Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 47 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here
Straton is Deposed
Ballonymus Declared King
Inside: How a tramp came to rule Tyre. The full extraordinary story
After taking control of Tyre Alexander deposed Straton, its pro-Persian king. Who would replace him?
For reasons that are not explained, Diodorus says that Alexander turned to Hephaestion and invited him to nominate ‘any personal guest-friend whom he wished’. Obviously, Hephaestion did not have a great deal of knowledge regarding potential kings and so chose the man in whose home ‘he [had] found pleasant lodging’.
This man, whom Diodorus does not name, was ‘prominent among the citizens [of Tyre] in wealth and position’ but was not a member of the royal family. For this reason, he declined the kingship.
What was Hephaestion to do? The obvious answer would have been to look for Straton’s successor within the royal family. This is what he did – but not himself. Instead, he invited his host to nominate someone.
The man picked an individual named Ballonymus. This man, he told Hephaestion, was of royal descent and ‘wise and good in all respects’. There was only one potential problem – Ballonymus was also very poor.
That did not deter Hephaestion, and he sent the man out to confer the kingship on Ballonymus.
The man found the tramp ‘dressed in common rags’, ‘drawing water for hire in a garden’. The man told Ballonymus of what had been decided and dressed him there and then in the royal robes.
Once Ballonymus had been dressed and given ‘the other appropriate trappings of office’, the man took him to Tyre’s ‘market place and proclaimed him king’ of the city. Ballonymus’ elevation was welcome by all. He became a Friend of Alexander’s and a living example of ‘the incredible changes which Fortune can affect’.
The story of Ballonymus reads as fantastically as a fairy tale. It also has the air of a Biblical story with Alexander and Hephaestion in the role of God working to overthrow the lesser designs of Men to ensure that justice is done in his nation.
In terms of Alexander’s life this episode feels unique. I can’t think of any other occasion when Alexander allowed someone else – even Hephaestion – to do the king’s work for him. It is surely a testament to how much Alexander trusted his friend’s judgement.
This, I think, is what Alexander meant (here) when he told Sisygambis that Hephaestion, too, was Alexander. He wasn’t just saying ‘he is my friend’ but was making a comment about Hephaestion’s qualities as a person, one of which was clearly that he was a reliable counsellor.
In my opinion, the episode also reveals something of Hephaestion’s humility. He did not seek a candidate who he happened to like or who was favourable to him in some way. When his first choice declined the offer to become king, he allowed him – as the more knowledgeable person – to nominate someone instead. He acted, therefore, with complete disinterest.
Hephaestion’s approach not only brings great credit to him but also serves as a stinging rebuke to the self-serving policies of the Successors after Alexander’s death. Maybe, just maybe, had Hephaestion been regent, Philip III Arrhidaeos and/or Alexander IV would have had a happier reign.
The Footnotes make a few points that are worth noting here
- The ‘correct form’ of Ballonymus’ name is Abdalonymus
- The reference to King Straton shows that this episode took place in Sidon not Tyre
- For his part, Plutarch says it happened in Paphos
As for Ballonymus – how does one go from being destitute to being a king? Yes, he was royalty but he must have been a distant relation to the king to have fallen so low in life. If so, would it be reasonable to say that he could not have known, let alone been familiar with, the royal court? That would have made working in it very difficult.
Also, the fact that he survived the purge of the city (when all Tyrian men of military age were crucified) indicates that he was of advanced age as well. And as men grow older, change becomes more difficult to accept. The whole business must have been a terrific shock to his system.
Occasions When Hephaestion’s Humility Would Not Be Very Useful
- Next to an open door with an Englishman
- In a boxing match
- Front row of a scrum
- In the voting booth
- Deciding what CD to listen to next
- When heckling
- Playing Grand Theft Auto
- If he had the last Rolo
- A ‘showdown’ with his 8 year old daughter
- Poison pen letters