Alexander the Great

Alexander was born in 356. His father was king Philip II of Macedonia, where old-style kingship had continued untouched by distant Athenian models of aristocracy or democracy. When his son was born, Philip was leading his armies in a policy of expansion that soon brought him control of the whole of Greece.  Philip was a brilliant leader and strategist and in 338, at the battle of Chaironeia, he defeated the Greeks who had been encouraged to resist him by the great speeches of Demosthenes at Athens.  For Philip, Athens was a very special place and he respected its citizens.  He had called Aristotle from studies at Plato's Academy to be Alexander's tutor.  He also needed its fleet, for he intended to expand his empire into the Middle East, but in 336 Philip was assassinated and Alexander, who had already led the Macedonian cavalry at Chaironea, became king at the age of twenty.

Seeing his age, Thebes rebelled while he was up beyond the Danube.  He returned south, captured Thebes in 335, and destroyed it, although he ordered the house where Pindar had lived to be spared.  Instead of establishing a firm power base in Greece, Alexander at once set out against the Persians who were in confusion after the murder of their king.  He first destroyed their naval bases in Phoenicia, then went to Egypt and founded the city of Alexandria.  In 331, he was beyond the Tigris and after a great victory against the Persians he captured Babylon.  In 330 he was in Persepolis, from where he set off northwards.  In western Afghanistan he founded the city Alexandria in Arachosia, better known as Kandahar and in 328 he was in the region of Samarkand, and founded "Alexandria at the World's End" (Khojent).  By 327, Alexander was master of the whole area now called Iran, and beyond. He was ruling by now, not like a Macedonian king, but like the Persian Great King, before whom all had to bow low.

By 326, Alexander had led his army down into the Punjab (north-west India) but there they refused to go on.  They were so far from home and they dreaded fighting the Indian war-elephants.  So after exploring the delta of the Indus he turned towards the west.  Driven by strange energies, Alexander set out on an expedition to the mouth of the Euphrates through desert and floods, then returned to Babylon and insisted on marrying all his Greek officers to Persian women.  He him­self had already married Roxana, up in Turkestan, but now he married Statira, a daughter of the last Persian king Darius, as well.

In the summer of 323 he suddenly fell ill and died, without a son yet born, without a successor.  The result of his campaigns was a collapse of the Persian Peace, while his settlements were too scattered to be the basis for any permanent new order.

The most significant result of his new cities was the lasting presence of Greek culture in this part of the world so that, when the first king of all India, Asoka, was converted to Buddhism in 259, he turned to the Greek artists still living in India to create a representative art for this new state religion.  In this way, many of the artistic forms of Buddhism throughout the Orient derive directly from those developed in Greece.

After Alexander

 After Alexander's death, the Greeks united in a new anti-Macedonian, Hellenic league but Antipatros, who had been Alexander's governor in Greece, fought back, using soldiers returning from the East, and defeated Athens, destroying its fleet.  Democracy was abolished, the great Athenian orator Demosthenes took poison, many emigrated.

The Empire of Alexander broke into three parts, the Macedonian, the Egyptian, and the Asian.  Alexander's bodyguard and secretary, Ptolemy ('the warlike') became governor of Egypt, taking back and burying in Alexandria the body of Alexander.  He founded there a Hellenistic kingdom that only came to an end in 31 BC, with the deaths of Cleopatra and Mark Antony after the Battle of Actium.  He wrote the memoirs of Alexander, using Alexander's own journal, and this became the source for much of what we know.

If Ptolemy planned, his son built; under Ptolemy II were built in Alexandria the Pharos (lighthouse), the Museum (Temple of the Muses) and the Library designed to contain everything important ever written in Greek.  He also built a canal linking the Nile to the Red Sea. The rulers of Alexandria celebrated the cult of the deified Alexander. Alexandria became the main intellectual center of the Hellenistic Age; it was entirely Macedonian in its ruling class, governing the native Egyptians firmly with well-organized bureaucracy.

The commander of Alexander's foot-soldiers,  Seleukos, gained the Asian possessions and would have taken Macedonia too, but a son of Ptolemy who was his friend murdered him in 280.  His son was called Antiochus, which became the dynastic name and was given to a number of cities of the "Seleucid" empire centered in modern Syria. The history of Palestine (Judea) at this time is that of the power struggle between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies, these latter keeping control until 198, when Antiochus III incorporated it into his Seleucid empire.

Macedonia, having lost its royal line, became weaker, although it kept control of the Greek cities until 229 when Athens sold the official copies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides to Ptolemy III and bought her freedom, proclaiming herself a neutral city, friendly to all powers.  This enabled Athens to become the City of Philosophers, the University city.