Alexander the Very Good
The Macedonian Empire – 330 BC > 250 BC
There’s been a ton of “the Greats” in our history. Sumeria had Sargon the Great. China had Yu the Great. Persia had Cyrius, Darius and Xerxes…all “the Greats.” India had Ashoka and Kanishka…yep…they were both “the Great.” Even Korea had a “the Great” – the oh so well-known Gwanggaeto the Great who spread his empire into Russia, China and Mongolia.
These gents were all greats. They all expanded their empires, scared the living daylights out of bordering peoples and instilled pride in their own brethren who saw their influence forced across their region.
But for all their influence, they’re nothing compared to the greatest empire builder of all time – Alexander the Great.
He set the bar for every future general-turned-emperor who believed power came to those who made war. Napoleon Bonaparte looked to Alexander’s campaigns for guidance. Julius Caesar once wept upon seeing Alexander’s likeness in a statue. Even Hitler hoped his Nazis would one day rule the world like Alexander’s Macedonians.
But Alexander was the first, and like Napoleon and Hitler (not so much Caesar) he was an outsider to the people he would claim to rule, a man never truly accepted by his adopted nation as one of their own. For Alexander was from Macedonia, the illegitimate, red-headed stepchild province to the more refined Greeks to the south. Every refined culture likes to validate its own preeminence by demeaning the attributes of its lesser neighbors. For the Greeks, these lessers were the Macedonians to the north, the less-dignified, poorly-spoken, illiterate country folk who were seen as a mere nuisance to the more established city-states of the Greek peninsula.
These Macedonians might not have had the philosophers of Athens or the historians of Thebes or the poets of Lesbos, but they had King Philip II and Philip knew how to take advantage of the precarious turn of affairs after Sparta and Athens and their respective allies had beat the crap out of each other for three decades in the Peloponnesian War. By 404 BC, Greece was a war-torn, exhausted, hungry, poor, broken network of disunited city-states. Sparta might have eventually won this civil war, but no Greek emerged strong enough to repel outside invaders.
Enter King Philip II, the opportunistic Macedonian who swept in, brought the Greek city-states to their knees and established himself as King of all Greeks. At first the Greeks underestimated Philip’s Macedonians, but they were far superior than the soft Athenians gave them credit. Under Philip, they had become a wealthy people, trading timber, cattle, sheep and horses. They were a resilient people, completely self-sufficient and not softened by the trappings of gluttony that had paralyzed the southern Greeks. They liked to fight, and they followed Philip into battle unquestionably.
It was at battle where Philip shined. He walked with his men, inspiring them to fight through their discomfort, willing to give their lives for their military father. And he rewarded them. He gave bonuses and promotions for those that stood out in battle and he kept them paid handsomely so their families were all well cared for. He trained his armies constantly, unlike the Greek farmer warriors who often returned to the fields after...