Alexander the Great conquered so much territory so quickly that I'm always surprised he was able to maintain control of it as his army pushed further east. What kept territories from reverting to something like their old government once he was gone?

I understand that Alexander's time as king didn't last very long on the scale of ancient history, but the fact that we refer to much of the world after his death as "Hellenistic" indicates that Greek rule took root sufficiently to having a wide, lasting influence.

  • How was Queen Victoria able to rule India and Australia" How was Charles V able to rule most of South America? How were the Achaemenid rules that Alexander deposed able to rule the Empire before him? Just the same way as Alexander. Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 1:55
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    The challenge for Alexander strikes me as especially large. His territory increased several-fold over the course of a few years and I would think was perceived as a foreign presence more so than the previous Persian rulers. I can't imagine that he was able to leave garrisons in each conquered area that were comparable in scale to the populations of each area. While he had superior military technology in the form of phalanxes, I would think that would be easier to copy than the advantage European imperialists had over their colonies.
    – kuzzooroo
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 2:01
  • Didn't include this in the answer, because it's primarily my opinion, but the term "Hellenistic" is kinda misleading. The era following Alexander is called Hellenistic not so much to denote Greek influence, but rather to signify that Greece was the catalyst in the fusion of the various European, Asian and African civilizations that Alexander's conquests brought together.
    – yannis
    Commented Mar 11, 2014 at 8:58

2 Answers 2


Alexander, for the most part, left things unchanged in the lands he conquered. He didn't impose Greek customs, respected (or perhaps ignored) local religions and cultures and allowed a certain degree of self government that, for several of the territories of the former Achaemenid empire, was quite a refreshing change. Not everyone under his rule accepted him, but most did, and several satraps capitulated without a fight. The Egyptians went a step further and proclaimed him a son of Amun. Several of his opponents even kept their positions (or attained other positions of power) in the new empire (the more notable example being Porus).

Of course, Alexander would leave a garrison here and there, and would raze cities to the ground when he felt they could oppose them in the future (see Tyre & Gaza), but his main methods of controlling his vast territories were the image of liberator he cultivated, and extremely tight financial control. Although the former satrapies maintained their lands and a higher degree of autonomy than they enjoyed under Persian rule, Alexander denied them any control over taxation. The vast network of cities Alexander founded during this time ensured the Greeks also had a quite strong grip on the empire's trade.

That said, Alexander's empire didn't last long. It splitted into several states almost right after his death and the conflicts between his successors went on for almost half a century. These states, once normalized, were much smaller in comparison and thus easier to control. In general, the successors continued Alexander's plan: they avoided antagonizing the local population, kept tight financial control and continued expanding the already vast network of cities Alexander had build.


Today I stumbled across Machiavelli's answer to this question (at least with reference to the Persian Empire) in chapter 4 of The Prince, where he writes,

Considering the difficulties which men have had to hold to a newly acquired state, some might wonder how, seeing that Alexander the Great became the master of Asia in a few years, and died whilst it was scarcely settled (whence it might appear reasonable that the whole empire would have rebelled), nevertheless his successors maintained themselves, and had to meet no other difficulty than that which arose among themselves from their own ambitions (link).

He answers by comparing Persia at the time of Alexander's conquest to two states at the time of The Prince's writing: the Ottoman Empire and France. If one conquered France, it would be hard to hold because even if you killed the entire royal family you'd be unable to rid yourself complete of the French nobility, and they'd be looking for opportunities to rise up against you to their own advantage. But Persia was like the Ottoman Empire, with no hereditary sources of power outside of the emperor's own family. So once Alexander had defeated Darius there were no likely parties left to mount a successful rebellion.

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