Was Alexander the Great a Unifier or Subjugator?

Much of what we know about Alexander the Great is an account of Ptolemy, who was a childhood friend of the great man. Just like any other ancient hero, Alexander the Great has been depicted like a God like person, a Messiah of the human race. Modern scholars believe that Ptolemy always held a dear place in the heart of Alexander. He was given the desired respect and power. He had no reason to doubt the deeds of Alexander. So, he eulogized the man. Over the years, feathers were added to the cap. Fictional elements were added to Alexander’s tale. None of the past scholars spent time detecting the true intentions of Alexander the Great. Yes, he was a great man no doubt. He was a great conqueror and administrator who nearly conquered the world. But alongside that he was a politician too.

Alexander's Persian Policies

Were Alexander’s Policies Aimed at Inter-racial Unity


The fact is Ptolemy sings of the Persian policies of Alexander the Great as one of inter-racial unification. But what was the reality? Let us try to dig deep and find the reasons for his Persian policies. In 334 BC, the twenty two year old Alexander marched against the mighty Persian emperor Darius at the Battle of Guagamela. Alexander had strength of 35,000 companions against 200,000 men strong Persian army. It was a fiercely fought battle, where the tactical genius of Alexander saved the day. The fear of being captured and slain led Darius to flee from the battle field. Before fleeing Darius sent messages to the Satraps to stay loyal, for he would return with a larger army. Darius sought refuge with a Satrap named Bessus, who later stabbed the king on news of Alexander’s approach. So, Babylon lay in the hands of Alexander.

Alexander the Great in Battle

Alexander defeated Darius at Battle of Guagamela


Alexander decided to set base in Persia for some time before moving ahead. During his stay he took many decisions which were later called philanthropic and examples of racial tolerance. But the evidences suggest that these were political necessities more than anything. In Persia, he married a Persian princess, organized mass marriages in Susa and then employed the Persian youth into Macedonian military ranks.

Alexander and Barsine

Alexander Married Persian Princess Barsine


It is learnt that Alexander the Great launched a campaign to capture the befallen Persian King, Darius. But when he heard of Darius’s death and Bessus’ treachery he was sad. It is learned that Alexander gave Darius a proper funeral at Persepolis and went after Bessus. He captured Bessus a year later and executed him. Not only this, after Babylon fell Alexander did not act like the military leaders of the time. He honored all the nobility present within the city. Arrian, a historian who accompanied Alexander recorded the marriage of Barsine, the eldest daughter of Persian King Darius to Alexander. Later on Alexander also went on to stage a second marriage with Parysatis, the daughter of slain Persian King Artaxerxes III. These marriages when viewed neutrally can in no way be called romantic associations or acts of philanthropy. They had only one aim, to establish Alexander as the unchallenged ruler of Persia for many years to come. Alexander had understood quite early that his dwindling number of Macedonian soldiers were not enough to suppress the Persians, who had never tasted foreign rule. So, the marriages were a way to be considered one of the Persians own. It worked too; the populace accepted Alexander as their leader without any doubts and sang praises for him.

Mass Marriage at Susa

Alexander organized Mass Marriage at Susa


His second act was organizing mass marriage at Susa in 324 BC. Here the Macedonian officers were united in holy matrimony with the Persian noblewomen. Again this is sighted as an attempt of Alexander to unite the two races. But was it? The soldiers and officers in the Macedonian ranks were young and they had been away from home for long. Most of them craved for women, and Alexander had to oblige. If the Macedonian forces did not get what they wanted then there could be a rebellion in the ranks, weakening Alexander’s campaigns. This is why Alexander organized nuptials between the conquering men and conquered women. There is no account of how consenting the women were. These marriages would contaminate the Persian pedigree, thereby extinguishing the chances of old ruling class coming to power again.

Persians in Alexander's Army

Persian Youth were Recruited in Alexander’s Army


Now, coming to the third policy – it is learned that soon after the mass marriages at Susa, Alexander started recruiting outsiders into his army. As many as 30,000 Persian youth were recruited in the ranks. They were trained in the Macedonian warfare tactics. This must surely be a proof of inter-racial unity by Alexander? Sorry, this too had political connotations. In the two Persian wars Alexander had lost a lot of companions. Some of his men had to be sent back to Macedonia. So, he had a lack of manpower. Bringing reinforcements from Macedonia was time taking, so he decided to utilize the Persian manpower to fulfill his ambition of capturing the world.


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