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Alexander the Great

Arrian describes Alexander: the strong, handsome commander with one eye dark as the night and one blue as the sky, always leading his army on his faithful Bucephalus. Alexander inherited from his father King Philip the best military formation of the time, the Macedonian Phalanx, armed with sarisses - the fearful five and half meter long lances. He was the first great conqueror who reached Greece, Egypt, Asia Minor, and Asia up to western India. He is famous for having created the ethnic fusion of the Macedonians and the Persians. From victory to victory, from triumph to triumph, Alexander created an empire which brought him eternal glory. He brought Greek ideas, culture and life style to the countries which he conquered, and assured expansion and domination of Hellenistic Culture which, together with Roman Civilization and Christianity, constitutes the foundation of what is now called Western Civilization.


In the beginning of the nineteenth century war began to be viewed as a moral evil. This idea would have been incomprehensible to any Macedonian in the 4th century B.C. and to Alexander it is entirely inapplicable. He was a warrior king born to the crown and the sword; it was his raison d'etre. Macedonian kings fought and conquered and the more they fought and the more they conquered the better kings they were perceived to be. He was born early into the Hellenization of Macedonia not far from a time when no young man was allowed to eat with the adult males until he had brought the head of an enemy to the table. Alexander yearned to be a great king, greater than his father Philip who had been the greatest king in the history of Macedonia. There was only one way to accomplish this and Alexander took it.

In later times the Romans greatly admired Alexander for his conquests. If conquests came at the expense of tens of thousands of human lives, the conquests were honorable and the lives lost honorably.

This social value has only recently changed. Ironical in the last two hundred year period of constant human slaughter Alexander is criticized as having caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people. Again the application of contemporary mores is inappropriate. He did and for thousands of years was admired for it.

Alexander III, king of Macadonia from 336 until his death in 323 B.C. continues to be the subject of study and debate into the 21st centruy A.D.. Some scholars have devoted their lives to the man who was king, king of kings, and a god in his lifetime. The scarce evidence tantalized and invited speculation and theory. He has been pictured as everything from an alcoholic, homosexual, mass murderer, to the precursor of Christ sent to bring brotherly love to the world. He has been a Christain saint, an Islamic prophet, and a benefactor of the Jews. He remains a folk hero from Sophia to Kabul. To this day his name is invoked for good luck.

For centuries Alexander has been erroneously judged by standards of conduct which have no relationship to 4th century B.C. Macedonian culture. He has been called an alcoholic in a time when consuming amounts of alcohol in excess of current limits is social unacceptable. Among Macedonian warriors it was not.Indeed, the drinking of large amounts of unwatered wine after battle was expected and may even have had a religious connotation. Yet ancient Athenians, Victorians and modern day twelve steppers have stigmatized him for doing exactly what was acceptable at a time and place where strong warriors fought hard and drank hard far into the night. Throughout his life Alexander was scrupulous about behaving in a manner appropriate for a 4th Century B.C. warrior king of Macedonia.

Jewish, Christian, and Moslem scholars have been horrified at tales of Alexander's homosexual affairs. The social stigmatization of homosexual activity is a relatively recent phenomenon. It began in Judaism and was adopted early in the history of The Christian Church and later in Islam. This socio religious taboo was undreamed of in the Macedonia of the 4th century B.C.

Still Christian moralist scholars have spent lifetimes denying to Alexander that which his culture did not.The modern word, "homosexual", has no place in 4th century B.C. Macedonia. It is inapplicable to a culture where bisexuality was extremely common, if not the norm. In the culture of that time and place homosexual, bisexual, and heterosexual are not nouns.People were not grouped by sexual preference. That Alexander was exclusively homosexual is impossible; he had two wives and a least one, possibly two sons. That he was exclusively heterosexual is unlikely. His father was not, his grandfather was not and he had no reason to be.

Alexander's Invasion of India

Although the Persians extended their rule over the western edge of India under Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes, the only major threat of foreign conquest came when Alexander of Macedon invaded India in 326 BC. According to Greek historians, "None of the Indians ever marched out of their own country for war, being actuated by a respect for justice."2 Arrian also added that all the inhabitants were free, since no Indian was a slave, though he did describe seven castes as the naked wise men, farmers, animal herders, artisans, warriors, supervisors, and royal officials. Tillers of the soil were so respected that even when a war raged nearby, they plowed and gathered their crops in peace.

After conquering Bactria Alexander crossed the Hindu Kush mountains. Taking advantage of rivalries between kingdoms, Alexander gained in advance the allegiance of Shashigupta and eventually Ambhi, king of Taxila. Alexander sent Hephaestion and Perdiccas with half his forces through the Khyber Pass, and they laid siege to the Astenoi for thirty days before their king Astes fell fighting. Alexander also met opposition from the free peoples, and in one of these skirmishes he was wounded while scaling the walls. An Athenian quoted Homer that Ichor flows from the blessed gods, but the conqueror denied this divine implication, declaring flatly that it was blood. Because their glorious leader had been wounded, the Greeks massacred the entire population of that tribe. Forty thousand Aspasians were taken prisoner, and the 230,000 oxen captured indicates the prosperity of the area.

The Assakenoi resisted Alexander with tens of thousands of cavalry and infantry in a fortress at Massaga. After the king was killed, the army was led by his mother, Queen Cleophes, and included the local women. After several days of heroic fighting, Alexander offered these brave people their lives if the mercenaries would agree to join his army; the city capitulated. But not wanting to fight other Indians, the seven thousand mercenaries tried to run away from the camp and were slaughtered by Alexander's soldiers.

Next the town of Nysa surrendered, and the Greeks celebrated with Bacchic revels the taking of a town they thought was founded by Dionysus. Then Alexander delighted in taking the town of Aornus, because he heard that Heracles had failed to do so. These incidents indicate that the motive for these conquests was the glory of mythic renown, since there was no other known provocation or rationale for the invasion of another country so far from home except perhaps to steal their wealth or the propaganda they were spreading Greek culture.

Alexander, not wanting to be outdone by this generosity, gave Ambhi even greater gifts, plus one thousand talents in money. However, a Macedonian military governor was appointed over Taxila, and Ambhi provided military support to help the Greeks fight his Indian enemies.

A naval officer named Onesicritus heard a lecture on ethics from the wise teachers, who received free food in the Taxila marketplace. They admired Alexander's love of wisdom even though he ruled a vast empire; they said he was the only philosopher in arms they had seen. They asked about Socrates, Pythagoras, and Diogenes, but they felt they paid too much attention to the customs and laws of their country, an illuminating insight from one of the earliest cross-cultural discussions. One of the naked sages, Calanus, refused to talk with Onesicritus because he would not strip off his clothes; but he did show Alexander an analogy of his government by trying to stand on a shriveled hide, which when trod on its edges would not stay flat; but when he stood in the middle, it did. This was similar to the point Dandamis had made when he had asked Onesicritus why Alexander had undertaken such a long journey. A young man named Pyrrho, who went on to found the skeptical school of Greek philosophy, also talked with these sages, causing his entire outlook to change.

Alexander tried to negotiate with the other two major Indian kings, Abhisara and Poros. Abhisara sent gifts and promised to submit, but Poros said that he would meet Alexander on the field of battle. Alexander drafted five thousand Indian troops into his infantry, had a bridge of boats built to cross the Indus River, and met Poros on the banks of the Jhelum River, which his soldiers were finally able to sneak across at night to avoid confrontation with the elephants of Poros. This strategic battle fought in the rainy season was won by Alexander using flanking movements around the elephants. Thousands were slain, and after receiving nine wounds himself King Poros surrendered. When Alexander asked the defeated king what treatment he wanted to receive, Poros asked only to be treated in a kingly way. Winning Alexander's respect and friendship, Poros was granted the rule over his own people and later additional territory equal to his own that Alexander also annexed.

Alexander took Sangala by storm, killing 17,000 Indians and capturing 70,000, while only one hundred of his own men were killed, though more than twelve hundred were wounded. Once again Alexander offered to spare independent Indians; but when they fled, about five hundred were caught and killed. He ordered Sangala razed to the ground. He could see no end to war as long as some were hostile to his conquering. Alexander was enthusiastic when he learned of prosperous farmland on the other side of the Hyphasis River, but that July Alexander's officers and soldiers, seeing the vast plains that stretched to the east, refused to invade any further, having already traveled 11,000 miles in seven years. When Alexander could not persuade them to follow him, he had to admit that the omens had changed. Arranging for Arsaces to pay tribute to the king of Abhisara, he left his conquered territory under this king Ambhi and Poros, then planned his voyage back to the sea.

Having built a fleet of a thousand boats and expropriating another eight hundred, in November 326 BC Alexander began the voyage down the rivers to the sea. Hearing of opposition at the confluence of the Jhelum and the Chenab, Alexander marched his army forty-eight miles across the desert to attack the Mallians by surprise. Alexander led the attack personally, and the Greeks killed about five thousand Indians. Impatient with the slowness of those climbing the ladders into the enemy fort, Alexander jumped down into the fort almost alone where he was shot by an arrow through his breastplate into his ribs. Fighting until he fainted from loss of blood, he was then protected by bodyguards, and the arrow was eventually removed. Alexander recovered, but in revenge all the Indians in the fort were massacred, including the women and children.

Other independent cities of Brahmins revolted; 80,000 Indians were slain by the Greeks, and many captives were auctioned as slaves. After this bloody detour Alexander and his men returned to their ships and sailed down the Indus to the sea and returned to Babylon. On his boat Alexander questioned ten of the naked sages he captured for persuading Sabbas to revolt. Known for their pertinent answers to questions, Alexander threatened to kill those who gave inadequate responses. According to Plutarch these philosophers declared that the cunningest animal is the one people have not found out, that to be most loved one must be very powerful without making oneself too much feared, and that a decent person ought to live until death appears more desirable than life.

Alexander had entered India with an army of 120,000 with 15,000 horses but returned with not much more than a quarter of them, mostly because of disease and famine. Although this conquest did open up communication between the Greeks and the Indians, it seems to me that this could have been done much better without all the killing and plunder.

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