On a stifling June day in Babylon, 2334 years ago, Alexander of Macedon died. He had been to a party the night before, but left well before the end – unusual for this extraordinary man, who had conquered most of the known world in his twenties. He had a bath after the party, in a bath house near his swimming pool, and spent the rest of the night there. In the morning he already had a high fever. A terrible sickness was advancing, and he knew it. He ordered all his generals and chief officers to be brought to him, and the lesser ones gathered outside his door. But he discovered he could not talk to them. A man of lesser physique and lower powers of resistance would have developed pneumonia earlier. It appears that it had spread from the damaged areas of his lungs into the scar tissues on the numerous wounds he had on the front of his body. There were none on his back. In fact he had what modern doctors would diagnose as pleurisy.
Aware that death was coming, he ordered his last parade. His soldiers formed an orderly queue outside the tent, and Alexander held himself as erect as he could as every man passed, looking on with wonder at their remarkable leader, whol had succeeded his murdered father in his teens. Plutarch tells us that he greeted them all, lifting his head though with difficulty, and signing to them with his eyes.
The Roman historian Curtius tells us that Perdiccas asked him at what times he wished to have godly honours paid to him, and Alexander replied with difficulty, “When you are happy.” And so he died.
After a period of argument, hot debate, and some actual fighting near the body, the generals agreed it would be unthinkable that the throne of the world should pass to anyone not of Alexander’s blood. His state wife Roxane (from Bactria, now Afghanistan) was pregnant. Another wife, the Persian Barsine (Darius’ daughter) was also pregnant. Roxane showed her similarity to Alexander’s mother Olympia by summoning Barsine immediately to Babylon. She soon arrived accompanied by Drypetis her sister, who had been married to the late General Hephaestion, Alexander’s companion since boyhood (no-one had ever doubted that they were lovers. Bisexuality was not looked on with distaste in the world of humans until the nineteenth century after Christ. There were of course exceptions to the rule, like Ptolomy, the leading Macedonian general – a great lover of women. He later ruled Egypt and founded the royal line that bears his name. Of all the great generals who squabbled over the body of Alexander, the only one who survived to a graceful and honourable death at the age of 84 was Ptolomy).
Barsine, pregnant with Alexander’s baby, and Drypetis were rapidly dispatched by order of Roxane. Perdiccas, appointed regent by the generals, may have been in the Queen’s plot. It is seems unlikely because the sex of Barsine’s unborn child was unknown. Only one male child of Alexander and Roxane– Alexander IV – had survived. The mother was determined that her thirteen year old boy, not precisely a chip off the old block, should reign when he reached eighteen. But Rozane had not reckoned with Cassander. The greatest enemy of Alexander was the son of Antipater, who had been regent for Alexander’s father Phillip, and who for reasons of Greek politics Alexander had ‘eliminated’. Cassander swore vengeance, and after Alexander’s death at 33 achieved his deadly wish. He orchestrated the arrest and lynching of Olympias. She died in the hands of the mob as dispassionately as she had lived, laying a curse on Cassander and his descendents. The ‘mob’ was composed of relatives of those Olympia had herself murdered. Cassander was forced to these methods because his own soldiers would not touch a hair on the head of Alexander’s mother.
Sisygambis was the mother of Darius of the Persians, defeated in battle by Alexander and assassinated by his own followers. She was the Queen Mother of Persia, and since the death of Darius had loved and worhipped Alexander as if he were her own son. When they brought her the news of Alexander’s dying, she said goodbye to her family and friends, turned her face to the wall, and died by fasting.
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