Who were the children of Alexander the Great?

Alexander the Great, one of history’s most renowned military leaders and conquerors, left an indelible mark on the ancient world.

Born in 356 BCE in Pella, the capital of the Kingdom of Macedon, Alexander was the son of King Philip II and Queen Olympias. His meteoric rise to power and conquest of vast territories reshaped the geopolitical landscape.

Despite his numerous achievements, Alexander’s life was relatively short, and he died in 323 BCE at the age of 32. In the wake of his demise, his vast empire was divided among his generals, giving rise to a complex period known as the Diadochi.

Alexander reigned from 336 to 323 BC.

Children of Alexander the Great

Regarding the children of Alexander the Great, it’s important to note that he had no legitimate heirs who survived him. However, several individuals claimed descent from Alexander, either through questionable paternity or as a means to legitimize their rule.

In the article below, World History Edu explore the alleged descendants and the uncertainties surrounding the lineage of Alexander.

Heracles of Macedon

One of the most widely recognized figures claiming descent from Alexander was Heracles of Macedon, who was not to be confused with the legendary Greek hero Heracles (Hercules). This Heracles was born to Alexander’s mistress Barsine, also known as Stateira, daughter of the Persian King Darius III. After Alexander’s death, Barsine married his general Ptolemy I Soter, and Heracles was raised in Egypt under Ptolemy’s care.

Heracles’s lineage was a subject of controversy, as there were doubts about whether he was indeed Alexander’s son. Some historians suggested that he might have been fathered by Ptolemy rather than Alexander. The uncertainty surrounding his paternity and his relative obscurity in historical records contribute to the ambiguity of his connection to Alexander.

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Alexander IV

Alexander IV, also known as Alexander Aegus, was the most widely accepted legitimate son of Alexander the Great. He was born to Roxana, a Bactrian princess whom Alexander married around 327 BCE. After Alexander’s death, Roxana was pregnant, and in 323 BCE, she gave birth to a son, whom they named Alexander IV.

Following Alexander’s demise, a struggle for power erupted among his former generals, known as the Wars of the Diadochi. Alexander IV’s fate was closely tied to the political machinations of these generals. Initially, Perdiccas, one of Alexander’s leading generals, served as the regent for the young Alexander IV. However, the regency was fraught with conflicts, and Perdiccas’s ambitions led to his downfall.

In 321 BCE, the regency was taken over by the general Antipater, who served as regent until his death in 319 BCE. After Antipater’s death, Polyperchon assumed the regency, but the situation remained unstable. As Alexander IV grew older, his existence posed a threat to those vying for power, particularly Cassander, another Diadoch, who sought to eliminate potential rivals.

Tragically, Alexander IV’s fate was sealed when he and his mother Roxana were imprisoned. In 311 BCE, Cassander ordered their execution, marking the end of the direct bloodline of Alexander the Great. This ruthless act solidified Cassander’s control over Macedonia, and the Diadochi continued their power struggles across the vast empire.

An ancient coin depicting the image of Alexander IV.

The Nicaean Line

While Alexander IV was the most recognized and acknowledged son, various other individuals claimed to be the offspring of Alexander the Great, either for political reasons or to gain legitimacy. Among these claimants were those from the Nicaean Line.

Aristonus, said to be the son of Alexander and Barsine, was part of this lineage. He played a role in the complex power dynamics after Alexander’s death. The Nicaean Line’s claims were often challenged, and the historical record is not entirely clear on their legitimacy.

Rivalry between Eumenes and Antigonus, Alexander the Great’s generals

The Egyptian Line

The Ptolemaic Dynasty, which ruled Egypt for several centuries, also claimed descent from Alexander. Ptolemy I Soter, one of Alexander’s most trusted generals, assumed control of Egypt after Alexander’s death. Ptolemy married Alexander’s former mistress, Barsine, and took her son Heracles under his care, whether or not he was Alexander’s biological son.

The Ptolemaic rulers propagated the narrative of their connection to Alexander, emphasizing their association with his legacy to legitimize their rule. This connection was not based on blood ties but on political maneuvering and propaganda.

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The most famous member of the Ptolemaic Dynasty was Cleopatra VII, who lived several generations after Alexander. Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of Egypt, is often associated with her romantic relationships with prominent Roman leaders, including Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. The Ptolemies strategically maintained the idea of their connection to Alexander to strengthen their grip on power and garner support.

Important facts about Alexander the Great’s personal relationship

  • Alexander the Great had three marriages – a love match with Roxana, daughter of Bactrian noble Oxyartes; political unions with Persian princesses Stateira and Parysatis, daughters of Darius III and Artaxerxes III, respectively.
  • His legitimate son, Alexander IV, was born to Roxana, and possibly, Heracles of Macedon with mistress Barsine. Tragically, Roxana miscarried another child in Babylon, adding complexity to Alexander’s familial legacy.

  • According to 1st-century Greek historian Diodorus Siculus, Alexander maintained a harem akin to Persian kings but exercised restraint to avoid offending the Macedonians. It’s said that the Macedonian king displayed self-control in bodily pleasures. For example, Greek philosopher and historian Plutarch noted Alexander’s infatuation with Roxana, praising his respectful approach.
  • Alexander the Great shared a profound bond with Hephaestion, his friend, general, and bodyguard. It’s said that Hephaestion was the son of a Macedonian noble. The Macedonian king’s went into a deep mourning following the death of his closest confidant.
  • The impact of Hephaestion’s death on Alexander the Great was captured in a number of historical accounts. It’s even said that the loss of his close companion may have played a role in Alexander’s declining health and deteriorating mental state in his last months.

  • Alexander’s sexuality is a debated topic in modern discussions. 2nd century Greek author Athenaeus, referencing contemporary Dicaearchus, claimed the Macedonian king had a keen interest in boys, citing a public kiss with the eunuch Bagoas.
  • While no contemporaries explicitly described a sexual relationship with Hephaestion, their deep bond was likened to Achilles and Patroclus. However, some historians have suggested a sexual aspect to Alexander’s relationship with Hephaestion, challenging norms of Greek cities, although others propose Macedonian courts might have been more tolerant of adult homosexuality.

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