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Alexander's Lovers

/images/aboukir-closeup.jpg Our classic sources certainly do not describe Alexander the Great as a human being with a vibrant sexlife. As Plutarch writes: "He showed little interest in the pleasures of the senses and indulged in them only with great moderation" (Plut. 4). Plutarch adds that Alexander "thought it more worthy of a king to subdue his passions than to conquer his enemies" (Plut. 21). And Alexander is supposed to have commented that "it was sleep and sexual intercourse which more than anything else, reminded him that he was mortal" (Plut. 22).

So if you are looking for raunchy details, you would be better served reading other literature than Alexander's histories. Plutarch recalls two events during which a few extremely handsome young boys were offered to Alexander as presents (as 'pets' obviously). Alexander reacts furiously on both occasions. He referred to the suggested loverboys as "debased creatures" and "sharply rebuked" the men who offered them (Plut. 22). Of those Oriental ladies that were captured during his campaigns he is supposed to have said that "these Persian women are a torment for our eyes" and Alexander "was determined to make such a show of his chastity and self-control" that he treated these exotic beauties as "lifeless images cut out of stone" (Plut. 21).

Still, in our modern view, Alexander's moderate appetites provide some quite controversial elements. He had one mistress, three wives, one lifelong homo-erotic lover and a sexual relationship with a eunuch (a castrated man). And perhaps one or two additional one-night stands. If you are puzzled by the Ancient morals regarding passion, I would suggest that you read Jeanne Reames-Zimmerman's excellent on Sexuality. You might also be happy reading the first chapter of Simon Goldhill's book Love, Sex & Tragedy. For an overview of the women involved in Alexander's career nobody can beat Beth Carney's Women and Monarchy in Macedonia.


According to our Ancient source Athenaeus, Alexander's parents King Philip and Queen Olympias were concerned about young Alexander's lack of sexual desires and so they arranged for the Thessalian prostitute Callixena to entertain him. Callixena was reknowned for her beauty. Still, apparently, nothing happened. "Olympias often begged him to have sex with Callixena", says Athenaeus. Great parents, aren't they? See: Historical Sources in Translation, by Heckel & Yardley, page 39/40.


She is also known as Pancaste. Although she does never appear in the five major sources, modern author Lane Fox traces her existance back to the Roman authors Pliny (Natural History), Lucian and Aelian (Varia Historia). Campaspe was a concubine of Alexander and a prominent citizen of Larisa in Thessaly (Central Greece). According to Aelian she might have been the first woman with whom Alexander had sexual intercourse.

Alexander ordered his painter Apelles, presumably the only artist to be allowed to paint his image, to do a nude painting of Campaspe. But Apelles fell in love with Campaspe during the job. "So Alexander gave him Campaspe as a present, the most generous gift of any patron and one which would remain a model for patronage and painters on through the Renaissance", writes Lane Fox. Or, as Bosworth says in his Conquest & Empire: "Apelles depicted Alexander with the thunderbolt of Zeus in the celebrated painting for the Artemisium in Ephesus, and he was handsomely rewarded for doing so".

Painter Apelles also used Campaspe as a model for his most celebrated painting of Aphrodite (Venus) "rising out of the sea". She was "wringing her hair, and the falling drops of water formed a transparent silver veil around her form". See: Perseus digital library.


Barsine was a Persian noblewoman by birth. Plutarch claims that she was the only woman Alexander had sex with before his marriage to Roxane. She became part of Alexander's entourage when the Macedonian general Parmenion captured the Syrian city of Damascus after Alexander's victory at Issus in the last months of 333 BC. Barsine was part of the 'Damascus treasure' as she had been sent there by King Darius III prior to Issus. Modern authors differ in viewpoint whether Alexander's liaison with Barsine started just before or just after his visit to Egypt in 332 BC.

Barsine was a daughter of Artabazus, a high ranking Persian and probably the former satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia. Artabazus and his family lived in asylum at Philip's court in between 352 BC to 342 BC, so Barsine and Alexander might have known eachother since childhood. When her exile ended she married to Mentor of Rhodes, the foremost general of the Persian empire. After Mentor's death around 338 BC she married his brother Memnon, who was placed in command of the war by Darius after the battle at the Granicus. However, Memnon died in early 333 BC and Barsine became widowed once again. When she was captured in Damascus she was in her early twenties, as she is believed to have been of the same age as Alexander, and she might already have been the mother of four children.

Our sources claim that Parmenion encouraged the liaison between Alexander and Barsine. Her qualities, says Plutarch, made Alexander "the more willing [...] to form an attachment to a woman of such beauty and noble lineage" (Plut. 21). She bore him one child, Herakles, probably in the year 327 BC. Modern English has no proper word to denote the relationship between Barsine and Alexander: she was neither a mistress nor a concubine. Her position was that of a woman of the king, which included special status, prestige and some (political) influence without being the king's wife. That was perfectly acceptable to the conquered Persians. The best short biography of Barsine is in Carney's Women and Monarchy.

Queen Statira, wife of Darius

We enter a controversial area here. After the battle of Issus in the Fall of 333 BC Alexander captured Darius' Royal family, including his wife and sister Queen Statira. (It is known that King Darius and Queen Statira shared at least one parent.) Statira was acknowledged as the most beautiful woman in all of Asia and "surpassed by none of her generation in beauty" (Curt. 3.12), but Alexander prided himself for not violating her integrity. However, our sources maintain that she died in 331 BC just before the battle of Gaugamela and both Justin and Plutarch add that she died in "childbirth" or "after a miscarriage".

In his commentary on Justin's Epitome (p. 160/161) Waldemar Heckel sums it up: "Hence, the original purpose of the story that Alexander treated the Persian captives with respect was intended less as an illustration of his restraint (continentia) than as an attempt to pre-empt any scandal which might arise from the circumstances of the queen's death". About this "most beautiful princess of her time" Plutarch quotes Alexander's very own words: "It will be found not only that I have never seen nor wished to see Darius' wife, but that I have not even allowed her beauty to be mentioned in my presence" (Plut. 22).

However, Curtius claims that Alexander saw her once (Curt. 4.10) and Diodorus records a short conversation between them (Diod. 17.37). Curtius adds that on learning of Statira's death Alexander "was in need of receiving consolation rather than giving it". Alexander reacted like one of his own relatives passed away, says Curtius. And King Darius immediately assumed that Alexander was guilty of his wife's demise and suggested that the messenger Tyriotes who brought him the news be put under torture. We will never learn the entire truth about Alexander's affection towards Queen Statira; but even if it was not sexual at all (Arr. 4.20), his deep sorrow might justify her listing as a true love.

Thalestris, the Amazon Queen

She is also known as Minythyia or Thalestria. In Hyrcania, the southern coast of the Caspian Sea, Alexander was visited by this legendary Queen of the Amazons in the autumn of 330 BC. (But Plutarch suggests she and Alexander met later in 329 BC near the Iaxartes River in Central Asia.) Thalestris had traveled something between 200 and 600 miles to join Alexander. Our sources are not clear about the location of the dominion of the Amazons, except that it bordered somewhere at the Black Sea.

"The dress of the Amazons does not entirely cover the body", says Curtius. "The left side is bare to the breast [...] One breast is kept whole for feeding children of female sex and the right is cauterized". Thalestris' eyes examined Alexander's body, and found that it in no way matched his reputation, as Curtius continues. Still, wearing her full armour, she begged Alexander to conceive a child with her. They spent "thirteen days" together as a couple (Just. 12.3; Diod. 17.77), while Alexander was "serving her passion" although "the woman's passion for sex was greater than Alexander's" (Curt. 6.5).

Thalestris left when she thought she had finally conceived. But she didn't. Neither did this story convince our more critical sources. "Aristobulus, Chares the Royal usher, Ptolemy, Anticleides, Philo the Theban ad Philip of Theangela, and besides these Hecataeus of Eretria, Philip the Chaldician and Douris of Samos all maintain that this is a fiction", writes Plutarch. Most famous is the quote of Lysimachus, former Companion of Alexander and later King of Thrace, when this tale about Alexander was read aloud to him (Plut. 46): "And where was I when all this occurred?"

Bagoas, the eunuch

In Hyrcania, just around the same time as the legendary Amazon affair, Persian nobleman Nabarzanes surrendered to Alexander and presented him with a lavish gift, the beautiful eunuch Bagoas. Nabarzanes was one of the three murderers of King Darius III, but Bagoas succesfully pleaded with Alexander to pardon Nabarzanes for his crime. Our sources are quite explicit about Bagoas. He was "an exceptionally good looking eunuch in the flower of his youth. Darius had had a sexual relationship with him and presently Alexander did, too" (Curt. 6.5).

Bagoas stayed with Alexander throughout the eastern campaigns as he is mentioned by Arrian in the Indica and appears again in the main classic narratives around early 324 BC. Bagoas by now "had gained Alexander's affection through putting his body at his service". But the self-appointed Persian satrap Orsines failed to pay court to the eunuch as Orsines said that he refused to pay respects to "whores" and men "who allowed themselves to be sexually used as women". This leaves little over to our imagination, does it? Curtius describes Bagoas in terms like "unconsionable male whore" and tells us the eunuch continued scheming against Orsines even during times when he submitted himself "to the shame of the sexual act" (Curt. 10.1). Alexander had Orsines executed.

Plutarch confirms Alexander's relationship with the eunuch "whose lover he was" and tells us about one event in Gedrosia in late 325 BC when both of them were cheered by the army. "The Macedonians clapped in applause and loudly called for Alexander to kiss him, until eventually the king took him in his arms and gave him a kiss" (Plut. 67). Eunuchs were boys whose genitals were partly removed before puberty, so that their boyish looks would be preserved in adulthood as they were not likely to develop masculine secondary characteristics. There is a short article on eunuchs in the Biography section of


Euxenippus was a boy "still very young and a favourite of Alexander's because he was in the prime of his youth" (Curt. 7.9). He is mentioned by Curtius as he was sent by Alexander on an embassy in 329 BC. Curtius compares him to Alexander's friend Hephaestion, saying that Euxenippus rivalled Hephaestion in beauty but lacked charm because he was less masculine. In his text Curtius calls Euxenippus a "conciliatus", meaning both friend and lover, and uses the Latin word for hare to describe his charms. This is a subtle Latin pun hinting at male lovers.


Her Persian name Roshanak is usually believed to mean "little star". However, author Jona Lendering derives the meaning to a somewhat less spectacular "girl with the bright face". The image of Roxane as portrayed by Rosario Dawson in the 2004 Oliver Stone epic Alexander will no doubt frame our popular perception of her appearance and character in many years to come. Curtius says Alexander fancied Roxane as his "control over his appetites was weakening" (Curt. 8.4).

There is no doubt that Roxane was Alexander's first official wife. Our source Arrian writes: "She was a girl of marriable age" and "the men who took part in the campaign used to say she was the loveliest woman they had seen in Asia, with the one exception of Darius' wife. Alexander fell in love with her at sight" (Arr. 4.19). Though she was a captive, Alexander refused to take her into his bed before they were married. But modern scholars agree there were political motives behind the wedding too, as Alexander wanted to appease the Bactrian and Sogdian warlords who were opposing his rule. (Roxane was the daughter of Sogdian nobleman Oxyartes.)

The marriage took place in spring (or August) 327 BC. Roxane conceived one stillborn infant son from Alexander in 326 BC. She was again pregnant when Alexander died in June 323 BC (see: Children). Modern interpretations of her personality might differ from passive non-entity to cunning first lady. She murdered Alexander's second wife Statira together with her sister Drypetis, widow of Hephaestion, in summer 323 BC: "She was jealous of [...] Statira, whom she tricked into visiting her by means of a forged letter [...]. In this crime her accomplice was Perdiccas" (Plut. 77). On the other hand, in 320 BC Roxane was taken into custody by the Macedonian regent Antipater and she was murdered by his son Cassander around 310 BC. The best overview of her life is, again, in Carney's Women and Monarchy. Curtius writes about Alexander and Roxane: "The man who had looked with what were merely paternal feelings on the wife and the two unmarried daughters of Darius - and with these none but Roxane could be compared in looks - now fell in love with a young girl of humble pedigree [...]. Thus the ruler of Asia and Europe married a woman who [was] part of the entertainment at dinner" (Curt. 8.4).

Queen Cleophis

She might be also known as Candace (Alexander Romance). Here we enter the grey zone between reality and fiction once again. Cleophis was the beautiful queen of Massaga, an ancient capital (now in northern Pakistan, Swat Valley). According to our Latin source Justin Cleophis was "sleeping with" Alexander and subsequently bore him one son named Alexander (Just. 12.7). Curtius adds: "Whoever his father was" (Curt. 8.10). Interestingly, if the Cleophis story is true at all, this sexual escapade happened just within a year after the marriage with Roxane and also quite shortly after the birth of Barsine's son. See also: Children.

Princess Statira & Parysatis

Statira is also known in the sources as Barsine or Arsinoë. In February 324 BC Alexander ordered the famous mass wedding at Susa, southern Iran, where he married both Statira, daughther of former Great King Darius III (336-330 BC), als well as Parysatis, daughter of the last 'really great' Persian King Artaxerxes III (358-338 BC). Statira and her relatives had been left behind in Susa in late 331 BC while Alexander's victorious army had moved on. We have little evidence about Alexander's affection towards Statira, except for "paternal feelings" (Curt. 8.4). Statira and her sister Drypetis were murdered in 323 BC by Roxane who "threw the bodies into a well, and filled it up with earth" (Plut. 77). We have no clue about whatever happened to Alexander's third wife Parysatis. (Some scholars suggest that 'Drypetis' is Plutarch's error for 'Parysatis', as Roxane probably had no motive to eliminate Drypetis.)


He is also known as Hephaistion. It seems not more than appropriate to end this list with the man who was presumably Alexander's greatest love of all --- and perhaps his one true love. Hephaestion was a boyhood friend of Alexander, they were about the same age and they had shared their education with Aristotle at the temple of the nymphs in Mieza. When Alexander arrived at Troy in 334 BC, he and Hephaestion payed homage to the tombs of Achilles and Patroclus, stressing the fact that their relationship was supposed to mirror that of the lover-warriors from Homerus' Iliad.

Alexander and Hephaestion used to read together the letters received by Alexander, even the confidential letters sent by the king's mother Olympias. "Alexander did not stop him. Instead he took off his ring and put the seal to Hephaestion's lips" (Plut. 39). Arrian writes that Alexander loved Hephaestion "better than all the world". When Hephaestion died in 324 BC in Ecbatana, Alexander "lay stretched on the corpse all day and the whole night too" (Arr. 7.14). According to Plutarch Alexander's grief was "uncontrollable". He had Hephaestion's physician crucified (or hanged). During the campaign against the Cossaeans in early 323 BC Alexander termed the enemy victims a "sacrifice to the spirit of Hephaestion". Hephaestion's funeral took place in spring 323 BC after months of preparation and costed 10,000 talents (Plut. 72). This amount is equivalent to some 450,000 US $ at modern gold rates. (Diodorus claims it was 12,000 talents.)

Hephaestion was no great military tactician and he was withdrawn as a major cavalry commander after 328 BC. His prominent role in the empire might have depended fully on Alexander's affection. Dr. Jeanne Reames-Zimmerman is the leading scholar-expert on Hephaestion. Jeanne has written the Hephaestion article and created Hephaestion's excellent private website: Hephaistion - Philalexandros.

Thanks to Jona Lendering & Linda DeSantis for their advice.

Written by nick

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