Famous Men of Greece - John Haaren

Alexander the Great


Alexander, the son of Philip of Macedonia and Olympias, was born on the same night that the great temple of Diana at Ephesus, in Asia Minor, was burned. It is said that while the temple was burning sooth-sayers ran up and down the streets of Ephesus, crying out that the night had brought forth sad disaster to Asia. This was true of the birth of Alexander as well as of the burning of the temple.

Alexander was educated chiefly by the famous Greek philosopher, Aristotle. The young prince was an earnest pupil. It is said that he could recite the Iliad of Homer from beginning to end.

He excelled also in athletic sports. The horses of Thessaly, a state of Greece adjoining Macedonia, were famed for their speed and spirit. While Alexander was still a boy a fine Thessalian horse was offered to his father at a very high price. Philip wished to have the animal tried, but the horse was so wild that every one was afraid of him. Philip was about to send him away when Alexander offered to ride him. The king gave him permission. Alexander had noticed that the animal was afraid of his own shadow. He therefore seized the plunging horse and turned his head toward the sun, so that his shadow fell behind him. Then patting his neck and speaking gently to him, he leaped upon his back and soon completely tamed him.



The head of the horse was supposed to have some likeness to that of an ox, so he was called Bucephalus, or Oxhead. He became Alexander's favorite horse and carried his master through many a march and many a battle.

Alexander's ambition was shown at an early age. While he was yet a mere boy he made up his mind to conquer the world, and when he learned from Aristotle that there were many other worlds in the universe, he was greatly saddened by the thought that he had not yet conquered one.

As Philip went on making one conquest after another Alexander became alarmed. "Why," he cried one day, "my father will leave nothing for me to do!"

However, when he became king, he found enough to do. First of all there were other claimants to the throne besides himself. Some of them Alexander put to death. Others fled the country. He learned that Thebes and other Greek states were thinking of throwing off the Macedonian yoke. He therefore gathered a large army and marched to Thebes at the head of it. The Thebans were over-awed and submitted to him without resistance. The Athenians, in spite of Demosthenes' advice, sent a messenger to him while he was at Thebes, offering their submission. A little later the Greeks met in general council at Corinth and gave him, as they had given Philip, the command of the expedition that was to be undertaken against Persia. Sparta alone refused to agree in the vote.

Alexander returned to Macedonia and marched against some Thracian tribes in the northern part of his dominions. While he was subduing them a report of his death reached Greece, and Thebes again took up arms. Suddenly Alexander appeared in Greece with his victorious army. He took Thebes by assault and pulled to the ground every building in the city except the house once occupied by the famous poet Pindar. Six thousand of the inhabitants were put to death; a few escaped by flight and the rest were sold as slaves.


Alexander now began to prepare for the great expedition against Persia, which had so long been planned. Soon his army was ready to march. It consisted of less than 35,000 men, but with these he boldly crossed the Hellespont.

He landed on the Asiatic coast not far from the site of ancient Troy. From the plain of Troy he marched to the river Granicus, on the bank of which he fought his first battle with the Persians.

The Persian army was completely routed, and its commander killed himself rather than face the disgrace of his defeat. The great city of Sardis, the stronghold of the Persians in western Asia Minor, now opened its gates to the conqueror.

The following spring Alexander advanced into the province of Phrygia. In a temple in the city of Gordium was kept the chariot of Gordius, once a famous Phrygian king. The yoke of the chariot was fastened to the pole by a knot of tough fibre. The knot was said to have been tied by Gordius himself. It was very puzzling. An oracle had declared that whoever should untie it would become the master of Asia. Instead of trying to untie it Alexander cut it with one stroke of his sword. The people of Asia Minor took this as an omen that he was to be their master and offered him but little resistance.

Beyond the mountains in southeastern Asia Minor, the "Great King," Darius was waiting for the Greeks with an enormous army. He became impatient and crossed the mountains into Cilicia. A battle was fought at Issus, but the Persians were no match for the Greeks. The battle ended with overwhelming defeat to the army of Darius and he fled from the battle-field. He left not only his baggage and treasure, but his wife and mother and children, all of whom fell into Alexander's hands. These captives were treated with much respect and kindness by the conqueror.

Family of Darius


Soon after the battle at Issus Damascus was captured. Alexander then moved against Tyre, a famous port of Syria, whose trade was with every land and whose merchants were princes. So great were the resources of the city that it withstood a siege of seven months; but at the end of that time it fell into Alexander's hand and thirty thousand of its citizens were captured and made slaves.

From Tyre Alexander marched toward Egypt. On the way he passed through the Holy Land. When he reached Jerusalem he was met by a friendly procession of priests and Levites, who came out from the gates of the city, with the high priest at their head, to bid the conqueror welcome.

Egypt, like the Holy Land, was won without a battle. The people were weary of Persian rule.

In Egypt Alexander did one of his wisest acts. He founded a city near the mouth of the Nile to be a great trading port. It is still called Alexandria after its founder. Another wise act on Alexander's part was to invite the Jews to settle in his new city. He saw that they were wonderful traders; and, as he expected, they made Alexandria a greater commercial city than Tyre.

In the spring of the year 331 B.C. Alexander again set out in pursuit of Darius, who had now collected another large army.

In October, not far from a place called Arbela, in Persia, the forces of Darius and Alexander met in their last great battle. Darius had done everything he could to insure the defeat of the Greeks. His army was said to number a million men. One division of it had two hundred chariots, to the wheels of which scythes were attached. The scythes went round with the wheels and were expected to mow down the Greeks like grass. In another division of the army were fifteen trained elephants that were intended to rush wildly among the Greeks and trample them down.

But the scythe-armed chariots, the elephants, and the million men were alike unsuccessful. The vast host was completely routed, and Darius turned his chariot and fled.

From Arbela Alexander pushed on to Babylon, whose brazen gates were thrown open to him. Susa, another great city of the Empire, surrendered without resistance. Then, to make his conquest complete he marched on to Persepolis, the magnificent capital of Persia proper. This city, with its immense treasure of silver and gold, fell into his hands. Five thousand camels and ten thousand mule-carts carried away the spoils, the value of which is said to have been $150,000,000.

Alexander pursued Darius, but before he overtook him the Great King was murdered by one of his own satraps. Alexander had the body buried with royal honors and punished the satrap with death.

The Empire of Persia now lay at Alexander's feet, and the work for which the expedition had set out was finished. The young king, however, had no desire to return to Macedonia. He had conquered the East, but the East had also conquered him. He had become a slave to its ways of living. His old simple Macedonian tastes had been laid aside and his life was given up to pleasure.


Soon, however, he undertook another conquest and at the head of his veteran soldiers advanced eastward into Bactria and added this province to his dominions. Among the Bactrian captives was a beautiful princess named Roxana, who became his bride.

Southeast of Persia lay India, a vast empire rich in gold and diamonds. Alexander desired to add it to his conquests.

Great mountain ranges enclose India on the north and northwest. Crossing these are passes, through which travelers from Central Asia must go to reach India.

Alexander went by the way of Khaiber Pass and marched steadily onward till he reached the river Hydaspes. Here an Indian king, named Porus, engaged him in battle. Porus proved to be the most desperate fighter Alexander had met with in all Asia. When the Indian was at length overpowered and captured and brought before the conqueror, Alexander asked him how he expected to be treated.

Porus and Alexander


"Like a king," replied Porus.

"That you certainly shall be," said Alexander. And so he was, for it was the habit of Alexander to treat honorably all whom he conquered.

On the bank of the River Hydaspes Alexander had the misfortune to lose his horse Bucephalus. At the place where the animal died the conqueror founded a city which he named Bucephala in honor of his favorite.

The conqueror was not able to go on with his Indian campaign. His soldiers were worn out with marching and fighting and insisted that they would go no farther, and so, much against his will, Alexander was obliged to lead them back to Persia.

The return march was one of great hardship. At the mouth of the Indus Alexander sent the fleet to sail along the coast and up the Persian Gulf, while he led the land forces toward Susa and Babylon. The army had to march through a country which was hot, dry and barren. The men suffered dreadfully and Alexander shared their sufferings.

Shortly after reaching Babylon he was attacked by a fever, which he had not the strength to resist.

Around his death-bed were gathered his generals. They asked him whom he wished to succeed him. He drew his signet ring from his finger and handed it to Perdiccas with the words, "To the strongest." A little later he had ceased to breathe.



Thus passed away one of the greatest soldiers the world has ever known. At the time of his death, 323 B.C., he was only thirty-two years old. His victories had been won and his conquests had been made in the short space of twelve years.