Biblical Studies Alexander the Great
Lester L. Grabbe
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0189


Alexander is famous as the conqueror of much of the known world of his time, creating a Mediterranean-based empire greater than any before him. Granted, he followed in the footsteps of the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian empires, all of which ruled large sections of the ancient Near East. Yet Alexander acquired territory from Greece and Egypt to India, and much of it was passed to his successors. He had to take control of his father’s realm at age twenty, when Philip II was assassinated in 336 BCE. He quelled the anti-Macedonian opposition, dealt mercilessly with Thebes as an example to others, and consolidated the Macedonian control of Greece. He then invaded the Persian empire in 334 BCE. In the period of a decade, he defeated the Persians, took over the Persian empire, and reached as far as northern India. He inflicted the first defeat on the Persian army at Issus in 333 BCE, then moved down the Mediterranean coast, taking Tyre, Gaza, and Egypt. Judah and many other provinces seemed to have submitted without a fight. Alexander then moved east, defeating the Persian emperor Darius III at Gaugamela in 331 BCE, and bringing the Persian empire under his control. He continued to march east, conquering the eastern provinces of the former Persian empire, and then on into what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, and eventually northern India by 326 BCE, where his troops finally proclaimed that they had had enough and wanted to go home. He sent his fleet home and marched back through Beluchistan in 325 BCE. Alexander was just in the process of consolidating his empire when he died suddenly in Babylon at age thirty-two in 323 BCE. One of his main legacies was Hellenism (discussed in the final section of this bibliography). For just about forty years after Alexander’s death his generals and others, the Diadochi (“Successors”), fought among themselves and finally divided his empire three ways in 301 BCE: Egypt to the Ptolemies, Macedonia and Greece to the Antigonids, and Syria and Asia to the Seleucids (though the last quickly began to lose the eastern parts of Alexander’s conquests). Palestine came under Ptolemaic rule at this time, though the Seleucids claimed to own it legally. Over the period of a century they fought Egypt for control of the territory, finally succeeding in 200 BCE. Much of Alexander’s empire remained under control of his successors until the coming of the Romans who displaced the last Greek rulers in the mid-1st century BCE. In some ways, the last to go was Cleopatra VII in 31 BCE, but Egypt had already been under Roman control since the time of Julius Caesar.

Background History

There is a great abundance of secondary literature on Greek history and culture, though the Hellenistic period often gets neglected for the classical period. For overall reference, the dictionaries and encyclopedias are the first recourse. These have entries on a variety of topics. But entries in dictionaries and encyclopedias are often compressed, and more accessible for the amateur are individual surveys and introductions. This section treats both sorts of reference.

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