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The adventurous spirit of Alexander the Great

Alexander also inherited from Philip an overriding policy of state: the invasion of Persia. Such an exploit attracted the adventurous spirit of the young Alexander. A war of revenge against the Persians, who were masters of the Greek city- states of Asia Minor, also appealed to his Pan- Hellenic sentiments. Alexander was heir to the teachings of the fourth-century orator Isocrates, who urged a crusade against Persia to unite the Greeks in a common cause. Philip had intended to protect his hold on Greece by driving the Per­sians from Asia Minor. But Alexander, whose ambition knew no bounds, aspired to conquerthe entire Persian Empire. Daring, brave, and in­telligent, Alexander possessed the irrepressible energy of a romantic adventurer.

With an army of thirty-five thousand men, Alexander crossed into Asia Minor in 334 B.C. After capturing the coast of Asia Minor, he marched into Syria and defeated the Persian army at the battle of Issus. Rather than pursuing the fleeing Persian king, Darius III, Alexander stayed with his master plan, which included the capture of coastal ports in order to crush the Persian navy. He captured Tyre, thought to be an im­pregnable city, and advanced into Egypt. Grate­ful to Alexander for having liberated them from Persian rule, the Egyptians made him pharaoh. Alexander appointed officials to administer the country and founded a new city, Alexandria.

Having destroyed or captured the Persian fleet, Alexander, in 331 B.C., moved into Meso­potamia in pursuit of Darius and his army. The Macedonians defeated the numerically superior Persians at Gaugamela, just east of the Tigris River, but Darius escaped. After a stopover at Babylon and at Persepolis, which Alexander burned, perhaps in revenge for Xerxes’ destruc­tion of Athens more than 150 years earlier, he re­sumed the chase. When he finally caught up with Darius, the Persian king was dead, killed by Per­sian conspirators.

Alexander relentlessly pushed deeper into Asia, crossing from Afghanistan, then called Bac- tria, into northern India, where he defeated King Porus in a costly battle. When Alexander an­nounced plans to push deeper into India, his troops, exhausted and far from home in a strange land, resisted. Alexander yielded to their wishes and returned to Babylon in 324 B.C. In these campaigns, which covered about ten thousand miles, Alexander proved himself to be a superb strategist and leader of men. Winning every battle, Alexander’s army had carved an empire that stretched from Greece to India. Future conquerors, including Caesar and Napoleon, would read of Alexander’s career with fascination and longing.

The world after Alexander differed sharply from that existing before he took up the sword. His conquests brought West and East closer to­gether, marking a new epoch. Alexander himself helped implement this transformation. He took a Persian bride, arranged for eighty of his officers and ten thousand of his soldiers to marry oriental women, and planned to incorporate thirty thou­sand Persian youths into his army. Alexander founded Greek-style cities in Asia, where Greek settlers mixed with the native population.

As Greeks acquired greater knowledge of the Near East, the parochialmindedness of the polis gave way to a world outlook. As trade and travelbetween West and East expanded, as Greek mer­chants and soldiers settled in Asiatic lands, and as Greek culture spread to non-Greeks, the dis­tinctions between barbarian and Greek lessened. Although Alexander never united all the peoples in a world-state, his career pushed the world in a new direction, toward a fusion of disparate peo­ples and the intermingling of cultural traditions.

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