Alexander III of Macedon---Alexander the Great (356 to 324 B.C.)---was perhaps the greatest conqueror of all time. In 334 B.C., at the age of 21, he left the small Greek of Kingdom of Macedonia with 43,000 foot soldiers and 6,000 horsemen to seek revenge against the Persian empire, which had sacked Greece and Macedonia and burnt Athens a century before, and didn't stop until he conquered much of the known world at that time. [Sources: Richard Covington, Smithsonian magazine, November 2004; Caroline Alexander, National Geographic, March 2000; Helen and Frank Schreider, National Geographic, January 1968. [↔]

During his 13-year march of conquest Alexander claimed a territory that stretched as far east as India and China, and included present-day Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Cyprus, Greece, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan. The same territory would extend from California to Bermuda if it were placed on a map over the United States.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The reign of Alexander the Great (336–323 B.C.) would change the face of Europe and Asia forever. As crown prince, he received the finest education in the Macedonian court under his celebrated tutor Aristotle. At the age of twenty, already a charismatic and decisive leader, Alexander quickly harnessed the Macedonian forces that his father's reforms had made into the premier military power in the region. In 334 B.C., he led a grand army across the Hellespont in Asia. With some 43,000 infantry and 5,500 cavalry, it was the most formidable military expedition ever to leave Greece. The first to reach Asiatic soil, Alexander leapt ashore, cast a spear into the land, and dramatically claimed the continent as "spear won." In a remarkable campaign that lasted eleven years, he went on to fulfill his claim and more by conquering the Persian empire of western Asia and Egypt, and by continuing into Central Asia as far as the Indus Valley. In the end, he was defeated by his own army, which insisted on returning to Greece. On the way back, he died of fever in Babylon at the age of thirty-three. All the lands that he had conquered were divided up among his generals (52.127.4), and it was these political divisions that comprised the many kingdoms of the Hellenistic period (323–31 B.C.). [Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Seán Hemingway, Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004,]

Julius Caesar, Napoleon, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the poet John Dryden and Sigmund Freud were among those who canonized Alexander as a romantic hero. St. Augustine and Dante were among those who vilified him as murderer and plunderer. Historians are equally divided. Some see him as a charismatic leader with a bold vision to unite East and West. Others see him as an ancient Cortez, Hitler or Stalin intent on gobbling up as much territory as he could and if cruel means were need to realize that aim then so be it. Other still see him as man of his times---brutal at times, yes, but within what was acceptable in his era---who opened up the world by bringing the West to the East.

Alexander lives on in soap and cigarette ads, the lyrics for a heavy metal song by Iron Maiden, a luxury suite at a Donald Trump hotel and a tattoo on the arm of Greek-Australian tennis player Mark Philippousssis. The mere suggestion that Alexander may be from Macedonia rather than Greece is enough to set offer a major international dispute that required the country of Macedonia to change its name.

Sources on Alexander the Great

Plutarch, a Roman historian who lived during the first century AD (ca. 46-119), wrote his “Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans” intending to draw parallels between great figures of Greek antiquity and Romans of his own time. He chose to compare Alexander the Great with Julius Caesar. In his “Life of Alexander,” Plutarch tells some of the most famous stories related about Alexander. Plutarch wrote: “It being my purpose to write the lives of Alexander the king, and of Caesar, by whom Pompey was destroyed, the multitude of their great actions affords so large a field that I were to blame if I should not by way of apology forewarn my reader that I have chosen rather to epitomize the most celebrated parts of their story, than to insist at large on every particular circumstance of it. It must be borne in mind that my design is not to write histories, but lives. And the most glorious exploits do not always furnish us with the clearest discoveries of virtue or vice in men; sometimes a matter of less moment, an expression or a jest, informs us better of their characters and inclinations, than the most famous sieges, the greatest armaments, or the bloodiest battles whatsoever. Therefore as portrait-painters are more exact in the lines and features of the face, in which the character is seen, than in the other parts of the body, so I must be allowed to give my more particular attention to the marks and indications of the souls of men, and while I endeavour by these to portray their lives, may be free to leave more weighty matters and great battles to be treated of by others. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]


The “Anabasis of Alexander” was composed by Arrian of Nicomedia (A.D. 92-175), a Greek historian, public servant, military commander and philosopher of the Roman period. It is considered the best source on Alexander the Great’s the campaigns. On his work, Arrian wrote: “I have admitted into my narrative as strictly authentic all the statements relating to Alexander and Philip which Ptolemy,son of Lagus, and Aristobulus, son of Aristobulus (See Below), agree in making; and from those statements which differ I have selected that which appears to me the more credible and at the same time the more deserving of record. Different authors have given different accounts of Alexander’s life; and there is no one about whom more have written, or more at variance with each other. But in my opinion the narratives of Ptolemy and Aristobulus are more worthy of credit than the rest; Aristobulus, because he served under king Alexander in his expedition, and Ptolemy, not only because he accompanied Alexander in his expedition, but also because he was himself a king afterwards, and falsification of facts would have been more disgraceful to him than to any other man. Moreover, they are both more worthy of credit, because they compiled their histories after Alexander’s death, when neither compulsion was used nor reward offered them to write anything different from what really occurred. Some statements made by other writers I have incorporated in my narrative, because they seemed to me worthy of mention and not altogether improbable; but I have given them merely as reports of Alexander’s proceedings. And if any man wonders why, after so many other men have written of Alexander, the compilation of this history came into my mind, after perusing13 the narratives of all the rest, let him read this of mine, and then wonder (if he can).”

Ptolemy, son of Lagus (367- 283 B.C.) — one of the main sources for Arrian’s accounts ---- served with Alexander from his first campaigns, and was the first ruler of the Ptolemy dynasty that ruled Egypt after Alexander’s death. He played a principal part in the campaigns in Afghanistan and India and participated in the Battle of Issus, commanding troops on the left wing under the authority of Parmenion. He accompanied Alexander during his journey to the Oracle in the Siwa Oasis and commanded the campaign that captured the rebel Bessus. During Alexander's campaign in the Indian subcontinent, Ptolemy was in command of the advance guard at the siege of Aornos and fought at the Battle of the Hydaspes River. [Source: Wikipedia]

Aristobulus of Cassandreia (c. 375 – 301 B.C.) — another the main sources for Arrian’s accounts — was a Greek historian who accompanied Alexander on his campaigns. He served throughout as an architect and military engineer as well as a close friend of Alexander, enjoying royal confidence. He wrote an account, mainly geographical and ethnological. It survives only in quotations by others, which may not all be faithful to the original. His work was largely used by Arrian. Plutarch also used him as a reference.

Paul Cartledge of the University of Cambridge wrote for the BBC: “Thanks above all to the literary text known as the “Alexander Romance,” created originally at the great leader's most famous foundation - the city of Alexandria, in Egypt - Alexander has featured internationally as a hero, a quasi-holy man, a Christian saint, a new Achilles, a philosopher, a scientist, a prophet, and a visionary. The more earthy musings of the hero of Shakespeare's Hamlet, in the graveyard scene, are just one chauvinistic illustration of the fact that Alexander has featured in the literature of some 80 countries, stretching from our own Britannic islands (as Arrian, called them) to the Malay peninsula - by way of Kazakhstan.” |::|

Books and Films About Alexander the Great

None of Alexander's actual words were recorded verbatim. Although there were several eyewitness accounts of Alexander's campaigns they survive only in fragments written down decades or centuries after his death. Plutarch wrote his biography in the 1st century A.D. The best ancient source on his military campaigns was written by the historian Arian in the 2nd century B.C. Many of the things written about Alexander were written with pro-Alexander or anti-Alexander agendas in mind and thus sometimes it is difficult to sort out fact from fiction and get at the bottom of what really happened.

Frank Holt, an authority of Alexander the Great at the University of Houston, estimates that more than 2,000 books and articles have been written about Alexander in the last 50 years. As of 2005 there were are 700 books in print related to Alexander.

Books: Alexander the Great by Robin Lane Fox (Penguin, 1970s); Alexander the Great by Nick Sekinda and John Warry: Alexander of Macedon by Peter Green; Alexander the Conqueror by Laura Foreman (De Capo) is short on text and insightful scholarship but is rich in illustrations and color photographs. Alexander the Great: The Hunt of a New Past by Paul Cartledge, a historian at Cambridge University.

Film: Alexander the Great directed by Oliver Stone with Colin Farrell as Alexander, Angela Jolie as his mother, Van Kilmer as his father, Christopher Plummer as Aristotle and Anthony Hopkins as Ptolemy. The $150 million film was released in late 2004 got terrible reviews and was colossal flop. Baz Luhrmann ( Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge ) was supposed to make an Alexander film but scrapped the idea. Ilya Salkin (producer of Superman ) plans to release Young Alexander in 2010. Alexander the Great , made in 1956 by Robert Rossen, featured Richard Burton in the lead role in a silly wig. He made his entrance with a dead lion dropped over one shoulder. It too was also a flop.

Video: In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great (May Vision, Maryland Public Television, the BBC).

Alexander's Appearance and Image

Alexander claimed he was a descendant of Zeus, Hercules and Achilles and saw himself as the Pharaoh of Egypt, the King of Babylon, the Emperor of Persia and the King of Asia. Like Napoleon, according to some accounts, Alexander was short, perhaps just slightly over five feet. He reportedly was stocky, muscular, with a prominent forehead, and ruddy complexion and was said to be extremely handsome with “a certain melting look in his eye." Most accounts give him curly, shoulder-length blonde hair and fair skin, according to Plutarch, with a "ruddy tinge...especially upon his face and chest." Alexander reportedly was unable to grow a beard and made it fashionable to go clean shaven.

In his lifetime, Alexander allowed his portrait to be made by three artists: the famous sculptor Lysippos; the acclaimed painter Apellas; and a gem cutter named Pyrogoteles. None of the originals exist although a few copies of Lysippos work remain. These copies as well as mosaics from Pella and Naples, depict a good looking man with blonde hair, big round eyes, no beard, and hair parted in the middle and hanging slightly over the ears. The likeness of Alexander on tetradrachma coins is thought to be accurate except of the horns of divinity.

15th century take on Alexander the Great

Plutarch, who wrote Alexander's biography in the 1st century A.D., wrote Alexander tilted his head slightly to one side and was the source of the "melting look" comment. This description is consistent with a rare eye condition called Brown's syndrome. If Alexander in fact had this condition he tilted his head to see the world straight.

Plutarch wrote: “The statues that gave the best representation of Alexander's person were those of Lysippus (by whom alone he would suffer his image to be made), those peculiarities which many of his successors afterwards and his friends used to affect to imitate, the inclination of his head a little on one side towards his left shoulder, and his melting eye, having been expressed by this artist with great exactness. But Apelles, who drew him with thunderbolts in his hand, made his complexion browner and darker than it was naturally; for he was fair and of a light colour, passing into ruddiness in his face and upon his breast. Aristoxenus in his Memoirs tells us that a most agreeable odour exhaled from his skin, and that his breath and body all over was so fragrant as to perfume the clothes which he wore next him; the cause of which might probably be the hot and adust temperament of his body. For sweet smells, Theophrastus conceives, are produced by the concoction of moist humours by heat, which is the reason that those parts of the world which are driest and most burnt up afford spices of the best kind and in the greatest quantity; for the heat of the sun exhausts all the superfluous moisture which lies in the surface of bodies, ready to generate putrefaction. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

Describing Alexander before the pivotal Battle at Guagamela, Plutarch wrote: He put on his helmet, having the rest of his arms on before he came out of his tent, which were a coat of the Sicilian make, girt close about him, and over that a breastpiece of thickly quilted linen, which was taken among other booty at the battle of Issus. The helmet, which was made by Theophilus, though of iron, was so well wrought and polished, that it was as bright as the most refined silver. To this was fitted a gorget of the same metal, set with precious stones. His sword, which was the weapon he most used in fight, was given him by the king of the Citieans, and was of an admirable temper and lightness. The belt which he also wore in all engagements, was of much richer workmanship than the rest of his armor. It was a work of the ancient Helicon, and had been presented to him by the Rhodians, as a mark of their respect to him. So long as he was engaged in drawing up his men, or riding about to give orders or directions, or to view them, he spared Bucephalas, who was now growing old, and made use of another horse; but when he was actually to fight, he sent for him again, and as soon as he was mounted, commenced the attack.”

Alexander the Great's Character

Richard Covington wrote in Smithsonian magazine, “Despite his imperialist accomplishments Alexander has always seemed a melancholy figure, possessed by what ancient Greeks called pothos , a passionate yearning...He was a military genius and a hero to his men. He never asked them to do something he would not have done himself, and he bore the wounds to prove it. He also shared his vast riches with his men. When he challenged his army to take the most difficult route, to do the impossible, they amazed themselves when they succeeded."

Alexander and Aristotle

Oliver Stone, director of the awful Alexander film, told Smithsonian magazine, “He was the Sun God, the star of all time, Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle rolled into one. Some historians put a class with Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun, but they miss the point. No tyrant ever gave back so much. His life was not about money for himself, but about his growing curiosity, engaging and fulfilling his intellect, his consciousness...These days we have a strong antipathy for conquerors, but in Alexander's time, war was a way of life and soldiering a much more honorable profession."

Young Alexander was very competitive and ambitious. When Alexander heard of one Phillip's victories he muttered to himself, "My father will be the first to everything. For me he will leave no great or brilliant action." Once when court philosopher Aanxarchue described the infinite number of worlds in the universe to him, Alexander broke down crying, “There are so many worlds and I have not yet conquered even one."

Alexander was very religious. He reportedly stopped at all the major temples on his conquest route and made daily sacrifices to the gods. He had been raised to believe he descended from Achilles and Hercules. He had a deep respect for Zeus. Alexander was also a notorious drunk. He is said to have died after coming down with a fever after drunken escapade. Based on other descriptions some think he was an epileptic.

Plutarch wrote: “And this hot constitution, it may be, rendered Alexander so addicted to drinking, and so choleric. His temperance, as to the pleasures of the body, was apparent in him in his very childhood, as he was with much difficulty incited to them, and always used them with great moderation; though in other things be was extremely eager and vehement, and in his love of glory, and the pursuit of it, he showed a solidity of high spirit and magnanimity far above his age. For he neither sought nor valued it upon every occasion, as his father Philip did (who affected to show his eloquence almost to a degree of pedantry, and took care to have the victories of his racing chariots at the Olympic games engraven on his coin), but when he was asked by some about him, whether he would run a race in the Olympic games, as he was very swift-footed, he answered, he would, if he might have kings to run with him. Indeed, he seems in general to have looked with indifference, if not with dislike, upon the professed athletes. He often appointed prizes, for which not only tragedians and musicians, pipers and harpers, but rhapsodists also, strove to outvie one another; and delighted in all manner of hunting and cudgel-playing, but never gave any encouragement to contests either of boxing or of the pancratium.” [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

Arrian on Alexander the Great's Character

Arrian wrote: “Alexander died in the hundred and fourteenth Olympiad, in the archonship of Hegesias at Athens. According to the statement of Aristobulus, he lived thirty-two years, and had reached the eighth month of his thirty-third year. He had reigned twelve years and these eight months. He was very handsome in person, and much devoted to exertion, very active in mind, very heroic in courage, very tenacious of honour, exceedingly fond of incurring danger, and strictly observant of his duty to the gods. In regard to the pleasures of the body, he had perfect self-control; and of those of the mind, praise was the only one of which he was insatiable. He was very clever in recognising what was necessary to be done, even when it was still a matter unnoticed by others; and very successful in conjecturing from the observation of facts what was likely to occur. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

Alexander refuses to take water

“In marshalling, arming, and ruling an army, he was exceedingly skilful; and very renowned for rousing the courage of his soldiers, filling them with hopes of success, and dispelling their fear in the midst of danger by his own freedom from fear. Therefore even what he had to do in secret he did with the greatest boldness. He was also very clever in getting the start of his enemies, and snatching from them their advantages by secretly forestalling them, before any one even feared what was about to happen. He was likewise very steadfast in keeping the agreements and settlements which he made, as well as very secure from being entrapped by deceivers. Finally, he was very sparing in the expenditure of money for the gratification of his own pleasures; but he was exceedingly bountiful in spending it for the benefit of his associates.

“That Alexander should have committed errors in his conduct from quickness of temper or from wrath, and that he should have been induced to comport himself like the Persian monarchs to an immoderate degree, I do not think remarkable if we fairly consider both his youth and his uninterrupted career of good fortune; likewise that kings have no associates in pleasure who aim at their best interests, but that they will always have associates urging them to do wrong. However, I am certain that Alexander was the only one of the ancient kings who, from nobility of character, repented of the errors which he had committed.

“The majority of men, even if they have become conscious that they have committed an error, make the mistake of thinking that they can conceal their sin by defending their error as if it had been a just action. But it seems to me that the only cure for sin is for the sinner to confess it, and to be visibly repentant in regard to it. Thus the suffering will not appear altogether intolerable to those who have undergone unpleasant treatment, if the person who inflicted it confesses that he has acted dishonourably; and this good hope for the future is left to the man himself, that he will never again commit a similar sin, if he is seen to be vexed at his former errors. I do not think that even his tracing his origin to a god was a great error on Alexander’s part, if it was not perhaps merely a device to induce his subjects to show him reverence. Nor does he seem to me to have been a less renowned king than Minos, Aeacus, or Rhadamanthus, to whom no insolence is attributed by the men of old, because they traced their origin to Zeus. Nor does he seem at all inferior to Theseus or Ion, the former being the reputed son of Poseidon, and the latter of Apollo. His adoption of the Persian mode of dressing also seems to me to have been a political device in regard to the foreigners, that the king might not appear altogether an alien to them; and in regard to the Macedonians, to show them that he had a refuge from their rashness of temper and insolence. For this reason I think, he mixed the Persian royal guards, who carried golden apples at the end of their spears, among the ranks of the Macedonians, and the Persian peers with the Macedonian body-guards. Aristobulus also asserts that Alexander used to have long drinking parties, not for the purpose of enjoying the wine, as he was not a great wine-drinker, but in order to exhibit his sociality and friendly feeling to his Companions.”

Alexander: a Many-Sided Hero

Alexander quarreling with his friend Cleitus

Paul Cartledge of the University of Cambridge wrote for the BBC: “It seems there have been many Alexander the Greats - as many as there have been serious students of him as man, hero and/or god. There are two main reasons for this multiplicity and plasticity. First, and more poetically, the great leader's achievements - both in his lifetime and posthumously (the Alexander myth or legend) - are simply staggering. Second, the original narrative sources that survive for Alexander are mostly either very non-contemporary (eg Plutarch's biography of c.100 AD, and Arrian's narrative history of a little later in the second century AD), or very skewed by partisanship - pro or con, or both. [Source:Professor Paul Cartledge, BBC, February 17, 2011. Cartledge is Professor of Greek History at the University of Cambridge. He is the author, co-author, editor and co-editor of 20 or so books, the latest being Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past (Pan Macmillan, London, 2004). He was chief historical consultant for the BBC TV series 'The Greeks'. |::|]

“In the past there have been those who saw him as essentially reasonable and gentlemanly, or dynamic and titanic, or Homerically heroic. But the recent trend has been decidedly negative, emphasising variously his conquering bloodlust, his megalomania, or alleged alcoholism. |::| One of the earliest clues to this aspect of his character is an image - thought to be probably of Alexander - painted in fresco above the front entrance to what we usually call the 'Tomb of Philip' (whether or not we believe it to be actually the tomb of Alexander's father, King Philip II). This monumental tomb was erected at the ancient Macedonian ceremonial capital of Aegae (modern Vergina), some time within the last third or so of the fourth century B.C. . |::|

“The fresco depicts hunting scenes, and it is natural to identify the central figure as a young Alexander engaged, with his father, in what we know to have been one of Alexander's favourite pastimes. Except that to call it a 'pastime' may give a misleading impression, since hunting in Macedon - as in some other ancient societies, such as Sparta - was actually an important culturally coded marker of social and political status. |::|

“In Macedon, you did not become fully a man until you had passed the key manhood test of hunting and killing, without a net, one of the ferocious wild boar that roamed the heights of upper (western) Macedonia. Only then could you recline - as opposed to sit - when participating in the daily ritual of the symposium. This was the regular evening drinking party, at which and through which the Macedonian elite celebrated together and mutually confirmed their elevated social and political status. |::|

“Another kind of hunting - the killing of an enemy in battle - entitled a Macedonian to wear a special kind of belt, as a visual reminder of his attainment. Alexander had passed both those tests triumphantly by the age of 16 (in 340 B.C.), when his father thought him already sufficiently mature to act as regent of Macedon. “|::|

Alexander the Great as a Campaigner and Hunter

hunting a lion

Paul Cartledge of the University of Cambridge wrote for the BBC: In 336 B.C. “Alexander became king not only of Macedon, but also of most of mainland Greece. He inherited the mantle of his late father, as leader of a pan-hellenic expedition of holy revenge and liberation against the once mighty Persian empire. During the 11 years of his almost non-stop campaigning in Asia (334-323), periods of rest and recreation were infrequent as he strove to achieve his ambitious aims, to the undoubted chagrin of his officers and troops; but one of his favourite means of relaxation was hunting.[Source: Professor Paul Cartledge, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“As his biographer Plutarch put it, 'When he had time on his hands, he would get up and sacrifice to the gods ... then he would go on to spend the day hunting ...' . For example, in a safari park near Maracanda (Samarkand in Uzbekistan) in the early 320s, a bag of no fewer than 4,000 wild game, including lions, is reported. That was the reward for the capture of the fearsome Sogdian Rock. |::|

“To illustrate this, at the Pella Archaeological Museum in Macedonia there is a beautiful pebble mosaic, which is thought to depict Alexander in pursuit of danger and excitement - a mosaic that originally adorned a floor in a luxurious Hellenistic-period house, the so-called House of Dionysus. According to the favoured interpretation, this may well be modelled on a bronze statue-group in the round executed by Alexander's court sculptor, Lysippus, and shows his leading companion, Craterus, famously supporting Alexander as he hunted lions in a game park in Syria. |::|

“Sometimes, though, it was not only wild game that was the object of Alexander's hotheaded attention. More than once, a leading Macedonian made the mistake of intercepting the major quarry and robbing Alexander of the pleasure and pride of making the kill. In one of these incidents, the offender was a member of Alexander's own royal retinue, one Dimnus, who received humiliating punishment for his supposed presumptuousness. It has been said that there was a direct connection between this punishment and Dimnus's alleged plotting against Alexander's life in 327 B.C. “|::|

Alexander the Great's Personal Life and Marriages

Although he was married twice some historians claim Alexander was a homosexual who was in love with his childhood friend, closest companion and general---Hephaestion. Another lover was a Persian eunuch named Bagoas. But many say that his truest love was his horse Bucephalas.

On his march of conquest, Alexander became entranced with a Songdian princess named Roxanne after she was captured in a siege of a Sogdian fortress. Arrian described her as “the loveliest woman in Asia after Darius's wife. Her married her in 327 B.C., apparently for love but also to give his presence in Asia some legitimacy. Alexander's second wife was a daughter of his arch-enemy Darius.

Alexander fathered a son with Roxanne, and perhaps another one with his Persian mistress, but sex didn't seem to have been a big part of his life. He once reportedly said, “Sex and sleep alone make me conscious that I am mortal." Roxanne died in 311. His son Alexander IV died in 310.

Alexander the Great’s Marriage to Roxana

Marriage of Alexander and Roxana in the Villa Farnesina in Rome

Alexander married Roxana (Roshanak), the daughter of the most powerful of the Bactrian chiefs (Oxyartes, who revolted in present-day Tajikistan). Arrian wrote: “The wives and children of many important men were there captured, including those of Oxyartes. This chief had a daughter, a maiden of marriageable age, named Roxana, who was asserted by the men who served in Alexander’s army to have been the most beautiful of all Asiatic women, with the single exception of the wife of Darius. They also say that no sooner did Alexander see her than he fell in love with her; but though he was in love with her, he refused to offer violence to her as a captive, and did not think it derogatory to his dignity to marry her. This conduct of Alexander I think worthy rather of praise than blame. Moreover, in regard to the wife of Darius, who was said to be the most beautiful woman in Asia, he either did not entertain a passion for her, or else he exercised control over himself, though he was young, and in the very meridian of success, when men usually act with insolence and violence. On the contrary, he acted with modesty and spared her honour, exercising a great amount of chastity, and at the same time exhibiting a very proper desire to obtain a good reputation.”[Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

Plutarch connected a story about an Amazon with Alexander’s marriage to Roxana. He wrote: ““Here many affirm that the Amazon came to give him a visit. So Clitarchus, Polyclitus, Onesicritus, Antigenes, and Ister, tell us. But Aristobulus and Chares, who held the office of reporter of requests, Ptolemy and Anticlides, Philon the Theban, Philip of Theangela, Hecatæus the Eretrian, Philip the Chalcidian, and Duris the Samian, say it is wholly a fiction. And truly Alexander himself seems to confirm the latter statement, for in a letter in which he gives Antipater an account of all that happened, he tells him that the king of Scythia offered him his daughter in marriage, but makes no mention at all of the Amazon. And many years after, when Onesicritus read this story in his fourth book to Lysimachus, who then reigned, the king laughed quietly and asked, “Where could I have been at that time?”[Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

“As for his marriage with Roxana, whose youthfulness and beauty had charmed him at a drinking entertainment, where he first happened to see her, taking part in a dance, it was, indeed, a love affair, yet it seemed at the same time to be conducive to the object he had in hand. For it gratified the conquered people to see him choose a wife from among themselves, and it made them feel the most lively affection for him, to find that in the only passion which he, the most temperate of men, was overcome by, he yet forbore till he could obtain her in a lawful and honorable way.”

Alexander the Great’s Daily Routine and Eating Habits

Alexander the Great and Apelles

Plutarch wrote: “In his diet, also, he was most temperate, as appears, omitting many other circumstances, by what he said to Ada, whom he adopted, with the title of mother, and afterwards created Queen of Caria. For when she, out of kindness, sent him every day many curious dishes and sweetmeats, and would have furnished him with some cooks and pastry-men, who were thought to have great skill, he told her he wanted none of them, his preceptor, Leonidas, having already given him the best, which were a night march to prepare for breakfast, and a moderate breakfast to create an appetite for supper. Leonidas also, he added, used to open and search the furniture of his chamber and his wardrobe, to see if his mother had left him anything that was delicate or superfluous. He was much less addicted to wine than was generally believed; that which gave people occasion to think so of him was, that when he had nothing else to do, he loved to sit long and talk, rather than drink, and over every cup hold a long conversation. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

“For when his affairs called upon him, he would not be detained, as other generals often were, either by wine, or sleep, nuptial solemnities, spectacles, or any other diversion whatsoever; a convincing argument of which is, that in the short time he lived, he accomplished so many and so great actions. When he was free from employment, after he was up, and had sacrificed to the gods he used to sit down to breakfast, and then spend the rest of the day in hunting, or writing memoirs, giving decisions on some military questions, or reading. In marches that required no great haste, he would practise shooting as he went along, or to mount a chariot and alight from it in full speed. Sometimes, for sport's sake, as his journals tell us, he would hunt foxes and go fowling. When he came in for the evening, after he had bathed and was anointed, he would call for his bakers and chief cooks, to know if they had his dinner ready.

“He never cared to dine till it was pretty late and beginning to be dark, and was wonderfully circumspect at meals that every one who sat with him should be served alike and with proper attention: and his love of talking, as was said before, made him delight to sit long at his wine. And then, though otherwise no prince's conversation was ever so agreeable, he would fall into a temper of ostentation and soldierly boasting, which gave his flatterers a great advantage to ride him, and made his better friends very uneasy. For though they thought it too base to strive who should flatter him most, yet they found it hazardous not to do it; so that between the shame and the danger, they were in a great strait how to behave themselves. After such an entertainment, he was wont to bathe, and then perhaps he would sleep till noon, and sometimes all day long. He was so very temperate in his eating, that when any rare fish or fruits were sent him, he would distribute them among his friends, and often reserve nothing for himself. His table, however, was always magnificent, the expense of it still increasing with his good fortune, till it amounted to ten thousand drachmas a day, to which sum he limited it, and beyond this he would suffer none to lay out in any entertainment where he himself was the guest.”

Alexander the Great and Wealth

Describing Alexander after his army looted the Persian treasury, Plutarch wrote: “Alexander was naturally most munificent, and grew more so as his fortune increased, accompanying what he gave with that courtesy and freedom, which, to speak truth, is necessary to make a benefit really obliging. I will give a few instances of this kind. Ariston, the captain of the Pæonians, having killed an enemy, brought his head to show him, and told him that in his country, such a present was recompensed with a cup of gold. “With an empty one,” said Alexander, smiling, “but I drink to you in this, which I give you full of wine.” Another time, as one of the common soldiers was driving a mule laden with some of the king’s treasure, the beast grew tired, and the soldier took it upon his own back, and began to march with it, till Alexander seeing the man so overcharged, asked what was the matter; and when he was informed, just as he was ready to lay down his burden for weariness, “Do not faint now,” said he to him, “but finish the journey, and carry what you have there to your own tent for yourself.” He was always more displeased with those who would not accept of what he gave than with those who begged of him. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

Alexander the Great gold coin

“And therefore he wrote to Phocion, that he would not own him for his friend any longer, if he refused his presents. He had never given any thing to Serapion, one of the youths that played at ball with him, because he did not ask of him, till one day, it coming to Serapion’s turn to play, he still threw the ball to others, and when the king asked him why he did not direct it to him, “Because you do not ask for it,” said he; which answer pleased him so, that he was very liberal to him afterwards. One Proteas, a pleasant, jesting, drinking fellow, having incurred his displeasure, got his friends to intercede for him, and begged his pardon himself with tears, which at last prevailed, and Alexander declared he was friends with him. “I cannot believe it,” said Proteas, “unless you first give me some pledge of it.” The king understood his meaning, and presently ordered five talents to be given him.

“How magnificent he was in enriching his friends, and those who attended on his person, appears by a letter which Olympias wrote to him, where she tells him he should reward and honor those about him in a more moderate way, “For now,” said she, “you make them all equal to kings, you give them power and opportunity of making many friends of their own, and in the mean time you leave yourself destitute.” She often wrote to him to this purpose, and he never communicated her letters to anybody, unless it were one which he opened when Hephæstion was by, whom he permitted, as his custom was, to read it along with him; but then as soon as he had done, he took off his ring, and set the seal upon Hephæstion’s lips. Mazæus, who was the most considerable man in Darius’s court, had a son who was already governor of a province. Alexander bestowed another upon him that was better; he, however, modestly refused, and told him, instead of one Darius, he went the way to make many Alexanders. To Parmenio he gave Bagoas’s house, in which he found a wardrobe of apparel worth more than a thousand talents. He wrote to Antipater, commanding him to keep a life-guard about him for the security of his person against conspiracies. To his mother he sent many presents, but would never suffer her to meddle with matters of state or war, not indulging her busy temper, and when she fell out with him upon this account, he bore her ill-humor very patiently. Nay more, when he read a long letter from Antipater, full of accusations against her, “Antipater,” he said, “does not know that one tear of a mother effaces a thousand such letters as these.”

“And to strengthen his precepts by example, he applied himself now more vigorously than ever to hunting and warlike expeditions, embracing all opportunities of hardship and danger, insomuch that a Lacedæmonian, who was there on an embassy to him, and chanced to be by when he encountered with and mastered a huge lion, told him he had fought gallantly with the beast, which of the two should be king. Craterus caused a representation to be made of this adventure, consisting of the lion and the dogs, of the king engaged with the lion, and himself coming in to his assistance, all expressed in figures of brass, some of which were by Lysippus, and the rest by Leochares; and had it dedicated in the temple of Apollo at Delphi. Alexander exposed his person to danger in this manner, with the object both of inuring himself, and inciting others to the performance of brave and virtuous actions.

Alexander’s View of His Rich Friends

Describing how some in his army acted the Persian treasury was looted, Plutarch wrote: “His followers, who were grown rich, and consequently proud, longed to indulge themselves in pleasure and idleness, and were weary of marches and expeditions, and at last went on so far as to censure and speak ill of [213] him. All which at first he bore very patiently, saying, it became a king well to do good to others, and be evil spoken of. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

“But when he perceived his favorites grow so luxurious and extravagant in their way of living and expenses, that Hagnon, the Teian, wore silver nails in his shoes, that Leonnatus employed several camels, only to bring him powder out of Egypt to use when he wrestled, and that Philotas had hunting nets a hundred furlongs in length, that more used precious ointment than plain oil when they went to bathe, and that they carried about servants everywhere with them to rub them and wait upon them in their chambers, he reproved them in gentle and reasonable terms, telling them he wondered that they who had been engaged in so many signal battles did not know by experience, that those who labor sleep more sweetly and soundly than those who are labored for, and could fail to see by comparing the Persians’ manner of living with their own, that it was the most abject and slavish condition to be voluptuous, but the most noble and royal to undergo pain and labor. He argued with them further, how it was possible for any one who pretended to be a soldier, either to look well after his horse, or to keep his armor bright and in good order, who thought it much to let his hands be serviceable to what was nearest to him, his own body. “Are you still to learn,” said he, “that the end and perfection of our victories is to avoid the vices and infirmities of those whom we subdue?”

Alexander’s Acts of Kindness and Friendship

Alexander with the family of Darius

On how Alexander treated his friends, Plutarch wrote: “Meantime, on the smallest occasions that called for a show of kindness to his friends, there was every indication on his part of tenderness and respect. Hearing Peucestes was bitten by a bear, he wrote to him, that he took it unkindly he should send others notice of it, and not make him acquainted with it; “But now,” said he, “since it is so, let me know how you do, and whether any of your companions forsook you when you were in danger, that I may punish them.” He sent Hephæstion, who was absent about some business, word how while they were fighting for their diversion with an ichneumon, Craterus was by chance run through both thighs with Perdiccas’s javelin. And upon Peucestes’s recovery from a fit of sickness, he sent a letter of thanks to his physician Alexippus. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

When Craterus was ill, he saw a vision in his sleep, after which he offered sacrifices for his health, and bade him to do so likewise. He wrote also to Pausanias, the physician, who was about to purge Craterus with hellebore, partly out of an anxious concern for him, and partly to give him a caution how he used that medicine. He was so tender of his friends’ reputation that he imprisoned Ephialtes and Cissus, who brought him the first news of Harpalus’s flight and withdrawal from his service, as if they had falsely accused him. When he sent the old and infirm soldiers home, Eurylochus, a citizen of Ægæ, got his name enrolled among the sick, though he ailed nothing, which being discovered, he confessed he was in love with a young woman named Telesippa, and wanted to go along with her to the seaside. Alexander inquired to whom the woman belonged, and being told she was a free courtesan, “I will assist you,” said he to Eurylochus, “in your amour, if your mistress [214] be to be gained either by presents or persuasions; but we must use no other means, because she is free-born.”

“It is surprising to consider upon what slight occasions he would write letters to serve his friends. As when he wrote one in which he gave order to search for a youth that belonged to Seleucus, who was run away into Cilicia; and in another, thanked and commended Peucestes for apprehending Nicon, a servant of Craterus; and in one to Megabyzus, concerning a slave that had taken sanctuary in a temple, gave direction that he should not meddle with him while he was there, but if he could entice him out by fair means, then he gave him leave to seize him. It is reported of him that when he first sat in judgment upon capital causes, he would lay his hand upon one of his ears while the accuser spoke, to keep it free and unprejudiced in behalf of the party accused. But afterwards such a multitude of accusations were brought before him, and so many proved true, that he lost his tenderness of heart, and gave credit to those also that were false; and especially when anybody spoke ill of him, he would be transported out of his reason, and show himself cruel and inexorable, valuing his glory and reputation beyond his life or kingdom.”

Partying with Alexander and Ptolemy’s Mistress

After leaving Susa, the capital of Persian, and seeking Darius set aside some time to enjoy himself. Plutarch wrote: “From hence designing to march against Darius, before he set out, he diverted himself with his officers at an entertainment of drinking and other pastimes, and indulged so far as to let every one’s mistress sit by and drink with them. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

The most celebrated of them was Thais, an Athenian, mistress of Ptolemy, who was afterwards king of Egypt. She, partly as a sort of well-turned compliment to Alexander, partly out of sport, as the drinking went on, at last was carried so far as to utter a saying, not misbecoming her native country’s character, though somewhat too lofty for her own condition. She said it was indeed some recompense for the toils she had undergone in following the camp all over Asia, that she was that day treated in, and could insult over, the stately palace of the Persian monarchs. But, she added, it would please her much better, if while the king looked on, she might in sport, with her own hands, set fire to the court of that Xerxes who reduced the city of Athens to ashes, that it might be recorded to posterity, that the women who followed Alexander had taken a severer revenge on the Persians for the sufferings and affronts of Greece, than all the famed commanders had been able to do by sea or land.

“What she said was received with such universal liking and murmurs of applause, and so seconded by the encouragement and eagerness of the company, that the king himself, persuaded to be of the party, started from his seat, and with a chaplet of flowers on his head, and a lighted torch in his hand, led them the way, while they went after him in a riotous manner, dancing and making loud cries about the place; which when the rest of the Macedonians perceived, they also in great delight ran thither with torches; for they hoped the burning and destruction of the royal palace was an argument that he looked homeward, and had no design to reside among the barbarians. Thus some writers give their account of this action, while others say it was done deliberately; however, all agree that he soon repented of it, and gave order to put out the fire.”

Alexander the Great’s Public Image

Alexander under the sea, one of the legends about Alexander

Paul Cartledge of the University of Cambridge wrote for the BBC: “Throughout his life Alexander was exceptionally preoccupied with his image, both literally and metaphorically. One of his non-Greek protégés appreciated this very well and had himself buried in a stone coffin, now in the Archaeological Museum, Istanbul, adorned with images showing Alexander hunting either a human or animal prey. [Source: Professor Paul Cartledge, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

“The strikingly well preserved artefact is known as the 'Alexander Sarcophagus', for the good reason that on one long side a figure unambiguously meant to be Alexander is depicted on horseback, in vigorous and deadly combat against a Persian. |::|

“The horse in question was Bucephalas (the name means Ox-Head), a magnificent - and prodigiously expensive - Thessalian stallion, probably named for the shape of the white blaze on his muzzle. It was alleged that only Alexander had been able to break the horse in, and he became so attached to the animal over the next two decades or so that he actually named a city - Bucephala - after him, in an area now part of modern Pakistan (site unidentified). |::| Throughout his life Alexander was exceptionally preoccupied with his image, both literally and metaphorically. |::|

“The scenes on the short sides of the Alexander Sarcophagus depict the hunting of lions and panthers. Traditionally, the coffin has been attributed to Abdalonymus, king of Sidon, and the sources record that Abdalonymus received his appointment from Alexander through the good offices of another of Alexander's most devoted companions, his friend from boyhood and alter-ego, Hephaestion. But an alternative interpretation attributes the sarcophagus rather to the much more important Mazaeus. |::|

“This man was a noble Persian, whom Alexander appointed to govern Babylon after he had transferred his allegiance from the defeated Persian great king Darius III, following the decisive battle of Gaugamela (331 B.C.). Whichever interpretation is correct, the relatives and friends of the dead occupant knew well how best to honour a close lifetime association with the Nimrod of ancient Greece, the mighty hunter Alexander. |::|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, except the movie poster, IMDB

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks ; Canadian Museum of History ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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