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Alexander the Not-So-Great

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The author is a student of ancient and modern European history.

Bust of Alexander the Great in his youth

Bust of Alexander the Great in his youth

Alexander the Great

Alexander III of Macedon is often called Alexander the Great as a result of his victory against the Persian Empire and his vast conquests. Alexander took over more territory than any general before him, and it was not until the Mongols that an empire would surpass the size of Alexander's empire.

This does not make Alexander the greatest general the world has ever seen. While he was certainly one of the bravest generals and one of the greatest commanders the world has ever seen it was because of the situation others put him in, not because of his own generalship.

Bust of Philip II

Bust of Philip II

The Macedonian Army

The Macedonian army was developed by Alexander's father, Philip II. Philip trained the Macedonian army during his wars with Greece. It was also under Philip that most of Greece was pacified and this paved the way for large-scale recruitment and financing. Phalanx warfare was an evolution of the hoplite warfare of Greece, and Philip made his soldiers the best in the world.

When Philip II was assassinated, Alexander assumed control of his father's army. He did not have to train or drill his army; he simply inherited it. Most of the world's greatest generals had to train their own troops. They developed some tactics that made them better than everyone else and that is why they became great.

Napoleon had to make his fortune with the worst of the French forces, the Army of Italy. He was given the troops that were meant to be a diversion and used them to overthrow Austrian hegemony in Italy. Scipio Africanus and Hannibal both had to train their armies from recruits and mercenaries for their campaigns. Alexander, on the other hand, was given a ready made army that would have served just as well with Philip II as their leader.

Darius fleeing the Battle of Gaugamela

Darius fleeing the Battle of Gaugamela

The Opposition

Alexander led the best-trained force in the ancient world, and his infantry were the heaviest, most disciplined soldiers the world had ever seen. It would not be until they met the Roman Legions that they would meet their match. The forces he went to face on the other hand were more a collection of men than an army.

Darius III led an army composed of soldiers from all over the Persian world. From the shores of Anatolia to Central Asia, all the peoples and tribes sent soldiers to fight for Darius. They spoke different languages and were generally poorly armed and armored. Only the chariot forces of the Persian Empire could be considered great weapons, and even they were useless against Macedonian phalanxes.

Alexander led an elite force supported by well armed and armored Greeks. He personally led the Companion Cavalry, who overwhelmed the Persians in every battle. Alexander had no special tactics or military designs. In every major battle Alexander won, Macedonian phalanxes marched in his center, while he led the Companion Cavalry along the enemies flank. Oftentimes he would simply lead a suicide charge against the enemy general who would then flee the field, such as in the Battle of Gaugamela, where the Persian Empire was defeated and collapsed.

This was Alexander's great strategy, he charged headlong at the enemy and killed them all in combat. When compared to the other great generals of the world it becomes laughable that Alexander is considered a great general, or a tactical master. Alexander was an amazing commander in that he personally led his cavalry and inspired his troops. His soldiers would have followed him on a charge into Hell, but the only reason he was so successful was that his enemies were so pitiful.

The Macedonian Empire

The Macedonian Empire

The Hellenistic Empire

Alexander the Great conquered one of the largest land empires in history, but that is all he did for his empire. By destroying the Persian Empire and usurping the royal practices of the Persian kings he just took the place of the Persian king. Furthermore, Alexander actually failed to pacify most of his empire. Alexander should be considered a poor administrator as he barely administered the empire per the examples above.

After Alexander died, his successors had to spend several years making Alexander's conquests Macedonian. These successors, The Diadochi, taught the conquered people Greek language, institutions and warfare. Even so there were multiple tribes in Anatolia that Alexander simply bypassed and left sovereign in their own land. Alexander had co-opted the Persian satraps, but many rebelled upon his death. Most of the eastern territories broke away and created their own kingdom.

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Many of Alexander's policies were failures. He had made his generals marry Persian women to integrate the Macedonians and Persians, but once he died many of his successors exiled, banished, or divorced their Persian wives. His attempts to create a unified Macedonian empire ended with his death when he failed to leave an heir to his empire.

Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Why was Alexander the Great called Great?

Answer: When Alexander the Great seized the Persian crown he took all the titles that had traditional belonged to the eastern kings. One of these was “Great King” and was originally held by Cyrus the Great. Alexander took the title, and history shortened it to Alexander the Great.

Question: Why did Alexander be called the Great by many kingdoms when he took their kingdoms?

Answer: That is a very complicated question that is intertwined with middle eastern history and the post-Alexandrian world. While the idea of self-determination and freedom are paramount to western culture, these were not ideals that were well known in the classical world, and Alexander was in effect just another foreign conqueror, and for many of the kingdoms he conquered he was fighting the power that had last conquered them.

Persia, and it’s emperors, we’re not really from the Mediterranean world, and yet they ruled from Ionia to Egypt and from the Red Sea to the Caspian Sea. Persia was an empire, it’s ruler claiming the title King of Kings. As it was a composite state, it’s individual pieces were semi-independent in regards to local customs and cultural laws. This meant that even when the empire fell, the satrapies were already organized in sub-states.

When Alexander took over the Achaemenid Empire he also took over their trappings and titles. He made himself into a Persian king backed by Hellenic military training, and for many of the people he conquered this wouldn’t have changed their burden or loyalty. It was much more a change in governor than a change of government.

Therefore when Alexander married together Greek philosophy and thought with Persian governance and organization he blended two worlds together. His Diadochi secured his heritage in the name of Alexander, and this drove the name of Alexander the Great down through history.

© 2012 A Anders


Alexander the Great on February 24, 2020:

to pdge12709 : it was actually not specified as to which he has died from... just saying

yuri tarded on January 30, 2020:

he got everything from his dad

yura dopted on January 29, 2020:

good story

pdge12709 on January 28, 2020:

He went undefeated in battle for 15 years until he died of Malaria and conquered land throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa and became the Pharoah of Egypt because the Egyptians thought he was a god.

Hello there on November 04, 2019:

Alexander sucked because he took more credit than he actually did. He used trickery to conquer the Persian empire, not tactics. Later, he spent sooooooo long fighting a kingdom at the edge of India(Paurava) and barely won. And that was the greatest extent. So short.

Jeremy kingsmore on August 07, 2019:

Not tactical? What about when he was 18 and had to go subdue the Thracian rebellion after his father died? The Thracians held the mountain pass so Alexander had his engineers cut steps in the mountain so his army could get behind them, and they attacked the Thracian city before they knew he got behind them....not tactical? How about when he landed in India and made them think he was charging toward one flank until the reinforced it then changed direction mid-charge and attacked the other exposed flank, leading to a win against superior forced. What about Tyre? They defied Alexander and thought they were safe on their island until Alexander built a road to their city. Saying Phillip would've done the same is a sign of monumental ignorance, as is implying because he inherited his army he somehow doesn't deserve credit for how it was used. Most leaders inherited or bought their army. Hannibal relied greatly on mercenary forces since most of his died in the Alps

fred herath on June 13, 2019:

absolutely the most ignorant argument I've seen in 71 years of living. Expanding Hellenistic culture, leaving people and religions in place as he expanded his dream in consult with Aristotle, places this man in many scholars opinion as second only to Jesus Christ himself in terms of influence on present day Humanity. If he had lived it is quite possible there would be no borders and we would all be in this together. What an atrociously stupid perspective this article represents.

Stephon on April 15, 2019:

Loved it

big but cheeks on April 04, 2019:

I LIKED it but where dose it talk about him being ba

on March 28, 2019:

the article was great and all but how come i coulden't find anything that made him bad?

Bishop on March 28, 2019:

It was helpful but you could make it better

a person who is all gt on March 26, 2019:

hi it was nice

UwU on March 21, 2019:

Do you have any quotes that made Alexander a bad example?

Crusaderbro1 on March 21, 2019:

Yea I have to write an article too thanks for this article

Alexa on March 17, 2019:

This was a lot of help for my school work, but I am still wondering why Alexander the Great was thought to be an awful person by so many people.

Angelica on March 13, 2019:

Alexander the Great was only recognized as "The Great" because of how much he succeeded in conquering lands and making it his own. So, he was only great at conquering and starting war and conflict for the building of his reputation. Just think about all the careless things he has done and about if he deserved to really be called ''the great".

wOw on March 13, 2019:

this really helped with my essay

OwO UwU :P on February 19, 2019:

this helped me with my essay! Thanks!

angel on January 23, 2019:

thanks he is not that good

LOL on December 13, 2018:

this helped me a lot with the Socratic Seminar were having in three weeks

lmao boi on November 08, 2018:

lmao thank!!!!!!

Angel Pullins on October 09, 2018:

he is not good I hate him more like Alexander the fake

kid on October 09, 2018:


Emo girl on October 09, 2018:

I don't know if I like him....

a person thats doing a history fair on September 18, 2018:

thanks for the help! you helped me figure out what to write about!

A person trying to finish their essay on May 24, 2018:

this helped me on my essay thanks!

Anish on May 10, 2018:


a little boy on February 15, 2018:

its a good article thanks for my home work help sir

AwesomeUnicorn on June 04, 2017:

I really like your article it is very detailed. Have you considered writing an article on why Alexander the Great, was actually Great, because your an Awesome author and I think more people would like reading it. Thanks, this article really helped me with my homework!! :)

A Anders (author) from Buffalo, New York. on September 04, 2013:

Hello Nick,

I think me and Great Armies would have an awesome party.

Great Armies on September 03, 2013:

Who wouldn't want to hear about Alexander the Great at a party?

Nick Vlahopoulos on September 03, 2013:

Gee you must be real fun at parties..

Great Armies on July 21, 2013:

Alexander did not fail to forge an empire, as Defined by Merriam Webster dictionary an empire is " : a major political unit having a territory of great extent or a number of territories or peoples under a single sovereign authority" (

As every empire in history has shown people don't like to be defeated and ruled over. Alexander was able to counter this to some degree.

---He got the Greeks to join him by telling them it was revenge for the Persian's burning of the Acropolis.

---The people of the east, including Egypt, he gained by having himself named a son of god. The people of the east believed that their leaders were sons of the gods. The people were more likely to follow him after he was named Zeus Amen.

---He also wished for his men to intermarry. This meaning that they marry people from the previous Persian empire. This would create a more combined nation. He even married multiple Persians in order to show that he would even do it.

---He also treated the people kindly and didn't change things much. He kept the governments similar to what they were and allowed the people to continue practicing what religions they wanted. This is why their was never a problem with the Jewish people under his reign.

---He also gained leaders as friends, including Pontus whom he defeated and allowed to keep his land. This kept the people under his power.

To address his kingdoms fall is a hard thing to do as well as hard to blame him. One common belief is that he said "to the strongest" which i believe in Greek is Krateristus. This is extremely close to Kraterus which was one of the generals that was under Alexanders command. He was also not there when Alexander died, this means he could not take the leadership. It was also possible that Alexander had not been able to speak before he died this means he could not have given anyone command.

He may have previously not have wanted to choose a successor because of the history of Macedonian kings that died due to the men around them. I am sure there are many other possible reasons but as i mentioned above it is not possible for us to understand what happened. All we know is that his empire was held together after his death by a number of generals who had agreed to split the power until Alexander IV grew old enough to take command. This only lasted for a little while until his men fought against each other. All but maybe Ptolemy wanted a united Hellenistic kingdom the only problem being that they each wanted to rule it. This is not entirely Alexanders fault seeing as he is dead. It is seen throughout the different ruling nations that given a chance people will grasp for the chance to rule completely. See both triumvirates as an example.

---Alexander's men loved him for his generosity-- he paid off many of there debts. He also listened to their complaints, such as their mutiny which was caused by homesickness. Even then they felt bad for wanting to turn back. He once drove into the enemy by himself causing his men to come after him. Everything he asked of his men, he would do himself. This caused his men to love him.

---Though he did not do everything correctly, such as the burning of Persepolis. He did hold to his agreements with the Greeks by sending them home after he defeated the Persians. Every great leader made mistakes that is true. For example Hannibal didn't march on Rome after the battle of Cannea. This caused him not to defeat the Romans. After his defeat he was said to say that Alexander was the greatest leader, then Pyrrhus, then finally himself Hannibal. Another great leader Caesar was said to have cried one day while reading about Alexander because he himself had not done nearly as much as Alexander had by the age of 30.I see no real reason to say that he was not great. He was looked up to by the leaders of Rome and his tactics are still used to day by modern military's. He also created a new form of hand to hand combat that is still taught. Even though his empire did not last as long as some his ideas and skill shows his greatness.

A Anders (author) from Buffalo, New York. on July 17, 2013:

Hello Great Armies.

Alexander failed to forge an empire. He never truly made his subjects believe in his cause.

For example, he had to execute the Thracian regiments in his army because they were so unruly. Upon Alexander's death his kingdom was torn apart by the men who followed him, men who had no vision of a united Hellenistic world.

Thanks for coming by and sharing your idea.

Great Armies on July 17, 2013:

Alexander the Great was able to defeat the Persian navy with out using his ships which is a feat in itself. By moving alone the shore he was able to take every city that had a port. When he first gained leadership he moved swiftly against uprisings from cities such as Thebes and Athens. Even if his army was better that the Persians, numbers do matter. Alexander's placement of cavalry was the key to the breaking of the Persian's who's power had been feared all through the Greek areas. Unlike Barca--who lost against Scippio, and lost a large portion of his force before facing the Romans. Both Hannible and Alexander gained there forces from their prestigious fathers. It was how they used them that made them great. Alexander was able to use different parts of the forces that he gained while on conquest to make a more universal army. He used political maneuvers to gain allies and cause the people of the conquered areas to follow him. Something that only a few could do, such as Octavian. Alexander the Great led the rise of the Hellenistic period and the spread of culture. That is why he is considered great.

A Anders (author) from Buffalo, New York. on February 17, 2013:

Hello Weswicki,

I agree that Alexander ushered in the Hellenistic Age, but I feel like his name was stamped on Hellenism. The Diodachi did all the grunt work, but it's just easier to see Alexander as the leader of the movement because we are looking backwards in to history.

Thanks for stopping by and leaving such an engaging comment.

Wes from USA on February 16, 2013:

I agree that Alexander's military cunning may not have been the best, and certainly not on par with likes of the later Hannibal, but I'd posit that his greatness is more in association with his ushering in of the hellenistic age. Stating that conquering the lands was all he did is....more than a little dismissive. Quite a few wise rulers don't make drastic administrative or cultural changes upon ursurping a throne. Maybe the most damning thing was that Alexander did (or didn't do) was that he didn't name an extact heir, though things seemed to have stablized for a couple years until After the assassination of Perdiccas in 321 BC, Macedonian unity collapsed, and 40 years of war between "The Successors" (Diadochi) ensued before the Hellenistic world settled into four stable power blocks: the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, the Seleucid Empire in the east, the Kingdom of Pergamon in Asia Minor, and Macedon. In the long run, however, the fragmentation of his empire actually helped the process of hellenization along, even if it wasn't intentional. All that said though...I really enjoyed the article!

A Anders (author) from Buffalo, New York. on December 19, 2012:

Elephants were not as great a weapon as they might seem at first glance. They easily panic, and numerous commanders found ways of breaking elephant charges apart. It was more likely the sub-continent itself that the Macedonians feared. A phalanx cannot operate in uneven terrain so the jungles and mountains of India would have allowed the lighter Indian troops to pick apart the Macedonians.

The cavalry wedge was an interesting tactic, but one manouver does not make a great general. Alexander did not have to face any other great generals, he merely had to defeat armies of rabble, and occasionally sit outside a city till they starved to death.

The Macedonian soldiers were the most disciplined, best equipped, and strategically important soldiers in the classical world. Every ancient power in the western world adopted the phalanx as their main battle line until the development of manipalur formations by the Romans.

Thank you for bringing a dissenting voice with your comments, I hope to see more from you!

Sir Payne on December 18, 2012:

I hate to be the dissenting voice, but I disagree. Alexander's victory at Gaugamela was the result of arguably the most brilliant tactic used in all the history of warfare. He didn't win because of his army, he won because of his own doing. The army that Alexander inherited was not as great as you say it was, they lost numerous battles before Alexander took the reins. The Macedonian army was not the greatest of the age. Did you know that one of the reasons why the Macedonians didn't continue into India was because they were afraid of the Indian armies? These Indian armies composed hundreds of elephants. The Macedonians knew they would be defeated if they attempted to advance any further, so they refused. My point is, Alexander did not gain his victories from the same tactic, or from his superior soldiers. He gained his victories through his own cunning.

A Anders (author) from Buffalo, New York. on April 29, 2012:

Thanks for the comment and vote up!

History sees Alexander from the present, in that we see Hellenism flower throughout the Middle East and Anatolia after Alexander's conquest, but without his more capable successors it would have been a very short Hellenic period.

Richard J ONeill from Bangkok, Thailand on April 29, 2012:

Interesting and voted up ata1515.

Very interesting information in this hub. I really had no idea that Alexander was such a poor conqueror and ruler in comparison to the greats like William the Conqueror, Augustus Caesar etc. A good leader, no doubt, but history has painted him in a much more favorable light than he deserved and you have done a good job, highlighting that here with this article.

Thanks for enlightening me!

A Anders (author) from Buffalo, New York. on April 16, 2012:

Thanks for the comments, glad you enjoyed it.

Angelo52 on April 15, 2012:

Excellent historical article on Alexander. It echos many of the thoughts I have had when there are specials on the History channel about Alexander.

Jessee R from Gurgaon, India on April 15, 2012:

A good take on Alexander! I agree with each point of discussion over here...

cebutouristspot from Cebu on April 14, 2012:

A great review of history most talk about general. Thanks.

Jason from Vilonia , Arkansas on April 14, 2012:

I love it. Maybe your a little to harsh on the ole boy but still, I would take Hannibal of Carthage over Alexander the great any day.

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