Evidence suggests Alexander the Great was queer despite Netflix series controversy

Screenshot from Netflix series on Alexander the Great, who might have been queer, portraying the ruler in an armour.
Screenshot from Netflix series on Alexander the Great, who might have been queer, portraying the ruler in an armour. Via X - @loeyrubyjane

At the start of the month, Netflix dropped a new series on Alexander the Great which has already sparked controversy because it suggests that the historical figure could have been queer. In one of the first episodes of Alexander: The Making of a God, the protagonist shares a kiss with one of his generals, Hephaestion, alluding to the possibility that Alexander the Great could have had relationships with people of the same sex.

The episode sparked fury in many conservative watchers, who were quick to condemn Netflix for “turning Alexander gay”. President of Greek far-right political party Niki, Dimitris Natsiou, also denounced the series, calling it “deplorable, unacceptable and unhistorical” and claiming that it aimed to “subliminally convey the notion that homosexuality was acceptable in ancient times, an element that has no basis”.

But how baseless is such a notion? According to historians, while labels such as gay, straight or bisexual did not exist in Ancient Greece, sexual fluidity was the norm. As Professor Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones of Cardiff University in Wales put it in the first episode of the Netflix series, “Same-sex relationships were quite the norm throughout the Greek world. The Greeks did not have a word for homosexuality, or to be gay. It just wasn’t in their vocabulary whatsoever. There was just being sexual.”

This notion is confirmed by Philip Freeman, a Professor of Humanities at Pepperdine University who was not involved in the making of the series but has written a biography about Alexander the Great. “In the ancient Greek world – and especially in Macedonia – such same-sex relationships were so normal they wouldn’t have seemed odd to anyone,” Freeman said, as reported by Reuters.


In addition to this, another element that needs to be taken into account when discussing sexuality in history is that LGBTQ+ people have been wiped out from the records. Not only was queerness repressed through legislation and discrimination, but evidence that queer lives existed in the past was often destroyed in an attempt to preserve the person’s “reputation”.

In the case of Alexander the Great, there is plenty of historical evidence to suggest that he might have been queer. He was born in 356 BC in Macedonia, a kingdom in Greece, of which he became the ruler when he was only 19 after the assassination of his father. He became a soldier and conqueror, and during his lifetime, his armies defeated the Persian Empire and conquered land as far as India, creating one of the largest empires in history.

According to Jeanne Reames, a historian at the University of Nebraska Omaha who was a consultant on the Netflix series, “Alexander seems to have comfortably pursued either sex”. The ruler married three times and had at least one child but, as Reames said, “it’s very possible, even likely” that he and his general Hephaestion were lovers.

Historian Robin Lane Fox, who authored the 2013 book Alexander the Great, wrote about this queer relationship, saying: “Hephaistion was the man whom Alexander loved, and for the rest of their lives their relationship remained as intimate as it is now irrecoverable: Alexander was only defeated once, the Cynic philosophers said long after his death, and that was by Hephaistion’s thighs.”


Forbes contributor Dani Di Placido echoed these words when he wrote: “There is no concrete evidence that Alexander and Hephaestion were lovers, but there is plenty of evidence hinting that the two were more than friends.”

Moreover, a National Geographic article published on February 8 noted how, when Hephaestion died of illness in 324 BC, the death “plunged Alexander into grief”. The conqueror “reportedly draped himself over Hephaestion’s corpse, refused food, cut his hair, and organized an extravagant funeral.”

As professor Salima Ikram of the American University of Cairo said in the Netflix series, “Hephaestion really was not just a cherished companion, but perhaps [Alexander’s] greatest love.”

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