“There is nothing impossible to him who will try.” – Alexander the Great.
In 480 BCE, Ancient Greece joined forces including the naval power Athens and war state Sparta to hold off the Persians in a series of battles including the famous Battle of Thermopylae where 300 Spartans with the help of surrounding city states held off the Persians for three days before being surrounded and every single man killed. It is worth pointing out, that the Battle of Thermopylae was the only time the Spartans fought to the death. From that moment on it was their legend that their enemies feared. Although they were undefeated in more formal pitch battles for 150 years, taking into account smaller battles and naval battles, they were about average warriors. Image counts for everything, it was the fear they placed in their opponent’s hearts that kept them away. As the saying goes, “the true objective of war is peace,” James Clavell. Moreover, the Spartan’s strength was not in any one individual, but their formal chain of command unlike other Greek states. Their greatest strength in the fighting force was in this hierarchy, not in any individual. Similar techniques will later be employed by Alexander. After Thermopylae, the Greeks later got their revenge against Persia defeating the Persian Navy in Salamas and a major land battle in Plataea where the Persians were finally forced to flee.
The next 50 years, were what is commonly referred to as the Golden Age of Classical Greece, but all good things come to an end and eventually the city-states fell into a century of civil wars. These wars between Greeks in the south allowed a northern formally insignificant section of Greece known as Macedonia to grow in strength unquestioned. Eventually, under King Philip II, Macedonia defeated the combined forces of Thebes and Athens, then united all of Greece except Sparta.
King Philip had a son born in 356 BCE Alexander who was a brilliant and bold young man. Alexander started his training as soon as he could walk. He was very close to his mother and considered himself an ancestor of Heracles or more commonly known by his more popular Roman name, Hercules. At 13, Philip II was examining a young horse that he deemed too wild to be tamed, when young Alexander’s amazing attention to detail allowed him to notice the horse was not wild, but rather afraid of his shadow. He told his father he was going to keep the horse, and being in front of his peers, the king sternly said, he may keep it if he can tame the beast. Adjusting the horse so it could not see its shadow and was no longer afraid, he approached the formerly wild beast and appeared to have performed a mild miracle when in reality it was his attention to detail that led to this showing of control. His father allowed him to keep the horse and Alexander named it Bucephalus, becoming one of the most famous horses in history. Years later, after tragically being killed in battle, Alexander named a city after Bucephalus.
As time went on, King Philip planned to get back at Persia as redemption for their attacks on Greek soil decades ago when on the eve of battle, he was murdered by his body guard, leaving his Sixteen-year-old son Alexander to take the throne. Being tutored by Aristotle, and having priory military experience under his father, young Alexander was raised to conquer the world and quickly proved he was worthy of the throne and his people, and that is where his amazing ten-year campaign stretching 22,000 miles began.
Alexander’s army fluctuated in size but averaged around 40,000 people formed in a Phalanx or rectangular military formation with 9,000 soldiers known as Phalangites lined up in the front armed with the invention of a new extra-long spear known as a sarissa, followed by 12,000 Hoplites behind them with shorter spears acting as reinforcements and making sure they were not encircled as well as short spear soldiers and Calvary guarding their flanks. Shorter spears and Cavalry were placed on the flanks because the extreme length of the Sarissa made it awkward for soldiers to turn quickly and react to surprise attacks. Alexander fought alongside his men with his elite Calvary force traveling on the right flank. There were also other units within the formation including scouts spread who were sent ahead to survey the terrain. Alexander’s men greatly admired their king’s role as a general out there on the field fighting beside them, almost losing his life on numerous occasions. Although he was a king, he was also one of the guys. One two occasions when water, food, and other supplies were low, his men found a helmets worth of water and swiftly brought it over to the king. Alexander proceeded to pour the little water they had into the ground by his feet. If his men could not drink, then neither would he.
Although nothing was documented about Alexander during his life, Alexander’s legend is immortalized by the detail historians placed into recording his journey hundreds of years later. He was a strategical genius, continually coming up with novel ideas to trick, dodge, or get the lead on the enemy to their demise. While battling who is perhaps his greatest rival, Darius III at Gaugamela, Alexander tricked Darius by leading them away from the main force, thinning out the Persian’s main line, then when Darius suddenly decided to charge forward with his war chariots, the Macedonians simply split their ranks and allowed the chariots to pass through unharmed. In the end, the Persians lost thousands while Alexander lost mere hundreds.
During his journey, many of the conquered cities were renamed after Alexander and one after his beloved horse. Territories that quickly surrendered were generally allowed to live life as they always had, just under the Macedonian crown. If, however, they refused submission, Alexander’s enemies were often massacred. There are many tales, leaning on the edge of myth regarding Alexander, one such tale showing his cunning occurred early on in his travels, he was shown the Gordium Knot, legend has it that whoever can break the knot will rule all of Asia, upon hearing this, Alexander cut the knot in half with his sword. Alexander often fought battles in the same manner he dealt with the Gordium Knot, finding a unique way of dealing with the situation that no one before him has tried.
Alexander was known as an Armies General, fighting side by side with his men and facing the same battle scars as them. Often sharing his belongings with those in need, paying off their debts, and on one occasion when a distorted soldier wandered into his tent, gave the young soldier a seat on his throne so he could recover and when the young man realized where he was he panicked leaping off the throne, only to be ordered back on it to rest.
The only reason Alexander never conquered India is his Army was tired and wanted to go home. After ten years of traveling thousands of miles, when his men were finally ready to go home and almost mutinied against him, he agreed and turned the convoy around. He had done the impossible, linking vast lands and opening trade and communication throughout the world. However, Alexander always wanting more took the long way home down by the coast, allowing him to conquer more territory on his return trip.
Towards the end of his journey through Persia, while facing a horde of war elephants and enduring great losses, Alexander had the elephants encircled with Sarissas while archers shot their eyes out. On a later occasion, an arrow when through his lungs and he laid motionless for days, thought to be dead until he rode a horse up and down the ranks.
Deep back in Macedonia, while planning his next campaign to Arabia, he developed a fever. While lying on his death bed taking his final breaths, his generals leaned in to hear who he would leave his kingdom to and he softly whispered, “to the strongest.” Upon conquering the world and cheating death so many times, Alexander died of what is commonly accepted to be a fever. Of course, that is a fever after years of extremely harsh conditions. Alexander died on June 11th, 323 BCE at the age of 32. He died undefeated in battle, stretching his empire from Greece to Pakistan. After his death, his empire quickly fell due to his lack of ability to truly unify and bring it together. His generals fought for power and his widow and son were murdered. His sarcophagus went missing while in transport, resulting in one of the greatest mysteries in history. Overtime, his kingdom fell and power dispersed to new leaders as always does, eventually giving rise to the next great power, Rome.
As generations came and went many leaders wished to emulate Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte both idolized how he had become the most renowned conqueror in the world at such a young age. Julius Caesar at thirty-one, although having tremendous success later in life, found himself with nothing by the time Alexander had died, Julius being a great orator known for using his hands wildly as he spoke in his trademark high-pitched voice was amazed that Alexander the Great had accomplished so much before himself had done anything. In 1798, Napoleon invaded Egypt because simply based on the premise he wanted to do what Alexander had done.
Unlike Alexander who was generally beloved by his people, both Caesar and Napoleon wanted to be like Alexander, but they were assassinated and banished from their lands respectively. Even these two greats could not live up to his reputation, and that is why Alexander is remembered as The Great.