XXVI. The Empire of Alexander the Great

FROM 431 to 404 B.C. the Peloponnesian War wasted Greece. Meanwhile to the north of Greece, the kindred country of Macedonia was rising slowly to power and civilization. The Macedonians spoke a language closely akin to Greek, and on several occasions Macedonian competitors had taken part in the Olympic games. In 359 B.C. a man of very great abilities and ambition became king of this little country-Philip. Philip had previously been a hostage in Greece; he had had a thoroughly Greek education and he was probably aware of the ideas of Herodotus-which had also been developed by the philosopher Isocrates-of a possible conquest of Asia by a consolidated Greece.

He set himself first to extend and organize his own realm and to remodel his army. For a thousand years now the charging horse-chariot had been the decisive factor in battles, that and the close-fighting infantry. Mounted horsemen had also fought, but as a cloud of skirmishers, individually and without discipline. Philip made his infantry fight in a closely packed mass, the Macedonian phalanx, and he trained his mounted gentlemen, the knights or companions, to fight in formation and so invented cavalry. The master move in most of his battles and in the battles of his son Alexander was a cavalry charge. The phalanx held the enemy infantry in front while the cavalry swept away the enemy horse on his wings and poured in on the flank and rear of his infantry. Chariots were disabled by bowmen, who shot the horses.

With this new army Philip extended his frontiers through Thessaly to Greece; and the battle of Chaeronia (338 B.C.), fought against Athens and her allies, put all Greece at his feet. At last the dream of Herodotus was bearing fruit. A congress of all the Greek states appointed Philip captain-general of the Graeco-Macedonian confederacy against Persia, and in 336 B.C. his advanced guard crossed into Asia upon this long premeditated adventure. But he never followed it. He was assassinated; it is believed at the instigation of his queen Olympias, Alexander's mother. She was jealous because Philip had married a second wife.

But Philip had taken unusual pains with his son's education. He had not only secured Aristotle, the greatest philosopher in the world, as this boy's tutor, but he had shared his ideas with him and thrust military experience upon him. At Chaeronia Alexander, who was then only eighteen years old, had been in command of the cavalry. And so it was possible for this young man, who was still only twenty years old at the time of his accession, to take up his father's task at once and to proceed successfully with the Persian adventure.

In 334 B.C.-for two years were needed to establish and confirm his position in Macedonia and Greece-he crossed into Asia, defeated a not very much bigger Persian army at the battle of the Granicus and captured a number of cities in Asia Minor. He kept along the sea-coast. It was necessary for him to reduce and garrison all the coast towns as he advanced because the Persians had control of the fleets of Tyre and Sidon and so had command of the sea. Had he left a hostile port in his rear the Persians might have landed forces to raid his communications and cut him off. At Issus (333 B.C.) he met and smashed a vast conglomerate host under Darius III. Like the host of Xerxes that had crossed the Dardanelles a century and a half before, it was an incoherent accumulation of contingents and it was encumbered with a multitude of court officials, the harem of Darius and many camp followers. Sidon surrendered to Alexander but Tyre resisted obstinately. Finally that great city was stormed and plundered and destroyed. Gaza also was stormed, and towards the end of 332 B.C. the conqueror entered Egypt and took over its rule from the Persians.

At Alexandretta and at Alexandria in Egypt he built great cities, accessible from the land and so incapable of revolt. To these the trade of the Phoenician cities was diverted. The Phoenicians of the western Mediterranean suddenly disappear from history-and as immediately the Jews of Alexandria and the other new trading cities created by Alexander appear.

In 331 B.C. Alexander marched out of Egypt upon Babylon as Thothmes and Rameses and Necho had done before him. But he marched by way of Tyre. At Arbela near the ruins of Nineveh, which was already a forgotten city, he met Darius and fought the decisive battle of the war. The Persian chariot charge failed, a Macedonian cavalry charge broke up the great composite host and the phalanx completed the victory. Darius led the retreat. He made no further attempt to resist the invader but fled northward into the country of the Medes. Alexander marched on to Babylon, still prosperous and important, and then to Susa and Persepolis. There after a drunken festival he burnt down the palace of Darius, the king of kings.

Thence Alexander presently made a military parade of central Asia, going to the utmost bounds of the Persian empire. At first he turned northward. Darius was pursued; and he was overtaken at dawn dying in his chariot, having been murdered by his own people. He was still living when the foremost Greeks reached him. Alexander came up to find him dead. Alexander skirted the Caspian Sea, he went up into the mountains of western Turkestan, he came down by Herat (which he founded) and Cabul and the Khyber Pass into India. He fought a great battle on the Indus with an Indian king, Porus, and here the Macedonian troops met elephants for the first time and defeated them. Finally he built himself ships, sailed down to the mouth of the Indus, and marched back by the coast of Beluchistan, reaching Susa again in 324 B.C. after an absence of six years. He then prepared to consolidate and organize this vast empire he had won. He sought to win over his new subjects. He assumed the robes and tiara of a Persian monarch, and this roused the jealousy of his Macedonian commanders. He had much trouble with them. He arranged a number of marriages between these Macedonian officers and Persian and Babylonian women: the "Marriage of the East and West." He never lived to effect the consolidation he had planned. A fever seized him after a drinking bout in Babylon and he died in 323 B.C.

Immediately this vast dominion fell to pieces. One of his generals, Seleucus, retained most of the old Persian empire from the Indus to Ephesus; another, Ptolemy, seized Egypt, and Antigonus secured Macedonia. The rest of the empire remained unstable, passing under the control of a succession of local adventures. Barbarian raids began from the north and grew in scope and intensity. Until at last, as we shall tell, a new power, the power of the Roman republic, came out of the west to subjugate one fragment after another and weld them together into a new and more enduring empire.