Alexander the Great


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XI. Alexander the Great and his vast Empire (356 - 323 BCE.)

Alexander the Great's vast empire

Dangerous Games played between Persians and Macedonians;

Greek migration to Anatolia began about 1,000 BCE. At the beginning, Greeks set up colonies on the Aegean shores and from there spread over a larger area. Although Hellenistic Civilization shows similarities with Greek, we should consider that it is not a part of it. Before we get into details about Hellenistic period, we have to take a look at two men who are father and son and credited with the foundation of Hellenistic civilization. One is Philip II, the second is Alexander the great, the son of Philip II. They came from Macedonia, the area to the northwest of the Aegean Sea which is occupied today by Macedonia, Greece, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. In the year 359, a new power was on the rise in the Aegean world. King Philip II of Macedon developed a formidable army and began to exploit the mineral resources of Thrace. The forward-looking politicians of Greece (such as Demosthenes) soon realized that Macedon posed a more serious threat to Greece than did Persia. Many other Greeks remained locked in a world view which would regard none but Persia as the great enemy of Greece. Soon, they realized that they were wrong in this view, after that Philip made himself master of mainland Greece following the critical battle of Chaeronea in 338. The Persian king was occupied with some internal conflicts such as Cadusii which had been trouble over thirty years and the re-conquest of Egypt as well. During all this turmoil, Artaxerxes welcomed a non-aggression pact with Philip. But in 341, Philip laid a siege to his defiant ally Perinthus on the Hellespont. Artaxerxes ordered his satraps to repel the Macedonian king but later he was murdered and succeeded by Arses. Soon, Philip showed an enthusiasm for a crusade against the Persian Empire. In 337 he was chosen to lead a military campaign and expedition of Greeks against Persia and he crossed the Dardanelles into Asia Minor. But the following year, he was assassinated at a theatrical performance in his capital Aegae. In the same year, the Persian king Arses was killed and succeeded by Darius III. Darius was to find that Macedon was an enemy that should have been taken into account. 

Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great

 

Alexander the Great, a godly king of Macedonia

The new king of Macedon was Alexander III to be known as Alexander the great who came on the throne in October 336 BCE, at the age 20 and he would soon destroy the Persian empire and cover all the territories of the ancient world, as far as India. Alexander was a remarkable person who combined the military genius and political vision of his father Philip, with literary bent, some romanticism and a taste for adventure. In less than two years Alexander secured the Greek and Thracian borders and gathered an army of 50,000 men for the assault on Asia. He made available, a considerable fleet of warships and supply for his soldiers. With him were also scholars to record their discoveries and achievements far in the east. The army crossed the Dardanelles in spring 334. Alexander made libations to the sea as he crossed. He then immediately headed for Troy where he sacrificed bulls to Athena the goddess and also to the heroes of the Trojan War. The battlefield Granicus was not too far away from Troy. At first glance, the superior army of Persians seemed advantageous holding their position on the steep banks of the river Granicus. However, the power of the Macedonian phalanx army advancing with their heavy weapons gave the Persian army a shock after which the Persian commander committed suicide. Alexander left one of his commanders, Parmenio in Arsides' palace at Dascyleium and marched via Sardis to Ephesus where he was to meet his fleet. The Persian garrison here was gone and the city was getting a democratic revolution as he arrived there. Alexander, at Ephesus, offered sacrifices and donations to the great temple of Artemis, however, proud Ephesians declined his offer on the basis that it is not appropriate for a god to make donation for another god. Alexander's warm attitude encouraged other cities in the area to join Alexander, being Magnesia on the Meander and Tralles the first among.  

Alexander next marched towards Miletus which put resistance against the Alexander's forces, so a siege was begun by the Macedonian army. Meanwhile, a Persian fleet arrived, but they were kept by the Alexander's ships and soldiers from landing on the coast. Miletus was taken by Alexander; however the population wasn't enslaved because their ancestors had been involved in Ionian revolt against Persians. But a tribute was imposed on Miletus. 

Another tough struggle waited at Halicarnassus, which was defended by the commander Memnon of Rhodes. The siege equipments, siege towers, catapults and rams, sappers came under heavy bombardment from the defenders. However, Memnon gave the order to leave the defense, and Alexander's army walked in and razed the town. Alexander left his general Ptolemy and a garrison to support the Hecatomnid princess Ada, to whom he left her authority over Caria region.

In barely six months all of the cities on the west coast of Anatolia were taken one by one by Alexander. As winter came on, Alexander headed for Lycia, southern Anatolia. He annexed all of the cities he went through. Amazingly, the Persians put no resistance. By midwinter, he was already at Phaselis. The Aegean cities began boiling by the activities of Memnon, it was a mistake that Alexander did not finish him off when he captured Halicarnassus. But in summer 333 BCE, Memnon died. Darius decided to concentrate all his forces for a big confrontation by land. Mercenaries and other forces were called from the Aegean to Babylon, and the Persian threat in the west coast receded. 

Alexander the Great

On to Phrygia

Pamphylia region was incorporated after a siege at Aspendos, and Alexander left Nearchus of Crete at Perge and  moved on northwards to take control of Phrygia. On his way north, only Termessus because of its highly defendable position on a lofty rock and steep city walls could not be taken by Alexander. At Gordion, he cut through the Gordion knot that no body had been able to untie it before. Then, he made his way through Paphlagonia, Cappadocia regions, Cilician gates and over the Taurus mountains to Tarsus which was to be his base for the next three months. Alexander caught cold after swimming in the river Cyndus, and this produced some crisis when Harpalus fled to Macedon with the cash. But Alexander soon recovered and made ready to meet Darius at Issus.

The Battle of Issus

Issus is located at the point where the Asia coast turns southwards to Levant. Here at Issus, Darius assembled his huge army in September 333 BCE that outnumbered the Macedonians. Naturally, Darius made the first move sweeping around to cut off Alexander's communications with Cilicia. Darius positioned his cavalry by the sea to the right, mercenary infantry in the center and the Persian infantry up the foothills  and bent around  almost encircle the Macedonians. Alexander's army faced northwards and the formidable phalanx forces with their projecting spears moved forward. The light-armed Persians could not withstand the Phalanx, but their cavalry did great job. However, the Persian center could not hold. Alexander forged closer and closer to the enemy king himself. Suddenly, Darius turned and fled. The Persians lost confidence and lost the order. Macedonians pursued the Persians and put a heavy massacre there. Persian losses estimated to be around 100,000. Alexander was now master of Persian lands and secured the treasures at Damascus as well as capturing Darius' wife and mother. 

Alexander, King of Persia

After the battle of Ipsus, Alexander continued his march, and secured the Syrian coast, the most difficult city to take was Tyre. Alexander after the capture of Tyre, has crucified an enormous numbers of the defenders. He marched into Egypt where he was met as new Pharaoh, and founded the city of Alexandria. He made his way after Egypt to Mesopotamia where a final battle took place at Gaugamela in Mesopotamia which brought the Persian empire to an end. Alexander continuing his expedition into heartlands of Persia, captured the Persian capitals of Susa and Persepolis with all their wealth. Soon after the fall of Persian cities, Darius the king of Persia was murdered by two of his men and was replaced by Alexander the Great as king of Persia. The lands he conquered were not enough for Alexander; he led his army further east into Pakistan. A naval fleet was sent down the Indus river to explore the sea route to Mesopotamia area. Meanwhile, Alexander led his army on a disastrous march through the desert of southern Iran, on which many of his soldiers died. As he was planning further conquests and explorations, he suddenly died at Babylon in 323 BCE, his death was probably of fever. Some other accounts relate his death to his heavy drinking. When he died, he was just thirty-three years old, and at this age, he was almost the master of the known ancient world. 

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Travels around Asia Minor 1976-2002
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