Netflix’s 2024 historical documentary series, Alexander: The Making of a God, follows the same hybrid style of mixing scenes of staged drama with experts talking about the matter. As is common with shows of this type, many of the drama sequences are based on speculations and opinions; exact proof of such incidents has not been found. The docuseries tells the story of the rise of Alexander and his epic battle against the Persian forces led by Darius III over six episodes. Overall, Alexander: The Making of a God is meant for a casual watch without too much depth into the history, as the narrative is boiled down to a simple tale.
How did Alexander rise to power?
The Netflix docuseries maintains the format of presenting dramatic retellings of incidents known from history, along with a modern-day excavation being conducted in the Egyptian city of Alexandria. The earliest introductions to Alexander are found around 336 BCE, when he was an exiled prince living in Illyria. Around a year earlier, the young man had taken this voluntary exile after falling out with his father, King Phillip. According to historical records and the experts in the show, the reason for this falling out was the insults General Attalus made towards Alexander in his drunken stupor. Instead of defending his son, King Phillip took the side of his close friend Attalus and made an attack on Alexander. This led to the young man fleeing the kingdom, taking voluntary exile, and hoping to never return. However, in 336 BCE, Alexander received a royal summons from his estranged father, inviting him to the kingdom’s capital, Aegae, in order to attend his sister’s wedding ceremony.
It was during this marriage ceremony that the tides turned, and there was a sudden change of power. Alexander’s mother, Olympias, was one of the many queens of King Phillip, but the woman had been able to capture her husband’s attention for a long time, both because of her skill and intelligence and also by giving him a male heir. But King Philip’s opinions had changed in recent years, as he perhaps did not want to put too much faith in Alexander, and the man had been more loving towards a younger queen. Both Olympias and Alexander were gradually losing the favor of the king, and this meant a difficult situation for both of them. Thus, when King Phillip was suddenly struck down and killed by a trusted bodyguard named Pausanias, right in front of the subjects in court, matters looked far better for the mother and son all of a sudden.
Although there is no historical record as to who paid Pausanias to commit this treacherous act, which was also considered sinful in most ancient cultures, the experts in Alexander documentary and, in general, have a particular name in mind. It made the most sense that Olympias had been the one to get the king killed, as the act got rid of the man who had grown unfavorable towards her and also allowed her son to take over control. The younger wife of King Phillip, whom he loved the most towards the end of his life, also died soon after, as she killed herself. It is believed that Olympias made the woman watch the horrific torture of her own child, and this is what led the young queen to take her life. But whatever the ploy behind the scenes was, the death of his father proved extremely favorable for Alexander, as he immediately took control of the throne and announced himself the King of Macedonia.
Who was Darius III?
Around the same time when Alexander came to power in Macedonia, there was a change in the throne of the Greek kingdom’s biggest threat as well—Persia. Experts reveal that it was probably within a few weeks or months of Alexander’s coronation that Darius III became the ruler of the Persian empire. Despite originally being a warlord not belonging to the royal family, Darius managed to gain power and influence after his marriage to a noble Persian woman named Stateira. At the time, the Persian empire was already in conflict with the comparatively smaller kingdom of Macedonia, in one corner of Greece. Thus, when Darius sent some troops to quell the threat, he was of the opinion that the new King Alexander would be no hindrance. However, Alexander was already preparing to be a compelling force, with the advice of his mother and his closest associates. To him, simply defending against the Persians was no longer an option. Instead, he targeted marching into Persia and conquering the lands under the mighty empire.
After gaining entry into the Persian lands through Asia Minor, Alexander moved towards the east, hoping to face Darius, whom he considered a worthy opponent. Going against all the advice and suggestions from the Macedonian tacticians and generals, the king wanted to push his invasion further, refusing to let go of the momentum his army had already built. On the other side, Darius was also convinced that this new Macedonian king and the meager army at his disposal would be no match for his mighty troops, and thus, he wanted to make an example of the opponent. To Darius, defeating Alexander was a chance to show the world that any opponent of the Persian empire would be easily quashed. The first clash between these two sides occurred at Granicus, even though Darius was not present during the battle, as he had only sent his trusted aid, General Memnon, to lead his troops. Interestingly, many Greek mercenaries also fought for the Persian side, as they had been paid to go to battle against their own countrymen.
It was at this point in history that Alexander first showed his qualities as a firm leader with skills of unconventional warfare up his sleeve. Waving off the advice of his tacticians once more, the king led his troops into battle and easily fought the Persians away. Notably, Alexander had also been staggered during the battle and came very close to dying in the hands of the enemy soldiers, surviving only because of a Macedonian officer named Cleitus. As Memnon managed to flee and report back to Darius, Alexander continued his invasion into the Persian lands, even starting a liberation campaign of sorts. Many people of Greek descent and origin lived in cities under Persian rule, and Alexander claimed that he was on a campaign to liberate such people, giving them a chance to be united with their Greek identity. In the process, Darius’ close friend Memnon also lost his life. Although it was not like the man was killed by Alexander’s forces, Darius took this loss personally, realizing the very real threat that was swiftly rushing towards him.
What happened in the battle between Alexander and Darius III?
Therefore, Darius took charge of the situation himself and led his army towards the invading Macedonian troops, wanting to stop them on the way. The two sides finally came together at Issus, where the two powerful kings also matched eyes for the first time. A historic battle took place on the lands of Issus, in which Alexander displayed his masterful tactics in warfare once again. Despite having a far smaller army, the Macedonians managed to overpower the Persian troops simply because of tactics, and Darius was cornered. The Persian ruler had to flee the battlefield in order to save his empire and his own life. Since the Persians had a tradition of taking all their wives and families to the war camps as well, Alexander managed to get hold of Stateira and Barsine, the wives and daughters of Darius, respectively. For the next number of years, both of these women remained in Alexander’s court, and it is believed that Stateira had become the Macedonian king’s lover as well. When Stateira finally died, she lost her life while giving birth to a baby boy, who is believed to have been Alexander’s child.
The loss at Issus meant that Darius had to leave his capital and flee with his closest generals and advisors. The news of his wife and daughter also being held by the enemy was even more troubling. Over the years, Darius tried to offer Alexander multiple offerings in exchange for peace, including his daughter Barsine’s hand in marriage. But Alexander remained determined in his goal—to defeat Darius—and he was not swayed by anyone. Two years after the battle at Issus, another clash between the two sworn enemy kings also took place at a place called Gaugamela, but the result was still the same. Cornered and facing death, Darius had to escape the battlefield, going deeper into hiding inside his own empire. However, Alexander could not ultimately attain his wish of slaying his arch-nemesis, for Darius III was killed by his own trusted friend and general, Bessus. Despite not being able to kill Darius, Alexander ultimately achieved his main goal—to conquer Persia. But in fact, this was not the end of Alexander’s ambitions, as the man dreamed of moving further east and conquering the whole world as he knew it.
Was Alexander really a god?
One of the very unusual and interesting matters about King Alexander was his claim to have been a divine power, along with being a ruler. It was rather common during those times in all the civilizations of the world to consider kings and rulers to be either equal to God or, at least, to be beyond mortal humans. In the case of Alexander, his mother, Olympias, had told him throughout his life that he was actually the son of Zeus, and this had a genuine effect on the man. In numerous instances, as presented in Alexander: The Making of a God, the titular king claimed certain decisions and tactics to be the results of his identity as a god.
After the invasion into Persia began, Alexander would often take off on his own, visiting the sites where historical figures and demigods from Greek mythology were said to have visited. Before his initial clashes with the Persians, the man sought out a temple of Achilles and even adorned the legendary warrior’s armor before going to battle. Although Alexander was convinced that he was the son of the God of all Gods, Zeus himself, many of his generals often doubted the man’s decisions in this regard. There was also some fear that their king was becoming too assimilated with the culture of the invaded lands and becoming a “native” while losing his Macedonian connection.
But the biggest incident in the narrative of Alexander being a god came when he and his troops invaded Egypt, and the King claimed himself to be a pharaoh. It is believed that Alexander had a fascination with the mystical land of Egypt ever since his childhood. The Egyptians also let the Macedonians into their land quite easily, since they were already being ruled by the Persians, who were outsiders as well. Here, Alexander sought out an oracle in the temple of Amun in Siwa, consulting them personally. Although there is no historical record of what happened inside the temple, it is widely believed that Alexander was almost a changed man after this experience. While this might sound quite mysterious and fancy, it is also to be remembered that Alexander had plans of conquest in his mind. Soon, he claimed that the oracle had revealed to him that his father was God Amun, and thus ascertained that Alexander was accepted as a rightful pharaoh by the Egyptians as well.
The legacy of Alexander as a ruler is simply far greater and more legitimate than his claims to have been a god. It was perhaps the times that he ruled in, when kings were genuinely believed to be related to the gods, both in Egyptian and Greek cultures, that made him gain status as the son of gods. But the biggest mystery about the man perhaps still is his site of burial, which is still being sought for by archaeologists. Alexander: The Making of a God sheds light on one such excavation effort in modern-day Alexandria as well, as a historic discovery of the original paved paths of the ancient city is shown.