This week: Alexander the Great

Bust of Alexander the Great. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

He inherited the kingdom of Macedonia (in modern-day Greece) at the age of 20. By the time of his death, just 13 years later, he had created an empire that covered two million square miles – stretching across three continents, from the Danube and the Nile to the Himalayas – and all without losing a battle.

Was he the greatest military leader of all time? Napoleon Bonaparte certainly seemed to think so. “I place Alexander in the first rank,” he once said. “My reason for giving the preference to the king of Macedon is, on account of the conception, and above all, for the execution of his campaign in Asia.”

More recently, generals and military historians have tended to agree with this summation. Alexander’s name regularly tops online polls of history’s ‘greatest ever’ commanders – edging out rivals, including Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, and, of course, Napoleon himself.

This week on The Past, we look in-depth at Alexander’s extraordinary life and times. In a special two-part analysis for the new issue of our sister magazine Military History Matters, Graham Goodlad assesses his character and his strategic brilliance; while Neil Faulkner takes a detailed look at the battle of Gaugamela, explaining why Alexander’s most famous victory really was an all-time tactical masterpiece.

We also delve into the MHM archives to bring you a deeper understanding of the context of Alexander’s career: we looked at how Sparta’s military might allowed the city-state to dominate Ancient Greece in the centuries before his birth; we profiled his inspiration, Epaminondas, the forgotten military genius who finally broke the power of Sparta with victory at the battle of Leuctra in 371 BC; and we analysed the later battle of Cynoscephalae, the 197 BC contest which was to demonstrate the superiority of the Roman legion over the Macedonian phalanx.

And finally, we continue the theme with our latest quiz, which this week is designed to test your knowledge of ancient military greats. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!

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