ORB Masthead with site navigation toolbar; see bottom 
of page for text version of toolbar

Encyclopedia | Library | Reference | Teaching | General | Links | About ORB | HOME

Alexander the Great

Philip of Macedon (359-336)

We start with Alexander's father, because of his crucial role both in Greek history and in Alexander's own life. Philip united Macedonia, created a powerful army, grew wealthy, conquered Greece and almost immediately afterward died, leaving the young Alexander a magnificent inheritance.

Philip gained his military education under Epaminondas of Thebes, where he was a royal hostage for three years. There he learned the value of coordinating cavalry with infantry in battle. He also learned a good deal about how Greek politics worked. His father died young, and Philip became king at age 25 in the year 369.

Philip inherited a kingdom that was historically divided between towns and farmers in the lowlands, and powerful nobles in the hills. He eliminated his rivals with brutal efficiency, subdued all rebellions, and managed to unite all Macedonia under his leadership.

He was a masterful politician, playing one faction off against another. He was fortunate in that gold had been discovered recently under Mt. Pangaeus, which was in his realm (imagine what would happen if the U.S. suddenly discovered vast oil reserves that could be brought into production within a matter of months). And he was able to lead his nobles to a string of foreign victories.

Victory came not least because Philip created a new type of army, a standing army of soldiers who served year-round. When not at war, the Macedonian army was barracked at state expense and underwent sophisticated training while in quarters. The Macedonian soldier was thus far better trained than any other in the world and much better equipped.

Philip borrowed and further developed the tactic of combining cavalry with infantry. And he invented the famed Macedonian phalanx, about which more later.

Philip Conquers Greece

Macedonia, which the southern Greeks considered about a half-step away from barbarism, conquered Greece because Philip exerted a masterful combination of political wiliness and use of superior force. The Greeks lost because they failed to unite to face the threat until it was too late.

Philip first conquered Thessaly and Thrace, giving him sway from the Hellespont to Thermopylae. These actions made some Greeks nervous, but using the gold of Mt. Pangaeus Philip bribed generously and by the 330s had a party loyal to his cause in every Greek city.

Moreover, some of the Greek cities thought they could use the barbarian, or the threat of him, against their enemies. So they gave various concessions to Philip, or looked the other way as he gobbled up first this and then that opponent. In other cases, he posed as a disinterested arbiter of Greek quarrels, managing thereby to insert Macedonian interests and voice into matters completely outside his direct sphere of influence.

Battle of Chaeronea The famous Athenian orator, Demosthenes, tried to rouse his city to action. In a series of speeches that are still models of rhetoric, he warned the Greeks against the danger from the north. Even today, you might here a political speech referred to as a philippic, for this word has come to mean any speech warning of dire danger.  By the time Philip was viewed as a real threat, however, it was really too late. The Greeks united and fought Philip, Spartans fighting alongside Thebans and Athenians at Chaeronea in 338. It was a hard-fought battle, but the Macedonians were completely successful.

Philip was now free to organize Greece as he saw fit, and the message he sent was quite clear. He destroyed the city of Thebes, though he gave orders to spare the house of the house of Pindar. Athens, too, he spared. He gave Sparta the opportunity to join his new alliance; when Sparta refused, he destroyed that city as well.

The battle at Chaeronea marks the end of the Greek city-state as a historic force. We'll hear from Greece again, of course, but never will Greek city-states be a factor, only alliances or kingdoms.

Philip's Death Philip returned to Pella in 336 to attend his daughter's wedding. As the bridal party passed through the streets in procession, three men leaped from the crowd and stabbed Philip to death. The three men were killed on the spot. There have long been dark rumors that Philip's death was engineered by his own wife, Olympia, who was eager for her son to be king. There is no real evidence for this.

What would Philip have done had he lived? He was one of the great leaders of ancient Greece; had his son not been such an extraordinary legend, Philip would be considered a leading figure of Greek history. We know that he had designs on Asia, for he had sent his favorite general, Parmenio, to establish a camp across the Bosporus. It is likely that he intended no more than to secure Asia Minor for the Greeks, but we can do no more than speculate.

Alexander of Macedon

Philip saw to it that his only son had the best education. Alexander and his compatriots studied for three years under Aristotle, who was hired because he was the most renowned philosopher of his day. Alexander also received the very finest education in warfare and politics—his daddy taught him.

Alexander was a bundle of contradictions and extremes. He was both mystical and practical, a dreamer and a pragmatist. He was capable of planning grand strategies, yet paid attention to the details of supply and logistics while on the march. He paid careful attention to his image and it is very difficult for us to separate fact from propaganda.

His soldiers adored him, as did most who met him. He was handsome, courageous, intelligent. He was tireless in the field, able to out-work most everyone around him. Yet, he was also a dreamer, given to fits and moods. He had visions. His mother told him that he was not the son of Philip but the son of Apollo. In short, he was everything a legend should be.

But, of course, Alexander did not conquer Asia by himself.

The Macedonian Army

Philip left his son a mountain of gold, all of Greece, and a magnificent army. Of the three, the latter was the most crucial.

The Phalanx The Macedonian phalanx was Philip's creation, extended by Alexander. Whereas the Greeks still fought in their traditional three battle lines, the phalanx was a flexible unit well drilled and able to take on a variety of formations.

It was usually 16 men on a side, 256 men in each unit, always and exclusively Macedonian. They were armed with the sarissa, a long spear but at 13 feet actually shorter than the hasta used by Greek hoplites, which was over 16 feet long. The real strength of the phalanx was its many formations and maneuvers. While the square was the usual formation, it could form a line or wedge or other shapes. The soldiers were trained to respond to flag and trumpet signals. No army in the Western world in the 4th century was its equal.

Other Elements But that wasn't all. The traditional strength of Macedonia was its heavy cavalry, and heavily-armed horsemen continued to be vital. In addition, there were Macedonian light horse and heavy cavalry from other cities. Beyond these were the Cretan archers - among his fiercest warriors - and javelin throwers, slingers, and other infantry units, all fighting according to the style traditional to each city. And, of course, the excellent navies supplied by Athens, Corinth and other cities.

Beyond these elements were the support elements, which likewise Alexander brought to a condition much superior to any other army at the time. Most important was his adoption of a siege train, well organized and supported by engineers. It included 100 foot battering rams and 150 foot high siege towers with bridges (this was the first known use of bridges on siege towers). Legend says Alexander himself invented the torsion catapult; certain it is that he used it. Like other great commanders, he was a master of logistics and communications.

On the battlefield, Alexander typically placed the Macedonian heavy infantry (the phalanx) in the center. Parmenio commanded the left, Alexander the right, leading the Macedonian cavalry. He preferred an oblique order of attack, with Alexander's wing leading the way. Parmenio's job was the most thankless--he was to engage the enemy and hold. But Alexander's battles are marked by his ability to mix all the elements of his army and bring to bear just what was needed at just the right time.

Qualities of Command In addition to all these factors, Alexander exhibited tremendous personal bravery. He was always at the front and always in the thick of battle. Generals in pre-modern times usually led their men rather than commanding from behind. This, of course, placed the great man in great jeopardy.

Alexander was wounded in neck and head at the Granicus River, in the thigh at Issus, the shoulder at Gaza. He suffered a broken leg in Turkestan, was wounded on three occasions in Afghanistan, and, most seriously, had his lung pierced by an arrow in India. He more than once was the first man over the wall at the storming of a city.

Alexander never lost a battle. As the victories accumulated, his men came to believe that he was invincible. So did his enemies.

Like other great generals, he knew and loved his men. He remembered their names and deeds, calling them by name when he would speak to them before a battle, citing their exploits. His veterans he sent home for a rest to Greece, allowing them to visit their families. He was liberal in his gifts and honors.

All of these factors created an army that simply could not be stopped. Its accomplishments so far eclipsed anything that had ever been done, Alexander and his Macedonians entered into legend.

Asia Minor

Alexander set out in spring 334, after having had to re-settle affairs in Greece and Macedonia after his father's murder. One of the many puzzles about Alexander is whether he intended from the beginning to conquer the world. We know that he brought with him artists, geographers, historians, botanists, geologists and other scientists -- something quite beyond the normal scope of a military expedition.

Ever the politician, his first act was to visit Troy -- the site of the great victory of the Greeks over Asia. The visit was also due to personal interest, for he greatly admired Homer and the heroes of the Trojan War. It was a brilliant propaganda gesture, and he followed it with astute diplomacy. As he marched down the Ionian coast, he liberated the Greek cities, restoring democracy, rather than conquering them. By posing as a liberator and savior, he won allies and gained many recruits here.

The Persian satrap was unable to stop him at the first major battle at the Granicus River. This battle was in some ways the most important of Alexander's career, though others are more famous. It was important because it was his first real battle in Asia; it was really rather a mad gamble, one that his generals argued he should not have made. But the circumstances of the battle reveals not only his courage and confidence, but also his fine political sense and his enormous good fortune.

After his victory, Alexander rolled through Asia Minor, detouring to Gordium to meet up with his general Parmenio. Gordium was a town in Galatia, the ancient capital of the Phrygians. In the town was a wagon tied to a post. It was a very ordinary post and a very ordinary wagon with one exception: the yoke was fastened to the pole with a complex of knots so thoroughly tangled that it was impossible to unravel. The legend was the anyone who could loose the knot would be the conqueror of Asia.

Alexander the Great naturally had to try his hand at this fabled knot, since he was in town anyway. He had announced his intention of conquering Asia, and to leave Gordium without testing the knot was unthinkable. So, he and some of his men, and a large crowd of locals, all made their way to the acropolis and the wagon.

The Gordian Knot was an especially difficult one in that there were no loose ends showing. Alexander tried for a while but was copmletely stumped. His attendants were concerned, for failure here would make poor propaganda.

At last, Alexander cried out "What difference does it make how I loose it?" He pulled out his sword and cut the knot through. Thus did Alexander reveal that he was the one prophesied. It was a lovely play on words, for the Greek word was luein, which can mean "untie" but can also mean "sunder" or "resolve."

From that story of Alexander came a phrase that is still used occasionally. To "cut the Gordian knot" means to slice through a problem that appears hopelessly complex by some simply, bold stroke.

 But the true test would come when he faced not a provincial but an imperial Persian army.

The Battle of Issus (334)

The Persian Empire's military machine was powerful and ponderous. When Darius finally came to meet him, Alexander was already in southern Turkey. The situation for the Greeks was serious. They were still in the mountains, trying to find a safe passage to the sea. Darius managed to get in between and Alexander had to fight his way through.

30,000 Greeks faced 100,000 Persians across a small river called the Pinarus, near the town of Issus. Fighting across a river is always difficult, for the attacker has to wade through the water and climb the opposite bank before ever engaging the defender.

Parmenio led the Greek left and had a hard fight of it. Alexander personally led the right, which held the Macedonian cavalry. The battle was still very much at issue when Alexander led a charge straight at Darius himself.

Seeing Alexander cutting his way through the Persians, obviously making for the king himself, Darius panicked and fled. Once the king was seen abandoning the field -- he was easy to spot in his golden chariot -- the Persian army collapsed.

Issus marked the beginning of the end of Persian power in the Mediterranean. After Issus, Alexander knew he could bring Darius down; he began to dream of replacing him as King of Kings.

The Siege of Tyre (333)

Alexander's capture of Tyre was not as important as the battles at Issus or Gaugamela, but the city was vital to Alexander's larger plans and the siege shows how adept the Greeks were at this type of warfare.

Tyre was on an island off the coast of modern Lebanon, far enough from the mainland that the water was 18' deep. With mammoth walls, a fortified harbor, and virtually no land outside the walls, the city was long thought impregnable.

Alexander needed the city, to control the Eastern Mediterranean and provide him a secure port through which to funnel reinforcements and supplies. For, the Greeks ruled the sea.

His initial attempts to take the city failed. He quickly enough cut the city off from supply, but Tyre knew he was coming, had stocked up on supplies, and had its own fresh water. He tried bombarding the walls with catapults mounted on the decks of ships. He tried placing siege towers on ships, bringing them right up to the walls, but the citizens sank the ships with great boulders.

Finally, Alexander resolved on an ambitious approach. He could only take the city by getting his soldiers close enough to let his huge siege engines do their damage. To this end, Alexander ordered his engineers to build a mole -- a land bridge from the mainland to the island. It was 200' wide and took months to complete.

When it was ready, he brought his siege engines along it to the walls. The citizens now fought desperately, and the Greeks were repeatedly driven back. But the city was running out of food and, after a seven month siege, Tyre fell. Alexander was so furious that this one city had halted his progress for so long, that he gave the city over to plunder and his soldiers sacked it without mercy.

The siege of Tyre had a lasting effect, for the mole stayed, silted up, and today Tyre is connected to the mainland. Alexander, in his drive to conquer, permanently changed the face of the land. It is deeds like these that drive the many legends of Alexander and made him famous from his day to ours.

Alexander in Egypt

When he arrived in Egypt, Alexander faced no resistance. The Egyptians were glad to be rid of the Persians, who forced Persian gods and customs upon them, and to welcome the Greeks, who liberated them and restored their liberties -- provided, of course, that they become allies of Alexander.

While in Egypt, Alexander took another of his detours that became legendary. He visited the shrine of Zeus Ammon, a site sacred to Egyptians and Greeks alike, at the oasis of Siwah, well into the desert in Libya. There, while visiting the Egyptian priests, he was proclaimed a god by the Egyptians -- an honor he did not decline. He submitted to the Egyptian ceremonies, even going so far as to wear Egyptian dress.

This incident did not set well with some of Alexander's pragmatic and traditional veterans. They knew he was no god. Alexander reassured them that he was merely bowing to local customs, but not everyone was convinced by this. More than once Alexander's soldiers would question whether their general considered himself a man or a god.

Alexander spent some time securing his position here and inPalestine and Syria. He knew he must eventually face Darius for the final struggle, but he knew also that he could not afford to be so far from Greece without being absolutely certain of his lines of supply.

At last, however, he set out. His army had grown, despite having to leave garrisons everywhere he went, for he gathered new recruits in each nation.

The Pursuit of Darius and the End of the Persian Empire

The Battle of Gaugamela Darius was determined that he would not repeat the mistakes of Issus. There, he had engaged Alexander in a narrow mountain valley, where he was unable to bring to bear his numerical superiority. This time, he chose his own ground.

Gaugamela is located in northern Iraq, on open plains. Here, Darius was able to deploy the full force of his 200,000 men. Alexander had only about 40,000. Darius was sure of victory.

His soldiers, however, were less sure. Alexander did not even try to out-flank such a superior force. Instead, he attacked the Persian center, where Darius was, and relied on cavalry to protect his flanks.

This was a typical calculated gamble on Alexander's part. He was gambling that if he broke the Persian center, the rest would dissolve, and he was calculating that his soldiers were superior enough to deliver the blow.

He was right, of course. Once again Alexander led the charge on Darius himself and again Darius panicked and ran away, and once again the rest of the Persian army evaporated. And, once again, Darius escaped, despite a furious pursuit by Alexander that lasted three days.

Occupation of Persia Alexander now entered the Persian Empire. Babylon welcomed him as liberator. The sacred Pharsi city of Susa resisted and fell to a siege. Alexander ordered the city burned. He went on to occupy Persis, the capitol city and at last sat on the Persian throne of Darius.

Alexander now ruled the largest empire the Western world had ever seen, but he could not rest secure, for Darius was still a threat. As long as Darius remained alive, Alexander would not be able to claim his titles.

After arranging affairs in Persia, Alexander set off in pursuit. Darius fled, keeping a few steps ahead of the Greeks. He entered Bactria and sent word ahead to its king, asking for his aid.

The Bactrian king assessed the odds and made his decision. A few days later, Alexander finds Darius dead by the roadside (330).

Campaigns in Iran and Afghanistan

Having eliminated Darius, Alexander was still faced with the task of securing his new empire. Toward this end he engaged in numerous battles in Afghanistan and dealt with rebellions and plots in his conquered territories.

Internal Changes Now that he was king of Persia, Alexander began to adopt Persian dress, at least when dealing with Persian subjects. With his Macedonians he still dressed as a Greek, but this did not entirely quell the grumbling among his officers.

Other changes were more troubling. For the first time, the Greeks were made members of his empire, rather than the special allies they had been. The Macedonians were troubled not only by his adoption of Eastern customs, but even more by his appointment of Eastern officials. A number of plots and rebellions were hatched, but he dealt with each of them. Most of the trouble came from his officer corps; his troops were still intensely loyal.

Alexander launched two years of hard campaigning in Afghanistan, pressing as far north as the Oxus River. This was wild, hard country, whose natives were master horsemen. The further Alexander progressed, the further he seemed to want to go. At last, he announced his intention of crossing the Hindu Kush and conquering India.


We're not in Thessaly any more, Toto Alexander entered India in 327, encountering some of the toughest fighting of his career in the the crossing. He reached the Indus River in 326.

None of the Greeks had ever encountered anything to prepare them for India. The terrain, the monsoons, the fierce tribes, all combined with the long years of campaigning to take some of the heart out of the Macedonians.

Alexander's geographers had assured him that just beyond India was Ocean, the great body of water that completely encircled the world. India itself was surely no bigger than the Persian Empire. We do not know what what in Alexander's mind, but most historians guess that he had no idea of the true size of the subcontinent and that he truly believed he need make only one more push to bring all the eastern world under his dominion.

Defeat of Porus Two factors combined to bring Alexander's march to a halt: he began to realize that India was much bigger than he had thought, and a war with an Indian king named Porus showed that India would not fall easily to the Greeks.

Porus was powerful both as a man and a king. He stood seven feet tall, a widely-feared ruler and warrior. He fielded an army that was a match for the Greeks, but Porus' army had an additional advantage: war elephants.

This marked the first real encounter with elephants in battle, and it terrified the Greeks. Worse yet, Alexander met Porus during the monsoon season and faced him across a river in flood.

Despite all this, Alexander defeated Porus, killing the king's two sons. Alexander forced Porus into an alliance, a policy he had followed elsewhere.

Mutiny Having secured the upper Indus River valley, Alexander began to push into the interior of India. The land became dry, but the cities and kingdoms were formidable. As they pressed on, the locals spoke of endless kingdoms to the east, and another great river, and still more kingdoms beyond that. No one knew of any end to them.

At last, his men refuse to go any further. They had refused before, more than once. Each time, Alexander harangued and persuaded and sulked in his tent for days, and eventually the men, terrified of the prospect of being without their hero, had given in.

Not this time. Alexander realized the temper of his army and reluctantly gave the command to return to Persia. This was no small task in itself. Going back by way of the Himalayas and Afghanistan was out of the question. The best course seemed to be to work their way down the Indus River to the Indian Ocean.

The Return It took a year to do it. The Greeks had to fight their way down the Indus, the lower course of which had many strong cities. At one of these, Alexander was wounded by an arrow that pierced his lung. For three weeks he was near death, but he eventually recovered.

Once at the Indian Ocean, the Greeks built a fleet of ships. Half the army travelled with Nearchus by sea, while Alexander took the other half by land along the coast, each army supporting the other. The return to Persian was a heroic accomplishment and is yet another testament to the strength of discipline among the Macedonians.

Alexander reached Susa in 324. He had been on campaign continuously for five years.

Organization of the Empire

Upon his return, Alexander entered into a frenzy of administrative activity. This period of his life has exercised as much fascination for historians as his military exploits. A few examples will suffice.

He took a Persian wife, and encouraged his officers to do likewise, arguing against the traditional Greek parochialism. He had already founded many Greeks cities and now founded many more, giving land to his veterans. He instituted a common currency throughout his lands. And he spoke of all his peoples being united under him.

These and other actions, combined with certain speculations and assertions made by ancient writers, have led some modern historians to believe that Alexander was somehow aiming at some sort of universal brotherhood - the famous phrase is "the intermingling of peoples."

Not only are the sources for this slim and speculative, evidence from other parts of Alexander's life show it to be most unlikely. That he aimed at world domination is undoubted. But he probably sought no more than to be king of it all, and sought only to govern as he thought best.

Arabia We have clear evidence of Alexander's near-term plans. Even as he was implementing reforms he was planning new conquests. He ordered his generals to prepare an expedition into Arabia.

How far would Alexander have gone? Into Arabia, certainly. Into Russia, probably. Possibly into Africa or Europe. But we cannot know this, for he never got further than Babylon. Before he could embark on his expedition into Arabia, Alexander died.

His Death

His wounds, plus overwork, weakened him. He went on a boating trip while at Babylon, in summer, when the marshes of the river were full of fever. To add to all this, he had engaged in another of his notorious drinking bouts the night before.

Alexander the Great died of a fever 13 June 323. For four days there was silence in Babylon, in shock and mourning. His body was conveyed to Alexandria in Egypt, where it was buried.

As he lay dying, his comrades and generals came to him. Alexander had made no provision for his succession, for what reason we do not know. In any case, it now being clear that he would die, the issue had become pressing.

They asked him the question that tormented them all. Who would get the empire? To whom would Alexander leave his conquests?

His answer was eminently Greek and classic Alexander. He would leave is empire, he said, to the strongest.

After Alexander

His empire fell apart almost immediately. It was, perhaps, too vast and too diverse for any political system to rule; it was most certainly beyond the capabilities of Macedonian monarchy.

Alexander's empire did not go to the strongest, after all. Instead, pieces of it fell to various individuals, each of whom chose to be strongest in his own neighborhood. Most of these were Alexander's generals.

Thus, Seleucus won a reduced portion of the Persian Empire. Certainly the largest in terms of physical size, yet his prize was the least likely to prosper. Antigonus won Greece, or more precisely, Macedonia and the league of Greek cities that were subject to the crown. The Antigonids would rule until the coming of Rome.

The richest prize, Egypt, went to Ptolemy. He founded a dynasty that lasted until the Caesars conquered them. The last descendant of Ptolemy, and the last direct inheritor of Alexander's legacy, was a Macedonian princess who was also Pharoah: Cleopatra.

Lesser states, especially in Asia Minor, were also ruled by Greeks. Alexander had founded Greek cities all over the Near East (there are over 20 Alexandrias), so that Greek culture was not merely spread but was deeply embeded within the cultures of the region. This created no little tension with the local cultures, as Greek language and art, etc. vied with and sometimes overwhelmed the indigenous cultures.

Evidence of this tension can be seen in the split in Jewish culture in the 200s and 100s, between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The one group represented "progress" and openly adopted Greek habits. The other group opposed this, holding out for traditional Israelite values. This pattern was repeated elsewhere, although not all peoples were able to retain their native traditions in the face of Greek influence.

The Near Eastern cultures, in turn, influenced Greece. This is most notable in the area of religion, with the advent of various mystery religions, but the Egyptians especially had a strong effect on Greek philosophy and science.

So deeply was Greek embedded that it became the dominant culture throughout the Middle East. It was inherited, preserved and perpetuated by the Byzantine Empire and by the Moslems as well.

This is the true legacy of Alexander--the dissemination of Greek culture.

The Romance of Alexander

His legends, true and false, appear in 80 languages, from Iceland to Malaya. The Parsees curse him for destroying their holy books.

In Central Asia he is Iskander. His red silk banner is still displayed in Ferghana, in Turkestan. Chiefs claim descent from him, their people claim descent from his soldiers, their horses from Bucephalus.

He appears in the Koran as Dulcarnain. In legend he explored as far as the Ganges, the Blue Nile, and Britain. He travelled to the heavens and to the underworld. In legends, he went indeed to the end of the world, and even to the bottom of the sea, where the very fish paid him homage.

He was the son of Apollo, according to his own mother, and there are signs that he believed this. At Gordium, he cut the fabled knot.

He tamed the wild horse Bucephalus with a word and a touch. That story is as good as any to tell in some detail.

One day, when Alexander was a boy, his father and some of his companions were trying to break a horse. This horse was a magnificent black stallion, of such size and fierce spirit that no one had been able to ride him.

The men stood around the horse, each trying his hand and each being thrown or even being unable to approach the huge beast. None could manage it. Finally, Alexander asked that he be allowed to try. The men thought it would be a grand joke to let a mere boy (he was about 10 years old) attempt to ride the black stallion, so they let him.

Alexander approached the horse, who stood and regarded him. It lowered its head and the boy spoke to him softly, whereupon it immediately was tamed. Alexander leaped onto the horse's back and it bore him away.

The horse was Alexander's from that day on. He named it Bucephalus and it was his war horse and he rode it in all his major battles. Bucephalus served Alexander faithfully and died at last on campaign in India, where Alexander named a city in his honor.

In paintings, Alexander is always represented as riding a black horse. Like his master, Bucephalus entered into legend and became a creature of mythic abilities. There is a nice re-telling of the story of Bucephalus at the beginning of the movie The Black Stallion. If you have a chance to see the movie, you'll hear the main character's father tell the story, with the sort of embellishments that have nourished all the Alexander legends through the centuries.

Everything about Alexander was larger than life, both his real exploits and his imagined ones. Throughout the ancient world, great generals would dream that they could imitate Alexander. In the Middle Ages, he became a figure encrusted in legend.


Alexander's career marks a watershed not only in Greek history, but in the history of the entire Near East. Before Alexander, we speak of the Hellenic era (Hellas is the Greek word for Greece). After Alexander, we speak of the Hellenistic era. In the former era, Greece is more or less isolated or at least contained. The primary characteristic of the Hellenistic era is the spread of Greek culture across the entire Near East, and the mixing of Greek and Oriental currents.

Alexander also marks the end of the threat of the East. One constant theme from the 6th century to the end of the 4th is the danger posed by various eastern kingdoms, especially Persia. Alexander ended this. Even after the Roman legions came, much of the Near East continued to regard Greek culture as the highest form and the one most worth imitating.

Encyclopedia | Library | Reference | Teaching | General | Links | About ORB | HOME

Copyright 1999, Ellis L. Knox. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents,including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.The contents of ORB are copyright 1995-1999 Laura V. Blanchard and Carolyn Schriber except as otherwise indicated herein.