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Western Civilization

Alexander the great was born in Pella, the ancient capital of the Greek kingdom of Macedonia in July 356 BC to King Phillip II of Macedon and his fourth wife Olympias who was the daughter to Neoptolemus I, king of Epirus. Several myths surround his birth. For example, Hegesias of Magnesia alleges that the temple of Artemis in Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was burnt down since Artemis was absent attending the birth of Alexander (Burn, 1948).

 As a young boy, he received tough, almost Spartan, training from Leonidas who was a relative of his mother. At age thirteen, King Phillip settled on the Greek philosopher Aristotle as his tutor. Aristotle trained Alexander’s intellect as intensively and which the same strictness as Leonidas had done in the physical training. This led to Alexander displaying both incredible physical toughness and intellectual genius.

In 336 B.C. while attending a wedding, King Phillip was killed by the captain of his bodyguards, and Alexander was proclaimed the king by the army and nobles. At only twenty years old, he had excellent training and experience for someone that young. Alexander had inherited a proud and fiery temperament from his mother while, from his tutor, he gained an appreciation of the Greek culture particularly the Homeric epics. He also had acquired military and leadership skills from his father.

At the time of his rising to the throne in Macedonia, there was a policy in Macedonia developed by his father of an invasion of Persia. This was themed as a war of vengeance against the Persians for an invasion 150 years previously. The Persians also presided over the Greek city states of Asia Minor. Ancient orator Isocrates had urged such an invasion to unite the Greeks in a common cause.

For the next eleven years (334-323 BC), Alexander carried out one of the most spectacular campaign conquests. His army of 35,000 men marched over 21,000 miles covering terrain ranging from the Hindu Kush Mountains to the hot plains of Mesopotamia, and the hot, humid environment of India.

Alexander proved to be a superb strategist having a brilliant and flexible mind. This is because he always came up with an ingenious and unexpected solution to difficult problems, for example, when faced with the island fortress of Tyre. Alexander managed to win every battle on the way and, therefore, carved an empire stretching from Greece to India.

Although he was faced with overwhelming odds along the way, he led his armies across the Persian territories of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt without suffering even one defeat. His utmost triumph was the victory in the Battle of Gaugemala (now North Iraq) in 331BC. He achieved the title of Great King of Persia at the age of 25 after becoming a leader of the Greeks, pharaoh of Egypt and overload of Asia (Greer, 1977).

In eight years, he ventured with his army further 11,000 miles founding over 70 cities and creating an empire spanning across three continents and covering more than two million square miles. He linked the area from Greece in the west, Danub in the north, Egypt to the south and as far east as Indian Punjab with a vast international network of trade and commerce. This adopted a common Greek language while Alexander himself adopted foreign customs so as to rule millions of ethnically diverse subjects.

However, Alexander’s most momentous achievement was his encouragement of cultural variety. By this, he managed to spread the Greek culture throughout the world. As a result of his efforts, the western culture achieved universal dominance.  He was considered one of the greatest military thinkers and was known for his “swift tactical insight, and deliberate, strategic planning” (Burn, 1948). Alexander also managed to establish a universal spoken and written language throughout his empire. He was responsible for the immense development of international trade and commerce. He realized that his empire’s economy could benefit from building of ports and acquisition of a new trading partner to exchange goods and services with each territorial conquest.

The colonization of Africa was started by Alexander the great. It went on to become an important trend from which western civilization continued as western countries later commenced the scramble for Africa. This he did when he first conquered Egypt where he built the magnificent city of Alexandria.

Alexander profoundly impacted and changed lives of people and culture around him. As Greer (1977) points out, the culture of Greece was broadcast throughout the entire Middle East as people from all parts of this empire began adopting practices of the Greeks making the world a much smaller place. He improved the educational standards while pushing for the construction of new buildings, harbors and cities. His interest in commerce was as a result of his pioneering in urban planning ensuring people moved from rural areas to more urban and trade areas.

Alexander influenced city planning techniques by establishing towns with the same design having a central market square, school, offices, shops, theatre and gym. He created elementary schools where children learnt basic reading, writing and math combined with lessons in civics and culture.

The world after Alexander was much different from that before he began his conquests. He brought the East, and West together ensuring that he implemented the world transformation. He took a Persian bride and arranged for thousands of his soldiers to marry Asian women. He also planned to incorporate tens of thousands of Persian youth into his army.

Therefore in general although he never united all the people in a world state, he helped in pushing the world to a new direction towards a fusion of disparate people and intermingling of cultural traditions. As trade between the East and West intensified and Greek culture spread to non Greeks, the distinction between barbarian and Greek lessened.

In 323 BC Alexander still less than thirty three years of age died of sickness after a drinking party. A lot of speculation has been made concerning his death. Some say he was poisoned by people opposed to his rule. However, the most widely accepted conclusion was that he died of sickness; malaria or typhoid.

During his time alive, Alexander was not without fault. For example, he took on the Persian title ‘King of Kings’ and even adopted some Persian customs and dressing. Some of these customs such as symbolic kissing of the hand of superiors did not go well with most of his countrymen who felt he wanted to deify himself. He eventually abandoned it.

There are various sources on the life and times of Alexander the great. Books such as Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Empire by Burn and A Brief History of Western Man (Third Edition) by Greer shed a light into the career of the Macedonian conqueror. A Life of Alexander by Plutarch of Chaeronea is also useful. These authors relied on older, nearly contemporary sources that are now lost.

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