Cultural depictions of Alexander the Great

Cultural depictions of Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great's accomplishments and legacy have been preserved and depicted in many ways. Alexander has figured in works of both "high" and popular culture from his own era to the modern day.


Ancient and Medieval Literature

In the Bible

Alexander and Augustus depicted in a Byzantine style painting from 1568. Written on the left is 'Alexander, King of the Hellenes' and 'Augustus, Emperor of the Romans' on the right. From the Katholikon of Docheiariou Monastery, Mt. Athos, Greece.

Daniel 8:5–8 and 21–22 states that a King of Greece will conquer the Medes and Persians but then die at the height of his power and have his kingdom broken into four kingdoms. This is sometimes taken as a reference to Alexander.[citation needed]

Alexander was briefly mentioned in the first Book of the Maccabees. All of Chapter 1, verses 1–7 was about Alexander and this serves as an introduction of the book. This explains how the Greek influence reached the Land of Israel at that time.

In the Qur'an

Alexander the Great sometimes is identified in Persian and Arabic traditions as Dhul-Qarnayn, Arabic for the "Two-Horned One", possibly a reference to the appearance of a horn-headed figure that appears on coins minted during his rule and later imitated in ancient Middle Eastern coinage.[citation needed] Accounts of Dhul-Qarnayn appear in the Qur'an, and so may refer to Alexander. Noteworthy is the fact that his favorite horse was named Bucephalus, which means "bull's head", alluding to the shape of a horned bull at its forehead.

References to Alexander may also be found in the Persian tradition. The same traditions from the Pseudo-Callisthenes were combined in Persia with Sassanid Persian ideas about Alexander in the Iskandarnamah. In this tradition, Alexander built a wall of iron and melted copper in which Gog and Magog are confined.

Some Muslim scholars[who?] disagree that Alexander was Dhul-Qarnayn. There are actually some theories that Dhul-Qarnayn was a Persian King with a vast Empire as well, possibly King Cyrus the Great.[citation needed] The reason being is Dhul-Qarnayn is described in the Quran as a monotheist believer who worshipped Allah (God). This would remove Alexander as a candidate for Dhul-Qarnayn as Alexander was a polytheist. Yet contemporaneous Persian nobles would have practiced Zurvanism, thus disqualifying them on the same basis.

In the Shahnameh

15th century Persian miniature painting from Herat depicting Iskander, the Persian name for Alexander the Great

The Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, one of the oldest books written in modern Persian, has a chapter about Alexander. It is a book of epic poetry written around 1000 AD, and is believed to have played an important role in the survival of the Persian language in the face of Arabic influence. It starts with a mythical history of Iran and then gives a story of Alexander, followed by a brief mention of the Arsacids. The accounts after that, still in epic poetry, portray historical figures. Alexander is described as a child of a Persian king, Daraaye Darab (the last in the list of kings in the book whose names do not match historical kings), and a daughter of Philip, a Roman king. However, due to problems in the relationship between the Persian king and Philip's daughter, she is sent back to Rome. Alexander is born to her afterwards, but Philip claims him as his own son and keeps the true identity of the child secret.

Other references

Alexander is also known in the Zoroastrian Middle Persian work Arda Wiraz Nāmag as "Alexander the accursed",[1][2] in the Persian language Guzastag,[3] due to his conquest of the Persian Empire and the destruction of its capital Persepolis. He is also known as Eskandar-e Maqduni[citation needed](Alexander of Macedonia") in Persian, al-Iskandar al-Makduni al-Yunani[4] ("Alexander the Macedonian Yunani") in Arabic, אלכסנדר מוקדון, Alexander Mokdon in Hebrew, and Tre-Qarnayia in Aramaic (the two-horned one, apparently due to an image on coins minted during his rule that seemingly depicted him with the two ram's horns of the Egyptian god Ammon), الاسكندر الاكبر, al-Iskandar al-Akbar ("Alexander the Great") in Arabic, سکندر اعظم, Skandar in Pashto.

Alexander is one of the two principals in most versions of the Diogenes and Alexander anecdote.


Around twenty towns or outposts were founded by Alexander the Great.[5] Some of the main cities are:

Alexander as City-Planner

By selecting the right angle of the streets, Alexander made the city breathe with the etesian winds [the northwestern winds that blow during the summer months], so that as these blow across a great expanse of sea, they cool the air of the town, and so he provided its inhabitants with a moderate climate and good health. Alexander also laid out the walls so that they were at once exceedingly large and marvelously strong.
Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, volume 8.



  • Alexander the Great (1968), TV series, starring William Shatner as Alexander, directed by Phil Karlson.
  • Alexander Senki (1997)Alexander Senki, Anime / TV series, starring Toshihiko Seki as Alexander, directed by Yoshinori Kanemori, and with character designs by Peter Chung (of Aeon Flux fame). It was based on the novel Alexander Senki by Hiroshi Aramata. Also known as Alexander (International: English title); Reign: The Conqueror (USA). The series (US version, Reign: The Conqueror) debuted on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block variety show in 2003.
  • The middle episodes of Chanakya (TV series), a 1991 Indian TV series, depicts Alexander's invasion of north-western India, his death and the rebellion led by native Indian kingdoms under the leadership of Chandragupta Maurya against Alexander's successors in India.
  • The 1996 miniseries Gulliver's Travels, starring Ted Danson, featured a visit from Alexander the Great.
  • In the Smallville season 1 episode "Rogue", Lex Luthor shows Clark Kent the armor that Alexander the Great wore in battle. The breastplate is gold, with red and blue diamonds (the colors that represent Superman), and a snake shaped like the letter S.
  • In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great (1998), mini-series, hosted by Michael Wood, directed by David Wallace.
  • In the miniseries Yu-Gi-Oh! Capsule Monsters, Alexander the Great was the main villain in the Capsule Monster World.
  • Alexander was occasionally featured on Histeria!, depicted as a somewhat egotistical man who liked to make it clear that "I'm great! Ha ha!" The first episode to feature him was "Really Really Oldies But Goodies", which featured a sketch about his habit of naming cities after himself, which leads to a scene where World's Oldest Woman gives Toast multiple directions to different cities called Alexandria. In "A Blast in the Past", Alexander consults Sigmund Freud about his past, fretting about the fact that his father always considered him "pretty good" rather than "great". Finally, in "When Time Collides!", Alexander is shown as the reigning champion on a Jeopardy! parody, because all of the correct responses to the answers are centered around him. He even finds a way to win when Charity Bazaar gives the correct response.
  • The second season of Spike TV's Deadliest Warrior, which features computer simulated battles between historical warriors, pitted Alexander the Great (portrayed by Jason Faunt) against Attila the Hun, with Attila emerging victorious, with 59.6% of the wins.


Date Title Country Notes IMDB
1941 Sikandar India Directed by Sohrab Modi depicting Alexander's conquests in North-Western India. [1]
1956 Alexander the Great USA / Spain Starring Richard Burton as Alexander, directed by Robert Rossen and produced by MGM. [2]
1965 Sikandar-e-Azam India A Hindi movie directed by Kedar Kapoor starring Dara Singh as Alexandar depicts Alexandar's battle with the Indian prince Porus. [3]
2004 Alexander Germany / USA / Netherlands / France Starring Colin Farrell as Alexander, directed by Oliver Stone. Based on the biography Alexander the Great (ISBN 0-14-008878-4) by Robin Lane Fox. It was released on November 24, 2004. [4]
2006 Alexander Italy An animated film directed by Daehong Kim, and starring Mark Adair-Rios as the voice of Alexander. [5]
  • Baz Luhrmann had been planning to make a very different film about Alexander, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, but the release of Stone's film eventually persuaded him to abandon the project.[7]


Date Title Artist/Group Notes Lyrics
1973 "Iskander" Supersister This Dutch prog band dedicated a full album to the story of Alexander. Track titles include 'Alexander', 'Dareios The Emperor', 'Bagoas', 'Roxane' and 'Babylon'.
1986 "Alexander the Great" Iron Maiden From the heavy metal album Somewhere in Time. The song describes Alexander's life.
1998 "Alexandre" Caetano Veloso Brazilian epic song about Alexander the Great from the album Livro.
2000 "Alexander the Great" bond String quartet release on the album Born.
2005 "Alexander the Great" Iron Mask Song about Alexander the Great from the album Hordes of the Brave by belgian band Iron Mask.

Computer games

  • Alexander is a character in the computer games Age of Empires and Rise of Nations: Thrones and Patriots.
  • Alexander is a leader of the Greeks in all five of the Sid Meier's Civilization series. He is a lone Greek leader in both the original and the third game, a male leader in the second game (the Amazonian queen Hippolyta being the Greek female leader), and the lone leader of the Greek civilization in the fourth game (until Pericles joins him in an expansion pack) and has the leader traits Aggressive and Philosophical.
  • In the second Rome: Total War expansion pack, Alexander, Alexander the Great's conquests are chronicled in a campaign and six battles are modeled on Alexander's battles.
  • Alexander the Great is also featured in the game called Rise and Fall: Civilizations at War released by Midway games.
  • He is also mentioned in the computer game Age Of Mythology, in the history information text of the unit called Hetairoi.
  • Alexander is also mentioned in Age of Empires II during the Saladin campaign and in the Conquerors expansion pack in the Attila the Hun campaign.
  • In Stainless Steel Studios' 2001 game Empire Earth, several of the levels in the Greek campaign revolve around Alexander's conquests. He is also depicted on the game's cover.
  • In the Chicago level of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, a barber shop is called Alexander the Great Barber shop.
  • In the 'Fate' series, Alexander the Great is called the Iskander, King of Conquerors. His spirit is resurrected and becomes a Rider-Class servant used to fight for the prize of the Holy Grail. Iskandar is briefly mentioned in the first visual novel game and anime series Fate/stay night as an example of the Rider-class Servant. It was hinted that he was the most powerful of the characters, but died in a two-versus-one battle. He is detailed in full as Rider in the prequel, Fate/zero.
  • In Assassin's Creed II, it is said that a deceased Assassin, Iltani, poisoned Alexander the Great.
  • In Bioshock 2, a now hideously mutated and clinically insane researcher, Gil Alexander, who was a part of Big Daddy production refers to himself as Alex the Great.
  • In the video game Dante's Inferno, "the great Alexander" is mentioned as being one that had previously tried to battle his way through Hell.
  • In the fashion of Mike Tyson, many of the enemies in the game God Hand will taunt the main character, Gene, by saying "I'm Alexander the Great!" and "You're not Alexander!"



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