Alexander The Great: Study Guide: The Question of Divinity


Alexander the Great was born Alexander III of Macedon on either the 20th or the 21st of July in 356 BC. He was born in Pella, an ancient Greek city in the kingdom of Macedonia. His father was King Philip II of Macedon, and his mother was the fourth wife of Philip II, Princess Olympias of Epirus. Alexander’s legacy, today, is laced with mystery and intrigue. He was an incredibly capable soldier and commander, and the man behind one of ancient history’s largest empires, which at its height spanned the area from the Himalayas to the Ionian Sea. Alexander the Great unified the surrounding regions under one empire and went head-to-head with other great rulers of his time.

Pupil to Aristotle

One of Alexander’s great assets was that he was the recipient of a great education from one of the brightest minds in the ancient world, the philosopher Aristotle. Starting at age 13, Alexander studied under Aristotle at the Temple of the Nymphs at Mieza, which was a village in Macedon. Alexander the Great’s education included lessons in morals, philosophy, medicine, art, logic, and religion. Mieza worked as a type of boarding school for the future general and other Macedonian children of noble families. At the school, the pupils that Alexander studied alongside would become his future generals and friends.

Battle of Issus

The Battle of Issus was one of Alexander the Great’s earliest battles, taking place when he was only in his early twenties. It was fought in November of 333 BC in southern Anatolia. The outcome of this battle was that Alexander was able to control southern Asia Minor after he invaded with his troops and succeeded in crushing the army that was led by Darius III of Persia. In this battle, Alexander the Great routed the Persians under Darius III by inflicting 20,000 casualties among their men, while only losing a comparably few 7000 for his own soldiers.

King of Egypt and later "knighted" as Pharaoh

When Alexander marched on Egypt in 332 BC, his reputation preceded him. He was regarded by the people as a “liberator,” although only being all of twenty four years old. The Egyptians saw him as a liberator, because the Persian Empire, against whom Alexander was at war, had occupied Egypt for about 200 years, but its rulers were so unpopular that the Egyptians were in a constant state of rebellion. He was pronounced pharaoh on November 14, 332 BC in Memphis, and he was also called the new Master of the Universe and the son of Amun, an Egyptian deity. After this, Alexander was depicted on currency with ram horns, which was a symbol of divinity.

Battle of Gaugamela

With Egypt subordinating to him, Alexander fought a rematch of sorts against Darius III, whom he had crushed at the Battle of Issus, in 331 BC. At the Battle of Gaugamela, Alexander earned himself a gigantic victory that led to him possessing half of all of Persia. This battle soon led to the fall of the Persian Empire as Darius III was again forced to flee the battlefield, just as he had done at the Battle of Issus, and Alexander chased the fleeing Darius III all the way to Arbela. Strategically, the Battle of Gaugamela was decisive since hundreds of thousands of Persians and their Greek mercenary allies were either butchered or captured, while Alexander only lost a few thousand of his men.

Defeating Persian Empire

The Persian Empire was defeated when it last remaining ruler, the aforementioned Darius III, was stabbed to death after being taken prisoner by Bessus, a Bactrian satrap (governor of an ancient province of Persia). However, after Darius III’s murder, Bessus claimed to be the new successor of the Persian Empire, even though the end of the Empire is generally accepted as having occurred with Darius III’s murder. Still, Alexander saw Bessus as a usurper to the throne because Alexander thought of himself as the real successor to the Persian Empire. Therefore, Alexander went to war against Bessus, but before he could kill him, the Bactrian satrap was betrayed by Spitamenes, a Sogdian warlord, who handed him over to one of Alexander’s companions and killed.

Gordian Knot

The Gordian Knot can be a metaphor for a hard problem to solve, but in Alexander the Great’s context, it is based on ancient legend. The legend of the Gordian Knot is rooted in a story about King Midas, or Gordias in some versions, of Phrygia, who secured his kingdom by satisfying an ancient prophecy about riding into the city on an ox cart. After winning his kingship that way, Midas showed gratitude by dedicating his ox cart to the gods, tying it to a post with a difficult knot. When Alexander arrived in Phrygia, he could not devote any more time to the problem of untying the Gordian knot, so he basically thought “outside the box” and cut the knot in half with his sword. Later on biographers of Alexander would claim in retrospect that the person to untie the knot would be king of Asia.

The conquests and accomplishments of Alexander the Great have had a lasting impact on history and the development of a culture. With such wide spread success and domination, some people believe that Alexander may have had divine assistance; some view him as a demi-god or god-like figure. Even Alexander, himself, questioned divinity. Alexander the Great’s mother, Olymias, believe that it was a serpent – a symbol largely identified with the god Zeus – was the father of her son, not her husband. There are many instances that could be indicative of Alexander the Great’s divinity, including his life’s resemblance to that of the legend of Hercules. Whether or not Alexander the Great was divine, it cannot be contested that his contributions helped to shape the world as we know it.