The Conquerer and King of Macedonia, but what else has he done? Here are 12 interesting facts about Alexander the Great that you may not know…
1. The day he was born was a big day
The day Alexander was born, his father (King Philip) was off preparing a siege on the Greek city of Potidaea. On the same day Alexander was born, his father got news that one of his generals (named Parmenion) had defeated the combined armies of Illyria and Paeonia, and that his horses had won at the Olympic Games. Strangely, the Temple of Artemis (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world) apparently burned down on that day. One historian mused that this probably occurred because Artemis herself was off attending Alexander’s birth.
2. He had a serious crush on his horse
When Alexander was 10, a trader came to see King Philip. He offered to sell the horse to the king, but when people tried to mount the horse, it fought, refusing to be mounted. Philip, a busy King, ordered the horse away. However, Alexander asked to tame the horse, correctly thinking that the horse was afraid of its own shadow. Eventually, he succeeded, Philip bought the horse for him, and Alexander named it Bucephalas, meaning “ox-head.” When the horse died (of old age at 30 years old), Alexander named a city after him – Bucephala.
3. His childhood tutor was Leonidas
This was Leonidas of Epirus, who may have influenced Alexander’s later conquests. Once, when Alexander threw large amounts of incense into the fire as an offering to the gods, Leonidas told him to be more sparing unless he had conquered the country where the incense came from. Later, after conquering much of Asia, Alexander sent his teacher 600 talents’ worth of incense.
4. He learned from Aristotle
Yes, that Aristotle. When Alexander turned 13, his father looked for a tutor for young Alexander. In return for his services, Philip rebuilt Aristotle’s hometown Stageira (which Philip had destroyed) and repopulate it by buying back all the people who used to live there, but had been sold as slaves.
5. The first thing he did in power was repel an invasion and found a city…named after himself
When Alexander was 16, his father left for war against Byzantion and left his son in charge. The Thracian Mahdi revolted against Macedonia, and Alexander reacted quickly, driving the Mahdi from their territory and filling the area with Greeks in a city which he called Alexandropolis.
6. His relationship with his father was…complicated
King Philip was not a very good father. He was often away at war, leaving young Alexander behind in Macedonia. Things seemed to look up when Alexander helped his father defeat the combined armies of Athens and Thebes. However, after his father united Greece (except for Sparta), he remarried a woman named Cleopatra Eurydice, ousting Alexander’s mother Olympia, and by extension, him. Should Philip have had a son with Cleopatra, that child would have been a more legitimate heir than Alexander. He and his mother were forced to flee Macedonia until a family friend reunited father and son.
7. Alexander took power at age 20, and it was not easy
King Philip was assassinated in 336 B.C. at his daughter’s wedding. Shortly after, Alexander was named the king. This led to many people dying. These included threats to his power (three Macedonian princes who could have contested his claim), his mother-in-law Cleopatra and half-sister Europa (his mother Olympia had them burned to death) and the leader of Macedonia’s advance guard into Asia, who was considering defecting to Athens. Beyond those specific deaths, several city-states, on hearing of Philip’s death, took the opportunity to rebel, forcing Alexander to retake each.
8. Alexander had hecklers
During the revolts, Alexander stopped in Thermopylae, where he was met by many noblemen and dignitaries. However, one man was missing – Diogenes of Sinope, a famous philosopher who was unfazed by the arrival of Alexander. Alexander went to meet him, and asked him what he wanted, to which Diogenes replied something to the effect of “for you to step out of my sunlight.”
9. He just couldn’t seem to catch a break
From the beginning, Alexander seemed to intend to invade Persia. After retaking many of the city-states in Greece, he was given the authority to do so on behalf of the members of his league of city-states. Before he could do so, however, he needed to march north and conquer the Thracian Triballians to secure Macedonia’s northern border. After he had accomplished this, he found out that the Illyrians and Taulantians were in open revolt, forcing him to march to reconquer the groups. Then Athens and Thebes rebelled again, making him march south. Only after razing Thebes did he finally turn to Asia.
10. He was generous to the families of the fallen
Alexander rewarded his own fallen soldiers’ families with immunity from taxation and obligation for public service. Alexander also erected statues and honored the fallen soldiers of his enemies.
11. After invading Persia, he picked up some Persian habits
While invading Persia, Alexander began a policy of adding the native Persians to his existing army. However, this was not the only pro-Persian change he made. He also took the Persian title of “King of kings,” began dressing in the Persian fashion and began having his subordinates either kiss his hand or prostrate themselves on the ground before him. To the Greeks, these were troubling signs, especially making his subordinates prostrate themselves before him – to the Greeks, this was sacrilegious, as a person was only supposed to prostrate themselves before a god.
12. He may have been poisoned
Alexander’s death is shrouded in argument. Accounts differ, but they either say that Alexander fell ill with a fever or had a sharp pain after drinking undiluted wine, before falling to weakness and dying. Several historians, given that Macedonians often died due to poison, possibly fingering a recently removed Macedonian viceroy named Antipater.