History's Second-Best Mothers

Darius III fleeing from Alexander the Great at the Battle of Isus. Naples National Archaeological Museum

19. Darius III Had One Ice Cold Mother

Alexander the Great kicked off his conquest of the Persian Empire by defeating the Persian governor’s forces in Asia Minor at the Battle of the Granicus River in 334 BC. That got the attention of Persia’s king Darius III, so he set out at the head of a huge to settle Alexander’s hash in person. They met at the Battle of Isus in 333 BC, another Persian defeat, that ended with Darius fleeing the field. He left behind not only his defeated men, as well as his baggage and supplies, but also his family and harem.

Persian kings traditionally took their womenfolk with them on campaign, so when Darius ran away at Isus, he left behind his wife, two daughters, and his mother, Sisygambus. Alexander treated them with respect, but Darius’ flight left Sisygambis seething with contempt for her son, who ran away and left her behind. The Persian king was beaten by Alexander once more at the Battle of Gaugamela, which also ended with Darius fleeing the field. When Darius was eventually killed, Alexander sent his body to Sisygambis, to mourn for and bury him. Instead, she coldly said: “I have but one son [meaning Alexander] and he is king of all Persia”.  By contrast, when Alexander died a decade later, Sisygambis went into paroxysms of mourning, refusing to leave her room or eat, and died of grief a few days later.