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Alexander the Great: Biography, Conquests & Facts

Instructor: Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

The following is a brief biography of Alexander the Great of Macedonia, including the extent of his conquests and his legacy in creating the Hellenistic World.

An Inauspicious Beginning

Alexander was born in 356 B.C.E., the son of King Philip of Macedonia. Macedonia was one of the northern Greek kingdoms, and Greece had been in a state of political and economic decline since the conclusion of the Peloponnesian Wars in 402 B.C.E. Alexander's father would spend most of his reign conquering all of Greece.

Alexander benefitted from the tutelage of Aristotle, under whom he developed a thorough appreciation of Greek culture and philosophy. Alexander was not just a bookworm, however. As were many Greek boys, he was trained in boxing, wrestling, and weapons. He had heart, too. Legend has it that as a young boy Alexander was the only person able to ride his famous horse, Bucephalus.

An Untried King

Alexander's father, King Philip, was assassinated in 336, leaving the crown to Alexander. At the news, many city-states of Greece revolted. In one swift campaign Alexander squashed all resistance and united all of Greece under him. When the city-state of Thebes had been especially vehement in its independence, he razed it. He didn't behave like a rash king, however; he spared the house of Pindar, the Greek lyric poet, in honor of the odes he had once written in honor of Alexander's ancestor, Alexander I.

Conquering the Persian Empire

In 334, Alexander launched a campaign against the Persian Empire, which had posed a serious threat to Greece a century and a half previous but had since stagnated. The campaign seemed hopeless, with Macedonia being outnumbered and out-financed, and with a supply line that would only grow longer as the campaign continued. The Persian Empire suffered from no internal dissension, either, and its borders stretched from Egypt to India; it was the largest empire the world had ever known.

Darius fleeing from Alexander
Darius

Alexander didn't hesitate. He swept into Asia Minor, defeating the governor at Granicus and neutralizing or conquering every major port along the way. In three of his most famous battles, he defeated King Darius of the Persian Empire at Issus; took the Phoenician city of Tyre after a long siege, and was proclaimed a god in Egypt. Then he moved east again, defeating Darius a second time at Gaugemala in 331. Darius was finally killed by one of his own governors, Bessus, in 330, who then proclaimed himself the Persian successor and led a guerrilla campaign against Alexander.

Progress of Alexander the Great
Campaigns of Alexander

However, Alexander established control of the empire from Mesopotamia. With a foundation laid he chased Bessus throughout Iran and Afghanistan, conquering as he went. Bessus was finally killed by another former Persian governor in 329. Alexander continued on to India where he won more battles, adding King Pontus to his list of governors in 326. Eventually, though, his men mutinied, and he was forced to pause his campaign. He returned to Babylon, where he died in 323.

Bonding Cultures

Though Alexander was vicious to those who betrayed him, he was generous to those who did not. The families of his dead warriors were given exemption from taxes and service as well as generous pay. Governors who bowed to him honorably, even after fighting him, were allowed to retain their provinces. Darius and his family were treated with dignity, and legend has it that Alexander was furious when he learned his rival had been killed. These traits generally endeared him to his people, allies and former enemies alike.

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