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Is This What Alexander the Great Really Looked Like?

alexander the great
The true face of Alexander the Great? Credit: Bas Uterwijk/Instagram

Dutch photographer and digital artist Bas Uterwijk has been shining a light on what iconic figures from history might have looked like in real life. One of his recent creations is Alexander the Great, the king of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon, who famously conquered most of the known world of his time.

There is no definitive answer to what Alexander the Great looked like. Some ancient historians and writers left descriptions of Alexander’s appearance. For example, Plutarch wrote that he was “of fair complexion, with reddish hair which curled naturally,” while Arrian described him as having “a penetrating glance and a complexion more florid than fair.”

There are numerous sculptures and coins depicting Alexander, but these are all idealized representations and not necessarily accurate portraits. However, they can still provide some clues about his general appearance, such as his hairstyle and facial features.


By using various digital manipulation tools, Uterwijk is able to create photorealistic portraits of famous artists, leaders, mummies, philosophical thinkers, and even the models for paintings. Below is his reconstruction of the face of Jesus.

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I don't think I have posted this version on Instagram so for everyone interested here is a little info on the process of constructing it: I have been a professional photographer for the last 14 years but I have a background in Computer Generated images and Special Effects. A little over a year ago I stumbled upon the #artificialintelligence #Artbreeder software (formerly Ganbreeder) which utilizes a neural network trained on photographs and paintings of thousands human faces. This application makes it possible to combine multiple sources of faces and merge them in a synthesized version, guided by the artistic decisions of the user. I use it to create historical and fictional characters. When I was playing around with several cultural depictions of Jesus of Nazareth of Byzantine and Renaissance origin including Leonardo da Vinci's "Salvator Mundi", and the Turin Shroud. Tweaking the ethnicity to a more convincing Middle-Eastern face. I was happy with the result as a representation of a collective cultural depiction but at the same time I felt it lacked any historical accuracy. So I changed the hair and beard to a more credible length and style for the time and region and I brought in elements found in some #Fayum mummy portraits, pushing the renaissance art to the background. The result is a artistic impression of how this man could have looked, more than it is a scientific search for an exact likeness.

A post shared by Bas Uterwijk (@ganbrood) on

Based in Amsterdam, Uterwijk has a background in computer graphics, 3D animation, and special effects. He uses a well-known image of each subject to transform them into a photographic portrait.

Alexander the Great’s life

Alexander III, the “Basileus of Macedon,” the “Hegemon of the Hellenic League,” the “Shahanshah” of Persia, the “Pharaoh” of Egypt, and the “Lord of Asia”—better known as Alexander the Great—was one of the most significant figures in human history.

Born in Pella in modern-day Central Macedonia in northern Greece in 356 B.C., he was the son of Philip II, the King of Macedon and his wife, Olympias. However, Alexander was no royal place-holder. He became renowned at a very early age for both for his military and political capabilities.

Alexander, whose name in Greek (Alexandros) means “defender of men,” knew as the son of a king that his destiny was already written, putting him at the forefront of history.

This was why while he was still a teenager, he began to be tutored by one of Greece’s most respected men, the giant of philosophy and science, Aristotle.

Since his education included philosophy, politics, ethics and science, Alexander was clearly not brought up to become just a warrior but a thoughtful leader of men and society.

Fate dictated that following his father’s assassination when Alexander was only twenty, he would take into his command not only the Kingdom of Macedon but also the generalship of the Hellenic League of Greece.

Several years prior to that, his father Philip II of Macedon had managed to unite most of Greece’s city-states, urging them to address the Persian threat as a united and solid front. Alexander fearlessly took on this enormous responsibility after the death of his father and began the great march of the Hellenes to the East.

By his own admission, Alexander endeavored to conquer all the way to the “ends of the world and the Great Outer Sea.” He and his legions invaded India in the year 326 BC, winning an important victory over the Pauravas at the Battle of the Hydaspes.

However, after years of never-ending war across the Near East, the mighty general finally turned back toward home at the demand of his homesick troops.

Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 BC, the city which he planned to establish as his capital, before he could execute a series of planned campaigns which would have begun with an invasion of Arabia.

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