Human Legacy Course/Alexander the Great & His Legacy

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Human Legacy Course I
Alexander The Great & His Legacy

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Hello and welcome to the fourth and final lecture of Week 5. In this lecture, we will be taking a look at Alexander the Great and his legacy. Our question for today is:

Could a 10-year-old boy tame the fiercest of stallions? According to the ancient biographer Plutarch, a horse trader approached King Philip of Macedonia with a beautiful stallion for sale named Bucephalus. However, none of Philip’s servants could ride the wild horse. If anyone tried to mount him, the stallion reared high into the air and threw him off. He would allow no one to come near him.

Disappointed at the loss of so fine an animal, Philip prepared to send the trader away. Before the trader could leave, however, Philip’s young son Alexander scoffed at the grooms. Only 10 years old, he claimed that he would be able to tame the fierce steed. Philip did not think it possible, but he agreed to allow Alexander to try. The young prince walked slowly to the horse, whispering calming words and turning him to face the sun. Of all the people present, only young Alexander had noticed that Bucephalus was scared of his shadow. Once the horse was facing the sun and thus could no longer see his shadow, he allowed Alexander to climb on his back; and the two took off at a gallop. Philip, amazed at his son’s cleverness, proclaimed, “O my son, look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee.”

Alexander The Great

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In the years that followed the Peloponnesian War, a new power arose and took control of Greece. That power was Macedonia, a kingdom located just north of Greece. The Macedonian rise to power was led by a king named Philip II and his son, Alexander the Great.

The Rise of Macedonia

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Most Greeks considered the Macedonians somewhat backward: The Macedonians lived in villages rather than cities and spoke a form of Greek that was almost unintelligible to other Greek speakers. When Philip II took the throne in 359 BC, however, Macedonia’s fortune changed.

One of Philip’s first actions as king was reorganizing the Macedonian army. He adopted the phalanx system used by other Greeks, but he gave his soldiers much longer spears than others used. He also included larger bodies of cavalry and archers than most city-states used in their armies.

With his newly organized army, Philip set out to conquer Greece. Only a few city states, including Athens and Thebes, seemed to realize the danger that Philip posed, and so he faced little opposition. The Macedonians quickly crushed the armies that stood against them in battle, and in time they conquered every major city-state in Greece except Sparta. Philip’s conquests might have continued, but he was assassinated in 336 BC. His title and his plans for conquests fell to his son Alexander.

Alexander's Conquests

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Though very young—only 20 years old—when he became king, Alexander had been trained to rule almost from birth. He had learned both warfare and politics from several teachers: his father, his clever mother, and the philosopher Aristotle. When his father was killed, Alexander was both willing and able to take over the leadership of his kingdom.

Almost as soon as Alexander took over the kingdom, he was faced with revolts in Greece. He immediately set out to reestablish his control there, using harsh measures to show the Greeks that he would not tolerate rebellion. For example, when Thebes rebelled, Alexander totally crushed its army, sold the people into slavery, and burned the city to the ground.

With Greece firmly under his control, Alexander decided to build himself an empire. In 334 BC he led his army into Asia to take on the Persians. Alexander’s army was relatively small, but his soldiers were well trained and fiercely loyal to him. In contrast, the Persian army was huge but disorganized.

Within a year, Alexander’s army had won a major victory against the Persians in Asia Minor. From there, Alexander led his troops south into Phoenicia and Egypt, two territories ruled by Persia. In both places, Alexander was welcomed and praised as a liberator. In fact, the people of Egypt were so grateful that he had driven the Persians out that they named him their new pharaoh.

From Egypt, Alexander marched into what is now Iraq. In a huge battle near the city of Gaugamela, the Macedonians destroyed the Persian army and caused the Persian emperor, Darius III, to flee. Darius was later murdered by one of his own officers.

With the defeat of Darius, Alexander was essentially master of the Persian world. His troops marched to Persepolis, one of Persia’s capitals, and burned it to the ground as a sign of their victory.

Alexander, however, was not yet satisfied with the size of his empire. He led his army deeper into Asia, winning more victories against the peoples of Central Asia. Still wanting more, he led his army to the Indus, perhaps intending to conquer India. His soldiers, however, had had enough. When they refused to proceed any farther from home, Alexander was forced to turn back to the west.

End of the Empire

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The empire Alexander had built was the largest the world had ever seen, but he did not rule that empire for very long. In 323 BC while in the city of Babylon, Alexander fell ill. After a few days, he died. At the time of his death, Alexander was only 33 years old.