Alexander the Great and Religion

Alexander the Great and Religion

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Did Alexander impose his Greek polytheism on the Persians he conquered or did the Hellenization happen naturally over the course of time and Greek soldiers and traders living among them? Or was it something else?

It was a combination of both.

Alexander the Great encouraged the spread of Greek culture as noted by Plutarch in his work On the Fortunes of Alexander:

But if you examine the results of Alexander's instruction, you will see that he educated the Hyrcanians to respect the marriage bond, and taught the Arachosians to till the soil, and persuaded the Sogdians to support their parents, not to kill them, and the Persians to revere their mothers and not to take them in wedlock. O wondrous power of Philosophic Instruction, that brought the Indians to worship Greek gods, and the Scythians to bury their dead, not to devour them! DWe admire Carneades' power, which made Cleitomachus, formerly called Hasdrubal, and a Carthaginian by birth, adopt Greek ways. We admire the character of Zeno, which persuaded Diogenes the Babylonian to be a philosopher. But when Alexander was civilizing Asia, Homer was commonly read, and the children of the Persians, of the Susianians, and of the Gedrosians learned to chant the tragedies of Sophocles and Euripides. And although Socrates, when tried on the charge of introducing foreign deities, lost his cause to the informers who infested Athens, yet through Alexander Bactria and the Caucasus learned to revere the gods of the Greeks


While Alexander is known for kick-starting Hellenization in Asia, he did not live long enough to have a significant effect. It was in fact, the people who succeeded him (Greek migrants, Intellectuals, successor kings) who were the ones that continued the process and gave a lasting effect.

Migrants who came from the Greek states and settled in Asian settlements brought with them their culture and religion. Natives often assimilated into this Greek culture and often opposed it.

The Greeks who came to Asia did not however stamp out the religions and cultures of the natives. In some cases they actually adopted foreign elements into their own religion. There are several examples of Greek deities who have mixed Greek/barbarian origins such as Serapis.

Alexander the Great did NOT proselytize, nor impose the Olympian religion on his subjugated lands, including the Persian people.

The centuries old Persian Zoroastrian religion continued 1000 years into history until the arrival of Islam-(via the Arabs). It was essentially Islam which replaced Persian Zoroastrianism and only a tiny percentage of indigenous Iranians are still adhering to the ancient faith. There are also the "Parsis"-(or Persian Zoroastrians) of India, who resettled into the Indian subcontinent after the arrival of the Arab Muslims into Persia.

Alexander's pro-Hellenism campaign did not seek to convert "barbarians"-(or Non-Greeks) to the Olympian religion. Although Alexander believed that having a knowledge or familiarity with the Olympian religion was important for the lands and peoples he conquered, religion, was not at the forefront of his campaign and mission. As far as I know, none of the lands and peoples Alexander conquered were forcibly converted to Olympianism-(Alexander The Great was unlike the Spanish Conquistadors or Turkish Sultans, who did convert many conquered lands and peoples to their respective religions).

For Alexander, it was the Greek language that was paramount whereby the "barbarians" needed to learn Greek-(both as a formal and informal language); and in a way, Alexander's Greek linguistic legacy did permeate many parts of his empire for several centuries.

Does the Bible mention Alexander the Great?

The name “Alexander” or “Alexander the Great,” referring to the Macedonian king, never appears in the Bible. However, the prophets Daniel and Zechariah wrote prophecies concerning Greece and Alexander’s Macedonian Empire. The non-eschatological prophecies in Daniel have proved so reliable that some critics have tried to post-date his writing, even though copious literary, historical, and biblical factors point to a date of writing in the sixth century B.C. (see the third paragraph of this article). Zechariah, writing sometime between 520 and 470 B.C., was also well before Alexander’s rise to power.

World History Surrounding Alexander the Great

Alexander’s legacy was quickly made, briefly lived, and has lasted to this day. Born in 356 B.C. and dying 32 years later, he only reigned for 13 years – the vast majority of which he spent outside of his home state of Macedon. His legendary conquest of nearly the entire known world resulted in one of the largest empires in ancient history. Alexander overthrew the entire Persian Empire: Asia Minor, Persia, Egypt and everything in between, including Israel. Alexander died undefeated in battle but without a clear heir, which led to the division of his empire among four of his generals.

Although Alexander’s empire split, the Hellenism he spread continued. Greek became the universal language, and Greek culture was either required or encouraged in all parts of the divided empire. Israel changed hands between the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms. Israel later gained its independence from 167&ndash63 B.C., a time referred to as the Hasmonean Period and recorded in the apocryphal books of 1 and 2 Maccabees. The end of this period was marked by the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 63 B.C.

Prophecy Regarding the Empire

Daniel discusses a great deal of then-future events which, as mentioned above, have proved true. By God’s inspiration, Daniel predicted that there would be a succession of four “global” empires. His prophecy included many details, including the fact that the Greek Empire would split into four parts.

The Four-Kingdom Succession:

Daniel chapter 2 tells of Daniel’s interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a large statue made of a gold head, silver chest and arms, bronze belly and thighs, and iron legs. Each of these metals is progressively less valuable and represents a different kingdom, the first of which Daniel identifies as Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar’s empire. From our vantage point in history, we now know the four kingdoms are the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman empires.

The Greek Conquest and Split:

Daniel also received a vision of the demise of the Medo-Persian Empire, which had, in 539 B.C., overtaken the Babylonian Kingdom. God specifically names the Medo-Persian and Greek empires in Daniel 8:20-21 and 10:20&ndash11:4. The first half of chapter 8 is a highly symbolic passage about a ram and a goat. The ram had two horns, one longer than the other, representing the empire of the Medes and the Persians (Daniel 8:20), and “none could rescue from his power. He did as he pleased and became great” (Daniel 8:4).

Then a goat “came from the west” (Daniel 8:5) with a single horn between its eyes. The horn represents the king, Alexander. The goat killed the ram and “became very great, but at the height of his power his large horn was broken off” (Daniel 8:8) – a prediction of Alexander’s untimely death. In Daniel’s vision, the single horn is replaced with four new horns, which are “four kingdoms that will emerge from his nation but will not have the same power” (Daniel 8:22). The four new kingdoms are mentioned again in Daniel 11:4, which says that “his [Alexander’s] empire will be broken up and parceled out toward the four winds of heaven. It will not go to his descendants, nor will it have the power he exercised.” These passages describe, two centuries in advance, precisely what happened to Alexander and his empire.

Approximately 250 years before Alexander began his world conquest, God provided Daniel with a glimpse into the future. This was important to Daniel and his people, as God also told them that they would return to their land and He would take care of them through the coming tumultuous times. Kingdoms rise and fall, but God holds the future, and His Word stands.

Alexander the Great

While you might not have heard about many people on this list, I am certain that you have heard about Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great is best known as a conqueror and with good reason. Alexander’s empire spanned from the Balkans to the Indus. While his conquests are very frequently mentioned, the historical significance of his empire is very often minimized.


Alexander’s life does not really become noteworthy until the age of 16 (the year is 340 BC), when Alexander took command of his first army. He did so to crush a revolt that had sprung up in Thrace, while his father was campaigning against the city-state Bzyantion. After proving his competence as a general, Phillip continued to give Alexander military assignments in Greece for the next 4 years. Many of these missions dealt with quelling rebellion within the Macedonian holdings in Greece. It was during this time that Alexander established his reputation as a ruthless commander, for he would completely raze any cities that took up arms against his father’s rule. The reason for this was that Phillip was preparing an invasion of the Persian Empire and did not want the Greeks to rebel while he was off campaigning. Before these plans could be realized Phillip was assassinated, leading the crown to pass to Alexander. After securing his succession, Alexander crossed into Turkey in the year 334 BC with a massive army, beginning the war with Persia, in the process. His heavily armed and armored spear men made easy work of the armies of the Persian satraps (governors) in Turkey. When he had finished conquering Turkey, he battled and defeated the main Persian royal army that was personally led by the Persian King, Darius III. Alexander was initially losing the battle, but managed to turn the tide when he charged Darius’s position, causing the Persian King to flee. With Darius temporarily defeated Alexander was free to conquer the Levant, Syria, and Egypt virtually unopposed. By the time Alexander had conquered all of these regions, Darius had managed to muster another army. The Macedonians and Persians met at Gaugamela (near modern-day Mosul, Iraq), and once more Darius was defeated. The second defeat of Darius allowed Alexander to enter the Persian heartland and conquer the Persian capital at Persepolis. With the Persian empire effectively destroyed Alexander turned his attention to the realm which bordered his new empire, India. Alexander was quite successful for the short time that he spent in India, but was forced to return to his home due to mutinies among his troops, who had grown homesick after being at war for 15 years. On his journey back to Macedonia, Alexander and his troops rested in the city of Babylon. It was here that Alexander became ill dying a few days later at the age of 35 on June 11, 323 BC.


While Alexander the Great is most known for his conquests, that is only one reason why he is one of the most significant men to ever live. Alexander’s greatest impacts on history comes from his policy of cultural exchange, his policy of unclear succession which the break up of his empire upon his death, and the reputation that he established.

Arguable the most important aspect of Alexander’s conquests was his policies of cultural exchange. For Alexander wanted to fuse the cultures of all the peoples that he conquered. To this end he encouraged intermarriage between his soldiers and conquered subjects, adopted aspects of Persian culture in court, and encourage Macedonian and Greek settlement in conquered lands (he also had plans to have Persians and other subjects settle in Greece and Macedonia, but died before they could be enacted). All of these efforts served to create a cultural melting pot which merged aspects of Persian and Greek culture. This exchange led to a greater dissemination of Greek culture and knowledge, cementing Ancient Greek culture as the foundation of all Mediterranean civilizations to follow.

The second point of significance of Alexander’s conquests was his conquests themselves. The destruction of the Persian Empire and the organization of Greece into a single entity dramatically changed the course of history. The unified Greek confederation was, for the first time in centuries, freed from the influence of the ever encroaching Persians and the destruction that wars between the city-state brought. This in turn allowed Greek culture to finally surpass Persian culture as the dominant culture of the Mediterranean. Not only in life did Alexander affect geopolitics, but also in death. For after Alexander died his generals squabbled over his empire. Eventually dividing it into 4 kingdoms. These kingdoms continued to exist for the next 300 hundred years, all of them playing a key role in Mediterranean politics.

Finally, Alexander established a legacy that drove future great men (the most noteworthy being Julius Caesar and Napoleon) to aspire to be like him. These aspirations would lead to some of the most important decisions and events in history.

To conclude, many see Alexander’s conquests as his greatest contribution to history, but in fact this is only one part of his role. Not only should he be remembered for his conquests, but he should also be known for his promotion of cultural exchange, the great changes to geopolitics that he triggered, and the example that he set for future great men. All of these are reasons that Alexander truly deserves to be known as the Great.

How Did Alexander the Great Change the Course of History?

Alexander the Great 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. (Image: Image Library/Public domain)

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.

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.

Alexander the Great attempted to bridge the East-West gap by carrying out a social experiment. (Image: British Museum/Public domain)

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.

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.

Hebrew and Early Christian Imprints of Alexander

In circa 70 AD, the historian Josephus Flavius wrote that after the conquering of Tyre and the siege of Gaza, Alexander visited Jerusalem. At the entrance of the city, he met the Hebrew Archpriest, Simon the Just, and many other priests and people.

Alexander always respected the rules characteristic for the places he visited, so he descended his horse and went to greet the Jewish Archpriest. Alexander’s general Parmenion suggested that the soldiers were displeased that he greeted the Jewish Priest first. Alexander answered that he didn't greet the priest, but the God he represented. As Josephus wrote:

''And when he had said this to Parmenion, and had given the high-priest his right hand, the priests ran along by him, and he came into the city. And when he went up into the temple, he offered sacrifice to God, according to the high-priest's direction, and magnificently treated both the high-priest and the priests. And when the Book of Daniel was showed him where in Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended.''

Alexander's name was added into the genealogy of the Jewish community, giving him a divine quality. Moreover, the Greek word ‘Synagogue’ dates back to the times when Alexander gave freedom for various Jewish gatherings. The annual Hebrew Convention that used to take place in Jerusalem was also called "Synitrins", from the Greek word Συνέδριο.

Statue of Alexander in Istanbul Archaeology Museum. ( Public Domain )

In the times of early Christianity, St Vasilios the Great suggested that Alexander was a role model for Christian self-discipline. The main language of Christian texts was Greek. According to the Apostle Paul, Christians accepted Greek intellect and teachings, which became fundamental to the new religion.

Alexander the Great, Seleucids, Arcasids

Alexander the Great and Iran

Alexander of Macedonia defeated Darius III in battle in 331BCE. Within five years he had conquered most of the Persian territories.

Zoroastrianism received a savage blow. Many priests were killed and texts destroyed. Much was lost forever, but the core of the religion - recorded in the Gathas - survived.

The Seleucids (311 BCE - 141 BCE) and Arcasids (141 BCE - 224 ACE)

The Seleucids were Greeks and took power after the death of Alexander. Zoroastrianism became regionally autonomous under the Seleucids. The Parthian Arcasids overthrew the Seleucids and ruled for a much longer period than the Archaemenian, but their rule was less centralised.

  • The gathering of Zoroastrian texts from the provinces started under the Arcasids
  • The Vendidad, or 'Law against Demons' (a text concerned with purity rites) is considered to have been compiled at this time
  • The Arcasids generally kept to the tradition of tolerance towards other faiths and were known to govern within the Zoroastrian law of asha (truth and righteousness), like the Archaemenians

Alexander the Great and Religion - History

Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Age

The Hellenistic Age 336-30 BC (from Alexander&rsquos crowning to the death of Cleopatra)

The word Hellenistic comes from the root word Hellas, which was the ancient Greek word for Greece. The Hellenic Age was the time when Greek culture was pure and unaffected by other cultures. The Hellenistic Age was a time when Greeks came in contact with outside people and their Hellenic, classic culture blended with cultures from Asia and Africa to create a blended culture. One man, Alexander, King of Macedonia, a Greek-speaker, is responsible for this blending of cultures.

To understand how the Kingdom of Macedonia dominated the Greek world, we need to first take a look at the Battle of Leuctra in 371 BC, between Sparta and Thebes. As you read in the last chapter, Sparta defeated Athens in 404 BC, ending the Peloponnesian War. Though Sparta was victorious, it was also weakened by this war. Thebes, an ally of Sparta during the Peloponnesian War, became powerful after the conflict. Sparta and Thebes went to war over territory close to Thebes. The battle took place in Boeotia, near the city-state of Leuctra in July 371 BC.

Epaminondas, the Theban general, introduced a new fighting technique at Leuctra. As you remember, the Greeks fought in a phalanx, a solid block of men. The best men would form on the right side, or weak side, as a place of honor. The Spartan phalanx at Leuctra was twelve men deep. In the traditional formation, the best soldiers of one army would always face the weakest of the other. Epaminondas placed his best soldiers on the left, guaranteeing that they would face the best Spartans. He also took no chances, forming his left side 50-men deep. Epaminondas held the Theban right-side back, refusing to fight the Spartan left. The Theban left of 50-men deep pushed the Spartan right, trampling men and killing the Spartan king. Sparta was not used to losing battles. Sparta would go on, but this was the end of Sparta as the dominant Greek city-state, and the end of its control over most of the Peloponnese.

Watching the Battle of Leuctra and learning Theban tactics was a young man from Macedonia name Philip. Philip was a hostage in Thebes, as Thebes controlled Macedonia at this time. Philip returned to Macedonia in 365 BC. Six years later, in 359 BC, Philip became King of Macedonia. As king, Philip used both diplomacy and war to expand Macedonian territory. Philip married into the families of the surrounding kingdoms, and captured a gold mine, which provided Macedonia with wealth. Philip is given credit for creating the sarrisa, a long pike used in the Macedonian phalanx.

In 338 BC, at the Battle of Chaeronea, King Philip II of Macedonia used similar tactics to those that he witnessed at the Battle of Leuctra to defeat a Theban and Athenian army sent to meet him. Philip was now clearly the master of the Greek-speaking world. He created the Corinthian League of Greek allies. These allies vowed not to fight each other, and to provide troops for Philip's planned invasion of the Persian Empire.

Philip's plan of conquest was cut short when, in 336 BC, at his daughter's wedding, he was assassinated by one of his own body guards. Many people believe the assassin did not act alone, and that Olympias, Philip's fourth wife, was behind the plot to murder the king. The crown of Macedonia passed to Alexander, Philip's son by Olympias. Alexander was only twenty years old when he became king, but had fought at Chaeronea two years before, leading the left wing of his father's cavalry.

In 335 BC, in the first year of his reign, Alexander was challenged by a rebellion in Thebes. Thebes resisted as Alexander's army advanced to the city. Alexander made an example of Thebes by totally destroying the city except for the temples and the home of Pindar, one of his favorite poets.

After destroying Thebes, Alexander moved on to Corinth, where he established himself as the new leader of the Corinthian League. Alexander pardoned those city-states that had rebelled against him. Like his father, Alexander wanted to conquer the Persian Empire with the help of the Greeks. While in Corinth, Alexander sought out his favorite philosopher, Diogenes. Diogenes lived in the streets of Corinth in a barrel. When Alexander found the old man, he asked Diogenes if there was anything he could do for him. Diogenes replied, "Yes, you can stand a bit to the side, you are blocking my sunlight." When Alexander's body guards laughed at the old man, Alexander quieted them by saying, "If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes!"

In 334 BC, Alexander crossed the Hellespont with his Macedonian and Greek army and into the Persian Empire. His first stop was the ruins of the City of Troy. The Iliad and Odyssey were Alexander's favorite books, and it was said that he always carried a copy of them wherever he went. It was natural then, that he would want to visit the legendary city. It was at Troy that Alexander pulled the shield of Achilles from off the wall of a small museum amid the ruins. He would use the 900-year old shield in all of his battles. Alexander learned to appreciate the Iliad and nature from his teacher Aristotle, a Macedonian who studied in Athens at Plato's Academy.

At Granicus River, Alexander met the first resistance to his invasion as he was blocked by a Persian army. The King of Persia at this time was Darius III. Darius was not overly concerned about the young Macedonian king, and was not present at this battle. Though he was almost killed, Alexander rallied his army and defeated the Persians. Darius blamed the victory on his general, he would be sure to be with his army at the next battle.

After the Battle of Granicus River, Alexander travelled along the coast, making sure these city-states were now on his side. Alexander could not afford to go deep into the Persian Empire with enemies at his back. Next, Alexander marched inland to the city of Gordion, the location of the famous Gordian Knot. It was said that anyone who could remove the oxcart from the temple, by untying the knot, would be the king of the world. Alexander could no resist this challenge. The knot was tied so the ends could not be found. Crying out, "It doesn't matter how it's done!" Alexander took a swing with this sword, broke the rope, and pulled the oxcart away from the temple.

In 333 BC, Alexander met a large Persian army led by the Great King, Darius III at Issus. Darius had blamed the loss at Granicus River on the fact that he was not there this time he would lead his army against the young Macedonian king. Alexander always led from the front of his army, he was the first to meet the enemy, this gave his army much courage. Darius, on the other hand, led from behind, on his chariot, surrounded by body guards. Although this may seem cowardly compared to Alexander, it was the safe thing to do. The king, being at the battle, gave the Persians courage, but he was safe from harm. Although the Persian's out-numbered Alexander's army, the battle location was between the sea and a mountain range, and the Great King could not out-flank Alexander's smaller army. Alexander won the battle by moving around the Persian army and charging on his horse with his Companion Cavalry straight for Darius. Darius fled the scene, leaving his mother, wife, and two daughters behind. Alexander captured the royal family, and treated them with kindness and respect. Daruis' mother became one of Alexander's most trusted advisors, and was at his bed-side when he died in Babylon.

In 332 BC, Alexander reached the city-state of Tyre in Phoenicia, now part of the Persian Empire. Tyre was important to King Darius, because it was the navy base for his fleet of triremes. Alexander needed to control this fleet if he wished to go further into the Persian Empire. Alexander asked the Tyrians to hand over their fleet to him, but they refused. Tyre was on an island about a quarter mile off the shore and had massive defensive walls. The Assyrians and Babylonians had previously attempted a siege of Tyre and had failed. Alexander built two land bridges in an attempt to connect Tyre to the mainland. Next, he attacked the Persian fleet with ships of his own. It took seven months, but Alexander finally took Tyre. He could now advance into Persia without a threat to his supply lines.

In 331 BC, Alexander and his army entered Egypt. The Egyptians, always unhappy with their Persian rulers, handed the city of Memphis over to Alexander. Alexander was proclaimed pharaoh, and wore the double crown. Alexander, with a few of his friends, travelled through the Egyptian desert to the Oasis of Siwa. Here Alexander visited the temple to Ammon-Zeus. Alexander asked the oracle at Siwa a question. Alexander was always closer to his mother. His father was always off to war, and showed very little emotion toward his son. Alexander's mother, named Olympias, was from the Kingdom of Epirus. When Olympias separated from Philip, she brought young Alexander back to her homeland. It was in Epirus that Olympias told her son that Zeus, the king of the god's was his father, and not Philip. Alexander asked the oracle if this was true, and the oracle seemed to reply that he was indeed the son of Zeus. When Alexander returned from the desert, he made plans for a new port city in Egypt which he called Alexandria, after himself. Alexander left Egypt behind and headed into the heart of the Persian Empire, determined to defeat Darius again.

In the same year that Alexander left Egypt, he moved deep into the Persian Empire and at a place called Gaugamela (camel's back) a large battle took place in 331 BC. King Darius was taking no chances at this battle. Darius assembled an army twice as large as Alexander's. Darius also seemed to have an answer for the Macedonian phalanx and sarrisa. Darius brought war elephants to the battlefield, along with scythed chariots. Elephants are used in war like tanks, they trample everything in their path, this was also the first time Greeks had seen these beasts, and Alexander's army was in awe of the elephants. The scythed chariots could cut into and break up the phalanx. However, both of these elements proved disappointing. The elephants fell asleep during the battle, and were captured by Alexander. Alexander's men simply moved to the side and let the scythed chariots pass through the lines. Alexander won the Battle of Gaugamela, and Darius, for the second time fled the battlefield. Where at Granicus, Darius could blame the fact that he wasn't there for failure, and at Issus he could blame the narrow battlefield, he had no excuse at Guagamela.

After the defeat of Darius at Gaugamela, there was nothing to stop Alexander's army from marching to Persepolis, the capital of the Persian Empire. Alexander was now clearly the King of Persia, not Darius. Alexander spent many days in Persepolis, rather than pursuing Darius. One night, in 330 BC, the city was set on fire. It is unclear whether Alexander authorized this destruction, but what is clear is that he did not move to stop it.

Alexander moved on and tracked Darius down. When he caught up with Darius, Alexander found him wounded and dying Darius had been attacked by his own subjects. Darius died as Alexander gave him his last drink of water. Darius thanked Alexander for treating his family kindly and said, "Who would have thought, that with all the people in the world, I should receive a last act of kindness from you."

Alexander moved on into what is now the country of Afghanistan, where he had his most difficult time defeating the people in this area. Afghanistan is mountainous and, as we've seen many times in history, impossible to control. Alexander was the first to learn this lesson. Alexander did create an alliance with one group of people in this area by marrying Roxanne, and local princess.

From Afghanistan, Alexander turned east with his army. In 326 BC, in the what is now the country of India, Alexander encountered his most difficult opponent, Porus, a local ruler. Porus had 200 war elephants as part of his army. Porus prevented Alexander's army from crossing the Hydaspes River. Alexander used trickery to cross the Hydaspes, and, in a hard-fought battle, in which Alexander lost several men, defeated Porus. Alexander was so impressed by Porus, that he allowed him to continue as the local ruler of the region. Alexander acquired some war elephants and riders from Porus.

After the Battle of Hydaspes River, with a friend in Porus to the west, Alexander wished to continue east to China on his quest of total world domination, however, after the hard-fought victory against Porus, his troops had had enough. Many soldiers hadn't seen their families for ten years, and wanted to return to Greece and Macedonia. Alexander's army refused to follow the king any farther east. After retreating to his tent to sulk for two days, Alexander emerged saying that the gods willed that he should return home.

Alexander's army made the difficult march south in what is now Pakistan. Many obstacles and people unfriendly to Alexander fought him along the way. During a siege of a city, Alexander was almost killed. When Alexander reached the coast at Pattala, he used ships to bring many of the original soldiers of his army back to Greece and Macedonia, the others he marched back through a desert. There was little water, and many of his soldiers died during this desert crossing. Alexander survived the crossing, making it back to Babylon, the capital of his empire. In 323 BC, while in Babylon, Alexander got very sick with a fever and died. He had no plans for a successor to his empire, and his infant son was too young to rule. As his generals gathered around their dying king, they asked him whom he would leave his empire to, Alexander replied, "To the strongest!"

Alexander's generals took his advice, and began to fight against each other, each general trying to carve out a large portion of the empire for himself. This period was known as the Wars of the Diadochi (Successors). The first battle was over Alexander's body. While his coffin was returning to Macedonia, the body was hijacked by Ptolemy, one of the Diadochi, and brought to Alexandria, in Egypt, where it remained for years on display. In 301 BC, the Battle of Ipsus, in Asia Minor, involving most of the Diadochi, saw one of the successors, Antigonus, killed. Ipsus proved that no single ruler would control the entire empire, as the others would form alliances to defeat the strongest. It was during these wars that Greek armies learned how to use war elephants, turning these ancient tanks against each other. The riders of the elephants were always from India, as the Greek-speakers could not control the beasts.

Alexander spread Greek culture throughout the Persian Empire, including parts of Asia and Africa. Alexander respected the local cultures he conquered, and allowed their customs to continue. Alexander himself embraced local customs, wearing Persian clothes and marrying Persian women. Alexander encouraged his soldiers to marry Persian women, in this way, the children of these marriages would share both Persian and Greek cultures.

Alexander created the Hellenistic Age, a time when Greek culture mixed with the various cultures of Alexander's Empire. This was a time of advances in learning, math, art, and architecture. Some of the great names of learning in this Age include Archimedes, Hero, and Euclid. It was a time of relative peace, after the Wars of the Diadochi (322-275 BC).

Because of the relative peace during the Hellenistic Age, travel and trade increased. Antipater of the city of Sidon, created a poem around 140 BC that listed seven wonders of the world. Antipater picked these buildings and statues for there art and architecture. The list became a set of tourist attractions for people of the ancient world.

The great cities of the Hellenistic Age included Antioch in Syria, Pergamum in Asia Minor, and Alexandria in Egypt, with its Library of Alexandria, the largest library of the ancient world. Although none of these cities were in Greece, they all had Greek architecture.

Art in the Hellenistic Age was very different from the Greek art of the the Hellenic Age. Earlier Hellenic art was idealistic, and perfect. Hellenic statues resembled Greek gods, however in the Hellenistic Age, art looked realistic, the way people really are, including their flaws.

As we read earlier, Ptolemy stole the body of Alexander and brought it to Alexandria, Egypt. Ptolemy, a general to Alexander, became Ptolemy I, pharaoh of Egypt, and the first king of the last dynasty of Egypt, the Ptolemaic Dynasty. The Ptolemys ruled Egypt for about 300-years, even though Cleopatra VII, was the only one to learn the Egyptian language. We will read more about Cleopatra when we learn about the Romans.

Uniting the World

Before Alexander came onto the scene, the ancient world was divided into three parts in three continents – Europe, Asia, and Africa. Each part regarded the other two with suspicion, fear, and contempt.

Everyone was superior, and everyone else was a barbarian. As a result, wars raged as tribes, states, and kingdoms advanced their interests.

And without a common currency, language, or standard of measure, international trade faltered.

The world was in desperate need of a common center, of someone strong enough to bring the warring parties to heel and to impose common standards.

That someone was Alexander. Under him, the three continents were, for the first time in history, under one ruler.

Bust of Alexander the Great in the Capitoline Museums of Rome


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Tarn, W.W., The Greeks in Bactria and India, 1966.

Cartledge, P., Alexander the Great, 2004.

Green, P., Alexander of Macedon: 356-323 BC., 1992.

Hammond, N., The Genius of Alexander the Great, 1997.


Natalia Klimczak is an historian, journalist and writer and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at the Faculty of Languages, University of Gdansk. Natalia does research in Narratology, Historiography, History of Galicia (Spain) and Ancient History of Egypt, Rome and Celts. She. Read More

The greatness begins

In 336 BCE, during a festival celebrating his sister's wedding, Alexander's life permanently changed, Biography explains. A bodyguard assassinated King Philip, and Alexander, 20, became king. Wishing to fulfill his dream of ruling the world, Alexander left his kingdom to conquer other lands.

His first campaign brought Alexander to Asia Minor, reports Ancient History Encyclopedia, where he invaded the city of Baalbek and renamed it Heliopolis. He then went on to attack the Persians in the Greek city of Ephesus. But it was in 333 BCE that Alexander had his taste of greatness. According to History, Alexander arrived in Issus in southern Turkey and met the Persian King Darius III's larger army. Alexander's group was smaller but shrewder, and he defeated the Persians, much as his father always wanted to do. From there Alexander fought in Tyre, conquered Egypt, and finally became King of Persia.

In Egypt, Alexander founded the city of Alexandria. He felt no need to impose his beliefs on his newly conquered peoples, probably something his old tutor Aristotle taught him, and allowed Egyptian culture and religion to continue. By the time he reached Persia, Alexander even took on Persian customs to endear himself to people. But most in Macedonia did not appreciate this. It was in Persia that Alexander met the woman who would become his wife, Roxane. Although Alexander claimed to be in love with Roxane, there are rumors that he had male lovers. He also married twice after.

Religious Persecution under Alexander the Great

Even today, the Zoroastrians (that is, the followers of the legendary prophet Zarathustra) tell stories about a serious religious persecution by Alexander the Great, who killed the priests and ordered the holy book of Zoroastrianism, the Avesta, to be destroyed. The following description of from the Book of Arda Wiraz, a description of a vision of heaven and hell by a religious scholar who wrote commentaries on the Avesta in the third or fourth century CE, but can be dated to before 140 BCE.

Book of Arda Wiraz 1-17

They say that, once upon a time, the pious Zarathustra made the religion, which he had received, current in the world and till the completion of three hundred years, the religion was in purity, and men were without doubts. But afterward, the accursed Evil Spirit, the Wicked One, in order to make men doubtful of this religion, instigated the accursed Alexander, the westerner note [Literally: the Roman. For a third- or fourth-century Persian, a Macedonian would be a subject of the Roman empire.] who was dwelling in Egypt, so that he came to the country of Iran with severe cruelty and war and devastation he also slew the ruler of Iran, note [Darius III Codomannus, murdered in July 330 (more. ).] and destroyed the metropolis note [Persepolis, destroyed in May 330.] and empire, and made them desolate.

And this religion, namely, all the Avesta and Zand, note [The Zand is a commentary on the Avesta.] written upon prepared cow-skins, and with gold ink, was deposited in the archives, in Ishtakr, and the hostility of the evil-destined, wicked Ashemok, note [The name means "heretic". Stakhar Papakan can be identified with Estakhar near modern Shiraz.] the evil-doer, brought onward Alexander, the westerner, who was dwelling in Egypt, and he burned them up. And he killed several high priests and judges and priests and the masters of the Magians and upholders of the religion, and the competent and wise of the country of Iran. And he cast hatred and strife, one with the other, amongst the nobles and householders of the country of Iran and self-destroyed, note [Alexander died after a drinking party.] he fled to hell.

And after that, there were confusion and contention among the people of the country of Iran, one with the other. And so they had no lord, nor ruler, nor chieftain, nor high priest who was acquainted with the religion, and they were doubtful in regard to God and religions of many kinds, and different fashions of belief, and skepticism, and various codes of law were promulgated in the world until the time when the blessed and immortal Ataropad-i Marspendan note [Marspendan means "keeper of the sacred fire". From Greek sources, this man is known as Atropates. After the death of Alexander, Atropates founded a kingdom ("Media Atropatene") of his own in what is now the Iranian province Âzarabyjân it was one of the Persian enclaves, where the Zoroastrian religion could survive. The expression "on whose breast melted brass was poured" means that Atropates was considered invulnerable.] was born on whose breast, in the tale which is in the Denkard, melted brass was poured.

Later, the kings of the Parthian Empire ordered a search for the remains of the sacred texts. Here is the story, as it can be read in the Denkard.

Denkard 4.14-16

When king Hystaspes became relieved from the war with Ariaspes, he sent messages to other kings to accept the faith. And to spread the writings of the religion [. ], he sent at the same time Spiti and Arezrasp and others who had studied the language relating to these writings [. ].

Darius son of Darius note [The usual name of king Darius III Codomannus in Zoroastrian texts. According to Greek sources, his father was called Arsames.] ordered the preservation of two written copies of the whole Avesta and its commentary according as it was accepted by Zarathustra from Ahuramazda, one in the Ganj-i-hapigan and the other in the Dez-i-Napesht.

The Ashkanian note [Ashk was the legendary founder of the Parthian monarchy. He is better known under his Greek name Arsaces.] government got the Avesta and its commentary -which from its original pure and sound condition had been (owing to the devastation and harm inflicted by Alexander and his general [. ]) separated into parts and scattered about- to be copied out. And any work which remained with the high priests for their own study and the writings subsequently obtained in the city were ordered to be preserved and copies of them to be made out for other cities.

As it stands, this story cannot be true. Although there are some indications of a written version of the Avesta in Achaemenid times (it is mentioned in the Book of Arda Wiraz quoted above), and some more indications for its existence in the Parthian age, the real composition of this library of Zoroastrianism texts took place in the sixth century CE. There may have been some written texts in Alexander's age, but most religious knowledge was still learned by heart.

Nonetheless, the fact that in the legend above "the devastation and harm inflicted by Alexander" are presented as something that was well-known and need no further explanation, proves that this had become a well-established fact in the Zoroastrian history. Probably, Alexander did indeed try to destroy what was at that moment an "oral Avesta" by executing the Magians, the keepers of the (oral) traditions of Zoroastrianism.

There is one Zoroastrian text that may describe what really happened: the faithful gathered and taught each other what they remembered . Unfortunately, the text (a manuscript written between 300 and 600 CE, now in Bombay) is not very accessible. The fragment is here presented in the translation made by W.B. Henning, with comments written by Mary Boyce (History of Zoroastrianism, vol. III, 1991, page 16).

The harm that was done is indicated in a badly preserved Pahlavi text. This tells obscurely (because of textual corruptions) how, when "accursed Alexander" came to Iran

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