Alexander the Great
Philip of Macedon (359-336)
We start with Alexander's father, because of his crucial role
both in Greek history and in Alexander's own life. Philip united
Macedonia, created a powerful army, grew wealthy, conquered Greece
and almost immediately afterward died, leaving the young Alexander
a magnificent inheritance.
Philip gained his military education under Epaminondas of
Thebes, where he was a royal hostage for three years. There he
learned the value of coordinating cavalry with infantry in battle.
He also learned a good deal about how Greek politics worked.
His father died young, and Philip became king at age 25 in the
Philip inherited a kingdom that was historically divided between
towns and farmers in the lowlands, and powerful nobles in the
hills. He eliminated his rivals with brutal efficiency, subdued
all rebellions, and managed to unite all Macedonia under his
He was a masterful politician, playing one faction off against
another. He was fortunate in that gold had been discovered recently
under Mt. Pangaeus, which was in his realm (imagine what would
happen if the U.S. suddenly discovered vast oil reserves that
could be brought into production within a matter of months).
And he was able to lead his nobles to a string of foreign victories.
Victory came not least because Philip created a new type of
army, a standing army of soldiers who served year-round. When
not at war, the Macedonian army was barracked at state expense
and underwent sophisticated training while in quarters. The Macedonian
soldier was thus far better trained than any other in the world
and much better equipped.
Philip borrowed and further developed the tactic of combining
cavalry with infantry. And he invented the famed Macedonian phalanx,
about which more later.
Philip Conquers Greece
Macedonia, which the southern Greeks considered about a half-step
away from barbarism, conquered Greece because Philip exerted
a masterful combination of political wiliness and use of superior
force. The Greeks lost because they failed to unite to face the
threat until it was too late.
Philip first conquered Thessaly and Thrace, giving him sway
from the Hellespont to Thermopylae. These actions made some Greeks
nervous, but using the gold of Mt. Pangaeus Philip bribed generously
and by the 330s had a party loyal to his cause in every Greek
Moreover, some of the Greek cities thought they could use
the barbarian, or the threat of him, against their enemies. So
they gave various concessions to Philip, or looked the other
way as he gobbled up first this and then that opponent. In other
cases, he posed as a disinterested arbiter of Greek quarrels,
managing thereby to insert Macedonian interests and voice into
matters completely outside his direct sphere of influence.
Battle of Chaeronea The famous Athenian orator, Demosthenes,
tried to rouse his city to action. In a series of speeches that
are still models of rhetoric, he warned the Greeks against the
danger from the north. Even today, you might here a political
speech referred to as a philippic, for this word has come
to mean any speech warning of dire danger. By the time
Philip was viewed as a real threat, however, it was really too
late. The Greeks united and fought Philip, Spartans fighting
alongside Thebans and Athenians at Chaeronea in 338. It was a
hard-fought battle, but the Macedonians were completely successful.
Philip was now free to organize Greece as he saw fit, and
the message he sent was quite clear. He destroyed the city of
Thebes, though he gave orders to spare the house of the house
of Pindar. Athens, too, he spared. He gave Sparta the opportunity
to join his new alliance; when Sparta refused, he destroyed that
city as well.
The battle at Chaeronea marks the end of the Greek city-state
as a historic force. We'll hear from Greece again, of course,
but never will Greek city-states be a factor, only alliances
Philip's Death Philip returned to Pella in 336 to attend
his daughter's wedding. As the bridal party passed through the
streets in procession, three men leaped from the crowd and stabbed
Philip to death. The three men were killed on the spot. There
have long been dark rumors that Philip's death was engineered
by his own wife, Olympia, who was eager for her son to be king.
There is no real evidence for this.
What would Philip have done had he lived? He was one of the
great leaders of ancient Greece; had his son not been such an
extraordinary legend, Philip would be considered a leading figure
of Greek history. We know that he had designs on Asia, for he
had sent his favorite general, Parmenio, to establish a camp
across the Bosporus. It is likely that he intended no more than
to secure Asia Minor for the Greeks, but we can do no more than
Alexander of Macedon
Philip saw to it that his only son had the best education.
Alexander and his compatriots studied for three years under Aristotle,
who was hired because he was the most renowned philosopher of
his day. Alexander also received the very finest education in
warfare and politicshis daddy taught him.
Alexander was a bundle of contradictions and extremes. He
was both mystical and practical, a dreamer and a pragmatist.
He was capable of planning grand strategies, yet paid attention
to the details of supply and logistics while on the march. He
paid careful attention to his image and it is very difficult
for us to separate fact from propaganda.
His soldiers adored him, as did most who met him. He was handsome,
courageous, intelligent. He was tireless in the field, able to
out-work most everyone around him. Yet, he was also a dreamer,
given to fits and moods. He had visions. His mother told him
that he was not the son of Philip but the son of Apollo. In short,
he was everything a legend should be.
But, of course, Alexander did not conquer Asia by himself.
The Macedonian Army
Philip left his son a mountain of gold, all of Greece, and
a magnificent army. Of the three, the latter was the most crucial.
The Phalanx The Macedonian phalanx was Philip's creation,
extended by Alexander. Whereas the Greeks still fought in their
traditional three battle lines, the phalanx was a flexible unit
well drilled and able to take on a variety of formations.
It was usually 16 men on a side, 256 men in each unit, always
and exclusively Macedonian. They were armed with the sarissa,
a long spear but at 13 feet actually shorter than the hasta
used by Greek hoplites, which was over 16 feet long. The real
strength of the phalanx was its many formations and maneuvers.
While the square was the usual formation, it could form a line
or wedge or other shapes. The soldiers were trained to respond
to flag and trumpet signals. No army in the Western world in
the 4th century was its equal.
Other Elements But that wasn't all. The traditional
strength of Macedonia was its heavy cavalry, and heavily-armed
horsemen continued to be vital. In addition, there were Macedonian
light horse and heavy cavalry from other cities. Beyond these
were the Cretan archers - among his fiercest warriors - and javelin
throwers, slingers, and other infantry units, all fighting according
to the style traditional to each city. And, of course, the excellent
navies supplied by Athens, Corinth and other cities.
Beyond these elements were the support elements, which likewise
Alexander brought to a condition much superior to any other army
at the time. Most important was his adoption of a siege train,
well organized and supported by engineers. It included 100 foot
battering rams and 150 foot high siege towers with bridges (this
was the first known use of bridges on siege towers). Legend says
Alexander himself invented the torsion catapult; certain it is
that he used it. Like other great commanders, he was a master
of logistics and communications.
On the battlefield, Alexander typically placed the Macedonian
heavy infantry (the phalanx) in the center. Parmenio commanded
the left, Alexander the right, leading the Macedonian cavalry.
He preferred an oblique order of attack, with Alexander's wing
leading the way. Parmenio's job was the most thankless--he was
to engage the enemy and hold. But Alexander's battles are marked
by his ability to mix all the elements of his army and bring
to bear just what was needed at just the right time.
Qualities of Command In addition to all these factors,
Alexander exhibited tremendous personal bravery. He was always
at the front and always in the thick of battle. Generals in pre-modern
times usually led their men rather than commanding from behind.
This, of course, placed the great man in great jeopardy.
Alexander was wounded in neck and head at the Granicus River,
in the thigh at Issus, the shoulder at Gaza. He suffered a broken
leg in Turkestan, was wounded on three occasions in Afghanistan,
and, most seriously, had his lung pierced by an arrow in India.
He more than once was the first man over the wall at the storming
of a city.
Alexander never lost a battle. As the victories accumulated,
his men came to believe that he was invincible. So did his enemies.
Like other great generals, he knew and loved his men. He remembered
their names and deeds, calling them by name when he would speak
to them before a battle, citing their exploits. His veterans
he sent home for a rest to Greece, allowing them to visit their
families. He was liberal in his gifts and honors.
All of these factors created an army that simply could not
be stopped. Its accomplishments so far eclipsed anything that
had ever been done, Alexander and his Macedonians entered into
Alexander set out in spring 334, after having had to re-settle
affairs in Greece and Macedonia after his father's murder. One
of the many puzzles about Alexander is whether he intended from
the beginning to conquer the world. We know that he brought with
him artists, geographers, historians, botanists, geologists and
other scientists -- something quite beyond the normal scope of
a military expedition.
Ever the politician, his first act was to visit Troy -- the
site of the great victory of the Greeks over Asia. The visit
was also due to personal interest, for he greatly admired Homer
and the heroes of the Trojan War. It was a brilliant propaganda
gesture, and he followed it with astute diplomacy. As he marched
down the Ionian coast, he liberated the Greek cities, restoring
democracy, rather than conquering them. By posing as a liberator
and savior, he won allies and gained many recruits here.
The Persian satrap was unable to stop him at the first major
battle at the Granicus River. This battle was in some ways the
most important of Alexander's career, though others are more
famous. It was important because it was his first real battle
in Asia; it was really rather a mad gamble, one that his generals
argued he should not have made. But the circumstances of the
battle reveals not only his courage and confidence, but also
his fine political sense and his enormous good fortune.
After his victory, Alexander rolled through Asia Minor, detouring
to Gordium to meet up with his general Parmenio. Gordium was
a town in Galatia, the ancient capital of the Phrygians. In the
town was a wagon tied to a post. It was a very ordinary post
and a very ordinary wagon with one exception: the yoke was fastened
to the pole with a complex of knots so thoroughly tangled that
it was impossible to unravel. The legend was the anyone who could
loose the knot would be the conqueror of Asia.
Alexander the Great naturally had to try his hand at this
fabled knot, since he was in town anyway. He had announced his
intention of conquering Asia, and to leave Gordium without testing
the knot was unthinkable. So, he and some of his men, and a large
crowd of locals, all made their way to the acropolis and the
The Gordian Knot was an especially difficult one in that there
were no loose ends showing. Alexander tried for a while but was
copmletely stumped. His attendants were concerned, for failure
here would make poor propaganda.
At last, Alexander cried out "What difference does it
make how I loose it?" He pulled out his sword and
cut the knot through. Thus did Alexander reveal that he was the
one prophesied. It was a lovely play on words, for the Greek
word was luein, which can mean "untie" but can
also mean "sunder" or "resolve."
From that story of Alexander came a phrase that is still used
occasionally. To "cut the Gordian knot" means to slice
through a problem that appears hopelessly complex by some simply,
But the true test would come when he faced not a provincial
but an imperial Persian army.
The Battle of Issus (334)
The Persian Empire's military machine was powerful and ponderous.
When Darius finally came to meet him, Alexander was already in
southern Turkey. The situation for the Greeks was serious. They
were still in the mountains, trying to find a safe passage to
the sea. Darius managed to get in between and Alexander had to
fight his way through.
30,000 Greeks faced 100,000 Persians across a small river
called the Pinarus, near the town of Issus. Fighting across a
river is always difficult, for the attacker has to wade through
the water and climb the opposite bank before ever engaging the
Parmenio led the Greek left and had a hard fight of it. Alexander
personally led the right, which held the Macedonian cavalry.
The battle was still very much at issue when Alexander led a
charge straight at Darius himself.
Seeing Alexander cutting his way through the Persians, obviously
making for the king himself, Darius panicked and fled. Once the
king was seen abandoning the field -- he was easy to spot in
his golden chariot -- the Persian army collapsed.
Issus marked the beginning of the end of Persian power in
the Mediterranean. After Issus, Alexander knew he could bring
Darius down; he began to dream of replacing him as King of Kings.
The Siege of Tyre (333)
Alexander's capture of Tyre was not as important as the battles
at Issus or Gaugamela, but the city was vital to Alexander's
larger plans and the siege shows how adept the Greeks were at
this type of warfare.
Tyre was on an island off the coast of modern Lebanon, far
enough from the mainland that the water was 18' deep. With mammoth
walls, a fortified harbor, and virtually no land outside the
walls, the city was long thought impregnable.
Alexander needed the city, to control the Eastern Mediterranean
and provide him a secure port through which to funnel reinforcements
and supplies. For, the Greeks ruled the sea.
His initial attempts to take the city failed. He quickly enough
cut the city off from supply, but Tyre knew he was coming, had
stocked up on supplies, and had its own fresh water. He tried
bombarding the walls with catapults mounted on the decks of ships.
He tried placing siege towers on ships, bringing them right up
to the walls, but the citizens sank the ships with great boulders.
Finally, Alexander resolved on an ambitious approach. He could
only take the city by getting his soldiers close enough to let
his huge siege engines do their damage. To this end, Alexander
ordered his engineers to build a mole -- a land bridge from the
mainland to the island. It was 200' wide and took months to complete.
When it was ready, he brought his siege engines along it to
the walls. The citizens now fought desperately, and the Greeks
were repeatedly driven back. But the city was running out of
food and, after a seven month siege, Tyre fell. Alexander was
so furious that this one city had halted his progress for so
long, that he gave the city over to plunder and his soldiers
sacked it without mercy.
The siege of Tyre had a lasting effect, for the mole stayed,
silted up, and today Tyre is connected to the mainland. Alexander,
in his drive to conquer, permanently changed the face of the
land. It is deeds like these that drive the many legends of Alexander
and made him famous from his day to ours.
Alexander in Egypt
When he arrived in Egypt, Alexander faced no resistance. The
Egyptians were glad to be rid of the Persians, who forced Persian
gods and customs upon them, and to welcome the Greeks, who liberated
them and restored their liberties -- provided, of course, that
they become allies of Alexander.
While in Egypt, Alexander took another of his detours that
became legendary. He visited the shrine of Zeus Ammon, a site
sacred to Egyptians and Greeks alike, at the oasis of Siwah,
well into the desert in Libya. There, while visiting the Egyptian
priests, he was proclaimed a god by the Egyptians -- an honor
he did not decline. He submitted to the Egyptian ceremonies,
even going so far as to wear Egyptian dress.
This incident did not set well with some of Alexander's pragmatic
and traditional veterans. They knew he was no god. Alexander
reassured them that he was merely bowing to local customs, but
not everyone was convinced by this. More than once Alexander's
soldiers would question whether their general considered himself
a man or a god.
Alexander spent some time securing his position here and inPalestine
and Syria. He knew he must eventually face Darius for the final
struggle, but he knew also that he could not afford to be so
far from Greece without being absolutely certain of his lines
At last, however, he set out. His army had grown, despite
having to leave garrisons everywhere he went, for he gathered
new recruits in each nation.
The Pursuit of Darius and the End of the Persian Empire
The Battle of Gaugamela Darius was determined that
he would not repeat the mistakes of Issus. There, he had engaged
Alexander in a narrow mountain valley, where he was unable to
bring to bear his numerical superiority. This time, he chose
his own ground.
Gaugamela is located in northern Iraq, on open plains. Here,
Darius was able to deploy the full force of his 200,000 men.
Alexander had only about 40,000. Darius was sure of victory.
His soldiers, however, were less sure. Alexander did not even
try to out-flank such a superior force. Instead, he attacked
the Persian center, where Darius was, and relied on cavalry to
protect his flanks.
This was a typical calculated gamble on Alexander's part.
He was gambling that if he broke the Persian center, the rest
would dissolve, and he was calculating that his soldiers were
superior enough to deliver the blow.
He was right, of course. Once again Alexander led the charge
on Darius himself and again Darius panicked and ran away, and
once again the rest of the Persian army evaporated. And, once
again, Darius escaped, despite a furious pursuit by Alexander
that lasted three days.
Occupation of Persia Alexander now entered the Persian
Empire. Babylon welcomed him as liberator. The sacred Pharsi
city of Susa resisted and fell to a siege. Alexander ordered
the city burned. He went on to occupy Persis, the capitol city
and at last sat on the Persian throne of Darius.
Alexander now ruled the largest empire the Western world had
ever seen, but he could not rest secure, for Darius was still
a threat. As long as Darius remained alive, Alexander would not
be able to claim his titles.
After arranging affairs in Persia, Alexander set off in pursuit.
Darius fled, keeping a few steps ahead of the Greeks. He entered
Bactria and sent word ahead to its king, asking for his aid.
The Bactrian king assessed the odds and made his decision.
A few days later, Alexander finds Darius dead by the roadside
Campaigns in Iran and Afghanistan
Having eliminated Darius, Alexander was still faced with the
task of securing his new empire. Toward this end he engaged in
numerous battles in Afghanistan and dealt with rebellions and
plots in his conquered territories.
Internal Changes Now that he was king of Persia, Alexander
began to adopt Persian dress, at least when dealing with Persian
subjects. With his Macedonians he still dressed as a Greek, but
this did not entirely quell the grumbling among his officers.
Other changes were more troubling. For the first time, the
Greeks were made members of his empire, rather than the special
allies they had been. The Macedonians were troubled not only
by his adoption of Eastern customs, but even more by his appointment
of Eastern officials. A number of plots and rebellions were hatched,
but he dealt with each of them. Most of the trouble came from
his officer corps; his troops were still intensely loyal.
Alexander launched two years of hard campaigning in Afghanistan,
pressing as far north as the Oxus River. This was wild, hard
country, whose natives were master horsemen. The further Alexander
progressed, the further he seemed to want to go. At last, he
announced his intention of crossing the Hindu Kush and conquering
We're not in Thessaly any more, Toto Alexander entered
India in 327, encountering some of the toughest fighting of his
career in the the crossing. He reached the Indus River in 326.
None of the Greeks had ever encountered anything to prepare
them for India. The terrain, the monsoons, the fierce tribes,
all combined with the long years of campaigning to take some
of the heart out of the Macedonians.
Alexander's geographers had assured him that just beyond India
was Ocean, the great body of water that completely encircled
the world. India itself was surely no bigger than the Persian
Empire. We do not know what what in Alexander's mind, but most
historians guess that he had no idea of the true size of the
subcontinent and that he truly believed he need make only one
more push to bring all the eastern world under his dominion.
Defeat of Porus Two factors combined to bring Alexander's
march to a halt: he began to realize that India was much bigger
than he had thought, and a war with an Indian king named Porus
showed that India would not fall easily to the Greeks.
Porus was powerful both as a man and a king. He stood seven
feet tall, a widely-feared ruler and warrior. He fielded an army
that was a match for the Greeks, but Porus' army had an additional
advantage: war elephants.
This marked the first real encounter with elephants in battle,
and it terrified the Greeks. Worse yet, Alexander met Porus during
the monsoon season and faced him across a river in flood.
Despite all this, Alexander defeated Porus, killing the king's
two sons. Alexander forced Porus into an alliance, a policy he
had followed elsewhere.
Mutiny Having secured the upper Indus River valley,
Alexander began to push into the interior of India. The land
became dry, but the cities and kingdoms were formidable. As they
pressed on, the locals spoke of endless kingdoms to the east,
and another great river, and still more kingdoms beyond that.
No one knew of any end to them.
At last, his men refuse to go any further. They had refused
before, more than once. Each time, Alexander harangued and persuaded
and sulked in his tent for days, and eventually the men, terrified
of the prospect of being without their hero, had given in.
Not this time. Alexander realized the temper of his army and
reluctantly gave the command to return to Persia. This was no
small task in itself. Going back by way of the Himalayas and
Afghanistan was out of the question. The best course seemed to
be to work their way down the Indus River to the Indian Ocean.
The Return It took a year to do it. The Greeks had
to fight their way down the Indus, the lower course of which
had many strong cities. At one of these, Alexander was wounded
by an arrow that pierced his lung. For three weeks he was near
death, but he eventually recovered.
Once at the Indian Ocean, the Greeks built a fleet of ships.
Half the army travelled with Nearchus by sea, while Alexander
took the other half by land along the coast, each army supporting
the other. The return to Persian was a heroic accomplishment
and is yet another testament to the strength of discipline among
Alexander reached Susa in 324. He had been on campaign continuously
for five years.
Organization of the Empire
Upon his return, Alexander entered into a frenzy of administrative
activity. This period of his life has exercised as much fascination
for historians as his military exploits. A few examples will
He took a Persian wife, and encouraged his officers to do
likewise, arguing against the traditional Greek parochialism.
He had already founded many Greeks cities and now founded many
more, giving land to his veterans. He instituted a common currency
throughout his lands. And he spoke of all his peoples being united
These and other actions, combined with certain speculations
and assertions made by ancient writers, have led some modern
historians to believe that Alexander was somehow aiming at some
sort of universal brotherhood - the famous phrase is "the
intermingling of peoples."
Not only are the sources for this slim and speculative, evidence
from other parts of Alexander's life show it to be most unlikely.
That he aimed at world domination is undoubted. But he probably
sought no more than to be king of it all, and sought only to
govern as he thought best.
Arabia We have clear evidence of Alexander's near-term
plans. Even as he was implementing reforms he was planning new
conquests. He ordered his generals to prepare an expedition into
How far would Alexander have gone? Into Arabia, certainly.
Into Russia, probably. Possibly into Africa or Europe. But we
cannot know this, for he never got further than Babylon. Before
he could embark on his expedition into Arabia, Alexander died.
His wounds, plus overwork, weakened him. He went on a boating
trip while at Babylon, in summer, when the marshes of the river
were full of fever. To add to all this, he had engaged in another
of his notorious drinking bouts the night before.
Alexander the Great died of a fever 13 June 323. For four
days there was silence in Babylon, in shock and mourning. His
body was conveyed to Alexandria in Egypt, where it was buried.
As he lay dying, his comrades and generals came to him. Alexander
had made no provision for his succession, for what reason we
do not know. In any case, it now being clear that he would die,
the issue had become pressing.
They asked him the question that tormented them all. Who would
get the empire? To whom would Alexander leave his conquests?
His answer was eminently Greek and classic Alexander. He would
leave is empire, he said, to the strongest.
His empire fell apart almost immediately. It was, perhaps,
too vast and too diverse for any political system to rule; it
was most certainly beyond the capabilities of Macedonian monarchy.
Alexander's empire did not go to the strongest, after all.
Instead, pieces of it fell to various individuals, each of whom
chose to be strongest in his own neighborhood. Most of these
were Alexander's generals.
Thus, Seleucus won a reduced portion of the Persian Empire.
Certainly the largest in terms of physical size, yet his prize
was the least likely to prosper. Antigonus won Greece, or more
precisely, Macedonia and the league of Greek cities that were
subject to the crown. The Antigonids would rule until the coming
The richest prize, Egypt, went to Ptolemy. He founded a dynasty
that lasted until the Caesars conquered them. The last descendant
of Ptolemy, and the last direct inheritor of Alexander's legacy,
was a Macedonian princess who was also Pharoah: Cleopatra.
Lesser states, especially in Asia Minor, were also ruled by
Greeks. Alexander had founded Greek cities all over the Near
East (there are over 20 Alexandrias), so that Greek culture was
not merely spread but was deeply embeded within the cultures
of the region. This created no little tension with the local
cultures, as Greek language and art, etc. vied with and sometimes
overwhelmed the indigenous cultures.
Evidence of this tension can be seen in the split in Jewish
culture in the 200s and 100s, between the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
The one group represented "progress" and openly adopted
Greek habits. The other group opposed this, holding out for traditional
Israelite values. This pattern was repeated elsewhere, although
not all peoples were able to retain their native traditions in
the face of Greek influence.
The Near Eastern cultures, in turn, influenced Greece. This
is most notable in the area of religion, with the advent of various
mystery religions, but the Egyptians especially had a strong
effect on Greek philosophy and science.
So deeply was Greek embedded that it became the dominant culture
throughout the Middle East. It was inherited, preserved and perpetuated
by the Byzantine Empire and by the Moslems as well.
This is the true legacy of Alexander--the dissemination of
The Romance of Alexander
His legends, true and false, appear in 80 languages, from
Iceland to Malaya. The Parsees curse him for destroying their
In Central Asia he is Iskander. His red silk banner is still
displayed in Ferghana, in Turkestan. Chiefs claim descent from
him, their people claim descent from his soldiers, their horses
He appears in the Koran as Dulcarnain. In legend he explored
as far as the Ganges, the Blue Nile, and Britain. He travelled
to the heavens and to the underworld. In legends, he went indeed
to the end of the world, and even to the bottom of the sea, where
the very fish paid him homage.
He was the son of Apollo, according to his own mother, and
there are signs that he believed this. At Gordium, he cut the
He tamed the wild horse Bucephalus with a word and a touch.
That story is as good as any to tell in some detail.
One day, when Alexander was a boy, his father and some of
his companions were trying to break a horse. This horse was a
magnificent black stallion, of such size and fierce spirit that
no one had been able to ride him.
The men stood around the horse, each trying his hand and each
being thrown or even being unable to approach the huge beast.
None could manage it. Finally, Alexander asked that he be allowed
to try. The men thought it would be a grand joke to let a mere
boy (he was about 10 years old) attempt to ride the black stallion,
so they let him.
Alexander approached the horse, who stood and regarded him.
It lowered its head and the boy spoke to him softly, whereupon
it immediately was tamed. Alexander leaped onto the horse's back
and it bore him away.
The horse was Alexander's from that day on. He named it Bucephalus
and it was his war horse and he rode it in all his major battles.
Bucephalus served Alexander faithfully and died at last on campaign
in India, where Alexander named a city in his honor.
In paintings, Alexander is always represented as riding a
black horse. Like his master, Bucephalus entered into legend
and became a creature of mythic abilities. There is a nice re-telling
of the story of Bucephalus at the beginning of the movie The
Black Stallion. If you have a chance to see the movie, you'll
hear the main character's father tell the story, with the sort
of embellishments that have nourished all the Alexander legends
through the centuries.
Everything about Alexander was larger than life, both his
real exploits and his imagined ones. Throughout the ancient world,
great generals would dream that they could imitate Alexander.
In the Middle Ages, he became a figure encrusted in legend.
Alexander's career marks a watershed not only in Greek history,
but in the history of the entire Near East. Before Alexander,
we speak of the Hellenic era (Hellas is the Greek word for Greece).
After Alexander, we speak of the Hellenistic era. In the former
era, Greece is more or less isolated or at least contained. The
primary characteristic of the Hellenistic era is the spread of
Greek culture across the entire Near East, and the mixing of
Greek and Oriental currents.
Alexander also marks the end of the threat of the East. One
constant theme from the 6th century to the end of the 4th is
the danger posed by various eastern kingdoms, especially Persia.
Alexander ended this. Even after the Roman legions came, much
of the Near East continued to regard Greek culture as the highest
form and the one most worth imitating.