Essay, Research Paper
Alexander the Great, born in 356 BC, was the son of Philip
II and his queen Olympias.1 Tradition maintains that he was
taught about Greece culture and philosophy by Aristotle.2
Alexander fought many campaigns on his father s behalf but after a
quarrel was sent into exile with some of his companions.3
Alexander returned after the murder of Phillip in 336 and was
hailed as king although he was careful to eliminate any possible
rivals to the throne.4 Alexander undertook the invasion of Asia
which Philip had already begun and went on to take over nearly the
entire known world at that time.5 On June 10, 323 BC, while
returning from a recent expedition, Alexander became ill and
Alexander was one of the greatest military leaders in
history but he also brought together the sharing of ideas and
traditions on a much larger scale than had ever taken place
before.7 In modern times, this has caused people to be misled
about Alexander s motives behind his actions.8 By western
academics, Alexander has been hailed as the founder of a
brotherhood of man while at the same time he was being the
perpetrator of a spiraling reign of terror. 9 Alexander was a
cruel and autocratic ruler whose conviction of his own
invincibility led to megalomaniac intentions and pretensions to
Alexander s flaws can be traced to his youth where he
inherited many qualities of his parents.11 Alexander s
father Philip was the son of the Macedonian Amyntas, but his
mother Eurydice was an Illyrian. 12 Therefore, by blood,
Eurydice was a pure barbarian.13 Consequently, Alexander s father
was half a barbarian.14 So Alexander wasn t a pure Macedonian
but had barbarian blood in his veins.15
Both Philip and Olympias were unusually strong and
impulsive in temperament. 16 Philip showed signs of
foolhardiness which can be seen in his body, which was covered
with scars showing his bravery and delight in battle.17 Philip s
acts, however, bear witness to a tireless energy and strength of
will, and to an indomitable pertinacity in following out his
secret purposes. 18 On the other hand, Olympias had a demonic
passion, in whom the quality was magnified to its highest
extent.19 These traits assuredly rubbed off on Alexander, for he
also showed these qualities, perhaps even to a higher degree.20
When Philip died in June 336, signs of Alexander s lust for
power and fame began to show.21 He quickly killed his half-
brother and cousin, the only possible rivals to the throne.22
Then he gained support of the army and named himself king. 23
Alexander was only twenty years old at the time.24
Alexander s megalomanic nature combined with his thirst for
power eventually led to violence and cruelty.25 Alexander would
mainly use his harsh cruelty in punishing people. On one
occasion, Bessus, the leader of a movement to depose Darius, was
captured by a Alexander and brought before a full meeting of his
officers.26 They accused Bessus of treachery to Darius and
Alexander then gave orders that his nose and the tips of his ears
should be cut off, and that thus mutilated he should be taken from
Ecbatana to suffer public execution before his own countrymen, the
Medes and the Persians. 27 Another time, Alexander had
Glaucias, the doctor, crucified for not being there to give
Hephaestion a medicine to cure his illness.28 Furthermore,
after the death of Alexander s friend Hephaestion, it is believed
that Alexander did something unfitting not only for a great
potentate like Alexander, but for any king. 29 Alexander
flung himself on the body of Hephaestion and lay there nearly the
entire day in tears, and refused to be parted from him until he
was dragged away by force by his Companions.30
However, in some instances, Alexander would focus his
cruelty on a larger scale.31 An example of this would be in
Ephesus, a town which had been taken over by a garrison of Persian
mercenaries.32 Alexander s men easily took over the town and
then recalled everyone who had be expelled for supporting him.33
Alexander, after realizing that the mercenaries ransacked the
temple and helped smash up the statue of Philip which stood there,
continued in the hunt for the guilty men and indulging his lust
for revenge, would, out of personal hatred or greed, kill many who
were innocent as well, firmly called a halt, with the result that
his popularity never stood higher than it did on this occasion by
his handling of the situation at Ephesus. 34 Alexander s use
cruelty for political gain was clearly evident on several
Another one of Alexander s main faults was that he was, what
could be described as, a barbaric drinker.36 Often, he would
drink heavily and for a prolonged periods, causing him to have
poor judgement and to be angered at minor incidents.37 One
situation where Alexander s drunkenness got the best of him was at
Marakanda in the autumn of 328.38 Cleitus, who had already
drunk too much, spoke some harsh words against Alexander, shouting
that Alexander was a coward and that it is the blood of these
Macedonians and their wounds which have made you so great. 39
Cleitus s words made Alexander furious and unable to control his
rage.40 Alexander seized a spear from one of his guards and
ran him through.41
The last major flaw in Alexander, and by far his most
noticeable one, was his claim to divine origin.42 Because of
this, Alexander was very religious and believed that he was
invincible.43 He would offer sacrifices daily and took nearly
all prophecies seriously.44 This is clearly shown in
April/May 323 when Alexander was wearing a hat with a diadem, a
band which signified royalty.45 Suddenly a gust of wind blew
the diadem off his hat and one of the sailors swam after it.46
Not wanting to get the band wet, the sailor wore it on his head
and swam back to the ship.47 Upon arrival, Alexander gave the
man a talent for reward of his willing service, then had him
beheaded in obedience to the prophecy which warned him not to
leave untouched the head with had worn the diadem.48
Overall, Alexander was a brilliant general who was admired
and emulated in antiquity as in modern times. 49 By no means did
his faults outweigh his contributions. Alexander the Great had
brought together the blending of two cultures on a larger scale
than ever before.50 The full impact of Alexander s world-
shaping deeds were not obvious until after his death.51
However, it is important to know the his intentions were not
solely to spread Hellenism, as modern academics suggest, but to
appease his megalomania.52 Although he founded many cities,
these were for strategic reasons rather than for the spread of
Hellenism. 53 Furthermore, his expedition had a disastrous
effect upon the population and economy of Macedon.54
1Graham Speake, ed. The Peguin Dictionary of Ancient
History (New York, New York: Penguin Group, 1995) 23.
2Peter N. Stearn, and Barry K. Beyer. World History: Traditions and New Directions (Menlo Park, California: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1991) 98.
5Larry S. Krieger, Kenneth Neil, and Steven L. Jantzen. World History: Prospectives on the Past (Lexington, Massachusetts: D. C. Heath and Company, 1992) 123.
6Shepard B. Clough. A History of the Western World (Chicago: D. C. Heath and Company, 1964) 76.
7Stearn and Beyer, 100.
9Robin Lane Fox. The Search for Alexander
(Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1980) 46.
11Ulrich Wilcken. Alexander the Great
(New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1967) 53.
22Stearn and Beyer, 96.
24Jacques Legrand. Chronicle of the World
(New York, New York: Chronicle Communications Ltd, 1989) 145.
26J. R. Hamilton. Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander
(New York, New York: Penguin Group, 1971) 212.
28G. T. Griffith. The Age of Alexander: Nine Greek Lives By
Plutarch. (New York, New York: Penguin Group, 1973) 329.
50J. M. Roberts. A Concise History of the World
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1995) 134.
Clough, Shepard B. A History of the Western World. Chicago:
D. C. Heath and Company, 1964.
Fox, Robin Lane. The Search for Alexander. Boston: Little Brown
and Company, 1980.
Griffith, G. T. The Age of Alexander: Nine Greek Lives By
Plutarch. New York, New York: Penguin Group, 1973.
Hamilton, J. R. Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander. New York,
New York: Penguin Group, 1971.
Krieger, Larry S., Neil Kenneth, and Steven L. Jantzen. World
History: Prospectives on the Past. Lexington,
Massachusetts: D. C. Heath and Company, 1992.
Legrand, Jacques. Chronicle of the World. New York, New York:
Chronicle Communications Ltd, 1989.
Roberts, J. M. A Concise History of the World. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1995.
Speake, Graham, ed. The Peguin Dictionary of Ancient History.
New York, New York: Penguin Group, 1995.
Stearns, Peter N., and Barry K. Beyer. World History: Traditions
and New Directions. Menlo Park, California: Addison-Wesley
Publishing Company, 1991.
Wilcken, Ulrich. Alexander the Great. New York, New York: W. W.
Norton & Company, Inc., 1967.