History is laden with stories of great leaders, the ones who led from the frontlines, who were one with their people and who changed the face of their empires by their sheer will and keen wit. As a student of History myself, I can say that I have spent enough sleepless nights poring over extensive notes on the same ‘great leaders’ to know there are only a few men and women in history who pushed past their privilege and indulgences to really set an example for mankind everywhere.
As we sit here, several centuries past their time, it’s interesting to note that though they may have lived and ruled at times that couldn’t have been more alien to our own, their qualities managed to persist through generations, making each quality not only relatable, but reliable.
When it comes to arguably one the greatest leaders of history, the first name to come to mind through the years of half-read schoolbooks and MCQs is the military legend, Alexander the Great.
Alexander ruled at a time when one could truly say that the world was his oyster, and he was determined to have it. Going by reliable accounts and sources, he travelled 10,000 miles on horse-back (how much do you appreciate the Wright Brothers right now?) and fought over 70 battles, unconquered. Alexander had one focus – to rule the world someday, and to his credit, he did manage to bring a considerable part of it under his domain.
History paints him in a glorifying but contradictive light as a man who could starve for his people but also push them to a ruthless extent to get what he desired. Kind yet impatient, loyal but opportunistic, Alexander in some ways was the embodiment of the twenty first century man, who finds himself at the brink of every master emotion. But conflicted personality aside, Alexander the Great managed to change a good course of history and will be redeemed as one of the greatest leaders of his time and thereafter.
“Heaven cannot brook two suns, nor earth two masters.”
Alexander was the son of the great King Phillip of Macedonia, who had waged many wars, won over a great amount of wealth and built one of the largest empires of the age, extending in all directions. Alexander had grown up accompanying his father on many quests, learning from the front, and when the time came for him to occupy the golden chair, he was already prepared – to take on the world. He announced from the very day of his accession that he was going to bring the farthest reaches of the earth under his empire no matter what it took from him to get it.
“I had rather excel others in the knowledge of what is excellent than in the extent of my power and dominion.”
Alexander the Great is remembered as the King of the Battlefield simply because he knew and understood military strategy. He knew how to organise his troops, knew all the strengths and weaknesses of his commanders and always knew how and when to strike the enemy in the fastest possible way. Alexander’s prowess on the field was always more proactive and less reactive – a lesson for prospective leaders everywhere.
“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.”
Although he picked up the practical aspects of ruling from his father on his accompanying excursions, Alexander received his true knowledge from none other than Aristotle himself. He skilled himself deep in everything that Aristotle was sure to teach him in the realms of philosophy, battle, justice and love. He used this knowledge to its maximum potential in his dealings, making him a victor on every turn.
“Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.”
At the height of his military glory, his army comprised roughly of about 43,000 in infantry with about 4000 horsemen, all of whom had followed him loyally into his quest in Asia Minor. At this point, Alexander had only 70 talents (Greek currency) with him, being in debt of 200 talents for having spent it all on making sure that his men sent money across for their families’ comfort. As legend has it, when one of his generals asked what he had kept for himself, Alexander answered, “My hope.” This is the reason why Alexander had one of the largest and most loyal armies accompanying him into countless victories.
The world lost a great leader the day Alexander passed away in Babylon at the young age of 32. Millennia have passed, but the story of his greatness will stand strong through the waves of time, even as his legacy grows a year older today.