Posts Tagged With: Cassander

2,374 Years Strong

diary – birthday edition

We don’t know which day exactly Alexander was born on but it usually taken to be 20th/21st July (though I have also seen 26th mentioned). With that in mind, I took the day off work yesterday to commemorate it by visiting a Greek restaurant in Primrose Hill called Lemonia. It is a lovely place and well worth a visit if you are in the neighbourhood. I ate zatziki for starters, keftedes for mains and finished off with a Greek coffee. Sadly for my future as a food blogger and instagrammer I didn’t take any photographs of either the food or drink – I washed the food down with half a bottle of Restina Kourtaki. Oh, and I bought a bottle of Greek Macedonian red wine. When I open that I will certainly take a photograph and upload it here.

While I waited for the courses to arrive, I read the opening chapters of Plutarch’s Life of Alexander, our only (substantial) account of Alexander’s birth. The account is infused with legend as well as bald facts; one might also say it is laced with propaganda as well – particularly regarding Alexander’s divinity. Most interestingly, it also contains what is probably the only example of Olympias being humble. Plutarch records two traditions regarding her; in the first, she tells Alexander ‘the secret of his conception’ and urges him ‘to show himself worthy of his divine parentage’. In the other, Plutarch says that ‘that she repudiated this story and used to say, ‘Will Alexander never stop making Hera jealous of me.’

Who were the authors who maintained this latter tradition, and why did they do so? After Olympias died, in 316 BC, there was no motivation for anyone to defend her from whatever charge her erstwhile enemies cared to bring.


The mystery of the large, black coffin found in Alexandria has been solved – for now. It was opened and found to contain three skeletons and sewage water. Yuk. Read more here. Of course, we are disappointed that it didn’t contain Alexander’s body. On the other hand, though, isn’t it nice that the mystery over where his final resting place is, still remains?


Hornet, the gay news site, has a curate’s egg of an article on Alexander, here.

… letters of the time described Alexander yielding to Hephaestion’s thighs.

Robin Lane Fox mentions this anecdote and states that it comes from ‘the Cynic philosophers… long after [Alexander’s] death’.

“One soul abiding in two bodies” is how their tutor, Aristotle, described the two men.

Aristotle was respond to the question of ‘what is a friend’; he wasn’t referring to Alexander and Hephaestion (Diogenes Laertius Lives of Eminent Philosophers Book V.20 here)

“The friend I valued as my own life,” Alexander wrote of his partner.

I don’t think Alexander did say this – did he?

Scholars have suggested that he became careless with his health after losing his lover.

I think it would be fair to say that Alexander was always careless of his health! In respect of the statement, I don’t think he was. I don’t recall anything in the sources to indicate it.

… eventually [Alexander and Barsine] are said to have had a son named Heracles. Questions linger about the veracity of that particular account — it’s possible that Heracles was procured in an attempt to usurp the throne after Alexander’s death. Though there were some who supported Heracles’ claim to Alexander’s lineage, he vanished not long after his supposed father died.

This is the first time I have heard anyone doubt that Heracles lived. He is well attested in the sources – Curtius, Diodorus and Justin all mention him. Also, Heracles didn’t ‘vanish not long after his supposed father died’ – he lived until 310/09 BC when Polyperchon tried to use him to reclaim Macedon from Cassander only to be executed after Cassander made Polyperchon an offer suitable to his irrelevant status in the Wars of the Successors.

She was carrying a son at the time, whom she named Alexander IV; but doubt was cast over the identity of the father.

Again, this is the first time I have heard anyone doubt Alexander’s paternity of Alexander IV.

In general, Alexander’s focus was on uniting Persian and Greek culture, and so he arranged marriages that spanned the two groups. He went so far as to organize a mass wedding that lasted five days and included 90 couplings, usually tying highly regarded Macedonian women to Greek soldiers whom Alexander trusted.

If Alexander was intent on uniting ‘Persian and Greek culture’ I don’t know why he would hold a mass wedding involving Macedonian women to Greek soldiers. Of course, he didn’t; the reference here is to the mass weddings at Susa in which Macedonians were married to Persians – see Arrian VII.4-8).

So the article is a bit hit and miss. I did like the closing passage, though:

… it is impossible not to wonder what passions existed two and a half millennia ago, and how recognizable those feelings would be to us today.


Judging by the way people write about Alexander and Hephaestion today, their feelings are very recognisable today! As it happens, I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to consider my own. I was asked who my heroes were. Alexander was suggested but then someone said that perhaps he was someone I was just fascinated by rather than considered heroic.

I wouldn’t consider Alexander heroic in the modern sense – he was no Superman, selflessly acting for the good of others; he was, though, heroic in the ancient Greek manner: devoted to winning glory for himself, proving himself better than anyone else.

Alexander certainly fascinates me but for me it goes much deeper than that, and for that reason, I try to think about him as critically as I can so that I don’t descend into fanboyism – excusing or ignoring the bad things he did and complexities of his life just because he looked good and (probably) slept with Hephaestion. I can’t say how good I am at that, probably not as much as I want to be, but for me it is important to try. It has the added benefit as well of enabling me to learn more about the Alexander who lived rather than the one I hold in my heart.

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Alexandria Eschate the Early City and other Suspect Statements

someone+wrong+on+the+internetIt might be me, but I think it’s them
Let’s find out.

We begin with what is probably less an error and more a typo in “Viewpoint: The UN Silk Road Exhibition and the Byzantine-Roman Influence” which appears on the Greek Reporter – USA website here. The article looks at an exhibition, which has just concluded at the United Nations in New York City. Of interest to us is the following,

“After Alexander The Great conquered the Persians, he established the city of Alexandria Eschate in 339 BCE in the Fergana Valley of Neb (modern Tajikistan)…”

As the quotation marks show, this passage is not the writer’s own; in fact (and as they indicate) it comes from the Ancient History Encyclopedia’s article on the Silk Road. Unfortunately, the AHE has got a bit ahead of itself here – in 339 BC, Alexander wasn’t even king of Macedon yet let alone founding a city in northern Sogdia. They, of course, meant 329.

My Source
The Landmark Arrian Ed. James Romm (Pantheon Books 2010), p.xlvi


Moving on, we come to “Humans are killing machine [sic] with or without religion“, which appears on the TwoCircles website here. The article concerns the recent terrorist attack in Paris, France and contains the following statement.

Alexander, the great, conquered almost the whole world in his lifetime of 30 years. He could have lived in Greece with peace among his people. But he chose to go for war one after another with countries who were never his enemy. Millions of people were killed in the process of conquering the world, his own soldiers had lost desire to fight anymore and wanted to go back home but Alexander was adamant to move forward.

Was all that bloodshed for religion? No. Alexander wanted to be known as world conqueror in the history, his self-ego, greediness to rule over world were the reason for his madness. What did he get after so much bloodshed? He was killed by his own people. Why? Because they wanted the power and territory, which Alexander had won so far! Thus again for power to rule and self-pride.

These two paragraphs contain one straight forward inaccuracy and a number of very debatable points

Plain Wrong
… in his lifetime of 30 years Alexander died at the age of 32, shortly before his 33rd birthday

My Source
Arrian The Campaigns of Alexander (Penguin Books 1971) p.395

He could have lived in Greece with peace among his people My answer to this depends on what the writer means by ‘with peace’.

If he means Alexander could simply have chosen to live within his own borders and let the Greek city-states be for the duration of his reign, I would disagree. In my opinion – and if you think I am wrong, feel very free to tell me – Alexander had to subjugate the Greek city-states if for no other reason than not to do so would allow them to grow in power and risk them threatening Macedon’s borders, something they would want to do in order to take away from Macedon the power she cultivated under Philip.

If, however, the writer means Alexander could have lived in peace after subjugating Greece then I would agree with that. The only problem with that, though, is that kind of peace is not really worth the name.

… countries who were never his enemy It would be a bold man who said that none of the Greek city-states or Persian Empire were Alexander’s enemy. We could argue that individual countries within the Persian Empire were not Alexander’s enemy and indeed there were rulers who sought to avoid war with him. And when they did, on some if not all occasions, he settled things peacefully with them. The writer’s picture of Alexander as a man who fought continual wars for supremacy over the world is simply not accurate.

Millions of people were killed I wasn’t going to include this as I don’t have a list of figures regarding how many people died as a result of Alexander’s actions to hand. However, I thought I would do so a. As a means of publicising this fact in case anyone could refer me to a source which does give the numbers b. Because I am very suspicious of the writer’s claim. I have read all the main sources for Alexander’s life now and get no impression that Alexander’s kill-count was one million let alone ‘millions’. The writer seems to me to be afflicted with the same propensity to exaggerate as the ancient sources.

his madness If the writer is judging Alexander according to his own understanding of what constitutes madness then he is not judging the historical person of Alexander but his own, imaginary version, of the man. If, however, he has attempted to understand how the ancient Macedonians/Greeks defined madness and written accordingly then that would be a different matter. On that subject, I found this article at Psychology Today to be very helpful in terms of understanding how the Macedonians and Greeks saw madness.

He was killed by his own people Taken literally this statement is wrong. The Macedonians either in part or as a whole did not rise up against Alexander. If we take the writer to mean the people who are alleged to have assassinated him – Antipater, Cassander and Iolaus – then it is simply debatable. They could have murdered the king, they had a motive to do so (Antipater’s fear that Alexander intended to kill him), but it is surely significant that the first person to make the allegation was Alexander’s mother, Olympias, who was at that time locked in battle with Cassander, the last of the aforementioned three to survive.

they wanted the power and territory I was tempted to put this in the plain wrong category. If Alexander was assassinated by Antipater et al then it appears to have been for the sake of self-preservation rather than for ‘power and territory’.


Finally, good old Wikipedia. In its list of Achaemenid Kings it lists ‘Artaxerxes IV’ he being Bessus. Only a very creative definition of what makes someone a king can justify his inclusion. As all the sources show, Bessus was only ever a pretender – and, frankly, not a particularly good one at that. If Bessus is going to be included, the list of regents who looked after Alexander IV and Philip III Arrhidaeus really ought to mention Peithon and Arrhidaeus who held office between Perdiccas’ death and the council at Triparadeisus in 320 B.C.

* Full marks to anyone who noticed that the URL to this post reads ‘Alexander Eschate’ and not Alexandria Eschate! We live together, we love together, and we make mistakes together too.

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David Hogarth on Alexander’s Influence


The conventional view is that Alexander’s empire was short-lived.

And, let’s be honest, on this occasion, the conventional view is correct: officially, the Argead empire lasted just over twenty years, from 331 B.C., when Alexander defeated Darius III at the Battle of Gaugamela to c.310/09 B.C. when Cassander had Alexander IV assassinated.

If we are being generous we could bring the date down to 306-04 B.C. when Antigonus, Ptolemy, Cassander and Lysimachus finally declared themselves kings of their respective realms; however, the point remains.

But while Alexander’s political world did not long outlive him, his influence endured for many more years. It may even be said to be still alive today; I’ll come to that in a moment.

What has brought Alexander’s legacy to mind is reading Philip and Alexander of Macedon by David Hogarth, which I finished a few days ago. A few pages before the end, Hogarth considers the ways in which Alexander influenced several important empires. Despite, or perhaps because of, their obviousness I had not thought of them before. Here’s what he says.

If we look to the means which Alexander adopted in his last months to advance his great aim, we perceive that in conception he anticipated the cardinal cause of the provincial success of the Roman Empire. For he saw that universal conquests could not be accomplished, still less retained, with the strength of a single mother-people, but that the one half the world must be enlisted to conquer and hold the other half.

Had he lived to subdue North Africa, we may be sure that Moors and Numidians would have been found fighting under his banners in Spain and Gaul, and Spaniards and Gauls in Italy. His mixed army of Europeans and Asiatics, organized in Babylon in the spring of 323, was no more than the predecessor of those Gaulish and German legions which brought Emperors to Rome.

When the historian finds Alexander punishing with drastic severity Viceroys of his own race whom he believed, wrongly or rightly, to have outraged alien faiths and extorted provincial money, his thought will pass on to Tiberius and the quinquennium Neronis. When he sees Persians and Bactrians set high in a Macedonian empire, he thinks of Trajan the Spaniard, Elagabalus the Syrian, Maximin the Goth, and Philip the Arabian. The so-called Epigoni – those Oriental youths trained in the Macedonian manner, who were brought to Susa to be enrolled – recall the heirs of client kings, educated perforce in the Eternal City, and those children of the camps, who were the backbone of the legionary system.

Hogarth adds that it is only in the Susa Weddings that Alexander and Rome part ways, for nothing ‘so artificial ever entered into the policy of the most cosmopolitan of the Italian emperors.’

Susa aside, he notes

… that a “mixed” empire, with an Asiatic centre, successively Seleucid, Parthian, and Persian, survived Alexander’s death by fully a thousand years.

What about today?

Well, just over 2,300 years later, Alexander’s aim of bringing together a diverse range of people under one banner is happening as we speak in Europe.

Of course, the European Union is not an empire and never will be*; as and when its members achieve total political union, one country will not have control over all the others though some may dominate proceedings; however, just as the EU contains many peoples, men and women from all over the union are able to join its key institutions.

I think that Alexander would definitely have appreciated the trans-national army-of-sorts that already exists in NATO, and the requirement for anyone who wanted to climb the ladder in EU politics to follow in the footsteps of the Epigoni and relocate to Brussels and/or Strasbourg.

The children of the camps are no more. For now. If in the future, however, we start sending men and women into space to start colonising new planets the children of their camps will surely grow up to be their guards and successors. In a less bloody fashion, one hopes, than those who succeeded Alexander with so much damage to his legacy in the short term.

* May it never seek to oppress any other nation or people as well

Previous Posts on Philip and Alexander of Macedon

i. A Country Ancient and Modern
ii. General Ronald Storrs and Cardinal Francis Bourne

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Selected Search Enquiries

The following are all enquiries that lead people to this blog.

“who was the successor of philip iii arrhidaeus”
Philip III Arrhidaeus didn’t have a successor; at least, not an Argead one.

When Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C., Arrhidaeus was declared king. To that end, he was given the regnal name of Philip III. A few months later, Roxane gave birth to a son; he was named Alexander IV and became Arrhidaeus’ co-ruler. Because he was an infant, and because Arrhidaeus had a mental impediment that made him unable to rule by himself, the two were placed under the regency of Alexander’s general, Perdiccas. They would spend the rest of their lives being controlled by others.

Philip III Arrhidaeus was assassinated in 317 B.C. and Alexander IV in c. 310 B.C. Their successors were those of Alexander’s generals who declared themselves to be kings of their respective territories a few years later:

Antigonus Monophthalmus and Demetrios Poliocetes (Joint kings) – Asia Minor – 306
Cassander – Macedon – 305-304
Lysimachus – Thrace – 305-04
Ptolemy – Egypt  – 305
Seleucus – Babylon and the east – 305

I have used used Robin Waterfield Dividing the Spoils as my principle source for these dates. Other scholars give different dates, albeit only slightly. For example, Heckel in Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great says that Ptolemy became king in 306 or 305.

“alexander and bagoas sex”
Yes, Alexander probably very likely had sex with Bagoas, but there was more to a eunuch’s life in antiquity than satisfying his master’s sexual desire. The Encyclopaedia Iranica describes eunuchs as being,

… castrated males who were in charge of the concubines of royal harems, [eunuchs] served in the daily life of the court, and sometimes carried out administrative functions.

For more, click here.

“”what if darius iii survived lived””
In my opinion, if Darius had survived his arrest and abduction by Bessus he would either have been executed by Alexander in order to secure his succession as Great King or been allowed to rule in a subordinate capacity, as happened with Porus.

Although in Diodorus XVII.54 Alexander suggests that he would indeed have let Darius rule under him, I think he would have executed his predecessor. Darius was too obvious a rallying point for Persians and therefore too dangerous to be allowed to live.

However, had Darius lived and been given kingship over, say, Persia, I could see him becoming a major player in the Successor battles, remaining king of Babylon and the east and interfering in the west as suited him.

“which battle did alexander kill cleitus”
Alexander didn’t kill Black Cleitus during a battle but after a quarrel during a drunken party in Maracanda in the Summer of 328 B.C. According to Arrian (IV.8) it started when some sycophants claimed that Alexander’s achievements outstripped those of certain gods. Cleitus angrily rejected this assertion. This did not put off the flatterers, though, for they then claimed that Philip II’s achievement had been ‘quite ordinary and commonplace’ (ibid). Cleitus defended the late king and taunted Alexander for saving his life at the Battle of the Granicus (334 B.C.). Alexander tried to strike Cleitus, but was held back. He then took a spear and ran Cleitus through with it.

Curtius, Justin and Plutarch all tell the story slightly differently but in the same setting and, of course, same result.

Arrian IV.8-9
Curtius VIII.22-52
Plutarch Life of Alexander 50-51

“haephestion was cremated source”
To the best of my knowledge no source says explicitly “Hephaestion was cremated”. However:-

Arrian VII.15 – States that a ‘funeral pyre’ was built for Hephaestion
Diodorus XVII.115 – Refers to the building of Hephaestion’s pyre. Chapter 116 begins ‘After the funeral’ implying that it took place. However, the Greek word ‘pyra’ which is translated here as pyre could also mean ‘monument’. But even if it doesn’t, what about Diodorus XVIII.4 which suggests the pyre – whether to cremate Hephaestion on or a monument – wasn’t built at all?
Justin XII.12 – Refers to a monument to Hephaestion being built.
Plutarch Life of Alexander Chapter 72 – Refers to Hephaestion’s funeral. No mention of cremation.

See my post “Hephaestion’s Remains – Update” here

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Hephaestion’s Remains – Update

Exactly one year ago I wrote a post for this blog in which I speculated about what might have happened to Hephaestion’s body after he died.

You can read the post here but in short, I said that I did not think that his magnificent funeral (Diodorus XVII.115) took place, and that after Alexander died, Hephaestion was probably quietly cremated and buried by the Successors in Babylon before being forgotten about.

When I wrote my post, I never imagined that a year on I would have reason to return to it. However, the discovery of a skeleton in the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis, and the suggestion that it could be Hephaestion’s, has drawn me back to the subject.

The person to whom I owe the idea that Hephaestion might be buried at Amphipolis is Dorothy King – see her post here.

As you’ll see, she theorises that the Lion Tomb was originally built for Alexander. If that is correct, the presence of Hephaestion’s body would presumably mean that Alexander intended to be buried with his friend.

Given how Alexander identified himself with Achilles, and treated Hephaestion as Patroclus*, together with the fact that Achilles and Patroclus were buried together at Troy**, this idea makes perfect sense.


But, do the bones belong to Hephaestion?

Tests are being carried out on them at the moment. It goes without saying that they won’t tell us the deceased’s name but hopefully they will give us information that will help in the identification process.

For example (and again, hopefully) they’ll tell us the person’s sex, their approximate age at time-of-death, and perhaps what injuries or illnesses they suffered from in their life.

If the sex of the person is female then that obviously rules out the deceased being Hephaestion.

If, however, it is male and the person died in their 30s that would make it possible for the bones to be his as he was about Alexander’s age and we know that in 324 B.C. Alexander was 32.

Further to this, if there is sign of injury in at least one of the arm bones, that would also make it possible for  the skeleton to be Hephaestion’s as Curtius says he ‘suffered a spear-wound in the arm’ at the Battle of Gaugamela (IV.16.32).

It has to be emphasised, though, that even if the tests point to the skeleton being Hephaestion’s we can gain no certainty in the matter from them. What we must really hope for is the discovery of an inscription that spells out clearly to whom the tomb belongs. Otherwise, there will always be an element of doubt.


But let’s backtrack a bit – how can we be talking about Hephaestion’s skeleton being in Amphipolis when the sources have his funeral – and cremation at that – taking place in Babylon?

That’s a good question. What could have happened is that after the funeral his remains were transported to Amphipolis and there deposited. This, however, doesn’t answer the question how it is we have a skeleton in the Lion Tomb when Hephaestion was cremated.

So, what about the bones? Dr King provides an answer. In a comment made on 13th November 2014 at 10:30am (I’m sorry – I can’t seem to link directly to it) underneath the above mentioned blog post she states that ancient cremations did not take place at the same temperatures as modern ones.

This means that Hephaestion could have been cremated to the point that his flesh burned off but that – due to the lower temperature of the pyre – his bones survived.

Perhaps the tests currently being done on the skeleton will be able to tell us if the bones were indeed subjected to fire?

If we agree to the survival of Hephaestion’s bones as a possibility we can move on to the question of how they got from Babylon to Amphipolis.

As it happens, though, we need to correct the starting point of his final journey.


Let’s look at what the five major Alexander historians say about Hephaestion’s death and what happened to his body afterwards.

Arrian (VII.14,15) states that Hephaestion fell ill and died in Ecbatana and that a funeral pyre was built for him in Babylon. There is no reference, however, to the funeral actually taking place once Alexander arrived there.

Curtius Unfortunately, a lacuna in the MS means we do not have his account of Hephaestion’s death and funeral.

Diodorus has Hephaestion die in Ecbatana and his body transported to Babylon (XVII.110) where his pyre built XVII.115). No mention is made of what happened to Hephaestion’s remains afterwards.

Justin does not say explicitly where Hephaestion died. In terms of the narrative, his death takes place in Chapter 12. The last city Alexander is identified as reaching prior to this is Babylon (in Chapter 10), but at the start of Chapter 13 Justin appears to suggest that Alexander went to Babylon after Hephaestion’s death.

Neither does Justin say what happened to Hephaestion’s body. He does mention, however (in Chapter 12), that a monument was built in his honour, and that it cost 12,000 talents.

Plutarch states that Hephaestion died in Ecbatana (Chapter 72) but doesn’t say that his body was taken to Babylon. He does state, however, that Alexander decided to spend 10,000 talents on his friend’s funeral and tomb.


In summary, Arrian, Diodorus and Plutarch all agree that Hephaestion died in Ecbatana. But while Arrian and Diodorus state explicitly that his body was taken to Babylon, Plutarch makes no such claim. By implication he has Hephaestion’s body remain in Ecbatana. This may be what Justin is getting at although his account is really too vague to be of much use.


So, we have a disagreement. Who, in that case, do we believe?

Up until this week, I would have accepted Arrian’s and Diodorus’ account. Diodorus is not the best historian but Arrian has a very good reputation, and based his history on people who were witnesses to what happened four hundred years earlier – including one who was at the very centre of Macedonian power.

However, my opinion changed after I read an article by Paul McKechnie called Diodorus Siculus and Hephaestion’s Pyre, which offered a compelling reason not to accept Arrian’s and Diodorus’ account at face value.

I came across McKechnie’s article thanks to a link on Dorothy King’s blog here.

If I have understood McKechnie correctly, he argues that the account of Hephaestion’s funeral in Diodorus is not an account of an historical event at all but a literary conceit, designed to foreshadow Alexander’s death***.

Seeing the funeral in this way allows us to make sense of a statement that Diodorus makes in XVIII.4 of his Library of History. There, he says that after Alexander’s death, Perdiccas found among the late king’s papers

… orders for the completion of the pyre of Hephaestion.

Now, obviously, if the funeral had taken place as per XVII.115 there would be no need for these orders to be in Alexander’s papers.

McKechnie further argues that Diodorus took the story of the pyre in Babylon from a writer named Ephippus of Olynthus, who lived around the time of Alexander.

The reason I mention Ephippus is because he connects Diodorus’ narrative to Arrian’s. McKechnie suggests that Ptolemy read Ephippus’ account and decided to use it in his own history.

And indeed, he had a good reason for doing so. Just as Ephippus placed Hephaestion’s funeral in Babylon for literary reasons, Ptolemy placed it there for political ones.

So, I took Alexander’s body from Babylon to Memphis, he could say to the political doubter, I had a precedent – Alexander, himself, who took Hephaestion’s body from Ecbatana to Babylon.

Paul McKechnie’s article is really interesting, and I thoroughly recommend it to you. If you don’t have access to JSTOR, you can read it here.


So, as matters now stand, we have Hephaestion dying in Ecbatana and his funeral taking place there. The presence of the Lion of Hamadan (which is modern day Ecbatana) would appear to indicate that Alexander buried his friend there as well†.

Having corrected the starting point of Hephaestion’s journey, therefore, we now need to get him from Ecbatana to Amphipolis.

This part is most difficult for none of the surviving sources state that Hephaestion’s body was taken back to Macedon. If we are to place him there, we must do so by other means.

Here are three reasons for placing Hephaestion in Amphipolis.

  1. Alexander would not have regarded burying Hephaestion in Ecbatana as fitting. In life, he had seen himself as Achilles and Hephaestion as his Patroclus. In light of that, it makes better sense that he would want that identification to be made permanent in death
  2. The Lion Tomb in Amphipolis is so great, so majestic, it could only have been built for a very few people. The other possibilities are: Olympias, Philip III Arrhidaeus and Roxane, and Alexander IV.
    As I understand it, there are inscriptions in existence which state (or indicate?) that Olympias was buried in Pydna, where she was killed.
    Philip III Arrhidaeus is a possibility as he was a king but maybe buried at Vergina.
    Would Cassander to have honoured Alexander IV (and through him, Roxane) with such a great tomb after killing them?
  3. It looks like the Lion Tomb could easily have met the cost of Hephaestion’s burial as described by Plutarch and Justin

These may or may not sound like good reasons but if you are still nervous about the lack of evidence in the sources, it is perhaps worth remembering that they are the surviving sources and that – as we have seen – they disagree with one another about what happened to Hephaestion after his death. We have no obligation, therefore, to take them at their word.


What do I think? I honestly don’t know. I like the idea of Hephaestion being buried at Amphipolis but I wish – really wish – we had stronger literary evidence.

At the moment, though, and although he is supposed to have been buried at Vergina, I am very tempted by the idea of Alexander IV being buried there.

After his murder on Cassander’s orders, several years passed before Alexander IV’s death became known. When it did, there was no civil war, no unrest, no rioting, nothing. Cassander, Ptolemy, Lysimachus, Seleucus and Antigonus all in due course proclaimed themselves king of their individual realms and that was that.

The reason for this is that time had passed and people had let the past go. I think perhaps Cassander realised this. And when he did, he decided that he could afford to be as generous to Alexander IV in death as he had been cruel in life, and deposited his remains in the Lion Tomb at Amphipolis.

That’s what I think, and as I am sure you have noticed, I have offered no actual evidence for Alexander IV being buried there. In fact, as I read back what I have written, I am beginning to think there is a stronger case for Hephaestion’s burial.


A last word. I have no more of an idea about who is buried in the Lion Tomb as anyone else, and I look forward to hearing more news from the archaeologists. In the meantime, what I would say, is that Amphipolis has been – and continues to be – a great learning experience for me and I am indebted to Dorothy King who has posted very insightful blog posts and linked to equally good articles about Alexander – McKechnie’s especially. I hope I never stop learning.

* I’m thinking here of how he had Hephaestion lay a wreath on Patroclus’ grave at Troy (Arrian I.12) and his Homeric response to Hephaestion’s death. Just as Achilles cut his hair in honour of Patroclus (Iliad XXIII.147-8)
** See Iliad XXIII.243-44 and Odyssey XXIV.73-5)
*** McKechnie notes how Diodorus emphasises Hephaestion’s status as Alexander’s second self, how Alexander attends to the funeral after setting his affairs in order, and orders the Sacred Flame in Asian cities to be extinguished in Hephaestion’s honour – something which is was only ever done upon the king’s die
It is McKechnie who uses the Lion of Hamadan as evidence for Hephaestion’s remains being in Ecbatana. He provides other reasons as well. For example, a reference to Aelian, who

… in his story of gold and silver being melted together with the corpse on Hephaestion’s pyre, speaks of Alexander’s having demolished the walls of the acropolis of Ecbatana-and gives no hint of the pyre’s being supposed to have been in Babylon

Categories: Hephaestion Amyntoros | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Death of Alexander

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 116-118 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Mystery in Palace as Prisoner Sits on Royal Throne
Alexander Lost in Swamps
King Found: Diadem Worn By Oarsman
* Inside: A round up of all recent omens
King Falls Ill Following Party
Alexander Dies

The Story
Chapter 116
Hephaestion’s funeral was now over. For relief, Alexander ‘turned to amusements and festivals’. To the world it looked like ‘he was at the peak of his power and good fortune’ but Fate had other ideas and immediately that the festivities began ‘heaven… began to foretell [Alexander’s] death’.

Diodorus gives the example of two omens that portended this. The first involved a native who was kept in chains. One day, as Alexander was receiving a massage, those chains suddenly fell off. The native – presumably a prisoner of some sort – ran away from his guards and entered throne room. There, he took Alexander’s clothes and diadem and put them on before sitting down on the throne itself.

Upon being told what had happened, Alexander ‘was terrified’. He went to the native and asked him what he was about. The man made no reply. Alexander turned to his seers and asked them to interpret what had happened.

Diodorus doesn’t give their response but it was clearly negative to Alexander as it made him order the native’s execution in the hope ‘that the trouble which was forecast by his act might light upon the man’s own head’.

Once the native had been taken away, Alexander retrieved his clothing ‘and sacrificed to the gods who avert evil’. This pious act, however, was not enough to remove his worry about what the incident portended.

We have seen once or twice before how Alexander could have his mind changed with absurd ease by those underneath him. Diodorus gives an example of this when he described how the king decided to stay outside Babylon (Chapter 112 here). Curtius gives another when he tells how Bagoas poisoned Alexander’s mind against Orsines (10:1:24-38).

It now happens again. Diodorus says that Alexander ‘recalled the predictions of the Chaldaeans’ and became angry ‘with the philosophers who had persuaded him to enter Babylon’. In consequence, he renewed his respect for the Chaldaeans and argued ‘railed’ at anyone ‘who used specious reasoning to argue away the power of Fate’.

Diodorus’ second omen came when Alexander was exploring the swamps around Babylon. His skiff became separated from the royal party. Upon a moment, it passed underneath some tall reeds, which caught Alexander’s diadem and threw it into the water. One of the oarsmen ‘swam after it’. Upon retrieving the ribbon, the oarsman placed it on his head for safe keeping.

Alexander was lost for three days and nights. Presently, he put his diadem on again. When he did so, the skiff came out of the swamp. What did it all mean? Alexander went straight to his soothsayers to find out.

Chapter 117
The seers told Alexander to ‘sacrifice to the gods on a grand scale’ and quickly. Before he could do so, however, the king was ‘called away by Medius… to take part in a comus’.

At the party, Alexander ‘drank much unmixed wine in commemoration of the death of Heracles’. He filled ‘a huge beaker’ and drank it in one go; suddenly, ‘he shrieked aloud as if smitten by a violent blow’. The king’s Friends came forward and took Alexander back to his quarters.

The royal physicians ‘were summoned’ but they could do nothing to take away the pain. Alexander ‘continued in great discomfort and acute suffering’.

After a while, he realised that he was dying. Alexander removed his ring of office and gave it to his chiliarch – Perdiccas. ‘His Friends asked: “To whom do you leave the kingdom?”‘ Alexander replied, simply, ‘”To the strongest.”‘ He then prophesied ‘that all of his leading Friends would stage a vast contest in honour of his funeral’.

At an unspecified point after speaking these words, Alexander died. He had reigned for ‘twelve years and seven months’ and ‘accomplished greater deeds than any… who had lived before him [or] who were to come later’.

Diodorus concludes the chapter with an acknowledgement that some historians believe that Alexander was poisoned. As this is so, ‘it seems necessary for us to mention their account also’.

Chapter 118
This chapter, therefore, is a coda of sorts to the main story, which is now finished.

Diodorus turns to Antipater. He served as Alexander’s ‘viceroy’ in Macedon while the king was abroad. During this time, he ‘was at variance with… Olympias’. That seems a very polite way of putting it.

To begin with, Antipater didn’t take Olympias seriously because Alexander ignored ‘her complaints against him’. Later, however, ‘as their enmity kept growing’ and Alexander ‘showed an anxiety to gratify [Olympias] in everything out of piety’ Antipater became worried.

When Alexander killed Parmenion and Philotas ‘terror’ entered Antipater’s heart. But not only his, also ‘all of Alexander’s Friends’. Antipater’s son, Iolaus, was Alexander’s wine-pourer. The viceroy gave him a poison to administer to the king.

If Alexander was poisoned, how come nobody wrote about it afterwards? Diodorus doesn’t ask this question out loud but clearly has it in mind. He that, following Alexander’s death, Antipater ‘held… supreme authority in Europe’ and after him, ‘his son Cassander’. Their power, therefore, was why ‘many historians did not dare write about the drug’.

Diodorus has no doubt, however, that Cassander is guilty; he cites the murder of of Olympias and rebuilding of Thebes as proof of his hostility to Alexander.

Finally, Diodorus turns to Sisygambis – whom he calls Sisyngambris. She mourned Alexander’s death deeply. In fact, her grief was so profound that she stopped eating. Five days later, she died ‘painfully but not ingloriously’.

Why did the native run to the throne and take Alexander’s clothing and diadem? In Chapter 66 (which I covered here) we saw how Alexander upset a eunuch when he used one of Darius’ tables as a footstool. In the Footnotes for this incident, we are told ‘that the throne was a symbol of divinity in the Orient, and that a king’s clothing, bed, and throne were affected with royal and divine mana’. Thus, in the Footnotes for Chapter 116, it is said that the man ‘may have regarded [the throne] as a sanctuary, or at least as a place of refuge’. Obviously, he saw the clothes and diadem as having similar protective powers.

By-the-bye the Footnotes also state that it is possible that the native may have simply held the clothes rather than put them on. Either way, the story echoes that of the woman with the haemorrhage who knew that if she could only touch Jesus’ clothing she would be healed (This story features in all three synoptic gospels – Lk 8:40-56, Mk 5:21-43, and Matt 9:18-26).

In regards the story of the diadem, I recall reading elsewhere that by placing it on his head, the man was, according to tradition (?), declaring himself king. Well, of course he wasn’t in reality – he was just trying to stop the ribbon from getting wet – but Alexander’s religious belief did not permit him to believe that interpretation alone. Not without divine confirmation, anyway.

I speak under correction, but I am sure that the man who went after the diadem is elsewhere identified as Seleucus – perhaps as a result of his own later assertion that he rescued it. His reason for doing so? It added legitimacy to his kingship.

In Chapter 116, Diodorus says that Alexander was ‘terrified’ by the implications of the native man’s actions. And that, even after sacrificing, he remained troubled. After escaping the swamp, the king returned to his seers for their interpretation of the diadem incident. We are clearly dealing with a very religiously motivated man, here. And yet, no sooner has Alexander been told what to do by the seers, he allows himself to be distracted by Medius. Is that really likely? Did Alexander’s religious beliefs weigh no more than an invitation to join a drinking party?

I would certainly like to believe that Alexander’s last words – including his answer to the question of to whom he left his empire – were really spoken by him. I question his response ‘to the strongest’, though, as in the circumstances it just seems a little too Homeric an answer – if that is possible – for him. I know that the Macedonians did not practice primogeniture but why would he not say ‘to my son’?

As for his prophecy, isn’t it too eerily accurate to be true? Perhaps Alexander was just thinking of the funeral games – as normally understood – that he knew would be held for him.

All this is moot, however, if he was unable to speak as Arrian states. But Alexander could have spoken before he lost his voice. Or, perhaps, afterwards if only in whispering rasps?

I don’t think I can say anything here that does justice to the question of whether or not Alexander was poisoned but here are my thoughts, anyway.

In case you are wondering how Antipater – in Macedon – was able to give Iolaus – in Babylon – the poison: As I understand it, Cassander travelled from Macedon to Babylon around this time. In this scenario, he just took the poison with him.

It is very interesting that Diodorus says that all of Alexander’s Friends were terrified by the demise of Parmenion and Philotas. This is not the impression I get from Curtius who has Craterus speaking out very harshly against Philotas. Neither does Curtius have Craterus being in a party of one – others supported him in his hostility. Were they speaking out of fright? Far more likely that it was out of the knowledge that they were doing away with a rival.

Having said that, I am sure some were worried by what had happened; I think, though, that Diodorus is simply exaggerating.

I would like to test Diodorus’ explanation of why historians did not write about Antipater and Cassander being responsible for Alexander’s death. For example, I can understand why Cleitarchus might suppress the information. He lived in Alexandria and Ptolemy, Egypt’s ruler, was Cassander’s ally during the Successor Wars.

I think Olympias is the source of the allegation that the Antipatrids killed her son? If so (or even if not) I wonder who was the first person to write it down after her.

I accept that Cassander was anti-Argead, but I wonder if we could equally say that his murder of Olympias and rebuilding of Thebes were less to do with his hatred of Alexander and more about carving out a place for an Antipatrid dynasty in the new world that Alexander’s death had created.

Finally, one would have to be a very heartless man not to be affected by Sisygambis’ end. She had every reason to hate Alexander but came to love him more dearly than life itself.

The king died. Clouds [were in the sky]image


  • The above photograph of the Babylon Astronomical Diary that refers to Alexander’s death comes from the British Museum
  • The translation of the text is from Livius
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