Alexander the Great
Alexander was given the title “The Great” because he was extraordinary during his era. He conquered almost half of the ancient world, established many clever battle strategies and techniques, and raised an army so strong that he was almost indestructible during his reign.
Intrigued with the extremity of the influence that his achievements has on many other generals and leaders, our group decided to investigate Alexander's childhood and evaluate how he became the man capable of achieving the tasks that would eventually make him one of the most celebrated tactician and conqueror of all time. To do so, we looked into the events that transpired during the years of his youth to see how he was honed, encouraged and developed by many other influential minds. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day ( approximately 1,009,491 days!).
Alexander's Courage and Intelligence
According to historians, Alexander’s legacy first began when he was merely 12 years old. The most famous story of his youth was the incident that gained him the recognition of his father, King Philip the II. The name Bucaphalus was given to a horse with the mark of a bull on its forehead. He was known to be unrivaled for this beauty and vigor and because of this, Philoncus, a Pharsalion, brought Bucaphalus to the King in hopes of selling this noble steed to him. However when it was time to test him for his speed and temper, he did not allow anyone to mount him, his fierceness preventing any of the King’s groomers or servants from even daring to try. Deeming an unmanageable horse as useless, he ordered for it to be led away. Alexander, who had taken a liking to the majestic horse, begged his father to try subduing him. Thinking it’s just stereotypical juvenile recklessness, the King permitted him to try with wager with the stakes being the price of Bucaphalus if he fails. Alexander, being able to read Bucaphalus’s habits, swiftly mounting him and made him run until his spirit was subdued, all the while withstanding the violent attempts to throw him off. King Philip was tearful with joy seeing his son’s achievement, saying, “O my son, look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee”. Whether his achievement was sheer dumb luck or extreme skill, it still was the result of his courageous nature and fearlessness, a consistent trait Alexander has throughout his life. He was able to retain this trait by the constant praise and recognition he got from his father continuously after that incident. (Awesome parenting, tiger moms should learn a thing or two from that).
From The History of Life and Reign of Alexander the Great (1809), Alexander was not just all brawn and almighty while growing up. In fact, he was also a very highly educated and intelligent young man who reserved a special love for continuous learning, even called a genius by many. Afraid that his son would grow up to be a spoilt uninformed git of a ruler, King Philip appealed to Aristotle, a still famous philosopher, to teach the young Alexander politics, literature, science and anything else that would aid him to become a great ruler. Alexander learned earnestly, devoting most of his time absorbing the information given to him and with that foundation, slowly formed his view of the world. In fact, he would totally disregard charming the other sex and focus on studying instead, making people worried that he would not provide a heir. It was through this strong education that gave him the grounds to juggle with politics, improve strategies and often see perspectives that other people don’t. Our group personally believe that his flare for battle strategy and his unusual attempts to unify the Persian and Greek culture stemmed from this. Furthermore, the wisdom he had to sustain his empire most probably was influenced by the work of Homer, a poet revered by Alexander to the point that he was referred to as “Homer’s lover”. He was never seen without a copy of Homer’s work. His willingness and devotion to learning is at the very least respectable and a large cause to his “rise to greatness”.
His confidence with governing a country and leading troops from battle were not random traits that Alexander pulled out of nowhere; he was given plenty of practice from the moment he turned 16-years-old. Proving repeatedly to be more than capable, King Philip entrusted Macedonia to his care while he left to besiege Byzantium. The Medari, a community of people living under the Macedonian rule, saw this as a weakness and thus an opportunity to start their highly anticipated revolt. Who could blame them? Alexander was still freshly into puberty and had no visual clue of his capability. Seeing this as a chance to further prove himself, Alexander deployed the commanders and crushed the rebellion completely. He exiled the rebels and gave their city to another colony, naming it Alexandrinopolis, starting not only his long trend of naming cities after himself (which also left people questioning his actual creativity skills, especially when they hear about Alexandria the farthest) but also raising the bar to how far ego can go. This satisfied King Philip very much and eventually with his blessings and affirmation, Alexander was appointed as the commander of his troops at a young tender age of 18 and eventually assisted in conquering Chaeronea with his father. It was in these ventures that Alexander found himself drawn, and even addicted, to warfare; historians say that it satisfied him more than sex ever could. It was also when the brilliance of his war tactics surfaced for the world to see, being able to manipulate the battlefield with ease and create loopholes in the enemy lines for his own troops to charge in.
Although he would have many more significant battles to come, we believe that this period of leading the army with his father was of a large significance to the choices he would come to make. It was within this period that he could physically observe how his father commands his troops and conquer lands, possibly even learning about the need to be mercilessly ruthless to adamant enemies to ensure complete control. Furthermore, it gave him the chance to observe other troops and eventually shaping his own army to be stronger and more skillful. This is seen where instead of deploying simple farmers and other normal folk into the service of the army when war is necessary (like every other country around him at that time), he hired his troops so that they could focus solely on preparing for battle, perfecting his father’s invention of the phalanx and learning battle formations which made them way more prepared for battle than any other army around that region. One might say it was his internship to leadership.
Son of Zeus?
From the stories by Green & Borza (2013), even with all this preparation, it probably wasn’t the source of the extreme confidence he had to go out and try to conquer the world which was unknown to him. His drive, confidence and even luck seemed to derive from a higher form of personal belief that exceeded the norm. This is probably due to his mother, Olympias, manipulating him to be the son of Zeus. There have been stories that depicted the story of how King Philip, on the night he married Olympias, saw her explicitly bedding with a large snake, which was at that time the representation of Zeus, the greek god of thunder and king of all gods. It was then he grew cold to her and even feared her for her more occult ways. On the other hand, it could have been a story she told Alexander out of spite for her own husband, seeing as their marriage was not a happy one. Whether the story was true or not (in a more scientific age, not!), Alexander truly believed that he was the son of god and even sought Zeus for advice frequently by personally going to his temples. It gave him a sense of invincibility and greater power, resulting in his over extreme courage to conquer many countries at a breakneck speed with reckless abandon. He probably thought that he was infallible because his “father” was on his side. Perhaps it was why he did not seem to fear death either, seeing himself above the mortals.
Alexander may have been great in the eyes of many but he was certainly not great from birth. We believe that without the influential figures in his life, he would not have become a man even capable of conquering and creating such a large empire in such a ridiculously short period of time. Whether he was really great or not, he was definitely given the opportunity to be and took it.
The History of Life and Reign of Alexander the Great, translated from the Latin, Volume I, 1809, printed in London.
- Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B. C.: A Historical Biography, by Peter Green, Eugene N Borza. 8 Jan 2013