Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Friday, July 13, 2012

A plea in favor of Bagoas

It is obvious that history has not been handling the subject of eunuchs with kindness. The Persians were very familiar with the very concept, and so were the Macedonian kings like Philip II and Alexander the Great. Firstly, there is Hermias, the eunuch and pupil of Aristotle who, with help from King Philip II, became the Persian satrap of Ionia (Asia Minor). Secondly, there is Alexander who held Cyrus the Great of Persia in high esteem and who was influenced by Xenophon’s “Cyropaidia” containing a true praise for eunuchs. This, at least, shows that  Alexander was familiar with eunuchs and could comprehend their promotion to high and important posts in the Persian empire as is documented by Bagoas’ namesake who carried the title of Chiliarch and proclaimed himself Great King by poisoning the incapable ruling King Ochus, better known as Artaxerxes III of Persia.

Writers like the old (and negative) W. Tarn, but also Arrian would have liked to simply leave Bagoas out of their history books, solely because a eunuch did not fit the idealized image of Alexander they wanted to project. Others have tried to create another Bagoas, a kind of Persian prince so that they would not have to accept that a eunuch and loverboy of Alexander could occupy a place among his most prominent and influential courtiers. They preferred the image of a slave and body-servant of the king (as used in the Alexander movie by Oliver Stone). Not only Christians but also the Romans had great prejudices toward the concept of eunuchs and lots of superstitious misunderstandings were circulating. In their endeavor not to damage the image of Alexander, most of the writers contributed to erasing as many traces of Bagoas as they could!

But let’s have a look at “our” Bagoas. He was introduced and presented to Alexander by Nabarzanes, previously one of the Commanders of the Persian King, together with other gifts since he wished to prove his goodwill by surrendering to Alexander after the death of King Darius. According to Curtius, these events happened in Hyrcania in July/August 330 BC. Curtius is very clear about this, while Arrian, who wrote for the Roman patricians of the Antonine period, hardly mentions Bagoas in his otherwise so carefully documented history (we hardly find any trace of him).

I’m convinced that Alexander didn’t take Bagoas only for his good looks or for the fact that he was a eunuch. He had refused handsome young boys and men that were presented to him on previous occasions – whether or not with a certain disgust. Andrew Chugg (cfr. Alexander’s Lovers) considers that since Bagoas had been the personal attendant to King Darius, he could prove the truthfulness of Nabarzanes’ story. He also assumes that he probably spoke Greek and as such could act as translator, which was one of the many talents a good eunuch should possess and which may be one of the reasons why he was so easily admitted among Alexander’s entourage. Curtius writes: “… was still young and a favourite of Alexander’s because he was in the flower of his youth, but, though he equalled Hephaistion in handsomeness of form, he did not match him in charm, since he was not at all manly” (proof that Hephaistion definitely was manly, a trait that is often being questioned!). When Curtius speaks of Bagoas, he uses the word “spado”, which matches our word for eunuch, as opposed to “castrati” (totally castrated).

Andrew Chugg has found Bagoas to be mentioned seven or eight times by ancient writers from four different sources. The best-known story is, of course, the one about the dance and singing competition in Gedrosia where Bagoas turned out to be the winner and was rewarded with a loving kiss by Alexander. Not only Plutarch relates the story, but also Athenaeus who referred to Dicaearchus, another pupil of Aristotle - a rather trustworthy source of information.

New to me is to learn that in India, Bagoas was listed among the 33 trierarchs (commanders of the triremes, i.e. ships with three rows of oars). This list was composed by nobody less than Nearchus, the fleet commander and one of Alexander’s generals. The title was purely honorific and had nothing to do with actual sailing the ships down the Indus River. Other trierarchs were, for instance, Eumenes, Alexander’s secretary, his doctor Critobulus, his friend Medius of Larissa, etc. But then Waldemar Heckel in his “Who’s who” mentions that this Bagoas might be different from the one close to Alexander and he refers to a Persian satrap of the same name, perhaps from Lycia.

Last but not least, there is the story of Bagoas being involved in the arrest of Orsines when Alexander upon his return to Babylon discovers the mismanagement of several of his Persian satraps. After the death of one of these satraps, Phrasaortes, a certain Orsines took over and exploited his power, murdering his countrymen and stealing the moneys of the temple. He is the one, although indirectly, is being held responsible for the plundering of the tomb of Cyrus the Great. At that time, Bagoas occupied the highest rank at the Persian Court (!). Alexander probably asked him to serve as interpreter and maybe even asked for his advice to establish if Orsines spoke the truth or was credible. On previous occasions, Alexander had left the condemnation of “criminals” to the local rulers and he could very well have done the same this time by leaving Bagoas in charge.

Finally, there is a short piece of text from the time that Alexander was still underway to Ecbatana in 324 BC which is told by Aelianus in his “Varia Historia”:”: “He [Alexander] had dinner on the twenty-seventh [17th October 324 BC] with Bagoas – the distance from the palace to Bagoas’ house was ten stades [+/- 1800 meters] – and on the twenty-eight he slept”. Andrew Chugg concludes that at that time Bagoas is being held in high esteem by Alexander, i.e. seven months before the king’s death and immediately before the death of Hephaistion. Bagoas was rich and independent enough to maintain a household of his own, which doesn’t match at all with the image of an influential courtesan. There is no doubt about Alexander’s generosity towards Bagoas simply because organizing a dinner for the king meant an expense of at least 40 kilograms of silver (Dixit Plutarch).
Our historical Bagoas carried out many important diplomatic and governmental obligations like for instance escorting the Sacae (Scythian tribe) and the execution of unfaithful satraps. He must have been very talented, capable and influential – and then there were his dances, of course.

From all these bits and pieces, I would conclude that Bagoas must have occupied the highest rank after King Alexander and his Chiliarch Hephaistion. We’ll definitely have to welcome him with more consideration and reverence next time we talk about him. To me, he truly is “one of the boys” together with Alexander and Hephaistion!

[pictures of Bagoas taken from Oliver Stone's movie "Alexander"]


  1. I totally agree!
    I've been interested in Bagoas after reading Renault's novel years ago,
    lately, I decided I want to do more research into ancient sources, and indeed, Bagoas is no minor character.
    There are several resources risen separately that described Bagoas, which makes it highly unlikely that he is fabricated, like Tarn says.
    It is a pity that accounts of events of Bagoas are lost nowadays, but from the surviving sources, it isn't hard to see that Alexander was very fond of Bagoas.

    1. Yes, you are right. Ancient historians are like today's journalists where the wars, executions and killings come in the news (Parmenion, Hermolaus, Philotas) but little is said about the "good guys", especially Hephaistion and Bagoas.
      They must have been very close to Alexander's heart. I think he didn't have many true friends, do you?

  2. Mostly likely he didn't. But I think he is lucky in comparison to other great figures in history, because at least he had some people (i.e.Hephaistion and Bagoas) that he truly cared for, most great emperors don't have anyone close to them

    1. You really gave me something to think about. Alexander can indeed call himself lucky for having such goods friends. Recently someone underscored Alexander’s special friendship (and respect, no doubt) with the Queen Mother of Persia, Sisygambis, and with the Queen of Caria, Ada (handled in details in the book “All Alexander’s Women” – see my Bookshelves). I don’t know any other great ruler who truly took the advice and/or listened to elderly people, particularly to women! And Alexander definitely was not the soft kind … Intriguing, to say the least!

  3. Here's a good Bagoas movie.

  4. everyone take no notice of harry hubbard, that link to the vid is his own vid, its not a bagoas movie dumbarse, stop taking the piss grrrrrrr, maybe you need to show some respect for a great king and show some respect to bagoas and while your at it show respect for the people who who adore bagoas

  5. harry your a fake, all you want in money, you have no care or respect for history