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Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great, born in 356 BCE in Pella, Macedonia, was the son of Philip of Macedon and Princess Olympias of Epirus. As a young boy he was always fearless, strong, and eager to learn. He went on to inherit each of his parents best qualities. His father was an excellent general and organizer, while his mother was extremely intelligent. At the age of thirteen he became a pupil of Aristotle. It was Aristotle who inspired Alexander's great love for literature. Through his mentor Alexander learned the Greek ways of living and the ideals of Greek civilization. However, it was not all work and no play for the young Alexander. He spent a great deal of time participating in sports and daily exercise to develop a strong body.
At a fairly young age Alexander was given many responsibilities. His father made him his ambassador to Athens when he was eighteen. Two years later he became the King of Macedonia. During this time the Greek states had become restless under Macedonian rule. While Alexander was away fighting, the people of Thebes seized the opportunity and revolted. When Alexander returned he attacked the city and destroyed almost everything in sight. This dissipated any further attempts at rebellion and Alexander quickly united the Greek cities and formed the League of Nations, of which he became president.
Soon after this victory, Alexander set out to conquer Persia. On the banks of the Granicus River Alexander quickly defeated the Persian troops who had been waiting for him. This victory made the rest of Asia Minor vulnerable. In 333 BCE Alexander marched into Syria. Even though Darius III, King of Persia, had raised a large army he was unable to withstand Alexander's powerful infantry and phalanx. The entire region soon submitted to Alexander. Following this he went to Egypt, where he was welcomed as a deliverer because the Egyptians hated their cruel Persian rulers. It was here that Alexander founded the famous city that bears his name. Alexandria, situated on a strip of land between Lake Mareotis and the Mediterranean Sea, became a world center of commerce and learning.
Alexander was soon drawn into battle with the Persians again. In the decisive Battle of Gaugamela, Alexander routed Darius and forced his entire army east. After this the city of Babylon surrendered, which allowed Alexander to easily capture Susa and Persepolis. Darius was soon killed by one of his generals which made Alexander King of Asia. He did not rest for long, as he had set his sights on India. In 326 BCE Alexander defeated Porus, the prince of India.     
Alexander was now at the height of his power. His empire stretched from the Ionian Sea to northern India. However, Alexander had even greater plans. He wanted to combine Asia and Europe into one country, and named Babylon the new capital. In order to attain this goal he encouraged intermarriages, did away with corrupt officials, and spread Greek ideas, customs, and laws into Asia. The great and many plans that he had abruptly came to an end. While in Babylon Alexander became seriously ill with malaria and on June 13, 323 BCE he died. During his time he conquered most of the civilized world and has been remembered as one of the greatest generals in history.
Alexander III of Macedon, better known as Alexander the Great, single-handedly changed the nature of the ancient world in little more than a decade.
Alexander was born in Pella, the ancient capital of Macedonia in July 356 BC. His parents were Philip II of Macedon and his wife Olympias. Alexander was educated by the philosopher Aristotle. Philip was assassinated in 336 BC and Alexander inherited a powerful yet volatile kingdom. He quickly dealt with his enemies at home and reasserted Macedonian power within Greece. He then set out to conquer the massive Persian Empire.
Against overwhelming odds, he led his army to victories across the Persian territories of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt without suffering a single defeat. His greatest victory was at the Battle of Gaugamela, in what is now northern Iraq, in 331 BC. The young king of Macedonia, leader of the Greeks, overlord of Asia Minor and pharaoh of Egypt became 'great king' of Persia at the age of 25.
Over the next eight years, in his capacity as king, commander, politician, scholar and explorer, Alexander led his army a further 11,000 miles, founding over 70 cities and creating an empire that stretched across three continents and covered around two million square miles. The entire area from Greece in the west, north to the Danube, south into Egypt and as far to the east as the Indian Punjab, was linked together in a vast international network of trade and commerce. This was united by a common Greek language and culture, while the king himself adopted foreign customs in order to rule his millions of ethnically diverse subjects.
Alexander was acknowledged as a military genius who always led by example, although his belief in his own indestructibility meant he was often reckless with his own life and those of his soldiers. The fact that his army only refused to follow him once in 13 years of a reign during which there was constant fighting, indicates the loyalty he inspired. He died of a fever in Babylon in June 323 BC.
Critical Thinking Questions
  • Do you think that there is any possibility that Alexander’s death was a complot?
  • Do you believe that Alexander ambition lead him to do mostly good or bad things for the humanity?
  • Do you believe that the death of King Phillip of Macedonia was planned by Alexander or Olympias or both?
  • Do you think that Aristotle influenced Alexander later ideas, goals and conquests? If yes how?
  • Why do you think Alexander was kind of obsessed with Greek culture?

Soon, Alexander began taking Persian territory. At Issus, he faced the 600,000 men of Persia's King Darius III. Alexander's great daring as a battlefield genius won the day. Darius fled, stranding his mother, wife, and daughters. Alexander treated the women kindly. By doing this, he showed respect for Darius as a fellow warrior, and may have symbolically laid claim to Darius's throne.
Alexander then pushed south and east. In the places that welcomed him, he proclaimed himself liberator, not conqueror. But cities that resisted were shown no mercy. Defeating the Phoenician (fuh-NIHSH-un) city of Tyre after a seven-month siege, Alexander sold the women and children into slavery. In Egypt, he was crowned Pharaoh. There, he founded Alexandria--the first of many cities to which he gave his name.
In 331 B.C., Alexander defeated Darius at the battle of Gaugamela. The following year, he captured Persepolis, Darius's capital. When Darius was later found murdered by one of his own generals, Alexander proclaimed himself "Lord of Asia."  Still, Alexander kept pushing east, taking on all armies in his path. Inspired by his bravery, his soldiers worshipped him. Yet, as the years passed and deaths mounted, many of them began to grumble. How long would this campaign go on?  The Macedonian soldiers were also offended when Alexander adopted Persian ways, wearing "barbarian" clothes. He even married an Asian princess, Roxanna of Bactria (see map, p. 14).

Alexander began to imagine that people were plotting against him. More often, he gave into a cruel streak. He found an excuse to kill one of his best generals, with whom he was feuding.
In time, he declared himself a god. In the summer of 327 B.C., Alexander invaded India. A year later, after a costly victory at Hydaspes (hye-DAS-peez), his soldiers refused to go any farther. Alexander took to his tent to pout. Legends say that he wept because there were no more worlds for him to conquer. After three days, the great leader finally agreed to turn back.
 Alexander eventually returned to Babylon, which he had seized in 331 B.C. But after many battles and wounds, his body was worn out. In 323 B.C., he was overcome by a fever and died. He was 32. Alexander's generals had asked him to whom he would leave his empire. "To the strongest," he had said. But there was no one that strong. By 300 B.C., Alexander's vast empire had split into several independent states. Still, his accomplishments were enormous. Mythical tales have made Alexander a romantic hero. He was also one of the greatest military commanders the world has ever seen.
Alexander came from Macedonia, a region north of Greece on the Balkan Peninsula. In ancient times, Macedonia struggled with the city-states of Greece for influence. The most important of these cities was Athens, which resented the power that Macedonia achieved under Alexander's father, Philip II.

Pushing east into Asia, Alexander took on the Persian Empire, then more than two centuries old. By the time Alexander died in 323 B.C., he had conquered a stretch of Asia through present-day Pakistan and into India. (This month, an earthquake centered in the mountainous Kashmir area of Pakistan killed more than 30,000 people. See page 4.) Study the historical map above, then answer the following questions.
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