Ten Fascinating Facts about Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great was one of the most famous individuals of the ancient world and conquered the world as it was known in his time.

Ten Fascinating Facts about Alexander the Great
© John Seaton Callahan  2050 words
Alexander the Great was one of the most influential people in human history. Love him or loathe him, before his untimely death in 323 BC at only 32 years of age, King Alexander III of Macedon and his army had conquered much of the world as it was known in his time.
Alexander spread Hellenistc language, culture and values across Asia from the Middle East to India and changed the world like few individuals ever have.
Origins Primogeniture rarely results in excellence of any kind, but Alexander was the son of a king, Phllip II of Macedonia and his wife, Olympias. Philip II was a warrior king, not a philosopher king and Macedonia was a region of northern Greece regarded at that time as rather rustic by the intellectual and cultured southern Greeks. Philip II was a rough man who fought for and won a kingdom, but he was also an intelligent man who admired the intellectual accomplishments of the southern Greeks. He cordially invited their participation in the affairs of his court and in the education of his son. Alexander and Aristotle Alexander was personally tutored to the age of 16 by the philosopher Aristotle, brought from Athens to lecture Alexander and the sons of the Macedonian nobility in logic, art, medicine, philosophy and history.
As the son of a king, Alexander received the finest education available to a young man of his time, with horsemanship, literacy in classical Greek and fighting skills prioritized.
In a remarkable historical coincidence, Aristotle, one of the greatest minds in human history, tutored Alexander, one of the greatest warriors in human history.
Alexander had a particular affinity for the writings of Homer and identified strongly with Achilles, Homer’s great hero of the Trojan war. Some historians have asserted Alexander was taught to believe, as was common at the time, that the mythical heroes of the Odyssey and The Iliad were real flesh and blood people who had lived in the distant past and that he; Alexander, as the son of a King, was a descendant of Achilles.
Achilles became Alexander’s role model and he received a  handwritten copy of The Iliad, the great epic poem, from his tutor Aristotle. He kept this copy at his bedside for the rest of his life and read from this book or had chapters read to him, on a daily basis.
Becoming a King
Alexander assumed the throne of Macedonia at the age of 20, after the murder of his father Philip II and following extensive positioning and scheming by his ambitious mother, Olympias. He consolidated his power with several prompt executions of rivals to the throne. The newly crowned Alexander III, King of Macedon, then launched a series of military campaigns that resulted in the pacification of the northern tribes and the quelling of a revolt by the city of Thebes. Thebes was besieged and defeated, burned to the ground and completely destroyed to set an example for the other city-states of southern Greece, that the young King would tolerate no rebellion. As an additional example, an estimated 30 000 treasonous but surviving Thebian soldiers were sold into slavery.
With the city of Thebes ruthlessly destroyed and its army defeated, Alexander achieved the unification of the southern Greeks under his command and prepared for his next campaign.
Invasion of Asia In 334 BC Alexander and his army began an invasion of Asia, a campaign that was to last for ten years and changed the world. During this rampage across the Middle East, Asia Minor and the Persian Empire, supposedly in revenge for a previous Persian invasion of Greece during which the Parthenon was burned and the statue of the goddess Athena defiled, Alexander achieved fame and notoriety unprecedented in the ancient world. Alexander never lost a battle, large or small, earning a reputation as the greatest battlefield commander of his time. Over the next decade, he besieged cities from the Mediterranean coast to the mountains of Afghanistan, fought all who stood in his way and defeated the Persian army of the great King Darius III, absolute ruler of the largest empire in the world. Alexander sacked the magnificent Persian capital of Persepolis, with his army destroying centuries of artworks, manuscripts, textiles and other items of cultural heritage. They burned the Royal Palace to the ground and carried off a fortune in uncoined metals like silver, copper and gold, ostensibly in retaliation for the previous Persian invasion of Greece and the burning of Athens by Darius III’s predecessor, Xerxes I. Alexander fought well and ruthlessly, marching his growing army on a decade-long path of conquest as far east as the Beas River in what is now the Punjab region of India. This was considered to be the limit of the known Greek world at that time and where Alexander and his army defeated the army, including war elephants, of Prince Porus of the Punjab.
The Oracle
Alexander was a firm believer in the powers of the Oracle, a kind of fortune-telling service of the ancient Greek gods. After conquering Egypt and founding the city of Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea, Alexander and a small group of companions made the long and difficult Journey across the barren Egyptian desert by camel to the isolated Oracle at Siwa, now located in eastern Libya.
This was a difficult journey at the time, to a well respected but rather obscure Oracle in a remote location on the far frontier of Greek civilization. Historians are still not sure why Alexander chose this Oracle of the Greek god Zeus Ammon at Siwa to seek a prophecy regarding his destiny and fate. It was here where Alexander supposedly received a favorable prophecy that changed his life, a message from the gods which told him he was destined to conquer Persia and become a living god himself.
The Siege-Breaker 
Alexander was famous as a battlefield leader during his time, but his greater fame was as a siege-breaker. No city was safe from Alexander and his clever Greek engineers, who devised state of the art siege-towers, fire catapults and tunneling techniques far ahead of their time. Many leaders of the cities in Alexander’s path wisely chose to surrender and live another day, rather than resist and die by the sword. For the cities that resisted, the engineers were able to overcome any defense. Alexander conquered cities large and small and walled cities considered impregnable, such as the offshore island city of Tyre in Lebanon and the trading city of Gaza in what is now Israel.
In Tyre, the stronghold of the Phonecians, who were an ally of the enemy Persians, Alexander faced a particularly difficult problem. The walled city was not only heavily defended by veteran fighters, but located on an offshore island. The solution of his Greek engineers was to build a causeway across the shallow strait, which they did with baskets of rocks, gravel and dirt, a sturdy and well-engineered causeway which is still in use today.
Once the causeway was finished, Alexander marched his army and siege towers  to the walls, where they breached the defenses. The remaining defenders of once mighty Tyre were slaughtered without mercy, the city was sacked and the women and children sold into slavery.
Great Battles
Alexander fought three great battles in Asia; at the Granicus River, Issus and the plains of Gaugamela in what is now Iraq. In each battle, his army was vastly outnumbered by the Persian forces of King Darius III. In spite of the overwhelming odds, the Macedonians won with strategy, courage, fighting skill and the famed Macedonian cavalry, the best cavalry force of the ancient world, led from the front by Alexander on his black horse, Bucephalus.
The battles of Alexander in Asia have been studied for centuries, and extensive analysis reveals that Alexander and his generals followed a similar strategy for each of the three major battles against the massive army of Darius III.
Alexander and his famed Macedonian Companions cavalry would wait behind the lines for a decisive opportunity to present itself. Then, with Alexander in the lead, these fearless veterans would charge through a gap in the enemy lines and create havoc behind the Persian ranks, killing officers and causing the Persian infantry to panic and flee, including King Darius III in his royal chariot. After his victory at Gaugamela, although Darius III had escaped and was still alive, Alexander was acknowledged as the new ruler of the Persian Empire.
Alexander's horse, Bucephalus was given to him as a boy by his father King Philip II, as the animal was considered to be untameable. Alexander accepted the challenge and not only was he able to tame the huge black horse, he formed an unbreakable bond with the animal and rode Bucephalus for the rest of his life. In every major battle across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, the magnificent black horse ignored the noise, dust, smells and tumult of war to instantly obey the commands of his master, achieving his own considerable fame throughout the ancient world.
Crossing the Makran
After defeating the Indian prince Porus in battle in the Punjab, the decision was made to begin the long return to Macedonia. After ten years of fighting, killing and conquering, many of the influential veterans of the army were weary of the life of traveling, fighting and camping, longing to return to the green pastures of Macedonia, the comfort of their homes and the companionship of their wives and children. On the initial portion of their return from India, Alexander's army had to cross the Makran Desert next to the Indian Ocean, a sparse and desolate region of Pakistan thinly populated to this day.
In the punishing heat of this bleak desert and with little in the way of food or water, many of the soldiers died from disease, starvation and thirst as the supply boats intended to replenish food and water supplies were held back by the seasonal southwest monsoon and could not follow the army. The remaining soldiers and Alexander himself were forced to survive on the meat of desert mice and beached whales, supplemented with cooking pots of boiled seaweed and sand crabs.
Death in Babylon 
After the brutal march across the Makran Desert, the starving and dehydrated remains of the army reached the city of Babylon in Mesopotamia. In Babylon, they found food, shelter, comfortable accommodations, plenty of water with which to wash and drink and the companionship of women, the famous Whores of Babylon.
Babylon was where Alexander hoped to refresh and repurpose the army and plan an invasion and conquest of Arabia, to add additional territory to his empire before returning to Macedonia.
After several weeks of rest and recuperation, Alexander died unexpectedly in Babylon in 323 BC, either from poison or disease.
Poisoned wine from a disgruntled subordinate, or a possible case of cerebral malaria or meningitis are among the suspected causes but the exact cause of Alexander’s death is not known. His body was embalmed in honey and taken to Alexandria in Egypt in a sealed coffin en route to Macedonia. While it is documented Alexander was laid to rest in an elaborate tomb in Alexandria with his sword, shield and helmet buried with him, the location of the tomb of Alexander III of Macedon, one of the most famous individuals of the ancient world, has never been firmly established and remains unknown to this day.

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