Never in history has there been a conqueror as well known as Alexander of Macedon. Alexander was a hero who accomplished feats greater than any before him, the subject of captivating stories and mystifying legends. His military prowess, his gifted use of strategy, and his ability to unify the many nations of his empire earned him the title “the Great”. But how truly great was this legendary commander? Alexander was also a merciless megalomaniac whose supposedly renowned leadership qualities were not always evident in his actions. Through a careful and impartial evaluation of Alexander’s life, the true extent of his greatness can be determined.
First and foremost, it is almost impossible to overlook Alexander’s greatest achievement. Over an eleven-year campaign of conquest, he built the largest empire in history (up to that date) which, encompassed the majority of the known world. However, this was not an easy task. Alexander had to defeat the massive Persian army and conquer Persia’s sprawling empire, reaching North Africa to Afghanistan. Crossing the Hellespont with 50,000 men, Alexander was greatly outnumbered in many of his battles. Still, his superbly trained phalanx forces and his almost clairvoyant insight into strategy allowed him to crush the once impenetrable Persian empire. When necessary, he was a consummately resourceful tactician who exhibited both swiftness of movement and patience (which was used in his long siege of Tyre). His success also partially came from his superb adaptability at dealing with unfamiliar warfare tactics such as elephants and chariots armed with scythes.
Furthermore, Alexander’s outstanding leadership as a commander greatly contributed to his success and greatness. There is no one else in history who could inspire and motivate his men as Alexander did. He inspired his military as he suffered the same wounds as his soldiers; he paid attention to every man in the army and always led the attack in person. Alexander’s charisma is also tough to dispute since he was the only individual whose personal authority could hold his colossal empire together. However, there have been occurrences where Alexander’s leadership abilities have been questioned. One such instance of this took place during the Indian campaign, after his defeat of Porus. Alexander’s soldiers were worn out and did not see the point in invading India, so they refused to march. Alexander was unable to persuade them to continue, so he agreed to start travelling back home. Where were Alexander’s famed leadership qualities and powerful charisma in India when his soldiers needed it most?
In addition, Alexander should also be considered “great” because, unlike other generals of the ancient world (i.e. Darius III), he treated his conquered subjects with respect and went to great lengths to unify different nations within his empire. He even went as far as to marry the daughter of Darius in the act of political union between the Greeks and the Persians. Moreover, Alexander permitted Persians to hold positions as governors in his empire and drafted Persian cavalry in his army as well as adopted certain Persian customs and dress. On the other hand, some of Alexander’s actions during his eleven-year campaign can be seen as brutal, merciless, and certainly not contributing to his image as a “great”. For example, in the Indian campaign, Alexander’s army used brutal force to subdue the conquered peoples. Even the sick and the elderly were slaughtered. Additionally, during the siege of Tyre, Alexander ruthlessly crucified 2,000 inhabitants without any fair justification. In Iran, he is perceived as an evil king who destroyed the respectable old Persian culture and tradition.
In conclusion, Alexander of Macedon was a remarkable individual who truly deserved the title “the great” in many respects, but certainly not in all respects. He may have been a champion on the battlefield, but clearly, he was no champion in human rights. Nevertheless, Alexander is one of those individuals who shaped the world as we know it. His conquests ushered in a new age of Greek history, the Hellenistic Age, which saw the blending of eastern and western influences for the first time and many accomplishments in the field of philosophy and science. The change was permanent; never again would the spotlight be on eastern civilizations. From now on, this title has been passed on to western societies of the Greeks and Romans.