Good Facts About Alexander The Great


Alexander Mosaic (detail), House of the Faun, Pompeii. (Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

World's Greatest Conqueror

Though perhaps not the greatest ruler, as many of his hard-won lands and alliances fell from his reign over the course of his life, Alexander the Great stands as one of the most prolific conquerors in human history, claiming over two million square miles of Eurasia, the Middle East, and Africa. He was second only to the famed Genghis Khan, who ruled over four million, but it's also important to note that Kahn lived nearly twice as long as Alexander, who died at age of 32..

He Learned From The Best

Of course, a prince of Macedonia would be expected to only learn from the best, and in Alexander's case, it was the very best. From 13 to 16 years old, he was tutored by none other than the famed Greek philosopher Aristotle, though he seemed somehow more impressed with his short run-in with another philosopher named Diogenes the Cynic, who was known for living an extremely ascetic lifestyle. Alexander approached him one day and asked if, with all his riches, there was anything he could do for the man. "Yes," Diogenes replied, "You can step aside, as you are blocking my sun." Alexander was smitten with his cool and collected attitude, even in the presence of a prince, and later remarked, "If I were not Alexander, I would like to be Diogenes."

Archaeological Site of Pella, Greece, Alexander's birthplace. (Joyofmuseums/Wikimedia Commons)

He Was Truly Great

Alexander's military prowess is the stuff of legend, and though there is some controversy over the technicalities, it is mostly accepted that he didn't lose a single battle in his entire 15-year run as king. He particularly excelled at speed and the use of the phalanx formation, which was often composed of more than 15,000 men. He gained his first victory at the age of 18, and his tactics are still studied at military academies across the globe.

He Got Around

It's impossible to know just how many lovers Alexander had, but we do know he had three wives. Roxanna of Bactria was his first wife, and it was apparently love at first sight, as he asked her noble father for her hand the moment he saw her at the feast of his newest conquest. Together, they had a son, also named Alexander. Then he married two cousins, Stateria and Parysatis, in a political move that he hoped would bring the Persians deeper into his fold. He was also smitten with a eunuch named Bagoas, who he'd met through another Persian noble named Darius and quickly became a favorite in Alexander's love life. Given his openness to exploring sexuality across genders, it is also speculated that he may have been intimate with his commander and childhood friend Hephaestion, but there is no direct evidence of this, and it's just as likely that they loved one another as brothers.  

Alexander Cuts the Gordian Knot (1767) by Jean-Simon Berthélemy. (Beaux-Arts de Paris/Wikimedia Commons)

No One Knows How He Died

You would think the world's greatest commander would have an epic death in battle, but actually, Alexander met his early demise through murkier means. One evening, after drinking what was described as an entire "bowl" of wine, Alexander began feeling ill, and not just from a hangover. He suffered a fever and severe stomach pains and died 11 days later. Initially, it was believed that he was poisoned, but historians don't believe such a slow-acting poison would have been available at that time. It was more likely a direct result of his multi-day binge drinking, which can result in acute liver failure or pancreatitis, both of which can be immensely painful and take days to kill. Others believe it was typhoid or meningitis.

Strangely, Alexander didn't seem to show any signs of decomposition even a week after death, leading his followers to believe he must have been truly descended from the gods. This could be simply legend, or it could be evidence of one of the more disturbing theories that Alexander suffered from something like paralysis or Guillain-Barre syndrome  and wasn't actually dead at all in those last few days. Eventually, his body was embalmed in honey and sent back to Macedonia, only for it to be stolen and brought to Egypt instead.