Alexander The Great
Potential For Greatness
The first – and arguably most iconic when it comes to those known as “the Great” – person we are going to look at is the Greek hero and legendary king, Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC).
Even before he was born (since they didn’t use the Gregorian calendar the exact date is unsure, but the consensus is that he was born on 20/21 July 356 BC) Alexander seemed to be destined for greatness. His father, Phillip II of Macedon, was a powerful ruler in his own right and would go on to establish Macedon as one of the leading Hellenic states ensuring that any son born of him would inherit a powerful position.
His mother and one of Phillip II’s several wives, Olympia, had a dream on the night of her marriage to Phillip that her womb was struck by a thunderbolt that caused a fire that spread “far and wide”. With a pedigree like that Alexander had a lot to live up to, but throughout his life he would consistently rise up to the challenge and exceed every expectation.
As a child, Alexander was taught everything that was expected of Greek nobility at the time– the fundamentals of art, statecraft and warfare. When he was 13 it was time for Alexander to be assigned a tutor who would prepare him to someday become the great ruler he was destined to be and Phillip could have chosen no better man for the job than the famous philosopher Aristotle. It was during the time spent under Aristotle’s tutelage that Alexander met many of his lifelong friends (such as Ptolemy and Cassander) who were also Macedonian nobility studying under him.
Ascension to The Throne
The details of Alexander’s life read like a romantic novel. Studying under the legendary Aristotle, Alexander grew up to be a leader who respected the arts and philosophy as much as he excelled at war. At age 20 – an age that seems impossibly young to many of us for such a responsibility -he was crowned king after the assassination of his father. After his ascension he made swift work of his enemies whether it was on the battlefield or through political machinations proving that he was more than ready for the title. His friends from his childhood would accompany him on his campaigns through Egypt, the Middle East and Asia and they would go on to be known as “The Brave Companions” – no doubt the idols of any young boy growing up in ancient Greece. When his horse who had accompanied him since childhood, Bucephalus, died Alexander named a city after him (he had also named many cities after himself, the most famous being the Alexandria located on the Nile River). Victory after victory came before the young king and tales of his deeds- both the famous and infamous – led many at the time to believe that Alexander was truly blessed by the gods.
“There is nothing impossible to him who will try.”
– Alexander The Great
Whether or not his gifts were divine did not change the fact that Alexander was an extremely charismatic figure which was in many ways his greatest asset as well as a fatal flaw. Everywhere Alexander went he made new friends – and often new enemies – and showed a keen interest in the cultures of the lands he conquered, even taking a Persian wife. This willingness to embrace foreign culture led to discontent amongst some of his subjects as they believed the Greeks to be superior and that their king embracing foreign ideas was a sign of corruption and weakness. Alexander was not averse to lavish parties and would spare no expense, often indulging a bit too much in the revelries. A man known for having a quick temper, for every legendary tale of Alexander’s deeds on the battlefield there was gossip about what had happened during his latest tirade and many of his enemies and sometimes even former friends were subjected to his wroth. His wroth was tempered by his prodigal talents, however, and no matter what he did Alexander was still adored by the majority of the masses and respected by even his enemies.
Alexander's Untimely Death
Unfortunately, even though it seemed his destiny was to conquer the world, Alexander would meet a relatively early death at the age of 32. Devastated by the death of his closest friend (and potential lover), Hephaestion, he went to the city of Babylon to mourn. It was during this time that Alexander fell ill and died shortly after. The exact cause of his death is unknown and there is much speculation about what really happened. Theories range from him simply dying of too much carousing (“Sex and sleep alone remind me that I am mortal” he reportedly claimed) to him being poisoned and his old friend and lecturer, Aristotle, having played a role in the deed. When asked on his deathbed who would inherit his great empire, Alexander simply replied with “the strongest”. This meant that for many years after his death people would continue to fight over the bits and pieces of his empire with even Julius Caesar said to despair when considering the achievements of the mighty Greek king
A Leader Like No Other
Alexander seems to be by all accounts the type of person that no amount of recorded history of his deeds will be able to do justice to the unique intangible quality that made him so special. To truly understand the type of man he was you would need to be in the same room as him and experience his charisma first-hand. Unfortunately for those of living in the 21st century there was no video or photo evidence available in ancient Greece and so the closest we will ever be able to come to “seeing” Alexander is through the sculptures of him. Nonetheless when examining Alexander the Great it can definitely be concluded that what made him great was a combination of personality, skill, talent and even arguably destiny and that he was more than deserving of the title as there will never be another leader quite like him.