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Alexander And AlexandriaAlexander-And-Alexandria

  • Subject: Ancient Civilizations
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Beginning with Ptolemy I, Alexandria became, and for a long while remained, an intellectual capital of the world.
2. The physical characteristics and distribution of books have changed a great deal over time and may continue to change in the digital age.


For this lesson, you will need:


1. At some point during the study of the ancient city of Alexandria, focus on the importance of its intellectual life. Read to the class the following excerpt from Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh (London: Fourth Estate, 1977), pp. 47-48: In 332 B.C., having conquered Greece, Asia Minor and Egypt, Alexander the Great decided that he would build a capital city that would be the most magnificent in the world. Alexandria was indeed a spectacular metropolis but not immediately a center of learning. It was only when Alexander died and his half-brother Ptolemy I ascended the throne of Egypt that Alexandria became home to the world's first-ever university. Mathematicians and other intellectuals flocked to Ptolemy's city of culture, and although they were certainly drawn by the reputation of the university, the main attraction was the Alexandrian Library.
. . . [Demetrius Phalaerus] persuaded Ptolemy to gather together all the great books, assuring him that the great minds would follow. Once the tomes of Egypt and Greece had been installed, agents scoured Europe and Asia Minor in search of further volumes of knowledge. Even tourists to Alexandria could not escape the voracious appetite of the Library. Upon entering the city, their books were confiscated and taken to the scribes. The books were copied so that while the original was donated to the Library, a duplicate could graciously be given to the original owner.
Ask students to comment on the pains the powers in Alexandria took for the sake of books.
2. Help students with the history of making books in case they do not understand why books had to be copied by hand in ancient Alexandria. Make sure students realize that printing by woodblock did not come about until the second century A.D. in China, and it wasn't until 1450 that printing on paper by movable type was introduced in Europe. Until then scribes wrote books by hand.
3. Initiate a class discussion about the role of books in your and your students' lives:
  • What kinds of books do you and they like? Answers may refer to physical characteristics of books (hardcover books, paperbacks, books with lots of pictures and few words) or content (comic books, cookbooks)
  • What do you and they like and not like about going to a library? To a bookstore?
  • Do you and they have personal libraries?
4. Move on to a discussion of whether our need for books has changed in this day and age of computers and access to the Internet, a vast source of data and information. Encourage students to share what they know about handheld storage devices and about electronic newspapers, magazines, and books.
5. Help students design a survey about the future of books. The survey might contain questions and response choices such as the following:
  1. Where do you buy books now?

  2. ___ mostly in a bookstore ___ mostly online
  3. How often do you go to the library now?

  4. ___ about once a year ___ about once a month ___ never
  5. Where do you get most of the day's news now?

  6. ___ from a printed newspaper ___ from TV or radio ___ from a Web site
  7. How do you think you will buy books 10 years from now?

  8. ___ mostly in a bookstore ___ mostly online
  9. How often do you think you'll go to the library 10 years from now?

  10. ___ about once a year ___ about once a month ___ never
  11. Where do you think you'll get the day's news 10 years from now?

  12. ___ from a printed newspaper ___ from TV or radio ___ from a Web site
6. Direct students to conduct their survey among family and friends. Set a minimum number for each student to poll. Suggest students keep responses in two categories: responses from people up to the age of 30; responses from people over the age of 30. After students have had a chance to analyze their results, have them share them with you and the rest of the class.
7. Based on the survey findings, ask students to make predictions in writing about the state of books 10 years from now. Suggest they put their predictions away someplace safe and check them when the time comes. You may tell students that predictions writers, publishers, and scientists made in early 2000 about the future of books were all over the place: Some predicted the demise of the printed book as we know it, and some predicted a renaissance for books, albeit books in different forms.

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Adaptations for Older Students:
Ask students to report on advances being made in electronic reading devices. You may suggest they check articles about research by Xerox in Palo Alto, California; the work of Joseph Jacobson of MIT; and claims by Microsoft and companies such as and Softbook.

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Discussion Questions

1. Alexander believed that the true "blood" of a city is trade. Do you agree with this opinion? How is trade similar to blood? If you do not agree, what do you think is the true "blood" of a city?
2. Of all the achievements of Alexander the Great, which three do you think were the most significant? Why?
3. How would the world be different today if money had never been invented?
4. Alexander named many cities after himself. If you were to have a city named after you, what would it be like? Describe some of its chief features.

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You may want to simply note whether students do or don't complete their assignment to survey a specific number of friends and relatives.

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Alexander the Great: Hero or Criminal?
In assessing Alexander's place in history, suggest that his successes were counterbalanced by their immense human cost. After all, enemies and others perceived to be threats to Alexander were slain, oppressed, or enslaved. Tell students that as they research accomplishments by Alexander they must also estimate how many lives were lost in his forays. Each student should then produce two documents. The first should function as a commemorative plaque in Alexander's honor, prepared by his soldiers; the second should function as a wanted poster, prepared by a country that fears an invasion by Alexander. Students should include on the appropriate document four facts supporting the deification or four facts supporting the vilification of Alexander.

Money, Money, Money
During the period of the seven ancient wonders, pure gold was successfully isolated and minted into money. The purpose of this project is to help students appreciate the necessity of money in our modern society.
First, for a certain period of time, have students keep in a journal a record of all exchanges of goods and services that they are involved in that require money. Next, have students imagine that they are living in a society without money. Ask them to describe how their transactions would differ. Would they, in fact, be able to complete their transactions? How?

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Suggested Readings

"Cities of Alexander the Great"
P.M. Framer, Oxford University Press, 1996

"Exploring Ancient Cities: Crete, Pert, Pompeii, Teotihuacan"
CD-ROM from Sumeria, 1995, Sumeria, Inc.

"Towns in Transition: Urban Evolution in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages"
N. Christie and S.T. Loseby, Scholar Press, 1996

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Alexandria, Egypt
Alexandria, Egypt, is a site that immediately grabs a visitor. The name of the city, in beautiful Arabic calligraphy, is what the student first sees. The city, which was considered the shining pearl of the Mediterranean, is vividly described. This site is a "voyage" that may be taken in a variety of ways. The traveler can opt for the quicker "outline form" or the more leisurely pace of the "Expanding Horizons" icon. The student will learn of the world that revolved around the Mediterranean. The site takes the students on a voyage of exploration to places such as the Iberian Peninsula. It is a gateway that links history, architecture, art, culture, and women in ancient Egypt.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    archaeologist
Definition: A scientist who recovers and studies the material evidence of past cultures or civilizations.
Context: Needless to say, archaeologists have always been interested in Sardis.

speaker    hieroglyphs
Definition: Pictorial symbols used as characters in a writing system, introduced by the ancient Egyptians.
Context: There they are. Look at the hieroglyphs of a pharaoh.

speaker    oracle
Definition: A shrine or a wise, insightful person serving as a conduit for the voice of a deity.
Context: One tale tells us that Alexander and some friends traveled from the shore of Egypt into the blank Sahara, searching for a famous oracle.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: world history
Understands how Aegean civilization emerged and how interrelations developed among peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean and Southwest Asia from 600 to 200 BCE.
Understands major scientific and artistic achievements of Hellenistic society and knows the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: economics
Understands basic features of market structure and exchanges.
Understands that money encourages people to specialize because they can operate more efficiently in an exchange.

Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: world history
Understands how Aegean civilization emerged and how interrelations developed among peoples of the eastern Mediterranean and southwest Asia from 600 to 200 BCE.
Understands the impact and achievements of the Hellenistic period.

Grade level: 9-12
Subject area: world history
Understands how Aegean civilization emerged and how interrelations developed among peoples of the eastern Mediterranean and southwest Asia from 600 to 200 BCE.
Understands how conquest influenced cultural life during the Hellenistic era.

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Summer Productions, Inc.

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