Five facts about… Alexander the Great

The conqueror of lands and creator of one of the ancient world’s largest empires, Alexander the Great was a military genius and uncompromising leader

Five facts about… Alexander the Great © iStock

He was only 32 when he died in 323 BC but he had forged an empire out of conquered lands that stretched from Greece to modern-day Pakistan. How did a young Macedonian king inspire his army to conquer lands that spanned the ancient world?

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So much of Alexander’s life is steeped in myth and legend that it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. Here are five things that define the man, and his reputation…

1

EMPIRE BUILDER

From his first military victory aged 18, Alexander never lost a battle using his ‘shock and awe’ tactics. This was never seen better than at Gaugamela, when he took on the Persian army of Darius III in 331 BC. Whereas Darius led 34,000 cavalry plus some 200,000 infantry, Alexander’s forces numbered only 7,000 cavalry and 30,000 infantry. Yet, despite being 1,000 miles from their homeland, Alexander’s men routed the Persians. Some records state that 50,000 of Darius’s men were killed in battle, compared to just 1,000 Greeks.

2

THE PHILOSOPHER AND THE PUPIL

Philosopher and scientist Aristotle tutored a teen Alexander, before he was king, for three years. Although Alexander respected Aristotle, and was clearly influenced by him, their relationship soured. During his expedition, Alexander would complain about his former teacher for the inaccurate geography he had taught him.

3

UP IN KNOTS

Of all the heroics, real or mythical, attributed to Alexander, one of the most famous is how he loosened the Gordian Knot. This was a leather knot, of the most complex kind, found on an ancient ox cart around the Temple of Zeus in the city of Gordion (in modern-day Turkey). A former king, Gordius, had left the cart there and legend foretold that whoever managed to loosen the knot would rule all of Asia. Various sources claim that Alexander untied the knot but none makes it clear how he did so. Some believe he simply slashed it with his sword.

4

NOT VERY CREATIVE NAMES

As Alexander rampaged from west to east, he celebrated each conquered land by founding a city. Though he didn’t give much thought to naming them – more than 70 were named Alexandria, after himself.

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5

A MIGHTY STEED

There was one city, however, that Alexander did name something else. Bucephala, in what is now Pakistan, got its name from Alexander’s horse, Bucephalus. He owned the steed since he was 13 when a horse trader insisted the beast couldn’t be tamed. The young Alexander, of course, tamed him – and went on to ride his beloved equine companion into many battles. When Bucephalus died after the Battle of the Hydaspes, the distraught Alexander founded a city and named it after him.