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Alexander III took over the throne of Macedonia after the death of his father, King Philip II. Before his death, King Philip II had earlier conquered Greece, which was weak after the Peloponnesian War. After Alexander, the new king, had ensured that Greece was under his rule, he set out to conquer the Persian Empire. He performed this by seizing their ports and freeing the Egyptians from their rule. This led the Egyptians declare him as a son of their God, Amon (Stoneman, 1997). He set many cities in Egypt such as Alexandria. This paper seeks to answer the research question of way geography or location is an essential component of the conquests of Alexander the Great. It will give an account of how he managed to lead his troops in conquering nations from Greece to the borders of India in eleven years. To aid the discussion, the use of maps will be employed.
Footsteps of Alexander the Great
In order to understand the way geography facilitated Alexanders conquests, it is necessary to take a brief look into his early life. He was born in Pella (see Map 1), the ancient capital of Macedonia to King Philip II and Queen Olympias. He was raised up in the kings palace in Macedonia, a country that was gifted geographically for agricultural production. The map also shows ancient cities such as Alexandria, Jerusalem, Babylon, and Kabul, which are still in existence today. The Indus River and Hyphasis River gorges at the Indian border are the places where the battle ceased.
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Map 1: The Empire of Alexander the Great
As a kings son, Alexander was offered the best education at the time, being tutored by the renowned philosopher, Aristotle (Stoneman, 1997). Moreover, he obtained military training from his fathers soldiers at an early age. Thus, his upbringing greatly influenced what he was to achieve in the future since he was better educated compared to his peers. Moreover, he accompanied his fathers generals to war at a tender age. Thus, he had mastered the art of war at an early age compared to his future opponents.
Map 2 gives a brief summary of the conquests of Alexander, often referred as the Empire of Alexander the Great. It shows the routes he took in his conquests.
Map 2: The Route Used by Alexander the Great in His Conquest
The black arrows point the direction of his movement in his conquests. He started his way from Macedonia, the north of the Mediterranean Sea, and headed eastwards along the coastline of the sea to Greece. From there, they moved north, encountering the Persians before moving eastwards and southwards to Egypt. After conquering the Persians in Egypt, they moved northwards to the present-day Afghanistan. On their eastward journey, they conquered different empires before stopping at the Indian border and taking a return journey.
Upon the assassination of his father, Alexander stabilized his empire first at home before planning to conquer the outside world. Geographically, before his death, King Philip II had conquered all the Greek cities, and since the Greek Empire was the most feared at the time, he left a small task for his son to continue the reign. Furthermore, Philip II had built a fully professional military prepared to attack Persia as opposed to his predecessors who employed the use of civilian military. Thus, Alexander had his way cut out at the time of his rising to the throne.
When Alexander began his mission, he and his men encountered strange and different lands and people. Though they had never been out of Macedonia, they managed to explore the pyramids of Egypt, crossed the wild plateaus as well as the desert of Persia, modern-day Afghanistan, and Middle East countries all the way to the Indian border (Stoneman, 1997). Alexander managed to spread the Greek culture and took on the Egyptian, Persian, and other Eastern cultures he encountered.
Firstly, he started by attacking Thessaly to restore the Macedonian rule. He went further on to defeat the Thracians before encountering resistance from Thebes. This prompted him to destroy it. After the destruction of Thebes, all the other cities became fearful and offered little or no resistance to his conquest. As such, his task of conquering Greece was completed without much fighting and bloodshed.
According to Warry (1997), another reason Alexander faced little resistance in his conquest of Greece was due to the rugged terrains of the Greek cities.The Greek mainland was and still is the most mountainous region in Europe. Thus, these cities were isolated from each other as communication and movement between them was difficult. This made it very easy for Alexander to conquer one city at a time. Furthermore, the Greeks fancied being called by their home cities such as Spartan, Athenian, etc. This prompted a division among the cities. As a result, each of the cities had their own currency and government. Therefore, they were not united in fighting the Alexander-led army. Due to that reason, the huge army led by Alexander defeated them without fighting. Owing to the Greek terrains, most of their larger cities were located on the coastline. This meant that they had more efficient marine transport network compared to the land one. This prompted their navy to be more pronounced than their army was (Warry, 1991). This meant that Alexanders army, which was huge, could easily crush their armies.
After putting Greece in control, Alexander went on a mission with 50,000 soldiers to conquer Persia. His father, before being assassinated, was also planning to invade Persia. The Persian army majorly consisted of Greek mercenaries, and this made the Greeks feel oppressed. Thus, upon rising to the throne, Alexander was determined to avenge the atrocities committed to his people 150 years before his birth. Alexander, being a young boy, was so interested in going to war with the Persians that he once questioned the Persian ambassador who had visited his fathers palace about the geography of the Persian Empire. His tutor, Aristotle, may have prompted this interest (Cawthorne, 2004).
After defeating the Persians, Alexander moved southwards to Egypt where he terminated the oppressive rules that the Persians had put on the Egyptians. Thereby, the Egyptians made him their Pharaoh since they saw him as a liberator. In Egypt, he set up Alexandria, a city named after him, which became the center of trade along the Mediterranean Sea. It was also famed for its huge library.
Alexander then moved northwards and took on an eastward march all the way to the Indian border. It is at the Indian border that his troops refused to charge forward. The main cause of concern for them was the tropical diseases, which were more prevalent due to the hot and humid climate of India. Therefore, it is clear that geographical conditions led the army to start a return journey. On their return journey, Shahanshah or the King of Kings (a name that Alexander was given after conquering Persia) and his army were deeply affected by the extreme conditions in the desert. For instance, at the Kech River valley, they experienced many flash floods, which swept away their equipment, food, and drinking water (Watkins, 2012). In addition, a large number of his men were swept away. Due to the harsh conditions, which they encountered on their return journey, three quarters of his men and he also succumbed.
One of the most notable geographical skills that Alexander employed was in naming the cities. It is estimated that he had over 30 cities named after himself. This includes the modern-day Kandahar (then called Iskandahar), Alexandria, and Alexandropolis. He also named Bucephala in honor of his horse, Bucephalus, which died there (Watkins, 2012). Since the Islamic version of his name, Iskandar, has been repeatedly used in the Holy Koran, it has been argued that his empire geographically set the pace and hence the success of the Roman Empire in the years to come (Watkins, 2012). It is also believed that Greek language and culture, Hellenism, was used to write the New Testament, as opposed to Hebrew that was used to write the Old Testament largely, due to Alexander the Greats conquests. Thus, he can be attributed to the spread of modern day religion and especially, of Christianity.
Map 3 shows the countries covered by the empire and their ancient names at the time. Alexanders empire covered the countries such as Macedonia, Thrace, Lydia, Syria, Egypts (modern-day Egypt), Babylonia, Media, Persis, Drangiana (presently Afghanistan), and Sogdiana among others.
Map 3: Names of Countries at the Time of Alexander the Great
Despite his successes, a geographical failure was his inability to know when and where to stop his conquest. It was not until his soldiers refused to march forward that he saw it fit to stop the war and return home. He failed to determine the extent to, which his empire would reach. Thus, some of his men died of exhaustion while others succumbed to the unbearable conditions. Hence, it would be easy to point out that had it not been for his greed, his empire, which was the largest and most powerful at the time, would have lasted longer than 11 years.
It is also worthy to note that Alexander was a brutal leader, a trait that he acquired from his mother who used to keep poisonous snakes for attacking her rivals. Unlike his father who maintained a diplomatic style of leadership, he was ruthless. This has led many scholars of the time to claim that both Alexander and his mother conspired to kill King Philip II (Cawthorne, 2004). The reason is that at the time of the kings death, the queen had fallen out of favor with him who now fancied his new wife of Macedonian origin, Cleopatra. As well as his predecessors, the king wanted his successor to be of pure Macedonian origin. This did not go well with Alexander and his mother. In addition, after the death of Philip II, Olympias murdered both Cleopatra and her son, the heir to the throne, and her daughter. These reasons have served as evidence that indeed Philip was assassinated.
Alexander owes his successful role to his fathers ambitions and ideas. His empires dominance was influenced by geographical factors. On the contrary, its fall was also attributed to geographical factors. Though he started as a friendly leader, after his conquests, he acquired the ruthless attitude of the Persian rulers that he met on his way. He ordered to kill some of his former loyal men, destruct the cities, and capture the Persian women.
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Since he managed to liberate the Macedonians, Greeks, and Egyptians, it is clear that his mission accomplished more good than evil. Thus, the Europeans were justified in naming the man who paved the way for the Roman Empire and the spread of Christianity, as the Great. His empire, despite its strength, fell out immediately after his death. This is a clear indication that he was a tactical and a great leader.