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This Week In History

The death of Alexander. June 11, 323 BC.

Alexander III of Macedon (July 356 BC – 10/11 June 323 BC), commonly known as Alexander the Great, known in ancient Iranian and Zoroastrian sources as Alexander the Accursed, was a king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon and a member of the Argead dynasty. He was born in Pella in 356 BC and succeeded his father Philip II to the throne at the age of 20. He spent most of his ruling years on an unprecedented military campaign through Asia and northeast Africa, and by the age of thirty he had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, stretching from Greece to northwestern India. He was undefeated in battle and is widely considered one of history’s most successful military commanders.

During his youth, Alexander was tutored by Aristotle until age 16. After Philip’s assassination in 336 BC, he succeeded his father to the throne and inherited a strong kingdom and an experienced army. Alexander was awarded the generalship of Greece and used this authority to launch his father’s pan-Hellenic project to lead the Greeks in the conquest of Persia. In 334 BC, he invaded the Achaemenid Empire (Persian Empire) and began a series of campaigns that lasted 10 years. Following the conquest of Anatolia, Alexander broke the power of Persia in a series of decisive battles, most notably the battles of Issus and Gaugamela. He subsequently overthrew Persian King Darius III and conquered the Achaemenid Empire in its entirety. At that point, his empire stretched from the Adriatic Sea to the Indus River.

He endeavored to reach the “ends of the world and the Great Outer Sea” and invaded India in 326 BC. He eventually turned back at the demand of his homesick troops.

Alexander died in Babylon in 323 BC, the city that he planned to establish as his capital, without executing a series of planned campaigns that would have begun with an invasion of Arabia. In the years following his death, a series of civil wars tore his empire apart, resulting in the establishment of several states ruled by the Diadochi: Alexander’s surviving generals and heirs.

On either 10 or 11 June 323 BC, Alexander died in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II, in Babylon, at age 32. There are two different versions of Alexander’s death and details of the death differ slightly in each. Plutarch‘s account is that roughly 14 days before his death, Alexander entertained admiral Nearchus, and spent the night and next day drinking with Medius of Larissa. He developed a fever, which worsened until he was unable to speak. The common soldiers, anxious about his health, were granted the right to file past him as he silently waved at them. In the second account, Diodorus recounts that Alexander was struck with pain after downing a large bowl of unmixed wine in honour of Heracles, followed by 11 days of weakness; he did not develop a fever and died after some agony. Arrian also mentioned this as an alternative, but Plutarch specifically denied this claim.

Given the propensity of the Macedonian aristocracy to assassination,foul play featured in multiple accounts of his death. Diodorus, Plutarch, Arrian and Justin all mentioned the theory that Alexander was poisoned. Justin stated that Alexander was the victim of a poisoning conspiracy, Plutarch dismissed it as a fabrication, while both Diodorus and Arrian noted that they mentioned it only for the sake of completeness. The accounts were nevertheless fairly consistent in designating Antipater, recently removed as Macedonian viceroy, and at odds with Olympias, as the head of the alleged plot. Perhaps taking his summons to Babylon as a death sentence, and having seen the fate of Parmenion and Philotas, Antipater purportedly arranged for Alexander to be poisoned by his son Iollas, who was Alexander’s wine-pourer.There was even a suggestion that Aristotle may have participated.

Several natural causes (diseases) have been suggested, including malaria and typhoid fever. Other recent analysis suggested pyogenic (infectious) spondylitis or meningitis. Other illnesses fit the symptoms, including acute pancreatitis and West Nile virus. Natural-cause theories also tend to emphasize that Alexander’s health may have been in general decline after years of heavy drinking and severe wounds. The anguish that Alexander felt after Hephaestion‘s death (his closest friend and possible lover) may also have contributed to his declining health.

The location of the tomb of Alexander the Great is an enduring mystery. Shortly after Alexander’s death in Babylon, the possession of his body became a subject of negotiations between PerdiccasPtolemy I Soter, and Seleucus I Nicator. According to some scholars, while Babylon was the “obvious site” for Alexander’s resting place, some favored interring the ruler in the Argead burial at Aegae, modern Vergina, where his father was. Aegae was one of the two originally proposed resting places, the other being Siwa Oasis and in 321 BC Perdiccas presumably chose Aegae. The body, however, was hijacked en route by Ptolemy I Soter. According to Pausanias and the contemporary Parian Chronicle records for the years 321–320 BC, Ptolemy initially buried Alexander in Memphis. In the late 4th or early 3rd century BC, during the early Ptolemaic dynasty, Alexander’s body was transferred from Memphis to Alexandria, where it was reburied.

The Ptolemaic cult of Alexander the Great in ancient Egypt was promoted by the Ptolemaic dynasty. The core of the cult was the worship of the deified conqueror-king, which eventually formed the basis for the ruler cult of the Ptolemies themselves.

Alexander became legendary as a classical hero in the mold of Achilles, and he features prominently in the history and mythic traditions of both Greek and non-Greek cultures. He became the measure against which military leaders compared themselves, and military academies throughout the world still teach his tacticsHe is often ranked among the most influential people in history.

 

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