Why do we call this man ‘Alexander the Great’?

I can understand the western world, the English or the Americans calling him ‘Alexander the Great’. After all, Ancient Greece is seen as the ‘cradle of Western Civilization’, the birthplace of democracy, rationalism, philosophy and the arts. Western powers, such as the Americans see themselves as heirs to this legacy, a legacy that stretches back through time in an unbroken line to the city-states of Ancient Greece. This is why, the Greek classics are considered to be the foundation of every modern liberal arts program across American Universities today. Even the American Government seems to use words such as ‘freedom’ and ‘civilization’ in much the same way as the Greek writers and politicians did millennia ago when talking about the Persian Empire.

Given all this, I can understand why he is called ‘the Great’ by western historians and I can understand why he is considered a national hero by the Greeks. But I cannot understand, why we, in India, refer to him as Alexander the Great and not as Alexander the Barbarian.

As an Indian, when I look at Alexander, I see an aggressor who attacked India with no previous history of rivalry or any just cause, I see a bloodthirsty tyrant who repeatedly massacred populations who had surrendered to him against oaths, and a barbarian who fought against all established codes of warfare then extant in India (this is described by Megasthenes in his book Indika and is also there in the notes section of my book). When I look at facts, I also strongly suspect that Alexander, might not, in fact, have won the Battle of the Hydaspes (purely a conjecture, which I have described in the notes section of my book).

Why do we, then, call him Alexander the Great in Indian history books? Chengiz Khan conquered far more territory than Alexander and the empire he built helped trade, commerce and the exchange of ideas between the East and the West for a number of centuries. The Mongolians call him ‘The father of the Mongols’. And yet, in the western consciousness, there is an image of him being little more than a bloodthirsty conqueror, a barbarian. Another conqueror Attila is called ‘the scourge of God’ while the propaganda against Napoleon used to be that he was the anti-christ.

Undoubtedly, this was what it seemed like to the nations who bore the brunt of these conquerors aggressions. So what should we and our history books see him as? I vote for barbarian.

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Published on March 06, 2017 08:26
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message 1: by Jiten Upadhyay (new)

Jiten Upadhyay (Team ThinkerViews) Hi Rahul,

A genuine and though provoking question!

Actually you yourself have mentioned in the book The Boy from Pataliputra something like, when a civilization was won over by the other, the customs, rituals and other stuff of the winner is accepted by the losers, by considering it could have been superior to their own (that's why the other party is the winner).

See, the Britishers have been out of India since 15 Aug 1947 (officially) but still we are (majority) in aroma of white skin and the customs of them. By seeing a better economy (by considering currency rates / wages and the picture presented to us), a lot of scholars do everything (a lot) to win over a foreign client, or to get a specific visa and dream living in the country like USA for example; it is also a kind of complex that they are better than us.

We Indians still consider the fair skin colour and English speaking person better than the person with the opposite. It is all in the mindset.

Today, we have probably forgotten the custom of asking logical questions and we illogically absorb everything fed to us.

It is totally against the basic idea of the culture we have inherited. Remember "Geeta" is nothing else but a Q/A session between Krishna and Arjuna and Krishna throughout insists Arjuna to keep asking questions till he is not satisfied. Can we think of such attitude by even a small scale religious figure also.

The same mindset made us to think everything coming from the west is good. Of course, there are several good things in every culture and we should respect them and even implement them in our life. But again, everything must not be followed blindly.

The same happens to even literature. While we consider some well know English authors as the icon (which they are in their own arena without a doubt) and their work as the masterpieces, we often not give that much importance to our own writers and literature.

Can we find any book better than Mahabharata around the world? But, when we talk about literature and quality we often given it a miss for Shakespeare's work (again, Shakespeare was indeed a good writer).

It is reflected in almost every aspect. Be it literature, technology or something else. A lot of people are not using their own logic and are still not independent fully (it is not only a physical condition but a mindset too) independent. So accepting what is said by the others as is.

And so, if Alexander is the great for them, how can we say not? (sarcasm intended).

Do you think that this is the reason why we call him the great?

Note: These are my personal views and not intended to be taken by anyone in ill manner.

message 2: by Rahul (new)

Rahul Mitra Editor wrote: "Hi Rahul,

A genuine and though provoking question!

Actually you yourself have mentioned in the book The Boy from Pataliputra something like, when a civilization was won over by th..."


Tumne mere dil ki baat bol di. For a long time, I have insisted that Mahabharat is probably the greatest story ever told. It can stand against any epic, mythological or fantasy novel written anywhere in the world...

The complexities, the shades of truth, lies, duty and dharma, the questions raised, the backstories of each of the characters and the depth of each character make it stand head and shoulders above anything else. It is a pity our own youth has not read Mahabharat and now reads cheap spin-offs and applauds without knowing how much more complex and interesting the original and its different regional variations are.

A lot of people would rather read trash written by Chetan Bhagat because it is in English and then rail against elitism of critics rather than read something quality written by Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Manto, Parsai or Pula. It is very sad.

By the way, you have a very intriguing name.

About Alexander, yes probably because we have taken a lot of our interpretations of history straight from the western world. So we unquestionably call him 'the great'

message 3: by Outis (new)

Outis It's not because Europe got its history from the East that we talk of Suleiman the Magnificent. Recognizable names are convenient. Foreign-language monikers work as well: Charlemagne, Harun al-Rashid and so forth.
About anti-Persian bigotry, some of their monarchs are also known as The Great over here, especially Cyrus (though future archeologists may wonder how he came to be known as Cyrus Imapd).

message 4: by Rahul (new)

Rahul Mitra Hi Outis,

Thanks for your comment.

I merely pointed out that one mans national hero can very possibly be another persons villain. Consider Attila (Known as the Hun ), Genghis Khan (seen as bloodthirsty and barbaric) or Vlad Dracula (known as Vlad the impaler). Both of these characters are heroes in their own nations and yet known by these monikers in the popular imagination.

Please understand, I am not saying that western scholarship is dishonest...but I am saying that there is a bias there which stems from ones national perception and that we should recognize that bias....

message 5: by Outis (new)

Outis Hi!
I happen to live under a pre-national Raj and my bias is that this whole nation thing is overrated. So by all means dump your national biases!
This East/West thing is biased as well by the way. It works fine for the purpose of discussing the relationship between India and Europe but there are other players in this world.
If you don't want to come out and say that English historiography is dishonest, I'll do it.

message 6: by Rahul (new)

Rahul Mitra Outis wrote: "Hi!
I happen to live under a pre-national Raj and my bias is that this whole nation thing is overrated. So by all means dump your national biases!
This East/West thing is biased as well by the way...."


Yes, these ideas I can wholeheartedly agree with....Some day in the distant future (perhaps when faced by aliens) we will realize that there is only nation- the nation of man....theoretically, I get that...

Cheers...Keep reading and keep writing. Take care...

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