If you have seen “Call Me By Your Name”, you are familiar with Hephaestion, one of Alexander’s many lovers. If we dive deep into history, we realize that Alexander’s homosexual love conquest did not stop there. There was Bagoas, lesser-known but one of Alexander’s favorites.
Bagoas has been a controversial figure in medieval history. With only been mentioned three times in texts, the scarcity of information on him has led to questioning his very existence by few historians. However, several counter-arguments have been produced, and his presence is now widely acknowledged.
Who was Bagoas, The Younger?
Bagoas was originally was a Persian eunuch who was once the Great King Darius III’s lover. Bagoas, the younger is distinguished from another courtier in Darius III’s court also named Bagoas, referred to Bagoas the Elder, who was disgraced for attempting to assassinate the Great King he had originally set on the throne. Bagoas the Younger witnessed King Darius III’s treason and Alexander the Great’s conquest and was ultimately gifted to Alexander by King Darius.
Prior to his arrival at the court of Darius III, nothing is known about Bagoas the Younger’s life, however; some speculate that he may have been of higher social status due to his eventual position as a eunuch of the king. He was taken before the court as a young kid, and like most—if not all—eunuchs, he had previously undergone the castrating procedure. He was Darius III’s favorite when he was at court. According to ancient records, he was also a gifted dancer, and he took part in dancing festivals while traveling with Alexander, winning the famed festival in Carmania following the Gedrosian desert march.
The Change at the Court
Eunuchs were uncommon at the Macedonian court, thus Alexander’s acceptance of the young eunuch testifies to his fascination as much as his political deception. Even though figures such as Xenophon commended the employment of eunuchs as servants, Macedonians nonetheless held a negative attitude toward them. Many unfavorable perceptions about eunuchs persisted throughout ancient Greece, including; that they were exceedingly lustful, cowardly, and gluttonous. This attitude did not last forever; following Alexander’s death, eunuchs were accepted members of court society and held key posts in Hellenized Egypt under one of his successors, Ptolemy I, his half-brother.
Many feel that Alexander’s persophilia played a role in his embrace of Bagoas. Alexander the Great adored Persian customs and copied many of them, and idolized Xenophon’s Cyropaedia. Because of these conditions, he was more inclined than the typical ancient Greek or Macedonian to accept eunuchs.
Eunuchs are known for occupying cultural nexuses, and Alexander himself was a cultural nexus—between Persian and Greek, ruler and soldier, man and deity. According to the surviving sources, Alexander included Bagoas in his inner circle. The Friends of the King, or Alexander’s Companions, was the name given to this group. Bagoas was Alexander’s lover, according to these same accounts; in fact, this is likely why he was affiliated with the Companions.
However, recent texts, like later ones, question the relationship. With the king already predisposed to individuality, it appears that attempts to remove Bagoas are motivated by ancient and modern intolerance of both the king and the nature of the relationship, not by a lack of evidence or plausibility.