Part 5—Greece—The Fifth Great World Power
Like a speedy, winged leopard, Alexander came out of Greece to conquer Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), Palestine, Egypt, and the Medo-Persian empire all the way to the edge of India. Would you like to know more about this exceptional conqueror and what the Bible said about him?
AT THE age of only 20, young Alexander inherited the throne of Macedon. Two years later, following his father Philip’s plan, Alexander set out on a war of revenge against the mighty Persians, whose empire lay to the east. Before he stopped, Alexander had conquered the world of his day.
This dashing young military strategist swept through Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Babylonia, and the entire Medo-Persian empire as far as the threshold of ancient India! Reckoned as perhaps the greatest general of ancient times, he is known today as Alexander the Great.
In a surprisingly short time, Greece had become the fifth of the world powers of Bible history—larger than any that had preceded it. How did such a thing happen? How does it relate to God’s Word? What does it mean to you?
Foretold in Bible Prophecy
Two hundred years before Alexander’s time, when Babylon held sway and the Medes and the Persians had not yet become the world power, Jehovah’s prophet Daniel was given two great prophetic visions that outlined future world history. Then, after Babylon fell, he received a third prophecy regarding things that would occur long after his time. Daniel wrote them down. These prophecies, which did not begin fulfillment until some two centuries afterward, contain specific information about things that would happen to Alexander and to his kingdom.
What was revealed to Daniel? You can find the prophecies in the Bible book of Daniel, written about the year 536 B.C.E. In brief, these are the things that he saw as they related to the fifth world power, Greece:
In the first prophetic vision, Greece was represented as a leopard equipped for fast movement. “It had four wings of a flying creature on its back. . . . And there was given to it rulership indeed.”—Daniel 7:6.
In the second prophetic vision, a male goat was seen “coming from the sunset [the west] upon the surface of the whole earth,” moving with such speed that “it was not touching the earth.” It came all the way to the two-horned ram that the angel said “stands for the kings of Media and Persia.” The male goat “proceeded to strike down the ram and to break its two horns.” Daniel was told: “The hairy he-goat stands for the king of Greece.”—Daniel 8:5-8, 20, 21.
In the third instance, Daniel was told that a king of “Persia . . . will rouse up everything against the kingdom of Greece. And a mighty king will certainly stand up and rule with extensive dominion and do according to his will.”—Daniel 11:2, 3.
What did these symbolisms mean? Did these things happen the way Daniel had been told they would? Let us see.
The Prophecies Fulfilled
In the spring of the year 334 B.C.E., Alexander entered Asia at the Dardanelles (the ancient Hellespont) with some 30,000 foot soldiers and 5,000 cavalrymen. With the speed of a symbolic four-winged leopard or of a goat that seemed not to touch the ground, he swept through the domains of the Persian empire—50 times the size of his own kingdom! Would he “rule with extensive dominion and do according to his will”? History answers.
At the Granicus River in the northwest corner of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) Alexander won his first battle against the Persians. That winter he conquered western Asia Minor. The following autumn at Issus in the southeastern corner of Asia Minor, he utterly defeated a Persian army estimated at half a million men, and the great king, Darius III of Persia, fled, abandoning his family to Alexander’s hands.
Rather than pursuing the fleeing Persians, Alexander marched southward along the Mediterranean coast, conquering the bases used by the powerful Persian fleet. The island city of Tyre resisted for seven months. Finally, using the rubble of the old mainland city that Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed, Alexander built a causeway out to the island city. Remains of that causeway are visible today, bearing out the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy that the dust of Tyre would be pitched into the sea.—Ezekiel 26:4, 12.
Sparing Jerusalem, which surrendered to him, Alexander pushed south, conquering Gaza and enlarging his “extensive dominion” and doing “according to his will” in Egypt, where he was greeted as a deliverer. At Memphis he sacrificed to the Apis bull, thus pleasing the Egyptian priests. He also founded the city of Alexandria, which later rivaled Athens as a center of learning and which still bears his name.
All the objectives of Philip’s plan had been met and exceeded, but Alexander was far from through. Like a fast-moving he-goat, he turned back northeast, through Palestine and on up toward the Tigris River. There, in the year 331 B.C.E., he engaged the Persians at Gaugamela, not far from the crumbling ruins of the former Assyrian capital, Nineveh. Alexander’s 47,000 men overpowered a reorganized Persian army of 1,000,000. Darius III fled and was later murdered by his own people.
Flushed with victory, Alexander turned south and took the Persian winter capital, Babylon. He also occupied the capitals at Susa and Persepolis, seizing the immense Persian treasury and burning the great palace of Xerxes. Finally, the capital at Ecbatana fell to him. This speedy conqueror then subdued the rest of the Persian domain, going as far to the east as the Indus River in modern-day Pakistan. Unquestionably, Greece had become the fifth of the great world powers in Bible history.
Alexander’s conquest also spread the Greek language and culture throughout this vast realm. With Greek colonies established in conquered lands, the common Koine Greek became the international language of that day. It was the language later used to record the Christian Greek Scriptures of the Bible.
Alexander’s Kingdom Divided
Alexander wanted to rebuild Babylon as the capital of his empire. But this was not to happen. The prophecies had described the hairy he-goat as having a large single horn, concerning which Daniel was told:
“The male of the goats, for its part, put on great airs to an extreme; but as soon as it became mighty, the great horn was broken, and there proceeded to come up conspicuously four instead of it, toward the four winds of the heavens. . . . The hairy he-goat stands for the king of Greece; and as for the great horn that was between its eyes, it stands for the first king. And that one having been broken, so that there were four that finally stood up instead of it, there are four kingdoms from his nation that will stand up, but not with his power.”—Daniel 8:8, 21, 22.
“When he will have stood up, his kingdom will be broken and be divided toward the four winds of the heavens, but not to his posterity and not according to his dominion with which he had ruled; because his kingdom will be uprooted, even for others than these.”—Daniel 11:4.
As the Bible predicted, Alexander’s enjoyment of world rulership was short-lived. At the very height of his victorious career, at the age of only 32, Alexander’s ruthless conquests came to an end. Stricken with malarial fever, he continued feasting to drunkenness and suddenly died in Babylon in 323 B.C.E. His body was taken to Egypt and entombed in Alexandria. “The great horn” that “stands for the first king” had been broken. What then happened to his empire?
The prophecy had said that his kingdom would be divided “but not to his posterity.” Alexander’s incapable brother Philip Arrhidaeus ruled for a short time but was murdered. So were Alexander’s legitimate son Alexander (Allou) and his illegitimate son Heracles (Hercules). Thus the lineage of Alexander the Great, the great spiller of blood, died out.
Also foretold was that “there are four kingdoms from his nation that will stand up, but not with his power” and that his kingdom would be “divided toward the four winds of the heavens, but . . . not according to his dominion with which he had ruled.” Did this happen?
In course of time, Alexander’s vast empire was divided among four of his generals: (1) General Cassander—Macedonia and Greece. (2) General Lysimachus—Asia Minor and European Thrace. (3) General Seleucus Nicator—Babylonia, Media, Syria, Persia and the eastern provinces to the Indus River. (4) General Ptolemy Lagus—Egypt, Libya, and Palestine. As prophesied, from Alexander’s one great kingdom arose four Hellenic, or Grecianized, kingdoms.*
The longest-lasting of these was the Ptolemaic kingdom in Egypt. It fell to Rome in 30 B.C.E., whereupon Rome replaced Greece and became the sixth of the great world powers.
Brighter Prospects Ahead for Mankind
Were oppressive world powers to continue in succession indefinitely? No, for the Bible tells us that we are living near the end of the last one of them.—Revelation 17:10.
After viewing these beastlike human governments, Daniel saw something different. He was given an outstanding vision into the very heavens, where he saw “the Ancient of Days,” God himself, giving the Kingdom, not to some future grasping human leader, but to “someone like a son of man”—to the resurrected, heavenly Jesus Christ!—Daniel 7:9, 10, 13.
What a contrast! How different that heavenly Kingdom and its rulership was to be from those of earth’s former warring human kings. Daniel said of this exalted heavenly “son of man”: “To him there were given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him. His rulership is an indefinitely lasting rulership that will not pass away, and his kingdom one that will not be brought to ruin.” (Daniel 7:14) It was to be a Kingdom of peace and righteousness.—Isaiah 9:6, 7.
As we look back on the greed and violence of human rule, how happy we can be to know that this heavenly Kingdom has already been established and that its righteous earth-wide rule is near!—Revelation 12:10, 12.
“For the vision is yet for the appointed time, and it keeps panting on to the end, and it will not tell a lie. Even if it should delay, keep in expectation of it; for it will without fail come true. It will not be late.”—Habakkuk 2:3.
The tumultuous events that followed the division of Alexander’s empire were predicted in the prophecy of “the king of the north” and “the king of the south.” This prophecy, recorded in Daniel chapter 11, is discussed in detail on pages 229-48 of the book “Your Will Be Done on Earth,” published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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Extent of Alexander’s domain
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Breakup of Alexander’s empire
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Coastline near modern-day Alexandria
Pictorial Archive (Near Eastern History) Est.