Philip’s son, Alexander III (the Great), belongs to legend as much as to history. Only twenty when he came to the throne, he loved war, politics, athletics, alcohol, poetry, medicine, and science. Within a dozen years he led his armies on a series of triumphant marches that won for Macedon the largest empire yet created in the ancient world. He began by crushing a Greek revolt led by Thebes, whose entire population he sold into slavery. Next he crossed into Asia Minor. He defeated the Persians at the river Granicus in 334 B.C. and took over the coastal cities of Ionia. In Ionia he established democracies in the poleis. In territories belonging to the Persians, he took title to all land. He thus replaced the Persian king, Darius III, whom he defeated again at Issus and so opened up Syria. He reduced Tyre by siege and refused Darius’s offer of his daughter and all territory west of the Euphrates.
Next, Egypt fell easily. Here Alexander founded the great port of Alexandria in the Nile Delta (332). He led a daring expedition into the desert to consult the oracle of Zeus Ammon, where he was greeted as “son of Ammon.” Thereby encouraged, he marched east and defeated Darius again in Mesopotamia at Guagamela, near Nineveh, in 331 B.C. Alexander sacrificed to Marduk in Babylon and ordered that the temple the Persians had destroyed be restored. Vast mopping-up operations continued in Persia proper (330¬327 B.C.), as Alexander’s armies seized the chief cities and all the royal treasure at the Persian capital of Persepolis, which he burned. Alexander now was king of Persia, pharaoh of Egypt, king of Babylon, king of Macedon, and commander of the Greek League.
In central Asia, near Samarkand, Alexander married the daughter of a local chieftain, who joined forces with the conqueror in 327 B.C. This marriage strained the loyalty of his Macedonian nobles, who disliked Alexander’s occasional adoption of Persian dress and customs to please his new subjects. Though enjoying his role as “Great King” and claiming divine parentage, Alexander thought of himself as a Greek; he paid his respects to his ancestor Achilles at Troy before he began his Eastern campaigns. But tensions increased. Alexander, having executed a plotter against his life, said he was forced by Macedonian custom to execute the plotter’s father also; unfortunately, the father was the most influential of the Macedonian nobles. Later, in a drunken fury, Alexander killed another of his Macedonian generals for having taunted him for his Persian ways.
The tensions of the conquest did not diminish its efficiency. New levies of troops came from Europe or were raised in Asia; new roads were built; and new towns sprang up, many named after Alexander. Believing that India was small, and that beyond India lay the Ocean, via which it was possible to return to Europe by sea, Alexander next set out to conquer modern-day Pakistan from a base in what is now Afghanistan. He found himself fighting hill tribes and princes of Kashmir and Punjab. At first the Indian war elephants terrified Alexander’s cavalry, but soon the Macedonians learned how to defeat them. Alexander moved east; but India was not small, as he had thought, and his weary troops eventually mutinied. In 326 B.C. Alexander had to call off any further advances; he led his troops on riverboats down the Indus toward the Indian Ocean, fighting all the way. Several new Alexandrias were founded, including the city that is now Karachi, in Pakistan, before he led his back to Susa in 324 B.C.
Here he conducted a purge of those he suspected of treason and staged a mass marriage between eighty Macedonian officers and Persian noblewomen. He himself took a new Persian wife and blessed the union of ten thousand Macedonian troops with Persian women. Those Macedonians who wished to return home were sent off well rewarded; but Alexander kept their wives in Persia and planned to use their children as the nucleus of a future army. A naval expedition from the mouths of the Tigris- Euphrates, eastward along the shore of the Persian Gulf to India, and westward around Arabia to Egypt, was in preparation at Babylon. In June 323 B.C., at Babylon, Alexander caught a fever and died at the age of thirty-three.
Ever since, scholars have speculated about what Alexander might have accomplished had he lived; he might well have made Greece the center of his empire and would surely have been able to conquer the two states in the western Mediterranean already looming on the horizon as powers there: Carthage and Rome. He respected all races and religions, yet he was ruthless in pursuit of his own power and the stability of his state. Each of his new cities he settled with Greeks, to be centers for the diffusion of Greek culture. A superb general, a clever governor of subject peoples, a believer in the Greek gods, a passionate man with a streak of megalomania, Alexander astonished his contemporaries. It is little wonder that he became to later generations the hero of romances that circulated in every language and among every people.