Legendary Facts About The Ruthless Ancient Greeks

Mathew Burke

Ancient Greek Facts

Ancient Greece was a heck of a place. Several famous city-states warred almost constantly. Empires invaded. Conquerors emerged. And throughout all of that, the foundations of modern science, math, politics, and more were created. There’s a reason Greek history and mythology still captivates us to this day. But there’s more to this famous civilization than what you find in the history books. Coocoo philosophers, brutal warriors, and pirate queens all called Ancient Greece their home.

1. Featherless Friends

The ancient philosopher Diogenes once delivered Plato a plucked chicken and called it a “man.” You see, Plato had argued that man was nothing but “a featherless biped.” To show Plato what an assumption that was, Diogenes picked up his poultry pal and had it plucked. His bravado forced Plato to amend that definition of “man” to include “with broad flat nails.”

2. Alone Time Isn’t Fun Time For Everyone

We imagine it was hard to offend those Ancient Greeks, but the quirky Diogenes put that to the test by pleasuring himself while inside of a barrel. Frequently. And in public. Diogenes defended his behavior by saying how he wished it was “as easy to relieve hunger by rubbing an empty stomach,” as if that counts as a defense.

3. Wash Your Brain and Your Hands

Adding to the list of Diogenes’ social faux pas, the philosopher was also (allegedly) known for pooping in public theatres and urinating on “annoying” people. Well, it takes one to know one, Diogenes.

4. Well, This Took a Turn…

King Leonidas’s father was Anaxandridas of Sparta and we sadly don’t know the name of his mother. However, we do know that Leonidas’s mother wasn’t just Anaxandridas’s wife. She was also his niece! We can see where George R.R. Martin gets his inspiration from…

5. Keeping it in the Family

Sparta was almost always ruled by two kings, and Leonidas was no different. He shared the crown with his half-brother Cleomenes. In keeping with his father’s propensity for incest, Leonidas also ended up marrying Cleomenes’s daughter, Gorgo.

Kristina Popovska | Factinate

6. That was Cold-Blooded!

To make Leonidas and Gorgo’s wedding even more awkward, keep in mind that they only got married after Cleomenes had been deposed and imprisoned on the grounds that he’d fought against his co-king. Leonidas was fully involved in the imprisonment of his half-brother, who was also declared to be insane. According to the histories, Cleomenes would later be found dead in his cell. His death was reported as “suicide by self-mutilation.”

It seems pretty suspicious if you ask us. This makes us only imagine whether Leonidas proposed to Gorgo before or after she found out about her dad’s death—which again, Leonidas may or may not have been involved with.

Kristina Popovska | Factinate

7. Such a Storyteller

The primary source for the legendary Battle of Thermopylae comes from the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, known as the Father of History. To be fair, he was also called the Father of Lies for his tendency to also report on stories that were largely fictional, as well as for his exaggerations. Modern historians have had to take Herodotus’ comments with a grain of salt in search of the truth as opposed to his idea of a better story

8. Oh What’s in a Name?

The name “Thermopylae” translates to “Hot Gates” in the original Greek. This name was given to the narrow pass because of the warm sulphur springs which originated there. According to the Greek myths, the mighty warrior Herakles (or Hercules, if you’re into Latin) was tricked into putting on clothes which had been soaked in the blood of the Hydra.

He was unable to take the clothes off and they began boiling him alive. When he jumped into the waters to cool himself down, the poison actually heated up the water and made it toxic, creating the sulfurous springs that gave the pass its name.

9. So Why Here?

Thermopylae was the ideal battleground for a defense against the invading army of the Persian Emperor Xerxes. Back in antiquity, the pass was very narrow, ideal for a small number of soldiers to hold off a huge number of troops.

10. Does That Make Him the Lion King?

Leonidas’s name translates from the ancient Greek language to mean “son of the lion.” It’s safe to say that his dad had a bit of an ego.

11. Accurate, but Also Inaccurate

One of the iconic scenes from the movie 300 saw Persian envoys demand a gift of “earth and water.” In response, Leonidas and his men cast the messengers into a well. According to Herodotus, this did actually happen, but not with Leonidas. This scene occurred prior to the invasion of Greece by Xerxes’ father, Darius I—long before Leonidas was king of Sparta.

12. Can Someone Take a Census?

There is a lot of dispute over the number of Greek soldiers who defended the pass at Thermopylae. Herodotus claimed it was between 5,200 and 6,100 (he doesn’t specify exactly how many troops made up “all they had” when it came to the men from Opuntian Locris). According to Diodorus Siculus, around 7,400 Greeks fought against the Persians. Either way, those 300 Spartans suddenly don’t seem quite so special, do they?

13. Sounds Like a Heck of a Week

The Battle of Thermopylae was reported to have lasted three days, though the Persians delayed for four days, reportedly because Xerxes couldn’t believe that such a small number of Greeks actually planned to fight his army.

14. Where Does it End?

Among the many units in the Persian army, the elite troops were the ones whom the Greeks called the Persian Immortals (their original title in the Persian language has been lost to history). This unit, described by Herodotus as heavy infantry, were supposedly known as the Immortals because for every one of their members that were killed, lost, or incapacitated, a replacement was immediately brought in. This way, the Immortals never numbered more or less than 10,000 warriors.

15. Senior Citizen

Contrary to what 300 might have told you, King Leonidas wasn’t a man in his prime with a Scottish accent. According to historical sources, Leonidas was said to have been an aging man at the Battle of Thermopylae, in his late 50s and maybe even as old as 60! To be honest, the fact that he was so old and still fighting Persians to the death makes his story even more impressive than if he was a young man—but maybe a little harder to cast.

16. Too Good to Make Up

Incredibly, 300 got a few quotes completely accurate about the Battle of Thermopylae, if the historical records can be trusted. King Leonidas allegedly did answer “Come and get them!” in response to Persian demands for the Greeks’ weapons. Likewise, both Plutarch and Herodotus claim an exchange happened where a joke was made about fighting in the shade while the Persian arrows blocked the sun itself.

However, the historians disagree on who said the punchline, with Herodotus crediting a Spartan named Dienekes and Plutarch claiming it was Leonidas.

17. Persia’s Pyrrhic Victory

While the Battle of Thermopylae was happening, the Battle of Artemisium was being fought on the sea. The combined Greek fleets met the much larger Persian fleet even as a storm was raging across part of the battlefield (is it still a field if it’s at sea?). Both sides suffered heavy losses, but it was harder on the Greeks, who lost between a third and half of their ships.

18. How Are We Losing?!

On the first day of fighting, the Persians initially sent arrows at the Greeks, and when that failed to defeat them, a wave of Medes and Cissians struck the front lines, only for the Persian Immortals themselves to be sent forward when all else failed. So many men were said to have died on the first day that Xerxes, who was observing the battle from a throne that they’d set up for him, jumped out of his seat three times in astonishment.

19. A Fallen King

After the battle was finally won by the Persians and the remaining rear guard of Greeks had been killed (many of them by the Persian archers, as later excavation would prove), the leader of the Greek forces was given a particularly humiliating punishment by the Persians. Although Leonidas’ body had been fought over by the surviving Greeks to protect it from desecration (as opposed to him being the last surviving man to be killed), the body of the Spartan king was beheaded and crucified.

This went against the custom of the Persians, who normally treated their fallen enemies with honor, but Xerxes was feeling particularly ticked off after a week’s delay and a particularly humiliating battle in which thousands of his men had died.

20. It was a Great Decade

By the time of Leonidas’s death, he had ruled Sparta as King for fewer than 10 years, starting around 489 BC and ending in 480 BC.

Kristina Popovska | Factinate

21. Aftermath

It took the Greeks 40 years to bring Leonidas’ bones back to Sparta (and to be fair, we’ll never know if they really were his bones). Soon after the Persians were finally driven out of Greece, however, the pass at Thermopylae was decorated with a stone lion in honor of the Spartan king.

22. Long Live the Queen

Artemisia of Caria reigned as the queen of Halicarnassus (a Greek city in modern-day Turkey) for 24 years. To put it into perspective, Alexander the Great only ruled for half as long as she did! She was Greek, but she gained fame as one of Emperor Xerxes’ most trusted generals.

23. Odd Person Out

In Xerxes’ vast army, with its wide array of cultures, Artemisia was the only female commander.

24. Surprise!

Artemisia was a brave warrior and leader, and she was also quite happy to rely on devious cunning to achieve victory. She allegedly sailed with two different flags on board her ship: one that was aligned with the Greeks, and another with the Persians. When she caught a Greek ship unawares, she’d fly the Greek-affiliated flag to get as close as possible before showing her true colors, so to speak.

25. Respected by Foes

One thing which separates Artemisia from most of the other commanders in the Persian army was how she was viewed by the historians who wrote about the invasion. While he’s come under fire for his exaggerations and anti-Persian bias, the Greek historian Herodotus had nothing but admiration for Artemisia’s confidence in leadership, as well as her remarkable intelligence.

26. Did She Also Drink Rum?

Artemisia has often been described as being a pirate queen, but whether she committed piracy or not depends upon your definition of piracy. Today, we think of pirates as bands of outlaws on the high seas with no allegiance to any nation. However, during Artemisia’s lifetime, piracy was commonly committed by armies that were directly sponsored by nations or city-states.

27. You Don’t Scare Me!

During the Second Persian Invasion of Greece, Artemisia made a very prominent reputation for herself. She was reportedly so despised by the Greeks that a 10,000-drachma bounty was placed on her, dead or alive! As you can imagine by now, this didn’t stop Artemisia from continuing to fight on the front lines!

28. Is That Ironic?

Despite the shattering defeat of the Persian fleet at Salamis, Xerxes publicly acknowledged that of all his commanders, Artemisia had conducted herself with the most courage, military wisdom, and strategy. In gratitude for her role in the battle, Xerxes gave her a full suit of the finest Greek armor, which had been taken during the invasion.

29. You Asked for It!

In 493 BC, Xerxes demanded the tribute of earth and water from the island of Cos, but its people refused to submit to the Persian King. Artemisia was sent to deal with them, leading the Persian fleet in a bloody conquest of the island.

30. Whoops!

Despite her prowess in war and her gifted mind, Artemisia was still capable of making mistakes. According to The Histories, there was a moment during the Battle of Salamis where Artemisia sailed her ship right into another one as she was being pursued by enemy Greeks. The problem was that the ship she rammed into belonged to her allies!

31. No Biggie?

Naturally, such an accident would have serious consequences with your boss if they happened to see it—and Xerxes famously set up a throne on the shore to watch the Battle of Salamis unfold. Luckily for Artemisia, he was far enough away that he couldn’t recognize which boats belonged to which side, so her mistake wasn’t noticed. Well, except by the people whose boat she rammed, of course…

32. A Celebration You Won’t Forget!

Another instance of Artemisia’s cunning being put to devastating use was given to us by 2nd-Century historian Polyaenus. Artemisia was hoping to conquer the city of Latmus, so she held a huge party just beyond the city. Naturally, all the commotion caused the city’s inhabitants to wander over, and when enough people did so, Artemisia launched her sneak attack when everyone’s guard was down!

33. Taking Rejection Badly

The context of Artemisia’s death remains unknown, though a legend was taken down by Photius, a writer from the 9th century AD. Near the end of her life, Artemisia supposedly fell in love with a prince named Dardanus, but he refused her advances and didn’t reciprocate her feelings. Enraged, Artemisia allegedly blinded Dardanus while he was still asleep!

34. I Don’t Believe it!

According to Photius, Artemisia was so in love with Dardanus that even after she’d blinded him, she still couldn’t get over him. As a result, Artemisia chose suicide and threw herself into the sea. Most historians think this is an apocryphal story. Not only was Photius writing about Artemisia more than 13 centuries after her death, but it also contrasts with everything else we know about Artemisia.

35. Distant Next of Kin

The legendary philosopher Socrates was allegedly born in 470 BC in the city of Athens to a midwife named Phaenarete and a stonemason named Sophroniscus. Socrates also had a half-brother named Patrocles. Outside their names, very little is known about any of his family members.

36. You Know Nothing, Socrates

In one of the most famous stories about the philosopher, his friend asked the Oracle of Delphi who was wiser than Socrates. The Oracle declared that nobody was wiser. To give Socrates some credit, he refuted this belief, thinking he knew nothing. So he approached the wisest men he could find to test the Oracle’s claim. To his surprise, he concluded that all the supposed wise men he found were not so knowledgeable at all!

Socrates realized that his humble acknowledgment of knowing almost nothing was a wiser stance than that of the others, leading to the famous line (though likely not an exact quote) “All I know is that I know nothing.”

37. Working with Your Hands

It’s been written that Socrates followed his father into the practice of stonemasonry, at least for a time. One theory even states that Socrates was responsible for the statues of the Charites. These statues decorated the sacred Athenian hilltop called the Acropolis until the 2nd century AD.

38. Burn the Warlock!

The fact that Socrates put himself in the position of a critic of Athenian society and government made it rather easy to accuse him of corrupting the youth. He was also charged with impiety, or heresy, depending on which source you read.

39. The Way of the Sword

Believe it or not, Socrates served as a hoplite (heavy infantryman) during the Peloponnesian War. He served in multiple battles, as was documented by several writers, but more on his soldierly reputation later.

40. Ladies…

Interestingly, Socrates included two women in the ranks of his teachers, rare for an ancient Athenian to admit! According to Plato’s Symposium, Socrates credited a supposed witch named Diotima with teaching “all he knows about eros, or love.” Moreover, Socrates claimed to learn the art of rhetoric from Aspasia, who was the mistress of the great Athenian general Pericles.

41. Internationally Influential

Socrates’s work spread far beyond Greece. He found himself given an Islamicized name when Arabic philosophers became aware of his legacy. Dubbed “Suqrat,” his ideas were introduced to the Arab world by renowned figure Al-Kindi.

42. Buzz Off!

Plato describes Socrates as being the “gadfly” of Athens. Gadflies were well-known to sting and infuriate animals. Given how much Socrates’s views and rhetoric so angered his fellow citizens, the comparison seems very apt.

43. The Wily Pupil

One of Socrates’s most well-known protégés was Alcibiades, who was one of the most polarizing figures of the Peloponnesian War, or even ancient Greek history for that matter. Alcibiades was a brilliant general and statesman who initially fought for Athens, his home city. However, he would go on to make more enemies than even Socrates did.

Alcibiades’ story could honestly fill an HBO series, given that he turned traitor several times during the war, and played a very large role in deciding its outcome. He ultimately died just a few years after Socrates, murdered while on the run with one of his many mistresses.

44. Life Saver

One reason for Alcibiades’ loyalty to Socrates is the fact that they both served together as soldiers. Socrates is said by Plutarch to have saved Alcibiades’ life at the battles of Potidaea and Delium.

45. Blame the Student or the Teacher?

Given that Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens, the example of the opportunistic Alcibiades was fodder for his enemies in court. Historians such as Xenophon and Plutarch go out of their ways to exonerate Socrates from corrupting Alcibiades. They argued that Socrates had tried to cure Alcibiades of his vanity and corruption, but he failed.

46. Smart and Ugly

Only a few facts are consistently reported in all the sources about Socrates. When it comes to his person, only two traits are agreed on unanimously: Socrates was very intelligent, and he was also very physically unattractive. He allegedly had bulging eyes, an upturned nose, and fat lips. He went around barefoot and gave no thought whatsoever to his clothing. Guess you can’t have everything.

47. Critias the Cruel

One of the more infamous men associated with being a student of Socrates was Critias. Critias was an Athenian writer of prose and elegies. He was also a politician and became one of the Thirty Tyrants. These men were appointed by Sparta to rule Athens after Sparta emerged victorious in the Peloponnesian War, and while they only ruled for eight months, they saw 5% of Athens’ population killed.

Naturally, Critias’s bloody rule and violent end proved a stain on Socrates’s reputation by association.

48. Repayment of Debts

Say what you will about Critias’s bloody legacy as one of the Thirty Tyrants, but he did remember his mentors when he was in a position of power. Despite their disagreements, Critias made sure to protect Socrates from persecution during the Thirty Tyrants’ reign over Athens.

49. The Death of Socrates

According to one version of Socrates’s death, he was made to consume a drink containing the poisonous plant known as hemlock, which he did willingly. He was then made to “walk around until his legs felt numb.” The effect of the poison then worked its way up his body until his heart gave out.

50. You’re Welcome

When Socrates was asked how he ought to be punished, he suggested “free maintenance by the state,” i.e. be given free food and wages because his constant questioning had done such a service to their society. Naturally, the government didn’t exactly agree with his sentiment, and they instead gave him the hemlock.

51. Just What the Doctor Ordered

Socrates’s last words vary based on the writer reporting them, but a consistent theme is his reminder to Crito that a rooster must be sacrificed to Asclepius. Asclepius was the son of Apollo and the god of medicine. This ties into the idea that Socrates saw his death as a “cure for Athens’ ailments” since he was the man goading and questioning all that the Athenians believed sacred.

52. Facing the End

There is a strong debate about whether Socrates was forced to drink the poison, or whether he willingly chose suicide. Still others give a third argument that it was a bit of column a and column b. Certainly, according to Plato, Socrates was given the chance to escape while he was still imprisoned. Despite the urging of his friends to let them help him escape, Socrates refused.

Plato went on to explain his mentor’s reasoning; if Socrates had indeed fled, he would have become a hypocrite who feared death and the punishment of his city. Moreover, his friends would have been punished, and no matter where Socrates went, he would make more enemies and risk death yet again.

53. The Circle of Teaching

A young Plato met Socrates, who ended up having a huge influence on his life. Of Socrates, Plato said he was “an absolute unlikeness to any human being that is or ever was.” For his part, Plato taught yet another well-known philosopher, Aristotle. Since Plato was born into a well-to-do aristocratic family, he would have had the best education available at the time.

54. Top 10 for Sure

There’s so much written about Plato that he’s considered to be the tenth most famous person in the world. As of 1999, there were 2,894 books about him in the Library of Congress alone! Although he’s ranked behind people like Jesus, he actually ranks ahead of his pupil Aristotle.

55. The Center of It All

There’s one thing we can definitely forgive Plato for, and that is his belief that the Earth was at the center of the universe. He believed that all the stars, the other planets, the Sun and the Moon all rotated around Earth. Something that he did get right? The Earth was round.

56. Plato’s Lost City Theory

One of the biggest mysteries in the world is that of the Lost City of Atlantis. Plato firmly believed it was a real place, existing some 8,000 years before even his own time! Plato came to believe that Atlantis was near the Strait of Gibraltar and was lost in a single day due to an earthquake, flooding, and rain.

57. Just Call Him a World Traveler

For 12 years following the death of his beloved teacher Socrates, Plato traveled around the Mediterranean, learning as much as he could about astronomy, math, geometry, religion, and geology. Among the places Plato visited were Egypt, Italy, Sicily, and Cyrene.

Plato facts

58. A School All His Own

Eventually, Plato created his own school, The Academy in Athens. Founded in 385 BCE, it’s considered to be among the first Western institutions to offer higher learning. Students who attended The Academy learned topics like philosophy, of course, but also astronomy, math, biology, and political theory. Plato continued to head The Academy until his death, but its teachings continued until 529 CE when Justinian I, the Emperor, decided to close it due to his belief that it was a threat to Christianity.

59. Life at the Academy

Plato’s Academy was nothing even close to what we know as universities these days–except for the whole learning aspect. You see, there was no tuition. Anyone who wanted to learn there could, and didn’t have to worry about being able to afford it. Donations and presents from parents of the students were what kept the Academy running, while students themselves were encouraged to be celibate and live simply (nope, that doesn’t sound like college either).

Generally, students stayed for four years, though the famous Aristotle was more of a perpetual student of the Academy, staying there for 20 years!

60. Soldier of Greece

Like his mentor Socrates, Plato actually served as a soldier during the Peloponnesian War between 409 and 404 BCE. In the conflict, the Spartans defeated the Athenians and an oligarchy was put in place. Eventually, democracy came back, and Plato considered a life in politics, and one can only imagine how much a man with his mind could have shaped the Athenian government.

Had he stuck with this plan, the history of Greece, and the Western World as a whole, might have been extremely different. So what changed his mind? Socrates’s execution. His friend’s death over philosophical debates convinced him philosophy was the way to go.

61. Is That Even Your Real Name?

There’s some suggestion that his real name wasn’t even Plato, but Aristocles. Some historians argue that Plato was the first-born son, and in that time first-born Greek sons were generally named after their grandfathers–in this case, Aristocles. Some sources say that he gained the nickname “Plato” from his wrestling coach, in reference to his imposing figure, as the word platon means “broad.”

That’s right, Plato was essentially the Hulk Hogan of his time.

62. The Wrestler Emerges

Considering he was a soldier, it may not be surprising to discover that Plato was a wrestler! As far as we know, it was just in his youth, but we wonder if he could have had the chops to make it as a pro in our day.

63. Can’t Teach Them All

In 367 BCE, Plato was invited to Sicily, then called Syracuse, to tutor the new ruler, Dionysius II. The young ruler’s uncle, Dion, had hopes that Dionysius would be a great king and believed Plato could help him. For his part, Plato was encouraged that he could mold the boy into his own philosopher king. Unfortunately, Dionysius wasn’t the best of students and showed little promise.

64. Absolute Power

Dionysus began to believe his uncle and Plato were conspiring against him, and had Plato placed under house arrest, while he exiled Dion. Eventually, Plato would leave Syracuse and go back to Greece to continue teaching at The Academy.

65. He, Too, Shall Pass

When Plato died, he was buried somewhere at his Academy, the place he loved so much. His remains have never been found, though archaeologists have looked. There are a couple stories of how he died. One says it was simply in his sleep, whereas another suggests he died in bed while a girl played him the flute, and yet another claims he passed while at a feast.

All pretty good options, really.

66. The Demonax Diet

Demonax was a Greek philosopher who was so chill, he gained a reputation for being an expert peace-maker for politicians, brothers, and couples. Eventually, he got so chill, he stopped eating; aged almost 100 years old, he could no longer take care of himself and starved to death.

67. Behind the Laughter

In some retellings, the philosopher Chrysippus died after a donkey ate his fig. Seeing this, he made a joke (“Now give the ass a drink of pure wine to wash down the figs”) that made him laugh so hard that he died.

68. He Bunked up with Theon Greyjoy

At the age of 14, Philip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great’s father, was sent south to Thebes as a hostage, living with the Theban general Pammenes for three years.  He left Macedon in the hands of a regent who ruled on behalf of Philip’s surviving older brother, Perdiccas.

69. Foreign Exchange Student

Philip’s captivity in Thebes led to an education which would change his life for the better. Because he was a royal hostage living with the high-ranking general Pammenes, Philip also got to learn military tactics from Pelopidas and Epaminondas. These men had shaped the Theban military to defeat the Spartans and Athenians in battle, so it was worth paying attention when they had something to say about warfare.

70. Let’s Get Down to Business!

After he returned to Macedon, Philip had begun implementing a series of military reforms to the Macedonian army which he’d picked up while being a hostage in Thebes. One of the most important tactics he implemented was equipping the infantry with eighteen-feet long spears known as sarissas. The infantry were taught to fight in the phalanx, keeping rows of spears in front of the men when attacking their enemies.

He also took the elite cavalry of Macedon (known as the Companion Cavalry) and replaced their traditional javelins with lances and turned them into the first shock cavalry unit in antiquity.

71. Tough it Out

New weapons weren’t the only things Philip introduced. Recognizing the need for toughness in his army, Philip banned wheeled transport for the officers, so that they marched alongside the men. He set a cap of camp servants at one for every 10 infantrymen and one per cavalryman. He also limited their bathroom breaks and enforced healthy snacks only while on the march—no wait, that’s a kindergarten teacher. Nevermind.

72. On a Roll

One of Philip’s early successes as king saw him conquer Illyria—but he was far from done. After his first taste of victory, Philip went on a rampage. When the Paeonian king died, Philip took advantage of the power vacuum by conquering Paeonia and adding it to Macedon’s territory. He also spat in the faces of the Athenians by seizing the coastal town Amphipolis, which was a highly valuable port to Athens.

Give him an inch, he takes a whole port town.

73. Four’s a Crowd? Nonsense!

Epirus was a kingdom found northwest of Greece that was ruled by King Arymbas. Philip wanted to make Arymbas an ally, so he sweetened the deal of an alliance by taking Arymbas’s niece as his fourth wife. Her name was Olympias, and she became the leading wife of his ever-growing harem.

74. A Son to Surpass his Father

A year after marrying Olympias, Philip allegedly received several pieces of good news in rapid succession. His horse had won its races during the Olympic games that year, and one of his top generals, Parmenion, won a great victory against the tribes north-east of Macedon. On top of that, Olympias bore him a son, Alexander.

75. Mom, Dad, Stop Fighting Please

Whether it was true love or just a political marriage, however, it’s clear that Philip II and Olympias had an apocalyptically bad relationship as the years went on. Philip II was known for his parties, affairs, and hot-blooded disposition, while Olympias had a reputation for being very jealous and ambitious. To the surprise of nobody, their son became involved in their disintegrating marriage.

Queen Olympias facts

76. It Cost Me an Eye

In 355, Philip laid siege to Methone, which was a city on the Macedonian Gulf controlled by Athens. It was during this siege that an archer from the city shot Philip in the face with an arrow. The damage was so severe that Philip’s eye had to be surgically removed. Despite this setback and the arrival of Athenian reinforcements, Philip took the city in 354, presumably killing any man who called him “Cyclops.”

77. Take Your Son to Work Day

By 338 BC, Philip had made Macedon the most powerful kingdom in the Balkans, but he wasn’t quite done yet. The Greek city-states still resisted him, so he led an army of 30,000 infantry and 2,000 horsemen south that year to settle things once and for all. The big battle happened at Chaeronea, where 35,000 Greek allies had gathered, particularly the forces of Thebes and Athens.

With the help of the then-18-year-old Alexander, Philip and his forces won a bloody victory, leading to Philip forging the League of Corinth, which allied most of the Greek city-states with Macedon.

78. Go Tell the Spartans

During his years of campaigning, Philip famously sent a threatening message to the city of Sparta. He declared that if he entered their land, he would raze Sparta to the ground and enslave the Spartans forever. The Spartans sent back just one word as a reply: “If.” Philip backed down, and his mastery over the Greeks exempted Sparta as the only place that withstood him.

79. An Abrupt End

Two years after the Battle of Chaeronea had made Philip master of Greece, he hosted a grand wedding at Aegae between his daughter, Cleopatra (no, not that Cleopatra), and King Alexander (no, not that Alexander) of Epirus. Philip was determined to walk into the public area alone and unguarded to prove to the Greek guests that he was no tyrant who needed to fear his subjects.

Ironically, it was one of his royal bodyguards, a man named Pausanias, who then confronted him and stabbed him to death before fleeing.

80. Hey! I’m Buried Here!

In 1977, Philip’s tomb was uncovered at Aigai by Greek archaeologists. The tomb was one of two which had been completely undisturbed over the centuries. Philip’s remains were identified by the damage to one of the body’s legs, as well as damage to the right eye.

81. Great Father’s Day Gift

While Alexander distanced himself from his father after Philip’s death, he never forgot his father, or all that he had helped make possible. Alexander’s final will allegedly had demanded for, among other things, the construction of a huge tomb for his father, King Philip. Alexander gave instructions that it must “match the greatest of the pyramids of Egypt.”

Sadly, the world was too busy being torn apart to build this incredible monument to Philip.

82. Big Plans

By the time of his death, Philip was planning a large-scale invasion of Persia, just across the water. He intended to go as an avenger of past humiliations and insults launched against the Greeks. In fact, several of his top generals were leading an advance army into Persia when he was killed, adding to the chaos of the moment.

Alexander would go on to lead the Macedonians and Greeks east instead, leading to him securing his own place in history.

83. Just Behaving Like Any Widow

Because of Philip and Olympias’s stormy relationship, there has been a lot of speculation that she was behind Philip’s murder in one way or another. One story told by the Roman historian known as Justin insists that after Pausanias was killed while trying to flee, his body was put on display and on the first day of Olympias’ return to Macedon, she put a crown on Pausanias’ head and publicly honored him.

Many doubt the authenticity of this story, as any such behavior would have been badly received by a population that had grown to love Philip. For his part, Aristotle dismissed any idea of Olympias or Alexander being involved in Philip’s murder.

84. Brother From Another Mother

A famous story alleges that Philip fathered an illegitimate son with a noblewoman named Arsinoe, whom he later gave in marriage to a man named Lagus. The boy in question was named Ptolemy, and many of you will know that he would not only be a close friend of Philip’s heir, Alexander, throughout his life, but he would later create a dynasty as Pharaoh of Egypt after Alexander’s death.

Ptolemy would also bury Alexander in Alexandria. Many say that Ptolemy himself made up the story about Philip being his dad, though, with seven wives, it wouldn’t be outside of Philip’s character. And it does add a fascinating twist on Ptolemy’s role in Alexander’s (life and death).

85. Man of Many Names

Alexander the Great was known by a number of other nicknames in his lifetime. He was often called the Accursed, the Conqueror of the World, the Philosopher-King, and the Madman of Macedonia, among others.

86. Undefeated

From his first battle at age 18 until his death, Alexander was undefeated in battle. He had a reputation for leading his men with great speed, which allowed the smaller forces to reach and break enemy lines before his opponents were ready. In 334 BC Alexander fortified his own kingdom in Greece, and then crossed into Asia, where he won several more battles.

His tactics are still studied in military colleges today.

87. The Family Black Sheep

Although we now know the might and power of Alexander the Great, he had some competition when it came to ruling Macedon. In fact, although Alexander was his father’s heir, he wasn’t the eldest son. That vaunted title went to Arrhidaeus, who was Philip II’s son with another one of his many wives.

88. He Doesn’t Like Her, Does He?

One reason why Arrhidaeus wasn’t considered the heir to Philip II was that, depending on which historian you read, he either had a learning disability, or he was completely mentally deficient. According to the historian Plutarch, this disability was due to a poisoning attempt by Alexander’s mother Olympias, who was jealous of the boy and wanted her son to be the heir.

89. Defiant Student

Education was important to both Alexander the Great’s mother and father, and as a result, he was educated by tutors growing up. Alexander’s first teacher was Leonidas (not the “This is Sparta” guy, different Leonidas), who was a relative of his mother. He was responsible for teaching Alexander math, horsemanship, and archery, but had difficulty controlling him.

Alexander’s favorite tutor was Lysimachus, who made up a game where Alexander would pretend to be the warrior Achilles.

90. Both Sides of the Blanket

Throughout history, there have been many questions about Alexander’s sexuality. Despite having three wives, he was also rumored to have had sexual relations with at least one man. This didn’t necessarily make Alexander gay, however. At least not how we think of it today. For the Ancient Greeks, gender wasn’t a factor in the choice of sexual partners and was seen as personal taste.

Men often had sex with other men or teenaged boys, and also still had sex with women or took wives. In Alexander’s case, since both his wife and his concubine bore him children, he was most likely bisexual in modern terms.

91. Philosophical Education

At age 13, Alexander was tutored by the great philosopher Aristotle. His tutelage lasted for about three years, and Aristotle taught him government, philosophy, politics, poetry, drama, and sciences.

92. A Man and His Horse

When Alexander was ten years old, he was brought a horse by a trader from Thessaly. The horse proved impossible to tame, and his father ordered it sent away. Alexander noticed that the horse was afraid of its shadow and pleaded for permission to tame the horse. Much to the joy of Philip, he did. As a reward for his courage and ambition, Philip bought him the horse which he named Bucephalus or “Ox Head.”

When the horse died in battle at the ripe old age of 30, Alexander named the city Bucephala after him.

93. A Pleasant Odor

In historian Plutarch’s book Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, he reported that Alexander possessed a “most agreeable odor,” and that his breath and body perfumed his clothes. This reference to smell was part of a tradition of giving otherworldly characteristics to a conquering king.

94. Good Answer

When Alexander the Great took charge of Macedonia’s throne, one of the groups of people who sent envoys of peace were the Celts. According to the later writings of Alexander’s general Ptolemy, the future Pharaoh of Egypt, Alexander drank with the Celtic ambassadors after the formalities were done, and he asked them what the Celts feared most.

If Alexander was hoping to hear them say they feared him most, he would have been disappointed—the Celts replied that they only feared that the sky might fall down on their heads.

95. Undoing the Knot

In a legend similar to Arthur and Excalibur, a Greek oracle foretold that whoever was able to untie the knot of Gordium would go on to become the true ruler of Asia. When Alexander reached the town of Gordium on his Asian campaign, he decided to attempt the knot. He initially tried to untangle the knot, but when his patience ran out, he simply took his sword and sliced through it.

96. Do Like the Persians

After conquering the Persians, Alexander realized that acting like a Persian would be the best way to keep control of his conquest. He began wearing the traditional dress of a Persian royal, and in 324 held a mass wedding where he forced 92 Macedonian leaders to marry Persian women. Alexander also married two Persian women, Stateira and Parysatis.

97. Love at First Sight

According to some historical reports, Roxanne, Alexander the Great’s first wife, was possibly the only woman he ever loved. There are different versions of their meeting. In one account, he came across Roxanne among Bactrian captives after their surrender, and he immediately fell in love. In Plutarch’s version, he first sees her among the dancers at a banquet held in his honor immediately after Bactria’s surrender.

98. Founder of Cities

As a means of recognizing his numerous conquests, Alexander would found cities around his military forts and name them Alexandria. All in all, there were more than 70 cities named Alexandria, the most famous of which is Alexandria in Egypt. Alexandria was founded at the mouth of the Nile river in 331 BC and is the second-largest city in Egypt today.

99. Cause of Death Unknown

To this day, the exact cause of Alexander’s death is unknown. In 323 BC, he became ill after drinking a bowl of wine at a party and two weeks later he died. Due to the nature of his father’s death, the people surrounding Alexander became immediate suspects. As best as modern science can discern, the most likely causes of death were malaria, lung infection, typhoid fever, or liver failure.

100. A Sweet Preservation

Like many details of his death, how Alexander’s body was preserved during the time before his transfer to Egypt is one of speculation, but in 1889, E. A. Wallis Badge put forth the idea that he was preserved in a vat of honey. Honey is known to have a preserving effect, and it was a practice often used in ancient cultures to embalm bodies.

The honey in Alexander’s coffin would have prevented the body from decomposing during the long journey to Egypt.

101. An Enduring Mystery

The exact location of Alexander the Great’s tomb remains a mystery. Upon his death, possession of his body was a subject of negotiation amongst his generals, each favoring a different location. According to the Parian Chronicle (a Greek chronicle inscribed on a tall stone or wooden slab similar to a tombstone), Alexander was buried in Memphis in Egypt, but in the late 3rd or 4th century, his body was transferred to Alexandria.

102. Fourth, But not Least

Although history remembers Olympias as Philip of Macedon’s queen, she was hardly his only wife. Philip would have seven wives over his reign, many of them at the same time. Olympias was the fourth of these wives, though today she might just be considered the most ruthless of these beautiful, powerful women.

103. Young Mom

Arguably the most famous portrayal of Olympias was in the film Alexander, where she was played by Angelina Jolie. Sadly, Jolie’s performance has become one of the most controversial aspects about the movie. For one thing, Jolie is actually less than a year older than Colin Farrell, who plays her son, Alexander the Great, in the film.

104. That Would Probably Hurt!

Allegedly, Olympias had a rather telling dream before Alexander’s conception. She dreamed that a thunderbolt struck her womb, and a massive fire was created, consuming everything before being suddenly extinguished. Not exactly a night terror, but we can’t imagine that would be a welcome experience!

105. New Challengers

In her later years, Olympias was surrounded by enemies. One of her more formidable foes turned out to be her stepson Arrhdiaeus, whom she was rumored to have poisoned and disabled. You see, Arrhdiaeus had married a very ambitious woman named Adea Eurydice, who wasted no time declaring herself Queen of Macedon in Olympias’ place.

106. The Tide Turns Again

The upstart queen Adea Eurydice ended up bringing her armies to the door of Olympias and her allies. It did not work well for the young usurper: When the Macedonian soldiers realized that they were going to have to fight the mother of their former king, they simply refused to fight. Without missing a beat, Olympias quickly captured the woman along with her husband.

107. Be Ruthless

With the capture of her stepson and his ambitious wife, Olympias was not merciful in her victory. She executed Arrhidaeus in a straightforward manner in order to be rid of him—but Adea Eurydice suffered a much darker fate. Olympias famously sent her a cup of poison, a noose, and a sword, telling her to choose how she would die.

According to the histories, Adea Eurydice chose to hang herself, though she cursed Olympias to the very end of her life.

108. So Close, Yet So Far

In 560 BCE, the Greek philosopher Anaximander became one of the first people to realize the Earth could not be flat. But he didn’t get everything right: he thought that it was shaped like a cylinder. Baby steps…

Sources1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

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