Alexander the Great is one of the most extraordinary individuals in history. He became king of the fringe Greek kingdom of Macedonia in 336 BC at the age of just 20, and before his death twelve years later, had imposed Macedonian overlordship on Greece, destroyed the mighty Persian Empire and led an army deep into modern Afghanistan and to the Indian frontier.
At Opis he faced a mutiny by his Macedonian troops, angered that he wanted to send some of them home, while appearing to give preference to his new Asian subjects, and adopting many of their customs. Alexander dealt ruthlessly with the ringleaders, before (according to ‘The Anabasis’ by Roman historian Arrian) making a speech to his army in which he berated his troops for their disloyalty.
The speech, as it has reached us, was no doubt written by Arrian rather than Alexander. His actual words are now impossible to ascertain. But Arrian had access to eyewitness accounts which are now lost (principally Ptolemy and Nearchus), and modern historians generally agree that the speech was a real historical event, and that Arrian gives a good representation of its likely content.
Putting its (contested and debated) value as a historical source to one side, the scene – as it appears in Arrian – is a brilliantly written moment of high drama and emotion, in which Alexander first highlights his debt to his father Philip, before launching into a tirade in which he lists his own astounding achievements and qualities of leadership.
The speech has been abridged and edited by myself for this video.
You can read Arrian’s full version in English translation here: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Anabasis_of_Alexander/Book_VII/Chapter_IX
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Alexander the Great (All Parts)
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