Alexander was born in July 356 B.C. to Philip II and his third wife, Olympias. The parents were far from a happy couple, and Alexander was raised primarily under the influence of his mother. At the age of thirteen, he was sent to study with Aristotle–an education that was for the most part formal. Aristotle promoted the belief that non-Greeks were naturally slaves, thus encouraging the prince's thirst for conquest. Ultimately, however, Alexander would reject this belief, at least implicitly, as he attempted to cooperate with the Persians even as he subjugated them.
Returning to Macedonia after three years, Alexander soon had the opportunity to prove his strength in battle, as he subdued rebellions and contributed to his father's famous victory over Athens and Thebes at Chaeronea. But when Philip divorced Olympias and married Cleopatra, Alexander began to fear that his father was looking for a new heir, and the father and son had a falling out. Their dispute was shortly resolved, but both remained suspicious of the other. Indeed, Philip was soon assassinated by a guard who presumably had a personal grievance, though Alexander and his mother are traditionally thought to have played some kind of role in Philip's death.
Alexander thus succeeded to the throne and began the inevitable dynastic purging of enemies. At the same time, he had to force the other Greek city-states to acknowledge his authority as Hegemon of the Hellenic League, which Philip had established. In doing so, Alexander razed the city of Thebes as an example–though many sympathized with Thebes and only grew to resent Alexander more deeply. But Alexander had more important concerns–namely, the Persian expedition. This had been Philip's dream and Alexander's inheritance, and he wasted no time in beginning.
Alexander advanced gradually and conquered territory by territory until Darius, the Great King of Persia, was forced to come out himself to face Alexander. Alexander was victorious in the two key battles at Issus and Gaugamela, and Darius was murdered by conspirators soon afterward. In the meantime, Alexander also conquered Phoenicia, Egypt, and Babylon, all of which proved to be valuable acquisitions.
Upon hearing of Darius's death, the Macedonian army assumed that the expedition was over and the war won, but Alexander insisted on pushing farther east. Here he faced a formidable opponent in Spitamenes, who possessed a smaller army but continued harassing Alexander and even slaughtered a Macedonian unit after Alexander underestimated him. Spitamenes was ultimately defeated, the rebellion fell apart, and Alexander went on to conquer the Paraetacene territory. In the Far East, Alexander founded a large number of cities that would contribute to the expansion of Greek culture.
Finally there remained India (which at the time referred to a small area in western Pakistan, not the country of modern times). Although Alexander was already the undisputed king of Asia, he would not be satisfied until he had personally vanquished the entire continent. He soon allied himself with one ruler, Ambhi, but there remained Ambhi's enemy Porus. The result was one of Alexander's greatest military achievements, but the battle was difficult, particularly because the Macedonian army had had to face a frightful experience in fighting elephants.
After India, Alexander wanted to press still farther, recognizing that Asia extended beyond what he may have expected from limited geographical knowledge. At this point, however, his troops finally refused to further, and mutinous thoughts stirred after eight hard years of combat and marching. Alexander was furious, but he was eventually forced to give in and return home.
Back in Persia Alexander dealt with administrative matters, including the replacement of various satraps, or local rulers. More important, his experience of Asia had changed his attitude toward Persians. His desire to cooperate with the Persians alienated many conservative Macedonians, who still viewed Persians as barbarians. Alexander's new attitude may even have led to his death in 323 B.C. Though the official cause of his death was a fever aggravated by heavy drinking, many historians have speculated that Alexander was poisoned by Aristotle, his former tutor, and Antipater, his close advisor, as a result of his favorable treatment of the barbarians.
Sample Essays for Midterm 1 (Take-Home) from Spring 2014:
SAMPLE ESSAY #1:
Sample Essay for Midterm 1 on “Ideal Athens/Athenian”
Professor’s Comment: Your essay on the ideal Athens/Athenian is excellent in several respects. It turns repeatedly to the primary sources for evidence, as suggested by the Guidelines. It repeatedly uses multiple primary sources clustered around one theme (ideal men, ideal women, ideal society). Direct quotations are used frequently, and each are properly cited with page number and Author. At the end of most paragraphs, there is a clear and efficient summary of the main ideas of that paragraph, before moving on to the next idea. The essay is not perfect—it’s missing a title, for example, and there are some silly errors (“inhibited” instead of “exhibited”, or the needless repetition at the bottom of pg. 2 about “ability to use their brain”). And I find the long paragraph on pg. 3, about the household/society, to be jumbled at the beginning, though it improves toward the end. Overall, however, the essay is clearly written and with a minimum of errors—more importantly, it addresses the question head-on, and answers it with an array of evidence from the primary sources. 95
Western civilization has morphed and developed with time, going through many radical transformations over the years. In the 5th century BCE Classical Athens was at a high point, also referred to as the "Golden Age." Philosophy was originated during this time and people such as Socrates and Plato started talking about basic questions dealing with human existence without using references to religion or myths. Greeks had previously looked at the nature of the universe and Athenians expanded on this saying everything has a rational explanation for how it came to be. Plato was one of the first to write about what an ideal society should look like and what kinds of laws would be in place, he believed that recognizing these standards was an important component of philosophy. Aristotle, one of Plato's pupils, focused his writings on the world around him and believed that the ideal human behavior was rooted in the observations of Athenian society. Athens was seen as prosperous and well-designed during this period, some saying it was the ideal society. Many civilizations have tried to reconstruct the ideals and way of life of the Athenians. Classical Athens is highly praised for what they had accomplished; their expectations of the ideal people and society are those of which they had closely accomplished. A careful examination of Ancient Athens literature will show a close relationship between the ideal Athens and Athenian and the reality of Athenian society.
Writings from the time of Ancient Athens depict a certain image as to who the ideal Athenian was and what characteristics they inhibited. Pericles, the ruler of Athens and military leader at the time said, "…reward both of those who have fallen and their survivors. And where the rewards for merit are greatest, there are found the best citizens" (Wiesner, 60). Pericles was referring to the soldiers who fought in battle for Athens and believed that fighting for Athens was an important quality among men. Xenophon, author of The Economist, thought that a man's place is outdoors; he is to take care of the needs outside the household and to run a well-managed home showed ideal characteristics. In The Republic Plato stated in an obvious nature that elders should rule over the younger generations, "and he who at every age, as a boy and youth and in mature life, has come out of the trial victorious and pure, shall be appointed a ruler and guardian of the State…"(Wiesner, 68). Plato also believed that men should be the head of the household and have absolute authority. Those appointed to be guardians of the state should live simply and be men of "temperance and courage"(Wiesner, 68). There is a consensus among the authors that the ideal Athenian is male and his work is outside the home. Considering the points of these authors, the ideal Athenian would be an older male who was of high rank in the military, ran a well-managed household, and had the traits of a strong mind.
In Ancient Athens females were considered lesser than men, yet there were expectations of them as well. Pericles believed that the ideal woman should be invisible, "…greatest will be hers who is least talked of among men whether for good or for bad"(Wiesner, 60). Xenophon's opinion was that, "it is more proper for a woman to stay in the house than out of doors…"(Wiesner, 66). The only sense of equality that men and women shared was in the raising of their children, who were considered a common interest. In Aristotle's writing from The Politics he wrote that a person's virtue was important and related this concept to one's soul; the ability to use their brain. The soul is not present in a slave, doesn't operate in a wife, and is not yet developed in a child. The soul is referring to one's virtue; the ability to use their brain and make decisions. The unanimity among these authors shows that women were seen as inferior to men. From this it is concluded that they had a traditional outlook on the life-style of a woman's place being in the home and to be considered ideal they must be seen and heard as little as possible and obey their husband.
Households, though run by women, were considered to be governed by the husband's authority. Aristotle believed that the household was the smallest economic and political unit in a society and that the basis of government should start with the basis of a household. Athens is seen as the originators of democracy by later Europeans and Americans. The society was that of a meritocracy, Pericles indicated that everyone had the chance to improve their lives if they were productive and worked hard. He also stated that Athens was a strong city and others modeled themselves after it, "our constitution does not copy the laws of neighboring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves" (Wiesner, 58). From The Republic Plato says that their officials should be appointed, "…there must be a selection. Let us note among the guardians those who in their whole life show the greatest eagerness to do what is for the good of their country…"(Wiesner, 68). Ancient Athens stood strong and though many of these authors praised the city for their hard work and democratic society others did not necessarily agree that things were as perfect as it may have seemed. From an unknown author's point of view of Athenian democracy it was implied that the common people did not retaliate against the wealthy, "of the mainland cities in the Athenian Empire, the large one's are governed by fear, and the small one's by want"(Wiesner, 65). Their society was based on import and export; if they disobeyed the government then they would no longer have the means to survive. The information given from these authors' shows that the Athenian government was strong and powerful and though some questioned the virtuous nature of their democracy, most affirmed its efficiency and successfulness.
Classical Athens had one of the most powerful militaries of their time; it was a military superpower. They saw war as the ultimate test of morals, values, and ideals. During Pericles Funeral Speech he said, "…Athenians advance unsupported into the territory of a neighbor, and fighting upon a foreign soil usually vanquish with ease men who are defending their homes" (Wiesner, 58). The Athenian military worked as a united force, giving no exceptions when they chose to overtake an area. From The Melian Debate it was said that "…if we do not molest them it is because we are afraid; so that besides extending our empire we should gain in security by your subjection…"(Wiesner, 61). Athenian's took a lot of pride in their military and were confident to the point of being egotistical; they did not want people to think they were inferior to anyone. War was a time to prove that they could conquer all and were superior to those around them.
During everyday life it was said that the Athenian's excelled at balancing their work and play. In Pericles Funeral Speech he said, "the freedom which we enjoy in our government extends also to our ordinary life" (Wiesner, 58). They celebrated and sacrificed all year long and their entertainment was something that the Athenians enjoyed showing off. It is said that they are the originators of drama, history, and realistic art. Pericles alleged they lived efficiently, spending money on things they needed, "…wealth we employ for more use than for show…"(Wiesner 59). He also accepted immigrants and foreigners to come and learn from the Athenian's, "we throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing…"(Wiesner. 58). An unknown Athenian author had said that you couldn't tell slaves apart from the commoners due to their poor appearance. Their simplicity in material things and interest in entertainment and knowledge proved ideal from the workings of Pericles.
An analysis of Ancient Athens literature exposes a close correlation between ideal Athenian society and its people and the reality of Classical Athens. The Athenian society was based on a balance of tradition, power, and knowledge: all of which was thought to be part of their ideal society. Tradition lay within the concept of the ideal Athenian. The ideal male would be considered of strong mind, a determined fighter, and head of the household whereas an ideal female would be considered and obedient house-wife. Their ideal society reflects upon the reality of their own civilization: a democracy, a military superpower, simplicity, and a balance among work and entertainment. Ancient Athens has made a large political and cultural impact on the world and civilizations that stand today and we are still expanding on many of the aspects that Ancient Athens originated.
SAMPLE ESSAY #2:
Professor’s Comment: This is excellent! I would like to use your essay—anonymously, of course—as a model for other students. The writing is clear. The primary sources constitute the basis of evidence used. You include page numbers and your last name on each page. The introduction frames the topic, and the thesis clearly states what you will prove in the essay to follow. The structure of the essay is logical, except on pp. 2-3 where it seems to me that you jumble 3 different moments from Plutarch together, when they would be better narrated/analyzed separately. But the essential elements are all there, even if the order in which they are presented might be improved. The essay also includes some excellent analysis—you repeatedly show why Alexander should be considered great, and link how we can see the proof of that in the primary sources. My only real criticism is that you could use a few more direct quotes—you are fond of paraphrasing, and that’s fine, but inclusion of occasional direct quotes both spices up the essay, and breaks the monotony of continual paraphrase by having something different. All in all, a fine essay! 97
Alexander the Great: Living up to the name
Throughout history, many powerful rulers and great military minds have existed. Alexander the Great is considered one of these. Born to King Philip of Macedon around 356 BC, Alexander inherited the throne while still relatively young when his father died around the year 336 BC. He then went on to create one of the largest empires in the entire world. Alexander truly proved that he deserved the nickname “Alexander the Great”, whether it was shown from his actions in his youth or from his conquests towards his adulthood. Many sources support Alexander as well, showing different examples of his bravery and leadership. Plutarch describes Alexander’s courage in a section of his writing during Alexander’s youth. Alexander then describes his military strength in his letter to Aristotle, and reveals his leadership skills in his speech to his troops.
In Plutarch’s writing “Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans”, Plutarch describes a moment from Alexander’s youth where he displayed a great deal of bravery along with skill and intelligence. Philonieus the Thessalian had approached Philip of Macedon to offer his horse Bucephalus up for sale to the king. Philip, along with Alex and other individuals, went out to a field nearby to get a look at the horse before they decided whether to purchase it. Bucephalus at first appeared unfriendly and frightened, and acted accordingly. Plutarch writes “The horse appeared extremely vicious and unmanageable, and was so far from suffering himself to be mounted, that he would not bear to be spoken to, but turned fiercely on all the grooms.”(Langhorne, John)This shows that the horse came off as very hostile, and would not even let anyone come close enough to speak to it, never mind ride it. The sight of the horse’s hostility made Philip unhappy, and he asked for it to be taken away for he had lost interest in purchasing it. Alexander, however, thought differently. He claimed that getting rid of the horse would be a waste of its talent, and put a wager on his ability to be able to not only mount the horse, but also ride it around. Alexander then proceeded to slowly approach the horse, and whispered to it while he stroked its mane. The horse eventually relaxed, and allowed Alexander to mount its back. Then Bucephalus began to run, and Alexander encouraged it using his spurs while yelling at it. Philip and his company began to worry once the horse picked up pace, but were soon reassured when Alexander guided it back to them. Alexander was received with praise, and upon returning his father said “‘Seek another kingdom, my son, that may be worthy of thy abilities; for Macedonia is too small for thee...’”(Langhorne, John) This shows that Philip had extreme pride and faith in his son, for he believed that Alexander would go onto do bigger and better things than he (Philip) originally had. The story continues when Alexander had inherited the crown at age 20, along with a broken kingdom. While being threatened by barbarous nations from Macedonia’s borders, Alexander believed that the only way to keep the kingdom secure was by taking out anyone who threatened it. Alexander attacked the barbarians with his army and killed 20,000 foot soldiers along with 2,500 horses, while only losing 9 infantry men and 25 others. He then constructed a brass statue for each soldier to honor their memory, and spread the wealth from his conquest to the Greeks.
This passage from Plutarch describes why Alexander truly deserved the title “Alexander the Great”. Alexander displayed intelligence and maturity from a young age. Instead of rushing up to the horse and trying to mount it quickly, he took his time and made sure to calm the horse down before attempting to mount it. Also, Alexander displayed great skill in controlling the horse while riding it. After getting it to a full gallop, Alexander managed to get it to turn around and run back to where it started from. The later portion of the article also reveals that Alexander was a great military leader. Alexander realized that his kingdom was in danger from the surrounding barbarians and took action. He dismantled any threat to his kingdom from the bordering savages, killed 20,000 barbarians, and managed to only lose 9 infantry men in the process. Finally, Alexander was a great leader because of the respect he showed not only his troops, but also his people. Alexander honored each soldier that died with a statue of them in brass, and then spread the wealth obtained to his kingdoms population. Many rulers would have kept the treasure from the conquered people, but Alexander decided to spread the wealth among the people. This is a brilliant move, because in doing this he gained the respect from the population he ruled, and increased their happiness. By keeping the Macedonians happy, he ensured that (at least for the time being) they would not revolt and try to remove him from power. However, some may see this in a different way. Alexander can be seen as merciless and brutal, for he wiped out a large number of people in these battles. He also can be seen as irrational, for he killed 2,500 horses. Instead of slaughtering these animals, he could have captured more of them and used them in his own army, which would have allowed his troops to migrate from conquered areas to areas they planned to invade.
In the letter to Aristotle, Alexander describes how he wanted to live like Peleus, an ancient greek mythology hero. He then continues to say that he now, when looking back on those conquests of nearby areas, sees a different political importance than before. He explains that it was necessary to conquer Thrace so that Macedonia’s flank would be safe incase the Greeks double crossed them. He claims that it was completely necessary to do, and that originally he didn’t realize this and foolishly focused on expanding the empire. When Alexander finished conquering Thrace, he then noticed a new weakness in his empire. Worried that the new shores of his empire could be threatened, or used by Egypt and Phonecia and a way to supply Persia, Alexander then decided to occupy the Tyrian coast and eventually Egypt. From here, Alexander then worried that Darius of Mesopotamia would attack Syria and try to remove Egypt from his empire. Alexander immediately decided to battle Darius, and defeated him at Gaugamela. Other colonies eventually were conquered, and Alexander controlled much of the Persian Gulf. In order to protect these new territories, Alexander expanded north until his empire stretched from the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea. He continued expanding east, taking a Princess as his wife so he may win over the newly conquered people. He also discusses how he had to have two of his old friends put to death so that no rebellion would take place, and that he began to focus on India as a “military necessity”. However, once there his troops became too tired and ill to continue and he was forced to return home. Once he returned to Susa he realized that his troops were indeed exhausted, and he ended up adopting 30,000 Persians into his army. This apparently angered many of his soldiers, but he goes on to explain that he needed not only Oriental soldiers but also Oriental court members in order to maintain peace with these new territories. He concludes his letter by stating he views himself as a god, and asks Aristotle to help cement his image as a god to the people of the West by using philosophy.
Although fake, this letter still serves to show Alexander’s military superiority compared to other nations of the world. He expanded the Macedonian empire from its original size until it eventually encompassed the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. Alexander increased the size of his fathers empire and spread the Macedonian and Greek ideas across much of the world. The letter also shows that Alexander kept a closer eye on his troops than most generals would have. Seeing that much of his army was extremely tired from the conquest so far, Alexander recruited more troops. By adding 30,000 new soldiers, Alexander could allow a portion of his troops to recover while the new ones could defend his empire. However, as mentioned earlier, the source for this letter is unreliable. One cannot properly form an opinion on Alexander based upon this letter, for obvious problems with the letter stand out immediately. First off, the letter is written in modern day terminology. Many modern day terms are used throughout the letter that Alexander would not have used in his time. For example, Alexander says “I could set out with a quiet heart to secure for my own land of Greece her natural frontiers on the coast of China.”(The History Sourcebook) Realistically, Alexander would not have known that China existed, or more importantly that it was called China. Also, a student at the University of Prince Edward Island pointed out that the same letter can be found in a book of short stories. The short stories included with it were written to show human foolishness, which is exactly what one would think of Alexander when reading about how he claimed himself to be a god.
Finally, Alexander’s speech to his troops shows how intelligent of a leader he truly was. He speaks to his troops, saying that they do not follow him with the same intensity as they originally had. He then asks what they would like to do; continue with the conquest effort, or return home. Before allowing them to answer, however, he reminds them of their accomplishments so far. He lists off the territories they have conquered, such as Mesopotamia, Babylon, Lydia, and many other nations. He asks why they hesitate to extend Macedon’s power (their power, as he calls it) and says the natives of the territories he wishes to conquer will basically throw in the towel instead of resisting being conquered. Alexander then tries to convince his troops to continue by saying that the savages from the areas unconquered could stir up a revolt against them. He continues with his speech, saying that even greek gods have faced tough tasks, but that the troops have done more than them. Concluding his speech, Alexander points out that he would support the troops decision to return home had he not come along on the trip and fought among them. He also puts the thought of wealth into their heads, saying if they conquer Asia the “utmost hopes of riches or power which each one of you cherishes will be far surpassed”(Ancient History Sourcebook). He wraps the speech up by saying that whoever wishes to leave may, but whoever choses to stay will be happy they did.
This final source shows how Alexander was a strong leader and smart military commander. Alexander knows some of his troops, if not all, wish to return home because they are exhausted. He points out, however, that he too has battled along side them and wishes to continue into Asia. However, he never forces his troops to continue on. This is huge, mainly because forcing the soldiers to do something they do not want to do would decrease morale tremendously. It could have even angered them to the point of turning on Alexander, which would have easily brought down his whole empire considering he would not have an army to defend it with. His speech also reflects his leadership. Alexander praises the troops on what they have accomplished so far, and explains to them how they have come too far to turn back. He makes sure to relate to the troops as well, which is hugely important because a soldier is more likely to stay loyal and fight for a leader he respects and can relate to than a leader he despises.
Alexander reveals to us that he truly deserved the title “Alexander the Great”. Although one source claims that Alexander was extremely full of himself, and some view him as relentless and unreasonable, Alexander proved he took the steps necessary to keep his empire secure. He showed that he was intelligent and brave from his youth, shown by Plutarch’s story of how he tamed and rode an unfriendly horse. He also proved himself to be a great military leader by amassing one of the largest empires in history, and by relating to his troops and listening to their opinions.
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