Pictures of Hephaistion are terribly rare and when finally a new one is being discovered at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, we dare not believe it truly represents Alexander’s faithful friend and possible lover!
This time we see a lovely relief representing a man with his horse, probably just dismounted, who is met and welcomed by a woman. The piece was unearthed in Pella, the old Macedonian capital, and carries the intriguing inscription ΔΙΟΓΕΝHΣ ΗΦΑΙΣΤΙΩΝΙ ΗΡΩΙ, meaning “Diogenes to the hero Hephaistion”. Based on its style, is has been dated to the last quarter of the 4th century BC.
The so welcome effigy, however, raises many questions. First of all, Hephaistion died in 324 BC at Ecbatana and was cremated in great pump in Babylon far away from Pella. Secondly, history tells us that after his death and with the approval of the Egyptian oracle, Hephaistion was promoted to the status of a hero which in fact equals that of a semi-god. The composition itself is a rather standard representation of a soldier and his horse being met by one of his relatives and it could be anyone by the name of Hephaistion.
The Museum of Thessaloniki is rather careful and attributes the relief to a veteran of Alexander’s eastern campaign, which is, of course, a plausible explanation. After the death of Hephaistion and Alexander many more wars have been fought in and around the Macedonian homeland, Illyria or Thracia, meaning that some soldier by the name of Hephaistion could be honoured in Pella.
This all sounds very credible were it not that the very name of Hephaistion is pretty rare. For a great admirer of Hephaistion, it would however not be too difficult to find a serious resemblance between the man shown in this relief and, for instance, the Hephaistion from Alexandria that is now at the Archaeological Museum of Athens.