Alexander the Great, a Great General but not so Great of and Administrator

Many have argued that Alexander III of Macedon (356 BC-323 BC) commonly known as Alexander the Great, that the collapse of his empire was caused primarily by his death, however the primary cause of collapse of his empire was his failure to lead and administer the state. For it is this which is the most notable result of Alexander’s life and work; for all his military prowess, he was one of the world’s greatest failures””and that failure spelt misery and death for countless thousands of people. Not only that, but he brought that failure upon himself.

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His arrogance was largely responsible for his own early death; and he was also responsible for the ultimate failure of his imperial enterprise; for he was king of a society where the king was central to the well-being of the society. This paper will explore some of Alexander’s poor or lack of administrative policies and how they affected his empire.

Alexander was young and impetuous. After learning from his father on how to lead an army, Alexander took advantage of his father being away and led several battles which he won in Greece that cemented his determination on conquering others. He had grandiosce visions that are often associated with young dreamers. He envisioned quick success without worrying about the after effects. He wanted to win the battle, take his bounty and move on. He no interest nor care of what happened to the people and governments of those who he conquered. For that he would rely on others, some whom he could trust and others he only had contempt.

Alexander was an absolute monarchist. Alexander was a king in fact as well as name. His word literally was the law. He was born into royalty and was expected to continue his fathers’ legacy and be a great leader of the Greeks by using military force or persuasion. The latter being a method that he most likely was taught by his tutor Aristotle, best known for his scientific treatises, also published his Ethics and Politics which he argues Aristotle whose philosophy of Greek ethos (Ethics and Politics) did not require forcing Greek culture on the colonized. Aristotle asserted this influence on Alexander particularly regarding the so-called barbarians-a term that was used to characterize essentially all non-Greeks.

“”Aristotle concludes the Ethics with a discussion of the highest form of happiness: a life of intellectual contemplation. Since reason is what separates humanity from animals, its exercise leads man to the highest virtue. As he closes the argument, he notes that such a contemplative life is impossible without the appropriate social environment, and such an environment is impossible without the appropriate government. Thus the end of Ethics provides the perfect segue into the Politics””

Alexander was young and impetuous. After learning the art of war and how to lead a army, Alexander took advantage of his father being away and fought several wars in Greece that cemented his determination on conquering others. He had grandiose visions that are often associated with young dreamers. He envisioned quick success without worrying about latent ramifications of his victories. He wanted to win the battle, take his bounty and move on. He had no interest nor care of what happened to the people and governments of those who he conquered.

Alexander relied heavily on his advisors and generals. An army on campaign changes its leadership at any level frequently for replacement of casualties and distribution of talent to the current operations. The institution of the Hetairoi gave the Macedonian army a flexible capability in this regard. There were no fixed ranks of Hetairoi, except as the term meant a special unit of cavalry. The Hetairoi were simply a fixed pool of de facto general officers, without any or with changing de jure rank, whom Alexander could assign where needed. They were typically from the nobility, many related to Alexander. A parallel flexible structure in the Persian army facilitated combined units.

Alexander had to deal with the different cultures and administrations that he had conquered. This was best represented when he conquered Persia. Approximately 200 years earlier, the Achaemenid Empire was an empire based in Western Asia founded by a Persian, Cyrus the Great. Incorporating various peoples of different origins and faiths, it is notable for its successful model of a centralized, bureaucratic administration. Infrastructure such as roads, bridges, the use of an official language across its territories, and the development of civil services and a large professional army. The empire’s successes inspired similar systems in later empires. Alexander admired Cyrus the Great, from an early age reading Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, which described Cyrus’s heroics in battle and governance as a king and legislator.

“”Cyrus was able to penetrate that vast extent of country by the sheer terror of his personality that the inhabitants were prostrate before him…,”” wrote Xenophon, “”and yet he was able at the same time, to inspire them all with so deep a desire to please him and win his favour that all they asked was to be guided by his judgment and his alone””

Alexander admired Cyrus the Great, from an early age reading Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, which described Cyrus’s heroics in battle and governance as a king and legislator.

It is obvious that among this congeries of nations few, if any, could have spoken the same language as himself, or understood one another, but none the less Cyrus was able so to penetrate that vast extent of country by the sheer terror of his personality that the inhabitants were prostrate before him: not one of them dared lift hand against him. And yet he was able, at the same time, to inspire them all with so deep a desire to please him and win his favour that all they asked was to be guided by his judgment and his alone. Thus he knit to himself a complex of nationalities so vast that it would have taxed a man’s endurance merely to traverse his empire in any one direction, east or west or south or north, from the palace which was its centre

The Secret of Secrets includes a purported exchange of letters between Aristotle and Alexander. According to Arabic manuscripts probably conveying text written before 987, Alexander wrote to Aristotle:

O my excellent preceptor and just minister, I inform you that I have found in the land of Persia men possessing sound judgement and powerful understanding, who are ambitious of bearing rule. Hence I have decided to put them all to death. What is your opinion in this matter?]

Aristotle responded:

It is no use putting to death the men you have conquered; for their land will, by the laws of nature, breed another generation which will be similar. The character of these men is determined by the nature of the air of their country and the waters they habitually drink. The best course for you is to accept them as they are, and to seek to accommodate them to your concepts by winning them over through kindness. [2]

The historical mark of the empire went far beyond its territorial and military influences and included cultural, social, technological and religious influences as well. Despite the last conflict between the two states, many Athenians adopted Achaemenid customs in their daily lives in a reciprocal cultural exchange, some being employed by or allied to the Persian kings. Once the kingdom had either been sacked or handed over to Alexander the question remained how to best govern the new acquisition. The Greek winnings usually fell back to the way that Greece had been governed already with the Athenianim form of government.

After the conquest of Persia, Alexander’s tremendous empire was now a major problem. His subjects spoke many different languages, and there were many differed customs. In the old Persian Empire Alexander was an absolute monarch, in Egypt he was worshiped as a god, to the Greek he was merely a commander-in-chief and in Macedonia he was anything to absolutism, as a matter of fact, divinity was resented. Alexander, to unite his Empire, desired to model his whole government after Persian absolutism.

In Egypt and Babylonia alike, Alexander took unfailing care to show respect for the local deities and cults and thereby to forge lasting links with the dominant classes, particularly the priests. He may be said to have resume in his own interest the shrewd policy, over-simply described as “”religious toleration””, followed by the first Achaemenids. Like every successful conqueror, Alexander knew that military victory must be combined with ideological persuasion capable of drawing the conquered peoples to his side.

Under the Achamenid regime, the top positions in the central government, the army, and satrapies had been reserved for Iranians and to a large extent Persian noblemen, who in many cases were connected, through marriage alliances, with the royal family. For Alexander, this posed the problem of whether to make use of the personnel structures which had given the empire solidity and unity.

Discovering that many of his satraps and military governors had misbehaved in his absence, Alexander executed several of them as examples. A good example was an attempt to craft a lasting harmony between his Macedonian and Persian subjects, Alexander held a mass marriage of his senior offices to Persian and other noble women. This enabled Alexander to lock his army leaders to the social fabric of Persia and with the Achamenid process and policies. This social experiment failed miserably with most of the marriages failing within the 1st year.

Lastly, Alexander left no legacy of his Empire. This left a huge vacuum. He would not name a successor when Alexander died in Babylon in 323 BC, the city that he planned to establish as his capital, without executing a series of planned campaigns that would have begun with an invasion of Arabia. In the years following his death, a series of civil wars tore his empire apart, resulting the establishment of several states ruled by the Diadochi, Alexander’s surviving generals and heirs.

For the good of his people, Alexander needed an adult successor, and he both refused to provide one, and killed off any man who could be one. This was irresponsibility of the most introverted sort, and the consequence was 50 years of warfare after his death, and the destruction of his empire. In the end, it brought invasion and destruction also to the inherited kingdom.

While the superimposition of a new ruling class from Europe was certainly an important change, the basic forms of community life and the overall structure of government which had existed in the Achaemenid empire were maintained and resuscitated in Alexander’s empire.

Alexander the Great was a paradox. He had great charisma and force of personality but his character was full of contractions, especially in his later years. However, he had the ability to motivate his army to do what seemed to be impossible. His leadership role came into challenge later as he conquered kingdoms and wanted to quickly move on. Alexander did not want to stick around and manage the day to day operations of the defeated empire. Alexander would take away the political autonomy of those he conquered but not their culture or way of life. In this way, he would gain their loyalty by honoring their culture, even after the conquest was complete, creating security and stability. Alexanders legacy include the cultural diffusion and syncretism which his conquests engendered. Alexander may therefore be considered to have acted in many ways as the last of the Achaemenids.

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