New Book on Alexander the Great Holds Lessons for Today’s Leaders: How To Win in War and Peace

For immediate release:
November 15, 2004

Arlie Corday,

WELLESLEY, 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 Hitler.

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.”

Rogers holds 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 of History at Wellesley from 1997-2001, he grew up and still lives in Litchfield County, Connecticut.