Pausanias of Orestis

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Drawing of Philip II's assassination by artist André Castaigne (c. 1898)

Pausanias of Orestis (Ancient Greek: Παυσανίας ἐκ τῆς Ὀρεστίδος) was a member of Philip II of Macedon's personal bodyguard (somatophylakes). He assassinated Philip in 336 BCE, possibly at the instigation of Philip's wife Olympias, or even his son Alexander the Great. Pausanias was killed while fleeing the assassination.

Motive as an assassin[edit]

The most popular story explaining the murder comes from Diodorus Siculus, who expanded upon its mention by Aristotle. According to Diodorus, the general Attalus blamed Pausanias of Orestis for the death of his friend, who confusingly was also named Pausanias. Philip and Pausanias of Orestis had once been lovers, but the affair ended, and Philip started a new affair with Pausanias, the beloved of Attalus.

Pausanias of Orestis, feeling spurned, insulted his romantic rival Pausanias, the beloved of Attalus, in public. To secure his public honor, Pausanias, the beloved of Attalus, recklessly put himself into danger in battle while protecting the king. Devastated by his beloved's effective suicide, Attalus sought to punish Pausanias of Orestis by getting the man drunk and raping him. For any number of reasons, Philip did not punish Attalus for the rape of Philip's former lover; probably as a consolation, Pausanias of Orestis was promoted to the rank of somatophylax.[1]

It has been supposed then that Pausanias' motive for killing Philip was at least in part due to personal anger over Philip, who was the host of the party where Pausanias was raped, not having intervened in any way, nor even having reprimanded Attalus.

Problems with timing of the revenge[edit]

However, there is a problem with the delay between the rape and the revenge: Diodorus supports the attribution of a personal motive to Pausanias, but dates the events that led to the assault on Pausanias to the time of the Illyrian Pleurias, but the last known campaign Philip conducted against the Illyria took place in 344 BC. The correspondence between these dates would put eight years between Pausanias' rape and the murder of Philip – an ostensibly long wait for a hot-blooded act of personal revenge.

The earlier date is not known for certain; Philip may have confronted the Illyrians again at a later date. It is possible he fought against them in 337 BC, making the date of Pausanias' rape the year before his assassination.

Killed while fleeing and trial of co-conspirators[edit]

Pausanias killed Philip at the wedding ceremony of Philip's daughter Cleopatra to Alexander I of Epirus; however, in the aftermath of the murder, whilst fleeing to the city gate in order to make his escape, Pausanias tripped on a vine root and was speared to death by several of Philip's bodyguards, including Attalus (not the general who abused Pausanias, but instead the son of Andromenes the Stymphaean), Leonnatus, and Perdiccas, who were also bodyguards and friends of Alexander.[2]

The murder was certainly premeditated, as horses were found near where Pausanias had tried to flee.[3] At the murder trial, two other men, Heromenes and Arrhabaeus, were found guilty of conspiring with Pausanias, and executed. Leonnatus, who threw the spear that killed Pausanias, was demoted, possibly under the suspicion that he was trying to prevent the assassin from being interrogated.

Suspicious memorial[edit]

Alexander had Pausanias’ corpse crucified. However, as soon as Alexander had left Macedon, Olympias built a memorial to the slain man.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Diodorus Siculus 16.93.4-16.94.4; Aristotle, Politics 5.10, 1311b
  2. ^ Diodorus Siculus 16.94.3-4
  3. ^ Justin 9.7.9-11


Ancient sources[edit]

Modern commentary[edit]