Alexander, whom posterity styles "the Great",
was twenty-three years old when he and his Greek troops
encountered an adversary old enough to be his father, King
Darius III of Persia. Battle was
joined on the plain of Issus, an old Mediterranean port near what is now
the Turkish-Syrian border, in 333 ВС. The brilliant Alexander, a pupil of
the philosopher Aristotle, managed to break into the Persian left flank.
He is said to have looked so piercingly into Darius s eyes that the
Persian king fled. His troops panicked and the massacre that ensued lasted
until late that night.
During the battle Darius's mother, wife and children
were captured. Alexander treated them honourably, which earned him the
respect of the Persians. As hostages, however, they did influence Darius's
behaviour. Yet, when Darius showed readiness to compromise, Alexander
refused his offer. His decision made world history. He wanted to conquer
Persia, but much more he wanted to rule the world: "Should you desire to
know what my aim is, you should know that the bounds of my new Empire will
be those that God has set the earth." After defeating Darius a second
time, he conquered Egypt, the kingdom of Babylon and eastern Persia,
calling himself the "King of all Asia." He drove the borders of his vast
empire far beyond what is now Pakistan, all the way east to India and the
banks of the River Bias. His victories were not merely political. More
importantly, he carried Hellenic culture with him everywhere he went. He
also promoted religious tolerance, including of Judaism. Napoleon thought
highly of him, admiring in particular Alexander's ability to win the
hearts of the peoples he conquered.
Altdorfer was the first
great painter to take landscape as his exclusive subject matter. He
represented the historic Battle of Issus as one of his contemporaries, the
German physician and scholar Paracelsus, might have viewed it: an epic
struggle of life and death fought out on a cosmic scale, whose drama is
reflected in the swirling clouds above and the endless vista beyond.