Polygamy in Ancient Macedonia

(Alexander the Great mosaic c. 100 BCE, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)

Many ancient cultures practiced polygamy at one point in time, or at least condoned a semblance of concubinage. The Macedonia of Philip II (382-337 BCE) and Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) still practiced polygamy, at least among the nobility.

Monarchies throughout history have used marriage to formulate alliances; nobles of Macedonia used the same technique, but they hardly stopped at one marriage. If a Macedonian king needed to keep three noble houses loyal to the throne, it would not be uncommon for the king to take a wife from each of the three houses.

Alexander the Great’s mother, Olympia, was not the only wife of Philip II. At the time of Philip’s death by assassination in 337 BCE, he had a large household of seven wives. Alexander, too, took several wives during his short thirty-three year life. He married Roxane (or Rhoxane), in 327 BCE, after her father surrendered the Sogdian Rock (somewhere in Afghanistan) to Alexander. Later, after the majority of his conquests were over, Alexander married Stateira (in 324 BCE), the eldest daughter of the deceased Persian ruler, Darius III. At the same time, he also married Parysatis, the daughter of Darius’ predecessor, Artaxerxes. Along with these official wives, Alexander also kept a mistress named Barsine, who accompanied the king during most of his travels.


Written by C. Keith Hansley




  • The Campaigns of Alexander by Arrian, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.
  • Alexander the Great: The Story of an Ancient Life by Thomas R. Martin and Christopher W. Blackwell. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

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