In many books, articles, or even in folktales, whenever Alexander III of Macedon (referred to as Alexander the Great) is mentioned, it is said that he conquered the world. Even some historian say that he conquered the world, most of the known world at that time.

But if we look at the Macedonian empire at its apex under Alexander we can see that he only controlled a very small part of Europe, most of the central Asia, and part of Africa (Egypt). That map does not include the two biggest & oldest civilizations, India & China.

Alexander did try to enter India, but he was unsuccessful. The reasons for his retreat are ambiguous, ranging from fear of mutiny among soldiers, defeat in India to a very costly victory against a small kingdom in India. Apart from these, until now I've never heard that Alexander had any plans to invade China. (India was much closer & accessible than the Chinese heartland).

Having stated this information, why do people say that Alexander the Great conquered the world? If there are any reasons then what are they?, Why do the conquests of Alexander have so much significance?


Editing my question to clarify intentions. A good answer by the @DevSolar, but only provides numbers as facts. I asked the question from non greek point of view. Yes I've read the concept of Hecataeus map, and as per it yes he indeed conquered the world. But that does not change the fact that a far greater part of civilised world remained unconquered by greeks. So the intention of me asking was why this concept in so prevent in cultures across world that Alexander conquered the world? Why it was not falsified as we grew in knowledge about world?

I know many times, the term 'known world' is used instead of 'world' which best describes this scenario. But I am more interested in the cultural & historical impact of the Macedonian empire which might have strengthened the belief to this extent.

  • The existence of China and India was not known at that point (they are not oldest, neither, Egypt is older). Alexanders conquer was the first step connecting the western and eastern parts of Eurasia, and first real interaction between those civilizations. Much of continental Europe had no interest from greek point of view. – Greg May 19 '17 at 9:17
  • @Greg China & India might not be oldest, but they were largest civilisations present at time of Alexander. And yes, much of continental Europe had no interest from greek point of view. Thats why I didn't mentioned other parts of world apart from these two! – demonofthemist May 19 '17 at 11:30
  • @Greg But for rest of your comment points to the direction I am looking for, I am not looking for statistical angle but cultural / political etc. – demonofthemist May 19 '17 at 11:32
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    @demonifthemist I would suggest clarify more what is your question. "I am not looking for statistical angle but cultural / political etc. " What is your cultural, political angle? So far your question is more of a straw-man argument. No one says Alexander had conquered China, or Americas or Antarctica, neither ever read him referred as someone who conquered the whole world. He just created the largest empire of his time for a short period. As far as I know, both India and China were both fragmented small kingdoms at that time, none of them unified neither comparable size. – Greg May 19 '17 at 13:32
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    This is a good example of why we request that people cite assertions. There is no way to know what "people" think unless we know who the "people" are. – Mark C. Wallace May 19 '17 at 22:19

Wikipedia tells us that Alexander did indeed set out to conquer the whole world.

His empire consisted of most of the world known to the ancient Greeks of his time, so for his compatriots, yes, he conquered "the world" as they knew it.

As far as empires are concerned, the Macedonian empire is certainly among the greatest empires of all time. With the exception of the Achaemenid empire, any larger empire came after Alexander's time. This includes China (the Qin dynasty doesn't even show up in the list of largest empires -- China's big days were yet to come) and India (the Mauryan empire doesn't reach the size of Alexander's domain either).

All this lends credit to the claim that he conquered "the world".

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    If I remember rightly from history class, Alexander wanted to continue to conquer India once he got there, but his soldiers refused to go any further. – RedSonja May 23 '17 at 11:21
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    Are you saying that the Greeks were ignorant of the lands west of Greece ? Certainly not. They knew all lands around the Meditteranean (including Africa) and went as far as the Atlantic before the Vth century BC. While they had indeed settled here and there, these countries were not part of Alexander's Empire. – mat Jun 26 '17 at 11:44
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    @mat: You mean the wilderness where the barbarians live, far from civilization? ;-) – DevSolar Jun 26 '17 at 11:46
  • Alexander is a conqueror known to have made solid victories going eastward. He never went West of Greece. Hence the myth that his horse was afraid of his (or her ?) shadow, which means never looking at the west.(you canot see your shadow if you only look eastward). – mat Jun 26 '17 at 11:50
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    @mat so if you at 1600 hours stand with your back to the sun looking east there is no shadow in front of you? – Bent Jun 26 '18 at 10:10

Alexander the Great conquered what was then the known, "civilized" world.

The four early civilizations were the Egyptian, Babylonian, "Indian" and Chinese. Babylon was part of the Persian Empire, which Alexander defeated. Egypt was conquered next. Shortly before his death, Alexander penetrated to the Indus Valley, which was then the heart of "Indian" civilization based in modern Pakistan and Punjab. Only China was "missing." She was remote from, and (at the time) smaller than the other three civilizations. By the standards of his time, Alexander had conquered the "world" known to him and the Greeks.

The fifth and sixth civilizations were the Greeks and the Romans. Alexander (or rather his father) had conquered the Greeks. When Alexander died in 323 BCE, no one knew that Rome would soon be "the next big thing." At the time, it was just one of the "barbarian" lands to the west. But if Alexander had died a century or two later, he would not have conquered the known "world" unless his conquests included Rome.

  • You got it "almost" right, but forgot Carthage, which was as developed as Greece at the time of AtG; it was also definitely a separate civilization from Greek and Roman. – Moishe Kohan Aug 7 '17 at 2:40

I am a newcomer to the History Stack Exchange.

Alexander The Great did NOT conquer the world; that is to say, he did NOT conquer EVERY country, land or peoples living on this planet. What was impressive about Alexander's imperial conquest were the breadth of territories and lands he-(and his fellow Greek soldiers) conquered when beginning his Campaign in a small town in Northern Greece. Alexander's empire encompassed much of present-day Greece, a small portion of the Southern Balkans, Egypt, Asia Minor/Anatolia-(present-day Turkey), the Middle East and much of Central Asia........all of this BEFORE the age of 35 and in less than 20 years.

Although Alexander and his Greek Army did not actually conquer the world, they believed that they came close to conquering the known world. It is very unlikely that Alexander-(and the Ancient Greeks in general) were aware of the existence of native peoples of the Americas. Alexander and the Ancient Greeks would have known very little about the peoples of Africa-(except for Egyptians, Phoenician Carthaginians and Ethiopians). The Ancient Greeks knew about the Germanic and Celtic peoples of Europe, though often viewed them as, "barbarians".

However, much of the continent of Asia-(including China), was very well known (and even admired) by the Ancient Greeks and one must remember that is was the continent of Asia that produced some of the most advanced civilizations during Alexander's time-(including, Greek speaking Asia Minor/Anatolia). The one country which served as the Imperial Epicenter of continental Asian sophistication, advancement and Power during Alexander's time, was Persia-(present-day Iran). For Alexander, the conquest of imperial Persia, was, the conquest of the world.........(West of China).

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    Welcome to History:SE. Adding links to sources to support your assertions would greatly improve this answer. – sempaiscuba Sep 3 '17 at 2:07

The ancient historian Justin (one of our main sources for Alexander's life) says this, "As he was returning to Babylon, from the distant shores of the ocean, he was acquainted that embassies from the Carthaginians, and other states of Africa, as well as from the Spains, Sicily, Gaul, and Sardinia, and some also from Italy, were waiting his arrival at that city. So powerfully had the terror of his name diffused itself through the world, that all nations were ready to bow to him as their destined monarch.

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