We cannot even begin to imagine the world of Alexander the Great. Many mistakenly believe him to be mythological or that his accomplishments must be exaggerated (conquering an entire empire before the age of 35!), but they are not. In this article, we’ll look at 33 Alexander the Great facts and also the most common questions about him. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll understand why his accomplishments are so astonishing and why we might so easily come to think he is out of a story book rather than a history book.
Fact # 1 – Alexander the Great was an ancient king in Macedonia
The first fact we’ll consider, and the most common question asked, is “who was Alexander the Great?”
First and foremost, he was a man of royal birth in ancient Greece. Officially, he was Alexander III of Macedonia. He came from a line of kings of Macedonia (also known as the Macedonian Empire or Macedon). This was an ancient Greek kingdom establish around 700 BCE and which was ruled by several dynasties, including that of Alexander.
Fact # 2 – Alexander the Great achieved such deeds that many people thought he was just a myth
As we hinted at earlier, many people have asked “was Alexander the Great real?” because his military exploits were so immense, successful and unheard of in his era, as well as most that followed, that it seems impossible for one man to have achieved so much. However, there are many historical artifacts, documents and records all pointing to him as a real person and which also prove or demonstrate that he was able to achieve all that is claimed about him.
Fact # 3 – Alexander the Great was part of the Argead Dynasty of Ancient Greece or Macedonia, and their rule came to an end with the rise of Antipatrid Dynasty around 301 BCE.
The answer of the commonly asked question: when did Alexander the Great live? Can be simple or complex. He lived in what modern scholars and historians describe as “Classical Greece”. This is a period after the “Archaic period” and just before the “Hellenistic” period. In fact, most agree that the beginning of Hellenistic Greece is was started by Alexander’s death.
As one expert says, “The classical period was an era of war and conflict—first between the Greeks and the Persians, then between the Athenians and the Spartans—but it was also an era of unprecedented political and cultural achievement.” It was the period in which the Parthenon was built, the historian Herodotus was writing, Hippocrates was discovering many things about medicine, Greek tragedies were created, and Socrates lived. It was the period in which authentic democracy was born, too.
So, he lived in the fourth century BCE, and in a time that was remarkably interesting, dynamic and transitional.
Fact # 4 – Alexander was born at the time when enormous political upheaval was occurring.
When was Alexander the Great born? Born July 20th in the year356 BCE, or the Year of the Consulship of Ambustus and Laenas, he was part of the pre-Julian Roman calendar era. The year of his birth saw Alexander’s father offering part of the city of Amphipolis to the Athenians in exchange for a valuable port, only to go back on his word and keep all of his holdings.
There was tremendous turmoil, and through it all, Alexander’s father was looking to expand his borders and conquer much larger areas – especially the whole of Persia.
Fact # 5 – He was born in northern Greece in the city of Pella
Where was Alexander the Great from? Born in the ancient Macedonian capital city of Pella, his mother was from nearby Epirus (which was considered a foreign land) and it is not known whether Alexander spent any time in his mother’s home city.
Fact # 6 – Even today Alexander the Great’s nationality is a hotly debated topic.
Was Alexander the Great Greek? As one expert so aptly explains, “The ongoing debate about whether Alexander the Great was Greek or Macedonian stems from the fact that the geographical borders of the two countries have changed dramatically since Alexander the Great’s time.” In fact, Greece is not the name that an ancient Greek would have used. Most would say they homeland was Hellas.
As that expert noted, “Ancient Macedonia was situated in the northern modern Greek peninsula, where the second-largest Greek city, Thessaloniki, is today. Modern Macedonia–or Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), as it is formally recognized–is different both geographically and in terms of its national population, which has more Slavic influence today than the country did in 300 BCE…Nevertheless, both modern Greece and FYROM lay claim to Alexander the Great’s ancestry.”
If you look at maps, there doesn’t seem much of a debate about his geographic origins (modern Macedonia), but with such tensions, it may be wiser to say that his origins are “up to debate”.
Keep in mind that most leaders were also deified and even Alexander himself may have said that his origins were amongst the gods of Olympus!
Fact # 7 – Alexander may have been one of the ancient world’s finest military leaders, but he was also a prince who became king.
Who was Alexander the Great ‘s father? Alexander was born to Phillip II, King of Macedonia. Ruling from 359 to 336 BCE, he was responsible for uniting all of Greece through bribery or force. He allowed Alexander to witness many battles, including those in the Balkans. He had many clear plans for his empire but died before they could be realized.
Fact # 8 – Phillip II invaded Thrace in 340 BCE and entrusted Macedonia to Alexander, then only 16, but Alexander would not become the true king until four years later.
How old was Alexander the Great when he became king? Entrusted with immense responsibility from an early age, it is small wonder that Alexander was able to achieve such amazing things before his death.
Just consider: What were you doing at the age of 16? If you are like millions of others, you might have been learning to drive a car, getting your first job, studying at school, and playing sports or games with friends.
Alexander the Great, on the other hand, was assembling an army and protecting his homeland from invading forces, capturing their base city and renaming it after himself! While his father was invading Thrace, the neighboring Maedi tribe decided to attack. They lost badly as the young prince quickly assembled an army, attacked and totally conquered his neighbors.
However, he would also have tofight to assume the role of king four years later, at the age of 20, when King Phillip was assassinated by one of his own bodyguards during a wedding celebration.
Why? Because his mother was from Epirus, he was thought to be only half-Macedonian and so Alexander led a rather bloody fight for control. One of his father’s other wives (along with her daughter) were eliminated as well as two princes, and several rebel groups were subdued by Alexander and/or those loyal to him.
Fact # 9 – Alexander the Great had access to some of the ancient world’s greatest minds, including Diogenes, though his tutor was even more famous.
Many people are in awe of Alexander the Great’s military mind, and wonder just who taught Alexander the Great, or who tutored Alexander the Great so expertly. It might come as no surprise to discover that his father sought out the very greatest minds for his son’s education. At the age of 13, Alexander’s main teacher or tutor was none other than Aristotle.
Even then the philosopher had a reputation for greatness and would spend three full years in teaching the boy who would eventually rule a massive empire. Not much is known about their years together or Aristotle’s curriculum for the young prince. However, it can be assumed that he ingrained a great deal of logic and tactical knowledge.
Alexander sought out the less famous philosopher known and Diogenes and would later take pains to meet with native philosophers in lands he had conquered including Hindu and Jain philosophers, among others.
He clearly learned from all of his experiences and allowed many to influence him. For example, it is well-known that after his defeat of the Persians, Alexander’s style of dress and other domestic matters reflected those of the conquered empire’s people instead of his Greek heritage.
Fact # 10 – Alexander the Great did not choose that title – The Great – for himself and was not referred to that way while living.
Why was Alexander the Great important enough to be described as “the Great”? As one authority explains, “He is known as ‘the great’ both for his military genius and his diplomatic skills in handling the various populaces of the regions he conquered. He is further recognized for spreading Greek culture, language, and thought from Greece throughout Asia Minor, Egypt, and Mesopotamia to India and thus initiating the era of the ‘Hellenistic World’”.
If you are eager for the official explanation about the title, you must look far back in written history when Quintus Curtius Rufus described him in the first century CE as “AlexandriMagniMacedonis”. The word Magni has since been translated as Great, and in the book the author explains the use of the word as a way of conveying Alexander’s remarkable military leadership skills and empire building. This is more significant than we might realize since Rufus was a Roman historian only a few hundred years after Alexander.
Of course, many Roman leaders idolized Alexander for his military genius and indomitable spirit, so it might be expected that subsequent leaders did not mind his being given such a designation.
Fact # 11 – Alexander the Great did not have a long life, and yet his list of accomplishments is almost impossible to believe.
What did Alexander the Great do? We know he was among the greatest of all military leaders in his era, as well as throughout most recorded history. We know he carried on with his father’s plans to invade Persia, and for the next ten years he won victory after victory to achieve that goal and more.
Before his death, his empire spread from the Balkans to modern Pakistan and northern India, and down into Africa.
It is said that the people of the West saw him as their liberator from Persian rule, and that he advanced civilization by spreading Greek culture into areas of Egypt and Asia. He was a titled ruler in every land or location conquered and he ensured that Greek culture spread widely throughout the entire Macedonian empire.
Fact # 12 – The Argead Dynasty of the Macedonian Empire continued after Alexander’s rule ended.
Many people think of Alexander as a force all his own, and end up wondering just what empire did Alexander the Great rule? He was king of Macedonia and ruled the Macedonian empire. He was a king of the Argead Dynasty, which ran for hundreds of years before him and continued for a at least one generation beyond him. The empire had its center around the northeastern area of the modern Greek peninsula, bordered to the north by Paeonia, to the south by Thessaly, the west by Epirus and the east Thrace.
Fact # 13 – By modern standards it would take you around 6.4 hours by plane to fly across Alexander the Great’s expansive empire.
Just how big was Alexander the Great ‘s empire? If you put it generally in modern Greece and say that it extends into modern India, or the area of Pakistan that borders northern India, you can start to get a better idea of his empire.
It is more than 3,500 miles in length, and yet you would still have to include almost all of modern Egypt and west into parts of northern Libya. His empire had coastal areas along the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea.
And when you realize he traveled on foot, boat and horseback (and it is rumored that he relied on elephants, too), it makes his empire building even more impressive! In fact, while King of Macedonia, he was also a King of Persia, a Pharaoh of Egypt and a King of Asia!
Fact # 14 – It was only in his early years that Alexander the Great remained in any one place long enough to call it home.
Where did Alexander the Great live throughout his short life? Historians point to Macedonia during his early years and also to Illyria and Persepolis later, but a timeline of his life from 336 BCE and onward would make it impossible to say he “lived” in any specific place. Consider that he was in Macedonia when he became king, but ten years later he is all of the way in India. Three years later he is more than half the way back in Babylon – and all of this travel is on foot or horseback. He often inhabited palaces and other leader’s homes (as well as taking homes of conquered enemies), but the only time he had a fixed address was for the first decade and a half of his early life.
Fact # 15 – Alexander the Great’s last will and testament called for a “transplant of populations” from Asia and Europe and from Europe to Asia in order to “bring the largest continent to common unity and to friendship by means of intermarriage and family ties.”
That sort of blending and unity sounds nice, but it also serves as an answer for those who might ask “what did Alexander the Great conquer?” After all, when he turned 21, he crossed the Hellespont and proceeded to begin conquering the world. His route took him through what is modern day Turkey as well as “Syria, Lebanon, Israel/Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and finally the Northwest of India.”
In 15 years of combat, he and his army never lost a battle, traveling eastward into Asia Minor before turning south into Egypt. They returned to their original route and headed once again east, making an enormous circular path towards the Caspian Sea, east into modern India and then returning homeward.
In reality, it makes more sense to ask what (within his reach) he did NOT conquer?
Fact # 16 – It took Alexander less than five years to conquer the Persians
When did Alexander the Great conquered Persia? Most experts say that Alexander’s conquest began in 334 BCE when he was only 22 years of age, ending just three years later in 330 BCE. Yet some say that the Persian Empire was in a decline dating as far back as 480 BCE when Xerxes I made a failed attempt to overtake Greece. After that, the cost of defending Persian holdings led to untenable taxation and a weakening infrastructure.
However, a formal assessment of the issue begins with Alexander crossing the Hellespont and entering Asia. After that, the Battle of the Granicus River resulted in a defeat of the Persians and allowed Alexander to begin consolidating support for Macedonia in Asia Minor. The Siege of Halicarnassus was the next definitive victory by breaching the city’s walls and burning much of the city.Syria was next, and the first major battle was at Issus in southern Anatolia, around 333 BCE. Though outnumbered, they defeated the Persians and part of the victory was that Alexander would now be King of All Asia.
This was followed by the Siege of Tyre around 332 BCE. The only remaining Persian port, it was crucial to complete victory. His claims to the conquered Persian navy allowed him a swift victory and then it was on towards Egypt. He took the fortress city of Gaza and headed into Egypt.
The Persians were not present in Egypt, and actually despised the Egyptians.Alexander, however, was treated as a king and made Pharaoh. He received the dual crown of upper and lower Egypt and began to build his namesake city of Alexandria before heading back into Asia.
He made his way to Mesopotamia and the famous Battle of Gaugamela in which Alexander himself led a major charge. When the Persian leader, Darius, was believed killed, his armies broke rank and fled. They were in error, but it was too late and this win is often cited as one of Alexander’s greatest.
After that, fateful Bactria would see the penultimate act of the Persian Empire. Here, Darius would fall and Alexander claim succession to his throne. Finally, in 330 BCE, the Battle of the Persian Gate wiped out any remaining Persian forces and put the Achaemenid Empire’s capital of Persepolis in the hands of Alexander the Great. Sadly, the city would be burned to the ground.
Fact # 17 – Alexander spent his last years in Persia and never made it home to Macedonia.
Many wonder what happened to Alexander the Great ‘s empire after he died, since he was not at home. As is the case with so many other empires in history, his sudden death opened a period of turmoil and conflict. Without a legitimate heir, and with rumors that his dying wishes were that his empire passed to the strongest of his men, there is some question about his plans for the empire after his death. What is known is that he gave a signet ring to his bodyguard Perdiccas when he realized he might perish from the illness he suffered, and this effectively nominating him to lead. This did not happen and instead it would be Alexander’s half brother and unborn son appointed kings.
Naturally, rivalries and civil unrest led to war between the Diadochi (Successors), eventually destroying the Macedonian Empire, which had been divided into a long list of smaller kingdoms. The rise of the Romans ensured it all came to an end.
Fact # 18 – Alexander’s death caused the eventual failure of the empire.
While his son should have inherited the throne, his gender was unknown when Alexander died unexpectedly. So, who succeeded Alexander the Great? His bodyguard Perdiccas thought that Roxana’s baby was the natural successor, but the infantry felt it should be Phillip Arrhidaeus, Alexander’s half-brother. Both sides agreed that a joint kingship between Alexander IV (the baby born to Roxana) and Phillip would suffice. As noted, above, this did not last long.
Fact # 19 – Alexander’s death began the period known as the Hellenistic Period
If you want an answer to the question of “how did Alexander the Great change the world?”, you need only look at the way he left it. In other words, just look at the rapid changes in everything from culture and politics to art and language because of his campaigns into Asia and Africa.
Most scholars say that the Hellenic Period begins with his death and point out that his wars and conquests liberated much of the continent from Persian domination.Don’t forget that more than a dozen cities were named after him, too, and one of the world’s largest (Alexandria in Egypt ) remains. So, he even changed the way people thought of leadership – rather than city states, it could suddenly be a single rule of vast domains.
Fact # 20 – Hellas is the name that ancient Greeks called their homeland and it is why Hellenic culture is also Greek culture
And though we said that Alexander the Great changed the world by initiating the Hellenic period, it doesn’t answer how did Alexander the Great spread Greek culture to begin with. First and foremost is the simple fact that Greek colonization followed any defeat of a city, kingdom or region.
The rest of the answer is quite simple, too. By conquering and instituting Greek models of architecture, philosophy, theater, politics and government, it caused a rapid spread of new ideas throughout Western Asia, Northern Africa and most of Europe. It ensured rapid progress in everything from science and math to arts and music. The blending of Greeks with people of other backgrounds also helped to spread Greek culture and Greek even became a common language for many years.
Fact # 21 – Born in 356 BCE and dying in 323 BCE, Alexander the Great had a very short life, and ruled for even less time
How long did Alexander the Great rule? He took the role of king at the age of 20 and died at the age of 33, meaning roughly 13 years. In that time, he managed to travel thousands of miles and conquer countless people, turning the Macedonian Empire into one of the largest and most powerful the world had yet seen.
Fact # 22 – His armies had special linen tunics that could resist almost any arrows of the day and were some of the most highly trained.
It is difficult to imagine the numbers of time Alexander and his armies charged into battle, and even more challenging to calculate the number of people killed. If you want to know how many people did Alexander the Great kill? It can only be a “best guess”.
Experts say that his combat in dozens of battles would have meant dozens of people killed with each entry into the fray. He also had political rivals eliminated and is even rumored to have killed one of his best friends. So, that would mean he may have personally killed several hundred people.
If you want a larger answer, such as how many people his armies killed, that too has to be a best guess. Historical body counts are unavailable and/or unreliable with some saying a few hundred thousand lay dead as he conquered the world, and others claiming millions of dead remained in his army’s wake. Most experts say that close to a million deaths would not be an unfair estimate, and yet there were also the deaths by such things as disease, injury and starvation. After all, his armies took food stores or destroyed them, often leaving entire regions to perish.
That means that millions of people may have died directly from Alexander’s ambitions of uniting the entire empire.
Fact # 23 – Alexander headed eastward into modern India after defeating the Persians and fell in love with Roxana at first sight.
Who did alexander the great marry?The capture of Sogdian Rock around 327 BCE allowed him to first see Roxana, one of the king’s daughters. He is said to have fallen in love with her for her astonishing beauty. The two were married shortly after meeting. However, Alexander had three wives – one married for love and the others for political purposes (though all of his marriages had political benefits). The other wives were Stateira II and Parysatis II. Both were daughters of defeated Persians that Alexander took as wives during the “Susa Weddings”.
This was a mass wedding arranged by Alexander to ensure that the Macedonian and Persian cultures would blend. He had his officers also marry other noble Persian daughters and there were roughly 90 weddings conducted over five days.
Fact # 24 – Alexander had a single son born after his death, and who succeeded him to the throne as co-king with his half-uncle.
Did Alexander the Great have children from his marriages? We know that he and Roxana had a son, born after Alexander’s sudden death. There are no records of his having children with his other wives. Rumors abound and historians have long argued the point, but to date there is evidence only of Roxana making a claim for her son.
Fact # 25 – One of the greatest of histories many mysteries is that around the death of Alexander the Great
Just how did Alexander the Great die? Since it was not in battle and never adequately explained, scholars have tried for centuries to figure out just how the world’s best warrior perished. The details of his death are both simple and confusing.
Here is the basic variation of the story: After a lengthy banquet with too much wine, he fell ill and never recovered, dying ten days later.
So, the basics are easily understood, but it is the accuracy of the reporting that makes many historians question the tale. While some say “conspiracy theory” and guess at assassination and murder, other say his reported symptoms could be linked to malaria, liver disease, poison, and more.
It is said that Alexander the Great changed noticeably with the loss of his beloved horse Bucephalus followed not long afterward by the sudden death of his best friend Hephaestion. He had always been a very heavy drinker and it seemed that his drinking increased noticeably before his death. That too, could be an underlying cause.
There is plenty of reason to think he either died from something unrelated to the bout of drinking or at the hand of another. For example, the Susa weddings had enraged many Macedonian soldiers who saw it as diluting the purity of their culture.
On the other hand, Alexander had been inspecting flood defenses where malaria was quite common. He was also without an heir and Roxana was only in the first trimester of her pregnancy, if you were to assassinate a king at that point in time, it could leave the throne up for grabs?
Many kinds of poison have been noted as presenting the symptoms he experienced before death, and none have been effectively ruled out of consideration.
Fact # 26 – Alexander survived and emerged victorious from fierce battles in June of 323 BCE, but died soon after
When did Alexander the Great die? Historians say that he died some time between the evening of June 10 323 BCE and June 11 of that same year.
Fact # 27 – Alexander had chosen Babylon as his seat of government and was planning his upcoming invasion of the Arabian peninsula at the time of his death.
Just where did Alexander the Great die? With all of the rumors about his rampant drinking, many envision him dying in some sort of banqueting hall. In reality, he died ten days after falling ill after a banquet of some sort. He was in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon, and many witnesses say he died in great physical distress.
Fact # 28 – After his death, Alexander’s body was preserved in a huge vat of honey for two years before being transported out of Babylon for the return to Macedonia.
Another tremendous mystery around Alexander’s death is the location of his body. Many ask where is Alexander the Great buried, yet there is no definitive answer!
While it is reported that Egypt sent its best embalmers to ensure his remains were preserved, and they indicated his corpse was in a lifelike condition. He was placed in a carefully constructed cart and began the journey home in 321 BCE. However, in Syria the caravan transporting him was halted and Alexander’s remains were taken by Ptolemy I Soter of Egypt. He brought it to Memphis, close to today’s Giza, and from there it went to a special mausoleum in Alexandria. His body was once again moved by Ptolemy Philopator and placed in a communal mausoleum.
Many famous leaders made the pilgrimage to see him there, including Mark Antony, Octavian, Augustus, and Julius Caesar. However, after the death of Cleopatra, the location of Alexander the Great fades from record. Around the year 400 CE it is officially described as lost. There are some stories of later visits – even some dating to the 1600s – but to this day there has been no definitive placing of his burial site in Egypt or anywhere else.
Fact # 29 – He never lost a single battle or war.
Who defeated Alexander the Great? It can be accurately stated that no one or nothing ever defeated him with the exception of life (or death) itself!
Fact # 30 – The Azara Herm is a copy of a bust of Alexander the Great that is almost certainly an accurate portrait of him.
Have you been reading all about this remarkable man and wondering, “I wonder…what did Alexander the Great look like?” If so, you need only head to Google or your favorite search engine and type in a search for the Azara Herm. This is a Roman copy of an elegant bust carving that is believed to be the work of Lysippus. A Greek sculptor, he was noted by many reputable sources to have been commissioned with the official portrait of Alexander while he was alive. He was one of the most in-demand portrait sculptors during Alexander’s day, and so it highly likely that this work is a good representation of him in maturity. An inscription on the original says it is the son of Phillip II of Macedon, i.e. Alexander himself. There are other representations, such as the famous Pompeiian mosaic, but it is unknown as to the accuracy.
Fact # 31 – The average height of men in the 4th century BCE was five feet.
It’s not unusual for people to ask how tall was Alexander the Great? After all, most of us picture him as a giant. Yet, he was probably of average height for his era, which is five feet. He may have benefited from a good diet and grown larger. Some scholars say he may have been as tall as 5’ 6”.
Fact # 32 – Alexander loved his horse to such an extent he named a city after him.
What was the name of Alexander the Great ‘s horse? It is hard not to feel affection for the famous Bucephalus. One of history’s most storied animals, he was a wild horse that Alexander broke and tamed, riding him into battle for the rest of his life.
He was described as beautiful and fierce, strong and large, and he would allow no one but Alexander to ride him. His death in 326 BCE was a major blow to the leader and he built a tomb for him as well as naming the city Bucephala (in Pakistan) after him.
Fact # 33 – Experts warn that trying to categorize a figure like Alexander by terms of modern sexuality will only lead to confusion.
Was Alexander the Great gay? That seems a very common question, and yet it is one that takes a great deal to answer properly. Bisexuality and same-sex relations were viewed far differently in the ancient world of Alexander than they are today. It is likely that he had male lovers as evidenced by historical accounts, but he also had female concubines and three wives.
So, as much as we think we know about Alexander, and after looking at 33 Alexander the Great facts, it is safe to say he remains a mystery in many ways and is sure to stay a subject of much examination and debate as the years pass.