Leadership Showdown: Alexander the Great vs. Julius Caesar


Statues of Alexander the Great and Julius Cesear main

Who was more impressive: Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar? Let us check them out. Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BCE) built an empire from Greece to India. He helped begin the Hellenistic Age of Greek culture. Julius Caesar (100 – 44 BCE) was a politician and military leader. His adopted nephew became the first Roman emperor. Caesar had a longer career. Alexander’s military exploits were more impressive. Both began the golden age of their native cultures. Both died too soon to see the full results of their exploits. 

Alexander the Great  

Early Years 

Alexander was born in Pella, Macedonia, in 356 BCE. to King Philip II and Queen Olympias.  

Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, was his teacher. Alex became the leader of Macedonia at 20. Alexander had all the makings of a leader, including charisma, bravery, strategy, a strategic mindset, and a philosophical sentiment reflecting his tutoring.  

Love Life 

Alexander’s love life received a lot of attention.

His parents worried that Alexander would not have an heir. He had multiple loves, both men and women. Greek culture accepted homosexual relationships.

Alexander fell in love with Roxanne. His generals were wary because she was a foreigner. She had his only official child.  He also married Stateira and Parysatis, part of a mass wedding to help unite Persia (Iran) and Macedonia. Their wedding was more of a diplomatic exercise. 

Military Exploits 

Alexander received the name Alexander the Great for his military exploits. 

The First Book of Maccabees, found in some Bibles, provides a pretty good summary:

After Alexander became king of Greece, he defeated King Darius, who ruled the Persians and the Medes. By doing so, Alexander greatly enlarged his realm. He successfully fought many battles, conquered fortresses, and put to death many kings. He advanced to the very ends of the known earth, plundering nation after nation. 

His army reached India, spreading Greek (Hellenistic) culture far and wide. 

Death

Alexander died in 323 at age 32. Historians debate how he died. Was it natural causes such as malaria or poisoning? Either way, the only heir was a young child.

The result was a battle for supremacy and his empire breaking apart into different parts. Nonetheless, Greek culture spread far and wide thanks to his conquests. 

Julius Caesar 

Early Years 

Gaius Julius Caesar was born in 100 BCE. He was a member of a patrician family (Julius).  “Caesar” is one branch of the Julius family.  His family was well off, if not very wealthy.  

(“Caesaran” sections are named after him. We do not know if he was born that way.) 

Caesar became head of his family at a young age and married the daughter of a powerful politician. He immediately got caught in a major power struggle between two factions fighting over control of Rome. Power struggles would continue to be a theme for the next fifty years.  

Politician 

Julius Caesar later became a successful politician, serving in various positions. 

He was skilled in oratory and famously fought corruption. The less well-off supported his land redistribution policies. Meanwhile, the aristocracy was wary of his power.  

Military Leader 

Julius Caesar was a great military leader. Schoolchildren learn Latin by reading about his exploits fighting in Gaul (France). He invaded Britain. Bad weather forced him to withdraw.

Caesar used his control of military forces to return to Rome against the wishes of the Roman Senate.  He was an ally of Pompey, who conquered Palestine (but that’s another story).   

Dictator

In 54 BCE, he crossed the Rubicon River in northeastern Italy, marched his army to Rome, and defeated Pompey, who became his rival. Caesar then became the ruler of Rome. 

He began to make several reforms. He increased the size of the Roman Senate, gave citizenship to many people living outside of Rome, and built several public works projects. Caesar also reformed the calendar. It now had 365 days and a leap year (“Julian Calendar”). 

Caesar also allied with Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt. Caesar returned to Rome in 46 BCE. He was elected “dictator for life” two years later. Was the Roman Republic gone? 

Some senators assassinated Caesar on March 15th (the “Ides of March) in 44 BCE. After a power struggle, his adopted nephew Augustus became the first Roman emperor. 

Who Was the Better Leader?

Alexander the Great had a much shorter public career than Julius Caesar. Caesar had many public offices in the Roman Republic. Alexander inherited his office from his father. 

Alexander was more successful on the battlefield. Caesar promoted himself more as seen by schoolchildren reading his autobiological military exploits. “He came, he saw, he conquered.” 

Both had adventurous romantic lives. Caesar had a more traditional married life. Nonetheless, he also had a child with Cleopatra. Alexander married three times and had many lovers. 

Alexander died young, perhaps under suspicious circumstances. Caesar died in middle age, being murdered. The murder was a rich source of drama. Shakespeare’s play is the most famous.

Alexander and Caesar were both behind cultural golden ages. The Hellenistic Age, a golden age of Greek culture, began at Alexander’s death. The end of the Hellenistic Age was the beginning of the Pax Romana (“Roman Peace”). Caesar’s self-appointed heir, Augustus, began things off. 

Each was a great leader in different ways. I will leave it to you to decide who is better.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.

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