The Dark Side Of Alexander The Great

Essay, Research Paper

Hardison 1

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

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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

divinity. 10

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

Hardison 3

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

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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

Hardison 5

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

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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

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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

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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.

3Speake, 23.


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.

8Speake, 23.

9Robin Lane Fox. The Search for Alexander

(Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1980) 46.

10Speake, 23.

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11Ulrich Wilcken. Alexander the Great

(New York, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1967) 53.








19Ibid, 54.

20Ibid, 53.

21Speake, 23.

22Stearn and Beyer, 96.


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24Jacques Legrand. Chronicle of the World

(New York, New York: Chronicle Communications Ltd, 1989) 145.

25Speake, 23.

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.

29Hamilton, 371.

30Ibid, 370.

31Ibid, 78.





36Ibid, 214.

37Ibid, 215.

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38Griffith, 307.

39Ibid, 308.


41Ibid, 309.

42Speake, 23.


44Hamilton, 387.





49Speake, 23.

50J. M. Roberts. A Concise History of the World

(New York: Oxford University Press, 1995) 134.


Hardison 12

52Speake, 23.



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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.

Hardison 14

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.


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