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Alexander the Great

The Macedonian who conquered the world

By Philip Freeman
21-minute read
Audio available
Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman

The eponymous hero of Alexander the Great (2011) is remembered as one of the greatest military commanders who ever lived. Setting out from Greece at the age of 21, Alexander waged a ten-year campaign, during which he defeated the Persian Achaemenids and, in so doing, created the largest empire the world had ever seen. By spreading Greek culture and language throughout Eurasia, his legacy remained influential for centuries after.

  • People interested in how Greek culture became so dominant
  • History buffs interested in military strategy
  • Students of ancient history

Philip Freeman is a professor of classics at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University and is a respected and renowned author. His numerous books include Julius Caesar and St. Patrick of Ireland.

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Alexander the Great

By Philip Freeman
  • Read in 21 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 13 key ideas
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Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman
Synopsis

The eponymous hero of Alexander the Great (2011) is remembered as one of the greatest military commanders who ever lived. Setting out from Greece at the age of 21, Alexander waged a ten-year campaign, during which he defeated the Persian Achaemenids and, in so doing, created the largest empire the world had ever seen. By spreading Greek culture and language throughout Eurasia, his legacy remained influential for centuries after.

Key idea 1 of 13

Born into the Macedonian royal family, Alexander the Great’s talents were spotted early on.

Alexander was born in 356 BC, in the northern region of Greece known as Macedonia.

His father, Philip II of Macedon, was a legendary conqueror who managed the impressive feat of bringing nearly all of the Greek states under his control.

Though an imposing father figure, Philip was soon impressed by Alexander.

One day, a horse dealer offered Philip an extremely majestic horse for an extremely high price. This horse was reputed to be untameable, however, so Philip turned down the offer. But the young Alexander, who was around 13 at the time, intervened, imploring his father not to pass up such an opportunity.

Alexander’s public outburst infuriated Philip, but he proposed a deal: If Alexander could mount the animal, he would buy it.

Alexander was quite clever, and he realized the horse was only jumpy when it caught sight of its own shadow. So Alexander simply led the horse into the sun and, once it was calm, skillfully mounted it.

This horse was named Bucephalus – and became one of the most famous animals in history.

Everyone, including his father, was astounded. Philip proudly proclaimed, "My son, you must seek out a kingdom equal to yourself – Macedonia is not big enough for you!”

Philip’s pride didn’t last long, however; indeed, the young Alexander’s talents made his father feel increasingly threatened.

When Alexander outperformed his father on the field of battle, Philip had had enough and began efforts to rein in his son’s growing popularity.

To punish Alexander, Philip divorced Alexander’s mother, Olympias, and quickly remarried. In an effort to keep things relatively calm, however, Philip invited Alexander to the wedding banquet, where everyone proceeded to drink, according to custom, vast quantities of wine.

When a guest offered to toast the happy couple and the prospect of a new heir, Alexander, in a drunken rage, threw his cup across the table. Philip drew his sword, but, with a belly full of wine, promptly fell to the floor.

To escape the situation, Alexander and his mother fled to her homeland in the mountains of Epirus. Happily, however, mediation efforts were successful, and they soon returned.

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