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Past present: Alexander, the great?

Published Sep 01, 2013 08:21am


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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.

Comments (31) Closed

Rajeev Nidumolu Sep 01, 2013 12:19pm

Alexander was a conquerer just like Chengiz Khan . But Mongols under him conquered and ruled far more territory than Alexander. No one calls Chengiz Khan the great. The reason is that the history has been written by Europeans with Eurocentric views . The intellectual prejudice originates from historical interpretation that Greek and Roman civilization were precursors for western dominance

BISWAJIT ROY Sep 01, 2013 12:23pm

And add to his greatness Alexander was given a mortal blow by the Indian frontier king Purus which eventually taken toll on his life but thanks to western media Alexander made an Unbeatable conqueror. Genghis Khan would qualify for the true title of undefeated conqueror in true and unbiased sense.

Logic Sep 01, 2013 01:13pm

Does the same logic hold for Muslim conquers in india

raw is war Sep 01, 2013 02:11pm

unlike many barbaric leaders, he was not a arsonist. He never killed wantonly anybody. In fact we can learn a lot of things from his leadership style. They can be applied to modern day management- unlike Genghis khan and lots of Islamic invaders.

Tariq Sep 01, 2013 03:18pm

Reflection on the intelligence level of human beings. Petty murderers get death, incarceration or lynching. Engineers of mass bloodshed of humans get titles of 'Great' and Nobel Peace Prizes. Petty thieves go to jail; fantastic thieves get to be rulers of countries.

AbbasToronto Sep 01, 2013 03:41pm

Alexander died of a disease no different from HIV/AIDS at the young age of 33.

He left no trace and no children, befitting his un-productive same sex unions in the great tradition of ancient Greeks.

showz_Up Sep 01, 2013 03:57pm

I think this has more to do with the European centric view of history by (mostly European) historians. Gengis Khan conquered Europe but he is regarded as a barbarian and not "Great" because Europeans were at the receiving end of his brutality.

Dasmir Sep 01, 2013 05:12pm

I thought this was an article about Alexander the conquerer of islamabad!

Dhanus Menon Sep 01, 2013 05:34pm

The same way Pakistanis idolize the invaders from Afghanistan and Arab lands. This the same way how the all Islamic empires spread.

aslam minhas Sep 01, 2013 07:35pm

Olympia, the mother of Alexander had made him believe that he was a descendant of Gods. She also kept snakes in her bed (probably) to keep away her polygamous husband Philip away but also to claim some divinity as snakes were taken as godly. Some say that Alexander's relationship with his mother was more than what it appeared. As was perhaps Nero to her mother. In the Persian battle, Alexander got injured. When he saw the blood, he cried: 'It is not Ichor that the gods bleed with' or words to that effect. He was disappointed to learn about his mortality. Great article that provokes readers.

NDChawla Sep 01, 2013 08:56pm

No purpose is served by putting up such an article.

Tariq K Sami Sep 01, 2013 10:09pm

Alexander's mother his wife and his children were all killed by his Generals soon after his death. Talk about some Life Insurance Plan for your family. How totally clueless and irresponsible.

Raj Sep 01, 2013 10:14pm

I guess the same question can be asked of Mohammed too?

Badar Sep 02, 2013 12:17am

Alexander embarked upon a killing spree due to his demons. Some of them discussed in this article. However, he was no great. There is no solid conclusion by author. What exactly you wanted to discuss?

Shamima Sep 02, 2013 01:04am

Alexander also appears in the Holy Book as ' Zulqarnain', Lord of the East and West who subjugated the people Gog and Magog. I never quite understood the significance of this story. Can somebody enlighten?

SRK Sep 02, 2013 02:23am

@Dhanus Menon: What about Indonesia - the largest Islamic country at present, and Malaysia, when were they invaded and by whom?

SRK Sep 02, 2013 02:26am

@Dasmir: You are misinformed, his real name is Zea-lander.

Agha Ata Sep 02, 2013 05:06am

One needed to be a Diojones to handle Alexander. :)

Akil Akhtar Sep 02, 2013 05:17am

We need to stop using the word great with his name and instead treat him the same way Europeans treat all the conquerors of Europe, with disgust.

Bharat Sep 02, 2013 07:55am

@Dhanus Menon: actually if yoyu read the Iranian expat magazines, the persians actually hate the arabs and dislike the afghans

KASHIF Sep 02, 2013 09:32am

There were even greater Muslim heroes....tell the world about them too.

Fatima Noor Sep 02, 2013 09:53am

A well-thought of article and very beautifully narrated. It's usually boring to read history but this is a well articulated description.

Rajeev Nidumolu Sep 02, 2013 10:31am

@BISWAJIT ROY: Alexander sustained his mortal wounds in battle of Multan in Punjab

Dahir Sep 02, 2013 11:14pm

Very true.there is nothing great in depopulating entire cities.many cities in Sindh which did not submit to muhammad bin Qasim were similarly treated;men bearing arms were killed and their families enslaved including that of king dahir.large scale destruction of places of worship in India was the reason Islamisation of the subcontinent remained incomplete but many of these people like ghori and ghazni fill people with pride in Pakistan and amitabh bachchan sings in a Hindi film, wo sikandar Kay tha jisne Julm se jeeta jahan pyar se jeete Dillon ko wo jhukade asman

Tariq Sep 03, 2013 12:26pm

Let us make a vow to stop referring to any and all people using such terms as, 'the great', 'the magnificient', 'the conquerer', 'the wise' etc. And while we are at it, let us also stop using the prefixes: 'highness', 'majesty', 'honourable', 'venerable' etc. No matter what the title or status of a person, their excrement smells as bad or worse than that of the average fellow in the sreet.

bobi Sep 03, 2013 01:29pm

@Badar: you are right the writer seems unclear himself like most of todays pseudo intelectuals, or this is a pointer to what will follow......

dada Sep 03, 2013 06:02pm

Why are Muslim BA (Hon.) and Madarassa graduates do not talk about the local heroes such as Raja Puru, Prithwiraaj Chauhan, Guru Govind Singh Ji, Banda Bahaddur, Shivaji, the great? Why so much mumbo-jumbo about Alexander , the Greek. We can understand enslaved ex Pagans of Europe whose real history was wiped out by barbaric Romans and who were fed only stories of their oppressors (romans) talking about Alexander, Ceaser etc, but why desi Muslims?

Alexander did not give the roots of most of ino-European words, they are Sanskrit roots. Alexander did not formalized the grammar of Indo-European languages, it was sage Panini who formalized Sanskrit grammar. Shake Shalivahan reached beyond Moscow driving out Huns. That is why even Ukranian and Baltics are searching their roots in India. Aryan Invasion theory has been debunked on many grounds but enslaved desis are still holding on it, though their western masters have dropped it in dustbin.

Allexander is just a media myth like Gabbar Singh of Sholey. Good for dialogbazi.

dr vimal raina Sep 03, 2013 08:11pm

History has always categorized rulers who conquered or rampaged from West to East as great emperors and warriors and those who rampaged from East to West as barbarians.

Dahir Sep 03, 2013 10:29pm

@KASHIF: Yes. Timur was one of them.he made mountains of skulls.

Dahir Sep 04, 2013 01:01am

@Rajeev Nidumolu: No.he died in 323 bc in iraq and the said battles in Pakistan were 327 bc let's keep up the standards of discussion

Qalam-o-Dawaat Sep 04, 2013 06:49am

It is much easier to criticize someone after their time has passed. Even easier when the criticism serves no purpose what so ever in bettering the situation of our world today. As they say the time is not of rhetoric anymore but actions that can better the world of tomorrow.