Roxane and the Rakhi

If you look around the legends surrounding the tying of a “Rakhi’, you will chance upon mentions of Alexander (known to Indians as Iskandar or Sikandar), Porus his nemesis, friend and enemy (all in one!!!), and Alexander’s wife Roxane. Very interesting, I thought as my original plan was to study the real story behind the Elephant medallions. Now, why did I have to do that? Because I was reading the latest book by Steve Berry, titled ‘Venetian betrayal’, which actually takes you close to the secret within those elephant medallions…

So it is common knowledge that Alexander after a campaign sweeping across 10,000 miles and covering Europe, Egypt, Turkey, Afghanistan & Persia reached Multan near Jhelum to take on the local king Porus. A valiant fight took place between the two armies where Alexander’s soldiers got terrified by the elephant army of Porus. Now the story drifts to two versions, one which says Alexander lost and his soldiers mutinied to go back home to Macedonia and the second where he won, but impressed by Porus’s valor becomes his good friend (the established popular version) after which he allows Porus to continue as king and a favored Hellenistic satrap at that.

But Alexander proved to be an enigma and is still hotly researched by scholars. A grand soldier, titled ordinary or great depending on where the writer or historian is located, he achieved what he did in all of 32 tumultuous years. In those 32 years, he had a number of male and female liaisons, and on the female side he had three wives and apparently two mistresses. The three wives were Roxane, Stateira, Parysatis and perhaps two mistresses Barsine and Pankaste/Kampaspe. It is also suggested in the annals of history that he had other casual involvements as well.

Two of the wives gave him children, but they together with their mothers were killed. His favorite wife, the one he met in 327BC and married while in the Afghan region of Balkh- Soghdia in Bactria (modern day Afghanistan - Mazar-i-Sharif) was Ruk Sana, Roshanak or Roxane. Again there are three versions, one that says he fell in love with her at first sight (she sang in her dad’s – the local king’s mehfil, it appears) and another where the father - king Oxyartes in order to stave off Alexander’s advance through his country got her married to him. A third version states that the girls were hiding in a cave to escape Alexander when he found them and promptly fell in love with her beauty & poise. Here again the story is suspect as Alexander was not too keen on women. Secondly even if it was all done to be seen as a local amongst Persians (he learnt their language and even assumed religious formalities according to some) and accepted Roxane, why would he choose the daughter of a lesser king? Well, let us leave the study to historians who have made Alexander their cause.

Alexander died on the way back from India, in 323 BC. His dead body was never found and even today there are only theories on how he died, one of them being poisoning by Strychnine at the hands of his beloved Roxane…Other theories are West Nile virus, Typhoid, Malaria….So now you know why this enigma is a historians favorite and typical of Greek drama, can stretch for years if a soap opera on it was ever attempted…

Now why should Roxane kill Iskender as Historian Graham Phillips contends? Because she was upset that he was spending quality time with Hephaestion his deputy, his childhood friend and also because he married around that time two other Persian sisters (Some time earlier, Alexander married another woman, named Statiera (Alexander set an example by taking his second and third wives, first Parysatis (dates unknown) and then Stateira, Darius's daughter in a Persian mass marriage ceremony). Roxane was pregnant (their first child died during the Indian campaign) when Alexander died and the generals of Alexander who heard from the emperor that the strongest should rule after him, were all out to clear the tables. When Alexander died, Roxane and child had to flee, to Babylon and later to Macedonia.

After Alexander's death Roxane sent a letter to the Persian princess in Alexander's name, bidding Statiera to come at once to Babylon. When Statiera and her sister Drypetis arrived in Babylon, Roxane had them murdered and their bodies cast into a well. Roxane gave birth to a son, Alexander Aegus, who became King Alexander IV. For many war-filled years after Alexander's death, she successfully maneuvered to protect the child's future with help from Alexander’s mother. In the end, she and her son were victims of the power that the very name of Alexander evoked, the year was 311.

A little bit about Porus, the fight, the relation with Alexander & Roxane. Porus was actually Raja Puru or Parvatha - King of Paurava located between Jhelum and Chenab around today’s Lahore. Indian sources record that Parvata was killed by mistake by the Indian ruler Rakshasa, who was trying to assassinate Chandragupta instead. Greek historians, however, record that he was assassinated, sometime between 321 and 315 BC, by the Thracian general Eudemus, who had remained in charge of the Macedonian armies in the Punjab and who coveted his elephants.

Alexander fared badly enough with Porus in the Punjab. In the Ethiopic texts, Mr E.A.W. Badge has included an account of "The Life and Exploits of Alexander" where he writes inter alia the following: "In the battle of Jhelum a large majority of Alexander`s cavalry was killed. Alexander realized that if he were to continue fighting he would be completely ruined. He requested Porus to stop fighting. Porus true to Indian traditions did not kill the surrendered enemy. After this both signed a treaty, Alexander then helped him in annexing other territories to his kingdom".

Now how did Porus chance upon Roxane? Alexander feared Porus’s elephants, heroism and valor so much so that he became worried about his war and invasion and had pre war sacrifices conducted much against his norm. His soldiers were also very scared facing the magnificent elephant army in the pouring rains and muddy grounds (This linked account is exhaustive). At this point of time, Roxane apparently approached Porus with the sacred thread of Rakhi. She proclaimed him her brother and requested the great Porus to safeguard her husband’s life at any cost, which he did the next day. The king accepted the bond of protection and love and then cooperated with Alexander in his Indian ventures. This apparently led to the popularization of tying Rakhi, which is still prevalent in India.

But well the story also goes the other way, that Porus’s wife met Alexander and tied a Rakhi in his hand with a promise to spare her husband’s life. So, if Roxane who was upset with Alexander, did get friendly with Porus, could she have schemed with him to get rid of the Sikandar with strychnine? Ha ha! now I am thinking like our soap opera queen – jumping jack jeetu’s daughter… But well who knows??

Writes Plutarch, the great Greek historian: ``This last combat with Porus took off the edge of the Macedonians' courage and stayed their further progress in India.... Alexander not only offered Porus to govern his own kingdom as satrap under himself but gave him also the additional territory of various independent tribes whom he had subdued.'' Porus emerged from his war with Alexander, with his territory doubled and his gold stock augmented. Victory in defeat?

And some trivia - However, Alexander's Indian adventure was not entirely unproductive. He had introduced the Indian elephant to the West. He was so much impressed by the broad-bottomed boats carrying grain up and down the Indus that he had them introduced in Greece. The Greeks now introduced five times more spices in the West. Sissoo (Sheesham) wood of the Punjab was used to build pillars for the Susa Palace in imperial Iran. He would, no doubt, have carried the mango also, but for the fact that its over-eating had given the ``God-king'' no end of loose bowel movements. And it was thus Alexander forbade mango-eating in his camp.

Now I started to wonder how the folklore of Roxane meeting Porus came about – The answer probably lay in the story of the famous movie 'Sikandar' released in 1941. Here they have scenes of Roxane meeting Porus and ensuring an agreement that Porus would not kill Alexander. Pretty interesting screen play for those who want to read the words. Incidentally Prithviraj Kapoor and Sohrab Modi acted in the movie.
So when you tie the next rakhi on a boy’s wrist or somebody ties one on yours, remember Alexander, the lovely Roxanne and Porus with his elephants…


narendra shenoy said…
Enjoyed that post! Great one, as usual!
Wonderful reading from the past!
Arby K said…
Roxanne tying the Rakhi on Porus seems more probable than the other way around, if it ever happened. Alexander would not have had a reason to uphold Rakhi. But I feel Alexander is a bit over rated. His father had consolidated rule over Greece and Alexander ensured that it continued. As for the other countries he conquered, all were part of the Achaemenid Persia and there was a lot of anti-incumbency (If I may call it so) as well. Still, brings him in the league of Constantine and Charlamagne.
Terrific post!
I have read earlier that Porus was actually Purushottam. King of Paurava seems a good explanation. Thoughts?

How can elephants survive in such a terrain. Aren't they tropical? Or was the Jhelum belt hospitable for elephants during those times?
Thousand of years back.
For these many elephants to survive, the conditions should have been very friendly, right?


Maddy said…
Thanks Narendra, Murali

Arby - I agree that Alexander is overrated,his story is mainly hype, nevertheless an interesting character.

Nikhil - Some answers

Yes it could very well have been his full name shortened by the Greeks. Further the paurava dynasty mentioned in the Mahabharata is confused with Porus- but that is a long debate

As regards elephants, C Maurya had 2000 of them in the Indus valley and the Maghada empire had 6000 in those times. A very interesting book to peruse is 'War elephants' by John M. Kistler & Richard Lair.

Acc to KN Dixit in his 'Prehistoric civilization of the Indus valley' he states - Though now confined to the extreme East and South of India in its wild state, at one time it must have been found further to the North and West. But it is a good subject to study...

also check this interesting link
Thanks Maddy for the response.
Will get Ware Elephants .
Thanks for the link.

kallu said…
Maddy, how much research you do! I like especially the roundabout way you came to Alexander.
Persian Boy is a wonderful book that highlights Alexander's preference for boys.Makes good reading whatever be the facts.
RVR said…
Nice and I am amazed by your skill in collecting historic articles. Please write more !
Anonymous said…

Another brilliant post!
Admire the fact that you read a lot and have the ability and time to draw facts and opinions from various books to write such an article.Thanks for sharing that knowledge.

Now Alexander the Great[ATG] has always been one of my favourite personalities in history.I remember the story we learnt in our school days about how the young Alexander tamed the wild horse Bucephalus who later accompanied ATG in all his conquests.You have mentioned in passing about his sexual preferences and am I right in presuming that that was the norm amongst the Greeks in those days and later with the Romans?! He may have had two or three wives [was one a concubine who gave him his only son before his death? ; after ATG's death one of his wives finally gave him a legitimate male heir]and may have had other female lovers but many historians may say that Bucephalus and Hephaestion were the greatest loves in his life.

Sikandar and Puru-Alexander and Porus:again that was a favourite story to learn in schools when we were young.Difficult to know what was the true outcome of their battle but it's suffice to say that both were extremely brave men who admired each other.

Arby-why do you think ATG was a bit overrated?His father Philip himself felt that Alexander's conquests should go way beyond the small world of Macedonia as he realized his son's prowess as a military leader and his leadership skills was much more than his own. The problem [or the beauty of] with history is that the same accounts can be said in various ways depending on the views and prejudices of the narrator?

Elephants---- one could go on!
Thanks Maddy once again for this one.

Anonymous said…

Did you say that ATG died at the age of 32? I thought he was one of the great/famous people who died at the age of 33.

Maddy said…
Thanks Kallu - i too feel from what i have read that his basic preference was boys & continued to be so much to the annoyance of Roxanne - but he did care for roxanne, who for some reason appealed to him.

Alex - Apparently 32 is right as he had not turned 33, he was born in july & died in june.

In roman times they were hetrosexual, but difficult to say that that was the norm, i dont think so. but remember that the men went on these long fighting trips lasting many years and thus many relations were created.

Roxane gave him a son after his death and Statiera had a stillborn, I believe.

Alexander died on June 11th, 323 late afternoon as loosely predicted by his Indian friend - that story follows in another blog..
Well researched and well written.
Anonymous said…

When I said whether that was the norm, what I really meant to ask- was it not an accepted thing to have partners from the same sex in those days esp amongst the greeks and romans. Were the concepts of heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual preferences really in vogue then?!

And I always thought Alexander had died at the age of 33 like Jesus and Sanjay Gandhi![hmm that may not go down very well with some guys-mentioning SG's name along with the other 2!!]

Maddy said…
first thanks Indrani for pointing out a gaffe on the last para.. i have corrected it

thanks Abe

Alex - yes, it seems to have been acceptable. you are right, whether they thought about these as different concepts is doubtful, probably considering it more a natural process!!

Alexander's death is still discussed often..
Anonymous said…
Lovely post!I just saw Oliver Stone's movie recently - so this was especially compelling.

A Cynic in Wonderland
Cris said…
>>Here again the story is suspect as Alexander was not too keen on women.<<
After he went on to marry 3 and commit to a lot more?! Ahem!
And Roxanne sounds like Lady Macbeth born centuries ahead. Some couple!
Nice narration btw :-)
Nice and interesting. I remember seeing the movie on DD in the late 70s - what a dashing Alexander Prithivraj Kapoor made, looking so very much like the Shashi Kapoor of those days.

Eerily enough, today's Shashi Kapoor looks like Prithviraj in his older days - all bloated up.
Ashvin said…
Responses to several points above.

1. One version (probably fanciful) regarding the origin of the equestrian sport of 'tent pegging' says that the Macedonian cavalry, after initially panicking on seeing the Indian war elephants, wheeled around, and charged between the elephants, stabbing at the unarmoured feet of the elephants with their lances. The elephants in turn went berserk and charged back into their own ranks.

2. There is another school of thought which believes Alexander was slow poisoned on the instructions of his teacher, Aristotle because Alexander had had his (Aristotle's) son executed for some crime.

3. Sorry Maddy and Arby, in no way can Alexander's conquests and exploits be termed hype. His war strategies, his judicious use of his limited forces against the Persian Empire, his string of victories to the point where the Persian Emperor himself had to take the field, his personal courage in battle, his fair treatment to his enemies as well as his human failures (burning Persepolis after a drunken binge etc) - each point to a truly extra ordinary mortal. His audacious strategy at the Battle of Gaugamela where his 'needle formation' carried the day is a classic war manual class even today. Darius's mother did not grieve for her own son, but went into mourning when Alexander died.

4. The guilt and sin factors associated with homo and bisexuality, or with the act of sex itself, are a much later byproduct of human evolving and thinking. In ancient Greece (for that matter even in 18th century Japan for example and many cother cultures) these were considered perfectly natural and nothing to hide from or about.

5. Bagoas the eunuch was a historical character. He was initially Darius's lover and later Alexander's as spoils of war. Alexander's relationship was never hidden, as were none of his other relationships as well.
Maddy said…
Anonymous - thanks, i have been planning to hunt out that movie myself. hope it was good.

Cris - Greek historians had an eye and a heart for drama as we all know. so the accounts have to be tempered down a bit. contemporary historians have been hunting for those grains of truth in the long accounts written by many -

Thnaks Raji - I could never land my hand son the movie - only the screenplay!!

and now Ashvin -

This was never a detailed study of Alexander, I have concentrated on the Porus and Roxanned parts only. ALexander himself has never been a focus. but he is an intersting person as you rightly project and some day, I hope I will read more about him.

War elephants were always a problem even to the indian armies. they were fickle, difficult to control and only presented a valiant front to inexperienced armies facing them..the origin of polo is if i recall right explained in that steve berry book as well, i am not sure though.

alexanders death - long many angles. yes, one version is that roxanne (advised perhaps by aristotle) poisoned him

Regarding the hype in greek and roman writings - well there was plenty. as regards alexander as an individual, we can go on - yes, as i said he was great to some and ordinaray to others..I was focusing on roxane here..I have not studied alexander in such detail to rebut or concur. Most of all he was great enough to be recorded in history and his acts and startegies emulated!!

Point 4 - I agree fully - it is all a matter of perception. That i will cover as well in a later article.

Look out for another blog coming up with Alexander again, but as a co star...
Ashvin said…
1. In one of the Lord of the Rings battle scenes, Porus's elephant corps attack on the Macedonian cavalry is adapted. Forget which one.

2. The more probable origin of 'tent pegging' was from the twilight of the Mughal empire, when the Pindaries of Central India, mercenery bandits in the pay of the Mahratta confederacy, attacked Mughal caravans. The Mughals customarily travelled in style, even when on campaign. The Pindari light cavalry would charge Mughal camps at night and in the pre-dawn, when the sentries were likely to be less alert, and pluck out the tent pegs with their lances. The tents would collapse on the inhabitants and voila, easy targets for the following troops.

3. Check the movie 'The Man who would be King' starring Sean Connery. Alexander, attacking an Indian fortified city, was shot in the chest by an arrow. His troops, thinking him dead, went on the rampage. With superhuman effort, he managed to pull himself onto his horse and walk it a few yards, further strengthening the belief that he was a divine immortal. Now see this movie for the rest of the story.....

4. As far as hype goes, nothing to beat us Indians, probably :-) a few centuries from now, a human being of the future would see a typical Indian movie and marvel at the demi-Gods like Amitabh Bachhan, Rajnikant etc with their super human powers.....

5. I forget which book of Gurcharan Das analyses the Alexander - Porus encounters and what went wrong, in management terms....
mackreg said…
Your collection of historical facts and knowledge is admirable. But it is, as you rightly said, who knows? But one fact is undeniable by any of those historians....that the so called 'Great king' Alexander couldn't conquer the country and had to return with broken dreams, was disappointed in the end and died a miserable death after having earned such a colossal fame.
doll said…
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