Few historic figures conjure up more interest and debate than Alexander III of Macedon (356–323, r.336–323), whose epic 13-year campaign to conquer the Eastern Mediterranean world is the stuff of legend. He had few equals on the battlefield, winning every major battle he fought—Granicus (334), Issus (333), Gaugamela (331), Hydaspes (326)—and succeeding in sieges both long—Tyre (seven months, in 332)—and short—Sogdian Rock (one night in 327). Usually outnumbered, he understood the importance of good military intelligence to prepare the battlefield, decisive action to win the day, and the importance of personal leadership from the front. He was acknowledged by peers and thereafter by historians as one of the premier generals of history, certainly earning the sobriquet “Great.”
Alexander’s record as a ruler is more controversial. Tutored in classical learning by Aristotle, and in war and statecraft by his father Philip, Alexander came to the Macedonian throne as a young man and immediately rode forth into war. Victories drew him ever farther afield, his ambition—fueled by a certainty of his destiny—seemingly growing with the extent of his realm. His story has been described as a descent into megalomania, the transformation of a Western monarch, bound by both reason and social contract, into a murderous Eastern despot demanding treatment as a god-king on earth.
Was he a gifted warrior or a brutal tyrant? The truth is likely somewhere in between.
Alexander the Great: Few historical figures are better known than Alexander III (the Great) of Macedon, whose epic conquest of the Eastern Mediterranean world is the stuff of legend. With great talent comes great ambition, however, Alexander was driven to outdo his predecessors, driving his army to the point of mutiny. His ambition also caused him to be ruthless in extracting wealth and obedience from his subjects.