Alexander now went back to Babylon, where he married Roxana, a Persian princess, giving her sister’s hand to his intimate friend Hephaestion. This wedding was celebrated with great pomp, for eighty Macedonian officers took Persian wives on the same day.
The feasting for the weddings went on for many days, and the revelry was carried to such a shameful excess, that Hephaestion actually drank himself to death.
In token of sorrow, Alexander built him a fine tomb, had him buried with all the magnificence possible, and even decreed that he should henceforth be worshiped as a god. In this folly he was upheld by the priests, who were now ready to grant his every wish, and were always filling his mind with their senseless flatteries.
Alexander then fell into his old habits more than ever. He had again assumed all the pomp of an Eastern king, and sat on a wonderful golden throne. Over his head was the golden vine that had formerly belonged to the first Darius. Its leaves were of emeralds, while its grapes were clusters of fine carbuncles.
This vine had been given to a Persian king by Croesus, the wealthy ruler of Lydia, and was considered one of the most precious treasures which the young conqueror had won.
But in spite of all Alexander’s successes, he was not nearly so happy as he used to be when only king of Macedon. He no longer enjoyed the fine health which had helped him to bear the greatest hardships, and, weakened by over eating and drinking, he soon fell dangerously ill.
The doctors crowded around his bed, doing their best to save him, but they soon saw that he would die. When the Macedonian soldiers heard this, they were beside themselves with grief, and one and all insisted upon seeing their beloved leader once more.
Silently and sadly they filed past his bed, gazing upon the dying face which they had seen so bright and full of life a short time before. As most of the soldiers were older than their king, they had never expected to outlive him; and every one said that it was sad to die thus, at thirtythree, when master of nearly all the known world.
Just before he died, some one begged Alexander to name his successor. He hesitated for a moment, then drew his signet ring from his finger, gave it to Perdiccas, his principal general, and whispered that the strongest among them should have the throne.
Alexander’s death was mourned by all, for, in spite of his folly and excesses, he was generally beloved. Even Sisygambis, the Persian queen whom he had taken captive a few years before, shed many tears over his remains, and declared she had lost a protector who had always treated her as kindly as if he had been her own son.
The conqueror’s body was laid in a golden coffin, and carried in state to Alexandria, the city he had founded at the mouth of the Nile. Here a fine tomb was built by order of Ptolemy, one of Alexander’s generals, who said that his dead master also should be worshiped as a god.