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Alexander the Great

“Most historians have had their own Alexander, and a view of him which is one-sided is bound to have missed the truth. There are features which cannot be disputed; the extraordinary toughness of a man who sustained nine wounds, breaking an ankle bone and receiving an arrow through his chest and the bolt of a catapult through his shoulder. He was twice struck on the head and neck by stones and once lost his sight from such a blow. The bravery which bordered on folly never failed him in the front line of battle, a position which few generals since have considered proper… There are two ways to lead men, either to delegate all authority and limit the leader’s burden or to share every hardship and decision and be seen to take the toughest labour, prolonging it until every other man has finished. Alexander’s method was the second, and only those who have suffered the first can appreciate why his men adored him.

Alexander was not merely a man of toughness, resolution and no fear. A murderous fighter, he had wide interests outside war, his hunting, reading, his patronage of music and drama and his lifelong friendship with Greek artists, actors and architects; he minded about his food and took a daily interest in his meals, appreciating quails from Egypt or apples from western orchards… He had an intelligent concern for agriculture and irrigation which he had learnt from his father; from Philip, too, came his constant favour for new cities and their law and formal design. He was famously generous and he loved to reward the same show of spirit which he asked of himself… Equally he was impatient and often conceited; the same officers who worshipped him must often have found him impossible… Though he drank as he lived, sparing nothing, his mind was not slurred by excessive indulgence; he was not a man to be crossed or to be told what he could not do, and he always had firm views on exactly what he wanted…

A romantic must not be romanticized, for he is seldom compassionate, always distant, but in Alexander it is tempting to see the romantic’s complex nature for the first time in Greek history. There are the small details, his sudden response to a show of nobility, his respect for women, his appreciation of eastern customs, his extreme fondness for his dog and especially his horse… He had the romantic’s sharpness and cruel indifference to life; he was also a man of passionate ambitions, who saw the intense adventure of the unknown. He did not believe in impossibility; man could do anything, and he nearly proved it.”


From the final chapter of Robin Lane Fox’s biography Alexander the Great.

In the book’s prologue, Fox includes the following assessment, sourced from Arrian’s History of Alexander’s Expeditions (150 AD):

As for the exact thoughts in Alexander’s mind, I am neither able nor concerned to guess them, but this I think I can state, that nothing common or mean would have been his intention; he would not have remained content with any of his conquests, not even if he had added the British Isles to Europe; he would always have searched beyond for something unknown, and if there had been no other competition, he would have competed against himself.

Below in red, the empire Alexander amassed in seventeen years as King of Macedonia, Persia, and Asia.

Make some more introductions:

Map of Alexander the Great's Conquests