Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Alexander 3rd of Macedon (356-323 BC)

1. Childhood: surprising education (356-340)
Alexander was born on July 20, 356, in Pella, the capital city of kingdom of Macedon in northern Hellenia. His father was Philip 2nd, its ruler.

Philip trusted the early education of his son to Leonidas. Leonidas believed in simplicity and self-discipline. Leonidas liked Alexander marching at night to build up an appetite for breakfast and eating only a light breakfast to still be hungry for dinner. Once Alexander liberally sprinkled a sacrifice with incense. Leonidas told him to use less until he controlled the region it came from. When he conquered that region, Alexander had tons of incense sent to Leonidas with the encouragement to sprinkle it liberally.

When Alexander was 10 years old, a trader brought a horse to his father but, when presented, it proved too wild to mount. Seeing that its own shadow had frightened it, Alexander took the reins, turned the horse, and got on it. Overjoyed, his father kissed him, encouraged him to go as far as his insight and courage would carry him, and bought him the horse. The horse, named Bucephalus (“Ox-head”) by Alexander, carried him as he battled all the way to today's Pakistan.

When Alexander turned 13, Philip hired Aristotle to teach him. For payment, Philip honored Aristotle's request to rebuild the philosopher's hometown, which he had destroyed, and to return its citizens whom he had sold into slavery or exiled.

Ptolemy, companion of Alexander during his conquests and later ruler of Egypt, studied with him under Aristotle. Not surprisingly, Aristotle taught the boys a wide range of subjects but Alexander most liked learning about Achilles and the IliadAristotle gave Alexander a copy of the Iliad, complete with his own notes, and Alexander kept it with him on all his journeys.

2. Youth: learning politics and war (340-336)
When Alexander turned 16, his father started giving him significant responsibilities in politics and war. Under his father's direction, Alexander suppressed revolts against his father's control, started new cities, repelled invading armies, and even once saved his father's life in battle.

In 338 Philip with Alexander marched his army south to take control of Thebes and Athens. Demosthenes, famous orator of Athens, foolishly persuaded the Athenians to fight. The Thebans foolishly agreed to join the Athenians rather than the Macedonians. At the Battle of Chaeronea, Philip's strategy and Alexander's action defeated them both.

After the victory at Chaeronea, all the remaining municipal states in southern Hellenia chose to welcome Philip's control—all except Sparta. Piqued, Philip warned that if he brought his army to Sparta, he would not spare crops, people, or city. The Spartans replied, “If.” Philip decided to leave them alone.

In 336 Philip's leading bodyguard murdered him and ran, only to trip and be murdered by those pursuing him. Political and military leaders unanimously declared their allegiance to Alexander as their new king.

3. Conquests (336-323)
Alexander began his rule by ordering the murder of rivals to his control. Unsympathetic while doing this, he still resented his mother's willingness to help, and the willingness of others to obey her orders, all without his permission.

Many municipal states recently conquered by Philip saw Philip's death as an opportunity to question Alexander's control. He led his armies against rebels in northeast Hellenia as far as the Danube River and rebels in the northwest as well. While he busied himself in the north, Thebes and Athens in the south also decided to rebel. In 335 Alexander had his army destroy all of Thebes except the house of Pindar who had honored his ancestor in a poem. Athenians quickly reversed their decision and swore unending loyalty to the son of Philip.

With all of Hellenia under his control, Alexander turned east. In 480 Xerxes had crossed the Hellespont west with an army to conquer Hellenia. Now in May 334 Alexander crossed the Hellespont east with an army to conquer the Persian empire. He stopped first in Troy to honor the Olympian gods at the tomb of his hero Achilles.

Alexander and his army soon battled a Persian army sent to stop him near Troy. During that battle, Alexander and some other mounted soldiers were momentarily separated from the rest of his army. During the intense fighting which followed, a Persian even stunned Alexander with a blow to the head. Cleitus the Black, a companion of Alexander, managed to kill the attacker before he could strike a second fatal time. Unknowingly, the Persians lost their empire to Alexander at that moment. He quickly regained his senses and his army won that battle and all that followed.

After his victory at the Battle of the Granicus (River), Alexander and his army occupied the provincial capital of Sardis, which the Athenians in 498 had helped burn down, and took the money in its treasury.

As he continued east, Alexander wintered in the city of Gordium. It possessed the Gordian knot: a knot so large and intricate that tradition said no one less than the man who would rule Asia could undo it. Hearing that, Alexander took his sword and undid it with a single decisive blow.

In November 333 Alexander met a much larger Persian army commanded by Darius, the Persian emperor, at the town of Issus on the northeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea. During the battle, when Alexander saw Darius, he quickly mounted a horse and galloped straight for him. Darius fled in panic. When his Persian soldiers saw that, they imitated him. The Hellenians then slaughtered them as they ran away. They also captured the mother, wife, and two daughters whom Darius had abandoned in his flight. Enriched by the captured treasury of the emperor, Alexander and his army continued south into the Levant and toward Egypt.

The beautiful, wealthy, and powerful Phoenician island-city of Tyre enjoyed a long history of avoiding conquest by imperial upstarts. Shalmaneser 5th, Assyrian ruler, had tried for five years (727-722) to take control of Tyre but had failed. Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of the Babylonians, creator of the famous Hanging Gardens, and destroyer of Jerusalem, had also tried to capture Tyre. After 13 long years (585-572), he too had admitted defeat and gone home. The Egyptians sporadically enjoyed attacking the city to little purpose.

On the basis of their hard-won experience and long memory, the Tyrians thought they would withstand Alexander too. They were wrong. They didn't recognize that Alexander posed a far more lethal threat than they had ever encountered before. After a siege of seven months, Alexander captured the city (August 332) and then had the men of military age killed and the women and children sold into slavery.

After that, many cities, including Jerusalem, peacefully accepted Alexander's control of them. Gaza didn't and suffered as the Tyrians had.

In January 331 the people and native leaders of Memphis greeted Alexander and his army as their liberators from Persian rule. They happily proclaimed him the Son of Jupiter and he graciously confirmed their insight. He also started the city of Alexandria on the Mediterranean in 331 before leaving Egyptia, never to return.

Alexander chased Darius to eastern Levantia. Darius dreaded meeting Alexander again in battle. He offered Alexander extravagant terms of peace: half the Persian empire, an unimaginable amount of gold, and his older daughter's hand in marriage. Parmenion, one of Alexander's generals, said he wouldn't hesitate to accept such a generous offer. Alexander said he'd accept it too—if he were Parmenion.

In October 331, Alexander, Darius, and their armies met for the last time at the Battle of Gaugamela (near today's Mosul, Iraq). Alexander's army proved victorious again, Darius fled the field and his empire, and afterward one of his own general's murdered him. Alexander advanced toward Babylon, captured it, and then traveled east beyond the limits of Olympia into Incognita (December 331).

Stories are told that, while Alexander was in that unknown land, he conquered cities, survived plots against his life, had Parmenion executed, murdered Cleitus the Black (who had once saved his life) in a drunken rage, turned back west (on August 31, 326) following the refusal of his army to advance east a single step more, and lost many men during the long march back across a desert. He and his men finally returned to Babylon in Olympia in the spring of 323.

Alexander became ill in late May 323 in Babylon. His condition worsened until he died on June 10th. While theories of poisoning abound, he likely died of typhoid fever. In late 322, while the sarcophagus containing Alexander's body was being returned to Macedon, his childhood friend and battlefield companion Ptolemy stole it and took it to Memphis in Egypt. Ptolemy 2nd, his son and successor, later moved the sarcophagus from Memphis to Alexandria. Both Julius Caesar and his adopted son Octavius visited Alexander's tomb there. It was seen as late as AD 200 before disappearing.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.