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Alexander's Boyhood and Youth

We actually know very little about Alexander’s childhood. Plutarch was the only author who wrote about it, and he was concerned only with events that exemplified Alexander’s character. It is therefore difficult to separate, even in Plutarch’s short section on this period of his life, the apocryphal from the true. However, we can make certain assumptions based on what we know about life for Greek children in general.

Alexander would have spent the first few years of his life in the women’s quarters, where Olympias would have laid the groundwork for the influence she later clearly exerted on her son. Later he was put into the care of tutors, who were responsible for overseeing his education—in the early stages, learning to read and write. These tutors included Leonidas, one of Olympias’ kinsmen, who was infamous for his spartan ways (Pl. Alex. 5.4; also ). Another tutor was Lysimachus, who was at least partly responsible for Alexander’s identification with Achilles (Pl. Alex. 5.5).

It is likely that Alexander was thrown together with his ‘syntrophoi’ at a fairly early age. Boys such as Hephaestion, Perdiccas, Leonnatus, and Seleucus would have received their education alongside the prince. They then followed him to Mieza, at the age of around 14, when Aristotle became their tutor. We do not know exactly what was on Aristotle’s curriculum, but it seems certain that literature, mathematics, history, philosophy and natural history were all taught at Mieza. As these were the boys’ teenage years, they would also at this time have been taught the arts of war—they undoubtedly already rode well, and now will have practised wrestling, running, discus and javelin throwing; and will also probably have taken part in phalanx manoeuvres.

Plutarch tells one or two stories about Alexander’s youth. The most famous is probably the story of Alexander’s taming of Bucephalus, when he was around 13 years old (Pl. Alex. 6). Another well-known story is that of Alexander’s meeting with the Persian ambassadors (Pl. Alex. 5.1-3)—Philip was absent from the court when the ambassadors arrived, and Alexander kept them amused by asking precocious questions about the Great King’s empire.

The final stage in the boys’ education will have been as members of the corps of Royal Pages, which was a sort of cadet force, answerable only to the king. Alexander appears not to have served much time as a true Page, as he was already regent of Macedonia at the age of 16, and two years later commanded the cavalry at Chaeronea. By the time that Alexander was made regent, albeit temporarily, his youth was over. He led a military expedition against the Maedi and founded his first city (or, rather, re-named the existing Maedi settlement) (Pl. Alex. 9.1-2). After that it is unlikely that any would have presumed him still to be a boy. However, his clashes with Philip, most notably over the Pixodarus affair (probably when he was about 18/19), show that he was still considered a hot-headed youth in some respects, and that he had not yet achieved the maturity of political thought that Philip had had to gain at an early age, and which Alexander himself would have to learn very quickly, not long afterwards (Pl. Alex. 10.1-3).

Written by marcus