NIGHTBRINGER | The Arthurian Encyclopedia

Alexander the Great

Alexander III of Macedon

Alexander the Great was one of the most successful military commanders in history and the king of Macedonia.

The French Perceforest presents the famed Macedonian king (356-323 BC) as an ancestor of Arthur. A storm drove him to Britain, where he quelled the war-torn island and established secure rulers. He loved Sebille, then the Lady of the Lake.

Alexander is only one of many historical and legendary people connected to the Arthurian cycle in various texts. The association was to be expected, given the similarities between the legend of Alexander and the myth of Arthur:

  • both were historical figures to whom fabulous legends were attached
  • both became rulers following the assassinations of their fathers
  • both endured a period of rebellion before securing the throne
  • both experienced problems with neighboring barbarians
  • both conquered most of the known world
  • both were deified by their countrymen
  • both had their thrones usurped while leading military expeditions in foreign lands
  • both were rumored to have died
  • both returned to their homelands and killed the rebels
  • both left their countries in anarchy after their deaths, and, finally,
  • both were said to be living in otherwordly kingdoms.

Alexander the Great | History

Early Life
Alexander III of Macedon, later known as Alexander the Great, was born in Pella, the ancient capital of Macedonia, in July 356 BC. He was the son of King Philip II of Macedon and Queen Olympias. Legends surrounded his birth, including claims of divine parentage.

As a member of the royal family, Alexander grew up in the midst of the Macedonian court. From an early age, Alexander received education and training suitable for a future king. His primary tutor was the renowned philosopher Aristosle, who provided him with instruction in a wide range of subjects, including philosophy, ethics, politics, and natural sciences. Aristotle’s teachings had a profound impact on Alexander’s intellectual development. He valued education and culture, and he carried a copy of the Iliad with him during his campaigns.

Ascension to the Throne
In the year 336, Alexander’s father was assassinated, and at the age of 20, Alexander ascended to the throne of Macedonia.

Military Campaigns
One of Alexander’s first acts as king was to suppress revolts in northern Greece. Early in his reign, Alexander faced rebellions and uprisings among the Thracian and Illyrian tribes in the Balkans. He had to assert his authority and suppress these challenges to secure the northern borders of his kingdom. In 334 BC, he launched his famous military campaign against the Persian Empire, crossing the Hellespont (modern-day Dardanelles) into Asia Minor.

During Alexander’s campaigns in Asia, there were incidents of political turmoil and challenges to his rule in Macedonia. While Alexander was away on his conquests, he left trusted generals and regents in charge to govern the kingdom in his absence. One notable incident occured in 336 BC, shortly after Alexander embarked on his Asian campaign.

When Alexander’s father, King Philip II, was assassinated in 336, a power struggle ensued in Macedonia. At the time of Philip’s death, Alexander was in Asia, and his absence created an opportunity for political rivals and factions within the Macedonian court to vie for control. One of the figures involved in this power struggle was Alexander’s half-brother, Philip Arrhidaeus, who had a mental disability. He was proclaimed king, and the situation led to a complex political dynamic with various factions vying for influence.

Upon his return to Macedonia in 335 BC, Alexander took decisive action to eliminate potential threats and consolidate his rule. He executed several individuals, including potential rivals, to secure his position as the undisputed king of Macedonia. Alexander’s authority was reestablished, and he continued his campaigns in Asia shortly thereafter.

Siege of Tyre and Conquest of Egypt
Alexander conducted a successful siege of the island city of Tyre in 332 BC. He then entered Egypt, where he founded the city of Alexandria, which became a major cultural and economic center.

Conquests in Asia
Alexander won several key battles against Persian forces, including the Battle of Issus in 333 BC and the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC. He captured key Persian cities, including Babylon and Persepolis. After the fall of Persepolis in 330, he proclaimed himself the king of Persia.

His conquests continued eastward into Central Asia, reaching as far as India. Alexander faced numerous challenges, including the fierce resistance of some Persian satraps and the famous encounter with Indian king Porus. The Battle of the Hydaspes River in 326 BC was a significant victory for Alexander, but his troops began expressing fatigue and homesickness.

Death and Legacy
After years of campaigning, Alexander’s troops mutinied at the Beas River, prompting him to return back toward Babylon in 325 BC. In 323 BC, Alexander fell seriously ill and died in Babylon at the age of 32.

The exact cause of his death remains a historical mystery, and various theories and rumors have been proposed over the centuries. The official account, as reported by ancient historians like Plutarch and Arrian, suggests that Alexander died of a fever that developed after a night of heavy drinking. This explanation attributes his death to natural causes.

Some historical accounts, including those by ancient writers like Diodorus Siculus, suggest that Alexander might have been poisoned. However, there is no conclusive evidence to support this theory. In more recent times, some scholars have proposed that Alexander’s symptoms could be consistent with illnesses such as malaria or typhoid fever, which were prevalent in the region. Another theory suggests that Alexander may have suffered from an autoimmune disorder, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome or West Nile virus, which could explain some of his symptoms. Another theory propose that a wound sustained during his military campaigns might have become infected, leading to his demise.

After his death, Alexander’s vast empire was divided among his generals, leading to the Hellenistic period. His conquests had a profound impact on the spread of Greek culture (Hellenism) across the known world.

He was known for his military brilliance and strategic thinking, and for his personal courage in battle. He developed close relationships with his troops, often fighting alongside them. He was highly ambitious, driven by a desire to surpass the achievements of his predecessors, especially the mythical hero Achilles. Despite his military prowess, Alexander faced challenges in maintaining the loyalty of his diverse and sometimes rebellious army.

See also
Gog and Magog | The Legend of King Arthur