Skip to content

Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt – Alexander the Great: Anatomy of a Legend

  • by

Episode 10 of Great Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt doesn’t really talk about a pharaoh, because their time has passed. This episode is about Alexander the Great (about whom you can learn much, much more in Dr. Kenneth Harl’s Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Empire).

Alexander, as you probably know, conquered the Persians, and it was the Persians who ruled Egypt at that time, so Alexander also conquered Egypt. As Dr. Brier has mentioned previously, the Greeks kind of revered the Egyptians, a civilization ancient beyond even the time of Homer, in Greece’s own hazy past at that time (333 BCE). Dr. Brier is counting him as a pharaoh, because Alexander took the role of pharaoh after the conquest and passed it along to his successor.

Not to quibble with the professor, but I consider this a bit of a cheat. Unlike the Nubians, who were very close culturally to Egypt and focused their efforts there, Alexander wears Egypt like jewelry. It’s awesome to have, but he has other matters that interest him. Had Alexander survived into old age, I don’t think there’s any real evidence he was likely to settle in Egypt. He did not rule as a pharaoh and did not speak Egyptian. The only Ptolemy who did speak Egyptian was Cleopatra.

I guess I am arguing that Alexander is not of Ancient Egypt, and while he might be great, was he really a great pharaoh?

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the episode, but the part I found most interesting were not about Alexander himself (again, for that, check out Dr. Harl’s lecture series), but about the Siwa Oasis and it’s oracle. The loss of a Persian army in the desert on route to Siwa conjures a huge number of story and adventure ideas in my head, and Siwa itself sounds like a very intriguing backdrop.

This isn’t anywhere near my favourite episode, but it’s not a bad episode. I can’t imagine that there weren’t two or three other pharaohs about whom Dr. Brier could have spoken without resorting to the Greeks. However, his knowledge of Ancient Egypt, sprinkled throughout all the episodes, helps make this one enjoyable. And as I’ve said before, I just like listening to Dr. Brier. I like his style. That certainly helps.