Alexander, the son of king Philip II of Macedonia and Olympias of Epeiros, was born in 356 BC. As a youth he displayed great intelligence and charisma. These abilities were honed by his tutor, Aristotle.
Following the murder of his father in 336 (in which both he and his mother may have been implicated) Alexander succeeded to the throne of Macedonia. After ensuring the security of Greece and Macedonia he led his army into Asia Minor in an attempt to conquer the Persian Empire.
Near the Hellespont he met with the opposition of Persian satraps and fought the battle of the Granaikos River in 334 BC. The mercenary forces of the Persians were defeated, leaving most of Asia Minor open to Alexander’s relentless advance.
As he passed through the major cities of Mysia and Ionia Alexander officially freed them from Persian authority and established democratic governments in them. The Persians had previously maintained control in the cities through the support of aristocratic oligarchies. Alexander also funded new building projects such as temples. At Priene he helped pay for the erection of the temple of Athene and at Ephesos he offered to assist with the rebuilding of the damaged Artemision, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. The Ephesians, jealous of their temple, politely declined his help.
Having organized coastal Asia Minor, the Macedonian king moved on through the southern districts of Karia, Pisidia and Pamphylia. In the latter two regions Alexander met with the only major defeats of his short career. He was unable to take Pamphylian Sillyon by storm and was dissuaded from embarking on siege operations by a disturbance in recently pacified Aspendos.
The Pisidians of Termessos, although defeated in their initial skirmishes against Alexander and his local allies, managed to hold out thanks to the mountain fastness upon which their city was built. Again, not wishing to waste time with what would be a lengthy siege, Alexander failed to take Termessos and moved north through Phrygia to the city of Gordion.
After cutting the famous Gordian Knot which gave sanction to his overlordship in Asia, Alexander passed through the poorly defended Kilikian Gates in the south and entered northern Syria. Here he was met by the Persian king, Dareios III, and a large opposing army. Battle was given at Issos in 333 BC where Alexander’s phalanx and cavalry held the field. Dareios fled the scene with the remnants of his forces to fight again another day.
Now no serious Persian opposition remained in the Levant, allowing Alexander to march through Syria, Phoenicia and Koile-Syria unhindered. His only real difficulties took place at Tyre and Gaza. The Tyrians barricaded themselves in the Old City (a virtual island) and withstood a long siege until Alexander built a mole and took the place by storm. Angered by this resistance the Macedonian king permitted the plunder of the city and the enslavement of its inhabitants. At Gaza, the local ruler, Batis, with an army of Arab mercenaries blocked Alexander’s path, but was unable to hold out against the Macedonian siege engines. In October of 332 BC the heavily fortified city of Gaza fell and Batis was killed. In a fit of rage Alexander is said to have dragged the body around the walls of the city behind a chariot in emulation of Achilles with the body of Hektor.
With the exception of some further guerilla fighting in Samaria Alexander continued his march south unopposed. He entered Egypt as liberator and a new Pharaoh to the cheers of the Egyptians, freed from their Persian enemies. Here the king planned the greatest of his many foundations, Alexandreia. This city was destined to be the seat of empire for the descendants of his general, Ptolemy, and the center of Greek literary culture for centuries.
In the winter of 331 BC Alexander led an expedition to the Oasis of Siwah in order to visit the famous oracular shrine of Zeus Ammon. This march was said to have been assisted by groups of snakes and birds who showed the way through the sandy wastes. Upon his arrival Alexander was hailed as the son of the god (a normal greeting for Pharaohs). The king either misunderstood or purposely misconstrued this salutation and began to claim divine parentage even among his Greek and Macedonian troops. Embassies from various Asian cities quickly affirmed the declaration of Zeus Ammon, adding to Alexander’s growing megalomania.