No historian better captures the essential character of Alexander of Macedon than Daniel the prophet. Consider his words (Dan 8:6–7): “the fury of his power”, “he was moved with choler against him”, “smote… and brake… cast him down… stamped upon him… none could deliver”. These telling, inspired expressions depict a swift, implacable ferocity in this man which will brook no resistance.

The prophets, particularly Daniel, reveal Alexander as a man of destiny, a conqueror and empire builder. The Grecian Empire in Daniel 7:6 is depicted as a winged leopard, combining ferocity and swiftness, “and dominion was given to it”. And in chapter 8:8 the prophet adds that the aggressive Alexandrian he goat “waxed very great.” Even as a boy Alexander would have nodded with satisfaction at such a description. “Dominion” and “very great”—yes that was exactly the future Alexander saw for himself, and woe betide any who might get in his way.

His Childhood

Alexander was born at Pella, Macedonia on 20th July 356 bc, the son of Philip II King of Macedon, and the beautiful, scheming Olympia, a Greek princess from the province of Epirus. His father Philip (the city of Philippi bears his name) though overshadowed by his son, was a formidable though dissolute character, who like his son Alexander after him became king at a young age, only twenty-two years old. He unified the disparate regions of Macedonia, then proceeded to crush surrounding provinces to create peace in the region with a suitable mix of force or clever diplomacy, with considerable economic benefits for Macedon. Indeed prior to his death Philip was planning an assault across the Aegean Sea against the Persian empire.

Alexander was a precocious boy. He became fascinated with Homer’s Iliad and the legendary Greek warrior, Achilles became his hero. More, he saw himself as a re-born Achilles, invincible in combat, destined for greatness. He carried a copy of the Iliad with him everywhere; it was said that he slept with a copy under his pillow.

He was trained early in the arts of war, becoming proficient in the use of javelin, sword and bow. Not a large person, he was stocky and strong, and so swift a runner that it was seriously suggested that he compete in the Olympic Games. Alexander’s first tutor, Leonidas pushed him to develop physical endurance with great success. As a man, Alexander was noted for his physical prowess, always in the thick of battle, leading from the front, a driven man; indefatigable.

Like his father, Alexander was an accomplished horseman from boyhood. In his early teens, a Thessalian horse breeder offered to Philip a magnificent black stallion, with a blaze of white on his forehead. The horse was named Bucephalus; the asking price thirteen talents, a king’s ransom. Philip was tempted, the animal was magnificent, but alas unmanageable; no one could ride him. Alexander stepped forward, having noticed that the horse shied at its own shadow. He turned its head toward the sun, leapt on its back, and galloped off. From that time he and the horse were inseparable. Bucephalus was with him until its death many years later in India, from injuries at the battle of Hydaspes. Alexander buried Bucephalus and tradition has it, founded a town on the battlefield and named it Bucephala.

Philip appointed the brilliant Aristotle as Alexander’s teacher. Noted as a philosopher, Aristotle was also an authority on law, politics, poetry, astronomy and optics, medicine, zoology and botany—the Leonardo Da Vinci of his age. According to the Roman historian, Plutarch, Aristotle personally annotated a copy of the Iliad for Alexander, and it was this copy that Alexander kept with him through all his travels. After the battle of Issus in 333 bc, he kept it in a golden chest, part of the booty captured from Darius III.

Alexander Comes to Power

At the age of sixteen, Alexander had opportunity to show what he was made of. Philip appointed him regent in his absence at the sieges of Byzantium and Perinthus. Alexander took the opportunity to campaign against a Thracian tribe on the eastern border of Macedonia. Having captured the tribe’s chief settlement Alexander gave it his own name, Alexandropolis, a hint of things to come. Alexander had demonstrated, as he would many times, his ability to lead men far older and more experienced than himself.

Two years later in 338 bc in the battle of Chaeronea, Philip placed Alexander in command of the left wing of the Macedonian army. It was the charge of the Companion Cavalry, with Alexander, as usual leading from the front, that was decisive in that victory.

In 336 bc at the wedding feast of Olympia’s brother (also named Alexander) and Philip’s daughter Cleopatra, Philip was assassinated. The assassin, Pausanias, had his own reasons for slaying Philip, but conspiracy theories abounded. There were rumours that Alexander himself, possibly even with the connivance of his mother Olympia, was behind his father’s death. He certainly had the most to gain, and relations with his father had been tense for some time.

Alexander the Conqueror

  “And as I was considering, behold, an he goat came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes. And he came to the ram that had two horns, which I had seen standing before the river, and ran unto him in the fury of his power” (Dan 8:5–6).

Alexander was now acknowledged as the Macedonian ruler, though he had yet to secure dominion over the Greek city-states. He was bent on conquest, his heroes Achilles and Heracles were his model, but he was determined to outdo all who went before him.

One writer summing up his conquests writes:

“Against overwhelming odds, he led his armies to victories across the Persian territories of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt without incurring a single defeat. With his greatest victory at the battle of Gaugamela, in what is now northern Iraq, in 331 BC, the young king of Macedonia, leader of the Greeks, Overlord of Asia Minor and Pharaoh of Egypt also became Great King of Persia at the age of 25.

Over the next eight years, in his capacity as king, commander, politician, scholar and explorer, Alexander led his army a further 11,000 miles, founding over seventy cities and creating an empire that stretched across three continents and covered some two million square miles.

The entire area from Greece in the West, north to the Danube, south into Egypt and as far east as the Indian Punjab, was linked together in a vast international network of trade and commerce. This was united by a common Greek language and culture, whilst the king himself adopted foreign customs in order to rule his millions of ethnically diverse subjects.”

Before this amazing saga of conquest could begin, the young Alexander had to secure the Greek States. The sophisticated Athenians and Thebans had never warmed to the rough ‘hillbillies’ of Macedon. In Athens, Demosthenes was spreading the story that Alexander was dead, killed in battle in the north. The Thebans revolted. Darius, Great King of Persia was funding the dissenters and general uprising threatened. As always, Alexander’s response was swift and overwhelming. In only fifteen days he marched his troops 270 miles south from Illyria to Thebes, proving that rumours of his demise were sadly mistaken. Foolishly, the Thebans decided to fight. Alexander destroyed the city, and sold those not killed into slavery. It was a foretaste of the decisiveness and ferocity in the face of resistance, which marked his future campaigns.

Into Asia

A few months after this display of force, in the spring of 334 bc, Alexander crossed into Asia Minor at the head of some 50,000 troops. He would never return. While Alexander went to Troy to pay homage to “heroes” long dead, the Persians were preparing for battle at the river Granicus to the north east. Their plan was to force Alexander to attack across the river where their superior cavalry (as they thought) on the bank would give the advantage. They were focused too on Alexander himself. Their best warriors would try to kill Alexander quickly to break the will of his troops.

Alexander, easily seen with his white plumed helmet leading the Companion Cavalry was assailed by the Persians, but survived to decisively defeat the Persian army. Among the Persian leaders slain in that battle were Mithridates, son-in-law of King Darius, and Phranaces, brother-in-law of Darius.

As Alexander, meeting little resistance, moved eastward through Asia Minor, in far off Susa the Great King Darius, realising that his entire empire was under threat, set off with a vast company westward along the Royal Road to crush this upstart stripling once and for all.

12- 2

A historian paints the picture for us:

“As Alexander had marched toward Tarsus, Darius had set out from Babylon with a host as resplendent as the Macedonians were weary and bedraggled.

First in this vast parade came silver altars bearing the Persians’ Sacred Fire, followed by chanting priests. These were followed by prancing white horses drawing the chariot of the great Persian God Ahura-Mazda, its drivers dressed in white, and carrying whips of gold. Then marched the Immortal Guards, ten thousand strong. The Great King—tall, slender, dark-haired, and bearded—wore a purple-bordered, white tunic beneath a flowing cloak embroidered with golden fighting hawks. His chariot, encrusted with gold and precious jewels, gleamed in the sun.

In its wake came horsemen and footmen attending the chariots of the queen and queen mother, (with) their retinue. Last in the imperial train were 600 mules and 300 camels that carried imperial treasure. Finally, stretching back as far as the eye could see, marched the imperial army: Persians, Medes, Greek mercenaries, North Africans, Armenians, Hyrcanians and more, surging slowly forward in what must have seemed an endless river. Unlike Alexander, Darius decidedly did not travel light.”

The Battle of Issus

In late October 333 bc the two armies met at Issus, near Paul’s city of Tarsus. The hard fought battle ended in a rout, with King Darius fleeing from the field of battle, leaving behind his chariot, treasure, family and all. When a weary and wounded Alexander gave up the pursuit of the now not quite so Great King, it was after midnight. He entered the pavilion of Darius, bathed in the king’s tub, and was introduced next morning to Darius’ family.

Darius’ mother, Sisygambis gave honour to Alexander’s friend Hephaestion, supposing that the taller, better looking man was Alexander. Being apprised of her error, and treated graciously by Alexander, there began from that day, an odd and close relationship between the two that lasted until Alexander’s death.

Significantly, there fell to Alexander the vast baggage train of treasure that Darius had brought with him. No longer would Alexander operate on a shoestring budget. He now had ample funds to pay his troops, hire mercenaries and dispense favours. King Darius offered a huge sum as ransom for his family, ten thousand talents, an unimaginable fortune. Further, he would cede to Alexander all the lands west of the Halys River.

Alexander rejected the offer with withering scorn: “If you wish to dispute the throne, stand and fight for it and do not run away. Wherever you may hide yourself, be sure I shall seek you out.”

The Siege of Tyre

Alexander was content to leave the defeated and humiliated Darius for another day and he turned south towards Tyre and Sidon. His goal was Egypt, but there were one or two hard nuts to crack along the way.

Tyre was too powerful to bypass. Really it was two cities, with the old city on the mainland, and the new city on its fortress island half a mile off the coast protected by its own garrison and the expert Phoenician sailors. Alexander loved a challenge and proceeded to tear down the old city stone by stone to build a mole across to the island. After a seven month siege, and aided by newly recruited Greek mercenaries, and two hundred vessels of Darius’ navy the siege ended in the destruction of the city, with thousands slain and thousands more sold into slavery.

In this remarkable siege, Alexander accomplished more than he knew. For the prophet Ezekiel had foretold the destruction of Tyre many years before. In Ezekiel 36:7 he identifies Nebuchadnezzar as the one who would begin this process: “For thus saith the Lord God; Behold I will bring upon Tyrus Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon…” After a siege of many years the city fell to Nebuchadnezzar, but the Tyrians fled to their fortress island.

Although Nebuchadnezzar had played his part, significant elements of the prophecy remained to be fulfilled. The prophet declared: “And they shall make a spoil of thy riches, and make a prey of thy merchandise: and they shall break down thy walls, and destroy thy pleasant houses: and they shall lay thy stones and thy timber and thy dust in the midst of the water… And I will make thee like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more” (Ezek 26:12–14). Alexander and his men finished the job; the site of old Tyre was swept clean and hurled into the sea to build his causeway.

Alexander and Jerusalem

Josephus tells us that during the siege of Tyre, Alexander sought provisions and help from the Jewish high priest in Jerusalem, which was refused to Alexander’s anger.

Once the siege of Tyre and then Gaza (where Alexander received a broken leg for his pains) were concluded, Alexander made for Jerusalem. Jaddua the high priest, according to Josephus, had a dream wherein God told him to approach Alexander with his fellow priests in the robes of office and offer no resistance. This he did. Josephus then records: “Alexander, when he saw the multitude at a distance, in white garments, while the priests stood clothed with fine linen, and the high priest in purple and scarlet clothing, with his mitre on his head…saluted the high priest.” Parmenio, Alexander’s tough old general, asked Alexander why he deferred to this Jewish high priest and to no other. Alexander replied that back in Macedon he had had a dream of this priestly procession and been told to hasten into Asia where he would be given dominion over the Persians. He was then conveyed into Jerusalem and shown the prophecy of Daniel “wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, (and) he supposed that himself was the person intended…” (Ant 11.8.313–347).

Some modern historians have dismissed this account (given, too, in the Talmud) as a “pious fiction”. However, in broad terms, Josephus account has the ring of truth. Alexander , even by the standards of the day, was extremely superstitious, and was always accompanied by his own personal oracle and seer, Aristander. It is difficult to imagine him bypassing a city such as Jerusalem. His intense curiosity, together with his appreciation as a soldier of its commanding location in the Judean hills, would surely have driven him there. Modern aversion to any Biblical allusion is more likely the reason for the ‘scholarly’ rejection of Josephus’ record!

To Egypt and Beyond

Alexander did not have to fight for Egypt; he was welcomed. There was no love lost between the Egyptians and the Persians. As he approached the fortress of Pelusium on the eastern borders of Egypt in October 332 bc, he was greeted by cheering crowds. He was crowned as Pharaoh in Memphis, and offered sacrifices to the Egyptian gods. In early 331 bc he founded the city of Alexandria, later the site of one of the great libraries of the ancient world. And he ventured into the desert to make a personal visit to the famous oracle of Zeus-Ammon at the Siwah oasis, an encounter which left him convinced of his own divinity.

After his triumphant time in Egypt, this driven man again turned his mind to empire. He led his armies back to the ruins of Tyre and then east into the heart of Persian territory. All Darius’ overtures to Alexander were scornfully dismissed. When Darius offered his daughter in marriage, Alexander responded that she was his captive, to marry if and when he chose. Finally Darius realised that he had no choice—he would have to fight. He raised a massive army to outnumber Alexander’s forces five to one. Battle was finally joined at the village of Gaugamela on the Royal Road, east of the Tigris River and almost due east of Issus, where Alexander had met Darius two years before.

Again, Alexander’s strategic genius won the day (30 September 331 bc). Alexander had 47,000 men, Darius some 250,000. Not enough! Once more hard pressed, as Alexander, mounted on Bucephalus led his Companion Cavalry at the gallop straight for him, Darius fled the field of battle. It was a second display of cowardice from which he would never recover. He made for his summer retreat at Ecbatana, while Alexander headed south in triumph to Babylon on the Euphrates. From there, south and east to Susa the administrative capital of the Persian Empire. There he gained control of the wealth of Persia, the royal palace and the treasury with its vast store of gold and silver.

Further treasures awaited at Persepolis, the burial place of the Achaemenid kings. Alexander entered the city in January 330 BC. His troops, leaving aside the palaces and their treasures, looted and vandalized the city. Alexander stayed there for four months removing all the treasures of the city. That done, he burnt it to the ground then marched north for Ecbatana, to track down Darius. Before Alexander could capture the king, Darius was assassinated by his own men. Now there was only one king in Asia. In five short years Alexander had conquered the world.

The Final Years8  Now undisputed ruler, conqueror of the Persian Empire, Alexander, far from being content, seemed interested only in further conquest. He sought to crush any remaining opposition. He had his faithful old general, Parmenio, killed on trumped up charges of treason. And he marched eastward deep into the Punjab, where at last, in July 326 BC, his battle weary troops refused to go further.

Frustrated and enraged, Alexander travelled down the Indus river to the sea, brutally butchering any who opposed him. Then, in the summer of 325 bc, he led the bulk of his army back to the west across the Gedrosian desert, where many perished of heat and exhaustion.

On the 9th of June 323 bc following days of fever, weakened by his many battle injuries, depressed at the death months before of his boyhood friend Hephaestion, affected doubtless by night after night of drinking, Alexander died, just short of his 33rd birthday. His body was embalmed and finally entombed in the city of Alexandria on the Egyptian coast.

The Greek Legacy

Besides fulfilling the destiny prophesied by Daniel, what did his twelve years of bloodthirsty conquest accomplish? One historian summed it up this way: “He was one of the supreme fertilizing forces in history, in a key cultural respect. The dissemination of Greek culture in visual and verbal forms to non-Greeks had, of course, been going on for centuries and had recently been given a further boost by Philip. But Alexander so speeded up the process and spread Hellenism so far and wide, that he made it virtually irreversible. It was thus ultimately thanks to him that the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek at Egyptian Alexandria, and that Paul, a Hellenized Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia, wrote in koine, Common Greek, to convert the city-dwelling Gentiles of the Eastern Roman Empire to his new religion of Christianity. He was exploiting a ready-made cultural catchment area so large that it could be regarded as ecumenical—or global, as we might say now.”

“Human Conqueror or Divine Prince of Peace”

These are terms used by Bro H P Mansfield in his verse-by-verse notes on the prophecy of Zechariah chapter 9: verses 1–7 describe Alexander’s conquests in the cities around Israel, the destruction of Tyre in verses 3–4, and of Gaza and its king in verse 5, for example. And proud Alexander, mounted on Bucephalus, conquers the world, only to die in his 33rd year.

What a remarkable contrast in our Lord Jesus Christ, a far more successful conqueror than Alexander ever dreamed of. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zech 9:9). Here is the conqueror of sin and death who compels our love and service, not out of fear as a cruel, vicious tyrant like Alexander who could murder a friend in a drunken rage, but as a response to his wonderful example of service, and humble submission to his Father’s will, even unto death.

It was Alexander’s task to prepare the way for the spread of the gospel in the first century, through a world where a common tongue prevailed, and the Old Testament Scriptures in the Septuagint version could be read and understood by all. This was his only worthwhile legacy.