Alexanderthe great: his human side
Alexander III of Macedon (20/21 July 356 BC – 10/11 June 323 BC),or Alexander the great was a king of the ancient Greek kingdom ofMacedon. Born to King Phillip II of Macedon, he was accorded anear-perfect upbringing. Part of this upbringing was two privatetutors, one of them being the great Greek philosopher Aristotle.1Alexander was crowned King aged after his father’s death and hewent ahead to expand his inherited empire to from Greece, to Egyptand northwest India.2He is widely hailed for his superior military strategies that enabledhim to win many battles and conquer kingdoms. He also facilitated thecreation and spread of the Hellenistic that set the foundation forwestern civilization. However, such success was not achieved throughmilitary strategy alone. The human side more so, his diplomatictactics, charisma, persona and a deep philosophical understanding ofhuman nature and politics borrowed from Aristotle contributedimmensely to his success as this paper discusses.
By virtue of being born to an influential King, Alexander wasdestined for great things in life. He grew up in a large family ashis father had seven or eight wives.3With such a large family, he had to prove himself against hissiblings, also destined for greatness. His father enlisted Aristotle,one of the greatest Greek philosophers, to tutor him when he attainedthe age of 14. He first had a feel of the throne at the tender age of16 when his father was away waging war campaigns. In his short stinton the throne, he managed to defeat an uprising from the Thracianpeople and went ahead and named a city after himself,Alexandroupolis, a practice directly borrowed from his father.4
Ancient records are not very on King Phillip’s thoughts andreactions to his son’s actions and bravery. However, it issuspected that his father felt threatened by his son’s boldness. Hefeared that his success in the father absence might get into his headand seek to overthrow him. Consequently, the two became estranged andAlexander’s mother’s was exiled to Epirus. It is also not clearwhether the differences between his parents led to his estrangementor his differences with his father caused a rift between the parents.Alexander was to return to Macedon after the death of his father asthe heir to the throne.
In spite of the suspected bad blood between father and son, Alexanderwas crowned the King of Macedon at the age of 20. This is after kingPhillip II was assassinated by one of his men while attending thewedding of his daughter, Cleopatra (not the Egyptian Cleopatra).5The reason behind or the person who had ordered the assassinationremains unknown as the assassin was killed almost immediately whilefleeing from the scene. Several scholars are convinced that it ispossible that Alexander probably with the help of his mother plannedthe assassination as there were rumors that King Phillip II intendedto make Cleopatra’s would-be-husband, Philip Arrhidaeus, the heirto the throne instead of Alexander.6,7
As a youthful king who was quick to establish his influence on thekingdom, Alexander borrowed a lead from his father King Phillip andtook to renaming towns after himself. This was also a way ofspreading Greek culture and language to the Near East and Middle Eastterritories, which practiced barbarian cultures. At that time, theGreek culture had a very negative attitude towards other cultureswhich were viewed as backward. However, Alexander abandoned thisancient attitude and adopted a new approach that sought integrateHellenic culture with the new ones that he encountered in the knownworld that he conquered. He thus dispatched several of his noble menas administrators and enforcers of the law in these territories. Theywere also expected to act as cultural ambassadors by spreading theGreek knowledge and worldview.8The administrators and colonizers fused their knowledge and culturewith new cultures creating a new hybrid culture, Hellenic. This newculture served to shorten the distance between the colonizers and thecolonized.9Soon the colonized were eager to identify with the Hellenic culture.This influence of Greek culture however, took effect well after thedeath of Alexander as the region experienced relative peace. Thegenerals who served Alexander divided territories amongst themselves.The Hellenic culture served as a common unifying unit until 31BC whenthe Roman Empire invaded Greece.10
Diplomacyand Cultural Assimilation
Alexander carried out one of his father’s greatest wishes, invadingPersia. Persia existence was a threat to the existence of Macedon.Alexander thus invaded Persia and successfully defeated the Persianarmies albeit suffering huge losses. He applied his diplomatic skillsto win over the people after the war. He reinstalled local leaderswho would vow allegiance to him instead of installing new Macedonianrulers. This did not in any way interfere with the Persian way oflife. Greek culture was introduced to the masses peacefully as a newway of knowing. There are no recorded cases of forceful imposition ofHellenic culture on the barbarians.11
On the contrary, he led lead by example in adopting Persian culture,Persian food and regalia. He also adopted a new name, ShahanShah,which had been used by the first Persian Empire rulers to mean kingof kings. His soldiers were also required to adopt the Persian customof presokynesis which involved those addressing him to kneelbefore him and kiss his hand. Although some of his advisors wereopposed to the integration of Persian and Greek culture, Alexanderwent ahead and held a mass marriage in which senior members of hisstaff married Persian noble women for further promote culturalintegration.12
Similarly, the king applied peaceful means in India to exertinfluence and win loyalty after waging wars. For instance, whenAlexander invaded India between 327 BCE and into 326 BCE, he wasbravely resisted by King Porus of Paurava.13In this battle, Alexander encountered a new military strategy thatinvolved fighters riding domesticate elephants. He was very impressedby the fact that the Indian tribes had managed to domesticate andtrain elephants to go into battle. Though the elephants, many of hissoldiers were trampled. However, the Macedonians won the battle andKing Porus, who was injured, surrendered. To show how impressed hewas, King Alexander installed Porus as the ruler of a larger regionthan he previously ruled. This was in recognition of bravery andcourage from one of his enemy-turned-ally.
Despite such acts, Alexander was largely despised by his subjects buthis military generals seemed well suited to cut him to size. This isevident in cases where the generals opposed some of his tactics. Forinstance, they implored him to drop the proskynesis customwhich required them to kneel when addressing the king. Furthermore,the army generals practically brought to an end the king’s waradventure. They openly expressed their reservations about advancingmore into India. However, he was quick to use his wit to convince thegenerals otherwise. In his own words, he posed to the generals
I observe, Gentlemen, that when I would lead you on a new venture youno longer follow me with your old spirit. I have asked you to meetthat we may come to a decision together: Are we, upon my advice, togo forward, or, upon yours, to turn back?14
It is understood thegenerals refused to be swayed by a king who was hungry for more waradventure. In the end, King Alexander turned his army back acceptingthe only defeat in his life, against his own army, which was mainlyfought by arguments. The decision to accept this defeat captures hisunderstanding of Aristotle’s teachings on the virtue of bravery,which lies in-between the insufficiency or absence of bravery(cowardliness) and excess bravery (rashness). By accepting he lostthe argument for continuation of war, King Alexander exhibitedbravery.15
Nonetheless, going by his arguments such as the excerpt above, theking was a great orator. He applied his oratory skills to convincehis followers and present his ideas in an affectionate and appealingmanner both to his army and the people he conquered. His speecheswere also highly theatrical and dramatized which largely helped hishuge frame and sense of presence. Furthermore, such larger-than lifeappearance and wonderful speeches did wonders for his soldiers. It isindicated that before every battle in the military parade, he wouldride down the ranks of his and loudly call out the names ofindividual solders who had performed exemplary well in the previousbattles. Being recognized by the king himself in front of other menserved as huge motivation and made such soldiers the envy of others.As such, the soldiers were always eager to outdo one another in thebattlefield.16
On this issue of managing soldiers, Alexander had perfected the artof making his soldiers. He applied Aristotle’s concept ofdistributive justice to share the spoils of war among his soldiersespecially the generals. According to Aristotle, justice differedfrom virtue enforced by laws. He was convinced that justice dealswith fairness in the distribution of divisible goods. It is thisconcept that Alexander employed to motivate his army to even push forlarger territories. Specifically, new territories were reserved forspecified generals and army unit to occupy, control and rule overonce the war was over. Furthermore, any loot of gold and otherprecious items recovered from various territories invaded were fairlydistributed among the army men.17However, this tactic ceased to work where the soldiers realized thatthey were dying in large numbers as a result of war and disease whichmeant that their promised riches were useless unless they remainedalive.
The discussion above thus proves that Alexander the great more thanearned the inferred greatness attached to his name. He was far morethan a military genius but also a diplomat strategically applied hischarisma and oratory skills to win over followers and sell his ideas.He knew how to psychologically get to people as a means to an end. Hepraised, endorsed and even adopted foreign cultures in a bid toencourage the foreigners to sample Hellenic culture. As for thesoldiers, he managed to gel military strategy with a new uniquestrategy in leading them and keeping them motivated. This just provesthat just Alexander the great was indeed great in the way he employedunique tactics, charisma, persona and a deep philosophicalunderstanding of human nature and politics to work for him to conquerand rule over one the largest territories ever.
1 Mads Brevik. Alexander the great. Last modified on 2013-04-28
2 Joshua Mark. “Alexander the great” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 2013. 12th Oct 2015. http://www.ancient.eu/Alexander_the_Great/
3Jarus Owen. Alexander the Great: Facts, Biography & Accomplishments. (2013).
4 Alexander the great. Accessed on 12th Cot 2015. http://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/alexander-the-great
6 Roisman, J. & Worthington, I. (2010). A Companion to Ancient Macedonia. London: John Wiley & sons.
7 Mads Brevik. Alexander the great. Last modified on 2013-04-28 http://www.digitalattic.org/home/war/alex/
8 Joshua Mark. “Alexander the great” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified 12th Oct 2015. http://www.ancient.eu/Alexander_the_Great/
9 I-Chun Wang. "Alexander the Great, Prester John, Strabo of Amasia, and Wonders of the East." CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 14.5 (2012)
10 Colin Hynson. Ancient Greece. Milwaukee: World almanac library. 2006.
11 “Wars of Alexander the Great: Battle of the Hydaspes River.” Historynet.com. (12th Oct 2015). Last modified 6/12/2006. http://www.historynet.com/wars-of-alexander-the-great-battle-of-the-hydaspes-river.htm
13 Joshua Mark. “Alexander the great” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified 12th Oct 2015. http://www.ancient.eu/Alexander_the_Great/
14 “Wars of Alexander the Great: Battle of the Hydaspes River.” Historynet.com. (12th Oct 2015). Last modified 6/12/2006. http://www.historynet.com/wars-of-alexander-the-great-battle-of-the-hydaspes-river.htm
15 Charlie Gilkey. The 3 Key Ideas from Aristotle That Will Help You Flourish. Last modified Feb 29 2008. http://www.productiveflourishing.com/aristotle-the-good-life-and-gtd/
16 Mads Brevik. Alexander the great. Last modified on 2013-04-28 http://www.digitalattic.org/home/war/alex/
17 Alexander the great. Accessed on 12th OCt 2015.