Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great


Alexander III was the Ruler of Macedon, and creator of an empire that included Greece, Persia, Egypt, and many regions beyond them; commonly known as Alexander the Great (in Greek: Μέγας Ἀλέξανδρος : Megas Alexandros).


  • What an excellent horse do they lose, for want of address and boldness to manage him! ... I could manage this horse better than others do.
    • Statement upon seeing Bucephalas being led away as useless and beyond training, as quoted in Lives by Plutarch, as translated by Arthur Hugh Clough

  • Holy shadows of the dead, I’m not to blame for your cruel and bitter fate, but the accursed rivalry which brought sister nations and brother people, to fight one another. I do not feel happy for this victory of mine. On the contrary, I would be glad, brothers, if I had all of you standing here next to me, since we are united by the same language, the same blood and the same visions.

  • If I were not Alexander, I should wish to be Diogenes.
    • After Diogenes of Sinope who was lying in the sun, responded to a query by Alexander asking if he could do anything for him with a reply requesting that he stop blocking his sunlight. As quoted in "On the Fortune of Alexander" by Plutarch, 332 a-b

  • I do not steal victory.
    • Reply to the suggestion by Parmenion, before the Battle of Gaugamela, that he attack the Persian camp during the night, reported in Life of Alexander by Plutarch, as quoted in A History of Greece to the Death of Alexander the Great (1900) by John Bagnell Bury

  • If it were not my purpose to combine barbarian things with things Hellenic, to traverse and civilize every continent, to search out the uttermost parts of land and sea, to push the bounds of Macedonia to the farthest Ocean, and to disseminate and shower the blessings of the Hellenic justice and peace over every nation, I should not be content to sit quietly in the luxury of idle power, but I should emulate the frugality of Diogenes. But as things are, forgive me Diogenes, that I imitate Herakles, and emulate Perseus, and follow in the footsteps of Dionysos, the divine author and progenitor of my family, and desire that victorious Hellenes should dance again in India and revive the memory of the Bacchic revels among the savage mountain tribes beyond the Kaukasos…
    • As quoted in "On the Fortune of Alexander" by Plutarch, 332 a-b

  • Our enemies are Medes and Persians, men who for centuries have lived soft and luxurious lives; we of Macedon for generations past have been trained in the hard school of danger and war. Above all, we are free men, and they are slaves. There are Greek troops, to be sure, in Persian service — but how different is their cause from ours! They will be fighting for pay — and not much of at that; we, on the contrary, shall fight for Greece, and our hearts will be in it. As for our foreign troops — Thracians, Paeonians, Illyrians, Agrianes — they are the best and stoutest soldiers in Europe, and they will find as their opponents the slackest and softest of the tribes of Asia. And what, finally, of the two men in supreme command? You have Alexander, they — Darius!
    • Addressing his troops prior to the Battle of Issus, as quoted in Anabasis Alexandri by Arrian Book II, 7

  • Your ancestors came to Macedonia and the rest of Hellas [Greece] and did us great harm, though we had done them no prior injury. I have been appointed leader of the Greeks, and wanting to punish the Persians I have come to Asia, which I took from you.
    • Alexander's letter to Persian king Darius III of Persia in response to a truce plea, as quoted in Anabasis Alexandri by Arrian; translated as Anabasis of Alexander by P. A. Brunt, for the "Loeb Edition" Book II 14, 4

  • So would I, if I were Parmenion.
    • After Parmenion suggested to him after the Battle of Issus that he should accept Darius III of Persia's offer of an alliance, the hand of his daughter in marriage, and all Minor Asia, saying "If I were Alexander, I would accept the terms." (Variant translation: I would accept it if I were Alexander.) As quoted in Lives by Plutarch
    • Variants: I too, if I were Paremenio. But I am Alexander.
      So would I, if I were Parmenion.
      So should I, if I were Parmenion.
      So should I, if I were Parmenion: but as I am Alexander, I cannot.
      I would do it if I was Parmenion, but I am Alexander.
      If I were Parmenion, that is what I would do. But I am Alexander and so will answer in another way.
      So would I, if I were Parmenion, but I am Alexander, so I will send Darius a different answer.
      If I were Perdicas, I shall not fail to tell you, I would have endorsed this arrangement at once, but I am Alexander, and I shall not do it. (as quoted from medieval French romances in The Medieval French Alexander (2002) by Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox, p. 81)

  • Youths of the Pellaians and of the Macedonians and of the Hellenic Amphictiony and of the Lakedaimonians and of the Corinthians… and of all the Hellenic peoples, join your fellow-soldiers and entrust yourselves to me, so that we can move against the barbarians and liberate ourselves from the Persian bondage, for as Greeks we should not be slaves to barbarians.

  • Now you fear punishment and beg for your lives, so I will let you free, if not for any other reason so that you can see the difference between a Greek king and a barbarian tyrant, so do not expect to suffer any harm from me. A king does not kill messengers.

  • Are you still to learn that the end and perfection of our victories is to avoid the vices and infirmities of those whom we subdue?
    • As quoted in Lives by Plutarch, as translated by Arthur Hugh Clough

  • To the strongest!
    • After being asked, by his generals on his deathbed, who was to succeed him. It has been speculated that his voice may have been indistinct and that he may have said "Krateros" (the name of one of his generals), but Krateros was not around, and the others may have chosen to hear "Kratistos" — the strongest. As quoted in The Mask of Jove: a history of Graeco-Roman civilization from the death of Alexander to the death of Constantine (1966) by Stringfellow Barr, p. 6

  • There is nothing impossible to him who will try.
    • On taking charge of an attack on a fortress, in Pushing to the Front, or, Success under Difficulties : A Book of Inspiration (1896) by Orison Swett Marden, p. 55

  • I consider not what Parmenio should receive, but what Alexander should give.
    • On his gifts for the services of others, as quoted in Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: Giving the Derivation, Source, or Origin of Common Phrases, Allusions, and Words That Have A Tale To Tell (1905) by Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, p. 30
    • Variant: It is not what Parmenio should receive, but what Alexander should give.
    • quoted in Alexander : A History of the Origin and Growth of the Art of War from Earliest Times to the Battle Of Ipsus, B. C. 301 (1899) by Theodore Ayrault Dodge

  • Sex and sleep alone make me conscious that I am mortal.
    • As quoted in Alexander the Great (1973) by Robin Lane Fox
    • Unsourced variant : Only sex and sleep make me conscious that I am mortal.


  • An army of sheep led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by a sheep.
    • Attributed to Alexander, as quoted in The British Battle Fleet: Its Inception and Growth Throughout the Centuries to the Present Day (1915) by Frederick Thomas Jane, but many variants of this statement exist and have been attributed to others, though in research done for Wikiquote definite citations of original documents have not yet been found for any of them:
    • An army of sheep led by a lion are more to be feared than an army of lions led by a sheep.
      • Attributed to Chabrias, who died around the time Alexander was born.
    • It is better to have sheep led by a lion than lions led by a sheep.
      • Attributed to Polybius in Between Spenser and Swift: English Writing in Seventeenth Century Ireland (2005) by Deana Rankin, p. 124, citing A Contemporary History of Affairs in Ireland, from 1641 to 1652 (1880) by John Thomas Gilbert Vol. I, i, p. 153 - 157; but conceivably this might be reference to Polybius the historian quoting either Alexander or Chabrias.
    • An army composed of sheep but led by a lion is more powerful than an army of lions led by a sheep.
      • "Proverb" quoted by Agostino Nifo in De Regnandi Peritia (1523) as cited in Machiavelli - The First Century: Studies in Enthusiasm, Hostility, and Irrelevance (2005) by Mathew Thomson, p. 55
    • Greater is an army of sheep led by a lion, than an army of lions led by a sheep.
    • I am more afraid of one hundred sheep led by a lion than one hundred lions led by a sheep.
      • Attributed to Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754 – 1838) Variants: I am more afraid of an army of 100 sheep led by a lion than an army of 100 lions led by a sheep.
        I am not afraid of an army of one hundred lions led by a sheep. I am afraid of army of 100 sheeps led by a lion.
    • Variants quoted as an anonymous proverb: Better a herd of sheep led by a lion than a herd of lions led by a sheep.
      A flock of sheep led by a lion was more powerful than a flock of lions led by a sheep.
      An army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.
      It were better to have an army of sheep led by a lion than an army of lions led by a sheep.
      An army of sheep led by a lion, will defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.
      An army of sheep led by a lion would be superior to an army of lions led by a sheep.
      Unsourced attribution to Alexander: I would not fear a pack of lions led by a sheep, but I would always fear a flock of sheep led by a lion.
    • As one lion overcomes many people and as one wolf scatters many sheep, so likewise will I, with one word, destroy the peoples who have come against me.
      • This slightly similar statement is the only quote relating to lions in The History of Alexander the Great, Being the Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes (1889) as translated by E. A. Wallis Budge, but it is attributed to Nectanebus (Nectanebo II).

  • There are no more worlds to conquer!
    • Statement portrayed as a quotation in a 1927 Reader's Digest article, this probably derives from traditions about Alexander lamenting at his father's Philip's victories that there would be no conquests left for him, or that after his conquests in Egypt and Asia there were no worlds left to conquer. Some of the oldest accounts of this, as quoted by John Calvin state that on "hearing that there were other worlds, wept that he had not yet conquered one."
    • There are no more other worlds to conquer!
      • Variant attributed as his "last words" at a few sites on the internet, but in no published sources.

  • Now that the wars are coming to an end, I wish you to prosper in peace. May all mortals from now on live like one people in concord and for mutual advancement. Consider the world as your country, with laws common to all and where the best will govern irrespective of tribe. I do not distinguish among men, as the narrow-minded do, both among Greeks and Barbarians. I am not interested in the descendance of the citizens or their racial origins. I classify them using one criterion: their virtue. For me every virtuous foreigner is a Greek and every evil Greek worse than a Barbarian. If differences ever develop between you never have recourse to arms, but solve them peacefully. If necessary, I should be your arbitrator. You must not consider God like an autocratic despot, but as a common Father of all; so your behavior may resemble the life siblings have in a family. On my part I should consider all equals, white or blacks, and wish you all to be not only subjects of the Commonwealth, but participants and partners. As much as this depends on me, I should try to bring about what I promised. The oath we made over tonight’s libations hold onto as a Contract of Love.

Quotes about Alexander

  • Alexander sacrificed to the gods to whom it was his custom to sacrifice, and gave a public banquet, seated all the Persians, and then any persons from the other peoples who took precedence for rank or any other high quality, and he himself and those around him drank from the same bowl and poured the same libations, with the Greek soothsayers and Magi initiating the ceremony. Alexander prayed for various blessings and especially that the Macedonians and Persians should enjoy harmony as partners in government. The story prevails that those who shared the banquet were nine thousand and that they all poured the same libation and gave the one victory cry as they did.

  • The ancient writers tell of the peculiar "melting" glance of his eyes, or of the way in which, as Plutarch says, his body seemed to glow. They are evidently trying to describe something which they found it difficult to express. He also grew up, to the delight of Philip, Serious-minded, untiring, passionately keen to succeed in any difficult task, and yet more keen the more difficult it was.
    He was a great reader, too. He had been early caught by the glamour of the Tale of Troy, like most Greek boys; and he never grew weary of it. As far as the Oxus and the Indus, he carried with him his personal copy of the Iliad...
    • A. R. Burn, in Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic Empire (1948), p.11

  • When he says that in that day all his thoughts perish, or flow away, perhaps under this expression he censures the madness of princes in setting no bounds to their hopes and desires, and scaling the very heavens in their ambition, like the insane Alexander of Macedon, who, upon hearing that there were other worlds, wept that he had not yet conquered one, although soon after the funeral urn sufficed him.
    • John Calvin, in his interpretation of Psalm 146 in On The Book Of Psalms (1557) as translated by Rev. James Anderson (1849)

  • Dhu al-Qarnain is Alexander the Greek, the king of Persia and Greece, or the king of the east and the west, for because of this he was called Dhul-Qarnayn [meaning, "the two-horned one"]...
    • Ibn Hisham, in a note on the Qur'an; see also Alexander the Great in the Qur'an.

  • We are not in the situation of poor Alexander the Great, who wept, as well indeed he might, because there were no more worlds to conquer; for, to do justice to this queer, odd, rantipole city, and this whimsical country, there is matter enough in them to keep our risible muscles and our pens going until doomsday.
    • Washington Irving in Salmagundi : Or, The Whim-whams and Opinions of Launcelot Langstaff, Esq. and Others (1835)

  • When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.
    • "Hans Gruber" in Die Hard (1988); this is often mistaken as a direct quote from more ancient sources, but this phrasing seems to have originated in this movie.

  • Once upon a time, in days of long ago, Alexander the Great complained bitterly that there were no worlds left for him to conquer.
    • Alfred Wainwright, in A Pennine Journey : The Story of a Long Walk in 1938 (1986), p. 1

External links

Primary Sources