The Bizarre Afterlife of Alexander the Great

The Alexander Romance turns history into a superhero story

George Dillard
6 min readMay 7, 2023

Any way you cut it, Alexander the Great was an important historical figure with a fascinating historical story. He took power while still basically a child, proved to be a ruthless and relentless conqueror, and died at a shockingly young age. Alexander was an inspiration for future leaders like Augustus, who, after taking control of Rome, visited Alexander’s tomb and modeled his statues on those of Alexander. He changed the world immeasurably, spreading Greek culture far and wide.

Alexander is one of the most famous figures in world history. But his real history apparently wasn’t entertaining enough for the people of the ancient and medieval world. Either that, or Alexander’s exploits were so extraordinary that it was easy to imagine him doing, well, anything. So, centuries after Alexander’s death, storytellers began to compile a set of fantastical stories about Alexander called the Alexander Romance.

The Romance floated around ancient and medieval Europe and the Middle East for over a millennium. It seems to have begun with a set of stories, very loosely based on a couple of real episodes from Alexander’s life, written in Egypt about 400 years after Alexander died. As the story circulated, writers felt free to add all sorts of embellishments, and the tales drifted farther and farther from historical reality.