Alexander the Great Study Guide

Biography, Timeline, and Study Questions

Alexander fighting a lion mosaic
Alexander fighting a lion mosaic. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Alexander the Great, King of Macedon from 336 - 323 B.C., may claim the title of the greatest military leader the world has ever known. His empire spread from Gibraltar to the Punjab, and he made Greek the lingua franca of his world, the language that helped spread early Christianity.

After his father, Philip II, unified most of the reluctant city-states of Greece, Alexander continued his conquests by taking Thrace and Thebes (in the area of Greece), Syria, Phoenicia, Mesopotamia, Assyria, Egypt, and on to the Punjab, in northern India.

Alexander Assimilated and Adopted Foreign Customs

Alexander founded possibly more than 70 cities throughout the Mediterranean region and east to India, spreading trade and the culture of the Greeks wherever he went. Along with spreading Hellenism, he sought to interbreed with the native populations, and set an example for his followers by marrying local women. This required adaptation to the local customs -- as we see very clearly in Egypt, where his successor Ptolemy's descendants adopted the local custom of pharaonic marriage to siblings [although, in his excellent Antony and Cleopatra, Adrian Goldsworthy says this was done for other reasons than the Egyptian example]. As was true in Egypt, so it was also true in the East (among Alexander's Seleucid successors) that Alexander's goal of racial fusion met resistance. The Greeks remained dominant.

Larger-Than-Life

The story of Alexander is told in terms of oracles, myths, and legends, including his taming of the wild horse Bucephalus, and Alexander's pragmatic approach to severing the Gordian Knot.

Alexander was and still is compared with Achilles, the Greek hero of the Trojan War. Both men chose a life that guaranteed immortal fame even at the cost of an early death. Unlike Achilles, who was subordinate to the great king Agamemnon, it was Alexander who was in charge, and it was his personality that kept his army on the march while holding together domains that were very diverse geographically and culturally.

Problems With His Men

Alexander's Macedonian troops were not always in sympathy with their leader. His apparent adoption of Persian customs antagonized his men who were not apprised of his motives. Did Alexander want to become a Great King, like Darius? Did he want to be worshiped as a living god? When, in 330, Alexander sacked Persepolis, Plutarch says his men thought it a sign Alexander was ready to return home. When they learned otherwise, some threatened to mutiny. In 324, on the banks of the Tigris River, at Opis, Alexander executed the leaders of a mutiny. Soon the disaffected soldiers, thinking they were being replaced with Persians, asked Alexander to accept them back again.
[Reference: Pierre Briant's Alexander the Great and His Empire]

Evaluation

Alexander was ambitious, capable of fierce anger, ruthless, willful, an innovative strategist, and charismatic. People continue to debate his motives and capabilities.

Death

Alexander died suddenly, in Babylon, on June 11, 323 B.C. The cause of death is not known. It could have been poison (possibly arsenic) or natural causes. Alexander the Great was 33

13 Facts About Alexander the Great

Use Your judgment: Remember that Alexander is a larger than life figure so what is attributed to him could be propaganda mixed with fact.

  1. Birth
    Alexander was born around July 19/20, 356 B.C.
    •Omens at the Birth of Alexander
  2. Parents
    Alexander was the son of King Philip II of Macedon and Olympias, daughter of King Neoptolemus I of Epirus. Olympias was not the only wife of Philip and there was much conflict between Alexander's parents. There are other contenders for the father of Alexander, but they're mush less believable.
     
  1. Education
    Alexander was tutored by Leonidas (possibly his uncle) and the great Greek philosopher Aristotle. (Hephaestion is thought to have been educated along with Alexander.)
     
  2. Who Was Bucephalus?
    During his youth, Alexander tamed the wild horse Bucephalus. Later, when his beloved horse died, Alexander renamed a city in India for Bucephalus.
     
  3. The Promise Shown When Alexander Was Regent
    In 340 B.C., while father Philip went off to fight rebels, Alexander was made regent in Macedonia. During Alexander's regency, the Maedi of northern Macedonia revolted. Alexander put down the revolt and renamed their city Alexandropolis.
     
  4. His Early Military Prowess
    In August 338 Alexander showed his mettle helping Philip win the Battle of Chaeronea.
    Arrian's 'Campaigns of Alexander'
  5. Alexander Succeeds His Father to the Throne
    In 336 B.C. his father Philip was assassinated, and Alexander the Great became ruler of Macedonia.
     
  1. Alexander Was Wary of Those Around Him
    Alexander had potential rivals executed in order to secure the throne.
     
  2. His Wives
    Alexander the Great had 3 probable wives however that term is interpreted:
    1. Roxane,
    2. Statiera, and
    3. Parysatis.
  3. His Offspring
    Alexander's children were
    • Herakles, son of Alexander's mistress Barsine,

      [Sources: Alexander the Great and His Empire, by Pierre Briant and Alexander the Great, by Philip Freeman]

    • Alexander IV, son of Roxane.
    Both children were killed before they reached adulthood.
     
  1. Alexander Solved the Gordian Knot
    They say that when Alexander the Great was in Gordium (modern Turkey), in 333 B.C., he undid the Gordian Knot. This is the fabled knot tied by the father of the legendary ass-eared King Midas. The same "they" said that the person who untied the Gordian Knot would rule all of Asia. Alexander the Great may have undone the knot by the simple expedience of slashing through it with a sword.
  2. Death of Alexander
    In 323 B.C. Alexander the Great returned from the area of modern India and Pakistan to Babylonia, where he became ill suddenly, and died at age 33. We don't now why he died. It could have been disease or poison.
     
  3. Who Were Alexander's Successors?
    The successors of Alexander are known as the Diadochi.
 

Timeline of Alexander the Great

July 356 B.C.Born at Pella, Macedonia, to King Philip II and Olympias
338 B.C. AugustBattle of Chaeronea
336 B.C.Alexander becomes ruler of Macedonia
334 B.C.Wins Battle of the Granicus River against Darius III of Persia
333 B.C.Wins Battle at Issus against Darius
332 B.C.Wins siege of Tyre; attacks Gaza, which falls
331 B.C.Founds Alexandria. Wins Battle of Gaugamela against Darius
330 B.C.Sacks and burns Persepolis; trial and execution of Philotas; assassination of Parmenion
329 B.C.Crosses Hindu Kush; goes to Bactria and crosses the Oxus river and then to Samarkand.
328 B.C.Kills Black Cleitus for an insult at Samarkand
327 B.C.Marries Roxane; begins march to India
326 B.C.Wins Battle of river Hydaspes against Porus; Bucephalus dies
324 B.C.Marries Stateira and Parysatis at Susa; Troops mutiny at Opis; Hephaestion dies
June 11, 323 B.C.Dies at Babylon in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II
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Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "Alexander the Great Study Guide." ThoughtCo, Sep. 26, 2017, thoughtco.com/alexander-the-great-study-guide-116811. Gill, N.S. (2017, September 26). Alexander the Great Study Guide. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/alexander-the-great-study-guide-116811 Gill, N.S. "Alexander the Great Study Guide." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/alexander-the-great-study-guide-116811 (accessed December 11, 2017).