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Alexander the Great - Module Outline

This module investigates the life of Alexander, king of Macedon (336-23), called ‘the Great’. He is often viewed as one of the very greatest ‘Greats’ in world history, a man who helped to transform his small kingdom into one of the greatest empires the world had ever known in less than a decade. For that reason his reign marks the end of one epoch, the Classical era, and the beginning of a rather different epoch, the Hellenistic age. And these transformations affected not just the Greek world but also the Ancient Near East, so that Alexander or Iskander is a significant figure in Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Islam and in Iraqi, Iranian, Egyptian and Indian histories and identities.
One question that needs to be answered therefore is whether Alexander was one of those rare individuals who changes world-history simply because of his own individual character, talents and luck – this is called ‘great man history’ and it is considered old-fashioned among modern historians. What is the problem with it?
Another question that is often asked in modern accounts of Alexander is whether Alexander was a good thing or a bad thing. Was Alexander a monster or a hero? How can we decide such a question? Is such a question even appropriate for historians to ask? Or are we above such things?
Before we even start to approach any such questions however we need first of all to ask whether we can know anything definite about this Alexander in the first place; the sources are mostly written many years after his death and none of them have been considered completely objective.

Aims and Objectives

  • To give students an understanding of the modern debates about Alexander.
  • To enable students critically to analyse the materials available for the study of Alexander and to construct their own conclusions as to fact, from such analysis.
  • To help students understand what Alexander and his army did and how they were able to do it.
  • To help students understand Alexander’s symbolic significance for both contemporary and post-Alexandrian nations and cultures.
  • To help students understand Alexander’s impact and effects.
  • To develop students’ skills in the attentive reading, assimilation and analysis of historical evidence, in the perception of connections between issues in different aspects of the subject, and in the presentation of conclusions in a clear and comprehensible form.
  • To develop students’ skills in discussing debating as a group and cooperating as a team to make oral presentations.

fresco of alexander the great