Term Paper: Alexander the Great Began His Life

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Alexander the Great began his life in greatness. The son of King Philip II of Macedon and of the Epirote princess Olympias, Alexander was rumoured to be the illegitimate son of the god Zeus. As a child, Alexander was tutored by the philosopher Aristotle. By the time that Alexander was 16, he was left in command of Macedon when his father led an attack on Byzantium. However, after Philip divorced Olympias, it was uncertain whether Alexander would succeed to the throne. Philip was assassinated three years later, and the 20-year-old Alexander was "acclaimed by the army as the new king of Macedon."

The leaders of the other Greek cities, like Athens and Thebes, were not willing to pledge their allegiance to Alexander. Alexander squashed dissent by immediately ordering the execution of any of his potential rivals. Alexander then took his armies south to solidify his control of Greece and confront the Persian Empire. Alexander defeated the main Persian army at the Battle of Issus, then proceeded down the Mediterranean coast, where he took Tyre and Gaza.

Alexander was welcomed in Egypt as a liberator. In fact the Macedonians were liberators; "the Persians had occupied Egypt from 525 to 404 and had reconquered their former possession in 343, only eleven years before. The Egyptians still remembered their former freedom, an idea that Alexander knew how to use for his own benefit." There he was pronounced the Pharoah and called the son of Ra by Egyptian priests. It was also in Egypt that Alexander began to worship the Egyptian god Ammon. Alexander went forth from Egypt to conquer the rest of the Persian Empire.

Not everyone was willing to accept the changes that occurred in Alexander's behavior after he conquered Issus. "He had always been the leader of the Macedonians and something like an ordinary nobleman. After Issus, however, he claimed to be a real king." Furthermore, Alexander began to make claims that the was the Egyptian manifestation of the god Zeus. Not everyone was willing to accept Alexander's royalty, much less his divinity. Alexander's followers courtiers began to complain and the seeds of discontent that led to many of Alexander's later mistakes were sown. For example, it was at this time that Alexander began to spy on his friend Philotas, suspecting treachery.

Despite his conquering the Persian Empire, Alexander had adopted some elements of Persian culture, such as dress and the custom of proskynesis. This behavior led to hostility towards Alexander by his countrymen. In fact, Alexander had his friend Philotas executed for failing to reveal the murder plot. Furthermore, Alexander murdered Clitus the Black, who had saved Alexander's life at the Granicus. Later, when Alexander discovered misbehavior by his military officials, he had them executed as examples. His willingness to kill his own soldiers and his adoption of Persian customs led to at least one instance of mutiny.

Although Alexander adopted the Persian culture, he was not so open-minded about other cultures. In fact, some modern scholars compare Alexander to Napolean or Hitler, and believe that he was a megalomaniac. The comparisons to Hitler are based on perceived religious persecution by Alexander. "Even today, the Zoroastrians (that is, the followers of the legendary prophet Zarathustra) tell stories about a serious religious persecution by Alexander the Great, who killed the priests and ordered the holy book of Zoroastrianism, the Avesta, to be destroyed." In India, the Macedonians used brutal force to subdue the conquered people, going so far as to butcher the sick and the elderly.

From Persia, Alexander moved on to conquer India. In 327, Alexander invaded the valleys of the Kabul and Swat. Here, once again, Alexander was linked to the divine: "many Indians seemed to identify the conqueror with an avatar of a local deity, who was identified by the Macedonians with their god Dionysus." Here Alexander began to show some signs of instability. For example, he ordered the massacre of people that had surrendered. He also attacked a group of refugees at Aornus, in an apparent challenge to the god Krishna. Alexander wanted to move further into India, but his army refused. Rather than acknowledge that he was persuaded by his men to turn back, Alexander claimed that the gods kept him from further invasion.

Whether Alexander was viewed as liberator, as with the Egyptians, or a religious persecutor, as by the Zoroastrians, there is little disagreement that Alexander was an innovative and successful military commander. Alexander was one of the first military leaders to successfully command an army using seige weapons. When the city of Thebes revolted shortly after Alexander became king, Alexander's army attacked them with catapults and ballistas. Alexander's successful use of seige weapons enabled him to seize control of cities in far shorter time periods than would have been possible with traditional weaponry, which resulted in fewer casualties in his army. Certainly this reduction in casualties contributed to Alexander's ability to conquer the known world.

However, the success of Alexander's army relied on the men in his army and Alexander's organization of his ranks, rather than the use of any particular type of weaponry. Alexander had a calvary, which was composed of two types of units. The first unit used long spears to pierce enemy ranks. The riders in the second unit carried two-handed swords. In addition to the calvary, Alexander's army had quite a bit of infantry. One type of infantry were the spearmen, who were trained to wave their 13-foot spears up and down while charging in order to help deflect arrows. These soldiers were trained to wave their spears up and down while charging, helping to deflect any arrows that were shot in their direction. In addition, Alexander's infantry contained troops composed of archers and slingers, who could kill enemies before they reached Alexander's line. At the flanks of Alexander's army were the shield bearers, who used shields and swords to protect Alexander's interior line if an enemy attempted to flank him. All together, Alexander's regular units presented an almost impenetrable front: his archers and slinger attacked the approaching enemy, his calvary and footmen swept into the enemy's ranks, and his shield bearers prevented enemies from flanking him. In addition to his regular units, Alexander had "units that could be compared to America's Special Forces unit. These men were called Gurkhas and they carried javelins. Alexander used Gurkhas for rough climbs and night attacks."

Although Alexander employed a superior and well-trained army in his attacks, the army would have been useless without Alexander's skillfull leadership. Alexander's normal strategy was to attack refugees and noncombatants first. Those attacks were a form of psychological manipulation. While they may not have given Alexander a military advantage, the attacks on refugees and noncombatants posed little danger to Alexander's highly-trained army. In addition, those attacks terrorized enemy soldiers. Alexander used other forms of psychological warfare, such as crucifying enemy troops in order to terrorize people before he went into battle. In fact, modern military experts still consider one of the most ou outstanding commanders ever. One suggestion for Alexander's military might is that he led every attack in person, thereby suffering the same wounds and incurring the same risks as his soldiers. In fact, Alexander "was the last great commander in history to take this personal risk."

However, his personal involvement in the battlefield only goes so far to explain Alexander's success. There is much written about Alexander's charisma. Unfortunately, while charisma may have been the key factor in Alexander's success, it is also the most difficult trait to verify. Furthermore, the fact that Alexander claimed to be related to the gods and was seen by divine by many of the conquered people helped contribute to his ability to both seize and maintain control of so many peoples.

However, that does not explain what drove Alexander. Karen Wehrstein has theorized that Alexander was driven by a passion for transcendence. It does appear that Alexander was motivated by wanting to do the impossible. This desire was manifested in many ways. First, Alexander conquered many lands in the face of overwhelming odds. Second, Alexander was able to transcend the relationship between god and man. Not only did Alexander view himself as godly, but there is substantial evidence that demonstrates that he was seen as a god by a wide variety of people. Finally, Alexander was able to transcend death. While he may not have been the divine immortal that some believed him to be, the fact that almost 2000 years later college students are writing papers about Alexander the Great is a monument to his immortality.

However, the question still remains: was Alexander the Great, indeed great? The answer to that question depends on more than one's definition of the word great; it also depends on how one chooses to view Alexander's actions. According to Wehrstein, Alexander "wanted to transcend his nationality, to expand himself to incorporate the cultures of his subjects...to transcend the very concept of nations and states by conquering the world." Others still view… [END OF PREVIEW]

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