Alexander III of Macedon (20/21 July 356 – 10/11 June 323 BC), commonly known as Alexander the Great (Greek: Μέγας Ἀλέξανδρος, Mégas Aléxandros), was a king of Macedon or Macedonia, a state in the north eastern region of Greece, and the creator of one of the largest empires in ancient history. He was undefeated in battle and is considered one of the most successful commanders of all time. Born in Pella in 356 BC, Alexander was tutored by the famed philosopher Aristotle. In 336 BC he succeeded his father Philip II of Macedon to the throne after he was assassinated. Philip had brought most of the city-states of mainland Greece under Macedonian hegemony, using both military and diplomatic means.
Upon Philip's death, Alexander inherited a strong kingdom and an experienced army. He succeeded in being awarded the generalship of Greece and, with his authority firmly established, launched the military plans for expansion left by his father. In 334 BC he invaded Persian-ruled Asia Minor and began a series of campaigns lasting ten years. Alexander broke the power of Persia in a series of decisive battles, most notably the battles of Issus and Gaugamela. Subsequently he overthrew the Persian king Darius III and conquered the entirety of the Persian Empire.i[›] The Macedonian Empire now stretched from the Adriatic sea to the Indus river.
Following his desire to reach the "ends of the world and the Great Outer Sea", he invaded India in 326 BC, but was eventually forced to turn back by the near-mutiny of his troops. Alexander died in Babylon in 323 BC, without realizing a series of planned campaigns that would have begun with an invasion of Arabia. In the years following Alexander's death a series of civil wars tore his empire apart which resulted in the formation of a number of states ruled by the Diadochi - Alexander's surviving generals. Although he is mostly remembered for his vast conquests, Alexander's lasting legacy was not his reign, but the cultural diffusion his conquests engendered.
Alexander's settlement of Greek colonists and culture in the east resulted in a new Hellenistic culture, aspects of which were still evident in the traditions of the Byzantine Empire until the mid-15th century. Alexander became legendary as a classical hero in the mold of Achilles, and features prominently in the history and myth of Greek and non-Greek cultures. He became the measure against which generals, even to this day, compare themselves and military academies throughout the world still teach his tactical exploits. ii[›]
Alexander was born on 20 (or 21) July 356 BC, in Pella, the capital of the Kingdom of Macedon. He was the son of Philip II, the King of Macedon. His mother was Philip's fourth wife Olympias, the daughter of Neoptolemus I, the king of the northern Greek state of Epirus. Although Philip had either seven or eight wives, Olympias was his principal wife for a time.
As a member of the Argead dynasty, Alexander claimed patrilineal descent from Heracles through Caranus of Macedon.iv[›] From his mother's side and the Aeacids, he claimed descent from Neoptolemus, son of Achilles;v[›] Alexander was a second cousin of the celebrated general Pyrrhus of Epirus, who was ranked by Hannibal as, depending on the source, either the best or second-best (after Alexander) commander the world had ever seen.
According to the ancient Greek historian Plutarch, Olympias, on the eve of the consummation of her marriage to Philip, dreamed that her womb was struck by a thunder bolt, causing a flame that spread "far and wide" before dying away. Some time after the wedding, Philip was said to have seen himself, in a dream, sealing up his wife's womb with a seal upon which was engraved the image of a lion. Plutarch offers a variety of interpretations of these dreams: that Olympia was pregnant before her marriage, indicated by the sealing of her womb; or that Alexander's father was Zeus. Ancient commentators were divided as to whether the ambitious Olympias promulgated the story of Alexander's divine parentage, some claiming she told Alexander, others that she dismissed the suggestion as impious.
On the day that Alexander was born, Philip was preparing himself for his siege on the city of Potidea on the peninsula of Chalkidiki. On the 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, leading Hegesias of Magnesia to say that it burnt down because Artemis was attending the birth of Alexander.
In his early years, Alexander was raised by his nurse, Lanike, the sister of Alexander's future friend and general Cleitus the Black. Later on in his childhood, Alexander was tutored by the strict Leonidas, a relative of his mother, and by Lysimachus.
When Alexander was ten years old, a horse trader from Thessaly brought Philip a horse, which he offered to sell for thirteen talents. The horse refused to be mounted by anyone, and Philip ordered it to be taken away. Alexander, however, detected the horse's fear of his own shadow and asked for a turn to tame the horse, which he eventually managed. According to Plutarch, Philip, overjoyed at this display of courage and ambition, kissed him 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. Alexander would name the horse Bucephalus, meaning "ox-head". Bucephalus would be Alexander's companion throughout his journeys as far as India. When Bucephalus died (due to old age, according to Plutarch, for he was already thirty), Alexander named a city after him (Bucephala).
When Alexander was thirteen years old, Philip decided that Alexander needed a higher education, and he began to search for a tutor. Many people were passed over including Isocrates and Speusippus, the latter of whom was Plato's successor at the Academy and who offered to resign to take up the post. In the end, Philip offered the job to Aristotle, who accepted, and Philip gave them the Temple of the Nymphs at Mieza as their 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.
Mieza was like a boarding school for Alexander and the children of Macedonian nobles, such as Ptolemy, Hephaistion, and Cassander. Many of the pupils who learned by Alexander's side would become his friends and future generals, and are often referred to as the 'Companions'. At Mieza, Aristotle educated Alexander and his companions in medicine, philosophy, morals, religion, logic, and art. From Aristotle's teaching, Alexander developed a passion for the works of Homer, and in particular the Iliad; Aristotle gave him an annotated copy, which Alexander was to take on his campaigns.
When Alexander became sixteen years old, his tutorship under Aristotle came to an end. Philip, the king, departed to wage war against Byzantium, and Alexander was left in charge as regent of the kingdom. During Philip's absence, the Thracian Maedi revolted against Macedonian rule. Alexander responded quickly; he crushed the Maedi insurgence, driving them from their territory, colonised it with Greeks, and founded a city named Alexandropolis.
After Philip's return from Byzantium, he dispatched Alexander with a small force to subdue certain revolts in southern Thrace. During another campaign against the Greek city of Perinthus, Alexander is reported to have saved his father's life. Meanwhile, the city of Amphissa began to work lands that were sacred to Apollo near Delphi, a sacrilege that gave Philip the opportunity to further intervene in the affairs of Greece. Still occupied in Thrace, Philip ordered Alexander to begin mustering an army for a campaign in Greece. Concerned with the possibility of other Greek states intervening, Alexander made it look as if he was preparing to attack Illyria instead. During this turmoil, the Illyrians took the opportunity to invade Macedonia, but Alexander repelled the invaders.
Philip joined Alexander with his army in 338 BC, and they marched south through Thermopylae, which they took after stubborn resistance from its Theban garrison. They went on to occupy the city of Elatea, a few days march from both Athens and Thebes. Meanwhile, the Athenians, led by Demosthenes, voted to seek an alliance with Thebes in the war against Macedonia. Both Athens and Philip sent embassies to try to win Thebes's favour, with the Athenians eventually succeeding. Philip marched on Amphissa (theoretically acting on the request of the Amphicytonic League), captured the mercenaries sent there by Demosthenes, and accepted the city's surrender. Philip then returned to Elatea and sent a final offer of peace to Athens and Thebes, which was rejected.
As Philip marched south, he was blocked near Chaeronea, Boeotia by the forces of Athens and Thebes. During the ensuing Battle of Chaeronea, Philip commanded the right, and Alexander the left wing, accompanied by a group of Philip's trusted generals. According to the ancient sources, the two sides fought bitterly for a long time. Philip deliberately commanded the troops on his right wing to backstep, counting on the untested Athenian hoplites to follow, thus breaking their line. On the left, Alexander was the first to break into the Theban lines, followed by Philip's generals. Having achieved a breach in the enemy's cohesion, Philip ordered his troops to press forward and quickly routed his enemy. With the rout of the Athenians, the Thebans were left to fight alone; surrounded by the victorious enemy, they were crushed.
After the victory at Chaeronea, Philip and Alexander marched unopposed into the Peloponnese welcomed by all cities; however, when they reached Sparta, they were refused, and they simply left. At Corinth, Philip established a "Hellenic Alliance" (modeled on the old anti-Persian alliance of the Greco-Persian Wars), with the exception of Sparta. Philip was then named Hegemon (often translated as 'Supreme Commander') of this league (known by modern historians as the League of Corinth). He then announced his plans for a war of revenge against the Persian Empire, which he would command.