Next Evenings with History lecture will tackle the mystery of Alexander the Great’s visit to the Oracle of Zeus-Ammon

Dr. Edward Anson head shot

In ancient Greece, an oracle was considered the bridge between the gods and goddesses and the mortals who worshipped them. 

Seeking the advice of an oracle was common practice to discover the answer to everything from spousal faithfulness to national questions concerning war and peace. Worshippers often sought the advice of multiple oracles to ensure favorable advice and predictions.

“This is seen in what might be called the use and abuse of oracles,” said Dr. Ed Anson, professor of history at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. “Greeks regularly consulted local seers and wandering prophets concerning life decisions. Many of these individuals not only gave advice concerning the future, but for an additional fee would supply protective amulets, love potions, and powerful curses to be laid upon enemies, disloyal spouses, and so on.”

Anson will explore the ancient Greeks’ practice of visiting oracles through the famous case of Alexander the Great’s visit to the Oracle of Zeus-Ammon, the king of the gods, as part of the Evenings with History series.

The talk will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 5, at Historic Arkansas Museum, 200 E. Third St. in Little Rock, with refreshments served at 7 p.m.

Alexander the Great was a king in the Greek kingdom of Macedon and created one of the largest empires in the ancient world, stretching from Greece to northwestern India. He visited the Oracle of Zeus-Ammon in the Libyan desert in 331 BCE. At the time, Alexander was in the middle of a war with Persia.

Of particular interest to historians is why Alexander chose to risk his life traveling along a dangerous, 300-mile journey to consult this particular oracle in the middle of a war, especially considering he had so many other oracles readily available, Anson said.

“The answer is that the circumstances of this particular oracle, Siwah, being both an Egyptian and a Greek oracle, and Alexander’s new status as Pharaoh of Egypt, guaranteed that Alexander would receive an affirmative answer to a particular question there and nowhere else,” Anson said. “That question concerned his parentage. The oracle proclaimed him to be the son of Zeus, the greatest of the Greek gods, making Alexander akin to his ancestor, the hero and eventual god Heracles.”

While the full contents of the predictions remain unknown, historians believe it was also prophesized that Alexander was destined to conquer the world.

Anson has authored or edited eight books, including “Alexander’s Heirs: The Age of the Successors 323-281 BC.” He is the associate editor of the Ancient History Bulletin, and an assessor for classics for the Australian Research Council, an agency of the Australian national government that awards grants to researchers.

The Evenings with History series, sponsored by the University History Institute, features presentations by UA Little Rock faculty members sharing their current research. Admission to the series is by subscription to the University History Institute, although visitors to individual talks are welcome to attend for free. UA Little Rock students may attend free of charge.

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