Sisygambis was the daughter of king Artaxerxes II Mnemon and, following an ancient Achaemenid tradition, she was made to wed her own brother Arsames. Her first-born, Darius, became king of Persia in 336 b.C., following an obscure plot in which the court eunuch and chiliarch had poisoned both king Artaxerxes III and his youngest son […]
Sisygambis was the daughter of king Artaxerxes II Mnemon and, following an ancient Achaemenid tradition, she was made to wed her own brother Arsames.
Her first-born, Darius, became king of Persia in 336 b.C., following an obscure plot in which the court eunuch and chiliarch had poisoned both king Artaxerxes III and his youngest son Arses. Darius, who ascended as Darius III, started off his reign by uncovering a plot to kill him as well, and forcing the treacherous Bagoas to drink his own poison. Fun times.
Darius’ reign in Persia, however, only lasted 6 years and was brought to an end by the invasion of Alexander III of Macedon, better known as Alexander the Great. Though, as a wise master once said, war never did that to anyone.
In 333 b.C., at the Battle of Issus, Alexander’s troops defeated the Persians and Darius fled the field like a true leader, leaving all his family behind at the Macedonian’s mercy. This included not only his own mother Sisygambis, but also his wife Sateira, all his children and lots of other people.
The whole royal family was captured but, regardless of war’s unfortunate customs, Alexander had them treated with dignity and kindness. When he and his most beloved general Hephaestion went to visit them, Sisygambis famously mistook Hephaestion for Alexander and flung herself at his feet, to plead for her family’s life. The scene of this mistake is quite popular with painters, as it is said that Alexander took his time to reassure her that it really made no difference, as whatever Hephaestion wanted was also the will of Alexander. How romantic.
He decided to bring them with the army and, at the Battle of Gaugamela, Darius was ultimately defeated. When the Persian king died of his wounds, few days following the defeat, Alexander had his body returned to Sisygambis, so that she could give him a proper burial.
After this, she became a part of Alexander’s family. She was left with tutors at Susa, along with her family, and she learned Greek while Alexander was off to conquer India. When Alexander returned, in 324 b.C., he and Hephaestion both married Sisygambis’ granddaughters, respectively Stateira II and Drypetis. They suddenly both died, however, Hephaestion first and Alexander just eight months afterwards, only a year after their wedding.
It is said that Sisygambis, heartbroken and in despair for the fate of her family, locked herself into her rooms and refused to eat until she died four days later, in 323 b.C.
In art, she’s usually shown kneeling, a big turn-on for painters, with few exceptions: Francesco De Mura, an XVIII Italian painter from the Naples’ school, depicts her standing, while taken aback by the fact that the coolest guy walking around like he owns the place is not Alexander. It’s all very… Rococò.