|Old World Contacts|
First Period: 350 BCE - 400 CE
(b. 356 - d. 323 BCE)
The career of Alexander of Macedon defies the superlatives that are usually used to describe it. He was a cavalry commander at the age of 18; he succeeded his father Philip II to the throne of Macedon when he was 20; and he was conqueror of the Persian Empire and explorer of the Indian frontier by the age of 30. His defeat of Persia permitted the spread of Greek settlement in the East. There is no surviving evidence that Alexander himself promoted a policy of active Hellenisation, but Greek culture did certainly penetrate into Western Asia as the result of his conquests. If unintended, this is definitely one of Alexander's most lasting historical legacies.
Alexander's military genius remains undisputed to this day. He worked with and improved the effective army that he inherited from his father. He made good use of allies, strengthened his cavalry, employed weapons specialists and a corps of engineers in his army, and he displayed equal skill in directing both sieges and set-piece battles. His command style was marked by effective use of intelligence and communications, a keenly developed grasp of logistics, and, perhaps most importantly, an ability to improvise in order to deal with constantly shifting strategic situations. By way of criticism, he has been accused of being too bold. The route that he took from Macedon to India covered approximately 11,265 km. Just before entering the Ganges Valley, his troops decided that they had had enough and refused to go further. Many of his men were lost due to thirst and starvation on the return to Babylon. Despite all his success, he attempted to achieve more than perhaps any other military strategist would have done, and took unreasonable risks. Perhaps what saved him was the discipline and professional spirit of his soldiers, which allowed them to carry out his orders until they reached the limit of endurance.
Alexander the Great remains arguably the most famous secular figure in history, and his conquests created a legend that would set the standard by which future leaders would measure their careers. But he was not so much admired in his own lifetime and was, in fact, despised by many Greek subjects, who considered him to be a Macedonian "barbarian." There is little doubt that he was an inspiring leader who performed deeds of great personal bravery. He has been characterised as ruthless to any who opposed him, but fair to those whom he regarded as courageous and skilful. He was probably an overwhelmingly ambitious man who possessed a violent temper that was only made worse by a penchant for drinking too much wine. Aside from leaving a trail of eponymous towns and cities in his wake, Alexander's principal achievement, according to one historian, "appears to have been a grand adventure tied to his own personal ambitions conquest for its own sake."1
1Eugene N. Borza, Reader's Companion to Military History, eds., Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1996), p.11.
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