Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great  (352–323 b.c.)  Macedonian ruler who conquered Egypt and was declared  a god. When his father, Philip II, died, Alexander  became king of the small Greek state, Macedon.  Within a few years, he and his army of devoted men  united the Greek states and conquered the Levant  and a good part of western Asia. When Alexander and  his army marched into Egypt and defeated the hated  Persians who occupied the land, the Egyptians hailed  Alexander as a liberator.

 Alexander, ever mindful of  local customs, made offerings to the Egyptian gods at  Memphis, Karnak, and Luxor temples and at Siwa  Oasis in the western desert near the Libyan border. This was more than just a goodwill gesture on his  part. Alexander believed that he was descended from  the legendary Greek hero Heracles (Hercules) and  Achilles through his mother and father. To strengthen  his claim to the throne of Egypt he needed to be  acknowledged as a god by the Egyptian oracle at Siwa  Oasis in the western desert. Legend has it that on the  long march through the desert, when Alexander and  his men became lost, a flock of crows appeared in the  sky and led them to the safety of the oasis. When Alexander approached the Oracle of Amun- Re (called Zeus-Amun by the Greeks), he asked one  question: “Who is my father?” When the Oracle  answered “Amun,” Alexander knew he would rule.

 With the endorsement of the Oracle, Alexander, like  all Egyptian kings before him, was recognized as the  son of Amun and a god on Earth and was crowned  king of Egypt. Alexander founded his capital city, Alexandria,  in 331 b.c. on the site of a small fishing village,  Rhakotis (Raqote), on the Egyptian shore of the  Mediterranean. The architect Deinocrates, who was summoned from the Greek island of Rhodes, drew  the plans for the city. Alexandria was based on the  Greek city model, complete with a grid design open  to the cool breezes from the Mediterranean. The  city, completed after Alexander’s death, grew to be  a thriving international port with a population of  more than half a million. The most famous building  in ancient Alexandria was the “pharos” lighthouse,  designated one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient  World by a Greek librarian.

 Little of the original  structure remains today. Another famous landmark in  ancient Alexandria was the library, with its priceless  collection of papyrus manuscripts. Legend tells us  that the library was burned to the ground when Julius  Caesar entered Egypt to settle a quarrel between  Cleopatra VII and her brother Ptolemy XIII. Alexander never saw his city but moved on to  continue his conquest of the Persian Empire. For all  his dreams of ruling as a living god, Alexander died  of a fever in Babylon in 323 b.c. When asked by his  generals, upon his deathbed, who should succeed  him, he simply said, “The strongest.” Eventually  Alexander’s empire was divided among the generals.  General Ptolemy chose Egypt and established the  Ptolemaic dynasty there. His was the last dynasty,  ending when Cleopatra VII committed suicide and  the Roman Empire annexed Egypt.

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