International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
ALEXANDER, THE GREAT
1. Parentage and Early Life:
Alexander, of Macedon, commonly called "the Great" (born 356 BC), was the son of Philip, king of Macedon, and of Olympias, daughter of Neoptolemos, an Epeirote king. Although Alexander is not mentioned by name in the canonical Scriptures, in Dan he is designated by a transparent symbol (8:5,21). In 1 Macc 1:1 he is expressly named as the overthrower of the Persian empire, and the founder of that of the Greeks. As with Frederick the Great, the career of Alexander would have been impossible had his father been other than he was. Philip had been for some years a hostage in Thebes: while there he had learned to appreciate the changes introduced into military discipline and tactics by Epaminondas. Partly no doubt from the family claim to Heracleid descent, deepened by contact in earlier days with Athenians like Iphicrates, and the personal influence of Epaminondas, Philip seems to have united to his admiration for Greek tactics a tincture of Hellenistic culture, and something like a reverence for Athens, the great center of this culture. In military matters his admiration led him to introduce the Theban discipline to the rough peasant levies of Macedon, and the Macedonian phalanx proved the most formidable military weapon that had yet been devised. The veneer of Greek culture which he had taken on led him, on the one hand, laying stress on his Hellenistic descent, to claim admission to the comity of Hellas, and on the other, to appoint Aristotle to be a tutor to his son. By a combination of force and fraud, favored by circumstances, Philip got himself appointed generalissimo of the Hellenistic states; and further induced them to proclaim war against the "Great King." In all this he was preparing the way for his son, so soon to be his successor.
2. His Preparation for His Career:
He was also preparing his son for his career. Alexander was, partly no doubt from being the pupil of Aristotle, yet more imbued with Greek feelings and ideas than was Preparation his father. He was early introduced into the cares of government and the practice of war. While Philip was engaged in the siege of Byzantium he sent his son to replace Antipater in the regency; during his occupancy of this post, Alexander, then only a youth of sixteen, had to undertake a campaign against the Illyrians, probably a punitive expedition. Two years later, at the decisive battle of Chaeroneia, which fixed the doom of the Greek autonomous city, Alexander commanded the feudal cavalry of Macedon, the "Companions." He not only saved his father's life, but by his timely and vehement charge materially contributed to the victory.
3. His Accession to the Hegemony of Greece:
When all his plans for the invasion of Persia were complete, and a portion of his troops was already across the Hellespont, Philip was assassinated. Having secured his succession, Alexander proceeded to Corinth, where he was confirmed in his father's position of leader of Hellas against Darius. Before he could cross into Asia he had to secure his northern frontier against possible raids of barbarian tribes. He invaded Thrace with his army and overthrew the Triballi, then crossed the Danube and inflicted a defeat on the Getae. During his absence in these but slightly known regions, the rumor spread that he had been killed, and Thebes began a movement to throw off the Macedonian yoke. On his return to Greece he wreaked terrible vengeance on Thebes, not only as promoter of this revolt, but also as the most powerful of the Greek states.
4. Campaign in Asia Minor:
Having thus secured his rear, Alexander collected his army at Pella to cross the Hellespont, that he might exact the vengeance of Greece on Persia for indignities suffered at the hands of Xerxes, who "by his strength through his riches" had stirred, up "all against the realm of Grecia" (Dan 11:2, the King James Version). Steeped as he was in the romance of the Iliad, Alexander, when he came to the site of Troy, honored Achilles, whom he claimed as his ancestor, with games and sacrifices. This may have been the outflow of his own romantic nature, but there was also wise policy in it; the Greeks were more readily reconciled to the loss of their freedom when it was yielded up to one who revived in his own person the heroes of the Iliad. It may be noted how exactly the point of Alexander's invasion is indicated in Daniel's prophecy (Dan 8:5). From Troy he advanced southward, and encountered the Persian forces at the Granicus. While in the conflict Alexander exhibited all the reckless bravery of a Homeric hero. He at the same time showed the skill of a consummate general. The Persian army was dispersed with great slaughter. Before proceeding farther into Persia, by rapid marches and vigorously pressed sieges, he completed the conquest of Asia Minor. Here, too, he showed his knowledge of the sensitiveness of Asiatic peoples to omens, by visiting Gordium, and cutting the knot on which, according to legend, depended the empire of Asia.
5. Battle of Issus and March through Syria to Egypt:
What he had done in symbol he had to make a reality; he had to settle the question of supremacy in Asia by the sword. He leaned that Darius had collected an immense army and was coming to meet him. Although the Persian host was estimated at a half-million men, Alexander hastened to encounter it. Rapidity of motion, as symbolized in Dan by the "he-goat" that "came from the west .... and touched not the ground" (Dan 8:5), was Alexander's great characteristic. The two armies met in the relatively narrow plain of Issus, where the Persians lost, to a great extent, the advantage of their numbers; they were defeated with tremendous slaughter, Darius himself setting the example of flight. Alexander only pursued the defeated army far enough to break it up utterly. He began his march southward along the seacoast of Syria toward Egypt, a country that had always impressed the Greek imagination. Though most of the cities, on his march, opened their gates to the conqueror, Tyre and Gaza only yielded after a prolonged siege. In the case of the latter of these, enraged at the delay occasioned by the resistance, and emulous of his ancestor, Alexander dragged its gallant defender Batis alive behind his chariot as Achilles had dragged the dead Hector. It ought to be noted that this episode does not appear in Arrian, usually regarded as the most authentic historian of Alexander. Josephus relates that after he had taken Gaza, Alexander went up to Jerusalem, and saw Jaddua the high priest, who showed him the prophecy of Daniel concerning him. The fact that none of the classic historians take any notice of such a detour renders the narrative doubtful: still it contains no element of improbability that the pupil of Aristotle, in the pursuit of knowledge, might, during the prosecution of the siege of Gaza, with a small company press into the hill country of Judea, at once to secure the submission of Jerusalem which occupied a threatening position in regard to his communications, and to see something of that mysterious nation who worshipped one God and had no idols.
6. Founding of Alexandria and Visit to the Shrine of Jupiter Ammon:
When he entered Egypt, the whole country submitted without a struggle. Moved at once by the fact that Pharos is mentioned in the Odyssey, and that he could best rule Egypt from the seacoast, he founded Alexandria on the strip of land opposite Pharos, which separated Lake Mareotis from the Mediterranean. The island Pharos formed a natural breakwater which made possible a spacious double harbor; the lake, communicating with the Nile, opened the way for inland navigation. As usual with Alexander, romance and policy went hand in hand. The city thus founded became the capital of the Ptolemies, and the largest city of the Hellenistic world. He spent his time visiting shrines, in the intervals of arranging for the government of the country. The most memorable event of his stay in Egypt was his expedition to the oracle or Jupiter Ammon (Amen-Ra) where he was declared the son of the god. To the Egyptians this meant no more than that he was regarded a lawful monarch, but he pretended to take this declaration as assigning to him a Divine origin like so many Homeric heroes. Henceforward, there appeared on coins Alexander's head adorned with the ram's horn of Amen-Ra. This impressed the eastern imagination so deeply that Mohammed, a thousand years after, calls him in the Quran Iskander dhu al-qarnain, "Alexander the lord of the two horns." It is impossible to believe that the writer of Dan could, in the face of the universal attribution of the two ram's horns to Alexander, represent Persia, the power he overthrew, as a two-horned ram (Dan 8:3,20), unless he had written before the expedition into Egypt.
7. The Last Battle with Darius:
Having arranged the affairs of Egypt, Alexander set out for his last encounter with Darius. In vain had Darius sent to Alexander offering to share the empire with him; the "king of Javan" (Revised Version margin) "was moved with anger against him" (Dan 8:7) and would have nothing but absolute submission. There was nothing left for Darius but to prepare for the final conflict. He collected a yet huger host than that he had had under him at Issus, and assembled it on the plain east of the Tigris. Alexander hastened to meet him. Although the plain around Gaugamela was much more suitable for the movements of the Persian troops, which consisted largely of cavalry, and gave them better opportunity of making use of their great numerical superiority to outflank the small Greek army, the result was the same as at Issus--overwhelming defeat and immense slaughter. The consequence of this victory was the submission of the greater portion of the Persian empire.
After making some arrangements for the government of the new provinces, Alexander set out in the pursuit of Darius, who had fled in the care or custody of Bessus, satrap of Bactria. Bessus, at last, to gain the favor of Alexander, or, failing that, to maintain a more successful resistance, murdered Darius. Alexander hurried on to the conquest of Bactria and Sogdiana, in the course of his expedition capturing Bessus and putting him to death. In imitation of Bacchus, he proceeded now to invade India. He conquered all before him till he reached the Sutlej; at this point his Macedonian veterans refused to follow him farther.
8. Close of His Life:
Thus compelled to give up hopes of conquests in the farther East, he returned to Babylon, which he purposed to make the supreme capital of his empire, and set himself, with all his superabundant energy, to organize his dominions, and fit Babylon for its new destiny. While engaged in this work he was seized with malaria, which, aggravated by his recklessness in eating and drinking, carried him off in his 33rd year.
9. His Influence:
Alexander is not to be estimated merely as a military conqueror. If he had been only this, he would have left no deeper impress on the world than Tamerlane or Attila. While he conquered Asia, he endeavored also to Hellenize her. He everywhere founded Greek cities that enjoyed at all events a municipal autonomy. With these, Hellenistic thought and the Hellenistic language were spread all over southwestern Asia, so that philosophers from the banks of the Euphrates taught in the schools of Athens. It was through the conquests of Alexander that Greek became the language of literature and commerce from the shores of the Mediterranean to the banks of the Tigris. It is impossible to estimate the effect of this spread of Greek on the promulgation of the gospel.
J. E. H. Thomson
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'alexander, the great'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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