Alexander the Great: God of Youth and Ambition?

Alexander the Great: God of Youth and Ambition?

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Alexander III of Macedon, better known as Alexander the Great (356-323 BC), was a Macedonian king who ruled over an expansive empire that reached from Greece to the Gandharan regions of Pakistan. Alexander life is a fascinating story of a man who became a god.

He was tutored by Aristotle, from whom he learned much about philosophy as well as ancient Greek myths. This was probably where he derived his desires to bring civilization to what was considered Asia. This one desire was also what drove him farther than most had previously attempted, bringing further insight into what the West knew nothing of, as well as opening new trade through an area that would later be associated with the Silk Road.

Actions and Reactions Driven by Ego

Though the accounts written about him spoke of an intelligent, compassionate, strategic, and respectfully superstitious young man; he was also sometimes irrational, paranoid, and alienating. Alexander's attempts were purely driven by ego. However, this same drive inspired his armies to partake in his vision of bringing Greek culture to the east.

Alexander the Great battle relief. (Image: Brigida Soriano / Adobe Stock)

His addiction to conquest made him absent from his throne and inevitably drove him to his death at the age of 32. His legacy as a “Great King” only lasted 12 years. Alexander never left plans of who would succeed in his empire because he never imagined dying.

Alexander the Great’s dreams were to become an immortal god with worshippers all around the known world. This was why shortly after his death, with no heir left behind, his newly conquered empire demised into political chaos. His most loyal Macedonian Generals, who spent years fighting side by side, digressed into petty warlords hoping to carve up his newly acquired empire.

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They became vicious warring kingdoms struggling for relevance in a world without its king. Yet, even with the anarchy that followed his death, these same generals still made sure to respectfully ask Alexander’s spirit for his guidance and wisdom whenever they planned battles against each other.

How could a young man who died at 32 command such respect? How was it that Alexander's ambitions, the complexity of his character, and the mythic vision surrounding him live on for well over 2000 years? Was Alexander the Great a god on Earth?

Brief History and Early Life of Alexander the Great

It was said by the famed Greek historian Diorodus of Sicily that Alexander’s father’s side could be traced as direct descendants of Herakles. The lineage of his mother, Olympias of Epirus, could also allegedly be traced to the line of the Aeacus through Neoptolemus, having him contain ‘the physical and moral qualities of greatness.’

Additionally, Plutarch also mentioned that Philip had dreams of placing a pearl of thunder within his wife’s womb resulting in her birthing a lion. This was a dream which Plutarch also stated to be the prophecy made by the mother of Pericles upon his birth.

Though Alexander was admired as a conqueror and an ambitious man, these traits were not necessarily his own. His father Philip II of Macedon (382-336 BC) was just as ambitious, if not more; for his goal was to ascertain that his Macedonian Argead Dynasty grew in wealth and power and that this continued for generations to come. Philip II achieved plenty in his lifetime.

His efforts to create the league of Corinth were essential in his seizure of power and dominance over the Greek City-states. His ambition moving forwards was to invade and conquer Persia. However, he would never succeed in this task, for during a celebration for the marriage of his daughter Cleopatra of Macedon to a distant relative named Alexander I of Epirus, Philip was assassinated in 336 BC by his bodyguard Pausanis.

Philip II statue 350-400 AD. ( CC0)

Young Alexander was also thought a possible collaborator since his ascension to the throne seemed all too convenient. Given his devotion to the burial and funeral ceremonies for his father, as well as his quick pursuit of killing Attalus who had slighted Alexander through his actions in previous encounters; and in executing his infant half-brother Caranus, who had been born just five days before Phillip's assassination; Alexander soon proved himself to be a competent and honorable leader acting in both a brutal, but highly expected manor, of anyone in his position.

Alexander was able to assemble the Greeks and unite them under Philip's original plans for his campaign against Persia. The only group that stood against Alexander was the Lacedaemonians, who, as Arrian stated in his writings, were forbidden by Spartan customs to follow a foreign commander into battle. However, the immense support Alexander gained with the promise of taking the Persian Empire allowed him free authority over his allies' armies.

Conquest of the Persian Empire and Movements into Asia

Though Alexander’s political motions were apt, and his campaigns to gain support had proven successful, he was still grounded in his firm beliefs of the myths and faiths of the gods of each land. His personal superstitions were just as present in his actions as his military might, his influence, and his strategic intellect.

‘Alexander the Great in the Temple of Jerusalem.’

According to Plutarch, for Alexander to confidently cross into Asia, he had to first stop at Ilium to sacrifice animals to Athena and pour libations to the heroes. As a sign of respect for the ancient deities, he visited the alleged gravestone of Achilles and anointed it with oil. He worshiped Achilles and fashioned his own shield in the style of the Trojans. The respect given to these gods, especially as he entered Asia, was significantly crucial to his conscience. And in Alexander's mind, it would seem to provide luck in his campaigns throughout his life.

In 334 BC, Alexander crossed the Hellespont into Asia minor. He was accompanied by 48,000 allied and Macedonian hoplites, 6,000 cavalries, and a fleet consisting of 120 warships. In the following weeks, during the Battle of Granicus (modern-day western Turkey), Alexander defeated a Persian army composed of 40,000 units.

Half of these units were horsemen, while the other half was an arrangement of various soldiers. This victory resulted in Alexander being able to advance over the western coast and crippling the Persian Naval ports along the way. His campaign continued as he crossed into Taurus.

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In another instance of superstition and myth, it was said that in 333 BC Alexander entered the Phrygian, the capital of Gordium, after subduing their army. He then approached a relic that revealed itself to be an old wagon wheel with its yoke tied in a complicated network of knotted ropes fashioned from the thin bark strips of the Cornell tree. The locals told Alexander that it belonged to Gordius, the father of King Midas .

According to Arrian, the traditional belief of the knotted Gordian wagon was that anyone who loosened the ropes from the wheel was destined to conquer all of Asia. Given Alexander's respect for traditions and love of myths, he took it upon himself to try and solve this mystery.

Though the famed story that is remembered by most is that Alexander drew his sword and cut it loose, there is another version which is mentioned by both Arrian as well as Aristobulus. In this version, Alexander wasted no time trying to find the beginning of the ropes, but instead looked for the ‘hestor’, or pin, of the wagon pole, which dislodged the yoke and released the knots instantaneously. In both accounts, Alexander solved it.

Illustration of Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian Knot. ( Tony Baggett /Adobe Stock)

However, Astribulus's version places Alexander as more cunning than brutish. Regardless of the truth, his confidence in conquering the rest of Asia was now present in himself as well as in the minds of his followers. But he could have never guessed that these mythic self-inflicted tests and lesser victories were going to come at a price later on.

By 333 BC in the battle of Issus near modern-day Syria, Alexander faced Darius III, ruler of the Achaemenid Empire . Though Darius III’s army was significantly larger, Alexander was still able to defeat him. However, Darius III escaped from capture, leaving his empire open for Alexander, but not officially conquered.

Given that Darius III was in hiding, he had left his wife, two daughters, his mother Sisygambis, and his treasures vulnerable for the taking. Darius III sent envoys to negotiate peace, offering 10,000 talents for his family's safety and return to him, as well as full ownership of vast amounts of land.

Alexander ignored the envoys, but maintained courtesy to Darius's family and brought no harm to them while they remained his hostages. Alexander then continued his campaign conquering Syria, the Levantine coast in 332 BC, and finally Tyre. He then moved to take Egypt, where he was accepted with open arms as a savior.

Alexander the Great, God-King

There he was praised as a god. He was pronounced the son of Amun at the Oracle of Siwa Oasis in the Lybian Desert. With such blessing and the honor of being considered among the ancient gods, Alexander reveled in the title of being the son of Zeus-Ammon.

By 331 BC, he continued his campaign and moved into Northern Iraq in pursuit of Darius III and found his army at the Battle of Gaugamela. Once again, his army lost, and Darius III retreated to the mountains of Ecbatana, leaving Babylon open for Alexander to take.

The battle of Issus between Alexander and Darius of Persia. Floor mosaic, Roman copy after a Hellenistic original by Philoxenos of Eretria.

It was then, after he had conquered most of the Persian cities, that Alexander realized he had succeeded far more than what his father Philip II had initially dreamed. However, whether it was the curse for retribution bought forth by his luck or whether he himself grew careless through his glories in battle, Alexander had begun to experience betrayal and tragedy.

A Change of Luck

From Babylon, to Susa, and then to Persepolis, each city in the Persian empire slowly collapsed and gave in to the might of Alexander the Great. Each fallen city presented Persian gold and loot that almost seemed endless. However, during Alexander's five-month stay at Persepolis the eastern palace of Xerxes I caught on fire and spread to raze the city.

The tragedy was brought on by a drunken Alexander, who argued with his companion Hetaera Thais. As the city burned, Alexander watched with regret and then, in his humility, spoke with a fallen statue of Xerxes I, asking for advice on how to view the aftermath of the fire. Whatever was answered would remain between the statue and Alexander.

The pursuit of Darius III continued, but Alexander's dream of seizing glory was also robbed when Darius became less of an emperor and more of a refugee on the run. His fate left him to be taken prisoner by his Bactrian kinsman named Artaxerxes V. Before Alexander could free Darius III, Artaxerxes killed him and retreated into Central Asia; bringing the official end to the Achaemenid Empire and making Alexander the official king of Asia.

With a murmur of a win, rather than stopping at the far reaches of the Persian Empire, he pushed further into Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Media, Aria, Parthina, Drangiana, Bactria, Arachosia, and Scythia. His armies collected even more loot and gold. His trade routes further secured trades into the east, and with every establishment of a new Alexandria, his empire grew more prosperous.

Alexander the Great Founding Alexandria.

However, it didn’t satisfy his lust for conquest. Instead, it just pushed Alexander further away from his own subjects, his supportive generals, and his own way of life. Alexander the Great soon adopted Persian dress and customs.

Additionally, the praise Alexander was given as a living god further fed his ego. It was then he identified less as his Macedonian self, and his own generals began to plot against him. Assassination attempts were made in Afghanistan by Philotas in 330 BC, which resulted in his entire family being executed for treason.

Then in 328 BC, in Maracanda Uzbekistan, Alexander killed Cleitus the Black by throwing a spear into his heart after a long drunken dispute over hunting steppe nomads. It slowly appeared that Alexander was losing control of his inhibitions, as well as his officers. Callisthenes made a second attempt on his life of Olynthus. Alexander uncovered the plot and had all the people he thought were involved tortured on the rack until death.

Though he had brought immense wealth and prosperity to Greece through his newly formed Alexandria colonies, he called for more men to be collected and absorbed into his military machine - along with masons, architects, farmers, and engineers. He had given Greece and his newly formed empire no end of riches, but was purchasing the lives of his subjects to continue supporting his never-ending wars with new-found Asian kingdoms.

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Alexander Sets His Sights on India

By 327 BC, Alexander pushed further past Bactria, intending to conquer the Indian subcontinent. In an attempt to gauge the kingdoms of that region, he invited many chieftains to submit to Alexander's authority. However, only the ruler Ambhi of Taxila submitted to him.

Though Ambhi was true to his word and gave Alexander 5,000 men to aid in the battle of the Hydaspes River, it soon appeared that Alexander's reputation was quickly transformed from a young visionary into a vicious warlord who was hungry for world domination.

In 326 BC, Alexander the Great crossed into the Indus region in an attempt to challenge King Porus of Chenab (modern-day Punjab) in the battle of the Hydaspes. His victory was swift, and he was so impressed with Porus that he kept him alive and appointed him a Satrap.

Similar to the effect of Alexander’s previous wins, the moment word traveled of his victory in Hydaspes as well as his treatment of King Porus, further kingdoms fell with ease, allowing Alexander to continually gain territory and power. With all this accumulated wealth, trade routes, and praise, he still hungered for more. Rather than return home and call an end to his campaigns, he urged his army to continue further into the East.

With Alexander’s reluctance to stop in his obsessive pursuit, he geared towards a battle against the Nanda Empire and Gangaridai Empire. However, many of his closest friends were growing fearful of Alexander's behaviors and unending ambitions. The feeling of constant warfare for almost seven years at this point started to make his remaining men weary of continuing.

His men revolted and attempted mutiny at the Hyphasis River. The result was that his men no longer viewed him as their glorious leader, but as a delusional warlord who could not be satisfied with what he already had.

As the historian, Arrian mentioned:

"The sight of their king taking endless successions of dangerous and exhausting enterprises was beginning to depress them. Their enthusiasm was ebbing; they held meetings at camp, at which even the best of them grumbled at their fate, while others swore that they would go no further, even if Alexander himself lead them."

Given the odds of survival against the two empires, Alexander reluctantly agreed with his men and decided to turn south along the Indus region, marking the Hyphasis River as the final reaches of Alexander’s empire. Alexander trekked his men through the Gedrosian desert in the direction of Persia.

This trek lasted 60 days and cost the lives of three-quarters of his army. Whether this was an act of spite against his men who mutinied, or whether this was a failed attempt in hoping to fill the void in conquest (Cyrus the great once attempted to travel through the desert but failed), remains a source of debate to this day.

Alexander at the Tomb of Cyrus the Great.’

As Alexander the Great, “the living god”, found his way back to Persia, he saw the consequences of his neglect through his pursuit of conquest. Possibly Alexander began to realize the fragility of his authority. Though he continued to bring glory and riches, it amounted to nothing if there was no check and balance for the people he left in charge.

In 324 BC, to make amends for the executions he had ordered, Alexander held a mass wedding in the city of Susa, where he wedded his generals and people he trusted to Persian women of noble births.

In a further attempt to return home to Greece, he may have begun maturing as a leader and as a man. But, he would not ever make it back to Greece. Whether it was due to the hundreds of wounds he had collected over 15 years of conquest, or whether he was poisoned, Alexander was about to meet his maker. In the year 323 BC, in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon, Alexander the Great, the supposed god, died under mysterious circumstances.

Alexander Was No God

It is always a life worth studying when one watches their friends turn into their enemies, even if it is a young life spanning no more than 32 years. Alexander the Great was not a god, though he saw himself as one.

With Alexander, his life began with privilege, faith in the gods, and an unstoppable dream of conquest and glory. But in his pursuit of world domination, he alienated his generals, abandoned his responsibilities as a ruler, and died young.

Alexander the Great

OK, that's a bit of a fantasy. But it's not too unlikely that these came from Alexander's army. These arrowheads were unearthed in Macedonia and date to the 4th century B.C., the century when Alexander and his men conquered most of the known world.

Alexander is one of the most fascinating personalities in human history. Although he was the son of a king and inherited an empire that included most of the Greek city-states, Alexander's own conquests are what have made him admired, vilified, emulated, and studied for over two millennia.

Through the years, so many stories have been told and retold about Alexander the Great that he has become more like a character from Greek mythology than a real human being. This, I'm sure, would have made him very happy. Being a Greek hero was always his ambition.

Alexander's ambition

Growing up, Alexander was fascinated by Homer's Iliad. It was the character of Achilles -- the hero of the story and the exemplar of all manly virtues -- that especially attracted him.

Emulating the famous hero was apparently encouraged by his teacher, the great philosopher Aristotle. According to the Roman historian Plutarch, Aristotle personally annotated a copy of the Iliad for Alexander. Alexander kept it with him throughout all his later travels, even sleeping with it under his pillow.

Alexander's mother, Olympias, clearly encouraged him. This woman couldn't have been more meddling and ambitious for Alexander if she herself were a scheming goddess on Mount Olympus. In fact, she may have consorted with the gods. Or, at least, that's the rumor she spread.

Olympias informed her son that he was actually a descendent of Achilles. And probably Hercules, too.

And so, in keeping with his family tradition and the great expectations of his mother, Alexander looked for any opportunity to demonstrate his heroic strength and courage.

In one episode, his father -- Philip II of Macedonia -- was considering purchasing a magnificent black stallion. But the horse was too wild. Nobody believed it could be tamed. The 14-year-old Alexander decided he could do it. He leapt onto its back and started a 16-year relationship with the horse, which he named Bucephalas.

As the story goes, Philip was so proud of Alexander that he said to him: "My son, look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee."

Alexander inherits a kingdom

When Alexander was 16, Philip made him regent of Macedonia while he was off fighting the Persians. (Nominally at least, Philip's campaign was revenge for Xerxes' Persian invasion of Greece, some 150 years earlier.) While regent, Alexander crushed an uprising in Thrace.

When Alexander was 18, Philip left him in command of the left wing of the Macedonian army at the battle of Chaeronea. The battle was won, thanks in part to a courageous cavalry charge led by Alexander himself.

When Alexander was 20, Philip was assassinated. A guard plunged a spear into his chest. Some say it was a conspiracy orchestrated by Olympias.

And so, Alexander inherited a kingdom.

Alexander conquers his world

Inheriting a kingdom from his father didn't really please Alexander. What kind of hero gets everything given to him? This wouldn't satisfy Achilles or Hercules and it wouldn't satisfy him.

He got his first opportunity almost immediately. Some of the Greek city-states saw the ascension of the 20-year-old Alexander as a chance to regain their independence from the foreign Macedonians. By the way, "foreign" is how the Greeks saw the Macedonians, not how the Macedonians saw themselves. To this day, there's still contention over whether Macedonians are Greeks.

Alexander took care of the little rebellion post-haste. To set an example, he completely razed the Greek city of Thebes in 335 B.C., killing most of the population -- including women and children -- and enslaving those few left alive. After that the Greeks were happily united behind Alexander and he could focus his attention on expanding the empire.

He immediately began pushing east, against the old enemy Persia -- which his father never succeeded in defeating.

After winning a battle for the city of Gordium, Alexander is said to have solved the famously tricky Gordian Knot. He sliced through the thing with his sword rather than fool around it. A legend supposedly foretold that whoever solved this puzzle would rule all of Asia.

Alexander rapidly moved on to destroy the city of Tyre . push through Palestine, Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan . and conquer Egypt (or, depending on your perspective, "liberate" Egypt from the Persians). In bloody battle after bloody battle the Persian Empire and most of the known world fell to the hero Alexander and his Macedonian war machine.

Alexandria, Virginia to Alexander Beach, Washington

For his greater glory, Alexander founded some 70 cities in the lands he conquered and ordered them named after himself. Most famous, of course, is Alexandria in Egypt. In India, when his beloved horse died, he ordered a city to be built named Bucephala.

In 11 years, from 335 B.C. to 324 B.C., Alexander and his army battled their way across 22,000 miles.

For perspective on that distance, think about traveling across America eight times, say, from Alexandria, Virginia to Alexander Beach, Washington. (Although Alexander did not conquer North America it's interesting to note that there are nearly two dozen cities and towns here named Alexander or Alexandria.)

For most of Alexander's army these miles were traveled on foot. There's speculation that some of the grueling miles weren't even necessary, except to confirm Alexander's status as a hero.

In 324 B.C., Alexander decided to march his army through the barren wasteland of the Gedrosian desert in present-day Iran. Some say he could have made this trip easy by sailing his troops through the Persian Gulf instead, but he decided to go through the desert as a challenge -- because no one had ever successfully brought an army through it.

Although the number is probably widely exaggerated, the Roman historian Arrian claimed that three quarters of Alexander's men died during this misadventure in the desert.

Son of Zeus

As I mentioned above, Olympias had told her son that he was a direct descendent of Achilles, on her side. Later she revealed to him something even more dramatic about his lineage. Philip was not his real father. Zeus was his father.

Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, had come to Olympias in the form of a snake.

As a matter of fact, Philip did acknowledge that his wife would sometimes sleep with snakes in their bed. This may have been part of the reason for their estrangement. Around 336 B.C. Philip effectively "divorced" Olympias and fathered children without her. This was about the same time that Philip was assassinated and Alexander inherited his throne.

In 331 B.C., the Egyptian oracle at Siwa confirmed that Alexander was the son of the Zeus. Actually, the oracle confirmed that he was the son of Ammon, but Ammon is the Egyptian equivalent of Zeus in nearly as clear a way as Jupiter is his Roman equivalent.

Was Olympias schizophrenic? Was Alexander a crazed megalomaniac?

Maybe, but they did have a quite practical reason for claiming that Alexander was a god or demi-god, and may or may not have ever believed it themselves. It helped Alexander rule.

Alexander's divine reputation helped him keep his tenuous hold over the people in his vast and disparate empire. It was an early precursor to the European monarchs' claims about the divine right of kings.

Grief, ennui, and death

For Alexander, the beginning of the end came when his best friend Hephaestion died of a fever. Hephaestion had been his close companion since they were teenagers. Many scholars say that Alexander and Hephaestion were lovers.

Hephaestion's death was devastating to Alexander.

Since this seems a bit extreme, even for a best friend and lover, some historians have speculated that Alexander was imitating the extravagance of Achilles when he grieved over the death of his best friend and lover Patroklos.

According to the Iliad, to satisfy his heroic grief, Achilles supposedly killed Trojans by the hundreds, beheaded children, and dragged the body of Hektor, Patroklos's killer, around and around Patroklos's body for a week or two.

This is not what Alexander wanted. He was supposed to be a hero. He had no interest in sitting on a throne administering to the business of an empire. He wanted to be on his horse, sword in hand, conquering new lands.

Alexander reluctantly spent the next year in Babylon, without Bucephalas, without Hephaestion, and without the action and glory of battle.

Perhaps the inertia ate away at his soul. Plutarch writes that Alexander "lost his spirits, and grew diffident of the protection and assistance of the gods, and suspicious of his friends."

Alexander drank heavily, and in a weakened state he caught a fever. After twelve days of suffering he died in Babylon at the age of 33.


And the Macedonian people have never seen much peace or freedom. They've been under the feet of ambitious conquerors from the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, and the Turkish Empire. More recently, their country was carved up between the world wars and made a part of communist Yugoslavia.

But Alexander did win his glory. He fulfilled his ambition.

He is quoted as saying, "I would rather live a short life of glory than a long one of obscurity."

That's exactly what he got. 2,300 years later we remember him as a legendary, mythic figure.

Beginnings of the soldier

Alexander's education at Mieza ended in 340 B.C.E. . While Philip was away fighting a war, he left the sixteen-year-old prince as acting king. Within a year Alexander led his first military attack against a rival tribe. In 338 he led the cavalry (troops who fight battles on horseback) and helped his father smash the forces of Athens and Thebes, two Greek city-states.

Alexander's relationship and military cooperation with his father ended soon after Philip took control of the Corinthian League. The Corinthian League was a military alliance made up of all the Greek states except for Sparta. Philip then married another woman, which forced Alexander and Olympias to flee Macedon. Eventually Philip and Alexander were reunited.

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Alexander and Diogenes (Credit: Getty Images)

Alexander’s father, Philip II of Macedon, hired Aristotle, one of history’s greatest philosophers,, to educate the 13-year-old prince. Little is known about Alexander’s three-year tutelage but presumably by the end of it Aristotle’s wise but worldly approach had sunk in. According to legend, while still a prince in Greece, Alexander sought out the famed ascetic Diogenes the Cynic, who rejected social niceties and slept in a large clay jar. Alexander approached the thinker in a public plaza, asking Diogenes if there was anything he in his great riches could do for him. “Yes,” Diogenes replied, “stand aside you’re blocking my sun.” Alexander was charmed by Diogenes’ refusal to be impressed, stating, “If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes.”

Years later, in India, Alexander paused his military conquests to have lengthy discussions with the gymnosophists, “naked philosophers” from the Hindu or Jain religions who eschewed human vanity𠅊nd clothing.

Maternal maneuvers

Since Philip was frequently absent on campaign, Olympias took on a greater role in raising her son, who probably knew his mother better than his father. Plutarch described Alexander’s relationship with Philip as competitive but affectionate. Philip treated Alexander like his heir. He chose Aristotle as Alexander’s teacher, then left the 16-year-old in charge of Macedonia (with the assistance of his general Antipater) while Philip was off on campaign. A little later, in 338, Philip chose Alexander, then age 18, to play a decisive role in the great Macedonian victory at Chaeronea. (Did boys and girls receive the same education in ancient Greece?)

Yet the apparent security and prestige of Olympias and Alexander suddenly seemed to vanish on the occasion of Philip’s seventh marriage to a Macedonian woman, Cleopatra Eurydice. Philip had married many times, so yet another marriage was not necessarily a problem for Alexander (he was apparently invited to the wedding festivities), but this was Philip’s first marriage to a Macedonian woman, one with an ambitious guardian. It was another marriage alliance, this time an internal one.

At the wedding, the wine flowed freely for Philip and his guests. The uncle and guardian of the bride, a Macedonian general named Attalus, asked those assembled to join him in a toast that the new marriage might bring to birth a legitimate successor. Alexander sprang up enraged, demanded to know if Attalus was calling him a bastard, and threw a cup at him. Philip attempted to draw his sword on his own son and failed because he was so drunk he tripped, and Alexander mocked him. After this drunken brawl, Olympias and Alexander went back to Molossia.

Exactly what the drunken Attalus meant by his insult is unclear: He could have been charging Olympias with adultery or insinuating that Alexander, the son of a foreign woman, was therefore not legitimate. He simply could have meant that any child born of this new marriage to his niece would be more legitimate than Alexander. His exact meaning is difficult to ascertain, as is Philip’s reasoning for supporting Attalus’s very public insult of his current heir. (How Alexander the Great's fear of losing power helped erode his empire.)


  1. Peter Green, Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C. A Historical Biography, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), xxxiii-xxxiv.
  2. Ian Worthington, Alexander the Great: Man and God, (New York: Routledge, 2004), cviii.
  3. Worthington, Alexander the Great, cviii.
  4. Carol G. Thomas, Alexander the Great in His World, (Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2007), 19.
  5. John Watson McCrindle, The Invasion of India by Alexander the Great as Described by Arrian, Q. Curtius, Diodoros, Plutarch and Justin, (Westminster: A. Constable and Company, 1893), 316.
  6. “Alexander the Great,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, accessed July 24, 2017,
  7. Liliane Bodson, “Alexander the Great and the Scientific Exploration of the Oriental Part of His Empire: An Overview of the Background, Trends and Results,” Ancient Society, 22 (1991): 134, accessed July 27, 2017,
  8. W.W. Tarn, Alexander the Great: Volume 2, Sources and Studies, vol. 2, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1948), 394.
  9. Robert B. Strassler and James Romm, eds., The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander, trans. Pamela Mensch, (New York: Anchor Books, 2012), 312.

Does the Bible mention Alexander the Great?

The name “Alexander” or “Alexander the Great,” referring to the Macedonian king, never appears in the Bible. However, the prophets Daniel and Zechariah wrote prophecies concerning Greece and Alexander’s Macedonian Empire. The non-eschatological prophecies in Daniel have proved so reliable that some critics have tried to post-date his writing, even though copious literary, historical, and biblical factors point to a date of writing in the sixth century B.C. (see the third paragraph of this article). Zechariah, writing sometime between 520 and 470 B.C., was also well before Alexander’s rise to power.

World History Surrounding Alexander the Great

Alexander’s legacy was quickly made, briefly lived, and has lasted to this day. Born in 356 B.C. and dying 32 years later, he only reigned for 13 years – the vast majority of which he spent outside of his home state of Macedon. His legendary conquest of nearly the entire known world resulted in one of the largest empires in ancient history. Alexander overthrew the entire Persian Empire: Asia Minor, Persia, Egypt and everything in between, including Israel. Alexander died undefeated in battle but without a clear heir, which led to the division of his empire among four of his generals.

Although Alexander’s empire split, the Hellenism he spread continued. Greek became the universal language, and Greek culture was either required or encouraged in all parts of the divided empire. Israel changed hands between the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms. Israel later gained its independence from 167&ndash63 B.C., a time referred to as the Hasmonean Period and recorded in the apocryphal books of 1 and 2 Maccabees. The end of this period was marked by the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 63 B.C.

Prophecy Regarding the Empire

Daniel discusses a great deal of then-future events which, as mentioned above, have proved true. By God’s inspiration, Daniel predicted that there would be a succession of four “global” empires. His prophecy included many details, including the fact that the Greek Empire would split into four parts.

The Four-Kingdom Succession:

Daniel chapter 2 tells of Daniel’s interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a large statue made of a gold head, silver chest and arms, bronze belly and thighs, and iron legs. Each of these metals is progressively less valuable and represents a different kingdom, the first of which Daniel identifies as Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar’s empire. From our vantage point in history, we now know the four kingdoms are the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman empires.

The Greek Conquest and Split:

Daniel also received a vision of the demise of the Medo-Persian Empire, which had, in 539 B.C., overtaken the Babylonian Kingdom. God specifically names the Medo-Persian and Greek empires in Daniel 8:20-21 and 10:20&ndash11:4. The first half of chapter 8 is a highly symbolic passage about a ram and a goat. The ram had two horns, one longer than the other, representing the empire of the Medes and the Persians (Daniel 8:20), and “none could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great” (Daniel 8:4).

Then a goat “came from the west” (Daniel 8:5) with a single horn between its eyes. The horn represents the king, Alexander. The goat killed the ram and “became very great, but at the height of his power his large horn was broken off” (Daniel 8:8) – a prediction of Alexander’s untimely death. In Daniel’s vision, the single horn is replaced with four new horns, which are “four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation but will not have the same power” (Daniel 8:22). The four new kingdoms are mentioned again in Daniel 11:4, which says that “his [Alexander’s] empire will be broken up and parceled out toward the four winds of heaven. It will not go to his descendants, nor will it have the power he exercised.” These passages describe, two centuries in advance, precisely what happened to Alexander and his empire.

Approximately 250 years before Alexander began his world conquest, God provided Daniel with a glimpse into the future. This was important to Daniel and his people, as God also told them that they would return to their land and He would take care of them through the coming tumultuous times. Kingdoms rise and fall, but God holds the future, and His Word stands.

The School of Pages and the youth of Alexander the Great

After the age of 14, Alexander the great attended the School of Pages for higher education. The school was founded by his father for educating the young lads of the major Macedonian noble families.

The pupils from these families would move to Pella court to be educated militarily with the crown prince about the most wanted Greek values.

Throughout these years in the School of Pages, these young people became personal assistants of the prince. They all learned together, shared tables, guarded and even fought at the prince’s side.

Being a part of the royal pages was a great honor for a Macedonian family. So nobody could deny this opportunity.

With such an arrangement, Philip II achieved two objectives including a long term and a short term goal. Firstly, it would produce a sense of fidelity, friendship, and companionship in the families for the future king.

Also, the school guaranteed the flourishment of loyalty and good behavior in these families towards their son when he is in power.

What is Alexander the Great’s legacy?

Spencer Day examines how Alexander left his mark on the lands he conquered…

According to Plutarch, Alexander the Great founded 70 towns and cities, including at least 16 that he modestly named Alexandria.

For centuries, historians and military strategists alike have extolled Alexander’s genius as a soldier, and rightly so. But, for all that, perhaps his greatest impact on human history derives not from his brilliance as a commander but as a supreme cultural ambassador.

Alexander didn’t simply wipe cities from the face of the Earth, before moving on to the next target – not all the time anyway. Instead, he left colonies of fellow Macedonians to administer conquered population centres, and they went about disseminating Greek methods of expression and thinking.

As a result, peoples from modern-day Turkey through Asia Minor all the way to India played Greek sports, watched Greek theatre, mimicked Greek art and adopted Greek scientific practices. In many cases, they continued to do so for centuries.

The cities of Ai Khanum in what is now Afghanistan and Philoteris in Egypt may have been separated by some 3,000 miles but they both boasted Greek gymnasiums. Ai Khanum was also home to an Acropolis, a theatre and library – a direct consequence of Alexander’s extraordinary conquests.

Alexander’s incursion into India was brief and bloody, but its impact on the subcontinent’s culture was significant. It inspired the anthropomorphic representation of the Buddha in Indian sculpture and the appearance of Greek mythological figures, including Herakles, in Buddhist literature. It may even lie behind Indian astrologers’ adoption of the signs of the zodiac.

It seems that Alexander’s cultural impact may even have spread beyond the borders of his massive empire, perhaps seeping into China. The theorem of Pythagoras reached the Chinese within decades of Alexander’s death, and it’s thought that the Terracotta Army may have been influenced by Greek models.

But perhaps Alexander’s most enduring cultural legacy was the fact that, for a thousand years, Greek became the ‘lingua franca’ of the near east. As a result, when the Christian New Testament was first recorded, it was written down in Greek, the very language that Alexander had himself spoken hundreds of years earlier.

This article is curated from content first published by HistoryExtra, BBC History Revealed and BBC History Magazine

Alexander the Great: God of Youth and Ambition? - History

Alexander the Great was the king of Macedonia or Ancient Greece. He is considered one of the greatest military commanders in history.

When did Alexander the Great live?

Alexander the Great was born on July 20, 356 BC. He died at the young age of 32 in 323 BC having accomplished much in his short life. He reigned as king from 336-323 BC.

Childhood of Alexander the Great

Alexander's father was King Philip the II. Philip II had built up a strong and united empire in Ancient Greece, which Alexander inherited.

Like most children of nobles at the time, Alexander was tutored as a child. He learned mathematics, reading, writing, and how to play the lyre. He also would have been instructed on how to fight, ride a horse, and hunt. When Alexander turned thirteen, his father Philip II wanted the best teacher possible for him. He hired the great philosopher Aristotle. In return for tutoring his son, Philip agreed to restore Aristotle's home town of Stageira, including setting many of its citizens free from slavery.

At school Alexander met many of his future generals and friends such as Ptolemy and Cassander. He also enjoyed reading the works of Homer, the Iliad and the Odyssey.

After securing the throne and getting all of Greece under his control, Alexander turned east to conquer more of the civilized world. He moved swiftly using his military genius to win battle after battle conquering many peoples and rapidly expanding the Greek empire.

  • First he moved through Asia Minor and what is today Turkey.
  • He took over Syria defeating the Persian Army at Issus and then laying siege to Tyre.
  • Next, he conquered Egypt and established Alexandria as the capital.
  • After Egypt came Babylonia and Persia, including the city of Susa.
  • Then he moved through Persia and began to prepare for a campaign in India.

Alexander only made it back to Babylon where he became suddenly sick and died. No one is sure what he died from, but many suspect poison. Upon his death the great empire he had built was divided up amongst his generals, called the Diadochi. The Diadochi ended up fighting each other for many years as the empire fell apart.

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