Alexander_Head.jpg (6465 bytes) Alexander the Great

Few individuals have had the sort of impact on history that Alexander did. With his death what was called the Hellenic Age becomes the Hellenistic. No longer was Greece a minor collection of city states, but a mighty empire.. The western world, for better and for worse, became almost a single place, united by a common culture that left its mark on language, literature, and politics.

In 359-336 BC, Philip II, Alexander's father became king of Macedon in northern Greece, a rural, still tribal region that was not particularly strongly identified with its rulers. Philip was 23 at the time. His realm had no great military tradition, but in his youth, Philip had been sent as a hostage to Thebes where he observed the Theban war machine at work and realized Macedonian greatness would not be built on the traditional Greek military-political model. Philip discovered a major weakness in Greek armies. As Greek cities had become more aristocratic, with greater and greater disparities between wealth and poverty, they depended less and less on citizen armies and came to rely increasingly on mercenaries. Philip was able to exploit recently acquired gold and silver mines to pay for a professional, standing army. Unlike the traditional citizen-soldier who had to spend most of the year working--or who enjoyed independent wealth--professional soldiers could stay in the field year round. In a series of campaigns ending around 338 BC, Philip came to dominate almost the entire Greek peninsula. In 336 he was assassinated, almost certainly not with Alexander's connivance, though suspicion rather naturally fell on him. Philip had recently re-married, an act that put Alexander's status in some doubt. Still, Alexander took over his father's throne, and his position as head of the Corinthian League, the fig leaf for Philip's dominance in Greece. He also proceeded with his father's plans to invade Asia Minor, ostensibly to liberate Ionian Greeks from the Persian yoke. After putting down a few attempts to shake free of Macedonian rule--stuff like that always happens after a change in leadership--Alexander sailed for Asia Minor in

334. He started winning battle after battle with the still massive Persian army.

By liberating cities, and capturing the wealth of Persia in Asia Minor, he was able to finance further exploits. The whole campaign had to be self-supporting. Not only did he have to feed soldiers and camp followers. They wanted to get paid, preferably with the wealth of conquered cities. As he marched into Asia, he increased his army from among local peoples and even added Greek mercenaries who had been lately working for the Persians. Mercenaries will do that.

He accepted the surrender of city after city, including Jerusalem. In Egypt he was proclaimed a son of Zeus Ammon, which he loosely interpreted as a proclamation of personal divinity. He was always careful to offer the proper sacrifices in each city he entered. There

was no point, after all, in antagonizing the locals, and he might need their support. Alexander continued to defeat the Persians in the field until Xerxes was murdered by one of his own officers. Alexander had taken the ancient cities of Mesopotamia, had himself proclaimed king of Persia and had recovered the riches of a vast empire, put enough captured gold into the economy that he started rampant inflation for another century.

Still, Alexander kept marching eastward. He really did want to bring all the world into his personal domain. He got his army all the way to the Indus River where they defeated an Indian army complete with war elephants.

At which time his core phalanx, hoplites who had marched with him thousands of miles from Macedonia, said that they had marched about as far as they were going to go. Legend says that Alexander wept because he had no more worlds to conquer. If he wept it is because he knew there was a great, rich world across the Indus to conquer and his soldiers were not going to let him take it.

He was wounded trying to take a city on the way home. His soldiers wouldn't follow him until he jumped into the city itself, then they all swarmed up the ladder and broke the ladders.

He was 33 when he died of dissipation and an unhealed wound. His mighty empire would be quickly divided among his generals.

Alexander had a half brother, Philip, who was retarded. Alexander's army, not aware of the extent of his disability, wanted to proclaim the young man their king. But Alexander also had an infant son by his young bride Roxana: Alexander Aegus. This was a dangerous situation for everyone. Olympias, Alexander's mother favored her grandson, as did, of course, Roxana. Several of Alexander's generals favored one or the other, as

long as they could control the regency, the period before the king would come of age or, in Philip's case, as long as he lived. In the power struggle that ensued, mother, wife, brother and son were assassinated by one force or another. The unified empire Alexander had conquered quickly fell apart. Macedonia became a backwater once again. The real powers went to the families of two generals, now kings, Ptolemy and Seleucus, of Egypt and Syria respectively. Both would fight back and forth for generations until, in the century before the birth of Christ, both fell under the control of Rome, along with Macedonia and all of Greece.