Alexander's Conquests : Historical and Hypothetical possibilities

Feb 2011
1,111
Scotland
Livy wrote the first known dissertation on speculative history, a 'what-if' Alexander had come west.
It seems that it was not unknown for Greeks to declare to Romans (probably over a drink or a meal) that Alexander would have 'kicked Roman butt' had he done so- extinguishing Rome just as it was beginning its meteoric rise.

Unsurprisingly, Livy argues against this, though his argument that even if there were still a lot of Romans 100 years later after Hannibal's 'pruning' so there would be lots in the earlier period isn't particularly convincing. He does make the point that there were a good few competent Roman generals at the time and that the Romans would almost certainly have comprised a more competent, steadfast foe than the Persians proved at that time.
 

greatstreetwarrior

Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
3,871
The Nandas would have crushed if he tried to cross the five rivers plains in north India. There is no way the Greeks could fight against the Nandas. Plus the heat and humidity would have broken their morale.
 
Aug 2018
337
America
Arnold Toynbee speculated on the 'might have been' of Alexander living to 69-

What might be different, renowned British historian Arnold Toynbee wondered, if Alexander the Great had lived to be 69 years old? He wrote an essay exploring the possible outcomes.

323 B.C.
Alexander is cured from his almost-deadly illness. He becomes a lot calmer and lets his loyal officers Eumenes, Perdikkas and Ptolemaios rule the empire during his the next few years when he is campaigning.

322 B.C.
Alexander sails around the Arabian peninsula. In Suez, he orders the renewal of the channel. Phoenicians are settled at the Persian Gulf, along with other neighbouring peoples as Samaritans, Moabites and and Hebrews. They use the opportunity and become an open-minded people. There is no religious strife and therefore no religious movements which spring off a humiliated Judaism. Thus: No Christianity (according to Toynbee). Alexander's new capital becomes Alexandria in Egypt.

321 B.C.
He sails to Macedonia and secures the frontiers in Thracia and Anatolia.

320/319 B.C.
Conquered of Sicily and Carthage. Both are reorganized in the same manner as the Corinthian league. In Gibraltar, he founds the city of Alexandreia Eschata Herakleia. Pytheas of Massilia receives order to sail around Africa.

318 B.C.
Greek-Roman Pact against Samnites.

317 B.C.
Victory over Samnium. Southern Italy ("Magna Graecia") is reorganized as the league of Naples. Rome may conquer whole Italy and - if possible - Gaul.

317-314 B.C.
With the Mediterrean Sea in his hands, Alexander forms a new army with mercenaries and moves to India. He conquers the kingdom of Magadha and Seleukos is installed as ruler. At the Ganges river, Alexander mets a Phoenician fleet that discovered the way to India by sea. From now on, Buddhist missionaries move deep into the empire. In Hellas, Zenon and Epicurus write essays on Buddhistic philosophy. World state and world religion are linked together from now on.

312/311 B.C.
Alexander moves to the Jaxartes river. Having heard of Chinese wealth, he joins an uprising and conquers China. Antigonos is made king of China.

308 B.C.
Nearchus discovers the sea passage from India to China. In the following centuries, Chinese population moves down the islands in the south, making Australia a Chinese continent.

287 B.C.
Alexander dies.

Alexander's successor Alexander IV. civilizes his empire, reorganizes administration, builds up infrastructure etc. In Alexandria, he builds a university ("Museion" for philosophers, "Hephaisteion" for Technicians). Heron discovers the steam power, Aristarchus the heliocentric idea. Erastothenes finds that Earth is kind of a ball.

Circa 220 B.C.
A young Carthaginian named Hannibal has read the stories of Atlantis and hopes to find it across the ocean. He finds the new continent of Antipodia.

The rest of the world slowly joins the peaceful and benevolent empire.

Circa 1930 A.D.
A historian named Arnoldus Toynbeenus sits in Alexandria and imagines a world where Alexander died. He shudders by the mere thought of it and praises Alexander LXXXVI.

If Alexander the Great had lived on 69
Mother of God, Toynbee's essay is horrible, especially the part where Alexander randomly decides for no reason to send Hebrews to the Persian Gulf and somehow can put a Greek king in China.
 
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Feb 2011
1,111
Scotland
Mother of God, Toynbee's essay is horrible, especially the part where Alexander randomly decides for no reason to send Hebrews to the Persian Gulf and somehow can put a Greek king in China.
I agree- hit a bit close to home for me! He'd probably be off my Xmas Card list. Purpose is I suppose to take Christianity and Islam out of his world picture. But it's pure wild fantasy. It was quoted in Phil Barker's 'Alexander the Great's Campaigns', which was both instructive and amusing.
 
Sep 2013
631
Ontario, Canada
Toynbee's essay is quite a flight of fancy, especially the part about Alexander conquering China and getting the Romans to bend the knee.

There was supposedly a letter found amongst Alexander's effects after his death. We know about it because Perdiccas read it out to the troops. Telling them in Alexander's own written words what he had planned, how much more marching would happen, and that with his death the general was declaring a halt to continued conquering. Something which would've brought joy to the rank and file tired of the endless marching Alexander had them do while he was alive.

The first thing was the raising of 1,000 ships; this would've been used against Arabia to the south. It was a region rich in spices and trade, and what's more they hadn't sent an embassy to Babylon like all the other nations when he became King of Kings, and he wanted them to acknowledge him so the southern borders of his Empire would be recognized and respected. After pacifying them, he'd be fully aware of Carthage to the west also being quite rich.

The fleet would've shadowed the Macedonian army along the shoreline coming up from Egypt. Most likely they see him come with his massive army and, being in fear of his godlike reputation, everyone just gets down on their knees and tribute is paid. His fleet probably gets bigger when he takes control of Carthage's boats; ultimately he could make the waters piracy-free three full centuries before Pompey.

Then eventually Europe, likely beginning with Sicily and southern Italy where there were already Greek colonies who would've joined him instantly. Like Belisarius a thousand, or Garibaldi two thousand years later, he would've rolled up right over the Samnites, Rome, Etruscans, and whoever else and unified the peninsula.

From here he could project into Hispania and Gaul, both of which would've had wealth enough to interest him, and into Dalmatia and the Balkans, likely setting up a frontier with the Rhine and Danube very similar to that of the Roman Empire.

Then he comes back to Macedon in triumph, the western world essentially conquered. Now he probably will start thinking about going east, India for sure, and China probably not. The sheer distances involved would've made such a sprawling conquest difficult to hold together, although if there was one person in all of history who could've done it, it was Alexander. He would've found a way to make it happen. The Macedonian Empire was fused together by the sheer force of his personality, he was literally a living god and the most powerful man in the world. It only dissented and broke up and died when he did.
 

Solidaire

Ad Honorem
Aug 2009
5,613
Athens, Greece
But I was talking only about Carthaginians in regards to nautical skill. And not all Greeks were nautically the same. The Macedonian fleet has no comparable feats to that of Syracuse or even Athens. Alexander's empire is essentially a land empire. Not to mention history shows that even the nautical Greeks were not exactly a match against Carthage, as we can see by how Carthage became the hegemonic power of the Western Mediterranean and overshadowed the local Western Mediterranean Greek states. The later Hellenistic powers didn't even attempt going after Carthage.
Well, the Sicilian wars, the conflict between Carthage and the Greek colonies of Magna Grecia lasted for more than three centuries and were inconclusive. Both sides had victories and defeats, with the overall status quo regarding Sicily, the control of which was the reason of the conflict, remaining the same. So it is incorrect that the "local Greek states were not a match against Carthage". And the later Hellenistic powers had no interest to go after Carthage, they had their own problems at the time.

They only gave Galatia because the Celts invaded. It was their way of appeasing them. They would not have been "invited" (more like forced to give that land to them) without their invasion of Greek lands. And sure, they performed so badly against organised armies that they basically did a comparable amount of damage to the Greeks as the Persian Empire did under Darius and Xerxes (heck, the Persians didn't kill any major leader in the invasion of Darius and Xerxes as far as I remember, whereas the Celts killed a major Greek king).

Seeing how the Celts basically did a comparable amount of damage against Greece as the Persians under Darius and Xerxes, yes, they actually are quite equal to the Persians. Not only that, but they aren't even using outdated tactics like chariot warfare either, like Darius III did against Alexander. Now sure, Naples and Magna Graecia Greeks were not fighting completely the same as Alexander, but they still had similar tactics and are therefore still a yardstick. The fact that the Romans conquered these Greeks before they conquered the Cisalpine Gauls - let alone the Transalpine Gauls, who were also conquered about a century after Macedon and Greece - is still a significant comparison.
You cannot compare the Celts and the Persians based on the damage they inflicted on the Greeks, because the Greeks the Persians faced and the Greeks the Celts faced are not the same in terms of power. Greece in the 3rd century BC was a shadow of its former self, while Greece in the 5th century BC was just about to embark on its golden age. In these two centuries in between, countless wars for supremacy, the Peloponnesian being the most devastating one, saw the power of Athens, Sparta and Thebes broken in succesion, and Macedon taking the mantle of Greek leadership. The Celts invaded a Greece far weaker than that invaded by the Persians. And still, the Greeks managed to repel the Persians with the greatest difficulty, a small miracle at that age of Persian almightiness (Persia was the super-power of the age).
 
Last edited:
Oct 2018
1,690
Sydney
The Carthaginians were an unusually determined, stubborn and resource-rich enemy, as both the First and Second Punic Wars demonstrate, but Alexander was obviously also a very determined and resource-rich foe, and in the last decades of the fourth century BC Carthage did not have a general capable of matching Alexander, as their rather mixed performances against Timoleon of Corinth and Agathocles of Syracuse demonstrate. Carthage's rural Libyan population could also be persuaded to rebel, as their rebellions following the second war with Dionysius of Syracuse and during and following the First Punic War demonstrate. Agathocles also attempted to encourage the Libyans to revolt, but I don't think any source mentions whether he was successful or not. It may have become an epic fight, but I would imagine Alexander winning.
 
Last edited:
Oct 2018
1,690
Sydney
The Carthaginians were an unusually determined, stubborn and resource-rich enemy, as both the First and Second Punic Wars demonstrate, but Alexander was obviously also a very determined and resource-rich foe, and in the last decades of the fourth century BC Carthage did not have a general capable of matching Alexander, as their rather mixed performances against Timoleon of Corinth and Agathocles of Syracuse demonstrate. Carthage's rural Libyan population could also be persuaded to rebel, as their rebellions following the second war with Dionysius of Syracuse and during and following the First Punic War demonstrate. Agathocles also attempted to encourage the Libyans to revolt, but I don't think any source mentions whether he was successful or not. It may have become an epic fight, but I would imagine Alexander winning.
Some further thoughts on Alexander vs Carthage.

1. The Carthaginian navy did indeed have a reputation for doing well in combat. Curiously, this reputation is borne out more by the assertions of ancient authors like Polybius than by concrete examples of victories. But perhaps this is because ancient authors tended not to draw too much attention to Carthaginian victories beyond those most relevant to their Graecocentric and Romanocentric narratives (note that we know hardly anything about Carthaginian wars not fought against either Rome or Syracuse). Then again, exaggerating the quality of the Carthaginian navy makes the Roman naval victories in the First Punic War appear all the more impressive. Carthage's greatest victories over the Syracusans were actually fought on land in the form of pitched battles and sieges. But on the other hand, the Carthaginian navy does seem to have been pretty formidable. Carthage could field very large fleets, they built their famous circular harbour to house their warships, their high-quality ships could be mass-produced ikea style (which allowed the Romans to copy the Carthaginian design), their ships were manouvreable (as demonstrated in the battles of Ecnomus and Drepana), and they did win at least a few notable victories against the Phocaean navy, the Syracusan navy, Pyrrhus' navy and that of the Romans. If it isn't already obvious, I'm conflicted regarding how I feel about the Carthaginian fleet.

In any case, one could made a maritime landing in Africa from Sicily without facing the Carthaginian fleet, as Agathocles accomplished. Moreover, Alexander could have sent an army directly overland from Egypt, much like Ophellas of Cyrene did from Cyrenaica during the Agathoclean War, and as previous Cyrenaican armies had supposedly done, if it is indeed the case that Carthage and Cyrene had fought over Emporia in former times, as Sallust claims when he narrates the story of the brothers Philaeni. The harshness of the march could have led to casualties, as happened to Ophellas' army (although they still did make it to Carthaginian Africa), but that hadn't stopped Alexander before.

2. The closest thing we get to seeing Carthage vs Alexander is Carthage vs Pyrrhus and perhaps Carthage vs Agathocles (I don't think we know much about Agathocles' army). As noted above, Carthage's performance against Agathocles was mixed, and yet Agathocles was no Alexander and had far fewer military resources at his disposal than Alexander. Pyrrhus was a king in the Alexandrian mold and definitely had a Hellenistic-style army. He performed well against Carthage. When he arrived in Sicily in 278, Carthage was besieging Syracuse and enjoyed the submission of at least a few of the Greek cities in Sicily. By 276 Carthage had lost all their territory in Sicily except Lilybaeum, their high-security military port on the island's far western tip. Lilybaeum held out for two months, which is not surprising. It held out against Roman landward encirclement from 250 to 241 and only submitted when Carthage agreed to evacuate Sicily and hand over the port. Pyrrhus planned on crossing to Africa to take the war to Carthage, following the example of Agathocles, which would also later be followed by the Romans of the First and Second Punic Wars. However, his tyrannical behavior in Sicily proved his undoing. The Greeks of Sicily rejected his rule and did not want to finance or contribute troops to an African invasion. He soon left, using Samnite and Tarentine pleas for assistance against the Romans as an opportunity to leave. So, the example of Pyrrhus demonstrates his own martial superiority over the Carthaginians, but also the complicating factor of Greek discontent. However, again, Alexander had far greater military resources to call upon, he and his officers had successfully dealt already with dissent in mainland Greece (both while he was there and during his absence), Alexander was a better campaigner than Pyrrhus (at the very least he had a superior commitment to his objectives), and he also had the public-image advantage that he was an imposing god-king who was seemingly capable of doing anything.
 
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Lord Oda Nobunaga

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
5,633
Ontario, Canada
I find that a lot of these what ifs are just fan fiction. I don't see how Alexander could conquer India much less the whole world. Sometimes he is supposed to invade China as well? I'm not sure if people realize how far away China is, and how extreme the terrain is to get there.
 
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