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Conspiracy in Ancient Greece

Alexander the Great

It was about five in the afternoon. In Babylon this time of year the sun and heat are intense. The day is June 11th, 323 BCE.

Alexander the Great just died.

He was only 32 years old. In his short life he conquered an empire stretching from modern Albania to eastern Pakistan. The question of what, or who, killed the Macedonian king has never been answered successfully. Today new theories are heating up one of history’s longest-running cold cases. Was it murder?

Like the death of Stalin, to which it is sometimes compared, the death of Alexander poses a mystery that is perhaps insoluble but nonetheless irresistible. Conspiracy buffs have been speculating about it since before the king’s body was cold, but recently there has been an extraordinary number of new accusers and new suspects. Fuel was added to the fire by Oliver Stone’s Alexander, released in 2004 with new versions in 2006 and 2008: a film that, whatever its artistic flaws, presents a historically informed theory about who killed Alexander and why.

Few events have been as unexpected as the death of Alexander. The king had shown fantastic reserves of strength during his 12-year campaign through Asia, enduring severe hardships and taking on strenuous combat roles. Some had come to think of him as divine, an idea fostered, and perhaps entertained, by Alexander himself. In 325, fighting almost single-handed against South Asian warriors, Alexander had one of his lungs pierced by an arrow, yet soon afterwards he made the most arduous of his military marches, a 60-day trek along the barren coast of southern Iran.

Consequently, when the king fell gravely ill and died two years later, the shock felt by his 50,000-strong army was intense. So was the confusion about who would next lead it, for Alexander had made no plans for succession and had as yet produced no legitimate heir (though one would be born shortly after his death). The sudden demise of such a commanding figure would indeed turn out to be a catastrophic turning point, the start of a half-century of instability and strife known today as the Wars of the Successors.

Events of such magnitude inevitably prompt a search for causes. It is disturbing to think that blind chance – a drink from the wrong stream or a bite from the wrong mosquito – put the ancient world on a perilous new course. An explanation that keeps the change in human hands may in some ways be reassuring, even though it involves a darker view of Alexander’s relations with his Companions, the inner circle of friends and high-ranking officers that surrounded him in Babylon.

Ancient historians have reached no consensus on the cause of Alexander’s death, though many attribute it to disease. In 1996 Eugene Borza, a scholar specialising in ancient Macedon, took part in a medical board of inquiry at the University of Maryland, which reached a diagnosis of typhoid fever; Borza has since defended that finding in print. Malaria, smallpox and leukaemia have also been proposed, with alcoholism, infection from the lung wound and grief – Alexander’s close friend Hephaestion had died some months earlier – often seen as complicating factors. But some historians are unwilling to identify a specific illness, or even to choose between illness or murder: two Alexander experts who once made this choice (one on each side) later changed their opinions to undecided.

With historical research at an impasse, Alexander sleuths are reaching out for new ideas and new approaches. Armed with reports from toxicologists and forensic pathologists and delving themselves into criminal psychology, they are re-opening the Alexander file as an ongoing murder investigation.

The idea that Alexander was murdered first gained wider attention in 2004, thanks to the ending of Stone’s film. In its epilogue Alexander’s senior general Ptolemy (played by Anthony Hopkins), looking back over decades at his commander’s death, declares: ‘The truth is, we did kill him. By silence, we consented … Because we couldn’t go on.’ Ptolemy then instructs the alarmed scribe recording his words to destroy what he has just written and start again. ‘You shall write: He died of disease, and in weakened condition.’

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Success comes in cans, failure in can'ts.
- Author Unknown



Opportunity is always knocking. The problem is that most people have the self-doubt station in their head turned up way too loud to hear it.
- Brian Vaszily



Opportunity dances with those who are already on the dance floor.
- Jackson Brown




People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily.
- Zig Ziglar




Life is not about how fast you run, or how high you climb, but how well you bounce.
- Unknown






Game Time

The Ancient Greeks loved their games. You know that the first Olympics in 776 BCE is all about competition between the Greek city-states being played out on courts; fields, and tracks.

Here's a link to a space invaders style game you might like:

Note: This site may be blocked in school because it's a "gaming site." Go use the public wifi at the library, Starbucks, or at home to access these sites if they are blocked at school.


Put the lady teacher singing The Knack's My Sharona with history words.


  Student Activities:

Go to the following sites and have some fun! and create a Twitter tweet for Alexander the Great and make a FakeBook page for Alexander the Great.

Note: This site may be blocked in school because it's a "gaming site." Go use the public wifi at the library, Starbucks, or at home to access these sites if they are blocked at school. Top achieving students find a way to get things done.

Panini's Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian Knot. It's a Baroque masterpiece.
The Gordian Knot

In 333 BCE, 
Alexander the Great, on his march through Anatolia, reached Gordium, the capital of Phrygia. There he was shown the chariot of the ancient founder of the city, Gordius, with its yoke lashed to the pole by means of an intricate knot with its end hidden. According to tradition, this knot was to be untied only by the future conqueror of Asia. In the popular account, probably invented as appropriate to an impetuous warrior, Alexander sliced through the knot with his sword, but, in earlier versions, he found the ends either by cutting into the knot or by drawing out the pole. The phrase “cutting the Gordian knot” has thus come to denote a bold solution to a complicated problem.
                              --The story according to
                                     Encyclopedia Britannica online

There was a group of people that lived around 2700 years ago. After a bit of moving around they eventually called Anatolia their home. They had their own language and customs. They even had music. They were, by all measures we use in this class, a civilization. We've come to discover that every civilization has its own set of creation myths. The story may actually be two creation myths squished together.

In Greek legend, the Gordian knot was the name given to an intricate knot used by Gordius to secure an oxcart.See the connection? Gordius and Gordian Knot. Gordius, who was a poor peasant, traveled with his wife and arrived in a Phrygian public square in an oxcart. A big time oracle in the Phrygian capital Telmissus had informed the populace that their future king would come riding into town in a wagon. Gordius, the poor old fellow in the oxcart, cruised through the city gates and fulfilled the prophecy. The people remembered the oracle's prediction and made him king. In gratitude, Gordius dedicated his oxcart to Zeus. Gordius, the King of Phrygia, tyed the cart up with a peculiar knot. What we have here is a long thick rope that's been twisted and manipulated into a really big and ugly knot. A "Gordian Knot."  The oracle foretold that he who untied the knot would rule all of Asia.

Many people tried to undo the knot but all to no avail. That was one tough knot. The knot stays tied to the yolk of the wagon for decades. Then a new visitor arrived in town.

In 333 B.C. Alexander the Great had invaded Asia Minor and arrived in the central mountains at the town of Gordium; he was 23 years old. Undefeated, but without a decisive victory either, he was in need of an omen to prove to his troops and his enemies that the outcome of his mission - to conquer the known world - was possible.

In Gordium, by the Temple of the Zeus Basilica, was the ox cart, which had been put there by the King of Phrygia over 100 years before. The staves of the cart were tied together in a complex knot with the ends tucked away inside.

Having arrived at Gordium it was inconceivable that the young, impetuous King would not tackle the legendary "Gordian Knot".

Alexander climbed the hill and approached the cart as a crowd of curious Macedonians and Phrygians gathered around. They watched intently as Alexander struggled with the knot and became frustrated.

Alexander, stepping back, called out, "What does it matter how I loose it?" With that, he drew his sword, and in one powerful stroke severed the knot.

That night there was a huge electrical storm, which Alexander's prophet Aristander conveniently interpreted to mean the gods were pleased with the actions of this so-called Son of Zeus who had cut the Gordian knot.

All that is fine and good. But like an old dead fellow used to say, there's a rest of the story...

Everyone has heard the story of Midas. Remember Midas? He's the fellow that wanted the "golden touch." He got his wish. And then discovered what a curse his wish could become. Midas is Gordius' son!



Gordian Knot
A piece of rope fashioned into a nearly impossible knot. This knot gave its name to a proverbial term for a problem solvable only by bold action.



Most Ancient Greeks wore a chiton, which was a long T-shirt made from one large piece of cotton. The poor slaves, however, had to make do with a loincloth (a small strip of cloth wrapped around the waist)!






















Ancient Greek Top Ten List

What do Homer, Plato, Socrates, Leonidas, Aristotle, and that fellow over to the left that invented the screw and a way to figure out the weight of a gold crown while sitting in a bathtub filled with water all have in common?

They're on the Ancient Greek Famous Top Ten List!

Check out this short video:


Did you know the Ancient Greeks invented the theater? They loved watching plays. Most Greek cities had a theater – some big enough to hold 15,000 people! Only men and boys were allowed to be actors, and they wore masks, which showed the audience whether their character was happy or sad. Some of the masks had two sides, so the actor could turn them around to change the mood for each scene. There was no television then.