Alexander III of Macedon is one of the world’s most successful and famous military commanders. Inheriting the crown of Macedon aged 20 in 336 BC, he proceeded on a decade long campaign of conquest, defeating the Achaemenid Empire and overthrowing its king, Darius III, before pushing even further east to the Punjab in India.
He formed one of the largest contiguous empires in history before his death in 323 BC. Here are 20 facts about this classical hero.
1. His father was Philip II of Macedon
Philip II was a great king of Macedon who defeated Athens and Thebes at the Battle of Chaeronea. He sought to establish a federation of Greek states known as the League of Corinth, with himself as the elected hegemon (leader).
2. Philip II’s military reforms were crucial to Alexander’s success
Philip reformed the Macedonian army into the most deadly force of the time, developing his infantry phalanx, cavalry, siege equipment and logistics system. Thanks to Philip’s reforms, Alexander inherited the best army of the time upon his succession.
3. Aristotle was his tutor
Alexander was schooled by one of the most famous philosophers in history. Philip II hired Aristotle with the agreement that he would rebuild his home Stageria, which he had previously razed.
4. Philip II was assassinated
The Macedonians had quite a history of assassinating those in power, and Philip was slaughtered at a wedding feast by a member of his royal bodyguard.
5. Alexander had a struggle to become king
Because Alexander’s mother Olympias was from Epirus, he was only half Macedonian. His struggle to claim the throne was bloody; another of Philip’s wives and her daughter were murdered, along with two Macedonian princes. He also put down several rebellious factions.
6. He initially campaigned in the Balkans
In the Spring of 335 BC Alexander wanted to strengthen his northern borders and sought to suppress several revolts. He defeated numerous tribes and states, then razed a rebellious Thebes. He then began his Asia campaign.
7. His first major battle against the Persians was at the Granicus river in May 334 BC
Upon his crossing into Asia Minor in 334 BC, Alexander was soon confronted by a Persian army that was waiting for him the other side of the Granicus river. Alexander was almost-killed in the attack that followed.
After much heavy fighting, Alexander’s army emerged victorious and routed the Persian force. Although they had tried to surrender, Alexander had the Greek mercenaries serving with the Persians surrounded and slaughtered.
8. He decisively defeated the Persian King Darius III at Issus in 333 BC
Alexander fought Darius at Issus, in modern day Syria. Alexander’s army was possibly only half the size of Darius’, but the narrow battle-site ensured Darius’ larger numbers counted for little.
A Macedonian victory soon followed and Darius fled eastwards. Alexander duly captured Darius’ abandoned baggage train, including the Persian King’s lavish royal tent, mother and wife.
9. King Darius III was defeated and killed after the Battle of Gaugamela
After defeating Darius again in 331 BC, the Persian King was overthrown and murdered by one of his satraps (barons). The Achaemenid dynasty essentially died with Darius, and Alexander was now king of Persia as well as Macedon.
10. His army reached India in 327 BC
Not satisfied with conquering Persia, Alexander had a desire to conquer all of the known world, which was widely believed to be surrounded by a ocean that surrounded India. He crossed the Hindu Kush into ancient India in 327 BC. It would be the bloodiest part of his campaigns.
11. His army mutinied after the Battle of the Hydaspes
Alexander’s forces fought against King Porus, King of the Pauravas in 326 BC. Again, Alexander was victorious, but the battle was costly. He attempted to take his army across the Hyphasis (Beas) river, but they refused and demanded to turn back. Alexander acquiesced.
12. In his campaigning, Alexander never lost a battle
In many of his most important and decisive victories, Alexander was significantly outnumbered. But his army consisted of well-trained veterans, while Alexander had superb grasp of military strategy. He was also prepared to take big risks, lead charges and go into battle with his men. All of this swung fortune in his favour.
13. He was lucky
Because Alexander led his army from the front, he diced with death many times during his military campaigns. At the Granicus River for instance, his life was only saved by the intervention of Cleitus the Black, who managed to cut off a Persian’s arm before he dealt a lethal blow to Alexander with his scimitar.
At other times Alexander was not so lucky and we hear he suffered multiple wounds throughout his life. The most severe was during his Indian campaign, where he had his lung pierced by an arrow.
14. Alexander wanted to unify his Greek and Persian subjects
In 324 BC, Alexander arranged a mass wedding at Susa where he and his officers married noble Persian wives to try and unite the Greek and Persian cultures and legitimise himself as King of Asia. Nearly all these marriages, however, soon ended in divorce.
15. He was a big drinker
Alexander has a reputation as a big drinker. In one drunken incident he argued with his friend and general Cleitus the Black, and killed him by throwing a javelin into his chest. There are some theories that alcoholism contributed to his early death.
16. He died aged just 32
Families in ancient times could expect very high child mortality, but noble children who made it to adulthood could easily live into their 50s, or even past their 70s, so Alexander’s death was premature. He died in Babylon in 323 BC.
17. The cause of his death remains a mystery
Alcoholism, wounds, grief, a natural ailment and assassination all circle as theories of how Alexander the Great died. However, there is a lack of reliable evidence on what really happened. Many sources agree that he was bedridden for about a week, possibly with a fever, and died on either 10 or 11 June 323 BC.
18. His empire collapsed into civil war after his death
With such an array of cultures, and with him not naming a clear heir, Alexander’s vast empire quickly fragmented into warring parties. The Wars of the Successors that followed would last forty years in which many would rise and fall in their attempts for dominance.
Eventually, Alexander’s empire became essentially divided into three parts: the Seleucids in Asia, the Antigonids in Macedonia and the Ptolemies in Egypt.
19. Mystery surrounds the whereabouts of his tomb
Following his death, Alexander’s body was seized by Ptolemy and taken to Egypt, where it was eventually placed in Alexandria. Although his tomb remained a central site of Alexandria for centuries, all literary records of his tomb vanish at the end of the fourth century AD.
Mystery now surrounds what happened to Alexander’s tomb – some even believing it is no longer in Alexandria.
20. Alexander’s legacy still lives on today
Alexander the Great was one of the most influential people in history. His military tactics are still being studied, while he brought Greek culture as far east as modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan.
He founded more than twenty cities bearing his name. The Egyptian city of Alexandria, a key Mediterranean port in antiquity, and now a metropolis of over five million people, was founded by Alexander the Great.