Alexander the Great - A Brief Outline

A Brief Outline

Ancient Greece and Alexander: A brief outline

A civilisation appears to have emerged on mainland Greece about 1600 B.C. This came to be known as the Mycenaean civilisation. Feudal1 warrior leaders ruled their districts from hilltop fortresses, the principal fort being Mycenae itself. Minoan Crete exercised a strong influence in these early times; but, as Mycenaean Greece gradually acquired knowledge of the sea, power shifted in its favor. Feared as warriors, large mercenary detachments fought for Crete and Egypt, among other states.

The height of Mycenaean expansion and power was reached between 1500 and 1300 B.C. Eventually Crete, the Cyclades, Rhodes, and Cyprus were annexed, and vigorous trade was established throughout the Mediterranean, even with the tribes of north and west Europe. Weakened by internal strife and wars in Asia Minor, Mycenae was overrun by invaders from central Asia toward the end of the 12th century B.C.

After the Mycenaean period, Greece was invaded by IndoEuropean tribes from the north. The distribution of peoples in Greece before the city states made for little unity, but they all took part in the Olympic Games.2 Greek colonies were established along much of the perimeter of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and Athens became the leading state after the Persian advance was halted in the 5th century B.C.

Fifth-century Greece was dominated by the Athenians. The Acropolis was the ancient hilltop citadel of Athens, and its ruins still dominates the city today. Its buildings were constructed in the second half of the 5th century B.C. The greatest was the Parthenon, the temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. Sparta, one of the city-states, had military ambitions and a well-trained professional army. Athens and Sparta fought together against Persian attacks, but afterwards became rivals. In the long Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) between Athens and Sparta, Athens was defeated by Sparta, and lost its empire.


1 Feudal: characteristic of or relating to a fief.

2 Olympic Games: the greatest Panhellenic festival, held every fourth year in honour of Zeus at ancient Olympia. From 472B.C., it consisted of five days of games, sacrifices, and festivities.

A Brief Outline

A Brief Outline

Alexander's death, the Mauryan dynasty was established (322 B.C.) and the first King of that dynasty, Chandragupta Maurya (322-298 B.C.), came closer to uniting India than had any earlier ruler. Only the extreme South escaped his domination.

What happened after Alexander

Alexander's sudden death meant that he had no time to consolidate his empire or to arrange for an orderly succession. His Macedonian generals fought among themselves. Political disunity, however, did not interfere with Alexander's vision of a commonwealth of peoples united by Greek culture. All the successor states were dominated by Greeks and by natives who imitated the Greek way of life. And although the peasants and much of the urban population of the Middle East held fast to their native cultures and native languages, scholars, administrators, and businessmen all used Greek and were guided, to some degree, by Greek ideas and customs. This era in which the Middle East was permeated by Greek influence is known as the Hellenistic period (The Greeks called themselves Hellenes; Hellenistic means "Greek-like"). It ended politically in 30 B.C., when Rome annexed Egypt, the last nominally independent Hellenistic state. But the cultural unity of the Middle East lasted far longer; it was broken only when the Moslems conquered Syria and Egypt in the seventh century A.D.

A Brief Outline

A Brief Outline

The city-states of Greece continued to fight between themselves and particularly against Sparta whose rule was very harsh. All the city states were much weakened by these constant battles and, despite a last effort to unite against the invader from Macedonia, Philip, they lost and thus Greece became at last unified under Macedonian rule, just before the birth of Alexander the Great in 356 B.C.

State of the civilised world in Alexander time (around 330 B.C,)

For the Greeks of that time, civilisation was concentrated in the Mediterranean world. Besides Greece and its city states, there was the immense Persian Empire which embraced nearly all of the Middle East: Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, Syria, Palestine, the Phoenician cities and finally Egypt were successively conquered by the Persians.

In the days of Alexander and Darius, no one would have thought that two centuries later Rome would be able to unify the Ancient World. It was then a small city without a good harbour and not much given to commerce. Nevertheless, two centuries after Alexander the Romans, having dominated all of Italy, had already conquered Greece and were on their way to take over and unify the Mediterranean world.

In India in 350 B.C. Buddhism was flourishing. At the time of

A Brief Outline

A Brief Outline

Suggestions for further reading

Badian, E. —Alexander the Great and the Unity of Mankind Historia, 1958. pp.425-44

Burn, A. R. —Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic World 2nd ed. Macmillan, 1962

Durant, Will. —The Story of Civilization: Part II, The Life of Greece, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966

Green, Peter. —Alexander the Great. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1970 —Alexander of Macedon. Penguin Books

Hamilton J.R — Alexander the Great, Hutchinson University Library,

Plutarch, — The Age of Alexander—Nine Greek Lives, Penguin Books Translation and notes: lan Scot-Kilvert, 1973

Renault, Mary — The Nature of Alexander, Penguin Books, U.K., 1983

Robinson,C.A. —The Extraordinary Ideas of Alexander the Great American Historical Review, 1957, pp. 326-44

Tarn, Sir William, and Griffith, G. T. — Hellenistic Civilization Arnold.3rded.l952

 WilckenUlrich —Alexander the Great, WW Norton and Company

A few dates

356 B.C. — Birth of Alexander

336 B.C. — Alexander (aged 20) becomes king of Macedon following the assassination of his father Philip

334 B.C. — Alexander crosses the Hellespont into Asia

332 B.C. — Invasion of Egypt. Foundation of Alexandria

331-328 —Campaigns in Asia

327 B.C. — Invasion of India

324 B.C. — Return to Persia

323 B.C. — Death of Alexander


A Brief Outline

Back to Content