Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Empire

Course No. 3390
Professor Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
Tulane University
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Course No. 3390
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Course Overview

With the exception of Jesus Christ, virtually no figure in antiquity is more renowned in the history of the West than Alexander the Great. His feats are the stuff of legend, inspiring medieval romances, painting and sculptures, and even blockbuster movies. And more than two millennia after the legendary ruler's death, Alexander's remarkable victory over the Persians in 331 B.C. still stands as an emblem for superlative military leadership. The young Julius Caesar compared his achievements to those of the Macedonian king—and found them lacking. Napoleon styled himself as a new Alexander, even invading Egypt in the shadow of his Macedonian predecessor. Even U.S. general Norman Schwarzkopf, when asked to comment on the U.S. victory in the Gulf War, cited a surprising inspiration: Alexander the Great.

But the historical Alexander—the man behind the legend—is even more intriguing than the stories that have sprung up about him in the centuries since his death. Alexander was more than simply a battle lord or king; through his remarkable achievements, he changed the face of the ancient world and laid the foundation for the great traditions of the Roman Empire. And he did it all in fewer than 12 years.

In Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Empire, go beyond the myth to learn about this great military leader and his world. In 36 spellbinding lectures, you'll enter the world of Alexander and witness the astonishing feats of military genius that made his name renowned for millennia after his death.

Your guide into the life of this legendary leader is Professor Kenneth W. Harl of Tulane University. An expert on the classical world, Professor Harl presents Alexander within the context of his life and times. You'll see Alexander as the successor to great political and cultural traditions as well as an innovative military genius who forged a new world order. Through this detailed portrait, you'll go beyond the legends and the myths to truly understand what made Alexander great.

Who Was Alexander?

The story of Alexander starts generations before his birth, in the tumultuous conflicts that shook ancient Greece. Professor Harl takes you deep into this history, providing a context for understanding Alexander's daunting challenges and incredible achievements.

The course begins with an overview of history in the Greek city-states in the centuries prior to Alexander's reign. You'll learn about the battles, alliances, and competing interests that shaped Alexander's world, from the clashes among Greek forces, to the earth-shattering conflict with the Persians, to the surprising rise of the Macedonians under Alexander's father, Philip II.

Next, you'll witness Alexander's sudden ascendance to the throne of Macedon and trace his remarkable military career as he conquered the Balkans, Persia, central Asia, and Egypt and pushed the boundaries of the known world with his historic invasion of India. In the final section of the course, you'll consider Alexander's legacy, examining the struggles for power that arose after his death and exploring his influence on later history.

Along the way, several Alexanders emerge: the military general, Macedonian king, Persian emperor, Egyptian pharaoh, and leader of the Hellenic League. You see all sides of Alexander and learn about the many aspects of this extraordinary individual—the passions that drove him, the extraordinary talents and insights he brought to the battlefield, and the intensive training that helped mold his character.

Throughout, Professor Harl cites contemporary sources, including classical histories and eyewitness accounts, to reveal Alexander as he was seen in his own time. You'll weigh and balance these various accounts and learn how Alexander has been interpreted by both ancient and modern historians.

On the Field of Battle

Key to understanding Alexander's greatness is an appreciation of his genius on the battlefield. With Professor Harl's expert guidance, you'll learn how battles were fought and won in the ancient world as you survey some of the key battles that rocked the Mediterranean prior to Alexander's reign. From the historic clash of the Persian pretender, Cyrus, against his brother Artaxerxes to Philip's extraordinary victory over the Greeks, Professor Harl illuminates the brilliant battlefield tactics that would later inspire Alexander.

Professor Harl elucidates Alexander's great martial achievements within this larger military history. You'll survey how Alexander continued the reorganization of the Macedonian army begun by his father and consider the methods he used to motivate his troops, inspire loyalty, and maintain discipline.

You'll also head onto the battlefield, where you'll take a tactician's perspective on some of Alexander's greatest triumphs:

  • The Battle of the Granicus River: Alexander waited to start the battle late in the day and employed audacious tactics to lure his Persian enemy off high ground and onto the river bank where the troops were most vulnerable.
  • The Battle of Issus: Alexander conducted a spectacular strategic march to surprise the great King Darius on the banks of the Pinarus in late afternoon and smashed the Persian weak left wing with a furious cavalry assault.
  • The Battle of Gaugamela: In his climactic clash with Darius, Alexander brilliantly manipulated his enemy's strategies, the local terrain, and the placement of his troops to deliver a staggering defeat that was his greatest martial masterpiece.
  • The Battle of the Hydaspes River: After undertaking a perilous nighttime river crossing, Alexander launched a masterful cavalry battle against daunting Indian forces.

Each battle is brought vividly to life through detailed lectures and schematic representations of Alexander's innovative troop maneuvers and tactics. Professor Harl provides a blow-by-blow account of each conflict, illustrating how this great general assessed the terrain, predicted the movements of his enemy, and moved his forces to win the day.

How Alexander Changed the World

Alexander's empire did not survive beyond his lifetime. After his untimely death at the age of 33, the vast empire he had so brilliantly united was divided among his various successors. And yet, despite the collapse of his empire, Alexander's legacy has cast a long shadow on the history of the West.

Professor Harl traces the many ways that Alexander continued to shape the world of the Mediterranean, the Near East, and beyond. You'll consider, for example, how Alexander transformed the economy of the ancient world through his various military and civic projects. Drawing on his special expertise in the study of ancient coins, Professor Harl illuminates how Alexander's large-scale projects put into circulation wealth that had been locked away in royal treasuries, creating a new and robust commercial economy.

You'll also examine the impact of Alexander's influence in other spheres:

  • The spread of Greek culture: Although a Macedonian by birth, Alexander espoused many Greek traditions and exported these "Hellenistic" practices to the lands he conquered.
  • The founding of new, Greek-style cities: Alexander founded a string of cities—his Alexandrias—throughout the Mediterranean world, the Near East, and central Asia.
  • The image of military leadership: After Alexander, subsequent rulers modeled their appearance on the iconic image of the young Macedonian conqueror.
  • The practice of religion: Alexander assimilated gods of his conquered lands to his system of Greek gods, and through his presumption of divine birth, laid the foundation for the veneration of later rulers.

An Enduring Legacy

As you examine Alexander's achievements, you'll see how, in Professor Harl's words, "a single individual can rapidly, fundamentally, and irrevocably change his world." From his dissemination of Hellenistic culture, which served to unify the Western world and lay the foundation for the Roman Empire, Alexander reshaped his world and left a legacy that is still felt today.

With Professor Harl as your guide, you'll gain a uniquely comprehensive understanding of this legacy. A noted scholar, teacher, and researcher, Professor Harl shares the fascinating insights drawn from his expert knowledge of historic battles, ancient writings, and the latest archaeological excavations. He neither faults nor praises Alexander's strategies and decisions, but instead gives an unbiased, wholly factual account of this enduring figure's life and its resonating impact on the world.

Join Professor Harl for this journey into the world of Alexander and see how the Western world—and, indeed, our world—still bear the marks of this legendary conqueror.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Alexander the Great—Conqueror or Tyrant?
    Who was Alexander, and how has his story come down to us? Learn about the ancient sources that contribute to our understanding of Alexander's life and legacy, and examine the ways this great figure has been perceived by modern scholars. x
  • 2
    Greece in the Age of Hegemonies
    The story of Alexander starts centuries before his birth, in the Greek city-states scattered throughout the Aegean. Trace the conflicts, alliances, and political crises that shaped the Greek world in the generations before Alexander and paved the way for his father Philip's remarkable conquest of the region. x
  • 3
    Achaemenid Persia
    The Persian Empire of the 4th century offered a formidable opponent to Alexander in his conquest for world domination. Explore the history and conditions of this mighty empire in the two centuries before Alexander's rise and examine the political and administrative structures that contributed to its success as a world power. x
  • 4
    The World of Early Macedon
    Although they would ultimately unite Greece, Philip and Alexander were not considered full-fledged Greeks. Learn about their "barbarian" homeland of Macedon, and investigate its relationship to the more culturally influential city-states of Greece. x
  • 5
    Philip II and the Macedonian Way of War
    In his victories, Alexander was indebted to his father, Philip II, for his remarkable innovations in warcraft. Investigate Philip's achievements, including his reorganization of the Macedonian army, and gain an appreciation of his achievements through a study of three decisive battles. x
  • 6
    The Third Sacred War
    Examine a turning point in Greek political history, the Third Sacred War, a conflict that pitted major powers in Sparta and Thebes in a battle for dominance. Trace the complicated negotiations in this conflict that led to Philip's control of Delphi and, ultimately, the Aegean. x
  • 7
    The Macedonian Conquest of Greece
    By 346 B.C., Philip of Macedon could congratulate himself on some stunning victories, but his greatest achievement was yet to come. Investigate the ingenious political and military maneuvers, culminating in the decisive Battle of Charonea, which gave Philip control of the Greek world. x
  • 8
    The League of Corinth
    Philip's defeat of Greece was matched only by the diplomatically ingenious settlement of his newly conquered territories. Analyze the ruler's strategies for running his empire, and take a close look at one of his most impressive administrative projects, his creation of the League of Corinth. x
  • 9
    Alexander, Heir Apparent
    Gain an introduction to Alexander as you learn about the influence of his parents, Philip II and Olympias. Examine the shaping force of life at the Macedonian court of Pella, explore the sense of "destiny" that would motivate the young king throughout his meteoric career, and investigate the lurid politics that put Alexander on the throne. x
  • 10
    Securing the Inheritance, 336–335 B.C.
    When Philip died, Alexander was only 20 or 21 years old. In this lecture, discover how the young king secured the remarkable political legacy left by his father, including his efforts to subdue Balkan peoples and take control of the League of Corinth. x
  • 11
    The Invasion of Asia
    When Alexander crossed into Asia in 334 B.C., he was essentially conquering the known world—or most of the civilized known world—for his generation. Take a close look at the forces Alexander brought to bear on this excursion, including his superb army, talented officers, and remarkable engineering corps. x
  • 12
    The Battle of the Granicus
    Join Alexander on the field of war for the first of his four greatest battles as he encountered the Persian forces at the Granicus River in May 334 B.C. Analyze the audacious and ingenious strategies that allowed Alexander to defeat his Persian foe in a stunning victory. x
  • 13
    The Turning Point—Issus and Tyre
    With three decisive victories—one battle and two sieges—Alexander essentially conquered the western half of the Persian Empire, and all in fewer than three years. Follow the battle strategies of Alexander as he drove the Persian king Darius from the battlefield in their first conflict. x
  • 14
    Alexander, Pharaoh of Egypt
    Following his remarkable victories over the Persians, Alexander entered the rich territories of Egypt. Explore the reasons for Alexander's easy conquest of the land of the pharaohs and learn about his great achievements there, including his establishment of a new city, Alexandria. x
  • 15
    Heroes, Oracles, and the Gods
    Alexander famously equated himself with heroic, semi-divine forebears, such as Achilles and Heracles. But did he really consider himself a god? Examine the evidence of Alexander's divine aspirations, and consider whether his emulation of the gods was pragmatic or idealistic. x
  • 16
    The Campaign of Gaugamela
    Two years after Alexander's resounding defeat of Darius, the two foes met again on the battlefield of Gaugamela. Study the strategies and tactics that Alexander employed in his most inspired campaign, which effectively gave the Macedonian king control of the entire Persian Empire. x
  • 17
    The Conquest of Iran
    Following his stunning victory at Gaugamela, Alexander pushed on into ancient Iran in pursuit of Darius. Trace his steps as he pursued the former Persian king, subdued the various satraps who ruled these vast territories, and established his reign over the eastern regions of Bactria and Sogdiana. x
  • 18
    Alexander on the Rim of the World
    After defeating the Persian Empire, Alexander defied expectation and continued his expansion into central Asia. Examine Alexander's wars of pacification to keep this new frontier under control, as well as his reorganization of the Macedonian army to prepare for fresh conquests. x
  • 19
    Governing and Taxing the Empire
    Alexander is often seen as the supreme man of action, conquering new lands and expanding his frontier. But how did this man of action rule the lands he had conquered? Explore how Alexander administered his extensive territories and consider whether he deliberately sought a policy of cultural unification. x
  • 20
    Alexander and the Macedonian Opposition
    Despite Alexander's military successes, between 330 B.C. and 327 B.C., there were signs of unrest among the Macedonian forces. Consult contemporary sources to learn about three major incidents that provide evidence of a growing sense of opposition to Alexander. x
  • 21
    The Invasion of India
    Embark with Alexander on his most stunning campaign into the Indus Valley. Explore Alexander's reasons for wanting to undertake this expedition, learn about Indian battle methods and terrain, and examine why the Indian rajahs presented such formidable opposition to the invading Macedonians. x
  • 22
    The Battle of the Hydaspes
    During the India campaign, Alexander waged his most remarkable battle at the Hydaspes River. Learn why this battle—which required intense fighting in a rising river against forces backed by trained elephants—represents the general Alexander at his best. x
  • 23
    Mutiny and Withdrawal
    Continue your study of Alexander's difficult eastward campaign by following the Macedonian forces as they trekked toward the mouth of the Indus River, and hear about the so-called mutiny of the Macedonian forces that halted Alexander's continued press into this forbidding territory. x
  • 24
    The Gedrosian Desert and Voyage of Nearchus
    After nearly 10 years on the march, Alexander's troops were ready to return to Macedon. Follow their long and dangerous march out of India across bleak stretches of landscape, and learn of the accompanying journey taken by Alexander's fleet, which would lay the course for future trade routes. x
  • 25
    Deification and Succession
    When Alexander returned from his India expedition, he had been away from his empire for almost six years and hadn't visited Macedonia in 10 years. Examine the administrative challenges he encountered upon his return and explore the changes he made to get his empire under control. x
  • 26
    Alexander and the Macedonians—Opis
    Learn about the final years of Alexander's reign before his premature death at the age of 33. Discover how his need to appease his new Persian subjects led to unrest among his Macedonian troops, culminating in the mutiny of Opis, and the steps Alexander took to quell this uprising. x
  • 27
    Alexander and the Greeks—The Lamian War
    Unlike his father, Philip, Alexander had a tenuous relationship with his Greek subjects and made many mistakes in his dealings with them after returning from India. Examine Alexander's position as the head of the League of Corinth, including the Greek uprising that followed his disastrous Exiles Decree. x
  • 28
    The Diadochoi, 323–316 B.C.
    At his death, Alexander failed to name a specific successor, saying instead that his empire should go to "the strongest." Meet the key players in the battle for supremacy of the Macedonian Empire, including some of Alexander's key generals, governors and satraps, and family members. x
  • 29
    The Partition of the Empire, 316–301 B.C.
    Continue your consideration of the break-up of Alexander's empire after his death and investigate the critical conflict in this confrontation, the Battle of Ipsus. Review the key players who maneuvered for power and examine their various solutions to the problem of how to rule the empire. x
  • 30
    The Hellenistic Concert of Powers
    The immense Macedonian Empire built by Alexander was completely dismantled in the aftermath of the climactic Battle of Ipsus. Trace the contours of the newly divided territories as they were divvied up by the victorious leaders: Seleucus, Lysimachus, Cassander, and Ptolemy. x
  • 31
    Macedonian Courts in the Near East
    By 275 B.C., the Macedonian Empire had been divided into three kingdoms. Explore the ways the rulers of these new kingdoms attempted to emulate Alexander in their use of coinage, their definition of kingship, their interest in exploration and voyages of discovery, and their founding of new cities. x
  • 32
    The Hellenization of the Near East
    Begin your consideration of the legacy left by Alexander with a study of the political consequences of the great Macedonian ruler's reign. Investigate the traces of Alexander's "Hellenizing" influence as seen in the Greek-style cities, sponsorship of athletic and cultural festivals, and political administration in Asia, Egypt, and Macedon. x
  • 33
    The Monetization of the Near East
    What was the effect of Alexander's massive military spending and city-building efforts on economic life in the Mediterranean? Explore how Alexander drastically transformed the economy of the ancient world through the widespread coinage of money, the creation of new markets, and the establishment of long-distance trade. x
  • 34
    Hellenization and the Gods
    Wherever he went, Alexander viewed the foreign gods he encountered as versions of the Greek deities he worshiped in Macedon. Delve into the effect of this practices on religion in the ancient world and examine to what extent Alexander can be said to have "Hellenized" worship in his empire. x
  • 35
    The Limits of Hellenization
    Why did Alexander's empire dissolve after his death? If his legacy was not his empire, what did he bequeath to his heirs? Consider the impact of Alexander's dissemination of Hellenistic culture on the ancient world and in later empires. x
  • 36
    Alexander the Great and the Shadow of Rome
    What would've happened if there had been no Alexander? Trace the influence of this great leader conqueror after his death, and explore his ultimate legacy as history's premier military general and the standard of excellence in leadership. x

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Your professor

Kenneth W. Harl

About Your Professor

Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
Tulane University
Dr. Kenneth W. Harl is Professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he teaches courses in Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader history. He earned his B.A. from Trinity College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. Recognized as an outstanding lecturer, Professor Harl has received numerous teaching awards at Tulane, including the coveted Sheldon H. Hackney Award. He has...
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Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Empire is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 75.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing story recounted by a great teacher Professor Harl guides us through a world long ago recounting the story of a young man from the Greek/Macedonian peninsula who somehow kept an army together in strange lands far from their homes for almost a decade. Rather than dwell on the interesting historical and geographic content (of which there is much}, it is probably more appropriate here to say simply that Dr. Harl tells a compelling (and almost unbelievable) story about a young leader who literally conquered the known (and much of the then "unknown") world, exhibited great personal courage in battle and somehow kept an army together thousands of miles from the homes of the soldiers for 9-10 years. Just for perspective, during the Vietnam war most U.S. soldiers who survived one year there boarded a flight to the U.S. on the 365th day. Dr. Harl provides his usual even-handed presentation on the contentious and poorly understood issues and sources.
Date published: 2020-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Lecturer and Professor My wife and i LOVED this course, It was well organized, clearly presented and extremely interesting. The professor made Alexander the Great come to life for us and he also has a nice sense of humor which helped to make the course more interesting. WE will take more courses from this professor, A+
Date published: 2020-08-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Dull I haven’t seen the entire course yet. I’m hopeful for improvement. So far the professor has discussed nothing but battles. He jumps back and forth in time repeatedly. He tells no story. Nothing to engage the listener. I only recommend it to someone that has understanding of the time period and isn’t looking to be engaged. Just the facts.
Date published: 2020-07-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Most boring professor ever I watched four lectures and gave up. I was bored to death by the professor who has no personality. He just rambled on with tons of worthless information with tons of names and dates .
Date published: 2020-06-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very thorough well presented lectures. There are excellent maps and illustrations.
Date published: 2020-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really great overview Lots of details and examples building up to Alexander's ascendancy, as well as during his conquests and after his death.
Date published: 2019-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Harl is the best. Dr. Harl is my favorite history professor. As with all other courses he has taught through the Teaching Company/Great Courses, this one excels. I love Dr. Harl’s style of presentation, the manner in which he speaks, the vast compendium of knowledge he brings, and his obvious passion for the subject matter. Every course he teaches is engaging, extremely educational, and for me just a pleasure to absorb. I only wish I had obtained my history degree under him at Tulane! He is brilliant and I cannot get enough of his lectures.
Date published: 2019-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Interesting! I really enjoyed the course. Although Prof. Harl does talk fast and threw out many names, the listener can easily get the narrative. I always had a sketchy view of Alexander and now I know what he did, and why it was important ! I used my great course plus app and although the company says that the manual is available online I was unable to find and download it. If you like history (and you don’t like want to take exams and write papers) this is a great course.
Date published: 2019-07-30
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