Alexander the Great, born in Macedon north of Greece in 356 B.C., is remembered as the greatest general of the ancient age. He was also its greatest explorer. Bold, fearless, and full of curiosity, Alexander led his Greek army to victories in a steady march across the Middle East. He conquered Egypt, penetrated the Sahara desert, and sent a party up the Nile River to discover why it flooded every year.
In his relentless campaign to crush his enemies, the Persians, Alexander swept through Turkey and into Mesopotamia. Along the way, he instructed scribes to describe the lands, their cities, and their people. After capturing Babylon, Alexander and his army marched into the wild, mountainous region of Afghanistan, where he founded several cities, all named after himself.
Though he had already passed the limits of the known world, Alexander could not resist crossing the Hindu Kush, a formidable mountain range 500 miles long with peaks more than 25,000 feet tall. In India, Alexander smashed a local Indian army and marveled at its elephants.
But even as Alexander continued lusting after new discoveries in the East, his men began to rebel. Alexander dreamed of continuing on to China; his men dreamed of going home to Greece. Finally, Alexander gave in, though a report said he retreated to his tent and broke down in
sobs of fury and disappointment. Instead of returning as he had come, he marched south to the coast of the Indian Ocean, where he divided his army into three parts. One was to return by ship, while the other two would march overland.
The middle route, which Alexander personally led, was across the barren, lifeless stretch of land called the Makran Desert, an area avoided by travelers to this day. Alexander’s men were decimated by the burning sun and parched landscape, but Alexander survived.
When he returned to Babylon, Alexander had been in the East for seven years and had conquered most of the known world. But instead of resting, Alexander ordered a fleet to prepare to sail around the Persian coast. Alexander’s dream was never realized. At age 33, he died of disease.
In the third century B.C., the explorations of Pytheas had been spurred by his desire to find a new route to the rich tin mines of Cornwall, England. But by the the second century A.D., at the height of the Roman Empire, a network of well-maintained roads stretched from one end of the Mediterranean to the other.
Ancient explorers began to turn their attention to China and the East instead of Europe.