Hephaistion died in Ecbatana in October 324 BC after being seriously ill with high fever for about seven days. His symptoms may indicate a case of typhoid. When he seemed to have been over the worst and his appetite returned he is said to have consumed a whole chicken and a large bottle of wine. This was against his doctor’s orders, but Glaucias had left his patient to attend the games at one the festivals organized for the entertainment of the troops. Alexander himself was at the theater when the news reached him that Hephaistion had fallen into agony and by the time he arrived at his friend’s bedside he had already died. The city was in mourning and its crenellations were shorn.
Today the city of Ecbatana has changed its name to Hamadan, literally meaning “the place of gathering”. It seems very few people remember Ecbatana’s name and fame from antiquity, once the capital of the Medes founded as early as the 8th century BC. After the conquests of Cyrus the Great in 549 BC, the city became part of the Persian Empire. After his death, it was re-conquered by the Medes but not for long since the new Persian king Darius I took it back in 521 BC (this victory is depicted in the large relief at Bisutun). Since then, the Achaemenid kings used Ecbatana as their summer residence, a custom that was imitated by later Seleucid and Parthian kings alike.
If we consult the Greek historian Polybius, we are told that Ecbatana was the richest and most beautiful city in the world. It had no walls, only the palace that was set on an artificial terrace had its fortifications that were approximately 1,250 meters long. This means that the palace stood on a plateau of approximately 300x300 meters (as compared to Persepolis’ 450x300m). Five hundred years earlier, Herodotus, on the other hand, wrote that the city was surrounded by seven concentric walls in different colours with the most inner walls plated with gold and silver. People were dwelling around the wall, meaning outside the palace walls on the fertile plain. These are apparently the only ancient texts we have to go by, and in the contradictory and confusing descriptions, we may wonder whether they are talking about the city walls, the palace walls or maybe even the walls of the citadel. It all seems to be jumbled together.
Polybius does mention, however, that most of the precious metals were stripped off during the invasion of Alexander, but I can hardly believe this especially if he means the palace walls. Further stripping is said to have taken place by Antigonus-the-one-Eyed and by Seleucos, which is more plausible in my eyes.
Arrian, in turn, mentions the citadel of Ecbatana where the captured Persian treasure was kept under the watchful eye of Harpalus.
Alexander visited Ecbatana twice. The first time was when he dismissed his Greek allied contingents, sending them back home will full payment for their services and an additional 2,000 talents as a gratuity. He was, however, willing to hire any of these soldiers in his service and put them on his regular payroll, and a great number of volunteers did indeed enlist. Those who returned home were escorted by a mounted guard and once they reached the Aegean they were shipped to Euboea. At this stage, it is clear that Alexander having conquered Persia considered the League war as ended; from now on his campaigns were a Macedonian affair.
Alexander’s second visit took place six years later after the lavish mass wedding ceremony at Susa when he was on his way to Babylon. This is when Hephaistion fell ill and died. His body was transported by Craterus to Babylon where the funeral ceremony was held in November 324 BC, hardly seven months before Alexander’s own untimely death.
At Ecbatana are the poor remains of a lion that is connected to Hephaistion, either once part of a monument built in his honor or his mausoleum. I had seen pictures of this lion at its present location, high on an appropriate pedestal but the monument was not part if our visiting program. I pleaded my cause with the local guide, who agreed to make a small detour.
The Lion definitely is Hellenistic, apparently one of a pair that was still lying around in the late 1800s and a favourite toy for the local boys who climbed on it for a ride on its back. The prospect of having to leave Hamadan without a proper tribute to Hephaistion was simply beyond me after having travelled thousands of miles to get here. So I was lucky after all. I am now at peace with the place they have granted this poor shapeless lion. Hephaistion definitely deserves better but this is all there is although the lion may date from Seleucid or Parthian times.