===================The Empire of Alexander the Great (323 BC)
After the end of the Peloponnesian War (431 − 404 BC), the power of the Athenian Empire of the Delian League vanished and its nemesis Sparta in turn became the strongest city-state in the Greek world. The Spartans attempted to consolidate their dominant position but quickly made themselves unpopular: democracies were replaced with repressive oligarchies, populations were enslaved, tributes were imposed on the Greek city-states, revolts were crushed by the Spartan army and Sparta’s allies were bluntly denied their share in the victory they had helped to achieve. While the Athenian leadership of the Delian League had been heavy-handed at the very least, it became clear that Spartan hegemony would impose an even greater tyranny upon the Greek world.
Athens, though weakened and humiliated, quickly cast off the Spartan yoke and restored its democracy already in 403 BC. Within a few years time, the Athenians had rallied a coalition to avenge their defeat and oppose the fledgling Spartan Empire. Many city-states hostile to Athens during the Peloponnesian War joined forces with their former enemy, most notably Thebes. The Persian Empire now took its chance and interfered, initially helping the anti-Spartan coalition but then switching sides to Sparta in order to impose upon the Greek world the Peace of Antalkideios, which gained Persia all the Greek cities in Asia Minor and allowed Sparta to maintain its iron hold over the Greek motherland.
However, Thebes openly declared war on Sparta in 379 BC and Athens revived the Delian League in 378 − 377 BC. In 371 BC, Thebes smashed the renowned Spartan army at the Battle of Leuktra, breaking Sparta’s military dominance with a single blow. The Thebans then invaded the Peloponnesos, leading to the dissolution of Sparta’s Peloponnesian League and the liberation of the enslaved people of Messenia. Thebes in turn became the strongest Greek city-state but failed to create a permanent peace throughout Greece, bickering instead with Athens. The Athenian orator Isokrates called in vain for pan-Hellenic unity, for the city-states to stand together against Persia, to undo the Peace of Antalkideios and liberate the Greeks of Asia Minor.
While the city-states warred amongst each other, they failed to take note of the rising power of Macedon. For a very long time, the Macedonian Greeks had been perceived as ‘primitive’ and in no way a factor to be considered. But in this supposedly backward land in northern Greece now emerged a powerful kingdom with a more than capable army under the leadership of Phillip II (359 − 336 BC), who dreamt of uniting Greece and overthrowing the Persian Empire once and for all. He first invaded neighbouring Thrace in the east and captured its silver mines, securing sufficient funds for new campaigns against the Greek city-states in the south and subsequently perhaps Persia. Athens and Thebes realised too late the danger they were in and hurried to stop the southward advance of the armies of Phillip II. This was in vain: Macedon soundly defeated the Athenian-Theban forces at the Battle of Chaironeia in 338 BC and then organised the new League of Corinth, finally uniting the Greek motherland under one leadership – notably excepting Sparta. Phillip II could now prepare to realise his greatest dream: a war against the Persian superpower in the east. However, he was murdered in 336 BC, leaving the leadership of Macedon and the League of Corinth to his twenty year old son Alexander.
Nobody in the Greek world really knew what to think of this young man Alexander, officially Alexander III of Macedon, and many sought to profit from the situation – a weak leader would never be able to control Macedon, let alone the League of Corinth. But in 335 BC, Alexander smashed the erupting revolts in a lightning campaign, subduing the Thracians and Illyrians before racing southwards to meet the renewed Athenian-Theban coalition. Alexander ruthlessly destroyed Thebes, massacred most of its inhabitants and redistributed its land and resources among its neighbours. Athens quickly surrendered and pleaded for mercy, which Alexander granted.
In the year 334 BC, Alexander was ready for what would become arguably the most legendary campaign in history. The Greco-Macedonian army marched upon the Hellespont, where they crossed into Asia and declared war on the Persian Empire. The satraps of Asia Minor assembled an army to face Alexander, who commanded some 40,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. The core of his forces consisted of the Greco-Macedonian phalanxes, which pinned down the enemy line and allowed the heavy Macedonian cavalry to smash into the weak points. At the Battle of the Granikos River, the Persians were dealt their first crushing defeat, leaving nearly all of Asia Minor open to Alexander.
Alexander had crossed into Asia to liberate the Greek cities there and punish the Persians for the destruction they had wreaked upon Greece about 150 years earlier. Or such was the official propaganda. The hardly less official version called for Greek colonisation of Asia Minor in order to neutralise the Persian threat to Greece, expand the Greek culture sphere and relieve the heavily populated motherland. Yet for Alexander himself, everything was about his unquenchable desire to discover and explore the unknown reaches of the world and subsequently make it all his. He was a dreamer in love with the legends he had been told as a child, a soul bordering on megalomania yet possessing superb political insight at the same time. However, Alexander was before anything a military genius, a commander who stood undefeated in battle and successfully led the largest army in Antiquity over untold distances, numbering close to 100,000 soldiers by the end of his reign. Intensely loved and feared, his name was the subject of legends already during his short life and after his death, his legacy and personality cult became immortal to survive down to the present day.
Having defeated the Persians at Granikos, Alexander marched to take the Greek cities on the west coast of Asia Minor. These were governed by pro-Persian oligarchs and tyrants whom usually fled their city before the invaders arrived. Alexander subsequently took the inlands of Asia Minor in 333 BC. Meanwhile, the main Persian armies gathered in northwestern Syria under the personal command of the ‘King of Kings’, Darius III. Initially refusing to take Alexander seriously, Darius by now recognised the Greco-Macedonian threat and moved to drive Alexander back to Greece. The massive Persian host descended into the narrow coastal stretch near Issos, where its numerical advantage was largely undone. From his side, Alexander masterfully manoeuvred to give his cavalry the space required to play a decisive role in the ensuing Battle of Issos. The Greco-Macedonian army crushed the Persians once more and Darius III fled the field when Alexander himself led a charge to capture him. Overrunning the enemy camps, Alexander captured not only a huge treasury but also Darius III’s mother Sysigambis, his wife Stateira, two daughters and a son. Alexander showed himself benevolent and treated them well, even forming a close friendship with Darius’ mother.
Alexander led his forces southwards along the Syrian coast losing nearly half a year at the Siege of Tyros (332 BC), which ultimately shared the fate of Thebes: the city was destroyed and the inhabitants murdered or sold into slavery. Alexander proceeded to invade Egypt and entered Memphis, where he was welcomed as a long-awaited liberator and formally recognised him as the new Pharaoh. At the Nile Delta, Alexander chose the location for the first of many cities founded by and named after him: Alexandreia. He then moved west and visited the famous Siwa Oasis where the oracle of the god Amon-Zeus was located. What he heard there exactly remains unknown but fact is that Alexander henceforth portrayed himself as a half-god, a living son of Zeus. That such a young man had accomplished so many colossal feats on such short notice indeed implied that he might be more than merely human. Based on this and blunt political opportunism, most Greco-Macedonians were willing to accept Alexander as a deity, at least for now.
In 331 BC, Alexander sought to defeat the Persian armies once and for all. Darius III resided in Babylon at the time and waited for Alexander to advance further into the empire. He had offered Alexander a peace treaty, a military alliance and all the land already under Alexander’s control. However, Alexander outright refused this offer, no longer concealing his intention to overthrow the Achaemenid dynasty and claim the Persian Empire for himself. The Greco-Macedonian army faced the Persians, once more under the command of Darius III, near Gaugamela. It became the greatest battle in Greco-Persian history until then. Darius fled again when Alexander himself smashed into the Persian lines with his bodyguard unit. Persian successes elsewhere on the immense frontline prevented Alexander from pursuing Darius but regardless, it was clear who the victor was.
Darius had fled a second time, not so much out of cowardice but in the knowledge that without him, the Achaemenid dynasty would collapse and any organised resistance would become impossible. He therefore rushed to the Persian heartland to raise new armies and continue the war. Meanwhile, Alexander triumphantly entered Babylon and appointed Darius’ mother Sysigambis as his regent before continuing eastwards.
Thus far, Alexander had come across peoples and regions which had been conquered centuries earlier by the Persians themselves. As a result, he was usually accepted as new ruler without much trouble or even welcomed as liberator. East of Mesopotamia lay the actual Persian heartlands, first of all the regions around Susa and subsequently the Persian capital at Persepolis. Alexander’s soldiers fought themselves into Susa and Persepolis, capturing untold riches but losing the famous Achaemenid palaces at Persepolis to the fires of war. In the spring of 330 BC, the advance turned north into Media, whence Darius had supposedly fled, though he fled east before Alexander could catch up.
Alexander now officially ended the campaign – the campaign of the League of Corinth, to be exact. For indeed, Alexander himself refused to halt and soon announced he would continue the campaign as a personal one, inviting the League’s soldiers to go with him, which many of them did. Advancing north, Alexander’s first objective was to capture Darius alive. Yet not far from the Caspian Sea, a contingent of Macedonian cavalry discovered the deceased body of the last Achaemenid ruler by the side of the road. The eastern satraps had assassinated their Great King. Though his enemy, Alexander grieved upon hearing of Darius’ fate and sent the body back to Persepolis, giving Darius a royal funeral. At the same time, the conspirators − led by Bessos, the satrap of Baktra − moved to establish control of the remaining Persian satrapies, trusting that Alexander would never advance that far. This would prove to be a fatal miscalculation. Enraged not only at the betrayal and assassination of Darius but most of all at the usurpation of the Persian throne, Alexander launched a massive offensive into the east. From now on, he considered himself the legitimate successor to Darius III and the Persian Empire, tolerating no pretender. Still in 330 BC, Alexander’s armies advanced into Afghanistan, appointing new rulers everywhere. These were usually Greco-Macedonians, though sometimes Persians were allowed to keep their position if they professed allegiance to the new empire.
Alexander now began to behave more and more like a King of Kings, like Cyrus the Great of old, which greatly increased tensions among the Macedonian generals and Alexander’s inner circle. Nonetheless, Alexander passed over the Hindu Kush into Baktra without difficulties. Shocked to see Alexander’s armies on their doorstep, the local people quickly handed Bessos over to Alexander, who had him executed for high treason and regicide. Alexander then entered Sogdiana and reached the Iaxartes River. Here was the frontier between two worlds: the end of the agricultural and urban world, the beginning of the endless steppes of Central Asia – the realm of the nomads. Alexander had no real intention to conquer here and retreated, receiving news of uprisings of the Iranian nobility. From 329 until far into 327 BC, Alexander mercilessly crushed any remaining resistance in Sogdiana and Bactria, until at last everything had been either destroyed or conquered. Simultaneously, Alexander executed multiple members of his inner circle for defying both his behaviour as a deity and his wish to unite the Greco-Macedonian and Persian cultures into one multi-cultural empire. To emphasise this wish, he married a Bactrian princess, Roxana.
Before the end of 327 BC, Alexander passed over the Hindu Kush again, this time from north to south, and advanced through Afghanistan to the Indos River in the spring of 326 BC. The army now entered a completely different world yet again: the Punjab in the heat of the tropics right before the summer monsoon. But Alexander advanced ever further, desiring now to reach the ‘Ends of the World’ and the ‘Great Outer Sea’, without really knowing where this was or when and if he could reach it. The first peoples and kingdoms of the Punjab surrendered to Alexander willingly. Others resisted fanatically but were ultimately conquered. Increasingly frustrated at facing continued resistance and uncertainty as to what still lay before him, Alexander’s ruthlessness grew accordingly. Resistant tribes were exterminated, their villages destroyed and their lands burned. Yet far worse enemies than the local tribesmen were the tropical rains, the snakes, the unknown diseases, the war exhaustion and not in the least the rumours: India appeared to be far more extensive than Alexander had expected and tales reached him of mighty empires in the east. These empires had in turn heard rumours of the great conqueror from the west, who had come to destroy them. It was told that they were awaiting Alexander in the east with myriads of chariots and war elephants. Without the ‘Outer Sea’ even remotely in sight, Alexander’s soldiers demanded a halt to the advance at the Hyphasis River. Alexander ultimately gave in and announced the expedition would return to Persia, to the great relief of the army.
The Punjab campaigns proved that Alexander was not content with the conquest of the Persian Empire alone and that he in fact desired to unite the entire world known to the Greeks under his rule. This ambition still seemed possible to him by following the Indos River southwards and reaching the Indian Ocean. The people and kingdoms east of the Punjab he left to their fate, like the nomadic peoples of Central Asia. Considered ‘inferior’ and unimportant, Alexander reconciled himself with their exclusion from his dominion, in the knowledge that it would not really taint the image of the empire which encompassed what he thought to be nearly the entire world.
In 325 BC, the expedition at last reached the mouths of the Indos River, whence Alexander turned west along the coast of southern Iran. The fleet, commanded by Nearchos, would follow closely by sea but because of the monsoon winds from the southwest, it could not set sail for a month. Facing a setback he could not explain, Alexander for the first time had little idea of what to do now. He then led his army through the deserts of Gedrosia, where more soldiers died than in all his campaigns combined. Exhausted and decimated, Alexander’s forces finally reached Persis, where the fleet passed too before the end of 325 BC. Alexander then began organising the administration of his enormous empire, as well as planning a brand new expedition.
Upon his return to Susa, Alexander also organised a mass-wedding of Greco-Macedonians and Persian women and bestowed upon his soldiers immense gifts for their bravery and loyalty. It was Alexander’s ultimate wish to conciliate the conquerors with the conquered, in order to hold the empire together after his death. With this in mind, Alexander formed new infantry regiments consisting of young Persians and intended to add them to the Greco-Macedonian army, relieving his war veterans from service as gratitude for their efforts. However, this was misunderstood and sparked a mutiny in Mesopotamia, ultimately leading to a dramatic reconciliation at between Alexander and his old comrades in arms. Throughout 323 BC, Alexander continued working on the administration of his empire and began preparing for a new journey of discovery and conquest. This time, he intended to sail from Mesopotamia all the way around the Arabian Peninsula. Numerous emissaries meanwhile arrived in Babylon from Greece to pay homage to Alexander and recognise him as ruler. Western powers like Carthage and even Rome, which had just become the dominant power in Central Italy, are also assumed to have sent emissaries. But as the new campaign drew near, Alexander suddenly fell ill, suffering intense fevers. He died two weeks later, 11 June 323 BC, appointing no regent and leaving no heir, save for his unborn child with his wife Roxana. Alexander’s death marked the end of all ‘unity’ between Greco-Macedonians and Persians and his generals immediately started bickering over who was to assume Alexander’s titles and power. Ultimately, none of them proved capable of holding his empire together. Only Alexander could. His wife Roxana and his posthumous son Alexander IV were murdered and the empire fell apart into several ‘successor states’, ruled by the diadochoi
(Greek: διάδοχοι), Alexander’s strongest generals. The most prominent of these were the Antigonid dynasty in Macedon, the Seleucid dynasty in Mesopotamia and Persia, and the Ptolemaic dynasty in Egypt.
The historical significance of Alexander the Great lies first of all in the enormous geographical spread of Greek culture and language, which helped to Hellenise the East but also orientalised the West, creating a unique multi-cultural identity in the form of Hellenism. Long after the fall of the successor states, flourishing Greek communities could be found as far east as Baktra. Furthermore, Alexander’s journeys stimulated great economic development as he founded cities wherever he went, built road networks and harbours and massively increased monetary circulation by melting most of the Persian treasures into actual coins to fund his projects. Alexander also created the basis for a significant increase in scientific knowledge, particularly in the fields of geography and biology. But most of all, the accounts of his immortal exploits and heroics have survived down to this day and continue to be studied, taught and admired worldwide…© 2012 – 2014 undevicesimus.deviantart.com ALEXANDER THE GREAT and the Macedonian kingdom he ruled were Greek. The modern state which calls itself ‘Macedonia’ – fully the ‘Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ (FYROM) – has no connection at all with Alexander or the ancient Macedonians. Any symbols and names associated with ancient Macedon and Alexander the Great (cf. the Vergina Sun and the name ‘Macedon’) can only belong to modern-day Greece!