Saturday, November 2, 2013

Alexander the Great: The Greek Empire Ruled by A Madman

Alexander the Great
The Greek Empire Ruled by a Madman
A Short Essay of His Conquest and Insanity
Alexander the Great was truly great, but was he everything he thought he was? There are many wild stories detailing his vanity, violence, his insatiable conquest, and his extraordinary ability to lead the armies of Greece into victory. But what makes the man tick? Everyone knows he was an incredible conqueror, but how many realize that he lost his mind not long before he died? Yet, before Alexander, there was his father, Phillip II of Macedon, who was born to King Amyntas III and Eurydice I in 382 B.C., and was kidnapped by the Thebans and held hostage. He was with them for years and learned much about Greek military strategy during his hostage, all of which he absorbed with great intent, for he knew the day would come when he would wield that knowledge against his enemies. Years later he escaped and returned to Macedon in 364 B.C. His brothers perished in military campaigns, making him the King of Macedon in 359 B.C. It was said that Phillip's first intention was to unite the men in Macedon and to build an army, for they were fierce, sturdy and loyal, and in fact he did.
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This is partly because Philip was a master of diplomacy as well as a master of military tactics, where he even appointed himself as the peace-keeper of Greece's constantly feuding city states. and soon after he forged a mighty army to expel Persians from Greek cities in western Asia Minor. Philip, however, was assassinated in 336 B.C. well before he completed his vision of conquest and rule over Greece and Persia, but this is where the legendary story of his son Alexander comes in.

ALEXANDER SON OF PHILLIP II: born in 356 BC in Pella, the ancient capital of Macedonia, Alexander seemed destined for conquest and to hear to cries of victory. He was trained in many disciplines by Aristotle. At the age of 16 his father King Philip had assembled a large Macedonian army and invaded Thrace, leaving Macedonia in his son's leadership during his absence, however the Thracian tribe of Maedi rebelled against Phillip. Alexander swiftly assembled an army and defeated and captured their stronghold, renaming it after himself: Alexandropolis. In 338 B.C. Alexander won a decisive victory against the Theban Secret Band at Chaeronea, where the victory is thought to be from his own bravery which saved the tide of the battle against the Theban Elites. In 336 B.C. Phillip II was assassinated by Pausanias for reasons that bewilder historians to this day, as no record of why this happened was recorded, although some speculate that the discord between Phillip and Alexander grew so great that after Alexander fled with his mother Olympia, it was he who hired Pausanias to kill him. There are many theories none of which have any evidence. The child turns into a man and conquers, and with his father's death becomes the ruler of the greatest army ever united to date. And Alexander plans to use them in the full.

ALEXANDER BECOMES ALEXANDER THE GREAT: The prodigal son turned betrayer? Who knows. The prodigal son turns conqueror? Yes! Alexander became the king and planned to live his father's vision: The conquest of Persia. The Achaemenid Persian Empire was not a culture to start fighting casually, as they were far from regular warriors, but they never succeeded in their two conquests of Greece, for more information rad my articles "The Origins of the Persians and the Battle of Marathon Against Ancient Greece " and "Lacedaemonians and Athenians: Battles at Thermopylae and Salamis." The Greeks demonstrated their ability to fight and win even in odds of over 10:1, which are truly extraordinary odds. And it all began when he was twenty-two years old. Alexander met the armies of Darius III 333 B.C. at Issus and defeated his some 200,000 men (possibly much more) with his army of 30,000 Greeks and mercenaries. Without missing a step, Alexander continued forward into Persian territory and two years later met Darius in 331 B.C. at Gaugamela. Now Darius was definitely prepared for battle at Gaugamela (on map below). In fact, this battle is almost funny, because by all standards Darius III's army should have won. This is because Darius had painstakingly chose the battlefield to favor his army and his chariots, and Gaugamela was supposed to be the perfect area for high speed hit-and-runs and high defense in favor if his army. Yes, the Persians had chariots, a lot of them, which were still a bit of a novelty in this age. Not only that, but they had what could only be described as "scythe-like" blades sticking out on their wheels to cut any enemies nearby to bits. It would have truly been a horrible way to die. The ground at Gaugamela was flat, but he was not satisfied, so he ordered his men to flatten the field even more. I add this in hopes to demonstrate just how much preparation went into Darius' plans not just to be victorious against the Greeks led by Alexander, but to kill them all effortlessly. This was revenge, after all.
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Alexander immediately sized up the Persian's tactical advantage and countered by ordering his cavalry to shift to the right hoping to move his enemy away from its flat field. Darius III failed to foresee the consequences of his hastiness and of his brute strength strategy, making the same mistake that his predecessors Xerxes and Darius I made each in their own attempts to invade Greece at Marathon and Salamis. Brute strength does not work against the Greeks!!! Darius ordered his troops to follow the Greeks in full force and they all found themselves on rocky territory where the chariots were useless and hard to traverse, and the line of chariots thinned as they all struggled to maintain their formation over the rough terrain. Seeing the thinned lines, Alexander led a charge into the Persian army's rear and crushed them from behind. And just as Darius fled at the Battle of Issus, Darius again fled, handing victory to Alexander yet again. Alexander's elite army was outnumbered over 6:1 by the Persians and yet Alexander lost only 100 men in the battle here at Gaugamela. It is astonishing that such odds can be so easily overcome, but further analysis of the past kings of Persia and of Darius III shows that they all repeated the same mistakes against the Greeks, for all three of the kings (Darius I, Xerxes, and Darius III) used their large numbers against the Greeks to win, and in all three wars (though many more battles) were utterly lost with very little deaths to the Greek soldiers. At Marathon, it is said that there were over 120,000 Persians on the beach alone and less than 8000 untrained Greeks, yet in their battle there over 8000 Persians died to only 100 Greeks dying, a ratio of 800:1 in the Greek's favor. The odds are staggering, yet the Greeks never seem succumb to brute force. Perhaps because they themselves were masters of brute force? Their armies always had superb strategy though, which shows that the Greek way of thought at the time was truly unique.
You can see Alexander on his horse on the left above where the picture was ruined
from old age, and Darius II on the right in the large chariot wearing the traditional
Persian attire and hat.
Alexander the Great proceeded toward India once he set up his rule in Persia, making the Greek Empire the largest empire to ever exist to date, and having achieved his father's vision of ruling a unified Greece and Persia, Alexander perhaps was all set and happy? Of course not. If he were capable of it, he would have conquered his entire life, only stopping from natural or violent death. Unfortunately, he died about 11 years after Gaugamela from what could be described as an infection or kidney failure, although the accounts are hard to infer his illness since medical knowledge at the time was severely limited. The mighty Alexander the Great died of some sort of illness. But before he died, it is said that he rapidly lost his mind. He became terribly vain (even for a Greek!), broke with traditions by shaving his face, and of particularly disturbing note, it is said that when he went to Egypt to rule he made himself a pharaoh and accounts describe that he seemed to truly believe he was the incarnation of a god in the flesh.
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Alexander was not stupid but he wasn't terribly smart, but he was a brilliant military leader, and although his father was a skilled diplomat and actually came to be regarded as a Macedonian who was not a mere barbarian by the other more sophisticated Greek cities, Alexander was none of that except a military leader. He gradually seemed to lose his mind, and his desire for conquest certainly wore out his army, as they seemed to travel and fight in strange lands endlessly. By the time the Macedonian army reached Samarkand and were preparing to embark into India, there was a growing disunion between the "old guard" of the army, veterans of Alexander's father Philip II, who believed that the Macedonian way of life was the only acceptable way of life for a Macedonian king and his following army. This disunion was greatly worsened when Alexander had begun to embrace eastern ideas of autocracy, he delved into deification in Egypt when he was made pharaoh, he practiced prostration and began experimenting with Oriental rites of kingship. These veterans of Philip were vocal enough about Alexander's strange behaviors that they were moved to posts that were far out of Alexander's way. Then there was the assassination of Parmenio by Alexander that finally led Cleitus the Black to speak out in defense of the old Macedonian ways and to try and put Alexander in his place. Alexander promptly murdered Cleitus the Black and silenced many of the old veterans of Phillip.

"Under the influence of drink he became unpleasant,
because of the airs he gave himself, and acted like a
bragging soldier; for not only was he himself carried
away into making boastful claims, but he allowed
himself to be ridden by flatters."
(Hamilton, 60).


ALEXANDER THE EPILEPTIC? : Alexander consistently became stranger and stranger to his fellow Greeks as they moved on, and as Alexander spent all of his free time getting drunk as a skunk, he listened more and more to those people who flattered him and compared with to the likenesses of demi-gods such as Hercules and with some Pharaonic gods as Amun-Ra. This marks the official turn down south of Alexander's mental condition, for although he could have just been a dreamer or a king with wild visions, other documents describe Alexander as spacey, such as when you stare blankly in thought, where he may have been having epileptic seizures, which can be triggered or simply occur without any real stimulation. Regardless of what was happening, it always seemed that after Alexander would stare blankly (possibly having a seizure) he would have some crazy idea that he impulsively acted on. For example, at the Battle of Granicus in 334 B.C. against Persia, Alexander's army was stuck in deep mud and the Persians seemed to have the upper hand. Unwilling to retreat and unwilling to let his men be slaughtered, Alexander was said to have stared blankly for some moments, and coming out of it he became wild like an animal, his eyes blazing, and all alone he rushed right through the Persian army. Knowing how loyal his army was, he knew they would fight like animals to rescue him, and they did, thus winning the Battle at Granicus. This happened several times, where Alexander threw himself into danger so that his army would fight viciously and win the battles.
ALEXANDER THE MADMAN: Although the proof of any sort of mental state is limited at best, his royal diary shed some very interesting information of his possible deteriorating mental condition, where epilepsy would make for a highly plausible candidate attributing to his steady mental deterioration, as epilepsy causes severe brain damage if left untreated, destroying the brain more each time a seizure occurs. However, it should not take a historian to realize that Alexander was a screw loose regardless of being a sufferer of epilepsy or not, for Alexander came to believe that he was a demi-god on multiple occasions, lost all his Greek roots as he explored foreign traditions and customs, and murdered dearest friends in cold blood and of other people in his army who stood against him, possibly even murdering his own father. This is an even louder statement than most casual readers may realize, since Greeks simply did not kill other Greeks no matter what the reason. This was a valued moral/principle to the Greek belief system, where they also believed that they would be cursed if they acted so awfully to each other. The Great Peloponnesian War of Athen vs Sparta was a dark day indeed in Greek history, where not only did Athens take the majority of the Greek world hostage through scams, lying and violence during the Delian League, but unspeakable atrocities were committed once war was officially declared by Sparta against Athens for her crimes against her Greek brothers.
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Regardless of what was really going on, Alexander was not a person anybody today would want to meet. He was brutal, violent, vain, immoral, a drunkard, and a cold blooded murderer, which are all great personality traits for a modern day psychopath. There are historical documents that allude to Alexander also being homosexual, culturally speaking, this was odd for two adult Greek men, as the practice typically involved a man and boy for the sake of building the relationship, rather than for sexual pleasure, although accounts of how and why this shady practice was accepted by Greek culture are a bit ambiguous. Back in Alexander's day, this was not totally abnormal behavior for warriors, as Spartans are said to have had adult sexual relations when away from home, and being a killer in war is naturally acceptable, where some of the cultures that shaped men Like Alexander permitted and sometimes even approved of killing outside of war if the intentions behind the action were justifiable by the standards of the culture.
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However, Alexander never stuck with traditions, as he continually broke the social norms and mores as if he were above them, and this falls in line with his egotism, as accounts say he thought he was some sort of demi-god. Even by ancient Greek standards he was considered insane, but what could anyone do? The people who already spoke against him were murdered in cold blood. It matters little how you shake the dice, as modern medicine and advances in psychology would undoubtedly distinguish Alexander even from those other violent warriors, as Alexander even stood out as a murderer in their eyes, and if a barbarian realizes that someone is psychopathic, I am sure that modern medicine would declare him medically deranged. Thankfully his life was cut very short, as it was about June 11, 323 B.C. that Alexander died, at the age of 32, his bloody conquest abruptly ending ambiguously either from drinking himself to death, a possible brain infection, assassination (poisoning), or death by seizure, while some even say that the pains he described in his diaries were indicative of kidney failure. Alexander did not die as any warrior should nor did he die quickly, and although there are multiple accounts from credible writers as to how they died, each one of these writers as well as Alexander's diaries all disagree, and their conflicting accounts of his death simply add to the ambiguity of his untimely demise. They all agree, however, that it was not a smooth death by any means. No solid information exists, but the fact was that when he died, and the world he conquered went into utter disarray, and the Greeks would soon call out for help.... TO ROME!!

UP NEXT IS THE BIRTH OF ROME!
"Ancient and Classical Rome Part 1-- The Birth of Rome and Rise of Power"

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