Was Alexander the Great Greek?

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Alexander the Great has been dead for centuries but the debate regarding his ethnicity is alive and well. Was he Macedonian or Greek? or both or neither and why does this even matter? This requires an examination of the historical, geographical and political practices of his time. The question of why his ethnicity matters is at its core, a question of the significance of cultural identity.

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The desirable traits exhibited by Alexander the Great, if claimed by a people, create a positive sense of self-esteem and belonging. The Greek vs Macedonian perspective is easily the most heated current debate. This parochial Alexander is either a fiercely Macedonian despot capable of both genocidal murder and humanitarian propaganda in pursuit of his interests, or a Greek crusader eager to empower his civilization by Hellenizing the world. (Liebert 544) However, the actual man is far more complex and interesting than either of those rather narrowminded views.

But, why all this fighting over a historical icon who lived 25 centuries ago? The modern nation of Macedonia takes great pride in claiming Alexander the Great as their own prodigal son. Similarly, the nation of Greece is extremely proud of Alexander the Great, viewing this inspirational leader as an integral piece of their cultural identity. A brief examination of Alexander the Great’s accomplishments helps to explain why he is so jealously coveted.

To begin, in rather broad strokes, Alexander the Great was one of – if not the, greatest conqueror in the world. At just twenty years old, his father was assassinated and Alexander became King of Macedonia. By thirty, Alexander had conquered and controlled an empire that stretched from Greece to India. His conquests included the Persian Empire which was one of the largest and most powerful empires in the world during his time. (Tharoor Time) At thirty-two, Alexander became ill and died. Modern historians, contemporary writers and even his comrades in arms, could not then and cannot now agree on the cause of his death. Was it some form of foul play such as poisoning, did he perish due to an old wound from the battlefield, or did he succumb to a disease such as malaria? (Schep 72-77) Although the exact cause remains unsettled, one thing is clear, in just a little over a decade, he took what was a backwater kingdom in the Greek world and altered the course of history.

At the time of his death, Alexander the Great was undefeated in battle, had conquered vast swaths of the known world at the time, and had spread Hellenistic culture across the entirety of his vast empire. This occurred because he employed clever tactics in new territory. First, he conquered the territory, established cities, and then, sent colonists into the territory to populate it and turn the cities from essentially garrisons into actual cities.

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