Hephaestion Amyntoros




The Pages would also have accompanied the King at the hunt and guarded him while he slept.  Heckel says that they would have been positioned in the outer chamber, one or more of the seven Bodyguards in the inner bedchamber, although Curtius actually says that Ptolemy and Leonnatus were on guard at the door to Alexander’s bedroom when the Pages plot was discovered.


One wonders therefore how the Pages expected to kill Alexander while he slept.  Presumably they would have been in and out, replenishing the lamps (in an era without streetlamps, a night light would have been left burning – especially if Alexander had been drinking and needed to get up in the night), emptying the chamber pot, bringing Alexander a drink, waking him in the morning.  Perhaps they hoped to stab him if the bed wasn’t visible from the door, or they could manage to shield their action with their bodies, and escape detection until the morning.  Yet assassins in ancient Macedon don’t appear to have placed much consideration on remaining undetected or escaping the consequences.  This may have been a matter of honour, there may have been an assumption that they had a right to remove a king who was not meeting their expectations or against whom they had a personal grudge (as they might have done with any other man).  The assassins may also have expected some support from those who had no prior knowledge of their actions.


Further digression: assassinations in Macedon appear to have been comparatively personal matters.  Little thought appears to have been given to who would step into the dead king’s shoes, although Archelaus was murdered by his Page Craterus, who only managed to stay king for 4 days.  If Philotas wasn’t involved in the Pages conspiracy, who did they think was going to take over?  If Olympias or Alexander didn’t instigate Philip’s assassination, who did Pausanias think would be the new king?  Certainly not himself, or was his grievance so personal that he just didn’t care, or was the object of the Persian gold to throw the kingdom into disarray?  Perhaps the nature of power was so personal that the consequences of an assassination didn’t enter their thinking.  After all, they were all warriors who could defend themselves, take food and shelter, and most ordinary soldiers would not have been very far removed from their self-sufficient farming roots.  They also would not have been unambitious.


Perhaps Alexander’s education was a crucial factor in changing his concept of what a king should be.  Although he obviously didn’t always live up to it (eg the murder of Cleitus), he does appear to have had an image that a king should be a role model, especially for his army, in bravery, endurance, generosity, respect for women etc., and his emulation of Achilles shows that he was aware of the importance of heroes.  His concern with his reputation, although it is wrapped up with securing his own immortality through fame, does indicate an idea that a king should be more than just ‘top dog’.


This idea doesn’t unfortunately appear to have particularly rubbed off on the Successors (Antipater, Antigonus, Eumenes, Seleucus, Lysimachus, Cassander), but there again, none of them were Alexander’s immediate contemporaries or close friends – with the exception of Ptolemy of course, but he was several years older than Alexander and wouldn’t necessarily have shared the bulk of Alexander’s education in his formative adolescence.


Alexander’s close contemporaries and friends Leonnatus and Perdiccas, who might well have shared his earliest education, signally failed in the wars of the successors, perhaps through their own arrogance and their failure to grasp that a large measure of Alexander’s success was his popularity with the army, the sheer force of his personality and enormous hard work.  Craterus, Alexander’s closest friend to survive him, was too old to have shared his education, but he seems to have failed through lack of initiative, despite having enormous popularity with his soldiers.  He must have had to work hard – and successfully - to persuade the veterans to accompany him away from Alexander.  We can only speculate how Hephaestion would have fared without Alexander but, given the number of his independent missions, it might not have been too badly.


However, upon graduation from the Pages at about 18, which according to Nicholas Hammond was the Macedonian age of majority, Heckel says that the Pages would have joined the agema or Royal Squadron which formed the king’s bodyguard in battle.  Berve apparently says they would have joined this unit at 20, which seems far too old to start a military career, but it is to this unit that the younger Pausanias, who threw himself in front of Philip to prove his virility, would have belonged.  Heckel believes that this unit, or perhaps just the Pages within it, swapped between infantry and cavalry as the need arose depending upon what the king was doing.  The king’s bodyguard though cannot have consisted solely of inexperienced and physically immature young men.  There must have been a core of older men who perhaps specialised in either infantry or cavalry.


In battle, it might have been the Pages within this unit, or more probably the 16-18 year olds, who served as runners during the battle, transmitting the king’s order to his squadron commanders, and perhaps the junior Pages, the 14-16 year olds, brought the king replacement weapons if his were lost or broken, who brought him a replacement horse, or who carried field dressings in case of wounds.  These functions, and ferrying the wounded from the battlefield, must have been the functions of many boys within the army who were still too young to fight.


Hephaestion commanded the agema of the king’s bodyguard at the battle of Guagamela.  This was not only a very prestigious position, it also shows Alexander’s trust in him, for if Alexander fell in battle, Hephaestion would have been in a position to take over – to be Patroclus in Achilles stead.  Alexander, romantic that he was, cannot have been unaware of this or of the heroic connotations of fighting side by side with his lover.  Whether Hephaestion would have been able to hold the army together in the face of the panic that would have ensued if Alexander had fallen, or in the face of opposition from older generals such as Parmenion, is an entirely different matter of course, but Alexander would at least have had faith in him knowing his plans and attempting to carry them out.


The units in Philip and Alexander’s army, as with the regiments in modern armies, must have been regionally based.  This aided cohesion and loyalty if you were fighting side by side with your friends and neighbours, and the commanders of such units would have been drawn from the local aristocracy.  If the Pages had fathers who were commanding such units, they would need to bond from an early age with the men they would hope to command one day, so perhaps these boys did not spend long in the agema, but none of the Pages can have spent too long there or they would not have learnt how to command.


© 2010


Further digression: assassinations in Macedon appear to have been comparatively personal matters

Perhaps, but surely this is largely an issue of historiography. Ancient historians tend to be interested in individuals, and particularly in scandalous stories about individuals. Conflate this with the general paucity of information on classical Macedonia in the Greek(/Roman) sources, and it's highly unlikely that much beyond the personal would be recorded. (Though what exactly is 'personal' in a personalised monarchy like Macedonia...?) Bosworth has argued that Philip II's assassination was the outcome of Upper Macedonian displeasure at Philip's recent marriage policy. I'm not sure I entirely agree with him, but it's a good attempt to look for a wider 'political' explanation.
Yes, it would seem so. Hammond suggests that the sons of Aeropus, Heromenes and Arrhabaeus 'who took part with (Pausanias) in the killing of Philip' (Arrian) were found guilty at their trial because horses (plural) were waiting for Pausanias, but there must have been other reasons for assuming their guilt which we don't know. Yet if they were attempting a coup, why did they flee? I think my point was that if someone was assasinating the king with the aim of taking over the kingdom, they would surely have a large number of associates ready to quell any resistance, which would have resulted in many more deaths. Thus if anyone were manipulating Pausanias they either wanted to create chaos (Darius) or expected a comparatively smooth transition of power. Either way, they were relying on Pausanias's personal motives to blind him to the fact that he was expendable.
Presumably, though, not only Persia would benefit from causing chaos in the Macedonian monarchy (which was virtually guaranteed due to the fluid 'rules' of Macedonian succession), but also Upper Macedonia if this was indeed the reason behind Philip's assassination. In that case there would be no need to 'take over' the kingdom; the Upper Macedonian hierarchy (or parts of it) was not looking to rule the united Macedonian kingdom but to return to the pre-Philip II time of (semi-)autonomy from the Argead royal house. In that sense, maybe it wasn't so much an attempted coup in the traditional sense. Or maybe they assumed Alexander would take over (Bosworth stresses his appeal to U.M., being half-Epirote). But we will likely never know for sure. The evidence is just too patchy and/or confused and/or covered up to allow a conclusion.

I enjoyed your essay, by the way. :) I just finished a dissertation, so I know how difficult it can be to write these things!
Thanks! Good luck with your dissertation - I found it difficult to keep to the point with this essay.

This Upper Macedonian theory sounds more interesting the more I think about - I think I'll have to investigate further!
lol, I know what you mean. I read all these books and made all these notes for the dissertation, and ended up only using about 35% of the material.

Here's the details of the Bosworth article I mentioned:

A.B. Bosworth, 'Philip II and Upper Macedonia', Classical Quarterly 21 (1971)
Another thoughtful piece, thank you - I enjoyed reading that, you had some interesting thoughts there. I especially liked your vivid picture of the scene in the king's tent at night! I think you're absolutely right that it must have been older men - the Seven, in fact, if the evidence is correct - who did the actual guarding, while the young pages did the personal services. I think it was Hammond who also pointed out that what they were doing wasn't much different to slaves' work. Doubtless it was meant to be character building, to learn to serve, to become close to the king, known to him, and part of his circle. But you're right - how on earth did they think they could kill him, when others were also on guard?
Yes, I think it was Hammond who compared the Pages' responsibilities to slaves' work. I think there must have been similarities between the Pages and the institution of fags in mid-19th century English public schools. It's a very crude way of enforcing discipline on potentially unruly youngsters, instilling resilience, and bringing out their competitive spirit. Humiliation either breaks juniors, or makes them want to be in that dominant position. How many times have we seen that initiation in military movies?

As for the Pages conspiracy, I haven't really given it a lot of thought yet, but unless they expected to be able to do it undetected, it does seem to be rather brainless and unthought-out, unless they expected immediate protection from someone. It's a little like Pausanias's assasination of Philip. It obviously wasn't a spur of the moment thing because he had horses waiting but, unless he had a political motive and expected others to support him, why did he chose to do it in such a public place where there would be no doubt of his identity, and his chances of escape were poor? There just seems so little planning behind these assassinations.