Alexander the Great was the king of Macedonia and a great war general and hero. He ascended the throne at age 20, and in subsequent years he conquered enough land to form one of hugest empires ever. Even today, the military studies his tactics, hoping to gain a portion of the success he amassed during his lifetime. Growing up, Alexander had Aristotle as a tutor; one of the best possible teachers during those times.
Plutarch, an important Roman historian from 46 to 119 AD, details a scene from Alexander’s teen years, before his father died. Some men were trying to sell a fine stallion, Bucephalus, to the king. Prince Alexander told his father that he thought he could do a better job – his father, thinking him to be speaking rashly, suggested that he go and try it himself. Alexander then went up to the stallion, calming the horse by turning him away from his own shadow and speaking softly, then mounted and let him gallop to his heart’s content.
He returned to his father and the court, who had been worried for him, but his father, overjoyed and emotional, told his son that he was too great for their small kingdom.
In this account of a famous story about Alexander, Plutarch showcases Alexander’s main characteristics: tenacity, boldness, intelligence, confidence, bravery, and an eye for detail. All these must have so convinced Plutarch of Alexander’s superiority that he called him ‘a great man’.
After assuming the throne, Alexander began expanding the Macedonian empire … and never stopped. It grew and grew, and his name grew and grew, until the peoples began surrendering before they were killed, for Alexander was merciless in his conquests.
Alexander believed he was a god, and he may have assumed this for two reasons. One, that his mother believed she was a descendant of Achilles. She had also told him that his true father was the god Zeus-Ammon. The second reason Alexander may have assumed that he was deity was that in those days, it was believed that you could become divine through great acts, and obviously, Alexander had a host of those under his belt.
However, even though Alexander was brave and powerful, his prowess in war could not stop the internal conflict within his own kingdom. His men were resentful at his insistence to be treated like a god. Alexander had never been as successful at internal politics as he had in war, so there was bound to be an ultimatum very soon.
The details of his death are unclear because of so many inconsistencies in accounts, but the majority of sources record that he died of some form of poisoning in 323 BC. Formerly Alexander had been asked who would inherit his empire. He simply replied, “The strongest.”
After his death, his counselors fought for around ten years to gain the title of ‘the strongest’. Eventually his empire was split up into several different states under different leaders … so fell apart one of the greatest empires ever.
Was Alexander a great man? He was certainly a great general, ingenious in his tactics. But the ‘greatness’ of the inner man is relative, not definite, since greatness is a moral issue. I have a different code of morality than Plutarch – as do many others who might try to answer this question. In my opinion, worldly greatness is defined by others, but true greatness is defined by God.
Alexander was a master of worldly greatness … but is that the goal?
Wouldn’t you rather be the possessor of an inner fire, driven by a hope and a purpose?
Thanks for reading!
(Sources I used …)