Chapter Eleven: Alexander the Great
Alexander changed the world that the Greeks knew.
He died in 323 B.C, which marked the end of the Classical Period.
Philip II transformed Macedon into the leading military power in the region (controlled
his empire that stretched from the Danube River to central Greece). Philip II was
assassinated on the eve of his projected invasion of Asia. Alexander III was only 20 when
his father died (summer of 336 B.C). Even though Philip had other children from
different wives, Alexander was treated as his father’s heir throughout Philips rein.
Alexander was ready for this role. His father had him tutored by Aristotle (taught him
Greek literature and culture). From this, Alexander gained a love for Homer and the Iliad
and he became determined to equal or exceed his legendary ancestors (Heracles and
Achilles). Omens were said to forecast Alexander’s rule. His mother Olympias dreamed
that lightning struck her womb. Alexander also had practical training in kinship. He
governed Macedon in Philip’s absence and suppressed a Thracian rebellion. He also
commanded the companion (hetairoi) cavalry in the decisive Battle of Chaeronea in 338
B.C. Alexander’s succession was not assured. People claimed that Alexander and/or
Olympias had something to do with Philip’s assassination. There was talk of other
possible successors including the former king Amyntas IV. Antipater, Philip’s most
senior commander saved the succession for Alexander by quickly presenting him to the
Macedonian troops at Aegae for the traditional acclamation as king.
Battle of Granicus
Alexander invaded Asia in spring 334 B.C. His army was 37,000 strong: 12,000
Macedonian phalanx troops, 3,000 hypapists (royal guards), 1,800 companion cavalry,
9,000 allied Greek infantry and cavalry, fleet of almost 200 Greek ships.
Alexander was the first Macedonian to land on Asian soil. He placed his spear in
the ground as to claim the land. He then went to the traditional site of Troy, where he
sacrificed to Athena, asked pardon of the legendary Trojan King Priam for invading Asia,
and paid homage to his alleged ancestor Achilles.
In Macedon, Antipater governed for Alexander. Alexander’s second in command
in Asia was Parmenion (friend of Antipater and a former ally of Cleopatra’s family).
Alexander wanted a quick victory to achieve the goals of his campaign.
Alexander was almost killed by the Persians because he stood out wearing
Achilles armor. Cleitus the Black, brother of Alexander’s nurse saved Alexander. He
sliced off the arm of a Persian noble. The Persians lost. Alexander sent 300 suits of
Persian armor to Athens to display their victory and it was also a dedication to Athena.
Alexander’s forces went to the west coast of Anatolia. Lydia, Caria, and Lycia fell to
Battle of Issus
Alexander became very sick (brink of death) and so that delayed the departure of
the Macedonian army from Anatolia. When Alexander was sick, everyone realized his
importance in the army. Alexander chose to avoid confronting the forces of Darius III in Mesopotamia and instead he went south along the coast of Egypt. Alexander chose to
confront the Persian army at Issus at Cilicia, which is a narrow coastal plain. Darius’s
numerical superiority did not matter at this point. Callisthenes, a nephew of Aristotle
treated the Battle of Issus as a Homeric contest between Alexander and Darius. Victory
resulted from a cavalry charge led by Alexander. Darius was forced to abandon his army
and flee. The royal treasure stored at Damascus was now Alexanders. Alexander even
took Darius’s family: mother, wife, daughters, son, and heir to the Persian throne. Darius
wrote to Alexander asking for friendship and alliance for his family back and Alexander
From Issus to Egypt: Conquest of the Eastern Mediterranean (332-331 B.C.)
Alexander continued to conquer Syria, Palestine, and Judaea. Only Tyre and Gaza
resisted Alexander. Alexander surrounded and conquered Tyre. Tyre also suffered the
same brutal fate as Thebes: slaughter of most of the male population and sale of the
surviving women and children. Gaza suffered the same 2 months later. The fall of Gaza
gave Alexander the greatest prize of the first phase of his Asian adventure : Egypt
Alexander in Egypt
The Egyptians welcomed Alexander’s army during the march to Memphis, where
they played Greek styled games and sacrificed to Zeus. Alexander consulted the oracle of
Zeus- Ammon, who was one of the three principle oracles patronized by the Greeks. No
one knows why he wanted to see this oracle or what was said. Some ideas are that: he
desired to duplicate his legendary ancestor Heracles’ visit to the oracle, or to surpass the
Persian King Cambyses who had failed to conquer the oasis, or to obtain divine approval
for the new city of Alexandria. The Greeks equated Ammon with Zeus. Alexander
founded Alexandria and it was his final major act in Egypt. His actions in Egypt show
continuity between his policies there and those he followed in the territories conquered
earlier. Alexander had a model that he followed. The Macedonians held military power
and the Egyptians and Greeks only had civil authority.
From Alexandria to Persepolis: The King of Asia (331-330 B.C.)
After founding Alexandria, Alexander left Egypt to seek and final confrontation
with Darius III. Darius did his best to avoid battle, offering Alexander marriage to his
eldest daughter, cession of all territory west of Euphrates River, and an enormous ransom
for his family. Parmenion told Alexander to take this offer. Alexander did not want to
accept this offer, so Darius assembled another army to face the Macedonians. The two
armies met on October 1 331 B.C at Gaugamela in northeastern Iraq. Thanks to the
capture of the Persian plans in Darius’ headquarters after his defeat, the Battle of
Gaugamela is the best-documented battle in Greek history.
Darius changed his strategies hoping to win this battle but he did not. Darius ran
off to Iran. Alexander is the new king of Asia. Alexander captured Babylon, Susa, and
Persepolis in rapid succession. He treated these successions differently. Alexander
entered Babylon in triumph. As in Egypt, he wanted to offer sacrifice to Babylon’s chief
god Marduk and he ordered the reconstruction of his temple that the Persians had
destroyed. He rewarded the satraps who had surrendered Babylonia and Susa by leaving
them in their positions. Far different was the fate of Persepolis and it’s citizens. Persepolis was the spiritual centre of the Persian Empire where major rituals of
Persian rule such as the new year’s festival and the ceremonial presentation of their
tribute to the Great King by his subjects took place. Alexander and the Macedonians
torched the city’s palaces. A large entourage of noncombatants including slaves, women,
children, and entrepreneurs accompanied the army. It was decided that Persepolis would
be burned in revenge of the Persians’ destruction of Athens in 480.
The High Road to India: Alexander in Central Asia
Alexander had pretty much conquered everything at this point, he just needed to
kill Darius to have put an end to the long line of Archaemenid rulers.
The Death of Darius
Alexander’s strategy was clever and effective. Darius was assassinated and his
body was taken back to Persia to be buried with full royal honours. It was rumored that
Darius’ last wish was to be avenged by Alexander.
The Struggle for Bactria and Sogdiana (330-327 B.C)
Alexander’s ignorance of conditions in eastern Iran almost cost him everything he
had gained through his astute dynastic policy. Unaware of the close ties between the
people in eastern Iran and the Scythians and the intricate network of tribal relations in the
region, Alexander i