This painting, attributed to the Dutch artist Gerard de Lairesse (c. 1641 – 1711), is thought to depict the marriage of Alexander the Great (r. 336-323 BCE) to a woman named Roxana (also spelled Roxane). Roxana, according to the ancient sources, was the teenage daughter of Oxyartes, a vassal of Persia who ruled from a formidable fortress known as Sogdian Rock. During his long string of conquests, Alexander the Great captured the Rock and forced Oxyartes to surrender in 327 BCE. After Oxyartes capitulated, the marriage between Alexander and Roxana was quickly arranged, occurring not long after the surrender. On topics concerning the conquest of the Rock, the beauty of Roxana, and her marriage to Alexander the Great, the historian Arrian (c. 90-173) wrote:
“Many women and children were among the prisoners—notably the wife and daughters of Oxyartes. One of these daughters was named Roxane. She was a girl of marriageable age, and men who took part in the campaign used to say she was the loveliest woman they had seen in Asia, with the exception of Darius’ wife. Alexander fell in love with her at sight; but, captive though she was, he refused, for all his passion, to force her to his will, and he condescended to marry her” (Arrian, Anabasis of Alexander, 4.19).
Roxana was Alexander the Great’s first wife, but she was not his last. As he was polygamous, Alexander went on to marry several other women during his campaigns. In 324 BCE, Alexander married Stateira, 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. Roxana and Barsine both gave birth to sons by Alexander—Barsine’s child being Heracles and Roxana’s son being Alexander IV. Neither boy, however, would live to inherit any meaningful power from their father. Upon the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, Heracles and Alexander the IV were largely pushed aside and used as pawns by powerful Macedonian generals. Both of Alexander the Great’s sons met suspicious or violent ends before the turn of the century.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The Campaigns of Alexander by Arrian, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.