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Royal Bonds: How the Mother, Wife, and Daughter of Darius III Became Family of Alexander the Great

Royal Bonds: How the Mother, Wife, and Daughter of Darius III Became Family of Alexander the Great

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Alexander the Great abruptly ended the reign of Darius III, and with it he saw the demise of the Achaemenid kings. However, while conquering new lands Alexander gained not only territory, but also some surprising female relatives who provided him with newfound strength, loyalty, and wisdom.

Alexander the Great was a man who loved to learn from wise women. Therefore, the possibility of relationships with well-educated and politically experienced Persian women provided him with a precious opportunity. The new family members protected the Macedonian king with their love. However, the unusual relationship between the Achaemenid women and the son of Phillip had heavy costs for all of them.

A Battle that Changed their World

Sisygambis (Sisigambis) was the mother of Darius III of Persia, and Stateira I was his wife. Stateira II was one of Stateira I and Darius III’s daughters. Thus, the three women were all members of the famous Achaemenid dynasty – which provided them with special characteristics in Alexander’s eyes.

The world drastically changed for Sisygambis and the Stateiras when Darius was defeated in the Battle of Issus on November 5th 333. The beaten king fled, leaving his family, including his mother, wife, and children, anxiously awaiting the arrival of a Macedonian King. After the battle, Alexander and his companions (including his dear friend Hephaestion) went to capture the royal family.

Legends say that when Sisygambis saw Hephaestion, she kneeled to him and pleaded for mercy. She thought that he was the king because Hephaestion was taller and, according to many resources, he looked more like a great ruler than Alexander did. Moreover, the two men were apparently wearing almost the same clothes. Fearing the worst, she quickly apologized for the mistake, but Alexander just smiled and started a conversation with the amazed woman.

Darius III’s family in front of Alexander the Great. (1661) By Charles le Brun. Sisygambis (in yellow) is kneeling to ask for mercy.

Darius III’s family in front of Alexander the Great. (1661) By Charles le Brun. Sisygambis (in yellow) is kneeling to ask for mercy. ( Public Domain )

The Mother of Two Kings

Sisygambis’ life saw another turn in September 331 when Alexander destroyed the Persian army in the Battle of Gaugamela. Darius was heavily wounded and died soon after the battle. Sisygambis and her relatives were kept in the baggage train following Alexander’s army. The Achaemenid queens and their children were unsure of the future following Darius’ demise. At the same time, Sisygambis was still angered by Darius. She had never forgiven him for leaving his family at Alexander’s mercy and escaping like a coward - it wasn't a behavior worthy of a Persian king.

Nevertheless, Alexander treated them quite well, and liked to talk with the Achaemenid queens and princesses. He was a man who loved smart women. After Darius’ death, he sent his body to Sisygambis, to which the queen said that she now had only one son, Alexander. These actions showed the surprising bond that existed between them.

Late 15th Century depiction of the murder of Darius by his generals; Alexander at the side of the dying king.

Late 15th Century depiction of the murder of Darius by his generals; Alexander at the side of the dying king. ( Public Domain )

Sisygambis had many reasons to hate Alexander the Great, but she was too smart to allow her emotions to destroy her world. She had different ideas about how to take care of herself and her family.

In fact, Sisygambis had a good life thanks to Alexander’s provisions. Ancient resources claim that he treated her like his own mother and respected her. The bond became so strong between the two that the Persian queen died soon after Alexander took his last breath. Legends say that when she heard about his death, she sealed herself in one of her rooms and stopped eating. Sisygambis was grieving and lost the will to live. She apparently died just four days after the message of Alexander’s death arrived.

Stateiras For Two Famous Rulers

When Darius III died, Alexander allowed the family to keep their royal status. Stateira I became a widow, but she soon followed her husband to the grave - she died while giving birth in 332 BC.

As previously mentioned, one of her children was Stateira II. Stateira II is better known as Barsine (only Plutarch mentions her by the name Stateira.) Researchers still debate about her real name, however on her marriage document to Alexander in 324 BC she is called Barsine. This marriage helped Alexander to connect his family with the Achaemenid dynasty forever. He had little interest in loving his new wife and was more focused on conquering new lands. Although Alexander didn't spend much time with Stateira II, her family lived a wealthy and good life until Alexander died.

The marriages of Stateira II to Alexander and her sister, Drypteis, to Hephaestion at Susa in 324 BC.

The marriages of Stateira II to Alexander and her sister, Drypteis, to Hephaestion at Susa in 324 BC. ( Public Domain )

Stateira II found herself with more difficulty than a distant husband however – she was murdered by Roxana and Perdiccas after Alexander died. The influential princess of the Persian dynasty was too dangerous for Roxana. Stateira II’s fate was eventually shared by Roxana, but at the time Roxana only saw an interest in ridding herself of a woman who was a dear friend in Alexander’s complicated social world.

A mural in Pompeii depicting Alexander the Great and Barsine (Stateira).

A mural in Pompeii depicting Alexander the Great and Barsine (Stateira). ( Public Domain )

Forgotten Women

Although both the Stateiras and Sisygambis were very powerful and appreciated by the influential rulers of their times, their biographies have been mostly forgotten. The information presented in this article provides the most authentic parts of their stories. However, there are still unexplored sites where more evidence may be found to fill in the blanks.

Top Image: The Family of Darius III in front of Alexander the Great. (1452) By Justus Sustermans. Source: Public Domain

By Natalia Klimczak

References:

M.J. Olbrycht, Aleksander Wielki I świat Irański, 2004.

I. Worthington, Alexander the Great, Man and God, 2004.

Sisygambis, available at:
http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/sisigambis

Stateira, available at:
http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/stateira#st2

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