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Alexander's Last Plans

When he had returned to Persia, Alexander promptly began to formulate plans for an invasion of the Arabian peninsula and, to follow that, all of North Africa west of Egypt. By the time of his return to Persia, Alexander had dropped all pretense of ruling over the Greeks as anything other than an absolute monarch. Despite his earlier promise to respect the internal freedom of the Greek city-states, he impinged on their autonomy by sending a peremptory decree ordering them to restore to citizenship the large number of exiles from the Greek city-states1, who had been created over the previous decades of war in Greece and whose status as wandering, stateless persons was creating unrest. Even more striking was his communication that he wished to receive the honors due a god2. Initially dumbfounded by this request, the leaders of most Greek states soon complied by sending honorary delegations to him as if he were a god. The Spartan Damis pithily expressed the only prudent position on Alexander's deification open to the cowed Greeks: “If Alexander wishes to be a god, we agree that he be called a god.” Scholars continue to debate Alexander's motive for desiring the Greeks to acknowledge him as a god, but few now accept a formerly popular theory that he sought divinity because he believed the city-states would then have to obey his orders as originating from a divinity, whose authority would supersede that of all earthly regimes. Personal rather than political motives best explain his request. He almost certainly had come to believe that he was the son of Zeus; after all, Greek mythology told many stories of Zeus producing children by mating with a human female.3 Most of those legendary offspring were mortal, but Alexander's conquest showed that he had surpassed them. His feats must be superhuman, he could well have believed, because they exceeded the bounds of human possibility. Alexander's accomplishments demonstrated that he had achieved godlike power and therefore must be a god himself. Alexander's divinity was, in ancient terms, a natural consequence of his power.

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