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Historical Investigation — Alexander the Great: Defining "Great"

Social Studies Reading Stance Instructional Task

World History Content Standards

  • Describe the impact of Alexander of Macedonia's conquests on Greek, Egyptian, Persian, and South Asian cultures and the use of Hellenistic Culture. (

Social Studies Skills Content Standard

  • Make decisions and analyze decisions of individuals, groups, and institutions in other times and places, and evaluate the consequences. (

Engage the Students

Distribute and have students examine the resource sheet "Great Leaders." Ask students to define what "great" means to them and to identify characteristics of a "great" leader. Have students identify world leaders today that they consider to be "great" leaders.

Narrative: Read the narrative to the class stressing the focus question at the end.   Print Version

What makes a great leader? Throughout history, leaders around the world have been given the title of "great." Alexander III of Macedonia was one such ruler. He lived from 356-323 BCE and ruled from the age of twenty until his death at the age of thirty-three.

As a child, Alexander's father King Philip hired tutors to teach his son. Among these teachers was the Greek philosopher Aristotle who taught Alexander much about Greek literature, philosophy and science. His favorite Greek hero was Achilles, the warrior hero in the Iliad. Alexander vowed that one day he would visit the site of Troy, in Asia Minor, and lay a wreath on the tomb of his hero.

During his rule as King of Macedonia, Alexander conquered much of what was then the civilized world. He desired to create a world monarchy. First defeating the rebellious Greek city-states, Alexander then went on to invade the Persian Empire in Asia Minor and Egypt. His desire was to have the local culture in the regions he conquered co-exist with the Greek ideas and culture that he brought with him. In 323 BCE, while in Babylon, Alexander died of a fever. With his death came the collapse of his empire. It was divided into three kingdoms ruled by descendants of his commanders.

Based on his actions and his character, does Alexander III of Macedonia deserve the title of "the Great?" In this activity, you are going to read primary and secondary source documents to gather evidence that will help you answer this focus question. You will have a chance to work in a group to discuss your ideas. Then you will use your prior knowledge and details from the primary and secondary sources to summarize what you have learned from this historical investigation.

Focus Question: Based on his actions and his character, does Alexander III of Macedonia deserve the title of "the Great?"

Conduct the Investigation

In order to answer the focus question you will first examine several documents independently. Analyze each document and answer the following questions on your "Individual - Document Analysis" graphic organizer.

  1. How do I know this is reliable information?
  2. When was this document written? Who wrote it? What was its purpose?
  3. What is the author's point of view about Alexander III?
  4. How can this document help me answer the focus question?


Now that the documents have been analyzed you will have the opportunity to discuss the documents and the focus question with other students in a group. As you discuss your interpretations of the documents cite evidence for your views and opinions. Multiple interpretations can emerge and may or may not be accepted by all. Write your group responses in the appropriate section on your "Group - Document Analysis" graphic organizer.

Report the Findings

Once historians have completed their research they present a written summary of their findings. You will do the same. Your written summary should answer the focus question and be supported with details from the primary and secondary documents you have read.

Focus Question: Based on his actions and his character, does Alexander III of Macedonia deserve the title of "the Great?"

Primary Source Documents

Some "Great" Leaders in History – pages 1 and 2
Images of Alexander III
Map – The Campaigns & Empire of Alexander the Great (Note: alternatively, a map of Alexander's Empire can be found in Historical Atlases such as Rand McNally's Historical Atlas of the World, 1997, p.10-11.)
The Alexander mosaic

Ancient Text Sources:

Modern Text Sources: