He was taught by Aristotle
Alexander was born in the year 356 BC. He was the son of King Philip II of Macedonia. When his son was 13 years old, Philip decided that Alexander needed to be properly prepared for his future role as king. He therefore appointed Aristotle as teacher to Alexander, one of the most influential philosophers of the time.
In return, Aristotle asked that his hometown, Stageira, be rebuilt. Philippus gladly accepted this, because Stageira had been destroyed at his command years before.
Aristotle taught the young Alexander in the sciences of the time. Alexander knew his classics: he reportedly learned Homer’s Iliad completely by heart.
King at age 20
King Philip II was assassinated in 336 BC by a member of his bodyguard, Pausanias. Alexander was then only 20 years old and was given the burden of kingship upon himself. Alexander immediately faced uprisings in his kingdom, but it soon became clear to his subjects that this young and inexperienced king was not to be trifled with. The rebellious Greek city of Thebes was conquered, sacked and finally razed to the ground by Alexander a year later, in 335 BC. Alexander captured the inhabitants to enslave them. Peace soon returned to his kingdom.
Alexander admired Diogenes
Another famous philosopher of the time of Alexander was Diogenes of Sinope. Diogenes was a sage who despised wealth. He lived in utter poverty, did not own a house and lived winter and summer on the streets of Athens. The story goes that Alexander had great admiration for Diogenes.
He traveled to Athens especially to meet the philosopher. Seeing the poor philosopher with his retinue, Alexander asked Diogenes what he would most like to receive as a present. Diogenes simply replied that he would prefer Alexander to move a little to the side so as not to obstruct the sunlight. Alexander, surprised by this honest and oversimplified answer, replied that he would have wanted to be Diogenes had he not been the king of Macedonia himself.
He never lost a battle
Alexander the Great rightfully went down in history as one of the greatest military geniuses of all time. When he had to temporarily replace his father, who was on a campaign, as regent at the age of 16, he already suppressed a few small revolts in the kingdom. He achieved his first major military victory at the tender age of 18. He conquered vast territory in a campaign that lasted 15 years and did not lose a single battle. When he died at the age of 33, he was a demigod in the eyes of many admirers. Alexander’s strategy and tactics are studied to this day in military training centers around the world.
Many cities were named after Alexander
Alexander was well aware of his own talents and did not lack ego-tripping. He had the strange habit of founding cities in conquered areas bearing his own name. The most famous example of this is the city of Alexandria, today the second largest city in Egypt. Other newly founded cities that were given the name Alexandria at the time were in modern-day Turkey, Afghanistan, Iran, and Tajikistan. Alexander often had these cities built around conquered military strongholds.
Alexander’s love life
Alexander married princesses from the conquered Persian Empire three times: Roxane, Stateira, and Parysatis. His marriages also served a political purpose: he sought to mix the conquered peoples with the Greeks and Macedonians. For example, at a mass wedding in Susa (today a city in Iran), he had 80 officers from his army marry Persian girls. By Roxane he fathered a son: Alexander IV, who was murdered along with his mother several years after the death of Alexander the Great.
However, the great love in Alexander’s life was not a woman, but a man: Hephaestion. Bisexuality was not taboo at all in the Greek world of that time. Hephaestion grew up with Alexander and accompanied him on his campaigns. He became a general in Alexander’s army and was a creditable general himself.
A vain king
It was rare in ancient times that conquerors and generals paid much attention to their personal hygiene. Alexander was a big exception to this rule. According to the Greek biographer Plutarch, the vain Alexander used a lot of perfume and always smelled fresh. Even his breath didn’t stink.
It is also claimed that Alexander introduced shaving into his army. In most cases, images and sculptures indeed show Alexander without a beard.
In the year 330 BC, Alexander conquered the Persian Empire. Through Alexander’s victories, Greek culture spread to the Middle East. Conversely, Persian culture again had an influence on Greek customs. This period in history is also known as ‘ Hellenism ‘. In the conquered Persian cities where Alexander established his court, his court followed Persian customs and wore Persian garb. Alexander himself also wore Persian clothes and appeared more and more like an Eastern monarch.
A mysterious death
The death of Alexander the Great remains a mystery to this day. He died quite suddenly of a high fever in the Persian city of Babylon. Various theories about the cause of his death are circulating. It is possible that the great conqueror died of pneumonia or malaria. However, some claim that Alexander was poisoned. After drinking a cup of wine, he suddenly felt unwell and had to retire to his bedroom. In the two weeks that followed, his health continued to deteriorate. Alexander died on June 11, 323 BC. He was just under 33 years old.
The Unknown Tomb of Alexander the Great
Alexander’s corpse is said to have been put in a vat of honey to preserve it and bring it back to Macedonia for a state funeral. It never got to that point, however, because the Egyptian monarch Ptolemy I seized the corpse and eventually placed it in a golden tomb in Alexandria. Over time, the exact location of Alexander’s grave has been lost. The first Roman emperors are said to have visited his tomb, but no trace of it has been discovered since. To this day it remains a mystery where the grave of one of the greatest generals in history is located.
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