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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Alexander The Great

Alexander the Great (356-323BC) was actually Alexander III, or in Greek "ΜΕΓΑΣ ΑΛΕΞΑΝΔΡΟΣ" ("Megas Alexandros"). He was born on the sixth day of the ancient Greek month of Hekatombaion, which is thought to correspond to July 20, 356 BC, in Pella, the capital of the Kingdom of Macedon.

Alexander's father was Philip II, King of Macedon., who was known as Philopotes (drink lover). Philip conquered the newly unified Greece but was stabbed by Pausances, a royal bodyguard, whilst attending the unveiling of a statute of him depicting him as an Olympian god.

His mother was Olympias, the hot tempered princess of Epirus. According to Plutarch (Alexander 3.1,3), Olympias was impregnated not by Philip, who was afraid of her and her affinity for sleeping in the company of snakes, but by Zeus.

Between the ages of 13 and 16, Alexander came under the tuition of the philosopher Aristotle. From him he learnt rhetoric, medicine, geometry, art, literature and music.

From his boyhood days, Alexander had a beautiful dark colored horse called Bucephalus whom he loved riding. Bucephalus was a stallion of high temper that no one could tame, until the ten-year-old prince succeeded by turning the horse's head into the sun as he'd noticed the stallion's own shadow was upsetting it.

Alexander went on to teach the great horse to kneel so that his master could mount him in full armor. Bucephalus served him until his death after the Battle of the Hydaspes in what is now Pakistan in 326BC.

  Alexander The Great statue in Skopje
Alexander was handsome, with the physique of an athlete but had a feeble straggly beard. As a consequence of his feeble beard Alexander started a trend for Greek men to crop their hair short and shave their faces. Alex was obsessed with shaving. He even shaved during wartime, and would not allow himself to be seen going into battle with a five o’clock shadow.

Plutarch reported that sculptures by Lysippos were the most faithful. He wrote.

"The outward appearance of Alexander is best represented by the statues of him which Lysippus made, and it was by this artist alone that Alexander himself thought it fit that he should be modelled. ² For those peculiarities which many of his successors and friends afterwards tried to imitate, namely, the poise of the neck, which was bent slightly to the left, and the melting glance of his eyes, this artist has accurately observed."

Roman copy of a herma by Lysippos, Louvre Museum. Wikipedia Commons
On setting off for Asia, Alexander distributed nearly all his crown estates and revenues amongst his soldiers' dependants to ensure they would not be troubled over their welfare.

The smart Alex ordered his armourers to make helmets much larger than those worn by his troops. These were left for the enemy to find in the hope that they would be afraid to fight the "giant" soldiers.

Alexander had a faithful dog, Peritas, named after the Macedonian name for the month of January. It is thought that Peritas, who Alexander raised from a puppy, was one of the now-extinct Mollosian breed, a sort of giant Rottweiler.. When the conqueror was fighting the army of Darius III of Persia , Peritas leapt forward and bit the lip of an elephant charging his master. The loyal mutt was rewarded by having a city named after him.

At Gordium in modern day Turkey, a wagon was fastened to the yoke with knots. It was so ingeniously tied that no ends were visible. The oracle said that the Empire of the World should fall to the man who untied it. When Alexander conquered Gordium he came across the famous puzzle, but unable to untie it he cut it with his sword.

Alexander threatened Jerusalem but it was saved by the boldness of High Priest Jaddua. Originally he was going to set up statue of himself in Jerusalem temple. The outraged Jews protested and the open minded Alexander agreed to forgo this privilege if Jews agreed to name their first born son, Alexander instead. The conqueror went on to grant the Jews many privileges.

A bookworm as a young man, Alexander always kept a copy of Homer's Iliad under his pillow at night. He founded the Alexandria library at Alexandria in Egypt, which at one time contained 40,000 volumes.

Alexander attempted to civilize and wipe out the oriental civilisation by encouraging and subsidising marriages between Greek men and Asian Women, even bribing some of his officers to do this. For instance, after his wedding to Statira, who was one of Darius III of Persia's daughters in 324BC, Alexander obliged his officers and friends to marry the daughters of Persian nobles. 10,000 of his soldiers followed his example and married Persian women.

The detail of the Alexander Mosaic showing Alexander the Great.fighting king Darius III of Persia

Alexander's greatest emotional attachment is generally considered to have been to his companion, cavalry commander and possibly lover, Hephaestion. The Roman historian Curtius reported that "He scorned [feminine] sensual pleasures to such an extent that his mother was anxious lest he be unable to beget offspring."

Alexander introduced using 20ft long pikes which soldiers held with both hands and established the light infantry as a link between infantry and cavalry.

Like most Macedonians, Alexander was a heavy drinker of wine and was particularly fond of chilled wines and other iced beverages. Famed for his marathon drinking sessions he drunk "Hercules", 12 pints of undiluted wine. During one of his notorious drinking contests 35 men died.

Alexander was an early Zoologist. He shipped home to Aristotle specimens of animals, flowers and minerals from the new areas he invaded. The Macedonian warrior uniquely included scientists, engineers and historians as well as soldiers in his army.

Alexander reported on the cultivation of sugar cane in India. From this reed a raw, dark brown sugar was extracted from the cane by chewing and sucking. His troop bought this “sweet reed” back to Athens.

Alexander organised a drinking Olympics in India. Instead of running around and throwing things, athletes had to imbibe enormous amounts of wine. 41 contestants died and the winner lived for just four days after his victory.

Alexander got as far as North India. In the space of eight years he'd penetrated Syria and Egypt and the whole of Middle East as far as India, which he believed India was the edge of the world so his men persuaded him to turn back. (They were all fed up with the tropical rain and were exhausted).

Alexander adopted oriental usages among which was the demand that all who approached him on official occasions should bow down to the earth and kiss his feet. In 323 he also sent notification to all the Greek cities that he was henceforth to be officially numbered among the gods of each city and that such he was to receive the offerings which each city presented. Thus was introduced into Europe absolute monarchy and the divine right of Kings.

On an expedition seeking a potion guaranteeing immortal life , Alexander came across some apples which supposedly prolonged the lives of priests who fed on them and nothing else up to 400 years. It didn't work for him. The Macedonian conqueror died of typhoid fever in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, in Babylon, aged 32 on June 10, 323BC.

Alexander's body was laid in a gold anthropoid sarcophagus that was filled with honey, which was in turn placed in a gold casket. While Alexander's funeral cortege was on its way to Macedon, Ptolemy seized it and took it temporarily to Memphis. His successor, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, transferred the sarcophagus to Alexandria, where it remained until at least late Antiquity. Its wherwbouts now are unknown.

19th century depiction of Alexander's funeral procession based on the description of Diodorus

Pompey, Julius Caesar and Augustus all visited the tomb in Alexandria. Augustus, allegedly, clumsily knocked the nose off the dead ruler’s golden sarcophagus.

In the first centuries after Alexander's death, many of the stories that people told about the Macedonian conqueror were combined into a text known as the Alexander Romance. Some believe that, excepting certain religious texts, it was the most widely-read work of pre-modern times.

When Colin Farrell played him in the 2004 biopic Alexander, Angelina Jolie was cast as his mother, despite just being a year older than Farrell.

The King of Clubs in a deck of cards represents Alexander.

The rise of Alexander was prophesied 250 years before he was born in the Old Testament Book of Daniel (In Daniel 8 v5-8 and 20-22). It predicts the kingdom of Medo Persia being overthrown by King of Greece. Then the kingdom is divided on his death between his four generals but they will not have the same power.

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