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World Chronology, Lesson 19. Alexander the Great (336-323 BC)

There are three tasks for this lesson:

  1. Study the Lesson.
  2. Complete the Memory Work.
  3. Complete the lesson Exam.

Lesson

In lesson 01, we studied the four ages of world history, which must always be remembered:

1. Ancient World (3500-750 BC)
2. Classical World (750BC-500 AD)
3. Medieval World (500AD-1500 AD)
4. Modern World (1500 AD to Pres.).

In our last lesson, we studied Classical Greece. We learned that the “Golden Age” of Greece developed after the Greeks emerged from the Persian Wars victorious and free. We learned that they enjoyed a time of peace and wealth–all of which centered in Athens–and that these conditions led to a time of great artistic achievement. We learned, however, that the Greeks were never able to unite and that ultimately that led to their fall. Greece was conquered by Philip of Macedonia in 338 BC.

In this lesson, we will study the life of one of history’s most famous figures: Alexander of Macedon. Anytime we study the life of a famous man, we should consider three elements of his life: (1) his birth, (2) his education and (3) his deeds. We will find that no man ever has rivaled or will rival Alexander in any of these. His life–as far as human lives go–is absolutely fascinating.

Alexander’s Birth

Alexander was born in Macedonia, the land north of Greece in 356 BC–just after the classical age of Greece had fully blossomed. Plato was teaching in Athens, Aristotle was growing in fame and the famous Greek culture was firmly established for all the world to see. Alexander was born into the royal family of King Philip of Macedonia. Philip was a great ruler, whose kingdom was steadily growing as the Greeks battled against one another. Alexander’s mother, Olympias, was one of Philip’s many wives, but she was his closest and most beloved wife, which meant that her son would be his heir. Alexander’s birth was surrounded with signs of greatness, for his mother imagined a lightning bolt striking her womb and creating a great fire when Alexander was conceived. Men all around wondered, “What sort of child will this be?”

After being born, Alexander surpassed all of these expectations. His courage and strength were famous even at a young age. While in his early teens, Alexander was present at the showing of a terribly wild horse who no man–even his father–could tame. Though only 13, Alexander broke the horse and claimed him, causing the men present to marvel. All men knew that this young boy was destined for incredible things. The horse, by the way, would later become Alexander’s famous companion through his life and battles–Bucephalus (“Ox-head”).

Alexander’s Education

The education of a king’s sons is a big deal. A king cannot simply send his sons to study at any ordinary school. Kings normally arranged their own schools in their palaces for their children and the children of their close friends. The kings were careful to do this because the boys around them would one day work for them and one would even take the king’s place. Training these boys was very important and for this reason, a boy’s education was always seen as a sign of his future promise as a man and as a ruler. What do we know of Alexander’s education?

As we might expect, Alexander received what is probably the greatest education possible before Christian times. His father Philip hired Aristotle himself to teach him! Yes, around the age of 13, Philip made arrangements for history’s greatest philosopher, Aristotle, to provide his son’s education. At the time, Aristotle would have been in his prime, around 40 years old and dedicated to Alexander for three full years. Aristotle would have taught Alexander the higher arts of Philosophy, which you’ll learn in the CLAA in the future.

By the time Alexander was 16 years old, his formal education was over–it was time to act.

Alexander’s Deeds

Now, as we begin to study Alexander’s deeds, we must be careful to keep an eye on the dates. By 340 BC, Alexander was active in his father’s army, leading the troops in his father’s absence. In 338, Philip and his son led the Macedonian army in conquest of Greece.

Seeing the fatherly pride that Philip always took in Alexander and the success they had warring together, we might think that their relationship was ideal. However, Philip’s lusts led him to take another wife, which threatened Alexander’s claim to his father’s throne. The trouble that resulted led to Alexander and Olympia leaving Macedonia. Several years later, peace was restored between father and son, but at last an unfortunate series of events led to the assassination of Philip.

In 336 BC, at the age of 20, Alexander was named king of Macedonia. Once king, Alexander quickly brought all of Greece under his control and set his sights on conquering the rest of the world.

In 334 BC, he moved into Asia and, after swiftly claiming city after city came to the town of Gordium where he found an unexpected challenge. There was in Gordium a famous knot–yes, a knot–which was the object of a mysterious prophecy. It was said that whoever would one day untie the “Gordian Knot” would become the ruler of Asia. While visiting the city, Alexander tried his hand at the challenge and failed. Angered by the difficulty, he drew his sword and sliced the ancient knot in half with his sword! Though his method of mastering this challenge was unexpected, none could deny that he must be the man spoken of in the prophecy.

In 333 BC, Alexander and his army headed toward Syria, which is the land north of Israel. Alexander fought against the Persians–now defending their own land from “Greek” invaders–at Issus, which is a city located near the very northeastern tip of the Mediterranean Sea. We should think of Issus as the connecting point between Asia and the ancient fertile crescent. At the Battle of Issus, Alexander crushed the Persian armies and took the king’s family captive and seized great spoils. He continued south to conquer the wealthy ancient city of Tyre, and afterward put all of its men to death and enslaved the women and children.

By the time Tyre fell, most of the cities remaining in Alexander’s way simply surrendered. It was better to seek friendship with Alexander than war–and Alexander was generally merciful to those who submitted. Nearly the entire land of Samaria and Israel surrendered, yet not without destructions. Jerusalem, however, received special treatment from Alexander. Why?

The Sparing of Jerusalem

To this point, you may not know of any special relationship between the Greeks and the Jews, but there was one indeed. The excellence of Greek philosophy was owed, to a large degree, to the wisdom of the Jews. The seeds of true philosophy were first sown throughout the world by King Solomon, who we learned welcomed visitors from all over the world and taught them true Wisdom. It was widely known in the ancient world that Plato borrowed much from Egyptian and Jewish philosophy and he taught Aristotle, who of course taught Alexander. This, however, is not the most important connection.

The prophet Daniel, if you remember, was given amazing visions by God during his time in Babylon. He lived after the Assyrian Empire had fallen and the Babylonians ruled the world. The Jews were captives, living in Babylon and God revealed the future to Daniel to encourage the Jews to turn away from their sins and trust that God would restore their fortunes.

Daniel describes his vision as follows–read it carefully:

In my vision I saw myself in the fortress of Susa in the province of Elam; I was beside the river Ulai. I looked up and saw standing by the river a ram with two great horns, the one larger and newer than the other. I saw the ram butting toward the west, north, and south. No beast could withstand it or be rescued from its power; it did what it pleased and became very powerful.

As I was reflecting, a goat with a prominent horn on its forehead suddenly came from the west across the whole earth without touching the ground. It approached the two-horned ram I had seen standing by the river, and rushed toward it with savage force. I saw it attack the ram with furious blows when they met, and break both its horns. It threw the ram, which had not the force to withstand it, to the ground, and trampled upon it; and no one could rescue it from its power.”

After seeing this vision, the angel Gabriel came to Daniel and explained its meaning to him:

When he came near where I was standing, I fell prostrate in terror. But he said to me, “Understand, son of man, that the vision refers to the end time.” As he spoke to me, I fell forward in a faint; he touched me and made me stand up. “I will show you,” he said, “what is to happen later in the period of wrath; for at the appointed time, there will be an end. “The two-horned ram you saw represents the kings of the Medes and Persians. The goat is the king of the Greeks, and the great horn on its forehead is the first king.”

Thus, we see that God revealed the future to Daniel the Prophet and in that vision he saw the coming of Alexander the Great–over 200 years before he arrived. Now, we know that God revealed this to Daniel for the encouragement of the Jews, but might there have been another reason?

We should note that when kings like Nebuchadnezzar heard the words of prophets like Daniel, it led them to worship the God of Israel. After Daniel’s first visit to his palace, Nebuchadnezzar bowed before him and said, “Truly your God is the God of gods and Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries; that is why you were able to reveal this mystery.” What would happen, when Alexander, the “goat” from Daniel’s vision, approached Jerusalem?

The Jewish writer Josephus wrote the most famous history of the Jews sometime before 100 AD and narrated the events of Alexander’s arrival at Jerusalem:

“Now Alexander, when he had taken Gaza, made haste to go up to Jerusalem; and Jaddua the high priest, when he heard that, was in an agony, and under terror, as not knowing how he should meet the Macedonians, since the king was displeased at his foregoing disobedience. He therefore ordained that the people should make supplications, and should join with him in offering sacrifice to God, whom he begged to protect that nation, and to deliver them from the perils that were coming upon them; whereupon God warned him in a dream, which came upon him after he had offered sacrifice, that he should take courage, and adorn the city, and open the gates; that the rest should appear in white garments, but that he and the priests should meet the king in the habits proper to their order, without the dread of any ill consequences, which the providence of God would prevent. Upon which, when he rose from his sleep, he greatly rejoiced, and declared to all the warning he had received from God. According to which dream he acted entirely, and so waited for the coming of the king.

And when he understood that the king was not far from the city, he went out in procession, with the priests and the multitude of the citizens. The procession was venerable, and the manner of it different from that of other nations. It reached to a place called Sapha, which name, translated into Greek, means a prospect, for you have from there a prospect both of Jerusalem and of the temple…

Alexander, when he saw the multitude at a distance, in white garments, while the priests stood clothed with fine linen, and the high priest in purple and scarlet clothing, with his mitre on his head, having the golden plate whereon the name of God was engraved, he approached by himself, and adored that name, and first saluted the high priest. The Jews also did all together, with one voice, salute Alexander, and encompass him about; whereupon the kings of Syria and the rest were surprised at what Alexander had done, and supposed him disordered in his mind. However, Parmenio alone went up to him, and asked him how it came to pass that, when all others adored him, he should adore the high priest of the Jews? To whom he replied, “I did not adore him, but that God who hath honored him with his high priesthood; for I saw this very person in a dream, in this very habit, when I was at Dios in Macedonia, who, when I was considering with myself how I might obtain the dominion of Asia, exhorted me to make no delay, but boldly to pass over the sea thither, for that he would conduct my army, and would give me the dominion over the Persians; whence it is that, having seen no other in that habit, and now seeing this person in it, and remembering that vision, and the exhortation which I had in my dream, I believe that I bring this army under the Divine conduct, and shall therewith conquer Darius, and destroy the power of the Persians, and that all things will succeed according to what is in my own mind.” And when he had said this to Parmenio, and had given the high priest his right hand, the priests ran along by him, and he came into the city. And when he went up into the temple, he offered sacrifice to God, according to the high priest’s direction, and magnificently treated both the high priest and the priests. And when the Book of Daniel was showed him wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended. And as he was then glad, he dismissed the multitude for the present; but the next day he called them to him, and bid them ask what favors they pleased of him; whereupon the high priest desired that they might enjoy the laws of their forefathers, and might pay no tribute on the seventh year. He granted all they desired. And when they entreated him that he would permit the Jews in Babylon and Media to enjoy their own laws also, he willingly promised to do hereafter what they desired.”

-Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Bk. XI, ch. 8

Thus, we find that God had not only foretold of Alexander’s coming to rule the world, but arranged, through visions given both to the high priest of Jerusalem and to Alexander himself, to keep Jerusalem safe. Moreover, we find that the vision given to Daniel was not intended solely to encourage the Jews in Babylon, but also to be read by the king himself when he came to power. Thus, Alexander bowed before the Lord and confessed as Nebuchadnezzar did, “Truly your God is the God of gods and Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries; that is why you were able to reveal this mystery.” Alexander sacrificed to God and honored the Jewish people for the Lord’s sake.

Remaining Conquests & Death

After sparing Jerusalem, Alexander moved into Egypt where he was welcomed as a god in 332 BC. Only a year later, Alexander marched north and east, conquering the city Babylon and by 329 BC, Alexander had conquered the entire Persian Empire. Not yet satisfied, Alexander pressed further east into India, continuing to add to his incredible kingdom that now stretched from Greece, south to Egypt and east all the way into India.

If you remember back to our last lesson, we learned that the Greeks enjoyed an ideal of freedom that was greatly different from the absolute power and control that was exercised by Persian kings. Unfortunately, for Alexander, when he conquered Persia, he let his success get to his head and he accepted and demanded more and more of the honor of the Persian kings. As his followers watched this habit growing in him, they began to believe that they were merely being used to build Alexander a kingdom–not to seek benefits of their own. The men did not share Alexander’s passion to rule all the world, but were eager to return with their winnings and glory back home. Alexander was forced to turn around and head home.

After his conquests were completed, Alexander’s fortunes quickly changed. Wisdom should have taught Alexander that the riches and fame of the world are short lived and unsatisfying, but he seems to set his hopes on the enjoyment of his worldly wealth. As he headed home, back through Persia, he already began to find his men unfaithful in the assignments he gave them before, found his army to be no longer obedient and supportive, lost his closest friend and saw his kingdom already losing its original sweetness. Mysteriously Alexander died in 323 BC, at the age of 32.

Summary

Earlier in this lesson, you were asked to keep an eye on the dates of the events in the life of Alexander. We have watched in this course how the great empires have risen and fallen over a period of 3000 years. However, what we see in the life of Alexander is simply unbelievable. This young man inherited the kingdom of his father at age 20 and by the time he was 32 years old, he ruled not only Greece, or Asia, or Syria, or Egypt–but the entire known world: from Greece to India. There is no question that, among mortals, Alexander enjoyed a birth, education and life of great deeds that can hardly be matched by any other. Rightly he is called by historians, Alexander–the Great.

In our next lesson we will learn of what happens to the kingdom he won after his death.

Memory Work

  • The Ancient World (4000 BC – 750 BC)
  • Ancient Egypt begins (3000 BC)
  • Life of Noah (2950 BC – 2000 BC)
  • Life of Abraham (2000 BC – 1780 BC)
  • Hebrew Exodus (1450 BC – 1410 BC)
  • Trojan War (1200 BC)
  • Life of King David (1000 BC – 960 BC)
  • The Temple of Solomon (circa 960 BC)
  • City of Rome Founded (753 BC)
  • Homer Writes the Illiad & Odyssey (750 BC)
  • The Classical World (750 BC – 500 AD)
  • Assyrian Captivity (722 BC)
  • The Prophet Daniel in Babylon (600 BC – 535 BC)
  • Babylonian Captivity (586 BC)
  • Esdras the Scribe (530-450 BC)
  • The Roman Republic (509-31 BC)
  • Classical Greece (480-323 BC)
  •  The Medieval World (500 AD – 1500 AD)
  •  The Modern World (1500 AD – present)

Exam

  • World Chronology, Lesson 19 Exam