Greece. Bulgaria. Turkey. Syria. Lebanon. Israel. Egypt. Iraq. Iran. Afghanistan. Pakistan.
In only a dozen years, Alexander the Great created an empire that encompassed large parts of what are now these 11 countries. It still seems a staggering feat—even more so now, when the United States has been fighting a war in just one of those countries for 18 years and counting.
Every age since the young Macedonian king’s death at age 33 in 323 B.C.E. has come with its own interpretation of his exploits. As author Anthony Everitt notes, to one respected historian in the 20th century, Alexander was the perfect English gentleman; to another, he was the prototype of a totalitarian dictator. Of course, he was neither: He was a man of his own time and place. In Alexander the Great: His Life and His Mysterious Death, Everitt, an expert storyteller, has written a riveting narrative that restores Alexander to his own context—and takes a whack at solving the remaining mysteries.
Did he kill his father? Was he straight or gay? Visionary or winging it? Genius or lucky? Big-hearted or a violent drunk? And the ultimate question: What—or who—killed him? Everitt marshals the facts and makes his case. Along the way, he takes us on a spirited passage through the ancient world, from the Balkans to South Asia, with effective explanations of battles and sieges and a useful description of the ordinary Greek soldier’s experience.
One conclusion is incontrovertible: Alexander was a military strategist of rare talent, defeating larger armies by brilliantly analyzing their deployments and seizing the initiative with aggression and deceptive tactics. He was helped enormously by the disciplined army that his late father (and victim?), Philip, left him. Everitt is particularly perceptive about the impact of Alexander’s charismatic parents, as well as the snake-pit royal court where he was raised.
Alexander left no dynasty, but he did change the Middle East for centuries. And we still remember him more than 2,000 years later. That would have pleased him.