King of Macedon, Hegemon of the Hellenic League, Pharaoh of Egypt, Shahanshah of Persia, Lord of Asia (356 BC – 323 BC)
Greece is a country of empires. Alexander III of Macedon founded such an empire. His stretched from Illyria to the Indus River, spanning 3 continents and dominating the entire known world at the time. At the age of 33, Alexander had achieved world domination and had spread Hellenism to the depths of Asia. Not even death could act as an obstacle to him. He passed to the world of myth and legend and became a God to all nations he conquered. Divine Alexander became a symbol of Hellenism and of the entire oecumene and was immortalized by history.
Several supernatural phenomena have been ascribed to Alexander’s birth. The first night of the wedding a thunder fell on Olympias’ abdomen and then came out a fire, whose flames spread inside the room in all directions until they vanished. In another occasion Philip dreamt of stamping a lion on OIympias’ abdomen. According to another myth, Philip saw a dragon inside Olympias’ bedroom when looking through the keyhole. During childbirth two eagles came and sat on the roof of the room of the labour. The latter was interpreted by the seer that the child born would rule two continents.
Alexander’s education was entrusted to Aristotle, who was a close friend of Philip. Aristotle taught him how to think. That the number of people is not the right criterion for the selection of a governor but his capabilities instead. That when we equilibrate those capable or ruling with those incapable of, in the name of equality, then we are being unjust to the former. Aristotle also taught Homer to Alexander, whom he deeply studied and respected. In fact, Alexander was so in love with the Iliad that he slept with it under his pillow, dreaming of becoming like Achilles and dominating the world. Except from Aristotle, other noteworthy philosophers were assigned teaching duties to Alexander, most notably Philiscus, a Cynic philosopher, Menaechmus, who taught geometry and Isocrates, who exchanged mail with him frequently.
Before ascending to throne, Alexander had already been acclaimed for his iron will, capabilities in battle and his spiritual development, all inherited from his father Philip. At the age of 16 he battled against the Byzantines and at the age of 18 he obliterated the Thebeans in the Battle of Cheronea and tamed Bucephalus, his trusted steed. When his father was assassinated, 20-year-old Alexander inherited the throne and put his father’s vision in motion. He had learned by his two great tutors, Isocrates and Aristotle that the Greek race possessed the power to rule over everything if it united in one force. Alexander made this into reality. In just 12 years, with 35.000 men and 160 ships he defeated the Persian Empire, which had been Greece’s major enemy for 200 years and reached the Himalayan Mountains.
He began his expedition by liberating all of the Greek cities of Asia Minor. Alexander’s genius and intuitive strategic thinking in the battles of Granicus, Issus, Gaugamela and Hydaspes proved him to be one of the greatest leaders in history. The Battle of Granicus was Alexander’s first major victory against the Persians. 18.000 Persians were killed compared to 105 Greeks. He conquered Palestine, Syria and Egypt. With the battle of Issus Alexander’s passage to Asia was opened. The battle of Gaugamela marked the downfall of the Persian Empire. It was the most decisive battle that changed history in just 1 day. After the Battle of Gaugamela, the three Persian capitols Persepolis, Babylon and Susa surrendered. Alexander was King of Asia. The Battle of Hydaspes was the last major battle he fought in against King Porus in the depths of India. Alexander is estimated to have fought in 120 battles, always fighting in the front line, acting as an examplar to his warriors. His presence caused fear to the enemy; simply in the sound of his name the enemy forces would retreat in panic. The Macedonian Phalanx, a military tactic created by his father, was used by Alexander as the ultimate weapon against the enemy forces. Combined with the insuperable bravery of his men, the Greek army was an unstoppable war machine which never lost even one battle.
As King of Asia, Alexander showed full respect to all religions and granted religious freedom to all nations. He bestowed justice and freedom to their customs and traditions, appointed locals to power, built 70 cities which bore his name, most notably Alexandria of Egypt, which later became the leading cultural center of all Hellenism, established a powerful economic system which included the foundation of the first insurance companies, showed special interest to philosophy and sciences and brought the light of the Greek civilization as well as the Greek language to the East.
Alexander’s unnatural death left his work unfinished in the hands of his trusted friends (Ἑταῖροι), who fought against each other for 2 centuries over their king’s empire. Eventually the kingdom disintegrated. The outcome, however, of his work still echoes today. Museums in modern Turkmenistan exhibit statues, ceramics, pottery, jewelry, coins and many more artifacts, depicting sceneries from the Greek mythology, Gods and Greek letters, as a result of the Greek influence. Numerous tribes such as the Nochouli in the borders of modern Iraq and Turkmenistan and the Pashtoun in Afghanistan and Pakistan all claim to be direct descendents of the Greeks as a result of Alexander’s epigamies (intermarriages). Their language, their customs and their traditions all possess remnants of the Greek civilization. In Afghanistan was found the city of Ai Chanoum where people spoke Greek while in Pakistan the Patans and the Kalas tribes, which are estimated to be over 12 million, not only have a myriad of Greek words in their language but they also have Greek names and their religion contains Greek deities such as Zeus, Athena and Hestia. They proudly say: “We imagine Alexander the Macedon as our father and we believe that our relatives are in Greece”.
Divine Alexander did not die. He lives in the legends and the myths of the worlds he ruled, who glorify him for his inconceivable accomplishments and his heroic virtues. For the Muslims, he is Iskander Dhul-Qarnayn, a figure empowered by God in the Quran. For the Christians he is the son of pharaoh Nectenavo while for the Egyptians he is the son of Amun-Ra. Alexander remains in the Greeks’ memory in the form of an allegorical legend, according to which his sister, transformed into a mermaid swims the seas and upon encountering a sailor asks them “Is King Alexander alive”? The sailor’s life is spared and he is granted a safe sail when he answers “He lives, he reigns and the world he rules!”.
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- Volonakis, Ioannis. The Great Leaders of Ancient Greece. Georgiades: Athens, 1997. Print.