Roxane (Roshanak), Bactrian princess and official wife of Alexander the Great
By: Jona Lendering
Roxane -her name Roshanak means "little star"- was the daughter of a Sogdian nobleman named Oxyartes (Vaxšuvadarva), who defended a mountain fortress against the invading army of the Macedonian king Alexander the Great (327 BCE). When the fortress was captured, the sixteen year old woman, was among the prisoners of war.
Sodoma, Wedding of Roxane and Alexander
At that stage of his campaign in the Achaemenid empire, it had become obvious that Alexander could not control his conquests without making concessions to the native population. He had to show respect to their customs if he wanted their respect. In the years 330-327 BCE, we see Alexander appointing Persians in important functions, dress himself like an Iranian nobleman, introduce the oriental court ritual (proskynesis). Marrying a local princess was a logical step.
The obvious candidate was Barsine, who had been Alexander's concubine since the battle of Issus in November 333 BCE. But this woman, who had already given birth to a son, was ignored. It is not known why, but she may have been unacceptable to the Iranian population, because she had spent a great deal of her life in Europe. Barsine may have been too Greek; an extra argument for this hypothesis is that later, she settled herself in Greece. Another explanation may be that Alexander had simply fallen in love with Roxane.
The marriage was concluded according to the local customs (click here for a description), and Roxane followed her husband when he invaded India (326 BCE) and returned to Babylonia (325-324 BCE). On June 11, 323 BCE, her husband died. She was pregnant.
In the next years, the era of the Diadochi, she had a very difficult position. One of the commanders, Perdiccas, was chosen as regent for Alexander's mentally deficient brother Philip Arridaeus and his posthumous son, Alexander. Together, Perdiccas and Roxane executed Alexander's second wife, Statira, who could become a rival. However, Perdiccas died soon after, and the Macedonian commanders came together to discuss the future. During this meeting at Triparadisus, they decided to divide the empire (click here for the story). A new but weak regent, the old Antipater, was appointed. He ordered Roxane, Philip and the baby to go to Macedonia. For a woman who had grown up in Sogdiana, had seen India, had lived in the palaces of Persia and Babylonia, it must have been a strange experience to live in barbarous Europe.
For several years, she and her son were safe, but one of the rival commanders, Cassander, captured them in 316. Five years later, Cassander and the other Diadochi concluded a peace treaty in which they agreed that they would remain in charge of the empire until Roxane's son would become king (in 305 BCE). This was of course an incentive to execute the boy king and his mother, who were executed immediately (311/310 BCE).