Hephaestion Amyntoros

3.         THE PAGES



As an aristocrat, Hephaestion would at some point have been a Royal Page at Philip’s court.  The institution of the Royal Pages was long-established at the Macedonian Court and was extended by Philip to include the sons of prominent men from highland Macedon, as well as those from the traditional Macedonian lowlands.  These boys would have originally been hostages to the King for their fathers’ good behaviour and loyalty, but gradually the institution evolved into a training academy for future army officers.  By being around the older men of Philip’s court, much of their knowledge and skill, loyalties and expectations, would be passed on to the younger generation.


To have a son selected as a Royal Page would have been a hotly contested honour, for it would have announced to everyone that the fathers of the boys selected were too important for Philip to ignore, or that they were in favour with Philip.  The boys stood to gain the trust and favour of both the present and a future king and thus secure their own careers and fortunes.


We do not know anything for certain about Hephaestion’s father Amyntor.  The usual form of his name in Macedon was Amyntas, Amyntor being the more usual Greek form.  Amyntor and Hephaestion are more common names in Attica and Euboea than in Macedon (Jeanne Reames-Zimmerman), although there was a king Amyntor in Thessaly in the age of Heracles.  This has led to the supposition that Amyntor, or his family, were originally from Greece proper.  Yet there is no direct reference to this in any of the sources, which implies that the relocation of Hephaestion’s family must have been a generation or two back (JRZ).  There is no reason therefore for him to have been labelled a ‘foreigner’ or ‘outsider’, as Nearchus for example was known as ‘The Cretan’.


The identification of a certain Amyntor son of Demetrios, who was granted Athenian citizenship in 334 BC - the year Alexander left for Asia - with Hephaestion’s father by Waldemar Heckel has gained such wide acceptance that now it is almost taken as fact.  Yet there is no proof that this Amyntor was Hephaestion’s father, or that he was even connected with Macedon.  We do not know why this Amyntor and his descendants were granted Athenian citizenship, except that he showed good will towards the Athenian people.  Nor do we know, as JRZ points out, why Amyntor should have cared what happened to Athens, unless of course his livelihood and home were there.


It has been suggested by JRZ that this Amyntor might have been involved in the negotiations between Alexander and Athens after the destruction of Thebes in September 335 BC, perhaps because he had family links with Athens – if that is, he was a Macedonian, thus giving Alexander cause to listen to him.  Or Amyntor may, like Demeratus of Corinth, have been a wealthy merchant with trading links between Athens and Macedon.  Demeratus acted as an envoy for Philip.  Yet the son of a merchant is perhaps unlikely to have been one of Philip’s Royal Pages.


According to E R Berve (quoted by Waldemar Heckel), boys would have joined the Royal Pages between the ages of 13 and 15.  This, according to JRZ, is based on the known model of the Greek states, where 13 or 14 was the traditional age for a boy to be apprenticed.  Given present educational systems and the onset of puberty, 13 would seem to be a point at which boys’ educational needs change.


If there was an annual intake of eligible boys to the Royal Pages, the beginning of the summer campaigning season when men would have come to court after the spring planting was done would seem a sensible time, although Philip gradually ignored the winter/summer divide because he had a standing professional army and not part-time farmers in his army.  Or, again, as with the present European educational system, after the harvest and the onset of autumn when they had the whole winter ahead of them would appear to be a logical time.  Alternatively, the boys could have joined at any time when they passed a certain birthday.


Similarly, I do not believe we know if entry to the Royal Pages was by royal command, application to the king, or by right of passing certain criteria such as military rank or wealth (although this latter is unlikely as it belongs more to a city-state where wealth would be more easily assessable).  I suspect it might be a combination of the first two, with certain boys being enrolled in the Pages as soon as they passed 13 (or the year in which they became 13) because of the prominence of their fathers (eg the sons of Antipater and Parmenion), but other boys might have to wait until either Philip noticed their fathers, or granted their application to have their sons included and thus they might join at a later age.  Distance of their home from Pella, or their fathers’ absence on campaign might have slowed some boys’ inclusion.  We do not know to which category Hephaestion would have belonged.


As well as being given a general education which included music and poetry (Plutarch), and ‘all aspects of a liberal education’ (Curtius), the boys would of course have had physical education in the skills needed to join the army, building their weapons skills, horsemanship, leadership, strength and endurance.  For this they would have needed tutors other than Aristotle.  Perhaps Leonidas, Olympias’s relative who oversaw Alexander’s education, or Lysimachus who told stories of Achilles to Alexander, tutored the Pages as well as Alexander.  Plutarch actually says that Leonidas oversaw Alexander’s household which perhaps means that he acted as a steward, being responsible for Alexander’s housing, servants, clothes etc., including his tutors, so Aristotle might, technically, have had to answer to Leonidas.


The boys duties as Pages would at first have been menial – waiting at table, fetching and carrying, taking messages, perhaps helping the King to dress and mount his horse, cleaning his weapons and armour etc.  We do not know if Alexander was expected to participate in these duties.  Justin says that Philip had many sons who died, either in war, through accident or of natural causes.  This being the case, at 13 Alexander may have been a junior son who would not have expected to inherit the throne and so he might not have been privileged enough to escape such duties.  If he had older brothers who were campaigning with Philip in 342 BC, that could be why he might have spent most of this year with Aristotle at Mieza.  Yet even if he were Philip’s only viable son and heir at this age, it seems improbable that he would have been the recipient of the Pages duties as it would have been too demeaning for the sons of aristocrats to wait on a mere boy who might or might not be king one day, for kings in Macedon were elected, although one suspects that there were certain cases where the electee gave the electors no choice.  For the same reason, it is improbable that the Pages waited upon any of Philip or Alexander’s generals (except when they were in Philip’s presence or on his errands) as it would have caused too many issues of loyalty and precedence.  Consequently, even as Chiliarch Hephaestion would not have had his own set of Pages: it would have been unthinkably imperialistic of him to have been granted the privileges of a Macedonian king.


© 2010


I thought this was a really well-argued piece, carefully weighing and assessing all the various suggestions that have been made, particularly concerning Hephaistion's origins and family. You make it nice and clear what is known and what is speculation. Myself, I don't believe that the Amyntor who was granted Athenian citizenship in 334 can have been Hephaistion's father. That's because, if he was living in Athens when Hephaistion was born, Hephaistion would have been a metic, denied access to aristocratic pursuits and not in a position to take advantage of sharing Alexander's upbringing, which we know he did. And if Amyntor was not then living in Athens, it doesn't give him a very big window of time in which to gain sufficient influence to have earned the honour.
I liked your thoughts on the pattern of admittance to the Pages, too, that was very interesting. One thing that strikes me - and this ties in with an earlier section, too - is the possibility of a connection with the festival of Xanthika, which was apparently an annual, springtime ritual associated with the admittance of that year's young men into the army. Possibly at this time, everyone moved up, as it were, and new pages came along to fill the gap at the bottom?
Thanks once again for a very interesting read,
Oh, thank you for that, I didn't know about the festival of Xanthika! Sounds probable. Much of this section grew out of 2 frustrations - constantly reading that boys joined the Royal Pages about 13 or 15 without any attempt at explanation, and the mistaken assumption in so many fanfiction stories that Hephaestion was an Athenian, or that he had his own Pages. This Athenian origin is used to make him a vulnerable and isolated outsider, which might increase the reader's empathy for him and give more scope for emotional drama, but it reduces him to a very feminine position. And I so don't believe he functioned as Alexander's wife! I don't know why we can't accept a close emotional dependance between Alexander and Hephaestion which might have had a sexual elemental but was closer to that of brothers than spouses.
I don't know if you've read it, but you might find my recent article "The Cult of Hephaestion" interesting, regarding H.'s feminizing by moderns: Responses to Oliver Stone's 'Alexander,' Paul Cartledge and Fiona Greenland, eds., (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 2010) 183-217.
Thank you for that. Yes, I have read it and it was my reason for buying the book in the first place! I did however find it a rather negative view of Hephaestion - concentrating on what he was not rather than what he was. I am not sure I agree with the interpretation of the Sogdiana column led by Hephaestion, or with the dating of his appointment to the Bodyguards - but there again, I'm no expert!

However, I've commented on this in pothos.org, but might our lack of evidence be clouding the issue of Hephaestion's missions? For example, Heckel says that Eumenes has only one known military appointment under Alexander when he was sent with 300 horsemen to take 2 Indian cities whose inhabitants fled before his arrival. Yet Eumenes was given Perdiccas's Hipparchy after Hepheastion's death, and he aqquitted himself well as a commander of whole armies after Alexander's death. No one question's Eumenes' military competence or record, so why do we question Hephaestion's? Might it not be that we know so much about Hephaestion's non-military record because he was an important man who figured prominently in the original sources, and that it might have been unusual for the such a highly-placed man to be directly involved with these activities? After all, the actual period of fighting in Alexander's expedition in Asia was propbably less than two years (even if you include Tyre), out of a total of 11 years, so the emphasis on Hephaestion's non-military record might be the result of unconscious editing in our secondary sources.

Whilst I am very grateful for your articles on Hephaestion, could I just say that in bringing him to people's attention, you have in fact raised the bar of their expectations! His fans want more, and more evidence of how important he was!
I did however find it a rather negative view of Hephaestion - concentrating on what he was not rather than what he was.

I find that interesting, as most people critique me for being overly POSITIVE towards him, and certainly, compared to the analyses of my fellow historians, I take a far more positive view of him. I wonder if perhaps you may have misread it partly? I do focus on what he was -- a logistics officer. There is a tendency (as noted by Donald Engels) to disregard logistics officers and downgrade their importance compared to combat officers. That's what I want to call into question. I believe modern historians have unconsciously (or even consciously) adopted a bias from the ancient sources themselves. My point is that Hephaistion was appointed chilliarch because he was a very good logistical officer, and he earned his job. It wasn't given to him.

As far as lack of evidence, I fear that is the eternal problem with our Alexander sources. The ancient evidence focuses on Alexander himself, and even figures we know later (who outlived him) to be powerful individuals receive little mention.

You point to the problem of what's recorded, and this gets at a deeper issue when one considers the small amount o the evidence. I did a fairly systematic assessment, collecting all the evidence, The number of direct mentions of actual assignments was under 30. That's really no good for statistical analysis, a point I recognize. The only reason I thought it at all significant was because about 3/4s of those assignments WERE logistical or diplomatic, which points to a loose pattern that we don't really see with the other commanders, who assignments seem to be a little more mixed in type. But there is little doubt that we're working with a small number of sources. We can't build anything out of what we don't know, however. All we can do is work with what is known.

Again, I'd caution against an over-emphasis (or perhaps "over prestige") given to combat command versus logistical assignments. I think it was Hephaistion's logistical abilities that resulted in his appointment to the chilliarchy later. :-)
I have re-read your essay and, yes, perhaps, I did concentrate on the negative points, but it was the underlying negativity which struck me: To paraphrase, Hephaestion ‘may not have been in the front line, but…’ rather smacks of special pleading!

It was the statement "meticulously kept away from combat command" that particularly struck me as negative. This is a qualitative judgement of Hephaestion’s abilities; that he didn’t quite measure up to Alexander’s other commanders, that Alexander was aware of his short-comings and protected him from being exposed. Such preferential treatment as your statement implies would have attracted attention and would have eroded respect for Hephaestion’s command, and I would prefer to think that Alexander, who promoted on merit, picked the best man available for any given job, and that for some commands Hephaestion would have been 4th or 5th on the list, but first for other commands. As you said, the Macedonian army wasn’t as highly specialised as modern armies, and for a pitched battle Hephaestion would not have been the first choice to command a battalion, but he must have seen his fair share of combat.

For example, if Hephaestion commanded an advance column during the Mallian siege as you point out, he was advancing into unknown and hostile territory. He must have expected to encounter, and probably did encounter, armed resistance, however sporadic and disorganised. Yet this must have been the nature of the vast majority of combat during Alexander’s expedition, although of course the big set pieces like battles and sieges receive most attention in the sources.

Secondly, I believe you have reclassified Hephaestion’s command of the Sogdiana column as being non-combat, which I don’t think you did in your thesis. This, and the redating of his appointment to the Seven Bodyguards, are reductions in Hephaestion’s importance. No matter how vitally important consolidation after conquest is, it is still of secondary importance as it depends upon the initial effort of conquest. If conquest and consolidation are done by separate commanders, a hierarchy of dominant alpha males who will see themselves as the heroes and the others as the drones is likely to develop. Alexander would have been aware of the discipline and morale problems this would have caused, and I’m not sure his commanders would have tolerated such a division of labour.

Is there any hint of this in the sources? I would argue not, as Apollodorus, the Greek left in charge of the garrison at Babylon, feared Hephaestion and the King. This is not ‘behind the scenes’ power, but suggests that Hephaestion had real power, governmental and physical, to back up any threat. Perhaps as chiliarch it was his function to investigate any claims of wrongdoing in high-ranking officials, or inspect how they had fulfilled their role. Plutarch says that Alexander became harsh in his judgements because he had so much to do, and perhaps Alexander did delegate some cases to Hephaestion, but Apollodorus would have had Alexander as his judge, even if Hephaestion acted as prosecutor – ample reason to fear both!

Could I just make one further point that part of the bias against supply and logistics – which I don’t doubt was Hephaestion’s chief, but not only, role – may be due to the 19th century origins of modern Alexander studies? This, I think, would have had the British army in the Empire as its background against which to judge the way Alexander’s army was organised and functioned. There is a hint of class warfare in the division of supply and combat. Combat would have been the province of heroes such as Gordon of Khartoum, but supply would have been closely associated with the quarter-master sergeants who, perhaps being from the lower social classes, would popularly have been seen as being ‘on the make’, bending the rules to line their own pockets behind their superiors’ backs while controlling vital supplies with miserly efficiency. Shopkeepers getting their revenge on the non-paying aristocrats!

Sorry, I’ve gone on for far too long. I’m sure you have much better things to do than listen to my ramblings!
If I may point out an error? First, let me state that I don't really care what fanfic argues or has H. do. I'm a historian, and my concern is with the historical person.

Anyway, the assumption you've made is that the Amyntor in the decree would have been living in Athens. But that's an error. First, the status of "proxenos" means a NON-Athenian citizen and is NOT usually conferred on persons living in the city. It's typically conferred on persons living outside Athens who have helped Athens in some way. Alexander I of Macedon was named Proxenos to Athens following the Persian wars. He certainly was neither Athenian nor living there.

The reason that I and Waldemar think this is quite possibly H.'s father is due to the TIMING and the uniqueness of the name. There's only one other Amyntor named a Macedonian, and that's a certain Amyntor, son of Amyntor of Colophon, dating to the Hellenistic period following ATG's death. I'm inclined to think this Amyntor a much younger brother of Hephaistion.

The Xanthia and Hetairidaea are traditional festivals celebrated among the Makedons and a few other people of the N. Thessaly and lowland Macedonian region. We unfortunately know little about it aside from what's suggested in the name. The one likely related to Xanthus, God of War and the other likely involved some sort of religious tie between the King and his Companions (Hetairoi). But they are VERY interesting festivals!
Firstly, thank you for even bothering to look at this essay, let alone comment on it. I certainly didn’t expect you to and if you would rather I removed the link from megalexandros, please do say! I am not a historian and don’t pretend to be, and consequently don’t have the time or resources to be as thorough or accurate as I would have liked to be. However, I don’t think I have actually made the assumption that this Amyntor was living in Athens. This is an assumption made by many fans in fanfiction, and as I have a strong interest in both the historical Alexander and Hephaestion, and an interest in their representations in fiction as this brings the historical figures to life, it’s an assumption I am trying to correct! I suspect I am waging a losing battle though as many fanfiction writers are less interested in being historically accurate that they are in indulging in romantic fantasy. There are however a minority of fanfiction readers/writers who have a strong interest in the historical side of Alexander and Hephaestion.
I don't mind the link at all. And actually, I was responding to someone else's comment that to be a proxenos assumed Amyntor was in Athens, when that wouldn't be the case at all (rather the opposite).