All  
Famous Alexander Mosaic, showing Battle of Issus. Alexander is depicted mounted, on the left.

Why did Alexander the Great Really Invade the Persian Empire?

By Cam Rea/ Classical Wisdom

Alexander of Macedon, more widely known as Alexander the Great, is one of history’s most famous conquerors. Many historians, poets, and writers have been mesmerized by his conquests. The enthralling images of Alexander’s actions have built an everlasting romantic impression of the man.

But while most talk of his invasions and exploits, you rarely hear or read why he invaded the mighty Persian Empire in 335 BC in the first place.

Portrait of Alexander the Great. Marble, Hellenistic artwork, 2nd-1st century BC. Said to be from Alexandria, Egypt. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Portrait of Alexander the Great . Marble, Hellenistic artwork, 2nd-1st century BC. Said to be from Alexandria, Egypt. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

The Greek historian Arrian (writing of and serving the Roman Empire) tells us that Alexander set out to conquer Persia as an act of revenge for past wrongs. Alexander addresses this in his letter to Darius stating:

“Your ancestors came into Macedonia and the rest of Greece and treated us ill, without any previous injury from us. I, having been appointed commander and chief of the Greek, and wishing to take revenge on the Persians, crossed over into Asia, hostilities being begun by you.”

But was it really all about revenge or was there something more to it... is it possible that Alexander just needed money ?

Revenge or Riches?

It’s true that most books discussing Alexander’s invasion of Persia say revenge was the main motivator, payback for the Greco-Persian Wars of the past. All the same, it is rather odd that Alexander would all of a sudden decide to mount his horse and lead his army into the lands of Persia, especially since the war had been over for more than one-hundred years.

Statue of Alexander the Great - Skopje – Macedonia. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Statue of Alexander the Great - Skopje – Macedonia. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

However, there is another passage that our historian Arrian provides. Apparently, Alexander gave a speech at Opis in 324 BC when his men mutinied for a second time, and in it he furnishes us with an interesting statement as to why he declared war on Persia, that being money.

“I inherited from my father a few gold and silver cups, and less than 60 talents in the treasury; Philip had debts amounting to 500 talents, and I raised a loan of a further 800.”

But there is a bit of backstory first. Alexander’s father Philip had already set his eyes on Persia and was preparing an invasion force but was assassinated before he could carry out his objective. With his death, Alexander was left with a semi-professional army, a fighting force paid directly by the king himself.

The detail of the Alexander Mosaic showing Alexander the Great. (Public Domain)

The detail of the Alexander Mosaic showing Alexander the Great. ( Public Domain )

In order for Alexander to afford this army, he had to either disband a portion of it to save money, risking much in doing so, or go on the march to salvage his kingdom. In the end, he chose to save his kingdom at another empire’s expense. Essentially, Alexander needed to pay the bills by conquering and confiscating Persia. It was a risky investment to say the least.

As the early 20th century intellectual Randolph Bourne once stated: “War is the health of the state.” Indeed it was, for Alexander was the state and war was his business. Therefore, revenge was evidently not Alexander’s motivator.

Instead, revenge was just a facade to expand political means in order to fill his coffers. Once Alexander had enough means, and his treasuries overflowed, he could continue the unrelenting, perpetual war until the entire known world was his.

Top image: Famous Alexander Mosaic, showing Battle of Issus. Alexander is depicted mounted, on the left. Source: Public Domain

By Cam Rea

References:

Rae, Cam, 2017. Alexander the Great Destroyer: Ancient Revenge or War for Profit? Part II {Online}

Available at:  http://www.ancient-origins.net/history/alexander-great-destroyer-ancient-revenge-or-war-profit-part-ii-007547

Classical Wisdom Limited is an online publishing company that strives to promote and preserve the classics from Ancient Greece and Rome. We aim to bring ancient wisdom to modern minds. You can visit our website here: http://classicalwisdom.com

Comments

The metallic statue shown in Skopje is not Alexander as he never had a beard...and Skopje is not located in Macedonia but in the old Vardarska administrative region of Serbia-mainly inhabited by Bulgarians and Albanians...Macedonia was and always is part of Greece!

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Next article