By Ian Worthington
Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE), King of Macedonia, ruled an empire that stretched from Greece in the west to India in the east and as far south as Egypt. The Macedonian Empire he forged was the largest in antiquity until the Roman, but unlike the Romans, Alexander established his vast empire in a mere decade. As well as fighting epic battles against enemies that far outnumbered him in Persia and India, and unrelenting guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan, this charismatic king, who was worshiped as a god by some subjects and only 32 when he died, brought Greek civilization to the East, opening up East to West as never before and making the Greeks realize they belonged to a far larger world than just the Mediterranean.
Yet Alexander could not have succeeded if it hadn’t been for his often overlooked father, Philip II (r. 359-336), who transformed Macedonia from a disunited and backward kingdom on the periphery of the Greek world into a stable military and economic powerhouse and conquered Greece. Alexander was the master builder of the Macedonian empire, but Philip was certainly its architect. The reigns of these charismatic kings were remarkable ones, not only for their time but also for what — two millennia later — they can tell us today. For example, Alexander had to deal with a large, multi-cultural subject population, which sheds light on contemporary events in culturally similar regions of the world and can inform makers of modern strategy.
Ian Worthington is Curators’ Professor of History and Adjunct Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Missouri. He is the author of numerous books about ancient Greece, including Demosthenes of Athens and the Fall of Classical Greece and By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire.
Images: 1. From By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire. Used with permission. 2. Bust of Alexander the Great at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek by Yair Haklai. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. 3. Map of Greece from By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire. Used with permission. 4. Macedonian phalanx by F. Mitchell, Department of History, United States Military Academy. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. 5. Aristotle Altemps Inv8575 by Jastrow. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. 6. Alexander Mosaic by Magrippa. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. 7. The Death of Alexander the Great after the painting by Karl von Piloty (1886). Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.