Alexander the Great: Brilliance and Brutality

History with Heart of Dakota Alexander the Great

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History with Heart of Dakota

Who was Alexander the Great? 

Conqueror, explorer, leader, and visionary. These are just a few of the words that describe Alexander the Great. Born the son of legendary warrior-king Philip II of Macedonia, Alexander went on to outshine his father.  Philip transformed Macedonia from an unremarkable country to a ruling power in Greece; Alexander made Macedonia the ruling power in the entire known world. His conquests would stretch the Macedonian empire from the mountains of his homeland, to the sands of Egypt, to the expanses of Persia, all the way to the banks of the River Beas in India.

Personality of a Genius 

Alexander was a genius in more ways than one. First, his grasp of military tactics was unequaled in his day. He perfected the use of the phalanx – a tactic which his father had introduced. The phalanx was an infantry formation where soldiers grouped tightly together with each man’s shield protecting himself and his neighbor. In addition to this, each man also carried an 18-20 foot pike which he would thrust outwards from the shield wall. (Wasson) In a time where armies usually fought in a haphazard manner depending on sheer force of numbers to win, the phalanx gave Alexander’s soldiers a huge advantage. Oftentimes, enemy soldiers would simply break off his phalanxes like water off a rock. In addition to this, Alexander had distinct knack for sensing his enemy’s weakest position and massing his men to exploit it. Therefore, when his phalanxes came crashing through there was usually no stopping them.

Second, Alexander was a genius when it came to leading his men. He routinely made a point of leading the charge in battle rather than staying back in safety. Initially, he also insisted on sharing his men’s hardships. For instance, while marching his troops through the desert, according to biographer Peter Green, “…when a helmetful [sic] of muddy water had been found for him in some nearby gully – but no more was to be had – he laughed, thanked the donor, and then tipped the water out into the sand. So extraordinary was the effect of this action that the water wasted by Alexander was as good as a drink from every man in the army.” (434) Alexander lead by example, as all great leaders do. When his men saw him facing and overcoming the same challenges they faced, it inspired greatness in them as well.

Fatal Flaws

Nonetheless, Alexander was far from perfect. “Like many brilliant men,” historian John Gunther writes, “he was unstable…he ran from one extreme to another…” (46) While he could be caring and understanding, he also could be irrational and violent. He had a burning temper which resulted in him murdering some of his most faithful soldiers, such as Clitus and Parmenion. Also, during his final years he firmly believed himself to be descended from the Greek god Zeus. Those who did not acknowledge this were executed. (Gunther 138-139) Sadly, with no god to serve except himself, Alexander – once great – ended his life in drunkenness and confusion.

Lasting Impressions

Even though Alexander’s life was dramatically short (he only lived to be 32!) what he accomplished in that time has had repercussions that affect us to this day. His use of soldiers as disciplined units formed the gold standard in military tactics for hundreds of years afterward. In addition, by bringing many different countries under one empire, he spread the use of a universal language – Greek. Many scholars believe this was instrumental in spreading the Gospel 400 years later. He also founded many different cities – some of which remain to this day. (Many of these he named Alexandria, after himself.) Ultimately, much like God had used prior civilizations and kings to carry out His purpose in history, God used Alexander the Great to mold the world according to His own plan.

Which HOD guides can you find Alexander the Great in? 

Alexander the Great can be encountered in several of Heart of Dakota’s guides! You can find him in Little Hearts, Preparing Hearts, Creation to Christ, World Geography, and World History. You can also find a more in-depth study of him in John Gunther’s book Alexander the Great, which students can read in the extension package for Creation to Christ.

Bibliography 

Green, P. Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C. (University of California Press, 2013).

Gunther, J. Alexander the Great. (Sterling Publishing, 2007).

Wasson, D.L. The Army of Alexander the Great. (Ancient History Encyclopedia, 2014). 

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