Alexander the Great – the Persian Invasion

by Robert Hamilton

Alexander the Great

In beginning to answer the question, why did Alexander set out to invade Persian territory? We must firstly accept, that we have veracity in the actions taken by Alexander, but only really speculation in regard to his motivations. This is because the extant ancient sources, for much of the’ whys and why nots,’ are not contemporaneous but rather lived, and wrote, around three hundred years after the death of Alexander. These surviving writings on Alexander, by Arrian, Plutarch, Diodorus of Sicily and Quintus Curtius, although they refer to earlier sources, like Cleitarchus, Ptolemy and Aristoboulus of Cassandrea, their  works have not survived, so we are left with much supposition on the part of these writers; and debate by the modern scholarship that has come after, in their attempts to decipher the reasons behind the actions of a man who conquered the Persian Empire, and beyond, in 334-323 BCE.

In answer to the question, Alexander’s father, Philip II, had already begun the invasion of Persian territory before his death by assassination in 336.  Alexander, as his successor, was now in charge of an army, previously led by Parmenion, who was leading an advance force and who were already in north-west Asia Minor. Macedon was a kingdom on the rise, recently  united by Amyntas III, the highlands had been joined with the lowlands in the  east, and Philip had built on this new stability to expand their borders militarily.[1] New wealth came from these incursions into Thrace to conquer the Illyrians and Triballians, with the capture of silver and gold mines. Alexander had inherited, or possibly usurped, a militarily superior and politically hungry, expanding kingdom.[2]  As is often the case during times of succession, political instability had arisen within the region in response to possible perceived weakness in  Alexander’s new reign. Arrian tells us, that there were uprisings in Thrace, and then Thebes, providing Alexander with military challenges, and as he was ruthlessly victorious in dealing with these, perhaps  another spur to invade Persian territory.[3]  Also, when considering the possibility of Alexander, not continuing with this invasion, Plutarch, Quintus Curtius and Arrian provide reported evidence, which could be interpreted as ‘pressing financial reasons’ for Alexander to invade and then plunder Persian territory.[4]

Then there is the liberation of the ethnically Greek, cities, in Asia Minor to consider, as impetus for Alexander to invade Persian controlled territory.[5]  The Persians had, historically, invaded, Hellas, in 480/79.[6] Furthermore,  in the Peloponnesian War, Sparta used Persian support to defeat Athens, and engaged in 386 in the first of a series of Common Peaces with the Persian Empire, which led to the loss of the Greek cities in Asia Minor to the Persians.  Philip II, had established the League of Corinth in 338, and this politically inspired association imposed a sort of proto Hellenic nationalism to control cities like Athens and Thebes (before its destruction), fostering anti- Persian and anti-Spartan sentiment among their populations; and in Athens’s case conscripting their navy to the expedition .[7] Alexander, as the king of Macedon, would likely, have seen himself, as the possible saviour of Hellenism in the region, and/or pragmatically used this for his own political advantage. Interestingly there were more Greek mercenaries fighting against Alexander’s forces than for, which casts some doubt over any thoughts of a universal consensus on the part of Hellas towards Alexander’s invasion.

Continued in Roman and Greek History by Robert Hamilton

©Robert Hamilton

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Austin. M. M, The Hellenistic World from Alexander to the Roman Conquest, 2nd Ed, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2006. Arrian, Campaigns of Alexander, (trans – Aubrey De Selincourt), Penguin Books, London, Revised Ed, 1971. Badian. E, Alexander the Great between two thrones and Heaven: variations on an old theme, Journal of Roman Archaeology, Ann Arbor, 1996. Badian. E, Alexander the Great and the Greeks of Asia, Oxford, Blackwell, 1966, Ancient Society and Institutions, Studies Presented to Victor Ehrenberg. Bosworth. A. B, Arrian and the Alexander Vulgate, Geneva: Fondation Hardt, 1976, A. B. Alexandre le Grand: Image et Realite. Cartledge. Paul, Alexander The Great, Pan Macmillan, London, 2004. Carlsen, Jesper; Due, Bodil; Due, Steen Otto; Poulsen, Birte Alexander the Great: Reality and Myth, Nylander, Carl, Darius III- The coward king: Point and counterpoint, ‘L’Erma’ Di Bretschneider, Rome, Italy, 1993.   Diodorus 17.2 (trans – Bill Thayer). http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Diodorus_Siculus/home.html Ellis, J. R, Amyntas Perdikka, Philip II and Alexander the Great – A Study in Conspiracy, Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol 91, London, 1971. Fredricksmeyer, E, Alexander and Philip – Emulation and Resentment, Provo : Classical Association of the Middle West and South, 1990, Classical Journal Vol. 85, no. 4. Hammond. N. G. L, Kingdom of Asia and the Persian Throne, Antichton Vol 20, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1986. Heckel, Waldemar, Factions and Macedonian politics in the reign of Alexander the Great, Ancient Macedonia IV: Papers read at the Fourth International Symposium held in Thessaloniki, September 21-25, 1983 Vol. 4. Holt, Frank. L, Alexander the Great today: In the interests of historical accuracy, Ancient History Bulletin Vol. 13, no. 3, Calgary, 1999. Horsley. G. H. R, Hellenika: Essays on Greek Politics and History, Ch 13, p – 178. (ed – Mortley. R,) Alexander the Great: His career and person, North Ryde NSW, Macquarie Ancient History Assc, 1982.   Plutarch, Age of Alexander. (trans – Ian Scot-Kilvert) Penguin Books, London, 1973.   Quintus Curtius Rufus, History of Alexander, (trans – John Rolfe) http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001769200



[1]  Arrian, Campaigns of Alexander, (trans – Aubrey De Selincourt), Penguin Books, London, Revised Ed 1971. 7.9, p-360-361.
[2] “Hammond. N. G. L, Kingdom of Asia and the Persian Throne, Antichton Vol 20, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1986, p – 76.
[3] “The following spring he marched towards Thrace, having learned that the Triballi and Illyrians were up to mischief.” Arrian, Campaigns of Alexander,  1.1, p-43.
[4] Plutarch, Alexander 15. (trans – Ian Scot-Kilvert), Penguin Books, London, 1973.     Arrian, Campaigns of Alexander, (trans – Aubrey De Selincourt), Penguin Books, London, Revised Ed 1971. 7:9, p-362.   Quintus Curtius Rufus, History of Alexander, (trans – John Rolfe) 10. 2.24,
[5]  Cartledge, Paul, Alexander The Great, Pan Macmillan, London, 2004. p – 107.
[6]  Arrian II.14.
[7] Badian. E, Alexander the Great and the Greeks of Asia, Oxford, Blackwell, 1966, Ancient Society and Institutions, Studies Presented to Victor Ehrenberg, p – 39.   Badian. E, Alexander the Great between two thrones and Heaven: variations on an old theme, Journal of Roman Archaeology, Ann Arbor, 1996, p – 11.
[8] Plutarch, Life of Alexander, 2.
[9] Plutarch, Life of Alexander, 3.   Plutarch, Life of Alexander, 27.
[10]  Arrian 3.3-4.
[11]  Plutarch, Life of Alexander, 27.
[12] Arrian, V.28-29.1.
[13]  Arrian, III. 1.5-2.2.
[14]  Ellis, J. R, Amyntas Perdikka, Philip II and Alexander the Great – A Study in Conspiracy, Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol 91, London, 1971, p – 12.
[15] Cartledge, Paul, Alexander The Great,  p – 63.
[16]  Plutarch, Life of Alexander, 15.
[17] Diodorus 17.2 (trans – Bill Thayer).

[18]  Fredricksmeyer, E, Alexander and Philip – Emulation and Resentment, Provo : Classical Association of the Middle West and South, 1990, Classical Journal Vol. 85, no. 4, p. 301.

[19] Heckel, Waldemar, Factions and Macedonian politics in the reign of Alexander the Great, Ancient Macedonia IV: Papers read at the Fourth International Symposium held in Thessaloniki, September 21-25, 1983 Vol. 4, p -297.