Alexander and Hephaestion: The Ancient Controversial Relationship

Alexander and hephaestion all you need to knowAlexander and Hephaestion are the best of friends and allegedly lovers. Their relationship has been a topic of debate among historians and philosophers. However, the issue attached to them has no credible evidence linking the two romantically or sexually. 

Let us discuss and learn more information about the story behind their greatness and know the real score when it comes to their relationship.

Who Are Alexander and Hephaestion?

Alexander and Hephaestion are king and army general, as Alexander was the king of the Macedonian kingdom since the age of 20, and Hephaestion was the general of the army. They worked and shared an amazing friendship together, and later, Hephaestion married Alexander’s sister.

Alexander and Hephaestion’s Early Life

Alexander III was the son and successor of his father and the king of Macedon, Philip II, and his mother was Olympias, the fourth of eight wives of King Philip II and daughter of the King of Epirus, Neoptolemus I. Alexander III was born in the capital of the Kingdom of Macedon.

However, Hephaestion’s exact age was unknown, as there was no written biography about him. Many scholars assumed that he was born in 356 BC, the same age as Alexander. The only surviving narrative of him was from the Alexander Romance. A tale saying that Alexander was sailing with Hephaestion at the age of 15 became another clue about Hephaestion, showing that they are in the same age bracket and attending lectures together at Meiza under Aristotle’s tutelage.

Although the letters no longer exist today, Hephaestion’s name was found in the catalog of Aristotle’s correspondence, which implies that their content must have been significant and that Aristotle himself was so impressed by his pupil that he sent letters to converse with him while Alexander’s Empire was expanding.

Various accounts show that since their early life, Alexander and Hephaestion knew each other and learned about philosophy, religion, logic, morals, medicine, and art under the supervision of Aristotle in Mieza at the Temple of Nymphs, which seems to have been their boarding school. They studied together with the children of Macedonian nobles like Ptolemy and Cassander, and some of these students became Alexander’s future generals and “Companions” with Hephaestion as their leader.

Alexander and Hephaestion Youth

In their youth, Alexander got acquainted with some exiles at the Macedonian court because they were given protection by King Philip II as they opposed Artaxerxes III, which later on was said to be influenced some changes in the administration of the Macedonian state.

One of them was Artabazos II, together with his daughter Barsine, who then became Alexander’s mistress; Amminapes, who became Alexander’s satrap; and a nobleman from Persia known as Sisines, who shared with the Macedonian court a lot of knowledge about Persian issues. They resided at the Macedonian court from 352 to 342 BC.

Meanwhile, Hephaestion served in the military service in his youth, even before Alexander the Great became a king. As a teen, he campaigned against the Thracians, sent in King Phillip II’s Danube campaign in 342 BC and the battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC. He was also sent on some important diplomatic missions.

Alexander and Hephaestion’s early life prepared them to intelligently govern the kingdom and serve in the military, and as early as their youth, they bonded and became firm friends, which soon after developed into romance in their adulthood.

Alexander and Hephaestion’s Career Together

In all of Alexander’s campaigns, there stood Hephaestion on his side. He was the second-in-command, most loyal, and the most trusted friend and general in the army of the king. Their bond became stronger as they went campaigning and battling against different countries and tasted the sweetness of success.

When Alexander was 16, he rule in Pella as Regent while his father led an army against Byzantium. During that time, the neighboring country revolted, and Alexander was forced to react and led an army. He eventually defeated them, and to mark his victory, he founded the city of Alexandroupolis on the scene. That was just the first of his many victories.

When King Philip came back, he and Alexander led their army through the Greek city-states, where they battled the combined forces of Thebes and Athens. King Philip led the army facing the Athenians, whereas Alexander with his Companions, headed by Hephaestion, took command of the troops against the Thebans. It is said that the Sacred Band, an elite Theban army composed of 150 male lovers, was killed.

Alexander Became The King

In 336 BC, while attending his daughter’s wedding, King Phillip was assassinated by Pausanias, the head of his own bodyguards and allegedly his ex-lover. Soon after, Alexander succeeded the throne of his father at the age of 20.

The news of the king’s death reached the city-states they had conquered, all of which immediately revolted. Alexander reacted by taking the title “Supreme Commander,” same as his father, and intended to go to war with Persia. Before leading the campaign to Persian territory, Alexander secured the Macedonian borders by defeating and reasserting control over the Thracians, the Getae, the Illyrians, the Taulanti, the Triballi, the Athenians, and the Thebans. This was also the time when Alexander led the League of Corinth and used his authority to launch the Pan-Hellenic project predicted by his father.

Within two years of ascending the throne, he crossed the Hellespont with an army of almost 100,000 soldiers. He also detoured to Troy, the setting of Homer’s Iliad, his favorite text since his youth under Aristotle’s tutelage, where Arrian recounts that Alexander and Hephaestion laid a garland on the tomb of Achilles and Patroclus and ran naked to honor their dead heroes. This invited speculation that the two were lovers.

Battles Together

After a series of battles, the Macedonian Empire under Alexander’s leadership conquered the Achaemenid Empire in its entirety and overthrew Darius III, the king of Persia at Issos. Then, Alexander proceeded to conquer Egypt and Syria where he founded the city of Alexandria, his most successful city, and he was declared the son of the king of the Egyptian gods, Amun.

After the battle of Issus, in 333 BC, it is said that Hephaestion was ordered and authorized to designate to the throne the Sidonian whom he considered most deserving to be appointed to that high office. Alexander also entrusted him to lead after the siege of Tyre in 332 BC.

At the battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC, Alexander caught Darius III in Mesopotamia and defeated his army, but Darius III again fled where he was killed by his own men. When Alexander’s army found his body, he returned it to his mother, Sisygambis, to be buried in the royal tombs with his predecessors.

Despite Alexander succeeding in numerous campaigns, and taking control of most of modern-day Greece, Egypt, Syria, the Balkans, Iran, and Iraq, he was still determined to reach the Ganges in India. However, his troops had been on the march for eight years, and they wanted to go home, this was all through the command of his best friend and general of the army, Hephaestion.

Finally, Alexander accepted his defeat against his troops who refused to continue the campaign and decided to go to Susa. There, Alexander hosted a feast for his large army, accompanied by a mass marriage of his officers, including Hephaestion. Hephaestion married a Persian noblewoman, to be able to build bridges between their two empires.

Alexander’s Greif by Losing Hephaestion

After the feast in Susa, Alexander left for Ectabana, and during that time, Hephaestion fell ill. He had a fever that lasted for seven days, but it was said that he would make a full recovery, allowing Alexander to leave his bedside and make an appearance at the games, which is happening in the city. While he was away, Hephaestion was said to have taken a sudden turn for the worse after eating a meal and died.

According to some accounts, Hephaestion died of poisoning, as a motive to hurt the Great King, or the fever he suffered might have been typhoid and caused him to die from internal bleeding. He was cremated, and after which, his ashes were taken to Babylon and honored as a divine hero. The king referred to him as “the friend I valued as my own life.”

Leaving Alexander in grief, the king suffered a mental breakdown, refused to eat or drink for days, and didn’t pay attention to his personal appearance but rather silently mourned or lay on the ground screaming and cutting his hair short. Plutarch described that Alexander’s grief was uncontrollable. He ordered that the manes and tails of all horses be shorn, he commanded the demolition of all battles, and he banned flutes and every other kind of music.

Alexander’s Death

In 323 BC, Alexander died in the city of Babylon, which he had initially planned to establish as his empire’s capital in Mesopotamia. There are two distinct versions of Alexander’s death. According to Plutarch, Alexander developed a fever after entertaining Admiral Nearchus and spending the night drinking with Medius of Larissa the next day; this fever worsened until he was unable to speak.

In another account, Diodorus described that after Alexander drank a large bowl of wine in honor of Heracles, he experienced extreme pain, followed by 11 days of weakness. He did not die of fever but rather died after some agony. Following his death, the Macedonian Empire eventually fell apart because of the Wars of Diadochi, which marked the beginning of the Hellenistic period.


The spreading and combining of the cultures of Greco-Buddhism and Hellenistic Judaism comprise Alexanders’ legacy. He also founded the most prominent city in Egypt, the city of Alexandria, along with several other cities that were named after him.

The dominance of Hellenistic civilization spread up to the Indian subcontinent. It developed through the Roman Empire and Western culture where the Greek language became the common language or lingua franca, as well as became the predominant language of the Byzantine Empire until its disintegration in the mid-15th century AD. All of this is because he had his best friend and army leader, Hephaestion, next to him at all times.

Alexander’s military achievements and enduring success in battle caused several later military leaders to look up to him. His tactics have become a significant subject of studies in military academies worldwide to this day.

In particular, Alexander and Hephaestion’s relationship led to numerous accusations and speculations that interest different authors from ancient and modern times to write about their stories and give rise to a different genre of literature.

The Relationship between Alexander and Hephaestion

Some modern scholars suggested that aside from being close friends, Alexander the Great and Hephaestion were also lovers. However, the truth is that there is no credible evidence linking them romantically or sexually. Even the most reliable sources refer to them as friends, but there is circumstantial evidence suggesting they were really close.

Relationship Narration

Alexander and Hephaestion’s relationship was described as a deep and meaningful one. According to one narrative, Hephaestion was “by far the dearest of all the king’s friends; he had been brought up with Alexander and shared all his secrets,” and their relationship lasted throughout their lives. Aristotle even described their friendship as “one soul abiding in two bodies.”

Alexander and Hephaestion had a strong personal bond. Hephaestion was Alexander’s confidant and closest friend. They worked as partners and were always on each other’s side. Whenever Alexander need to divide his armies, he delegated the other half to Hephaestion. The king appealed for consultation from his senior officers but, it was only with Hephaestion that he would speak privately. The latter displayed unquestionable loyalty and support as the king trusted and relied on him.

Relationship in the Biography of Alexander

Although none of Alexander’s extant biographers ever mentioned Hephaestion as anything but Alexander’s friend, Hephaestion’s epithet given by Alexander himself was “Philolexandros.” “Philos” was the ancient Greek word for a friend, which also pertained to lovers in the sexual sense.

Their affection for each other was conspicuous. One piece of circumstantial evidence was stated by Arrian, Curtius, and Diodorus; when the Persian queen Sisygambis mistakenly knelt to Hephaestion instead of Alexander, Alexander pardoned the queen saying, “You were not mistaken, Mother; this man, too, is Alexander.” Another was when Hephaestion was replying to the letter of Alexander’s mother, he wrote, “you know that Alexander means more to us than anything.”

Hephaestion was Alexander’s first wedding torch-bearer in the painting done by Aetion. This implies not only their friendship but also his support for Alexander’s policies. Their relationship was even compared with that of Achilles and Patroclus. Hammond concludes about their affair: “It is not surprising that Alexander was as closely attached to Hephaestion as Achilles was to Patroclus.”

Loving Relationship

According to Arrian and Plutarch, there was an occasion when the two publicly identified themselves as Achilles and Patroclus. When Alexander led a large army to visit Troy, he placed a garland on the tomb of Achilles, and Hephaestion did the same on the tomb of Patroclus. They ran naked to honor their dead heroes.

However, according to Thomas R. Martin and Christopher W. Blackwell, it doesn’t mean that Alexander and Hephaestion related to Achilles and Patroclus in terms of being in a homosexual relationship because Homer never implied that Achilles and Patroclus had a sexual relationship.

When Hephaestion died, Alexander referred to him as “the friend I valued as my own life.” He even suffered a mental breakdown, refused to eat or drink for days, didn’t pay attention to his personal appearance but rather silently mourned or lay on the ground screaming and cutting his hair short.

Plutarch described that Alexander’s grief was uncontrollable. He ordered that the manes and tails of all horses should be shorn, he commanded the demolition of all battles, and he banned flutes and every other kind of music.

Alexander and Hephaestion Books

As their controversial relationship is a hotly debated topic, many authors became interested in its mystery and wrote books telling their stories. Among the most popular ones was Mary Renault, an English writer widely known for her historical novels set in ancient Greece. Her works are about love, sexuality, and gender preference, with openly gay characters, for which she has received several awards and honors both during her lifetime and after her death.

Renault’s most successful and famous historical novel was “The Alexander Trilogy,” which includes: Fire from Heaven, written in 1969, about Alexander the Great’s childhood and youth; The Persian Boy, written in 1972 and a best seller within the gay community, where the love between Alexander and Hephaestion was immortalized; and Funeral Games, a 1981 novel about Alexander’s death and the disintegration of his empire.

Other historical novels about Alexander written by Jeanne Reames were Dancing with the Lion and Dancing with the Lion: Rise under the genres of historical fiction, romance novel, and gay fiction. These books cover Alexander’s life from his childhood until the time he became regent. In 2004, Andrew Chugg authored The Lost Tomb of Alexander the Great, and in 2006, his book entitled Alexander’s Lovers, which is often mistaken as Alexander’s Lover was published.

Michael Hone also authored the book Alexander and Hephaestion based on witnesses who were alive during the time of Alexander and Hephaestion, including Theopompus, Demosthenes, and Callisthenes, as well as later historians like Arrian, Justin, Plutarch, and others.


Alexander the Great and Hephaestion’s story was one of childhood friendship that developed into love, trust, loyalty, and romance that was tested through the hardships of campaigning and battling.Alexander and hephaestion were they friends or lovers

  • Alexander the Great has been thought of as one of the world’s greatest and most successful military generals.
  • Hephaestion was Alexander’s best friend, confidant, and second-in-command.
  • Their noticeable closeness led to accusations that they were lovers.
  • There are numerous historical novels written about their story.
  • Alexander and Hephaestion’s story remains a topic of debate among historians and philosophers.

It truly is a relationship that was tested by fire and time and is admirable and fascinating at the same time.

Ancient Literature (May 25, 2024) Alexander and Hephaestion: The Ancient Controversial Relationship. Retrieved from
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Ancient Literature - Alexander and Hephaestion: The Ancient Controversial Relationship. [Internet]. [Accessed May 25, 2024]. Available from:
"Alexander and Hephaestion: The Ancient Controversial Relationship." Ancient Literature - Accessed May 25, 2024.
"Alexander and Hephaestion: The Ancient Controversial Relationship." Ancient Literature [Online]. Available: [Accessed: May 25, 2024]

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