Alexander the great

Alexander the Great and His One True Goal


Phillip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great had a lot in common as rulers. They both had a thirst for conquering that was never quenched, despite their multitude of military victories and an ever-expanding empire. They both died with a desire to conquer more land than they had done, as Phillip passed away before he could fulfill his plans to conquer Persia, and Alexander similarly died before he could invade Arabia. Both Phillip and Alexander had a strong Greek heritage, despite not being Greek themselves.  It was this allegiance to Greece and desire to be considered Greek that led Phillip to plan an attack on Persia, seeking revenge for the Persian wars, and led Alexander to execute these plans after his father’s death.


The Macedonians lived north of Greece in the mountains and while they were related to the Greeks, they were looked down upon as barbarians. The Greeks were a very cultured people with tremendous achievements in philosophy and art. Phillip of Macedon made it his goal to be considered worthy of the Greeks. He learned to speak the language and became well-versed in Greek culture. He even had his son, Alexander, tutored by the great Greek philosopher Aristotle, in the hope that Alexander might one day be accepted by Greeks. 


After the Peloponnesian War where Athens and Sparta faced each other in a battle, joined by their allies, all of Greece was left weakened. The Greeks were so busy fighting each other and then recovering, that they did not notice the Macedonian army on their northern border. “Not only Athens, but the whole country was left exhausted by the conflict, and the victors were no exception,”(Gombrich,62). Phillip easily defeated the Greeks at Chaeronea, taking advantage of their tired and feeble state.


Phillip had no intention of enslaving the Greeks, but rather planned to combine them with his own Macedonian army and use this army to stomp on Persia. He wanted the support of the Greeks, and while they served in his army, he knew that they regarded him as a barbarian. To prove to them that he was worthy of their cultural identity, he entered into the Olympic games and won. His son, Alexander, studied the epic poems of the Greek poet Homer and was said to be so enamored with them that he slept with a copy of these stories under his pillow.


A rift slowly grew between father and son, caused mostly by the problems Phillip was having with his wife, Olympias. Phillip had cast her aside in favor of a younger woman named Cleopatra. Then Phillip impregnated Cleopatra while still being married to Olympias. The son of Phillip and Cleopatra was a boy and a full-blooded Macedonian, unlike Alexander. This meant that he would have the entitlement to the throne after Phillip’s death, and Alexander became suddenly enraged. One evening, at a party where Phillip had been consuming alcohol, Alexander threw wine in his father’s face. When Phillip stood up to run after him, he fell down onto the floor. “Here’s the man who wants to move an army across Persia,” Alexander said, “yet he cannot even move to the other side of the room.”


Not long after this, Phillip was murdered, as was Cleopatra and her son. Many believed it was Olympias who was responsible for the murders in order to pave the way for Alexander to take the throne. He was now only twenty years old, and the kingdom of Macedonia was in his hands. Alexander immediately took control by killing anyone who questioned his rule. Then he went to Greece and ravished the city of Thebes, taking advantage of their weakened state just as his father had done years earlier. Alexander made the people swear allegiance to him and recognize him as Phillip’s successor. When a Greek city-state tried to free itself from his rule, Alexander “had it razed, and its people sold off into slavery,” (Gombrich,64). He believed firmly in setting an example through fear and punishment.


When Alexander came upon a legendary challenge known as the Gordian Knot, which could not be untied, he swiftly removed his sword and slashed through it. A well-known prophecy had stated that anyone who could untie the knot would become master of the world. Alexander sliced through the knot with his sword, never making an attempt to untie it by hand. Many believed this action to mean that Alexander would be the one to conquer the world and that he would do it through the use of the sword. Alexander took the event to mean that it was god’s will for him to rule over Asia.


Before Phillip died, he had proposed to go to war against Persia. The Persian Empire had challenged the Greeks, over a hundred years earlier, and while their attacks were ultimately unsuccessful, they did manage to burn Athens to the ground. Phillip planned to exact revenge for this, but he was murdered before he could. Alexander now took over his father’s plans and marched against Persia. The Persians used chariot warfare and Alexander allowed them to bring their chariots inside where his army was positioned. He had his men open up in the center and let the chariots come in. Once inside, however, his men suddenly closed in on the chariots from both sides, pulled the riders off of their chariots, and conquered the remains of the Persian army. The Persian King Darius the Third fled into the mountains where he was assassinated by some of his own men. When Alexander learned of this, he had the men who assassinated King Darius put to death, claiming, “only a king can kill another king.” This showed that Alexander was both power-hungry and paranoid. He wanted to be the one to kill King Darius the Third himself, and by setting this example he was showing the people the punishment for taking action on their own. Alexander was also creating a situation whereby no one would dare kill him for fear of what his successor might do to them for breaking this rule.


After Persia, Alexander moved his army to Egypt where he gained control of the Mediterranean coastline. This area separated Greece from Egypt, and holding it meant controlling a border that would prevent the Persians from crossing over it and coming into Greece. Despite all of this conquering and military success, the Greeks still looked at Alexander as an outsider, a feat that neither he nor his father was ever able to surpass.


Both Phillip and Olympias had instilled in their son, Alexander, a desire to be considered Greek. While Phillip had him tutored by Aristotle so that his son would be worthy of the Greeks, Olympias claimed to be a descendent of the Greek gods, herself. She told Alexander that Phillip was not his real father, and that Zeus had come to her in the form of a snake one night and impregnated her. She claimed that Zeus was Alexander’s true father. These stories by Olympias not only served to widen the rift between father and son, but also helped convince Alexander that he had Greek blood and was a descendent of the gods.


When Alexander took up as King of the Macedonian Empire, he referred to himself as, “the champion of Greek culture,” out to exact revenge for what Xerxes had done to the Greeks in 480 B.C. (Judge,173). Alexander conquered Persia, and used the Persian satrapies method for governing, but was not interested in Persian culture. Instead, he wanted to spread the Greek language and culture throughout Asia. His mother not only told him that Zeus was his father, but also claimed to be a descendent of the great Greek warrior Achilles. Alexander, having obsessed over the Homeric tales of Achilles when he was young, now came to see himself as a second Achilles. When his soldiers refused to continue marching in the Indus River Valley, and were ready to turn back for home, Alexander shut himself in his tent for days, refusing to come out. This same action was taken by Achilles in The Iliad when his battle prize, Briseis, was taken away by Agamemnon, and Achilles remained in his tent refusing to fight. When this method of protest proved to be unsuccessful, Alexander turned back with his men, now preparing to conquer Arabia on their journey home. He contracted malaria and died before he could enact these plans, and after his death, his kingdom was divided.


Phillip and Alexander were both outsiders of Greek culture who made it their goal as leaders of the Macedonian Empire to be considered worthy by the Greeks. Phillip entered the Olympic games just to prove to the Greeks that he not a barbarian. He had his son tutored by the great Greek philosopher Aristotle. Alexander fell in love with the epic poems of Homer and tales of the great warrior Achilles. When his mother, Olympias, told Alexander that Zeus was his father and that she was a descendent of Achilles, Alexander took this to heart. As a leader, he considered himself the defender of Greece and conquered the Persians in order to exact revenge for their burning of Athens. He then continued to spread Greek culture throughout all of the lands he conquered, but never attained his one true goal, instituted in him by both of his parents, to be considered worthy by the Greeks.


Bibliography


Books

1.Judge, Edward H., 2009, Connections, A World History, Volume One, to 1650

Vango Books, Pearson Education Inc, New Jersey


2.Lewis, Brenda Ralph, Great Civilizations

Paragon Books, New York, 1999


3.Gombrich, E.H., A Little History of the World,

Yale University Press, New Haven, 1999


4.Hall, Timothy C., World History, a Complete Guide

Alpha Books, New York, 2008