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Past present: Alexander, the great?

September 01, 2013

Alexander, the King of Macedonia and conqueror of the Persian Empire (356–323 BC ) has fascinated historians, novelists and film makers, who spent their creativity, time and money to project him as a great hero. Why have historians invariably created a great image of a conqueror and placed him on a high pedestal?

Sometimes a conqueror becomes a hero because of the nation’s quest for an idol to worship. On the other hand, racism can make a hero out of an invader who defeats or crushes inferior races. At times religion idealises a victor who fought for the glory of his faith.

In the same way perhaps, Alexander qualifies for his historic fame and glory. It depends on the various interpretations of historians who wish to create an infallible image and make him a great hero. For the Greeks, he is a national hero. The racist and cosmopolitan who believe in a multicultural and multi-religious society regard him as racially superior.

Historians writing about the greatness of conquerors attribute to them diverse qualities. The conqueror would be like a military general, perfect in the art of warfare, innovative in tactic and victorious in wars with his faultless strategy. They do not tire of praising his bravery, boldness and courage displayed in the battlefield as a skilful warrior. However, there is no condemnation of killing, bloodshed and its impact on the life of those families who lost their loved ones, belongings and homes. Neither is there disapproval of the slaughter of civilians, enslavement of women and children, burning of cities, and the plundering and looting of war booty. There is no comment on how the title of ‘great’ was earned and what price did the common people pay for victories of these conquerors.

Traditional historians regard Alexander as one of the greatest generals, who built a vast empire after achieving military success. The question remains as to why he invaded the Persian Empire? He became a great emperor by conquering and occupying land on which he had no claim. A study of his life and career shows that he was somewhat deluded about his greatness, and was perhaps an alcoholic and a megalomaniac. He traced his ancestry to Achilles and Hercules, the Greek heroes, based on which he claimed divinity.

After his conquest of Egypt, he assumed the title of pharaoh, who was regarded no less than a god by the Egyptians. He was determined to model his life on that of the glorious Achilles. It is said that while marching towards Persia to fight a battle, Alexander paid homage to Achilles by visiting his tomb in Troy and running up to it to lay a wreath. When the Persians were defeated, he occupied the cities and burned Persepolis, imitating the Greeks burning the city of Troy.

Alexander’s alcoholic and megalomaniac nature became evident when he killed his childhood friend Cleitus in a drunken brawl.