Charismatic yet complex, a gifted leader and unparalleled military commander, his legend lives on long after his death.
More than 23 centuries after he unexpectedly died in distant Babylon, Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) still seems to be a name that comes easily to many people's lips – from young children first learning to tell jokes (“What's purple and conquered the world?” “Alexander the Grape!”) to historians, anthropologists, linguists and opportunistic politicians striving even today to come to grips with the Macedonian commander's stunning military achievements, to trace his cultural influence or to exploit his universal fame and appeal.
Alexander III was, and is, ancient Macedonia's greatest native son, a brilliant, hugely confident, remarkably skilled young man, who grew up surrounded by royal luxury, hard-fighting, hard-drinking military men, self-serving, often murderous palace intrigue and especially the examples set through the relentless ambitions of his dynamic parents, Philip II and Olympias. Thanks to a slew of biographers both ancient and modern, including Theopompus, Plutarch, Arrian, DiodorusSiculus, Polyaenus and more recently Robin Lane Fox and Peter Green, we know much about Alexander, his character and his ambitions.
Alexander was born at Pella, then a prosperous coastal emporium that lay at the heart of a kingdom his father was already in the midst of expanding and consolidating into a powerful regional empire.
He was the latest scion in the Argead Dynasty, which claimed descent from the divine hero Heracles. On his mother's side, who hailed from wild Epirus, he was said to be related to the great warrior Achilles, a revered figure that played a formative role in Alexander's thinking, self-image and actions right down to the end of his life. As a youth, he pushed himself to excel in fighting, to achieve great feats and to stand
above the crowd. When he invaded Asia in 334 BC, he first stopped at Troy, where, accompanied by his closest, life-long friend Hephaestion, he paid his respects at the tomb of Achilles and ran a race naked in honor of his dead hero.