Long gone are they but alive in the pages of history forever; the leaders like Alexander the Great (July 20 or 21, 356 BC – June 10 or 11, 323 BC) and Julius Caesar (July 13, 100 BC–March 15, 44 BC) were the one of their own kind. History has not known leaders as charismatic and successful as they both were. Although Alexander and Caesar were almost two centuries apart from each other’s era, yet they had many things in common. For instance, both of them were betrayed by their most trusted friends. Furthermore, it was the charisma of their leadership which kept their entire kingdoms intact while they were alive. The life stories of both great men present the same example: even the cleverest and the wisest of the men can fall prey to a snake of the sleeve and the kingdoms remain intact as long as they are headed by their conquerors or by their named and trusted heirs.
Alexander and Caesar were murdered by malicious plots thought out by their most trusted friends. The reasons behind their assassinations are quite different but the assassination of both by their friends is a common tragedy. Alexander was successfully leading his mission of conquering the whole known Earth but after the conquest of Persia, his adoption of Persian customs and appointment of Persian military officers infuriated his men. Also, he commanded his men to marry Persian women (Chinnock). All these reforms and many other actions of Alexander resulted in several plots made up against him for his assassination. Alexander executed many suspected men but ultimately the people who were involved in his murder were Antipater, whom he appointed the Regent of his empire; he was Alexander’s friend and helped him secure his succession after his father’s death; Iollas, the son of Antipater and wine pourer of Alexander; Aristotle, the teacher of Alexander, and Medius, at whose banquet Alexander got the fatal illness after drinking the wine which was poisoned by Iollas (Plutarch 7). The wine made Alexander severely sick for 14 days before he died on 10 or 11 June, 323 BC in Babylon at the palace of Nebuchadnezzar (Plutarch, Alexander 75). And this is one of the many theories regarding the death of Alexander.
On the other hand, Julius Caesar’s assassination had a political background. When the senate was about to appoint Caesar as the dictator for life, the tensions between him and some members of senate increased. Some Senators were not in the favor of a dictator ruling over the Roman Republic and they felt insecure by the thought that Caesar would overthrow the senate out of tyranny. This became the basis of the assassination plot against him. The autocratic attitude of Caesar and persuasions of senators made Marcus Junius Brutus, the most trusted friend of Caesar, to join the assassins. So, some 40 members of senate gathered and discussed the plot. All of them agreed on the idea of assassinating him. On the Ides of March (March 15) 44 BC, Caesar arrived at the Senate. Tilius Cimber presented him a petition to call his exiled brother. Caesar denied and gestured him to leave but he grabbed him by his shoulders and pulled down his tunic. Casca then stabbed Caesar in the neck. In a matter of seconds, all the Senators pounced upon Caesar and stabbed him 23 times. When Caesar saw Brutus among the senators, he asked, “You too, Brutus?” and these were his last words. He covered his face with the toga and surrendered himself to death when he saw that his best friend Brutus was also among his assassins (Woolf 1-52). So one of the most accomplished leaders and warriors were simply entrapped to death by their most trustworthy and close friends.
After their deaths, their kingdoms started to disintegrate due to different reasons. Alexander did not name an heir before his death. He might have named Perdiccas as his successor who was his bodyguard and the leader of companion cavalry in front of the witnesses. But Perdiccas avoided claiming the throne as he wanted the unborn Alexander IV and himself to be the joint kings (Green 24-26). His idea did not appeal Alexander’s followers. Meanwhile, Philip III (Alexander’s half brother) was made the king by the support of infantry. After the birth of Alexander IV, Philip III and Alexander IV were appointed as the joint kings of the empire (Green 26-29). Soon the rivalry began and the assassination of Perdiccas in 321 BC collapsed the unity among the Macedonians. A 40 years’ war between “The Successors” began and divided the Hellenistic world into four blocks of empires: The Seleucid Empire (east); Ptolemic kingdom of Egypt; Kingdom of Pergamon (Asia Minor); Macedon. Romans put an end to their conquests and many of the territories became provinces of the Roman Empire later (Green 29-45).
Conversely, the assassination of Caesar ignited the fire of civil war which began the end of the Roman Republic. Unlike Alexander, Caesar had named an heir in his will. He named Gaius Octavius Thurinus (later named Augustus Caesar) as his successor (Tranquillus 112-114). A second Triumvirate (Triarchy) was formed including Mark Antony, Lepidus and Octavius to punish the assassins of Caesar. They fought a series of five civil wars, the unrest of which lasted for almost a century. Consequently, Roman Republic dissolved and became Roman Empire. This second triumvirate led Octavius to the rank of Emperor of the Roman Empire (Tranquillus 135-141). Octavius did a lot for his subjects’ welfare. Roman Empire expanded and flourished under his emperorship. It remained intact and peaceful for next many centuries. Octavius turned out to be a true heir of Caesar and was named Caesar Augustus (Florus 351). If only Alexander had named his heir, the history would have been telling a different story today.
After going through the history of both kings, a famous saying “It is always lonely at the top” proves to be correct. A leader has many friends and enemies; sometimes enemies disguised as friends. A true leader has far sightedness which lets him decide the fate of his followers. If we compare the leadership of both Alexander and Caesar and the after-effects of their tragic deaths, we find that Alexander’s death caused his nation to disintegrate because he had not appointed any heir. Had he been farsighted, he would have done so before his death. Conversely, Caesar, even though, got assassinated, had taken care of this issue. As a result, his empire stood for a very long time. Therefore, farsightedness is a must have for a leader because after all, he is the one whose actions define the fate of his nation.
Chinnock, E. J. Alexander The Great – Sources. 16 10 2011 http://websfor.org/alexander/arrian/book7a.asp.
Florus. The Epitome of Roman History. London: Loeb Classical Library, 1929.
Green, Peter. Alexander The Great And The Hellenistic Age: A Short History (Universal History). New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007.
Plutarch. “Alexander.” Plutarch. Plutarch’s Lives. Trans. Bernadotte Perrin. 1919.
—. Plutarch’s Lives. Trans. Bernadotte Perrin. London: Harvard University Press, 1919.
Tranquillus, C. Suetonius. The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. London: Loeb Classical Library, 1913.
Woolf, Greg. Et Tu Brute? : Caesar’s Murder and Political Assassination. London: Profile Books, 2006.
Yenne, Bill. Alexander the Great: Lessons from History’s Undefeated General. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.