Alexander’s Aims – Grand Design or Growing Ambition?


You would have thought that, somewhere, there would have been some clear statement, of Alexander's intentions – of what he was trying to achieve.

But actually, historians disagree about Alexander's aims.



The Primary Record

The classical sources represented Alexander as a man of unlimited ambitions. Plutarch, in his speech Alexander's Fortune and Virtue, made it clear that he believed Alexander’s aim to have been the oikoumene (the inhabited world), and Aristobolus recorded his desire to be ‘lord of all’.


Arrian (Book 7.1), also, opines:

For my own part I cannot conjecture with any certainty what were his plans; and I do not care to guess. But this I think I can confidently affirm, that he meditated nothing small or mean; and that he would never have remained satisfied with any of the acquisitions he had made, even if he had added Europe to Asia, or the islands of the Britons to Europe; but would still have gone on seeking for some unknown land beyond those mentioned.



Secondary Historians

Following these classical writers, early historians (such as the 19th century genius, bishop and historian Connop Thirlwall) also, tended to accept that a man of such great achievements must have had great designs from the beginning. It was very easy to take the stories of Alexander’s youth at their face value (and not as post-hoc inventions) and to declare (with my childhood Newnes Pictorial Encyclopaedia) that here was a young man aware of a destiny to rule the world.

Connected to this approach, has been a school of thought which sees Alexander as taking up where his father Philip II left off. The invasion of Asia, claimed William Tarn, was Alexander’s ‘inheritance’. By these interpretations, Alexander came to the throne with a fully-formed ambition - bequeathed to him by his father - to rule the world.

Others cite his self-identification with Achilles, and his lust for glory. Even if his political objectives were not fully-formed on his accession, they suggest, Alexander came to the throne with a psychological imperative simply to go on conquering more and more and more.

More recently, however, historians have questioned this ‘Grand Design’ view of Alexander. Ian Worthington (2003) comments: ‘Alexander probably did not aim to march as far east as he did; things changed with the amount of time he spent in Asia.’
The Greek writer Polybius thought that Alexander initially embarked on his campaign in 335bc simply to impress and confirm his leadership of the Greeks – an aim which was amply achieved at the Granicus; but starting from this point, the historian PA Brunt (1965) outlined a progression of growing ambitions which led Alexander, first to liberate the Greek cities of Asia Minor, then to humble Darius, then to replace him, and then to seek to go further still into India and beyond. Brunt linked this to Alexander’s growing belief in his own divinity – if he was a god, then the whole world should bow down to him.

By this interpretation, Alexander appears as a classical Napoleon or Hitler, led on by his growing megalomania to conquer more, and further, until eventually geography (and death) imposed their own, devastating, limits.

But such an interpretation raises as many questions as it answers. IF Alexander’s ambitions grew, how and when did they do so? What were the key moments in his developing intentions and what, at any one point in time, were his wider objectives – what was his ultimate target as he began his invasion, for example, or after the Granicus, or as he besieged Tyre, or after the oracle at Siwah etc? 





Go through the SOURCES of Alexander's life, selecting key illustrative passages, and defining/inferring the extent of Alexander's aims at that point in time.
Remember to evaluate their validity - a single valid source will outweigh a dozen passages which are all imaginary or full of errors.

In your opinion, did Alexander's aims change over time - and, if so, how and when?