The Story of Alexander the Great for Kids
Over 2,300 years ago, in ancient times, a young prince named Alexander was born in a kingdom called Macedon (also known as Macedonia.) He is known today as Alexander the Great.
While growing up, the young prince Alexander had many teachers, one of whom was Aristotle. Aristotle was born in a Greek city-state near the border of Macedonia. Aristotle's parents were great believers in education. When Aristotle was 17, his parents allowed him to move to Athens, a major city-state in ancient Greece, so that he could study with the famous scholar, Plato. Aristotle stayed in Athens for 20 years. When he finally came home, his dad got him a job in the royal court in nearby Macedonia as a tutor to the young prince Alexander.
Alexander had many tutors. They taught him the art of war. Aristotle taught him to admire and respect the Greek culture. Aristotle was only Alexander's tutor for 3 years, but he had an enormous affect on the young prince, so much so that Alexander soon convinced himself that his father, King Phillip II of Macedonia, was not his real father at all. Alexander chose to believe that he was really the son of the Greek god Zeus. That belief dictated a great many of Alexander's actions throughout his life.
When Alexander was 19 years old, his father (King Phillip II) was assassinated. Alexander took over as king of Macedonia in 336 BC. Alexander quickly pulled together all of Macedonia under his leadership. Then he finished the job King Phillip II had started, and united the Greeks, this time under Alexander's leadership. Combining an army of Macedonian warriors and Greek warriors, Alexander turned his attention to the massive Persian Empire. It was very clever of him to target Persia. The Greeks did not want to admit Alexander was their leader, and probably would have caused the young king many a headache. Only the Greeks hated Persia. Attacking Persia with a combined force of Macedonian and Greek warriors probably helped Alexander to maintain the control his father (King Phillip II) had established over the many Greek city-states. It took Alexander only three years to defeat the powerful Persian Empire.
By the time Alexander was 25 years old, against incredible odds, and in only six years, Alexander had become not only the king of Macedonia, but also the leader of the Greeks, overlord of Asia Minor, pharaoh of Egypt, and the great king of Persia.
"Over the next eight years, in his capacity as king, commander, politician, scholar and explorer, Alexander led his army a further 11,000 miles, founding over 70 cities and creating an empire that stretched across three continents, and covered around two million square miles. The entire area from Greece in the west, north to the Danube, and south into Egypt, and as far to the east as the Indian Punjab, was linked together in a vast international network of trade and commerce. This network was united by a common Greek language and culture." Alexander the Great, BBC.
Alexander's Empire in 323 BC, 13 years after his father died
Part of his success is that Alexander truly believed he was the son of Zeus, king of all the Greek gods.
As a scholar, Alexander felt it was his mission to spread the Greek culture. He did not force conquered people to follow the ancient Greek ways, or to worship the Greek gods, but he established schools everywhere he went to teach Greek philosophy and the Greek language.
As a politician, Alexander adopted many of the customs of the local people he conquered, blending their culture with the Greek culture. He established hospitals, built fortified cities, and created the largest library in the ancient world at Alexandria in Egypt.
As a warrior, he was reckless. He entered wars as if he were immortal. He was chopped, sliced, battered, and nearly died more than once, but he never lost a battle.
As a person, viewed by historians, Alexander had a dark side. When he did not get his way, he would stomp around or disappear into his tent and pout or sulk for days. Sometimes his behavior was much worse. He had a terrible temper, a dangerous one. From time to time, Alexander would arbitrarily murder close advisors and even friends. Towards the end of his 13 years of power, he slaughtered thousands of people whose only crime was being in his way.
However, there is no denying that Alexander changed the world.
He probably would have kept going, perhaps all the way to China, but Alexander died young. He was only 32 (or possibly 33) years old when he died. There was talk at the time that he might have been murdered by his own men. That rumor could be true. Many soldiers had not seen their families for years and wanted to return to Greece and to Macedonia. They said so. That made Alexander angry, always a dangerous situation. That's how desperate his men were to go home. "After retreating to his tent to sulk for two days, Alexander emerged saying that the gods willed that he should return home. On the way home, when Alexander reached the coast at Pattala, he used ships to send many of the original soldiers of his army back to Greece and Macedonia. The others he marched through a desert to reach Babylon. There was little water. Many of his soldiers died during this desert crossing. Alexander survived the crossing, making it back to Babylon, the capital of his empire. In 323 BC, while in Babylon, Alexander got very sick with a fever and died." penfield.edu
Alexander had made no plans on what to do with his vast empire after his death. It did not seem to occur to him that he could actually die. Rumor has it that on his death bed, his generals asked who should take over? Alexander replied - the strongest. And died.
After Alexander's death ....
After his death, his empire disintegrated. Part of the reason was that Alexander's army never blended together. His Greek warriors and his Macedonian warriors never got along. "The ancient Macedonians regarded the ancient Greeks as neighbors, not as kinsmen. The Greeks treated the Macedonians as foreigners ("barbarians") whose native language was Macedonian, not Greek." History of Macedonia, Greek Conflict. Although Alexander loved the Greek culture, his Macedonian warriors were not as enthusiastic. But mostly, his army just wanted to go home. Alexander's three major generals could not keep them from doing that. His top three generals did divide Alexander's empire into three big pieces. They did each rule their piece, with pockets of success. In spite of their efforts, the Middle East, Egypt, and the many Greek city-states were soon once again independent.
Alexander's Legacy from penfield.edu
Alexander spread Greek culture throughout the Persian Empire, including parts of Asia and Africa. Alexander respected the local cultures he conquered, and allowed their customs to continue. Alexander himself embraced local customs, wearing Persian clothes and marrying Persian women. Alexander encouraged his soldiers to marry Persian women, in this way, the children of these marriages would share both Persian and Greek cultures.
Alexander created the Hellenistic Age, a time when Greek culture mixed with the various cultures of Alexander's Empire. This was a time of advances in learning, math, art, and architecture. Some of the great names of learning in this Age include Archimedes, Hero, and Euclid. It was a time of relative peace. (The Hellenistic Age began with Alexander's death and ended about 200 years later when the Romans conquered the Mediterranean region and beyond.)
Because of the relative peace during the Hellenistic Age, travel and trade increased. Ideas were freely exchanged. Knowledge and education flourished.
The great cities of the Hellenistic Age included Antioch in Syria, Pergamum in Asia Minor, and Alexandria in Egypt, home of the famous library of Alexandria, the largest library in the ancient world. Although none of these cities were in Greece, they all had Greek architecture."
Many of the cities Alexander established around the Mediterranean considered themselves Greek city-states, although many Greeks themselves considered them foreigners.
PIECES OF THE PAST: Keep in mind, we're talking about events and happenings and people who lived over 2,300 years ago. Historians are still putting pieces of the past together. There are written records. Some are romanticized, fictionalized, idealized - you get the idea. Historians try to put pieces of the past together accurately. It's not an easy job. There is still a great deal of work to do. But most scholars believe that Alexander was a real person and a military genius, who kept Greek culture alive and flourishing.
Absolutely fabulous - YouTube, Alexander the Great in original drawings with a narrator (Note to our students - You do not need to learn all these terms and cities, but this short video will give you a greater understanding of Alexander, how clever he was (and how dangerous!)
One question we get quite often is why didn't Alexander attack Rome?
Good question. Simple answer: Rome was not yet a threat. Rome had not yet grown into an empire. Look at the map below. At the time of Alexander, Rome is pictured in red below. Alexander's empire is pictured in yellow. This was the period of the Roman Republic. That Rome was not yet a threat would not have stopped Alexander from trying to conquer Rome, if he had wanted to, but most scholars believe Alexander's focus was on tightening his control of the Greek city-states, a process his father had started. Once he had done that to his satisfaction, he then moved on to Persia, to the east, a known enemy. Conquering the Persian Empire took him three years. Since he was already headed east, he just kept going east, towards India. After conquering India, Alexander did not look back. Instead, he planned next to cross a terrible desert (towards China) to conquer whoever was on the other side. But he died before he could do so. After Alexander died, supposedly from an insect bite, the Greek city-states soon went back to normal. Alexander had only conquered the Greeks for about 15 years, so it was not hard for them to revert to their normal state. (Two hundred years later, however, after Rome had grown into an empire, Rome conquered the Greek city-states. But that was two hundred years after the death of Alexander. Rome was lucky. For all his faults, nearly all scholars agree that Alexander was a military genius. If the Roman Empire had to fight Alexander, no one knows which mighty power might have won. Keep in mind, it should have been nearly impossible to conquer the huge Persian Empire on their own soil, but it only took the military genius, Alexander, three years to do so.)
Yellow: Some of Alexander's empire
Red: The Roman Republic