Where was Alexander the Great planning to conquer before he died?

The European Pillar of Hercules: the Rock of Gibraltar (foreground), with the North African shore in the background (Source: Wikipedia).

The European Pillar of Hercules: the Rock of Gibraltar (foreground), with the North African shore in the background (Source: Wikipedia).

Alexander the Great achieved an incredible amount before he died unexpectedly at just 32 years old. Given the vast empire he amassed in a single decade after leaving Macedon, it’s natural to wonder what he would have been able to do had he lived another 10, 20, or 30 years.

Although Alexander did of a sudden illness (likely typhoid fever or malaria) and had difficulty giving instructions to his advisors from his death bed, the ancient sources do give us some clues about his future plans.

Shortly before he died, Alexander was laying the groundwork to send a naval expedition south toward the Arabian peninsula. Here are some more details from Arrian’s Anabasis, one of the most reliable ancient accounts of Alexander’s life:

“For Alexander designed to colonize the sea-board near the Persian Gulf, as well as the islands in that sea. For he thought that this land would become no less prosperous than Phoenicia. He made these preparations of the fleet to attack the main body of the Arabs, under the pretext that they were the only barbarians of this region who had not sent an embassy to him or done anything else becoming their position and showing respect to him. But the truth was, as it seems to me, that Alexander was insatiably ambitious of acquiring fresh territory” (Chapter XIX).

Diodorus, another of most reliable Alexander biographers, reports that he also wished to conquer the coastal areas of the Mediterranean Sea, including Sicily and Carthage. One of his goals was to build a road that stretched as far as the Pillars of Heracles (Strait of Gibraltar near the Atlantic Ocean).

While his plans were certainly ambitious (that’s why his successors discarded them), if anyone would have been able to follow through on them it would have been Alexander.

But, then again, who knows what may have happened had he lived longer. He may have made another attempt to expand farther east into India with his new army of Persians (Alexander had recruited 30,000 youth from the Persian territories he conquered to be trained as their replacements).

It may be easier to say what he would not have done than what he would have done.

For one, Alexander would almost certainly have not set up shop and ruled from a fixed location in Babylon or elsewhere (unless his health gave him no choice). He would have continued to seek adventure and new conquests.

Remember, he only returned to Babylon in the first place because his own army mutinied (or at least refused to continue heading eastward) at the Hypasis River in the Indian subcontinent.

Another thing I can’t imagine him doing is returning to Greece/Macedon, at least not for long. Although Macedon was the historic headquarters of the Argead dynasty he belonged to, Alexander left in his early 20’s and showed little interest in ever returning.

By all accounts, Alexander had a tumultuous childhood and he may have preferred to communicate with his overbearing, unpredictable mother Olympias from a healthy distance.

The Macedonian royal court could be a dangerous place for kings (Alexander saw his own father assassinated at the wedding of his sister in 336 BCE). So it’s understandable that he was in no rush to return.