Personal relationships of Alexander the Great
This article relies too much on references to primary sources. (July 2018) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Alexander III of Macedon was admired during his lifetime for treating all his lovers humanely. Plutarch has argued that Alexander's love of males took an ethical approach, inspired by the teachings of his mentor, Aristotle. He gives several examples of Alexander's morality in this domain:
When Philoxenus, the leader of the seashore, wrote to Alexander that there was a youth in Ionia whose beauty has yet to be seen and asked him in a letter if he (Alexander) would like him (the boy) to be sent over, he (Alexander) responded in a strict and disgusted manner: "You are the most hideous and malign of all men, have you ever seen me involved in such dirty (sexual) work that you found the urge to flatter me with such hedonistic business?"
Plutarch also wrote:
When Philoxenus, the commander of his forces on the sea-board, wrote that there was with him a certain Theodorus of Tarentum, who had two youths of surpassing beauty to sell, and inquired whether Alexander would buy them, Alexander was incensed, and cried out many times to his friends, asking them what shameful thing Philoxenus had ever seen in him that he should spend his time in making such disgraceful proposals.
Plutarch's claims of Alexanders moral approach towards sexual relations also extended to prisoners of war:
But as for the other captive women, seeing that they were surpassingly stately and beautiful, he merely said jestingly that ancient Persians were mysteriously beautiful beings. He describes the Persian women as torments to the eyes. And displaying in rivalry with their fair looks the beauty of his own sobriety and self-control, he passed them by as though they were lifeless images for display.
The above quotations would be in line with the thoughts laid about before him by Aristotle, who regarded relationships based purely on carnal relations to be shameful. Not wanting to use captured prisoners as sex slaves would rather show Alexander's general disinterest in these women.
The Susa weddings
Alexander intended to symbolically unite the Persian and Greek cultures, by celebrating a mass wedding with his officers, for whom he arranged marriages with noble Persian wives. The union was not only symbolic, as the new offspring were to be the children of both civilizations. Greek and Persian customs allowed several wives. By wedding both women, Alexander cemented his ties to both branches of the royal family of the Achaemenid Empire. The marriage celebration lasted 5 days. During that time, 90 other Persian noblewomen were married to Macedonian and other Greek soldiers who were loyal to Alexander. Political marriages could provide Alexander with a much needed heir.
Diodorus Siculus writes, "Then he put on the Persian diadem and dressed himself in the white robe and the Persian sash and everything else except the trousers and the long-sleeved upper garment. He distributed to his companions cloaks with purple borders and dressed the horses in Persian harness. In addition to all this, he added concubines to his retinue in the manner of Darius, in number not less than the days of the year and outstanding in beauty as selected from all the women of Asia. Each night these paraded about the couch of the king so that he might select the one with whom he would lie that night. Alexander, as a matter of fact, employed these customs rather sparingly and kept for the most part to his accustomed routine, not wishing to offend the Macedonians."
Curtius reports, "He scorned sensual pleasures to such an extent that his mother was anxious lest he be unable to beget offspring." To encourage a relationship with a woman, King Philip and Olympias were said to have brought in a high-priced Thessalian courtesan named Callixena.
There is no evidence that Alexander sought intimacy with women outside of marriage, however he did marry three times: to Roxana of Bactria, Stateira, and Parysatis, daughter of Ochus. He fathered at least one child, Alexander IV of Macedon, born by Roxana shortly after his death in 323 BC. There is speculation that Stateira could have been pregnant when he died; if so, she and her child played no part in the succession battles which ensued after his death. There is speculation that he may have fathered another child, (Heracles), of a woman said to be his concubine Barsine (the daughter of satrap Artabazus of Phrygia) in 327 BC. Mary Renault's rebuttal of this theory is worth quoting:[why?]
No record at all exists of such a woman accompanying his march; nor of any claim by her, or her powerful kin, that she had born him offspring. Yet twelve years after his death a boy was produced, seventeen years old...a claimant and shortlived pawn in the succession wars...no source reports any notice whatever taken by him of a child who, Roxane's being posthumous, would have been during his lifetime his only son, by a near-royal mother. In a man who named cities after his horse and dog, this strains credulity.
He mentored Alexander from a young age, and taught him various moral and ethical lessons.
Alexander had a close emotional attachment to his companion, cavalry commander (hipparchus) and childhood friend, Hephaestion. He studied with Alexander, as did a handful of other children of Macedonian aristocracy, under the tutelage of Aristotle. Hephaestion makes his appearance in history at the point when Alexander reaches Troy. There they made sacrifices at the shrines of the two heroes Achilles and Patroclus; Alexander honoring Achilles, and Hephaestion honoring Patroclus.
Alexander and Hephaestion were possible lovers, and their tutor, Aristotle, described their relationship as "one soul abiding two bodies," After Hephaestion's death, Alexander mourned him greatly and did not eat for days. Alexander held an elaborate funeral for Hephaestion at Babylon, and sent a note to the shrine of Ammon, which had previously acknowledged Alexander as a god, asking them to grant Hephaestion divine honours. The priests declined, but did offer him the status of divine hero. Alexander died soon after receiving this letter; Mary Renault suggests that his grief over Hephaestion's death had led him to be careless with his health.
No other circumstance shows better the nature and length of their relationship than Alexander's overwhelming grief at Hephaestion's death. As Andrew Chugg says, "it is surely incredible that Alexander's reaction to Hephaestion's death could indicate anything other than the closest relationship imaginable". In the context of the nature of their relationship, one instance stands out as remarkable. Arrian says that Alexander "flung himself on the body of his friend and lay there nearly all day long in tears, and refused to be parted from him until he was dragged away by force by his Companions".
Campaspe, also known as Pancaste, is thought to have been a prominent citizen of Larisa in Thessaly, and may have been the mistress of Alexander. If this is true, she was one of the first women with whom Alexander was intimate; Aelian even surmises that it was to her that a young Alexander lost his virginity.
One story tells that Campaspe was painted by Apelles, who enjoyed the reputation in Antiquity for being the greatest of painters. The episode occasioned an apocryphal exchange that was reported in Plinor sources for the life of Alexander. Robin Lane Fox traces her legend back to the Roman authors Pliny the Elder, Lucian of Samosata and Aelian's Varia Historia.
Campaspe became a generic poetical pseudonym for a man's mistress.
Barsine was a noble Persian, daughter of Artabazus, and wife of Memnon. After Memnon's death, several ancient historians have written of a love affair between her and Alexander. Plutarch writes, "At any rate Alexander, so it seems, thought it more worthy of a king to subdue his own passions than to conquer his enemies, and so he never came near these women, nor did he associate with any other before his marriage, with the exception only of Barsine. This woman, the widow of Memnon, the Greek mercenary commander, was captured at Damascus. She had received a Greek education, was of a gentle disposition, and could claim royal descent, since her father was Artabazus who had married one of the Persian kings daughters. These qualities made Alexander the more willing he was encouraged by Parmenio, so Aristobulus tells us to form an attachment to a woman of such beauty and noble lineage." In addition Justin writes, "As he afterwards contemplated the wealth and display of Darius, he was seized with admiration of such magnificence. Hence it was that he first began to indulge in luxurious and splendid banquets, and fell in love with his captive Barsine for her beauty, by whom he had afterwards a son that he called Heracles."
The story may be true, but if so, it raises some difficult questions. The boy would have been Alexander's only child born during his lifetime (Roxane's son was born posthumously). Even if Alexander had ignored him, which seems highly unlikely, the Macedonian Army and the successors would certainly have known of him, and would almost certainly have drawn him into the succession struggles which ensued upon Alexander's death. Yet we first hear of the boy twelve years after Alexander's death, when a boy was produced as a claimant to the throne. Especially since Alexander's own half brother Philip III Arrhidaeus (Philip II's illegitimate and physically and mentally disabled son) was Alexander's original successor . Alexander's illegitimate son would have had more rights to the throne than his illegitimate half-brother. Heracles played a brief part in the succession battles, and then disappeared. It seems more likely that the romance with Barsine was invented by the boy's backers to validate his parentage.
Ancient historians, as well as modern ones, have also written on Alexander's marriage to Roxana the beautiful [Persian]n woman. Robin Lane Fox writes, "Roxana was said by contemporaries to be the most beautiful lady in all Asia. She deserved her name of Roshanak, meaning 'little star', (probably rokhshana or roshana which means light and illuminating) in Persian. Marriage to a local noble's family made sound political sense, but contemporaries implied that Alexander, aged 28, also lost his heart. A wedding-feast for the two of them was arranged high on one of the Persian rocks. Alexander and his bride shared a loaf of bread, a custom still observed in Turkestan. Characteristically, Alexander sliced it with his sword. Ulrich Wilcken writes, "The fairest prize that fell to him was Roxana, the daughter of Oxyartes, in the first bloom of youth, and in the judgment of Alexander's companions, next to Stateira the wife of Darius, the most beautiful woman that they had seen in Asia. Alexander fell passionately in love with her and determined to raise her to the position of his consort."
As soon as Alexander died in 323 BC, Roxana murdered Alexander's two other wives. Roxana wished to cement her own position and that of her son, unborn at that time, by ridding herself of a rival who could be—or claim to be—pregnant. According to Plutarch's account, Stateira's sister, Drypetis, was murdered at the same time; Carney believes that Plutarch was mistaken, and it was actually Parysatis who died with Stateira.
Ancient sources tell of another favorite, Bagoas; a eunuch "in the very flower of boyhood, with whom Darius was intimate and with whom Alexander would later be intimate." Plutarch recounts an episode (also mentioned by Dicaearchus) during some festivities on the way back from India in which his men clamor for him to kiss the young man: "We are told, too, that he was once viewing some contests in singing and dancing, being well heated with wine, and that his favorite, Bagoas, won the prize for song and dance, and then, all in his festal array, passed through the theatre and took his seat by Alexander's side; at sight of which the Macedonians clapped their hands and loudly bade the king kiss the victor, until at last he threw his arms about him and kissed him tenderly." Athenaeus tells a slightly different version of the story — that Alexander kissed Bagoas in a theater and, as his men shouted in approval, he repeated the action.
The Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus was highly critical of the relationship between Alexander and Bagoas, saying that Alexander was seized of such desire by the eunuch, that Bagoas became the de facto sovereign of Persia, exploiting Alexander's affections to make him persecute Bagoas' personal enemies, such as the Persian governor Orsines.
- Plutarch, On the Luck and Virtue of Alexander A, 12.
- Plutarch, Parallel Lives: Alexander, 22, 1.
- Plutarch, Parallel Lives: Alexander, 21.
- Diodorus XVII.77.5
- Renault, pp. 110.
- Fox (1980) p. 67.
- Chugg 2006, p.125
- Arrian 7.14.13
- "Caratini, p. 170.
- Justinius 9.10.
- "Philip Arrhidaeus - Livius". www.livius.org. Retrieved 2017-10-06.
- Curtius Rufus, Quintus (1946). History of Alexander the Great of Macedonia (in Latin and English). Translated by Rolfe, John Carew. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. p. 543.
- "The election of Arrhidaeus - Livius". www.livius.org. Retrieved 2017-10-06.
- Renault, pp. 110–11.
- Fox (1980), p. 298.
- Carney (2000), p. 110.
- Rufus, VI.5.23.
- Deipnosophistae, 13d.
- Joseph Roisman (2014). "Chapter 24: Greek and Roman Ethnosexuality". In Hubbard, Thomas (ed.). A Companion to Greek and Roman Sexualities. Blackwell Publishing Ltd. p. 407. ISBN 978-1-4051-9572-0.
- Primary sources:
- Secondary sources:
- Cartledge, Paul. "Alexander the Great: hunting for a new past?" History Today, 54 (2004).
- Cartledge, Paul. Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past. Woodstock, NY; New York: The Overlook Press, 2004 (hardcover, ISBN 1-58567-565-2); London: PanMacmillan, 2004 (hardcover, ISBN 1-4050-3292-8); New York: Vintage, 2005 (paperback, ISBN 1-4000-7919-5).
- Fox, Robin Lane, The Search for Alexander, Little Brown & Co. Boston, 1st edition (October 1980). ISBN 0-316-29108-0.
- Fox, Robin Lane, "Riding with Alexander" Archaeology, September 14, 2004.
- Daniel Ogden, Alexander the Great: Myth, Genesis, and Sexuality. University of Exeter Press, 2011.
- Renault, Mary. The Nature of Alexander, 1st American edition (November 12, 1979), Pantheon Books ISBN 0-394-73825-X.
- Wilcken, Ulrich, Alexander the Great, W. W. Norton & Company; Reissue edition (March 1997). ISBN 0-393-00381-7.