Alexander the Great


Alexander the Great
King of Macedon Ruled Egypt 332-323 BC.
    The son of Philip II, king of Macedon, Alexander was destined to conquer the known world and, after the provinces of the Persian empire fell before him, Tyre besieged and Gaza taken, he finally reached Egypt in the autumn of 332 BC. He met with little opposition from the Persian satrap in Egypt, and the native population, who disliked *Persian administration, welcomed him as a liberator. He spent scarcely six months in the country however, travelling as far south as the First Cataract, but in that time he established a Greek system of control over the military and finance of Egypt. He appointed a viceroy with the Persian title of satrap and made provision for the imposition and collection of taxes. The first satrap was Cleomenes of Naucratis and under his general Ptolemy, son of Lagos (later *Ptolemy I), Alexander established a small standing army.
    Two important events are recorded during the conqueror's stay in Egypt, although it is difficult to determine the true facts surrounding these occasions. Near the ancient village of Rhakotis, opposite the island of Pharos, he traced the foundations of a new capital city for Egypt—Alexandria—on the Mediterranean coast. According to *Plutarch, who wrote a life of Alexander, the choice of this site for the city was confirmed for the king in a prophetic dream. Tradition places its foundation on April 7, 331 BC, and Alexandria became not only the Egyptian capital but also the most important port in the Mediterranean. It provided Egypt with access to the rest of Alexander's empire and enabled the country's wealth to be more readily exported, but it also became the great Hellenistic centre of learning and knowledge.
    The other significant event during Alexander's time in Egypt was his visit to the famous oracle of Jupiter Amun at Siwa, Egypt's most westerly oasis in the Libyan desert. According to legend, the god recognised Alexander as his son and promised him dominion over the whole world. Although this was the usual formalised recognition that Egypt's great state-god gave to the pharaoh, Alexander appears to have interpreted this as a form of personal deification. He went on to conquer many other lands and, in Egypt, the oracle was interpreted as the divine recognition of Alexander and his successors as the legitimate rulers of Egypt, despite their foreign origin. Alexander was probably crowned in a traditional ceremony in the temple of Ptah in the ancient capital of Memphis, where he performed a sacrifice to the sacred Apis bull.
    In 331 BC, he left Egypt to continue his conquests in the east. He eliminated the Persian empire and finally reached India, but on his return journey, he fell ill and died in Babylon in 323 BC. His body was reputedly brought back to Egypt and remained first in Memphis before being buried in Alexandria, although his tomb (to which the Emperor Caracalla paid the last recorded visit in AD 215) has never been discovered.
    After his premature demise, Alexander's generals divided his empire between them. Ptolemy, who had charge of the troops in Egypt, now claimed the position of satrap and ultimately became an independent ruler in Egypt, as *Ptolemy I, the founder of the Macedonian Dynasty. He inaugurated a divine cult for Alexander at Alexandria and thus established the basis for an official state-cult of the rulers of this dynasty.
    As pharaoh, Alexander evidently tolerated the worship of the native Egyptian gods and indeed emphasised his own role as the country's religious leader. During his reign, a sanctuary in the Temple of Luxor was rebuilt and decorated with wall-reliefs which showed him in the company of the Egyptian gods, and he also appears in new reliefs and inscriptions which were added to the walls of a room in the Temple of Amun at Karnak which *Tuthmosis III had originally built.
    The Hellenistic sculpture of the early years of the Ptolemaic Dynasty preserves the powerful facial expression of Alexander, for the king's heavy brow, deep-set eyes and piercing gaze appear even on the statues of other people.
BIBL. Wilcken, C. Alexander the Great. London: 1932; Bell, H.I. Egypt from Alexander the Great to the Arab conquest. Oxford: 1956; Fraser, P.M. Ptolemaic Alexandria. Oxford: 1972.
Biographical Dictionary of Ancient Egypt by Rosalie and Antony E. David

Ancient Egypt. A Reference Guide. . 2011.

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