Hephaestion Amyntoros

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.


© 2010


Another very well-argued piece, which I enjoyed reading. It's quite baffling why anyone would confidently announce that Hephaistion was two years older, with no proof whatever. The assumptions you mention, on which the theory is based, don't even seem to be correct.
The translation I have of Curtius mentions that Hephaistion was 'brought up with' Alexander. Now, to my mind, this doesn't even have to mean just education - and as you rightly say, education could very well have been together since a very young age indeed - but brought up with is more like the American 'raised with', almost implying that Hephaistion left his father's home as a young child, and shared his life entirely with Alexander from that point on. If this is the case, then he was surely chosen from eligible local families of repute, and I think it good proof that they were the same age.
As you say, two years makes a big difference to small children, and if Philip, say, had been choosing a child to invite as companion to Alexander, he would have taken care that the boy be the same age.
Once again, thank you for you interesting post,
Dear Fiona, thanks very much for taking the time and trouble to comment on this. When I posted it, I honestly didn't think anyone would be very bothered with it, but it was something I'd had at the back of my mind for years, so thanks again.

As I said, when I first started reading about Alexander back many years ago, the first thing I did with a new book was look in the index for references to Hephaestion, and invariably they would say he was a year or two older than Alexander but without saying what proof there was for this. So, I'm afraid, the assumptions are my interpretation of what this statement was probably based on - if they even thought about, which they probably didn't but just repeated somebody else's assertion.

I'm not sure I agree with the idea of Hephaestion effectively being adopted into Philip's family, as I can't think why he would do it. Alexander had plenty of brothers and sisters and the only reason I can think of that Philip would foster someone else's son was that he owed Amyntor, or that Amyntor was so important that Philip needed to hold his son hostage (like Langarus who later became king of the Agrianians and became friends with the young Alexander when he was a hostage of Philip's). If this was the case, we would surely know more about Amyntor. Unless of course, Hephaestion was an orphan and Philip was just being charitable!