Alexander the Great had a keen sense of military strategy as well as an understanding of the political and even social nuances that could support his many victories in battle. With each new military victory, Alexander’s appetite for movement and acquisition seemed more and more insatiable. Alexander the Great pushed actively into new and largely unexplored territories using any means available and necessary (Thomas 19). He and his men traveled by land and by sea to reach areas that Alexander considered strategic pawns to acquire in his enterprise of empire expansion (Thomas 19).

One of the factors that continues to make Alexander a particularly attractive and compelling historical figure, both to historians and to the general public, is the fact that Alexander, for all of his skills and talents, was almost always the underdog (Thomas 21). Although Philip II had been an effective ruler and military man himself, having left Alexander with a respectable base of resources, both human and material, what made Alexander’s incredible and repeated military accomplishments all the more impressive was the fact that time and again, Alexander achieved his strategic goal under extraordinary circumstances and with a small number of troops compared to the military force of the enemy (Thomas 21). Thomas cites Napoleon, even, as having expressed his admiration for Alexander the Great, saying, “Alexander conquered three hundred thousand Persians, with twenty thousand Macedonians….” (21). The conditions of war were almost never favorable for the Macedonians; however, with Alexander’s capable leadership, his troops consistently wrung victory after victory out of their hard-fought battles.

What Alexander found more challenging, however, was the work of determining the best and most effective way to manage the vast and diverse array of territories that he and his troops acquired as the spoils of war. The sheer size of many of the lands that Alexander the Great claimed for himself and the Macedonians made it impossible to rule easily. Furthermore, the variety of different cultures, languages, religious beliefs, and histories of the conquered Macedonians made it impossible to rule using a uniform set of policies and strategies. Recognizing this impossibility, Alexander did not strive against it (Thomas 185; 195). Instead, he adopted a strategy that was most congruent with his own skill set and style: emphasizing the role of the military in maintaining order (Thomas 185; 195). Alexander would appoint local Macedonian to manage the conquered areas, but he made it clear that any deviation from or challenge to his ruling authority would be met with swift and severe action. It was not uncommon for Alexander to cut down his disobedient subjects, nor to assassinate with all haste those subjects who were discovered to be hatching plots against him.

Despite the fact that Alexander spent all of his adult life on the road and in battle, he somehow found time to marry on more than one occasion (Thomas 17). His first wife was Roxane, whom he had taken as a spoil of war (Thomas 17). Roxane, the daughter of the Sogdin lord, Oxyartes, was reputed to be “the second loveliest woman in all of Asia” (Thomas 17). Roxane bore one son by Alexander, though this son, Alexander III, never ascended to the throne, as he was killed shortly after his own father’s death. Alexander the Great had at least one other wife and may have sired other children as well (Thomas 215). About this aspect of his personal life, however, there is much speculation. Alexander also had several close male friends, and the nature of their relationship has been disputed, especially by revisionist historians and scholars. The closest of these friends, a devoted lifelong companion, was Hephaistion, who was “reputed to be the closest of anyone to Alexander” (Thomas 61). What is clear, however, is that Alexander the Great was more devoted to his political life than his personal; indeed, the political for him was personal.

Alexander’s rule, like his life, was intense but it was short-lived. Alexander died of a fever, possibly caused by a mosquito-borne virus, in the year 323 (Thomas 21). Alexander was just shy of his thirty-third birthday, and was only thirteen years into his rule as the king of Macedonia and its ever-expanding empire that had spread impressively across Asia and the Middle East (Thomas 21). One of the greatest mysteries of Alexander’s life actually ensued after his death (Saunders 4). Despite—or perhaps because—of the fact that he was a well-respected king, Alexander’s corpse disappeared and to this day, its location remains in doubt (Saunders 4). Having been carried from one bier to another, it seems that someone simply lost track of Alexander’s body, and today, there are only rumors to investigate regarding the true identity of Alexander’s final resting place.

Despite the difficulty that exists in reconstructing the life of a historical figure as old and as controversial as Alexander the Great, a thoughtful consideration of a variety of existing sources does yield some consistent and accurate information. Alexander the Great was a Macedonian king who expanded the territory of his people, and who seemed to possess a particular personality and skill set that facilitated his doing so despite enormous obstacles. Although he could be as passionately cruel and unthinking as his parents were, he was generally regarded as a ruler who was devoted single-mindedly to the advancement of his people, even at the expense of his own personal comfort and happiness. He could have sat upon the throne and sent others to do his work for him, but he rolled up his sleeves and joined the fight. He is remembered centuries later for his dedication and acumen.

Other essays and articles in the History Archives related to this topic include : Explanation of the Theory of Moral Virtue by Aristotle • The Definition of Virtue in Plato’s Meno  • Roman Class Structure in The Satyricon by Petronius

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