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Hephaestion (2)

Hephaestion (c.357-324): Macedonian nobleman, closest friend and lover of king Alexander the Great. During the expedition against Persia, he served sometimes as a military commander, but he was probably a better organizer.

Hephaestion
Hephaestion
With Perdiccas, Hephaestion led an army along the river Kabul and across the Khyber pass into the Punjab (Spring 326). Here, they captured a town named Peucelaotis  (Indian Puskalāvatī, north of Peshawar). They continued to the Indus, where they built a bridge near Hund and negotiated with king Omphis (Ambhi) of Taxila, an ally of the Macedonians.

Hephaestion's cavalry unit took part in the battle on the banks of the Hydaspes (modern Jhelum; May 326), where king Porus (Puru) of Pauravas was defeated. After his surrender, Alexander reappointed him as ruler of his own kingdom. However, one of his relatives, also called Porus, continued the struggle and Hephaestion was sent out against him. This time, his fellow-commander was one Demetrius.

Hydaspes, possible location of the battlefield
Hydaspes, possible location of the battlefield
Alexander wanted to attack the Indian kingdom Magadha in the Ganges valley, but the Macedonian soldiers refused to go any further. They were far away from home in a country where it seemed to be raining continuously (it was the monsoon season). Shortly before Alexander's thirtieth birthday, an open revolt broke out. The king understood that he had to return. Hephaestion was ordered to built a garrison town on the banks of the river Acesines (modern Chenab), where veteran mercenaries were left behind.

The Macedonian army was now divided into three columns. Alexander took charge of the main force, which was transported on ships and moved slowly to the south. Craterus commanded the second column (on the west bank of the river), and Hephaestion was responsible for the third one. No fighting was expected, and therefore, this could be Hephaestion's first sole command.

Alexander
Alexander
This also meant that Craterus and Hephaestion operated as far apart as possible. There are several indications that Alexander's best commander and his best friend were not on speaking terms. The difference between them was summarized as follows: Hephaestion was philalexandros (a lover of Alexander), Craterus a philobasileus (a lover of the king). The details of their rivalry are, however, poorly understood. In June 325, Alexander put an end to the quarrel by ordering Craterus' army to go to the west.

When the two remaining army columns reached the delta of the Indus river, Hephaestion was ordered to build a new city, Patala. This is what the Greek sources tell us, but it is probably better to say that he rebuilt an existing settlement, because Pâtâla is the Indian word for Ship's camp. Here, Nearchus (another personal friend of Alexander) built a large fleet, which was to transport a large part of the army to Babylonia.

In August, Alexander and some 33,000 men left Patala and started for Carmania. During their march, they built a large grain store, where Nearchus and the 33,000 men under his command could resupply themselves. Alexander's men first defeated the Oreitans, the native population, and Hephaestion, who commanded the baggage train, was ordered to build a new city, Rhambaceia (modern Las Bela). Leonnatus was left behind to defend the region; after all, Nearchus still had to pass along the shore and the grain store had to be kept intact.

Meanwhile, Alexander and the main part of the army moved to the west. They had to march through the Gedrosian desert, which is more or less equivalent to the south of modern Beluchistan. The Macedonians knew that this country could only be crossed in the weeks after the monsoons rains; they would arrive in Carmania when the harvest was ready. To profit from this favorable conditions, Alexander had to hurry.

The journey through the Gedrosian desert was a disaster. For sixty days, the army was marching through the desert, and the blazing heat and the lack of water caused innumerable casualties. Baggage animals had to be butchered. Probably the army itself remained relatively intact, but the concubines of the soldiers, the merchants and other noncombatants suffered terribly form hunger and thirst (text). Since Hephaestion followed after Alexander, the misery of his men must have been worse: after all, the vanguard had seized all food they it find.

In December 325, the armies of Alexander, Hephaestion, Nearchus and Craterus reunited in Carmania. This was a time for celebration. Alexander dressed himself as the god of ecstasy, Dionysus, his mythological ancestor, and the rest of the army followed suit - everybody being in a state of drunken exaltation for seven days (text.)

Wreath or diadem
Wreath or diadem
The army continued its march to the west and reached Susa, where Alexander, his officers and his men had a holiday. There were festivities and valiant soldiers were decorated. Some received purple tunics, and there were golden diadems for Nearchus, for Leonnatus (who had defeated the Oreitans), for Peucestas (who had saved Alexander's life in India), and for Hephaestion. Nobody objected to the coronation, which comes as a surprise, because six years before, many had considered it outrageous that Alexander started to wear a diadem.

The greatest of the festivities in Susa was a marriage ceremony that lasted five days. Since Alexander had conquered Babylonia, Elam and Persia proper in 331/330, many Persian princesses had had a Greek education; now they were ready to marry Macedonian officers. Dancers, actors and musicians had come all the way from Greece to add glamor to the event.

Alexander himself married Achaemenid princesses from two dynastic lines: Barsine, a daughter Darius III Codomannus, and Parysatis, a daughter of Artaxerxes III Ochus. Hephaestion married another daughter of Darius III, Drypetis. Other commanders married princesses of lesser rank (text).

Pharnaces (central relief of the North Stairs of the Apadana, Persepolis)
Pharnaces (central relief of the North Stairs of the Apadana, Persepolis)
In these days, Hephaestion was also appointed as chiliarchos, "vizier", and Ptolemy became Alexander's edeatros, "taster": both were Greek names for old Persian court functions. According to the Persian customs, Hephaestion was entitled to a walking stick and golden earrings, as can be seen on the picture of Pharnaces, who had been vizier (hazarapatiš) almost two centuries earlier.

In the summer of 324, Alexander and Hephaestion commanded army groups in Elam and the south of Babylonia: not for fighting, but to find out the course of the main rivers and the coasts. Alexander's next plan was a naval expedition to Arabia, and it was imperative to control the coastal area. Besides, there were many recruits from Iran, who needed to be trained.

As vizier, Hephaestion was responsible for many things, and his decisions about the royal correspondence may have been the cause of a conflict with Eumenes, the secretary of Alexander. However, our sources are silent about the details of their rivalry. The only thing we know for certain is that Alexander ordered them a reconciliation.

Late in the summer, Alexander went to the north, to visit Ecbatana, one of the capitals of his empire. He was received by Atropates, the satrap of Media. As usual, there was a drinking party, but this time it had a sad consequence: Hephaestion fell ill and died (October 324). Drypetis and Alexander were shocked, and Eumenes - seizing the opportunity to get into Alexander's good books - proposed to give divine honors to the dead hero, who was cremated in Babylon.

Lion hunt mosaic
Lion hunt mosaic
Plutarch of Chaeronea writes that Alexander once remarked that without him, Hephaestion would be nothing. This was true. Hephaestion was a competent officer, but was lacking the brilliance of rival commanders like Parmenion and Craterus. He was a skilled diplomat and a great organizer, but he did not speak his foreign languages like Peucestas and did not write as beautiful as Eumenes. However, he was closer to the king's heart, and this must have made his position very, very difficult: all court officials envied him. This made him an isolated man, who was completely dependent on the king. Therefore, Alexander could completely rely on Hephaestion.

This page was created in 2002; last modified on 1 February 2015.