LGBT+ History Month – Alexander The Great and Bagoas

Continuing with OU Prides LGBT+ History spotlights, we will be raising some questions regarding LGBT+ pride in 300 BC, versus now.

My GCSE History regularly focused on Alexander the Great and in some modern literature which focuses on historical figures, the fact men away at war would often engage in sexual activity can be seen as a big deal.

You may wonder why given the reality they had desires not so different from our own and were away from their families for years at a time.

As you can imagine a class full of 15 year olds chuckled, grinned, and snickered when reading these parts of history.

Alexander the Great was not an exception though. As awareness increased and time passed, it became obvious that Alexander may have presented as bisexual, had the variety of sexuality identities and labels seen today been in common use in 300 BC.

Allegedly Alexander kissed a Persian eunuch named Bagoas, the secret lover first of Darius III, publicly at a festival. Following the Battle of Issus when Alexander conquered Persia and Darius was assassinated by a member of his own family, Bagoas became the lover of Alexander.

Historical literature has always been interesting to analyse. On one hand, Bagoas is hardly written about in the surviving sources, but on the other hand, it is widely known that he and Alexander had intimate relations.

With a modern eye and understanding of LGBTQIA+ culture and society, we can see many ways this may be taken. 

Firstly, we already know men at war have sexual desires, we also know that in 300BC people held strong beliefs in gods, religion, and spirituality. Therefore, it’s a valid question to ask when the modern-day take on Christianity and the belief that being gay ‘is a sin’ began?

Is this why Bagoas isn’t mentioned often? Because he or Alexander was ashamed? Or is it because back then… it was not a big deal?

There are many ways we can perceive this. Surely, if it was seen as a sin or something to be ashamed of, Alexander’s contemporaries would have screamed this from the rooftops. I mean, we all know of the alleged sins of the wives of Henry the VIII, and those of other historical figures, so why is this any different?

In hindsight, the point of this article is that, if Alexander the Great – an arrogant, headstrong leader – can flaunt a young eunuch of the same sex publicly on his arm and exhibit clear homosexual behaviour with no shame over 2000 years ago, why, with an ever-changing and slowly accepting society, can’t we?

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