*** Alexander the Great biography

Alexander the Great (Greece, 356-23 BC)

Alexnder the Great

Figure 1.--This is surely the most famous image of Alexander, but it was created some three centuries after his death. The artisans knew nothing about how Alexander looked, but has captured the ethos of Alexander perfectly. It is a detail from a massive mosaic of the Battle of Gaugamela, the climatic show down between Alexander and Persian Emperor Darius (331 BC). It is a Roman mosaic found in the House of the Faun (Casa del fauno) at Pompei. It is believed to be based on a lost painting of Philoxenus of Eretria.

Alexander is one of the most fascinating figures in history. As a boy he was schooled by the great Aristotle, one of the most revered thinkers in Western history. Alexander began military campaigning at the age of 14 yars. In a decade he would proceed to conquer the known world. He is often claimed to be the greatest mikitary commander of history. This may or my not be true, but he certainly was one of the greatest. Western historins focus in his military genius, but he was also ruthless in his tretment bof those whobdared defy him. His life was very short. After his men forced him to end his conquests abd return west from India, he eems to have begin focusing on the sguftvfrom warrirr to statesman. His early death mens we will never know just how he woukd have fared with this effort.


Philip ( -336 BC)

Alexander's father was Philip II of Macedonoa. Macedonia or Macedon was essentially northern Greece. At the time important Greek city states sid not see Macedonia as part of the true Grecian world. Philip's brother was King Perdiccas III ( -359 BC). When King Perdiccas died, his son Amyntas was in line to inherit the Macedonian throne. Because of Amyntas' youth, Philip becomes regeant, but instead of protecting the boy, Philip usurps the throne. Philip was a strong, resourceful monarch. He built a fearsome army. Macedonia was strengthened by gold mines. Philip in a seies of military campaigns subdues the major Greek city states, including the two most poweful--Thebes and Athens.


Olympias was of nobel birth, but she was not Macedonian. She was a orincess, daughter of King Neoptolemus I of Epirus. Epirus located in northwest Greece and what is now southern Albania. Philip took Olympias as a wife (357 BC). Olympias was one of his many wives. She was a swerd and very relgious woman and after Alexander's birth committed above all to assuring that her son would succeed Philip as king. Here the fact that she was not Macedonian put Alexander at a disadvantage, This problem was greatly magnified as Olumpias and Philip came to dislike if not hate each other.

Other wives

Philip had other wives. The concept of marriage seems rather ambiguous. Olympias appears to have been Philip's principal wife. Philip had lesser wives. The sratus of these women and their children varied and changed over time. Olympias for her part looked on these other wives and their children with great contempt. Olympias was hated by many of the other women. One gave birth to a child that proved to be retarded--Philip Arridaeus. Rumors soon began that Olumpias had used poison.


Philip through his many wives had several children. The only other child of Philip and Olympias was Cleopatra, a younger sister. Muliple wives and other children meant posible competitors to the throne for Alexander.


Alexander was born in 356 B.C. Aigai was the first Macedonian capital. Alexander grew up in Pella which had become the capital.

Childhood Friends

Childhood had many friends as a boy. His greatest friend was Hephaestion. Historians believe that as was accpted at the time, the two were intimate. The two become life-long friends.


King Philip appears to have recognized Alexander's abilities at an early age. He gave considerable attention to his son's education. The young prince was trained in a school for Macedonian nobles. This would have included a substantial component of physical and military training. We are not sure about the academic component. As Alexander grew older, Philip decided that a more rigorous intellectual training was needed. Philip engaged the great philosopher Aristotle, perhaps the most influential thinker in the Western intellectual tradition, to tutor Alexander (343 BC). 【Shields】 Aristotle did not at the time have the enormous prestige that he holds now. Philip may have in part turned to him because Aristotle was know to him. Aristotle's father Nicomachus was the personal physician to King Amyntas, Philip's father. A young Aristotle this may have spent some time at the Macedonian court. Aristotle did not leave Macedonia until he was 17-18 years old. Alexander would have been about 13 years old when Aristotle arrived. This was shortly before his father began taking him on military campaigns. Philip also appointed Aristotle as the head of the Macedon Royal Academy. Aristotle not only tutored Alexander, but two other future kings, Ptolemy and Cassander. 【Green, pp. 58–59.】 Little is know about the form of these lessons, perhaps they were taught together and with the children of other Macedonian nobles. Aristotle was no woke peace maker. He encouraged Alexander to contemplate eastern conquest. This was quite a dangerous idea at the time give the power of the Persian Empire. Aristotle's own opinion of the Persians was thorough contempt, if not hatred. This of course is in the aftermath, of massive Persian invasions. He advised Alexander to be '... a leader to the Greeks and a despot to the barbarians, to look after the former as after friends and relatives, and to deal with the latter as with beasts or plants". 【Green, pp. 58–59.】 Aristotle returned to Athens by which time Alexander was a young adult (335 BC). Aristotle is generally seen to have had some impact on Alexander. The attitude toward the Persians may have been the best example. We also see Alexander bringing expert zoologists, botanists, and researchers with his army as he invaded Persia and fought all the way to India. Aristotle also taught him a great deal about Persian culture, but not in a positive way. And Aristotle was not pleased as Alexander began adopting Persian customs. Alexander for his part learned as he marched east that Aristotle was wrong about his respect for Aristotle was diminished as his travels made it clear that much of Aristotle's geography was clearly misguided.

Northern Campaign

Alexander conducts his first campaign at the age of 16 years. Philip made Alexander regent while he pursued a campaign in the south against the Greeks. During this time, Alexander leads an army north into what is now modern Bugari where non-Greek tribels were rebelling. Alexander founds the city of Alexandropolis. Philip in recognition of his son's abilities makes him one of his military commanders.

Chaeronea (338 BC)

Philip cemented his control over Greece at the Battle of Chaeronea. Here he defeated an armyb of Athenians and Thebians. Alexander commanding the Companion Calvary played a key role in the battle. The Macedonian phalanx feignedg retreat, the Athenians rushed forward and a gap appeared between the enemey line. Alexander with his calvary fell upon the Thebians as the Macedonians reversed their retreat and attacked the Atheians. After the battle, Athens, Thebes,and the rest of Greece accepted Philip's dominance, Philip sent Alexander himself on a mission to Athens.

Father and Son

The relationship between father and son is complex. Philip was impressed with the boy's intellect and courage. He was particularly impressed when Alexander as a boy of 13 years tamed a fierce, wild horse. The horse was of course became his famed war horse -- Bucephalus . He also derided his high-pitched voice. White on campaign together, Alexander is said to have shielded his injured father. Later Philip declined to acknowled that Alexander had protected him, probably saving his life. Alexander deeply resented this. A Alexander grew older, tension increased between father and son. The break came at banquet in honor of his father's last marriage, to a Macedonian named Cleopatra. There is as was normally the case at these events much drinking. Cleopatra's uncle, Attalus, offers a toast with the hope that his niece would give birth to a legitimate heir for Philip. Alexander not suprisingly was outraged. 'What about me? Am I a bastard?' he shot back and threw his wine goblet at Attalus. Attalus responded with his goblet and a free-for-all ensues. During the brawl Alexander and his father, both probably drunk by this time, exchange insults. Philip is enraged and stagers toward Alexander with his sword drawn, but stumbles before reaching him. 'Look, men,' Alexander snarled over his father, 'he's about to cross from Europe to Asia, and he falls crossing from couch to couch.' Alexander was referring to Philip's plan to invade the Persian Empire. Philip never forgave Alexander for this insult. Fearing his father, Alexander and his mother fled from Macedonia. There was a reconciliation. Alexander, but not Olympias returned to macedonia. Alexander by thus time, however, no longer trusted his father. Alexander was suspicious when Philip arranged to have his retarded son Arridaeus marry the daughter of a Persian satrap (governor), Alexander saw this as the first step in making Arridaeus his heir. Alexander secretly attempts to marry the satrap's daughter himself. Philip is furious when he learns what Alexander is planning. He places Alexander under house arrest. He banishes Alexander's friends, with the exception of Hephaestion. Philip also proceeds to divorce Olympias, who appears to have been behind the plot.

Philip's Murder (336 BC)

Philip's marriage to Olympias had been a political marriage a kind of peace treaty and alliance with Epirus. To asauge Olympias's brother, now the king of Epirus, Philip offered him his daughter Cleopatra in marriage. Cleopatra was his niece, but apparently this was acceptable to the king. Philip and Cleopatra have a son and as both his parents are Macedonian, he poses a threat to Alexander's claim to the throne. Philip arranges a celebration ti the gods to demonstrate his control over Greece in preparation for an invasion of the Persian Empire. As Philip was entering the great theater in Aigai where the celebration was planned, a former intimate who captained his bodyguard, Pausanias, advanced and stabbed him. Pausanias was then killed by Philip's bodyguard. There was much speculation that Alexander and Olympias were responsible. Many historians see Philip's assasination as a result of conflict between the two men. It is a question that can not be answered with any finality.

Alexander Becomes King

Alexander assumed the throne as Alexander III after the assasination of his father (336 BC). He was 20 years old He proceeded to execute potential rival claimants to the throne. He had his father's infant son, his half brother by Cleopatra, killed. Another was the legitimate succesor, his cousin Amyntas, whose throne had been ursped by Philip. He spared his half-brother, Arridaeus. Olympias was vengeful, she had Philip's final wife cleopatra killed in a cruel way, first killing her infant daughter in front of her. Alexander shared a love of battle with his father, but in many ways they were very different. Alexander was young and handsome. He was healthy and athletic. He had no beard and set a new fahion for the clean-shaven look. As a result of his education, Alexander was not only a military man, he was well read, and enjoyed the arts, especially music and theater.


Alexander put down a Greek revolt. Thebes defected after Ohilip'd=s death. Alexander's aeige and then destruction of the city are among his miost cintroversial acts. He put 6,000 Thebins to the sword and old the survivors into slvery. controversial than his conquest and destruction of the Greek city-state of Thebes. There would be no more defectuins after Thebes. Alexabder then led his army accross the Hellesport and launched his invasion of the Persian Empire which at the time extended west to Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Persian Emperor Darius III at first did not fully appreciate the danger posed by Alexander. In some of the great battles of the ancient world, Alexander destroyed huge Persian armies at Granicus (334 BC), Issus (333 BC), and Gaugamela (331 BC). Aleander reduced Tyre (332 BC) after whicvh the Egyptians recognized him as Pharaoh. He calls himself 'Lord of Asia'. While in Egypt he founds Alexandria which becomes one of the great city of the ancient world. Alexander after his great victory at Gaugamela persued Darius, hoping to capture him alive. Darius was killed by one of his generals, Bessus. The circumstances are disputed by historians. Alexander hunted down Bessus hunted down and then publicly flogged and executed. Alexander then returns Darius' boby to his family for a state funeral. Alexander after completing the conquest of the Persan Empire, pushed east to Bactria and enters India. Here his men refuses to go further. On the way back Alexander and his men sack and plunder cities. On one such assaukt, Alexander is almost killed by an arrow. He sends a fleet back under Nearchus. He returns to Persia on an overland route and he and his men suffer intensly in the overland route which passes through deserts. He finally reaches Susa (334 BC).

Governing Persia

Alexander is best known for his military conquests, but his attempts to govern Persia are also of considerable historical interest. Alexabnder sommander to statesman. 【Strauss】 Alexander desired to replace Darius on the Persian throne. He was often quite brutal if resisted, but once the population submitted he could be magnaamous. He could also be eratic, especially when drunk. Perhaps the best known example here was the sack of the great Persian capital of Persepolis. Alexander's vision appears to have been devoid of ethnic and cultural commitment to Greece. Alexander begins to adopt Persian ways. This angered many of his men who looked down on Persians and Persian culture. The son of one of Alexander's key commanders plotted to kill him. Alexander had the son and the father who was not part of the plot executed. Another general insulted Alexander and he was also executed. Alexander during a campaign to supress a Bactrian rebellion, captures the Bactrian king and his family. He was smitten with the Bactrian Princess Roxane and they marry. After returning from India he orders the execution of corupt governors. Sensing the danger of divisions between Persians and Greeks, Alexander decided to ensure harmony between his people and the Persians and ordered 80 of top commanders to marry Persian nobel women. The ceremonies were in the Persian style. Alexander married Darius' daughter Barsine. Hephaestion, married Barsine's sister Drypetis. Alexander promoted Persians to ranking positions in his army. These effirts even the marriages did not survive Alexander's death.

Alexander's Death

Hephaestion, Alexander's dear friend died and he grieved deeply (324 BC). Then the next year Alexandria became sick. The illness is unknown. Years of hard living and drink may have affected him. The lingering affect of his arrow wound may have been ivolved. Mistorians postulare malaria or typhoid. He died at age 32 (323 BC).


Roxane was pregnant at the time of Alexander's death. Barsine apparently was also pregnant. Roxane summoned Barsine to Babylon in Alexander's name. When Barsine and her sister Drypetis reached Babylon, Roxane ordered them both killed. Their dead bodies were thrown down a well. Roxane had a son after Aleaander's death. He was Alexander Aegus, who became King Alexander IV. His co-ruler was Arridaeus, Alexander's retarded half brother. Olympias ordered Arridaeus murder. PerdiccasOne, one of Alexander's generals was appointed regent for the infant king.

The Diadochi

Alexander's death began a struggle forpowe among his commanders. The empire was soon torn apart by the power struggles among Alexander's commanders. His advisors and commanders are known as the Diadochi, the Greek word for "successors"). His son's first regent, Perdiccas, was killed by mutinous soldiers (321 BC). Antipater repaced him as regent, but died (319 BC). Polyperchon became regent, but was soom overthrown by Antipater's son Cassander. Olympias opposed Antipater's regency and she resisted his son. She made herself regent (317 BC). Cassander seized power, but hesitated to execute Alexander's mother himself. Cassander insteaddelivered Olympias relatives of individuals she had ordered killed. It was they who killed the queen mother. Cassanddr also ordered the death of both Roxane and Alexander IV (Alexander Aegus). The boy was 13 years old when he was killed. Cassander made himself king of Macedonia (305 BC).

Alexander's Image

Alexander's image in the West is one of the consumate milatary commander. Asian sources focus more on his ruthlness. And there is no soubt that he was a great, if not the greatest, military commabders and that he was among the most ruthless. This began at Thebes and continued at Tyre where he crusified 6,000 Tyre soldiers on the beach. Those ho survived the sack of the city were sold into slavery. He also could be ruthless in his personal relationships, especially after a hard night of drinking.


Green, Peter. Alexander of Macedon Shields, Christopher. "Aristotle's Psychology" in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016).

Strauss, Barry. Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, and the Genius of Leadership (2012).


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Created: 3:33 AM 11/8/2004
Last edited: 12:33 AM 9/30/2018