This past week, the Central Archaeological Council of Greece announced their approval of a plan for certain restoration projects in the ancient city of Pella. A study to this end has been underway since 2016, but this is the first step toward that dream. It will aim to preserve and restore segments of the large ornate entrance and the main ceremonial building. They will eventually be open to the public. 

Pella - panoramio
Pella – panoramio by Colin W  is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Pella is best known as the capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia, and the birthplace of Alexander. In honor of Pella, here are six crazy tales about Alexander the Great. Many ancient historians wrote of Alexander, and many of their accounts still exist today. They paint a reasonably accurate picture of the young conqueror and his exploits. However, the sources are not always in total agreement, and some tales blur the line between fact and fiction. Enjoy reading below, and decide for yourself how far the truth goes:

1. Alexander paid a peculiar tribute to Achilles in Troy:

Alexander was heavily influenced by the Trojan War. His mother’s ancestors claimed to trace their roots back to Achilles. His tutor, none other than the great philosopher Aristotle, had given him a copy of Homer’s Illiad. He slept with the book and a dagger under his pillow every night. He likened himself to a next Achilles, and his best friend and possible lover, Hephaestion, to Patroclus. When the Macedonians arrived in Troy, he could not help but visit the tomb of Achilles. He took the great hero’s shield, which he used for the remainder of his campaigning. After placing oil and garlands on the sarcophagus, he and his closest friends ran a race, completely naked, around the gravestone. 

Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great by Johann Heinrich Schönfeld – Web Gallery of Art  is licensed under Public Domain

2. His wild drinking and quick temper caused the death of one of his top generals:

The Macedonians greatly enjoyed drunken carousing. In fact, Alexander had gotten into a serious fight with his father at Philip’s wedding to his seventh wife. The situation had almost come to violence. While in the city of Maracanda, it did. One of Alexander’s older generals, Cleitus the Black, began to voice concerns over Alexander’s many adoptions of Persian customs. When the yelling match escalated, Cleitus finally screamed out that Alexander would be nothing without his father. 

Enraged, Alexander speared the man through the chest. When he came to his senses, he was horrified. Cleitus’s sister had been his nurse, and Cleitus had saved Alexander’s life at the Battle of Granicus River. His friends had to stop him from killing himself, and forcibly take him to his tent. Alexander fell into mourning, and refused to eat or sleep for days, until his friends finally managed to pull him out of his depression. 

3. The Queen of the Amazons sought him as a lover:

While in the Hyrcanian frontier, the Amazon Queen and three hundred of her soldiers came to visit Alexander. Impressed by her presence and dignity, he asked her if she had any request to make of him. Completely unabashed, she declared that she had come to conceive a child with him. She said that it was obvious she was the best of all women, and that he was the most remarkable among all men. 

A child from the two of them would be destined to “surpass the rest of mankind in excellence.” She proposed that if the child were a girl, she would keep her with the Amazons. If it was a boy, she would send him to his father as a worthy heir to the throne. Alexander agreed, and they spent thirteen days as lovers, until she believed she was with child.  

‘Alexander the Great and Thalestris’ by Giovanni Ghisolfi is licensed under Public Domain

4. In India, he survived taking a four foot arrow through the chest:

During an assault on the stronghold of the Mallian people, Alexander’s army was reluctant to attack. When the men would not climb the siege ladders, Alexander mounted one himself, and raced to the top of the walls. Alone and exposed, he was an easy target. In a daring decision typical of the young conqueror, Alexander leapt down into the middle of the stronghold. Desperately afraid for their king, the men now threw themselves at the ladders so intensely that the ladders broke, and only three of Alexander’s closest bodyguards made it up. 

While defending himself alone, he was shot by a four foot arrow that passed into his side, through his lung, and out at the neck. The three men who accompanied him defended him fiercely, but fell one by one, either dead or seriously wounded. Eventually, his men broke into the city. Believing their beloved king dead, they massacred the citizens in a rage. Yet Alexander, amazingly, survived and healed. 

5. He cured his friend Ptolemy with the help of a prophetic dream:

Only a few weeks after Mallia, the Macedonians fought and defeated the Indian Brahmins. As the battle concluded, they were horrified to discover that the Brahmins had tipped many of their weapons with poison. The barest scratch was enough to begin a slow, painful death. Among those afflicted was one of Alexander’s closest friends, Ptolemy. A sharp thinker and excellent soldier, Ptolemy was also kind and approachable. He was beloved not only of Alexander, but the entire army. Alexander refused to leave Ptolemy’s side. Eventually, late into the night, he fell asleep, and in a dream he saw the plant that would cure the poison. His soldiers found the plant for him, he administered it, and Ptolemy recovered. Ptolemy would later be among the most successful of Alexander’s successors, and found the long-lasting Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt.

6. Alexander probably died several days later than his friends realized:

Death of Alexander the Great by Unknown author is licensed under Public Domain

Several ancient sources mention that after Alexander’s unexpected death at the age of thirty-three, his body remained pure and unspoiled for over a week with no special preservation. This was in the heart of summer in the city of Babylon, and highly unlikely. What probably happened was that Alexander fell into a deep coma before death. Unbeknownst to his friends, he remained alive even as they mourned him and began to quarrel over his kingdom. 

After Alexander

Following the death of Alexander, his generals fought for over four decades as they vied for territory and power. Macedonia fell under the rule of the Antigonids. Many of the ruins that remain today were built in this era, including the large agora, or market, and many opulent additions to the palace. After King Perseus lost the Third Macedonian War in 168 B.C., Rome took administrative control of Macedonia. Pella likely began as the administrative seat of the roman governor, but around 100 years later, the city of Thessalonica took that role. Between 45 and 30 B.C., Rome granted the city the status of colonia. Though little in Pella remains standing, the archaeological site of the ancient city is extensive.  

Shops right along the eastern edge of the agora, Pella by Carole Raddato is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Sources: Plutarch, Life of Alexander; Curtius, The History of Alexander; Arrian, Anabasis and Indica; Diodorus Siculus, Library of History.

Header photo:  Alexander the Great by Ruthven is licensed under  Public Domain

What to See Here:

Most of Pella’s remains date from the time of Antigonus II in the early third century BC, when the city was at the height of its prosperity. The Royal Palace is perhaps the most magnificent of these. Only partly excavated, it covers a staggering 60,000 square metres and dates back as far as the time of Philip II. Its bath complex was added slightly later, under the reign of Cassander (305 – 297 BC). Little of the city wall that Livy described has survived, though part of a brick rampart is visible just north of the palace. Nor do the opulent villas that once housed Pella’s famous mosaic floors still stand (the only testament to their existence besides some traces of wall being the mosaics themselves). Artifacts recovered from the site are on display at the Archaeological Museum of Pella.

To find out more: Timetravelrome.