lexander the Great is unarguably one of history’s greatest military minds. In 336 BC, at 16, his father, King Phillip II of Macedonia, who was away battling the Byzantiums, left Alexander in charge of Macedonia. Wanting to prove himself as a worthy military leader, Alexander led a cavalry against the Sacred Band of Thebes at the battle of Chaeronea.
The teenage Alexander’s troops annihilated the previously undefeated Band of Thebes.
Alexander would go on to nineteen more battles undefeated. His brilliant military mind and the loyalty he forged within his army by fighting alongside them propelled the Macedonian king into god-like status within his lifetime.
This mythology was no doubt partially due to the near-fatal injuries he received in battle. Any of which could have ended even the strongest of soldier’s life.
Arrian of Nicomedia recorded eight severe injuries. However, there are no accurate counts of lesser wounds suffered by Alexander.
Leave it to Cleaver
Battle of Granicus River
The Battle of Granicus was the first of three major battles in Alexander’s conquest of the Persian Empire. Taking place on the road from Abydos to Dascylium, the Persian army positioned themselves on the banks of the Granicus River, placing the Greek mercenary infantry to the rear of them, to Alexander’s advantage.
The Persians and Alexander’s armies stood on opposite banks of the river. After a short standoff, Alexander became the aggressor and led his troops into the river, diagonally crossing to the opposite bank.
The Persian army believed the Macedonian army was at a disadvantage in the water and tried to keep Alexander’s troops in check by raining arrows and javelins down on them. However, Persian weaponry was no match for the Macedonians, and as they charged from the water onto the banks, the fighting turned to hand-to-hand combat.
Alexander advanced from the Granicus River. Upon seeing that Darius’s son-in-law, Mithridates, had fallen behind, away from the rest of the Persian troops, he attacked, delivering a blow that knocked Mithridates from his horse.
Two Persian satraps (ancient Persian governors) spotted Alexander and attacked. The first, Rhoesaces, delivered a blow to the back of Alexander’s head with what has been described as a ‘cleaver’ but was probably more accurately a small sword, such as a scimitar or kopis. Alexander’s helmet took most of the brunt of the blow, and in turn, Alexander ran Rhoesaces through the chest with his lance.
As Alexander dealt his killing blow to Rhoesaces, the second of the satraps, Spitamenes, approached Alexander from behind, raised his scimitar, and dealt what could have been a deadly blow to Alexander. Still, for the sake of Cleitus the Black sweeping in and dealing his own blow to the satrap by slicing off Spitamenes’ arm mid-attack, as it still held his scimitar.
There are no reports as to whether Spitamenes’ sported a golden hand from that point forward.
Siege of Gaza
Soon after Alexander’s capture of Tyre, despite another offer of peace from Darius, in 332 BC, Alexander set out to conquer Egypt. Being the ‘all or nothing kind of king that he was, Alexander refused to make peace unless he could have the whole of the Persian Empire.
Alexander and his army continued to march toward Egypt until they reached the fortified city of Gaza. There a eunuch named Batis led the city to rise against the Macedonian troops in a standoff that would make any Westerosi proud.
Alexander and his engineers were not playing. They built up earthen platforms that raised the ground level to the height of the city walls, encircling the city. Next, they deployed siege engines (most likely catapults and towers) and attacked the city.
What happened next is where the phrase ‘no balls’ completely contradicts the actions of Batis, who sent his mercenaries on an attack, fully intending to burn down the Macedonian siege engines. Batis’ plan almost worked, but at the last minute, Alexander appeared. Upon seeing their king arrive, the Macedonian soldiers rallied to the cause.
Alexander wanted to fight alongside his soldiers and take the city. Taking action, Alexander was struck in the shoulder by a projectile from Gaza’s artillery that pierced his shield and tore through his shoulder. While his armor took most of the brunt of the missile fire, Arrian stated that his injury was severe. Even so, Alexander made a remarkable recovery and stayed with his troops, now more determined to capture Gaza.
After a two-month siege of Gaza ended in victory for King Alexander, he moved his armies on to Egypt, where he established the city of Alexandria.
They didn’t call him Alexander the Humble.
Seige of Cyropolis
The Macedonian army took smaller towns in a matter of days, but Cyropolis was an entirely different challenge for Alexander. The city was more strongly fortified than any previous towns, had the largest population, and reportedly had the best fighters.
Alexander’s original plan mirrored his attack on Gaza, but since it stood higher than previously defeated cities, it made an attack more difficult. While the engineers worked to build up the levels of earth and batter Cyropolis with siege engines, Alexander found a quicker way into the city, ordering some of his soldiers to crawl along a dried-up riverbed that led into the city, under the fortification walls.
Alexander joined his soldiers, and once inside the city walls, he opened the gates and let the rest of his army inside. Upon storming the city, the Macedonian army met with a violent defense attack by the townspeople.
Once again, Alexander was victorious, despite receiving ‘a violent blow from a stone upon his head and neck’ according to Arrian.
This “violent blow” was the second notable head injury received by Alexander the Great during his campaign, and there are theories that he suffered from at least one concussion. Other theorists believe he may have suffered from CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), which could explain his increasingly irrational and paranoid behavior.
Seige of Pelium
In Of the Fortune or Virtue of Alexander the Great, Plutarch writes of Alexander, “First, among the Illyrians, I was wounded in the head with a stone, and received a blow in the neck with an iron mace.”
While this is one of the only mentions of this injury, many portraits and statues portray Alexander the Great with a twisted neck twisted and tilted head. While it usually shows his neck twisted to the left, it occasionally appears to the right.
There is evidence that Alexander suffered from torticollis (a twisted neck); this deformity probably came from the injury to the neck, as described by Plutarch.
After all, Alexander the Great was known for sticking his neck out for his troops.
Arrow to the Lung
Undefeated and seemingly invincible, Alexander conquered everything in the path of his campaign, from Greece to India. With his reputation at near-immortal standing, he now set his sights on the Malli clans.
The Malli saw the Macedonian infantry readying for assault, abandoned the wall, and fled into the citadel. Alexander’s men were confused because the Malli had left the wall. They thought the city had already fallen and didn’t bring enough ladders.
Alexander ordered ladders brought up, but he became impatient when his soldiers brought up only two. Alexander took one of the ladders, climbed the wall, and jumped into the city with just two men at his side. Outside the wall, the ladders collapsed. The weight of the rest of the soldiers trying to get over the wall was too much to bear.
The Malli recognized Alexander and attacked him and his men. The Macedonians successfully held off the Malli until a six-foot-long arrow shot Alexander through the lung. The Macedonian army believed their king was dead and, once inside the walls, unleashed their full force on the Malli, sparing no one, man, woman, or child.
Rumors of Alexander’s death spread quickly. Seven days later, even though his wound had not properly healed, he arranged to be carried by ship to the main camp. Alexander ensured the men could see him lying on his bed and waved at them to assure them he lived.
When the ship docked, Alexander refused assistance. Instead walked down the gangplank, mounted his horse, and rode to his tent amidst the cheers of his men.
Even by present-day standards, any single one of these injuries would be enough to kill someone. Nevertheless, Alexander the Great was known to have suffered at least five almost-fatal wounds and survived.
After all, they don’t call him Alexander the Mediocre.
Born in the 1900s, Lee started telling stories before she could write.
In the 21st Century, Lee began writing professionally, accumulating more than ten years of experience writing company newsletters, press releases, and media alerts for many of her day jobs. She has also worked as a freelance ghostwriter for multiple blogs.
Lee currently works in aerospace and was privileged to be part of the team that built the James Webb Space Telescope.
When Lee is not writing or building spaceships, you can find her riding her motorcycle with her dog, Canine the Barbarian, in a specially-made seat on the back. (Check out her TikTok to see videos.)