Alexander the Great|
(September 20, 365 - June 13, 323 BC) Macedonia
King and conqueror
Alexander III became king of Macedonia at the age of twenty, and soon thereafter began a series of conquests that made him one of the greatest war generals of all time. He quickly subdued Greece, to the south of Macedonia, then began pursuit of the immense Persian army, which he overwhelmed in 330 B.C.E. By the time of his death seven years later, Alexander had taken his campaign as far as India. In the process he founded numerous towns, including Alexandria, which became a world center for commerce.
Alexander's achievement laid the foundation for the Hellenistic world, the Roman Empire, and even the spread of Christianity: all the New Testament writings were in Greek as a result of Alexander's influence. His goal in ruling his territory was to combine the best of the East with the best of the West. He introduced a uniform currency system throughout the empire, and promoted trade. As a boy he had been tutored by Aristotle, and as a ruler he encouraged the spread of Greek ideas and laws. At the age of only 33, he developed malaria and died. Within ten years his empire began to split apart.
Alexander & Hephaestion - Created by artist Malcolm Lidbury for 2016 LGBT History & Art Project Cornwall UK
Alexander's homosexuality is widely accepted. For most of his life, Alexander's closest friend and colleague was Hephaestion, although there is no clear proof that their relationship was sexual. It is detailed in the book Fire From Heaven, by Mary Renault. Alexander and his friend/lover Hephaestion died three months apart in 323 B.C. Alexander's sexual relationship with the young eunuch Bagoas is more clearly documented, and served as the basis for Mary Renault's engaging novel "The Persian Boy".
Alexander was said to be extremely handsome. Many portraits of him were made in his life and the Roman copies may be pretty accurate. Of medium build, he also was said to have a very pleasant scent to his skin and breath, which for those times was pretty remarkable. He was an incredible physical specimen who loved strenuous exercise - he would jump off and back on a chariot moving at full speed. His lover of 19 years Hephaestion, who was his primary cavalry commander and right-hand man, was taller and even more handsome, if possible - the Persian Queen bowed to him instead of Alexander when she was presented to them. Alexander said to the mortified queen "Never mind, Mother, Hephaestion is also Alexander".
2,300 years ago men in Greece had wives, mistresses, and lovers of either gender. Alexander's father, Philip of Macedon, had male lovers and also many wives, a problem when half-brothers would fight to the death over the throne. Alexander refused to marry and beget an heir when he left Macedon to conquer the world.
Alexander loved his boyhood friend, Hephaestion. Both brilliant boys, they were tutored by Aristotle, with whom Hephaestion kept up a lifelong correspondence. Alexander and Hephaestion felt like the two heroes Achilles and Patroclus, from The Iliad, which was Alexander's favorite book. You could say the two were technically 'bisexuals' by today's terms -- they produced children, yet they picked it so that their progeny would necessarily be cousins. Figure out how they affected this yourself, or you can read up on it.
Hephaestion started off as a regular cavalry soldier - Alexander did not play favorites - and rose through the ranks on merit and carried out the most important military and administrative assignments. Later, Alexander also fell in love with a courtier from the conquered Persian court, scandalous not because the courtier was male, but because he was Persian -- most Greeks thought that other people were barbarians. Alexander married a princess from a faraway mountain kingdom of Asia, but it's unclear if he loved her because their only child was born much later. He also married the defeated Persian king's daughter, a purely political marriage, and Hephaestion married her sister, since he and Alexander wanted their children to be cousins.
In this mosaic from Pompeii, which is a copy of a Greek painting, Alexander (left) fights the Persian Emperor Darius at the battle of Issus.
After they conquered Asia, Hephaestion died suddenly of typhus. Alexander's grief was monumental. He asked the oracles if Hephaestion was a god (back then people could become gods by achievement) and was told that Hephaestion was indeed a hero, a lesser type of god. Now Alexander, who had no doubt about his own divinity, knew that he would meet his beloved again in the Blessed Realm, where gods and heroes live. He got his first wife pregnant and died himself without waiting for the child to be born, all within eight months of Hephaestion's death, just as Achilles had followed Patroclus in the Iliad. He was 32 years old.
Alexander plundered cities, killed rivals, and sold people into slavery, but aside from that he was a really great guy. But seriously folks, two thousand years ago people were, well, pagans. The peaceful Christian philosophies of our millenium (which has seen the Inquisition, Hiroshima and Auschwitz) were not known.
By this measure, Alexander was truly enlightened for his time, shocking his contemporaries by treating foreigners (especially women) with respect, restoring former rulers, governments, and religions which the Persians had suppressed, and even giving them high positions in his Empire. He was exceptionally generous, sharing all the treasures of his conquests with his troops. He made some horrible mistakes, including killing an old family friend in a drunken brawl, but he was deeply religious, and truly believed that by exceeding the feats of the gods (like Hercules) he could become a god himself. He was the first to seriously envision all people as God's children.
As a general, Alexander is among the greatest the world has ever known. He commanded from the front, leading the cavalry side by side with Hephaestion (since Alexander was a lefty they must have been hell on wheels together in battle). Alexander was wounded by every weapon of war known at the time. He even jumped down alone into an enemy citadel and fought until he could be rescued - taking an arrow in his chest for his trouble. These traits inspired love and devotion in his army who followed him 22,000 miles (on foot!) for eight years.
Source: Jay Spears - http://www.gayheroes.com - and others