Born in 356 BCE in Pella, Macedonia, Alexander was the son of King Philip II and Queen Olympias. Even from an early age, he displayed exceptional qualities and a thirst for knowledge. Tutored by the philosopher Aristotle, he gained a deep understanding of philosophy, literature, and the arts. Notably, the influence of the philosopher resonated in Alexander's approach to the lands he conquered. In this sense, rather than imposing Greek culture forcefully, he introduced it gradually, just as Aristotle did with his students.
Although the influence of his father and tutors shaped him significantly, Alexander perceived his achievements as divinely ordained. He claimed a divine lineage, proclaiming himself the son of Zeus and elevating his status to that of a demigod. Moreover, he linked his bloodline with Achilles and Hercules and emulated their conduct. This conviction in his own divinity was instilled by Olympias, who asserted that Zeus himself had miraculously impregnated her.
After assuming the throne in 336 BC following his father’s assassination, Alexander united the Greek city-states under Macedonian rule and embarked on the conquest of the Persian Empire. He crossed over to Asia Minor in 334 BCE and achieved a significant victory against the Persians at the Battle of Granicus. A year later, he triumphed over King Darius III of Persia at the Battle of Issos. In 331 BCE, he conquered Egypt where he founded the city of Alexandria. After designing the plan for the city, he left Egypt for Syria and northern Mesopotamia to continue campaigns against Persia.
In 331 BCE, Alexander decisively defeated Darius III at Gaugamela and captured Babylon and Susa without resistance. In 330 BCE, after taking Persepolis, he declared himself the King of Asia and proceeded with his campaigns, reaching modern-day Afghanistan. Along the way, he founded cities bearing his name, emphasizing his role as a liberator and using the title Shahanshah (King of Kings) used by the rulers of the First Persian Empire. This apparent deification and adoption of Persian customs caused unrest among his Macedonian troops, leading to several unsuccessful assassination plots.
In 327 BCE, with the Persian Empire firmly under his control, Alexander turned his attention to India. Throughout 327 BCE and into 326 BCE, Alexander subdued the Aspasioi and Assakenoi tribes, finally meeting King Porus of Paurava at the Battle of the Hydaspes River. He then intended to cross the River Ganges toward further conquests, but his troops, worn out by exhaustion, mutinied and forced him to end his campaigns. Upon his return back home, he found that many of the satraps he had entrusted with rule had abused their power and ordered their execution.
Death and Legacy
A few days after returning to Babylon in 323 BC, Alexander passed away, although the exact cause of his death remains uncertain. Following his death, his empire was divided between four of his generals: Cassander, Ptolemy, Antigonus, and Seleucus (known as the Diadochi or 'successors'). Some historians, however, claim that Alexander passed his reign to Perdiccas, his friend as well as his bodyguard and fellow cavalryman, but the generals assassinated him in 321 BCE. Cassander then ordered the execution of Alexander's wife Roxana, his son, and Olympias to consolidate his power as the new King of Macedonia. Seleucus founded the Seleucid Empire, comprising Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and parts of India, and would be the last remaining of the Diadochi after the incessant 40 years of war between them and their heirs.
Alexander's death marked the end of an era, but his legacy endured for centuries. His influence was not only felt in the vast territories he conquered but also in the realms of culture, art, and knowledge. The cities he founded became vibrant cultural centers, blending Greek and local traditions. These fostered intellectual exchange and artistic expression, giving birth to a new era known as the Hellenistic period.
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