Gay and Lesbian People in History

356 - 323 B.C.E.


King of Macedonia and conqueror of the world, he overthrew the Persian Empire and extended his rule from Greece to Egypt and all the way to India.

Alexander's achievement laid the foundation for the Hellenistic world, the Roman Empire, and even the spread of Christianity: all the New Testament writings were in Greek as a result of Alexander's influence.




GayHeroes.comWhat did Alexander look like?


Alexander was said to be extremely handsome. Many portraits of him were made in his life and these Roman copies may be pretty accurate. Of medium build, he also was said to have a very pleasant scent to his skin and breath, which for those times was pretty remarkable if you know what I mean. He was an incredible physical specimen who loved strenuous exercise -- he would jump off and back on a chariot moving at full speed. His lover Hephaestion was taller and even more handsome, if possible -- the Persian Queen bowed to him instead of Alexander when she was presented to them. Alexander said to the mortified queen "Never mind, Mother, Hephaestion is also Alexander".


GayHeroes.comThis detail from a tomb (above) is thought to represent Hephaestion.

How do we know Alexander was gay?

2,300 years ago men in Greece had wives, mistresses, and lovers of either gender. Alexander's father, Philip of Macedon, had male lovers and also many wives, a problem when half-brothers would fight to the death over the throne. Alexander refused to marry and beget an heir when he left Macedon to conquer the world.

Alexander loved his boyhood friend, Hephaestion. Both brilliant boys, they were tutored by Aristotle, with whom Hephaestion kept up a lifelong correspondence. Alexander and Hephaestion felt like the two heroes Achilles and Patroclus, from The Iliad, which was Alexander's favorite book.

Hephaestion started off as a regular cavalry soldier - Alexander did not play favorites - and rose through the ranks on merit and carried out the most important military and administrative assignments. Later, Alexander also fell in love with a courtier from the conquered Persian court, scandalous not because the courtier was male, but because he was Persian -- most Greeks thought that other people were barbarians. Alexander married a princess from a faraway mountain kingdom of Asia, but it's unclear if he loved her because their only child was born much later. He also married the defeated Persian king's daughter, a purely political marriage, and Hephaestion married her sister, since he and Alexander wanted their children to be cousins.

After they conquered Asia, Hephaestion died suddenly of typhus. Alexander's grief was monumental. He asked the oracles if Hephaestion was a god (back then people could become gods by achievement) and was told that Hephaestion was indeed a hero, a lesser type of god. Now Alexander, who had no doubt about his own divinity, knew that he would meet his beloved again in the Blessed Realm, where gods and heroes live. He got his first wife pregnant and died himself without waiting for the child to be born, all within eight months of Hephaestion's death, just as Achilles had followed Patroclus in the Iliad. He was 32 years old.

GayHeroes.comBut don't just take MY word for it....

This is from Robin Lane Fox: Alexander the Great:

Hephaestion was the man Alexander loved, and for the rest of their lives their relationship remained as intimate as it is now irrecoverable: Alexander was only defeated once, the Cynic philosophers said long after his death, and that was by Hephaestion's thighs. (p. 56)

At the age of thirty Alexander was still Hephaestion's lover although most young Greeks would have grown out of the fashion by then and an older man would have given up or turned to a younger attraction. Their affair was a strong one; Hephaestion grew to lead Alexander's cavalry most ably and to become Vizier before dying a divine hero, worthy of posthumous worship. (p. 57)

[Alexander's royal bodyguard] were the nobles whom Alexander loved and trusted, whether tough like Leonnatus, famed for his gymnastics, or shrewd like Ptolemy, a friend from childhood; Hephaestion still predominated, faithfully inclining to the Persian customs of his king and lover. (p. 430)

And from Mary Renault, in The Nature of Alexander :

With Hephaestion he remained in love, at a depth where the physical becomes almost irrelevant; and years later Bagoas [a Persian courtier] was still his recognized eromenos [Greek for "lover"]. (p. 185)

And from The Random House Encyclopedia, New Revised Edition, 1983:

A more immediate project was the marriage of Alexander and Hephaestion, his closest friend and lover, to two of the daughters of Darius [the recently conquered Persian emperor], while another 80 Macedonian officers married daughters of Persian nobles. (p. 1005)

GayHeroes.comBut wait, here's more....

Paul Cartledge is Professor of Greek History in the University of Cambridge, and Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge. The following is from an article he wrote just before publication of his book, Alexander the Great: The Hunt for a New Past (2004).

Aristotle is said to have advised Alexander to treat all non Greeks as slavish 'barbarians', advice which Alexander--to his credit--conspicuously did not follow. Indeed, he married, polygamously, three 'barbarians'--the daughter of a Sogdian warlord and two Persian royal women--and encouraged his closest companions to take foreign wives too. No doubt, as with Philip's marriages, these were predominantly motivated by realpolitik. It is notable that, unlike his father, Alexander married no Macedonian nor Greek woman. Moreover his marriages were designed to further a policy of orientalisation, the playing down of an exclusive Hellenism and the promotion of Graeco-oriental political and cultural mix.

The question of Alexander's sexuality--his predominant sexual orientation--has enlivened, or bedevilled, much Alexander scholarship. That he loved at least two men there can be little doubt. The first was the Macedonian noble Hephaestion, a friend from boyhood, whom he looked on--and may actually have referred to--as his alter ego. The Persian queen mother, it was said, once mistook the taller Hephaestion for Alexander, who graciously excused her blushes by murmuring that 'he too is Alexander'. Whether Alexander's relationship with the slightly older Hephaestion was ever of the sort that once dared not speak its name is not certain, but it is likely enough that it was. At any rate, Macedonian and Greek mores would have favoured an actively sexual component rather than inhibiting or censoring it. Like hunting, homosexuality was thought to foster masculine, especially martial, bravery.

The other non-female beloved of Alexander's was named Bagoas. He was not just a 'barbarian' (Persian) but also a eunuch. There was a long Middle Eastern tradition of employing eunuchs as court officials, especially where a harem system was in place, as at the Achaemenid royal court (witness the Biblical book of Esther). Bagoas was not the first Persian court eunuch, either, to act as a power-broker between rival individuals and factions. A homonymous predecessor had done his murderous worst through the arts of poison, paving the way for Darius III's immediate predecessor to assume the Persian throne. The methods of Alexander's Bagoas were no less effective, if less violent, and Alexander's personal commitment to him seems to have attained levels of sexual intimacy that his Greek and Macedonian courtiers found embarrassing.


Extra! News flash! Film at 11!

A report by Dr. David Oldach (bro of my pal John Oldach!) and colleagues in The New England Journal of Medicine gives a modern diagnosis of Alexander's death.
Click here to check out the scoop as reported in The Baltimore Sun.



We can't just expect historians from the past to come right out and say that Alexander was gay -- you'd be considered unprofessional, a crackpot gossip. It was just not done. So they had to find other ways to express it. Here's a perfect example, a guy from Victorian England. Read what he says about Alexander and decide for yourself. After you wade through all the dense Victorian verbiage, do you think he thinks Alexander was gay?

David George Hogarth (1862-1927)
English archaeologist, director of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (1909-1927), and diplomat who was associated with the excavation of several important archaeological sites.

About Alexander, Hogarth writes,

"...his nature was neither cold nor passionless.  The flame burned fiercely enough in Alexander, little issue though it found in the love of women."

About Hephaistion:

"Was there not in Alexander's life at least one emotional friendship, a friendship of that type which, based obscurely on passion, in certain natures passes the love of women?"

About Alexander's response to Hephaistion's death:

" Ecbatana there fell upon him a stunning blow, the loss of Hephaistion.  It followed close on the second treason and final flight of another of the few intimates of his boyhood, Harpalus,...And now Hephaistion too was gone, the congenial enthusiastic nature which had been so much more to Alexander than Ptolemy's sagacity or Nearchus' careful courage, the friend, more than a friend, and closer than a brother, who alone awoke a gentler emotion in the breast of the lonely Conqueror.  For there come, alike in discouragement and exaltation, to all men, however strong of body or brain, moments of craving, in which the soul gropes blindly for another soul; and the most strong, if he owns this need most rarely, feels it most imperious.  The blood of Olympias ran hotly in the veins of her son beneath that crust with which ambition and its fulfillment had overlaid him.  In all things passionate, he passionately craved sympathy, and all the masterful yearnings of his soul had been satisfied first and only by Hephaistion.  The rest of the world had dwindled beneath his feet; and lo! now in a moment he was left in such a solitude as had seldom been the doom even of kings.  All the savage in Alexander was unchained: he passed from paroxysm to paroxysm of emotion, at one moment abased in utter despair, at another seeking to fulfil his soul in strenuous cruelty.  The last resources of extravagance were exhausted in sending the dear ghost worthily to the world below, and such a monument arose as only kings can raise to the one human being with whom they have been able to lay aside the king."

David George Hogarth, Philip and Alexander of Macedon: Two Essays in Biography (New York: Books For Libraries Press, 1971), 162-163, 266-267.  (First pub. 1897 by C. Scribner Sons, New York.)




ALEXANDER THE GREATAlexander sacked cities, killed rivals, and sold people into slavery, but aside from that he was a really great guy. But seriously folks, two thousand years ago people were, well, pagans. The peaceful Christian philosophies of our millenium (which has seen the Inquisition, Hiroshima and Auschwitz) were not known. By this measure, Alexander was truly enlightened for his time, shocking his contemporaries by treating foreigners (especially women) with respect, restoring former rulers, governments, and religions which the Persians had suppressed, and even giving them high positions in his Empire. He was exceptionally generous, sharing all the treasures of his conquests with his troops. He made some horrible mistakes, including killing an old family friend in a drunken brawl, but he was deeply religious, and truly believed that by exceeding the feats of the gods (like Hercules) he could become a god himself. He was the first to seriously envision all people as God's children. 



In this mosaic from Pompeii, which is a copy of a Greek painting, Alexander (left) fights the Persian Emperor Darius III at the battle of Issus.

As a general, Alexander is among the greatest the world has ever known. He commanded from the front, leading the cavalry side by side with Hephaestion (since Alexander was a lefty they must have been hell on wheels together in battle). Alexander was wounded by every weapon of war known at the time. He even jumped down alone into an enemy citadel and fought until he could be rescued -- taking an arrow in his chest for his trouble. These traits inspired love and GayHeroes.comdevotion in his army who followed him 22,000 miles (on foot!) for eight years.

Alexander the warrior, above, with the lion helmet of Hercules,
and below with the horns of the god Ammon.

What can we learn
from the magnificent story of Alexander the Great? One thing might be that you can be king, you can conquer the world, you can even be a god, but when your beloved dies, it all becomes worthless, and you follow him.

You can die young, and yet GayHeroes.comconquer the world....


I recommend it! CLICK HERE to read the scoop.

There's a new novel about Alexander coming out;
click here for my review and correspondence with the publicist!



Want more? Here's a link to a page on Alexander's sexuality on a comprehensive Alexander the Great web site:

Alexander the Great on the Web is the preeminent website on Alexander the Great in history and culture. It sorts and describes some 1,000 online resources, from biographies to movies, academic papers to political arguments.


Heroes, Myths, & Legends BookstoreAlexander's story is so great you've got to read about him. March right on over to your library.

And what about you??? Alexander was 21 when he set out to become a legend. What are you doing to conquer your world? Fill out a HERO FORM and tell the world what you're up to. We'll post your story here at on our LEGENDS LIST for all to see. It's easy, it's fun, it's self-aggrandizing!
Fill out a HERO FORM! Don't MYTH your chance to be on the LEGENDS LIST! Click here to fill out a HERO FORM. Click here to check out the LEGENDS LIST.

of boy-meets-boy pop songs!

with tunes like "I Like Mike" and "Cryin' Over Brian"

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Jay Spears
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