Through the Lens of History 6 – Alexander the Great, Part I

13 November, 2009

Today is the ides of November, so more history for you.

Through the Lens of History: Using History for Better Gaming
Vision 6: Youth of a Legend – Alexander the Great, Part I

Following last month’s look at the Persian Empire, the lens now focuses upon the man who destroyed it; Alexander the Great, King of Macedon, Emperor of the World.

Alexander is one of the most well known and colorful of history’s great conquerors. He marched forth from his homeland, the small Kingdom of Macedon, at the age of twenty. He defeated every army arrayed against him, toppled the mightiest Empire of his age, Persia, and conquered lands as distant as India before dying at the young age of 32.

This vision covers Alexander’s history until the invasion of Persia began and will finish his story in January.

Part I – The History

Alexander’s story begins with his father, Phillip II of Macedon, who forged the Macedonian Kingdom into the major military force in the Greek world. Macedon had long been considered backward and even semi-barbaric by the Greeks, as the Macedonians only followed some Greek customs and did not fully adopt the way of the polis (city-state). Phillip had organized his kingdom into a tool for his ambitions, refining the Greek phalanx of pikemen as his main arm by using more men organized into deeper ranks with longer pikes (called sarissa). The phalanx was supported with superbly trained cavalry as both scouts and as a striking force. The Greeks never used cavalry in large numbers, so Phillip’s army displayed unique flexibility on the field.

Phillip’s armies defeated the Illyrians and secured his throne against domestic rivals. A marriage to Olympias, princess of Epirus, another Kingdom in the Greek orbit, gained Phillip further allies. Olympias conceived Alexander among many portents. Legend says that Olympias felt herself impregnated by a thunderbolt as fire flowed through her body and spread out across the earth. Phillip in turn dreamed he had sealed her womb with the image of a lion. Alexander was born while his father was away on campaign in 356 BCE.

Olympias and Phillip had a stormy relationship and they were often at odds. The couple had only one other child together, a daughter named Cleopatra. Olympias doted on Alexander and tirelessly worked to promote and support her son. Phillip often clashed with his fiery wife and went on to take other wives, as was the Macedonian tradition, which in turn led to further conflict with Olympias. Olympias and Alexander remained close and he sent her lavish presents from his conquests, but even Alexander occasional complained about how much his mother expected of him.

As Phillip’s son Alexander had access to the best of everything including tutors. At age seven he was sent to learn from his mother’s kinsmen Leonidas who was a harsh taskmaster. Alexander remembered his first tutor, who had made a sarcastic comment about his lavish use of incense in rituals by sending him sixteen tons of incense with the note “I have sent you plenty of myrrh and frankincense, so you need never be stingy towards the gods again.” But it is Alexander’s later tutor who is more widely known; for three and a half years, starting at the age of thirteen, Alexander was taught by Aristotle, one of the greatest philosophers of the Greek tradition. Aristotle was trusted by Phillip as Aristotle’s father had served as a doctor in the Macedonian royal house. Aristotle’s focus on the natural world and medicine would benefit Alexander and his soldiers on campaign and Alexander in return sent the philosopher samples of the plants and animals he encountered. It was said that Alexander slept with a copy of the Iliad annotated by Aristotle under his pillow.

Alexander was trained in the arts of war, politics and horsemanship and he excelled in them all. He was recognized as a skilled debater, he played the lyre and possessed a fine singing voice, though he never sung again after his father commented that he should be ashamed of such a sweet voice. Alexander athletic skill was recognized with an invitation to compete in the Olympic games but declined as he would not have other kings to compete against.

One of the most famous stories of Alexander youth is how he gained his horse, the magnificent Bucephalas. This black stallion was a gift to Phillip but he was unbroken and unridable. Alexander, then about twelve, complained that the grooms did not know how to handle such a horse and his father challenged him to prove that he knew better. Alexander had noted that Bucephalas shied from his own shadow and managed to control him by facing him into the sun and then vaulting unto his back. Phillip said to Alexander afterwards, “My boy, we must find a kingdom big enough for your ambitions. Macedonia is just too small for you.”

Alexander was given his first command at the age of sixteen, when he was left in charge of Macedonia while Phillip was campaigning against the Greek states. Alexander led an army to crush a rebellion in Trace and was rewarded by his father with the rank of general. In 340-339 BCE, father and son fought together extending Macedonian power (at the expense of Thrace) to the Dardanelles.

The years of 339-338 BCE saw Phillip’s humbling of the Greek states as the Athenian and Theban led anti-Macedonian league was decisively defeated at the battle of Chaeronea, where the cavalry commanded by Alexander was prove vital by splitting the Theban and Athenian forces. The defeat of the anti-Macedonian league brought all of Greece under Macedonian influence. Phillip forced his election as “Supreme Commander of Greek Forces” thus allowing him to prepare for his dream: the invasion of Persia. All of the resources of Macedonia and the Greek States were bent towards this one goal.

But relations between Phillip and his son soon deteriorated as it seemed that Phillip was seeking another heir to replace Alexander. The noble Attalus’s niece, Eurydice, had attracted Phillip’s eye and was slated to become his wife, already pregnant with Phillip’s child. Attalus’ family was growing in power and during the wedding Attalus, inadvertently or otherwise, insulted Alexander. Only Phillip’s intervention prevented bloodshed but Phillip’s defense of Attalus drove both Alexander and Olympias into self-imposed exile. This split proved temporary, lasting around a year, and Alexander and his father were reconciled.

Alexander returned just in time. As Phillip was preparing for a triumphant entrance during his daughter Cleopatra’s wedding celebration in 336 BCE, Pausanias, captain of Phillip’s bodyguard, assassinated the king. Pausanias was slain as he attempted to flee, so his motives were never discovered but the Persians were suspected of being behind the assassination.

Alexander took up the kingship, a moment that he had been preparing for his entire life. Among his first acts were the removal and execution of those blamed for the assassination, which included a number of political rivals such as Attalus and his family including Eurdice’s newly born son, Alexander’s half brother. Alexander then rapidly suppressed a number of revolts against Macedonian rule, including one in Greece that led to the total destruction of the city of Thebes and the death or enslavement of its entire population. Reestablishing control thus delayed Alexander’s Persian expedition until the Spring of 334 BCE.

Part II- Breaking it apart and putting it back together

Alexander makes an excellent model for a conquering hero, or villain; ambitious, vain and immensely talented, Alexander has it all. He is a wonderful, if unpredictable, friend and a terrible enemy.

An unusual campaign would the rise to power of such a person, with the other characters being the companions and allies whose fate, political and otherwise, is tied to that of the main character. It would be a highly political game with chances for heroics and treachery, romance and adventure

Supplemental d20 Material:

New Feat
Well Taught [General]

You have been raised with the best possible education. You are widely read and well-schooled in etiquette, current scholarship and politics.

Prerequisites: Having access to an excellent education, Int 10, Wis 10.

Benefit: Diplomacy and the following Knowledge skills: Geography, History and Nobility are always class skills for you.

In addition, you may choose on of these bonuses:
∙    Preform is a class skill for you.
∙    Know an additional language.
∙    +2 to Diplomacy, if you have 10 or more ranks this increases to +4.
∙    +2 to single Knowledge skill, if you have 10 or more ranks this increases to +4.

Special: Your knowledge of scholarly works may give you a minor (+1) circumstance bonus in dealing with some scholars and other well educated people.

Usually, this feat may usually only be taken at 1st level.

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