Political Masterclass: Alexander, Liberator of the Greeks V
For all Alexander’s speeches about liberating the Greeks of Asia, for all his promises of freedom from tyranny, his actual record is sorry indeed. Far from freeing the Greeks, he merely replaced a Persian king with one of Macedon. The League of Corinth was not an alliance of equals, but a tool to promote Macedonian hegemony. The “liberated” Greek cities of Asia often found themselves subject to tribute, at the command of Macedonian satraps, and with Macedonian garrisons occupying their citadels. The lucky few that found Alexander’s favour were still treated as subjects by the king, their freedom continuing only upon his sufferance. There was no equality to be found, no mutual alliance to be had, for the Greeks belonged to Alexander as surely as they had belonged to Darius before him. The introduction of the Exiles Decree threatened the political, social and economic fabric of every Greek city, and serves only to highlight the truth behind Alexander’s propaganda. There would be no freedom, no liberty for the Greek cities of Europe or Asia, but only servitude to the man whose armies swept all before him. Long live the king.
Thank you for joining me for the second instalment of Political Masterclass. I hope you enjoyed deconstructing the myth a great historical figure generated for themselves to find the truth behind their actions; I find it to be one of the most fascinating aspects of studying history, contrasting the often banal and practical decisions of great figures with the typically altruistic or patriotic facade they construct to hide their true purpose. It’s certainly an aspect of historical study that’s never going to run out of material.
Unfortunately, much of the really juicy dirt on Alexander was found in published historical journals, rather than books. While they will all be listed in the bibliographical section (Related: There is now a bibliographical section), there are a few publically-available sources that those interested in further reading might consider.
First are two ancient sources: Life of Alexander, by Plutarch, and The Anabasis of Alexander, by Lucius Flavius Arrianus (also known as Xenophon). Both are histories written by Roman citizens of Greek descent who lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, and as such, tend to be biased towards a pro-Roman stance, whether that be through comparing the reigning emperor to Alexander, denigrating Alexander’s successors (whose descendents would fight and fail against Roman expansion) or other methods. However, while their interpretations of events may not be entirely reliable, they still provide a fascinating narrative, as most of what they recount did actually happen – if not exactly in the way they imply.
For a more modern take, Conquest and Empire: The Reign of Alexander the Great by A.B. Bosworth provides a thorough and engaging overview of Alexander’s empire-building and the decisions he made running his empire, complete with nods towards the topics covered in the series of articles published here, though not as thoroughly as in the aforementioned academic journals.
Finally, although it is neither a source nor a scholarly publication, I must recommend The Afghan Campaign by Steven Pressfield, a historical novel which follows the viewpoint of an infantryman in Alexander’s army during the campaign to subdue Bactria, a distant Persian province located within the borders of modern-day Afghanistan. The examination of the pressures, both mental and physical, that Alexander’s wave of conquest imposed on his soldiers is fascinating, and the book is an excellent – if at times dark – read.