in Greece, because of his long absence, there were rumors that Alexander had died. Believing this news, the Thebans revolted and besieged the Macedonian garrison under the Frurarch Philotas in Cadmea; the Athenians who supported them began negotiations for an alliance with the Persians, and the Polis of the Peloponnese moved their troops to the Isthmus. Alexander found out about this in Illyria and immediately moved south: it took him only 13 days to reach Boeotia.

When the Peloponnesians and Athenians learned that the king was alive, they immediately ceased hostilities; only Thebes remained, which did not want to surrender. In September 335 BC, Alexander, with the support of the other Boeotian poleis, laid siege to the city. With a combined strike from outside and from Cadmea, the Thebans were routed, and a real massacre took place in the streets, in which 6 thousand citizens were killed. Alexander left the fate of the city to his Greek allies to decide. They decided to destroy Thebes, leaving only Kadmea, divide the land among their neighbors, and turn the population into slaves. In total, 30 thousand people were sold; with the proceeds (approximately 440 talents), Alexander fully or partially covered the debts of the Macedonian treasury. No one else resisted Macedonia. The Greeks, impressed by the rapid victory of the king and the fate of the ancient city, in some cases brought to court politicians who called for an uprising. Alexander contented himself with demanding that the Athenians expel one speaker and returned to Macedonia, where he began to prepare for a campaign in Asia.

Related topics

Ancient Greece, Alexander the Great's military campaigns