Alexander the Great Biography

A short biography and narration of events from the life of Alexander the great

To win suport among the warrior nobles of the Macedonian highlands, King Philip required their sons be trained as royal pages. As not-so- subtle hostages for their father’s behavior, the young boys benefitted from the experience in Philip’s capital at Pella. They received an excellent military education; learn Greek; studied art and peotry; and saw their political horizons broadened beyond their father’s petty kingdoms. In short, they became Greek-speaking Macedonian soldiers first, and highland princes second. They also became friends and lovers.

In the intensely masculine world of boot camp and gymnasium, male bonding occured easily and naturally. Some friendships lasting a lifetime. Studying among Philip’s pages was his son Alexander. From the highlands came the young prince Hephaestion. Contemporary accounts describe the ensuring relationship in homeric terms: Hephaestion was the Patroclus to Alexander’s Archilles. And in the tradition of Homoeric heroes, it was assumed that the friendship would have a seual element.

Alexander kept Hephaestion by his side after he ascended the throne at age 20 on Philip’s death. When he fulfilled his father’s dream of taking over the remaining Greek territories from Adriatic to the Danube, Hephaestion was with him. As Alexander crossed the Hellesport in 334 B.C. to invade Persia, and marched his troops into India and the “edge of the world” and back, he relied on the help and support of his beloved friend. Alexander appointed Hephaestion to the highest ranking offices in his army and honoured him with the title of chiliarch, the right-hand man who stood nearest the king and commanded an elite calvary unit. He arranged political marriages for himself and Hephaestion so his friends’s sons and daughters would be his own nephews and nieces.

When Hephaestion died of a fever while on the return march from India, Alexander’s grief was extreme. He refused food and drink for three days; cut his hair and hacked the tails and manes off his horses (a persian custom). Rumors indicated he ordered Hephaestion’s doctors hanged and that the inconsolable warrior lay on the body of his dead friend both day and night. Like Achilles mouring Patroclus, the young conqueror ordered official mourning throughout the eastern empire. He arranged a lavish funeral celebration that would surpass all others. He may have personally driven the funeral chariot.

Alexander’s identification with Achilles was a lifelong preoccupation. From his boyhood days of studying with Aristotle and reading the Greek classics, Alexander found a sense of purpose and meaning in the tales of the Greek heroes and their codes of conduct. While on his campaigns he carried a copy of the Iliad and viewed himself as a second Achilles. Like the famed hero of the Trojan War, Alexander was headstrong, action-oriented, decisive and willing to take extraordinary risks. Physically and temperamentally he met the Greek ideal: solidly built, courageous, strong-willed, generous to friends and enemies. A consummate military tactician with an almost clairvoyant insight into strategy, Alexander delighted in battle. He honored the gods, respected the fates and thought of himself as enjoying divine protection. Throughout his lfe he nourished a deeply felt relationship with the gods. He was also young and inspired commitment from men more than twice his age.

By conquering Persia, Alexander fulfilled an ancient Greek goal. For centuries the Persians had threatened the Greek mainland and harassed Greek cities in Asia Minor. After defeating the Persian army, Alexander decided to take the entire Persian empire. In 331 B.C., he took Babylon; the major cities of Susa and Persepolis quickly followed. In a night of drunken excitement, but possibly with a certain amount of forethought, he burned Persepolis. When Darius, the Persian king, was slain by his own men, Alexander became the Great King of Persia.

Although carefully taught by Aristotle that the small, tightly-knit city-state was the only sensible form of government, Alexander dreamed of a confederated Persian empire in league with Greece. Eventually he extended his plans for a confederated political system that could possibly embrace the entire world – or as much of it as would fall under his dominion. Clearly the lands he conquered in his Persian campaigns, which extended from Egypt to present-day Iran, were too big, various and different from Greece to administer as a Greek colony. The newly acquired territories could not be adequately governed by a garrison system manned by Greek and Macedonian solders. Although Alexander encouraged the city-state concept by building new cities from the foundation up (16 of them he named after himself), his political ambitions went beyond the narrow city-state concept of Aristotle.

Alexander also differed with his famed teacher, and most Greeks, by assuming the Persians and their many ethnic minorities were not “barbiarians” inferior to the greek citizen, slavish by nature or fit only for Greek domination. He tolerated local religions, social customs and political institutions, rather than impose a Greek model upon them. He saw his influence as one of bringing Hellenic culture to others and in turn learning from their own best traditions.

By treating the Persians as equals Alexander caused resentment among some of his officers who thought his policy diluted the old comradeship-in-arms they enjoyed exclusively. An even greater insult to some of his men, but a shrewd political drama to solidify his control among the conquered people, Alexander adopted native customs; such as wearing Persian dress. Like Achilles, he married a captive girl named Roxane, who was the daughter of an Iranian noble; intended to allay her father’s fears. He acquired a Persian eunuch named Bagoas who, because he was bilingual, could play the traditional role of official spy for his master, and because of his good looks and irresistible charms, was invited to share his master’s bed. On the return from India, Bagoas would be the only non-Greek or Macedonian among the 32 officers honored with the title of trierarch. Alexander also drafted Persian calvary into his army and required 30,000 Persian boys to be trained in Macedonian combat.

In 327 B.C. Alexander adopted the Persian custom of proskynesis, a combination kiss and bow which established social rank on meeting one another. Depending on the depth of the bow, a man revealed his social status in relation to the other. Social equals kissed each other on the lips. The lowliest inferiors were required to grovel. Catering to Persian custom, Alexander hoped to win over friends and future ‘partners.’  His Macedonian officers however, saw the proverbial writing on the wall and suspected a threat to their own importance by Persian competition. Greeks interpreted the custom as an inferior paying homage to the other as a god.

Alexander arranged a trial for proskynesis at a party where each guest would drink a toast and pour a libration to satisfy the Greeks and then offer a kiss and bow fot eh Persians’ sake. His guests were all courtiers, no one would have to grovel. They could satisfy the rule with a slight bow and a kiss on the cheek or mouth, whichever was preferred. Since Alexander would return a kiss, he clearly intended to dispel the notion he thought himself divine, and signify a status of equality among the gathering. When the time came for Callisthenes, a scholor and cousin of Aristotle, to pay homage, he drank the wine but refused the kiss. Alexander did not force the custom on his Macedonian officers.

When an assassination attempt lead by a few discontented royal pages was discovered, it appeared Callisthenes, the boys’ teacher, might have prompted them. Although the Persian conspirators had political and social reasons to kill Alexander, it is not unlikely their disgruntled teacher might have encourgaed the honored Greek tradition of “death to tyrans.” Alexander took no chances and had Callisthenes arrested to stand trial back in Greece; he died in prison before he could be tried however. Not one Greek or Macedonian was implicated with him, but there was considerable Greek support of Callisthenes. Many thought Alexander’s conquests were too lucrative to be shared with barbiarians, expecially if the practice deprived loyal Greeks of offices and riches.

After leaving Persia, Alexander reached India and made plans to march to Ocean, a mysterious realm believed to be the “edge of the world.” He troops refused to go and in 326 B.C. Alexander turned back for home. Despite growing discontent among his troops, Alexander exhibited his superior talent for leadership and his personal gift for winning hearts by sharing hardships. When he and his men were lost for 200 miles in the Baluchistan Desert (what is now southern Iran), food ran short and troops resorted to killing pack animals for food. Alexander sent Bucephalas, his personal horse, to the rear as a replacement and walked on foot. When there was not enough water for everyone, he refused his own ration.

Returning to Babylon in 324 B.C., Alexander planned his next campaign to add Arabia to growing empire. While solidifying his plans he ventured to the elegant nearby city of Hamadan for an unusual bout of sightseeing. During a week of games and musical contests, sacrifices to the gods, and free wine, Alexander’s beloved Hephaestion became ill. He rejected the doctors’ advice to limit his diet and foolishly ate chicken and drank wine. The fever worsened and on the eight day the end seemed near. Alexander was notified and rushed to Hephaestion’s bedside, but he was too late. Denied the heroic ideal of dying with his friend in battle, Alexander was not even with him at the last.

As the grief-stricken king planned his friend’s funeral, a dark cloud hung over the intervening campaigns and milary manueuvers. Soldiers noticed their commander’s lack of zest. Soothsayers’ dire omens Alexander would soon follow Hephaestion into the next world came true the next. Contractinga fever, probably malaria, Alexander lingered on his deathbed as his troops rioted — fearing they were not being told the truth about his condition. The day before his death, they broke past his bodyguards and entered his chambers. Filing past his bed, Alexander was too weak to speak, but managed to give each a nod or sign wirth his eyes.

Speculating on who would succeed him, some thought solely in politicial terms. Who would rule the vast empire stretching from present-day Yugoslavia to the Himalayas? Who would carry out his plans for acquiring Arabia? Others wondered who could match his unique style of heroism, courage, loyalty, passion and will. According to some accounts, when asked whom he would choose to succeed him, the dying warrior-king answered, “The strongest.”

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