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Philip and Pausanias

Alexander the Great's dad gets offed by a gay lover. Frumpy Macedonians and more!

Philip of Macedon was good at what he did. The father of Alexander the Great, he managed to turn the backwater province of Macedon into a swelling power and conquered all of Greece to boot. This garnered him quite a hefty reputation in the ancient world, and as a result the Persian empire was forever trying to get him down. His son Alexander, not to be outdone, managed to conquer the entire known world by 324 BC.[1] Unfortunately for him, Philip met his maker at the hands of a disgruntled homosexual lover in the middle of a grand wedding celebration.

Being a properly lusty sovereign, Philip had seven wives, numerous concubines and not a few young men running around his bedchamber. One of latter, a lad named Pausanias, found himself sharing Philip with another boy with the same name (we'll call him Pausanias B). Pausanias A was the jealous type, and went around telling everybody that his alter ego was effeminate, easy and a few other things. Pausanias B couldn't handle this affront, so he announced plans to commit suicide in the presence of Philip's buddy Attalus. The effeminate and easy Pausanias B then threw himself in front of Philip's attacking enemies in battle, thus dying in a spectacularly sacrificial and gruesome manner. Dismayed at this waste of a perfectly good white boy, Attalus opted to put still-living, acid-tongued Pausanias A through the ringer. Attalus got him drunk and passed out one night, and tossed him to his muleteers for a prolonged bout of inebrieted sexual abuse.

Putting on Heirs

Pausanias A woke up the next morning and found himself quite sore and, understandably, upset. He complained to Philip. The king was outraged, but realized that coming down on Attalus might be politically unwise, so he just bribed Pausanias [A of course, B was dead] with some (material) goodies. While Pausanias grudgingly accepted Philip's offer and seethed in the background, Philip went about making preparations for his wedding. The king had noticed that, beyond Alexander, prospects for future heirs were dismal. The next-in-line, Amyntas, was a pansy, and should Alexander befall some "accident", those choosing Philip's successor might well be divided and cause all sorts of problems. So Philip took a hard look at his aging phalanx of wives and decided it was time for a fresh one to bear him another son.

He selected one Cleopatra of Macedon (not to be confused with the Egyptian Cleopatra who married Rome's Mark Anthony) in 337 BC. Her godfather of sorts was Attalus from above, which makes one realize the precarious nature of Pausanias's request for Philip to confront him. However, Alexander and his mother, Olympias, were not lost on the possibility that Attalus might make a grab for the throne himself. Olympias was Philip's first wife and offended that the king might jeopardize her son's ascent to the throne. The overall feeling that Alexander might get the short end of the regal stick managed to parlay itself into the (alas, apocryphal) following pre-wedding brouhaha, reported by Greek historian Satyrus and conveyed by Nicholas Hammond in his Philip of Macedon. Attalus shouted to the crowd, "Now legitimate sons, not bastards will be born to kings," and a miffed Alexander dumped a tankard on his head in disgust. Philip, worried about appearing ungracious,

... drew his sword to kill his son but fell in a drunken stupor, and Alexander mocked his father with the taunt, "See you men, here is the man who was planning to cross from Europe to Asia. Why, in crossing from one couch to the other he has fallen flat on his face." Olympias too was outraged not only at Philip bringing girl after girl into their marriage-bed but now trying to kill their son. When she let fly at her husband, he responded by divorcing her... a diplomatic Corinthian, Demacratus, took Philip to task: "You do very well to take thought for Greece, Philip, when you have filled your own household with such faction and disasters."[2]

Greek Tragedy

While we here at History House won't hesitate to tell a good yarn, we have to intercede and say that this whole wedding banquet episode is certainly bunk, and reports that Olympias had a hand in Philip's assassination are too.[3]" Hammond notes the source for the anecdote was the Greek historian Satyrus, who also "concentrated on the lust and villainy of Eurydice... the horrendous acts of Olympias, and the complicity of Alexander the Great in his mother's instigation of Pausanias to murder Philip."[4] Hammond also observes that Satyrus "took an uncritical delight in anecdotes and personalities, and he, like his readers, were less interested in facts than in scandal..." and goes on to say that "Anyone who has studied the sources of Justin... will realize that Satyrus is here also fabricating slanderous stories about the doings of the Macedonian court -- stories written for Greeks who hated Macedonia in the third century.[5]


Rift between his wife and son or no, Philip married Cleopatra and threw himself a huge party. The above banquet story notwithstanding, Philip's marriage to Cleopatra was undoubtedly politically foolish, and it made his immediate family suspicious.[6] Pausanias The Living had been seething for some time, and his appetite for revenge had been whetted by his teacher, Hermocrates. Pausanias felt himself destined for fame, and asked the philosopher Hermocrates how to go about doing it. The Greek historian Diodorous reports Hermocrates reply concerning instant fame, "would be by killing the one who had accomplished most, for just as long as he was remembered, so long his slayer would be remembered also."[7]John Lennon's assassin must have been versed in Greek history, for his motives were the same. Pausanias stewed on this for a day or two, and admitted himself to the festival. Diodorous describes the scene:

Finally the drinking was over and the start of the games was set for the following day... along with the lavish display of every sort, Philip included in the process statues of the twelve gods... the king exhibited himself enthroned among [them]. Every seat in the theater was taken when Philip appeared wearing a white cloak, and by his express orders his bodyguard held away from him and followed only at a distance, since he wanted to show publicly that he was protected by the goodwill of all the Greeks, and had no need of a guard or spearmen.[8]

A decent display of trust, but a misplaced one:

While the guards kept their distance, [Pausanias] saw that the king was left alone, rushed at him, pierced him through his ribs, and stretched him out dead, then ran for the gates and the horses he had prepared for his flight. Immediately one group of the bodyguards hurried out to the body of the king while the rest poured out in pursuit of the assassin... having a good start, Pausanias would have mounted his horse before they could catch him had he not caught his boot in a vine and fallen. As he was scrambling to his feet, [they] came up with him and killed him with their javelins.[9]

Oops. Unluckier still, Philip's son Alexander greatly overshadowed his father in military achievements, thus condemning Philip, and, by extension, Pausanias to relative obscurity. As one of our own high school history teachers Loren Euvrard once remarked on this assassination, "Be careful who you, ahem, work under."


  1. The appelation "entire known world" of course really means "the tiny bit of the world the Greeks knew about" and completely disregards all the other bits of the world that people like the Indians, the Africans and the Eskimos almost certainly knew about. But the Greeks invented Democracy, so we'll let it go.
  2. Hammond, p.172
  3. Satyrus purports the rift created by the fictitious banquet above drove Olympias to conspire with Pausanias to assassinate Philip. In Philip II of Macedon, Alfred S. Bradford claims that not only did Olympias honor Pausanias with a burial mound, but killed Cleopatra's daughter, forced Cleopatra to hang herself, and dedicated the assassin's murder weapon to the god Apollo in her own name. "And thus she made clear," he writes, " -- or so it seemed -- that she was almost afraid that she would not be known as the one who had been responsible for the crime." [Bradford, 163] This story is a classic bit of crescit eundo, which is Latin for "it just got bigger as it went along".
  4. Hammond, p.14
  5. Hammond p.172. Hammond offers a few other stories he deems to be malicious fiction (p. 17, 121, and 174-5 are three examples). These illustrate an important point to consider: while scandalous stories are wholly tempting to add to this site, they are often apocryphal. Bradford shrugs and offers the above scandals as fact, which is a testimony to his lack of thorough research. We can't even count the number of medieval groups purported to have thrown orgies by contemporary historians only to learn that such name-calling was widely used to discredit any groups the author happened not to like. This is unfortunate, because it reduces the amount of decent story material, but better that than to dole out wishful thinking.
  6. The more romantically inclined would do well to imagine Philip head over heels in love with his new wife, because little else explains this irrational behavior in an age of politically-arranged marriages.
  7. Kebric p.201
  8. Kebric p.198-9
  9. Kebric, p.200


  1. Robert Kebric. Greek People. Mayfield Publishing Company, 1997.
  2. Nicholas Hammond. Philip of Macedon. Gerald Duckworth & Company, 1994. [Out of Print]
  3. Alfred S. Bradford (Ed.). Philip II of Macedon. Praeger, 1992.

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