Alexander III of Macedon 356-323 BCE
“Great men are almost always bad men.” – Lord Acton
Alexander “the Great”.
His name is synonymous with ‘world-conquering-badass’.
Following in the footsteps of Gilgamesh the Great, Ramses the Great, and Cyrus the Great, Alexander wasn’t just another footnote in a long list of Greats. As far as 80’s action-hero level maniacs go, Alexander (the Great) was legit… but that doesn’t mean I’m letting him off the hook.
In his short lifetime, Alex managed to unite most of western civilization under one banner for the first time ever, created the largest Empire the world had ever seen (which is still impressive by today’s standards), and he irrevocably changed the course of history itself, more than can be said for 99.9% of all people who have ever lived on the planet Earth.
What’s even more impressive than all that? He did it all before he was 30! – and then he up and died, leaving behind a massive power vacuum leading to the inevitable implosion of his entire kingdom all because he refused to write a will…
The Hellenic League
Alexander was born a good TWENTY-FOUR-HUNDRED YEARS ago – in the Greek City-State of Macedonia to King Philip II, and his fourth of eight wives, Olympia. Rumor had it that Olympia had actually been knocked up by Zeus, but Maury didn’t exist back then, so I guess we’ll never know. Not so surprising though when you consider that his mother was a priestess in a cult worshiping Dionysus (the god of alcohol), with a part-time gig as a snake charmer (pun very much intended).
Alexander’s dad, Phil, was a one-eyed warrior king with an appetite for conquest… and alcohol… mostly alcohol.
In his perpetual inebriated state, he somehow managed to get all the Greek armies to stop fighting one another long enough to form the Hellenic League of Corinth – well everyone except for the Spartans that is. When the Spartans ignored his calls, Philip sent a message: “If I win this war, you will be slaves forever.”
Once again he heard nothing in return.
Annoyed, Philip texted them again with a more fervent warning: “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.”
This time there was a response from the Spartan King – a single word that tells you everything you ever needed to know about Spartan culture: “If.”
I can only imagine a poor messenger, exhausted from running back and forth across the country approaching with a scroll of parchment, collapsing at Philip’s feet – Philip nodding in approval, assuming that the Spartans had finally come to their senses as he unrolls the parchment only to find a huge middle finger in the form of a one word taunt.
Philip decided not to call the Spartans on their bluff. Philip was smart. Philip lived to see another day.
Be more like Philip.
With the Hellenic League behind him, Philip set his single eye on Persia…
The King of Macedonia
You see, for years Alexander’s dad was all pumped about invading the Persian Empire in some extremely-delayed revenge for the burning of Athens, a good century and a half earlier (see: The Battle of Thermopylae). Only problem was getting the man power behind him to do just that. Not only did the Persians have one of the greatest armies on the planet, they even outsourced to Greek mercenaries to beef up their already staggering numbers.
Meanwhile, with both his parents being too busy to actually raise him, Alexander was tutored by none other than the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle – as in the very same Aristotle that picked up where Socrates and Plato left off. Just think, that would be like Neil deGrasse Tyson home schooling you. It was during this time that young Alexander discovered the works of Homer: The Odyssey and Illiad, becoming inspired by the legend of Achilles. (see: The Fall of Troy)
Alexander was left in charge of the country for the first time, while his dad was away on business, at the ripe old age of 16, an age where Jäger-bombs and back-flipping naked into a swimming pool seem like a good combination.
New King on the Block
At his father’s wedding to his latest wife, Eurydice, some jackass gave a toast in which he basically called Alexander a bastard and his mom a whore. Instead of sticking up for his son, Philip nodded in agreement. This led to a drunken conflict between Alexander and his dad, which ended with his exile from the kingdom.
Then in 336 BCE, Philip randomly died – after being stabbed in the chest by one of his bodyguards. Well random in that he didn’t expect it, not so random with the cause of death being his bodyguard’s knife protruding from his chest and all.
The assailant fled the scene, but on his way to his getaway horse, he tripped over a vine, fell on his face, and got stabbed to death by the rest of his coworkers. With the King’s demise, Alexander took on the family business. Philip’s assassination is often attributed to Alexander’s mom, Olympia – who may have orchestrated her son’s rise to power.
Upon becoming King at 20, Alexander started his career by executing any and all naysayers. He even had his cousin murdered just in case. Instead of winning over his political rivals with his charming personality and good looks, Alexander decided to make a brutal example of any Thracians, Illyrians and Greeks that weren’t 100% sold on the young leader, except for the Spartans, they got a pass.
In order to really drive home the point that he was in charge now, Alexander marched his army 240 miles to the gates of Thebes, in record time, after hearing some toga-wearing bros had challenged his right to rule. To be fair, Alexander did give them a chance: letting them know that it was not too late for them to change their minds.
When the Thebans started making obscene gestures in response, Alexander let his soldiers do the talking. Within hours, his army had brutally killed at least 6,000 citizens, enslaved 30,000 more and burned the entire city to the ground. They never stood a chance.
The Athenians and Peloponnesians were just about to rally behind the Thebans, but quickly changed their minds. Alexander had a gift for rallying soldiers to follow him, was a brilliant tactician, and had an innate sense of vision, but when it came to the actual governing of the peoples he conquered… well, he just didn’t. Instead of using this opportunity to strengthen ties with his allies and start building towards a better future for the united people of Greece, Alexander immediately declared war on the most powerful entity in the ancient world: Persia.
With the combined might of all Greece behind him, Alexander grabbed his sword and sandals, donned his helmet and alongside his cavalry rode towards the heart of the Persian Empire…
To be continued…
—– More articles on Historic Failure:
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Dan Carlin’s “Hardcore History” (podcast)
Alexander the Great – Creating the Legend (Bio Documentary)
All Time Greatest Commanders: Alexander the Great (History Channel Documentary)
Battles BC: Alexander – Lord of War (documentary)
“Alexander” (2004) – Directed by: Oliver Stone, starring: Colin Farrell