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Alexander the Great

He was a military mastermind whose insatiable appetite for conquest built an empire that stretched across three continents. Spencer Day traces the incredible life of Alexander the Great


Although only 32 when he died, Alexander had conquered 2 million square miles, from Persia to the Punjab, including Anatolia, Egypt, Phoenicia, Syria, Gaza, Bactria and Mesopotamia

WORLD CHANGER Made Macedon’s king at age 20, over the next 12 years Alexander’s military genius would irrevocably change the course of history

They must have made for a pitiful sight. On a cloudless day in early 332 BC, a small party of men staggered across the Saharan desert, seemingly heading for their deaths. They hadn’t drunk for days, they were hopelessly lost and they were surrounded by a vast ocean of sand in every direction. But still their leader urged them on. He was, after all, a man on a mission.

Then the gods intervened. According to the historian Callisthenes, a sudden, violent rainstorm delivered the water the party so desperately craved, while two crows appeared in the sky and guided the men to their destination.

Against all the odds, the party’s leader, Alexander the Great, would go on to fulfil his mission in the Saharan desert – to ask the oracle of the Siwa Oasis a question that had been troubling him for most of his life: “Am I the son of God?”

The oracle, we’re told, answered in the affirmative – yes, Alexander was divine. Events would, of course, prove otherwise. Just nine years later, the mighty king of Macedon would die a slow, painful death, consigned to his grave by the tender age of 32. Yet in those 32 years, Alexander achieved feats way beyond the compass of most mortals. He led an army on a staggering 22,000-mile campaign into Asia and back, forging a colossal empire that took in modern-day nations such as Pakistan, Greece, India, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. He emerged victorious from every major battle he fought, humbling the known world’s mightiest kingdoms. And, by spreading Greek thought and customs across his empire, he set the template for the religions and civilisations that would dominate the world for the next two millennia.

“No other single individual, either Greek or barbarian, has achieved such incredible success on so many occasions and to such an overwhelming extent,” wrote the first-century AD Greek historian Arrian. And he was right. Alexander may not have been a god but, given his achievements, he can hardly be blamed for believing he was.

BORN WARRIOR Alexander’s mother Olympias (below), whose ambition was to make him a great leader; his father Philip II (below right), the warlord who Alexander would ultimately view as a rival
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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

In this month’s issue… Alexander the Great Find out how the Greek warrior’s insatiable appetite for conquest built an empire that stretched over three continents. Plus: the Terracotta Warriors; the tragic tale of the man behind the Beatles; Top 10 secret societies and the most historically accurate film.