In This Article Alexander the Great

  • Introduction
  • Collections of Papers
  • Readers
  • Bibliographies and Dictionaries
  • Epigraphic Evidence
  • Numismatic Evidence
  • Artistic Evidence
  • Archaeological Evidence
  • Topography and Alexander’s March
  • Macedonian Background
  • Alexander’s Youth and Philip II
  • Foundation of Cities
  • Alexander’s Court
  • Non-military Aspects of Alexander’s Campaign
  • Alexander and the Macedonian Elite and Troops
  • Alexander’s Religion and Divinity
  • Alexander in Central Asia and India, 330/329–326/325
  • Alexander’s Posthumous Image

Classics Alexander the Great
by
Joseph Roisman
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0114

Introduction

It has been said about Alexander the Great (b. 356–d. 323 BCE) that his name marked the end of an old world epoch and the beginning of a new one. Alexander’s empire that stretched from the Danube to India indeed ushered in the Hellenistic age, when Greek culture expanded and merged with Asian and African cultures in the territories he conquered and even beyond. While Alexander’s military record has gained him lasting fame, views of his character, his treatment of compatriots and subjects, and even the merits of his accomplishments have varied greatly since Antiquity. The continuing interest in Alexander has produced numerous works of scholarship and fiction that this article does not presume to cover. Instead, preference is given to recent scholarly works, in which older studies are cited, as well as to works deemed influential, innovating, or useful, although the decision about their significance is bound to be controversial. The article is arranged by topics, with less consideration to the chronology of the campaign. It also does not include works on ancient Macedonia and the Achaemenid Empire. All dates in this entry are BCE unless noted otherwise. Lists of common abbreviations of authors and works used by scholars can be found in the Oxford Classical Dictionary or the bibliographical journal L’Année Philologique.

General Overviews and Monographs

Johann Gustav Droysen’s idealized portrait of Alexander in his History of Alexander the Great, first published in 1833 (Geschichte Alexanders des Großen [Hamburg: F. Perthes]), has exerted influence on scholars and laypersons up until today. Not everyone, however, felt similar admiration for the Macedonian king, and especially not Karl Julius Beloch. This German historian depicted Alexander in his “Greek history” (Griechische Geschichte, 2d new ed. 4 vols. [Strassburg: Trübner, 1912–1917]) as a tyrant who allowed the Orient to conquer him in a way that paved the road to Byzantium. Droysen and Beloch represent the two polar views of Alexander, with the former picking sources that favored the king and the latter taking a much harsher and more critical approach. Indeed, the diversity of opinions of Alexander goes back to the sources about him that informed their modern interpreters. Individual Alexander historians can be placed anywhere on the continuum between Droysen and Beloch. Often, and as was the case with Droysen and Beloch, the experience and historical circumstances of historians affected to some degree their interpretations of Alexander. Of the citations listed in this section, Tarn 1948, Hammond 1989, Lane Fox 1973, and Martin and Blackwell 2012 hold a high opinion of the king, while Bosworth 1988, Schachermeyer 1973, and to a lesser extent Green 1992 are much more critical. The opinions of Cartledge 2004, Briant 2010, Anson 2013, and Worthington 2014 are mixed. Since Bosworth published his history of Alexander in 1988, no other monograph has surpassed it. See also Worthington 2004, cited under Alexander’s Youth and Philip II.

  • Anson, Edward M. 2013. Alexander the Great: Themes and issues. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

    E-mail Citation »

    As opposed to a biography of the king, the book discusses the main issues of his career and its Greco-Macedonian background. Succinct summaries of scholarly opinions and the author’s suggested solutions to problems related to the history of Alexander makes it a useful work.

  • Bosworth, Albert Brian. 1988. Conquest and empire: The reign of Alexander the Great. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Written by the leading expert on the topic, this book is arguably the best account of Alexander’s history to date. In addition to describing the Asian expedition, the book examines key aspects of Alexander’s reign and campaign.

  • Briant, Pierre. 2010. Alexander the Great and his empire: A short introduction. Translated by Amelie Kuhrt. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    The book is an updated and revised version of the author’s 2002 Alexandre le Grand (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France). It deals with the campaign thematically and with subjects such as Alexander’s motives, administration, the Persian response, numismatic and Near Eastern evidence, and his death. Briant’s Alexander is essentially a rational, pragmatic king.

  • Cartledge, Paul. 2004. Alexander the Great: The hunt for a new past. New York: Vintage.

    E-mail Citation »

    A well-written and user-friendly account, which, although aiming at the nonspecialist, is well suited as an introduction to the subject.

  • Green, Peter. 1992. Alexander of Macedon, 356–323 B.C.: A historical biography. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    When first published in 1974 the book served as a welcomed antidote to the glorifying portrait of the king in Tarn 1948. It is still valuable for its expansive panorama, insights, and balanced view of Alexander.

  • Hammond, Nicholas Geoffrey Lemprière. 1989. Alexander the Great: King, commander and statesman. 2d ed. Park Ridge, NJ: Noyes.

    E-mail Citation »

    Written by a leading expert on ancient Macedonia, the book examines Alexander’s leadership qualities and especially his excellence as a general. The view is highly favorable, and the author refuses at times to acknowledge the value of sources other than Arrian’s Anabasis.

  • Lane Fox, Robin. 1973. Alexander the Great. London: Allen Lane.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is one of the more popular books on Alexander and has been translated into a number of languages. The style is engaging, and the king resembles a Homeric hero more in line with Droysen than with Beloch or Bosworth. The notes are inconveniently grouped at the end of the book but are exhaustive, especially about the ancient evidence.

  • Martin, Thomas R., and Christopher Blackwell. 2012. Alexander the Great: The story of an ancient life. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139049498E-mail Citation »

    An accessible book that offers a highly positive, at times even admiring, portrait of the king in contrast to the critical approach more common in current scholarship.

  • Schachermeyer, Fritz. 1973. Alexander der Grosse: Das Problem seiner Persönlichkeit und seines Wirkens. Sitzungsberichte der philosophisch-historischen Klasse 285. Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

    E-mail Citation »

    This hefty book is a reprint with occasional updates and modifications of the author’s 1949 monograph Alexander der Grosse: Ingenium und Macht (Graz, Austria: A. Pustet). There is much to learn from the erudite analysis, but the irritating rhetorical style, the excessive infusing of psychology, and the impact of the Nazi experience on the interpretation detract from the book’s value. The author’s paying tribute to Nazi ideology in previous publications should not be ignored.

  • Tarn, William Woodthorpe. 1948. Alexander the Great. 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Much inspired by Droysen’s Geschichte Alexanders des Großen, Tarn’s Alexander is a flawless leader who dreamt of the unity of mankind under his benevolent rule. The thesis was demolished especially by Ernest Badian’s works (see Badian 2012 and Badian 1976, cited under Collections of Papers, and Badian 1958, cited under Alexander’s Aims and Plans). Yet a number of individual investigations in the second volume are still useful.

  • Worthington, Ian. 2014. By the spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the rise and fall of the Macedonian Empire. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    The book describes the reigns of Philip II and Alexander and compares and contrasts the challenges they faced as well as their roles as empire- and nation- builders, with Philip getting the higher marks.

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