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7th Grade Social Studies / Lesson 17 - Alexander the Great

What will we be learning in this unit?
  • How did Alexander the Great build a huge empire?
  • What were the results of Alexander's conquests?
  • How did individuals contribute to Hellenistic civilization?

Alexander the Great

  • To the Greeks, the rugged, mountainous kingdom of Macedonia was a backward, half-civilized land. The rulers of this frontier land, in fact, were of Greek origin and kept ties to their Greek neighbors. As a youth, Philip had lived in Thebes and had come to admire Greek culture. Later, he hired Aristotle as a tutor to his young son Alexander. 
  • When Philip gained the throne in 359 b.c., he dreamed of conquering the prosperous city-states to the south. He built a superb army. Through threats, bribery, and diplomacy, he formed alliances with many Greek city-states. Others he conquered. In 338 b.c., when Athens and Thebes joined forces against him, he defeated them at the battle of Chaeronea. Philip then brought all of Greece under his control. 
  • Philip had a still grander dream - to conquer the Persian empire. Before he could achieve that plan, though, he was assassinated at his daughter's wedding. Assassination is the murder of a public figure, usually for political reasons. Philip's determined wife, Olympias, then outmaneuvered his other wives and children to put her own son, Alexander, on the throne


Alexander the Great

  • Alexander was only 20 years old. Yet he was already an experienced soldier who shared his father's ambitions. With Greece subdued, he began organizing the forces needed to conquer Persia. By 334 b.c., he had enough ships to cross the Dardanelles, the strait separating Europe from Asia Minor.
  • Persia was no longer the great power it had once been. The emperor Darius III was weak, and the provinces were often in rebellion against him. Still, the Persian empire stretched more than 2,000 miles from Egypt to India. 
  • Alexander won his first victory against the Persians at the Granicus River. He then moved from victory to victory, marching through Asia Minor into Palestine and south to Egypt. In 331 b.c., he took Babylon, then seized the other Persian capitals. But before Alexander could capture Darius, the Persian emperor was murdered.


 Alexander the Great
  • With much of the Persian empire under his control, the restless Alexander headed farther east. He crossed the Hindu Kush into northern India. There, in 326 b.c., his troops for the first time faced soldiers mounted on war elephants. Although Alexander never lost a battle, his soldiers were tired of the long campaign and refused to go farther east. Reluctantly, Alexander agreed to turn back. After a long, hard march, they reached Babylon, where Alexander began planning a new campaign.

Alexander the Great
  • Before he could set out again, Alexander fell victim to a sudden fever. As he lay dying, his commanders asked to whom he left his immense empire. "To the strongest," he is said to have whispered. 
  • In fact, no one leader proved strong enough to succeed Alexander. Instead, after years of disorder, three generals divided up the empire. Macedonia and Greece went to one general, Egypt to another, and most of Persia to a third. For 300 years, their descendants competed for power over the lands Alexander had conquered

Legacy of Alexander
  • Across his far-flung empire, Alexander founded many new cities, most of them named after him. The generals who succeeded him founded still more. Greek soldiers, traders, and artisans settled these new cities. From Egypt to the borders of India, they built Greek temples, filled them with Greek statues, and held athletic contests as they had in Greece. Local people assimilated, or absorbed, Greek ideas. In turn, Greek settlers adopted local customs. 
  • Gradually, a blending of eastern and western cultures occurred. Alexander had encouraged this blending when he married a Persian woman and urged his soldiers to follow his example. He had also adopted many Persian customs, including Persian dress. After his death, a vital new culture emerged which blended Greek, Persian, Egyptian, and Indian influences. This Hellenistic civilization would flourish for centuries

  Legacy of Alexander
  • At the very heart of the Hellenistic world stood the city of Alexandria, Egypt. Located on the sea lanes between Europe and Asia, its markets boasted a wide range of goods, from Greek marble to Arabian spices to East African ivory. A Greek architect had drawn up plans for the city, which would become home to almost a million people. Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Hebrews, and many others crowded its busy streets. Among the city's marvelous sights was the Pharos, an enormous lighthouse that soared 440 feet into the air.
  • Alexander and his successors encouraged the work of scholars. The rulers of Alexandria built the great Museum as a center of learning. The Museum boasted laboratories, lecture halls, and a zoo. Its well-stocked library had thousands of scrolls representing the accumulated knowledge of the ancient world. Unfortunately, the library was later destroyed in a fire

Legacy of Alexander
  • Paintings, statues, and legal codes show that women were no longer restricted to their homes during the Hellenistic period. More women learned to read and write. Some became philosophers or poets. Royal women held considerable power, working alongside husbands and sons who were the actual rulers. In Egypt, the able and clever queen Cleopatra came to rule in her own right.

Hellenistic Civilization
  • Political turmoil during the Hellenistic age contributed to the rise of new schools of philosophy. The most influential was Stoicism. Its founder, Zeno, urged people to avoid desires and disappointments by accepting calmly whatever life brought. Stoics preached high moral standards, such as the idea of protecting the rights of fellow humans. They taught that all people, including women and slaves, though unequal in society, were morally equal because all had the power of reason. Stoicism later influenced many Roman and Christian thinkers

Hellenistic Civilization

  • During the Hellenistic age, thinkers built on earlier Greek, Babylonian, and Egyptian knowledge. In mathematics, Pythagoras derived a formula (a2 + b2 = c2) to calculate the relationship between the sides of a right triangle. Euclid wrote The Elements, a textbook that became the basis for modern geometry. 
  • Using mathematics and careful observation, the astronomer Aristarchus argued that the Earth rotated on its axis and orbited around the sun. This theory of a heliocentric, or sun-centered, solar system was not accepted by most scientists until almost 2,000 years later. Another Hellenistic astronomer, Eratosthenes, showed that the Earth was round and accurately calculated its circumference. 
  • The most famous Hellenistic scientist, Archimedes, applied principles of physics to make practical inventions. He mastered the use of the lever and pulley. He boasted, "Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand on, and I will move the world." An awed audience watched as he used his invention to draw a ship onto shore.


Hellenistic Civilization
  • About 400 b.c., the Greek physician Hippocrates studied the causes of illnesses and looked for cures. His Hippocratic oath set ethical standards for doctors. Physicians swore to "help the sick according to my ability and judgment but never with a view to injury and wrong" and to protect the privacy of patients. Doctors today take a similar oath