Parysatis II (c. 350–323 BCE)

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Parysatis II (c. 350–323 bce)

Persian princess and wife of Alexander the Great. Born around 350 bce; died in 323 bce; youngest daughter of Artaxerxes III Ochos, king of Persia (r. 359/8–338 bce) and sister of Artaxerxes IV, king of Persia (r. 338–336 bce); married Alexander III the Great (356–323 bce), king of Macedonia (r. 335–323 bce).

Parysatis II was the youngest daughter of the Persian king Artaxerxes III Ochos (r. 359/8–338), and the sister of his successor Artaxerxes IV (r. 338–336). When the latter was assassinated in 336, Darius III, an Achaemenid (but from a collateral arm of Persia's royal house), seized the Persian throne. After the murder of her brother, Parysatis, her mother, and her sisters remained at the court of their relative.

Darius III was the king of Persia when Alexander III the Great invaded Asia in 334. However, since Persia proper lay hundreds of miles from the Mediterranean Sea, and since Darius had to mobilize an army worthy of facing his adversary, the two kings did not meet in battle until November of 333. When Persian kings went on campaign, they did so with elaborate entourages, including many of their relatives and much of their court. Darius maintained this tradition, and among the many women of his family who traveled west with him to meet Alexander was Parysatis II. As he closed on Alexander, Darius took the precaution of establishing his family and court in the fortified city of Damascus before moving north to engage the invader, which he did unsuccessfully at Issus. After his defeat, Darius fled east, leaving his court and Parysatis to be captured by Parmenion, Alexander's second-in-command. Among the Persian hostages whom Alexander held (and treated very well) were women from collateral branches of the Achaemenid royal house: those, like Parysatis, who were of the line of Artaxerxes III, and those directly related to Darius III himself, including his daughter, Statira III .

These hostages remained with Alexander as he made his way through Syria, Israel, Egypt, Israel and Syria again, and then into Iraq, where he met and defeated Darius a second time at Gaugamela in October 331. (Darius would be assassinated in 330 because of his losses to Alexander.) When Alexander campaigned through the heartland of the Persian Empire and then its easternmost appendages, his Persian hostages were probably installed in Susa (in western Iran). We know that when Alexander continued eastward through what is now Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan and India, they did not accompany him, and since they were at Susa when Alexander returned to that city from his eastern conquests, they had probably remained at Susa all along.

At Susa in 324, Alexander celebrated his conquests with the mass marriage of some 90 of his officers to the daughters of Persian nobles. At that time, Alexander married both Parysatis and Darius III's daughter Statira III (he was already married to Roxane ), in order to lay claim to the lines of the last two Achaemenid kings. Thereafter, Parysatis lived as one of Alexander's three wives, receiving all of the honor such an exalted status endowed. And being a wife of Alexander was exalted; about the time of his last two marriages, Alexander requested—and was given—divine honors, that is, he was worshiped as a living god. This idyll did not last long, however. When Alexander died in June of 323, Roxane struck with a ruthlessness which Alexander himself would have understood. To protect the political future of Alexander's unborn child whom she gave birth to after he died, Roxane murdered both Parysatis and Statira III.

William Greenwalt , Associate Professor of Classical History, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, California