Why was Alexander the Great exiled by his father?

Alexander the Great, one of history’s most renowned conquerors, was not exactly “exiled” by his father, King Philip II of Macedon, in the way one might think of political or social exile today. However, there were indeed periods of intense strain and conflict between Alexander and Philip that led to situations which could be perceived as a form of exile or estrangement.

There is no doubt that Alexander’s eventual ascension to the throne was marked by his incredible military and political achievements, but it was also a testament to the tumultuous and competitive environment of Macedonian royalty, where power dynamics between father and son played a pivotal role in the making of one of history’s most legendary figures.

To understand this complex father-son relationship and the events that led to their separation, it’s crucial to delve into the historical, political, and personal dynamics of their time.

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Early Life and the Making of a Conqueror

Alexander was born around 356 BC to King Philip II and Queen Olympias. From an early age, he was groomed to be a leader, educated by the philosopher Aristotle, and trained in martial arts, which would later contribute to his unparalleled military acumen.

Alexander’s early life was marked by the ambition and successes of his father, who transformed Macedonia from a peripheral kingdom into a dominant power in the Greek world.

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Seeds of Strain

The roots of the discord between Alexander and his father can be traced to several key factors:

Olympias’ Influence

Olympias, Alexander’s mother, was deeply involved in her son’s upbringing and is believed to have instilled in him a sense of destiny and divine favor. Her influence also extended to creating a wedge between Philip and Alexander, as she was known to be manipulative and ambitious for her son’s ascension to the throne.

Philip’s Marital Alliances

Philip’s marriages to other women, especially his marriage to Cleopatra Eurydice in 338 BC, threatened Alexander’s position as the heir. The marriage was seen as an attempt by Philip to secure a more straightforward Macedonian heir, as Olympias was from Epirus, not Macedonia.

The Incident at the Wedding

The most significant public display of their conflict occurred at the wedding of Cleopatra Eurydice, where an intoxicated Philip allegedly attempted to attack Alexander after an insult was directed at him regarding his legitimacy.

And just as Philip was about to strike his son, the intoxicated Macedonian king stumbled and fell. Shocked by his father’s action, Alexander proceeded to mock him by questioning whether Philip would be able to lead the Macedonian army against the Persians considering the fact that he couldn’t even move without stumbling and falling.

This incident led Alexander and Olympias to flee Macedonia, suggesting a temporary form of exile. Alexander was advised by friends to keep a low profile for a while, allowing time for Philip’s anger to subside.

In a climax of escalating tension, a heavily intoxicated Philip II, overcome by anger and perhaps impaired judgment, attempted to confront Alexander with a sword, only to embarrassingly stumble and fall. Image: Statue of Alexander’s father, Philip II.

Political Maneuvering and Ambition

Both Alexander and Philip were ambitious and strong-willed, leading to inevitable clashes. Alexander’s desire to prove himself and secure his place as his father’s successor sometimes brought him into direct competition with Philip’s own ambitions and policies.

The Complex Dynamics of Power

The period of estrangement between Alexander and his father was not merely about personal grievances but was deeply intertwined with the politics of the time. Macedonia’s rise under Philip threatened the autonomy of the Greek city-states, and Alexander’s actions and ambitions were closely watched by friends and foes alike.

The tension between father and son must be understood against this backdrop of political maneuvering, alliances, and the struggle for supremacy in the Greek world.

Reconciliation and Aftermath

The estrangement between Alexander and Philip was eventually resolved, and Alexander returned to Macedonia. This reconciliation, however, was short-lived as Philip was assassinated in 336 BC, under circumstances that have led to much speculation regarding the involvement of Olympias and possibly even Alexander himself.

Upon Philip’s death, Alexander was proclaimed king by the army and quickly moved to consolidate his power, embarking on his legendary conquests that would reshape the ancient world.

The narrative of Alexander being exiled by his father is a simplification of a much more complex series of events. It was not an official exile in the traditional sense but rather a temporary estrangement born out of political, personal, and familial tensions. Image: Statue of Alexander located in Thessaloniki, Greece.

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Frequently Asked Questions

These FAQs about the wedding between Philip II of Macedon and Cleopatra Eurydice reveals a bit more about the relationship between Alexander the Great and his father:

What event led to a significant conflict between Alexander the Great and his father, Philip II?

The conflict arose during the wedding celebration of Philip II and a young bride, where Alexander insulted his father and embarrassed him in front of guests, leading to a heated exchange.

Why did Alexander see his father Philip II’s marriage as a threat?

Alexander viewed the marriage as a threat to his position as heir, fearing that a son born from this union might be named Philip’s successor instead.

What was the immediate cause of the argument between Alexander and Attalus at the wedding?

The argument started when Attalus made backhanded jests suggesting Alexander was not the legitimate heir, which led Alexander to insult Attalus in response.

How did Philip II react to the dispute between Alexander and Attalus?

During a wedding feast marked by excessive drinking, Attalus provocatively doubted Alexander’s legitimacy as heir. Alexander’s retaliatory insult and threat led to Philip II siding with Attalus and demanding Alexander apologize, deeply wounding him by favoring Attalus’s ambition over familial loyalty.

Philip II demanded Alexander apologize for his actions, siding with Attalus, which further angered Alexander. This incident underscored the tension between Alexander’s rightful inheritance and the sheer level of political maneuvers within the Macedonian court at the time. Image: Statue of Alexander on a horse. 

Philip II, in a drunken rage, attempted to charge at Alexander with a sword but tripped over furniture and fell, showcasing his inability to attack. This spectacle at the wedding party showcased not only the volatile father-son dynamic but also the dangers of mixing excessive alcohol with royal disputes.

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What was Alexander’s reaction to his father Philip II’s fall at the wedding?

Alexander mocked Philip II’s ambition to lead conquests from Europe to Asia by pointing out his inability to move from table to table without stumbling.

Again, Alexander’s response highlighted the deep fractures within the Macedonian royal family, emphasizing the blend of personal animosity and political intrigue that characterized their relationship.


What was the aftermath of the altercation between Alexander and Philip II?

Following the public altercation, Alexander’s friends intervened, escorting him away from the tense scene. They advised him to lay low, allowing time for Philip’s anger to subside. This precautionary move was aimed at avoiding further escalation of the conflict, recognizing the potential for serious repercussions in the volatile atmosphere of Macedonian royal politics and familial dynamics.

How did Alexander the Great avoid severe punishment for his actions against Philip II at the wedding?

Alexander got off relatively easy, likely because it was common for Macedonian royalty to engage in deadly disputes over succession, but as king, Philip had ultimate power, yet chose not to exercise it to its fullest against his son.

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