Death of a Friend

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 109, 110 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander: Greek Exiles May Return Home
The New Ten Thousand
* King retires 10,000 Macedonians from his army
* Retirees owe 10,000 talents; king settles the debt
Persians Promoted; Macedonians Revolt
* Alexander Faces Revolt Down
Peucestas arrives with more Persian Soldiers
Alexander Goes Sight Seeing
Hephaestion Dies

The Story
Chapter 109
In the summer of 324 B.C., the Olympic Games were held at Olympia, and Alexander had it announced there that all Greek exiles ‘except those who had been charged with sacrilege or murder’ could return home.

Perhaps at the same time, he also released ten thousand of his oldest soldiers from service, and, upon learning that many were in debt, paid their creditors out of the royal treasury.

Diodorus mentioned in the last chapter (yesterday’s post here) how the Macedonian army became ‘frequently unruly when called into an assembly’.

One day, the men harangued the king again. This time, he responded in kind. Leaping down from the platform, Alexander ‘seized the ring-leaders of the tumult with his own hands, and handed them over to his attendants for punishment’.

Unsurprisingly, this increased the tension between the king and his army. But rather than conciliate, Alexander simply appointed Persians to ‘positions of responsibility’. This cut the Macedonians to the quick and they begged Alexander to forgive them. He did but not quickly or easily.

Chapter 110
We enter a new year. During it, ‘Alexander secured replacements from the Persians equal to the number of these soldiers whom he had released’. 1,000 of the new recruits were assigned to the bodyguard at court.

This year, too, Peucestes arrived out of the east (After and/or as a result of (?) saving Alexander’s life at the Mallian city – read here – he had been made satrap of Persia) with 20,000 ‘Persian bowmen and slingers’. These were integrated into the army.

By 324, there were now ‘sons of the Macedonians born of captive women’. How many? Diodorus says about 10,000. This figure is appearing a little too often for my liking. Anyway, Alexander set aside sufficient money so that the children could be given ‘an upbringing proper for freeborn children’. This included a suitable education.

Alexander now left Susa. Crossing the Tigris river, he came to a village called Carae. From there, ‘he marched through Sittacenê until he arrived at a city (?) called Sambana. After resting for a week there, he set out for ‘the Celones’ reaching them three days later.

It is not clear to me what exactly the Celones is – a group of settlements? A region? Neither Diodorus nor the Footnotes make it clear. What is clear is that Alexander met a people descended from Boeotians who had been deported there by Xerxes I. Despite never having been back to Greece, they had ‘not forgotten their ancestral customs’ still keeping Greek as one of their languages and continuing ‘Greek practices’.

After spending several days in the Celones, Alexander set off once more. His purpose now was ‘sight-seeing’ and he left ‘the main road’ so that he could enter Bagistanê, a country ‘covered with fruit trees and rich in everything which makes for good living’.

Next on the itinerary was a land of wild horses. In days of old, Diodorus says, 160,000 horses grazed here. In 324 B.C., however, they only numbered 60,000. I wonder if, as he looked out on the horses, Alexander thought about Bucephalus. I expect so.

Alexander stayed amidst the horses for thirty days. Finally, however, it was time to leave. And now, he came to Ecbatana in Media. Citing unnamed sources, Diodorus gives Ecbatana’s ‘circuit’ as being 250 stades. As the capital of Media, its storehouses were ‘filled with great wealth’. But was there also something else there, something rather less pleasant to the king? Namely, Parmenion’s tomb. If it was, I wonder if he acknowledged it.

Alexander remained in Ecbatana ‘for some time’. While there, he held ‘a dramatic festival’ and ‘constant drinking parties’. During the course of one of these, Hephaestion took ill; not long later, he died.

Diodorus describes Alexander as being ‘intensely grieved’ by his friend’s death. I don’t think you will read a bigger understatement than that this month let alone today. Presently, however, he recovered enough to order Perdiccas – Hephaestion’s replacement as chiliarch – to transport Hephaestion’s remains to Babylon where Alexander intended to ‘celebrate a magnificent funeral for him’.

Diodorus states that the Macedonian soldiers who were in debt owed ‘little short of ten thousand talents’. That’s on average, one talent each. The Footnotes refer to Curtius’ ‘astonishment’ at this figure, and I have to share it. I can’t believe that during the course of the expedition they would have had the opportunity to spend so much money.

The Footnotes also state that the mutiny described in Chapter 109 is the Opis Mutiny ‘continued from chap. 108’ although the way it is described there, it is as if Diodorus is talking about the Macedonian army’s behaviour in general rather than a mutiny that took place in a specific place and on a particular date. (Note also that Diodorus has the mutiny take place in Susa rather than Opis).

It seems rather surprising that Alexander is able to bring his men to heel by doing something that on the face of it should disillusion them further. I can only imagine that the Macedonians did not look at the matter as a case of ‘they are taking our jobs, we want them back’ but as ‘this race is usurping ours in the king’s affections; we must show him we love him in order to win him back to our side’.

An interesting note – the Footnotes say that of ‘all Alexander’s generals [Peucestas] showed the greatest willingness to conciliate the Persians’

The ‘main road’ to which Diodorus refers is – according to the Footnotes – the main Baghdad-Hamadan route which connects Mesopotamia to Iran.

The Footnotes also confirm the name of the horse country – Nysa (from Arrian). Can we say that it is an indication of Alexander’s love of horses that he stayed so long there?

If Didorus is to be believed, Hephaestion died a Macedonian’s death – as a result drinking too much. I am sure, though, that the alcohol simply weakened his resistance to whatever illness did kill him. Otherwise, I must resist the temptation to complain about the brevity with which Diodorus treats the death of such an important figure.

Here’s to all the Macedonians who died
after a little much of the glorious red stuff

ancient_greek_amphora(Except Black Cleitus. Still not polite to mention him)

This picture comes from Warwick University’s article on Drinking in Ancient Greece


Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “Death of a Friend

  1. You know of course how much I love Hephaistion.

    Since the first time I read a story about Alexander, [It was a novel by Maurice Druon based on Arthur Weigall’s biography of Alexander] I have been fascinated by Alexander’s best friend and lover.

    Diodorus is the only one to describe entirely Hephaistion’s funeral pyre but he doesn’t say much about his death.

    It’s really bad luck that in the longest lacuna in Curtius’ book 10, there was the account of Hephaistion’s death.

    Hephaistion is very underrated by modern historians but in his time people knew that he was a very important figure in Alexander’s entourage.I would have loved to read for example “On the Funerals of Alexander and Hephaistion” by Ephippus of Olynthus .It was a pamphlet surely against them, but it was certainly interesting to read.It was a work among so many,lost unfortunately

    It never surprised me that sometimes Hephaistion could drink very much. He was a Macedonian and worshipped Dionysos too, But I think that he died because he was ill not because he drank and ate too much.

    I admire him because in spite of luxury and power he remained the same towards Alexander until the end.No wonder we don’t know him very well : his only real friend was Alexander and only accounts of his rivals have survived.


    • I agree with you, though I think recently Hephaistion gained more recognition, he is still very much underrated. I, too, think he was a remarkable man because through all the years he remained a true friend to Alexander, unchanged by titles, wealth and all the entrapments of power.

      It is popular among some historians of Alexander to dismiss the king’s military genius and ascribe all his achievements to pure luck. I think they’re too myopied to realize that if Alexander had any luck, it was having Hephaistion at his side.


      • Delos,

        I would hesitate to say that Alexander’s luck was due to Hephaestion. If we are going to give the credit anywhere, I think it should be shared equally among Alexander’s high command, particularly among the most senior men – Parmenion and Craterus especially as their position as commanders of the left wing would have made their voices very influential in the council chamber.



      • You’re right Hephaistion gained more recognition thanks to people like Jeanne Reames-Zimmerman and Andrew Chugg who began to talk about him on Internet.Though sometimes I disagree with their theories or analyses, they are good supporters of him.

        I can’t forget that Peter Green said that Hephaistion was “spoilt, spiteful, overbearing and fundamentally stupid.”French modern historians have never said negative things about him.He is not perceived the same way in France.It’s the romantic side of his relationship with Alexander that predominates.


      • Arethusa, you’re completely right about Peter Green, he is very hostile and I honestly had difficulty reading his book about Alexander. I felt like a masochist and at some point simply closed it and returned to the library with disgust.

        I am aware from other people that French writers were always more positive towards Hephaistion. I wish their view was more prevalent.


    • Arethusa,

      I am hoping to do a different kind of ‘read through’ for Curtius as soon as I finish this one so it will be interesting to see what he has to say about Hephaestion in those books of his which have survived.

      Hephaestion, it seems to me, had two portions of ‘bad’ luck.

      (i) to die prematurely, meaning he could never write his memoirs
      (ii) to be a logistics expert in a society that thought only soldiers could be heroes.

      Although I have read before that he is not/was not regarded as a great soldier I only really started to appreciate this aspect of Hephaestion’s character when I started reading the ‘Hephaestion Philalexandros’ blog (link on the right hand side) this week. I’ve known about it for a while but had never read it properly before.

      We can never know what precisely killed Hephaestion, although I think we can say fairly confidently that he was not poisoned, but if he was a heavy drinker through his life it must have had an influence on his general health. As I write this, though, I realise that this does not mean it contributed to his death.

      Can we really say that Alexander was his only friend? Is there evidence for his being a man apart from his peers? For what it’s worth, I don’t think an unlikeable person could ever succeed as a logistics officer. Only a people-person could do that job as well as he clearly did.

      By-the-bye I’m thinking it would be interesting to go back to Arrian to see again how he treats Hephaestion, to see what Ptolemy thought of him.

      I currently am on the side of those who say that Ptolemy wrote his memoir between 310-300 on the grounds that at one point he corrects Cleitarchus.

      It could be argued that we can’t know what Ptolemy really thought of Hephaestion. When he wrote his book, after all, Hephaestion had been dead for 10 or 20 years so Ptolemy had no reason to be negative towards him even if – when Hephaestion was alive – he didn’t like him.

      However, if Ptolemy still found the time to put Perdiccas down even though he had been dead for nearly as long, as charming as Soter might have been, he clearly knew how to bear a grudges. Admittedly, Hephaestion never tried to kill Ptolemy like Perdiccas did but I think if he never liked him anyway, this dislike would seep into his text. What do you think?


      • Actually, it is not what I meant when I said Alexander’s only luck was having Hephaistion at his side. I didn’t mean Hephaistion’s “professional” abilities at logistics, diplomacy and so on. I actually meant having Hephaistion as a friend. He was a person whose loyalty Alexander never doubt, on whom he could rely no matter what, with whom he could share all his concerns, problems and fears. To have such a person all your life at your side when you’re someone like Alexander, I think this was a unique luck, one of the kind. Napoleon, Caesar, Charles the Great, and so on, they all had capable generals in their armies, but they didn’t have anyone like Hephaistion.


      • I think that Curtius who gave us precious informations about Hephaistion all along his history of Alexander, went into details about him in the part of book 10 that was lost.

        Hephaistion not regarded as a great soldier has its origin in the work of modern historians like Heckel.For instance in his glossary of personal names ( Curtius, history of Alexander Penguins classics 1984 edition) he wrote : “Hephaestion: Alexander’s dearest friend but a man of questionable military ability ” whereas Curtius never implied that.

        A lot of modern historians followed Heckel’s judgment.

        When I said that Alexander was his only friend it’s not because I think that Hephaistion was rejected by others but rather that there was little room for another affection and also because Alexander acted really as a true friend after his death.

        I don’t think that Ptolemy was hostile to Hephaistion but he wasn’t a close friend because of this kind of entity that Hephaistion formed with Alexander like the new Achilles and Patroclus.
        This identification is acknowledged by Arrian who said the following words in his account of Hephaistion’s death :
        “Yea indeed, Hephaestion’s death had been no small misfortune to Alexander; and I think he would rather have departed before it occurred than have been alive to experience it; no less than Achilles, as it seems to me, would rather have died before Patroclus than have been the avenger of his death”

        As the favorite of such a powerful king Hephaistion had certainly many flatterers but few real friends.
        That’s why I like and I believe the anecdote of Agathocles of Samos told by Lucian of Samosata Agathocles, a friend of Hephaestion nearly get eaten by a lion by order of Alexander because he wept passing Hephaestion’s coffin. Deified by Alexander Hephaestion couldn’t be mourned as a mortal anymore.Most of modern historians say that this anecdote is not true but I disagree with them .Maybe the name of the friend of Hephaestion involved in this story was not Agathocles and that the facts were exaggerated but this anecdote is very plausible.

        If Hephaistion’s Persian widow could mourn for him long after his death (as Curtius reported) why a Greek soldier couldn’t too ?


  2. Delos,

    I understand you. As for the other people you mention, Julius a Caesar had Mark Antony.

    *remembers what a degenerate Antony could be*

    Actually, perhaps you are right.



  3. Arethusa,

    I am very happy to have just properly discovered Reames-Zimmerman’s page. I’ve seen AC’s before and must go back to it as well. Good for them.

    I’m really surprised by Peter Green’s quotation. He writes far more stridently than I would be prepared to do so given the limited evidence available.

    It’s interesting to hear that French historians are as positive towards Hephaestion as Green is negative. Well, the French are supposed to be romantic! More seriously, I wonder where Green was coming from as his view sounds very unbalanced.



  4. Aresthusa,

    Firstly, I apologise in advance for not being able to place these replies underneath your last responses (This one belongs to the yours beginning “I think that Curtius…”). I would like to have done so but the blog isn’t giving me the option. I could do it via the speech box at the top of the screen but that only opens up a little window and if I go to another tab I lose what I have written.

    Thank you for the information regarding the origin of Hephaestion’s reputation as a soldier. What with Peter Green it really does seem that there is a need to re-appraise Hephaestion’s reputation, one that – as far as possible – takes his work as a soldier seriously.

    I note what you say about Alexander being Hephaestion’s ‘only real friend’.

    That’s a good quote from Arrian.

    A very interesting quotation from Lucian, which I had not heard before. Personally, I hope it isn’t true as it does not reflect well on Alexander. Like you, though, I could see it being true.



  5. Stumbled over this conversation. It’s many years later, but if you can read German, you may be interested in Sabine Muller’s assessment of Hephaistion in Ptolemy’s history:

    She concludes that Ptolemy and Hephaistion were friends. I’m inclined to agree with her, and had that impression even before reading her work. Ironically, I think Hephaistion also got along with Perdikkas. Of course, he died before the Successor Wars when Ptolemy and Perdikkas vied for control, so we shouldn’t assume Ptolemy and Perdikkas were necessarily enemies *prior* to that. I even suspect Hephaistion and Krateros may have got along at one point, until Hephaistion began to advance to the degree he threatened Krateros’s goal to replace Parmenion (once the older man died or retired) as Alexander’s Second. When it looked like Hephaistion might get that instead, it could well have caused a breach. It’s tempting, but dangerous, to read later relationships back into earlier periods.

    For what it’s worth, I have a pair of novels coming out in the summer of 2019, wherein Hephaistion is a major character, and this summer, I’m sitting down (finally) to write an academic biography of Hephaistion.


    • Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, I can’t read German so the article is beyond me. A big shame as I’d love to know Muller’s reasoning. I look forward to seeing your novels and biography. If you read this comment, please feel free to let me know when they are about to be published – I’ll happily give them a mention here and on Facebook.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you. The release date of the first is May 6th (early release on May 4th on Riptide’s website), and the release of the second will be June 24th (early release June 22). I don’t have the covers for them yet (I just completed the first pass of the line edits for the first book). If you would like to review them, I can try to get Riptide to send you a ARC (advanced review copy) ebook.

        Liked by 1 person

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