Return of the King

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Episode 4 of 6

Duration: 1 hour

In Richard Miles's epic story of civilization, there have been plenty of examples of the great men of history, but none came close to the legend of Alexander of Macedon, known to us as 'the Great'. Uniting the fractious Greek city-states, he led them on a crusade against the old enemy, Persia, and in little more than a decade created an empire that stretched from Egypt in the west to Afghanistan in the east.

But it was Alexander's successors, the Hellenistic Kings, who had to make sense of the legacy of this charismatic adventurer. By knuckling down to the hard graft of politics, taxation and public works, they created something far more enduring than a mere legend - they built a civilization.

Richard traces Alexander's battle-scarred route through Turkey, Syria and Lebanon to Egypt and ultimately to the western Punjab, Pakistan, where he discovers fascinating traces of a city where Greek west and Buddhist east were united in an intriguing new way.

  • Vergina


    The site of the ancient Macedonian capital is between the Vermio mountains and the Haliakmon plain in northern Greece. In recent years the tomb of Philip II has been discovered containing a wealth of exquisite valuables and weapons including Philip’s armour. A Greek team led by Dr. Angeliki Kottaridis is currently restoring the palace above the town. At the foot of the hill below the palace lie the ruins of the amphitheatre where Philip was assassinated, to be succeeded by his son, Alexander.

    Museums of Macedonia - Vergina
  • Athens


    The modern Greek capital had experienced its golden-age in the 5th century BC under the leadership of Pericles. It declined in prosperity and power during the Peloponnesian wars and their aftermath and by the time Alexander came to the throne Athens had come under the sway of the Macedonian kings who many in Athens claimed weren’t even ‘real’ Greeks.

  • Saqqara


    The step pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara is the oldest of the pyramids in Egypt. It is situated on the Nile to the south of Cairo, adjacent to Memphis, where Alexander was crowned Pharoah after leading his army unopposed into Egypt.

  • Siwa


    Siwa Oasis lies deep in the Sahara desert, 350 miles from Cairo and was the seat of the famous oracle of Zeus-Ammon. Alexander the Great risked his army and his life to travel across the endless desert to consult the oracle who reputedly told him that he was not the son of Philip II but of Zeus.

  • Alexandria


    The port city on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast was founded by Alexander in 332 BC. Although Alexander had chosen a site with no fresh water and a perilous approach to the harbour his successors in Egypt, beginning with Ptolemy I Soter succeeded in turning the city into the cultural and intellectual centre of the Hellenistic world. The city was famed for the great lighthouse or Pharos, the remains of which can be seen in the harbour today. The new library recently opened in the city aims to continue the legacy of the Ptolomies’ ancient library as a research institution, museum and cultural centre in addition to its collection of texts.

  • Sirkap, Taxila, Pakistan

    Sirkap, Taxila, Pakistan

    Alexander the Great’s conquests extended the influence of the Greek world far into Asia. When this city in Northeastern Pakistan was rebuilt over a century after Alexander’s conquest it was based around a Greek Hippodamaean or gridiron town plan. Greek influences can be seen in the artefacts and architecture produced in the region for centuries after mixing with local styles to produce unique examples of Greco-Buddhist art.

  • Erice


    This fortress on the coast of Western Sicily towers above the modern city of Trapani. The former Phoenician colony was besieged by Pyrrhus during his Sicilian campaigns against the Carthaginians. Once the Romans took control of Sicily after the first Punic war the site became famous for the temple of Venus at its summit.

  • Corinth


    About 50km west of Athens, Corinth is famous for the impenetrable citadel of the Acrocorinth which stands over half a kilometre above the sea on a strategic isthmus between the Peloponnese and the Greek mainland. The ancient city was destroyed in 146BC by a Roman army before being re-established by Julius Caesar in 44BC.

    Corinth History
  • Macedonia


    The majority of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia is in the Northeast of modern day Greece. The kingdom was made up of rugged mountains and fertile plains. Its people lived according to the same warrior codes as the archaic Greeks of the Illiad and were considered wild and barbarous by the more ‘civilised’ Greeks of the Poleis to the south.

    History of Macedonia
  • Epirus

    Pyrrhus was the most famous king of the rugged kingdom in the north west of Greece. The Hellenistic warlord followed the example of Alexander the Great to campaign against the Carthaginians and the Romans in Sicily and mainland Italy. Although he won battles against the Romans at Heraclea and Asculum, he lost so many troops in the process that according to Plutarch he remarked "Another such victory, and we are undone". This type of victory has been known ever since as a Pyrrhic victory.

    History of Epirus
  • Learn more about the Ancient artefacts

    Learn more about the Ancient artefacts

    Take a closer look at some of the places, museums and artefacts from Ancient Worlds with our guide to the museums featured.

    Visit the Ancient Worlds museum guide
  • Reference list for programme Four

    • Alexander the Great - Robin Lane Fox
    • Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past - Paul Cartledge
    • Alexander: The Ambiguity of Greatness - Guy M Rogers
    • Alexander the Great: Man and God - Ian Worthington
    • The Alexander Trilogy (novels) - Valerio Massimo Manfredi
    • Alexandria Rediscovered - Jean-Yves Empereur translated by Margaret Maehler
    • The Last Pharaohs: Egypt Under the Ptolemies 305-30BC - JG Manning
    • The Pneumatics - Hero of Alexandria
    • The Geography, Strabo (online translation at Lacus Curtius)
    • Alexander to Actium - Peter Green


Series Producer
Tim Kirby
Richard Miles
Tim Dunn
Tim Dunn
Executive Producer
Eamon Hardy


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