The world that was created by the Macedonian king Alexander the Great in just a few years was far more united than any time before that in history. The achievements of Alexander the Great can not be ignored because he not only altered the course of history but also the course of everyday life. Was he able to do this single-handedly?
Alexander the Great could not have changed the course of history without the support of his army. And many soldiers in his army were mercenaries. At the same time, a lot of credit must be given to his father Philip II his mother Olympias, and his tutor Aristotle. But still, Alexander deserves most of the credit. By the time he was 26 years old, he had already won over the once-mighty Persian Empire.
It took nearly half a century after Alexander’s death in 323 B.C. before three stable kingdoms finally emerged: Greece proper, ruled by the Antigonids; Southern Turkey, Babylonia, Syria, Iran, and central Asia, ruled by the Seleucids; and finally Egypt, ruled by the Ptolemies. The era from the death of Alexander the Great to the time of Roman conquest in 30 B.C. is called the Hellenistic era. This is named so because during this era the Hellenic or Greek culture, language, and administration had spread over a large geographical area. This included not only the countries mentioned above but also present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Kashmir region of India.
This is a transcript from the video series The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.
Alexander Organized Susa Weddings
Some idealistic scholars had once favored the perception that Alexander the Great believed in the universal brotherhood of man. This is a hugely exaggerated fact. The basis for such perception was an event that was known as the Susa weddings.
This was a mass wedding that took place just a year before the death of Alexander in 324 B.C. under his auspices in the Persian city of Susa. He himself married the Persian King’s eldest daughter and made arrangements to marry his officers with honorable Persian women. His purpose in arranging this mass wedding was to produce a mixed-race of Greek-Macedonian and Persian elite.
He also supported marriages between his soldiers and native women irrespective of they being Persian or not—allegedly there were some 10,000 marriages in all. It can be said that this was one of the bravest social experiments that have ever been undertaken. However, the fact was that Alexander the Great saw it as a purely political activity.
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Alexander the Great’s Vision
To put it in some kind of perspective, some poll findings have indicated that it was only in the last decade that most of the Americans have said that they do not have any issue with mixed marriages between American Africans and whites. Alexander the Great was thinking much ahead of his time. But then it does not mean that most of the Greeks were also thinking out of the box. That is far from the truth. In fact, a very large majority of Greeks, that included Alexander’s senior Macedonian officers, were shocked. So, this experiment failed, more so because of his death in the following year i.e. 323 B.C.
Even then, it should be said that Alexander the Great showed an unusually amazing inclusive vision. He was attempting to bridge the East-West gap by taking this one small step. Although his intentions were purely political, and although his men burned and ravaged the Persian capital Persepolis, he still deserves credit for thinking what was unthinkable at that time. So if he is revered as a visionary, a prophet, a holy man, or even a saint even till today, in the East as well as in the West, there is no wonder in it.
During his journey to destroy the Persian Empire, when Alexander the Great first arrived in Egypt, he was regarded as a liberator by the Egyptians. The reason for this was that he had kicked out the previous rulers, the Persians who were hated by the Egyptians. He laid the foundation stone for his first and the most magnificent of his cities, Alexandria most probably in 331 B.C.
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Alexander the Great’s Alexandria
Alexander the Great changed the world in many ways. And one of them was he built a number of foundations throughout his empire. He called most of those foundations Alexandria. Alexandria was located on the western edge of Nile delta facing the Mediterranean. It possessed natural harbors. This gave it access to the interiors of Egypt. Arguably, Alexandria became the greatest city in the ancient world far ahead of Rome which was smelly, stuffy, and overpopulated. Even Athens, which had only Acropolis and agora to recommend it, was no match for it.
The architecture of Alexandria would have blown you away. It was laid out according to a grid pattern and some of the buildings were truly stunning. Unfortunately, most of this beautiful city is now under the sea. But we must thank the underwater archaeology and also a few surviving descriptions that have helped us to reconstruct the essential outline of Alexandria.
Alexander never saw the finished city of Alexandria during his lifetime, although it is believed that he did lay the first building block. He returned posthumously as Ptolemy I had hijacked his corpse while it was on its way to Macedon.
Common Questions about Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great organized Susa Weddings to bridge the gap between the East and the West. His purpose in arranging this mass wedding was to produce a mixed-race of Greek-Macedonian and Persian elite.
Alexander the Great was 26 years old when he won over the Persian Empire.
Alexander the Great laid the foundation stone for his first and the most magnificent of his cities, Alexandria most probably in 331 B.C.
During his journey to destroy the Persian Empire, when Alexander the Great first arrived in Egypt, he was regarded as a liberator by the Egyptians. The reason for this was that he had kicked out the previous rulers, the Persians who were hated by the Egyptians.