Knowledge as a weapon
Home » 2015 » February » 4 » The Period of Alexander the Great
7:12 PM
The Period of Alexander the Great

1. Decline of Athens

1. After defeat of Athens by Sparta, power in Athens is taken over by oligarchs and leaders of moderate democracy, representatives of Sparta. However, repressions in 403 B.C. lead to resurrection of democracy.

2. In 378 B.C. we witness the renaissance of the Athenian union on the basis of equality. But then Athens again engages in the politics of extortion; in 357 B.C. there is a war among the allies, and in 355 the Second Athenian Union disintegrates. A. Bonnar writes: "In 380 Isocrates could write in his 'Panegyric' about Piraeus that it is a market in the center of Greece, rich in all kinds of commodities. But in 356 Xenophon, in his work "On incomes", while paying a lip service to official optimism, called for a peace which would again invite traders to Athens and will give Piraeus its former bloom. Between 'Panegyric' and 'Income' only a quarter of a century have passed, which witnessed the collapse of the Second Athenian Union".

3. A famous orator of Athens in this period was Demosthenes. He spoke against Philip of Macedonia, and his speeches still have some relevance for today: "But if our enemy, holding weapons in hands and possessing a large army, only hides himself under the words of 'peace', while all his actions bear the character of war, what is left to us but to fight?... And if anyone considers as peace situation where a person obtains an opportunity to conquer everybody else, in order to go later against us, such a person is out of his mind... And if we want to wait for the time when he confesses himself that he is leading a war, then we're the most stupid people, for even if he should go straight to Attica, even on Piraeus, even then he should not say so..." For an example of this, think of American military radars and Anti-Ballistic Missiles in Eastern Europe.

Demosthenes, a Roman marble copy after a bronze statue from Greece, 280 B.C.

In 335 B.C. aggressive policy of Philip of Macedonia leads Athens to seek support from Persia, its former enemy. This makes war between Macedonia and Persia very probable.

4. Demosthenes understands the decline of Athens in the following way: "It was not without foundation and reason that all Greeks were so enthusiastic about freedom in the olden days, and now obediently suffer slavery. Yes, Athenian citizens, there was something in the consciousness of majority which no longer exists, - that which defeated the wealth of the Persians, and has led Greece to freedom, and didn't allow itself to be defeated in a sea or land battle; and now this quality is lost, and its loss has left everything in disrepair, and turned the Greek world upside down. What was it? Nothing very special, but only the fact that people who obtained money from various seekers after power were universally hated and it was seen as the greatest shame to be found guilty of corruption; the guilty suffered the greatest punishment, and no protection or pardon existed for him... And now all this is sold, as though at a market, and instead we have things from which all Greece is sick. What are these things? Jealousy if someone obtained a bribe, laughter when he admits that, leniency to those accused of it, hatred when such behavior is criticized; in a word, everything that is connected to bribery. For, if we're to judge by triremes, the number of the soldiers, the financial funds, and in general all the means by which we can judge about the power of the state, all this we have in greater quantities than the people of those times. But all this is becoming useless, barren because of the guilt of the corrupted people". Thus, Demosthenes attributed decline of Athens to corruption of society, but why does this corruption exist?

5. Calisphenes, a court philosopher of Alexander the Great, said that it is only discord among Hellenes that made Philip of Macedon powerful. "Economic history" says that the reason for decline of Athens was that polis was becoming an obstacle to development of money-commodity relations. "The principle of polis life was undermined, i.e. the idea that a citizen and an owner of a plot of land was one and the same person. It was possible to be a citizen and not to have any land, and visa versa... Autarchy and autonomy interfered with development of economic relations". This, however, doesn't explain the reason why the Second Athenian Union fell apart. Probably Athenians understood that polis as an independent city-state has become irrelevant.

2. Politics of Alexander

1. Plutach, when writing biography of Alexander, says: "Some insignificant deed or word, or a joke depict the character of a man more than battles, in which thousands of people lost their lives". Hence, the goal of our writing on Alexander is not to retell his biography, but rather to take out from this period everything which can be useful to the future revolutionary politics and strategy.

Alexander fighting Darius.

2. Alexander can be seen as a revolutionary leader because he has rejected the idea of a city state, and even the idea of unification of the entire Hellas under a single rule, and instead dreams about conquest of the entire world. Alexander himself says the following about his goal: "To unify the states and move people from Asia to Europe, and from Europe to Asia, in order through marriages and family ties to establish between the greatest continents the same peace and friendship as that which exists between relatives". Speaking to his soldiers, Alexander says: "The goal of hardship and labor, for a noble man, is again hardship and labor, if they achieve noble deeds... People who face labor and dangers for some great goal live sweetly and die, leaving behind an immortal glory. Don't you know that our ancestor [Hercules] achieved such fame that became a god, and was known as such not because he has spent his entire life in Corinth, Argos, Peloponnesus, or Thebes... What great and wonderful things we would have achieved if we spent our time in Macedonia and thought that peaceful life is enough for us: to protect our land and chase away our neighbors".

3. Plutarch describes the goal of Alexander in following words: "the first intention of his expedition show that he has had the goal of a true philosopher, who was not a conqueror for pleasure or for great wealth, but in order to create general peace, accord, unity and communication among all people who live on earth". Until the time of Alexander, it was traditionally thought that "a barbarian is born for slavery, and Greek for freedom". Expedition of Alexander brings in a vague form the idea that "all people are brothers and sisters". Khvostov writes: "Alexander himself gives an example: he gets married to Roxanna from Bactria, with Statira, the oldest daughter of Darius, and Parisatide, the daughter of Okh". Persians are recruited into the administrative apparatus of Alexander. Greeks feel threatened by this.

4. From understanding the goal of Alexander, which is the most progressive which humanity could pose at that moment, we should understand the military victories. Natives, whose lands Alexander conquered, helped him to achieve victories. For example, Alexander was besieging a fortress standing impregnable on a cliff. Diodorus says: "At this time he was approached by an old man with his two sons. After approaching the king and telling about himself, he said that he will lead him through this roadblock, and he will be above the barbarians who have taken the cliff".

5. Before Alexander went on the conquest of the world, he needed to establish some order at home, i.e. in Hellas. At the time Athens and Sparta have already declined in power and first place belonged to Macedonia, and second to Thebes. After funeral of his father, Alexander "called a meeting of Hellenes living in Peloponnesus, and asked them for command of expedition against Persians, which they have already given to his Philip [his father]. His request was granted by all except Lacedaemonians, who said that their fathers told them not to follow others, but to lead themselves". Athens granted Alexander his request unwillingly. But Thebes not only refused but agitate other Hellenes to rebel against authority of Macedonia. Then Alexander, relying upon the army left to him by Philip (30 thousand infantry and 3000 cavalry) besieges Thebes. When the city was taken, "disorderly killings of Thebans who have stopped fighting started, and the rage was coming was not so much from Macedonians, but from Phoceans, Plataians, and other Boeotians".

6. Let's note that not every conquest is accompanies by hatred for the conqueror. When Alexander conquered some land, he would often leave as "satrap" the person who used to be the king of the territory. This was the case with Pores, an Indian king who courageously fought against Alexander on an elephant. The administrative apparatus didn't change, and thus the method of conquest of Alexander was essentially uniting already existing states. Towards his satraps Alexander was very demanding. He executes two satraps "in order to instill fear into satraps and kings: let them know that similar punishment awaits them. This measure was the most effective in holding in obedience the tribes which Alexander conquered. For they knew that on the huge space on which Alexander ruled, rulers will not offend the subjects". It seems Alexander attempted to bring justice into the world.

7. Alexander represented Greek merchants and artisans. In some countries, where this was possible, Alexander ordered "to destroy the oligarchy, resurrect the democratic rule, to allow everyone to live according to their own laws, and take off the tribute, which they paid to barbarians", i.e. Persians. Instead of these Alexander introduces new taxes payable to him or his satraps. The institute of a satrap, as well as manner of clothing and some other customs, were adopted by Macedonians from Persians.

8. It seems to me that Alexander died from poisoning. We know that there were several conspiracies against Alexander. The first conspiracy was among his military commanders. This was exposed and the commanders, including Parmenion, who was a satrap, were executed. Then there was a conspiracy of young men. At interrogation one of the young men gave the following reasons for rebellion: "a free man can not tolerate audacious self-conceit of Alexander". This is in reference to such Persian customs are bowing before the king. Callin, one of the distinguished cavalry warriors, supports the opinion of the young men: "King, Macedonians are not happy that you've decided to strike family ties with some Persians". Macedonians were not happy that Alexander came increasingly to rely upon Persians, for example introducing a detachment of Persians into his own body guard: "they decided that he takes all possible measure in order not to need the Macedonians".

 3. Military art of Alexander

1. Alexander can teach us the art of developing a strategy, i.e. positing a geopolitical goal and explaining the means necessary for achievement of this goal. Here is an example of how to explains the need to attack Tyre, a well-fortified fortress of Phoenicians (in today's Lebanon): "If the Persians take hold of the coast, while we're on our way against Babylon and Darius, then they, having a large force, will extend the war to Hellas. Spartans will immediately begin a war against us. Athens were prevented (from launching war) more by fear than by sympathy towards us. If we sweep away Tyre, the entire Phoenicia will be ours, and as a matter of course, Phoenician fleet will pass to our side, and it is the biggest and strongest fleet that the Persians have. Phoenician sailors will not fight for others when their towns are in our hands. Under these circumstances, Cyprus will easily join us, or will be easily taken, after the first appearance of our fleet. Having at sea Macedonian and Phoenician ships and having attached Cyprus, we will affirm our rule of the seas, and then expedition against Egypt will not be a great labor. When we shall take over Egypt, there will be nothing in Hellas or at home to make us suspicious, and then we will go on to Babylon, being completely assured about business at home. We will be respected even more after cutting off the Persians from the sea and taking lands from them up to this bank of Euphrates".

The strategic goal is conquest of the Persian empire. In order to achieve this goal, it is first necessary to settle business at "home", accumulate additional forces, and only then go against the main enemy. Alexander does not commit the strategic mistake of Athenians in the course of Peloponnesian war, i.e. simultaneous war on two fronts. Such ability to understand the current situation can come from study of similar situations in the past. Similarly to Themistocles, Alexander "have had the exceptional ability to see in dark circumstances that which is necessary; with rare success he could judge, using the available information, the probability of an outcome".

2. Military art of Alexander is characterized by his allowing himself to be defeated on secondary fronts - for example, he allows Scythians and Persians to take hold of his camp with all its things - while he himself achieves victory on the main front, against the detachment of king Darius. Not all military commanders of Alexander share his vision. Some want to defend their belongings not thinking about the main thing, victory of the entire army.

3. Alexander played the role both of a strategist and that of a simple soldier. "Nearch [the head of Alexander's fleet] says that Alexander was scolded by his friends, who criticized him for getting personally involved in battles; to fight is the business of a soldier, not that of a commander. It seems to me that Alexander was angry at these speeches, feeling that they were right; he understood that he deserved scolding. And yet he could not control himself (as some give up before the call of pleasure) and threw himself in the very thick of the fight, so much was his heart inflamed and so much did he desire glory". Alexander was wounded many times, and several times these wounds were dangerous. But here we see him after the battle of Isis: "On the next day Alexander, even though with a wound from a sword in his thigh, went around to see the wounded, ordered to gather the bodies of the killed and solemnly buried them in the presence of the entire army, lined up in full glory, as though for battle. In his speech he praised all whose exploits in battle he saw himself or heard from others, and gave a money reward to each according to his ranking".

4. Alexander supported the spirit of his troops. Arrian tells of the following incident: "The army was marching through the sand, under the torching heat; they had to reach the water, but the water was far away. Alexander, thirsty like everybody, was walking ahead of the army on foot, like other soldiers, for it is easier to suffer privations when all suffer equally. At this time several lightly armed soldiers, who have, in search of water, gone to a side, have found in a shallow ravine a dirty puddle of water. Having collected it all, they hurried to Alexander, carrying it like a true treasure. Near him they poured the water into a helmet and offered it to Alexander. He took it, thanked those who brought it, and poured it out in front of everybody. This gave to the army a lot of strength, as though the water poured out by Alexander was a drink for all. I praise Alexander for this act which speaks about his self-control and skill in dealing with soldiers".

The commander's treatment of his soldiers can be seen from another incident: he sends the newly married back to Macedonia, so that they will spend the winter months with their wives. Soldiers loved Alexander because he improved their food rationing as soon as there was a chance to do so. Alexander was incredibly generous, and gave to his soldiers, and the wretched whom he met in his expeditions, more than they could expect.

5. Alexander attains victories not only because of his global goal, strategic clairvoyance, and humane treatment of his soldiers and the enemy, but also because his army was better equipped for its time. During the siege of Tyre we see that Alexander makes use of wall-ramming machines standing on ships. We also see him skillfully making embankment, in order to reach a fortress on elevated position. In hand-to-hand combat, we see Macedonians against Pissids: "Barbarians, being all in light clothing, fell down when they fought with hoplites". Hoplites were heavily armed infantry.

Arrian tells us that in the course of fighting Persians at the river Granicus, "superiority of Alexander's soldiers immediately showed; they were not only stronger and more experienced, but they were not armed with light javelins but heavy spears". Alexander's warriors used these spears to strike right in the face.

Macedonians also display better military formation: "The phalanx, having started fighting, without much effort, overrun the barbarians, lightly and poorly armed". The Macedonians have the phalanx and orders of Alexander how to act, if a battle should take different turns.

4. Material and spiritual culture of the conquered nations

1. Everyday life and consciousness of the nations conquered by Alexander is as interesting for us as the notes of Julius Caesar on material culture of Celt and German tribes with whom he fought. Here we have of observing, through the eyes of a more advanced culture, those nations which didn't have writing at the moment, and hence couldn't tell us about themselves. We observe society at different levels of barbarism, and savagery, according to classification of Louis Morgan.

2. Among Celts we notice remnants of cannibalism in their religion. We see human sacrifices to gods, which were substituted by animal sacrifices, as in Greeks of Homer. Arrian writes: "The Celts, having stabbed as offering to their gods three boys, the same number of girls and three black sheep, rushed forward with intention of getting into hand-to-hand combat with Macedonians". After the offerings, the priests eat the meat of these young people and drink their blood. I suppose that's what they would call "custom kitchen deliveries".

3. From cannibalism and hunting, people passed on to pasture grazing. One example of such culture are Uxi, one of the tribes conquered by Alexander: "the Uxi don't have money and they don't work the land; by and large they are herdsmen". As the tribe doesn't have money, Alexander makes them pay tribute through beasts of burden. As we know from Homer, the Greeks also used sheep as a primitive form of money.

4. The Persians show us the remnants of ancient sexual relations. The sister of Darius was also his wife. The primitive people did not have a taboo for sexual relations between close relatives. Relations similar to those between Darius and his sister existed among Greeks, i.e. their gods, as for example "Theogony" of Hesiod tells us.

5. Primitive people worshipped the elements of nature. For example, they deified rivers, the sky, the sun, etc. When Alexander meets the Arabs, he finds out that they worship two gods: "The sky and Dionysus: the sky because it is visible, and there are stars on it, and the sun, from which people obtain great usefulness; and Dionysus because of his great expeditions to the Hindus".

6. In all conquered nations Alexander seeks after their knowledge. Alexander asks the Celts: "What things in the world they're scared of most?" The Celts answer that they are afraid that the sky will fall on them. In India, Alexander asks: "What is the fastest way to deserve love?". The answer was: "Through power which instills no fear". Also in India, Alexander asks: "How can a man become god?" The answer was: "Through doing that which it is impossible for a man to perform".

5. Greek consciousness in the period of Alexander

1. The most famous student of Plato was Aristotle, 384-322 B.C. Plato founded his school, called "The Academy", when he was 40 years old. Aristotle came to this school when he was 18 and Plato around 60. Aristotle got into sharp conflict with the school of Plato, and so he was able to start his own school, the "Lyceum" in 355 B.C., i.e. when he was around 50. Difference between Plato's and Aristotle's philosophies can first of all be observed in form: dialogues in Plato, lectures in Aristotle. Second, Aristotle differs from Plato in direction of his investigations. While for Plato the main direction of inquiry was social justice and morality, for Aristotle the problems of politics and morality are only a part of his system. Just as Alexander attempted to unite the world, Aristotle attempted to unite and develop further all the existing knowledge of his time. The system of Aristotle is an attempt to create a general concept of the world, starting from the origin of things all the way up to the problems of aesthetics. A distinctive feature of this system is that one system of concepts, e.g. the problems of morality, smoothly lead up to another system of concepts, e.g. the problems of politics.


One of the most important works of Aristotle, from the point of view of modernity, is "Metaphysics". First of all, this work shows scientific method of knowledge, i.e. 1) formulation of a problem, 2) investigation of the main authorities on the problem, 3) development of own views on the problem. Second, "Metaphysics" of Aristotle explains important logical categories which are used by modern writers. For example, Aristotle talks about "potentiality" and "actuality", which Marx uses to differentiate between "labor power" and actual "labor". The difference between these two leads to understanding the source of surplus value, or profit.

2. Aristotle was Alexander's teacher. Alexander used to say that his father Philip gave him life, while Aristotle taught him how to live. Alexander studies with Aristotle in the shadowy alleys of a grove. They would sit on the benches or walk, and have conversations. Plutarch characterizes Alexander in following words: "Ability to think and self-confidence not only before the battle, but in the midst of danger, show his nobility and self-discipline". Arrian says this about the man: "An ability to control oneself and tame oneself instills respect even in the enemies".

3. The sculptors of the times get a notion of turning a mountain into a statue. This gigantic scale is a reflection of global plans of Alexander. Another example of such gigantism would be the Statue of Liberty, a reflection of the French revolution. Alexander represented Revolution in his time.

Views: 274 | Added by: gori | Tags: Hellenistic Greece, Alexander the Great | Rating: 0.0/0
Total comments: 0