Great speeches from Great leaders – Alexander the Great’s speech at the Mutiny of Opis

A year before his premature death, Alexander the Great’s Macedonian troops rebelled as he appeared to be placing his Persian subjects in higher regard than his own countrymen. These fellow Macedonians had campaigned with him for a decade as he swept East to the Himalayas. In order to quell this mutiny, rather than use force or aggression, he used the power of persuasion through an inspirational speech. The content of the speech is provided below. What strikes me about this speech is his ability to outline all of his armies great accomplishments, how he specified how many positive outcomes they had reached together, how there was no ‘them versus us’, that they were a team and that in fact if anyone was serving in the dynamic it was actually Alexander who was the one serving. In truth, what he did in this speech was evidence of how much of a real leader he really was. Effectively the speech can be summed up by what Plato said ‘He who is not a good servant will not be a good master’. After this speech, all talk of mutiny disappeared and his Macedonian army reaffirmed their allegiance to him. All great battles are not just won on the battlefield. Here is the speech (provided by Arrian the Greek):

“Macedonians, my speech will not be aimed at stopping your urge to return home; as far as I am concerned you may go where you like. But I want you to realize on departing what I have done for you, and what you have done for me.

Let me begin, as is right, with my father Philip. He found you wandering about without resources, many of you clothed in sheepskins and pasturing small flocks in the mountains, defending them with difficulty against the Illyrians, Triballians and neighbouring Thracians. He gave you cloaks to wear instead of sheepskins, brought you down from the mountains to the plains, and made you a match in war for the neighbouring barbarians, owing your safety to your own bravery and no longer to reliance on your mountain strongholds. He made you city dwellers and civilized you with good laws and customs.

Those barbarians who used to harass you and plunder your property, he made you their leaders instead of their slaves and subjects. He annexed much of Thrace to Macedonia, seized the most favourable coastal towns and opened up the country to commerce, and enabled you to exploit your mines undisturbed.

He made you governors of the Thessalians, before whom you used to die of fright, humbled the Phocians and so opened a broad and easy path into Greece in place of a narrow and difficult one. The Athenians and Thebans, who were permanently poised to attack Macedonia, he so humbled (and I was now helping him in this task) that instead of you paying tribute to the Athenians and being under the sway of the Thebans, they now, in turn, had to seek their safety from us.

He marched into the Peloponnese and settled matters there too. He was appointed commander-in-chief of all Greece for the campaign against the Persians, but preferred to assign the credit to all the Macedonians rather than just to himself.

Such were the achievements of my father on your behalf; as you can see for yourselves, they are great, and yet small in comparison with my own. I inherited from my father a few gold and silver cups, and less than 60 talents in the treasury; Philip had debts amounting to 500 talents, and I raised a loan of a further 800. I started from a country that could barely sustain you and immediately opened up the Hellespont for you, although the Persians then held the mastery of the sea.

I defeated in a cavalry engagement the satraps of Darius and annexed to your rule the whole of Ionia and Aeolis, both Phrygias and Lydia, and took Miletus by storm.

All the rest came over to our side spontaneously, and I made them yours for you to enjoy.

All the wealth of Egypt and Cyrene, which I won without a fight, are now yours, Coele Syria, Palestine and Mesopotamia are your possession, Babylonia and Bactria and Elam belong to you, you own the wealth of Lydia, the treasures of Persia, the riches of India, and the outer ocean. You are satraps, you are generals, you are captains. As for me, what do I have left from all these labors? Merely this purple cloak and a diadem.”