Alexander the Great was the king of Macedon during the 4th century B.C. who saw the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Asia and decided they would make a really bitchin' backyard.
Alexander was the son of King Philip II of Macedon and his fourth wife Olympias. On his father's side of the family, he boasted to be descended from Heracles (more commonly Hercules to modern audiences). On his mother's side, he claimed descent from Achilles, the great warrior who fought and died in the siege of Troy. As if he needed something else to brag about, his mother and father both claimed to have prophetic dreams the night of his conception that led them to believe that Zeus was involved in creating the child. Talk about winning the genetic lottery.
Some serious shit went down the day of Alexander's birth. Philip's army defeated the combined forces of their neighbors the Illyrians and the Paeonians. Philip's horses also won in the Olympic games. And the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, burned down. There's a joke in there somewhere, but honestly we're still not entirely sure how to react to that.
Realizing that they had a child on their hands whose birthday seemed to be directed by Roland Emmerich, Philip and Olympias did the only reasonable thing two parents could do: they had him tutored by the smartest son of a bitch in all of Greece. Philip appointed Aristotle as Alexander's personal teacher. For a classroom, they used the Temple of the Nymphs at Meiza. Yeah, take a moment to think about that.
It's not as if we weren't already thinking of it.
Further cementing his reputation as the coolest dad in the ancient world, Philip also allowed Alexander a crack at taming the meanest warhorse he'd ever seen. Despite being 10 at the time, little Alex succeeded. He named the horse Bucephalus and would take the horse with him on his military campaign all the way to India. When the horse finally passed away from old age, Alexander named one of his many new just-conquered cities after him as Bucephala, which stands to this day. Nothing like a pet getting a city named after it to make you feel inadequate, don't you think?
No that is not the title of a retro 80's-style romantic comedy. At least, not until we finish the screenplay. Alexander really was 16 years old when he started commanding Macedonian armies to crush the nuts of whoever looked at him funny. He fought a long campaign afterward with his father that established the Hellenic Alliance. Keep in mind that Alexander did all this by riding in the front lines with his armies so that he could show them the proper way to kill.
Despite the father/son bonding that military conquest usually entails, a rift was fast growing between Philip and Alexander largely over the fact that Philip took yet another wife who was herself a Macedonian, meaning that any heir she produced would have a greater claim to the throne than Alexander who was only half Macedonian. At a banquet Alexander made his father look like a drunken buffoon and went to live in Illyria for a little while before continuing to dick with his father's plans to produce a pure Macedonian heir.
It should be noted that the Illyrians treated Alexander as a respected guest. And the memory of him kicking their asses in battle was still fresh in the mind. So if this story teaches us nothing else, it's that you can totally beat favors and respect out of people.
In 336 B.C. Philip was assassinated by one of his bodyguards during his daughter's wedding. Which as dick moves go is pretty spectacular. The assassin was caught and killed on the spot, but Alexander, 20 years old at the time, saw opportunity and moved quickly. Before the dust had settled, the Macedonian army named him king. And in the ancient world, you tended not to argue with the guys who had all the weapons when it came to appointing government officials.
Also par for the course in the ancient world, Alexander consolidated his power through murder. Lots of it. Of the people who were potential threats to his claim to the throne, he only spared two of them. The first he simply put into custody (to be murdered a few years later) and the second was too mentally disabled to be considered a credible threat. Some speculate that the source of his brain damage was Olympias botching an attempt to poison him. Did we mention that she was stone cold crazy and kind of a bitch?
Because she totally was.
In the wake of Philip's death, most of the Greek citystates decided they had had enough of that Hellenic Alliance shit and tried to rebel. Alexander was advised to use diplomacy but it turns out he just wasn't in the mood for that. Instead he took his cavalry and went to go brutalize the rest of Greece back into line. Seeing the writing on the wall, most of the Greek armies chose to just surrender, including Athens. What really caught them off-guard was that he pardoned everyone involved in the revolt. We imagine he did so with a conspiratorial grin and a sinister laugh just to fuck with them.
Where shit got complicated was when Alexander went to secure the northern border by finding everything that didn't like Macedonians and relieving it of those pesky rebellious tendencies via violence. Illyria hadn't learned from past mistakes, tried to rebel and soon found themselves being smacked down like an uppity ho. But they got off light compared to Thebes. Thebes wouldn't surrender, so Alexander burned the city to the ground and killed almost everyone in it. He let the neighbors who were smart enough to surrender divide up what was left of the land. After Athens finished soiling themselves, they dropped that revolt bullshit and agreed that living under a Macedonian was better than dying under the hooves of his warhorse.
Now that Alexander had finished either terrifying or slaughtering his enemies into submission, it was time to put his gigantic balls to the wall and go after the real prize: the Persian empire.
This might require a little background. Empires trying to kick the crap out of each other wasn't really all that uncommon back in those days. Understand that if you were part of one empire and learned of another one, it was on. You were pretty much obligated to go to war and stomp on each other's faces because that's just what empires do. And the Greeks and Persians took that shit seriously. Greece wasn't even an empire proper, but they and the Persians still loved to mix it up.
The fighting had come to a stalemate because the Persian navy pretty much dominated the Mediterranean, but on land the Greek army were the superior fighters. Their respective strengths made them veritable opposites while being evenly matched. This was comic book superhero stuff centuries before comic books were even invented.
Not pictured: Limited edition alternate cover art.
With all this in mind, no one was particularly surprised when Alexander decided now that he had an empire that he should get all up in the Persians' grill. The generals advised him to build up the strength of the Greek navy so that they could take the Persians on at sea. But Alexander, like the loose cannon cop on the edge of the law who doesn't play by the rules, told them to fuck off because he had a plan.
He took the Greek army into Asia minor and proceeded to take every town he crossed from whatever poor schmuck was ruling them at the time. When he came to the town of Gordium, he found the Gordian Knot, a giant mass of rope so tangled that no one had ever figured out how to untie it. Prophecy said that whoever could solve the Gordian Knot would become the king of Asia. Alexander took his sword and hacked it apart in a manner that would be immortalized in analogies for years to come. We like to imagine this was preceded by him saying, "Check this out."
After that display of smugness and creativity, he went on his asskicking tour of the coast slowly winding his way down. The Persians offered some resistance, but for the most part he was having a relatively easy time of it. Whatever town he conquered was incorporated into the Hellenic empire, allowed to keep their local customs, and all of the unpopular Persian policies were done away with. After a while, the towns saw what a sweet deal they'd be getting so they just started surrendering and asking to join the Greeks. By the time Alexander reached Egypt, they greeted him as a liberator and gave Persia the finger.
At this point, the plan came together. The Persian navy no longer had any strategically viable ports to dock at and was rendered useless. And without the stores of grain and wealth coming from Egypt, the empire's economy started to suffer as well while Alexander used it to strengthen his own army. That's like bullying a guy at the beach only to learn that when your back was turned he slept with your girlfriend.
With all of that taken care of, Alexander marched on and captured Assyria, Babylon, and finally the capital Persepolis itself. He now had the largest empire in the world.
You know how we just said that Alexander controlled the largest empire in the world? After remembering the whole Gordian Knot thing, he decided it wasn't largest enough. His next target was India. Strategically it made sense as it would provide a route into Asia that didn't involve dealing with those batshit psychos in what would later become Afghanistan. India was also attractive for its vast agricultural resources and exotic goods.
And you know... other things.
Feeling gracious (and pompous), Alexander offered the Indian chieftans the chance to come and submit to his authority. Since he offered a reasonably high standard of living for that time period, some of them thought this to be a good deal and decided they could put up with taking a few orders here and there from a foreign megalomaniac. Those that didn't give in... well, you probably know where this is going.
Long story short, the Greek army proceeded to ruin a bunch of Indians' shit over a series of lengthy and bloody battles, including chasing one tribe across the land and engaging them in four different sieges. After an epic battle with the armies of the Punjabi ruler Porus, Alexander was pretty damn impressed by how much harder these guys fought than the Persians and made an alliance with Porus, appointing him ruler of one of the new Hellenic Indian satrapies.
Alexander himself was wounded from fighting and his armies were weary. Finally figuring he had kicked enough ass (for now), Alexander sent his men home on the return to Persia. Naturally, when he got back he killed everyone who became corrupt and traitorous in his absence. That's just how he rolled.
While staying in Persia, Alexander was planning a new campaign starting with the invasion of Arabia. Maybe he just really wanted a new horse. It doesn't matter because he never got around to it due to the fact that he rather inconveniently died at the age of 32. Yes, you heard that right. All of these accomplishments and he was only 32. If you are in your 30's and reading this, you may go ahead and start your mid-life crisis ahead of schedule.
He fell ill after drinking one night, which wasn't all that suspicious. The fact that it lasted almost two weeks before he croaked was. Some have speculated that he was poisoned. If you have been at all paying attention through this topic, you probably can imagine why they would think that. There was no political disagreement that you couldn't solve with murder back then and the Macedonians in particular loved to get their assassin on. The main argument against this is the fact that it took 12 days for the bastard to die. That's not a particularly efficient poison.
More likely, he died of malaria. It's very War of the Worlds-esque that history seems to turn on the activities of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are bastards.
After Alexander's death, he was interred in a gold sarcophagus. His remains were later taken to Memphis, then Alexandria, and then... well honestly nobody knows where the fuck he is right now. After a long history of Mediterranean rulers filing past his corpse thinking that they could catch some of that Macedonian mojo (including Caligula stealing Alexander's breastplate so that he could wear it back home for a creepy motherfucker contest), we're inclined to believe his ghost finally got sick of that shit and just hid the body so he could get some fucking sleep.
Today he is one of the most legendary figures in history. His spread of Greek culture had a geometric effect on the development of the modern world and he changed both politics and warfare. He was the role model for the Roman empire and his formation of the Indian satrapies indirectly led to the creation of the most powerful royal dynasty in Indian history... So what have you done today?
"God, I'm awesome."