History of Alexander the Great

Subject: History
Pages: 7
Words: 1982
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: College


Western civilization, also known as the occidental culture, emerged when most of the greatest men philosophers of the world were based on prosperity and stability. Thus, a lot of them tended to focus on finance and politics (Worthington and Ferguson 59). The prominent historians and philosophers who came to be outstanding worldwide include Aristotle, Homer, and the famous Alexander the Great. In this paper, the focus will be on Alexander the Great, including his achievements, ideas, and decisions as a leader. According to Thomas Carlyle’s Great Man theory, this king should be considered unique and born with inherent qualities to change the world for the better. However, this theory offers an overly simplistic way of looking at history. Proper analysis of Alexander’s background and supporters will prove that the theory is limited and precisely the historical time and setting shaped the king’s skills and views.

Thomas Carlyle’s Great Man Theory

According to the Great Man theory, a person that can be called a leader should be considered gifted due to possessing qualities that make him better than anyone else, and these qualities are always inborn. These attributes of leadership draw the line between individuals who can or cannot lead their followers to success. Accordingly, the Great Man theory suggests that one’s distinct endowment makes one fit for the authority one can achieve. The fundamental principle of the theory is that all great leaders tend to share similar characteristics regardless of their background and area of leadership, and no one but them can achieve great results. Thus, if a great leader is placed in another period of time or in different circumstances, they will still act in a unique way and differ from others.


To begin with, it is essential to analyze how Alexander the Great was raised to prove that precisely circumstances and the wisdom and skills of other people shaped him as a leader. Alexander was born in 356 BC in Pella, the capital city of Macedonia. He was the son of Philip II, king of Macedonia, and Olympias, the princess of neighboring Epirus. Alexander’s father was a rather prominent military leader as well since he transformed Macedonia significantly during his rule by expanding its territory and making it a superpower with a professional army. His decisions allowed to protect the citizens and conquer the neighboring kingdoms (Colburn 90). Therefore, one may say that Alexander rose to power to become one of the most exemplary kings in the history of the world because he used to observe his father’s wisdom, tactics, justice, and tendency to improve his kingdom. If he was born in a different family, it can be assumed that Alexander would not achieve such significant results.

Moreover, there was another person who had a severe effect on the king’s development. When Alexander was 13 years old, his father appointed Aristotle to be his tutor. Alexander was educated by the famous philosopher for three years and learned mathematics, science, medicine, and philosophical aspects. As stated by Veneti, precisely the great thinker instilled in his student important intellectual justifications that guided his following achievements. What is more, researchers believe that it was Aristotle who encouraged and persuaded Alexader to become Greeks’ leader (Veneti). Therefore, the impact of Aristotle cannot be overestimated, and if not for the philosopher, Alexander would lack a number of skills and views, which proves the limitation of the theory in question.

Further, when Alexander was 20, his father was assassinated by the bodyguard Pausanias, and his son, forced by fate and the unexpected circumstance, and not by personal merit, became the king. Through his leadership, he conquered many kingdoms to enlarge the geographical location of Macedonia (Djurslev 502). While his general military achievements were indeed supported by his talents and personal characteristics, Alexander also followed his father’s lead and mission. Consequently, the king’s background indicate that Alexander the Great’s successes would not be as unique and impactful if not for the ideas and skills he adopted from Aristotle, Phillip II, and other people.

The World Scene: External Circumstances

It is safe to say that Alexander the Great was quite greedy when it came to the territories he could conquer. He attained many titles, including the king of Macedonia, the pharaoh of Egypt, the king of Persia, and the ruler of the Greek. However, he managed to do that not only due to his own skills but also his father’s previous achievements and the fact that those kingdoms were weakened and unstable. Therefore, the world scene contributed to the mission’s success: if the territories were stronger and had more advanced armies, Alexander the Great would not be able to conquer them.

Another circumstance proving the limitations of the Great Man theory is that Alexander overestimated his own performance, which caused the king to fall sick and die during one of the next conquests. After the death of their king, Macedonian citizens faced a state of unplanned future that was a result of Alexander’s faults. During his reign, Alexander considered neither the end of his people nor the formation of a stable government, which meant that he was not a perfect leader and placed his fame above the wellbeing of the citizens. To make his name go down in the history of the world, Alexander also never picked an heir to follow in his conquering footsteps, again proving that the theory in question is wrong (Shawcross and Toth 73). The kingdoms, thus, faced slow death as they could slowly lose power as a result of disunity, which gave rise to the new superpowers across the globe.

Despite the citizens of Alexander’s empire facing poor governance, he was one of the most outstanding military leaders of his era. He managed to conquer some of the largest empires in the history of the world (Chi 85). However, he never provided governance to the respective empires he took over. The remaining kings received more land to rule and remained loyal to Alexander as a result. The latter would then instruct soldiers in place to pledge allegiance to his empire. Alexander gained following by appeasing local rulers so that he would have the time to conquer more lands while the empire was run for him by other people. This caused many challenges for citizens and political leaders, meaning that the king lacked some essential characteristics and skills that every leader required. Thus, the theory in question is wrong again: one may be a good leader but fail to develop a part of qualities and not have them inherent.

Alexander the Great’s Significant Actions

Macedonia faced a low state of development and was subject to much suffering. Having partly selfish, partly justified plans, Alexander made both good and bad decisions, and his history was written many years after his death by most historians trying to validate his justifications of his rulings (Strootman 214). Alexander the Great aimed to create a powerful military that could later term him a god and forced most men into war in his attempts to make a legacy. As for his victories, in 338 BC, Alexander helped his father win the battle of Chaeronea (Nawotka 152). He won the battle on the Granicus River against Darius III of Persia, won the siege of Tyre, and conquered Gaza. In 331 BC, he won the battle of Gaugamela against Darius.

It is fair to notice that Alexander the Great gained his name because he was one of the strongest leaders of his time. His decisions were tactical because Alexander tried his best to extend his leadership and develop the largest empire in the world (de Vries and Engellau 14). One reason why Alexander succeeded was his ability to convince many that he was a god. Alexander’s birth and upbringing have made many people believe that he was the chosen one, but it is possible to suggest that any child of Phillip II would become as great.

Further, the king ensured the restatement of Macedonian rule as a king. After his father’s assassination, Alexander the Great started acting instantaneously in order to have numerous tribes and states surrender to his army. With at least 3000 cavalry soldiers, Alexander was able to conquer Thessaly, Athens, and Thebes during a single expedition (Worthington and Ferguson 92). Soon after being titled the Great, Alexander continued his win streak and conquered the whole of Greece.

While these successes indicate the king’s leadership skills and good usage of tactics, one should also note that the creation of the army was initiated by Phillip II, and if not for the advanced military force, Alexander would not win. What additionally impacted his victories was that Alexander used technology and tactics (Worthington and Ferguson 47). For example, he became exceptionally powerful because he learned to remain one step ahead, which ultimately resulted in 15 years of undefeated leadership. As for technology, stone throwing catapults contributed greatly to the king’s military successes. What is more, using his father’s lessons, Alexander mastered the battlefield and utilized the Sarrisa spear, another great technological weapon, to protect any of the army’s formations from enemy soldiers (Heckel 66). The spike barrier that the army created quickly became one of the most widely used tactics and weapons on the battlefield due to its unprecedented effectiveness.

Despite being observed as a brutal leader, the king also focused on cultural aspects. He united the western world by making it a single place connected by a common factor that left numerous marks on local language, literature, and politics (Romano et al. 20). Alexander extended the boundaries of his empire to the far west and left his historical impacts on arts and religion in the areas he conquered, even in India. Before his death, he placed a mixture of Persian and Greek and other cultures, with Greek being the primary one. However, this idea of united cultures belonged to and was started by his father. What is more, even Alexander’s creation of one of the most significant libraries was inspired by Aristotle – the latter wanted to do this several decades before the king could do it (Veneti). It is challenging to state whether someone else could perform all the mentioned improvements, and the current world would be different if not for Alexander’s efforts.

Summary of the Limitations of the Great Man Theory

Considering everything mentioned above, one may agree that Alexader was a unique leader with his own failures and successes. However, it is wrongful to say that he would become as great if his origin, childhood, environment, or other factors changed. As proved in the previous paragraphs, Alexander’s skills and abilities were not inborn but shaped by the way his father raised him. In other words, if not for Philip’s former achievements and decisions regarding his son, as well as his own aspirations and missions, Alexander’s attitudes and ideas would be different. What is more, Aristotle and other figures who were close to the king also influenced his ability to use tactics, while some cultural and political aspects impacted his vision. Finally, technological solutions contributed greatly to Alexander’s successes and victories. Overall, the point is that, without a number of external circumstances and factors. Alexander would not become as great, powerful, and influential. Thus, the Great Man Theory is quite limited because great events lead to great men, not otherwise.


It can be stated that without Alexander the Great, the modern world would have been different. From Alexandria to Asia, practically everyone knew about Alexander the Great and his achievements as a political and military leader. The deficiencies of Alexander’s political incapability were rightfully covered by his exceptional military leadership skills. At the same time, there were many external factors that impacted his development, aspirations, and skills, shaping him as a leader. Consequently, it is a limitation and wrongful idea to follow the Great Man Theory and consider Alexander a born rather than a formed leader.

Works Cited

Chi, Pham Hoang Lan. “The Role of Alexander the Great in Activities to Promote the East-West Cultural Exchange of Process.” UED Journal of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education, vol. 11, no. 2, 2021, pp. 86-93.

Colburn, Henry P. “Pioneers of the Western Desert: The Kharga Oasis in the Achaemenid Empire.” The Archaeology of Imperial Landscapes: A Comparative Study of Empires in the Ancient Near East and Mediterranean World, 2018, pp. 86-114.

Djurslev, Christian Thrue. Alexander the Great in the Early Christian Tradition: Classical Reception and Patristic Literature. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019.

Heckel, Waldemar. In the Path of Conquest: Resistance to Alexander the Great. Oxford University Press, USA, 2020.

Nawotka, Krzysztof. “The Omina in Babylon and the Death of Alexander the Great.” Archäologische Mitteilungen Aus Iran und Turan, vol. 47, 2018, pp. 157-168.

Romano, Irene et al. “A Roman Portrait of Alexander the Great from Beth Shean.” Israel Museum Studies in Archaeology, vol. 10, 2021, pp. 2-29.

Shawcross, Clare, and Ida Toth. Reading in the Byzantine Empire and Beyond. Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Strootman, Rolf. “Hellenism and Persianism in Iran: Culture and Empire after Alexander the Great.” Dabir: Digital Archive and Brief Notes & Iran Review, vol. 7, 2020, pp. 201-227.

Veneti, Maria. “Aristotle’s Influence on Alexander the Great’s Political Thought.” Aperion Center, 2019.

de Vries, Manfred, and Elisabet Engellau. Are Leaders Born or Are They Made? The case of Alexander the Great. Routledge, 2018.

Worthington, Ian, and Michael Ferguson. The Leadership of Alexander the Great: What 21st Century Military Strategists Should Know. Macquarie University, 2022.