Alexander the Great Biography
ALEXANDER, THE GREAT (365-323 B.C.). King of Macedonia and conqueror of the eastern world, son of Philip II of Macedon (q.v.) and of Olympias, au Epirot princes. At Alexander's birth his father had already established his position as King of Macedonia., had made great progress in developing his army, and had begun the extension of his kingdom to the eastward, so that he possessed the rich gold mines in Mount Pangæus. The yearly revenue of 1000 talents from these mines made feasible his policy of expansion. Though a thoroughgoing Macedonian, Philip was still possessed of genuine Greek culture; doubtless, while a hostage at Thebes he had learned much beside military and political wisdom. He chose Aristotle as his son's tutor. How far the teacher influenced the pupil we cannot determine; he undoubtedly gave him a thorough training in rhetoric and literature-he may have inspired that love for the Hellenic past which characterized Alexander later; but it is improbable that Alexander's far-reaching ambition for conquest gained the sympathy of Aristotle. In the summer of 336 B.C. Philip was assassinated; that the murder was instigated by Olympias, whom Philip had put away in favor of the niece of his general Attalus, there is little doubt. Philip had gained a remarkable position for a Greek ruler. He had extended his empire eastward, had made Thrace tributary, and had tried to capture Byzantium. Thessaly was dependent on him; he had gained a place in the Amphictyonic Council; and, by his victory at Chæronea (August, 338) , he had made himself the head of all Greece, a position formally recognized by the Congress of States at Corinth in the following year. The greatest legacy, however, which he left his son was the large conception of a Panhellenic empire.
At his accession Alexander found himself surrounded by enemies at home and threatened by dangers abroad. The subject States were planning to revolt, and Greece hated the Macedonian hegemony. But the hands of assassins cleared away his domestic enemies. With the greatest speed he descended to the south; before the summer closed he had reestablished Macedon's position in Lower Greece and had been elected by the Congress at Corinth to his father's place as General of the Greeks against the Persian (336). The next year he speedily carried out a successful campaign against the defecting Thracians, and penetrated to the Danube. On his return he crushed in a single week the threatening Illyrians and then hurried into Greece, for certain States had been negotiating with Persia. When a report spread that Alexander was dead, the Thebans sought to throw off the Macedonian yoke. Alexander hastened from Illyria to Thebes, defeated the Thebans, and captured the city. In September, in accordance with a vote of the Congress of Corinth, he razed Thebes to the ground, sparing only the house of the poet Pindar. This prompt action ended all positive resistance in Greece and left Alexander free to enter on his eastern campaigns.
At the beginning of 334 he crossed to Asia Minor, where his generals had already gained a foothold. To secure Macedonia and Greece he had been forced to leave behind a considerable portion of his army; only 30,000 foot and 5000 horse, it is said, followed him, yet these were undoubtedly skilled veterans. His ships numbered but 160, which were so inadequate to combat the 400 galleys of the Persians that he soon disbanded them. After visiting the site of ancient Troy and making offerings there, he advanced in early summer to meet a Persian force at the river Granicus. He was victorious and then proceeded to the conquest of Asia Minor. The prompt surrender of Sardis, without resistance, gave him the satrapy of Lydia, and Miletus soon fell. Halicarnassus resisted stubbornly for a time; but finally the defenders withdrew after firing the city. At the close of the summer's campaign Alexander marched into Lycia, which yielded at once, and then advanced through Pamphylia and Pisidia to Celænæ and Gordium, where with a stroke of his sword he loosed the famous knot and entitled himself to become the lord of Asia. See GORDIAN KNOT.
Gordium was the mustering point for the year 333. Alexander led his reassembled army first into Cappadocia, where he received the submission of Paphlagonia, and then advanced to the "Cilician Gates." By a ruse he caused the hostile force here to retire and entered Tarsus unopposed. All Cilicia was soon secured. Thus in less than two summers the greater part of Asia Minor had been won and Alexander had taken the first step in his plan of conquest. The next was to advance by way of Syria to the subjugation of Egypt; this accomplished, Alexander could proceed against Babylon and Susa. But the Great King had assembled a vast host to check the invader. Battle was joined in the little plain of Issus, where the enormous numbers of the Orientals could not be employed to advantage. The day was decided by Alexander's attack on that part of the line where Darius was in his war-chariot (this scene is portrayed in a famous Mosaic, now in the Museo Nazionale at Naples). The Great King turned and fled, while the Greeks drove all before them. The mother, wife, and children of Darius fell into Alexander's hands, but were treated by him with the respect due royalty. While this victory at Issus opened the way to Syria and Egypt, it was far more valuable to Alexander in the prestige it gave him. Darius himself wrote to Alexander, complaining that Alexander had been an unprovoked aggressor, begging for the return of the royal captives, and proposing to make a treaty of alliance. To Alexander the letter seemed to have, after all, a tone of condescension, and his reply was a stern command to Darius, his defeated foe and subject, to come to him and offer submission.
Alexander was not lured aside to pursue and crush Darius, but moved against Syria, and against the Phoenician towns, especially Tyre and Sidon. Sidon had been reduced by Persia a few years before, so that she welcomed Persia's new foe, who accepted her submission and restored her former territory and rights. The Macedonian army reached Tyre at the end of 333; when this city declined to receive Alexander, it was at once invested. The siege lasted from January to the end of July, 332; again and again the attackers were beaten back, but at last the city fell before a concerted onslaught. Alexander now could advance on Egypt, since Syria was secure. Gaza alone offered stubborn resistance, but succumbed after a siege of some weeks.
About November, 332, Egypt, now wholly cut off from Persia, was reached, and the Persian satrap promptly yielded. At Memphis Alexander was crowned king; he then sailed down the Nile to Canopus and founded a new city bearing his name. (See ALEXANDRIA.) This he intended to become the new capital of Egypt and to supplant Tyre as the emporium of trade. History has shown how wisely the site was chosen and the city planned, but the most significant immediate result was the transfer of commerce from the Phoenicians to the Greeks. Presently Cyrene sent Alexander her submission, so that his influence extended to Carthaginian territory. Early in 331 he visited the shrine of Ammon-Rê in the Libyan desert (see Ammon), where tradition says the god acknowledged him as his son, thereby giving him divine title to succeed the Pharaohs.
The following spring Alexander returned to Tyre, where he was occupied with questions of organization. Then he started for Babylon with 40,000 foot and 7000 horse. Early in August he reached the Euphrates, then advanced across northern Mesopotamia, and marched down the banks of the Tigris. At last he heard that Darius was encamped in a plain near Gaugamela with an enormous host, which tradition reports numbered 1,000,000 infantry and 40,000 horse. October 1, 331, the armies engaged. At certain points the Greeks were hard pressed, but at a critical moment Alexander broke the Persian centre, whereupon Darius fled as he had done at Issus; finally the Macedonians won at every point. Darius was pursued toArbela (q.v.), where his chariot and weapons were found, but the King escaped on horse to the Median highlands. Babylon opened its gates to the victor, and there the army rested. Susa, with its enormous treasures, soon fell into Alexander's hands.
It was of great importance that Persis and its capital be secured at once, so that although the season was mid-winter Alexander pressed on over the Uxian Pass. He stormed the almost impregnable "Persian Gates" by a surprise march over snow-covered mountains, and soon was at Persepolis and the royal palaces, whose ruins still give some idea of their magnificence. No less than 120,000 talents were found in the treasuries, together with other spoil. At Pasargadæ also much treasure was taken. About four months, apparently from January to April, 330, were spent at the ancient palace of the Achæmenian kings. During this time the district of Caramania yielded. Then Alexander started in pursuit of Darius, who, he had heard, was at Ecbatana with an army; but on reaching the city he found that Darius had fled eastward. Alexander soon pressed on, but after great efforts secured only the dead body of his enemy, who had been treacherously slain by his followers. One of the murderers had fled to Hyrcania on the south shore of the Caspian, and Alexander felt it necessary to secure this district before following the other chief assassin into remoter Bactria. The Persians who had retreated into Hyrcania yielded when Alexander appeared, and left him free to advance into northern Areia, where the Persian satrap promptly surrendered. It is not possible here to give in detail the successive steps of Alexander's new advance; by midsummer, 328, he was master of Drangiana, Seistan, Gedrosia, and Arachosia, satrapies corresponding roughly to modern Afghanistan and Baluchistan; he had annexed Bactria and Sogdiana at the north, and had fixed the limits of his conquests in this direction by founding Alexandria Eschate (Khodjend) near the pass over the Tian-shan Mountains. The following year was spent in putting down uprisings and in firmly establishing his power.
Alexander then turned to the conquest of India; one purpose of this, no doubt, was to secure control of the valuable trade-routes to India: he came back to Afghanistan and at Nicæ (Kabul?) prepared for the new campaign. The advance must have been made by the Khyber Pass. The winter of 327-326 was spent in subduing the hill-men and the inhabitants of the river valleys along the western base of the Himalayas. In the spring he marched to the Hydaspes, receiving the submission of the native princes on the way. At the river he was opposed by King Porus, but by stratagem and skill the Indian monarch was defeated. Alexander gave him back his kingdom much increased. thereby securing a buffer State on his own borders, for apparently he intended the Indus to be the eastern boundary of his Empire. He then continued to the southeast until he reached the river Hyphasis. Here the Macedonians refused to go farther, and unwillingly Alexander was obliged to turn back when, as he thought, he was near the end of the world. He returned to the Hydaspes; then advanced southward, subduing the tribes of the Lower Punjab, and finally reached the Indian Ocean in the early summer of 325. Part of his force had already been dispatched to reduce a revolt in Arachosia. Alexander himself started in early autumn to return to Babylon across the desert of Mekran, while his fleet was to find a seaway between the East and the West. For two months he and his army struggled across the desert, suffering from heat, hunger and thirst. The losses were very great, so that only a portion of those who started reached the capital of Gedrosia After a rest, Alexander pressed on to Kirman, where he met his Admiral Nearchus who in spite of great hardships had made the voyage from India. He was ordered to sail along the Persian Gulf and up the river Pasitigris to Susa, whither Alexander proceeded overland. Upon his arrival his first task was the correction and punishment of misrule on the part of his satraps, many of whom believing he would never return, had oppressed their provinces and had planned to set up independent kingdoms. When the abuses had been corrected and the guilty punished, Alexander set about the further amalgamation of the Greeks and the Orientals. He had already founded Greek cities wherever he had been; he now encouraged intermarriage and set the example himself by taking to wife Statira, the daughter of Darius. He had already married Roxana (q.v.), a Bactrian princess; he thus followed the polygamous custom of Persia. Many of his officers chose Persian consorts. Furthermore he planned to admit Orientals and Greeks to equality in military service, and established military schools in the various provinces, much against his veterans' wishes.
The greater part of the year 324 was spent in a survey of the Persian Gulf and in general organization at Ecbatana. In the winter Alexander returned to Babylon, where embassies from the remotest west came to seek his friendship. But his mind was now busy with plans for building up a great sea trade with India by way of the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean. Babylon was to become a great seaport. With these things in view he planned a naval expedition to circumnavigate and conquer Arabia. Before this could start, Alexander fell ill of a fever following a carouse, and in 12 days he lay dead (June, 323) .
The rapidity and brilliancy of Alexander's military operations have generally obscured his preeminent qualities as a statesman. He inherited from his father the concept of a great empire, and he had the genius to lay the foundations of a unified realm surpassing the dreams of Philip. Throughout the course of his conquest he organized the rule of his satrapies so that the power was divided and revolt made difficult. Seeing that the ruler of the vast realm which he was conquering should adopt much of the native custom, he assumed not a little Oriental state, which undoubtedly strengthened his position in spite of the disapproval it aroused among his Greek followers; and he took many wise measures to amalgamate the East and the West. His plans for trade development would have had great effect on social and economic conditions if he could have carried them out. The unified Empire which he had created was soon divided among many Macedonian rulers. Yet all the results of his work were not lost. The small Hellenic State had disappeared forever with its narrow exclusiveness, and a more tolerant attitude was maintained by the Greek world after him. The Romans entered into the fruit of his conquests, and the spread of Christianity in the East was made the easier by them.
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. I (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 381-383.