2006′s blockbuster film 300 introduced theater-going audiences to Frank Miller’s artistic envisioning of the Battle of Thermopylae. It was a world that bore only a tangential similarity to the historical reality of Ancient Greece and the Persian Wars; well documented by such historians as Herodotus (called the “Father of History”). It displayed a gloomy world of monochromatic colors punctuated only by the brilliantly bright crimson cloaks of its Spartan heroes; and by the buckets of bright, splattering blood. It was a world of seven-foot tall, cross-dressing God-Emperors; treacherous, deformed hunchbacks; battle rhinos; and Spartan heroes with magnificently chiseled physiques wearing little more than very brief leather breechcloths.

A fantastical retelling of an immortal tale, it grossed $210,614,939 domestically. Its art-style and innovative stunts and special effects have influenced similar historical-based projects ever since (the most obvious of which was the Starz television miniseries, “Spartacus“). Now, eight years later comes the sequel.

300: Rise of an Empire (presumably the Athenian Empire) is an entertaining and interesting film, from a historian’s perspective. It provides a much broader view of the Persian Wars, providing much back-story to the original. The audience discovers the (fantasy) origins of  the Persian God-King Xerxes’ supposed divinity. It shows the earlier attempt by his father, Darius the Great to subdue Athens 10 years before the events of 300; and show the defeat of that expedition at the Battle of MarathonRise of Empire  also displays such interesting bits of historical fact as the bridge of boats constructed by Xerxes’ engineers to cross the straits known as the Hellespont (the modern Dardanelles), which separated Europe from Asia; a bridge that allowed his vast horde to cross into Greece.


This film intersects the first most directly in showing the three-day naval battle at Cape Artemisium; which took place simultaneous to the fight at Thermopylae. Here we see the last of the 300 dead on the field, and the corpse of the Spartan king Leonidas (Gerald Butler, hero of the first film) beheaded by Xerxes. We see Athens soon after sacked and burned by the Persians.

The new film intersects at several other places with the original film; and together they make a very nice, internally consistent package.


So, that is the good.

The bad?

Much like the first film, Rise of Empire takes considerable “artistic license” with history. To the point that its resemblance to history is superficial, at best. Characters are credited with actions their historical selves never took part in. A particularly egregious example is in putting the hero of the film, the Athenian statesman and commander, Themistocles (played by actor Sullivan Stapleton, of Cinemax’s series Strike Back),  at the Battle of Marathon; leading the Greeks to victory (the true victor was a leader named Miltiades) and personally slaying the Great King, Darius (who was not even present at Marathon, much less slain there)!


Another prominent example of taking extreme license is in the female antagonist of the film. Here we see in this film the colorful but fairly minor historical character, Queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus, playing the key role as Xerxes chief admiral and something of a King-Maker.

Historically, Artemisia commanded a small naval squadron from her own city (5 ships) within the greater Persian fleet of some 1,200 ships (at the start of the campaign). She was a trusted advisor of King Xerxes, and may have been his mistress. She warned him not to fight the fateful Battle of Salamis; but when it came to the fight her squadron acquitted itself well.

As portrayed by the striking Eva Green, this Artemisia is more than just a political figure. She is a kick-ass Amazon warrior; a trained killing machine out for vengeance against the Greeks. Unlike her historical self, she DEMANDS the Persians fight at the Greek fleet at Salamis, and far from being Xerxes’ mistress she is a contemptuous and bloody-minded power behind his throne. In the final battle, she cuts down Greeks with a sword in either hand, and would seemingly give even a Spartan a run for his money!


Speaking of which, this film gives undue credit to the Spartans for winning the Battle of Salamis (they played a very minor role, with the Athenians providing the bulk of the Greek fleet and its leadership). It also turns that decisive historical battle into a bitch-fight, as Queen Gorgo of Sparta (played here as in the original film by the very capable Lena Headey) arrives at the head of the Spartans with sword swinging (yes, in this film she, too, is a warrior chick)!

The gloomy, monochromatic art-style (which makes this seem as though it were staged in Hades, the Greek underworld!) has, frankly, gotten old. The whole look of this is SO 2006! The dialogue and stunts are all hyperbolic and comic book. But, then, the “Graphic Novel” by Frank Miller is the root of all this. So, if you aren’t looking for realism or are a fan of Miller’s original, you might like this.

This is definitely NOT your father’s (or great-great-great-grandfather’s) Persian Wars! But it is a fun (if often ridiculously over-the-top) historical fantasy, very loosely based upon real events.

I give it two-and-a-half out of five stars!

2 and a half out of five


For a historically accurate version of these events, go here to my series on the Spartans!

Pre-Order this film at Amazon:
300: Rise of an Empire (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Combo Pack)

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agryi(This is the seventh in a series concerning the Wars of the Diadachi. Part 1 can be read here, and includes comprehensive biographies of the players in this drama. It is strongly advised that you start there before reading on here. Stay tuned to this blog for future installments! Special thanks to Michael Park for his indispensable help in filling in the gaps in the sources and putting-up with my incessant questions!)

The First War of the Diadochi had begun. It pitted Perdiccas against an alliance of Antipater, Craterus, and Ptolemy.

In light of Ptolemy’s actions, seizing Alexander’s body and allying with his enemies in Europe,  Perdiccas was forced to reassess his plans. Though he had at his command the Royal Army, and could defeat any other force brought against him by any coalition of satraps; he was now forced to fight on two fronts.

Moving into Europe as he’d planned, and declaring himself king, was out of the question. For one thing, his enemies Antipater and Craterus had a powerful fleet, commanded by White Cleitus; which could block passage across the Hellespont or (further east) at the Bosporus. Even were he to be able to bring a fleet from Phoenicia to aid in crossing into Europe, Craterus and Antipater were supremely skilled generals, with a large and experience army. They knew the land more intimately than did he (Perdiccas had not seen Macedon or Greece since 334, when he’d crossed into Asia with Alexander’s invasion force), and had long-established relations with (or garrisons in) most all of the Greek and Macedonian cities.

They could be expected to maneuver and delay a decisive encounter till it was in their favor; or to buy time while their ally, Ptolemy, sallied forth from Egypt and created chaos and disaffection deep in his rear. Ptolemy, left to his own devices to run amok throughout the empire, might even sway more-and-more satraps in the heart of the empire to rise against Perdiccas as well.

Perdiccas’ (in consultation with his Synhedrion Philoi, his Counsel of Friends) decided to let Antipater and Craterus come to him in Asia for now; while eliminating the weakest member of the coalition, Ptolemy. This made good strategic sense. Let the “Europeans” cross into Asia, which would take time; while he secured his rear and the empire’s heartland by destroying Ptolemy. Then, gathering to his side the eastern satraps, he could return to Anatolia to deal with his other enemies.

Meanwhile, to delay Antipater and Craterus he gave his loyal philos, Eumenes (partial author of most of the current discord) instructions to interfere with Antipater and Craterus’ crossing into Asia; and delay them if they did. The wily Greek, still in Sardis, was given authority over the satrapies that had belonged to Leonnatus and Antigonas (Hellespontine and Greater Phrygia), Asander (Caria), and Menander (Lydia). The first of these satraps was dead; the rest either unreliable or openly in rebellion. This commission gave Eumenes command over most of western Anatolia.

However, Eumenes forces were limited to a small (unknown) number of Macedonians and what he could raise locally, from his own newly conquered satrap of Cappadocia and the Antatolian satrapies loyal to Perdiccas. To help Eumenes maintain their position in Anatolia, Perdiccas further instructed his willful and hotheaded brother, Alcetas, satrap of Pisidia; and Neoptolemus (possibly satrap of Armenia, though that is uncertain) to obey Eumenes, and join their forces to his.

Perdiccas also opened negotiations with the Aetolians; in an attempt to open a second front for his enemies in western Greece. In this he was successful: the following year, they would break the peace they’d made with Antipater and invade Thessaly; overpowering a Macedonian garrison along the way at Amphissa.


In early spring of 320, the Royal Army marched first to Cilicia, where Perdiccas arranged the government; removing partisans of Craterus. While there he learned that the various petty-kings of the island of Cyprus had made alliance with Ptolemy, and were besieging the loyal town of Marium. He arranged an expedition to go over to Marium’s relief, and take over the island; comprised of 800 infantry and 500 horse. Sosigenes of Rhodes was appointed as admiral of the fleet of 200 Phoenician ships that would convey the force to Cyprus; Medius of Larissa (who’d been a friend of Alexander’s, and at whose drinking party the late king had first become ill) to command the mercenary foot; and Aristonus the Bodyguard (who we have not heard of since Babylon following the death of Alexander) over-all commander of the expedition.

Diadachi 320 egyptian campaign

Not waiting for the outcome of this secondary campaign, Perdiccas and the Royal Army set-off from Cilicia to Damascus; and then south to the Egyptian frontier. With him were Peithon the Bodyguard, satrap of Media and Perdiccas’ senior sub-commander; Seleucus, commanding the cavalry (including the elephants); and Antigenes, who commanded the 3,000-strong Argyraspides (“Silver Shields”), the elite veteran unit of the phalanx.  It was a vast force, both military and civilian. With the Regent came the Kings and the Court; a moveable city of courtiers and servants, carried by a vast number of draft animals. Horse, mules and oxen aside, the Royal Elephant herd[1] added its great grey mass to the spectacle. Moving though Syria, the Royal Army passed Gaza; whose walls were still being repaired of the damage done by Alexander’s siege and capture twelve years earlier.

In Egypt, Ptolemy prepared to defend his satrapy. After executing Cleomenes of Naucratis and seizing the treasury he’d hired mercenaries to augment the garrison left in Egypt by Alexander. While he had no chance against the Royal Army in open battle, Ptolemy understood two underlying facts about the coming campaign.

First, that Egypt was essentially an island, protected on all sides by natural obstacles. Deserts protected her on three sides, and the Mediterranean defended it from the north. For the modern reader this mat seem less-than persuasive as measures of formability. After all, modern armies have traversed this very terrain in our memories; and with Perdiccas (and the other Diadochi) possessing fleets of warships and transports, the sea can hardly have been a barrier.

But whereas modern armies rely on petrol for their vehicles (which can carry water and food supplies sufficient to keep their soldiers alive and combat effective), ancient armies relied on water and forage for the draft beasts that carried their food supply. Neither of which were readily available in the desert. The sea approach to Egypt had its own risks. Ancient oar-powed fleets needed to hug the coast, where the crews beached and slept every night. The coast of Sinai, along which a seaborne invasion from Syria must come was rocky and formidable; covered by dangerous shoals and waterless beaches. Antigonas would discover this in 306 BC, when he in turn tried to eliminate Ptolemy from the competition. Once past the desert coasts an invasion force faced the labyrinthine marshes of the Nile Delta; which, as the Sea Peoples discovered when they attacked Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh Ramses III, were difficult to navigate and easy to defend.

Ptolemy, who had been in Egypt now for two years, seems to have understood all this. The only practical way for his enemy, Perdiccas, to gain entry into Egypt was to march by land along the northern coast of Sinai, to the outpost at Pelusium on eastern extreme of the Nile Delta; a fortress garrisoned by Ptolemy. Here he would have to sit down and siege the place, a difficult proposition considering the difficulties of supplying the great royal host in that inhospitable land. Or, he could at that point turn southwest, and arrive at the Nile further down.

ptolemaicegypt 320bce - Perdiccas invasion

The Nile itself posed yet another barrier. A force as large as Perdiccas’ could not cross on a few seized fishing boats. Perdiccas would need to find a ford to cross at; and these Ptolemy knew well and now defended with earthworks manned by well-paid garrisons.

What is more, he had secured all the most important points in Egypt with garrisons of considerable size, which had been well equipped with every kind of missile as well as with everything else.[2]

We don’t have a complete picture of Ptolemy’s strategy for this campaign, but we can assume based on the events as they unfolded that he backed these strong points up with a mobile force led by himself; ready to march to any threatened sector.

At Pelusium the Royal Army halted and established a camp. Here Perdiccas experienced his first set-back: while clearing a canal (that assumedly blocked the army’s approach to the fortress) the “river broke out violently and destroyed his work”[3]. This passage by Diodorus begs the question: was the canal deliberately flooded by the opening of a sluice gate upriver; a stratagem of Ptolemy’s? It was the first of several setbacks that began to erode the army’s confidence in Perdiccas’ leadership.

While Perdiccas was camped by Pelusium, Ptolemy sent men loyal to his cause to infiltrate the Royal Army at night. Wandering through the darkness between the soldier’s campfires, they called out to friends and comrades from better days, sitting around the fires. Being invited to join them, they shared drink with their fellow countrymen, remembered past glories, and quietly reminded them that they faced not enemies; but old friends. These partisans of Ptolemy mentioned how well they faired serving the son of Lagos, who paid on time and treated them not as subjects but as old comrades. This had become a common complaint against Perdiccas: after two years as Regent of the empire he had grown increasingly imperious and high-handed.

Diodorus tells us that men began to desert to Ptolemy in small numbers, including officers.

early War elephants

Macedonian war elephants in the late 4th century were without howdah; and sported a single sarissa-armed Macedonian soldier, along with the Indian mahout. Alexander sent 200 back from India; and most would have survived the journey to take part in the wars that followed.

Abandoning any attempt to secure Pelusium first, Perdiccas now ordered the army to break camp one evening and set out. He disclosed his plans to none. The army moved southeast, to the Nile in search of a crossing point. After marching all night, they came to a place called “The Fort of Camels”; which was defended by earthworks and a garrison. As dawn brightened the sky, Perdiccas ordered the army to force a crossing.

(With) the elephants in the van, then following them the shield-bearers and the ladder-carriers, and others whom he expected to use in the attack on the fort. Last of all came the bravest of the cavalry, whom he planned to send against the troops of Ptolemy if they happened to appear.[4]

As his lead elements were crossing the river to attack the Ptolemaic earthworks on the opposite bank, Ptolemy did indeed appear with his main army. They threw themselves into the earthen fort, the fanfare of trumpets announcing Ptolemy’s arrival to all. Diodorus provides a rousing account of the fighting that day:

At once the shield-bearers[5] set up the scaling ladders and began to mount them, while the elephant-borne troops were tearing the palisades to pieces and throwing down the parapets. Ptolemy, however, who had the best soldiers near himself and wished to encourage the other commanders and friends to face the dangers, taking his long spear and posting himself on the top of the outwork, put out the eyes of the leading elephant, since he occupied a higher position, and wounded its Indian mahout. Then, with utter contempt of the danger, striking and disabling those who were coming up the ladders, he sent them rolling down, in their armor, into the river.  Following his example, his friends fought boldly and made the beast next in line entirely useless by shooting down the Indian who was directing it. The battle for the wall lasted a long time, as the troops of Perdiccas, attacking in relays, bent every effort to take the stronghold by storm, while many heroic conflicts were occasioned by the personal prowess of Ptolemy and by his exhortations to his friends to display both their loyalty and their courage.  Many men were killed on both sides; such was the surpassing rivalry of the commanders, the soldiers of Ptolemy having the advantage of the higher ground and those of Perdiccas being superior in number. Finally, when both sides had spent the whole day in the engagement, Perdiccas gave up the siege and went back to his own camp.

Morale was understandably low following this reverse. Grumbling was widespread, and  no doubt some openly questioned their purpose in attacking Ptolemy. Some even talked of changing sides. Arrian tells us that Perdiccas “treated those who were inclined to go over to Ptolemaeus with great severity, and in other respects behaved in camp more arrogantly than became a general”.

Perdiccas had never been well-liked: his aristocratic temperament grated on the average Macedonian; used to being treated as comrades even by their kings. He failed to comprehend what was becoming the underlying truth of the Successor Wars: that the Macedonian soldiers had no stake in who won these conflicts, and little loyalty to anyone but themselves. They fought because soldiering was all they knew, after a lifetime of campaigning under first Philip, and then Alexander. It was a life spent in marching camps; with only each other, their wives or mistresses and children for company. All they had in way of worldly wealth marched with them; a life-time’s accumulation of plunder and pay. Though they remained remarkably loyal to their native “Argead” dynasty as long as it lasted, they were growing increasingly indifferent to the pedigree of their commander; and even less to his ambitions (beyond his loyalty to the Kings). The successful general who promised great rewards and treated them with respect would be followed, so long as he was successful. But one that administered harsh discipline or demanded unquestioning obedience was risking desertion, mutiny or worse.

Perdiccas must have understood he needed to reverse the momentum of the campaign, which thus far had shifted to Ptolemy. His forces greatly outnumbered that of his enemy. If he could but cross the Nile and bring them to battle in the open field victory was assured. To this end, Perdiccas set out with a “flying column” at night, using the cover of darkness to conceal his movements from enemy observation. The size of his force is unknown, but must have been larger than what he expected Ptolemy to field against him; so perhaps 12-15,000[6].

Near Memphis, capital of the Egyptian satrapy, Perdiccas again attempted to cross. Here the broad river was divided into an east and a west channel by a broad island; large enough for his army to camp upon. To slow the current and allow the infantry to cross the east channel onto the island, Perdiccas used a trick Alexander had once employed (albeit with horsemen alone). Perdiccas placed his elephants upstream, in a line across the channel, to break the current. Downstream he had horsemen form another line, to catch those men who nevertheless got washed downstream.

By this expedient a vanguard of several thousand passed onto the island. However, the tramping of many feet progressively eroded the soft body of the river bed; causing it to grow deeper-and-deeper. What started as a waist-deep channel became deeper until it was over the heads of the men yet to cross.

Seeing that he could not get the bulk of his army across in this manner, Perdiccas ordered those already on the island to come back across and rejoin the army. The result was disaster.

Many drowned trying to get back. Those who did succeed were mostly those men who could swim, and had to abandon their armor and equipment to do so. Apparently the numbers washed down stream were too great for the horsemen to rescue. Nile crocodiles, larger and more ferocious than those the Macedonians had encountered along the Indus, devoured many of those struggling in the waters; a terrible and demoralizing site for their comrades watching on from the river bank, helpless to save them.

Perdiccas on the nile 2

The death toll was over two thousand (half that many being devoured by crocodiles): more men than had been lost in any of Alexander’s battles; and perhaps as many as were lost in all of his four great battles combined. The army, already unhappy with the campaign in general, was now furious at what seemed an unnecessary loss of so many of their comrades.

Ptolemy, for his part, collected what bodies had washed up on his side of the river, and gave them a funeral; cremating the bodies and returning the ashes to their comrades. By this gesture he greatly increased the already high regard in which he was held by the Macedonians.

For the soldiers, this reverse turned out to be the final straw. That night the Royal Camp “was filled with lamentations and mourning, so many men having been senselessly lost without a blow from an enemy”[7]. Greif turned to anger, anger to rage and mutiny; the officers as well as the rank-and-file turning against the Regent’s authority.

Perdiccas was in his tent when three of his senior officers, Peithon, Seleucus, and Antigenes, entered. They came with grim countenance and murder in their eyes. Whatever bodyguard normally defended his person had deserted him, and Perdiccas was left alone to face his killers. Perhaps he fought back, briefly and hopelessly; or perhaps he accepted the inevitable with stoic fatalism.

Murder of Perdiccas

Detail from the so-called Alexander Sarcophagus from Sidon. For whom it was made is disputed; it was made shortly after Alexander’s death. It shows various scenes of Macedonian soldiers and courtiers. This panel shows the murder of a man by three soldiers. Could this depict the death of Perdiccas?

So died Perdiccas, to whom Alexander had passed his signet ring; and whom had ruled the empire for two years. He had played the “game of thrones” to win, gambling all against his rivals. He had failed through no great failing of generalship; in fact he handled the campaign correctly in many respects. But luck was not with him; and as Napoleon observed, luck plays a very great part in war. His greatest failing was in not understanding better the psychology of his soldiers, and in maintaining their loyalty and confidence.

The next day there was an assembly of the army, to which Ptolemy was invited. He was well received, and brought much-need food supplies for the now hungry soldiers. He refused to step into Perdiccas sandals, as guardian of the Kings (a move that would have instantly alienated his allies, Craterus and Antipater). Instead, he nominated Peithon and Arrhidaeus (the officer who’d aided in the bringing of Alexander’s corpse to Egypt) to be custodians of the Kings; and to command the Royal Army as it returned from Egypt. It is likely that all understood that with Perdiccas gone, primacy now belonged to Craterus or Antipater. As these two had already come to an agreement that Craterus should rule in Asia, the army would return north; and turn the Kings over to the universally popular Craterus, and itself over to his command.

The soldiers agreed enthusiastically to Ptolemy’s proposal. But before they could begin the long march back to Anatolia, word came that there had been a momentous battle between Craterus and Eumenes; that would shake up the chess board and reset the game once again.



Recommended further reading:
1 Divided Empire Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great’s Empire (Ancient Warfare and Civilization)






[1] We have no exact number of beasts, but Alexander left India with some 200. How many were lost since then is unknown, but likely few.

[2] Diodorus, xviii.33.3

 [3] Diodorus xviii.33.2

[4] Diodorus xviii.33.6

[5] Diodorus may be referring to the “Silver Shields” (Argyraspides); who were originally, before Alexander’s Indian Campaign, called “hypaspists”, which means “shield bearer”. He may also be referring to a new corps of hypaspists that could have been formed to replace the aging Argyraspides in their old role as rapid-moving special purpose infantry. We are told in later passages that in 316 BC, just four years later, that “the youngest of the Silver Shields were about sixty years old, most of the others about seventy, and some even older; but all of them were irresistible because of experience and strength, such was the skill and daring acquired through the unbroken series of their battles.” While still extremely able in the phalanx role, their days as a “special forces” unit were behind them; and though no evidence exists it is very probable that a new unit of hypaspists (“shield-bearers”) had been formed to take their place; and it is these that Diodorus refers to as forming the assault force at the Fort of Camels.

[6] We have no good count of Ptolemy’s forces in 320, but he is unlikely to have had more than 8,000 under his banner to face Perdiccas’ (estimated) 15-25,000 strong Royal Army. Perdiccas would have had a crushing advantage in cavalry, and Ptolemy at this time had no elephants of his own to oppose the 150-200 in the Royal herd.

[7] Diodorus xviii.36.3

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fame-amaz-sarcophagus4 (This is the sixth in a series concerning the Wars of the Diadachi. Part 1 can be read here, and includes comprehensive biographies of the players in this drama. It is strongly advised that you start there before reading on here. Stay tuned to this blog for future installments! Special thanks to Michael Park for his indispensable help in filling in the gaps in the sources and putting-up with my incessant questions!)


Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great, had married seven times and fathered at least 6 children. His first (or perhaps second[1]) marriage, contracted shortly after his accession to the throne in 359 was to an Illyrian princess, Audata daughter of Bardyllis. She took the royal queenly name, Eurydice; and was likely for a time Philip’s “queen”, not merely another wife. From this union was born his eldest child, a daughter: Kynane.

Perhaps taking after her “barbarian” Illyrian mother (and given the freedom of a first child by a proud and likely bemused father) Kynane practiced “the manly arts”. She was a fierce huntress and warrior, allegedly slaying an Illyrian queen in battle while accompanying Philip on campaign; perhaps in 344/3, when she was only 14! Had she been a boy, instead of a girl, she would likely have been groomed as Philip’s heir, and been as much a warrior as her famous brother. However, she was not; and was passed over in the succession by her half-brother Alexander, Olympias’ son, a year her junior.


Though depicted in Greek art and featured in their mythology, true Amazon-like warrior women were exceedingly rare in history. However Kynane, daughter of Philip and half-sister of Alexander the Great was one of these. As a young teenage girl, she slew an Illyrian queen in battle. She raised her daughter to be a warrior and a huntress like herself.

At 17 or 18 she was married to her own cousin, Amyntas; whose father Perdiccas III (Philip’s elder brother) had been King of the Macedonians till he was killed by the Illyrians in 359. Too young to assume the throne on his father’s death, Amyntas had been passed over by the Macedonians in favor of his uncle. Philip had raised his nephew at court, and now married his eldest daughter to him. They had one child, a daughter, Adea; whose birth date is unknown.

Upon becoming king in 336, Alexander had his brother-in-law and cousin, Amyntas executed on charges of treason; along with two princes of Lynkestis (in the Macedonian highlands) and Philip’s last father-in-law, Attalus. Coins struck in Amyntas name (as Amyntas IV) may come from this time, and be proof of a plot by some to bypass Alexander and crown Amyntas as king after Philip assassination. In any case, Kynane found herself a widow. Alexander attempted to marry her to his friend, Langarus the ruler of the allied Agrianians; but this prince died before the wedding could be arranged. After this, Kynane retired to her own estates to raise her daughter; preferring to remain unwed as Amyntas’ widow. Her daughter Adea was brought up in the same “manly” way as was her mother. She was taught to hunt and to fight, and throughout her life was as bold and courageous as befitted one of her blood and rearing.

In 321 Alexander had been dead for two years. As shown earlier (See previous parts) Olympias, his mother, had been heavily involved with the intrigues between the rival Diadachi (“Successors”); along with her daughter, Cleopatra. We have no information as to what Kynane’s relationship had been with her step-mother, Olympias. It is likely the palace at Pella was too small for two such strong royal women; which may explain why Kynane left Pella to live on her own estate. We also don’t know what she may have thought as she watched Olympias’ newest intrigue, that of sending her daughter Cleopatra to Sardis in Asia, to offer herself as bride to the Regent, Perdiccas.

What we do know is that shortly after Cleopatra departed Macedon, Kynane followed. With her were her teenage daughter, Adea[2], and an escort of mercenaries raised at her own expense. Antipater, too late to stop Cleopatra, tried to prevent Kynane and Adea leaving the kingdom. He sent troops to bar their passage at the River Strymon (the modern Struma), the ancient border between Macedon and Thrace. She was able to force her way across, and though no details survive it is likely she did so without resort to violence, but by the shear force of her indomitable personality. Being the daughter of the revered Philip carried perhaps even more weight among the old-fashioned Macedonians than being Alexander’s half-sister.

In the summer she approached Sardis, satrapal capital of the Lydian province. (There is reason to suspect that the court may have made its way there after the conclusion of the Pisidian campaign.[3]) There she found her path blocked by Alcetus, brother of Perdiccas; with a force of soldiers. The Regent wanted her stopped and turned back, for he had gotten news of her mission: Which was nothing less than to arrange for her daughter, whose blood was royal on both maternal and paternal sides, to be married to the King; her half-uncle, Philip Arrhidaeus.


This ivory portrait, found in a royal tomb at Vergina, in Macedonia is believed to depict Philip II. It has been argued (most notably by Dr. Eugene N. Borza,  professor emeritus of ancient history at Pennsylvania State University) that it actually may be Philip III Arrhidaeus. As he was said to closely resemble his father, regardless of which Philip (father or son) this depicts it gives us a good idea of what the brother of Alexander the Great might well have looked like when he married Adea-Eurydice.

We don’t know where the confrontation took place; it was somewhere in the vicinity of Ephesus. The willful Kynane, a woman in full at 37, refused to be deterred. Before the armed Macedonian soldiers, she proclaimed her mission, that her daughter be taken to the King, and that this granddaughter of Philip be married to him and be queen of the Macedonians. A vitriolic argument between Kynane and Alcetus followed, with her accusing Alcetus of betraying Philip’s blood. Alcetus, who would show over the next couple of years a arrogant lack of judgment, grew angry and insistent. When the proud Kynane refused to stand down, he killed her[4].

The death of their princess was met with horror and revulsion by Alcetus’ own soldiers. Immediately they surrounded her body and took her daughter into their protective custody. She was taken to Perdiccas, and the court. When word spread to the Royal Army of what had occurred, they rioted, furious at Kynane’s murder. They demanded that her final wishes for her daughter be respected, and the girl Adea be married to King Philip Arrhidaeus.

Perdiccas had no choice, if he wanted to restore his authority over the Macedonians. Alcetas hot-headed foolishness had painted him into a corner. Putting as good a face on it as he could, he arranged for Adea to be immediately married to her uncle, the King. Adea assumed the royal queenly name, Eurydice; and it is by this that she will henceforward be referred.

This was a blow to Perdiccas’ power, prestige, and ultimately a challenge to his authority. Eurydice, who seems to have gotten on well with her new husband, had in mind a very active role as queen. This granddaughter of Philip had the goodwill of the soldiers, the ultimate source of authority; and would very soon begin to exert her influence. An active queen exerting her own and her husband’s independence put Perdiccas’ control in question; which derived from his guardianship of two kings unable to govern on their own: Alexander IV, Roxane’s son, only an infant; and Philip Arrhidaeus being mentally deficient (perhaps autistic). As Regent and Guardian (prostates) he spoke in the king’s name. But now he would face a challenge to this guardianship from a spirited young queen. For as events would show, Eurydice wanted no one but her to speak for her husband!

Upon her marriage to  Philip Arrhidaeus  the courageous Adea-Eurydice exerted her will, refusing to be a mere puppet of the strong-men who were attempting to dominate the Macedonian Empire

In light of this new player on the stage, Perdiccas was forced to reexamine his options.

The status quo, with himself as Regent in Asia while Antipater and Craterus ran affairs in Europe, was inherently unstable and (from Perdiccas’ point of view) an ultimate dead end. First, Craterus with Antipater’s support expected to return to Asia as soon as the rebellious Aeolians were brought to heal. He would come expecting to share the guardianship of King Philip Arrhidaeus (whatever young Eurydice might have to say about the matter). It was for this reason that Antipater had given his daughter Nicaea as bride to Perdiccas: to form a marriage bond between them all. But for Perdiccas this power-sharing proposal had little appeal.

Ultimately time was not on his side. The infant Alexander would, in just 16 years, be a man in his own right. A Regent’s power was on loan, till the king could assume his duties. And with the entry of Queen Eurydice upon the stage, his continuing control of the other-wise pliant Philip Arrhidaeus was in question.

Eumenes once again proposed the alternative solution: The princess Cleopatra was still in Sardis, and still available. If Perdiccas wanted to hold onto power, Cleopatra provided a way. Marry Alexander’s sister and seize the throne; king rather than temporary regent. Back in Babylon, the elaborate funeral cart (catafalque) that would carry Alexander’s body to its final resting place in Egypt was at last finished. Bring it to the court in Anatolia, and with it return to Macedon and bury their fallen hero with magnificent ceremony. It was an ancient rite of succession, that a new Macedonian king buries his predecessor. By this act, and marriage to Cleopatra, Perdiccas would proclaim himself the legitimate king of Macedon.

Though Eumenes’ plan was both alluring and compelling, Perdiccas was unprepared for so drastic a step as repudiating his new wife, the daughter of Antipater, and directly reaching for the crown. Such a move would certainly lead to war against the “Europeans”, Antipater and Craterus. For now, Perdiccas chose to walk a middle road: send presents and letters of felicitation to Cleopatra, wooing her while remaining married to Nicaea.

An unscrupulous solution to a sticky problem; but one that gave Perdiccas’ some breathing room to prepare. If he was going to play the game of thrones, he needed time to clear the game board of potential obstacles.

The first of these was old Antigonas, satrap of Phrygia.


A minor player at this stage, Antigonas was no threat to Perdiccas. But he had disobeyed one command already, when the previous year he’d been ordered to aid Eumenes in attaining Cappadocia. Such disobedience must not go unpunished. War was looming, and in the coming struggle Perdiccas had to be sure of his satraps’ loyalty. Antigonas had been too independent for too long; it was time to remove him from the board. Antigonas was summoned to appear before the Regent in Pisidia[5] and answer for his actions.

The 60 year old Antigonas was no fool. He knew that such a journey would be a “one-way” trip. He let it be known that he was eager to defend himself against all charges, to put Perdiccas off guard. Instead, he fled Celaenae with his closest friends and his teenage son, Demetrius; to the coast, where they boarded Athenian ships. In these he crossed the Aegean, likely to Athens. From there he hastened on to Aetolia, where he found to his old comrade-in-arms from the days they’d both served King Philip, Antipater.

That summer and autumn of 321, Craterus and Antipater campaigned in Aetolia. Diodorus describes Craterus as playing the main role in this. They invaded Aetolia with an army of 30,000 infantry and 2,500 cavalry. Against this strong force the recalcitrant Aetolians could muster only 10,000 men. They made no attempt to meet the Macedonians on level ground, where they would have stood no chance against the superb Macedonian war machine. Instead, like highlanders everywhere and in every age, they sought refuge in the fastness of their mountains; abandoning the undefended towns in the lowlands and garrisoning the strong places. But Craterus had learned a thing-or-two about mountain warfare at the master’s feet. While Antipater with the bulk of the cavalry and a portion of the foot remained in the lowlands, reducing the Aetolian strongholds and occupying their towns; Craterus took the remaining forces and pursued their fighting men into the highlands.

Aetolia 2

The wild and beautiful mountains of Aetolia were the scene of Craterus’ 321 campaign to reduce these last remaining belligerents; after the close of the Lamian War.


Idyllic forest scene in Aetolia, near the ancient meeting-place of the Aetolian League council at Thermo

Diodorus tells us the fighting was fierce, the Aetolians crafty opponents who knew the terrain and used it to their advantage. In the next century, they would become famous for the warlike qualities of their light infantry. But as the snows of early winter set in, they found themselves hemmed in and short of supplies. Craterus’ men refused to withdraw as expected, but instead bivouacked in their mountains, building shelters for themselves. After Afghanistan, the mountains of Aetolia were but a minor inconvenience.

By these tactics Craterus soon had the Aetolians on the ropes. They were on the verge of submitting when Antigonas arrived from Asia. He brought news that startled and enraged his hosts.

battle 2

He told them of Perdiccas overweening ambitions, and he spoke at of length of the murder of Kynane; elaborating (and no doubt exaggerating) the horrid details. All this may have angered Antipater and Craterus. But then he produced letters from his friend Menander, satrap of Lydia. In the Lydian capital of Sardis, Menander was well-placed to observe the Regent’s intrigues with Cleopatra; and he had provided Antigonas with the proofs he needed. This included compelling evidence that Perdiccas had sent gifts to Cleopatra; of his plans to repudiate his wife, Nicaea; to marry Cleopatra, and then come to Macedon and claim the throne.

This startling information tipped the scales, and the generals agreed to end the war in Aetolia on the best terms possible (while swearing to return at a future date and finish what they had started; namely reducing the Aetolians to submission, and then deporting them in mass to a far-off exile somewhere in Asia). They would move the army with all dispatch against Perdiccas, upon whom they now declared war.

They also reached out to Ptolemy in Egypt. Antipater had been corresponding with the Son of Lagos for some time; and had offered him another daughter in marriage. Now it was time for Ptolemy, who had never been happy with Perdiccas in charge, to join the game.


That year, 321, a civil war broke out in neighboring Cyrene. Cyrene was a Greek colony west of Egypt, its eponymous capital city located on the coast between modern Benghazi and Tobruk. Ptolemy was invited to intervene by the oligarch faction. He sent his general, Ophellas, to do so; and came himself by ship in the end to accept the city’s surrender. This independent ally of the empire was annexed to Ptolemy’s satrapy, in the late summer or early autumn of 322 or early in 321; without official sanction from Perdiccas and the central government.

Diadachi 322-320 b

It was a move Perdiccas could not have approved of; and the Regent no doubt monitored Ptolemy’s activities with suspicion. He had left Cleomenes of Naucratis in Egypt to control Egypt’s finances, and to act as his “eyes” in Egypt. But that year, 321, Ptolemy had arrested and executed Cleomenes on corruption charges. This cannot have pleased Perdiccas; especially as Ptolemy then took charge of the treasury and began hiring mercenaries to augment the garrison left in Egypt by Alexander. It is likely Perdiccas was also informed of Antipater’s marriage offer, and though this might have drawn the two men closer had Perdiccas remained loyal to Nicaea; now with his plans to repudiate her it put them at odds.

Ptolemy would need to be dealt with, no doubt; like Antigonas he had been allowed to grow too independent and too powerful. Like a weed, he needed to be pulled. However, first things first: of far more immediate importance was to bring the body of Alexander to Macedon, and take the throne. To this end he sent orders to his custodian of Alexander’s body in Babylon, an officer named Arrhidaeus (not the king); to escort the catafalque to the court in Anatolia.

The catafalque that was to bear Alexander’s body had taken two years to finish. It was beautifully designed, sculptured and decorated with gold and precious jewels. It was said to surpass in magnificence anything of its kind previously known in history or legend. It would need to carry the king’s body nearly 2000 miles from Babylon to its proposed final resting place at Aigai (modern Vergina) in Macedon. It would be pulled by a team of 64 matching mules, and accompanied not only by an armed escort (led by Arrhidaeus) but by a troop of road workers and engineers, to smooth the way and ensure its progress.


Alexander’s magnificent funeral cart (catafalque) took two years to construct. It was covered with gold and precious gems. Within was Alexander’s body, carefully preserved by the best efforts of the day.

The procession set off from Babylon in early September 321, following the worst of the Mesopotamian summer heat. However, it never made it any closer to Perdiccas in Anatolia than the city of Damascus. There it was met by Ptolemy and a small army.

It appears that the Regent’s authority over his officers was beginning to crumble. Arrhidaeus colluded with Ptolemy, and delivered the catafalque to the satrap of Egypt.

Why did he do so?

It is possible that he did so out of loyalty to Alexander’s own wishes; to be buried at Siwa, regardless of Perdiccas’ desires to the contrary. It could be that he merely accepted a bribe from Ptolemy, or had some grudge against the Regent. We will never know one-way-or-another. Certainly he was taking a great risk; for in 321 Perdiccas stood tall upon the world stage, and to go over to Ptolemy was both an act of rebellion and one likely to end in death or exile.

For Ptolemy, by this act, had thrown down the gauntlet. Looked at without modern hindsight, this must have been seen as unlikely to succeed as had Antigonas’ disobedience; and likely to end in the same result. But the die was cast, and his lot was thrown in with Antipater and Craterus, against Perdiccas’ plan to seize the royal diadem.

At Damascus, Ptolemy seized the body of Alexander and returned with it to Egypt. Along the way his forces skirmished with a small force sent by Perdiccas to escort the catafalque; but which had arrived in Damascus too late (and too small) to prevent the abduction. Once in Egypt, Ptolemy temporarily interred the body of his old friend, king, and possibly half-brother (see Part One) at Memphis, the capital of the satrapy. In time, he would move it to the new city of Alexandria and an elaborate tomb, now under construction.

In Greece, Antipater and Craterus were on the march to the Hellespont; while Antigonas was preparing to take ship for Caria, to open another front in the war. Perdiccas was waiting for Spring in Cilicia, to march on Ptolemy. And Ptolemy was hiring mercenaries in anticipation of defying the Regent’s power.

The First War of the Diadochi had begun.


[1] Athenaeus names Phila of Elimeia as Philip’s second wife. However, Elis argues that this marriage predated Philip’s ascension to the throne; likely in 360 BC. See Elis, J.R.: Philip II and Macedonian Imperialism; Thames and Hudson, 1976; Ch. II, P.46

[2] We don’t know Adea’s age in 321; but she cannot have been born later than 335, as her father was executed on Alexander’s orders in 336. The sources say only that she was of “marriageable age” in 321. If we assume her mother Kynane was married at 18 to Amyntas, and Adea was born the following year (339?), then Adea would be 17-18 in that fateful year, 321.

[3] The sources are mute at to where Perdiccas, the Royal Army and the court (including the two Kings) were in the summer/early autumn of 321. We know there was much intrigue concerning Eumenes, Cleopatra, and Perdiccas at this time; including presents given by the Regent to Cleopatra. While the easiest answer is that Perdiccas remained in Pisidia during this time, it is reasonable to suppose that he moved to Sardis, where the “action” was.

[4] Alcetus may have ordered her executed by his soldiers, but it is likely he killed her with his own hands. The sources say she was killed by Alcetus, but in what manner it is unclear. It is easy to imagine Alcetus losing his temper and cutting down the proud, stubborn princess himself. The shocked and angry response of his own soldiers to her killing would seem to point in this direction; as if they had done it themselves, even on his orders, it would be hard to understand their shock at the deed.

[5] Assuming the court was in Pisidia, and hadn’t moved to Sardis. See note [3] above.

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olympias(This is the fifth in a series concerning the Wars of the Diadachi. Part 1 can be read here, and includes comprehensive biographies of the players in this drama. It is strongly advised that you start there before reading on here. Stay tuned to this blog for future installments! Special thanks to Michael Park for his indispensable help in filling in the gaps in the sources and putting-up with my incessant questions!)


With the Lamian War (and the revolt of the Greek settlers in Bactria) crushed, and the Greeks once more reduced to submission, any external threat to the Macedonian Empire was gone. No new existential threat to Macedon and Macedonian supremacy would arise till the coming of the Celts, 41 years later. Now the leaders could turn all of their attention to the matter of who would rule the Empire bequeathed to them at the death of Alexander.

322 ended in Greece with Antipater and Craterus busy pacifying the city-states; establishing client oligarchies and, as in Munychia overlooking the port of Athens, garrisons. Key Macedonian garrisons seem to have been at Athens, Chalcis (across a narrow strait, on the island of Euboea); Corinth, whose broad and lofty mountain-top acropolis, the Acrocorinth was perhaps the strongest fortress in Greece and the key to passage in-and-out of the Peloponnese; and the Cadmeia of Thebes.



Two views of the impregnable Acrocorinth: Looming above the ruins of Corinth (top), and approaching the northwestern battlements. Nature and man combined to make this the strongest fortress in Greece.

This latter needs explanation, as Thebes was destroyed by Alexander in 335. However, the citadel, known as the Cadmeia, appears to have been restored and garrisoned as a Macedonian fortress; to keep Boeotia and central Greece under their thumb.

Only Sparta, isolated and isolationist in the south; and Aetolia in the mountainous west remained free of Macedonian dominance. Antipater and Craterus (now acting as first-and-second in command of Macedonian forces in Europe) planned a campaign in the west to reduce Aetolia that year (321).

At this stage in the game, both men had relatively good relations with the Regent, Perdiccas, in Asia; and there was yet no hint of the trouble to come. As a sign of both good faith and acceptance of the Regent as spokesman for the Kings, Antipater had deferred to Perdiccas’ judgment the settlement of the Samian issue; important to Athens, now governed by Antipater’s men. Antipater would soon make moves to tie his house  closer to the Regent; as well as the other great men of the empire. Perdiccas, perhaps as early as autumn of 323, insecure in his position and looking to shore it up with a marriage alliance had negotiated with Antipater for his daughter Nicaea’s hand. While still pending, it was likely the two houses would be united in marriage; making war between them unlikely.

Craterus’ position vis-à-vis the Regent was more ambiguous. At Babylon he had been named Guardian (“prostates”) of Philip Arrhidaeus kingship. This would seem to imply regency for the king, and in the past this term had been used nearly synonymously with “regency”. This ambiguity in their respective roles and duties was perhaps deliberate: at the time of the Babylonian Settlement (see Part 2), Perdiccas was not yet secure enough in his authority to alienate Craterus; who some argued was the man Alexander had actually named as his regent (see Part 1). With Craterus waiting in Cilicia with an army of his own, it behooved Perdiccas to placate him with a position seemingly on a par with his own. In theory, they were joint regents for the kings.

But now, eighteen months later, Craterus was in Europe, reduced to Antipater’s subordinate; while Perdiccas had solidified his power and position with a successful campaign in Cappadocia (see below). [1] With the king(s) in Perdiccas custody, he had to assert himself if he wished to gain a measure of the authority that should have been his. Craterus needed Antipater’s help.

Returning to Macedon for the winter of 322-321, the two men cemented their relationship with a marriage alliance. Craterus now married Phila, Antipater’s second (and very wise) daughter. Together, now one family, they hoped to reach a peaceful accommodation with Perdiccas; through yet another marriage alliance.

1347454070_Ancient-Pella Pella 2 Pella view

Views of the ruins of Pella, capital of the Macedonian kingdom. Located on the central plain of Macedon, Pella was a thriving city and seaport into the 2nd century BC; after which it declined as Thessaloniki, capital of the new Roman province, grew in importance. It was here that Craterus married Antipater’s daughter, Phila, in the winter of 322-321 BC; cementing their alliance.

That winter, Antipater agreed to Perdiccas earlier request for the hand of Nicaea; uniting him through marriage to himself and (indirectly) Craterus. Antipater hoped in this way that peace would be kept, that he would remain in power in Europe, and that Perdiccas would come to an accommodation with Craterus in Asia. Just in case this failed, however, the wily old player also made overtures towards Ptolemy, offering him his youngest daughter, Eurydice.

But the if push came to shove (as it ultimately would), Antipater and Craterus were in no weak position. They had a strong and victorious army at their disposal; as well as the Macedonian fleet (some 200-250 keels) that now controlled the Aegean, under the command of their admiral, Cleitus the White, victor of Amorgos.[2]  They had the Macedonian homeland and Thessaly at their disposal, from which to recruit first-class infantry and horse (though Macedon was beginning to show signs of the coming exhaustion of manpower that was to be acutely felt in the next century). And, perhaps most importantly in the internal struggle to come, both men were highly esteemed by the rank-and-file Macedonian solders; ultimate arbiters of all power in the empire. No leader, in fact, was more respected than Antipater; and none more beloved among the Macedonians than Craterus.

But war was the last resort in order to secure their rightful place in the empire. First Antipater hoped this web of marriage alliances to his house would guarantee the peace. However, two arch-schemers were at work to upset this arrangement: Olympias and Eumenes. Both had a vested interest in thwarting Antipater’s plan; and had a move of their own to make upon the game board.


While the Lamian War raged in Greece events did not stand still in the rest of the empire. As we have already discussed, in the Upper Satrapies a rising by the Greek settlers left there by Alexander had been crushed on Perdiccas’ order by Peithon, satrap of Media. Peithon then returned to Babylon, where he would serve as the Regent’s (ambitious and not all-together happy) subordinate.

In Egypt, another leader beloved by the Macedonians had consolidating his position.

Ptolemy had secured Egypt as his province at the Babylonian Settlement. Upon arriving there he took charge from Cleomenes of Naucratis, the former satrap; appointed by Alexander and tasked with building Alexandria-in-Egypt, at the mouth of the Nile. Perdiccas left Cleomenes in place as Ptolemy’s subordinate, in charge of finances and likely charged by Perdiccas with keeping an eye on Ptolemy. By fair dealing with the natives and subordinates, Ptolemy made himself well-liked in his province; and was beginning to attract to himself a force of Macedonians and Greek mercenaries.

In Asia Minor (Anatolia) Antigonas sat in Phrygia, the satrapy he’d held since Alexander had conquered the land in 333. One of the oldest of the senior Macedonian leaders, he had watched as the tide of events passed by. First while Alexander conquered the east, his province had been a crossroads. At his satrapal palace at Celaenae, the old soldier (and the handsome lad that was his young son, Demetrius) had entertained men and detachments going from Macedon to the King’s far-off ; or disabled men returning home, bearing fantastic tales of mighty deeds, strange lands and even stranger animals. Now the great king was dead, and Antigonas had watched as first Leonnatus and then Craterus had passed through on their way to Greece, taking leading parts in the great events of the day. Antigonas watched, and contemplated his own place in this new world of opportunities opening before them all. We can only guess but that he looked at those “great men” in the center of the stage; and thought himself no less capable then the best of them.

Celaenae today

Western Anatolian plain near Dinar, Turkey; site of ancient Celaenae, capital of Antigonas’ satrapy 


Dinar, Turkey, site of ancient Celaenae. Once a crossroads town for travel from the Aegean coast to the Anatolian highlands, Celaenae was made the satrapal seat by Alexander of his province of Phrygia. Here his chosen satrap, Antigonas “One Eyed” sat out Alexander’s wars, keeping this vital communications hub open.

At this point Antigonas was a minor player, at best a mere knight on the chess board. But like the knight, he was tricky and capable of sudden and unexpected attack. Antigonas waited; utilizing that great gift that comes to some men over time and age: patience.

But now, at the end of 322, Antigonas at Celaenae was nervous. He had disobeyed the Regent in the matter of aiding Eumenes to capture Cappadocia; an order likely impossible with the slender means available to him at the time (his satrapal army, if army it could be called, numbered no more than a few thousand mercenary horse and foot), and considering that the Cappadocian king, Ariarathes, had an army numbering perhaps 30,000 strong. But Perdiccas was not one to countenance disobedience lightly; and Antigonashad reason to be nervous.

For the Regent had come north from Babylon, and was now on his doorstep.

Diadachi 322-320 a

In the summer of 322, while Craterus was crossing into Europe to come to Antipater’s aid, Perdiccas with the two kings, the court and the royal army marched north against Cappadocia. Here Ariarathes had maintained independence for some years, building up an army of some 30,000. With Perdiccas was Eumenes, the designated satrap of the province (yet to be conquered). Eumenes had returned to the court bearing news of Leonnatus’ plans to seize the Macedonian throne, in the spring of 322 (riding some 2,300 kilometers to do so, a notable feat). Of course, by the time the royal army arrived in Cappadocia, Leonnatus had perished in battle in southern Thessaly. But by this act of loyalty Eumenes had earned a place in Perdiccas’ inner circle of advisors (synhedrion philoi). Perdiccas was rewarding him now by conquering his satrapy for him (as well as removing a strong and independent threat in the heart of Anatolia).

Cappadocian Campaign remains. We know only that he defeated Ariarathes in two battles. Numbers on both sides would have been largely comparable. The Cappadocians had excellent and numerous very heavily armored cavalry, and would provide Eumenes some 6,000 of these a year later. Likely the imperial war elephants Perdiccas brought with him were able to counter these, and along with the incomparable Macedonian phalanx gave victory to the Macedonians.

Cappadocian cavalryThe Cappadocian nobility and their retainers fought as very heavily armored cavalry

This campaign saw out the summer of 322. Ariarathes was defeated and captured; and subsequently executed by Perdiccas. (Accounts of his death differ, stating alternately that the Cappadocian pretender was put to death by either hanging or by being burned at the stake. Neither of these methods were traditional Macedonian means of execution. Judged along with the use of elephants to execute the rabble rousers among the infantry at Babylon in 323, we see a creeping of eastern cruelty into even this earliest of Macedonian Successors.)

In the autumn 322, Perdiccas and the court moved to Cilicia, where he ousted the governor, a partisan of Craterus; while Eumenes remained in Cappadocia, arranging his province. There they sat out the winter of 322-321.


321 began with Perdiccas firmly in control of events, the reins of power tightly in his grip. He had proved himself in the Cappadocian campaign as a capable commander; always the first requisite for one wishing to establish himself as more than merely Primus inter pares in Alexander’s Empire, where skilled and ambitious generals abounded. In Macedon, his chief rival Craterus was reduced to a mere client of the House of Antipater, with no clear place of his own in the current political landscape.

Perdiccas spent the spring and summer of 321 sorting out the recalcitrant hill tribes of Psidia; a hard-fought campaign of storming hill-forts and chasing brigands through the mountains. These hillmen were, like their kind across the world, expert light infantry. Adept with javelin and sling, they were past-master at ambush and hit-and-run tactics. Every hilltop had its own tribal fortress; and some were quite large towns, protected by nature by in their inaccessibleness. Alexander’s former Bodyguard and governor of Cilicia, Balacrus had been slain trying to subdue them just a few years prior. Now they fought Perdiccas with desperate courage. At one of their strongholds, Isaura, the Isaurians fired their own town rather than surrender to the Macedonians; choosing death in the flames to submission.

Pisidian hillman

The tough hill tribesmen of Cilicia, Lycia and Pisidia defied conquerors and provided light infantry mercenaries (and acted as pirates) in the eastern Mediterranean for centuries. (Image by Christos Giannopoulos)

While so engaged during the summer of 321, a delegation arrived at the royal court from Europe. It was led by Iollus, Antipater’s son and Alexander’s former royal Cup-Bearer. He came with his sister Nicaea in tow, and presented to Perdiccas his betrothed.

At this point the pieces were lined up quite to Antipater’s liking.

Then Olympias made her move.

The previous year she had seemed on the verge of “queening” her pawn (though Leonnatus would never have acknowledged or likely even understood that he was Olympias pawn in her game against Antipater). But Leonnatus expedition into Thessaly had backfired on the old Basilissa. He’d thrown his life away in battle, with (from Olympias’ view-point) the unfortunate side-effect of freeing Antipater from his confinement in Lamia. It had been a bitter series of events for Olympias; her play thwarted and the “Old Rope”[3] once again on top.

Never one to give up a fight, Olympias sat in Epirus and plotted her next play. Now it had come; and once again it involved her daughter, Cleopatra.

This most-eligible of royal widows now arrived in Sardis. With Eumenes, long friend and now confederate of Olympias acting as intermediary, Cleopatra was offered to Perdiccas as an alternative bride.

1 OlympiasMacedonian beauty, thought to be Olympias. Cleopatra in 321 could well have looked like this.

An embarrassment of riches for Perdiccas, it would seem. In truth, it posed a dangerous and tempting choice. Go through with his marriage to Antipater’s daughter, and there would likely be peace in the empire. His European flank would be secure with Antipater as his father-in-law (and Craterus, his greatest potential rival for power, as brother-in-law by marriage). Yet Cleopatra offered something else: royal legitimacy. The same promise she’d held out to the late Leonnatus: her husband would have a strong claim on the Argead throne of Macedon.

Being Regent and Protector of the Kings gave Perdiccas royal power in all but name. But such power was inherently temporary. Even if Philip Arrhidaeus would forever need someone guiding him, soon enough Alexander and Roxane’s son would grow to manhood. As his parent’s son, he was sure to be both strong-minded and likely hot-tempered; and would demand his royal prerogatives. Perdiccas would be lucky to be allowed to retire to a quite obscurity. In Macedon’ bloody history few had given up power without losing their lives.

So his choices were clear: Marry Nicaea and maintain the peace, though at best only a temporary hold on power. Or marry Cleopatra, and claim the kingship himself. This would certainly lead to war against Antipater, who would be mortally insulted at the rejection of his daughter; and against many other Macedonian leaders across the empire, who would turn against him either out of loyal to the current “Kings” or simple jealousy of Perdiccas.

Perdiccas’ advisors were divided. His younger brother, Alcetus, argued for Nicaea and keeping the peace. Eumenes, who was friend to both Olympias and Cleopatra made the case for a royal bride. Why Eumenes pushed for a course that would lead to civil war is understandable on personal terms. As a partisan of Olympias, he inherited her grudge against the House of Antipater. He also had his own, more personal reasons to stand against the Antipatrids: One of the many tyrants and oligarchs maintained in power among the Greek cities by Antipater’s patronage was Hecataeus, the ruler of Eumenes own home city, Cardia.

A personal enemy of Eumenes, Hecataeus was safe so long as Antipater ran affairs in Europe. To bring his enemy down and restore liberty to Cardia, Antipater must be brought down as well. We will never know how strongly such personal motives played into Eumenes counseling Perdiccas to marry Cleopatra; but it is possible that in aiding Olympias in her schemes he secretly harbored his own, very personal agenda.

Perdiccas was sorely tempted by Cleopatra’s offer, but he was not prepared as of yet to make so bold a move. For now, he maintained the peace, and married Nicaea. However, he sent Eumenes to reassure Cleopatra (and through her Olympias) that this was only a temporary expedient; and that he would soon repudiate her in favor of the princess.

At about this same time, an unexpected threat to Perdiccas’ authority appeared from Macedon. Another royal princess, another daughter of old king Philip; a new player in the game arrived in Asia. She was Kynane, Alexander’s elder half-sister. She brought with her a teenage daughter, Adea, whose grandfather on both her maternal and paternal sides had been kings of Macedon. And she came demanding a royal match for this twice-royal princess!



[1] Errington argues that Craterus’ move from Cilicia into Macedon in summer 322 was in part due to his deteriorating political power in Asia, vis-à-vis the Regent. That Craterus waited deliberately in Cilicia with his veterans, through 323, an implied threat to Perdiccas and the leaders in Babylon; watching how the settlement fell out. That it was Perdiccas’ leading the royal army north towards Cappadocia (and Cilicia),  that impelled Craterus to throw in his lot with Antipater in Europe; putting distance between himself and Perdiccas.  (R. M. Errington, The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 90 (1970), pp. 49-77)

[2] Cleitus had been an officer under Craterus’ command since the return from India. His assignment to command the fleet and its dispatch to the Aegean in the summer of 322 may be attributed to Craterus; and Cleitus’ defeat of the Athenian fleet and clearing of the Hellespont at Abydos opened the way to Craterus to cross into Europe. In this we can perhaps see Craterus’ clear strategic vision and grasp of the operational art. He had been Alexander’s chief subordinate for a reason, and was a general to be reckoned with.

[3] The derogatory term used by Olympias and her partisans for Antipater. The meaning is likely that he (Antipater) had long kept Olympia from doing  as she saw fit; binding her actions like an (old) rope. But this is just speculative.

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2a8nuc5(This is the fourth in a series concerning the Wars of the Diadachi. Part 1 can be read here, and includes comprehensive biographies of the players in this drama. It is strongly advised that you start there before reading on here. Stay tuned to this blog for future installments!)


The winter of 323-322 BC passed, with Antipater the Regent bottled-up in Lamia; besieged by a Hellenic League army commanded by Leosthenes the Athenian. His agents in Macedon were raising mercenaries for the coming campaign season. Meanwhile, across the Hellespont, the ambitious Leonnatus was planning to march as soon as weather permitted; to Antipater’s rescue and, he hoped, to military glory. Further east, in Cilicia (or perhaps a bit closer, in Phrygia*) the popular Craterus was also planning a spring march back to Macedon. He had started home from Babylon, with 10,000 discharged veterans, before Alexander’s death. Aside from leading these veterans home, his personal mission to Macedon had been to relieve Antipater of his command and take over the governorship of Macedon. However, the king’s death and the rising of the Greeks had thrown such plans into question. Always the selfless soldier, he was prepared to return and serve Macedon (and Antipater) in whatever capacity was needed.

In the east, the Greek settlers left by Alexander in the Upper Satrapies were also in revolt. It had been his policy to found settlements of aging veterans and Greek mercenaries throughout the east, as Hellenizing agents. Settling these Greek mercenaries in the east might also have been Alexander’s attempt to solve the issue of a surplus of Greek soldiers which had been a constant source of problems in the Greek world since the end of the Peloponnesian War. If so, it went counter to the interests of the professional class of mercenary captains (such as Leosthenes) whose living was dependent on the easy availability of such men. But Macedonian leadership was never popular among the Greeks, and such captains were able to play upon their simmering resentment.

It showed its head as early as Alexander’s Indian campaign; when false rumors spread of his death upon the Indus. At that time some 3,000 revolted, led first by Athenodorus and then by Biton, and marched all the way home to Greece. Now in 323 a more widespread rising occurred, throughout the Upper Satrapies. Reminiscent of Xenophon and the 10,000 eighty years earlier, they were preparing to attempt a “march to the sea”, and return home to Greece. According to Diodorus, they numbered 20,000 foot and 3,000 horse; and elected Philon, an Aenian, as their commander.

Was this eastern rebellion timed to coincide with, and perhaps be part of the general Greek rising known as the Lamian War? We have no way of knowing from this distance, but this possibility needs to be considered; as does the composition and numbers given in the sources.

Starting with the last of these, the numbers given[1] for these Greek rebels in the Upper Satrapies seems high, particularly in cavalry. 20,000 Greek foot is twice the number of hoplites that Athens, the largest city in Greece throughout the 5th century (its “Golden Age”), could field. Alexander had a total of 16,400 mercenary infantry and 2,600 mercenary cavalry with him in Bactria in the winter 329-328 BC[2]; and even if he had left all of them behind as garrisons (unlikely), the total falls short of the number given for the rebels. They may have been reinforced by locals. But if it was a purely Greek movement, bent on returning home, this cannot have been the case. However, if this was part of a general anti-Macedonian conspiracy (linked to Leosthenes’ actions in Greece), perhaps resentful Bactrians were induced to join the Greek settlers against their new Macedonian rulers.

Eastern Empire

The eastern territories of Alexander’s Empire; showing the Upper Satrapies

Peithon the Bodyguard, appointed Satrap of Media at the Babylon partition that summer (see Part 2), was given orders by Perdiccas to crush this dangerous rebellion. He took with him 3,800 Macedonians (almost certainly phalangites), with authorization from Perdiccas to raise an army from the Macedonian satraps of the east. He did so, mustering a further 10,000 foot and 8,000 horse. The bulk of these were Iranians, the cavalry including men who’d served Alexander on the Indus.

Like most of the Macedonian leaders, Peithon had plans for his own aggrandizement. He hoped to create a fief of his own out of the sprawling Upper Satrapies. As a Bodyguard and Satrap of the large and strategically placed province of Media, he had more auctoritas than any of the other Eastern governors. To make his scheme work in the long run, he needed a large number of European (Macedonian or Greek) heavy infantry loyal to himself. To this end, he entered negotiations with the rebels.

He succeeded in detaching one of the rebel leaders, named Letodorus. When the clash of arms was imminent, this captain led his 3,000 man detachment over to Peithon’s forces. Already intimidated by the vast cavalry force arrayed against them, this sudden desertion caused the collapse of the rebel army, which surrendered on terms. Peithon promised them their lives and property if they laid down their arms. No doubt, this clemency was meant as a first step to recruiting them to his own service. However, Perdiccas had ordered the rebels to be destroyed; and to incentivize them, had promised the Macedonians he’d lent to Peithon their property as booty. The Macedonian soldiers, Peithon helpless to stop them, now took matters into their own hands and massacred the prisoners.

killing merceneries
Macedonians murder captured Greek mercenary

This was both an incalculable blow to Peithon’s ambitions and to the general cause of Hellenism in the east. We don’t know what became of Letodorus’ detachment, but they may have been the only survivors of the Greek army in the east. They may have taken service with Peithon as garrison troops in Media; or returned to their erstwhile homes in Bactria. Peithon himself returned to Perdiccas in Babylon, temporarily chastened. His relation with his fellow eastern satraps was damaged by this incident, and from this point forward they looked upon him with suspicion.


As spring 322 approached, the Greek cause was further, perhaps mortally, wounded by the death of their commander. Leosthenes, who with Hyperides had been the leader of the rising against Macedon, had bottled up Antipater in Lamia the previous autumn. He had refused Antipater’s offer of terms, demanding unconditional surrender. Perhaps unaware that  Peithon had defeated the Bactrian rebels, he was expecting a larger rising across the Macedonian Empire to spread. Then he was killed before the siege works at Lamia, repulsing a sally. His replacement, Antiphilus the Athenians, was competent but did not have the authority to make the ad hoc coalition of mercenaries and city-state contingents work well together. From then on, the Greek cause lost the initiative.

With spring coming the way was clear for reinforcements to move to Antipater’s aid.

Across the Hellespont, Leonnatus prepared to cross into Europe. His aim was two-fold: to defeat the Greeks and win a name for himself as a successful commander; and to wed Alexander’s widowed sister, the princess Cleopatra.

Throughout the winter, negotiations had gone on between Cleopatra in Macedon and her scheming mother, Olympias, still in Epirus, on the one hand; and Leonnatus in Hellespontine Phrygia on the other. He was their first choice for husband/consort for the princess; and with her at his side (and a military victory under his belt) he could claim the Macedonian throne. That throne was now held in name by absentee kings; Alexander’s mentally-defective (perhaps autistic) older half-brother, Philip Arrhidaeus, and Alexander’s infant son by his “barbarian” wife, Roxane. As these were both in Babylon, in the custody of Perdiccas, the schemers were hoping that the famously provincial Macedonians in Europe would reject these two in favor of a true Macedonian prince and princess of the royal house.

Alexander - Leonnatus

Two busts of Alexander. The one on the right is a copy of one carved by Lysippus; which the conqueror sat for. It is thought to be the best likeness of Alexander, in the last years of his life. The bust on the left, carved later, bears many of Alexander’s characteristics, but is not a good likeness. Leonnatus, a kinsmen of Alexander’s, bore a resemblance and accentuated it by wearing his hair long and consciously aping Alexander’s mannerism.  The man on the left looks unpleasant, arrogant and harsh. Could this actually be Leonnatus?

Leonnatus had come from Babylon with Eumenes, who’d been appointed as satrap of Cappadocia, with a mandate to subdue that independent satrapy-turned-kingdom. But he was given no army to do so, only orders from Perdiccas to Leonnatus and  Antigonas, in Greater Phrygia, to lend him assistance in this endeavor. However, help was forthcoming from neither.

Antigonus, perhaps keeping an eye on events in Greece, chose to stay where he was and see how events played out. In any case, his forces were few, likely less than a few thousand mercenaries; insufficient to the task. By contrast, Ariarathes, the Persian noble who had proclaimed himself as king of Cappadocia, had raised an army of some 30,000 (at least some of which were Greek mercenaries), and could rely on the superb heavy cavalry provided by the Cappadocian nobility and their feudal retainers.

In any case, the events in Greece now rendered Perdiccas’ orders obsolete. Subduing Cappadocia must take a back-seat to restoring the situation in Greece. Besides, Leonnatus had larger ambitions. He now tried to enlist Eumenes in his plans for taking the Macedonian throne.

A long-time friend and servant of the Macedonian Royal House, Eumenes had entered Philip’s service as a young secretary, and continued in this capacity under Alexander. He also maintained a long-time friendship and loyalty to Olympias. Perhaps Olympias (or Cleopatra) had advised Leonnatus that he was a likely ally. However, if this was his expectation than Leonnatus was to be disappointed. While loyal to the royal house, Eumenes’ new patron was the Chiliarch Perdiccas; and his loyalty now extended to Alexander’s infant son (and perhaps Philip Arrhidaeus as well). He was taken aback by Leonnatus’ ambitious scheme to seize the throne, and perhaps tried to talk him out of it. In any case, he was a Greek, and felt that “as a foreigner had no business to meddle in the differences between Macedonians”;[3] and could offer Leonnatus no help.

Afraid that his plans would be revealed prematurely to either Antipater or Perdiccas, Leonnatus now tried to murder Eumenes; the details of which are  lost. But in this he failed, and the Greek escaped.

Leonnatus now crossed into Europe, and marching through southern Thrace (gathering troops along the way) he came to Macedon. We don’t know what forces he brought from Asia, but he soon was prepared to move to Antipater’s relief with an army of 20,000 (though only 1,500 horse). That he didn’t wait for Craterus, who was also marching to Macedon and at most two months behind him, can be interpreted as evidence that he wished to keep the laurels of victory to himself, and not share them with a colleague. Or, alternately, it may simply have been that Antipater’s besieged forces in Lamia were in dire straights. Food supplies had to be running low after a long winter’s confinement; and time may well have been of the essence. On this subject, the sources are silent.

At Pella, the Macedonian capital, he likely met with Cleopatra, his intended. They had grown-up together, but hadn’t seen each other since her wedding to her uncle, Alexander of Epirus in 336 BC. Then she had been but a girl of 20 (and he about the same age). Now she was a 35 year old widowed queen, and though we have no idea if she took after her mother (as had Alexander) and was a beauty, or instead resembled her father; she was perhaps (based upon the status she would convey upon any man she married) the most desirable woman in the empire. It is not unlikely that they renewed their friendship and confirmed their coming alliance before he moved south with his army.

Through the Vale of Tempe, the gateway into Greece, and on into Thessaly Leonnatus marched toward Lamia and a fateful engagement with the Greeks. For Antiphilus, commanding the Greek coalition, his approach placed the Greeks on the horns of a dilemma.

The besieging forces numbered some 22,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry, most of the latter being the excellent Thessalian horsemen under Menon of Pharsalus. With a clear numeric and (most importantly) cavalry advantage, it would behoove them to meet Leonnatus on an open plain. However, the area immediately north of Lamia was mountainous. To maintain the blockade and give battle north of the city at the same time, would mean engaging Leonnatus in the hills that ringed the town to the north. This would not only mean meeting the excellent Macedonian infantry in broken terrain unsuitable to cavalry; it risked being attacked in their rear by Antipater’s forces, sallying from the city. The old Regent had a considerable force within; and though we don’t know how many of his original 13,000 remained, even a few thousand sallying forth at the wrong moment could turn the tide of a desperate battle.

This left Antiphilus with only two other options: retreat south, perhaps offering battle on the plain of Trachis; or to march hurriedly north, through the passes of the Orthys Mountains and meet Leonnatus on the plains of southern Thessaly. However, either of these options would mean either lifting the siege of Lamia entirely; or leave a skeleton force to try and hold Antipater within.

Thessalian Cavalryman

Thessalian cavalrymen, from tomb found in Thessaly. His equipment was little different than that of the Macedonian Companion cavalry; and were second only to these in prestige and ability in the Macedonian army. During the Lamian War, with the Companions in the east, they gave the Greek forces a cavalry edge that was never completely overcome.

We can deduce from what followed that Antiphilus (following the advice of a council of leaders) chose this latter course. Leaving as many men as could safely be left around Lamia without sacrificing numerical advantage in the coming battle, the Greeks crossed the mountains and deployed on the edge of the Thessalian plains. There, they met Leonnatus and the relieving army from Macedon.

We have virtually no details of the ensuing battle. Not even its name survives. But once again, the Thessalian cavalry under Menon of Pharsalus carried the day. Leonnatus’ force was defeated on its flank(s), and Leonnatus himself slain in the fighting. It was a second disaster for Macedonian arms.

However, the force left to leaguer Antipater in Lamia was insufficient to keep the old fox contained. Using his opportunity, Antipater broke out. He marched with those forces that remained to him north, with the intent of intervening in the battle. He was too late to save Leonnatus, but he arrived in time to take command of the survivors and unite these forces with his own. Unwilling to continue what may have been a difficult fight with the united Macedonian forces, Antiphilus allowed the Macedonians to retreat north, back to Macedon.

The death of Leonnatus must have come as a severe blow to Olympias and Cleopatra. Once more, fate had taken a hand in overturning the chessboard just as they seemed ready to checkmate their old adversary, the Regent. It must have been particularly sad and disheartening for Cleopatra to watch old Antipater (with his detested son, Cassander, at his side) ride back into Pella at the head of the returning army; instead of her now dead betrothed.

For Antipater the matter could not have concluded any better. Informed of the intrigues that had gone on between Leonnatus and Cleopatra (and Olympias), he was doubtless glad Leonnatus was out of the game and his troops now at his (Antipater’s) disposal.

Lamian War_Map


These events likely occurred in the late spring or early summer of 322. For the Greeks, this was the high-water mark of their war of liberation. For the rest of that summer, one event after another went against them. Though having enjoyed some successes, the Greek cause was showing signs of trouble.

The Hellenic League should have been able to raise 40,000 men, as well as a considerable fleet. But it never succeeded in raising more than half that many. Aetolia and Athens were largely left to bear the brunt of the effort alone.

While moving to oppose Leonnatus in Thessaly, Athens dispatched its fleet (200 triremes and 40 of the larger quadremes) under the Athenian admiral, Euetion, to close the Hellespont and prevent further Macedonian forces from crossing from Asia. They won over Abydos, and were in place to prevent Craterus from joining Antipater in Macedon. However, Antipater had 110 ships of his own, and these were reinforced by a part of Alexander’s imperial fleet under Cleitus the White. These reinforcement included pentērēs/quinqueremes, the largest galley available at the time (though from this time forward larger-and-larger ships would appear in the naval battles of the Successors). The Macedonian fleet entered the Hellespont, and at Abydos Cleitus defeated the Athenians. No details survive; but it is likely that the larger Macedonian pentērēs made the difference.


The pentērēs (more commonly referred to as the Quinquereme, the Roman name) was a bireme (two oars to a bank) in which 3 rowers pulled on sweep; and two rowers the other. It was the workhorse battleship of the Successor and later Roman and Carthaginian fleets; replacing the trireme as the main warship of the ancient world from the late 4th century till the Battle of Actium, in 31 BC 

The way was opened for Craterus to cross into Europe. He did so with 1,500 horse and 1,000 Asiatic light-infantry archers; and, most importantly, a force of 10,000 Macedonian veterans of Alexander’s long campaigns. Though perhaps too long-in-the-tooth to be climbing siege ladders in the Punjab; there was enough fight left in these grizzled veterans to sort out the Greeks. When he arrived in Pella, Craterus put himself and his troops under Antipater’s command. There would be no arguing over the supreme command when Macedon itself was threatened.

The Athenians responded by regrouping, and a second fleet of some 170 ships was ready by mid-late summer. Euetion took station at Samos; likely to be in position to interdict seaborne Macedonian reinforcements coming from Syria. However, Cleitus with 240 ships engaged the Athenians once again off nearby Amorgos; and won a decisive victory. Athenian sea power was broken forever; and would never again be a factor in naval affairs. It was the end of an era that began with Themistocles. For the next century, the Eastern Mediterranean was a Macedonian lake.

In August of 322, Cleitus’ fleet moved into the Saronic Gulf and blockaded Piraeus, the port of Athens. At the same time, Antipater and Craterus marched south into Thessaly, to engage the League army. The sources claim they led 43,000 foot and 5,000 horse (this latter figue almost certainly an exaggeration). At Crannon they engaged Antiphilus and Menon’s army of  23,000 foot and 3,500 horse. The battle supposedly was fought on the anniversary of the Battle of Chaeronea, where Philip had cemented Macedonian dominance of Greece. With Athens blockaded by Cleitus’ fleet, the League needed a decisive victory.


Instead, the battle was a draw, or perhaps a minor defeat for the Greeks. In the following days, Antiphilus and Menon (as spokesmen for the Hellenic League forces) asked Antipater for terms. Antipater announced he would only treat with the various cities individually. At first the League resisted, till the Macedonians stormed several nearby Thessalian towns. The League collapsed as most of its members then sought peace.

The Lamian War was over, and Macedon had once again asserted its dominance.

All the former states of the Hellenic League surrendered or were captured. In September, 322, a Macedonian garrison was installed in Munychia, overlooking the port of Piraeus; and Athens would be so occupied for the next 15 years. As with the rest of the captured towns and cities, oligarchies friendly to Antipater were installed. The enemies of Macedon were condemned, and many fled. Hyperides was captured at the temple of Poseidon on Aegina, and put to death. Demosthenes, a long-time enemy of Macedon who had returned to Athens only at the commencement of the Lamian War, now committed suicide before his enemies could take hold of him.

View of Athens and the Long Walls from Piraeus
The port of Athens, Piraeus. In late summer or autumn of 322 BC, the port was blockaded by the Macedonian fleet under Cleitus the White. After the end of the Lamian War, the hilltop fortress of Munychia (on the right) was held by a Macedonian garrison for the next 15 years

Only Aetolia fought on, isolated and alone. Antipater and Craterus invaded the western hill country the following autumn. However, their invasion was soon interrupted by events in Asia.


[* Craterus’ progress in 323 is a question-mark. He was in Cilicia in June, when Alexander died. It is often written that he was in Cilicia when the Lamian War broke out in September; but it seems unlikely that he would have made no further progress between June and September, 323. Even considering that he was leading a force of aged veterans, he should have been able to at least make it to Phrygia by winter. If so, one wonders if he spent the time with the satrap, Antigonas; perhaps making plans for the future.]

[1] Diodorus XVIII, vii

[2] Curtius VII.X.11; and Arrian IV.viii.2

[3] Plutarch, Eumenes iii

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(This is the third in a series concerning the Wars of the Diadachi. Part 1 can be read here, and includes comprehensive biographies of the players in this drama. It is strongly advised that you start there before reading on here. Stay tuned to this blog for future installments!)


Greece had long been under the thumb of Macedon, ever since Philip’s victory over the Athenian and Theban-led alliance at Chaeronea in 338 BC. Upon Philip’s assassination Thebes had revolted; but there had been no general rising, and one of Alexander’s first campaigns had been to crush the Theban revolt. The city of Heracles had been destroyed and its citizens sold into slavery, a warning that kept the other Greek states in line for the rest of Alexander’s reign.

Early in his campaign against Persia, the Greeks (with the notable exception of Sparta, which had never submitted to either Philip or Alexander) had been compelled to furnish men or ships. Meanwhile, many who had been opponents of Macedonian hegemony had taken service as mercenaries with the Persians. Defeated along with Darius by Alexander, some had returned to Greece after Issus; taking service under the Spartan king Agis III to fight against Antipater. Others had followed the defeated Darius east, to the Upper Satrapies where the last Achaemenid King of Kings” was ultimately assassinated by his own disgruntled nobles. After this, Alexander settled many of these (along with Greek mercenaries who had served in his own army) in these Upper Satrapies, particularly in Bactria; in one of the many Alexandrias that he founded.

When the conqueror died in Babylon in June of 323, confirmation was slow to arrive back in Greece. Initially, many doubted the rumors (this was not the first time that Greeks had heard unfounded rumors of Alexander’s death: it was just such a rumor that had inspired the Theban revolt of 335, leading to that city’s destruction). Demades, the Athenian statesman, quipped, “If Alexander were (truly) dead, the stench would fill the world!” But by September that year, the great King’s death was confirmed. In Athens, this was the signal for revolt.

Greece was at that time rife for upheaval. Antipater had installed pro-Macedonian oligarchies (and in some cases garrisons) in control of many of the cities. But Alexander’s Exile Decree of 324 had the unintended consequence that many of the returnees were men exiled by Antipater’s clients; men exiled for being ant-Macedonian. This aside, the Exile Decree was particularly upsetting to Athens and Aetolia. The former had seized the island of Samos, the former the city of Oeniadae; expelling the inhabitants and settling their own citizens within. Now the exiled former inhabitants were to be allowed to return, with their property restored. This was the final straw of Macedonian meddling that broke the camel’s back.

The leader of the radical anti-Macedonian faction in Athens was the orator, orateurpnyxHyperides. He seems to have been already in close contact with Leosthenes, a fellow Athenian and mercenary commander; who was camped at Cape Taenarum (modern Cape Matapan at the end of the ManiPeninsula; the main emporium for mercenary soldiers in the Hellenistic World) with some 8,000 mercenaries. These men had been dismissed from the service of the Macedonian satraps in the last months of Alexander’s reign; when he had ordered the disbanding of private armies raised by his governors in his absence (in India). They were likely hoplites, heavy infantry spearmen, still the most common Greek troop type. However, some or all may have alternately been of the troop-type known aspeltasts”, lighter than phalangites but heavier than light infantry skirmishers; though mercenary ho.

Leosthenes himself is a shadowy figure, about whom little is known before this time. Hyperides, in his funeral oration after Leosthenes’ death, says of him only that Athens needed a man, and the man came. Tarn suggests he was a leader of mercenaries under Alexander himself; where he learned his trade and made for himself a reputation.

Leosthenes now came to Athens, and along with Hyperides persuaded the Assembly that the time was ripe to cast off their shackles. The Assembly voted war, with the purpose of attaining the greater freedom “of all Hellas”. The soldiers at Taenarum were contracted, and Athens put on a war footing. 200 triremes and 40 quadremes were to be mobilized, along with all citizens under 40. The experienced Leosthenes was chosen to command the Greek forces.

Hoplite - Later 2

The appearance of the Greek hoplite heavy infantryman had changed much since the Classical Age battles of Marathon and Thermopylae. By the last decades of the 4th century, the citizen hoplites were increasingly augmented or replaced altogether  by mercenary hoplites. In his battles against Darius, Alexander’s most dangerous foes were Greek mercenary hoplites serving in Persian service. During the Lamian War, many Greek professional soldiers returned home to fight against the Macedonian overlords. This image is of one such hoplite. His equipment is not very much different than that of the Macedonian phalangites he opposed, save for the shorter spear he used; instead of the longer Macedonian sarissa.

This Hellenic League took months to form; but the rapidity of events and the far-sweeping nature of the rising against Macedon would seem to indicate an underpinning conspiracy that may have dated to before Alexander’s death. Aetolia immediately joined in the war; along with Elis, Messenia, Argos and Sicyon. Other states were frozen in place by Macedonian garrisons (such as Corinth and Chalcis), or the near proximity of such (Megara, over-awed by Antipater’s garrison in Corinth). More indicative of a long-planned rebellion was that in far-off Bactria, an army of those Greek mercenaries settled there by Alexander now banded together and began marching west.

Antipater in Macedon found himself in a difficult position. Macedon had been bled of troops, as so many had been sent east to reinforce Alexander’s army Thessalian and Thracian cavalrymenand provide garrisons in the conquered territories. He had on hand only 13,000 foot and 600 horse. He applied to the nearest of the Macedonian satraps, Leonnatus in Hellespontine Phrygia (See Part 2), for help; as well as to more distant Craterus, marching to Macedonia with 10,000 discharged veterans of Alexander’s wars. After delaying as long as he could, Antipater took what he had on hand and marched south into Thessaly. There he was joined by 2,000 superb Thessalian heavy cavalry; veterans of Alexander’s wars (where they had served under the long-dead Parmenion). These were commanded by Menon of Pharsalus (the future maternal grandfather of the great Epirote king and conqueror, Pyrrhus).

Meanwhile, Leosthenes had not been laggard. If he had learned anything from Alexander, it was that in war bold and rapid action usually repaid high dividends. Soon after the declaration of hostilities, Leosthenes had crossed the Corinthian Gulf to Aetolia, where he had shipped the 8,000 mercenaries form Taenarum. There, he was joined by 7,000 Aetolians (almost certainly good-quality light infantry). With this combined army, he moved to Thermopylae (likely marching along the north shore of the Corinthian Gulf east to Amphissa; then north through the valley of Doris to Heraclea Trachis, and then arriving at Thermopylae from the west. From there he learned that the Athenian force of 5,500 citizens (presumably hoplites) and 2,000 mercenaries on route to join him at Thermopylae had been held up in Boeotia by a pro-Macedonian army of Boeotians and Euboeans. Not all Greeks supported the rebellion: the Boeotians feared that the Athenians would rebuild Thebes as a bulwark against the Macedonians. Leosthenes hastened south into Boeotia from Thermopylae, defeated the Boeotians and united with the Athenian expedition. He now reversed his march, and arrived back at the Hot Gates in time to meet Antipater’s army coming from the north.

Greek hoplites 1

Athenian citizen infantry preparing for battle.

We don’t know where the subsequent battle actually took place. It was in the vicinity of Thermopylae, though it is unlikely the armies engaged within the pass itself. To the northwest is a broad alluvial plain; watered by the Spercheios, Dyras (the modern Gorgopotamos) and Asopus rivers. It was on this plain that Xerxes’ army assembled before attempting to force the pass of Thermopylae in 480 BC.; and it was here that the Bulgarians were defeated by the Byzantines in 997.  It is on this plain that the battle likely took place.

The plain can be entered from Thessaly at Lamia, a town situated at its northern extremis, perched on the edge of the foothills of the Othrys mountains. It is likely that Antipater’s 15,500 man army came south from Thessaly through the pass here at Lamia, entering the plain. We can only speculate, but it is easy to imagine that he then deployed for battle, north of the Spercheios River; and awaited Leosthenes’ advance. With Menon’s 2,000 Thessalian horsemen and the 600 horse he had brought from Macedon he was confident of his cavalry advantage; and would have wanted to give battle where there was room for  maneuver. Leosthenes may have had some cavalry of his own, as Athens could historically field as many as 1,000 horsemen by itself. But these could not be expected to stand up to the Thessalians and Macedonians in battle. (The Aetolians were later famous for the quality of their cavalry; but by that period the Aetolian League encompassed most of Thessaly, always able to field superb horsemen.)

thermopylae and Lamia

In any case, Antipater’s expectations were confounded and the battle took a disastrous turn when Menon took his Thessalians over to join Leosthenes and their fellow Greeks. It is a testament to both Antipater’s generalship and the steadiness of these second-class Macedonian home levies he commanded that he was able to extricate some portion of his army from the resulting debacle. Retreating back north across the plain, no doubt with his erstwhile Thessalian allies slashing at his heals, he found refuge for the remnants of his army in Lamia.


Sunset over Lamia, looking toward the southwest. In the distance is the mountains of Trachis. The modern city has spilled south into the plain; in ancient times it would have hugged the area around the modern castle, seen on the high ground to the right. The plain of the Sperchios River can be seen distantly, beyond the town on the left.

Here he was besieged by Leosthenes. Due to a lack of siege train, the Athenian could only blockade the Macedonians, not batter the place into submission. Antipater would be beleaguered throughout the winter, his only hope now lying in outside relief.


It goes without saying that none had taken Alexander’s death harder than his own mother, Olympias.

They had always enjoyed a close, though strained relationship. Though he no doubt learned much of statecraft and of the art of military command from his father, he was very much his mother’s son. From her he inherited his good looks, his flair for the dramatic, his dry wit and his passionate and sometimes violent temperament. For she was not only beautiful and passionate, she was also witty and highly intelligent, perhaps even borderline genius (as well as borderline insane!); and though Alexander’s military education was provided by his extraordinarily capable father, the genius he applied to military matters was likely Olympias’ genetic gift to him.


Olympias as portrayed by Angelina Jolie in “Alexander the Great” (2004)

A princess of the Epirote royal house, Olympias had become queen of Macedon as a teenage girl; after meeting the young King Philip at Samothrace, where both were initiated into the mysteries. It was both a love match and a political one, as the marriage sealed an alliance between the kingdoms. Olympias quickly bore Philip two children, Alexander and a younger sister, Cleopatra. But Philip’s ardor soon cooled (one tale being that queen’s keeping of sacred snakes in her bed disgusted her husband); and he took other women and even wives as the moment called for. Olympias, a woman who both loved and hated with equal passion, came to hate the husband who neglected her. She used their son against him, raising Alexander to be his father’s rival.

Macedon had known strong, passionate queens before; Philip’s own mother had been such. But no queen before the overbearing and dramatic Olympias seems to have had ambitions to rule. Philip’s death left her in a very good position, and Olympias thought to rule through her son. But in this she was disappointed. When he departed for Asia, Alexander left Olympias in Pella, and Antipater, his father’s right-hand-man, in charge in Macedon as his Regent and General. Throughout his kingship she burdened her son with a constant stream of invective-laced letters, vilifying the Regent. She saw plots against her son, threats to his kingship, and wasted much parchment in warning him against this friend or that supporter. When he failed to take the actions she suggested/demanded, she would rail against him and his lack of faith in or love for his mother. After reading one such letter, he famously turned to Hephaistion (who alone of his inner circle Olympias, grudgingly, trusted) and said, “Mother’s charge a heavy rent for nine month’s lodging!” But he never lost his love for her; and as they were much alike he understood her frustrations, and always answered her violent letters with soft words of consolation.


Olympias was known for her intelligence and wit as well as her passionate nature. When she learned that Alexander (here depicted on one of his coins bearing the horns of ram-headed Zeus-Ammon) claimed Zeus-Ammon to be his true father,  she shrugged it off,  quipping, “Will Alexander never stop  getting me in trouble with Hera?”

But he was equally deaf to Antipater’s correspondences concerning Olympias’ various and regular misdemeanors. After reading a letter from the Regent containing a long list, he said to Hephaistion (who regularly read over the King’s shoulder) that Antipater failed to understand that a single mother’s tear washed away a thousand such letters. 1

The old soldier, who had 10 children (three of which were daughters) and was obviously not averse to women in general, became in time an ardent anti-feminist. Worn down by his constant struggles with Olympias (and, later, the teenage Queen Eurydike), Antipater on his deathbed warned the Macedonians to never let a woman rule them”! 2

By 331 BC, the year Alexander fought the decisive battle of Gaugamela, she had made herself so detested at the Macedonian court that Alexander finally ordered her to refrain from further meddling in politics. She left Macedon, and returned to Epirus; where her 23 year old daughter, Cleopatra, was regent for her royal husband, Alexander son of Neoptolemus. This other Alexander (the Molossian) was both Olympias brother and her son-in-law; having married his niece. Like his more famous nephew he was away attempting to create an empire, this one in Italy. There he was battling the fierce southern Italian tribes of the interior as champion of the Greek cities along the coast (particularly Tarentum).3 He was slain that winter at Pandosia by an Italian turncoat in his retinue. His death left Cleopatra regent for her 4 year old son, Neoptolemus.


But Olympias was very soon the power in Epirus; and played the great lady. When Alexander sent rich gifts to both her and his sister, she used some of this wealth to dedicate golden crowns at Olympia; and to adorn temples as far away as Athens. It was said that Alexander planned on having her deified, as the crowning glory to his labors, upon his return. No doubt the notion mollified her thwarted ambition to rule in Macedon; and Alexander surely thought she could do much less damage as a goddess of her own cult than she could meddling in politics (a point made by Macurdy4).

It seems that she and her daughter were of one mind concerning undermining Antipater and looking after Alexander’s interest in Macedon. To this end, Cleopatra returned to Macedon in 325, leaving her children in their grandmother’s care. It was perhaps Cleopatra corroborating his mother’s concerns regarding Antipater’s activities that led Alexander to order the Regent’s recall to Babylon in spring of 323, and replacement with Craterus.

News of her brother’s death in Babylon reached Cleopatra in Pella, and Olympias in Epirus later that summer. It must have come as terrible news for Cleopatra, but for Olympias her son’s death was devastating. Gone now was the long-awaited fall of Antipater, and her own triumphant return to Macedon. Any notion of deification was gone as well. Her hatred of Antipater only increased, and very soon a rumor would spread, likely originating from Olympias (though possibly beginning in Babylon) that Alexander was poisoned by Antipater’s son, Iollus.  He was Alexander’s Cup Bearer, and  had given him (poisoned?) wine at both the fateful banquet of Medius where Alexander was first stricken down, and later on his deathbed. (See Part 1) It was a rumor that was apparently widely believed; the Athenian orator and statesman Hyperides proposed a vote of thanks in the Athenian Assembly to Iollus for his part in Alexander’s death! Olympias would later, when once more in power, vent her hatred by desecrating Iollus’ grave.

For now, though, she was left powerless and exiled in Epirus by her son’s death. However, the outbreak of the Lamian War and Antipater’s confinement in Lamia gave her an opportunity to make a move of her own on the chessboard.

Sending to Cleopatra in Pella, she persuaded her daughter that their best chance was to make for the widowed princess an advantageous marriage to one of the more likely of Alexander’s emerging “Successors”. Thankfully, the nearest in proximity was also the most desirable to Cleopatra and Olympias.

This was Leonnatus the Bodyguard. A member of the Macedonian royal family (he was in some way kin to Philip II’s mother, Eurydike), he was approximately the same age as she; and they had grown up together at the Royal Court in Pella. He was much like her dead brother in height and good looks, and since Alexander’s death had affected to increase the resemblance by wearing his hair long and keeping his cheeks closely shaved (a fashion aped by all Macedonians and men in general in the Hellenistic and Roman world for centuries after the conqueror’s death).


Like many of his Successors, Leonnatus affected the long locks and shaven face of Alexander

Leonnatus had lobbied in Babylon for his own appointment as satrap of Hellespontine Phrygia, to be near Macedon and Cleopatra with just such a marriage in mind. It is not clear who initiated the proposal, Cleopatra/Olympias or he; but in either case they were of one mind. As husband to Philip’s daughter and Alexander’s sister, along with his own royal family connections, he would be well positioned to claim the throne now held by a brain-damaged (autistic?) man and a newborn, half-Asian infant (to whom he was, in fact, a Guardian).

What he needed first was a military triumph; to sway the Macedonians (as represented under law by the Macedonian soldiers) that he was a worthy successor to Philip and Alexander. Fortune seemed to be smiling, for the Greeks had risen and Antipater was defeated and besieged at Lamia. The way was cleared for Leonnatus to cross the Hellespont, march into Europe and defeat the Greeks; becoming the hero of the day.


[1] Plutarch Alexander XXXIX

2 Diodorus XIX, 11

[3] The Italian tribes were valiant and ferocious opponents. Though he did well for a time against them, Alexander of Epirus had his hands full. When told of Alexander’s victories against the Persians, he is supposed to have scoffed: “My nephew battles women; while I battle against men!” Livy 9.19.10-11; echoed by Curtius, 8.1.37

[4] Macurdy, Grace Harriet, Hellenistic Queens

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(This is the second in a series concerning the Wars of the Diadachi. Part 1 can be read here, and includes comprehensive biographies of the players in this drama. It is strongly advised that you start there before reading on here. Stay tuned to this blog for future installments!)

As Alexander’s corpse lay cooling in the palace at Babylon, his closest friends and senior general’s were already squabbling in the royal chambers. With no clear heir to the empire, who was to rule? Both of the queens were pregnant; but the empire needed a ruler, not an infant on the throne. And once the infants were born, which had the better claim? Alexander had married Roxane, daughter of the Sogdian lord Oxyartes, first. But Stateira, daughter of the late Persian Shah-an-Shah Darius III was of vastly superior lineage. A son born of Alexander and Stateira (if son it be) would unite both peoples, Macedonian and Persian.

babylon 3


babylon 2
Babylon, here depicted in the 2004 film, “Alexander the Great”, was one of the oldest and most cosmopolitan cities in the ancient world when Alexander chose it as the capital of his empire. It was here that he died in 323 BC, and where the struggle over the succession began

However, while the generals and grandees argued and brawled about the royal corpse of their dead king, at least one in the palace kept a cold-bloodedly clear head.

We know little of the personalities of famous women in Greek histories. No Plutarch wrote biographies of the famous women of the ancient world. But the picture we have of Roxane, which seeps through the sources focused on the men around her and their deeds, is one of a passionate and, when necessary, ruthless young woman. Alexander had in fact married a Central Asian version of Olympias, his own formidable mother.

With her rival queen also carrying Alexander’s child, and the succession in doubt Roxane decided to act swiftly in the interest of her own unborn child. Before word of Alexander’s death had spread beyond the royal bedroom, she had one of the eunuchs of the palace summon Queen Stateira, in Alexander’s name, to an isolated wing of this sprawling, ancient palace of the Babylonian kings. There she found no Alexander; but instead Roxane and her henchman. The daughter of Darius was forced to take poison; and her body was then dumped into a well. It was found on autopsy that she had indeed been carrying a son.

The succession question had just become simpler.

alex_ palace babylon

Interior set of the Palace of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, from the film “Alexander” (2004). It was here, in an interior courtyard such as this that Roxane lured Alexander’s royal Persian bride, Stateira within minutes of his death; where she then murdered her

Plutarch claims Perdiccas was a co-conspirator in this murder. Wither he was or not, we will never know. But he was very soon afterward calling for a regency in the name of Roxane’s unborn son (assuming it was a son). As the Chiliarch (vizier), Perdiccas had possession of Alexander’s signet ring; and now claimed that Alexander meant for him to bear the burden of regency until Roxane’s son was old enough to assume his duties and privileges.

Outside the palace the Macedonian rank-and-file were in ferment. Near-insane with grief over the death of their beloved leader, they received the rumors of Perdiccas’ proposals unhappily. Soon a mob had formed, demanding a voice in the decision of succession; as was the ancient right of the Macedonian army. Alarmed, Perdiccas sent the old taxiarch Meleager to calm and reassure the solders.  Old salt-of-the-earth Meleager was “one of them”, after all; the one general the common soldier would trust and listen to.

Perdiccas, however, had misread his man.

Long ignored and taken for granted by Alexander and the young generation of leaders that had come to power with him, Meleager had been one of the original phalanx leaders at the start of Alexander’s conquests. He was the only taxiarch of those original six who had never received promotion. A natural envy and resentment against the “young cockscombs” of Alexander’s court may now have motivated his actions. For no sooner was he among the angry mob of soldiers, than he became their leader and spokesman.

According to the historian Quintus Curtius (who is not, perhaps, the most reliable of sources), the army gathered in conclave outside the city. The Royal Tent was set-up, with Alexander’s throne set before it, his crown, robes, arms and armor displayed upon it. This was a practice that would later be repeated, counsels of war conducted before the throne and arms of the now dead conqueror.

The seven Bodyguards (Somatophylakes) took seats behind the throne; with the principle Companions (Hetairoi, the friends and advisors to the king, not the heavy cavalry corps) standing behind these. Perdiccas now made a peace-keeping gesture, removing Alexander’s signet ring from his finger and placing it on a cushion upon the throne; in essence returning it to the soldiers, theirs to dispose.

Neil Jackson as Perdiccas

Actor Neil Jackson played the under-written role of  Perdiccas in the 2004 film

Perdiccas spoke first. He reminded the assembly that they were an island in a sea of conquered foes. That if they wanted to hold onto the power and riches they had won, they must choose a leader; and that an army without a chief “is a body without a soul”. [1] He concluded by reminding them that Roxane was late in her pregnancy; and that if the gods were kind a boy would be born, a legitimate heir to Alexander’s empire; and that in time he would be ready to assume his place as their king. But, in the meantime, they should choose a leader.

Nearchus, Alexander’s Admiral and boyhood friend, spoke next. He agreed that it was only fitting that one of Alexander’s blood should rule them; but wondered why they should wait for the birth of Roxane’s son, when a half-grown son of Alexander’s was alive and suitable? He meant Heracles, the son of Alexander’s mistress, Barsiné. But Alexander had never acknowledged the boy, an odd thing in a Macedonian culture that attached no onus to children born out of wedlock. Philip, his father, had several children by various mistresses, and had acknowledged them all equally. That Alexander had not done so with this son of Barsiné is perhaps telling.

Nearchus certainly had personal reasons for advancing Heracles’ claim to the throne: he had married a daughter of Barsiné by her first husband, Mentor, during the great mass wedding at Susa; making Heracles his half-brother-in-law. He was therefore not a disinterested party. In any case, none of the leaders supported Nearchus’ suggestion, and the Macedonian rank-and-file, no doubt mindful of the personal connection, jeered at his nomination. Nearchus continued to argue for Heracles, and the meeting nearly degenerated into a brawl, when the popular Ptolemy son of Lagos stepped forward and spoke for the soldiers.

Neither a son of Barsiné or of Roxane’s was a suitable king for Hellenes, he told them. Had their ancestors thrown back the hordes of Asia under Darius and Xerxes, just to now hand the rule of Hellas over to a half-barbarian brat? He (Ptolemy) suggested instead a counsel of leaders, comprised of those who had been Alexander’s most trusted advisors. These would meet before the dead king’s empty throne, as they were that day. Then, together, they would decide on matters of concern to all, and let their dead leader’s spirit inform and guide their decisions.

1 Ptolemy

Ptolemy was portrayed in 2004′s “Alexander the Great” by Elliot Cowan

This suggestion caused a new round of argument, some for and some against. No doubt it appealed to many of the superstitious soldiers who could not yet come to terms with their King’s death, or a world in which his will did not guide them.

Aristonus the Bodyguard rose next to speak.

“As Alexander lay dying”, he said, “he gave his kingdom to “the strongest” (tôi kratistôi); and he himself adjudged Perdiccas that man, by handing him his signet ring. Others here were there in that room; and he could have chosen any one of them. But, no, comrades: after looking around the room, it was Perdiccas he chose. We should respect his choice.” [2]

Aristonas’ words swayed many in the assembly; perhaps because he was known to be an honest soldier, devoid of personal ambitions. There were calls now for Perdiccas to take back up the signet ring.

However, at this critical juncture Perdiccas hesitated. Were they offering him the throne? Or merely regency till a king of the Royal House could be decided upon? While he considered, the moment temporarily slipped away.

Old soldier2aMeleager now stepped forward, spokesman for the most disgruntled faction among the solders.

He denounced Perdiccas’ as a man who was scheming for the throne. That Perdiccas had only suggested regency for Roxane’s unborn son because he knew that he, as regent, would be the true ruler of the empire. And why should they wait for Alexander’s “barbarian” bride to give birth when a true-born Macedonian heir was here among them?

He meant Arrhidaeus, Alexander’s older half-brother. This prince was a son of Philip II by a Thessalian dancing girl. He was mentally disabled, perhaps autistic (and may have had bouts of epilepsy, not unusual in autistic children). Alexander had been fond of his brother, who appears to have been a gentle soul; and Alexander had brought his brother with him on campaign as part of his household. Now in his mid-thirties, Arrhidaeus physically reminded many of the Macedonian soldiers of his late father, Philip II; who they remembered nostalgically as a “Macedonian of the Macedones”, free of the odious Medizing that had tainted their beloved Alexander in his last years. Looking at Arrhidaeus, many of the old soldiers shed tears, imagining the king of their youth returned.

Meleager and those soldiers who agreed with him now demanded that as Alexander’s closest male relative, Arrhidaeus not be disinherited; but instead be proclaimed king. This was a popular suggestion with the rank-and-file; at least those of the infantry. The confused Arrhidaeus was produced, and escorted to the Royal Tent; where he was dressed in Alexander’s royal robe (and likely crowned as well). They proclaimed him King Philip (III), perhaps to further remind all that he was the son of their late king; and he is hereafter referred to as Philip Arrhidaeus.

Old soldiers2

The Macedonian soldiers gathered in conclave. Many had grown old on campaign, yet continued to serve their king. At Babylon, they demanded Arrhidaeus as their king. 

It was the ancient right of the Macedonian Army, as the living embodiment of the Macedonian people-in-arms, to select their king. The convention was that their choice had to come from one of the ancient Royal House (the Argeadae); and Arrhidaeus, as son of one king and brother to another certainly qualified. But this choice did not sit well with any of the leaders.

Peithon the Bodyguard decried the choice, and the uproar that followed forced Perdiccas and his adherents to retreat back into the city and palace; where they barricaded themselves in Alexander’s chambers. Meleager and a party of soldiers, now armed-and-armored attempted to force their way in and seize Perdiccas, as a traitor. Cooler heads prevailed, and Meleager and his men withdrew. However, Perdiccas realized his life was in danger with Meleager in control of the king. He ordered the cavalry (who, as aristocrats by-and-large, felt little sympathy with the commoners who made-up the infantry) to draw-up for battle on the plain outside the city. To these Perdiccas and many of the leadership fled. They then blockaded the approaches to the city, preventing the daily arrival of food from the countryside.


The  Macedonian Companion Cavalry were the elite strike force of Alexander’s army. By his death in 323, he had expanded the force to 4,000 strong; including noble Persians in the ranks. Supported by some 200 elephants brought back from India, in the confrontation at Babylon they were a force even the Macedonian phalanx balked at facing 

What followed was nearly a battle between the Macedonian cavalry (which included the some 200 elephants Alexander had amassed in his later years) and the infantry; Perdiccas against Meleager. The two arms (horse vs foot) deployed against each other, prepared for battle. It is a sign of how dominant and effective the cavalry-arm had become under Alexander (and perhaps how feared the elephants were) that at the eleventh hour the infantry backed down; and bloodshed was avoided.


The Macedonian phalanx, shown here prepared for battle

A compromise was instead arranged through the diplomatic efforts of Eumenes, the wily Greek who was Chief of the Secretariat: Philip Arrhidaeus was to remain king, with the popular (and absent) Craterus as his guardian. Antipater was to remain as General in Europe. Perdiccas was to be his counterpart, General-in-Command of the army in Asia, and confirmed as Vizier (Chiliarch). Though given executive authority, Perdiccas’ effective power (and ambitions) would be checked by Craterus, who as guardian of the King would have to counter-sign any of Perdiccas’ orders. Should Roxane give birth to son, Perdiccas would share guardianship of the infant heir with Leonnatus the Bodyguard.

Meleager, who can not have been pleased by these turn of events, was partially mollified by being appointed Second-in-Command of the army in Asia. However, the old solder was playing out of his depth; and was soon betrayed by Perdiccas.

To dispel the evil that had almost caused the army to war against itself, theseleucus_nikator troops now paraded, and marched between the severed halves of dog (a strange and ancient custom in Macedon). At this parade Perdiccas, acting as Vizier and in the King’s name (with Philip Arrhidaeus beside him on the reviewing platform), ordered the arrest of the men who had instigated the discord of the previous days. Some 300 men, all supporters of Meleager, were seized by the Guard (commanded by Seleucus). Perdiccas had these unfortunates tied down, and then trampled to pulp by the elephants.

This unexpected coup and the barbaric punishment meted out to his supporters seems to have terrified and disheartened Meleager, who fled to a temple, seeking refuge. Here he was dragged out by Perdiccas’ orders, and murdered.

Throughout this all, King Philip Arrhidaeus made no effort to save the men who had placed him on the throne. Mentally he was simply incapable of dealing with the situation he’d been thrust into. From this point until his eventual death, he is no more than another piece on the chess board, moved about by one player or another.

First blood had been spilt. It was just the beginning of bloody years to come.

Meanwhile, Alexander’s body was prepared for transport back home Macedonian, to be interred in the royal tombs at Aigai (modern Vergina). The best Egyptian and Chaldean embalmers worked on the king, “to make the body sweet-smelling and incorruptible.” It was said Alexander’s body showed no signs of decomposition; despite having been left for days untended in the Babylonian summer heat. (If true this may indicate that Alexander had not died when he was assumed to have; but instead have slipped into such a deep coma that no vital signs were evident, dying perhaps days later from neglect.) To transport the body, a fortune was spent creating an amazing and elaborate funeral cart that would bear the sarcophagus on its journey. It was made of gold and decorated with precious jems; and would take two years to complete.

It was a symbolic duty of one ruler to bury his predecessor. By administering this preparation, Perdiccas was signaling to all that he was now the true power  behind the throne, whatever else may have been agreed to.

macedonian_empire_336_323 b

Now acting in King Philip’s name, Perdiccas divided the empire, deciding who would govern which province. There must, of course, have been much bargaining and compromise to build a base of support among the ambitious men surrounding him. Ptolemy was given the Satrapy of Egypt, no doubt his first and only choice. Leonnatus, whose ambitions, as we shall see, looked to the homeland of Macedon and a royal marriage was given the province of Hellespontine Phrygia; the Asian lands closest to Europe across the Dardanelles strait. Antigonus, the already too powerful satrap of Phrygia had his authority expanded with the addition of Lycia and Pamphylia; territories he had likely already conquered after Alexander passed on to the east, leaving him there to keep communications open with the Macedonian base. This formalization of the “facts on the ground” was a bone thrown to (temporarily) appease an old and hungry wolf.

In Europe, Thrace was taken from Antipater’s control and made into a separate satrapy, which was given to Lysimachus. Perhaps this was a move to weaken Antipater’s power, which in Europe was absolute and a potential threat to Perdiccas’ position. Craterus was on the way to Macedon with 10,000 veterans. His original orders from Alexander had been to replace Antipater. Perdiccas had not rescinded or addressed Craterus’ orders, and it is possible he was waiting to see how events would shake out once Craterus arrive in Macedon; hoping perhaps that Craterus would eliminate his rival without him having to lift a finger. In the meantime, Lysimachus could establish himself in Thrace, restoring order to a region which had thrown off Macedonian rule and perhaps be an ally against whoever ultimately came to rule in Macedon.

Finally, Perdiccas rewarded four men who had helped him in the last few, trouble-filled days; and whose loyalty and support he hoped he could count upon. Peithon was looking to the Upper Satrapies (eastern Iran, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan), and from the strategically-located Media he would be in position to keep an eye both an them and events in the capital, Babylon. Perdiccas perhaps realized that this would make Peithon too powerful by half,  and be raising up a potential rival. So he granted him his wish, though he divided the large satrapy of Media into two;  giving northwestern mountainous portion to his own father-in-law, Atropates. As a Persian he could be no rival, and as family he could be trusted to keep an eye on his ambitious neighbor, Peithon. A neat solution all around. (Later, during the chaos of the wars that were coming, Atropates would found the independent kingdom of Atropatene out of his satrapy; the future region known as Azerbaijan).

Eumenes, whose diplomatic skills had prevented an early civil war, was given the satrapy of Cappadocia. Alexander had left a satrap in charge as he passed through, early in the Persian campaign. However, Ariarathes, son of a former Persian satrap of Cappadocia and a general of Darius, had seized power there sometime around 330 BC; perhaps while Alexander was occupied in the pursuit of Darius after Gaugamela. He had declared himself king, and had even expanded his realm in the intervening years. It was now time to restore Macedonian authority to this strategic region in the heart of Anatolia; and Eumenes was given the mission to defeat Ariarathes and subdue the satrapy. He was to be aided in this endeavor by both Leonnatus and Antigonus, from their respective satrapies. Ultimately, each of these had their own agendas, and Perdiccas would have to take a hand himself.

ArgyraspidesFinally Seleucus, commander of the “Silver Shields” (the Argyraspides, which included the Foot Guard, the Agema), who must have been instrumental in the arrest of Meleager and his followers, was promoted to command of the Companion Cavalry corps. (A nearly hollow honor, as it turned out. Many of these soon dispersed to enlist in the cavalry guard of various Macedonian satraps, as these enlisted private armies for the coming struggles.) His place as commander of the Argyraspides was taken by the senior taxiarch of the phalanx, Antigenes.

Then, in or around September of 323, two events occurred that would shake-up and reset the chessboard.

Roxane gave birth to a son. He was named for his father, and ultimately minted coins as Alexander IV. The royal infant was presented to the army, and was acclaimed by the soldiers as co-king with his uncle, Arrhidaeus. Now there would be two royal pawns upon the board to manipulate.

From Greece came much more disturbing news: The Greeks, led by Athens and Aetolia, had proclaimed themselves as free of Macedonian rule. Worse, Antipater had moved against them and been defeated near Thermopylae. The old general had retreated north, to Lamia at the edge of the Malian plain. Now he was held up inside,  blockaded by a Greek army.

The domination of Greece, a cornerstone of Macedonian power, was in jeopardy of crumbling.


1. Quintus Curtius Rufus, 10.6.8

2. Ibid, 10.6.16-17

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