Alexander the Great’s Lasting Kingdom: Lessons in Conquest and Governance

Few conquerors have left a mark like Alexander the Great. His vast empire spanned continents, and even after his untimely death, his kingdom did not crumble as one might expect. The enigma of how Alexander’s conquests remained intact became the subject of exploration for political theorist, Niccolò Machiavelli, who examined the distinctive governance models that shaped the destiny of conquered states, drawing parallels between the Ottoman Empire, the Kingdom of France, and the Roman Empire.

To comprehend the underlying reasons behind the stability of Alexander’s empire, Machiavelli asserted that we must first grasp the two historically prevalent models of governance. The first model involves a single prince at the helm, with subordinate servants assisting in the administration of the kingdom. Here, the prince wields absolute authority, and compliance with others is viewed as obedience to the prince’s ministers or officials. Conversely, the second model features a prince coexisting with a class of barons, who derive their status from ancient lineage. These barons possess their own states and subjects, fostering a natural bond of loyalty.

To shed light on these governance models, Machiavelli turned to the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of France at the time that he wrote. The Ottoman Empire, governed by a single individual, witnessed servants without constituencies of their own dutifully executing the ruler’s commands. In stark contrast, the Kingdom of France boasted numerous lords with hereditary privileges that even the king could not easily revoke. These local lords were often cherished by their subjects who were too distant from the king.

Conquering a state governed by the Ottoman model presented unique challenges. Machiavelli believed that the prince’s loyal subordinates, bound by duty, proved less susceptible to corruption and incitement to rebellion. Even if they could be swayed, their ability to rally the people against the ruler was limited. Thus, conquerors aiming to subdue the Ottoman Empire had to rely predominantly on military might rather than exploiting internal disorder. However, once the Ottomans were defeated and their forces dispersed, with the bloodline of the prince extinguished, fear no longer gripped the conquered subjects.

In contrast, conquering a state organized along the lines of the French model posed different obstacles. Gaining the support of discontented barons offered an initial advantage, yet maintaining control became increasingly challenging. New leaders would emerge among these disgruntled barons, inciting political turmoil and undermining the conqueror’s authority. The conqueror faced resistance from both those who initially supported them and those who suffered under previous oppression.

Returning to Alexander’s conquests, it becomes evident that the ancient Persian Empire resembled the Ottoman Empire’s structure. To secure the state, Alexander launched a comprehensive attack against Darius. If Alexander’s successors had remained united, a peaceful reign could have been enjoyed without significant internal conflicts. In contrast, achieving enduring tranquility in states akin to the Kingdom of France would have been virtually impossible. The presence of multiple principalities within those states would invariably led to rebellions and ongoing challenges.

The Romans faced similar struggles in maintaining control over their conquered territories. Spain, France, and Greece, all home to diverse principalities, became hotbeds of rebellion. However, the Romans ultimately solidified their authority by virtue of their enduring power and long-lasting rule. As the memory of the principalities faded, internal rivalries among Roman individuals provided opportunities to consolidate authority, leading to the people recognizing no ruler other than the Romans after the bloodline of the former sovereign was extinguished.

Thus, the ability to maintain control over conquered kingdoms lies in the very fabric of their governance structures. The Ottoman model, with a single prince wielding absolute authority, enables greater security and stability. On the other hand, the French model, characterized by multiple barons with independent power bases, leads to inherent instability. Understanding these dynamics elucidates why Alexander’s kingdom stood firm after his successors’ deaths. Machiavelli believed that conquest and governance are not solely reliant on the individual capabilities of the victor but deeply intertwined with the inherent structure of state power.