Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History

By Sarah B. Pomeroy; Stanley M. Burstein et al. | Go to book overview

11
ALEXANDER THE GREAT

Rarely has an epoch-making reign begun in such uncertainty as that of Alexander the Great. In his reign of almost two and a half decades, Alexander's father, Philip II, had transformed Macedon into a strong, centralized monarchy. Philip's military reforms had made Macedon the premier military power in the region, controlling an empire that stretched from the Danube River in the north to Thessaly in the south. By creating the League of Corinth, Philip had extended Macedonian influence deep into southern Greece and gained the public support of his Greek subjects and allies for his projected invasion of Asia. Philip's assassination on the eve of his departure to join his forces in the east threatened to ruin not only his Asian adventure, but all of his achievements.

Like his father's, Alexander's reign began with a succession crisis. Alexander III was only 20 years old at the time of his father's death in the summer of 336 BC. Omens were later said to have forecast his rule. His mother, Olympias, who had much to gain in securing the succession for her son, claimed to have dreamed that lightning struck her womb. The great temple of Artemis at Ephesus was believed to have been destroyed by fire on the day Alexander was born. Although Philip had offspring from several of his wives, Alexander was clearly treated as his father's heir for most of Philip's reign.

Philip and Olympias groomed Alexander carefully for the role he would ultimately play. A series of Greek tutors who included Aristotle provided him with the education in Greek literature and culture that Philip had lacked. From them Alexander gained his lifelong love of Homer and his determination to equal or excel the exploits of his legendary ancestors, Heracles and Achilles.

Alexander's practical training in kingship was not neglected. He governed Macedon in Philip's absence and suppressed a Thracian rebellion. Like his father, Alexander founded a city named after himself in Thrace. Finally, he took part in Philip's campaigns, even commanding the companion cavalry in the decisive Battle of Chaeronea that established Macedonian rule in Greece in 338 BC. Nevertheless, Alexander's succession was not assured. He was isolated at court at the time of Philip's death. Olympias and Alexander's friends and advisers remained in exile. Not surprisingly, rumors quickly spread after Philip's assassination that

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