فصل 03

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فصل 03

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Chapter three

The Young King

We will never know why Philip was killed. He certainly had many political enemies inside and outside his empire who had the money to pay for his murder. Some people at the time said that Philip and his murderer had argued about a lover. But it is more likely that Olympias was responsible. Philip had not included his first wife in his plans for Macedonia’s great future, so Olympias, quick-tempered and dangerous, had arranged his murder. She would have more power as King Alexander’s mother than as King Philip’s unwanted wife.

But in Macedonia, rule did not always pass to the dead king’s oldest son. At the time of his father’s murder, many people did not want Alexander as their king. He was still only twenty - too young, they said, to take on the responsibility of Macedonian rule. He was half Epirote, not a true Macedonian, because his mother was from Epirus. And his Epirote mother was wild and irresponsible - perhaps even her husband’s murderer.

There were two other serious possibilities for the next king. One was General Attalus, Eurydice’s uncle, who wanted to rule Macedonia through Eurydice and Philip’s new baby son. The other was Amyntas.

Twenty-three years earlier, Amyntas had been a child of two when his father, King Perdiccas, had died. Philip was Perdiccas’s younger brother and had ruled in the place of his baby nephew; when Amyntas became an adult, Philip was so powerful and successful that nobody questioned his right to continue ruling. Amyntas was now twenty-five. Compared to Alexander, he had the advantage of age and experience, and his blood was equally royal. He was popular with the noblemen of Macedonia.

But Alexander stayed one step ahead of his enemies. He ordered the murder of Eurydice’s baby, his own half-brother. General Attalus, who was with the army in Asia, could do nothing to stop him. Soon Attalus and Amyntas were murdered too. This was not unusual - in those days the rule of a new king almost always started with a few murders. Alexander reduced taxes for the people of Macedonia and, since no other suitable kings were left alive, they seemed happy to accept him as their new ruler.

The situation was more difficult abroad. When news of Philip’s murder spread around his empire, the tribes in the north and the city-states in the south decided to free themselves from Macedonian rule. Within a few months of his fathers death, Alexander had to fight to keep the empire together.

He first went to the Greek state of Thessaly. The usual route was along a narrow valley in the mountains, but this was now guarded by the Thessalians. Alexander decided that it was too dangerous to take the Macedonian soldiers and warhorses this way. Instead, he created a new path. He ordered the soldiers to cut steps in the steep rockface of a mountain on the border between Macedonia and Thessaly. After weeks of hard work, his army entered Thessaly by the new road, took the Thessalians by surprise and defeated them easily. The Thessalians welcomed Alexander as their new leader.

A march at lightning speed then took Alexanders army on a tour of Greek city-states. One by one, they realized that battle would end in disaster, so they quickly made peace with him instead. Only Sparta refused to accept Alexander as their leader, sending the message: ‘It is our fathers’ habit not to follow others but to lead them.’ Alexander was not too worried. The rest of the Greeks hated Sparta more than they hated Macedonia. He could manage without Spartan help.

There were also problems in the north. After his tour of Greece, Alexander had to fight the Thracians, who lived beside the River Danube. They could not defeat Alexander’s well-trained army and soon they were forced to accept Macedonian rule.

But bad news followed. The Macedonian forces in Asia were retreating; Attalus, murdered on Alexander’s orders, had been a good general, and his death had probably weakened the army there. In Macedonia itself, Olympias was behaving typically and had murdered Eurydice. And in Greece, news was spreading that Alexander had been killed on the Danube; the city-state of Thebes was leading a new fight for independence which was fast growing out of control.

Alexander knew that he had to act quickly. He rushed his army to Thebes and started a siege of the city. When an unguarded gate in the city wall was found, the Macedonians soon forced their way into the city.

Alexander called a meeting with the neighbouring Greek city-states, who had for many years suffered bad treatment at the hands of power-hungry Thebes. When he asked them what should happen to Thebes, they voted to destroy it completely.

Thebes came to a violent end. The city’s riches were taken. A few houses were left untouched - 150 years earlier the Theban writer Pindar had written poems for the Macedonian king, and now his house was safe - but the rest were burnt to the ground. 30,000 Thebans, including women and children, were taken prisoner and sold as slaves.

The terrible news soon spread around Greece. No other city-state was interested in continuing their fight for independence now. Everyone rushed to prove that they were Alexander’s greatest allies.

At last Alexander could turn his attention to Asia. It was time to plan his war against the Persian Empire.

Alexander called together forces from many lands - foot soldiers from Illyria and Thrace, horsemen from Thessaly, warships from Athens, archers from Crete, as well as the highly trained Macedonian army. To this he added doctors, long-distance runners, engineers, religious men, specialists in digging for gold and jewels, and a historian called Callisthenes to record his great achievements.

Alexander left his mother Olympias in charge of Macedonia, with his father’s loyal general Antipater to lead her army. Then he marched to the Dardanelles, a narrow piece of water that separates Europe from Asia in present-day Turkey.

While Alexander’s second-in-command, General Parmenion, led the mam army into Asia by the shortest sea crossing, Alexander himself decided to see some sights.

His destination was the ruined city of Troy, scene of the legendary Trojan War, where Greeks and Asians had fought for the first time. The Greeks believed that the war had started 1,000 years before the time of Alexander, when Paris, a Trojan prince, stole the beautiful Helen from her Greek husband Menelaus.


Of all the heroes of the Trojan War, the greatest was Achilles. When he was a baby, his immortal mother had held his heel and covered the rest of his body in the water of the legendary River Styx. After this, he could only be hurt on his heel.

Achilles grew up handsome and brave. At the start of the Trojan War, his mother gave him a choice: he could stay at home, live a normal life and die an old man, or he could go to Troy, die young and be famous for ever. Of course Achilles chose Troy.

He was the fastest runner and the strongest fighter in the Greek army. But he also had a quick temper. After an argument about a female prisoner with his general, Agamemnon, Achilles decided to stop fighting in the war. Without Achilles, the Greeks were nearly defeated. Patroclus, Achilles’s best friend, fought in Achilles’s armour to give the Greeks confidence; but soon he was killed by the Trojan hero, Hector.

Achilles felt very sad and very guilty. It was his fault that his best friend was dead. Dressed in new armour created by the gods, he returned to battle and did not stop fighting until he had killed Patroclus’s killer, Hector. He tied Hector’s body to his chariot and pulled it through the dust. But later in the war, Achilles himself was killed when Paris shot him in the heel with a poisoned arrow.

This was a story that Alexander had read from his early childhood. He was even thought to be a relative of Achilles, through his mother, Olympias, and the royal family of Epirus. His teacher Aristotle had prepared for him a special copy of The Iliad, Homer’s great poem about Achilles; this copy was so important to Alexander that he liked to rest his head on it when he slept. For many years people had compared Alexander and his best friend Hephaistion to Achilles and Patroclus. And now Alexander, like the Greeks of the Trojan War, had come across the Dardanelles to attack the people of Asia.

As Alexander’s boat touched the beach, he threw his spear at the ground as a sign that this land was now his. With his friends, he walked up the hill to the ruins of Troy. He gave gifts to the gods. Then he and Hephaistion ran - Alexander to the tomb of Achilles, his best friend to the tomb of Patroclus. Next he went to the temple of Athene, where he exchanged his own armour for a shield which, according to legend, had been used in the Trojan War. With his beautiful shield from the Age of Heroes, he went to rejoin his army as the new Achilles. We can only wonder if he thought about the choice of futures that Achilles had been given by his mother. Like Achilles, Alexander chose to fight battles and live famously. Did he guess that, like Achilles, he would never return to his homeland or live to middle age?

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