Reflections on Hephaestion’s Death

This week saw the death of two celebrities: David Bowie and Alan Rickman.  As often happens in such cases, there was a world-wide outpouring of shock and declarations of respect and love for both the men and their work.  I was not a devoted fan of David Bowie, but didn’t mind his music.  I was not a huge fan of Alan Rickman, as more often than not I found him creepy.  It made me wonder how many of these expressions of sadness and regret over the deaths of these two men were genuine as opposed to what was socially expected.  This got me to thinking about Hephaestion.  


At the time of his death, Hephaestion was second in command to Alexander, a position which could be considered equivalent to today’s celebrity.  One would expect to see the sources tell of a tremendous outpouring of regret, sadness, and grief at his untimely death.  Alexander reacts just as we would expect him to act at the untimely death of his closest and most trusted friend.  He immediately goes into wild, deep mourning refusing to leave the body until he is physically dragged from it three days later.  He cuts his hair as well as the hair of all horses in camp.  He orders the sacred flames of the Zoroastrian temples doused, and immediately applies to the Oracle at Siwah to have Hephaestion declared divine.  He plans a massive funeral and monument.  


No one else really reacts.  We do hear of Eumenes rushing to dedicate some things to the “Divine Hero Hephaestion” at a temple, but little else.  From the others were interacted closely with Hephaestion on a daily basis for ten years, Craterus, Ptolemy, Nearchus, and others, nothing is seen or heard.  We have definite cause to be suspicious of the purity of Eumene’s motives as we learn that shortly before Hephaestion’s death the two men were involved in a quarrel that only ended upon Alexander’s intervention.


So, why?  Why does no one else care that Hephaestion was dead?  I suspect it is the result of a couple of different reasons.  Firstly, Hephaestion was a logistical genius.  This is neither a sexy or high profile job when compared to the military exploits of Alexander or some of his other soldiers.  People love to hear of battlefield heroics, but few rarely care who built a bridge.  They only care that it is operation when they need it, then it is out of mind yet again.  Secondly, Hephaestion was a diplomat.  Diplomacy very rarely involves genuine feelings as it often involves working out agreements between two parties of vastly divergent points of view.  Thirdly, no one was closer Alexander than Hephaestion including his mother, Olympias.  In a time where one’s success and riches depended upon the favorable opinion of one’s monarch or leader, this would incite a certain degree of jealousy.  One can image the scorn that those whose talents lay more in the traditional arena of battlefield heroics might have felt to see someone whose talents lay behind the scenes out of view prosper even ahead of themselves.  I seriously doubt any of Philip’s remaining men had much respect for logistics and administrative duties.  
The sources and many since have implied that Alexander’s reaction to Hephaestion’s death was excessive.  I beg to differ, and a close look at the internet this week will bear that opinion out.  If we can be so upset over the deaths of people we have met only through hearing their music or seeing them appear in a movie or play, how much more upset should we be when faced with the death of someone who was in many ways the other half of ourselves?


Alexander’s Clothes

The sources mention that one of the things that made some of Alexander’s men, especially the old guard, begin to doubt his very Macedonian-ness was his clothing.  After gaining the Persian throne, they mention that Alexander adopted an outfit that was a mix of Macedonian and Persian clothing.  He adopted the Median tunic and the peaked cap of the Persians but kept the sandals of the Macedonian as well as the diadem.  They also specify that he never adopted the pants of the Persians.

Why would what someone wears matter so much, especially to a hard bitten Macedonian soldier?  Clothing is one of the most fundamental ways of communicating.  What a person chooses to wear is a reflection of things such as their personality, their status, the group to which they belong.  It is also a means of non-verbal communication meaning that the literacy level of the people encountered or the language they speak does not matter.  It does not matter if they can read your business card.  It does not matter that they do not speak the same language as you.  Regardless of their native language, most women know that a red sole on a heel means that is a Christian Louboutin.  If a man approaches wearing all black with a solid closed white collar, most people know that man is a Catholic priest.  A person in jeans with a black tshirt that features a large triangle with a crossbar is undoubtedly Echelon!

Lewis V. Cummings explains in his book Alexander the Great that clothing was very important to the Macedonian aristocracy for one particular reason.  He states that the Macedonian king (Philip in this case) wore no emblem to mark his rank.  Both the king and his Companion (Hetairoi) wore a purple chlamys (cloak), a tunic, and the wide-brimmed causia (hat).  There was little to no distinction between the king and his aristocracy who also enjoyed such rights as freedom of speech before the king.  For these veterans especially, suddenly their king, Alexander, set himself apart from them by changing his clothing.

Alexander had a reason for this change which further emphasizes this idea of clothing as non-verbal communication.  He chose an outfit that combined the “uniforms” of all the groups within his newly established empire.  This was just a part of his overall plan of joining this disparate groups into peaceful new society.  No longer would it be “Greek” ruling the “Barbarians” that Aristotle had spoken of so long ago at Mieza, but a new mixed society that would spread across the world.  In his men’s eyes, Alexander was no longer Macedonian–his new clothes shouted that loudly!  Not only did Alexander’s clothing change, but those who favored his pro-mixed policies like Hephaestion also adopted changes.  Suddenly, these veterans found their was a new distance between their king and his inner circle and themselves.  Their very status, their very identity, was being threatened by this new look.  Their king, to their eyes, was no longer Macedonian.



A while back I wrote the following post on Facebook:

Mary Renault calls Hephaestion “one of the most underrated men in history”–an assertion with which I whole-heartedly agree. It should be no secret that I think one of the greatest keys to Alexander’s successes was Hephaestion. I think his record more than supports that belief. Here are just a few of the high points, which Renault points out in her book “The Nature of Alexander”.

  1. Hephaestion received steady and consistent promotions based on merit.
  2. He was never defeated in any of his independent commands all of which were of the greatest importance to Alexander’s continued success.
  3. He carried out numerous diplomatic missions of the first importance impeccably.

By all means, feel free to comment on whether you agree or disagree. Let’s start a discussion about this amazing guy. I know at least two of you (yes, I’m looking at you, Malcolm and Terri) will have something to say.

My friend and fellow Alexander researcher Malcolm responded with the following:

Jen, I’ll play devil’s advocate and take the opposite view: I agree that Hephaestion is a highly significant figure but Renault is overplaying his importance when she calls him the most underrated man in history. To take the points you mention, Jen:
1. Yes, he received promotions but as you say they were steady – not spectacular. This points to Hephaestion being a solid soldier rather than a great one
2. How many of Hephaestion’s independent commands were carried out in enemy territory where he might have come under threat? (I can think of at least one but I’m not going to tell you what it is!)
3. As a member of the nobility I would expect Hephaestion to be a competent diplomat (again, I can think of one occasion where he was trusted to a very significant degree but I’m not going to tell you what it is) 

Malcolm recently complained, rightly so, that I had not responded to his points, so here we go

  1.  My response to his first point is this.  Firstly, none of Alexander’s close friends or contemporaries appear in the lists of high-ranking officers during the early battles of Alexander’s Danube campaign or the invasion of Persia.  This suggests that promotions, including Hephaestion’s, were based on merit and deeds.  Hephaestion was commander of the Somatophylakes, the small group whose primary goal was the protection of Alexander.  He was also named a Joint Commander of the Companion Cavalry,the most elite group in Alexander’s army.  The reason it was a joint command and not a sole was to provide balance to the two factions that made up Alexander’s army.  Hephaestion represented the new guard that shared Alexander’s vision while the other commander, Black Cleitus, was a sut to the veterans of who first fought under Philip and remained enamored of the old ways.  Hephaestion was continually given assignments away from Alexander meaning he was trusted to provide good results without the need of management and that he could be trusted implicitly to be loyal to Alexander.  Finally, his prowess as a soldier is demonstrated by the fact that it is he that Alexander chose to march down the Hydaspes five days ahead of the main army in order to meet and subdue any peoples encountered.  Finally, it is Hephaestion, and no one else, who was named and acted as Alexander’s second in command from the time he took charge of the army during Alexander’s convalescence after being wounded in the lung to his actual appointment as chiliarch.
  2. in answer to his second point, I put forth the following.  After the siege of Tyre, Hephaestion was placed in command of the fleet of loosely federated allies and given the task of directing them down the coast to Gaza where he was then in charge of moving Alexander’s siege engines over difficult terrain to meet up with the land troops.  Through the Kyber Pass to the Indus, he subdued all the populations he encountered including the successful siege of Peuceolatis.  Finally, he was not replaced after his death as no one could have filled his shoes.  It has been pointed out that he was chosen for assignments by Alexander when the objectives were not clear cut and Alexander needed a commander on whom he could rely to do what Alexander himself would do without needing instruction or management.
  3. Two incidents in particular point to Hephaestion’s outstanding diplomatic prowess.  It is he whom Alexander chose to name a new King of Sidon, one of the most important ports on the Mediterranean.  This is a job that one would think Alexander himself would have done as whoever was put in power would need to be trusted to not revolt against Macedonian forces or cause trouble as Alexander marched on.  Likewise, to be trusted to recognize and name royalty meant that Hephaestion was on equal footing with Alexander and royalty, at least in Alexander’s own eyes.  The second instance involves Mazeus and his actions.  Hephaestion first encountered Mazeus while he was working to bridge the Euphrates to provide Alexander’s army a crossing.  For the time it took to construct this bridge, he was in almost constant contact with Mazeus across the river, yet Mazeus never attacked.  Later, at Gaugamela, Mazeus, in charge one of the whole Persian wings would simply ride away from the battle when it seemed as if he would overwhelm the Macedonian line.  It has been suggested that a deal was struck between Hephaestion and Mazeus during the bridge construction.  If so, then Hephaestion’s diplomatic prowess played a big role in Alexander’s conquest.

The final example I give that Hephaestion was second only to Alexander is his marriage.  Alexander, a reigning king, chose to give the daughter of a emperor, and sister to his own wife, to Hephaestion in marriage.  Alexander wished his children to be related by blood to Hephaestion’s children.  There is no greater sign that Alexander thought of Hephaestion as his second self and a complete equal.

So, Malcolm, and anyone else who feels like jumping into the debate, there are my answers.

Continue reading

Robin Lane Fox’s Hephaestion

I recently finished Robin Lane Fox’s book “Alexander the Great”.  Over all, I liked his view of Hephaestion and that other guy……what was his name again….oh yeah, Alexander. I picked out a few of the points that stood out the most to me to discuss below.

First of all, Fox discusses Hephaestion’s first encounter with the Persian Mazeus while building a bridge.  Mazeus and his men harassed Hephaestion’s men while they built but did not attack and did not destroy the bridge.  Later, Mazeus would command the entire Persian right wing at the Battle of Gaugamela.  During that battle, Mazeus retreated instead of encircling the Macedonians allowing Alexander to win the battle. Fox suggests that this may have been the result of a deal brokered by Hephaestion during his earlier encounter with Mazeus.  If this is true, then, in large part, Alexander’s win at Gaugamela was due to Hephaestion’s diplomatic prowess.

Fox at one point refers to Hephaestion as an “officer above suspicion”.  He cites Hephaestion’s constant support of Alexander’s policies, especially those toward the Persians, as evidence.  When set against the antics of Philotas, Alexander’s own pages, and Black Cleitus, I think this is a distinction that bears pointing out.  From the day they met until the day he died in Ecbatana, there is no evidence that Alexander ever had to doubt Hephaestion’s loyalty to, actions toward, or thoughts about him.  In fact, Hephaestion’s incessant support of Alexander’s efforts to more seamless integrate the Persians into his empire is likely evidence that he shared Alexander’s vision of a kingdom unlike any the world had seen before.

One of the points made in support of the theory that Hephaestion was not a good soldier is that Alexander did not often give him solo commands.  Fox believes that the split commands were not a product of Alexander’s wishes but of political necessity.  The splits were merely to appease the army which still contained many men who had served with Philip and were less inclined toward the Persians.  Alexander pacified the army while ensuring he had a check on those who might choose to oppose him.  Fox also points out that it also served as curb against those who might chose to harm Hephaestion out of jealousy especially after his appointment as Chiliarch, a promotion that by its very definition displays Hephaestion’s treasured status.

Finally, I think it bears noticing that the only thing that defeated Alexander, besides the fever that killed him, was Hephaestion’s death.  Alexander’s devoted behavior in the days that followed showed just how integral Hephaesiton was to his life.  For three days, Alexander was absolutely inconsolable, interacting with no one and near catatonic in his grief.  His first actions after those days were to shave off his own hair and order that all the horses’ manes and tails be clipped as well.  He ordered that the sacred fires in the Zoroastrian temples be doused, an honor previously reserved only for royalty.  As Alexander himself said many times Hephaestion was also Alexander; therefore, a king had in fact died.  He sent to Siwah to plead with the oracle which set the truth which guided Alexander through his daily life if Hephaestion could be honored as a god.  If Alexander was a god, and Hephaestion was Alexander, was Hephaestion not also a god? Many point to Alexander’s eventualy plans for new campaigns and an exploration of Arabia as signs that he eventually got over his grief.  But I point to the fact that within eight months Alexander was dead himself.  I posit that what made Alexander Alexander, his spirit, his soul, his inner force, died with Hephaestion.  Though the body may have gone on, the essence was gone.

No one before and no one since has achieved what Alexander achieved in 32 short years.  No one else has had a Hephaestion by their side.

PS)  As always, any and all discussion is not only welcome but highly encouraged.

Review of “Hephaestion’s Journal” by Hannah Saiz

I originally posted this on the In the Footsteps of Alexander blog, but I am reposting here in case anyone missed it.

So I know that it has taken far too long to get this review over a 137 page book, but health problems have reared their head.  For that I heartily apologize.  I will, from this point on, once again, try to get these blog posts coming at a much regular rate.

We finally come to our topic, a review of Hephaestion’s Journal.  When I saw this on Amazon, I couldn’t resist even though I suspected it would be horrible as it was only about $8.  It turned out to be exactly what I expected, absolutely horrible!

My first problem is that this is completely a work of fiction written by a Hannah Saiz, yet everything on the cover, the title page, and book leads one to believe this is an actual historic work translated by a Valintin Numbers.  There is even a story invented on where and how these journals were found.  To the uninitiated researcher, this could create confusion and lead to the belief that this is in fact a true historic document.  I would suggest that the fictional nature be better explained in a much more visible way.

I think the best way to review this will just be to go through the notes that I made.  This work, as mentioned before, pretends to be Hephaestion’s personal journal with notes sometimes appearing in the margin in Alexander’s own hand.  It begins with the childhood under Aristotle’s tutelage and tells the story of Alexander’s taming of Bucephalus, who Hephaestion refers to repeatedly as bad-tempered and almost downright evil to anyone but Alexander and occasionally Hephaestion himself.

Page 28-29 “Bravery does not lie in being fearless; it is trekking over the bodies of your friends, your countrymen, even while terrified you will share their fate. [Doing anything] to succeed.” This quote is attributed to Alexander as he is recounting his adventures in the Battle of Chaeronea to Hephaestion upon his return to Macedon.  This refusal to bow to fear will characterize his Alexander for the first half of the work.

Page 33 Hephaestion implies that at some point Alexander slept at least once with Perdiccas who he refers to as a “pretty boy licentious bastard”.  The accompanying footnote says Hephaestion presents Perdiccas as sadistic but effete.

Footnote on page 43 questions whether Alexander’s temper is due to bipolar disorder or multiple personality disorder.  It goes on to call Alexander vicious, even to the point of killing his own men in a frenzy as evidence.

Footnote on page 44 says “Alexander’s violent tendencies manifested early” and that Hephaestion’s non-violent tendencies are a strange foil to Alexander’s temperament and the vast majority of his close companions.

Page 45 calls Ptolemy as “hedonistic fop”

Hephaestion refers to the rape of some women to show Perdiccas’ sadism

Page 50 calls Alexander and Hephaestion’s comparision to Achilles and Patroclus  as indicating a roman of dubious interpretation.  It also refers to Alexander’s consistent sacrificing to gods and heroes as evidence of his superstitious nature.

Page 53 Footnote claims this section comes after Granicus.  Hephaestion tells of Alexander being tortures by the voices of the dead he claims will not let him be.

Page 55 Alexander questions why Hephaestion is on the expedition telling him that he is not a warrior in spirit.

Page 95 Hephaestion tells of Alexander intercepting letters from Darius to his troops promising untold wealth for Alexander’s death.  Hephaestion sides with Parmenion in saying the men should not be told saying “I would not have you die for some fool to gain a fortune.”  This, the author claims, is supposed to hint at the closeness of their relationship.

Page 97  It hints at an argument between Hephaestion and Alexander where Hephaestion tells him he can no longer proceed as a liberator as he now heads for Persia as you can not liberate a people from themselves.

Page 100  This is where the story of the Sibyl of Apollo is dealt with.  “To Asia’s bountiful eath will come an unbeliever who wears the purple cloak;  a man who is wild, despotic, fiery.  As a storm he shall flash and all Asia will sink under the evil yoke as the earth herself drowns, glutted in blood.”  Hephaestion says the burning of Persepolis proves Alexander has become her prediction.  He says Alexander told he he became a tyrant because the Persians would not believe him to be anything else.  “Since I could not convince them otherwise, I will give them a tyrant they may know how to fear.”

Footnotes 146 & 147  speak of Hephaestion becoming the standard representative for all barbarian people’s interests.

Footnote 149  says he sees bits of Philip in Alexander and wonders is Alexander does too and and that is what drives him in his eastward quest.

Page 108  Hephaestion says Philotas said he knew Hephaestion would not allow Craterus and Perdiccas to simply invent his confession.  Hephaestion says he is very uncomfortable with the whole affair and even doubts Philotas’ guilt.

Page 110  “Had I tears left in me, I would weep to mourn the passing of freedom, the passing of the man I knew when I was a boy, and the love I yet bear for a memory that has been lost to me.”  Here Hephaestion refers to the growing changes he sees in Alexander, changes he does not feel are for the better.

Page 112  Hephaestion wonders if the damage the death of Philotas does to Alexander will ever be undone or even lessened.

Page 114  Alexander meets Roxane.  The author says Hephaestion’s relationship to Alexander from this point is difficult to determine.

Page 118  Hephaestion tells Alexander he is not a god.  Alexander asks, “Aren’t I?  Aren’t I your god, Hephaestion?”  The author wonders if Alexander means he is Hephaestion’s personal god as in a relationship.

Hephaestion says doubts in the Somatophylakes wounds Alexander more than any enemy weapon he ever encounters.

Page 119-120  This comes after the trail of Callisthenes.  Hephaestion says Alexander is now lost in his own world and will not return to his.

Page 126  This comes after the death of Bucephalus and the army’s refusal to cross the Hyphasis.  Hephaestion describes Alexander as “pale as the linens he wore and far too thin…matted hair, lost eyes…the blue which seemed so bright [had] dulled and the depths of his dark eye [has] lessened.  He looks weary.  Yet this is Alexander, and he would never admit to such weakness.”

As the story goes on, Hephaestion refers to Alexander as mad more and more

Page 129  Following his punctured lung, Alexander rides through his troops.  Hephaestion says, “…Something inside of Alexander has broken, and it is something I am sure I cannot fix.”

These are the notes of things which stuck out to me.  It is a unique version of Alexander with a couple of points that I admit are intriguing to explore but one which overall I don’t think I agree with.  I leave it to you to come to your own conclusions based on what you read.

Hephaestion’s Duties

IMG_0114 IMG_0115

This is a table from Jeanne Reames’ PhD Thesis “Hephaestion Amyntoros: eminence grise at the court of Alexander.  It lists all of Hephaestion’s mentions in the sources and catagorizes what that job is.  As you can see, Hephaestion was continually trusted with important assignments and excelled at logistics and diplomacy.

The reason why

This is a repost from an older entry on my In the Footsteps of Alexander blog, but it explains the reason for this new blog and its attendant facebook page.  Enjoy, and by all means, share your thoughts.

In her book The Nature of Alexander, Mary Renault calls Hephaestion the most underrated man in history.
I fully agree with this statement.  I have always felt one of the secrets to Alexander’s success was Hephaestion.  From what I have read of Alexander, the one thing that kept his more wild tendencies in check was Hephaestion.  When Alexander succumbed to his darker side or to one of his faults, Hephaestion reminded Alexander of who he was.  He was, in a sense, Alexander’s moral compass.  Everything that was good in Alexander rested in Hephaestion.

I think the best example of this can be seen in Alexander’s behavior following the death of Hephaestion.  He did not eat.  He did not sleep.  He did not campaign.  He executed Hephaestion’s doctor in a horribly cruel manner.  Though he did, after a time, leave his tent, begin planning for future campaigns, and ordered full honors for his fallen comrade, it seems as though he was walking dead, a man going through the motions, a ship without it’s compass.  And perhaps the best example of all, within 8 alcohol-hazed months, the seemingly invincible Alexander, who was covered with battle scars and had survived near-fatal illnesses, was dead himself.  The body seems to have finally followed the soul.

This is my hypothesis anyway.  I am currently undertaking the research to prove it.  I hope to find the sources support this, and it is not just my extreme fondess for Hephaestion that colors my opinion.  If you are interested in the findings, please comment below and watch this space.

Jen Jones

Sam E. Kraemer

Writing My Dreams

The Second Achilles

Alexander the Great - He lives and reigns