5. AGE (2)
Finally though, back to the question of Hephaestion’s age. It used to be the case that historians blithely stated that Hephaestion was a year or two older than Alexander, without giving any proof. It is, unfortunately, an idea that has stuck in many popular perceptions of Hephaestion, but is not necessarily true.
The statement is based on three assumptions: that Alexander did not become friends with Hephaestion until the latter became a Page; that Pages were recruited at the age of 14 or 15; and the erastes/eromenos model of Greek sexuality and friendship.
There is no reason at all to suppose that Alexander and Hephaestion did not know each other before Hephaestion became a Page. Curtius says that they were brought up together (or ‘educated equally’ according to JRZ) and, although this might refer to their adolescent education, there is no real reason other than our knowledge of the institution of the Pages, not to take the statement at face value and infer that they were playmates from their earliest childhood and shared their elementary education. Alexander would certainly have had playmates as a child and there is no reason to suppose these would have been exclusively ‘royal’ and would not have included the sons of the local aristocracy.
Hephaestion’s appellation is ‘of Pella’, but as JRZ has said in her doctoral thesis, this does not necessarily mean that Hephaestion’s family originated from Pella, but that the city, or its environs, was his principal place of residence. As an aside, there is a gravestone that was found in Pella for Xanthos, the son of Demetrios and Amadika. This has been dated to 50 years before Alexander’s birth, which is probably too early for Hephaestion’s uncle and grandparents (if indeed his grandfather was called Demetrios, which is a common name), but it might belong to an earlier generation of his family.
If Hephaestion was the same age as Alexander and lived in Pella, it would make him a prime candidate to have been selected as a childhood companion of Alexander. Two years is a big age difference in a child’s development, and two boys of roughly the same age are more likely to have struck up a friendship, and shared the same level of education and experiences, thus further cementing the bond between them, than two boys of slightly different ages, although this is probable.
The second assumption regarding Hephaestion’s age is that Pages were not recruited until 14 or 15. Yet there is no reason to suppose that when Alexander effectively became a Page, he was the only 13 year old in the group of boys. Unless, of course, Alexander and Aristotle only spent a year at Mieza (342 BC) and then returned to Pella to join the Pages. Cassander was a year or two younger than Alexander, yet no one seems to suppose that he would have become a Page at the same time that Alexander commenced his secondary education.
Alexander could not have hoped to compete, physically or intellectually, with boys who were all a year or two older than him. That would have sharpened his competitive skills but it would also have placed an enormous strain on his resolve and determination, and it would have required a Herculean effort for him not to have become resentful or despondent. We know Alexander was competitive, determined, and single-minded in achieving what he wanted, but there is no reason to suppose Aristotle or Philip deliberately tried to inculcate these values into him by this means. Alexander cannot have been the only 13 year old aristocrat in Macedon so unless he was educated at Mieza alone, some of the Pages must have been educated with him.