4. THE OLDER PAGES
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.