Alexander the Great kneeling before the High priest of Ammon in Siwa, Egypt

As Alexander headed down the Mediterranean coast in the Levant, nearly all the cities that were under Persian control surrendered and opened their gates to Alexander. The only city that put any resistance was Tyre, a former Phoenician island fortress off the coast of present-day Lebanon.

Plutarch wrote: “After the battle of Issus, he sent to Damascus to seize upon the money and baggage, the wives and children, of the Persians, of which spoil the Thessalian horsemen had the greatest share; for he had taken particular notice of their gallantry in the fight, and sent them thither on purpose to make their reward suitable to their courage. Not but that the rest of the army had so considerable a part of the booty as was sufficient to enrich them all. This first gave the Macedonians such a taste of the Persian wealth and women and barbaric splendour of living, that they were ready to pursue and follow upon it with all the eagerness of hounds upon a scent. But Alexander, before he proceeded any further, thought it necessary to assure himself of the sea-coast. Those who governed in Cyprus put that island into his possession, and Phoenicia, Tyre only excepted, was surrendered to him. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

The seige of Tyre was one of the defining moments of Alexander’s campaign. In the early 6th century, King Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Tyre for 13 years but was unable to conquer it.In 332 B.C., Alexander the Great captured Tyre by using ship-mounted battering rams and catapults to blast a hole in the fortress wall and gangplanks and two large siege towers to launch the assault. Alexander's army had spent seven months building a half mile causeway to the island, with debris from an abandoned mainland city, only to be bombarded with stones and arrows when they got near. The Tyrians also launched a boat with blazing cauldrons to set fire to the attackers. This tactic only delayed the inevitable.

The victory over Tyre added Lebanon as well as Palestine, Syria and Egypt to Alexander's empire. Alexander was reportedly so enraged by the loss of time and men used to capture Tyre that he destroyed half the city, and rounded up its residents, who were either massacred or sold into slavery. Seven thousand people were slaughtered after the capture, 2,000 young men were crucified and 30,000 people were sold into slavery.

Macedonian Deserters Flee into Egypt While Alexander Occupies Phoenicia

Arrian wrote: But Amyntas son of Antiochus, Thymondas son of Mentor, Aristomedes the Pheraean, and Bianor the Acarnanian, all being deserters, fled without delay from the posts assigned them in the battle, with about , soldiers under their command, and passing through the mountains, they arrived at Tripolis in Phoenicia. There they seized the ships which had been hauled up on shore in which they had previously been transported from Lesbos; they launched as many of these vessel as they thought sufficient to convey them, and the rest they burnt there in the docks, in order not to supply their enemy with the means of quickly pursuing them. They fled first to Cyprus, thence to Egypt; where Amyntas shortly after, meddling in political disputes, was killed by the natives. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

Alexander's route in Phoenicia and Egypt

“Meantime Pharnabazus and Autophradates were staying near Chios; then having established a garrison in this island they despatched some of their ships to Cos and Halicarnassus, and with of their best sailing vessels they put to sea themselves and landed at Siphnus. And Agis, king of the Lacedaemonians, came to them with one trireme, both to ask for money to carry on the war, and also to urge them to send with him into the Peloponnese as large a force both naval and military as they could. At that very time news reached them of the battle which had been fought at Issus; and being alarmed at the report, Pharnabazus started off to Chios with twelve triremes and , Grecian mercenaries, for fear that the Chians might attempt to effect a revolution when they received the news of the Persian defeat. Agis, having received from Autophradates thirty talents of silver and ten triremes, despatched Hippias to lead these ships to his brother Agesilaus at Taenarum, ordering him also to instruct Agesilaus to give full pay to the sailors and then to sail as quickly as possible to Crete, in order to set things in order there. For a time he himself remained there among the islands, but afterwards joined Autophradates at Halicarnassus.

“Alexander appointed Menon, son of Cerdimmas, viceroy of Coele-Syria, giving him the cavalry of the Grecian allies to guard the country. He then went in person towards Phoenicia; and on the march he was met by Strato, son of Gerostratus, king of the Aradians and of the people living near Aradus. But Gerostratus himself was serving in the fleet with Autophradates, as were also the other kings both of the Phoenicians and the Cyprians. When Strato fell in with Alexander, he placed a golden crown upon his head, promising to surrender to him both the island of Aradus and the great and prosperous city of Marathus, situated on the mainland right opposite Aradus; also Sigon, the city of Mariamme, and all the other places under his own dominion and that of his father.”

Byblos and Sidon Submit to Alexander

Arrian wrote: “When Alexander ascertained that all the money which Darius had sent off to Damascus with Cophen, son of Artabazus, was captured, and also that the Persians who had been left in charge of it, as well as the rest of the royal property, were taken prisoners, he ordered Parmenio to take the treasure back to Damascus, and there guard it. When he also ascertained that the Grecian ambassadors who had reached Darius before the battle had likewise been captured, he ordered them to be sent to him. They were Euthycles, a Spartan; Thessaliscus, son of Ismenias, and Dionysodorus, a victor in the Olympic games, Thebans; and Iphicrates, son of Iphicrates the general, an Athenian. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]


““When his fleet had been arranged in due order, he embarked upon the decks as many of his shield-bearing guards as seemed sufficient for his enterprise, unless a sea-battle were to be fought rather by breaking the enemy’s line than by a close conflict. He then started from Sidon and sailed towards Tyre with his ships arranged in proper order, himself being on the right wing which stretched out seaward; and with him were the kings of the Cyprians, and all those of the Phoenicians except Pnytagoras, who with Craterus was commanding the left wing of the whole line. The Tyrians had previously resolved to fight a sea-battle, if Alexander should sail against them by sea. But then with surprise they beheld the vast multitude of his ships; for they had not yet learnt that Alexander had all the ships of the Cyprians and Phoenicians. At the same time they were surprised to see that he was sailing against them with his fleet arranged in due order; for Alexander’s fleet a little before it came near the city, tarried for a while out in the open sea, with the view of provoking the Tyrians to come out to a battle; but afterwards, as the enemy did not put out to sea against them, though they were thus arranged in line, they advanced to the attack with a great dashing of oars. Seeing this, the Tyrians decided not to fight a battle at sea, but closely blocked up the passage for ships with as many triremes as the mouths of their harbour would contain, and guarded it, so that the enemy’s fleet might not find an anchorage in any of the harbours.

“As the Tyrians did not put out to sea against him, Alexander sailed near the city, but resolved not to try to force an entrance into the harbour towards Sidon on account of the narrowness of its mouth; and at the same time because he saw that the entrance had been blocked up with many triremes having their prows turned towards him. But the Phoenicians fell upon the three triremes moored furthest out at the mouth of the harbour, and attacking them prow to prow, succeeded in sinking them. However, the men in the ships easily swam off to the land which was friendly to them. Then, indeed, Alexander moored his ships along the shore not far from the mole which had been made, where there appeared to be shelter from the winds; and on the following day he ordered the Cyprians with their ships and their admiral Andromachus to moor near the city opposite the harbour which faces towards Sidon, and the Phoenicians opposite the harbour which looks towards Egypt, situated on the other side of the mole, where also was his own tent.”

Siege of Tyre

In 332 B.C., Alexander the Great captured Tyre by using ship-mounted battering rams and catapults to blast a hole in the fortress wall and gangplanks and two large siege towers to launch the assault. Arrian wrote: “He had now collected many engineers both from Cyprus and the whole of Phoenicia, and many engines of war had been constructed, some upon the mole, others upon vessels used for transporting horses, which he brought with him from Sidon, and others upon the triremes which were not fast sailers. When all the preparations had been completed they brought up the engines of war along the mole that had been made and also began to shoot from ships moored near various parts of the wall and making trial of its strength. The Tyrians erected wooden towers on their battlements opposite the mole, from which they might annoy the enemy; and if the engines of war were brought near any other part, they defended themselves with missiles and shot at the very ships with fire-bearing arrows, so that they deterred the Macedonians from approaching the wall. Their walls opposite the mole were about one hundred and fifty feet high, with a breadth in proportion, and constructed with large stones imbedded in gypsum. It was not easy for the horse-transports and the triremes of the Macedonians, which were conveying the engines of war up to the wall, to approach the city, because a great quantity of stones hurled forward into the sea prevented their near assault. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“These stones Alexander determined to drag out of the sea; but this was a work accomplished with great difficulty, since it was performed from ships and not from the firm earth; especially as the Tyrians, covering their ships with mail, brought them alongside the anchors of the triremes, and cutting the cables of the anchors underneath, made anchoring impossible for the enemy’s ships. But Alexander covered many thirty-oared vessels with mail in the same way, and placed them athwart in front of the anchors, so that the assault of the ships was repelled by them. But, notwithstanding this, divers under the sea secretly cut their cables. The Macedonians then used chains to their anchors instead of cables, and let them down so that the divers could do no more harm. Then, fastening slip-knots to the stones, they dragged them out of the sea from the mole; and having raised them aloft with cranes, they discharged them into deep water, where they were no longer likely to do injury by being hurled forward. The ships now easily approached the part of the wall where it had been made clear of the stones which had been hurled forward.

“The Tyrians being now reduced to great straits on all sides, resolved to make an attack on the Cyprian ships, which were moored opposite the harbour turned towards Sidon. For a long time they spread sails across the mouth of the harbour, in order that the filling of the triremes might not be discernible; and about the middle of the day, when the sailors were scattered in quest of necessaries, and when Alexander usually retired from the fleet to his tent on the other side of the city, they filled three quinqueremes, an equal number of quadriremes and seven triremes with the most expert complement of rowers possible, and with the best-armed men adapted for fighting from the decks, together with the men most daring in naval contests. At first they rowed out slowly and quietly in single file, moving forward the handles of their oars without any signal from the men who give the time to the rowers; but when they were already tacking against the Cyprians, and were near enough to be seen, then indeed with a loud shout and encouragement to each other, and at the same time with impetuous rowing, they commenced the attack.”

Capture of Tyre

Alexander at the seige of Tyre

Arrian wrote: “To return to the fleet, the Phoenicians posted opposite the harbour looking towards Egypt, facing which they happened to be moored, forcing their way and bursting the bars asunder, shattered the ships in the harbour, attacking some of them in deep water and driving others ashore. The Cyprians also sailed into the other harbour looking towards Sidon, which had no bar across it, and made a speedy capture of the city on that side. The main body of the Tyrians deserted the wall when they saw it in the enemy’s possession; and rallying opposite what was called the chapel of Agenor, they there turned round to resist the Macedonians. Against these Alexander advanced with his shield-bearing guards, destroyed the men who fought there, and pursued those who fled. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“Great was the slaughter also made both by those who were now occupying the city from the harbour and by the regiment of Coenus, which had also entered it. For the Macedonians were now for the most part advancing full of rage, being angry both at the length of the siege and also because the Tyrians, having captured some of their men sailing from Sidon, had conveyed them to the top of their wall, so that the deed might be visible from the camp, and after slaughtering them, had cast their bodies into the sea. About , of the Tyrians were killed; and of the Macedonians, besides Admetus, who had proved himself a valiant man, being the first to scale the wall, twenty of the shield-bearing guards were killed in the assault on that occasion. In the whole siege about Macedonians were slain. Alexander gave an amnesty to all those who fled for refuge into the temple of Heracles; among them being most of the Tyrian magistrates, including the king Azemilcus, as well as certain envoys from the Carthaginians, who had come to their mother-city to attend the sacrifice in honour of Heracles, according to an ancient custom. The rest of the prisoners were reduced to slavery; all the Tyrians and mercenary troops, to the number of about ,, who had been captured, being sold. Alexander then offered sacrifice to Heracles, and conducted a procession in honour of that deity with all his soldiers fully armed. The ships also took part in this religious procession in honour of Heracles. He moreover held a gymnastic contest in the temple, and celebrated a torch race. The military engine, also, with which the wall had been battered down, was brought into the temple and dedicated as a thank-offering; and the Tyrian ship sacred to Heracles, which had been captured in the naval attack, was likewise dedicated to the god. An inscription was placed on it, either composed by Alexander himself or by some one else; but as it is not worthy of recollection, I have not deemed it worth while to describe it. Thus then was Tyre captured in the month Hecatombaion, when Anicetus was archon at Athens.”

Siege of Gaza

Siege of Gaza

Arrian wrote: “Alexander now resolved to make an expedition into Egypt. All the other parts of what was called Palestine Syria had already yielded to him; but a certain eunuch, named Batis, who was in possession of the city of Gaza, paid no heed to him; but procuring Arabian mercenaries, and having been long employed in laying up sufficient food for a long siege, he resolved not to admit Alexander into the city, feeling confident that the place could never be taken by storm.” [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“Gaza is about twenty stades from the sea; the approach to it is sandy and over heavy soil, and the sea near the city everywhere shallow. The city of Gaza was large, and had been built upon a lofty mound, around which a strong wall had been carried. It is the last city the traveller meets with going from Phoenicia to Egypt, being situated on the edge of the desert. When Alexander arrived near the city, on the first day he encamped at the spot where the wall seemed to him most easy to assail, and ordered his military engines to be constructed. But the engineers expressed the opinion that it was not possible to capture the wall by force, on account of the height of the mound.

“However, the more impracticable it seemed to be, the more resolutely Alexander determined that it must be captured. For he said that the action would strike the enemy with great alarm from its being contrary to their expectation; whereas his failure to capture the place would redound to his disgrace when mentioned either to the Greeks or to Darius. He therefore resolved to construct a mound right round the city, so as to be able to bring his military engines up to the walls from the artificial mound which had been raised to the same level with them. The mound was constructed especially over against the southern wall of the city, where it appeared easiest to make an assault. When he thought that the mound had been raised to the proper level with the walls, the Macedonians placed their military engines upon it, and brought them close to the wall of Gaza. At this time while Alexander was offering sacrifice, and, crowned with a garland, was about to commence the first sacred rite according to custom, a certain carnivorous bird, flying over the altar, let a stone which it was carrying with its claws fall upon his head. Alexander asked Aristander, the soothsayer, what this omen meant. He replied: “O king, thou wilt indeed capture the city, but thou must take care of thyself on this day.”

Alexander the Great in hieroglyphics

Capture of Gaza

Arrian wrote: “When Alexander heard this, he kept himself for a time near the military engines, out of the reach of missiles. But when a vigorous sortie was made from the city, and the Arabs were carrying torches to set fire to the military engines, and from their commanding position above hurling missiles at the Macedonians, who were defending themselves from lower ground, were driving them down from the mound which they had made, then Alexander either wilfully disobeyed the soothsayer, or forgot the prophecy from excitement in the heat of action. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“Taking the shield-bearing guards, he hastened to the rescue where the Macedonians were especially hard pressed, and prevented them from being driven down from the mound in disgraceful flight. But he was himself wounded by a bolt from a catapult, right through the shield and breastplate into the shoulder. When he perceived that Aristander had spoken the truth about the wound, he rejoiced, because he thought he should also capture the city by the aid of the soothsayer. And yet indeed he was not easily cured of the wound. In the meantime the military engines with which he had captured Tyre arrived, having been sent for by sea; and be ordered the mound to be constructed quite round the city on all sides, two stades in breadth and feet in height. When his engines had been prepared, and brought up along the mound, they shook down a large extent of wall; and mines being dug in various places, and the earth being drawn out by stealth, the wall fell down in many parts, subsiding into the emptied space. The Macedonians then commanded a large extent of ground with their missiles, driving back the men who were defending the city, from the towers.

“Nevertheless, the men of the city sustained three assaults, though many of their number were killed or wounded; but at the fourth attack, Alexander led up the phalanx of the Macedonians from all sides, threw down the part of the wall which was undermined, and shook down another large portion of it by battering it with his engines, so that he rendered the assault an easy matter through the breaches with his scaling ladders. Accordingly the ladders were brought up to the wall; and then there arose a great emulation among those of the Macedonians who laid any claim to valour, to see who should be the first to scale the wall. The first to do so was Neoptolemus, one of the Companions, of the family of the Aeacidae; and after him mounted one rank after another with their officers. When once some of the Macedonians got within the wall, they split open in succession the gates which each party happened to light upon, and thus admitted the whole army into the city. But though their city was now in the hands of the enemy, the Gazaeans nevertheless stood together and fought; so that they were all slain fighting there, as each man had been stationed. Alexander sold their wives and children into slavery; and having peopled the city again from the neighbouring settlers, he made use of it as a fortified post for the war.”

Alexander the Great in Egypt

Alexander visits the Apis bull at the temple in Memphis

Alexander received a hero's welcome in Egypt, an unhappy vassal of Persia for nearly 200 years. In Memphis, the Egyptian capital, Alexander was recognized as a pharaoh. Hieroglyphics of Alexander's adventures adorn temples in Luxor.

Arrian wrote: “Alexander now led an expedition into Egypt, whither he had set out at first (from Tyre); and marching from Gaza, on the seventh day he arrived at Pelusium in Egypt. His fleet had also set sail from Phoenicia to Egypt; and he found the ships already moored at Pelusium. When Mazaces the Persian, whom Darius had appointed viceroy of Egypt, ascertained how the battle at Issus had resulted, that Darius had fled in disgraceful flight, and that Phoenicia, Syria, and most of Arabia were already in Alexander’s possession, as he had no Persian force with which he could offer resistance, he admitted Alexander into the cities and the country in a friendly way. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

Alexander introduced a garrison into Pelusium, and ordering the men in the ships to sail up the river as far as the city of Memphis, he went in person towards Heliopolis, having the river Nile on his right. He reached that city through the desert, after getting possession of all the places on the march through the voluntary surrender of the inhabitants. Thence he crossed the stream and came to Memphis; where he offered sacrifice to Apis and the other gods, and celebrated a gymnastic and musical contest, the most distinguished artists in these matters coming to him from Greece. From Memphis he sailed down the river towards the sea, embarking the shield-bearing guards, the archers, the Agrianians, and of the cavalry the royal squadron of the Companions. Coming to Canobus, he sailed round the Marian lake, and disembarked where now is situated the city of Alexandria, which takes its name from him. The position seemed to him a very fine one in which to found a city, and he foresaw that it would become a prosperous one. Therefore he was seized by an ardent desire to undertake the enterprise, and himself marked out the boundaries of the city, pointing out the place where the agora was to be constructed, where the temples were to be built, stating how many there were to be, and to what Grecian gods they were to be dedicated, and specially marking a spot for a temple to the Egyptian Isis. He also pointed out where the wall was to be carried round it. In regard to these matters be offered sacrifice, and the victims appeared favourable.”

Plutarch wrote: “From hence he sent great part of the spoils to Olympias, Cleopatra, and the rest of his friends, not omitting his preceptor Leonidas, on whom he bestowed five hundred talents' weight of frankincense and an hundred of myrrh, in remembrance of the hopes he had once expressed of him when he was but a child. For Leonidas, it seems, standing by him one day while he was sacrificing, and seeing him take both his hands full of incense to throw into the fire, told him it became him to be more sparing in his offerings, and not to be so profuse till he was master of the countries which those sweet gums and saying, come from. So Alexander now wrote to him, saying, "We have sent you abundance of myrrh and frankincense, that for the future you may not be stingy to the gods." “Among the treasures and other booty that was taken from Darius, there was a very precious casket, which being brought to Alexander for a great rarity, he asked those about him what they thought fittest to be laid up in it; and when they had delivered their various opinions, he told them he should keep Homer's Iliad in it. This is attested by many credible authors, and if what those of Alexandria tell us, relying upon the authority of Heraclides, be true, Homer was neither an idle nor an unprofitable companion to him in his expedition. [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 Founds Alexandria

Alexander founding Alexandria

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Alexander's military campaign was the founding of Alexandria. Arrian wrote that "he himself designed the general layout of the new town, indicating the position of the market square, the number of temples...and the precise limits of its outer defenses." After Alexander died, Alexandria grew into the center of Hellenistic Greece and was the greatest city for 300 years in Europe and the Mediterranean.

Plutarch wrote: “For when he was master of Egypt, designing to settle a colony of Grecians there, he resolved to build a large and populous city, and give it his own name. In order to which, after he had measured and staked out the ground with the advice of the best architects, he chanced one night in his sleep to see a wonderful vision; a grey-headed old man, of a venerable aspect, appeared to stand by him, and pronounce these verses: “An island lies, where loud the billows roar, Pharos they call it, on the Egyptian shore." Alexander upon this immediately rose up and went to Pharos, which, at that time, was an island lying a little above the Canobic mouth of the river Nile, though it has now been joined to the mainland by a mole. As soon as he saw the commodious situation of the place, it being a long neck of land, stretching like an isthmus between large lagoons and shallow waters on one side and the sea on the other, the latter at the end of it making a spacious harbour, he said, Homer, besides his other excellences, was a very good architect, and ordered the plan of a city to be drawn out answerable to the place. To do which, for want of chalk, the soil being black, they laid out their lines with flour, taking in a pretty large compass of ground in a semi-circular figure, and drawing into the inside of the circumference equal straight lines from each end, thus giving it something of the form of a cloak or cape; while he was pleasing himself with his design, on a sudden an infinite number of great birds of several kinds, rising like a black cloud out of the river and the lake, devoured every morsel of the flour that had been used in setting out the lines; at which omen even Alexander himself was troubled, till the augurs restored his confidence again by telling him it was a sign the city he was about to build would not only abound in all things within itself, but also be the nurse and feeder of many nations. He commanded the workmen to proceed, while he went to visit the temple of Ammon.” [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

Alexander laying out hos plan for Alexandria

Arrian wrote: “The following story is told, which seems to me not unworthy of belief:—that Alexander himself wished to leave behind for the builders the marks for the boundaries of the fortification, but that there was nothing at hand with which to make a furrow in the ground. One of the builders hit upon the plan of collecting in vessels the barley which the soldiers were carrying, and throwing it upon the ground where the king led the way; and thus the circle of the fortification which he was making for the city was completely marked out. The soothsayers, and especially Aristander the Telmissian, who was said already to have given many other true predictions, pondering this, told Alexander that the city would become prosperous in every respect, but especially in regard to the fruits of the earth. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“At this time Hegelochus sailed to Egypt and informed Alexander that the Tenedians had revolted from the Persians and attached themselves to him; because they had gone over to the Persians against their own wish. He also said that the democracy of Chios were introducing Alexander’s adherents in spite of those who held the city, being established in it by Autophradates and Pharnabazus. The latter commander had been caught there and kept as a prisoner, as was also the despot Aristonicus, a Methymnaean, who sailed into the harbour of Chios with five piratical vessels, fitted with one and a half banks of oars, not knowing that the harbour was in the hands of Alexander’s adherents, but being misled by those who kept the bars of the harbour, because forsooth the fleet of Pharnabazus was moored in it. All the pirates were there massacred by the Chians; and Hegelochus brought to Alexander, as prisoners Aristonicus, Apollonides the Chian, Phisinus, Megareus, and all the others who had taken part in the revolt of Chios to the Persians, and who at that time were holding the government of the island by force. He also announced that he had deprived Chares of the possession of Mitylene, that he had brought over the other cities in Lesbos by a voluntary agreement, and that he had sent Amphoterus to Cos with sixty ships, for the Coans themselves invited him to their island. He said that he himself had sailed to Cos and found it already in the hands of Amphoterus. Hegelochus brought all the prisoners with him except Pharnabazus, who had eluded his guards at Cos and got away by stealth. Alexander sent the despots who had been brought from the cities back to their fellow-citizens, to be treated as they pleased; but Apollonides and his Chian partisans he sent under a strict guard to Elephantinē, an Egyptian city.”

Alexander the Great Seeks the Oracle at the Temple of Ammon

Oracle Temple in Siwa

In 331 B.C., Alexander the Great trekked 300 miles across the Sahara desert for no military reason to Siwa Oasis (near Libyan border), where he met with the oracle at the Zeus-Amum temple and asked questions about his future and divinity. The oracle greeted Alexander as the son of Amun-Re and gave him the favorable omens he wanted for an invasion of Asia. The 24-year-old Alexander arrived at Siwa by camel. He asked the oracle whether was the son of Zeus. He never revealed the answer to that question.

Arrian wrote: “After these transactions, Alexander was seized by an ardent desire to visit Ammon in Libya, partly in order to consult the god, because the oracle of Ammon was said to be exact in its information, and Perseus and Heracles were said to have consulted it, the former when he was despatched by Polydectes against the Gorgons, and the latter, when he visited Antaeus in Libya and Busiris in Egypt. Alexander was also partly urged by a desire of emulating Perseus and Heracles, from both of whom he traced his descent. He also deduced his pedigree from Ammon, just as the legends traced that of Heracles and Perseus to Zeus. Accordingly he made the expedition to Ammon with the design of learning his own origin more certainly, or at least that he might be able to say that he had learned it. According to Aristobulus, he advanced along the seashore to Paraetonium through a country which was a desert, but not destitute of water, a distance of about , stades. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“Thence he turned into the interior, where the oracle of Ammon was located. The route is desert, and most of it is sand and destitute of water. But there was a copious supply of rain for Alexander, a thing which was attributed to the influence of the deity; as was also the following occurrence. Whenever a south wind blows in that district, it heaps up the sand upon the route far and wide, rendering the tracks of the road invisible, so that it is impossible to discover where one ought to direct one’s course in the sand, just as if one were at sea; for there are no landmarks along the road, neither mountain anywhere, nor tree, nor permanent hill standing erect, by which travellers might be able to form a conjecture of the right course, as sailors do by the stars. Consequently, Alexander’s army lost the way, and even the guides were in doubt about the course to take. Ptolemy, son of Lagus, says that two serpents went in front of the army, uttering a voice, and Alexander ordered the guides to follow them, trusting in the divine portent. He says too that they showed the way to the oracle and back again. But Aristobulus, whose account is generally admitted as correct, says that two ravens flew in front of the army, and that these acted as Alexander’s guides. I am able to assert with confidence that some divine assistance was afforded him, for probability also coincides with the supposition; but the discrepancies in the details of the various narratives have deprived the story of certainty.”

Alexander called the son of Zeus-Ammmon by the priest at the oracle in Siwa

Plutarch wrote: “This was a long and painful, and, in two respects, a dangerous journey; first, if they should lose their provision of water, as for several days none could be obtained; and, secondly, if a violent south wind should rise upon them, while they were travelling through the wide extent of deep sands, as it is said to have done when Cambyses led his army that way, blowing the sand together in heaps, and raising, as it were, the whole desert like a sea upon them, till fifty thousand were swallowed up and destroyed by it. All these difficulties were weighed and represented to him; but Alexander was not easily to be diverted from anything he was bent upon. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

“For fortune having hitherto seconded him in his designs, made him resolute and firm in his opinions, and the boldness of his temper raised a sort of passion in him for surmounting difficulties; as if it were not enough to be always victorious in the field, unless places and seasons and nature herself submitted to him. In this journey, the relief and assistance the gods afforded him in his distresses were more remarkable, and obtained greater belief than the oracles he received afterwards, which, however, were valued and credited the more on account of those occurrences. For first, plentiful rains that fell preserved them from any fear of perishing by drought, and, allaying the extreme dryness of the sand, which now became moist and firm to travel on, cleared and purified the air. Besides this, when they were out of their way, and were wandering up and down, because the marks which were wont to direct the guides were disordered and lost, they were set right again by some ravens, which flew before them when on their march, and waited for them when they lingered and fell behind; and the greatest miracle, as Callisthenes tells us, was that if any of the company went astray in the night, they never ceased croaking and making a noise till by that means they had brought them into the right way again.

Oasis of Ammon

Alexander cartouche

Arrian wrote: “The place where the temple of Ammon is located is entirely surrounded by a desert of far-stretching sand, which is destitute of water. The fertile spot in the midst of this desert, is not extensive; for where it stretches into its greater expanse, it is only about forty stades broad. It is full of cultivated trees, olives and palms; and it is the only place in those parts which is refreshed with dew. A spring also rises from it, quite unlike all the other springs which issue from the earth. For at midday the water is cold to the taste, and still more so to the touch, as cold as cold can be. But when the sun has sunk into the west, it gets warmer, and from the evening it keeps on growing warmer until midnight, when it reaches the warmest point. After midnight it goes on getting gradually colder; at daybreak it is already cold; but at midday it reaches the coldest point. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“Every day it undergoes these alternate changes in regular succession. In this place also natural salt is procured by digging, and certain of the priests of Ammon convey quantities of it into Egypt. For whenever they set out for Egypt they put it into little boxes plaited out of palm, and carry it as a present to the king, or some other great man. The grains of this salt are large, some of them being even longer than three fingers’ breadth; and it is clear like crystal. The Egyptians and others who are respectful to the deity, use this salt in their sacrifices, as it is clearer than that which is procured from the sea. Alexander then was struck with wonder at the place, and consulted the oracle of the god. Having heard what was agreeable to his wishes, as he himself said, he set out on the journey back to Egypt by the same route, according to the statement of Aristobulus; but according to that of Ptolemy, son of Lagus, he took another road, leading straight to Memphis.”

Advice of Ammon Oracle to Alexander the Great

Plutarch wrote: “Having passed through the wilderness, they came to the place where the high priest, at the first salutation, bade Alexander welcome from his father Ammon. And being asked by him whether any of his father's murderers had escaped punishment, he charged him to speak with more respect, since his was not a mortal father. Then Alexander, changing his expression, desired to know of him if any of those who murdered Philip were yet unpunished, and further concerning dominion, whether the empire of the world was reserved for him? This, the god answered, he should obtain, and that Philip's death was fully revenged, which gave him so much satisfaction that he made splendid offerings to Jupiter, and gave the priests very rich presents. This is what most authors write concerning the oracles. But Alexander, in a letter to his mother, tells her there were some secret answers, which at his return he would communicate to her only. Others say that the priest, desirous as a piece of courtesy to address him in Greek, "O Paidion," by a slip in pronunciation ended with the s instead of the n, and said "O Paidios," which mistake Alexander was well enough pleased with, and it went for current that the oracle had called him so. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

Alexander consulting the Oracle

“Among the sayings of one Psammon, a philosopher, whom he heard in Egypt, he most approved of this, that all men are governed by God, because in everything, that which is chief and commands is divine. But what he pronounced himself upon this subject was even more like a philosopher, for he said God was the common father of us all, but more particularly of the best of us. To the barbarians he carried himself very haughtily, as if he were fully persuaded of his divine birth and parentage; but to the Grecians more moderately, and with less affectation of divinity, except it were once in writing to the Athenians about Samos, when he tells them that he should not himself have bestowed upon them that free and glorious city; "You received it," he says, "from the bounty of him who at that time was called my lord and father," meaning Philip. However, afterwards being wounded with an arrow, and feeling much pain, he turned to those about him, and told them, "This, my friends, is real flowing blood, not Ichor-

“"Such as immortal gods are wont to shed." And another time, when it thundered so much that everybody was afraid, and Anaxarchus, the sophist, asked him if he who was Jupiter's son could do anything like this, "Nay," said Alexander, laughing, "I have no desire to be formidable to my friends, as you would have me, who despised my table for being furnished with fish, and not with the heads of governors of provinces." For in fact it is related as true, that Anaxarchus, seeing a present of small fishes, which the king sent to Hephaestion, had used this expression, in a sort of irony, and disparagement of those who undergo vast labours and encounter great hazards in pursuit of magnificent objects which after all bring them little more pleasure or enjoyment than what others have. From what I have said upon this subject, it is apparent that Alexander in himself was not foolishly affected, or had the vanity to think himself really a god, but merely used his claims to divinity as a means of maintaining among other people the sense of his superiority.”

Alexander Sets Up an Administration in Egypt and Leaves

Arrian wrote: “At Memphis, many embassies from Greece reached him; and he sent away no one disappointed by the rejection of his suit. From Antipater also arrived an army of Grecian mercenaries under the command of Menidas, son of Hegesander: likewise from Thrace cavalry, under the direction of Asclepiodorus, son of Eunicus. Here he offered sacrifice to Zeus the King, led his soldiers fully armed in solemn procession, and celebrated a gymnastic and musical contest. He then settled the affairs of Egypt, by appointing two Egyptians, Doloaspis and Petisis, governors of the country, dividing between them the whole land; but as Petisis declined his province, Doloaspis received the whole. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884,]

“He appointed two of the Companions to be commandants of garrisons: Pantaleon the Pydnaean in Memphis, and Polemo, son of Megacles, a Pellaean, in Pelusium. He also gave the command of the Grecian auxiliaries to Lycidas, an Aetolian, and appointed Eugnostus, son of Xenophantes, one of the Companions, to be secretary over the same troops. As their overseers he placed Aeschўlus and Ephippus the Chalcidean. The government of the neighbouring country of Libya he granted to Apollonius, son of Charinus; and the part of Arabia near Heroöpolis he put under Cleomenes, a man of Naucratis. This last was ordered to allow the governors to rule their respective districts according to the ancient custom; but to collect from them the tribute due to him. The native governors were also ordered to pay it to Cleomenes.

“He appointed Peucestas, son of Macartatus, and Balacrus, son of Amyntas, generals of the army which he left behind in Egypt; and he placed Polemo, son of Theramenes, over the fleet as admiral. He made Leonnatus, son of Anteas, one of his body-guards instead of Arrhybas, who had died of disease. Antiochus, the commander of the archers, also died; and in his stead Ombrion the Cretan was appointed. When Balacrus was left behind in Egypt, the allied Grecian infantry, which had been under his command, was put under that of Calanus. Alexander was said to have divided the government of Egypt among so many men, because he was surprised at the natural strength of the country, and he thought it unsafe to entrust the rule of the whole to a single person. The Romans also seem to me to have learned a lesson from him, and therefore keep Egypt under strong guard; for they do not send any of the senators thither as proconsul for the same reason, but only men who have the rank among them of Equites (Knights).”

Alexander and Amon-Ra at Luxor Temple

Plutarch wrote: “At his return out of Egypt into Phoenicia, he sacrificed and made solemn processions, to which were added shows of lyric dances and tragedies, remarkable not merely for the splendour of the equipage and decorations, but for the competition among those who exhibited them. For the kings of Cyprus were here the exhibitors, just in the same manner as at Athens those who are chosen by lot out of the tribes. And, indeed, they showed the greatest emulation to outvie each other; especially Nicocreon, King of Salamis, and Pasicrates of Soli, who furnished the chorus, and defrayed the expenses of the two most celebrated actors, Athenodorus and Thessalus, the former performing for Pasicrates, and the latter for Nicocrean. Thessalus was most favoured by Alexander, though it did not appear till Athenodorus was declared victor by the plurality of votes. For then at his going away, he said the judges deserved to be commended for what they had done, but that he would willingly have lost part of his kingdom rather than to have seen Thessalus overcome. However, when he understood Athenodorus was fined by the Athenians for being absent at the festivals of Bacchus, though he refused his request that he would write a letter in his behalf, he gave him a sufficient sum to satisfy the penalty. Another time, when Lycon of Scarphia happened to act with great applause in the theatre, and in a verse which he introduced into the comic part which he was acting, begged for a present of ten talents, he laughed and gave him the money. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

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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