Ancient and Medieval literature

In the Bible

Daniel 8:5–8 and 21–22 states that a King of Greece will conquer the Medes and Persians but then die at the height of his power and have his kingdom broken into four kingdoms. This is sometimes taken as a reference to Alexander.[citation needed]

Alexander was briefly mentioned in the first Book of the Maccabees. All of Chapter 1, verses 1–7 was about Alexander and this serves as an introduction of the book. This explains how the Greek influence reached the Land of Israel at that time.

In Middle Persian literature

Alexander is mentioned in the Zoroastrian Middle Persian work Arda Wiraz Nāmag as gizistag aleksandar ī hrōmāyīg, literally “Alexander the accursed, the Roman”,[1][2][3] due to his conquest of the Achaemenid Persian Empire and the destruction of its ceremonial capital Persepolis and burning the sacred texts of Zoroastrianism in its royal archives. The book Arda Wiraz Nāmag was written in the late period of Sassanid Persian Empire, when the rivalry with the Romans was intense. (but see also #In Persian literature).

In the Qur’an

Alexander in the Qur’an sometimes is identified in Persian and Arabic traditions as Dhul-Qarnayn, Arabic for the “Two-Horned One”, possibly a reference to the appearance of a horn-headed figure that appears minted during his rule and later imitated in ancient Middle Eastern coinage.[citation needed] Accounts of Dhul-Qarnayn in the Qur’an, and so may refer to Alexander. Noteworthy is the fact that his favorite horse was named Bucephalus, which means “ram’s head”, alluding to the shape of a horned ram at its forehead.

References to Alexander may also be found in the Persian tradition. The same traditions from the Pseudo-Callisthenes were combined in Persia with Sassanid Persian ideas about Alexander in the Iskandarnamah. In this tradition, Alexander built a wall of iron and melted copper in which Gog and Magog are confined.

Some Muslim scholars[who?] disagree that Alexander was Dhul-Qarnayn. There are actually some theories that Dhul-Qarnayn was a Persian King with a vast Empire as well, possibly King Cyrus the Great.[citation needed] The reason being is Dhul-Qarnayn is described in the Quran as a monotheist believer who worshipped Allah (God). This would remove Alexander as a candidate for Dhul-Qarnayn as Alexander was a polytheist.

In Persian literature

The Shahnameh of Ferdowsi, one of the oldest books written in New Persian, has a chapter about Alexander. It is a book of epic poetry written around 1000 AD, and is believed to have played an important role in the survival of the Persian language in the face of Arabic influence. It starts with a mythical history of Iran and then gives a story of Alexander, followed by a brief mention of the Arsacids. The accounts after that, still in epic poetry, portray historical figures. Alexander is described as a child of a Persian king, Daraaye Darab (the last in the list of kings in the book whose names do not match historical kings), and a daughter of Philip, a king. However, due to problems in the relationship between the Persian king and Philip’s daughter, she is sent back to Rome. Alexander is born to her afterwards, but Philip claims him as his own son and keeps the true identity of the child secret. As noted by Ward Brown, “The genealogy attributed to Alexander in the ‘Shahnameh’ is a kind of belated vindication of the efforts made by Alexander himself in his own lifetime, to effect a reconciliation with the defeated Persians. The effect of centuries on collective memory would eventually bring the Persians, in their great national epic, to claim Alexander as one of their own, rather than a foreign conqueror”.[4]

His name is recorded as both Iskandar (اسکندر) and Sikandar (سکندر) in Classical Persian literature.

He is known as Eskandar-e Maqdūnī (اسکندر مقدونی “Alexander the Macedonian”) in modern Iranian Persian.

About the author

Khwaja Yahya