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The Greek Empire and Alexander the Great

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In 480, Xerxes, the king of Persia, suffered significant defeats by Greece at Thermopylae, Salamis, and Platoea, retreating to his capital at Susa, never again seeking to dominate Greece. In the next 150 years the Persians continued to grow weaker under the various kings.

In Greece, the citizens of Athens began to have more and more influence because they formed a confederacy with other Greek cities and sent a fleet to protect the Aegean Sea against piracy. In ten years, the Persians had been driven from Europe and were restricted to the lands of western Asia Minor. Athens in the year that followed had more and more dominance until in 431, Sparta declared war on her. This war lasted twenty-seven years.

In the fourth century BC, when the war finished, Athens struggled to get back to a measure of life. In the north, a dictator called Philip was rising in Macedonia. The kingdom was young and rich and not exhausted like the rest of Greece by war and tension. So by 338, Macedonia mastered the whole of Greece. To unite the nation of Greece, Philip took up the crusade against Persia. He was assassinated in the midst of his preparations but his son Alexander took up where his father left off.

Alexander had a well drilled military machine, and when he died in 323 at the age of thirty-two, he was master of a huge empire that stretched from the Ionian Sea to the Punjab in India, and from the Caucasus to the Libyan Desert.

Alexander became king in 336. After two years of establishing his home base, he set out across the Hellespont with some 40,000 men. The first victory over the Persians was at the River Granicus, clearing the way to Asia Minor. He continued east and met Darius, king of Persia. Alexander defeated him at Issus (333 BC), leaving the heart of the Persian empire open before him. Darius escaped east to recruit another army, and instead of chasing him, Alexander turned to Phoenicia and Egypt to seek to destroy the Persian sea power. Tyre was taken after remarkable siege, when the island of Tyre was joined to the mainland by a causeway. In Egypt, Alexander founded the most famous of the many cities that took his name.

Josephus (Ant. 11.8.5) gives an account of the priests meeting Alexander as he approached Jerusalem and showing him Daniel's prophecies of his conquering the Persians. "And when the book of Daniel was showed him, wherein Daniel declared that one of the Greeks should destroy the empire of the Persians, he supposed that himself was the person intended; and he was then glad ..."

Having secured the western part of his new empire, Alexander set the army to face the east. In 331, he marched around the fertile crescent to face Darius. At Gaugamela, Darius was again defeated and Alexander received his prize, the capitals of the world - Babylon, Susa, and Persepolis. Darius retreated north and east until he was killed by a satrap, and Alexander claimed the succession for himself. In two years he had subdued Afghanistan and Kazakhstan and pressed down to the Indus valley by 327 BC. When they reached the Ganges, his men mutinied and refused to go further. In retaliation Alexander marched them home through the Gedrosian desert of Iran. Next, he turned his attention to the sea. During the various preparations for the expeditions, Alexander died of fever, alternatively it is possible that he was poisoned.

In Persia, Alexander adopted the Persian style of court, including the harem. He married a Persian princess, and encouraged other such unions among his officers and men. With Alexander came a new way of life that was established by his successors. The Hellenisation of the known world was to last many years, having a great impact on the Jewish nation and which is still part of western culture today.

The Greek empire did not last after Alexander's death. Traditionally it is claimed that on his death-bed Alexander was asked who should succeed him, and he said, "Let the strongest rule". This led to a civil war between his top generals, after which his empire was divided into four separate empires each under one of his generals.

The Greek Dynasty

Philip II of Macedonia ? - 336
Alexander the Great 336 - 323

Fourfold division of the kingdom of Alexander the Great

Greece (Macedonia) Cassander
Asia Minor Lysimachus
Syria & East Seleucus ("the king of the north")
Egypt Ptolemy ("the king of the south")

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