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To What Extent and by What Means did Alexander the Great Try to Ensure That Posterity Would Regard Him in Heroic and Uncritical Terms?

Alexander III of Macedon, better known as Alexander the Great, is considered to be one of the most successful military commanders in history. His father, Philip II, had unified most of mainland Greece under a Macedonian hegemony known as the League of Corinth. Following his death, his son Alexander assumed the throne and went on to conquer most of the known world. At the time of his death in 323 BC his empire encompassed Anatolia, Bactria, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, and stretched as far as India. Despite his early death his legacy was assured, and his exploits formed the basis of a new golden age of Greek settlement and influence over distant lands known as the Hellenistic period. His name has lasted to become one of antiquities legendary characters, entering into the hero mythology of both Greek and non-Greek cultures. But to what extent did Alexander himself influence this version of history? This essay will show that Alexander went to great lengths to ensure this legendary status, through a propaganda campaign designed to create a cult of personality around him. In order to achieve this we must first understand the character of Alexander the Great, his drives and ambition, in order to determine the extent of his lust for glory. To do this we must also evaluate the validity of the source material.

Historians are divided in their opinion of Alexander, some holding the views that he was on a 'divinely inspired mission to unite the human race', whilst others consider him to have been a 'megalomaniac bent on world domination'. Supporters, like Bosworth, maintain that he was primarily trying to better the world, acting as the champion of civilized nations and extending his hegemony to create a kind of Pax Macedonia. Lonsdale holds the opposing view and emphasizes the negative aspects of his reign, pointing to the destruction of Thebes, Tyre and Gaza as evidence that this was a man who preferred war to diplomacy. This was not a hero, but a tyrant responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the ancient world. Any compassion he showed was out of practicality, rather than a genuine love for his new subjects.

Whether he genuinely believed in his own divinity is a matter for debate as there is not enough evidence to support this claim. This was of course an age when a man could claim divinity and still be regarded as sane. His father had been celebrated as divine within his own lifetime, and this tradition could flourish through the synchronicity between Greek, Egyptian and Persian beliefs. Moreover, various sources illustrate that Alexander believed in his own divinity. However, the sources would have preferred that his divinity was in the context of heroic mythology, and not as a god. Nevertheless, the evidence shows that Alexander believed the nature of his divinity had been derived from his true father, Zeus Ammon, and that this divinity was as a god and not as a mere hero. If Phillip II was "like" a god, then he "was" a god. It would seem then that Alexander achieved his goal of surpassing his father both politically and religiously.

But to what extant was he responsible for achieving this place in history? Was it really down to his own efforts, or those of a succession of historians and biographers that "bought into" the Alexander myth? As one of history's most enduring character, every recorded action he took has been evaluated and then re-evaluated time and again. In spite of the wealth of studies on Alexander, there is still no definitive account of the man's nature and motivations. The conflicting accounts of the man endeared themselves to the creation of any sort of mythos the author desired. It is these accounts that have echoed down the centuries to produce the myth of Alexander today. In conclusion Alexander the Great went to some lengths to ensure that posterity would regard him in heroic and uncritical terms, but his status has more to do with the self perpetuating nature of his own posthumous mythology.

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