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(ALEXANDER and HELLENISTIC CIVILIZATION – continued)

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Alexander the Great inherits Power

Alexander the Great

Alexander, the oldest surviving image.
From the British Museum.

King Philip II of Macedonia wanted to free Greek cities in Asia Minor from Persian domination, to extend his league's naval power – which was mainly Athenian – and to extend his league's commerce. He wanted to extend his control and to settle people deep in Asia Minor as a buffer against Persia, and he saw opportunity to punish Persian royalty for their ruinous attacks on Hellenic sanctuaries the century before.

Philip saw weakness in Persia. There had been trouble in Persia's recent history: jealousies within the Persian royal family, corruption, palace and harem intrigues, and regicide had occurred.  Darius II, who had ruled to 404, had been unpopular and had spent much time quelling revolts. Under Artaxerxes II, the subject peoples of the Persian Empire had become restless. Artaxerxes III, had massacred his brother's family and gained the throne in 358 BCE, and he ruled by terror until he had been poisoned in 338 by one of his eunuch ministers. And Persia's aristocracy – the backbone of its military – had been growing soft. Their moderation in eating and drinking had given way to eating as a preoccupation, with meals lasting from noon to night. And they had grown accustomed to being waited on by numerous slaves.

Philip was assassinated by one of his former close companions who had a bitter grudge against him. When the assassin ran to a horse to escape, Philip's bodyguards killed him, and it was never known for certain whether the assassination was the work of this lone individual or a conspiracy. Philip's generals supported his son, Alexander, as Philip's successor, and Alexander restored his mother as queen of Macedonia. Soon Olympias was to execute the young woman Philip had recently married, Cleopatra, and the daughter Cleopatra had had by Philip. Alexander held an inquiry into who might have conspired with the assassin, which concluded with the announcement that the assassination was the work of Persian agents.

Philip's passing created hope for freedom among some Greeks. And, in 335, Thebans heard and believed a rumor that Alexander had also died. They revolted and trapped a Macedonian garrison in their city's citadel. Alexander led an army to Thebes, and in street fighting he overpowered the Thebans. He scattered the Thebans and sold many into slavery. All other Greek resistance to Macedonian domination suddenly ceased, and Alexander returned to pursuing his father's plan to liberate the Greeks in Asia Minor.

In 334, Alexander started his army eastward toward Asia Minor. It was an army of nearly forty thousand, including secretaries, scientists and philosophers. Security on the home front was supplied by a remaining military force under the command of his most trusted general, Antipater.

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