The Snake-Worshipping, Fur-Wearing Woman Who Made Alexander Great

One of the most fascinating and fearsome women obscured by the shadow of history.

E.B. Johnson | NLPMP | Editor
9 min readApr 25, 2024


By Jean-Joseph Taillasson — Cette œuvre fait partie de la collection du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Brest., Public Domain,

What do you know about the mother of Alexander the Great? It’s not a trick question. The woman who gave birth to one of history’s military greats has been much obscured by the long, dark shadow of history. Short of a few awkward caricatures in film, little has been brought into focus about the infamous Olympias of Molossia.

If you were asked to picture this woman, it would be no surprise if you imagined a handsome, middle-aged woman in long white robes. Like the depiction above, this is the classical image that has been painted of Alexander the Great’s mother. But what if you learned she was far more interesting than Victorian paintings and Hollywood films would have you believe?

The reality is that the real Queen Olympias was as different from a white-robed maiden as an apple is to a horse.

Far from being the regally-robed figure painted by romantics like Taillasson (above), the fourth wife of Phillip II of Macedonia was a fearsome woman driven by ambition and pride. She was said to sleep with snakes and engage in orgiastic cults, and when she greeted dignitaries it was often robed in a tunic made of fur. (Rowson. 2022.)