period: Olympias


Olympias (c 376–316BCE) was an Epirote princess, the fourth wife of king Philip II of Macedon, and the mother of Alexander the Great. She may originally have named Myrtale or Polyxena, taking the name Olympias in honour of Philip’s victory in the Olympic Games of 356 BCE.

In 337 BCE Philip married Cleopatra Eurydice, divorcing Olympias and disowning Alexander; Olympias and Alexander withdrew to Epirus. A year later Olympias and Philip were apparently reconciled with the agreement to be sealed by the marriage of their daughter Cleopatra to Olympias’ brother, Alexander I of Epirus. But Philip was murdered at the wedding; Olympias dedicated a memorial to Pausanias, the murderer, and arranged for the sword which he used to kill Philip to be hung in the temple of Apollo at Delphi. She also murdered both of Cleopatra Eurydice’s children by Philip, and forced Cleopatra Eurydice to take her own life. She does not seem to have been the forgiving type.

During the absence of Alexander, with whom she regularly corresponded on public as well as domestic affairs, she wielded great influence in Macedon, causing trouble to his regent, Antipater. Upon Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, Olympias withdrew again to Epirus, but in the civil wars that followed she again came to rule Macedonia in 317 BCE. In 316 she was overthrown and put to death.

Olympias was aged around twenty when Alexander was born, forty when he became king and fifty-six when she was executed. Danielle Darrieux, at thirty-nine, was just the right age to play Olympias in Alexander the Great; thirty-one-year-old Richard Burton was – and looked – far too old to be her son but he was about the right age for his death scene. In Alexander the mother and son pairing of Angelina Jolie (then twenty-nine) and Colin Farrell (then twenty-eight) was just plain silly, though Farrell was again not a bad age to play Alexander. Ah, the wonder and mysterious logic of Hollywood casting.

The movies

Alexander (2004): This movie covered Alexander’s life from childhood, giving Olympias (Angelina Jolie) a much bigger role over a longer period. I never knew the ancient Greeks had botox – you learn something every day. Jeremy Woodhead was the chief makeup designer; Rebecca Cole, Deborah Jarvis, & Paula Price were the principal makeup artists; Barbara Taylor was the principal makeup artist / principal hair stylist; Linda DeVetta was Angelina Jolie’s makeup artist; Colin Jamison was Angelina Jolie’s hairdresser. There was also a large team of special effects and prosthetic makeup artists for all those battle scenes and injuries.

Alexander the Great (1956): This movie tells the tale of the adult Alexander with Danielle Darrieux as Olympias. David Aylott was the makeup artist.