HI! I’m Anthony, volunteer tour guide for the Bridging Binaries project at the Fitzwilliam museum

I’m going to talk to you briefly today about this small statue of Alexander the Great made in Egypt 200 years after his death, symbolizing the continued importance attached to his image and legacy long after his death.

Alexander the III of Macedon, son of Philip, later to become known as Alexander the Great established an empire spanning from Greece to Northwest India, one of the largest in antiquity. He was tutored by Aristotle through to his teenage years before joining his father in the military at the tender age of 16. Together they defeated the sacred Band of Thebes at the battle of Chaeronea. The sacred band is in itself a quite interesting segue: Considered to be the elite force of the Theban army, it consisted of 150 pairs of male, warrior-lovers, one younger and one older. They had established a fearsome reputation, having played a major part in the defeat of the once indomitable Spartans at the Battel of Leuctra in 371 BC. Thus their defeat marked a major show of power by the Macedonians & set the stage for later expansion.

Alexander succeeded his father at 20 following his assassination, allegedly by a jealous male lover. Although there was much rumour suggesting Alexander or his Mother played a role in this. It was not always the case that the eldest son of the firmer king would automatically take the throne so as soon as his father died, Alexander set about eliminating any potential rivals to his throne.

From this point on, he undertook a 10 year series of campaigns which expanded his empire East into Persia & beyond and saw him found 20 cities in his name. He died in Babylon in 323BC and the empire he worked so hard to establish quickly crumbled due to civil war.

Throughout his life, Alexander married 3 women and fathered at least 2 children but also had several male lovers. Amongst his closest relationships was that with his general and bodyguard Hephaestion, with their relationship often compared by ancient authors to that of the Homeric heroes Patroclus & Achilles who were considered to be a couple in classical literature. Alexander, upon his conquering of Persia, is said to have taken King Darius’ eunuch Bagoas as his lover.

Hephaestion unfortunately perished from fever the year before Alexander’s death – Alexander was said to be devastated & ‘lay weeping on his comrade for a day & night before being pried away’. He cut his hair in mourning and staged elaborate funeral games to honour him. 

Such relationships were fairly common in the ancient world, It is only in the relatively recent past that homosexuality became viewed as deviant and it is only recently that legal and societal norms have changed to bring homosexuality back into relative acceptance in this country, although sadly not in many others.