10 Things Which Made Alexander the Great ‘Great’

Alexander the Great is well known as one of the most successful warriors of all time. The question that remains is not if he was successful, but how.

Born in 356 BC, in Mesopotamia (modern day Greece), to king Phillip II, Alexander followed in his father’s footsteps and achieved success as a young warrior. Convincing many that he was the true son of the Greek god Zeus, he led the Macedonian army across the world. Conquering states along the way, he was extremely victorious and did not suffer a single loss.

There are many reasons why ‘Alexander the Great’ is still mentioned over 2000 years later. Read on to find out exactly what made the name of this young warrior, from a small town in Greece, go down in history.

Top 10 Reasons Alexander the Great Was Great!

Things Which Made Alexander the Great ‘Great’

1. He was Tutored by Aristotle

Alexander was personally tutored by one of the most famous philosophers of all time: Aristotle. His father, Phillip II, made a deal with Aristotle, offering to rebuild one of his houses in return for tutoring. Aristotle and Alexander had their lessons in the fitting location of the Temple of the Nymphs.

Under Aristotle’s wing, Alexander developed a love for literature, especially the classics. Throughout his life, Alexander kept a copy of the ‘Iliad’, a classical tale by Homer, under his pillow and read it for inspiration.

He was taught the basics of philosophy, medicine, morals, logic, ethics and art, with the help of one of the worlds most intellectual minds. As Alexander himself said: “I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well”. Furthermore, he always had Aristotle to go to for advice when he needed it, which was probably quite often, when he became ruler of the worlds biggest empire at the time.

2. Alexander Trained the Unruly Horse Bucephalus

When Alexander was just 12 years old, he taught himself many things through the art of observation. One day a beautiful, tall, black steed was brought into Macedonia and presented to king Phillip at a price three times that of ordinary horses. There was a catch though: the horse was wild and impossible to tame, although many had tried. Phillip straight away brought the horse to a stadium, to have attendants attempt to tame it.

Alexander and his parents watched the ceremony from the side. After many failed attempts, young Alexander came to a realisation. Commenting that the trainers were ‘spineless’, he calmly got up and bet his father that he could train the horse better himself. Amidst much laughter and an initial rejection from Philip, Alexander smoothly jumped onto the horse’s back and took the reins. What the young boy had realised was that the horse was not simply badly behaved, but afraid of his own shadow. He proceeded to turn him to face the sun, whereby the shadow disappeared and the horse calmed down. The crowd cheered and Alexander triumphantly rode away. The steed was named Bucephalus, and it would accompany Alexander on all of his future exploits.

As Alexander left the stadium, his father wondered aloud whether there would ever be a kingdom great enough for his son. It its as though Phillip was anticipating his sons later success, as little did he know Alexander would go on to conquer, not only kingdoms, but most of the world.

3. By the Age of 16, he had Already Won his First Battle and Established his First City

When Alexander was only 16 he began to lead his first military battles. Phillip had left to fight a war against Byzantium and in his absence Alexander took over the kingdom. Meanwhile, the Thracian Maedi state had began a revolt against Greece. Wasting no time, Alexander drove them out of their city, crushing the revolt and declaring the land his.

The first thing the young warrior did, following his first victory, was to establish a city, which he aptly named Alexandropolis. So at the youthful age of 16, Alexander had won his first battle and built a new city which he named after himself. This determined warrior made it pretty clear from the outset who was going to inherit the throne. 

Alexandria quickly became the centre of the Ptolemaic Kingdom and the most prominent city in the world. It remained so up until 30 BC when the city of Rome, finally, overtook it.

4. He Implemented One of the Most Successful Army Tactics in History

Alexander’s father, Phillip II, was also an extremely successful warrior, some say more successful than Alexander himself. Before Alexander was born Philip had already conquered all the states surrounding Greece and dissolved them into the empire. He did this using a battle tactic he himself invented: the phalanx.

Alexander was 20 years old when Phillip was assassinated, after which he inherited not only his father’s army and empire, but also his knowledge and skills on the battlefield. Philip had invented the Sarissa spear, which was 12-21 feet long, significantly longer than they had previously been. This invention enabled the Greek soldiers to overlap their spears in a phalanx formation, and provided a barrier of spikes against any approaching enemy.

It was thus not only the tactics the Macedonians used but the actual technology they possessed, which made them such a powerful force. Using these advantages, throughout his numerous military campaigns Alexander never once lost a battle, and went undefeated for an unprecedented period of over 15 years.

5. With his Mother’s Help, he Convinced Many People That he Was a God

Alexander’s mother, Olympias, had a dream whilst she was pregnant that her womb was struck by a thunder bolt which ignited a huge flame. Phillip also had a vision, and dreamt himself inscribing the image of a lion onto his wife’s womb. These divine messages began the idea that they were giving birth not to an ordinary child, but to the son of Zeus. After Alexander was born Olympias began to spread this idea.

Alexander was born with a strong charisma and one vital characteristic; confidence. As such he created an aura of divinity around himself, which defined how others treated him. He cleverly applied the ancient Persian tradition ‘proskynesis’. ‘Proskynesis’ describes the act of recognising someone in public as having divine status (being god-like, or having descended from a god). His courageous personality also meant that he never backed down and was ferocious in battle. The mere assumption made by Alexander, and quickly understood by those around him, was that he was unconquerable- and so it became. This came to be an extremely valuable asset when it came to fighting the biggest army in the world, the Persians.

6. He Defeated the Worlds Biggest Empire at the Time: the Persians.

Alexander did what many, including the Athenians and the Spartans, had failed to do before: he defeated the massive Persian Empire.

 In 300 BC, the Persian Empire was the greatest force in the world, and as such Alexander fantasised about conquering them and killing the Persian emperor, Darius III. Although the Greek army was greatly outnumbered when it came to men, they had one thing which proved stronger than the Persian force: determination and a desire for victory.

The Greeks conquered the Persians in three major battles: The Granicus River (334 BC), the Battle of Issus (333 BC) and the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC). During the Battle of Issus, in the south of Turkey, Darius fled the town when his troops began to look defeated. His mother, Sisygambis, was disappointed at being left behind. She soon met Alexander, however, and was so impressed by his charm that, in a great act of irony, she adopted Alexander as her son.

After the Battle of Gaugamela was won, Darius escaped the battlefield yet again. Alexander then became completely obsessed with capturing him, and chased him across modern day Iraq and Iran. The Greek king marched through Egypt, where ravens (huge black birds) flew over him in the desert in order to lead him to his enemy. This added to the popular belief that he was a god and of superior status to mortals. Although Alexander didn’t manage to kill Darius himself, he did the next best thing and killed the man who had killed Darius. Clearly sympathy wasn’t one of his strong points.

7. He Formed One of the Largest Contiguous Empires in History

Alexander and his troops finally reached India in 326 BC. The last country the soldiers would march to, it was also the spot where Alexander would face his death. The motivation for ending in India was to take over the entire world, which the Greeks saw as ending in India.

After defeating king Porus and an army five times greater than their own, victory was won. The Mesopotamian empire that had begun in Greece now spanned Asia Minor, Egypt, Persia and India. The total ground covered is estimated to have been over 2 million square miles.

Aristotle said to Alexander, shortly before he reached India, “if you destroy the people of the Fars (Indians), you will have overthrown one of the greatest pillars of excellence in the world”.  Later on, Alexander called the battlefield ‘the Mountain of Victory’, just to make his triumph as obvious as possible. He was now king of the world, or of his world, at least. He didn’t actually take over the whole entire world, but it would have seemed to him that he had.

8. He was a Thousand Times Richer than any Other Man in the World

After conquering around 25 countries, you can imagine that Alexander was pretty rich. Not just a bit rich, in fact, but a thousand times richer than any other man on earth.

Alexander’s war profits alone added up to an estimated 17,000,000 pounds of silver. To put it into perspective, a carpenter living at the time of Alexander would have to have worked every day for 2,484,018 years to gain the equivalent silver. In India, Alexander spent 95 pounds of silver on a dog, which pretty much speaks for itself.

One way Alexander gained so much wealth was by selling women from captured towns into slavery (another example of how his greatness was in strength, not ethics). In 335 BC, for example, Alexander auctioned 30,000 Greek captives for 25 tons of silver. Often when war is won or new territory is conquered the newfound wealth is invested back into society, but this wasn’t so much the case for Alexander, who kept most of the money for himself.

Despite the immoral means by which Alexander gained his money, there are still fans of Alexander the Great in wall street today, who model their work on Alexander’s entrepreneurial style. Alexander minted so many coins that many are left all over the world, and it’s actually difficult to find a place where there are not a few coins lying around with Alexander’s face on them.

9. He Spread Greek Culture Throughout the World

If military success wasn’t enough, Alexander’s ‘hellenisation’ technique has helped shape the world that is today. Unlike other military commanders, Alexander decided not to wipe out the culture’s he colonised, but to integrate them. As such the Hellenic culture became a pillar of modern civilisation, and can be found at the root of art, language, and so on.

An example of hellenisation is the way Alexander encouraged the Greeks and Persians to intermingle. He hosted ceremonies, in which Greek officials married Persian brides, to symbolise the two cultures coming together. Alexander himself married a Persian princess, Roxana, as well as a woman who attended the Persian king Darius, Bagoas.

In this process the Greek language was spread far and wide. Years after Alexander’s death, for example, Greek remained the common language of Israel. It is likely to have been the language that Jesus spoke, and was what the New Testament was originally written in.

Alexander connected the world, establishing trade routes and greater communication than had previously been thought possible. This is, quite possibly, the truly greatest thing Alexander ever accomplished.

10. As one of History’s Most Influential People, His Legacy Lives on 2000 Years Later

Perhaps Alexander’s true greatness existed not when he was alive, but rather after his death. He died rather mysteriously, in 323 BC, India, at the early age of 32, perhaps of a fever. After his death, he became a role model for leaders throughout history.

Napoleon was completely obsessed with Alexander the Great. The same way Alexander inspired himself by reading Homer’s Iliad, Napoleon drew inspiration by reading tales of Alexander the Great. In 1798 the French King invaded Egypt, for the main reason that Alexander had done it. Thus, Alexander became ‘the great’, not only through actions, but because other people decided that he was.

It’s always important to put things into context. It’s clear that Alexander did some great things, but for a long time history was all about ‘great’ men, rather than men and women and all the less prestigious people who make up the world. Now, this has changed and we study history from many different perspectives, and realise that not all hero’s wear capes (or in Alexander’s case, armour). Still, things certainly not have happened the way they did without Alexander and his will and determination to conquer the world.