Alexander the Great : THE DEFINITIVE DOCUMENTARY - Full Documentary

Alexander the Great : THE DEFINITIVE DOCUMENTARY - Full Documentary

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The story of an extraordinary man that created the largest empire in the world and through the ages still fascinates us. His youth, his appearance, his military genius and heroism were the inspiration for many men who fought alongside him until the end of his days. He plundered cities, destroyed armies, overthrew dynasties and achieved great wealth. When he died at the age of 32, he was worshiped as a god.

Alexander the Great (1956 film)

Alexander the Great is a CinemaScope and Technicolor 1956 epic historical drama film about the life of Macedonian general and king Alexander the Great written, produced and directed by Robert Rossen. It was released by United Artists and stars Richard Burton as Alexander along with a large ensemble cast. Italian composer Mario Nascimbene contributed the film score.


The story begins around 285 BC, with Ptolemy I Soter, who narrates throughout the film. Alexander grows up with his mother Olympias and his tutor Aristotle, where he finds interest in love, honor, music, exploration, poetry and military combat. His relationship with his father is destroyed when Philip marries Attalus's niece, Eurydice. Alexander insults Philip after disowning Attalus as his kinsman, which results in Alexander's banishment from Philip's palace.

After Philip is assassinated, Alexander becomes King of Macedonia. Ptolemy mentions Alexander's punitive campaign in which he razes Thebes, also referring to the later burning of Persepolis, then gives an overview of Alexander's west-Persian campaign, including his declaration as the son of Zeus by the Oracle of Amun at Siwa Oasis, his great battle against the Persian Emperor Darius III in the Battle of Gaugamela, and his eight-year campaign across Asia.

Also seen are Alexander's private relationships with his childhood friend Hephaistion, Bagoas, and later his wife, Roxana. Hephaistion compares Alexander to Achilles, to which Alexander replies that Hephaistion must be his Patroclus (Achilles' lover) when Hephaistion mentions that Patroclus died first, Alexander pledges that, if Hephaistion should die first, he will follow him into the afterlife (as Achilles had done for Patroclus) Hephaistion shows extensive jealousy when he sees Alexander with Roxana, and deep sadness when he marries her, going so far as to attempt to keep her away from him after Alexander murders Cleitus the Black in India.

After initial objection from his soldiers, Alexander convinces them to join him in his final and bloodiest battle, the Battle of Hydaspes. He is severely injured with an arrow but survives and is celebrated. Later on, Hephaistion succumbs to an unknown illness either by chance or perhaps poison, speculated in the film to be typhus carried with him from India. Alexander, full of grief and anger, distances himself from his wife, despite her pregnancy, believing that she has killed Hephaistion. He dies less than three months after Hephaistion, in the same manner, keeping his promise that he would follow him. On his deathbed, Bagoas grieves as Alexander's generals begin to split up his kingdom and fight over the ownership of his body.

The story then returns to 285 BC, where Ptolemy admits to his scribe that he, along with all the other officers, had indeed poisoned Alexander just to spare themselves from any future conquests or consequences. However, he has it recorded that Alexander died due to illness compounding his overall weakened condition. He then goes on to end his memoirs with praise to Alexander.

The story then ends with the note that Ptolemy's memoirs of Alexander were eventually burned, lost forever with the Library of Alexandria.

    as Alexander
    • Jessie Kamm as child Alexander as young Alexander
      as adult Ptolemy
    • Robert Earley as young Ptolemy
    • Patrick Carroll as young Hephaistion
    • Morgan Christopher Ferris as young Cassander
    • Peter Williamson as young Nearchus
    • Aleczander Gordon as young Perdiccas

    The first mention of the film was in October 2001 by Initial Entertainment Group. [6]

    Locations Edit

    • Library of Alexandria: Shepperton Studios, London, England /Babylon/Indian palaces and myths cave: Pinewood Studios, London, England
    • Alexandria (effect back plate): Malta
    • Temple of Pallas Athena, Mieza and Macedonian horse market: Essaouira, Morocco
    • Gaugamela: desert near Marrakech, Morocco
    • Babylon gates: Marrakech, Morocco
    • Bactrian fortress: Lower Atlas Mountains, Morocco (effect back plate): Ouarzazate, Morocco
    • Macedonian amphitheater: Morocco
    • Hyphasis: Mekong, northeastern Ubon Ratchathani Province, Thailand
    • Hydaspes: Central Botanical Garden, Amphoe Mueang, Saraburi Province, Thailand

    A group of 25 Greek lawyers initially threatened to file a lawsuit against both Stone and the Warner Bros film studio for what they claimed was an inaccurate portrayal of history. "We are not saying that we are against gays," said Yannis Varnakos, "but we are saying that the production company should make it clear to the audience that this film is pure fiction and not a true depiction of the life of Alexander". After an advance screening of the film, the lawyers announced that they would not pursue such a course of action. [7]

    At the British premiere of the film, Stone blamed "raging fundamentalism in morality" for the film's US box-office failure. [8] He argued that American critics and audiences had blown the issue of Alexander's sexuality out of proportion. [9] The criticism prompted him to make significant changes to the film for its DVD release, whose cover characterizes them as making it "faster paced, more action-packed".

    Criticism by historians Edit

    Alexander attracted critical scrutiny from historians with regard to historical accuracy. [10]

    Persian history aficionado Kaveh Farrokh questioned the omission of the burning of Persepolis by Alexander and observed that, in the film, "Greek forces are typically shown as very organised, disciplined, and so on, and what's very disturbing is, when the so-called Persians are shown confronting the Macedonians, you see them turbaned. Turbans are not even a Persian item [. ] Their armies are totally disorganized. What is not known is that the Persians actually had uniforms. They marched in discipline [sic], and music was actually used. " [11]

    Oliver Stone has, in his various commentaries in the film's DVD [ citation needed ] , defended many of the most glaring historical issues in regard to Persian and Indian history by claiming that he had no time or resources to portray accurately a multitude of battles at the expense of storytelling. He goes into great detail explaining how he merged all the major aspects of the Battle of the Granicus and the Battle of Issus into the Battle of Gaugamela, as well as heavily simplifying the Battle of Hydaspes into a straightforward clash, while merging the near-death of Alexander with the siege of Malli.

    However, early-Greek-history ethnographer/analyst Angelos Chaniotis, of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study—in summarizing the first three versions of the film as "a dramatisation, [rather than] a documentary"—nevertheless insists that, despite its imperfections, historians and history students "have a lot to learn" by "studying and reflecting upon" Stone's film. He concludes that, as a motion picture that "captures the Zeitgeist" (spirit of the times) of the "ancient Greek" era, "no film. can rival Oliver Stone's Alexander." [12]

    Box office Edit

    Alexander was released in 2,445 venues on 24 November 2004 and earned $13.7 million in its opening weekend, ranking sixth in the North American box office and second among the week's new releases. [13] Upon closing on 1 February 2005, the film grossed $34.3 million domestically and $133 million overseas for a worldwide total of $167.3 million. [3] Based on a $155 million production budget, as well as additional marketing costs, the film was a box office bomb, with projected losses of as much as $71 million. [14] [15] [16]

    Critical reception Edit

    On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 16% based on 205 reviews, with an average rating of 4.02/10. The website's critical consensus states: "Even at nearly three hours long, this ponderous, talky, and emotionally distant biopic fails to illuminate Alexander's life." [17] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 39 out of 100, based on 42 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". [18]

    One of the principal complaints among American film critics was that Alexander resembled less an action-drama film than a history documentary. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote in his review, "[W]e welcome the scenes of battle, pomp and circumstance because at least for a time we are free of the endless narration of Ptolemy the historian." [19]

    Faint praise came from Todd McCarthy of Variety who wrote, "Oliver Stone's Alexander is at best an honorable failure, an intelligent and ambitious picture that crucially lacks dramatic flair and emotional involvement. Dry and academic where Troy (2004) was vulgar and willfully ahistorical". [20]

    Keith Uhlich of The A.V. Club named Alexander: The Ultimate Cut the tenth-best film of 2014. [21]

    Nominations Edit

    The film was nominated in six categories at the Golden Raspberry Awards in 2005: Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Colin Farrell), Worst Actress (Angelina Jolie) and Worst Director (Oliver Stone), Worst Supporting Actor (Val Kilmer) and Worst Screenplay, thereby becoming the second-most-nominated potential "Razzie" film of 2004 however, it won no awards. At the 2004 Stinkers Bad Movie Awards, it received nine nominations: Worst Picture, Worst Director (Stone), Worst Actor (Farrell), Worst Supporting Actress (both Jolie and Dawson), Worst Screenplay, Most Intrusive Musical Score, Worst Female Fake Accent (Dawson and Jolie, lumped into one nomination), and Least "Special" Special Effects. Its only wins were for Most Intrusive Musical Score and Worst Female Fake Accent. [22]

    Several versions of the film have been released, and these have generally been seen as improvements on the initial release version. [23] [24] Critic Peter Sobczynski said "The various expansions and rejiggerings have improved it immeasurably, and what was once a head-scratching mess has reformed into an undeniably fascinating example of epic cinema." [25]

    Theatrical cut Edit

    2004: This is the film as it was originally released in theaters, with a running time of 175 minutes. It was released on DVD and is also available on Blu-ray in some territories.

    Director's cut Edit

    2005: Stone's director's cut was re-edited before the DVD release later in 2005. Stone removed seventeen minutes of footage and added nine back. This shortened the running time from 175 minutes to 167.

    Alexander Revisited: The Final Unrated Cut Edit

    2007: Stone also made an extended version of Alexander. "I'm doing a third version on DVD, not theatrical", he said, in an interview with Rope of Silicon. "I'm going to do a Cecil B. DeMille three-hour-45-minute thing I'm going to go all out, put everything I like in the movie. He [Alexander] was a complicated man, it was a complicated story, and it doesn't hurt to make it longer and let people who loved the film [. ] see it more and understand it more."

    The extended version was released under the title of Alexander Revisited: The Final Unrated Cut on 27 February 2007. The two-disc set featured a new introduction by Stone. "Over the last two years," he said, "I have been able to sort out some of the unanswered questions about this highly complicated and passionate monarch – questions I failed to answer dramatically enough. This film represents my complete and last version, as it will contain all the essential footage we shot. I don't know how many film-makers have managed to make three versions of the same film, but I have been fortunate to have the opportunity because of the success of video and DVD sales in the world, and I felt, if I didn't do it now, with the energy and memory I still have for the subject, it would never quite be the same again. For me, this is the complete Alexander, the clearest interpretation I can offer." [26]

    The film is restructured into two acts with an intermission. Alexander: Revisited takes a more in-depth look at Alexander's life and his relationships with Olympias, Philip, Hephaestion, Roxana, and Ptolemy. The film has a running time of three hours and 34 minutes (214 minutes, about 40 minutes longer than the theatrical cut and almost 50 minutes longer than the first director's cut) and is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen with English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio. Beyond the new introduction with Stone, there are no other extras on the DVD except for a free coupon to the movie 300. [27] The Blu-ray and HD-DVD releases both feature a variety of special features however, including two audio commentaries and a new featurette. [28]

    For seven years, it was the only version of the film available on Blu-ray, until the release of the Ultimate Cut, which also includes the Theatrical Cut.

    'Alexander: The Ultimate Cut' Edit

    2014: In November 2012, Stone revealed that he was working on a fourth cut of the film, at Warner's request and that this time around he would remove material, as he felt he had added in too much in the "Final Cut". [29] The version, which is 206 minutes long, premiered on 3 July 2013 at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival [30] and Stone swears that no more versions will follow. [31] 'Alexander: The Ultimate Cut (Tenth Anniversary Edition)' was released in the United States on 3 June 2014. [32]

    Alexander the Great is considered the greatest military genius of the ancient world, and with a good reason. He managed to conquer almost half of the ancient world, as his kingdom spread to India, Egypt, Iran and Pakistan. He spent 13 years trying to unite the Eastern and the Western World through military force, but also with cultural exchange. Many will remember Alexander as the conqueror, but his intentions were to liberate the countries and exchange cultural experiences with them.

    One of the greatest achievements of Alexander is the fact that in 15 years of war, he never lost a single battle. Alexander began his military training under his father Philip, leading the Macedon to victories versus Ancient Greece. After the death of his father, Alexander did the unthinkable, attacking Ancient Persia with just little over 50,000 soldiers. In all the battles with Persia, as well as his sieges in Egypt and Syria, Alexander the Great never lost a battle. He combined great tactics, strategy, ferociousness and experienced soldiers.

    Large part of Alexander’s success was his army. No commander can win a battle, let alone a war by himself. Alexander, as many others, needed the support of his well-trained army in his conquests. It was Philip who revolutionized the Army, but Alexander took them to another level.

    Phillip II inherited a largely ineffective and inexperienced army. His first order was business was to revolutionize and modernize the army. First order of business was to increase the number of the army, and change how the army works. Alexander kept the same principles. Alexander also employed engineers to develop siege weapons.

    The core of the army was the phalanx, a highly trained infantry. They were positioned in a box formation, making it impossible to attack them from any other than frontal position. All the soldiers in the phalanx were obedient, and very loyal. They carried light uniforms, making it possible for them to maneuver on the field. They were armed with long, 18 to 20 meters pikes. Every soldier was required to place his pike on the shoulder of the man before him, which further increased the defensive stance of the phalanx. Every unit of the phalanx had its own commander, which made communication easier. Mathematically speaking, each unit of the phalanx consisted of 1540 men, divided into three subdivisions of 512 men. Each division was divided in 32 “dekas”, or a line of 10, later 16 warriors.

    Aside from the phalanx, the army of Alexander the Great also included a unit of hypaspists, or also called shield-bearers. They carried shorter spears, or javelins. The hypaspists were more mobile, and they could move from one side to another with ease. There were three classes of hypaspists, one of which was in charge of guarding the King.

    Disadvantages of the phalanx

    The phalanx was almost perfect army, but it had one major flaw and disadvantage. Luckily, Alexander was smart enough to hide the disadvantage and use the phalanx to its full potential. The disadvantage of the phalanx is that it worked best on flat, unbroken country. On country with uneven terrain, the phalanx was not in advantage. As mentioned, Alexander always positioned his army in the same way. However, he was also smart enough to mix things up when the field required so. One example is the battle at Hydaspes, where Alexander the Great was forced to use his archers as the front line to counter the elephants of the opposing army.

    The Cavarly

    The Cavalry was the single greatest weapon in Alexander’s disposal. It was his main strike force and a unit he could always count on. The cavalry was divided in two sections, the companions and the scouts.

    The companion section was divided into eight squadrons of 200 men armed with nine-foot lance and with little armor. Alexander always kept a steady supply of horses and reserves, since he knew that his cavalry is the most important unit of the Army. Alexander was always in the front of the battle, and he led the Royal Companion squadron that was always positioned on the right side of the phalanx.

    Battle Strategy

    In all the battles he participated, Alexander the Great led from the front of the battle. He believed he strikes fear in the opposing army and inspires his own. No matter that he was vulnerable at the position, Alexander was always in the front of the battle.

    His units were positioned in a wedge position, which Alexander believes made them harder to crack and impossible for the opposing army to punch a hole in it.

    When he was striking, Alexander always strike in the center of the opposing army with his phalanx, trying to strike in an oblique angle. IN the same time, he used the cavalry to punch holes in the flanks.

    The wedge position of his army allowed Alexander to counter missiles from enemy lines. Since he had the shield bearers in front, they could easily counter the concentration with missiles from the opposing front. The men in the wedge deployed in either trapezoid or triangular formation. The wedge helped Alexander to smash into the enemy line, and maximize the effect of his long range weapons, such as javelins.

    However, probably the biggest strength of the Army of Alexander was its mobility. Alexander was a brilliant mind, great tactician and military specialist. He often made in battle adjustments, but he needed his army to be able to move fast and quickly relocate from one to another position. To enable that movement, Alexander used light armor for his army. Additionally, Alexander always scouted the terrain where the battle could occur, and he tried to maximize the potential and advantages of the terrain.

    Popular Battles

    The first major battle of Alexander’s conquest into Persia occurred at the Granicus River, and the battle is now known as the Battle of the Granicus River. The battle occurred in 334 BC, in modern day Turkey, near Troy. Alexander chose to fight near the River, since that minimalized the advantage of the Persians in numbers.

    The key mistake the Persians made was to place their cavalry in the front, which made them vulnerable to the long spears of the phalanx. Alexander placed his phalanx in the middle, and cavalry on the side. Alexander also managed to catch the Persians off guard, attacking immediately, striking from the left. While the Persians reinforced the side, Alexander had already smashed the center of the front with his wedge formation. By opening a hole in the center, Alexander placed the infantry to strike through the Persian army.

    Another battle that was played near a River, the battle of Issus took place in 333 BC near the Pinarus River.

    Alexander placed his infantry in defensive posture, taunting Darius to attack. While Darius was trying to attack the infantry, Alexander and his Royal Companions strike the left side of the Persian army. Generating a quick rout from there, Alexander led his cavalry directly at Darius and his chariot. Darius flew the scene. The battle of Issus marked a significant victory for Alexander, and started the fall of the Persian Empire.

    This battle marked the end of the Persian Empire. Darius has mobilized his finest cavalry, chariots and a massive army. But he once again fall victim to the brilliant strategy of Alexander and his tactics.

    Alexander divided the army into two units. He commanded the right side, while the left was commanded by Parmenion, a personal friend and a trusted commander of Alexander. Alexander first ordered the phalanx to march towards the center of the enemy front. In the same time, Darius launched the chariots, but Alexander intercepted them with Agrianians, an infantry armed with javelins. Forming a wedge, Alexander struck the center of the Persian army. Since the center was weakened, Alexander had a clear path to Darius.

    Alexander (2004)

    The life and times of a Macedonian emperor Alexander the Great has never been successfully covered in a movie. Director Oliver Stone tried to pull it off in 2004 with Alexander but failed on his own accord but Stone has since then released three different cuts of the film. And it looks like he’s done. At least for now.

    Alexander was panned by critics and tanked at the box office but that didn’t stop Warner Bros and Stone pursuing the dream of finding a good movie in the mess. First there was the director’s cut where most of the homosexual content was edited out. Then the Final Cut was released which is to this date the longest cut and Stone called it his definitive cut. Then to celebrate the 10th anniversary the Ultimate Cut was released on Blu-ray and DVD. In the press release for the Ultimate Cut Stone says the following:

    “Originally, I did my best to deliver a thrilling movie on a very brief post production schedule, but was frustrated in the end because I wanted the material to tell Alexander’s story with greater nuance and complexity. I’ve tried throughout this process to achieve what I believe is the appropriate balance between the inner and outer journeys undertaken by this extraordinary man. Free from earlier constraints, I’ve continued to pursue this great story, and I think I have at last achieved a film that tells a story as it has never been told.”

    Source: 10th Anniversary Edition of Oliver Stone’s Sweeping Epic “Alexander: The Ultimate Cut” on Blu-ray June 3 from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

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    “A thorough analysis of the legacy of history’s most famous conqueror. According to Billows, Alexander the Great was more of an accident of history than a maker of it . . . The author meticulously defends his provocative thesis about Alexander’s role with in-depth historical analysis and an array of citations and quotes from primary sources, making this a clear, enlightening exploration of one of the most influential periods of human history.”
    - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

    “An absorbing revisionist history of the ancient world.”
    - Kirkus Reviews

    “[An] elegant and jarring take on overly romanticized Alexander.”
    - The Winnipeg Free Press

    “Much has been written on the life and conquests of Alexander the Great, but Richard Billows has given us something new―a solidi and eminently readable look at the Macedonian world that gave birth to Alexander and the legacy that followed him.”
    - Philip Freeman, author of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar

    Before and After Alexander is a welcome addition to the vast array of works on this famous Macedonian king. Billows invites his readers to assess the significance of Alexander by situating his conquests within a broader historical narrative about Macedonian state formation . . . The book concludes with Alexander's legacy in the Roman, Christian, and Islamic worlds and leaves little doubt as to why he remains such a fascinating historical figure.”
    - Andrew Monson, Professor of Classics, Department Chair, New York University

    Alexander the Great Died Mysteriously at 32. Now We May Know Why

    When Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 B.C., his body didn’t begin to show signs of decomposition for a full six days, according to historical accounts.

    To the ancient Greeks, this confirmed what they all thought about the young Macedonian king, and what Alexander believed about himself—that he was not an ordinary man, but a god.

    Just 32 years old, he had conquered an empire stretching from the Balkans to modern Pakistan, and was poised on the edge of another invasion when he fell ill and died after 12 days of excruciating suffering. Since then, historians have debated his cause of death, proposing everything from malaria, typhoid, and alcohol poisoning to assassination by one of his rivals.

    But in a bombshell new theory, a scholar and practicing clinician suggests that Alexander may have suffered from the neurological disorder Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), which caused his death. She also argues that people might not have noticed any immediate signs of decomposition on the body for one simple reason�use Alexander wasn’t dead yet.

    The death of Alexander the Great at Babylon in 323 B.C.

    Universal History Archive/Getty Images

    As Dr. Katherine Hall, a senior lecturer at the Dunedin School of Medicine at the University of Otago, New Zealand, writes in an article published in The Ancient History Bulletin, most other theories of what killed Alexander have focused on the agonizing fever and abdominal pain he suffered in the days before he died.

    In fact, she points out, he was also known to have developed a “progressive, symmetrical, ascending paralysis” during his illness. And though he was very sick, he remained compos mentis (fully in control of his mental faculties) until just before his death.

    Hall argues that GBS, a rare but serious autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks healthy cells in the nervous system, can explain this combination of symptoms better than the other theories advanced for Alexander’s death. She believes he may have contracted the disorder from an infection of Campylobacter pylori, a common bacterium at the time. According to Hall, Alexander likely got a variant of GBS that produced paralysis without causing confusion or unconsciousness.

    While speculation over what exactly killed Alexander is far from new, Hall throws in a curveball by suggesting he might not even have died when people thought he did.

    She argues that the increasing paralysis Alexander suffered, as well as the fact that his body needed less oxygen as it shut down, would have meant that his breathing was less visible. Because in ancient times, doctors relied on the presence or absence of breath, rather than a pulse, to determine whether a patient was alive or dead, Hall believes Alexander might have been falsely declared dead before he actually died.

    "I wanted to stimulate new debate and discussion and possibly rewrite the history books by arguing Alexander&aposs real death was six days later than previously accepted,” Hall said in a statement from the University of Otago. “His death may be the most famous case of pseudothanatos, or false diagnosis of death, ever recorded.” 

    Alexander Used Political Campaigns to Rule Greece

    A Roman mosaic of Alexander the Great.

    CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images

    Always the savvy strategist, Alexander knew that he couldn’t rule the Greek mainland by fear and brute force alone. So as he turned his attention back to Persia, Alexander framed his campaign against the Achaemenid Empire as a patriotic retaliation for Persia’s failed invasion of the Greek mainland a century earlier. That conflict featured the famous Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 Spartan warriors made a heroic last stand against tens of thousands of Persian invaders.

    𠇊lexander creates a propaganda campaign that the Macedonians are invading Persia on behalf of the Greeks, even though Macedon wasn’t part of Greece and didn’t fight on the side of Greece in the original Greco-Persian wars,” says Wrightson. “He’s invading Persia to punish the Persians retroactively for daring to invade Greece in the first place.”

    Whether motivated by Greek pride or the spoils of imperial conquest, Alexander picked up where his father left off and marched into Persia in 334 BC, where his army of 50,000 would be tested against the largest and best-trained fighting force in the known world.

    It’s estimated that King Darius III of Persia was in command of a total of 2.5 million soldiers spread across his vast empire. At the heart of the Persian army were the “Immortals,” an elite regiment of 10,000 infantrymen whose numbers never changed. When a man was killed, another rose to take his place. The Persian cavalry and archers were also legendary, as were the scythe chariots which cut down enemy infantry with their razor-sharp wheel hubs.

    World: Oliver Stone's 'Alexander' Stirs Up Controversy

    American director Oliver Stone's latest movie, "Alexander," has been met with negative reviews from critics in the U.S. and Europe. The three-hour-long epic, which cost an estimated 150 million dollars to make, purports to show the life of Alexander the Great, who in less than a decade conquered much of the ancient world. But some complain the movie is riddled with historical inaccuracies. The epic has also stirred controversy by portraying Alexander's bisexuality.

    Prague, 28 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Even before its release, Oliver Stone's film "Alexander" sparked controversy.

    While a group of Greek lawyers wanted to take legal action against the movie because they were upset about suggestions in the film that Alexander was bisexual, campaigners for homosexual rights criticized Stone for not making Alexander openly gay.

    Zoroastrian communities in the United States and Parsis in India got upset for different reasons. They noticed that in promos for the movie, the winged Zoroastrian symbol of Farohar or Fravahar was used in the background.

    Zoroastrians know Alexander as "the Accursed" because during his conquest of the Persian Empire he burned Zoroastrian holy texts and scriptures.

    Kaveh Farrokh is an expert on the history and linguistics of Persia, particularly in the pre-Islamic era.

    "One of the reasons we don't know many aspects of Zoroastrian teachings is that people wrongly blamed it on the Arab invasion of the 7th century. In reality, we have to go back and look at Alexander's invasion, which was extremely destructive, and many of the 'magis,' the Zoroastrians priests, were killed," Farrokh says.

    Maneck Bhujwala, a Zoroastrian priest based in the United States, told RFE/RL in an e-mail that Zubin Mehta -- an internationally renowned conductor of classical music and a member of India's Parsi community -- was able to talk directly with Stone and was able to get an agreement from Stone to stop the commercial.

    Since the release of the movie, some historians have expressed surprise and regret that some key events of the time, such as Alexander's burning of the city of Persepolis, are overlooked.

    There are different historical accounts about the arson. Some say Alexander instigated it in revenge for the destruction caused by Persians in Greece in the 5th century before Christ. Other say Alexander did it while he was drunk, on the encouragement of a woman.

    Professor Robin Lane Fox, one of the world's top experts on Hellenic studies and author of a book on Alexander the Great, advised Stone on the movie. He says the epic drama has a "strong reference to history" and that including all the facts would have made the movie very long.

    However, some experts say there are historical mistakes in the movie.

    Farrokh says the portrayals of Persians and Greeks in the film are inaccurate. As an example, he mentions the battle of Gaugamela where Alexander the Great and his troops defeated the Persian army.

    "Greek forces are typically shown very organized, disciplined, and so on, and what's very disturbing is when the so-called Persians are shown confronting the Greeks, you see them turbaned. Turbans are not even a Persian item, and flies are seen circling their heads at one point. Their armies are totally disorganized. What is not known is that the Persians actually had uniforms. They marched in discipline, and music was actually used -- trumpets and so on -- to allow them to march in disciplined rank," Farrokh says.

    Farrokh believes Persian women are also inaccurately portrayed in the film.

    In the movie, Alexander marries an Iranian woman, Roxanna, played by Rosario Dawson, who is black. Farrokh says having a black actress playing the role of Roxanna is like having Lucy Liu, an Asian American actress, portraying Queen Victoria of Britain.

    "Roxanna itself is derived from old Iranian 'rokh-shwan' -- 'rokh' means profile, 'shwan' means shiny-faced or of fair complexion. The face mask that Roxanna wears is totally inaccurate," Farrokh says.

    Some Iranians living in the United States staged protests against the movie, which they consider to be one-sided. But Mehdi Zokayi, chief editor of an Iranian magazine in Los Angeles, says the protests were ineffective.

    "I think the protests were very dispersed and didn't last long. Some people, some media, wrote letters, e-mails and decided to show their protests. But since their actions was not correlated, it didn't draw any attention. Some boycotted the movie, but I think many went to see the movie out of curiosity," Zokayi says.

    "Alexander" was first released in the United States late last year, where it earned a disappointing $34 million at the box office. It has been doing better since its foreign release earlier this month, earning some 90 million dollars so far.

    In Iran, where most Western movies are banned, there is little chance that "Alexander the Great" will be shown in movie theaters.

    How Historically Accurate is Alexander?

    Alexander is a 2004 historical drama about Alexander the Great, from his early childhood to his death at Babylon in 323 BCE. The film is narrated by Ptolemy I Soter, who was one of Alexander's generals and became the Ptolemaic dynasty founder that ruled in Egypt until the Roman conquest. The story depicts Alexander's complex personality, his ideas of uniting the eastern and western worlds, his unprecedented success in conquering the largest empire at the time, the Achaemenid Persians, and his expansion into India Central Asia.

    Basic Plot

    The movie begins with Ptolemy I Soter narrating the key events of Alexander's life and events revolving around his invasion of the Achaemenid Empire (Persian Empire). Alexander was declared a god in Egypt and then fought the pivotal Battle of Gaugamela, where the Persian army was defeated and later fell. However, Alexander failed to kill or capture the Persian king, forcing him to march further east. The story then goes back to show the strained relationship between Alexander's mother (Olympias)and Philip II. Alexander takes solace in wrestling, horse riding, and becomes tutored by Aristotle. [1]

    After Alexander is declared king and unites the Greeks after his father's (Philip II) death, his campaign against the Persians commences. After his victory in Gaugamela, one key focus was on Alexander entering Babylon, one of the great cities of the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire. Alexander is depicted as being in awe of the great city and showed more interest in uniting the Persian world with the Greek world, making these worlds better than being alone, where he is the great king of this new united world. While his soldiers delight in his great victory, Alexander is shown as thinking more about the future and freeing those who were enslaved at the Persian court.

    He permitted royal individuals, including Darius' daughter, to remain and be treated with respect. Meanwhile, while Alexander is staying in Babylon, his mother makes him aware of conspiracies against him but berates him for being too generous with his enemies. Alexander is shown as conflicted about his destiny. Hephaistion, one of Alexander's generals, is shown as his close companion, confidant, and lover. [2]

    Alexander then pushed on into Iran, and his troops eventually killed central Asia and India, where Alexander finally marries and Darius III. He chooses to marry Roxana, a marriage with a Persian-Bactrian princess intended to help unify the worlds that Alexander wanted to conquer. The Greek generals and soldiers are not wholly convinced in this marriage, as the Greeks saw the newly conquered barbarians and Alexander should marry a Greek or Macedonian. Alexander, though, seems to be happy with her, despite Hephaistion's possible jealousy.

    Later, Alexander's close strategist, Parmenion, is assassinated as he was accused of treason against Alexander. Then, Cleitus, an officer serving Alexander, who was to be governor of Bactria, got involved in a drunken dispute with Alexander, where Cleitus insulted Alexander, leading to Alexander killing Cleitus. This event and the assassination of Parmenion showed the increased strain Alexander and his men were coming under as they had campaigned for so long away from Macedonia. Alexander offers generous rewards and pensions to his soldiers to keep their loyalty as he continues east. [3]

    Alexander then pushes his men where they fight the Battle of Hydaspes in Punjab, India. Alexander is shown as being gravely injured and the battle being particularly bloody, although Alexander and his troops won the battle. At this point, his army was exhausted, and many men perished as they marched back to Babylon. In Babylon, Alexander was shown as trying to forge a united Greek and eastern state that combined Persian and other eastern populations. However, within months after he arrives, his plans fall apart. First, his companion Hephaistion dies from Typhus, and a few months later, Alexander joins him in death. With Alexander's death, his generals began to fight each other and divide his empire that stretched from Greece to Egypt and western India.

    Forty years later, Ptolemy, who now ruled Egypt, is shown as creating a biography about Alexander, where the movie suggests the generals poisoned Alexander and sickness did not kill him, as the generals feared Alexander might have wanted to launch new campaigns to the dismay of his soldiers. [4]

    Key Characters

    Alexander: Alexander (Figure 1) is shown as a complex character who was driven by a vision of a different future than what his followers saw. While the Greeks and Macedonians focused on revenge and plunder, he wanted a world under one great king. His relationship with his father and mother shaped him and distanced him from them, where he took solace in wrestling and later his war campaigns. Historically, Alexander's great vision of uniting the Greek and Persian worlds was likely true, although the concept of a great, unifying king had already existed in Persian beliefs in governing.

    Hephaistion: Was one of Alexander's generals who grew up with him and became his closest companion. Historically, he was known as a distinct general with great skills. Although Alexander and Hephaistion were close, no clear evidence indicates they were lovers. However, he was considered Alexander's alter ego, and Alexander portrayed him as a reflection of himself. When he died, Alexander did go into a rage and showed great sadness for his dead friend. [5]

    Olympias: Alexander's mother was shown as a controlling personality who had a complicated relationship with her husband. She was a worshiper of Dionysus and was rumored to have slept with snakes as part of that cult. Her infatuation with snakes was displayed in the movie. She did conspire to kill Eurydice, the seventh wife of Phillip II, and her son so that her son Alexander would rule. She did regularly correspond with Alexander, as depicted in the film. After Alexander's death, she tried to establish Alexander's son on the throne. Eventually, she was killed in 317 BCE, along with Alexander's son, during Alexander's kingdom's struggles after his death. [6]

    Ptolemy I Soter: Ptolemy was a general in Alexander's army and played important roles in the campaigns in Central Asia and India. He later founded the Ptolemaic dynasty and was one of the generals that divided Alexander's empire after his death. The film displays Ptolemy recounting the life of Alexander, where this account was ultimately lost in the fire that destroyed Alexandria's Great Library centuries later. [7]

    Historical Accuracy

    Many historians have criticized the film for lack of clarity on many key issues in Alexander's life. For instance, key battles and sieges were ignored, and too much focus was given to Gaugamela. The Persians were depicted as mostly disorganized, but in reality, were a formidable, organized force that required Alexander's great skill to defeat them. Many of the characters, including Cleitus and Darius III, the Persian king, were shown as young, but in reality, were older men in their 40s and 50s.

    Alexander is shown as wounded in the battle at Hydaspes, but in reality, he was wounded in another engagement in India. Many generalities are also given regarding Babylon, where imagery showed a combination of Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian themes in the mostly Babylonian city that was one of the capitals of the Achaemenid Empire. In fact, Babylon's imagery reminds one of the film Intolerance by D.W.Griffith, which was full of a variety of mixed legends. The Indian ruler Porus historically earned Alexander's respect and was given status as a king even after his defeat to Alexander. This is mostly ignored in the film. The Lighthouse of Alexandria is briefly shown in one season as Ptolemy is describing the story of Alexandria.

    In reality, although he did commission its construction, it was not finished in his lifetime. At the time of the film's release, much was made about Alexander's sexual behavior. Although Alexander was rumored to have slept with men, with his companion Hephaestion as one possibility, there is no clear evidence if he slept with women and men. It is known Alexander did have several wives, but it may not have been uncommon, at least for royalty, also to have male lovers as well as wives. The most persuasive evidence he had a male lover is with Bagoas, a Persian eunuch in Darius' court who may have also been Darius' lover. Bagoas was described as having exceptional beauty from known accounts.

    Despite some reasonably glaring inaccuracies, some often less known facts come through, including the diary that Ptolemy wrote that did likely exist and probably did burn in Alexandria centuries later when the famous Great Library burned. This gave the film some historical leeway and did suggest there probably is a lot about Alexander we have never learned. [8]


    The film Alexander never gained great popularity in the United States at the time of its release, relative to the major cast of well-known actors, but since has gained greater popularity. The film focuses on what it considers key events in Alexander's time and contributes many 20th and 21st centuries themes of individual freedom in depicting Alexander's ventures into Asia. Such coupling of these modern ideals is probably fanciful. Although to historians the film has a lot of key inaccuracies, the film does inform as well as entertain regarding some of the key events in Alexander's life, including his rise to power, his attempt to unify the Greek and Persian worlds, key battles, and his marriages to foreign wives.

    Watch the video: Μέγας Αλέξανδρος: Μύθοι και Πραγματικότητες. Στο Πατάρι του Gutenberg