This painting, created in the late 17th-century by an unknown artist, depicts Alexander the Great of Macedonia (r. 336-322 BCE) in front of a captured assassin who participated in the killing of Darius III of Persia (r. 336-330 BCE). Alexander was indirectly responsible for Darius’ death, for after Alexander had defeated the Persians at the battles of Granicus (334 BCE), Issus (333 BCE) and Gaugamela (331 BCE), there was little faith left in the leadership of Darius III. In 330 BCE, a large contingent of the Persian military mutinied against Darius, and he was arrested and replaced as leader by Bessus, the satrap/governor of Bactria and Sogdiana. Darius III was still held captive by his former subjects as Alexander the Great began closing in on the usurpers in the lands just to the southeast of the Caspian Sea. As the story goes, Bessus left Darius under the guard of two men named Nabarzanes and Barsaentes. With Alexander’s speedy army on their trail, the two men ultimately decided to kill Darius III, who was slowing down their retreat. Although Alexander the Great and Darius were enemies, the Macedonian king did not appreciate the assassination of the Persian king. As he continued pushing further into the Persian Empire, Alexander would keep on the lookout for the murderers of his rival. Not long after, Nabarzanes reportedly surrendered to Alexander, but little is known of his fate. As for Barsaentes, the ancient Roman biographer Arrian (c. 90-173+) claimed, “when he learned of Alexander’s approach, he fled for refuge to the Indians west of the Indus. But they arrested him and sent him back to Alexander, who had him executed for his treachery to Darius” (Anabasis of Alexander, III.25). Such is the scene that is depicted in this painting. It shows a killer of Darius, likely Barsaentes, facing judgment from Alexander the Great.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Campaigns of Alexander by Arrian, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.
- Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2011.
- Alexander the Great: The Story of an Ancient Life by Thomas R. Martin and Christopher W. Blackwell. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.