Alexander The Great remains one of the greatest conquerors of all time. Just eight years after his accession to the Macedonian throne, he had subdued the entire Persian Empire and reached the Gateway to India, briefly realizing the union between East and West. A brilliant strategist but a poor administrator, his vast empire did not survive him, unlike the cultural heritage he had spread to the East.
King of Macedonia
At the age of eighteen, in 336 BC,Alexander,son of Philip II, succeeded his murdered father and became king of Macedonia. Bold, courageous and belligerent in nature, thanks to his tutor Aristotle, he enjoyed an excellent education. His whole childhood had been cradled by the exploits of Hercules and Achilles, legendary ancestors of Macedonian royalty. As a teenager, he had distinguished himself in combat in his father's army. Gifted with a strong personality, Alexander had no equal in leading his men through adversity and danger. An excellent rider (his horse is named Bucephalus), the young prince also learned the art of war, notably by assisting his father at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC. J.-C.
When he died, Philip II of Macedon, who had just subdued the Greek cities, was preparing to invade the Persian Empire. Determined to carry out his father's project, Alexander had to delay this project to stifle a revolt in his own country. The last attempt to conquer Greek territory by the Persians dated back 150 years. Since then, the Persian Empire had steadily declined. However, King Darius III, whose wealth far exceeded that of Alexander, was able to raise large armies in all corners of his vast empire, from the Mediterranean to the Indus.
However, this immensity could also prove to be a handicap. The messengers took weeks to pass through the Persian Empire, and the soldiers months to rejoin their regiments. Although much larger in number, the Persian army, motley and colorful, was difficult to control on the battlefield. The famous Macedonian phalanx, on the other hand, well-equipped and over-trained, was mobile and experienced in military tactics. At their head Alexander was a charismatic and inspired leader, while Darius remained self-effacing and unimaginative.
At the end of summer 336 BC. AD, Alexander established his position in Greece and was given command of the Greek forces at the assembly of the united states in Corinth (see League of Corinth). From then on, the new ruler of Macedonia embarked on his first campaigns. In 335 BC. AD, he led a brilliant military operation against the Thracian rebels on the banks of the Danube. On his return to Macedonia, he crushed the same week, near Lake Prespa, the Illyrians and Dardanians who had seceded, and hastened to the rebellious city of Thebes. He destroyed it "to the sound of flutes", sparing only the temples of the gods and the house of the poet Pindar, and enslaved some 30,000 prisoners. Alexandre now has his hands free to turn to the east.
Victories over the Persians
In the spring of 334 BC. AD, Alexander leaves the government of Macedonia to one of his generals, Antipatros, and goes to war against the Persian Empire: then begins a new "Iliad", that of the admirer of Homer. Surrounded by his best generals, Antigonos, Ptolemy and Seleucus, he crossed the Hellespont (the modern Dardanelles) with an army of 35,000 men. On the banks of the Granicus, near the ancient city of Troy, he defeated an army of 40,000 Persians and, according to tradition, only lost 110 men. Legend has it that afterwards Alexander, failing to untie the mythical Gordian knot during his march in Phrygia, sliced it with a sword - omen of his Asian destiny.
In 334 BC. j-c, after his victory at Granicus, Alexander seizes Asia Minor, freeing the Greek coastal cities from Persian rule. Nevertheless, his fleet does not allow him to risk himself in a maritime confrontation, and the Persians risk at any moment to take him in reverse at sea. Giving up to go further inland, the Macedonian chose to cross the Syria and along the Mediterranean to Phenicia, in order to reach the bases of the Persian fleet. Along the way, he crushes the Persian army commanded by Darius in person at Issos (333 BC).
From now on the Persians offered little resistance to Alexander. Skillful, he is generous with cities and provinces that let themselves go, promising not to levy taxes and prevent his men from ransacking them. This policy bore fruit: many cities agreed to surrender to escape destruction and looting. Others, however, like Tyr, the main Phoenician port, refused to surrender. After eight months of siege, the Greco-Macedonian troops took the city, the survivors of which were sent into slavery.
With the capture of this strategic port securing his rear, Alexandre can set his sights on theEgypt, fallen under Persian domination for two centuries. He was welcomed as a liberator and proclaimed himself pharaoh in the ancient capital of Memphis. In the Nile delta, he founded Alexandria then went to the desert to the sacred site of the oasis of Siwa, where the oracle of Amun would have revealed to him that he was not the son of Philippe, but the one of Zeus, the patron of the Greek gods. Alexander’s prestige was such that many began to regard him as a living god, starting with Alexander himself.
Alexander the Great in the East
In October 331 BC, Alexander decided to leave Egypt to attack the heart of the Persian Empire. AT Gaugameles in Assyria he imposed a second defeat on Darius, whose army was six times the number of the Macedonian, whose army rarely exceeded 50,000. Alexander seizes the capitals of the Persians, Babylon, Susa and finally Persepolis, which will symbolically be set in flames. It was the coup de grace: losing all hope, Darius fled. He died shortly after assassinated by relatives.
Over the next three years, the Greco-Macedonian army continued its journey through Central Asia, completing the conquest of the Persian Empire, which finally disappeared in 327 BC. J-C. Alexander then turned to theNorth india. Arrived at the foot of the Himalayas, he won a final battle on the Hydaspes River (northern Pakistan today).
Exhausted, his army on the verge of sedition urges him to turn around. Alexander, who would gladly have continued further east, agreed to turn back. At the head of his army, he followed the course of the Indus to the Arabian Sea, before embarking on a painful crossing of the Gédrosie Desert (in Iran). In 324 BC. J-C he was back in Babylon, his new capital.
Alexander the great was planning new conquests in the Persian Gulf and the East, when he died suddenly in 323 BC, only 32 years old, probably a victim of his alcoholism. Convinced of his divine nature, he had taken to reigning as a tyrant. Having neglected to set up a central government to maintain the cohesion of his empire, it quickly sank into anarchy.
At a young age, Alexander's heirs were quickly eliminated. As for his generals, to whom Alexander had entrusted the government of the conquered provinces, they clashed in successive wars and each created their own independent kingdom. Alone Ptolemy in Egypt and Seleucos in Persia founded lasting dynasties.
Over the course of his conquests, Alexander had spread the culture of Greek civilizations across Asia to the Indus Valley. The Greeks migrated in their tens of thousands to the dozen new cities established in the conquered territories and often named in honor of Alexander. Greek culture and language spread widely among the peoples conquered by Alexander, whose conquests favor commercial exchanges as well as the circulation of men and ideas.
The so-called period hellenistic designates this era of supremacy on the Mediterranean rim and the Middle East. Splendid cities like Alexandria, Pergamum or Seleucia dethroned Athens as centers of Hellenic culture. The arts flourished, and scientists, mathematicians and astronomers such as Archimedes, Euclid and Eratosthenes also marked this flourishing period. The spread of Greek culture was nevertheless limited to the elites, the populations essentially retaining their local customs.
The hellenic world had to step aside in the face of the growing power of Rome. Greece and Macedonia bowed in the mid-2nd century BCE of the kingdom. The Seleucid and Ptolemaic kingdoms fell in 64 and 30 BC However, the Romans showed a great deal of respect for Greek culture, to which they owed many borrowings, particularly in architecture, science, literature, and mythology, assimilating without complex the heritage of Alexander.
Over the centuries, Alexander inspired many other conquerors. Even today, budding military strategists study the famous battles of the Macedonian, who, at the head of a few thousand men, pushed the boundaries of the known frontiers of the time, in an incredible epic.
- - From Pierre Briant, Alexander the Great. PUF, 2005.
- - By Gérard Colin, Alexandre le Grand. Pygmalion, 2007.
- - De Quinte-Curce, History of Alexander. Folio, 2007.