A guide to...
Alexander the Great
Where was Alexander the Great from?
Alexander was the son of a Greek king called Philip II. Philip had started to build up an empire by uniting some of the separate city-states to the north of Greece. This empire was called Macedonia, and when Alexander grew up, he inherited control of it. It was still separate from the other Greek city-states. Although the city-states in Greece shared the same language, they had their own laws and cultures. Uniting the city-states into one empire made them stronger.
When he was younger, Alexander had been taught by a famous philosopher and teacher called Aristotle. Aristotle had given Alexander a fondness for Greek culture – in fact, some historians think that Alexander saw it as his mission to spread Greek culture as widely as possible.
How did Alexander the Great become king?
Alexander took control as king of Macedonia at the age of 19, when his father Philip II died in 336 BC. Historians think that Alexander had the kind of personality to make a powerful leader. It seems that he was decisive (good at making decisions), ambitious (good at making big plans) and ruthless (willing to do whatever it takes to make his plans work). Some historians say that Alexander believed he was the son of a Greek god called Zeus and that he went into battles fearlessly, believing he could never be killed!
Very soon after he became king, Alexander conquered the rest of the Greek city-states too. Now he had united Macedonia with the rest of Greece. He had a powerful army and he dealt harshly with any city-states that made an attempt to rebel against his rule.
How did Alexander expand the Greek Empire?
After gaining control of all of Greece by the age of 21, Alexander invaded other countries nearby. He soon invaded North Africa and Asia, conquering more land for his Greek Empire with his powerful army. In 334 BC, one of his most famous victories took place. For a long time, the Persian Empire had been enemies with the Greeks. After a decisive battle (the Battle of Gaugamela), Alexander’s forces killed King Darius III of Persia and took control of the Persian Empire too.
Alexander’s ambitions did not stop there. In 332BC, he conquered Egypt in North Africa. He named an Egyptian city ‘Alexandria’ after himself. Among his conquests, Alexander began to gain a reputation as a mighty ruler. Some people called him ‘king of kings’ and others said that he had descended from the gods.
A few years later, Alexander spread his campaign even further across Asia to the Indus river (which is in modern-day Pakistan and India). He engaged in battles with Indian kings and his empire reached as far as the Himalayan mountains. He conquered many places and spread Greek culture across thousands of miles. Alexander seemed to particularly love naming cities after himself. In all, he named 70 cities after himself, and even one after his horse Bucephalus!
What brought Alexander's reign to an end?
By 323BC, Alexander was head of a large empire spanning across much of the known world. During Alexander’s attempts to conquer all of India, Alexander’s soldiers grew weary and the army decided to retreat to Persia for a rest. Historians think that he had plans to conquer more places, but was never able to see them through because he died in mysterious circumstances aged only 33.
In his 13-year reign, Alexander had created the largest empire in human history! After his sudden death, the Greek Empire broke up into different kingdoms, but the influence of the Greek culture that he had spread still remained strong in many of the places.
You can find a full KS2 lesson plan about the impact of Alexander the Great's rule in our Ancient Greece Resource Pack.