This startling claim was made by a contemporary Greek, Ephippus, in his lost pamphlet depicting Alexander’s court in the last two years of the reign (324-323 BC). In a surviving fragment Ephippus alleges that the king liked to cross-dress as Artemis, the Greek archer-goddess of the hunt. Supposedly Alexander often appeared in her guise ‘on his chariot, dressed in the Persian garb, just showing above his shoulders the bow and the hunting-spear’.
Chariot and bow were stock attributes of Artemis in Greek art but she did not wear ‘Persian garb’. Remarkably, Alexander did. Xenophobic Greeks routinely derided Persian costume as womanly. A sardonic Ephippus was put in mind of the Greek iconography of Artemis when he saw Alexander in his Persian robes going out to hunt on a chariot and armed with a bow.
The passage that resulted is a libel. Most Greeks would have seen a king who impersonated the gods in this way as an arrogant autocrat inviting divine retribution. Ephippus was no fan of the world-conqueror, whose father Philip had destroyed his home city of Olynthus in 348 BC. Indeed, despite the nationalist fervor which Alexander’s memory inspires in today’s Greece, many ancient Greeks were deeply hostile to both Macedonian monarchs.
But there remains a tantalising question. What was Alexander doing on a chariot, hunting with a bow while dressed as a Persian? Neither the chariot nor the bow was a ‘national’ Macedonian arm. In fact the Greek writer Plutarch records that Alexander used to occupy himself while on the march in Asia by learning chariotry and archery.
Click here for the full article 'Alexander: Cross-Dressing Conqueror of the World' by Tony Spawforth in History Today.
Click here for the full scholarly article on which it is based, 'The pamphleteer Ephippus of Olynthus, King Alexander, and the Persian Royal Hunt' (PDF) by Antony J.S. Spawforth in Histos: The On-line Journal of Ancient Historiography.