Roxane, The First Wife Of Alexander The Great: A Story Of Intrigue And Adventure At The Dawn Of The Hellenistic Age

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Alexander The Great and Roxane

Hidden by her father in a remote fortress, a girl whose name means “little star” would come to marry the most powerful man in the world.

In 328 B.C.E., after his defeat of the Persian King Darius, Alexander the Great was pursuing the last group of Persian rebels in what is now Northern Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The rebels had found sanctuary with Baron Oxyartes of Balkh, who held territory in the northern part of the Persian province of Bactria and Sogdiana. The Baron, having taken flight to the mountains with the rebels, placed his wife and daughters in a seemingly impregnable fortress known as the Sogdian Rock However, this steep sloped redoubt was quickly taken by Alexander in a typical display of military genius, and Oxyartes’ family found themselves his captives.

Love At First Sight At The Daughter of Oxyartes

According to popular renditions of the story, Alexander was smitten at the first sight of the Baron’s young daughter Roxane and quickly proposed to marry her. However, although he could have had any women in the world, Alexander declared he would only have Roxane if she consented to the marriage. Previously, Alexander had disavowed the idea of marriage to his tutor, Aristotle, but it seems that this Afghani nobleman’s daughter had changed his mind.

Despite the fact that he had already taken a Persian mistress named Barsine, Roxane agreed to the marriage. Alexander chose to make a very public display of his union with Roxane in the hopes of using the marriage to his political benefit.

As soon as Baron Oxyartes heard that Alexander had so honored his daughter, he came down from the hills and pledged loyalty to the Macedonian conqueror. The Baron’s loyalty was rewarded by his appointment as a provincial governor. Oxyartes also convinced the rebels in the last of the mountain strongholds to lay down their arms, thereby ending the last open resistance to Alexander’s authority.

Roxane accompanied her new husband on his difficult invasion of India and on the journey back to Babylonia by ship. However, once in Babylon, Roxane was forced to stand by while Alexander made another great show of marriage to a new Persian wife, Staterira, who was a daughter of King Darius. This ceremony was held as part of a larger celebration in honor of the nearly one hundred weddings preformed on the same day which united his officers with brides from all of the conquered lands.

The Death Of Alexander

In 324 BCE, shortly after Alexander’s massive diplomatic wedding, his long time friend Hephaistion died and Alexander went into a period of decline. Whether or not the cause of this was illness brought on by old wounds, or as a result of new debaucheries, or perhaps even from poisoning, will be forever unknown. It is known, however, that Roxane bore close witness to Alexander’s death, as she is recorded as having been commended to the care of Alexander’s Vizier, Perdiccas, in 323 B.C.E. by Alexander as he breathed his last.

According to some accounts, Alexander was nearing death after having received several doses of poison, and was attempting to cast himself into the waters of the Euphrates so he could die a dignified death. After Roxane discovered him preparing to leap, she persuaded him to avoid such a death and, instead, to allow her tend to him as he lay ill. Alexander relented and returned to his bed where Roxane stayed by his side until he was given even more poison which ultimately killed him.

The War Of Succession and Olympia

Roxane had already had a miscarriage while returning from the Indian campaign, and she was pregnant again when Alexander died. As tensions arose between Perdiccas and the other generals from Alexander’s army, Roxane gave birth to a son who was named Alexander IV. Meanwhile, Staterira had also bore Alexander a son. With the assistance of Perdiccas, Roxane had Staterira and her child brought to Babylon, and then had them murdered.

Several years later, in 321 B.C.E., the tension had evolved to outright warfare between Alexander’s generals, and Roxane accompanied Perdiccas as he attempted to invade Egypt. However, the soldiers refused to cross the Nile and instead murdered Perdiccas. Roxane was then ordered to Greece by the new regent, Antipater, and soon found herself reliant on Olympia, mother of Alexander, for protection.

Olympia however was soon to become engaged in a struggle with Antipater’s son, Cassander who eventually succeeded in besieging her in a Macedonian fortress named Pydna. After Olympia’s capture and a quick trial, she was executed in 316 B.C.E. Roxane once again found herself without a protector. She and her son were eventually arrested by Cassander, who stripped them of their royal ranking and threw them into prison. After a year of confinement, in 310 B.C.E., Cassander gave the order and Roxane then in her mid thirties, along with her young son Alexander, were executed.

Source:

  1. Fox, Lane. Alexander the Great (New York: E P Dutton, 1974)