Alexander the Great and Hellenism: 330-50 BC

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Alexander the Great’s Empire Begins

Alexander the Great took throne to Macedon, Greece after his father, Phillip II, was assassinated in 336 B.C. He was born in 356 B.C. and was tutored by Aristotle from when he was 13 until he was 16 years old. During Alexander's ruling, Macedon extended its territory dramatically. It was considered one of the largest empires of the ancient world, stretching from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas. He accomplished this without losing a battle because of the experienced army his father left behind. As Alexander was conquering all of this area, he was teaching Greek/Hellenistic culture to the people he conquered. This is important because after Alexander died, Macedon fell apart and lost everything, but since the Greek/Hellenistic culture was taught to the people, it still lived on.

Macedon's ruling under Alexander the Great began after its king Phillip II was assassinated. He left the throne to his son, Alexander III (Alexander the Great), who was born in 356 B.C. Once he was king, Alexander had his cousin Amyntas IV, two Macedonian princes, and Attalus killed because they were all potential threats to the throne. His mom, Olympias, had Cleopatra Eurydice and Europa, her daughter by Phillip II, burned alive to help out her son as well. Alexander had some experience as a king before this because while his dad was away with business, Alexander was appointed as regent for the time he was gone. During one of these times there was an attack from a nearby empire and Alexander fought them off. This got him ready to become king of Macedon. Phillip II had a plan to take over a vast amount of territory but since he died he wasn't able to accomplish this. Alexander decided to follow up his dad's plans and put them into action. First, he needed to secure his northern borders so that he could trust them while he was down south. This only took a couple years then finally Alexander made his move south to conquer everything down there, which included Asia Minor, Egypt, Persia, Syria, Assyria, and Babylonia. Alexander tragically died in 323 B.C. and it left the empire in pieces. Phillip III and Alexander IV were appointed as joint kings but that didn't last very long. Rebellions occurred and over the course of 40 years, wars took place. In the end, there were 4 kingdoms that settled with equal amount of power. They were the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, the Seleucid Empire in the East, the Kingdom of Pergamon in Asia Minor, and Macedon.


The Alexandrian Empire Grows

One major accomplishment of Alexander the Great is that he defeated every empire from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas. This was originally his father's plan, but once he died, Alexander kept going with it. First, Alexander needed to further secure his northern borders so that they would be strong enough to hold while he was gone campaigning down south. To do this, he had to take over the empires of Thrace, Illyria, and Thebes. The only empire that gave him a little trouble was Thebes because they refused to surrender. In 334 B.C. Alexander was finished in the north which only took two years. He then moved on to Asia Minor which mainly involved the Persian Empire, ruled by Darius III. Alexander took the men he captured from the battles up north and put them in the army to fight the Persians. After a couple of loses, Darius III fled and left his army for dead. Since the Persian Empire was bigger than any of the other empires Alexander conquered, he wasn't done. Alexander captured all of Persia's costal cities to deny the Persia navy from attacking him. Since Persia was now in pieces, he moved on his way toward Egypt. Word had got out about Alexander and his army to almost all of Egypt so once he arrived every empire surrendered, but Gaza. Gaza was situated on a hill on all sides so it was easily protected. Alexander had a few failed attempts but he eventually took them over. Once he got to Jerusalem, he was welcomed with open gates and they regarded him as a liberator. Alexander then moved on to Babylonia where he was killed in action.


Hellenistic Culture and Legacy

Another accomplishment was that when Alexander was conquering all of these empires, he forced Greek/Hellenistic culture upon them. One major empire where you can see the influence of Greek/Hellenistic culture is in Persia. Alexander wanted to combine Greek culture with Persian culture. This is evident because Persia's town planning, education, local government and art changed due to the change in culture. Persia got to keep their religion of Zoroastrianism, however. Alexander was even written about in Zoroastrian books. The next empire that shows Greek/Hellenistic culture was the Romans. They weren't forced by Alexander to follow his culture. Instead, the Roman generals admired Alexander so much that they started following Greek/Hellenistic culture by choice. Most of the Roman generals wanted to associate themselves with Alexander's achievements so they made the rest of the Roman empire follow his culture. Some of these generals had some weird obsession with Alexander. For example, Pompey the Great got Alexander's haircut and searched for Alexander's 260 year old cloak and wore it as a sign of greatness. Julius Caesar made a bronze statue of Alexander but exchanged Alexander's head for his own. Other great Roman generals that followed Alexander were Octavian, Trajan, Nero and Caracalla. Another reason it was so important for Alexander to spread this culture is that once he was dead, it still lived on. All of the empires that he conquered kept Greek/Hellenistic culture even after Alexander died. But some empires combined it with their old culture.


Alexander the Great and Hellenism
336-303 bce

  • Warrior who United Greece, Conquered Egypt, Persia, part of India
  • Spread Greek culture to Middle East, Egypt and Indi
  • Philip II and Macedonia


  • son of King Philip II of Macedon

Philip II – father of Alexander the Great

  • great military leader and organizer
  • Conquered much of Greece
  • Alexander's early life
  • Student of Aristotle (shown at left) from age 13 until 30s
  • Studied all subjects and very bright
  • Learned a lot about Greece, Perisa, Egypt from traveling emissaries to Macedonia
  • Phillip II assassinated when Alexander was 18 and Alex became king

Alexander as Conquerer

  • Controlled Greece, Egypt, Persia, and India 
  • Started hundreds of cities including Alexandria in Egypt at mouth of Nile
  • Encouraged soldiers to marry, have kids in locations all over empire so kids would love Greece
  • Developed the Phalanx formation
  • became king of Macedonia at 20
  • Undefeated in battle; great strategist
  • Died at 33 in Persia
  • Phalanx
  • Alexander loved to Fight
  • “For the enemy pressed upon him with loud and warlike outcries; and charging horse against horse, with their lances, after they had broken and spent these, they fell to it with their swords. And Alexander, being easily known by his buckler, and a large plume of white feathers on each side of his helmet, was attacked on all sides, yet escaped wounding, though his cuirass was pierced by a javelin in one of the joinings. And Rhoesaces and Spithridates, two Persian commanders, falling upon him at once, he avoided one of them, and struck at Rhoesaces, who had a good cuirass on, with such force that, his spear breaking in his hand, he was glad to betake himself to his dagger. While they were thus engaged, Spithridates came up on one side of him, and raising himself upon his horse, gave him such a blow with his battle-ax on the helmet that he cut off the crest of it, with one of his plumes, and the helmet was only just so far strong enough to save him, that the edge of the weapon touched the hair of his head. But as he was about to repeat his stroke, Clitus, called the black Clitus, prevented him, by running him through the body with his spear. At the same time Alexander dispatched Rhoesaces with his sword.”   Plutarch on the Battle of Granicus

Alexander’s Empire doesn't last

  • Civil War between Alexander's generals
  • Empire divided into 4 parts; two important parts were
  • Seleucus ruling the territories of Babylon,
  • Ptolemy ruling the territories of Egypt,

Hellenistic Culture and Art

  • Hellenism is the combination of Persian, Indian, Greek and Egyptian culture (P.I.G.e)
  • Hellenism:  carried ideas of the Greeks and their love of learning throughout his empire.
  • Women are treated better (can own property, some rights) but not equal
  • Greek architecture spreads
  • Art shows more movement and emotion
  • (Venus de Milo and Old Market Women)


  • city of Alexandria as major port, greatest library in ancient W. world, universities also
  • combined cultures into Hellenism
  • spread Greek culture through the Middle East
  • Tolerant of people and places he conquered.  Mostly wanted taxes and power – not destruction and control
  • City states in Greece and India replaced by Empire which leads to Empire in Europe and India