The Path of Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world over 2,000 years ago, all before he died at age 33. Peter Sommer, writer for followed the path of the ancient leader from Greece to Istanbul to Troy and beyond. His trip is described in his article In the footsteps of Alexander the Great.

“It took Alexander and his 40,000 soldiers eighteen months to reach Issus. I would refrain from fighting battles, besieging towns, and the occasional spot of pillaging, and so hoped to complete the route in some twenty weeks, covering about fifteen miles a day.

Turkey is a veritable treasure trove for those enthralled by Alexander. First stop should be Istanbul’s magnificent archaeological museum. There, pride of place, stands the Alexander sarcophagus. This was not Alexander’s personal coffin, the whereabouts of which has been hotly debated. Instead this tomb was excavated at Sidon and probably belonged to Abdalonymus, a mere gardener who was appointed as the local ruler by Alexander. In death as in life he wanted to show his continuing respect for his overlord, and so had Alexander depicted on his tomb.

To marvel properly at one of the finest pieces of craftmanship from the ancient world you really do have to drop to your knees. Carved in lustrous white marble, the sides are adorned with reliefs of battles and hunts charged with energy and grace. If one looks carefully, it’s possible to see the remnants of painted colours that highlighted the figures all the more, and the tiny holes where once tiny spears and swords were carefully positioned. One side shows Alexander at the hunt, a popular pastime amongst the Macedonian nobility and one of Alexander’s favourite pleasures. On another is Alexander at war, astride his trusty steed Bucephalas, rearing up on muscular legs above a fallen Persian horseman. The king himself, his head encased in a lion helmet, symbol of Hercules, stretches his right arm back over his shoulder with spear at the ready.”