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The University of Southampton

HIST1153 Alexander the Great and His Legacy

Module Overview

“…How I should like to come to life again for a little while after my death to discover how people read these present events by that time; at present they have good enough reason to praise and favour it; that is their way of angling for a share of my favour” (attributed to Alexander the Great, reported in Lucian’s How to Write History, 2nd c. CE). Questions of how to interpret the life and legacy of Alexander the Great have been live since antiquity; and, if we trust this anecdote from Lucian, they begin with Alexander himself. In this module, you will explore the evidence for the life and achievements of King Alexander III (‘the Great’), of Macedon (356-323 BCE). Throughout the course, the module will focus on the challenges of the surviving primary sources (textual and material) for reconstructing the realities of Alexander’s world, his actions and intentions, and the wide-ranging debates and differences of interpretation that they have generated. You will learn to identify the varied agendas in primary material and in the scholarship surrounding its interpretation. This module will explore the historical context in which Alexander came to power in the kingdom of Macedon and the wider Greek world. It will further explore what can be known of Alexander’s early development and the ideologies and cultural factors that shaped his outlook and early policies. The major part of the module focuses on Alexander’s campaigns, his quest for the ‘liberation’ of the Greeks of Asia Minor and the conquest of the Persian Empire. Setting out in 334 BCE, with an army of c. 43,000 infantry and 5,500 cavalry of Macedonians and Greeks, Alexander led the ‘most formidable array ever to leave Greek soil’; by the time of his death in 323, he had conquered almost the whole of the known world of his time. In the context of his campaigns, particular attention will be given to Alexander’s actions – and the reception of Alexander by local peoples - in Egypt and Asia, and the development of his self-understanding as an absolute ruler and divine king. The module will then explore the consequences of Alexander’s early death in Babylon, and the creation of the Hellenistic kingdoms under dynasties founded by his Macedonian generals, with particular focus on the Ptolemies (in Egypt) and the Seleucids (in Asia). How did these Greek-speaking, Macedonian elites transform these worlds of Alexander’s Empire, and vice versa? The final part of the module focuses on the reception of Alexander’s life and legacy from antiquity to the contemporary world.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The causes of and contexts of Alexander’s rise to power and military campaigns.
  • The ways in which Alexander’s conquests transformed the political, social and cultural worlds of the Mediterranean and Asia
  • Scholarly debates about the life and achievements of Alexander.
  • The challenges facing historians when engaging with contemporary historical issues.
  • Key primary sources and literature that provide evidence of the consequences of Alexander’s conquest of the Persian Empire and the creation of the Hellenistic kingdoms.
  • The differing interpretations of Alexander’s legacy from antiquity to the contemporary world
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Discuss the historical background of Alexander’s rise to power and military campaigns.
  • Show yourself familiar with a range of primary sources, textual as well as material.
  • Apply frameworks discussed by scholars for interpreting Alexander’s achievements and their impact in a range of different contexts (including Egypt and Asia).
  • Critically analyse source material.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Organise and structure material to write and present confidently.
  • Conduct primary research through print and digital resources including editions of ancient texts and studies of material objects.
  • Analyse critically primary and secondary material.
  • Participate actively in group discussions and debate.


An indicative list of the topics covered in the module includes: • Alexander the Great: primary sources and critical issues of interpretation • The royal court of Macedon • Early life and education of Alexander • Alexander as king: being a monarch in the Greek world • Alexander’s conquest of the Persian Empire • Alexander in Egypt • Alexander in Asia • The death of Alexander • Alexander’s ‘successors’ and the making of the Hellenistic world • Alexander: facts and fictions from antiquity to the contemporary world

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

• A weekly two-hour class incorporating lecture and seminar elements • Lecturer-led examination and discussion of sources • Preparatory reading before each seminar • Participation in group and class discussion • Independent reading of the sources provided and of related secondary works • Short oral presentations on primary sources • Independent research of additional information and source materials Lecture elements will provide you with general knowledge and understanding about chronology, sources and key concepts. This will be consolidated through readings and seminar discussions of primary and secondary source material. Discussion in seminars will help you to develop your own ideas about a topic, to analyse a range of source material and to articulate a critical argument.

Independent Study127
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

H. Bowden (2014). Alexander the Great: A Very Short Introduction. 

P. Briant (2015). Darius in the Shadow of Alexander. 

A. Erskine (ed.) (2003). A Companion to the Hellenistic World. 

R. Lane Fox (2004). Alexander the Great. 

E.E. Rice (2004). Alexander the Great. 

P. Wheatley et al (eds) (2015). East and West in the World Empire of Alexander the Great: Essays in Honour of Brian Bosworth. 

A.B. Bosworth (1988). Conquest and Empire. 

J. Roisman (2003). Brill’s Companion to Alexander the Great. 

P. Green (1991). Alexander of Macedon, 356-323 B.C.. 

A.B. Bosworth and E. Baynham (eds) (2000). Alexander the Great in Fact and Fiction. 

P. Cartledge (2004). Alexander the Great: the Truth Behind the Myth. 


Assessment Strategy

Assessments designed to provide informal feedback: • You will engage in small group exercises, focusing on specific formative tasks, which will be reviewed in class • You will be encouraged to discuss preparation for your formal assessment with your tutor • You will have the opportunity to seek individual advice on your work in progress from your tutor • Guidance and advice in class on preparation, completion and presentation of assignments will be available to you The formal assessments will promote skills of analysis and critical thinking. They will also reinforce organisational, planning and writing skills.


MethodPercentage contribution
Commentary exercise  (1000 words) 20%
Essay  (2000 words) 40%
Examination  (1 hours) 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Resubmit assessments 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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