Alexander the Great at the British Library | Fictional hero or real?

Pharaoh, prophet, philosopher. We've moulded Alexander into the fictional hero we want him to be. Today, artists and storytellers alike are still trying to reimagine the man and his myth.

Alexander the Great British Library

Alexander the Great: pharaoh, prophet, philosopher. We’ve moulded him into the fictional hero we want him to be. Now, artists and storytellers alike at the British Library continue to reimagine the man and his myth.


Alexander the Great is famed for builing an empire that stretched across the known world. But other myths about him still abound. Did the Greek ride across the sky on a flying chariot? Is it true he descended to the bottom of the sea in a glass bell? Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not.

Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth is the first exhibition to traverse the rich history of storytelling about one of the most famous figures of the ancient world. Born in Macedon, an ancient kingdom in the north of Greece, in 356 BC, Alexander built a vast empire that stretched from Greece, through Egypt and Persia, and as far as India, by the time of his death aged 32.

Marble head of Alexander c Museum of Classical Archaelogy

Marble head of Alexander (Credit: Museum of Classical Archaelogy)

Featuring nearly 140 exhibits from 25 countries in over 20 languages, this major exhibition explores how Alexander’s legacy turned into legend – a transformation that started while he was alive and continues today. With the oldest item dating from Alexander’s lifetime and the most recent a graphic novel still in the process of publication, this captivating exhibition considers how and why the tales surrounding Alexander became more fantastical as they spread across the cultures of Europe, Asia and beyond.

Aristotle instructing Alexander with a full bar border c British Library

Aristotle instructing Alexander with a full bar border (Credit: British Library)

From astrological clay tablets, ancient papyri and medieval manuscripts to comics, films and video games, Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth reveals how Alexander’s character has been adapted and appropriated by different cultures and religions, with conflicting interpretations.

Alexander Dragon Contemporary Greek Puppets c Richard Stoneman private collection

Alexander Dragon Contemporary Greek Puppets (Credit: Richard Stoneman private collection)

Peter Toth, Curator of Ancient and Medieval Manuscripts at the British Library, said: “More than 2000 years after Alexander’s death, the story is still compelling. Nevertheless, this is not an exhibition glorifying the historical figure of Alexander the Great. It is the universal aspects of his story – his quest for knowledge and immortality, coupled with his fantastical adventures – that are the focus.”


Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth is at the British Library from 21 October 2022 until 19 February 2023


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