Plutarch on the beginning of Alexander's reign

Alexander the Great (*356; r. 336-323): the Macedonian king who defeated his Persian colleague Darius III Codomannus and conquered the Achaemenid Empire. During his campaigns, Alexander visited a.o. Egypt, Babylonia, Persis, Media, Bactria, the Punjab, and the valley of the Indus. In the second half of his reign, he had to find a way to rule his newly conquered countries. Therefore, he made Babylon his capital and introduced the oriental court ceremonial, which caused great tensions with his Macedonian and Greek officers.

At the beginning of his reign, Alexander faced a serious crisis: the vassal tribes in the north were in open revolt and the Greek towns in the south considered rebellion. The Greek author Plutarch of Chaeronea, describes the events in section 10.6-11 of his Life of Alexander. The translation was made by M.M. Austin.

[11.1] So at the age of twenty Alexander took over the kingdom, which faced dangers on every side, being exposed to great jealousies and deep animosities.

[11.2] For the neighboring tribes of barbarians would not submit to Macedonian rule, and longed for their ancestral dynasties. As for Greece, Philip had defeated her in the field but had not had time enough to subdue her under his yoke; he had simply introduced change and confusion into the country and had left it in a state of unrest and commotion, unaccustomed as yet to the new situation.

[11.3] Alexander's Macedonian advisers, alarmed at this crisis, took the view that he ought to give up Greece completely, without recourse to arms, and as for the barbarians who were inclined to revolt, he ought to apply conciliation to win them back by handling gently the first symptoms of rebellion.

[11.4] Alexander, however, took the opposite view, and set out to establish the safety and security of his kingdom through boldness and determination, in the conviction that if he was seen to waver in his resolve, all his unrest and the enemies would be upon him.

[11.5] Accordingly, he put an end to the barbarian wars which threatened on that side by conducting a lightning campaign as far as the Danube, and in a great battle he defeated Syrmus, the king of the Triballians.

[11.6] On hearing that the Thebans had revolted and that the Athenians were in sympathy with them, he immediately led his army through Thermopylae, declaring that since Demosthenes referred to him contemptuously as a boy while he was among the Triballians, and as a youngster when he had reached Thessaly, he wanted to show him before the walls of Athens that he was a man.

[11.7] On reaching Thebes he wanted to give the Thebans a chance to change their minds, and so merely requested the surrender of Phoenix and Prothytes,note promising an amnesty to those who defected to his side.

[11.8] But the Thebans retaliated with a demand for the surrender of [the Macedonian generals] Philotas and Antipater, and issued a proclamation that those who wanted to join in the task of liberating Greece should come and fight on their side. So Alexander ordered the Macedonians into battle.


[11.10b] The city was captured, plundered and razed to the ground.

[11.11] Alexander's calculation was essentially that the Greeks would be so struck by the magnitude of the disaster that they would be frightened into submission, but he also wished to give the appearance that he was giving in to the complaints of his allies. For the Phocians and Plataeans had denounced the Thebans.

[11.12] So, making an exception for the priests, all the guest-friends of the Macedonians, the descendants of Pindar, and those who had vote for revolt, he sold the rest into slavery, numbered over 6,000.