Study Guide

Alexander the Great

by Charles Mercer

Alexander the Great Reference

Alexander the Great (Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Macedonian king, conqueror of Persia (r. 336-323 b.c.e.){$I[g]Macedonia;Alexander the Great} By military genius, political acumen, and cultural vision, Alexander unified and Hellenized most of the civilized ancient world and in so doing became a legendary figure in subsequent ages.

Early Life

Born into royalty as the son of King Philip II of Macedonia and Olympias, daughter of King Neoptolemus of Epirus, Alexander was educated during his early teenage years by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Although tutor and pupil later differed on political matters, such as Alexander’s decision to downgrade the importance of the city-state, Aristotle performed his assigned task of preparing his young charge for undertaking campaigns against the Persian Empire as well as inculcating in him a love of learning so vital to Hellenic culture.

In 340 b.c.e., at age sixteen, Alexander’s formal training ended with his appointment to administer Macedonia while Philip was absent on a campaign. Young Alexander won his first battle against a force of Thracians and in 338 distinguished himself as commander of the left wing during Philip’s crushing victory over the combined Greek army at Chaeronea. A break with his father over the latter’s divorce and remarriage led Alexander to flee with his mother to Epirus. Although father and son reaffirmed their ties, Alexander feared for his status as successor. Philip’s assassination in 336, along with the army’s support of Alexander, eliminated all doubt of his kingship, and he had the assassins and all of his apparent enemies executed.

Life’s Work

At the age of twenty, Alexander proceeded to fulfill Philip’s planned attack on Persia and thereby to free Greeks living under Persian rule in Asia Minor. Soon, however, he determined to place himself on the throne of Persia. Eager to represent all Greece at the head of a Panhellenic union, he first received the approval and military support of the Greek League at Corinth and the endorsement of the oracle at Delphi as invincible. (The Romans later called him “the Great.”)

In order to consolidate his rear guard in Europe before crossing into Asia, he spent the year 335 subduing restive peoples north and west of Macedonia and crushing an Athenian-endorsed revolt of Thebes by taking and razing the city of Thebes, killing six thousand and selling the rest as slaves. His harsh policy had the desired effect of discouraging further attempts by the Greeks to undermine his authority. Alexander therefore had no need to punish Athens, center of Hellenic culture, source of the largest navy available to him, and vital to the financial administration of the territories he would conquer. Nevertheless, he remained sufficiently suspicious of the Athenians to decline employing their fleet against Persia. The only Greek city-state openly disloyal to Alexander was Sparta, but it was isolated and later brought into line by Alexander’s governor of Greece.

Alexander crossed the Hellespont (Dardanelles) into Asia Minor with his army of thirty-five thousand Macedonians and Greeks in the spring of 334, intent on humbling the Persian army and gaining spoils adequate to restore the strained Macedonian treasury. Alexander’s army was a superbly balanced force of all arms, based on the highly disciplined maneuvers of the Macedonian phalanx and cavalry. With its offensive wing on the right, the infantry phalanxes implemented Alexander’s strategy by advancing steadily, using their longer spears and supported by light-armed archers and javelin throwers. That was in reality a holding force, however, for while it moved forward, the cavalry attacked the enemy’s flank and rear. If that did not succeed, then the infantry would institute a skillful fighting withdrawal to open a gap in the enemy’s line and to gain the higher ground. This difficult maneuver thus created a flank, on which Alexander’s men would then rush. The key to success was timing, and Alexander’s great ability was knowing where and when to strike decisively. Then he pursued the retreating enemy, who could not regroup. Alexander’s tactical skills triumphed almost immediately when he met and crushed a Persian army at the river Granicus, largely as a result of his realization that victory was possible only after an interceding river was crossed.

No less a genius as a strategist, Alexander neutralized the Persian fleet by marching down the coasts of the Eastern Mediterranean, taking the enemy’s seaports by land. To establish himself as a liberator, he dealt harshly only with those cities that opposed his advance, and he installed Greek-style democracies in those that yielded without a fight. Indeed, he retained local governors, customs, and taxes, insisting only on loyalty to himself instead of to King Darius III of Persia. This political policy had the additional logistical benefit of making available supplies crucial to keeping his army in the field. To provide balanced governments of occupation, however, as at Sardis,...

(The entire section is 2076 words.)

Alexander the Great (Comprehensive Guide to Military History)

0111215814-Alexander_Darius.jpgAlexander the Great stands over the body of Darius III, killed by one of his own generals. (Library of Congress) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Military significance: Alexander’s conquest of Persia, one of the greatest civilizations in the world, resulted in extension of Greek (Macedonian) culture from Greece to India. He pioneered the idea of logistics, or feeding and supplying an army on the move.

Alexander was the son of Philip II, king of Macedonia, who had developed the world’s first standing army. Alexander was a pupil of Aristotle, who instilled in Alexander a passion for learning. In 338 b.c.e., at the age of eighteen, Alexander commanded his father’s left flank at the Battle of Chaeronea. He led the decisive charge that defeated the Athenians and Thebans.

Alexander ascended the throne of Macedonia when his father was assassinated in 336 b.c.e. He quickly crushed a rebellion of Greek states that tried to challenge his authority. Afterward, Alexander started his campaign against Persia. In 334 b.c.e., Alexander defeated the Persians at the Battle of Granicus in Asia Minor (later Turkey). The Persian line was broken by a Macedonian charge to the center of the Persian formation. This victory was Alexander’s first against the Persians, and it gave him control of Asia Minor.

Alexander then marched through Asia Minor. In 333 b.c.e., he found Darius III and the Persian army in battle formation near the town of Issus in southern Asia Minor. The Macedonian phalanxes were able to cross the Pinarus River and threaten the Persian center, while the Companion cavalry (Macedonian aristocrats) attacked the flank of the Persian center. Darius sensed the Macedonians gaining the advantage and fled. The Persians panicked and followed Darius’s retreat. Alexander captured Darius’s family during the battle.

With two...

(The entire section is 718 words.)