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Hephaestion marble head, as of September 2015 housed in the Getty Museum
Nickname(s) Patroclus
Born c. 356 BC
Died c. 324 BC
Allegiance Macedonia
Rank General, 2nd in command.
Unit Somatophylakes
Commands held Companion cavalry
Battles/wars Siege of Pelium, Battle of Thebes, Battle of the Granicus, Siege of Halicarnassus, Siege of Miletus, Battle of Issus, Siege of Tyre (332 BC), Siege of Gaza, Battle of Gaugamela, Battle of the Persian Gate, Siege of Aornos, Battle of the Hydaspes River, Mallian Campaign
Spouse(s) Drypetis princess of the Achaemenid dynasty in Persia.[1]

Hephaestion (Greek: Ἡφαιστίων Hephaistion; c. 356 BC – 324 BC), son of Amyntor, was a Macedonian nobleman and a general in the army of Alexander the Great. He was "... by far the dearest of all the king's friends; he had been brought up with Alexander and shared all his secrets."[2] This friendship lasted throughout their lives, and was compared, by others as well as themselves, to that of Achilles and Patroclus.

His military career was distinguished. A member of Alexander the Great’s personal bodyguard, he went on to command the Companion cavalry and was entrusted with many other tasks throughout Alexander's ten-year campaign in Asia, including diplomatic missions, the bridging of major rivers, sieges and the foundation of new settlements. Besides being a soldier, engineer and diplomat he corresponded with the philosophers Aristotle and Xenocrates and actively supported Alexander in his attempts to integrate the Greeks and Persians. Alexander formally made him his second-in-command when he appointed him Chiliarch of the empire. Alexander also made him part of the royal family when he gave him as his bride Drypetis, sister to his own second wife Stateira, both daughters of Darius III of Persia. When he died suddenly at Ecbatana around age thirty-two, Alexander was overwhelmed with grief. He petitioned the oracle at Siwa to grant Hephaestion divine status and thus Hephaestion was honoured as a Divine Hero. Hephaestion was cremated in Babylon in the presence of the entire army.[3] At the time of his own death a mere eight months later, Alexander was still planning lasting monuments to Hephaestion's memory.


  • Youth and education 1
  • Career 2
  • Relationships 3
  • Death and funeral 4
  • Portrayals of Hephaestion in fiction 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7
    • Ancient sources 7.1
    • Modern sources 7.2
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Youth and education

Hephaestion’s exact age is not known. No concise biography has ever been written about him, likely stemming from the fact that he died before Alexander and none of those among Alexander's companions who survived him would have had a need to promote someone other than themselves. Many scholars cite Hephaestion’s age as being similar to Alexander’s so it is fair to assume that he was born about 356 BC. He is said to have become a page in 343 BC, a role common to adolescent boys of the aristocratic class in Macedon.[4] As a member of the court, he may have met Alexander around this time.

The only surviving anecdote from Hephaestion’s youth comes courtesy of the Alexander Romance. According to this tale, “... one day when Alexander was 15 years old [...] sailing with Hephaestion, his friend, he easily reached Pisa [...] and he went off to stroll with Hephaestion.”[5] That Alexander’s exact age is given provides another clue to Hephaestion’s upbringing because at fifteen Alexander and his companions were at Mieza studying under Aristotle.[6] Hephaestion has never been named among those who attended the lectures at Mieza, but his close friendship with Alexander at that age suggests strongly that he was numbered among them. More telling is Hephaestion’s name being found in a catalogue of Aristotle’s correspondences.[7] The letters themselves no longer exist, but for them to have found their way into an official catalogue, their content must have been of some significance. It implies that Hephaestion received a good education and shows that Aristotle was impressed enough by his pupil to send letters throughout Alexander's expanding empire to converse with him.

A few years after the lectures at Mieza, Hephaestion’s presence was notably absent when several of Alexander’s close friends were exiled as a result of the Pixodarus affair. Among those exiled by Philip II after Alexander’s failed attempt to offer himself as groom to the Carian princess were Ptolemy, Nearchus, Harpalus, Erigyius and Laomedon.[8] The reason for Hephaestion’s absence from this list could be due to the fact that all of the exiled men were older friends of Alexander, Erigyius himself roughly 24 years older than the prince.[9] Hephaestion was a contemporary of Alexander and it is likely that his influence might have been seen as less of a threat than these more mature companions. Whatever Hephaestion’s opinion had been on the whole affair, like many of Alexander’s other childhood companions he was not exiled in its aftermath.

While it is true that very little detail of Hephaestion’s childhood and education can be found, that which remains gives credence to what is known about his later life. His friendship with Alexander was long-lasting, as was his tenure in the court at Pella; he even shared the same education as the future Great King of Greece and Asia. With such a promising start, age and experience would have helped mould Hephaestion Amyntoros into the man who would one day be the second most powerful man in Alexander’s empire, second only to the king himself.


Sharing Alexander's upbringing, Hephaestion would have learned to fight and to ride well from an early age. His first taste of military action was probably the campaign against the Thracians while Alexander was regent, followed by Philip II's Danube campaign (342 BC) and the battle of Chaeronea (338 BC) while he was still in his teens. His name is not mentioned in lists of high-ranking officers during the early battles of Alexander's Danube campaign (335 BC) or the invasion of Persia. Nor are the names of Alexander's other close friends and contemporaries listed, suggesting that their promotions, when they achieved them, were earned by merit.

The Battle of Issus by Albrecht Altdorfer, 1529

Hephaestion's career was never solely a military one. Right from the start he was also engaged in special missions, sometimes diplomatic, sometimes technical. The first mention of his career in the sources is a diplomatic mission of some importance. After the battle of Issus (333 BC) when Alexander was proceeding south down the Phoenician coast and had received the capitulation of Sidon, Hephaestion was "... authorised to appoint to the throne the Sidonian he considered most deserving of that high office."[10] Hephaestion took local advice and chose a man distantly related to the royal family, but whose honesty had reduced him to working as a gardener. The man, Abdalonymus, had a successful royal career, fully justifying Hephaestion's choice.

After the siege of Tyre (332 BC) Alexander entrusted his fleet to Hephaestion, who had orders to skirt the coast and head for Gaza, their next objective, while Alexander himself led the army overland.[11] Hephaestion's task was not an easy one for this was not the Athenian fleet with which Alexander had started and had earlier disbanded, but a motley collection of semi-reluctant allies of many nationalities who would need holding together with patience and strength. Furthermore, on arrival at Gaza the cargo of siege engines had to be unloaded, transported across difficult terrain and reassembled.

Plutarch, while writing about Alexander's correspondence, reveals an occasion when Hephaestion was away on business and Alexander wrote to him. The subject matter suggests that this took place while they were in Egypt. What business Hephaestion was attending to we do not know, but Andrew Chugg[12] has suggested that it was concerned either with his command of the fleet or Athenian diplomacy. He quotes sources which suggest that Hephaestion had been approached by Aristion of Athens to effect a reconciliation between Alexander and Demosthenes and, certainly, Athens' inaction during the revolt of the Spartan king Agis would seem to support this idea. As Chugg says, "If he did persuade Alexander to reach an accommodation with Demosthenes at this critical juncture, as would seem likely from the circumstances, then he was significantly responsible for saving the situation for Macedon in Greece by preventing the revolt of Agis spreading to Athens and her allies."[12]

It is likely, though not certain, that it was Hephaestion who led the advance army from Egypt to bridge the Euphrates river. Darius of Persia sent Mazaeus to hold the opposite bank while the bridging work was in progress. This Mazaeus was the commander who threw away what looked like certain victory on the Persian right at the battle of Gaugamela (331 BC) and later became Alexander's governor of Babylon. Robin Lane Fox has suggested that a conversation with Hephaestion may have won Mazaeus over: "It is conceivable that the battle of Gaugamela was partly won on the banks of the Euphrates and that Mazaeus' reinstatement was less a sign of magnanimity than of a prearranged reward."[13]

It is at Gaugamela that mention is first made of Hephaestion's rank. He is called the "... commander of the bodyguards (somatophylakes)."[14] This is not the Royal Squadron, whose duties also included guarding the king in battle and which was at that time commanded by Cleitus—a man of the older generation—but a small group of close companions specifically designated to fight alongside the king. Hephaestion was certainly in the thick of things with Alexander for Arrian tells us he was wounded and Curtius specifically mentions that it was a spear wound in the arm.[15][16]

After Gaugamela there is the first indication that Alexander intended reconciliation with the Persians and that Hephaestion supported him in this unpopular policy. One evening in Babylon Alexander noticed a high-born woman obliged to dance as part of the entertainment. Curtius explains: "The following day, he (Alexander) instructed Hephaestion to have all the prisoners brought to the royal quarters and there he verified the lineage of each of them."[17] Alexander had realized that people from noble families were being treated with little dignity and wanted to do something about it. That he chose Hephaestion to help him shows that he could rely on Hephaestion's tact and sympathy. Yet Alexander could also rely on Hephaestion for firmness and resolve. When his policies had led to a plot against his life, the possible involvement of a senior officer, Philotas, caused much concern. It was Hephaestion, along with Craterus and Coenus, who insisted on, and actually carried out, the customary torture.[18]

After the execution of Philotas (330 BC), Hephaestion was appointed joint commander—with Cleitus—of the Companion cavalry, Philotas' former position. This dual appointment was a way of satisfying two divergent shades of opinion now hardening throughout the army: one, like Hephaestion, broadly supportive of Alexander's policy of integration, and the other, that of Philip's older veterans in particular, whose implacable resentment of Persian ways was well represented by Cleitus.[19] The cavalry prospered under this command, showing itself equal to learning new tactics necessary against Scythian nomads and to counter-insurgency measures such as those deployed in the spring of 328 BC. The army set out from Balkh in five columns to spread through the valleys between the Oxus and Tanais rivers to pacify Sogdiana. Hephaestion commanded one of the columns and, after arriving at Marakanda, he set out again to establish settlements in the region.[20]

In spring 327 BC the army headed into India and Alexander divided his forces. He led his section north into the

  • Alexander's Tomb by Andrew M. Chugg
  • Hephaestion at WCD (Wiki Classical Dictionary)
  • Hephaistion - Philalexandros by Jeanne Reames
  • Livius, Hephaestion by Jona Lendering
  • All about Alexander the Great

External links

  • Reames, Jeanne. Hephaistion Amyntoros: Eminence Grise at the Court of Alexander the Great. Diss. The Pennsylvania State University, c1998. (abstract)
  • Borza, Eugene and Jeanne Reames. Some New Thoughts on the Death of Alexander the Great, The Ancient World 31.1 (2000) 1-9.
  • Bosworth, Albert Brian. Hephaistion. In: Simon Hornblower, Antony Spawforth (Hrsg.): The Oxford Classical Dictionary. 3. Aufl., Oxford University Press, Oxford 1996, ISBN 0-19-866172-X.
  • Carney, Elizabeth D. Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Aristocracy. Dissertation, Duke University, 1975.
  • Heckel, Waldemar. Hephaistion. In: Ders.: The Marshals of Alexander's Empire. Routledge, London 1992, ISBN 0-415-05053-7.
  • Reames, Jeanne. An Atypical Affair? Alexander the Great, Hephaistion, and the Nature of Their Relationship. In: The Ancient History Bulletin 13.3 (1999), pp. 81–96.
  • Reames, Jeanne. The Cult of Hephaistion. In: Cartledge, Paul, and Greenland, Fiona Rose (ed.), Responses to Oliver Stone's Alexander. Film, History, and Cultural Studies. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison 2010, ISBN 0-299-23284-0 (accessible online in
  • Reames, Jeanne. The Mourning of Alexander the Great, In: Syllecta Classica 12 (2001) 98-145.

Further reading

  • Cartledge, Paul (2004) Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past. London: Macmillan. ISBN 1-4050-3292-8
  • Chugg, Andrew Michael (2006) Alexander's Lovers. Lightning Source UK Ltd. ISBN 978-1-4116-9960-1
  • Hammond, N. G. L. (1980 2nd edition) Alexander the Great: King, Commander and Statesman. Bristol Press. ISBN 1-85399-068-X
  • Hammond, N. G. L. (1997) The Genius of Alexander the Great. London: Duckworth. ISBN 0-7156-3341-4
  • Heckel, Waldemar (2006) Who's Who in the Age of Alexander the Great. MA, USA: Blackwell. ISBN 1-4051-1210-7
  • Lane Fox, Robin (1973) Alexander the Great. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 0-14-102076-8
  • Martin, Thomas R. (2012). Alexander the Great : the story of an ancient life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521767484
  • Renault, Mary (1975) The Nature of Alexander. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 0-7139-0936-6

Modern sources

Ancient sources


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ a b Curtius 3.12.16
  3. ^
  4. ^ Heckel 2006 p.133
  5. ^ Chugg 2006 p.67
  6. ^ Plutarch 7
  7. ^ Diogenes Laertius, Aristotle 5
  8. ^ Plutarch 10
  9. ^ Heckel 2006 p.119
  10. ^ Curtius 4.1.16
  11. ^ Curtius 4.5.10
  12. ^ a b Chugg 2006, p.93
  13. ^ Lane Fox 1973, p.227
  14. ^ Diodorus 17.61.3
  15. ^ Arrian 3.15.2
  16. ^ Curtius 4.16.32
  17. ^ Curtius 6.2.9
  18. ^ Curtius 6.11.10
  19. ^ Arrian 3.27.4
  20. ^ Arrian 4.16.43 and 4.16.45
  21. ^ Arrian 4.22.58
  22. ^ Arrian 4.23.59
  23. ^ Arrian 4.22.54
  24. ^ Curtius 8.14.15
  25. ^ Arrian 6.2.4
  26. ^ Arrian, Indica 18
  27. ^ Arrian 6.5.6
  28. ^ Arrian 6.17.4
  29. ^ Arrian 6.18.1 and 6.20.1
  30. ^ Arrian 6.22.37
  31. ^ Arrian 7.5.6
  32. ^ Photius 92
  33. ^ a b c d
  34. ^ Diogenes Laertius 5.1.20
  35. ^ Diodorus 17.37.5
  36. ^ Arrian 2.12.31
  37. ^ a b Curtius 3.12.17
  38. ^ Diodorus 17.114.3
  39. ^ Arrian 7.14.50
  40. ^ Cartledge p19
  41. ^ Arrian 3.26
  42. ^ Arrian 4.8
  43. ^ Arrian 4.5
  44. ^ Curtius 12.16.2
  45. ^ Plutarch 55.1
  46. ^ Hammond 1980, p.16
  47. ^ Hammond 1980, p.250
  48. ^
  49. ^ Arrian: Hephaestion (1); Hephaistion Philalexandros; John J. Popovic, Alexander the great of Macedon.
  50. ^
  51. ^ Arrian 1.12.1
  52. ^ Plato, Symposium, 179e-180a.
  53. ^ Lane Fox 1973, p.113
  54. ^ (English edition translated by Cormac O' Cuilleanain: Bisexuality in the Ancient World (2nd edition), Yale University Press, New Haven, 2002, ISBN 978-0300093025).
  55. ^
  56. ^ Cartledge 2004, p.10
  57. ^ Aelian, Varia Historia 12.7. According to Plato, it was Achilles that should be regarded as the eromenos as he was "...younger by far" (Symposium, 179e-180a).
  58. ^ Lane Fox 1973, p.57
  59. ^ Hammond 1997, p.27
  60. ^ Lucian 8
  61. ^ Plutarch 39.40
  62. ^ Diogenes of Sinope 24. The letter, probably spurious, is partially translated and quoted by Chugg (Alexander's Lovers, second edition, 2012, p. 18). It reads as follows: "If you wish to be beautiful and good, throw away the rag you have in your head and come to us. Yet you will not be able to do so, for you are held fast by Hephaistion's thighs".
  63. ^ Chugg 2006, p.125
  64. ^ Arrian 7.14.13
  65. ^ Arrian 4.22.1
  66. ^ Arrian 5.12.25
  67. ^ Arrian 7.14.11
  68. ^ Arrian 7.13
  69. ^ Plutarch, Eumenes 2
  70. ^ Plutarch 47
  71. ^ Curtius 10.15.20
  72. ^ a b Arrian 7.4.29
  73. ^ Arrian 7.14.3
  74. ^ Plutarch 72.2
  75. ^ Renault p 209
  76. ^
  77. ^ a b
  78. ^ a b Plutarch 72.3
  79. ^ a b Arrian 7.14.6
  80. ^ Arrian 7.14.7
  81. ^ a b Arrian 7.14.9
  82. ^ Arrian 7.14.8
  83. ^ Iliad 23.160
  84. ^ Arrian 7.15.1
  85. ^ Arrian 7.15.3
  86. ^ Arrian 7.15.4
  87. ^ Arrian 7.23.8
  88. ^ SEG 40:547
  89. ^ Copy of votive relief
  90. ^ Arrian 7.15.5
  91. ^ Plutarch 72.4
  92. ^ Diodorus 17.115 1-5
  93. ^ Lane Fox 1973, p.477
  94. ^ Diodorus 17.114.4
  95. ^


Portrayals of Hephaestion in fiction

One final tribute remained, and it is compelling in its simplicity and in what it reveals about the high esteem in which Hephaestion was held by Alexander. On the day of the funeral, he gave orders that the sacred flame in the temple should be extinguished. Normally, this was only done on the death of the Great King himself.[94]

The pyre was sixty metres high, square in shape and built in stepped levels. The first level was decorated with two hundred and forty ships with golden prows, each of these adorned with armed figures with red banners filling the spaces between. On the second level were torches with snakes at the base, golden wreaths in the middle and at the top, flames surmounted by eagles. The third level showed a hunting scene, and the fourth a battle of centaurs, all done in gold. On the fifth level, also in gold, were lions and bulls, and on the sixth the arms of Macedon and Persia. The seventh and final level bore sculptures of sirens, hollowed out to conceal a choir who would sing a lament.[92] It is possible that the pyre was not burnt, but that it was actually intended as a tomb or lasting memorial; if so, it is likely that it was never completed, as there are references to expensive, uncompleted projects at the time of Alexander's own death.[93]

Hephaestion was given a magnificent funeral. Its cost is variously given in the sources as 10,000 talents or 12,000 talents. It is difficult to give a modern equivalent for such a huge amount but we know that in Hephaestion’s time, the daily wage of a skilled worker was two or three drachmas. In western Europe, 2008, that would be between £50 and £100, so the lowest possible value for 1 drachma in modern terms is £25. We know there were 6,000 drachmas in a talent, so even at the most conservative estimate, Hephaestion’s funeral would have cost £1,500,000,000. Alexander himself drove the funeral carriage part of the way back to Babylon with some of the driving entrusted to Hephaestion's friend Perdiccas.[81] At Babylon funeral games were held in Hephaestion's honour. The contests ranged from literature to athletics and 3,000 competitors took part, the festival eclipsing anything that had gone before both in cost and in numbers taking part.[90] Plutarch says that Alexander planned to spend ten thousand talents on the funeral and the tomb. He employed Stasicrates, "... as this artist was famous for his innovations, which combined an exceptional degree of magnificence, audacity and ostentation ...", to design the pyre for Hephaestion.[91]

Alexander sent messengers to the oracle at Siwa to ask if Amon would permit Hephaestion to be worshipped as a god. When the reply came saying he might be worshipped not as a god, but as a divine hero, Alexander was pleased and "... from that day forward saw that his friend was honoured with a hero's rites."[87] He saw to it that shrines were erected to Hephaestion's memory, and evidence that the cult took hold can be found in a simple votary plaque now in Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, inscribed, "To the Hero Hephaestion".[88][89]

Arrian states that all his sources agree that "... for two whole days after Hephaestion's death Alexander tasted no food and paid no attention in any way to his bodily needs but lay on his bed now crying lamentably, now in the silence of grief."[84] Alexander ordered a period of mourning throughout the empire. Arrian tells us that "Many of the Companions, out of respect for Alexander, dedicated themselves and their arms to the dead man ..."[85] The army, too, remembered him; Alexander did not appoint anyone to take Hephaestion's place as commander of the Companion cavalry; he "... wished Hephaestion's name to be preserved always in connection with it, so Hephaestion's Regiment it continued to be called, and Hephaestion's image continued to be carried before it."[86]

Another hint that Alexander looked to Achilles to help him to express his grief may be found in the campaign, shortly following these events, against a tribe called the Cossaeans. Plutarch says they were massacred as an offering to the spirit of Hephaestion and it is quite possible to imagine that to Alexander this might have followed in spirit Achilles' killing of "... twelve high-born youths ..." beside Patroclus' funeral pyre.[78]

Hephaestion's death is dealt with at greater length by the ancient sources than any of the events of his life, because of its profound effect upon Alexander. Plutarch says "... Alexander's grief was uncontrollable ..." and adds that he ordered many signs of mourning, notably that the manes and tails of all horses should be shorn, the demolition of the battlements of the neighbouring cities and the banning of flutes and every other kind of music.[78] Arrian relates an account that "... he flung himself on the body of his friend and lay there nearly all day long in tears, and refused to be parted from him until he was dragged away by force by his Companions ...",[79] another that said "... he lay stretched upon the corpse all day and the whole night too ...",[79] and another which told how he had the doctor, Glaucias, executed for his lack of care.[80] Arrian also mentions Alexander ordering the shrine of Asclepios in Ecbatana to be razed to the ground,[81] and that he cut his hair short in mourning,[82] this last a poignant reminder of Achilles' last gift to Patroclus on his funeral pyre: "... he laid the lock of hair in the hands of his beloved companion, and the whole company was moved to tears."[83]

Following Hephaestion's death his body was cremated and the ashes were taken to Babylon.[76][77] The general Eumenes suggested that divine honors be given to Hephaestion, this was later done.[77]

Piecing the accounts together, it seems as if Hephaestion's fever had run its course for seven days, after which time he was sufficiently recovered for his doctor, and Alexander himself, to feel it was safe to leave him, and for Hephaestion to feel hungry. His meal, however, seems to have caused a relapse that led to his rapid death. Precisely why this should have happened is not known. As Mary Renault says, "This sudden crisis in a young, convalescent man is hard to account for."[75] The explanation that fits most of the facts is that the fever was typhoid and that solid food perforated the ulcerated intestine that the typhoid would have caused. This would have led to internal bleeding, though it would be unusual in that case for death to follow quite as swiftly as it seems to have done here. For that reason, it is not possible altogether to discount other possible explanations, one of them being poison.

In spring 324 BC Hephaestion left Susa, where he had been married, and accompanied Alexander and the rest of the army as they travelled towards Ecbatana. They arrived in the autumn and it was there, during games and festivals, that Hephaestion fell ill with a fever. Arrian says that after the fever had run for seven days, Alexander had to be summoned from the games to Hephaestion, who was seriously ill. He did not arrive in time; by the time he got there, Hephaestion was dead.[73] Plutarch says that being a young man and a soldier, Hephaestion had ignored medical advice and as soon as his doctor, Glaucias, had gone off to the theatre, he ate a large breakfast consisting of a boiled fowl and a cooler of wine, and then fell sick and died.[74]

Death and funeral

For Alexander to marry a daughter of Darius made good political sense, allying himself firmly with the Persian ruling class, but for Hephaestion to marry her sister shows the high esteem in which Alexander held him, bringing him into the royal family itself. They became brothers-in-law, and yet there was more to it than that. Alexander, says Arrian "... wanted to be uncle to Hephaestion's children ...".[72] Thus it is possible to imagine Alexander and Hephaestion hoping that their respective offspring might unite their lines and that, ultimately, the crown of Macedon and Persia might be worn by one who was a descendant of them both.[72]

In only one instance is Hephaestion known to have quarrelled with a fellow officer and that was with Craterus. In this instance it is easier to see that resentment might have been felt on both sides, for Craterus was one of those officers who vehemently disliked Alexander's policy of integrating Greek and Persian, whereas Hephaestion was very much in favour. Plutarch tells the story: "For this reason a feeling of hostility grew and festered between the two and they often came into open conflict. Once on the expedition to India they actually drew their swords and came to blows ...".[70] Alexander, who also valued Craterus highly as a most competent officer, was forced to intervene and had stern words for both. It is a measure of how high feelings were running over this contentious issue that such a thing should have happened and also an indication of how closely Hephaestion identified Alexander's wishes with his own. Hephaestion gave perhaps the ultimate proof of this in the summer of 324 BC, when he accepted as his wife Drypetis, daughter of Darius and sister to Alexander's own second wife Stateira.[1] Of his short married life nothing is known, except that at the time of Alexander's own death, eight months after Hephaestion's, Drypetis was still mourning the husband to whom she had been married for only four months.[71]

The weddings at Susa; Alexander to Stateira (right), and Hephaestion to Drypetis (left). Late 19th-century engraving.

Yet given the factions and jealousies that arise in any court and that Hephaestion was supremely close to the greatest monarch the western world had yet seen, it is remarkable how little enmity he inspired. Arrian[68] mentions a quarrel with Alexander's secretary Eumenes but, because of a missing page in the text, the greater part of the detail is missing, leaving only the conclusion that something persuaded Hephaestion, though against his will, to make up the quarrel. However, Plutarch, who wrote about Eumenes in his series of Parallel Lives,[69] mentions that it was about lodgings and a flute-player, so perhaps this was an instance of some deeper antagonism breaking out into a quarrel over a triviality. What that antagonism might have been, it is not possible to know, but someone with the closeness to the king of a secretary might well have felt some jealousy for Hephaestion's even greater closeness.

It would be wrong to imply that Hephaestion was universally liked or admired however. Outside the close-knit coterie of the Macedonian high command he had his enemies. This is clear from Arrian's comment about Alexander's grief: "All writers have agreed that it was great, but personal prejudice, for or against both Hephaestion and Alexander himself, has coloured the accounts of how he expressed it."[67]

Such an all-encompassing love often leaves little room for other affections. Hephaestion was the best friend of Alexander, his king and his commanding officer, so it is not surprising that we only hear of several other close friendships or attachments in his life. There is no evidence, however, that he was anything but popular and well liked among the group of Alexander's close friends and Companions who had grown up together, and worked well together for so many years. It is possible that he was closest to Perdiccas, because it was with Perdiccas that he went on the mission to take Peuceolatis and bridge the Indus. By that time, as Alexander's effective second-in-command, he could doubtless have chosen any officer he cared to name.[65] They accomplished everything they set out to do with great success, which indicates that the two of them worked well together, and that Hephaestion found the irrepressible Perdiccas a congenial companion. It is notable that their two cavalry regiments in particular were selected by Alexander for the dangerous crossing of the river Hydaspes before the battle with the Indian king, Porus. On that occasion superb teamwork would have been of paramount importance.[66]

The family of Darius in front of Alexander, by Justus Sustermans and preserved in the Biblioteca Museu Víctor Balaguer. In this picture we can see Hephaestion point out Alexander

No other circumstance shows better the nature and length of their relationship than Alexander's overwhelming grief at Hephaestion's death. As Andrew Chugg says, "... it is surely incredible that Alexander's reaction to Hephaestion's death could indicate anything other than the closest relationship imaginable."[63] The many and varied ways, both spontaneous and planned, by which Alexander poured out his grief are detailed below. In the context of the nature of their relationship however, one stands out as remarkable. Arrian says that Alexander "... flung himself on the body of his friend and lay there nearly all day long in tears, and refused to be parted from him until he was dragged away by force by his Companions."[64]

However, what was the case in Athens was not necessarily the case in Macedon. As Robin Lane Fox says, "... descendants of the Dorians were considered and even expected to be openly homosexual, especially among their ruling class, and the Macedonian kings had long insisted on their pure Dorian ancestry."[58] This was no fashionable affectation; this was something that belonged at the heart of what it was to be Dorian, and therefore Macedonian, and had more in common with the Theban Sacred Band than with Athens.[59] In light of this, it is not surprising that there are many indications that their sexual relationship was indeed lifelong. Lucian, writing in his book On Slips of the Tongue[60] describes an occasion when Hephaestion's conversation one morning implied that he had been in Alexander's tent all night, and Plutarch[61] describes the intimacy between them when he tells how Hephaestion was in the habit of reading Alexander's letters with him, and of a time when he showed that the contents of a letter were to be kept secret by touching his ring to Hephaestion's lips. Diogenes of Sinope, in a letter written to Alexander when he was a grown man, accuses Alexander of being "... ruled by Hephaestion's thighs."[62]

The former assumption has persisted to the present day, with writers of fiction such as Mary Renault and the film director Oliver Stone among its proponents, as well as modern historians such as Paul Cartledge, who says: "Rumour had it—and rumour was for once surely correct—that he [Hephaestion] and Alexander had once been more than just good friends."[56] Aelian takes the latter view when he uses just such an expression when describing the visit to Troy: "Alexander laid a garland on Achilles' tomb and Hephaestion on Patroclus', indicating that he was Alexander's eromenos, as Patroclus was of Achilles."[57]

Hephaestion and Alexander grew up in a time where, according to Thomas R. Martin, homosexual affairs were seen as abnormal by majority Greek standards of their time.[33] But Andrew Chugg, Robin Lane Fox and others show different views. According to Eva Cantarella, for instance, male bisexuality was widely permitted and ruled by law, and generally not frowned upon by the public to the extent to which it remained within the preset limits. The Greeks used to approach the relationships between men in a very different way from how they will be dealt with today (with exceptions of course). For the Greeks "homosexuality was not an exclusive choice. Loving another man was not an option out of the norm, different, somehow deviant. It was just a part of life experience; it was the show of an either sentimental or sexual drive that, over a lifetime, alternated and was associated (sometimes at the very same time) with love for a woman". [54] The pattern that same-sex love affairs followed, however, was not the same in every city-state. Some Roman and later writers, taking the Athenian pattern as their example, have tended to assume either that Alexander and Hephaestion had a sexual relationship which belonged to their adolescence, after which they left it behind, or that one of them was older, the lover (erastes) and the other was the beloved (eromenos) despite there being scarcely any direct evidence that Alexander and Hephaestion had a sexual relationship at all.[55]

However, Arrian[51] describes the occasion when Alexander and Hephaestion publicly identified themselves with close friends Achilles and Patroclus. It happened right at the beginning of the campaign in Asia when Alexander led a contingent of the army to visit Troy, scene of the events in his beloved Iliad. He laid a wreath on the tomb of Achilles and Hephaestion laid a wreath on the tomb of Patroclus and they ran a race, naked, to honour their dead heroes. Arrian discreetly draws no conclusions from this, but, according to Thomas R. Martin, by no means does the identification of Alexander and Hephaestion with Achilles and Patroclus equate to their being homosexuals as Homer, author of the Iliad, never suggested that Achilles and his close friend Patroclus were homosexual or that they had sexual relations. Martin further suggests this concept was theorized by unspecified "later authors",[33] who include however such eminent writers as Aeschylus and Plato[52] that had lived before Alexander and Hephaestion's time. Thus, according to Robin Lane Fox quite different conclusions can be drawn: "It was a remarkable tribute, uniquely paid, and it is also Hephaestion's first mention in Alexander's career. Already the two were intimate, Patroclus and Achilles even to those around them; the comparison would remain to the end of their days and is proof of their life as lovers, for by Alexander's time, Achilles and Patroclus were agreed to have enjoyed the relationship which Homer himself had never directly mentioned."[53]

It has been suggested by some modern scholars that as well as being close friends Alexander and Hephaestion were also lovers despite the fact that hardly any of Alexander's extant ancient Greek or Roman biographers ever refer to Hephaestion as anything but Alexander's friend,[33][48] consistent with Hephaestion's epithet “Philalexandros” which was given to him by Alexander himself.[49] The ancient sources generally name Hephaestion only as a good and loyal friend of Alexander's.[50]

Alexander, left, and Hephaestion, right. The Getty Villa Museum.

Hephaestion played a full part in Alexander's regular consultations with senior officers, but he was the one to whom Alexander would also talk in private, sharing his thoughts, hopes and plans. Curtius[44] states that Hephaestion was the sharer of all his secrets. And Plutarch[45] describes an occasion when Alexander had a controversial change to impose and implies that Hephaestion was the one with whom Alexander discussed it and who arranged for the change to be implemented. According to the painting done by Aetion of Alexander's first wedding, Hephaestion was his torch bearer (best man), showing by this not only his friendship, but also his support for Alexander's policies as Alexander's choice of an Asian bride had not been a popular one. By the time they returned to Persia Hephaestion was officially, by title, Alexander's second-in-command, as he had long been in practice, and also his brother-in-law. Hammond sums up their public relationship well: "It is not surprising that Alexander was as closely attached to Hephaestion as Achilles was to Patroclus",[46] and "At the time of his death Hephaestion held the highest single command, that of the Companion Cavalry; and had been repeatedly second in command to Alexander in the hierarchy of the Asian court, holding the title of Chiliarch, which had been held by Nabarzanes under Darius. Thus Alexander honoured Hephaestion both as the closest of his friends and the most distinguished of his Field Marshals."[47]

Their friendship was also a working partnership; in all that Alexander undertook, Hephaestion was at his side. They worked well together; it is possible to discern a pattern, when studying Hephaestion's career, of Alexander's constant trust in, and increasing reliance on, Hephaestion. By the time of the advance into India, after the deaths of senior generals from the older generation, there had been worrying instances among senior officers of their own generation of treachery,[41] a lack of sympathy with Alexander's aims of further integration of Persians into the army,[42] and of sheer incompetence.[43] Time after time, when Alexander needed to divide his forces he entrusted half to Hephaestion, knowing that in him he had a man of unquestionable loyalty who understood and sympathized with his aims and, above all, who got the job done.

Their tutor Aristotle described friendship as "... one soul abiding in two bodies".[34] That they themselves considered their friendship to be of such a kind is shown by the stories of the morning after the battle of Issus. Diodorus,[35] Arrian[36] and Curtius[37] all describe the scene when Alexander and Hephaestion went together to visit the captured Persian royal family. Its senior member, the queen Sisygambis, knelt to Hephaestion to plead for their lives mistaking him for Alexander because he was the taller and both young men were wearing similar clothes. When she realized her mistake she was acutely embarrassed but Alexander reassured her with the words, "You were not mistaken, Mother; this man too is Alexander."[37] Their love for each other was no secret, as is borne out by their own words. Hephaestion, when replying to a letter to Alexander's mother, Olympias, said "... you know that Alexander means more to us than anything."[38] Arrian says that Alexander, after Hephaestion's death, described him as "... the friend I valued as my own life."[39] Paul Cartledge describes their closeness when he says: "Alexander seems actually to have referred to Hephaestion as his alter ego."[40]

Alexander and Hephaestion enter the tent of the captive royal family of Darius. From a 1696 edition of Curtius.

Little is known of Hephaestion's personal relationships beyond his close friendship with Diogenes of Sinope's alleged letter quoted below, heavily hinting at Alexander's yielding to Hephaestion's thighs, ancient sources do not generally mention that Hephaestion and Alexander may have been lovers, as some modern scholars have theorized. Overall direct evidence is non-existent and, at least according to Thomas R. Martin, this was a practice which was uncommon by majority Greek standards of their time.[33]


Hephaestion was in command at Pattala while Alexander advanced. When he rejoined Alexander at Rhambacia he established a city there also.[30] Hephaestion crossed the Gedrosian desert with Alexander, sharing the torments of that journey and, when the army was safely back in Susa, he was decorated for bravery.[31] He was to take part in no further fighting; he had only months to live. But, having ended his military career as Alexander's de facto second-in-command, he was also his second in the political sphere. Alexander had made that official by naming him Chiliarch. Photius mentions Perdiccas being appointed "... to command the chiliarchy which Hephaestion had originally held."[32]

[29] Hephaestion took part in a notable cavalry charge at the

A painting by Charles Le Brun depicting Alexander and Hephaestion (in red cloak), facing Porus, during the Battle of the Hydaspes.

Alexander often had to divide his forces and command was given to a variety of senior officers on different occasions. For example, a few weeks before this mission of Hephaestion's, Craterus had been sent with a large force to subdue the last two remaining Bactrian rebels.[23] It seems that Hephaestion was chosen when the objectives were far from clear-cut, and Alexander needed a commander on whom he could rely to do what he would have done himself without needing instructions.


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