Alexander the Great: Biography, History, Power & Death

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Alexander the Great: Biography, History, Empire, Power & Death

Alexander the GreatKing of Macedonia and commander of the Corinthian League.

Portrait of Alexander the Great
Birth 356 BC. Pela, Macedonia.
Death 323 BC. Babylon.
Occupation King of Macedonia, commander of the Corinthian League army, emperor of the Greek-Macedonian Empire.
Cause of Death Malaria

Who was Alexander the Great?

Alexander III of Macedonia, better known as Alexander the Great, was king of Macedonia and commander of the Corinthian League.

In 334 BC, he led a military campaign that allowed him to conquer the Achaemenid Persian Empire and replace it with an even more extensive Empire, which ranged from Greece and Macedonia in the west to the Indus River in the east.

During his thirteen-year reign, he founded some 70 cities, fifty of which were named after him. The most famous of all is Egyptian Alexandria, located on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

Alexander is considered the most brilliant general and strategist of antiquity. His charisma and conquests have inspired the great military conquerors of all time, from the Roman Julius Caesar to the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

Alexander the Great: Education and Rise to Power

Alexander was born in Pella, the capital of the Macedonian kingdom, in 356 BC. His father was King Philip II, who inherited his ambition and his military skills. His mother, the Epirot Olympia, convinced him that he was a descendant of Achilles, the Greek hero who fought in the Trojan War.

Philip was concerned that Alexander received a Greek-type education that alternated military training and physical exercises with great intellectual training. One of his teachers was the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who transmitted his love for the heroes of the Homeric poems.

At sixteen, Alexander the Great occupied the regency of Macedonia and at eighteen, he led a body of his father’s army in the battle of Querónea, which in 338 BC marked the submission of ancient Greece and the founding of the Corinthian League.

image of The artist Apelles painting Alexander and his concubine Campaspe.

The artist Apelles painting Alexander and his concubine Campaspe. Work of the neoclassical French painter Jacques-Louis David.

The Conquests of Alexander III

In 336 BC Filipo was assassinated during the wedding of his daughter Cleopatra. At the age of twenty, Alexander inherited the Macedonian throne, but immediately faced a rebellion from the Greek cities.

Alexander forced marches southward and ruthlessly suppressed the rebellion: Thebes was destroyed, all its men killed and the women, children, and the elderly sold as slaves. Thus, Alexander imposed his absolute authority over all Greece, except Sparta, which remained independent.

In 334 BC, Alexander gathered about 40,000 men, with whom he passed to Asia Minor. Alexander‘s army defeated the troops assembled by several Persian satraps in the battle of the Granic River. After this triumph, he liberated the Greek cities of Asia Minor.

The Persian king Darius III assembled a powerful army and waited for Alexander at the gates of Syria. But he was defeated at the Battle of Issos and before the fighting was over, he fled to Persia.

Alexander advanced south, occupying Syria, Phenicia, and Palestine. The only delay was in Tire, where it took seven months of siege to subdue it.

From Palestine, Alexander marched to Egypt, where the local priests welcomed him as a deliverer. While his troops were taking a break, Alexander visited the oracle of the god Amun, where he received the prediction of great victories.

After leaving Egypt behind, Alexander crossed the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and in 331 BC won a decisive victory over the Persians at the Battle of Gaugamela (Also known as: Battle of Arbela).

After his coronation as king of kings, in 330 BC, Alexander marched after Darío III, that had fled towards the east. But the Persian king was assassinated by Bessos, satrap of Bactriana. After executing Bessos and conquering Bactriana and SogdianaAlexander advanced towards India, where in 326 BC, defeated the local king Poros, in a mythical battle in which he fought against an army that had hundreds of elephants.

Alexander then seized the Indus Valley and tried to reach the Ganges. But his men, tired after many years of marches and a lot of fighting, did not want to continue advancing towards the east.

Roman mosaic showing Alexander the Great fighting at Issos

Roman mosaic showing Alexander the Great fighting at Issos. It is in the House of the Faun, in the ruins of Pompeii.

Alexander’s Empire

After returning from India, Alexander installed his capital in Babylon, being the geographic center of his empire. There he established a centralized government, dressed in oriental clothes and demanded all his subjects to bow down in his presence. Thus began the cult of the ruler, something that would be ordinary in Hellenistic times.

Restless due to the cultural diversity of the population of his empire, he tried to unite the peoples who inhabited it. He then promoted mass marriages between Greek and Macedonian officials and Persian women. He took three Asian wives: Roxana, a Bactrian princess; Parisatid, daughter of the Persian king Antaxerxes III; and Estateira, one of the daughters of Daríus III. He also ordered thousands of young Persians to be instructed in Greek culture, allowing them to join his armies.

Map of the Empire of Alexander the Great.

Empire of Alexander the Great.

Death of Alexander of Macedonia

At the beginning of June 323 BC, Alexander became seriously ill after having participated in a banquet in which he drank too much. He was in agony for ten days, during which he had several peaks of fever. He died on June 11 when he was just 32 years old.

There are several theories about the causes of his death. Some authors maintain that he was poisoned by Cassander, son of Antipater, regent of Greece. Others, that he had a relapse of malaria that he contracted in 336 BC. There is no shortage of those who maintain that he suffered from acute pancreatitis.

As Alexander the Great had no legitimate successors, after his death, his generals fought each other for control of the Empire. During those fights, all his relatives and descendants were killed, and the Empire fell apart.

Alexander‘s body was embalmed and placed in a golden sarcophagus, which was covered by a purple cloak. The sarcophagus along with its armor were placed in a golden carriage that was transported to Macedonia. But on the way, the funeral procession was attacked by one of Alexander‘s generals, Ptolemy, who stole the sarcophagus, took it to Egypt, and deposited it in Alexandria. There it remained until the end of the 4th century, when it mysteriously disappeared.

  • Bravo, Gonzalo. History of the ancient world . Madrid, Alliance. 2008.
  • Lane Fox, Robin. Alexander the Great. Conqueror of the world . Barcelona, ​​The Cliff. 2015.
  • Manfredi, Valerio Massimo. Alexander’s tomb. The riddle . Barcelona, ​​Grijalbo. 2011.
  • Renault, Mary. Alexander the Great . Barcelona, ​​Folio Editions. 2004.
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