Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great
Basileus of Macedon, Hegemon of the Hellenic League, Shahanshah of Persia, Pharaoh of Egypt, Lord of Asia
Istanbul - Museo archeol. - Alessandro Magno (firmata Menas) - sec. III a.C. - da Magnesia - Foto G. Dall'Orto 28-5-2006 b-n.jpg
3rd century BC statue of Alexander in Istanbul Archaeology Museum
King of Macedon
Reign336–323 BC
PredecessorPhilip II
Reign336 BC
PredecessorPhilip II
Pharaoh of Egypt
Reign332–323 BC
PredecessorDarius III
  • Alexander IV
  • Philip III
King of Persia
Reign330–323 BC
PredecessorDarius III
  • Alexander IV
  • Philip III
Lord of Asia
Reign331–323 BC
PredecessorNew office
  • Alexander IV
  • Philip III
Born20 or 21 July 356 BC
Pella, Macedon, Ancient Greece
Died10 or 11 June 323 BC (aged 32)
IssueAlexander IV
Heracles of Macedon (alleged illegitimate son)
Full name
Alexander III of Macedon
    • Μέγας Ἀλέξανδρος[d]
    • Mégas Aléxandros
    • lit. 'Great Alexander'
    • Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας
    • Aléxandros ho Mégas
    • lit. 'Alexander the Great'
FatherPhilip II of Macedon
MotherOlympias of Epirus
ReligionGreek polytheism

Alexander III of Macedon (Greek: Αλέξανδρος Γʹ ὁ Μακεδών; 20/21 July 356 BC – 10/11 June 323 BC), commonly known as Alexander the Great (Ancient Greek: Ἀλέξανδρος ὁ Μέγας, romanizedAléxandros ho Mégas), was a king (basileus) of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon[a] and a member of the Argead dynasty. He was born in Pella in 356 BC and succeeded his father Philip II to the throne at the age of 20. He spent most of his ruling years on an unprecedented military campaign through Asia and northeast Africa, and by the age of thirty, he had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, stretching from Greece to northwestern India.[1][2] He was undefeated in battle and is widely considered one of history's most successful military commanders.[3]

During his youth, Alexander was tutored by Aristotle until age 16. After Philip's assassination in 336 BC, he succeeded his father to the throne and inherited a strong kingdom and an experienced army. Alexander was awarded the generalship of Greece and used this authority to launch his father's pan-Hellenic project to lead the Greeks in the conquest of Persia.[4][5] In 334 BC, he invaded the Achaemenid Empire (Persian Empire) and began a series of campaigns that lasted 10 years. Following the conquest of Anatolia, Alexander broke the power of Persia in a series of decisive battles, most notably the battles of Issus and Gaugamela. He subsequently overthrew Persian King Darius III and conquered the Achaemenid Empire in its entirety.[b] At that point, his empire stretched from the Adriatic Sea to the Beas River.

Alexander endeavoured to reach the "ends of the world and the Great Outer Sea" and invaded India in 326 BC, winning an important victory over the Pauravas at the Battle of the Hydaspes. He eventually turned back at the demand of his homesick troops, dying in Babylon in 323 BC, the city that he planned to establish as his capital, without executing a series of planned campaigns that would have begun with an invasion of Arabia. In the years following his death, a series of civil wars tore his empire apart, resulting in the establishment of several states ruled by the Diadochi: Alexander's surviving generals and heirs.

Alexander's legacy includes the cultural diffusion and syncretism which his conquests engendered, such as Greco-Buddhism. He founded some twenty cities that bore his name, most notably Alexandria in Egypt. Alexander's settlement of Greek colonists and the resulting spread of Greek culture in the east resulted in a new Hellenistic civilization, aspects of which were still evident in the traditions of the Byzantine Empire in the mid-15th century AD and the presence of Greek speakers in central and far eastern Anatolia until the 1920s. Alexander became legendary as a classical hero in the mould of Achilles, and he features prominently in the history and mythic traditions of both Greek and non-Greek cultures. He became the measure against which military leaders compared themselves, and military academies throughout the world still teach his tactics.[6][c] He is often ranked among the most influential people in history.[7]

Early life

Lineage and childhood

Bust of a young Alexander the Great from the Hellenistic era, British Museum
Aristotle Tutoring Alexander, by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

Alexander was born in Pella, the capital of the Kingdom of Macedon,[8] on the sixth day of the ancient Greek month of Hekatombaion, which probably corresponds to 20 July 356 BC, although the exact date is uncertain.[9] He was the son of the king of Macedon, Philip II, and his fourth wife, Olympias, the daughter of Neoptolemus I, king of Epirus.[10] Although Philip had seven or eight wives, Olympias was his principal wife for some time, likely because she gave birth to Alexander.[11]

Several legends surround Alexander's birth and childhood.[12] According to the ancient Greek biographer Plutarch, on the eve of the consummation of her marriage to Philip, Olympias dreamed that her womb was struck by a thunderbolt that caused a flame to spread "far and wide" before dying away. Sometime after the wedding, Philip is said to have seen himself, in a dream, securing his wife's womb with a seal engraved with a lion's image.[13] Plutarch offered a variety of interpretations of these dreams: that Olympias was pregnant before her marriage, indicated by the sealing of her womb; or that Alexander's father was Zeus. Ancient commentators were divided about whether the ambitious Olympias promulgated the story of Alexander's divine parentage, variously claiming that she had told Alexander, or that she dismissed the suggestion as impious.[13]

On the day Alexander was born, Philip was preparing a siege on the city of Potidea on the peninsula of Chalcidice. That same day, Philip received news that his general Parmenion had defeated the combined Illyrian and Paeonian armies and that his horses had won at the Olympic Games. It was also said that on this day, the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, burnt down. This led Hegesias of Magnesia to say that it had burnt down because Artemis was away, attending the birth of Alexander.[14] Such legends may have emerged when Alexander was king, and possibly at his instigation, to show that he was superhuman and destined for greatness from conception.[12]

In his early years, Alexander was raised by a nurse, Lanike, sister of Alexander's future general Cleitus the Black. Later in his childhood, Alexander was tutored by the strict Leonidas, a relative of his mother, and by Lysimachus of Acarnania.[15] Alexander was raised in the manner of noble Macedonian youths, learning to read, play the lyre, ride, fight, and hunt.[16]

Statue of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki, Macedonia, Greece

When Alexander was ten years old, a trader from Thessaly brought Philip a horse, which he offered to sell for thirteen talents. The horse refused to be mounted, and Philip ordered it away. Alexander, however, detecting the horse's fear of its own shadow, asked to tame the horse, which he eventually managed.[12] Plutarch stated that Philip, overjoyed at this display of courage and ambition, kissed his son tearfully, declaring: "My boy, you must find a kingdom big enough for your ambitions. Macedon is too small for you", and bought the horse for him.[17] Alexander named it Bucephalas, meaning "ox-head". Bucephalas carried Alexander as far as India. When the animal died (because of old age, according to Plutarch, at age thirty), Alexander named a city after him, Bucephala.[18]


When Alexander was 13, Philip began to search for a tutor, and considered such academics as Isocrates and Speusippus, the latter offering to resign from his stewardship of the Academy to take up the post. In the end, Philip chose Aristotle and provided the Temple of the Nymphs at Mieza as a classroom. In return for teaching Alexander, Philip agreed to rebuild Aristotle's hometown of Stageira, which Philip had razed, and to repopulate it by buying and freeing the ex-citizens who were slaves, or pardoning those who were in exile.[19]

Mieza was like a boarding school for Alexander and the children of Macedonian nobles, such as Ptolemy, Hephaistion, and Cassander. Many of these students would become his friends and future generals, and are often known as the 'Companions'. Aristotle taught Alexander and his companions about medicine, philosophy, morals, religion, logic, and art. Under Aristotle's tutelage, Alexander developed a passion for the works of Homer, and in particular the Iliad; Aristotle gave him an annotated copy, which Alexander later carried on his campaigns.[20]

During his youth, Alexander was also acquainted with Persian exiles at the Macedonian court, who received the protection of Philip II for several years as they opposed Artaxerxes III.[21][22][23] Among them were Artabazos II and his daughter Barsine, future mistress of Alexander, who resided at the Macedonian court from 352 to 342 BC, as well as Amminapes, future satrap of Alexander, or a Persian nobleman named Sisines.[21][24][25][26] This gave the Macedonian court a good knowledge of Persian issues, and may even have influenced some of the innovations in the management of the Macedonian state.[24]

Suda writes that, also, Anaximenes of Lampsacus was one of his teachers. Anaximenes, also accompanied him on his campaigns.[27]

Other Languages
armãneashti: Alexandru Machedon
asturianu: Alexandru Magno
Bân-lâm-gú: Alexandros Tāi-tè
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Аляксандар Македонскі
भोजपुरी: सिकंदर
brezhoneg: Aleksandr Veur
čeština: Alexandr Veliký
Chavacano de Zamboanga: Alejandro Magno
español: Alejandro Magno
estremeñu: Alejandru Manu
فارسی: اسکندر
føroyskt: Aleksandur Mikli
Gaeilge: Alastar Mór
Gàidhlig: Alasdair Mòr
ગુજરાતી: સિકંદર
गोंयची कोंकणी / Gõychi Konknni: अलेक्झांडर द ग्रेट
客家語/Hak-kâ-ngî: Alexandros Thai-ti
Արեւմտահայերէն: Ալեքսանտր Մակեդոնացի
हिन्दी: सिकंदर
Bahasa Indonesia: Aleksander Agung
interlingua: Alexandro Magne
Interlingue: Alexandro li Grand
íslenska: Alexander mikli
Lingua Franca Nova: Alexandro la grande
Livvinkarjala: Aleksanderi Suuri
Bahasa Melayu: Alexander Agung
Mìng-dĕ̤ng-ngṳ̄: Ā-lĭk-săng-dâi Dâi-dá̤
мокшень: Ине Сандор
မြန်မာဘာသာ: မဟာအလက်ဇန္ဒား
Nederlands: Alexander de Grote
Napulitano: Alessandro Magno
Nordfriisk: Alexander di Grat
norsk nynorsk: Aleksander den store
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Aleksandr
پنجابی: سکندر
Plattdüütsch: Alexander de Grote
Qaraqalpaqsha: İskender Zulqarnayın
Runa Simi: Hatun Aleksandru
саха тыла: Улуу Александр
संस्कृतम्: सिकन्दर महान
Simple English: Alexander the Great
slovenčina: Alexander Veľký
slovenščina: Aleksander Veliki
словѣньскъ / ⰔⰎⰑⰂⰡⰐⰠⰔⰍⰟ: Алєѯандръ Макєдоньскъ
српски / srpski: Александар Велики
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Aleksandar Veliki
татарча/tatarça: Искәндәр Зөлкарнәйн
Türkçe: İskender
ئۇيغۇرچە / Uyghurche: ئىسكەندەر زۇلقەرنەيىن
Tiếng Việt: Alexandros Đại đế
文言: 亞歷山大
žemaitėška: Aleksėndra Dėdlīsis