Alexander the Great the Legend

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
I will compare two historians’ views to unlock why they could have such different outlooks on the importance of Alexander the Great’s spot in history, and to further what I think is important about the legend.

Submitted: April 22, 2011

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Submitted: April 22, 2011

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Benji Crow
Hist 7, Tues, Thurs
Geck
Draft #4
Alexander the Great
 
I was very intimidated to even start writing about the greatest military genius ever, but I found courage in the history of Alexander.  Even his legend can still inspire; it inspired me to write. Since a CR student’s writing doesn’t carry much merit in historian literature I will be studying and using two historians’ opposing views on Alexander the Great.  The first historian N. G. L. Hammond a professor emeritus of Greek has written a paper called The Plans and Personality of Alexander, and he thinks Alexander is deserving of his virtuous historical reputation.  The second historian E. E. Rice’s paper Alexander the Great, has the opposite view, that Alexander does not deserve his virtuous reputation.  I will compare both of these historians’ views to unlock why they could have such different outlooks on the importance of Alexander the Great’s spot in history, and to further what I think is important about the legend.
Hammond has written three books about Alexander the Great making him an expert, and his views are more favorable than Rice’s.  I found three very interesting things in Hammond’s writing about Alexander’s personal qualities, competitiveness, and beliefs.  At the height of Alexander’s first and second campaigns, Greeks and Asians alike could agree on the love they had for the world’s greatest general. If his troops ever seemed unhappy, or showed any type of dissention, their general Alexander would shower them with kind words and remembrances of courage in battle.  His charisma was top notch, his words could send a man into battle, or make them believe they could conquer the world. Alexander didn’t stop there; he would grant his veterans or anyone who might want to go home his full pay and gratuity. The troops stayed and fought for him because they loved him. Hammond writes, “If a man should be killed in his service, Alexander assured them that his death would bring him glory forever and his place of burial would be famous” (2).  Alexander’s words of comfort showed how much he cared for his troops.
A life of competition was the way of the Greeks; it made Macedonians stronger and increased their knowledge.  Alexander would be the one to give awards.  He also promoted his warriors and personal bodyguards.  He would hold military scrimmages between his squads for training.  He also set the hierarchy for his military ranks. Alexander used competition as a way to set goals for himself; he wanted to surpass Philip, Cyrus the Great, Heracles and Dionysus.  A man who sees the gods as equals in his own eyes is destined be great.  Hammond explains, “[Alexander’s] own pursuit of glory was boundless” (Hammond, 2).  Alexander would not be happy unless he could say he’s done more than his father and the gods.  This was his best chance at making history, having his name last through the ages.
Hammond explains, “His ancestors Heracles and Zeus: Alexander inherited the obligation to rule in a manner worthy of them and to benefit mankind” (2).  Alexander believed very strongly that superiority of Greek civilization is absolute.  This lead him to want to conquer the known world, have Greeks mix with other races and bring Greek culture to everyone until all are unified.  The philosophers of his day said Alexander had more faith than any Greek.  He always told the truth; it was very important that no one would ever question his word. He held many festivals to honor the gods because he was a firm believer in many gods.  Hammond writes, “[Alexander] believed his prayers were heard, he believed he would live, and that his prayers would be answered” (2).  He believed it so much when he died he didn’t appoint the change in power to anyone.
Alexander wasn’t just a great general.  He also made many arrangements that affected the city-states.  He established schools of military and intellectual training.  He announced to all that the exiled were to be restored as citizens. This was a good move; it helped settle the floating population, stopping revolts and up-risings. This was a big change for all Macedonians.  The change took a long time.  Some of the changes were still taking place after his death.  The city-states of Athens and Aelolia were still objecting to re-instating exiles of forty years and giving their lands back. The general public saw Alexander’s decision to be for the greater good. In the middle of Alexander’s reign, Athens was at peace long enough to build a theatre to Dionysus and to improve the naval shipyards (Hammond 2), he knew by improving the cosmetics and the stability of the Greeks, people would migrate to the main city-states to find work and get schooled in Greek philosophy.
Hammond’s take on Alexander is a more glorified image compared to Rice’s image of the “King not loved by everyone.”  Rice focuses on specific battles and the later part of Alexander’s life when he didn’t shine so brightly. Rice first asks how can Alexander be so great when there was so much pain and suffering and death under his rule?  Alexander “[l]eft little of permanent value as his legacy” Rice explains (4). I disagree with Rice’s last comment.  Just look around nowadays, and one can see the Alexander influence on our philosophy (schools) and military tactics still used today. Surely the half-god deserves some credit.  But Rice does make a compelling case with many points, too many to cover.  So, I decided to focus on three important points: Alexander’s recklessness, the sixty-day march, and his return to Persia.
Rice points out Alexander’s recklessness cost many unnecessary lives, the lives of his troops, close friends and all of his enemies that opposed him.  Mallian people combined forces; fifty thousands strong stood behind heavily defended walls on the east banks of the Indus. Alexander lead from the front as usual.  His army encircled the Mallians.  The attack was mounted. Alexander found himself in full view of the enemy on top of the wall.  He lunged down into the Indians swinging and slashing.  His troops knew their king was in a vulnerable place, which left them with no choice but to charge in to try to protect their king against all odds. The reluctant troops got there as Alexander suffered a serious chest wound leaving him unable to fight.  His troops defended the bleeding king until they could transport him out of harm’s way on a large sacred shield from Athena’s Temple.  Even though the battle against the Mallians was won, and he survived his wounds, it truly was not one of Alexander’s better moments.  Rice writes, “This campaign marked a new level in the savagery displayed by Alexander and his troops” (4). I agree with Rice about Alexander making a tactical error in this particular battle that was reckless behavior displayed by the great king who didn’t have an heir to the thrown.
Alexander’s next big tactical error was the sixty-day march through the Gedrosian desert.  This was hard terrain to pass through. Many hardships fell upon his troops. Starvation and dehydration threatened and took the lives of many.  Some of his men went as far as to kill their own pack animals so they could eat.  Even Alexander suffered along side his men; his thirst to continue on would kill them all surely.  And many did die along the way, left for the desert sun.  That’s no way for a warrior Macedonian to die: I don’t think the men left in the desert got a proper burial, or will even be remembered in the way Alexander told them, “His place of burial would be famous.” Rice writes, “Alexander has heard of two army’s crossing the desert, he aspired to emulate the achievements of the legendary figures:” Cyrus the great and Assyrian Queen Semiramis (5).  Alexander was so wrapped up in competing with the gods he was blinded by his own ambitions while his men died.  I have to agree with Rice again that this was one of Alexander’s few tactical errors.
On Alexander’s return to the heartland of Persia, he found that many doubted the king would ever come back.  So one could imagine if the king isn’t coming back, someone needs to accept the extreme powers of ruling like a king.  Of course the king didn’t like this, and upon his return had several officials murdered.  Some might say that this was a ‘reign of terror’. No one will take the king’s responsibilities without his say. Alexander found the tomb of Cyrus the Great defiled, and ordered it to be restored; since Alexander did the same feat of crossing the Gedrosian desert, he would want Cyrus’ tomb in good shape as a way to show his own accomplishments.  It might as well have been a tomb for Alexander.  Then he decided to marry off his highest ranked officers to native ladies of noble birth, and Alexander already had a wife but decided to take two more for a total of three wives. His first wife was a Greek by the name of Bactrian Roxanne.  His second wife was the daughter of Darius a Persian king he earlier defeated and a third wife whose name is not mentioned.  These weddings were done in Persian style ceremonies.  Most of his men secretly disagreed.  And they disapproved of the way their king dressed like a Persian. Alexander had to live two lives, one life for the Greeks and one for the Persians.  Both cultures were so different it would take time for the two to mix and the king knew this, hence the two lives.  The Macedonians didn’t want to share their king with the rest of the world.  And Alexander’s non-Macedonian army was so large he was less dependent on his veteran Macedonians.  This caused lots of friction between troops, and Greeks started to wonder about their king’s ideas about having a mixed race rule his empire. Rice writes, “At a banquet of reconciliation, Alexander proclaimed both Persians [and] Macedonians as his kinsmen” (5).  This goes to show he really meant to unify both kingdoms and spread Greek culture.
Many stories shroud Alexander’s death. None of which are pertinent to this paper, except for what a dead man or half god can leave behind.  Both Hammond and Rice have different views.  Hammond says that Alexander has changed the world forever in many ways.  Alexander would have surpassed the gods if he had unified the two kingdoms before his death.  And for that Hammond holds Alexander worthy of his place in history. The ever opposing Rice says, “Alexander was mortal like all men,” and is not deserving of his Great title in history (6).  I have a hard time agreeing with Rice because I don’t know any man who could accomplish what Alexander did in thirty-three years of his life, what any other man might do in two or three life times.  This makes me side with Hammond’s views more than not.
I tend to lean towards the more positive outlooks on people, so I naturally agree more with Hammond than Rice, whether it be fiction, truth, or historical (or something in between); besides, ‘He was loved by all’.Perhaps it’s a combination of both these historians’ ideas, Alexander loved by all (Hammond), until his own personal goals didn’t include the men that fought for him, and then he became the ‘King not everyone loved’ (Rice).  Alexander wanted to conquer the known world, unify races, and spread Greek culture.  This sounds like a Greek’s idea of world peace.  In the back of our minds, most of us want the same exact thing as Alexander did (world unification).  He was the one to bring it to light for all who study history.  I’ve got to say a little piece of me loves the legend too.
 
 
 
 
 
Works Cited
 
 
Hammond, N. G. L. “The Plans and Personality of Alexander,” in Western Civilization Handout.
 
Rice, E. E. “Alexander the Great,” in Western Civilization Handout.
 


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