Alexander did not only marry persian women. In addition to the marriages, he also adopted several persian customs.
Let`s find out why…
Alexander the Great adapted much of the royal persian customs, including parts of the persian kings’ clothing (like the diadem) and court ceremonies like the Proskynesis. The reason why Alexander the Great adopted the persian customs was to gain the support of the conquered Persians.
Why did Alexander have to adopt persian customs?
Alexander knew perfectly well that his relatively small army of loyal Macedonians would not be enough to consolidate his rule over the conquered territories. The number of soldiers was just too small to be able to fight everywhere at once.
Click here to find out more about the Army of Alexander the Great and here to find out more about the dimensions of the empire.
Alexander knew that he needed the acceptance and support of local noblemen if he wanted to maintain what he had won.
In true Macedonian fashion, Alexanders` Father Philip II of Macedon had used the same Method, Alexander married the daughters of local noblemen whose support he needed.
The best example is the Marriage between Roxana and Alexander. Read more about it here in my article and learn what surprising treatment Roxanas` father and her brothers received after the wedding.
While Roxana was the daughter of a Bactrian noblemen Alexander also wanted to connect his dynasty with the dynasty of the old Persian kings.
That’s why he also married two members of the Persian Achaemenid dynasty. The Achaemenids had ruled the Persian empire for centuries.
But Alexander did not only marry two Achaemenid women, he also adopted royal Persian customs and clothing. All of that was with the goal in mind to gain acceptance among the defeated Persians.
Do you want more details on why Alexander adopted Persian customs? Here you can find my article where I go into more detail. Please check it out!
The Persian customs Alexander adopted
Alexander the Great adopted the persian customs of Proskynesis, the custom of avenging and burying the predecessor and parts of the royal persian clothes.
On October 1 331 BC Alexander proclaimed himself as the new king of the persian Empire while he was still standing on the battlefield of Gaugamela.
But just proclaiming himself as the new king wasn`t really enough, especially since the current Persian king, Dareios III, was still alive and on the run. Alexander had to make it visible that he was indeed the new king of the Persian empire. And he decided to do that by adopting as many of the Persian customs as possible.
After the conquer of Susa, one of the main residences of the Persian kings, in December of 331 BC, Alexander climbed the throne of the Achaemenids and visibly claimed kingship over the Persian empire.
That made his claim visible and sent a clear signal to the inhabitants of the Persian empire that he, Alexander, had indeed adopted the Achaemenid throne.
Another important (partially failed) adaption was the persian custom of Proskynesis. Proskynesis was also one of the aspects where the cultural differences between greeks and Persians showed very clearly.
Proskynesis described a ceremonial practice, not a Deification. The nobleman who was granted an audience would approach the king and would fall on his knees and kiss the hand of the king.
Depending on the social status the nobleman would kneel in different depths. After the nobleman rose he would kiss the hand of the king.
It is important to note that for the Persians the entire procedure of Proskynesis was just a way of showing their respect. It was NOT a Deification of the king!
The greeks and Macedonians on the other hand were repelled by that Persian custom. They would only fall on their knee during religious ceremonies. Performing that kind of ceremony for a Human seemed totally inappropriate for them.
That cultural difference in how to interact with the king between greeks and Persians is the reason why many people to this day believe that Alexander wanted to be worshiped as a god.
The greek writers like Callisthenes, Alexanders` court historian, interpreted the ceremony from their point of view.
Their point of view was that only slaves would kneel in front of Humans. For the greeks, only gods deserved that kind of ceremony. And since Alexander insisted on Proskynesis the only logical explanation for the Macedonian noblemen was that he thought of himself as a god.
They failed to realize that Alexander merely adopted a Persian custom to be able to comply with the royal court protocol that the Persian noblemen were used to.
If he wouldn`t, chances are that he would not have been accepted so easily. Which in return would have led to exactly the type of revolt that Alexander seeked to prevent by adopting Persian customs and melting Macedonian and Persian customs together.
Nevertheless, Proskynesis sparked major unrest among the Macedonian noblemen.
By the way, it doesn`t seem like the macedonian soldiers were against the Proskynesis. That`s just another example of how close the bond between Alexander and his army was.
If you want to find out more about the Army of Alexander and why his units were called „companions“ you might want to check out my article here.
In the end, Alexander was not able to achieve his goal of introducing Proskynesis for everybody. A compromise was needed. And that Compromis was that Persians had to follow the ceremony of Proskynesis while Macedonians and Greeks didn`t.
Burying and avenging his predecessor
Another important ritual that a new persian king had to perform was the burial of his predecessor.
Just like the Macedonians the Persians saw it as the duty of the new king to bury the deceased king in an honorable and appropriate way.
Now one could think that Alexander ignored that tradition when he stood over the corpse of Dareios III, the last Achaemenid king of Persia.
But he didn`t!
He buried Dareios III, keep in mind Dareios III had been Alexanders’ enemy, with all the honors that a persian king deserved. By burring Dareios III Alexander acknowledged him as his rightful predecessor.
And then he went on to fulfill the second duty, avenging the deceased king.
Dareios III had not died in battle against Alexander. He had been murdered by one of his companions, a man named Bessos. Alexander hunted Bessos, who also claimed to be Dareios successor, down and was able to capture him in 329 BC.
Bessos nose and ears were cut off and he was brought to an Assembly of Persian and Iranian noblemen who decided over his fate.
That is quite interesting! Alexander didn`t execute Bessos on spot, he wanted the Persian noblemen to have a say in the matter. The whole process reminds historians of the Macedonian army Assemblys where important things were debated and decided.
That inclusion of Persian noblemen into making decisions is important. Alexander did not treat the Persian Noblemen as inferior but as partners!
Now you might ask yourself what happened to Bessos. Well, he was eighter crucified or dismembered. Historians are not sure which of it it was.
Independent how the murderer of Dareios III had died, Alexander had avenged his predecessors’ death.
So in conclusion: By burying and avenging his Persian Predecessor Alexander made it very clear that he did not intend to destroy but to continue the Persian empire!
And that idea of continuation also showed in his wardrobe.
Did Alexander the Great adopt persian clothes?
Alexander adopted several items of the royal Persian dress. He took over the signet ring, probably from Dareios III.
Alexander also wore parts of the royal persian regalia, for example, the diadem.
And also other parts of the royal Persian regalia like the belt or the long-sleeved royal coat. But even though Alexander adapted parts of the royal persian regalia he also kept Macedonian Influences.
Alexander adapted not only persian ceremonies like the Proskynesis. He also adapted parts of the traditional royal persian regalia, the diadem being the most famous. But he also kept his Macedonian traditions.
He extended his Macedonian kingship by integrating Persian elements. He also married persian women, two of them were even close relatives of the last persian king. More on why Alexander married persian women here in my article.
That secured his position as the new king of the Achaemenid empire but distanced him from his Macedonian noblemen.
Apart from that he also began to include more and more Persians and Iranians into his close environment. Click here to learn more about why Alexander would integrate his former enemies into his closest circle.
Alexander would start to integrate Persian and Iranian footsoldiers into his army.
But why and how he integrated them, just like the question of what happened to Alexander`s empire after his death is a story for another time.
I hope you enjoy our short trip into the world of Alexander the Great.
Take care of yourself because you deserve it. You really do.
Until next time
P. Cartledge, Alexander the Great (2005).
Plutarch, The life of Alexander the Great.