Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Alexander the Great

NAME Alexander the Great. Alexander means "Defender of Men", the "Great" bit was added later. He was actually Alexander III, or in Greek "ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ" ("Megas Alexandros")

WHAT FAMOUS FOR King of Macedonia and Greece and conqueror of Western Asia.

BIRTH b356BC in Pella, ancient capital of Macedonia.

FAMILY BACKGROUND Alexander had a completely artificial background constructed by his mother in which he traced his lineage back on one's side to Achilles and Andromache and the other side to Perseus and Hercules.
His father was Philip II, King of Macedonia., who was known as Philopotes (drink lover). Philip conquered the newly unified Greece but was stabbed by Pausances, a royal bodyguard, whilst attending the unveiling of a statute of him depicting him as an Olympian god. Doubts as to whether Phil really was his father led to Alex declaring that he was a god and his father was Jupiter. His father's tomb was discovered at Vergina in Greece in 1978. It was identified by means of an eye injury from an arrow which left him with only one eye, which historians had known about.
Alexander's mum was Olympias, the the hot tempered princess of Epirus,. According to Plutarch (Alexander 3.1,3), Olympias was impregnated not by Philip, who was afraid of her and her affinity for sleeping in the company of snakes, but by Zeus. Plutarch (Alexander 2.2-3) relates that both Philip and Olympias dreamt of their son's future birth. Whilst Olympias dreamt of a loud burst of thunder and of lightning striking her womb, in Philip's dream, he sealed her womb with the seal of the lion. Alarmed by this, he consulted the seer Aristander of Telmessus, who determined that his wife was pregnant and that the child would have the character of a lion.
In 339 BC Philip divorced Alexander's mother, leading to a quarrel between Alex and his dad, which threw into question Alexander's succession to the Macedonian throne
Phillip acquired a number of other wives, including, Cleopatra (no, not that one) and Satira. Having all those step mums couldn't have been good for Alex

CHILDHOOD Young Alex, had the normal training for a young Macedonian aristocrat leaving him little time for fun and games.

EDUCATION Between the ages of 13 and 16, Alexander came under the tuition of the philosopher Aristotle. From him he learnt rhetoric, medicine, geometry, art, literature and music. Then Philip himself took over his education teaching him all necessary military skills apart from getting drunk. Smart Alex learnt by heart the Iliad and carried a copy as a child with him everywhere.

CAREER RECORD At the age of 16, Alex acted as regent of Macedonia whilst his father was away on business (warring in Byzantium). Even back then he found himself involved in a local war.
Saddemesque in his conquering attentions, the only difference was he was more successful.
His CV reads as follows
336BC Succeeded Phillip to throne. "Nothing has changed except the name of the King" said Alex.
Elected Commander of the Greek forces for a war against Persia by a congress of States at Corinth.
334-331BC Conquered Persia. Had he stopped there he would have simply have been Alexander the Pretty Good but he then proceeded to conquer the north including Tyre, Issis and Arbela and earned the epitaph Alexander the Great.
326 His exhausted troops refused to go anywhere, for three days Alexander sulked and even wept before giving way and allowing a retreat back into Persia losing more men to lack of water than had died in battle.
A list of Alex's Titles include:
356-336 Crown Prince of Macedon
356-323 Descendant of Achilles (yeah and my father was King Arthur)
340-336 Regent of Macedon:
336-323 King of Macedon
336-323 Hegemon of Corinthian League
333-323 Son of Ammon-Zeus (And I'm Hercules' nephew)
332-323 Pharaoh of Egypt
331ish-323 Shahanshah of Persia:
A typical day in the life of Alex: Get up, sacrifice to the gods, breakfast, then hunt, administer justice, typically plan next campaign and maybe a spot of reading.

APPEARANCE Alex was handsome, with the physique of an athlete but had a feeble straggly beard.

FASHION As a consequence of his wimpish beard Alexander started a trend for Greek men to crop their hair short and shave their faces. Alex was obsessed with shaving. He even shaved during wartime, and would not allow himself to be seen going into battle with a five o’clock shadow. It is said that before a certain battle he ordered his men to shave off their beards. "There is nothing like a beard to get hold off in a fight." He explained.
In those pre-Head and Shoulders says, Alexander washed his hair in saffron, a very expensive commodity.
The Greeks in the time of Alexander liked blonde hair as much as we do today. Men and women alike bleached their locks with potash water and herbal infusions. When Richard Burton played him in the 1956 film, Alexander the Great, he wore a blonde wig
One result of Alexander's conquests was that perfume was introduced to Greece from the Middle East. It was after he defeated Darius III of Persia and moved into Egypt that the clean whiskered one adopted the use of perfumes. It is said that Alex's floors would be sprinkled with scented waters and that his clothes were imprinted with the perfumes of fragrant resins and myrrh.
"It is recorded of some men, among them Alexander the Great, that their sweat exhaled a sweet odour, owing to some rare and extraordinary property." Montaigne Essays
Smart Alex ordered his armourers to make helmets much larger than those worn by his troops. These were left for the enemy to find in the hope that they would be afraid to fight the "giant" soldiers.

CHARACTER Alexander had a powerful personality, a razor sharp leader, he was erm great. Self absorbed, egotistic, he could be more gracious than WG Grace but less bearded. Calculatedly generous, fearless, strong. "I will not steal a victory." he once remarked on refusing to attack the Persian army before the battle of Gaugamela.
Alexander could encourage his mutinying men with rhetoric so moving it reduced them to tears.
The Macedonian leader was charming except when drunk then he became arrogant and boastful and too receptive to flatterers. Success led Alex to believe he was divinely blessed, which gave him the confidence that he would not fail.

RELATIONSHIPS Alexander treated women with the utmost chivalry.
A lady called Thalestius once took 300 women along with her to meet Alex in the hope of raising a race of Alexanders.
Alexander's army took their wives and loved ones with them. It is said 10,000 children were born during their 12 year expedition.

Alexander married several princesses of former Persian territories. These included the beautiful Princess Roxana (died c. 311 BC), the daughter of Oxyartes of Bactria (then eastern Persia, now Uzbekistan and northern Afghanistan). Six months after Alexander's death, Roxana gave birth to his son and heir, Alexander IV. She was murdered in the struggle for power after Alex junior's death in 311. Alex also fathered Hercales, who was born in 327BC by his mistress Barsine, the daughter of Satrap Artabazus of Phrygia.
Alexander attempted to civilise and wipe out the oriental civilisation by encouraging and subsidising marriages between Greek men and Asian Women, even bribing some of his officers to do this. For instance, after his wedding to Statira, who was one of Darius III of Persia's daughters in 324BC, Alex obliged his officers and friends to marry the daughters of Persian nobles. 10,000 of his soldiers followed his example and married Persian lassies.
Alexander, like many ancient Greeks, batted for both sides. His greatest emotional attachment is generally considered to have been to his companion, cavalry commander and possibly lover, Hephaestion. The Roman historian Curtius reported that "He scorned [feminine] sensual pleasures to such an extent that his mother was anxious lest he be unable to beget offspring." To whet his appetite for the fairer sex, King Philip and Olympias brought in a high-priced Thessalian courtesan named Callixena.
According to Curtius, Alexander also took as a lover "... Bagoas, a eunuch exceptional in beauty and in the very flower of boyhood." (VI.5.23).

MONEY AND FAME On setting off for Asia, Alexander distributed nearly all his crown estates and revenues amongst his soldiers' dependants to ensure they would not be troubled over their welfare.
Alex exercised with his men and was in dress of similar appearance to them. He led from the front and endured same hardships as his soldiers. This all boosted his popularity.
A master of spin, he never went on a campaign without a couple of historians noting down every marvellous thing he said and did.

INTERESTS FOOD AND DRINK Some food and drink related factoids about Alexander.
1.At his Macedonian court fruit salads and purees were served, mixed with honey and snow.
2.Like most Macedonians, Alexander was a heavy drinker of wine and was particularly fond of chilled wines and other iced beverages. Famed for his marathon drinking sessions he drunk
"Hercules", 12 pints of undiluted wine. During one of his notorious drinking contests 35 men died.
3.When marching across a thirst quenching desert, a soldier offered him a helmet full of water. "Is there enough for 10,000 men " asked Alexander. The soldier said "no", so the great leader and King poured water on the ground.
4.Alexander reported on the cultivation of sugar cane in India. From this reed a raw, dark brown sugar was extracted from the cane by chewing and sucking. His troop bought this “sweet reed” back to Athens.
5.Alex also discovered bananas in India. Back in Athens this new fruit was called “pala”. Another discovery in India was rice.
6.His troops habitually chewed liquorice root on the march due to its thirst quenching qualities
7. On an expedition seeking a potion guaranteeing immortal life in 323BC, Alexander came across some apples which supposedly prolonged the lives of priests who fed on them and nothing else up to 400 years. It didn't work for him. The Macedonian conqueror died of typhoid fever aged 33.

MUSIC AND ARTS Alexander loved poetry, he spared one house in Thebes, the one where Pindar the poet lived 100 years previously.
Alex's friend and court painter Apelles was commissioned to paint Alexander's favourite mistress (Campaspe). He fell in love with her and the Macedonian king kindly donated her. Fortunately he valued art above women.
Alexander learnt romantic songs from Aristotle.

LITERATURE A bookworm as a young man, Alexander always kept a copy of Homer's Iliad under his pillow at night. He founded the Alexandria library at Alexandria in Egypt, which at one time contained 40,000 volumes.

In the first centuries after Alexander's death, many of the stories that people told about the Macedonian conqueror were combined into a text known as the Alexander Romance. Some believe that, excepting certain religious texts, it was the most widely-read work of pre-modern times.

NATURE From his boyhood days, Alexander had a beautiful dark coloured horse called Bucephalus whom he loved riding. Bucephalus was a stallion of high temper that no one could tame, until the ten-year-old prince succeeded by turning the horse's head into the sun as he'd noticed the stallion's own shadow was upsetting it. Alexander went on to teach the great horse to kneel so that his master could mount him in full armour. Bucephalus served him until his death after the Battle of the Hydaspes in what is now Pakistan in 326BC .
Alexander had a faithful dog, Peritas, named after the Macedonian name for the month of January. It is thought that Peritas, who Alexander raised from a puppy, was probably a greyhound. When the conqueror was fighting the army of Darius III of Persia , Peritas leapt forward and bit the lip of an elephant charging his master. The loyal mutt was rewarded by having a city named after him.

HOBBIES AND SPORTS Alexander's father's horse won an event at the 356BC Olympics in chariot racing . He had a special silver coin minted to commemorate this.

SCIENCE AND MATHS Alex was an early Zoologist. He shipped home to Aristotle specimens of animals, flowers and minerals from the new areas he invaded. The Macedonian warrior uniquely included scientists, engineers and historians as well as soldiers in his army.

PHILOSOPHY & THEOLOGY Alexander was very zealous in sacrificing to his gods. He accepted homage, which the Eastern peoples, gave to rulers whom they thought were godlike.
In Spring 331 he made a pilgrimage to the great temple and oracle of Amon-Ra, the Egyptian god of the sun, whom the Greeks identified with Zeus. The earlier Egyptian pharaohs were believed to be sons of Amon-Ra, and Alexander, the new ruler of Egypt, wanted the god to acknowledge him as his son. The pilgrimage was apparently a success, and it may have confirmed Alexander's belief in his own divine origin.
Alexander adopted oriental usages among which was the demand that all who approached him on official occasions should bow down to the earth and kiss his feet. In 323 he also sent notification to all the Greek cities that he was henceforth to be officially numbered among the gods of each city and that such he was to receive the offerings which each city presented. Thus was introduced into Europe absolute monarchy and the divine right of Kings. Strangely enough shortly after that he died.
Alexander threatened Jerusalem but it was saved by the boldness of High Priest Jaddua. Originally he was going to set up statue of himself in Jerusalem temple. The outraged Jews protested and the open minded Alexander agreed to forgo this privilege if Jews agreed to name their first born son, Alexander instead. The conqueror went on to grant the Jews many privileges.
The rise of Alexander was prophesied 250 years before he was born in the Old Testament Book of Daniel (In Daniel 8 v5-8 and 20-22). It predicts the kingdom of Medo Persia being overthrown by King of Greece. Then the kingdom is divided on his death between his four generals but they will not have the same power.

SCANDAL The Macedonian tabloids would have been full of the latest Alexander scandal. Here are a few.
1.A timid young soldier in Alexander's army would chicken out whenever the fighting grew heavy. The not so bearded one was angry as this coward was also called Alexander. One day Alexander addressed him and said sternly "stop being a coward or drop that good name."
2.At Gordium in modern day Turkey, a wagon was fastened to the yoke with knots. It was so ingeniously tied that no ends were visible. The oracle said that the Empire of the World should fall to the man who untied it. When Alexander conquered Gordium he came across the famous puzzle, but unable to untie it he cut it with his sword.
3.When he captured the pirate, Diomedes, Alexander asked him "How dare he oppress the seas". Diomedes commented that he did his harassing with one ship and he was called a robber. Alexander oppressed the world with his huge army and he was called a King. What bare faced cheek. This reply impressed the bare faced conqueror and he granted Diomedes many riches and made him into a prince.
4.Alexander destroyed the mausoleum of Mausolus in Asia Minor, one of Seven Wonders of the World.
5.The Macedonian military commander practised crucifixion- he hung 2000 people on crosses when the city of Tyre was destroyed in 334.
6.During one of his infamous drinking sessions, Alexander killed Clitus, one of his closest friends with a spear.

MILITARY RECORD Alexander's chief interest was military strategy. He inherited from his father an army without equal, but was himself a brilliant troop leader, always leading from the front and if possible engaging in personal contact. Alexander introduced using 20ft long pikes which soldiers held with both hands and established the light infantry as a link between infantry and cavalry. His troop formation the Phalanx, like Sir Alf Ramsey's 4-4-2 in 1966, was greatly instrumental in his success. An astute tactician, Alexander ordered his armouries to make helmets much larger than those worn by his soldiers. They were left lying around so the enemy would flee in fear of the "giants". He died with an unbeaten record, Alexander never lost a battle in his lifetime.
Here is his military CV:
338 The teenage Alexander helped his old man with the final few battles of the Macedonian invasion of Greece. As his dad's cavalry commander, he contributed to victory at Battle of Chaeronea with a cavalry charge. Alexander put in a winning performance and won his spurs.
336 Alex marches on Thessaly, where partisans of independence had gained control and restores Macedonian rule.
334 At age of 22 Alexander crossed from Macedonia to Asia with his army at the Battle of Granicus.
333 Probably Alexander's most epic victory defeating the Persians under Darius III at the Battle of Issis. The Macedonians had 35,000, the Persians nearly a 250,000 troops. Need I go on..
332 Alex's army successfully besieges the City of Tyre (in Lebanon) after a siege of several months and goes on to occupy Egypt.

331 When Darius offered Alexander terms of peace, Alexander replied "Heaven cannot support two suns, nor earth two masters." He routed Darius, at the Battle of Gaugamela with 47,000 men against the Persian army of half a million (probably an exaggeration). Alexander wept at the mangled body of the dying Darius, who after fleeing the battle had been slain by two of his own generals. The Macedonians lost (so they claimed) fewer than 500 men in the battle. Alexander succeeded in defeating the Persian Army on land by occupying their Mediterranean ports so they couldn't re-supply.
Alexander captured the island of Tyre by building a dyke from the mainland. The dyke still survives and now Tyre is permanently joined to the coast.
330 Alexander captured and burnt the royal city of Persepolis.
326 Alexander crossed the Indus River & invades the Punjab in India. He turned back after defeating the Indian Prince of Porsus in 326 at the Battle of Hydaspos, as Alexander's army was tired and having defeated an army of 200 elephants (and some men too) it was disinclined to face a further 5000 reputedly waiting for in the Ganges Valley.
In the space of eight years The Macedonian maestro penetrated Syria and Egypt and the whole of Middle East as far as India,

HOMES Alexander was not one for making a home and staying put, so once he set off on his conquests his home was a tent.

TRAVEL Alexander saw more of the world than most men of his day. He specifically visited Troy in order to pay homage to the heroes of the Iliad. He traversed great expanses of territory very rapidly considering every so often he came across stroppy so and sos barring his way. Alexander got as far as North India. He believed India was the edge of the world and when his men persuaded him to turn back, (They were all fed up with the tropical rain and were exhausted) well, they had nearly reached the end of the world anyway.

HEALTH AND PHYSICAL FITNESS An epileptic, Alexander also found himself battling malaria during his Mesopotamia campaign. On one occasion whilst his medicine was being prepared, a letter was sent by an enemy of his physician, Philip the Acarnanian claiming he'd been bribed by the Persian King to poison him. Alexander read the letter and slipped it under his pillow without showing it to anyone. The physician entered Alexander's tent. The Macedonian conqueror showed Philip the letter as he calmly drunk his medicine. The physician having read the letter threw himself at the king's bedside but Alexander assured him he had every confidence in his honour. After three days Alexander was better and the physician mightily relieved. A close shave for the clean whiskered one. Not all physicians were so fortunate. When Alexander’s great friend Hephaestian died, Alexander crucified the physician who failed to save him.

DEATH Alexander died in 323BC just one month short of attaining 33 years of age, in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (though with all that marching his feet must have been killing him). There is uncertanity whether his cause of death was typhoid fever, malaria, poisoning by a rival or alcohol poisoning contracted during a two-day period of drinking and carousing (For the climax Alexander drank "Hercules" 12 pints of undiluted wine). As he lay dying of his fever/drunken stupor, one by one his Macedonian army passed through bidding his farewell. Alex cried "I am dying with the help of too many Physicians" on his deathbed. His body was embalmed in honey and his body was carried by his boyhood friend Ptolmey I. He was buried in a golden coloured glass coffin opposite the Ptolmey tombs in the Sema Mauso Mausoleum, Alexandria for many years. The Persian King Darius' grateful wife, who had been captured at the Battle of Isis and spared by Alexander, came to admire Alexander so much that she committed suicide after Alexander's death. He left his empire, in his own words, "to the strongest"; this ambiguous testament meant that after the Lord's Mayor show, a dustcart, as his Kingdom evaporated due to the bitter infighting between his successors.

APPEARANCES IN MEDIA 1. Alexander was the subject of a cluster of medieval legends, the most well known being the French Roman d'Alexandre. These medieval romances made him a hero of the type of Arthur and Charlemagne.
2. Among the many movie versions were Alexander the Great (1956) with Welshman Richard Burton playing the clean shaven one and Alexander (2004) with Irishman Colin Farrell as Alex and director Oliver Stone not holding back from the Greek sexual customs of the day.
3. Iron Maiden's 1986 track "Alexander The Great" from Somewhere In Time, does what it says on the tin-if you're into heavy metal music.
In a verse about slavery in ancient times, Nas rapped on his 2002 hit "I Can" "Egypt was the place that Alexander the Great went He was so shocked at the mountains with black faces."

ACHIEVEMENTS Plenty of things to make you go oooh.
1. Alexander founded the Egyptian city of Alexandria, which within 50 years became the centre of western learning. He'd built it as a naval base for his war against Persia.
2. A great publicist, Alexander founded about 70 cities which were named after him.
3. Alexander conquered 2 million square miles (approx, ovbiously not exactly).
4. He organised the first army supply system.
5. Alexander mapped territories unknown to western world and opened up new trade routes. His explorations advanced knowledge of geography and natural history.
6. The King of Clubs in a deck of cards represents Alexander.

Source Mainly Wikipedia and various ancient and modern historians,

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