Alexander the Great - PDF book by Ada Russell

Alexander the Great 

Alexander the Great


It is difficult to realize that the earth on which Alexander the Great was born was the same in its main outlines as the earth on which we stand today, and at the same time to realize how very different from our present knowledge were men's ideas then of its area. Even modern writers picture Alexander as primitive in his notions, and it will be interesting to remember when we find him anxious to press ever farther and farther east and south, that the philosophers of his time, especially his great teacher Aristotle, had just announced new arguments to prove that the earth was spherical in form. The old Homeric ideas that the earth was a flat disk, that the bronze firmament, set with stars, was upheld on great pillars by Atlas, and that the sun (as Herodotus imagined) could be blown out of its course by a strong wind, had passed away forever. 

Among the earliest peoples to travel about the sea were the Phoenicians, a Semitic race akin to the Jews, and the greatest trading and maritime race of antiquity. They ventured far in search of the rich merchandise which they brought back to their cities of Tyre and Sidon on the coast of Syria, to Carthage on the north coast of Africa, and to their other settlements at all quarters of the Mediterranean. They are believed to have learned the alphabet and other arts from their customers the Egyptians and to have been the teachers of the Greeks in these matters. 

The Phoenicians told nobody of the geographical knowledge which they acquired in their wanderings, as they were anxious to keep a trading monopoly. They rounded the coast of Spain by the 'Pillars of Hercules' at a very early date, sailed through the Bay of Biscay, established trade with Britain, and perhaps even fetched amber from the shores of the Baltic. 

When the Greeks, however, first began to launch their merchantmen the Phoenicians assured them that the Pillars of Hercules stood at the western end of the earth, and probably many of the legends which make early Greek geography so picturesque were invented by those wily adventurers in order to discourage the Greeks from following in their steps. 

Thus the Greeks of the early fifth century B.C. believed that the Arabian frankincense brought by the Phoenicians was guarded by dragons, and that screeching, winged animals sought to peck out the eyes of the Arabians who, clad in stout armour, gathered cassia by the shores of a remote lake. Cinnamon was supposed to be got by artful devices from the nests of birds on an unscaleable precipice; and gold, the story ran, was stolen by the one-eyed Arimaspi from the gryphons. The Persians, who dazzled Greek eyes with their quantities of gold, told the Greeks that it was obtained by Indians at the peril of their lives; they were pursued, as they gathered the gold-dust, by ants somewhat smaller than dogs but bigger than foxes and swifter than any other animal on earth. Many of these legends had become discredited by Alexander's time, but it was owing to his travels that they passed forever out of the realm of geography into that of myth, as far as the ancients were concerned. 

The Greeks, unlike the Phoenicians, took a Platonic interest in geography, and before they had many The Old World facts to go upon commenced to make maps of the world. More than that, they began to have ideas about the universe. Anaximander, who made the first map early in the sixth century B.C., declared his belief that the earth swung in the sky like the planets. He does not seem to have taught that it was spherical in shape, but later on, in that century, Pythagoras made as great a stir as did Copernicus more than two thousand years later, by declaring that the earth revolved around some great central fire in the heavens and that it was itself a globe.

 These were only good guesses, and very few people could accept the curious, mystical reasons which Pythagoras gave for his opinions; but the philosophers of the fourth century approved of the theory of sphericity and found good reasons for it. Aristotle, who possessed one of the most scientific brains ever given to a mortal, said that the phenomenon of gravitation would make the earth spherical, and pointed to the fact that the shadow cast by the earth on the moon in an eclipse was invariably circular in shape. Alexander, who had more than the normal Greek geographical curiosity, cannot have failed to know Aristotle's views.

 Before Alexander lived the Greeks considered Delphi, where the shrine of Apollo stood, as the centre of the earth's surface. Two eagles, the story ran, released by Zeus at the edges of the eastern and western oceans, had flown until they met at Delphi, where a stone, still in the museum there, was known as the 'navel of the earth.' The Greeks originally divided the earth into the two continents of Asia (including Africa), the land of the sunrise, and Alexander Great Europe, the land of night, but by the fifth century B.C. they had come to recognize the third continent of Africa, which they named Libya. America and Australia were not to emerge until two millenniums had passed over; the Red Indians enjoyed their hunting-grounds as yet undisturbed by any white man, and even the Phoenician traders had caught up no story of the Australian aborigines. 

In the three continents which composed the Old World, no one in Alexander's time had any idea of the vast expanse of Africa or of the southern extension of India. The existence of China was unsuspected, while the Pillars of Hercules remained the western boundary of the world at the conqueror's death. About a year after Alexander passed away, Pytheas, a Greek, sailed between the Pillars and cruised along the coast of France to Britain. He was probably the first of his countrymen to adventure so far.

Content of the books

I, The Old World 9
II. Philip II of Macedonia 25
III. Alexander as Prince 37
IV. Alexander in Thrace, Illyria, and Greece ... 49
V. The Conquest of Asia Minor 60
VI. Conquest of Syria and Phcbnicia 76
VII. Alexander in Egypt 88
VIII. The Conquest of Persia 96
IX. Alexander in Central Asia Ill
X. The Conquest of the Punjab 125
XI. The Return to Susa 138
XII. The Last Two Years 152
XIII. Alexander's Character and Place in History. 172
XIV. The Alexandrian Empire 179

Author: Ada Russell
Publication Date: 1914

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