Alexander, a great ethnic cleanser

5th November 2004 at 00:00
British cinemas will soon be visited by Oliver Stone's film about Alexander the Great. The Macedonian warrior king, with his genius for military leadership, is no stranger to the historian, nor is he to the business world which reveres him as a model of brilliant management and scrupulously analyses his techniques of military leadership.

Alexander would be pleased. He once told the historian Aristobolus that he would like to come back after death and discover what people said about him. The propaganda has lasted nearly 2,500 years. Nineteenth and early 20th-century imperialist historians portrayed Alexander as bringing civilisation to the hordes of Asia.

Alexander's exalted role is really the product of an excellent propaganda machine which only proves the poet's point that we much prefer dreams to the harsh reality of life. Alexander was a killer, a tyrant, a butcher and one of history's great ethnic cleansers.

Alexander himself closely studied Xenophon's Cyropaedia (written about 500 BC) a treatise on leadership which has as much relevance for today's leader. Headteachers, please take note. It advocates that leaders should so dazzle followers with their image that they blindly obey whatever he commands. Alexander was also a student of Aristotle's theory of leadership.

The famous philosopher, who was his tutor, advocated democracy but, at Alexander's insistence, conceded that rule by one man was permissible when that individual was superior in virtue to everyone else.

Alexander desired to achieve his ends whatever the costs and believed that he was invincible. These beliefs led to outstanding victories in battle against incredible odds, occasions when Alexander's bravery, stamina and genius were displayed. Off the battlefield he was truly terrifying to anyone who disputed or criticised his leadership.

He liked to portray himself as the common soldier, the democratic general.

Yet those who opposed him during his 11-year reign suffered for it. His bodyguard Cleitus, who probably saved his life at the battle of the Granicus, was killed by Alexander at a party because he dared to criticise him. Callisthenes, his resident historian, was starved to death in a cage because he objected to proskynesis - full prostration before the king. The city of Thebes was razed and its 35,000 surviving inhabitants sold as slaves because they refused to accept Alexander's will. Alexander was also the first real ethnic cleanser, waging total war on the brahmins of India, determined to eradicate them.

Alexander's theory of leadership can hardly be recommended to a headteacher. It is summarised in one phrase: "The will of the ruler has force of law, ignore that will at your peril". Alexander believed in discussion, as long as the conclusion was the one he wanted. During his invasion of India he called a meeting to discuss whether they should advance or retreat, Alexander, of course, advocated the former.

Coenus, one of his deputies, advised that if Alexander wanted further war he should return to Macedon and collect more troops. Furious, Alexander had to give way but Coenus died of a "sickness" shortly afterwards. Alexander even turned on old family friends and supporters such as General Parmenio, who could assume a great deal of the credit for some of Alexander's victories. Alexander dispatched assassins who murdered Parmenio as he read a fictitious letter from his own son who had already been liquidated.

Alexander's staff were not impressed. One of his leading deputies Antipater, posed the question: "If Parmenio was guilty, whom do we trust? If he was innocent what is to be done?"

A short while later Alexander attended a staff party in Babylon where he abruptly fell ill, and died a few days later of symptoms suspiciously akin to arsenic poisoning. I suppose there is a moral somewhere in this, namely, if Alexander is your model of leadership, all well and good, but never attend a staff party.

Paul Doherty is head of Trinity Catholic high school, Woodford Green, Essex. His latest novel, Alexander the Great: Death of a God, is published by Constable, pound;17.99

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