Ochus’ Unlikely Saviour

  • The index of posts in this series can be read here
  • Read the introduction to this series here

Based on The Spies of Ancient Athens by Reynard and Grün (London, 2004)
“Darius III had three known children by his second wife, Stateira; two daughters, Stateira (also known as Barsine) and Drypetis, and a son, Ochus.
In February 324 B.C. Stateira II and Drypetis married Alexander and Hephaestion respectively as part of the Susa marriage ceremonies. IN October of that year, Hephaestion died. Alexander followed him to the grave the following June. The widows did not long outlive their husbands for both were  murdered at the behest of Roxane and Perdiccas not long later.
What of Ochus? Neither the vulgate or good sources make any reference to him. However, given that Staeira II’s and Drypetis’ murders were politically inspired it has been assumed that Ochus would have been killed for the same reason.
However, the Athenian spies at work in Babylon following Alexander’s story offer a very different and surprising version of events.
Their reports begin familiarly enough. On the day after Alexander’s death, a spy on Roxane’s staff stated that,

… while I busied myself with the cleaning of [Roxane’s] quarters, she spoke but feet away from me to Perdiccas. They were plotting. He wanted power. She wanted life. He offered [Roxane] what she wanted in return for her absolute loyalty.

Three days later, the same spy – presumably while working in Roxane’s quarters – saw the queen write her response to Perdiccas.

… [it] contained but two words: I accede. She gave it to her favourite servant, and urged him to pass it into Perdiccas’ hands and his alone with all haste.

It is at this point that the story takes its first turn. Two weeks later, the spy in Perdiccas’ office reported how a Macedonian officer named Amyntas had burst into Perdiccas’ study while he was working.

… [Perdiccas was] angered by Amyntas’ sudden coming but the officer begged him to listen to the reason for it before punishing him. Perdiccas ordered him to continue. Amyntas advised Perdiccas with great haste and feeling that he had just come from the royal chambers. Four drunk Macedonian soldiers of the infantry had broken into Ochus, son of Darius’ rooms, assaulted and castrated the boy.

Perdiccas was for a time too shocked by this report to make comment but eventually asked how the soldiers had broken past the prince’s guard. Amyntas said that one guard had been found dead at his post and the other was missing. Perdiccas cursed him for a traitor.

Unfortunately, Perdiccas then ordered the spy – and every other person except Amyntas – out of the room while they carried on talking alone. To find out what happened next, we must return to Roxane’s servant-spy.

… [we receive]ed report of the mutilation of Ochus just before our lady [i.e. Roxane] retired for the night. The staff were much worried about what this might portend for her ladyship but she assured them Ochus was harmed because he was a Persian while she, though also a barbarian, was also Alexander’s wife

This report was written 5 – 7 days (the fragment is not clear) after Ochus was attacked.

… Prince Ochus is near death. No one believes he will survive. Perdiccas has Philip of Arcanania  looking after him…

Unfortunately, we do not know when this following report was written. Given the type of injury that Ochus suffered it was presumably several weeks later.

… [I] saw Prince Ochus from a distance. He limped heavily but could walk with the aid of a stick. He looked grievously ill.

… three months have past since I saw Prince Ochus. None of the servants I have asked know anything of him. I believe he is dead.

But he wasn’t, as the spy was to discover five days after sending the above report.

Ochus lives. I fell asleep while working in her ladyship’s chambers. When I came to I heard her and Perdiccas talking in the room next door. I hid and listened to what they said.
“He is finally at ease and is ready to be moved.”
“Where will Bagoas take him?”
“To his own village where the eunuch’s own people may care for him.”
“Can we really trust that the boy will not act against us in the future?”
“Ochus has no future. No man will follow one who has been unmanned.”
“Yet still I fear that he may be used by our enemies.”
“You need not. As soon as Philip judged him able to be moved I hid him away from the palace for a reason. My deception has worked – all now think he died with his sisters.

Three years later, Perdiccas failed to invade Ptolemy’s Egypt. The same spy who reported on him in Babylon sent this report back to Athens apparently following the failure of the general’s second invasion.

[Perdiccas] knew his officers now hated him and waited for his killers to arrive with a disconsolate heart. I tried to cheer him but until I mentioned Prince Ochus’ name, he would not listen.
“What do you know of that name?” he asked me.
“I know that you did not kill him.” I replied.
“How so?”
“For that you only kill when you must not because you can. I refuse to believe you would hurt a boy already in a sense dead,”
“Aye,” he said, “You are right. Death is a monstrous thing and is to be given only to those who are worthy; he was not. We destroyed his family, his country, and his chance to be remembered by sons and grandsons. Yes, I intended to kill him with his sisters but when I was about to give the order I felt my tongue stopped. By what or whom I do not know but for once in my life mercy overcame power. I do not regret it.” 

There is a certain contradiction in the reports. The servant-spy implies that Perdiccas never intended to kill Ochus along with Stateira II and Dryeptis – presumably because of his castration – while the spy in Perdiccas’ camp suggests that the boy’s fate was in doubt until just before the sisters were murdered.
We have no way of knowing which account is correct. My inclination, however, would be to go with the servant-spy’s, as the Perdiccan spy’s dialogue smacks of romanticism in terms of the way it talks about tongues being stopped by unknown powers. By contrast, the servant-spy’s report is much more organic and rational. However, we will never know for sure.”

Categories: The Spies of Ancient Athens | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Ochus’ Unlikely Saviour

  1. My inexpert opinion, but I’d go with your conclusion for the same reason.

    Enjoyed much. Love your blog! A cut above the rest.


  2. Thank you. I have long wondered what became of Darius’s son. Since Bagoas became the name/title of important eunuchs, seeing the name here does not imply that this Bagoas is the one Alexander loved. If however, it is and he remained in Persia, he might have done so. Compassion was one of the men’s virtues and Alexander would have approved.


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