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Leaders of Civ 6 - Alexander the Great

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

Alexander the Great leads Macedonia in Sid Meier's Civilization VI. He was the first ruler to hold sway over an empire that stretched all the way from Europe to India. Civ 6 is a turn-based grand strategy game where you control a historic civilization. You can choose from one of several leaders, each bringing their own unique units and abilities to the game. But who was Alexander the Great?

Alexander meets Diogenes
Have you heard about me?

The Young Prince and The King of Nowhere - Laying a Foundation

Macedonia in 360 BCE was a backwater of the Greek world. They were constantly raided by their powerful neighbors, Thebes, Illyria, and Paeonia. Alexander the Soon-to-be-born's father, Philip II had spent part of his youth as a hostage in Thebes. There he learned from the greatest military leader of his time, Epaminondas, the man responsible for breaking the military dominance of the Spartans.

Philip II returned to Macedonia to serve his brother, Perdiccas. He was found worthy of military command, and soon thereafter would find himself king of about-to-be-conquered Macedonia. Turns out that Perdiccas was a bad commander. He died fighting the Illyrian invasion of 359 and left Philip to deal with the consequences. Adding to his problems, the Paeonians were raiding to the north and two other claimants to his throne were being supported by foreign powers. Philip had to think fast, or his son would never grow up to be the king of the world.

Philip bribed his enemies to lay off their invasion. He used the time he bought to create a military power that would soon redefine the Greek world. Starting with the Sarissa. Philip had long known how useful the spear was as a weapon of war. You could stab someone who was just out of stabbing reach. The problem was that Greeks loved spears. Enter the Sarissa, a slightly longer spear! Using this advanced technology the Macedonian soldier could do to the Greek soldier what the Greek soldier could do to sword-wielding barbarians. The innovations and tactics he trained his soldiers in, in this first year would prove pivotal in what was to come.

Philip invaded Paeonia in 358 BCE and crushed the Illyrians shortly thereafter. It was more than his longer spears, he was a masterful tactician. The next year, 357 BCE, he married Olympias, the Molossian princess of Epirus. This stabilized his Western frontier. Next, he retook Amphipolis, a city he ceded to Athens as a bribe to end the war he inherited from Perdiccas. This gave him access to Thrace, which he invaded for their newly discovered gold and silver deposits. Philip renamed the west Thracian Crenides to Philippi in the same year that Alexander was born. This habit of naming places after yourself was a hallmark of Alexander's reign, too.

Macedonia's neighbors didn't like what the backwater was doing. They formed a coalition to oppose Philip. It took them 10 years to admit that they couldn't defeat him and retake Amphipolis. Athens was a naval power and their soldiers were a bit wobbly on land it seems.

Philip conquered his way south, finally being halted at the gates of Thermopylae. The same pass held by the 300 Spartans (and some other Greeks) against the invading Persians so long ago. This time it was held by Athenians. Unlike mighty Xerxes, Philip didn't attack the pass in a show of strength. Instead, he opted to take it by negotiation.

The Thessalian League acknowledged Philip's leadership abilities and appointed him as their Archon around 352 BCE. Philip used this new position to aid in his brokering of peace with Athens. He would establish the League of Corinth in 337 BCE. This alliance was meant to ensure a general peace in Greece, and included all of the Greek city-states, except Sparta.

His mind was cast further afield. Persia beckoned.

The Boy and The Horse - Enter Bucephalus

According to Plutarch, Alexander tamed the untameable horse in 344 BCE. He was 13 or 14 years old at the time. The horse in question was a huge Thessalian stallion with blue eyes and a white star on its forehead. None had succeeded in taming the beast before. Its owner asked for 13 talents for the horse, but Philip had no interest in an untamable horse.

Alexander was entranced by the horse. He likely saw himself conquering the world from atop its mighty back. The young prince made a wager with his father, if he couldn't tame the horse himself he would pay the money back to his father.

Alexander approached the frantic beast with soothing words. He dropped his fluttering cloak so as to not spook it. Noticing the fear in the great horse's eyes, Alexander followed its gaze to the shadow it cast on the ground. The horse was scared of its own shadow. Alexander the Observant turned the horse to face the sun so that it no longer saw its shadow. A calm came over it, and the horse was tamed. Alexander named the horse Bucephalus, which means "Ox-Head". They would one day conquer most of the world together.

Philip is said to have been so impressed by his son's achievement that he said to him:

"O my son, look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee."

Bucephalus would die at the Battle of Hydaspes. This would be Alexander's last great battle, too.

Aristotle and Alexander - Philosophers and Barrels

Alexander had the benefit of learning from one of the greatest thinkers of his time, Aristotle. He studied under him from the age of 13-16. Aristotle taught him about philosophy, medicine, and scientific investigation. Alexander's reasoning ability would serve him all throughout his short life, as it had during the taming of Bucephalus.

One aspect of Aristotle's tutelage that Alexander would later reject was the philosopher's ideas about non-Greeks. Aristotle held that non-Greek people should be treated as slaves. Alexander would spread his empire to encompass so many different cultural groups that he came to the conclusion that it was neither possible nor moral to do as he had been taught. He was, in this way, more like the Persian emperors whose lineage he would supersede.

This wouldn't be Alexander's last interaction with a famous philosopher. Years later, when Alexander the King made his way through Greece, he came across Diogenes in Corinth. Diogenes was living in a wooden barrel at the time, likely because philosophy has never been a particularly profitable career. Alexander came to him clad in fine armor and rich fabrics. The king asked Diogenes:

"Ask of me what thou wilt and thou shalt have it"

To which Diogenes replied:

"Stand out of my light"

The King is Dead, Long Live the King - Assassination of Philip II

Alexander the Teen had grown into a formidable leader himself. He defeated the Maedi from Thrace in 340 BCE. Philip had gone to conquer Byzantium and left his 16-year-old son in charge. The Maedi saw this as an invitation and attacked the capital.

Soon Alexander was given command of some soldiers in the battle of Chaeronea. This is the battle where Philip defeated the united Greek city-states. Alexander proved himself by breaking the Sacred Band of Thebes. This Sacred Band was a famous cavalry group made up of 150 pairs of lovers. Their defeat would mark the first time that Alexander broke a legendary enemy in combat, and it wouldn't be the last.

Philip II decided, one year later, that his Molossian bride, Olympias, wasn't Greek enough for the king of Greece. He separated from Alexander's mother and married Cleopatra, not that one, the Macedonian in 338 BCE. There was some kind of curfuffle at the wedding. Olympias and Alexander were exiled to Epirus, and they would later travel to Illyria. Philip and Alexander would reconcile their differences soon enough though. Unfortunately for Alexander, the new queen had given birth to a son. This development put Alexander's inheritance in jeopardy. Nothing like a baby stealing your inheritance to foster a strong familial bond.

Alexander the Second-Class Son wouldn't have to wait long for the fates to set things right. At his sister's wedding in 336 BCE, he would witness his father's assassination. Speculation about Alexander's complicity abounded. He was wise to kill the assassins immediately.

Philip II arranged for his daughter, another Cleopatra that isn't the one you are thinking of, to marry his brother-in-law. This sort of thing was of course quite normal back in the day before people knew about the repercussions of inbreeding.

The king was killed by a man named Pausanias. He was a young Macedonian noble who held a grudge against Philip's young wife's uncle, Attalus. The grudge clearly extended to King Philip II, as he was the one who denied Pausanias the right to exact his own justice upon Attalus. Naturally, the suspicion fell on Alexander the Next-in-Line and his mother Olympias.

Due to Alexander the Pretty Good's reputation with the army, he was able to succeed Philip II without much opposition. Well, almost none, and no opposition that didn't find a swift death.

New King, Who Dis? - Proving Himself at Home

Alexander the Prince became king after his father, Phillip II, was assassinated by people who totally did not work for Alexander. The assassin was killed as soon as the deed was done, and with him, he took his secrets to the grave. Whether it was a plot by disgruntled nobles or a scheme concocted by Olympias and Alexander, the outcome remains the same.

Many of the territories previously conquered by Philip took this opportunity to revolt, as you do. They saw the 20-year-old king as potentially weak. This would turn out to be a mistake. His enemies and allies alike would soon learn that to stand against Alexander was to confront destiny itself.

First, he struck down the princes of Lyncestis who were allegedly behind the plot to assassinate his father. This accusation came from Alexander, so take it with a pinch of salt. Next, he had all of his political rivals put to the sword along with all of their supporters. Notice a pattern yet? Yeah, folks are going to die. Kind of like his dad did...

Thessaly was the first to be put in their place. Alexander the Intolerant crushed their resistance. Soon thereafter he was appointed as Generalissimo by an assembly of the Greek League of Corinth, who were likely terrified of him. The plan to invade Persia was still to go ahead. Alexander would be at the head of the greatest army Greece had ever produced. They placed their faith in this scary yuppy, and he would carry it to their enemies.

On his way back up to Macedon, Alexander stopped at Delphi to consult the Oracle. She did the sensible thing and told the twenty-year-old he was invincible. Alexander the Invincible liked the way that sounded. His faith in the Oracle's prophecy would see him charging recklessly into the hairiest whirlpools of violence during battle.

Alexander's first move as Generalissimo was to secure Thrace. Thracians had been more than a thorn in the side of Macedonia for ages. The army of united Greece forced its way through the Shipka Pass and beat the Triballi into submission. Next, they crossed the Danube river and defeated the Getae. While he was bringing Thrace to heel, the Illyrians saw their opportunity to sneak in from the west. Alexander the Getting the Hang of This War Thing turned his army back to Macedon to correct the Illyrians. They had formed a coalition against him, but he swept their army aside with ease. Spending the earliest part of his rule waging war on his ancestral enemies and allies alike taught Alexander how to use his army, and taught the army to trust their young leader.

Thebes was the next to revolt. Someone spread a rumor of Alexander's death, which naturally destabilized the young king's rule. The Thebans declared independence and petitioned Athens for support. Demosthenes, an Athenian statesman, championed their cause, and the vote to help them was passed. The other Greek states liked Thebes and viewed them as an icon of Greek-ness. Thebes was the hottest thing on the block.

Alexander the Offended marched his army down to Thebes and demanded their surrender. The Thebans refused. What followed would put an end to any thought of Greek rebellion against Alexander, for a while. His Macedonian army razed the city. The only things left standing were the temples and a poet, Pindar's, house. Little Alexander liked Pindar. Arrian, and Diodorus both state that the decision to raze Thebes and sell the population into slavery was made by Alexander's greek allies.

Alexander, in a practically Assyrian move, sold the entire population into slavery. Athens apologized. Greece mourned the loss of Thebes. They would no longer oppose Alexander. Probably because he was quickly escalating his brutality in his haste to get at Persia.

Alexander's Army - Pointier than the Rest

The army that Philip II had created and that his son would wield was formidable. Here we see an example of the power of combined arms. They weren't the first to mix horses, long sticks, short sticks, and throwing sticks. Phillip had drilled his army into an efficient machine of war. They did well against fellow Greeks, and even better against the Persians.

Alexander's army consisted of 40,000 soldiers. 9000 Phalangites formed the center, 3000 Hypaspists on their flanks, 7000 Greek Hoplites as backup, 8000 skirmishers armed with javelins and bows, 900 mounted Thracian scouts, 1700 allied cavalry, and finally the famous companion cavalry of Macedon.

The main bulk of the army was made up of a Phalanx wielding the 18ft Sarissa. They wore very little body armor and had a small shield strapped to their left arm. One might assume they were vulnerable as the core of an army, but remember that the Sarissa was twice the length of the spears used by other armies. Getting close enough to hurt them was near impossible. This Macedonian Phalanx was vulnerable to being flanked due to the difficulty in maneuvring the Sarissa.

The Hypaspists, or Shield Bearers, will be familiar to players of Sid Meier's Civilization 6. They protected the phalanx's flanks. Armed with a Dory, short spear, xiphos or kopis sword, and a heavier shield called aspis. They wore a hoplite's helmet, linothorax armor, and greaves. Heavier armor and shorter weapons enabled them to get into position with greater ease and fend off attackers hoping to get at the phalanx's juicy sides.

Alexander himself led a group of the formidable companion cavalry or Hetairoi. These elite cavalry troops are the second unique Macedonian unit seen in Civilization 6. The name, Hetairoi, is derived from "those close to the king" in Greek. They were given the best horses to ride, and the shiniest armor to wear. Each cavalryman was equipped with a Xyston, a long thrusting spear, and wore either a muscle-cuirass or linothorax with shoulder guards and a Beotian helmet. The Hetairoi would prove themselves time and time again as they stuck close to Alexander on his near-suicidal charges.

Skirmishers carried javelins and bows. Essentially anything that could stab someone from far away. These stick-chuckers would be put to great use during the battle of Gaugamela at the height of the war with Persia. Their job was usually to thin out the enemy before they got to the phalanx.

They were joined by the classic Greek hoplites. These citizen-soldiers were heavily armed and armored. They fought in close formation, standing together in a phalanx. Hoplites wore heavy bronze armor including helmets, breastplates, and greaves. Here was the pinnacle of ancient battle prowess. Hoplite mercenaries were in high demand. The Sparta