Alexander The Great is arguably one of the most established figures in history, and is widely considered to be the greatest military general who ever lived. He is also considered an incredibly complex individual by most historians, with strong debates regarding the nature of his character. Many consider Alexander the Great to be a bloodthirsty dictator whose own ego drove him to attempt to conquer and rule the entire planet. Others, however, consider Alexander the Great to be a sophisticated and open minded individual who strived to create a melting pot of different cultures while seeking the truth and knowledge of the universe. While every historian sees Alexander the Great in a different light, both sides of the debate carry an accurate and diverse truth to them. It could easily be argued that Alexander the Great was both an ego motivated authoritarian with an iron fist as well as a worldy and highly cultured philosopher. Wherever one stands in the debate, there is no arguing that Alexander was a highly intelligent, ambitious, and complex individual. History has awarded him the nickname the Philosopher in Arms(Plutarch.)
Alexander The Great’s conquest to build an empire was one of the most successful and influential in ancient history. His empire spanned approximately two million square miles between Greece and India. Astonishingly and perhaps most impressive, he was only thirty years old by the time he conquered this vast empire, which only took him twelve years to accomplish(Lindsay.) His empire spanned across three continents that included Europe, Africa, and Asia. Alexander erected over seventy cities between these three continents, the majority of which he named after himself(History- Alexander the Great, BBC.) While historians do know a great deal about Alexander, the question still remains: was he driven to create this empire by his ego and desire for greatness, or was he driven by his desire for knowledge?
There is no denying that Alexander the Great had an ego of immense proportions. From the time he was a young boy, he was raised to believe that he was a God, destined for greatness: Prentice says that ?Alexander from now on was declared and declared himself to be of divine origin(-Robinson, Jr. 331.) Having been a pupil of the brilliant philosopher Aristotle in combination with being trained by his father, King Philip of Macedonia, another brilliant military leader, perhaps Alexander truly was destined for greatness from birth. His own father, King Philip of Macedonia, told Alexander Seek a kingdom equal to yourself; for Macedonia cannot contain you. after he managed to tame an erratic, wild horse at the age of thirteen(Plutarch, 5.) Alexander strived for greatness in all of his conquests, and was determined to be the greatest in everything he participated in: …When the men who attended Alexander asked if he wanted to compete in the foot race at the Olympic Games (for he was swift-footed), he replied, ?Only if I can compete with kings.'(Plutarch, 2.) It was his extreme intelligence combined with his fearless courage and ambition and experience that lead him and his army to winning the majority of the battles they fought in. Alexander also had a major obsession with his public image to the point where he only allowed very few people in his lifetime to sculpt or paint his likeness, as they were the only ones he saw fit to portray him properly and flawlessly.(Plutarch, 2.) Alexander’s physical appearance was best represented in the statues of Lysippus, the only artist Alexander thought worthy to sculpt his likeness(Plutarch, 2.)
Despite escaping death on the battlefield on a number of occasions, Alexander genuinely believed he was undefeatable and could win any battle he faced. Infact, he believed so highly in himself that when battles were waged, he would ride his horse in front of his soldiers and lead his army from the front, riding directly and unprotected towards the enemy.(Alexander the Great: ‘heaven cannot allow two sunsP. 24+.) This fearless personality and ego among many other factors including his intelligence and experience contributed to leading Alexander to being considered one of the greatest military generals of all time, but it could also be argued that it was one of the aspects that eventually lead to his downfall. Alexander’s ambition for world conquest didn’t falter until his enigmatic yet highly speculated upon death at the age of thirty two. One can’t help but wonder how far Alexander’s empire could have gotten had he survived whatever it actually was that ended his life.
Despite being a fierce soldier and general on the battlefield, Alexander was also an incredible scholar. His quest for knowledge, enlightenment, and cultural fusion matched his quest to expand his empire. Alexander was literary by nature and fond of reading. As he regarded and spoke of the Iliad as a manual of warfare, he traveled with Aristotle’s edition- the so-called Iliad of the casket -and kept it, with his dagger, under his pillow, as Onesicritus has recorded. And when other books were not easy to come by in upper Asia, Alexander ordered Harpalus to send him some.(Plutarch, 8.) Alexander was the definition of the perfect storm: Bloodthirsty, ruthless, and brilliantly tactical on the battlefield, while also showing great respect and admiration for other cultures and an immense thirst for knowledge, new ideas, and cultural diversity. Another impressive aspect of Alexander the Great’s personality was his lack of malice or begrudgement towards his fallen enemies. Alexander, on numerous occasions, showed a more humbled side of his personality and treated the bodies of his fallen enemies with great respect and cultural sensitivity. For example, when Alexander found the fallen body of his great enemy Darius, Alexander demanded that the body go through proper treatment for his status: Alexander sent Darius’s body back to Persepolis and ordered that he be buried, like all his royal predecessors, in the royal tombs. He appointed Amminapes the Parthyaean as satrap of Parthyaea and Hyercania. (A member of Mazeces’ party, Amminapes had been among those who surrendered Egypt to Alexander.) One of the Companions- Tlepolemus, son of Pythophanes- was assigned to help Amminapes oversee Parthyaean and Hyrcanian affairs.(Arrian III.21.)
Cultural fusion was a major aspect of Alexander the Great’s empire, as Alexander was greatly inspired and influenced by the array of diverse cultures he was exposed to during his conquests. Alexander was particularly fond of Egyptian culture. When Alexander’s conquests took him to Egypt, the Egyptians made him a Pharaoh, which Alexander embraced to the fullest extent. Infact, Alexander fully embraced Egyptian culture during the short time he spent there. It was in the temple of Ammon-Zeus in Egypt where his suspicions being the son of the Greek god Zeus would be Confirmed by the Oracle at Siwa(Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age.) He would go on to erect Alexandria, a port city that is one of the most well known of his Empire due to the establishment of the Library of Alexandria, which is one of the most influential Libraries of all time: it was the mecha and hub of knowledge and information at the time of its existence, and one could still argue that it hosted the greatest concentration of scholarly information and minds of all time(In Search of History: Lost Treasure of the Alexandria Library.)
Alexander the Great was, above all else, an incredibly complex and ambitious individual who’s intelligence, ego, and drive for truth knowledge and power lead him on an incredibly successful campaign across the Western world. Though both sides of the argument on whether Alexander the great was a bloodthirsty tyrant or an enlightened thinker carry some weight, perhaps the most logical and valid answer is that he was a strong combination of both. An egomaniac who sought to become the supreme ruler of the world as well as a man that appreciated knowledge and the other established cultures of the world, perhaps even only the cultures that suited his personal beliefs and values. It is uncertain how exactly Alexander’s death came to be, but there is one thing that is certain: his influence undeniably shaped the course of history.
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