AN C I E N T G R E E C E , extending from the king-dom of Macedonia in the north down to the city-state of Sparta in the south, was a large peninsula or archipelago jut-ting out into the Aegean Sea.
The ascendancy of Macedonia under the rule of Alexander’s father, Philip II, and the conquest of the rest of Greece, forced the combination of the Heroic Age with the civilizing influence of the philosophers and tragedians. Alexander stands out as an excellent example of this dichotomy, as he was the child of both sides of the culture—a product of violent, pas-sionate parents and a student of that paragon of reason, Aris-totle. Alexander, who would eventually be called “the Great,” was born in the kingdom of Macedonia, which comprised most of northern Greece. Culturally and intellectually Macedonia was far removed from the city-states of southern Greece, especially Athens. Structurally it was much closer to the military autocracy that prevailed in Sparta.
Philip, who traced his ancestry to Hercules, ruled as an auto-crat, subject to few political restraints.
Alexander emulated Achilles, the hero of the Trojan War, whom he considered an ancestor on his mother’s side. Symbolically, his first stop toward conquest was in Troy. Historian Peter Green describes the landing: The king’s first act on landing was to set up an-other altar, to Athena, Heracles, and Zeus . . . and to pray that “these territories might accept him as king of their own free will, without constraint.” Then he set off on his pilgrimage to Ilium. . . . He was welcomed by a committee of local Greeks. . . . They presented him with ceremonial gold wreaths. Alexander then offered sacrifice at the tombs of Ajax and Achilles. . . . He made lavish sacrifice to Athena, and dedicated his own armour at the god- dess’s altar. In exchange he received a shield and panoply of guaranteed Trojan vintage, with which he armed himself for his first major engagement on Asiatic soil, at the Granicus River.
He proclaimed that he was the product of both Greece and Troy, and the worthy heir of both Achilles and Priam, imply-ing that this conquest was his by right. Alexander was a man dedicated to war.
On her father’s side, Olympias traced her ancestry back to Achilles, and on her mother’s she traced her family to Helen of Troy
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