How Alexander the Great arranged the alcohol competition and why it ended badly
How Alexander the Great arranged the alcohol competition and why it ended badly

Alexander the Great is known as a man who conquered huge empires and wrote a completely new chapter in the history of ancient times, and his name remains a household name to this day, associated with glory, conquest and power, with youth and pride. Alexander also became famous for his hedonistic lifestyle and irrepressible passion for wine. But no one could have imagined that this passion would drive several dozen people into the grave.

Sculpture of Alexander the Great

The origins of Alexander's addiction to alcohol can be found in his family, as well as in the culture of the society to which he belonged. It is known that the ancient Macedonians drank wine without diluting it with water. This habit was considered barbaric by their southern neighbors in Greek city-states such as Athens. Alexander drank "like a sponge" in his youth, partly due to the fact that his own parents pushed him to do so.

Aristotle, a philosopher from the Macedonian city of Stagir, teaches young Alexander at the royal palace of Pella

It is known that the young ruler of Macedonia was educated by one of the founding fathers of philosophy - Aristotle. And during his campaigns, he surrounded himself with advisers.

During his stay in the Persian city of Susa in 324 BC, one of his advisers, a 73-year-old gymnosophist (literally means "naked sage") named Kalan, reported that he felt terminally ill and preferred to commit suicide rather than slowly dying.

Marriage of Statira II with Alexander the Great and her sister Drypetida with Hephaestion in Susa in 324 BC. Late 19th century engraving

Alexander tried to convince him that this should not be done, but Kalan was unshakable in his decision. In order to commit suicide, the philosopher chose self-immolation.

One of Alexander's senior officers wrote about the death of Kalan, describing it as a real sight: “… At the moment when the fire broke out, by order of Alexander, an impressive salute began: they blew the horns, the soldiers unanimously began to chant, and the elephants joined the people, starting to trumpet ".

Alexander the Great, the Indian gymnosophist Kalan, who received the news of the death by self-immolation. Painting by Jean-Baptiste de Champagne, 1672

After the philosopher was completely consumed by the flames, Alexander fell into melancholy, because he had lost a good friend and companion. As a result, he decided to honor the late philosopher with a "worthy" event, in his opinion. At first he thought about organizing the Olympic Games in Susa, but he had to abandon this idea as the locals knew very little about Greek sports.

Alexander III the Great

It is important to note that the secret of Alexander's greatness was his ability to unite different cultures, more specifically Greek and Persian, and to emphasize this cultural and political fusion, he married Roxana, the daughter of an influential Persian nobleman.

In addition, it was in Susa that the young emperor organized a mass wedding between representatives of the Persian nobility and his trusted officers and soldiers. All this was carried out with the aim of legitimizing his conquests and himself as the true successor of the Persian shahs.

Detail of Alexander's mosaic depicting the Battle of Issus. The mosaic is in the House of the Faun in Pompeii

However, as his attempt to host the Olympiad in honor of Kalan in Susa failed, Alexander had to come up with another event that would unite the Greeks and Persians. And what better way to bring the two cultures together than organizing alcohol drinking competitions.

3rd century BC Statue of Alexander the Great, signed by Menas. Istanbul Archaeological Museum

Soon, 41 candidates were selected - from among his army and their local population. The rules were simple. The one who drank more wine became the winner and received a crown worth the talent of gold. Let's clarify that the talent was about 26 kg.

The prize was definitely worth trying to win. The only problem was that the locals weren't too used to alcohol … at least not as much as the Macedonians, who even admirers of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, could envy.

Dionysus holding out a drinking bowl (kanfar), late 6th century BC

Naturally, the winner was one of Alexander's infantrymen named Slip, who managed to drink 15 liters of that same undiluted wine.

Unfortunately, signs of poisoning appeared during the competition, which ruined the entire competition. About 35 rivals died on the spot, still trying to drink more wine, and the rest, including the winner, died in the coming days.

So, the holiday dedicated to the death of one turned into the funeral of 41 people. According to the ancient chroniclers of Alexander's life, all the applicants perished, and the holiday miserably failed. This was considered a bad omen, foreshadowing the death of Alexander. And it did happen less than a year after the infamous drinking competition.

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