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Biography of Alexander


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ALEXANDER the Great, son of Philip of Macedon, was born at Pella 356 B.C. Endowed by nature with a happy genius, he early announced his great character. Philip's triumphs saddened him. On one occasion he exclaimed, "My father will leave nothing for me to do." His education was first committed to Leonidas, a maternal relation, then to Lysimachus, and afterwards to Aristotle. This great philosopher withdrew him to a distance from the court, and instructed him in every branch of human learning, especially in what relates to the art of government, while at the same time he disciplined and invigorated his body by gymnastic exercises. Alexander was 16 years of age when his father marched against Byzantium, and left the government in his hands during his absence. Two years later, he displayed singular courage at the battle of Chaeronea, (338 B.C.,) where he overthrew the sacred band of the Thebans. "My son," said Philip as he embraced him after the conflict, "seek for thyself another kingdom, for that which I leave is too small for thee." Philip being appointed generalissimo of the Greeks, was preparing for a war with Persia, when he was assassinated, 336 B.C., and Alexander, not yet twenty years of age, ascended the throne. After punishing his father's murderers, he went into the Peloponnessus, and in a general assembly of the Greeks, caused himself to be appointed to the command of the forces against Persia. On his return to Macedon, he found the Illyrians and the Triballi up in arms, whereupon he marched against them, and was everywhere victorious. But now the Thebans had been induced by a report of his death to takeup arms, and the Athenians, stimulated by the eloquence of Demosthenes, were preparing to join them. To prevent this coalition, Alexander rapidly marched against Thebes, which refusing to surrender, was conquered and razed to the ground; 6000 of the inhabitants were slain, and 30,000 sold into slavery; the house and family of the poet Pindar alone being spared. This severity struck terror into all Greece. The Athenians were treated with more leniency, Alexander only requiring of them the banishment of Charidemus, who had been most bitter in his invectives against him.

Alexander having appointed Antipater his deputy in Europe, now prepared to prosecute the war with Persia. He crossed the Hellespont in the spring of 334 B.C., with 30,000 foot and 5000 horse, attacked the Persian Satraps at the river Granicus, and gained a complete victory everywhere, overthrowing the son-in law of Darius with his own lance. Most of the cities of Asia Minor, Sardis not excepted, opened their gates to the conqueror. Alexander restored democracy in all the Greek cities, cut the Gordian knot as he passed through Gordium and proceeded to the conquest of Lycia, Ionia, Caria, Pamphyllia and Cappadocia. His career was checked for a time by a dangerous illness, brought on by bathing in the Cydnus. As soon as he recovered, he advanced toward the defiles of Cilicia, in which Darius had stationed himself, with an army of above 500,o00 men. He arrived in November, 333 B.C., in the neighborhood of Issus, where a battle took place between the mountains and the sea. The disorderly masses of the Persians were thrown into confusion by the charge of the Macedonians, and fled in terror. All the treasures, as well as the family of Darius, fell into the hands of the conqueror, who treated the latter with the greatest magnamimity. The King, who fled towards the Euphrates, twice made overtures of peace, which Alexander haughtily refused, saying that Darius must regard him as the ruler of Asia, and the lord of all his people.

The victory of Issus opened the whole country to the Macedonians. Alexander now turned towards Syria and Phoenicia, to cut off Darius' escape by sea. He occupied Damascus where he found princely treasures, and secured to himself all the cities along the shores of the Mediterranean. Tyre, confident in its strong position, resisted him, but was conquered 332 B.C. Thence he marched victoriously through Palestine, where all the cities submitted to him, except Gaza, which shared the same fate as Tyre. Egypt, weary of the Persian yoke, welcomed him as a deliverer; and in order to strengthen his dominion here, he restored all the old customs and religious institutions of the country, and founded Alexandria in the beginning of 331 B.C., which became one of the first cities of ancient times. Thence he marched through the Lybian desert, and at the return of Spring went against Darius, who had assembled an army in Assyria. A battle ensued in October 331 B.C., on the plains of Arbela. Notwithstanding the immense superiority of his adversary, who had collected a new army of 500,000 men, Alexander was not for a moment doubtful of victory. Heading the cavalry himself he rushed on the Persians, and put them to flight. Babylon and Susa, the warehouses of the treasures of the East, opened their gates to the conqueror, who next marched toward Persepolis the capital of Persia, which he entered in triumph.

The marvellous successes of Alexander, now began to dazzle his own judgment, and to inflame his passions. He became a slave to debauchery, and his caprices were as cruel as they were ungrateful.

In 329 B.C., he penetrated to the furthest known limits of Northern Asia, and overthrew the Scythians on the banks of the Jaxartes. In the following year he subdued the whole of Sogdiana, and married Roxana, whom he had taken prisoner. She was the daughter of Oxyartes, one of the enemy's captains, and was said to be the handsomest of the virgins of Asia.

In the year 327 B.C., Alexander proceeded to the conquest of India, then known only by name. He crossed the Indus and pursued his way under the guidance of a native prince, to the Hydaspes, where he was opposed by Porus, another native prince, whom he overthrew after a bloody contest. Thence he marched as lord of the country through that part of India which is now called the Punjab, establishing Greek colonies. He then wished to advance to the Ganges, but the general murmuring of his troops obliged him at the Hyphasis, to commence his retreat, which was accomplished under circumstances of extreme danger. Of all the troops however, which had set out with Alexander, only about a fourth part arrived with him in Persia, (325 B.C.)

At Susa he married Stateira, the daughter of Darius, and he bestowed presents on those Macedonians (about ten thousand in number,) who had married Persian women, his design being to unite the two nations as closely as possible. He then marched to Babylon, before reaching which however, he was met by ambassadors from all parts of the world, Libya, Italy, Carthage, Greece, the Scythians, Colts, and Ibernians. Here he again occupied himself with gigantic plans for the future, both of conquest and civilization, when he was suddenly taken ill after a banquet, and died eleven days afterwards, on the 11th or 13th of May or June, 323 B.C., in the 32nd year of his age, having reigned twelve years and eight months. His body was deposited in a golden coffin at Alexanderia, by Ptolemaeus, and divine honors were paid him, not only in Egypt, but in other countries.

It is but right to observe that Alexander did something more than shed blood during his life. He diffused the language and civilization of Greece wherever victory led him, and planted Greek kingdoms in Asia, which continued to exist for some centuries. At the very time of his death he was engaged in devising plans for the drainage of the unhealthy marshes around Babylon, and a better irrigation of the extensive plains. To Alexander, the ancient world owed a vast increase in its knowledge of Geography, natural history, etc. He taught Europeans the road to India, and gave them the first glimpses of that magnificence and splendor, which has dazzled and captivated their imagination for two thousand years.