Tuesday, October 6

Alexander the Great's Empire.

A lot has been said about Alexander of Macedon and his conquests. What's amazing to me is how tiny Macedonia is compared to his conquered area, a conquest all done within his brief lifetime (he died aged 32, 4 years younger than I am!). First he had to conquer the rest of Greece, no mean feat. Then he decided as the ruler of all of Greece to exact revenge on Darius of Persia, a huge empire with about 10 times the population of all of the Greek city-states combined, because in his forefathers' time Darius' direct ancestor Xerxes had burned Athens to the ground and humiliated the proud Greeks. So he defeated Darius directly on the battlefield against typically 3-1 odds or worse, using superior tactics, and caused the great Persian king to flee from battle. This he repeated again, and soon he had Darius on the run back to Persepolis, his capital, which was adorned with treasures and a palace the likes of which even Alexander, schooled by Aristotle in Athens, had never seen. He pillaged Persepolis, burnt it to the ground as revenge for Athens, and erected a new temple for himself, taking on Darius' wives for his own as a final insult. Darius was forced to flee into the desert with a handful of bodyguards and was stabbed to death by one of them, probably for cowardice or maybe simply for his jewelry. And so the proud Persian empire and unbroken dynasty of kings, which had been certainly the largest and most formidable in the Western world since the decline of Pharaonic Egypt and until the rise of Rome some few hundred years later, was toppled in a few short years by a tiny neighbor with a brilliant general-king.

And he didn't stop there. There seemed to be some restless demon inside him which would not let him stay content and enjoy palace life. He drove on inexplicably, conquering the nations we now call Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Armenia, The Levant, Egypt (where he established the new capital of Alexandria, where Cleopatra would one day rule and which became the center of learning in the ancient world), and parts of India and Mongolia - with brief incursions into the monsoon country of southeast Asia and the steppes of central Asia (having already taken what is modern Iraq and Iran within a couple years). The United States today, with all its military power, could probably not accomplish this, certainly not in the time frame that Alexander did. Granted, there were much smaller populations all round the world in those days, and no nukes, so vast tracts of land could be taken without too much opposition, if you cut off the head of the snake (the leader) who controlled them. It was a matter of picking key battles, and Alexander is said to have never lost a battle in his life. Something drove this man to conquer almost the entire known world at that time (as opposed to the "unknown world," which I suppose means China didn't know its own country existed!), and rule over the largest empire the world would see until Ghengis Khan (although the Mongols really just terrorized all of Asia and never built much on their own, so it's hard to consider them an "empire"). Certainly in land terms it was larger than Rome would ever be, though as soon as Alexander died, and having failed to produce an heir, his empire would be divided into four pieces ruled by his favorite generals, and even these would eventually either splinter further, or slowly lose their Greek character and return to ways much the same as they were before the conquest (such as the Seleucid Empire, which the Jews would later revolt against in Judea).

Despite his short lifespan, Alexander had an immense influence on the world. He ushered in what historians call the Hellenistic Age, when maybe one-quarter of the world's people spoke Greek and built architecture and made art in imitation of Greece. Greece had gone from a backwater of infighting city-states to the supreme world power in a matter of years. And long after the empire itself was dissolved, its cultural influence lasted. Saul of Tarsus was a Greek Jew who, after having a seizure (probably), having a vision of Jesus, and renaming himself Paul, became an apostle of the Christ (whom he never actually met), and spread Christianity to the gentiles. Paul was really the driving force (even more so than Peter or James, who wanted to keep the worship of Christ within Jewish Law and Jewish ethnic circles) behind creating the huge religion that exists today, whose followers so little understand the actual history behind who and what they worship. The Vatican really ought to name Paul the first Pope and claim he's buried under their cathedral rather than Peter, who by all accounts was Jewish to the last and wanted nothing to do with gentiles, which of course represent nearly all Christians today.

And the Romans would adopt Greece's art and architecture, their pantheon of deities, their fighting style, and much of their culture when they rose to power, overthrowing their Etruscan oppressors in Italy so they could go on to build another great empire and oppress lots of other people. And in their conversion to Christianity under Constantine, they had the Bible formally put together and written in Greek, although a Hebrew copy also existed which differs somewhat. The Greek and Hebrew Bibles are the oldest forms we have today - not Latin, not Aramaic, certainly not Persian! And all because of a young fair-haired, probably homosexual warmonger named Alexander from the tiny state of Macedonia. History tends to move rather slowly, and rarely do individuals actually change the world, through they may be seen by posterity as the figureheads of a larger movement. But Alexander was one person whom I believe really did alter the course of world events all by himself. Without him things would be quite different. Better or worse? Who knows, but certainly different.

Here is a map of the extent of Alexander's empire whilst he was still alive. It's impossibly small unless you click on it for the full size.


billybytedoc said...

Pretty amazing guy!

Katbili said...

Thank you very much for this post. This man's spirit is an inspiration to me and i always love reading about him. he has been one of Greece's greatest and most influential men, too bad we dont have any of these guys around any more in the public scene

Katbili said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hans said...

an ego-maniac for sure. I guess I just don't like conquerors or wars in general. I like explorers though!

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