The land of Macedonia, lying to the north of Greece, for a long time had been an inconspicuous part of the ancient world. Its people, though only partially civilized, were Greeks in blood and language. The Macedonian kings, from the era of the Persian wars, seized every opportunity of spreading Greek culture throughout their realm. By the middle of the fourth century B.C., when Philip II ascended the throne, the Macedonians were ready to take a leading place in the Greek world.

Alexander was only twenty years of age when he became ruler of Macedonia. From his father he inherited the powerful Frame, the kingly figure, the masterful will, which made so deep an impression on all his contemporaries. His mother, a proud and ambitious woman, told him that the blood of Achilles ran in his veins, and bade him emulate the deeds of that national hero. We know that he learned Homer’s Iliad by heart and always carried a copy of it on his campaigns.

Philip believed that in Alexander he had a worthy son, for he persuaded Aristotle, the most learned man in Greece, to become the tutor of the young prince. The influence of that philosopher remained with Alexander throughout life. Aristotle taught him to love Greek art and science, and instilled into his receptive mind an admiration for all things Grecian. Alexander used to say that, while he owed his life to his father, he owed to Aristotle the knowledge of how to live worthily.

The gigantic task fell to Alexander, as the champion of Hellas against the “barbarians.” With an army of less than forty thousand men Alexander destroyed an empire before which, for two centuries, all Asia had been wont to tremble. History, ancient or modern, contains no other record of conquests so widespread, so thorough, so amazingly rapid.

The immediate result of Alexander’s conquests was the disappearance of the barriers which had so long shut in the Orient. The East, until his day, was an almost unknown land. Now it lay open to the spread of Greek civilization. In the wake of the Macedonian armies followed Greek philosophers and scientists, Greek architects and artists, Greek colonists, merchants, and artisans. Everywhere into that huge, inert, unprogressive Oriental world came the active and enterprising men of Hellas. They brought their arts and culture and became the teachers of those whom they had called “barbarians.”

From The Making of Europe / Early European History