History is Philosophy teaching by examples. — Thucydides

Story of Greece - Mary Macgregor

The Death of Alexander

In the autumn of 325 B.C. Alexander began to march through the desert of Gedrosia on his way to Babylon.

The heat was terrible, and the soldiers were soon parched with thirst, while sinking sand added to the hardship of the march.

Alexander tramped by the side of his men across the dreary waste, sharing all their privations and cheering them by his presence. But before he left the desert of Gedrosia, the king had lost more than a fourth part of the army that had set out with him from India two short months before.

At length the exhausted soldiers reached Susa, and here the king allowed them to rest. He himself found much to do, for many of the satraps whom he had left in charge of different provinces had betrayed their trust. They had treated cruelly those who were in their power, and had formed plots to make themselves kings over their own provinces. It may be that they thought Alexander would never come back from his perilous journey in the East.

When he had punished those who had proved faithless, were they Macedonians or Persians, he turned to a matter on which his heart was set—the union of the peoples of the East and the West.

The king tried to accomplish this in different ways. He had already built cities in the East, and left in them Greeks and Macedonians along with the native Asiatics.

Now he himself wedded Statira, the daughter of Darius, Hephæstion married her sister, while several Macedonian generals, following the example of the king, took the daughters of Persian nobles to be their wives. Many of the soldiers, too, married women of the East.

Alexander hoped that little by little the two races would learn to know each other better and to have the same interests.

In the spring of 324 B.C. Alexander went to Ecbatana, where the Persian kings had been used to spend the summer months. Shortly afterwards he met his whole army at Opis, not far from Babylon, and discharged many of the Macedonian veterans who were no longer fit to fight because of old age or because of the wounds from which they had suffered. The king promised to provide for these old warriors for the rest of their lives. He expected them to welcome their dismissal and their reward.

But the Macedonians had been growing more and more jealous of the favours Alexander had been showing to the Persians, and now the feelings that they had been forced to hide found words.

They bade the king discharge not only the veterans but his loyal Macedonians. Some even dared to shout, 'Go and conquer with Zeus, your father.'

The king, in sudden anger, sprang from his seat, down among the angry throng, and ordered thirteen of the ringleaders to be put to death. He then bade the others go away if they wished. They had been only poor shepherds on the hills of Macedon, he reminded them, until his father Philip had made them rulers of Greece. He had shared with them the wealth of the East, and had kept nothing for himself, save his purple robe and his royal diadem.

Alexander then went to his palace, and in three days he sent for the Persian nobles, to whom he gave the posts of honour which until now had been held by the Macedonians.

Plutarch tells us that when the Macedonians, who had stayed in their quarters in spite of their dismissal, heard what Alexander had done, 'they went without their arms, with only their undergarments on, crying and weeping, to offer themselves at his tent, and desired him to deal with them as their baseness and ingratitude deserved . . . yet he would not admit them to his presence, nor would they stir from thence, but continued two days and nights before his tent, bewailing themselves, and imploring him as their lord to have compassion on them. But on the third day he came out to them, and seeing them very humble and penitent, he wept himself a great while, after a gentle reproof spoke kindly to them and dismissed those who were too old for service with magnificent rewards, and with recommendation to Antipater that when they came home, at all public shows and in the theatres, they should sit in the best and foremost seats, crowned with chaplets of flowers.'

During the summer which he spent at Ecbatana, a great sorrow befell the king. Hephæstion, his dearest friend, took ill, and in seven days he was dead. For three days the king would touch no food. No one could comfort him, for well the king knew that no one would ever fill the place that Hephæstion had held in his heart. The body of his friend the king ordered to be taken to Babylon, where it was burnt on a pyre adorned with great magnificence. Chapels were built in his honour in Alexandria and other cities.

In June 323 B.C., a month after the funeral rites, Alexander, who was preparing for a great expedition by sea, went to the river Euphrates to inspect some new harbours which he had ordered to be built.

The place was unhealthy, because of the many marshes that lay round about the river, and the king was attacked by fever. He refused to take any care and daily he grew worse, until at length he was forced by weakness to stay in bed.

A rumour that he was dead reached the Macedonians, and they hastened to the palace, begging to be allowed to see their king once more.

Alexander was not dead, but he was too weak to speak, as one by one the soldiers were permitted to walk quietly past his bed. With an effort he looked at them as they passed, and feebly raised his hand in farewell.

With an effort he looked at them as they passed

'After I am gone will you ever find a king worthy of such heroes as these?' he murmured as they slowly filed out of the room.

Then he drew his signet ring from his finger and gave it to an officer, saying that he left his kingdom 'to the best man.' So the great king passed away at the age of thirty-three.


Front Matter

The Great God Pan
The Six Pomegranate Seeds
The Birth of Athene
The Two Weavers
The Purple Flowers
Danae and Her Little Son
The Quest of Perseus
Andromeda and Sea-Monster
Acrisius Killed by Perseus
Achilles and Briseis
Menelaus and Paris Do Battle
Hector and Andromache
The Horses of Achilles
The Death of Hector
Polyphemus the Giant
Odysseus Escapes from Cave
Odysseus Returns to Ithaca
Argus the Hound Dies
The Bow of Odysseus
The Land of Hellas
Lycurgus and His Nephew
Lycurgus Returns to Sparta
Training of the Spartans
The Helots
Aristomenes and the Fox
The Olympian Games
The Last King of Athens
Cylon Fails to be Tyrant
Solon Frees the Slaves
Athenians Take Salamis
Pisistratus Becomes Tyrant
Harmodius and Aristogiton
The Law of Ostracism
The Bridge of Boats
Darius Rewards Histiaeus
Histiaeus Shaves His Slave
Sardis Is Destroyed
Sandal Sewn by Histiaeus
Earth and Water
Battle of Marathon
Miltiades Sails to Paros
Aristides is Ostracised
The Dream of Xerxes
Xerxes Scourges the Hellespont
Bravest Men of All Hellas
Battle of Thermopylae
Battle of Artemisium
Themistocles at Salamis
Themistocles Tricks Admirals
Battle of Salamis
Battle of Plataea
Delian League
Themistocles Deceives Spartans
Themistocles is Ostracised
Eloquence of Pericles
Pericles and Elpinice
The City of Athens
Great Men of Athens
Thebans Attack Plataeans
Attica Invaded by Spartans
Last Words of Pericles
Siege of Plataea
The Sentence of Death
Brasidas Loses His Shield
The Spartans Surrender
Brasidas the Spartan
Amphipolus Surrenders
Alcibiades the Favourite
Socrates the Philosopher
Alcibiades Praises Socrates
Images of Hermes Destroyed
Alcibiades Escapes to Sparta
The Siege of Syracuse
Athenian Army is Destroyed
Alcibiades Returns to Athens
Antiochus Disobeys Alcibiades
Walls of Athens Destroyed
March of the Ten Thousand
Pelopidas and Epaminondas
Seven Conspirators
Battle of Leuctra
Death of Epaminondas
The Two Brothers
Timoleon exiles Dionysius
Icetes Attacks Timoleon
Battle of Crimisus
Demosthenes' Wish
Greatest Orator of Athens
The Sacred War
Alexander and Bucephalus
Alexander and Diogenes
Battle of Granicus
The Gordian Knot
Darius Gallops from Battle
Tyre Stormed by Alexander
Battle of Gaugamela
Alexander Burns Persepolis
Alexander Slays Foster-Brother
Porus and His Elephant
Alexander Is Wounded
The Death of Alexander
Demosthenes in the Temple