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Charles D. Shaw

Alexander the Great

W HEN Philip died, his son Alexander became king of Macedonia. He was only twenty years of age, but he had received an unusual education. When he was a boy he was taught to work hard and to bear suffering. Aristotle taught him the love of discovery and the rules of government. In war his father was his teacher, and there was none better.

He was a strong and daring boy, who loved horses and athletic sports. His father had a magnificent horse which nobody could ride. Philip ordered that the beast should be killed but the prince asked that he might try what he could do with the animal. The horse was large, powerful, fierce, and shining black in color. Either because his head was like that of an ox, or because he had a white spot of that shape on his nose, he was called Bucephalus which means "ox-head."

Alexander had noticed that the horse was afraid of his own shadow. The boy turned the animal's head to the sun and sprang on his back. The horse reared, plunged, struggled, and ran away; but the prince would not be thrown and at last brought Bucephalus galloping back to the place from which he started. From that hour the prince was master and the horse obeyed every word.


Alexander Training Bucephalus

When Alexander took the throne he had many enemies. He did not wait for them to act. Those who were near him he put in prison; then marched into the south of Greece and at once took Thebes. Every house, except that of the poet Pindar, was pulled down and the people who were not killed were sold into slavery. The Greek states, except Sparta, held a congress at Corinth and elected Alexander leader of the war against Persia.

The Persian army met him on the east bank of the river Granicus but were soon defeated. Several cities opened their gates to him and he was quickly master of Asia Minor.

In Phrygia he was told of the Gordian knot. A peasant named Gordius had become king. He had tied his wagon and harness together with a very hard knot and had consecrated them to Zeus. It was a common saying that whoever should untie that knot should be master of the world.

Alexander went into the temple; looked at the knot for a moment; then cut it with his sword.

"I have unfastened the knot," he said. "Now let the oracle be fulfilled."

The next year he marched farther east and met the army of Darius near Issus. Alexander as usual gained the victory. Darius fled, but his wife, daughters, and son remained in the conqueror's hands. He treated them with such kindness that Darius afterwards thanked him for his mercy.

The march was now southward through Syria and Palestine. Tyre kept its gates closed against him for seven months. When it was captured many of the citizens were put to death, and thirty thousand were sold as slaves.

Alexander then, it is said, went to Jerusalem, intending to destroy it; but the high priest met him outside the walls and persuaded the young conqueror to do no harm to the ancient city.

He then visited Egypt where he had an easy victory. At the mouth of the west branch of the river Nile he founded the city of Alexandria, that it might be the center of commerce for the eastern and western worlds.

He then moved eastward to Persia to meet again Darius. "The sky cannot hold two suns," he said, "and the world cannot have two masters. Darius must conquer or I will."

Near Arbela the Persian army was camped consisting of more than a million of men with cavalry, chariots with scythes fastened to the wheels, and fifteen elephants. Alexander had less than fifty thousand men but they were all trained warriors. Darius fought well for a time but nothing could stand before the man of Macedonia. Thousands after thousands of the barbarians fell and soon the remnant of their army was in motion flying from the fatal field. Darius escaped, but his tents, baggage, and treasures were left and became the property of the Greeks.

Darius without an army, almost without a nation, fled across the mountains to Media. Alexander steadily followed him until at last the poor Persian refused to retreat any farther. The governor of Bactria, Bessus by name, killed him, thinking thus to please the approaching conqueror. But Alexander was both sorry and angry at this base treason and needless murder.

He now changed entirely his way of living. When he first saw the tent of Darius with its elegant and expensive furniture, he said, "This is truly the way for a king to live." After the final defeat of the Persians he grew very extravagant. The dishes upon his table were made of gold and the food was rich and expensive. He drank far too much wine and let his anger rage without control. He thought his friends were turned against him and wanted to take his life. For that reason he had a number of them put to death.