Alexander the Great, Maximum Leader, Maximum Ego, the classic case of succession failure.
He had a violent temper, a weakness for alcohol, was given to rash impulses and stubborn. This combination undoubtedly underlay some of his worst decisions. However he was also perceptive, logical, open to reason and erudite. He had a thirst for knowledge, a deep interest in philosophy, was an avid reader and a patron to both the arts and sciences. Aristotle had, after all, been his personal tutor from the ages of 13 to 16.
Alexander could certainly “think outside the box” as the tale the Gordian knot2 clearly demonstrates, as well as his unprecedented military successes.
He had great charisma and was an astute leader. His leadership power is emphasized by the inability of any of his generals to keep Macedonia, let alone the entire empire, intact after his death. Remarkable is that he already had this force of personality at the age of 16.
When his father, Philipp II of Macedon, left to wage war he left the 16-year old Alexander behind as acting regent. During Philip's absence, the Maedi revolted against Macedonian rule. Alexander responded quickly and crushed the revolt. After driving them from their territory, he colonized it with Greeks and founded a city there. (At 16 not many of us were crushing revolts and founding cities.) Alexander succeeded his father to the throne in 336 BC after Philipp II was assassinated by the captain of his bodyguard.
Alexander’s mother, Olympias, herself the daughter of a king, had the murderous proclivities fairly common among royalty. Philip II had seven or eight wives. His last one, Cleopatra Eurydice (married for love rather than for political reasons), incurred Olympias particular antipathy. After the king’s assassination Olympias had Cleopatra and her daughter by Philip, Europa, burned alive. Alexander was furious when he found out.
Alexander began his reign by having his potential rivals to the throne murdered. He then invaded Persian-ruled Asia Minor and began a series of campaigns lasting 10 years. He marched through Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia, overthrowing the Persian king Darius III and conquering the Persian Empire. He proceeded with an invasion of India. However he eventually turned back because his troops, tired of incessant warfare, nearly mutinied.
By the time he reached 30 Alexander was exhibiting signs of megalomania and paranoia. His string of battlefield victories, his own sense of ineluctable destiny, and the ceaseless sycophancy of his companions certainly were contributing factors. He seems to have started considering himself a deity, or at any rate sought to deify himself. After 13 years of empire building Alexander died at the age of 32 (probably of natural causes, quite likely from typhoid fever).
Megalomania notwithstanding, he became a measure against which rulers and generals, down to the present day, are compared. His strategy and tactics are still taught in military academies throughout the world. He is also credited with a certain malicious sense of humor.
This supposition, and the fact that Aristotle writes an eye-witness description of an Indian elephant, led to an entertaining historical novel by L. Sprague de Camp, An Elephant for Aristotle, 1958. The Bridges mascot prevailed upon us to provide the plot summary:
Alexander the Great commands Leon of Atrax, a Thessalian cavalry commander, to bring a present to Alexander´s former tutor, Aristotle, in Athens. The present is an elephant captured from Porus, an Indian ruler. "Leading a motley crew that includes an Indian elephantarch3 to care for the creature, a Persian warrior, a Syrian sutler4 and a Greek philosopher, Leon sets out to cross the whole of the ancient known world from the Indus River to Athens. . . it doesn't help that the goal of the whole enterprise is essentially a malicious priank concocted by Alexander. . . he gifts Aristotle with the elephant but no funds for its upkeep, while sending the funds (but no elephant) to the savant's arch-rival, Xenocrates." (Wikipedia, 2011). Along the way Leon faces bandits, unruly noblemen, challenges to his leadership from Macedonian commanders, and has to deal with a woman, a Persian aristocrat, who is fleeing her home.
1 The primary source is the lengthy Wikipedia article (2011) about him, supplemented by some information gleaned from the Encyclopedia Britannica, 14th edition, 1973 (versus the current 15th edition). There have also been several films about him. A recent one is Alexander, a Constantin Film directed by Oliver Stone and featuring Colin Farrel, Angelina Jolie, Val Kilmer and Anthony Hopkiins. As entertainment the film is modest, as a factual source pretty useless.
2 An oracle had foretold that the next man to enter the city of the Phrygians would become their king. When a peasant named Gordian drove into the city on an ox-cart, he was declared king by the priests. His son Midas dedicated the ox-cart to a Phrygian god, and secured it with an intricate knot. By the fourth century BC Phrygia had become a satrapy (province) of the Persian Empire.
When Alexander the Great arrived in 333 BC, en route to conquering the Persian Empire, the ox-cart still stood in the king´s palace. When Alexander could not find an end of the knot to untie it, he cut it in half with his sword. Then he could produce the required ends, the so-called "Alexandrain solution." That night there was a violent thunderstorm. It was interpreted as a sign that Zeus was satisfied with Alexander´s solution. (Wikipedia, 2011).
3 Elephantarch - Arch is an obsolescent word for someone who is preeminent, a chief. It is used as a suffix to indicate leadership, as in the word matriarch (a woman who rules over a social group), (Webster´s III).
4 Sutler - a provisioner to an army post (Webster´s III).
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