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Alexander the Great takes power

Alexander the Great takes power.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] Now, we're going to talk about one of the most famous conquerors in all of human history, and that is Alexander the Great. But before talking about all of the things that he conquered, let's think about how he got started out and in particular, how he's able to consolidate control over the empire that his father begins. So, in the last video, we saw that exiting the Peloponnesian War, the Greeks were weak. Sparta and its allies, the Peloponnesian League, they had won, but the Greeks were ripe for being conquered. And they end up being conquered by Philip II, King of Macedonia, and he rules from Pella. And shortly after he becomes king, his son, his first son, Alexander, is born. And Alexander is the son that Philip has with Olympias. Olympias is the daughter of the king of Molossia, which makes her Molossian and not Macedonian, which is going to be somewhat important later on when Philip II dies. But the early part of Alexander's life is quite good and he seems to be in favor with his father, Philip II. After all, Alexander seems like a decent heir to the throne. Early in his life, he gets from his father what is arguably the best tutor, for sure of the time, probably the best tutor in human history, in Aristotle. And the way that his father convinces him to tutor Alexander when Alexander's 13, he tutors him from when Alexander is about 13 to about 16, is Philip destroys Aristotle's village of Stagira as he conquers Greece. And Aristotle says, "Okay, sure, I'll tutor your son. "But in exchange for that, why don't you rebuild my hometown "and free all of the people who had been enslaved "after the town was conquered?" And so, Philip agrees; Alexander gets a great tutor. There's also the stories of how Alexander carried favor with his father by taming the famous horse Bucephalus, who Alexander will eventually ride into Asia as he conquers the Persian Empire and beyond. And Philip, very proud of his young son being able to conquer this seemingly untamable horse, as Philip conquers, as he conquers Greece, Alexander is alongside him leading troops, showing him to be a capable military general, a capable leader. So, all seems to be working out well for Alexander until Philip takes what ends up being his seventh and last wife. Until then, Olympias was his favored wife. And Olympias is a bit of a character, at least from the point of historians. And you should take all of this with a grain of salt because many of these histories and these stories were written hundreds of years later, and so it's not clear how much was a true account versus how much was made up. But beyond Olympias not being Macedonian, she is from Molossia, she is also, according to Plutarch, part of the Cult of Dionysus and she worships snakes and potentially even sleeps with snakes, which is really off-putting to a lot of the Macedonians. And so, when King Philip, in around 337 or 338, finds a Macedonian to marry and her name is Cleopatra, not the famous Cleopatra from history, we'll talk about her in a few hundred years, but you see here, Philip II, he takes his seventh wife. I don't list them all here. I only list Olympias here who he marries in 357 BCE. And then they have Alexander, born Alexander III, shortly thereafter the next year. They also have another daughter, Cleopatra. Once again, not the Cleopatra when people refer to it in history. But then, around 337 or 338 BCE, he takes his seventh wife, and this seventh wife is also named Cleopatra. She is Macedonian. Philip renames her Eurydice after his mother. And so, you can imagine this is already a little bit threatening. Because, well, what if this Cleopatra has a son? And she eventually does have a son. And now, that son would be pure Macedonian, as opposed to Alexander, who is only half-Macedonian. And this becomes quite pointed at the wedding of Philip and Cleopatra, the Macedonian Cleopatra, in 337 or 338 BCE when we have this account, and once again, take all of this with a grain of salt. This is an account by Plutarch that was written 400 years later. But Plutarch writes, "At the wedding of Cleopatra," this is Cleopatra Eurydice, this is the Macedonian Cleopatra, the young one, "whom Philip fell in love with and married, "she being much too young for him, her uncle Attalus," and you see him on our little family tree here, this is Cleopatra's Uncle Attalus, a Macedonian, "her uncle Attalus in his drink "desired the Macedonians would implore the gods "to give them a lawful successor to the kingdom "by his niece." Let me underline that. Give them a lawful successor to the kingdom. You might be saying, "Wait, I thought Alexander was a lawful successor?" And Alexander's probably thinking the same thing. "This so irritated Alexander "that throwing one of the cups at his head," throwing it at Attalus' head, "'you villain,' he said. "'What, am I then a bastard?' Then Philip," Alexander's dad, "taking Attalus' part," so he wouldn't take his son's side, he takes the side of his in-laws, "rose up and would have run his son through, "but by good fortune for them both, "either his over-hasty rage, or the wine he had drunk, "made his foot slip, so that he fell down on the floor. "At which Alexander reproachfully insulted over him: "'See there,' said he, 'the man who makes preparations "'to pass out of Europe into Asia, "'overturned in passing from one seat to another.'" So, if this account by Plutarch is even vaguely true, it shows this real tension that is forming between Alexander and his father. And it's of course being goaded on, or likely to be goaded on, by his mother, Olympias, who was the primary wife for a little bit but now she's being pushed aside in favor of this Macedonian, Cleopatra. And so she actually goes into voluntary exile, Alexander follows her, and so things are quite tense. And they really come to a boiling point, or everything gets released a year or two later, when Olympias' other child, Cleopatra, the other Cleopatra, not Cleopatra Eurydice and not the famous Cleopatra from history, she gets married to Olympias' brother. And so, she's marrying her uncle. Many strange things happened like this in the ancient world. This is 336 BCE and this is the famous wedding where Phillip II is assassinated by his bodyguard, who was likely Phillip II's former lover. But once Phillip II gets assassinated, you could imagine that many people are wanting to have a go at the throne, in particular, Alexander, aided by his mother, Olympias. And so immediately, there starts to be a consolidation of power and the first way to consolidate power is to kill off all of the folks who might threaten you. And so Olympias and Alexander, and many historians give credit mainly to Olympias, some say Alexander was involved more or less, but they go on a killing spree. Europa is killed, Caranus is killed. These are the children of Cleopatra Eurydice. At the time of this, we're talking 336, 335 BCE, they would have been toddlers. They would have been two, at most three years old. They're being killed. There are some accounts that Cleopatra is killed or she is forced to hang herself. There's some accounts that some combination of them are burned alive. Alexander goes after Attalus, the famous uncle who insulted him at the wedding party only a few years ago. He kills his cousin, Amyntus, who might have had a claim to the throne, other princes. So this is this bloody, bloody period. So even though sometimes people glorify some of these rulers like Alexander the Great, that they unified all these people and they pushed culture throughout the world, or however you want to talk about it, they usually come to power in very brutal ways. And their conquering is also very brutal. You really shouldn't romanticize, oh let's conquer other people. A war is ugly and when there's multiple factions coming to a throne, that is also ugly. So, we're shortly after Phillip II's death. Alexander, with the help of his mother, is able to consolidate power within his family, really secure his place as the king of the Macedonian Empire. And so the next thing is to secure his hold on the empire militarily and you immediately start having rebellions to the North and West of Macedon. And so, in particular, the Illyrians, which is in modern-day Albania, so this region right over here. They start to revolt. Alexander goes and makes a point of sieging the pass at Peliam. This is a very strategic location but while he's there with his military forces, so while he's there with his military forces, you can imagine the other city-states of Greece, in particular Athens and Thebes, say hey now's our chance. King Phillip is dead, Alexander's out fighting with the Illyrians, let's rise up and regain our independence. And many of them thought that Alexander might have already died in the previous military campaign. And so you can imagine they were very surprised after Alexander took control through a siege at Peliam, and is able to come down surprisingly quickly. He really makes his soldiers march hundreds of kilometers in a matter of weeks, to come down and put down the rebellion, from his point of view, at Thebes. And the Thebans refuse to stop rebelling and so in retaliation, Alexander the Great completely destroys Thebes, this famous city of antiquity. Only a few decades before this time, the leading city-state in all of Greece. And so he destroys Thebes, he enslaves its people, but that's what allows him to essentially scare the rest of the city-states of Greece to come in line. He hasn't conquered Sparta, or his empire hasn't conquered Sparta, that will happen soon but the rest, it really consolidates his power. And now, we're talking 335 BCE, he's ready to think about doing what his father was planning and going off and trying to conquer Asia.