Born: 340 BC
Died At Age: 30
Also Known As: Roxanne, Roxanna, Rukhsana, Roxandra, Roxane
Born Country: Afghanistan
Born in: Balkh
Famous as: Alexander The Great's Wife
Spouse/Ex-: Alexander the Great (m. 327 BC – 323 BC)
children: Alexander IV of Macedon
Died on: 310 BC
place of death: Amphipolis, Greece
Cause of Death: Murdered
Who was Roxana?
Roxana (Old Iranian Raoxshna), alternatively Roxanne, Roxanna, Rukhsana, Roxandra, and Roxane, was a wife of Alexander the Great. The daughter of Bactrian nobleman Oxyartes, Roxane was a Sogdian or Bactrian princess. Her marriage to the Macedonian king and conqueror Alexander took place after the defeat and death of the Achaemenian king, Darius III. Before the Greek invasion, her father worked under Bessus, the satrap of Bactria and Sogdia. When Bessus was defeated by Alexander, Oxyartes and his family became the main resisting force in the region against Alexander. However, they eventually suffered a total defeat. After Alexander met Roxana, he fell in love. Going against the counsels of his generals and advisors, he married her. He then embarked on the invasion of the Indian subcontinent, during which Roxana remained in Susa. She bore Alexander a son, named Alexander IV. After Alexander the Great passed away in Babylon in 323 BC, Roxana supposedly killed Alexander's other widow, Stateira II. The empire was divided among Alexander’s generals. Roxana and Alexander IV, who was the legitimate heir of his father, were given asylum by Alexander's mother, Olympias. All three of them were murdered by Cassander, who had become the ruler of Macedon and southern Greece after Alexander’s death.
Childhood & Early Life
Born in 340 BC in Sogdia or Bactria, Roxana was the daughter of Oxyartes, a nobleman. He was in the service of Bessus, the satrap of Bactria and Sogdia.
In 334 BC, Alexander started his invasion of Persia and won a decisive victory against Darius III at the Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BC. Following his defeat, the Persian king managed to escape.
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Marriage With Alexander
Darius III was ultimately betrayed and killed by Bessus, who was a relative of the Persian emperor, and Nabarzanes, a high-ranking official in Darius’ court. It is possible that Oxyartes was involved in the plot as well.
Afterwards, Bessus proclaimed himself as the “King of Asia” and adopted the royal name, Artaxerxes V. However, his reign did not last long. He tried to continue to resist the Greeks but was defeated. He was handed over to Alexander’s forces by several of his chieftains and was subsequently executed.
After Bessus’ death, Oxyartes rose to a prominent position among the Sogdian or Bactrian nobility. He and his family, with the help of other Iranian nobles, continued their war against Alexander.
Contradictory information is available on what happened afterwards. Either Oxyartes put his wife and daughter in a rock fortress in Sogdiana, which was thought to be impregnable, and went to fight elsewhere or he and his forces assumed defensive position around the fortress. It was eventually taken by Alexander, who treated his captives with honour and care.
The conqueror was smitten by Roxana’s beauty and expressed his desire to marry her. He was counselled against this union by his Macedonian generals and advisors, who wanted him to take a Macedonian bride. Much of the antagonism in Macedonia against Alexander stemmed from the fact that his mother, Olympias, was not Macedonian. However, Alexander did not listen.
When Oxyartes heard of Alexander’s wish, he quickly came to Alexander and offered his submission. In 327 BC, Roxana and Alexander’s wedding took place. A magnificent feast was organised to mark the occasion.
Alexander subsequently left Bactria for his campaign in the Indian subcontinent. Roxana remained behind in the city of Susa. During his stay in the Indian subcontinent, Alexander made Oxyartes the governor of the Hindu Kush region. After he came back to Susa, he appointed one of Roxana’s brothers to the elite cavalry.
In 324 BC, Alexander organised a mass wedding between his officers and Persian noblewomen in Susa. This event came to be known as Susa weddings. Alexander wanted to symbolically bring together Greek and Persian cultures, but this event was supposed to serve another purpose. The prospective offspring from these unions were meant to be the children of both civilizations.
Both Macedonian and Persian customs permitted multiple wives. Alexander, who was already married to Roxana, took Stateira II, the oldest daughter of Darius III, as his wife. Greek historian Aristobulus of Cassandreia writes that he also married Parysatis II, the youngest daughter of Artaxerxes III, during the occasion.
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According to a number of ancient historians, Alexander had a relationship with Barsine, daughter of Persian general Artabazus and widow of Memnon of Rhodes. She bore Alexander a son, named Heracles. If this is accurate, he was the only son of the conqueror born during his lifetime. Heracles briefly surfaced and took part in the succession wars after Alexander’s death, and then permanently vanished. Many scholars hold the view that he was killed by Cassander.
Alexander died in Babylon on June 11, 323 BC. The suddenness of his death left the entire empire in turmoil. He had not left an heir. Roxana was pregnant with a child at the time. Diodorus Siculus writes that when Alexander’s companions requested him to name his heir on his deathbed, his laconic response was that he was leaving his empire “to the strongest”. This sequence of events is highly debated.
As Alexander and Roxana’s child was yet to be born, there were disputes in the Macedonian military about the order of succession. The infantry backed the right of Alexander’s brother, Philip III, who was mentally unstable. The commander of the elite companion cavalry, the chiliarch Perdiccas, managed to convince them to wait until the birth of Roxana’s child, hoping that it would be male.
They ultimately reached a deal, agreeing that Perdiccas would serve as the regent with Philip as a figurehead ruler. If the unborn child turned to be a male, he would be named the king.
Roxana gave birth to Alexander IV in August 323 BC. After a restless regency, Perdiccas was killed in June 321 or 320 BC. In the meantime, Roxana had murdered Stateira II (likely Parysatis II as well) to remove any competition to her son.
Antipater, who became the next regent, took Roxana and two kings to Macedon and discarded the sham of ruling Alexander’s empire. Before his death in 319 BC, Antipater named veteran general Polyperchon, and not his son Cassander, as his successor.
This led to a civil war with Cassander, Ptolemy I Soter, Antigonus, Philip III, and his wife Eurydice on one side and Polyperchon, Eumenes, and Olympias on the other.
In 318 BC, Cassander was able to assert full control over Macedon, forcing Polyperchon to escape to Epirus with Roxana and Alexander IV. A few months after that, Olympias convinced her relative Aeacides of Epirus to successfully attack Macedon. Afterwards, both Philip III and Eurydice were killed in December 317 BC
The death of Philip III made Alexander IV the only king of Macedon and Olympias his regent. This did not last long, as Cassander came back in 316 BC and took control of Macedon once more. He promptly killed Olympias and placed Alexander IV and Roxana in the custody of Glaucias in the citadel of Amphipolis.
After the Third Diadoch War between Cassander, Antigonus, Ptolemy, and Lysimachus concluded in 311 BC, the peace treaty acknowledged the legitimacy of Alexander IV’s claim and emphatically mentioned that he would become the sovereign of Macedon when he became an adult.
When Alexander IV became 14 years old, the supporters of the Argead dynasty demanded that he should assume complete power as the king and that Cassander should step down as a regent. Cassander’s reaction was swift. In 309 BC, he instructed Glaucias to kill both Roxana and her son. They were subsequently poisoned.
In Oliver Stone’s 2004 film ‘Alexander’, Roxana was portrayed by Rosario Dawson.