Who was Alexander? Part 1

Publié le par Tréguier

A brief biography of Alexander the Great






His youth 

Alexander was born in Pella , the capital of the Macedonian kingdom.

His father was Philip II, the shrewd king and general who conquered . He was a violent but cunning king, that successed in imposing his rule on his restless nobles, increasing the boundaries of his country and innovating in warfare. The relations between father and son were difficult, although Alexander recognized later the great deeds of his genitor. Hereabove is a picture of Philip.

His mother was Olympias, a brilliant and hot-tempered princess from western Greece. Olympias told Alexander that his ancestor was the hero Achilles. Throughout his life, Alexander carried with him a copy of the Iliad, a poem which told of the deeds of Achilles. Philip also taught Alexander that the Macedonian kings descended from the hero Heracles, who in Greek mythology was a son of the god Zeus. There are many stories about Alexander's life. Some are true, but others are legends. According to one story, the boy Alexander tamed the great horse Bucephalus. This magnificent steed later carried Alexander as far as , where it died. Alexander built a city there and named it Bucephala after the horse.






Alexander Education

In 343 or 342 B.C., Philip hired the great philosopher Aristotle to tutor Alexander. Aristotle may have encouraged Alexander's interest in other countries and peoples, as well as his curiosity about plants and animals. Alexander's education followed the Greek principle of "a sound mind in a sound body." He studied literature, philosophy, and politics, and he also received training in sports, physical fitness, and warfare. Alexander's official schooling ended abruptly at the age of 16, when his father called him away for duties in the government.

Alexander First encounter with War

In 338 B.C., the 18-year-old Alexander commanded the cavalry in Philip's army in the Battle of Chaeronea. Philip's Phalanxes crushed the greek allies. This battle brought Greece under Macedonian control. Philip next prepared to invade the Persian Empire in Asia. But before he could do so, Philip was murdered by one of his bodyguards. Thus, at the age of 20, Alexander became king of the Macedonians. After Philip's death, some Greek cities under Macedonian rule revolted.  


The Greek rebellion

In 335 B.C., Alexander's army stormed the walls of the rebellious city of Thebes, destroyed the city to the ground and murdered or enslaved all its citizens. About 30,000 inhabitants of the city were sold into slavery. Alexander's action against Thebes discouraged, for a time, rebellion by other Greek cities.


The Persian Campaign 


With Greece under control, Alexander turned to his father's plan for attacking the Persian Empire. In 334 B.C., he led an army of about 35,000 infantry and cavalry across the Hellespont frome Europe to Asia.

 (My 20mm Alexander...)

The Persians sent out troops that met Alexander's forces at the Granicus River.The picture below shows the "real" Granicus river (in fact not a river but a brook). Here, Alexander defeated the Persian general Memmon of Rhodes, a very able mercenary greek general in persian service, for the first time, in the spring of 334. There are two accounts of the battle. Usually, it is said that Alexander attacked directly across the river. The pictures show that this is impossible, because the banks are too steep to climb by cavalry. The other, more plausible story is told by the historian Diodorus of Sicily, who says that the Macedonians crossed the Granicus during the night, and attacked the Persians on the plain beyond the river. But attacking by the rear is probably less glorious than a front attack...

The Gordian Knot

After marching along the southern coast of Asia Minor, Alexander and his army headed north to the city of Gordium .

There, according to legend, Alexander found a wagon with an ox yoke tied by a tight, complex knot. An ancient prophecy said that whoever could untie this Gordian knot would become ruler of Asia . According to the most famous version of the story, Alexander first tried unsuccessfully to untie the knot and then drew his sword and cut it in a single stroke.

 (Remains of the Gordion citadel)











By 333 B.C., he had reached Issus.

(See also the page on Issus on this blog)

There, a hastily gathered army was awaiting him, led the Great King himself, Darius III, assisted by his best Satraps (locals leaders). The clash was huge and both army kept their positions for hours. The battle was still very much at issue when Alexander led a charge with his heavy cavalry straight at the center of the Persian army. It collapsed and, the king of Persia, Darius III fled. He was not captured but the bulk of the army was slaughtered.




(The river Payas, where the battle probably took place)

End of part 1


Eugene N. Borza, Ph.D., Prof. of Ancient History, Pennsylvania State Univ.

Additional resources

Ash, Maureen. Alexander the Great. Childrens Pr., 1991. Bosworth, A. B. Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great. Cambridge , 1988.

Green, Peter. Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C.: A Historical Biography. Univ. of California Pr., 1991. Reprint of 1974 revised edition.


Publié dans Les deux armées

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