Alexander ‘the Great’ conquered half the known world by the time he was 32. His story is one of the most captivating in history. He is remembered as history’s golden boy.
He is the ultimate endowment of youth, intellect and heroism. He pursued an extraordinary destiny and burned out too soon to see what he would do next. The Greeks said, ‘Those whom the gods love best die young,’ (Gergel, 2004).
His victories against the enemies of Greece established him as a mortal demigod. He would surpass the bounds of history and legend itself.
In the space of 13 years, as a young man, he would manage to change world history. He would set a standard for the world to follow.
The Macedonians were a rugged people from a mountainous region of northern Greece. They were seen as the barbarian kingdom of the Greek city-states. It was mostly a poor, farming community.
Alexander’s father Philip, created a powerful army. It was patterned after the Greek-style phalanx. His phalanx gave each hoplite a longer, 18-foot spear called a ‘Sarissa’.
The new phalanx was organized into eight to 16 rows that moved toward the enemy. Using the Sarissa it easily killed from a distance of 20 feet.
He started a full-time army so his men drilled year around. Through constant drilling he perfected the co-ordination of different troop types. This was an early example of combined arms tactics (Liddell Hart, 1956).
He used new the heavy infantry phalanx, skirmish infantry, archers, light and heavy cavalry, and siege engines were all deployed in battle. Each unit was separately and together used for its own particular advantage. It created a synergy of mutual support.
This new army crushed all opposition within Greece, including the famed Spartans (Cummins, 2009).
The Persian Threat
Across the Aegean Sea, lay the western provinces of the Persian Empire. It was the greatest power that existed in the world. It was ruled over by its king, Darius. It stretched from Upper Egypt to the Indus. It went as far north as the modern Tajik-Uzbek border and ran into the Aral Sea (Gergel, 2004).
150 years earlier the Persians had been defeated in battles at Salamis and Plataea. To the Greeks the Persian war represented a latter-day heroic age. The Greeks never forgot the desecration of their temples.
The World before Alexander’s Birth
As the Macedonians came to power in Greece they saw themselves as the avengers of Greek culture. Philip prepared and planned on mounting a war of revenge with his new powerful army (Gabriel & Boose).
By the time Alex is born there has been an entire century of war. It is between the city-states of Greece and internal struggles for power in the cities themselves.
Plato creates the swan songs of his dialogues the famous, “Laws.” In it the great scribe is deeply distressed by the civil wars. He describes the ideal city-state in the belief that this would contribute to the reconciliation of the states.
Up to the last moment of his life. He saw before him a vision of reconciliation which never came.
At the heart of this turbulent time, Alexander comes into the world.
Alexander’s Childhood- Aristotle and Olympias
In 356 BC Alexander III, is born in Pella to King Phillip II and Queen Olympias.
Two important people helped to the intellect of Alex. His mother, Olympias, and his wise teacher Aristotle.
Olympias had an explosive temperament and sacrificed to the Olympian gods daily. She would talk to her son for hours and hours about the secret cult life of the Cabeirian mysteries, a cult she belonged to.
From his mother he learned of the allegory of metal and fire. Metals were the crude, unrefined material elements of nature. It represented coarse and simple people.
Fire was the spiritual light, which penetrates cosmic matter and the human body. That which reaches in the inner sanctum of the soul, and the mind to raise them up to be heavenly spheres. The embodiment of perfection in the spirit and intellectual form.
His mother would tell him of the heroes of Greek culture- Orpheus, Hercules, Jason Odysseus, Agamemnon, and his father Phillip were all initiated into this ideal.
From Olympias he would learn about the cult of Orpheus, his descent into Hades, the kingdom of Pluto and Persephone. The soul stirring myth of Dionysus, who brought Persephone back to life with a kiss. It was the awakening of the soul from darkness to the light. It was a metaphor on the importance of education.
A tale of the miracle of love and the unique Orphic songs all were stories about the path leading to divinity through great and heroic deeds.
In his childhood years he learned to be pious and just- the virtues of a learned man from Greece. He learned to excel in every kind of spiritual development. His destiny was linked to his willingness to be able to submit to the wills of the gods.
He came to believe in the ideal that the most moral thing is the best shed the divine light of godliness on his soul, which passionately sought to identify with the will of the gods.
This created within him the aspiration to unite men with divinity itself. From a young age he believed that man was a part of the gods. A man could be defied as an individual who seeks to become part of universal divinity.
Olympias’ real legacy was helping Alexander to understand the power of the gods in any kind of worship and in any type of cult. This would prove crucial later as Alexander made his way east.
Alexander believed in an ideal of a universal soul, universal humanism and the world unity of the people he would conquer.
In the year 342 BC, Phillip of Macedonia, hired Aristotle, for a large fee, to teach young Alex philosophy.
Their discussions took place outside the sanctuary of the nymphs, near Mieza, a beautiful place with caves in the rocks. Since the time of Plutarch, it has been considered a very impressive site.
Alexander would listen to his teacher’s views and advice with profound respect, attention and admiration. Aristotle’s influence on Alexander’s mind and soul was enormous.
Alex was introduced to esoteric secrets and the natural events of cosmology, geography, botany, zoology and medicine. Because of this he would take scientists of all these disciplines with him on every campaign.
Alexander listened carefully to Aristotle’s discourses on logic, metaphysics, and types of poetry. The importance of politics on a local and universal level, and, above all, the nature of the soul and its essence.
Aristotle believed that man had in his nature the power to create a state. In other words, he is a political animal by nature. Man can find his true vocation through the organized state.
Alexander once asked Aristotle, “What is a state?” The teacher answered it was a complex entity composed of citizens. A citizen is an equal member who can participate governing out and meeting justice.
Alexander got an idea of creating a happier state that did away with the hunger and poor conditions he heard about from the veterans of his father’s army. This change would take place when culture and knowledge replaced misery and ignorance.
Aristotle taught Alexander that if the government and the armed forces are the same hands, Alexander saw a road of civilized conquests, which was decried by his own destiny enforced by his mother.
The defining aim of the state is the happiness of the many, Aristotle drilled into student dogmatically.
Greek philosophical schools in Athens and Ionia taught that even one man can rectify a whole community by his example. If a man thinks he has within him the power to change the regime of the state for its citizens to have a happier and more just life, this thought is a commitment to the gods.
The man is obliged to strive for its realization.
This thought is what fueled Alex to change the world map through his conquests. The words of Aristotle describing the soul and its substance were what gave birth to the idea for Alex to turn to the east.
A Shaping of Destiny
The meeting-point between Aristotle’s words and Alex’s destiny defined the victorious army commander’s crossroads in history. What defined Alex’s “greatness” was not his conquests, but for their essence.
This transformed the conqueror into a visionary and the defeated into beneficiaries of the supreme logic of Greek philosophy.
Aristotle taught Alex that his every move should never be based on chance. Everything has an aim and man must strive to realize that aim.
In battle, he who started the first movement must define from the very outset the main aim of the attack, and its essence, both of these constitute the why and because of the battle.
Everything was defined through its esoteric essence.
The body is the rented place of the mind. Every move should have, as its defining aim, the enhancement of the soul. The body dies, but the soul remains to enter the world of the gods. At the crossroads of the suns or into Hades, the dark of Pluto.
Or- What we do life echoes in eternity!
Aristotle helped to forge the scope, speed, and brilliance of his intellect in making military decisions. At the tough battles, he waged at Gaugamela and Hydaspes he was able to make movements that would inflict damage on the enemy.
Cummins, J. (2009). History’s Greatest Wars. New York : Crestline Publishing .
Gabriel, R. A., & Boose, D. W. (n.d.). The Great Battles of Antiquity A Strategic and Tactical Guide to Great Battles that Shaped the Development of War . Westport, Connecticut : Greenwood Press .
Gergel, T. (2004). Alexander the Great: Selected Texts from Arrian, Curtius and Plutarch . New York : Penguin Group .
Liddell Hart, B. S. (1956). Strategy. London: G. Bell & Sons .