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Oxyartes, father of Roxane

Oxyartes was a nobleman of Bactria (or Sogdia). Modern writers usually refer to his rank as ‘baron’; it is likely that he held a position very close to royalty, probably subordinate only to the Great King and his satrap; although none of this is really clear, as we shall see.

Different Stories

Alexander’s encounter with Oxyartes is subject to debate, as a result of the confused chronology of the campaigns in Bactria and Sogdia. If we follow Arrian solely, we get a very different story from that is we follow Curtius. Plutarch and Justin are of no help, and the relevant parts of Diodorus are missing.

The story in Arrian is that Alexander besieged the Sogdian Rock in early 327, where Oxyartes had put his wife and daughters for safety “after his own rebellion”. It was here that Alexander was challenged to find soldiers with wings; and when he took the Rock he captured Oxyartes’ family. When the baron heard how well the king had treated his family he surrendered. Arrian gives us no clue as to where the baron had been in the meantime, nor where his area of influence had been prior to his rebellion. The marriage to Roxane must have happened at around this time, after the girl had been captive for at least a little time. Almost immediately afterwards the Macedonians moved on to the Rock of Chorienes, where Oxyartes was instruental in persuading the defenders to surrender. Note that all this, according to Arrian, happened in 327, although he says almost nothing about Alexander’s movements in the preceding year.

In Curtius, Alexander takes the Rock of Ariamazes in 328. This is the same as the Sogdian Rock of Arrian, with the challenge to find the winged soldiers. No mention is made of Oxyartes’ family. Later, in 327, when Alexander attacks the Rock of Sisimithres (equated with Ariamazes in Arrian), it is Oxartes, not Oxyartes, who persuades Sisimithres to surrender. Oxyartes doesn’t come into the story until afterwards, when he appears to submit willingly to Alexander, hands over two of his sons as hostages, and throws a feast for his new overlord. During this feast Alexander sees Roxane for the first time, and marries her immediately (to her father’s obvious delight; QC 8.4.21ff).

Marriage, Power and Loyalty

Curtius calls Oxyartes a satrap at the time of his surrender, although his area of control is not mentioned. Later he does say that Alexander left Oxyartes as ‘governor’ of Bactria; after the revolt in the region while Alexander is travelling down the Indus, the king extends his father-in-law’s territory (QC 9.8.10).

Bosworth, in “A Missing Year In The History Of Alexander The Great” (JHS 101, 1981), helps to sort out the chronology; but he doesn’t clarify the details about Oxyartes. However, as the resulting sequence of events follows Curtius more closely (and believably) than it does Arrian, we might reasonably assume, although without certainty, his role as it appears in Curtius. Oxyartes thereby plays a smaller role in Alexander’s subjugation of Sogdia, having no part in persuading Sisimithres to surrender; but his loyalty and power becomes clearer, as we see him left as the king’s factotum in Bactria, gathering more power as he proves his worth to his son-in-law.

What isn’t clear, of course, is whether his loyalty to Alexander sprang from his honour as the king’s father-in-law; or whether Alexander actually chose Roxane as his bride because of her father’s loyalty. Perhaps it was a mixture of both, but the romanticising of Alexander’s union with Roxane (which might or might not be true) clouds our vision of this element of Bactrian/Sogdian politics.

Written by marcus