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Alexander and the Wife of Darius

Detail of the Alexander mosaic, found in Pompeii. National Archaeological Museum, Naples (Italy). In November 333, Alexander defeated Darius III in the battle of Issus. It was a brilliant victory, but Greek author Plutarch of Chaeronea, a philosopher and a moralist, is more interested in Alexander's courteous behavior after the battle. He writes the following in section 20-21 of his Life of Alexander.

The translation was made by Mr. Evelyn and belongs to the Dryden series.

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Portrait from a Persian lady (from Persepolis). National archaeological museum, Tehran (Iran). Photo Marco Prins.
Portrait of a Persian lady, from Persepolis (Archaeological museum, Tehran)

Nothing was wanting to complete this victory, in which Alexander overthrew above a 110,000 of his enemies, but the taking the person of Darius, who escaped very narrowly by flight. However, having taken his chariot and his bow [1], he returned from pursuing him, and found his own men busy in pillaging the barbarians' camp, which [...] was exceedingly rich.

But Darius' tent, which was full of splendid furniture and quantities of gold and silver, they reserved for Alexander himself, who, after he had put off his arms, went to bathe himself saying, 'Let us now cleanse ourselves from the toils of war in the bath of Darius.'
    'Not so,' replied one of his followers, 'but in Alexander's rather; for the property of the conquered is and should be called the conqueror's.'
    Here, when he beheld the bathing vessels, the water-pots, the pans, and the ointment boxes, all of gold curiously wrought, and smelt the fragrant odors with which the whole place was exquisitely perfumed, and from thence passed into a pavilion of great size and height, where the couches and tables and preparations for an entertainment were perfectly magnificent, he turned to those about him and said, 'This, it seems, is royalty.'

But as he was going to supper, word was brought him that Darius' mother and wife and two unmarried daughters, being taken among the rest of the prisoners, upon the sight of his chariot and bow, were all in mourning and sorrow, imagining him to be dead. After a little pause, more lively affected with their affliction than with his own success, he sent [his friend] Leonnatus to them, to let them know Darius was not dead, and that they need not fear any harm from Alexander, who made war upon him only for dominion; they should themselves be provided with everything they had been used to receive from Darius.

This kind message could not but be very welcome to the captive ladies, especially being made good by actions no less humane and generous. For he gave them leave to bury whom they pleased of the Persians, and to make use for this purpose of what garments and furniture they thought fit out of the booty. He diminished nothing of their equipage, or of the attentions and respect formerly paid them, and allowed larger pensions for their maintenance than they had before.

But the noblest and most royal part of their usage was, that he treated these illustrious prisoners according to their virtue and character, not suffering them to hear, or receive, or so much as to apprehend anything that was unbecoming. So that they seemed rather lodged in some temple, or some holy virgin chambers, where they enjoyed their privacy sacred and uninterrupted, than in the camp of an enemy. Nevertheless Darius' wife was accounted the most beautiful princess then living, as her husband the tallest and handsomest man of his time, and the daughters were not unworthy of their parents. But Alexander, esteeming it more kingly to govern himself than to conquer his enemies, sought no intimacy with any one of them [2], nor indeed with any other women before marriage, except Barsine, Memnon's widow, who was taken prisoner at Damascus.

She had been instructed in the Greek learning, was of a gentle temper, and by her father, Artabazus, royally descended, with good qualities, added to the solicitations and encouragement of Parmenion, as Aristobulus tells us, made him the more willing to attach himself to so agreeable and illustrious a woman. [3] Of the rest of the female captives, though remarkably handsome and well proportioned, Alexander took no further notice than to say jestingly that Persian women were terrible eyesores.

Note 1:
These were the Persian regalia. Taken the bow of the king was something like robbing the crown jewels of a modern monarch.

Note 2:
This is probably not true. Darius' wife, Statira, is known to have been pregnant in September 332, ten months after she was captured; the father can not have been Darius. Her daughter Barsine/Statira was to marry Alexander in March 324.

Note 3:
She bore Alexander a child, called Heracles.

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