Alexander The Great As A Moral Example
Alexander III, who would later become known as Alexander the Great, was born in 356 BCE in Macedonia into the royal family of Philip II and Olympias. Due to the circumstances of his birth and his lineage, great things were expected from Alexander. Philip’s court prophet, and Olympia’s dreams previewed Alexander’s destiny for greatness as did his descent from the line of Hercules on his father’s side, and Achilles on his mother’s side.
Philip dreamed his son would have the nature of a lion and Olympias dreamed that her womb was struck by a thunderbolt from Zeus (source). These factors would contribute to how Alexander saw himself and how the world saw him.
As a child, Alexander was exposed to Greek literature containing stories about great heroes and how mortals and gods interacted. These were not simply stories to Alexander however, they were accounts of his ancestors for him to learn from. Additionally, Olympias, his mother, believed that a god had impregnated her and that Alexander was the son of a divine father and she told him this, which would have led to Alexander wholeheartedly believing that he was at least partly divine. As Alexander got older he began to train in the many disciplines of warfare and studied under Aristotle. When he reached his teenage years he had already proved himself a worthy leader on the battlefield and in the royal court. Alexander and his father had a complicated and ugly falling out which resulted in Alexander and his mother fleeing. Soon after Philip was assassinated and Alexander rose to power. The situation is clouded in suspicion and mystery, but Alexander emerged from it as the unquestioned heir. He took time to re-establish Macedonian dominance and prove himself a worthy king, but lost no time in turning to his big goal: the conquest of Persia.
Alexander’s aspiration to conquer Persia can be traced back to his childhood and lineage. He believed his ancestors included Hercules and Achilles, two mythical legends. He grew up reading stories of their conquests and victories, and believed himself to be not only like them but capable of similar feats. Additionally, as a teen Alexander heard that his father had aspirations to take his armies to Persia, but never had the opportunity to execute those plans. All of these elements combined, plus Alexander’s ambitious nature led him to pursue the invasion of Persia so hard at his young age. Alexander blew off the recommendations of his advisors in regards to getting married and having an heir before going on a long term conquest in a far away land. (source). He went about preparing his nation, his army, and himself for the endeavours ahead of him. Alexander learned the value of soft power from his father and essentially paid off elites to maintain good relations, he made sure to do what he could to gain the favor of the gods, and he left garrisons behind to defend the homeland.
Alexander set off with a force much smaller than his enemies, and arrived in Asia low on funds. If he did not win early and win big, his expedition was doomed (source 1). Upon arrival Alexander began making sacrifices to the gods at the ancient city of Troy as the and to placate the gods was every bit as important as the need to feed his soldiers or fortify an encampment (source 1). This shows how seriously Alexander took his expedition and that he was god fearing. He led his army to an early victory at the Granicus River against the advisement of his counsel. With this victory he punished those who stood against him but rewarded those who recognized him as their king. As he moved forward, he made the decision to send his naval forces home, a decision that scholars still debate the purpose of.
Thus far the expedition had been successful, but leaving behind valuable resources and keeping the moral of the men high was going to be a challenging task. In addition to Alexander’s efforts to keep the men happy, their view of him kept motivation levels high. The men began to see Alexander as more than just a mere mortal. His accomplishment at the strategically valuable city of Gordian by solving the previously unsolvable Gordian knot only furthered this view of Alexander as more than just a man. At this point King Darius of Persia realized that Alexander and his army posed a very real threat to his empire and began preparing his army, but he was late. Alexander made it through the critical pass at the Cilician Gates, saved Tarsus, and recovered from an illness that many of his doctors feared would take him. The expedition continued as Alexander’s forces soon met Darius’ main army at Issus. Alexander motivated his men who were vastly outnumbered and used superior tactics and strategy to lead them to an important victory. Not only did Alexander demonstrate superiority on the battlefield, but the respect with which he treated the women and royal Persian family greatly enhanced his honor among Macedonians, Greeks, and Persians alike (source 1).
Alexander’s next move was highly strategic and shows he paid attention in his history lessons. Instead of opting to move further east, he chose to move south, in order to protect Greece before moving onwards. This strategic move was met with approval by the troops as they had heard of the riches that were help in Phoenicia and Egypt. During this conquest, Darius sent a letter to Alexander with an offer. The contents of the offer are not certain, but Alexander’s dismissal of the offer was quite certain. Darius sent a second letter with what Parmenion called a lavish offer, but to Alexander it was an insult to suggest that it could end in a draw (source 1). After Gaza, Egypt easily accepted Alexander and his army and now he could turn his focus back to defeating Darius once and for all. Alexander and Darius met once more near Gaugamela, and Alexander treating the battle like a game of chess forced Darius to flee a second time. He continued on to Babylon, Susa, and Persepolis which he destroyed violently due to their inhumane treatment of Greek prisoners. Now, the only task left for Alexander to accomplish was to catch Darius, but Bessus betrayed his King by killing him, and thus giving Alexander a new target to pursue. After Bessus had been caught and reprimanded, Alexander proceeded to tie up loose ends around his new Persian empire before planning his next move into India.
Alexander continued his life of conquest, but his life was cut short as he fell ill and died June 13, 323 at the age of 33 (Britannica). Although his reign ended, his legacy did not. Alexander brought Hellenic influences with him everywhere he went. Hellenic influence, or the influence of Greek culture, could be seen everywhere in the cultures of Alexander’s empire (ushistory). The architecture, literature, philosophy, writing, theatre, language, and coinage were all elements of Hellenization that could be seen throughout the cultures of areas that Alexander conquered (ancient eu). Additionally, other historical leaders such as Napoleon, John Adams, Jefferson, Hitler, Roosevelt, and George H. W. Bush have employed Alexander as a moral example, sometimes as one to reject, sometimes as one to imitate, always as one that must be studied for life lessons (source 1).
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