Alexander the Great

Thu 29 December 2016 by Thejaswi Puthraya

Alexander built one of the largest empires in the shortest time and at a young age. But how did he manage this? Was he blessed with unmatchable valour or did he rule through an iron fist? There were a lot of such questions in my mind before I started reading the book.

Robin Lane Fox, the author, sifts through the various historical accounts to detail Alexander's life. The book starts with a disclaimer that it is based on multiple sources like Alexander's personal historians, army generals, contemporaries and subsequent historians. Robin Lane Fox takes a lot of care to weed out fiction while providing explanation. By not relying on a single source and providing disclaimers, this book is transparent and doesn't read like a one-sided hero-worship.

Alexander is pushed into limelight with the assassination of his father, Philip-II. The assassins expect a full-blown succession battle but Alexander, aged 20, displays clear-headedness and takes over the throne with little resistance. After consolidating his hold in Macedonia and the north, he marches to Greece. At Greece, he displays his first glimpse of a master strategist by proclaiming himself as one among them and his purpose in life is to avenge the Darius' attack on Greece a few years ago. One by one the Greek cities fall to him and he builds up a huge army.

With this army, he proceeds to Persia but moves along the coast to neutralize the Persian navy's impact. He is confronted by Darius at Issus. The battle is decisively won by Alexander but Darius escapes.

Alexander then went on to liberate Egypt and the people pronounced him the son of Amun. Henceforth, Alexander referred to Zeus-Amun as his father.

He proceeded to Mesopotamia and met Darius at the battle of Gaugamela. Again, Alexander handed Persians the defeat but Darius escaped. Alexander captured Babylon after this battle and marched towards Susa, one of Persia's capitals. After a small battle, he enters Persepolis and let's his troops free who resort to looting and vandalism.

Alexander went after Darius from here only to find him stabbed by his own men. At the start of his campaign in Greece, Alexander rallied his army by invoking revenge against Darius for his attack on Greece. But now, Alexander changed his tact and proclaimed justice for the fallen king as his new motto. To buy the loyalty of his forces, he paid a handsome price in gold, silver and coveted posts.

In pursuit of Bessus, the killer of Darius, Alexander captured a lot of Central Asia. Finally, Besus was betrayed by his host and executed by Alexander.

Once again changing the tact, Alexander proclaims he wants to conquer the edge of the world (India was supposedly known as the edge of the world then). He motivates his forces to march with him into greatness.

Ambhi, the king of Taxila submits to Alexander who restores him to his kingdom. With the addition of Taxila's army, Alexander targets Porus. After a few weeks of mind-games, the two forces come face to face and Porus is captured in the battlefield. Impressed with his valour, Alexander invites Porus into his inner circle.

With his eyes set on the Magadha kingdom, Alexander started stirring his troops. But having been on the road for so many years, they were homesick and longed to get back home. They soon revolted and Alexander was forced to withdraw.

Alexander moved south to the mouth of Indus and then to Multan before crossing the great desert to reach Susa. The desert crossing was to be Alexander's biggest mistake resulting in the loss of half his army.

While recovering from his disastrous desert journey, Alexander loses his best friend Hephaestion and goes into prolonged grieving. A couple of months later, he plans an expedition to capture Arabia. But a week before they set sail, Alexander mysteriously falls ill and dies 12 days later.

His death is controversial as there are two versions of it. One being that he was probably poisoned and the other being that he died from an unknown fever.

After his death at the age of 32, his generals sparred amongst themselves and divided the vast kingdom that stretched from the Danube in the west to the Indus in the east into their satrapies.