Alexander was born in year of 356 BC, in Pella, In Macedonia. He was the son of Philip II, King of Macedon, and Olympias, the fourth wife of the King. When Alexander’s father was assassinated by his own bodyguard, Alexander was declared King of the Greek Kingdom of Macedon.
Alexander of Macedon is known to us as Alexander the Great, owing to his unparalleled success as a military commander. Alexander was always outnumbered, and yet won every war.
He had an uncanny ability to use the terrain to his advantage, he strategically used the phalanx, his cavalry tactics and decisions were bold, and he had on top of it all the fierce loyalty of his troops.
Alexander himself was a man who was fuelled by his ambitions, which his mother kept encouraging. He was also very influenced by his father who himself had won a number of wars in spite of being injured in many of them.
According to historical accounts Alexander seemed to have a unique combination of a rash temper, an impulsive nature, and on the other hand a very logical and calculating intelligence. It is also know that Alexander had a great desire for knowledge, and carried a copy of Homer everywhere with him.
Alexander also was a very charismatic person, and the only one who had to ability to keep such a large kingdom united.
According to some historical sources, Alexander’s birth was preceded by omens foretelling his future, like one where his mother dreamt that her womb was struck by lightning, which kindled a fire that spread far and wide and then extinguished.
Alexander was raised by a nurse Lanike, who was the sister of his future general Cleitus the Black. Later, he came under the strict guidance of Leonidas of Epirus, a relative of Olympias. Leonidas would check Alexander’s belongings to make sure his mother didn’t give him anything luxurious.
Alexander was also disciplined by Lysimachus, a general of King Philip II. His most famous tutor was, Aristotle, who tutored him till the age of sixteen. For his education Philip II made available the Temple of Mieza, which was a kind of boarding school for children of Macedonian nobles.
Many children who studied with Alexander, became his friends, and later joined him in his conquests. They were Ptolemy, Hephaistion, and Cassander; Hephaistion being his life ling best friend.
It is said that Alexander was the only person who was able to tame the mighty horse Bucephalus, who then became Alexander’s favourite, and emerged as possibly the most famous horse in time. Alexander is also said to have cut the Gordian knot, a knot so complex, that it was prophesised that whoever solved it would be the ruler of Asia.
Accession to the throne
After Alexander’s education was complete at the age of sixteen, his father waged war against Byzantion, leaving him in charge. During Philip II’s absence, the Thracian Maedi revolted, but they were driven out by Alexander and colonised, and the city of Alexandropolis founded.
After this Alexander drove out and killed many revolts that arose, aiding his father at the same time. The victory of Chaeronea was Philip’s last victory, after which he made a ‘Hellenic Alliance’, which included most Greek City States except Sparta.
When Philip II returned to Pella, he married he niece of his general Attalus, who he fell in love with. After this marriage Alexander and his mother fled Macedon, as the child of Philip and Cleopatra would be a more legitimate heir than Alexander, as Olympias was not a Macedonian.
But six months later, Alexander returned, as it turned out that Philip never had any intentions of disowning or killing his son. A year after Alexander returned, a marriage proposal came for his half-brother Philip, and it seemed this meant that the King would not choose Alexander as his heir.
This made Alexander send an actor to the father of the prospective bride telling him to send a proposal to Alexander who in fact is the legitimate heir of Philip II. When Philip II learnt of this he admonished Alexander and told him he was looking for a better bride for him.
In 336 BC, when Alexander was twenty years old, his father was assassinated by the captain of his bodyguards, while attending his daughter Cleopatra’s wedding at Aegae. After his death Alexander was proclaimed King by the army and nobles.
Early years as king
After becoming King Alexander eliminated his potential rivals, by killing them off. He had some of his cousins killed, but when he learnt that his mother was responsible for burning alive of Cleopatra Eurydice and her daughter Europa, he became very furious.
After Philip’s death many states started revolting but all of these revolts were quenched and squashed by Alexander, and now there was only one task left undone before he was ready to take over Persia. This was the task of safeguarding his northern borders. He completed this by strategically putting down more uprisings.
In 334 BC Alexander crossed Hellespont into Asia, and is said to have thrown a spear into the land and proclaiming that he accepts this gift of Asia from the gods. At this point his army was made consisted of over forty eight thousand soldiers, over six thousand cavalry, and also a fleet of a hundred and twenty ships.
During this time, a large part of Asia came under the Persian Empire, ruled by Darius. The first battle that Alexander fought was the Battle of Granicus.
It was here that Alexander’s education was tested and where he made many errors, but owing to his military intelligence he was quick to spot faults in tactics and overcome them, thus making him victorious in every battle he fought.
Alexander was not just any King, he was a man who respected courage when he saw, be it in his own army or in that of the enemy. As lands came under him, he exempted from tax, relative of those soldiers who had died in the wars, both of his country and others.
The way he honoured the dead prevented many uprisings. This battle was followed by the Siege of Halicarnassus, where Ada of Caria surrendered to him, and later even adopted him as her son.
After this, Darius decided to finally face Alexander himself, and on the on the other hand, Alexander led his army through a dangerous defile called ‘The Gates’. But this is called as perhaps the luckiest of all his battles as the pass could’ve been defended very well by the enemy, but wasn’t due to an error of judgement.
At this place Alexander almost died in coma resulting as a complication from pneumonia which he developed when he jumped into an icy river after not having seen water for over a hundred and fifty kilometres.
Battles with Darius
Darius now faced Alexander for the first time in The Battle of Issus, at the mouth of the river Pinarus, not knowing that by drawing the fight to a river he was losing the numerical advantage he had over Alexander’s army.
Darius lost and fled, and Alexander treated his family with respect, while Darius sent a letter to Alexander to divide the Persian Empire. Alexander replied by saying that he alone was the King of Asia now.
After this Alexander gained victory over the last important naval base of the Persian Empire, Tyre, after a long and difficult battle. Here he killed all men of military age and sold about thirty thousand women and children into slavery.
After the Siege of Tyre, many cities towards Egypt surrendered, except Gaza, which was captured by Alexander after three failed attempts, and sustaining injuries. He moved to Egypt and was hailed as a liberator, and here he founded the city Alexandria.
In 331 BC, Alexander reached Mesopotamia and defeated Darius in their last encounter, in the Battle of Gaugamela. This was followed by the Battle at the Persian Gate, where Alexander’s army sustained major losses, but eventually came through and went to Persepolis where he allowed his troops to loot the city for several days.
Alexander then chased Darius, who was found stabbed on orders of Bessus, a kinsman and a Bactrian satrap of Darius. Alexander then ordered Darius to be buried properly and set out to defeat Bessus, and on route founded many other cities.
Later challenges in Persia
After quelling further revolts, Alexander took the Persian title of Shahanshah (king of kings), and even adopted some Persian customs, much to the dismay of his people back home.
At this point a plot against Alexander’s life was revealed for which he had one of his officers, Philotas, and his father assassinated. Sometime after that Alexander very infamously killed Cleitus The Black, a man who had once saved his life, because he questioned Alexander’s judgement and took up some Persian customs which were corrupted according to Cleitus.
The Indian campaign
After this, Alexander conquered the Bactrian lands and married a Bactrian princess Roshanak (Roxana), after which he turned towards the Indian Sub-Continent.
His conquest of India started with him inviting many Indian chieftains to join him, and while Ambhi (Omphis), who ruled the land between the Indus and Jhelum (Hydaspes) complied, the Ashvayanas and Ashvakayanas (Aspasioi and Assakenoi) people of the Kambojas did not submit, and put up a courageous fight.
Here, when the ruler died, the rule was left to his mother, and this example made the women of the country take up arms. Though eventually Alexander defeated and massacred these people, he was wounded seriously, and is said to have finally met the challenge he set out to find.
Alexander’s last and the most costly battle was with the King Puru (Porus), who’s courage so appealed to Alexander that he made him an ally. This was the Battle of Hydaspes.
Exhausted by so many wars, and afraid of any further battles with the fearsome Indian warriors waiting on the other bank of the Ganges, Alexander’s army revolted, and ultimately Alexander had to turn his way towards home.
In the June of 323 BC, Alexander died, in Babylon, in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, nearly at the age of thirty two. There are certain variations in the accounts of his death, the manner in which he died and the cause. It is known that Alexander developed a fever, which worsened to a point when he lost his ability to speak.
According to two sources, it is said Alexander was struck with pain after drinking unmixed wine in honour of Hercules, and died thereafter in some agony, but Plutarch denied this claim.
Foul play has been suspected in the death of Alexander, sometimes mentioning Antipater as a suspect, as he was removed as Macedonian viceroy, and he and Olympias, were constantly at odds.
It is said that Antipater after having seen the fate of Philotas, made his son Iollas, who was Alexander’s wine-pourer, poison him. There have been suggestions that Aristotle himself may have been involved.
The strongest argument that has been out up this theory of death by poison is the fact that there was a gap of twelve days between the start of his illness and his death, and such long-acting poisons may not have been available at that time.
A new theory came up in 2010 which suggested that Alexander’s symptoms matched those of poisoning by water of the river Styx (Mavroneri) that contained calicheamicin, a dangerous compound produced by bacteria.
Several natural causes like malaria and typhoid fever have also been suggested as cause. These Natural-cause theories also emphasise that Alexander’s health may have been in decline since after he received and severe wounds and started drinking heavily.
The anguish and pain at the death of his best friend Hephaestion also may have contributed to his declining health. Another cause has been put forward, as an overdose of medication containing hellebore, which is deadly in large doses.
During his final years and more so after the death of his best friend Hephaestion, Alexander started exhibiting symptoms of megalomania and paranoia.
Facts and incidents like his mother’s insistence that he was the son of Zeus, his amazing achievements, destiny that favoured him, and the flattery of his companions may have caused delusions of grandeur which are readily visible in his testament and in his desire to conquer the world.
On the other hand some people also believe that those actions and customs which he adopted that made him look like a deity may have simply been a way to gain favour with the multi-cultural people in his newly conquered empire.
After his death Alexander’s body is said to have been put in a sarcophagus of gold, and after changing hands some time, which included possession through stealing, the casket was buried in Alexandria.
In AD 200, it was closed to public by Emperor Septimius Severus, whose son was the last person to see the tomb. The location of this coffin, after this point in history, is hazy.
Alexander and love
Besides Roxana, Alexander had also married another woman, Stateira II, daughter of Darius III of Persia. Some accounts also mention that Alexander also married Stateira’s cousin Parysatis, while others state that legend confuses Stateira with Roxana.
Alexander had married these other two women to seal his hold over the Persian Empire, and it was a common practise to do so by marrying the widows or daughters of captured or killed enemies.
There also has been certain debate about Alexander’s sexuality, as he did not have any mentionable or concrete relations with any women. Even his heir was produced quite late in his life. There are some suggestions that state that Alexander may have been bi-sexual, which was not a social issue during his time the way it is now.