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Did Alexander the Great Have Any Children?

Alexander the Great
Statue of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki. Credit: Alexander Gale / Greek Reporter

Alexander the Great is remembered as one of history’s greatest generals, having conquered vast tracts of the ancient world, including Persia, Egypt, and parts of India, but his empire quickly fragmented after his death and none of his children were able to succeed him as heir.

Alexander the Great had one legitimate child, a son named Alexander IV of Macedon. Alexander IV was born in 323 BC to Alexander’s wife Roxana, shortly after Alexander’s death.

The Macedonian king is also purported to have had an illegitimate son called Heracles of Macedon by Barsine, daughter of Satrap Artabazus of Phrygia, but historians remain unsure whether Heracles really was a son of Alexander.

The legitimate son of Alexander the Great

Alexander IV was born to Alexander, a Macedonian Greek, and his wife Roxana (Roxane), who was Sogdian. He was the grandson of Philip II of Macedon. The circumstances surrounding his birth were significant due to the uncertain succession following Alexander’s death on June 11, 323 BC.

At the time of Alexander’s death, Roxana was pregnant, and the gender of the baby was unknown. This led to disagreements among the Macedonian army regarding the rightful heir. While the infantry supported Philip III, Alexander’s half-brother, who had a cognitive disability, the chiliarch Perdiccas, who commanded the elite Companion cavalry, convinced them to wait in the hope that Roxana’s child would be a male.

To resolve the situation, a compromise was reached. Perdiccas would serve as regent, ruling over the empire, while Philip III would hold the title of king but without any real power. If Roxana’s child turned out to be a boy, he would ascend to the throne. Alexander IV was born in either late 323 BC or early 322 BC, marking a crucial moment in the succession of Alexander the Great’s empire.

However, a power struggle soon ensued among Alexander’s generals, known as the Diadochi, over the control of his vast empire. Alexander IV, being an infant, became a pawn in this struggle. He and his mother, Roxana, were initially placed under the protection of Alexander’s general, Perdiccas.

However, as the Diadochi fought for power, Perdiccas was eventually killed, and Roxana and Alexander IV fell into the hands of another of Alexander’s generals, Cassander. Cassander saw the young Alexander as a threat to his own power and, in 310 BC, ordered the execution of both Roxana and Alexander IV.

With the death of Alexander IV, the direct line of Alexander the Great came to an end. The subsequent Hellenistic period was marked by the rise and fall of various successor kingdoms established by Alexander’s generals, and no legitimate heirs of Alexander’s bloodline were able to establish themselves as rulers.

An illegitimate child?

The life of Heracles of Macedon is shrouded in uncertainty and speculation, as historical records do not definitively establish whether he was the illegitimate son of Alexander the Great or not. While ancient sources such as Plutarch and Justin mention Barsine and Heracles, Arrian’s account in Alexander’s Anabasis does not make any reference to them.

According to Plutarch, Alexander took Barsine as his mistress, allegedly on the recommendation of Parmenion, despite their disagreements and Alexander’s disregard for Parmenion’s judgment. If Heracles was indeed Alexander’s illegitimate child, it raises questions as to why he was not immediately drawn into the succession disputes that followed Alexander’s death. Instead, Philip Arrhidaeus, who was also illegitimate and a son of Alexander’s father Philip, was favored as a more distant claimant over Heracles.

After Alexander’s death, Nearchus, who was married to Barsine, advocated for Heracles’ inheritance but was unsuccessful in his efforts. Heracles lived a life of obscurity until Alexander IV, the legitimate son of Alexander the Great, was murdered by Cassander in 310 BC or 309 BC.

At this point, Polyperchon, a regent of Macedon who had been replaced by Cassander and had been in seclusion for several years, emerged as a supporter of Heracles as the true heir of Alexander. Polyperchon began organizing an army to champion Heracles’ cause. Instead of engaging in direct conflict, Cassander chose to negotiate with Polyperchon. Through offering various bribes, including a sinecure and a significant amount of wealth, Cassander persuaded Polyperchon to have Heracles murdered. Subsequently, Polyperchon retreated back into obscurity.

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