Book on Alexander the Great Holds Lessons for Today’s
Leaders: How To Win in War and Peace
November 15, 2004
Mass. -- Alexander the Great died more than
2,300 years ago, but his life remains a source of fascination and
speculation to this day. The subject of a movie, Alexander, due
out this month, he is also examined in a new book
by Wellesley College Professor of Classical Studies Guy MacLean Rogers.
Rogers’ book, Alexander:
The Ambiguity of Greatness (Random
House, November 2004) portrays Alexander the Great as a legend—and
an enigma. Wounded repeatedly but always triumphant in battle,
he conquered most of the known world, only to die mysteriously
at age 32. In his day he was revered as a god; in our day he has
been reviled as a mass murderer, a tyrant as brutal as Stalin or
Who was the man behind
the mask of power? Why did Alexander embark on an unprecedented
program of global domination? What accounted
for his astonishing success on the battlefield? In this new biography,
Rogers, an esteemed classical scholar and historian, sifts through
thousands of years of history and myth to uncover the truth about
this complex, ambiguous genius. He also uncovers a few lessons
from which today’s leaders might find guidance.
“Alexander conquered all of the areas that right now are
the focus of all kinds of attention, including, of course, the
Iraq,” Rogers said. Alexander’s empire extended from
present day Turkey to central Asia and Afghanistan.
Are there lessons in what Alexander did that we can use to win
the war in Iraq and fight the war on terrorism? Rogers says one
such lesson is how this conqueror went beyond mere might to use
the power of ideas to achieve his victories.
“What separates Alexander from all kinds of historical figures
and great warriors is that Alexander understood you fight battles
with weapons but you have to fight ideas with ideas,” Rogers
said. “The war in Iraq and the war on terrorism are wars
of ideas. Alexander had a vision of how he could be accepted as
the legitimate ruler of this huge empire. That vision included
adapting himself to the custom of his enemies.”
That outlook helped to assimilate his enemies into his realm,
turning foe into friend.
“Alexander’s ideas involved adapting to customs of
his conquered enemies—dressing like Persian kings; incorporating
Persian soldiers into his empire; marrying women from the territories
of his empire; adopting the ceremonies of the conquered empire,” Rogers
said. “It was not a message of domination—but a symbolic
message. He realized in order to achieve his objective, to conquer
the whole world, he had to have a set of ideas that would inspire
people to help him—bringing those people over to his side.
He accommodated himself to the cultures instead of forcing them
to conform to his ways.”
a Ph.D. in classics from Princeton University. He has received
numerous grants and fellowships, including ones from
the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Philosophical
Society, and All Souls College Oxford. His first book, The
Sacred Identity of Ephesos: Foundation Myths of a Roman City,
won the Routledge Ancient History Prize. Chairman of the Department
History at Wellesley from 1997-2001, he grew up and still lives
in Litchfield County, Connecticut.