Who Was This Guy ... And How the Heck Do You Pronounce His Name?

  • Macedonian noble, Alexander the Great's best friend and confidant
  • Born in or before 356 BCE and died in October 324 BCE in Ekbatana
  • Seems to have excelled in logistics and diplomatic assignments
  • Became one of Alexander's chief Marshals in the last 6 years of his life
  • Became Chiliarch (second man in the empire) in the last 1-2 years of his life

Detailed discussions of Hephaistion in Alexander biographies are often relegated to his death and its effect on the conqueror.  That trend may owe to discomfort with Greek homoeroticism among earlier (largely male) historians.  But it may also owe to a subtle bias in the ancient sources, too, as Hephaistion was not the combat commander that Krateros, Koenos, Philotas, or even Perdikkas were.  Donald Engels has discussed ancient dismissal of/disinterest in logistics in his Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army (1976, U. Cal Press).  Certainly, modern pop culture representations of him in fiction or film (with a few notable exceptions) tend to cast him as Alexander's accessory more than as his officer, and assessments of his competence among modern Macedonian scholars differ, sometimes sharply.

Yet Alexander was not in the habit of advancing commanders based wholly on affection, and in fact, our sources note several instances when he demoted appointees, even friends, who'd proved to be ineffective or incapable.  By contrast, Hephaistion's position in the army rose steadily over time.  Perhaps, then, we should review Hephaistion and his career in his own right.  His relationship to Alexander was important, to be sure, but not the sum of who Hephaistion was.


Life & Career


Ancient Sources
Modern Bibliography
Who Am I? / Credits

Regarding His Name:  Ἡφαιστίων
Hear me pronounce it on Tiktok

Hephaistion's name gives everybody fits.  There are actually three different ways to say it.
1) The most common pronunciation comes from the Latinized spelling Hephaestion: he-FEES-ti-an
2) Another familiar pronunciation is based on the transliterated Greek, Hephaistion: he-FAIS-ti-an
But if you went back in time, walked up to him and called him either of those, he'd stare at you in confusion.
3) The Greek pronunciation he used was he-pais-TI-on  (Aspirate the initial /h/ and also the /p/, as in pot.)
Myself, I use a pronunciation he'd recognize --  seems the polite thing to do -- but it does result in some confusion for those used to one of the two more familiar pronunciations.

Did he have a nickname?  I get this question a lot, curiously.  Modern Greek names are often simplified, so Alexandros = Alekos, Ioannis = Yannis, Anastasios = Sakis, etc.  Apparently Krateros was simplified to Kraton, but any nickname for Hephaistion wasn't recorded, so it's all speculation.  "Phaiton" or "Phaiston" are possible, but "Phai" is unlikely, as it's a woman's name.  Furthermore, any nickname may not have been a shortening of his given name at all, e.g., Kleitos Melas (the Black) or Antigonos Mon
όphthalmos (One-Eyed)--or the philosopher Plato, for that matter (probably born Aristokles).  We may seek to shorten "long" names, but that's a cultural thing--not one necessarily shared.

Hephaistion in the Getty Museum