Alexander the Great

Born in 356 B.C. Alexander the Great, also known as Alexander III of Macedon, founded one of the largest empires in antiquity. Regarded as one of the best generals the world has ever known, Alexander was undefeated in battle. Although his life was cut short due to malaria (the most generally-believed cause of his death), he employed his superb sense of strategy and tactical knack to forge an empire that stretched across Greece, Persian Asia, Mesopotamia, and Egypt. He spread Greek culture all the way to India and, despite his short life, his conquests of these ancient places would reverberate culturally for centuries.

Born in the ancient Macedonian city of Pella, Alexander was the son of the Macedonia King, Philip II. His mother, Philip’s fourth wife, was Olympias, the daughter of the King of Epirus. According to legend, Alexander was a descendant of Hercules on his father’s side and the Greek hero Achilles on his mother’s side. Alexander studied under various tutors, but most famously with Aristotle. One of the most well-known stories of Alexander’s childhood is his taming of the horse which he named Bucephalus, the horse that would accompany him all the way to India.

Although Alexander was instrumental in aiding his father in various military campaigns (and possibly saved his life in a battle at Perinthus), his position as heir to Philip’s throne was uncertain due to his status as only half Macedonian. During Alexander’s adolescence, Philip married another queen, Cleopatra Eurydice, who was Macedonian. Around this same time, an argument with his father prompted Alexander to flee to Illyria with his mother and brother. In spite of other potential heirs to the throne, Alexander was made King of Macedonia (by the Macedonian Army) in 336 B.C. after his father was assassinated at his sister’s wedding.

Once Alexander secured his position as King, he began to secure the Greeks and prepare for war with Persia. After subduing the Balkans, he famously crossed the Hellespont in 334 B.C. taking his army, comprised of 42,000 Macedonian and Greek city-state soldiers, with him. A master tactician, Alexander proceeded to conqueror Asia Minor. He defeated Darius III in 333 B.C. He next conquered Syria and Tyre. Egypt, with the exception of Gaza, put up little fight and Jerusalem chose not to fight the formidable conqueror. Alexander was again forced to fight the Persians in Mesopotamia, but he conquered it and added Assyria and Babylon to his already expansive empire finally conquering the Persians once and for all.

After his marriage to Roxana of Bactria (present-day Afghanistan), Alexander marched to India and was famously victorious at the battle of Hydaspes. He was poised to march against the uniting forces of the subcontinent, but his army was tired and Alexander finally gave in to their demands to return west. After he had suffered for feverish days, Alexander died in Babylon in 323 B.C. Scholars continue to debate the nature of this fever; some believe he was poisoned while others believe it was malaria or typhoid fever. The result was that his empire was divided amongst his generals and he went down as one of the most popular figures in ancient history.