Alexander the Great and Tarn

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A college essay on the merits of Alexander the Great referencing a Tarn quote.

Submitted: November 04, 2008

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Submitted: November 04, 2008



“Alexander was one of the supreme fertilizing forces in history. He lifted the civilized world out of one groove and set it another. He began a new epoch; nothing could ever be the same again.” (Tarn)

Alexander the Great was possibly the most revolutionary figure of all time. His relentless ambition to create the greatest Empire ever known resulted in a whole new epoch and a legacy and vision that would change the old world forever. Alexander’s eleven year journey throughout the known world issued in a new age of culture, integration and expansion that would last for almost 300 years. His influences and personal ambitions for himself and the world were the driving force behind his vision of East and West united under one supreme leader. 
Alexander the Great was just twenty years old when he ascended to the throne of Macedon and the hegemony of Greece and despite this young age he already had vast ambitions:
‘He cared nothing for pleasure or wealth but only for deeds of valour and glory.’[1]
Alexander had come to prominence in the shadow of his father King Philip who had in his own right been a great leader; Alexander was fuelled by his father’s constant successes to prove himself just as able as Philip had been. He was even slightly irritated at his father for his achievements, saying:
‘My father will leave me nothing to do… what good is it if I possess much and accomplish nothing?’ [2]
So it was that Alexander came to the throne with numerous plans for self glory and the progress of Greece. 
All of Greece was confident when Alexander finally took the throne in 336 BCE that he was going to be an excellent ruler. He had already proven himself capable as a military leader at sixteen when he quelled the rebellion at Maedi and his personal nature and education were equally good signs. He had been tutored by the Athenian Philosopher Aristotle and through him had learned humility to counteract his naturally passionate, forceful nature;
‘Aristotle had presumably taught him that man’s highest good lay in right activity of the soul and Alexander had modified this for himself into strenuous energy of soul and body and birth.’ [3]
However, Alexander was never going to be content with being a popular ruler of Greece alone; he had a bigger and brighter future in sight, in which he was ruler of all. With these ambitions, Alexander set off in 336 BCE to conquer the might of Persia.
The powerful Empire of Persia had been a rival of Greece for well over a century before Alexander set out to claim it as his own. He used the idea of revenge for the injustices of Persia in the Persian Wars of the 5th century as an excuse for the invasion, however, for Alexander; this was merely the first step in his goal of complete subjugation. At the time of his campaign, Greece was still largely divided and controlled by the unsteady hegemony system and Asia itself was feeling the strain of a repressive Persian authority. Seeing this, Alexander hoped to do what had previously been unthinkable; uniting the Greek states by fusing with the East. 
‘He began to transcend the familiar distinction of Greek and barbarian… he formed the notion of an empire, both European and Asiatic, in which the Asiatics should not be dominated by the European invaders.’ [4]
Throughout Alexander’s conquest of Persia he showed remarkable compassion for the subjugated lands and made efforts to treat all those who welcomed him with kindness and those that denied him with extreme brutality. In most of the settlements Alexander would place a Macedonian satrap and in some, democracies were established, however except for these measures, Alexander encouraged the leadership of trustworthy locals, thereby relegating the supremacy of the Greeks:
‘From the very beginning he had shown to the conquered provinces a tolerance, which was not only promoted by generosity but based on political wisdom.’[5]
Although Alexander’s empathy towards the ‘barbarians’ was often unpopular with his Greek comrades and army, he refused to yield to pressure to make the conquered peoples inferior to the Hellenes:
‘Alexander was bright enough to avoid hating those thought to be his enemies’ [6]
Instead, Alexander began to use the strength of these new peoples to improve his position as ruler. Particularly, he began to recruit them into his army, despite the objections of the Greeks.
When Alexander set his sights on Egypt in 332 BCE, he was greeted as a liberator. It was here that he began to show one of his most notable attributes as a ruler of such a diverse Empire, as he allowed the people of Egypt to take up all the former religious rites that the Persian Empire had denied them. This cultural tolerance was a quality that had not been shared by many before him and yet Alexander seemed to thrive on the ancient mysteries of Egypt and looked not to replace the Egyptian culture with Greek but instead to integrate the two. Indeed, he himself made sacrifices to Egyptian gods and adopted some traditional dress when he was crowned Pharaoh.
‘He may have done this from a desire to adapt himself to local habits, because he understood that the sharing of race and customs is a great step towards softening men’s hearts.’ [7]
By the time Alexander moved on to undertake India in 326 BCE, he had already set up the firm foundations for a Hellenistic world, in which all of his nations were united under Greek influence. Alexander knew that it was necessary to find a way to amalgamate all the diverse peoples of his empire if it was to prosper. He did this by introducing a Greek inspired world; spreading cultures and art and developing a Greek base language system. In addition, Alexander opened trade routes between the East and West and initiated a joint coinage structure. Alexander also, in what is perhaps his most lasting legacy, set about establishing strategically placed settlements throughout the Empire, many of which he named after himself. The foundered city of Alexandria in Egypt became the cultural centre of the Empire and to it flocked both Greeks and Asiatics, bringing with them groundbreaking knowledge, art and innovations that would characterize the next three centuries of the Hellenistic Age.
‘He destroyed the Persian Empire and opened up the East to Greek rule and settlement; and neither Greeks nor Orientals were ever the same again.’  [8]
Alexander’s grand views of integration throughout the Empire were never warmly received nor understood by the Greeks. Therefore, it was due almost entirely to Alexander’s example that this new system seemed to flourish at all; and so when Alexander fell ill in 323 BCE, he died with ‘…the real task yet before him.’[9] But despite this grievous loss to his cause, Alexander’s legacy proved to be one powerful enough to introduce a whole new age of progress and expansion which would continue far beyond his death. 
Alexander the Great was one of the supreme fertilizing forces in history. He was ambitious in his youth to outshine his father by creating the largest and most diverse Empire ever seen and he accomplished much of this in outstanding fashion. Alexander altered the civilized world forever by spreading Greek culture throughout Asia, broadening trade routes, introducing a coinage system and founding influential cities throughout the Empire. He issued in the Hellenistic Age through the integration of his diverse nations and displayed a tolerance of nature that would become the example of leadership in centuries to come. As Burn distinguished; ‘no soldier in history was more undisturbedly “Great” than Alexander.’ [10]

[1] Arrian, The Campaigns of Alexander [Anabasis], p, 54
[2] Plutarch, Sayings of Kings and Commanders, 1
[3] Tarn, W.W., Alexander the Great, Cambridge University Press, 1979, p. 37
[4] Bury, A History of Greece, p.745
[5] Bury, A History of Greece, p. 785
[6] Burstein, S., Legacy of Alexander the Great, p.1
[7] Plutarch, The Age of Alexander; nine Greek lives, p. 301
[8] Welles, ‘Review’, p.9
[9] Tarn, ‘Alexander the Great’, p. 423
[10] Burn, ‘Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Empire’, p. 274

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