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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ln 1881, in the Sudan, a leader emerged from out of the sands of the desert. He was a man of the desert; a mystic and a man of God. His name was Muhammad Ahmad and claimed to be the “Expected One”, the true “Mahdi”. He soon gathered a force of followers from the desert tribes, and declared jihad. The Mahdi’s army grew and his revolt TheMahdi1spread. The Dervishes (as they came to be known) captured towns and defeated small Egyptian forces sent to destroy them.

Then, in 1883, the Turkish governor of Egypt hired William “Billy” Hicks, a retired British Colonel and several British subordinates to lead a modern army into the Sudan and crush the Mahdi. Hicks Pasha had at his disposal 10,000 regular infantry armed with modern rifles, 1,000 irregular cavalry, 14 field pieces and 6 Nordenfelt  multiple barrel machine guns. On paper it was an imposing force. But the infantry had been recruited from pardoned rebels and the cavalry were undisciplined bashibazouks. In the words of Winston Churchill, it was “perhaps the worst army that has ever marched to war” – unpaid, untrained, undisciplined, its soldiers having more in common with their enemies than with their officers.

The Mahdi’s awaited them, with 40,000 spear or sword-armed tribesmen. They had few rifles and no field guns; but they had something perhaps even greater. The Mahdi promised them a miracle, and they had faith that he would deliver. They also knew the desert.


Dervish weapons, shields and armor

The Mahdi retreated, and Hicks pursed. Further and further the Mahdi drew his enemy, and Hicks followed; slowed by an immense train of 5,000 camels. The Egyptians withered in the blistering desert heat, their water supplies dwindling. Day after day, they marched on, the Dervishes always just beyond their reach. Finally, his army spent, Hicks ordered a retreat back to El Obied. It was then the Mahdi stopped retreating, and turned on his enemy. The Egyptians were soon surrounded. For two days their square held, until it collapsed. Hicks and all of the European officers perished; and only 500 survivors returned to Egypt. They left in the Mahdi’s hands all of their equipment. If formidable with spear and sword, how dangerous would the Dervishes now be with modern weapons?


The harsh, forbidding terrain of the Sudanese desert

The loss of Hick’s army was a deep embarrassment to both Egypt and British government. While technically a part of the Ottoman Empire, Egypt was effectively under the protection of the British Empire. Its army was trained and led by British officers. Pride aside, of more concern was the loss of more than 8,000 rifles and the 14 pieces of modern artillery. The government of Prime Minister William Gladstone was forced by an outraged public to take action.

In contrast to his arch political rival, Disraeli, Gladstone was a staunch anti-imperialist; and was loath to commit British forces to a war in the Sudan. However, to ease British public opinion, Gladstone appointed a retired national hero, General Charles “Chinese” Gordon, as Governor-General of the Sudan. While most famous for having led the Chinese Imperial government’s “Ever Victorious Army” to final victory in the Taiping Rebellion; Gordon had served as Governor of the Sudan in the 1870s, where he had suppressed the slave trade. It was a popular appointment both in Britain and in the Sudan.

GordonCharles “Chinese” Gordon (right), and Charlton Heston, who portrayed Chinese Gordon in the film “Khartoum” (1966)

But Gordon was not sent to the Sudan to fight the Mahdi. He had no troops at his disposal, and none were promised should he get himself into trouble. He was sent in hopes that his name alone would rally support to the government and against the Mahdi; and failing that, to organize the evacuation of all European personnel from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

Gordon arrived in Khartoum in February, 1884. However, Gladstone had overestimated both the dampening effect Gordon’s arrival in the Sudan would have on the Mahdist revolt; and Gordon’s willingness to obey orders. Once ensconced in the Governor’s palace in Khartoum, Gordon began calling for Gladstone to send troops to help his beloved Sudanese in resisting the Dervishes. Meanwhile, he spent the year preparing Khartoum to stand siege till relief arrived.

As the Mahdist revolt spread, Gordon and Khartoum were increasingly isolated. A loose Dervish blockade of the city began on March 18, 1884, with the telegraph line to Cairo being cut and river traffic interdicted. Fearful for their hero’s life, the British press and public called for a relief expedition. A stubborn and incensed Gladstone resisted as long as was politically possible. Then, in August 1884 he ordered a British relief force to Gordon’s rescue.


Called the Khartoum Relief Expedition (or, more popularly in the press, the Gordon Relief Expedition), a force of 4,500 crack British regulars were placed under the command of Field Marshal Garnet Wolseley, Britain’s most eminent general. Steaming from England to Alexandria, the expedition then set out from Egypt and up the Nile in two columns. The largest was led by Wolseley himself, and traveled south down the Nile by riverboats. The other, the elite Camel Corps, was commanded by Sir Herbert Stewart. These took the direct route from Wadi Halfa across the desert.

Stewart’s force, 1,400 strong, was composed of some of the best units in the British army:
1. The Heavy Camel Corps, comprised of the Household Cavalry, Dragoon Guards, Dragoons and Lancers.
2. The Guards Camel Corps, comprising Grenadier, Coldstream and Scots Guards and Royal Marine Light Infantry.
3. The Mounted Infantry Camel Corps, drawn from the 1st Battalion the Sussex Regiment.
4. Four light field pieces and a small Naval Brigade manning a Gardner machine gun completed the force.


The actual men of the Camel Corps, posing for a photo, 1885

Unlike what is commonly portrayed, the men of Stewarts command did not wear the traditional redcoat. Instead, they wore grey tunics, cord breeches and pith helmets stained brown. The infantry of the Sussex Regiment wore khaki tunics. The British troops were all armed with the Martini-Henry breach-loading rifle, equipped with a 22 inch sword-bayonet. Both infantry and cavalry units were mounted on camels, except for the 19th Hussars. These retained their horses; and carried carbines and swords instead of rifles.


As Stewart’s column neared the oasis of Abu Klea on January 16, 1885,  pickets of the 19th Hussars encountered parties of Dervishes. It could be seen that a large force was waiting at the wells and ready to give battle. The British had left the last water some 43 miles before and were in need of replenishment. Nevertheless it was apparent that Abu Klea could only be taken by assault. Stewart halted two miles short of Abu Klea and camped.

The following morning, January 17 the British waited a Dervish attack behind a zereba (hedge) of thorn brush they had erected around their camp. Mounted parties were sent out to skirmish with the Dervishes, in hope of stinging them into a costly assault on the well-defended British camp. When the Mahdist failed to take the bait, Stewart broke camp. Forming up his command into a large, hollow square with the camels in the center, Stewart’s dismounted force advanced on the wells of Abu Klea.


The 13,000 strong Dervish force waiting for Stewart was chiefly comprised of the Mahdi’s fiercest warriors: the 389523_3060053817279_1363678321_nHadendoa. Noted for their bushy, “Afro” style hair, they were nicknamed the “Fuzzy Wuzzies”. In battle they wielded a long broadsword (called a “kaskara”, right) and broad-bladed spears, and for defense a round hippo-hide shield. Making good use of terrain and cover to come to close quarters, they were feared for their ferocious charges. In these years of conflict they earned an unenviable reputation for their hideous mutilations of the dead on the battlefields.

The British “Tommy” learned a healthy respect for the Hadendoa warriors as opponents. Rudyard Kipling, the poet-laureate of Queen Victoria’s army, immortalized them in his famous poem, “Fuzzy Wuzzy”:

We’ve fought with many men acrost the seas,
An’ some of ‘em was brave an’ some was not:
The Paythan an’ the Zulu an’ Burmese;
But the Fuzzy was the finest o’ the lot.


Hadendoa warriors of the Dervish army rush to the attack

For Herbert Stewart and the British, the Battle of Abu Klea began with inauspiciously with mishap. At around 9:30am, as the British square wheeled to the right to move onto higher ground, the Dervishes emerged from the concealment of a nearby gully and charged the square. At this critical juncture, the British fire was hampered by the presence of their own skirmishers between them and the enemy. These had to be permitted to regain the square before volley fire could commence. The rapidly approaching “Fuzzies” followed close on the retreating skirmishers, consequently coming to within 200 yards or less of the square before the first volleys could be delivered; depriving the British of long-range fire.


The Martini-Henry rifle with bayonet types

Near disaster loomed when, at this most inopportune moment, a potentially fatal gap opened in a corner of the square. This was partially due to the uneven nature of the ground, and to the inexperience of the Naval Brigade and the dismounted cavalry contingents, who were attempting to fight as infantry. The Dervish charge was delivered at the section of the square held by the Mounted Infantry Regiment of the Camel Corps. Captain Lord Beresford of the Naval Brigade brought his Gardner gun from its position at the rear of the square and took it out through the Mounted Infantry line and opened fire on the charging warriors. But after firing just some 70 rounds, the Gardner gun jammed. Before it could be cleared the Dervish spearmen swarmed over and overwhelmed the detachment; slaughtering all but Lord Beresford, who fell under the gun, along with one of the junior men.


Despite this reverse, the heavy volley firing from the Mounted Infantry and shrapnel from the 3 guns in their front repulsed the Hadendoa charge; which coursed around the left face of the square to fall on the gap in the square, where the Heavy Cavalry Camel regiment was posted.

The troopers of this Regiment were defending themselves with the long infantry rifle, a weapon they were unfamiliar with. The cavalry officers had no experience in defending an infantry square.

Swarming forward, the Dervishes penetrated through the gap and  into the square!

At this moment Colonel Frederick Burnaby of the Horse Guards rushed forward to stem the tide. A large man who famously loved a good fight, Burnaby waded into the oncoming horde. Fighting with sword from horseback, Burnaby fenced with onrushing Hadendoa warriors; till a thrusting spearman, coming from his flank, caught him in the throat, mortally wounding him.

burnaby at abu kleaRushing on into the interior of the square, the Dervishes were balked by the mass of camels packed into the interior; preventing the “Fuzzies” from smashing into the exposed rear ranks of the British troops on the opposing faces of the square. As the camels scampered out of the way, the rear rank of the Mounted Infantry in the front face and the Foot Guards and Royal Marines of the Guards regiment in the right face turned about and opened a devastating fire on the Mahdists. Their attack was soon broken, and thrown back.

The battle was only ten, frantic minutes long. It resulted in 76 dead and 82 wounded British soldiers. The bold Fuzzy Wuzzies took approximately 1,500 casualties. By 4pm, the British had taken the wells and the Dervish force was in retreat.

Two days later, Stewart was mortally wounded by a stray bullet in a skirmish. The advance continued unabated. Concerned with Wolseley’s column approaching as well along the river, the Mahdi  decided to order an assault on Khartoum, before the relief columns could arrive to break the siege. Despite his careful preparations, Gordon’s defenses crumbled and the city fell. Gordon died on the steps of his palace to a Dervish spear.


The Death of Gordon

The Gordon Relief Expedition arrived at Khartoum two days later. Gordon and the European nationals dead, the British withdrew; and the Mahdi took complete control of the Sudan.

Expedition failes

Six months later, the Mahdi died of Typhus. But the Dervish state continued on for another 14 years; till Britain sent a second army under Sir Herbert Kitchener to finish what Wolseley and Stewart had begun.

Fierce fuzzies

Photo taken of Hadendoa warrior (“Fuzzie Wuzzie”)
Scene from the 1966 film, Khartoum, depicting (inaccurately) the Battle of Abu Klea. Note the lack of “Fuzzie Wuzzies” attacking on foot, among other flaws.

Kipling’s poem, Fuzzy Wuzzy, in its entirety:


By Rudyard Kipling

(Soudan Expeditionary Force)

We’ve fought with many men acrost the seas,
An’ some of ‘em was brave an’ some was not:
The Paythan an’ the Zulu an’ Burmese;
But the Fuzzy was the finest o’ the lot.
We never got a ha’porth’s change of ‘im:
‘E squatted in the scrub an’ ‘ocked our ‘orses,
‘E cut our sentries up at Suakim,
An’ ‘e played the cat an’ banjo with our forces.
So ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your ‘ome in the Soudan;
You’re a pore benighted ‘eathen but a first-class fightin’ man;
We gives you your certificate, an’ if you want it signed
We’ll come an’ ‘ave a romp with you whenever you’re inclined.

We took our chanst among the Khyber ‘ills,
The Boers knocked us silly at a mile,
The Burman give us Irriwaddy chills,
An’ a Zulu impi dished us up in style:
But all we ever got from such as they
Was pop to what the Fuzzy made us swaller;
We ‘eld our bloomin’ own, the papers say,
But man for man the Fuzzy knocked us ‘oller.
Then ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, an’ the missis and the kid;
Our orders was to break you, an’ of course we went an’ did.
We sloshed you with Martinis, an’ it wasn’t ‘ardly fair;
But for all the odds agin’ you, Fuzzy-Wuz, you broke the square.

‘E ‘asn’t got no papers of ‘is own,
‘E ‘asn’t got no medals nor rewards,
So we must certify the skill ‘e’s shown
In usin’ of ‘is long two-’anded swords:
When ‘e’s ‘oppin’ in an’ out among the bush
With ‘is coffin-’eaded shield an’ shovel-spear,
An ‘appy day with Fuzzy on the rush
Will last an ‘ealthy Tommy for a year.
So ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, an’ your friends which are no more,
If we ‘adn’t lost some messmates we would ‘elp you to deplore;
But give an’ take’s the gospel, an’ we’ll call the bargain fair,
For if you ‘ave lost more than us, you crumpled up the square!

‘E rushes at the smoke when we let drive,
An’, before we know, ‘e’s ‘ackin’ at our ‘ead;
‘E’s all ‘ot sand an’ ginger when alive,
An’ ‘e’s generally shammin’ when ‘e’s dead.
‘E’s a daisy, ‘e’s a ducky, ‘e’s a lamb!
‘E’s a injia-rubber idiot on the spree,
‘E’s the on’y thing that doesn’t give a damn
For a Regiment o’ British Infantree!
So ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your ‘ome in the Soudan;
You’re a pore benighted ‘eathen but a first-class fightin’ man;
An’ ‘ere’s to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, with your ‘ayrick ‘ead of ‘air –
You big black boundin’ beggar — for you broke a British square!

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Macedonian soldiers 2a

(This is the first in series concerning the Wars of the Diadachi. Stay tuned to this blog for future installments!)

Long before George R.R. Martin penned his tale of war, intrigue and treachery the ancient world was scene to its own version of The Game of Thrones.

When Alexander the Great died in Babylon 323 BC, he left the greatest empire the world had yet seen with no clear successor. While both of his wives (Roxane the daughter of  Oxyartes of Bactria; and Stateira , daughter of Darius) were pregnant, he had no (legitimate) children yet born; though a four year old son of his former mistress Barsiné, named Heracles, was claimed by some to be Alexander’s illegitimate son. Alexander had made no provision for what was to happen in the case of his death. Alexander Herm - LouvreFor a ruler who habitually took unnecessary risks; leading his army, literally, from the front this was particularly irresponsible. But it was completely in character for Alexander, who ever refused to acknowledge his own mortality.

The decision was thus placed into the hands of the Macedonian army, who by the traditions of their homeland had the sole right to select their ruler. But the generals who led them dictated events, and they soon fell out with each other. Alexander’s Diadachi (“Successors”, as they came to be called) spent the next 40+ years (from the first squabbles in Alexander’s death chamber to the Battle of Corupedion in 281 BC) attempting to settle the issue by intrigue and force of arms.

The stage upon which the drama played out was vast indeed: stretching from the Pindus Mountains to the Caspian Sea; from the Bosporus to the Nile River.  Roughly speaking the struggle was between the forces of the “dynasts”, satraps and generals who sought to carve up for themselves a portion of the empire as their personal demesne; against those representing a central authority seeking to hold the empire together. This latter was represented until 316 by various Regents for the Kings; and from that year till 301 by Antigonus Monophthalmus, who sought to make himself sole ruler. (Arguably, this cause was taken up late in his life by Seleucus Nicator, who after Corupedion found himself in the same place as Antigonus in 316; and may have, briefly, entertained the same ambition.)


The leading men present at Babylon that summer of 323 BC, and in attendance at Alexander’s bedside when he breathed his last, all bore the title of “Bodyguards” (Somatophylakes); less a job description than an honorific, meaning men trusted by the king with his life. There were traditionally seven of these, but their number was raised (temporarily) to eight in India. Some had commands in the army, or governorships of provinces. They all functioned effectively as Alexander’s Field Marshals; frequently given independent commands.


First among those at Alexander’s death bed was Perdiccus son of Orontes, the senior Hipparch (cavalry leader) and Alexander’s acting Chiliarch (Vizier). He was a prince of the House of Orestis, one of the petty-kingdoms which comprised the original Macedonian Kingdom. At the storming of Thebes he had been a battalion commander of the Hypaspists  (the Foot Guard), and was the first to penetrate into the city (where he was wounded). He commanded one of the six brigades (taxis) of the phalanx in all three of the great battles against the Persians. On the eve of the invasion of India, he was made one of the Somatophylakes, as well as Hipparch (cavalry commander) of one of the five original Hipparchies (1,000 man cavalry brigade) into which the Companion Cavalry were reorganized. After the death of Hephaistion he became the senior officer in the army, taking over the dead man’s duties as Chiliarch.  As Alexander was dying, he allegedly gave Perdiccas his signet ring. This was interpreted by most present as nominating Perdiccas as his regent for the son(s) yet unborn. He is portrayed in the sources as arrogant and imperious, and could be both cruel and ruthless when necessary. His high-handedness soon put him at odds with most Ptolemy Soterof the other leaders.

Ptolemy son of Lagos was one of Alexander’s most popular commanders and a possible half-brother (it was rumored that Philip II was actually his real father). His family was from Eordaea in the Macedonian highlands; and he was one of Alexander’s boyhood “Companions”, tutored along with the young prince by Aristotle. He was one of several of Alexander’s friends to be banished by Philip in 337 BC; only returning to Macedon after Philip’s assassination.

He was a junior officer early on, and had no command before Gaugamela. Ptolemy accompanied Alexander during his journey to the Oracle of Ammon Ra at Siwa, where the latter was proclaimed a son of Zeus/Ammon. He was later entrusted with an elite force of 5,000 men tasked with bringing Bessus, the murderer of Darius III, back to face the King’s justice. By the invasion of India, he was appointed as one of the Somatophylakes, as well as one of the five original Hipparchs. He served with distinction throughout the campaign, playing a key role in taking the Rock of Aornus. His Hipparchy was with Alexander on the right-wing at the Battle of the Hydaspes. He was wounded later that year at Harmetelia, a town of the Brahmins, by a poisoned weapon. Though near death, he was nursed back to health personally by Alexander himself.

At Susa he was given as bride Artakama, the daughter of Artabazus of Phrygia and sister to Alexander’s former mistress (and mother of his possibly bastard son, Heracles) Barsiné, a relative of the Persian Royal Family.  Even-tempered and more modest in his ambitions (and in his manners) than most of his colleagues, he was the only one of them who died, peacefully, in his own bed.

Leonnatus was related to the royal house (through Philip’s mother)Bodyguard officer and had served honorably throughout Alexander’s campaigns. After Issus, he was sent to meet and reassure the Persian royal women of Alexander’s good-will and intentions. He was elevated to the rank of Bodyguard upon the death of Arybbas in Egypt in 332 BC.  He tried to restrain Alexander during the murderous argument with Black Cleitus; and later informed him of the Page’s Conspiracy. He fought beside Alexander inside the Malli/Mahlava fortress of Multan,  where Alexander was struck in the chest by an arrow and nearly killed; and defended the fallen king till help arrived, alongside Peucestas. During the struggle he was wounded badly in the neck, and nearly succumbed. During the return from India, he was left temporarily in southern Baluchistan to pacify the population; in which he was successful. He was flamboyant and ambitious, with pretensions towards the throne through marriage alliance with the Royal House.

The other Somatophylakes/Bodyguards had less prestige and sway with the army.

Little is known of the background and early career in Alexander’s service of the Bodyguard Peucestas. Not even his father’s name is mentioned in the sources. An officer named Peucestas son of Macartus was appointed to command the troops left to garrison Egypt in 321 BC. Though scholars always assume this to be a different individual, it is possible that he is one-and-the-same as the future Bodyguard.  We know that Peucestas was from the town of Mieza,  where Alexander and his boyhood Companions were taught by Aristotle. It is tempting to assume that Peucestas was among these, as it is impossible that he rose as high as he did in Alexander’s service without being one of the King’s inner-circle of Companions; most of which were boyhood friends.

At least by the Indian expedition (if not before) Peucestas was appointed as Alexander’s Shield-bearer;  a sign of both the trust the King had in him, and Peucestas’ reputation for valor. In this capacity he bore the Sacred Shield, taken by Alexander from Troy at the start of the Persian War. At the fortress of Multan, where Alexander was isolated and struck-down by an arrow, Peucestas (along with Leonnatus) warded the fallen King; suffering himself from javelin wounds. Afterwards he was rewarded by being made an unprecedented eighth Bodyguard. He was appointed Satrap of Persis (the Persian homeland) after the return from India. He carried out Alexander’s policies of harmonizing with the native population, wearing Persian robes and getting on well with his Persian subjects. For this he was somewhat derided by the more traditional-minded Macedonians. Near the end of Alexander’s life, he arrived in Babylon with 20,000 Persian youths, trained as Macedonian phalangites. He was in close attendance upon the King throughout his fatal illness. Peucestas was obviously a great admirer (nee sycophant) of Alexander’s; and carried out his pro-Persian policies more faithfully than any other Macedonian. He certainly seemed to think himself the best man to carry on the great man’s legacy; a certainty not shared by his colleagues, who held him in much less regard then he had for himself.

Peithon son of Crateuas, was like Ptolemy from Eordaea. What he had done to earn his position is largely unknown; but by India he is one of the Bodyguards. He was ambitious and ruthless. Originally aligned with Perdiccas, he entertained ambitions over the Eastern (“Upper”) Satrapies. Eventually he became a loyal lieutenant of Antigonas and his son, Demetrius.

Lysimachus son of Agathocles was of Thessalian origin; his father perhaps one of the Lysimachus“new men” who came to serve Macedon during Philip’s reign. He may have been one of the young “Companions” of Alexander’s youth, who were tutored along with the prince by Aristotle at Mieza. (Few of these childhood friends and fellow students are known by name, but this would explain the position of trust into which Lysimachus was placed in the king’s entourage.) In Syria, Lysimachus killed a lion single-handed while hunting with the king; being badly wounded in the process but perhaps saving Alexander’s life. This may have been why he was elevated to the position of Bodyguard. In Sogdiana he was beside Alexander at another such hunt, in which Alexander slew a lion. He was a man of great physical strength, easily offended and slow to forgive. He grew cold and cruel in later life. Politically he was a cautious overachiever.

Though Aristonous son of Peisaeus had been a Bodyguard since Alexander’s accession, little is known of him. He is alternately identified as a man of either Pella (the capital) or of Eordaea; which may mean his family hailed from the latter, while he was born and spent his youth at court, perhaps originally as one of Philip’s Pages. He may have been the man who took Alexander’s sword away early in his drunken and ultimately murderous argument with Cleitus. Curtius has him as one of the men who defended the fallen Alexander in the Mallian fortress; but this is contradicted by Arrian. In the struggles to come he showed no personal ambition, siding always with the Royal House and its regent.

Not present at Babylon were three other men of great importance. One was Alexander’s most trusted subordinate commander (after the now dead Hephaistion), the other two aging generals of his father Philip; not in Alexander’s inner circle but whose name and reputations among the soldiers cast a broad shadow.

Craterus son of Alexander (a nobleman of Orestis, in highland Macedonia) was on the way to Macedon with 10,000 discharged veterans when word came of the King’s death. No man in the army had a higher reputation or was more respected (only Ptolemy was better liked by the troops). He was handsome, affable, and possessed of a natural dignity and strength of character. Second only to the now-dead Hephaistion in Alexander’s confidence, he enjoyed the highest commands in the later campaigns, taking Parmenion’s place as Alexander’s chief subordinate commander. He led one of the six brigades (taxis) of the phalanx in all of the great battles against the Persians; his taxis entrusted with the most dangerous and vital position, holding the far left flank of the phalanx at both Granicus and Gaugamela. In Bactria he was promoted to be one of the five original Hipparchs of the reorganized Companions. At the Battle of the Hydaspes, he commanded the camp and that portion of the army left on the other side of the river; with orders to cross over when Porus was engaged by Alexander’s force. On the return from India, he was entrusted with most of the army and much of the baggage; marching safely along a more northerly route than the one Alexander took though the terrible Gedrosian desert. At the mass wedding at Susa in 324 BC, where Alexander married Stateira the daughter of Darius III, Craterus was only behind Hephaistion and the King in the line of Macedonian officers to be wed. He was given the redoubtable princess Amastris, the niece of Darius as bride. Just prior to the King’s death, he was sent back to Macedon to assume Antipater’s command, escorted by 10,000 discharged veterans returning home. He had reached Cilicia when news came of Alexander’s death.

The Marriage at Susa 2

The mass wedding at Susa in 324 BC, where Alexander married the daughter of Darius; and 500 other Macedonians and Persian brides were also wed. Craterus was the third to be married, behind only Hephaistion and Alexander himself.

So great was his reputation and the trust Alexander was known to have placed in him that a story sprang up, related by Diodorus, that with his last words Alexander had actually meant to name Craterus as regent of the empire. According to this story, Alexander was asked on his deathbed to whom he bequeathed his kingdom; and he whispered to those assembled, “tôi kratero”: to Craterus (Kratero). But that the ambitious generals gathered around the deathbed in Craterus’ absence chose to hear the King’s utterance as  “tôi kratistôi“: to the strongest.If Craterus ever heard this story, he appears to have put no store on it; and served where he was needed without pressing any special claim to power. Had he indeed been given the regency upon Alexander’s death, it is tempting to think he might have possessed the prestige and ability to hold the Empire together.

No man was more trusted by Philip II than Antipater son of Iollus. HePhilip_II_Macedon_by_Mirk0 was possibly a distant relative of the Royal House, and though nothing is known of his early years from 342 onward he is Philip’s chief lieutenant. That year Philip left Antipater in charge as his regent (viceroy) in Macedon while he campaigned in Thrace for the next three years; extending Macedonian control to the Black Sea coast. Antipater sent troops to Euboea to oppose Athens’ attempt to install ant-Macedonian governments. After the Macedonian victory at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC, Antipater was sent with the young Alexander as co-ambassador to Athens; to negotiate a peace treaty and return the bones of the Athenians who had fallen in the battle. During Alexander’s reign he was entrusted again with the regency of Macedon, as well as general (strategos) of Europe. He had a difficult job, supplying his king with fresh drafts of men while maintaining Macedonian domination over Greece. When the Spartans rose against Macedonian hegemony in 331 BC, supplied with money and mercenaries by Persia, Antipater defeated them and killed their king, Agis III at the Battle of Megalopolis. He came into frequent conflict with the Queen Mother, Olympias, who no-doubt felt she should have been regent in Antipater’s place.

In his last days Alexander decided to recall Antipater to Babylon; and replace him in Europe with Craterus. Alexander’s death (of which Antipater and his sons were accused of being complicit: see below) forestalled this change of command.

Antipater was physically a small and unattractive man. He planned carefully against future contingencies, and played politics like a chess game; setting up his pawns and moving his pieces with great foresight. He had a large brood of ten children, three of which were daughters. He used them well, making marriage alliances with many of the powerful men who would dominate the stage in the coming years. All three daughters would be the wives of future kings.

After Antipater perhaps the most senior officer of Philip’s generation still serving was Antigonus One-Eyed (Monophthalmus). Little is known of his early life, and even the social status into which he was born disputed. His father was one Philip of Elimeia, a highland region of Macedonia. But while some suppose this man a nobleman, there was a tradition that Antigonus was of yeoman-farmer stock. If his humble origin is accepted, this goes far to explaining why he is largely unheard of during Philip’s reign; and is relegated early in Alexander’s Persian War to holding the Satrapy of Phrygia. He is always described as a “general” of Philip’s; though no independent campaign or chief command is credited to him. It is tempting to speculate that during Philip’s reign he likely started his career as a ranker in the either the phalanx (pezhetairoi) or the newly-created Hypaspists  (perhaps even the Agema, or Royal Guard, battalion); and that he rose in rank due to his reputation as a soldier and his renown as a great warrior (he was a notably large and powerfully built man). We have no knowledge of who served as Somatophylakes under Philip II; or held prestigious, junior positions such as commander of the Agema of the Hypaspists. Possibly Antigonus rose to one such position prior to Alexander’s reign; though it is doubtful he was one of the Bodyguards, as he was not among Alexander’s original seven, whose identities are known and most of whom were retained-over from Philip’s reign.

At the Battle of Granicus he commanded the Greek Allies. After Alexander rolled-up western Asia Minor (Antigonus receiving the submission of Priene), he was left to hold Phrygia with (initially) 1,500 mercenaries; and to keep open Alexander’s line of communications back to Macedonia. In this capacity he fought three battles against and ultimately expelled a pro-Persian force (which may have included or even been wholly comprised of Greek mercenaries); refugees from the defeat at Issus. It is a testament to his ability and reputation among the Macedonians that despite taking no part in the glories of Alexander’s conquest of the East, he very soon made himself a key player in the drama unfolding. The savagery he occasionally displayed (all the more striking when contrasted against his personal affability) may have emanated from years of frustrated ambition and resentment at being “put out to pasture” by Alexander, while younger men garnered the laurels of victory. He was 58 years old when Alexander died in Babylon, but like the Macedonians in general he retained great vigor late into his life. Amidst the chaos soon to unfold, he was given ample chance to prove his merit as a soldier and commander; an opportunity he didn’t squander.

Lesser figures destined to play key parts stood initially off stage, waiting their opportunity.

seleucus_nicator2_naplesSeleucus son of Antiochus had commanded the elite Hypaspists in India. He was roughly the same age as Alexander, born within two years of the prince. His father was an officer of Philip’s, though no record of his accomplishments exist. As a teenager Seleucus served in the Royal Pages (Basilikoi Paides) in Philip’s service, as did many of the sons of the nobility. A story was later told that on the eve of his departure on Alexander’s Persian expedition, his father told him that he was really the son of Apollo; that a distinctive anchor-shaped birthmark (which subsequent Seleucid monarchs bore as well) so marked him. The anchor later became a symbol of the Seleucid dynasty.

His position(s) throughout Alexander’s Persian War is unknown; but he apparently served with distinction, because on the even of the Indian Expedition he was given command of the elite Hypaspists brigade. (The Hypaspists were issued silvered shields at the start of the Indian Campaign; and are henceforth increasingly called the Argyraspides, “Silver Shields”.) In this capacity he fought at close-quarters against Porus’ elephants at the Battle of the Hydaspes; an experience that impressed him greatly. In later life he would go to some lengths to procure as many of these beasts as he could for his own use.

He followed Alexander through the ordeal in the GedrosianDesert. At Susa, he was married to his mistress of several years, Apama, daughter of the Sogdian noble Spitamenes (the most effective of Alexander’s opponents). Unlike most of the other Macedonians who took Persian brides at Susa, Seleucus remained married to Apama throughout her life. Seleucus was apparently strong enough to grapple a bull by the horns; and more mild tempered and merciful than perhaps any of the great Successors of Alexander. As commander of the Foot Guard (the Hypaspists, now called the Argyraspides), he was at Babylon attending the King when Alexander died.

Alexander at Gederousia

Seleucus was with Alexander during the terrible ordeal the army experienced in the desert of Gedrosia. Here Alexander refuses a drink of precious water, as there was not enough for more than himself; and he would not drink if his men couldn’t

Eumenes of Cardia, Alexander’s secretary, was also in attendance at the royal palace. Originally one of Philip’s “New Men”, he was twenty when he became personal secretary to the King in 342 BC. He continued to serve Alexander in this capacity throughout the conqueror’s life. Alexander came to trust him completely, using him on diplomatic missions and eventually, in India, entrusting him with a military command. At Susa he was honored by being given as bride Artonis, sister to Alexander’s former mistress, Barsiné the daughter of Artabazus (also sister to Ptolemy’s bride, Artacama). After Hephaistion’s death and Perdiccas’ elevation to the dead man’s duties, Eumenes was given command of his Hipparchy; still another sign of Alexander’s confidence in his potential ability as a soldier.

He was an able diplomat and shrewd manipulator of men and events; the consummate “clever Greek”. But he always labored under the disadvantage of not being a Macedonian; and that he was always seen first-and-foremost as a man of letters rather than as a soldier. For the first he was despised by many of the Macedonian officers; for the second he was derided. (Neoptolemus, who seems to have had a particular animus against him, scornfully remarked that he had followed the king with shield and spear, but Eumenes with only pen and paper. While the more fair-minded realized how unjust this statement was and scoffed, it reflects a lingering derision of Eumenes shared by many.)  However, he had the trust of Perdiccas; which he retained and used to good advantage throughout the latter’s life. As a Greek outsider whose position was dependant on the patronage of the throne, he was always loyal to the Argead dynasty and to Perdiccas as regent.

When given the opportunity of independent command he showed exceptional ability. It is tempting to speculate that during the conqueror’ life he served not merely as Alexander’s scribe, but as a kind of “Chief of Staff” as well; operating in the same capacity as Marshal Berthier vis-à-vis Napoleon. This might explain in part the skill he showed later in maneuvering armies.

Though he was destined to play an important role, Cassander son of Antipater began “the Play” distinctly off-stage. It is uncertain if he was the first or second son of Antipater (his brother, Iollus, bore the name of their paternal grandfather; usually given to the eldest son). A child-hood Companion of Alexander’s, he too was educated by Aristotle at Mieza; and maintained a life-long correspondence with his former teacher. That he was left behind  in Macedon with Antipater when all of Alexander’s other child-hood Companions accompanied the King to Asia, is one of many signs that the two men shared a mutual animus, if not downright loathing of each other.

Cassander likely fought beside his father at Megalopolis in 331 BC, though there is no record of his participation. In 323 BC he came to Babylon to plead his father’s case when Antipater was recalled, accused of various malfeasances. Cassander openly sneered at Alexander and some Macedonians of the court (such as Peucestas) wearing Persian Robes. When he saw Persians performing their customary proskynesis (full prostration, forehead to the ground) before Alexander, Cassander broke into scornful laughter. Proskynesis had been a sore subject at his court, only recently resolved (Persians would continue to perform it, as was their custom; while for Macedonians and Greeks it was voluntary). This sudden outburst so enraged Alexander that he leapt from his throne; and grabbing the startled Cassander, smashed his head into the floor, perhaps forcing him to perform the proskynesis! Cassander did not linger at Babylon, returning post-haste to Macedon.


Actor Jonathan Rhys Myers as Cassander in the motion picture, “Alexander the Great” (2004). Though the film erroneously portrayed Cassander  accompanying Alexander on his campaigns, Rhys Myers was sufficiently reptilian in his portrayal

A story grew-up a few years later (likely spread and perhaps started by Olympias, Alexander’s mother) that the true purpose of Cassander’s visit to Babylon was to poison the King. According to this story, the plot was hatched by Antipater; who feared being removed from his position of authority as Regent in Macedon, and being called to account for his administration. (Alexander had recently executed Macedonian governors who’d abused their power and his trust while he was away in India. Perhaps Antipater feared a similar fate.) Cassander supposedly brought a poison in the hollowed-out hoof of an ass; and that “the poison was (contaminated) water”. The poison was then given to Cassander’s brother, Iollus, who was the King’s Cup Bearer; who then introduced it into Alexander’s wine during the fateful party of Medius’. The truth of this story can never be known, of course; but it is now, and was then, plausible. It gained wide circulation and credence in the years of struggle that followed. Considering the bloody-handed actions taken by Cassander against the House of Alexander, it is certain he bore a deep and burning hatred for the man he was accused of murdering, and was ruthless and unscrupulous enough to have carried out the deed. Of all the Diodachi, as ruthless a collection of rivals as ever existed, Cassander stands out as the most cold-blooded, murderous, and deliberate of them all.

Polysperchon son of Simmias was of the older generation who’d soldiered under Philip. From Tymphaia on the border with Epirus, he gave good service throughout Alexander’s campaigns. He was a Taxiarch commanding a brigade of the phalanx at Gaugamela, and continued in this capacity during the Indian expedition. He was one of the “old timers” discharged and returning with Craterus to Macedon when news arrived of the King’s death. Throughout the troubles to come, he doggedly served the regent and the central authority. While he was successful for a time in the “limelight” as an independent actor, his lack of integrity and judgment pushed him off the stage in favor of stronger characters.

Like Polysperchon, Meleager son of Neoptolemus was of the older generation who began soldiering under Philip. He commanded a taxis (brigade) of the phalanx throughout Alexander’s campaigns. Despite such long service, Alexander did not promote him to any higher command, or entrust him with any special assignments. From this we can deduce that he was competent but unimaginative. He was much respected by the rank-and-file of the Macedonian infantry as a “crusty old salt”. He was one of them, and like them he was disgruntled at the “Medizing” of Alexander and some of the officers of his court. At Babylon he soon became spokesman for the common soldiers of the infantry.

Neoptolemus (his father’s name is not given in the sources) had been Guard infantryan officer of the Companion (Hetairoi) Cavalry, likely of the Royal (Guard) Squadron (Basilikoi ile). He was related to the Epiriot royal house, so was likely a kinsman of Alexander’s on his maternal side. He may have come to Macedon as a boy, along with Olympias’ brother, Alexander of Epirus; and like this prince might have served as a Royal Page (Basilikoi Paides) at Philip’s court. At some point he became Alexander’ Armor Bearer, an honor whose duties (if any) are unknown. He was the first man up the ladders at the storming of Gaza. He was arrogant and untrustworthy, and had a particular animus against Eumenes; the exact cause of which might have been jealousy at the trust Alexander placed in the latter (particularly entrusting Eumenes, a “civilian” and a Greek, with a military command along the Indus), or something going back further in time. His exact rank and position when Alexander died is unknown; but it was sufficiently high that he would be given command of a Satrapy.

Nothing much is known from the sources of the background of Antigenes the Taxiarch (not even the name of his father). He served under Philip at the siege of Perinthus in 340 BC, losing an eye. He is next mentioned in 331 BC, placing second in the games at Sittacene. On the eve of the Indian invasion, he was elevated to command of the crack phalanx taxis (brigade) previously commanded by Coenus (who was promoted to the rank of hipparch of the Companions). In this capacity, Antigenes’ command was given pride-of-place on the right of the line, beside the elite Argyraspides (commanded by Seleucus) at the Battle of the Hydaspes. In this position he was engaged in hard fighting against Porus’ elephants and infantry. As commander of the senior taxis of the phalanx, he was perhaps second only to Seleucus (commanding the Argyraspides) among infantry commanders. Like many of Alexander’s veteran soldier’s in Babylon that summer, Antigenes was filled with resentment at the way Alexander had given equal preferment to and adopted many of the ways of the despised Persians. Like them he expected a larger portion of the spoils of victory after Alexander’s death than he (and they) had received during the conqueror’s life.

The stage was thus set for the titanic drama about to unfold. The players stood ready, each of the leading characters ambitious to obtain the “starring” role; the supporting cast eager to move-up to leading roles; and even the bit-players ready to “understudy” their betters, and step into their roles should they falter.

Funeral Games

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tafoi2Of all the Successors of Alexander the Great none came closer to reuniting his empire than Antigonus  Monophthalmus  (“One Eyed”) and his son Demetrius Poliorketes (“the Besieger”). For a brief time (circa 315 BC) Antigonas controlled all of Alexander’s Asian Empire. This led his rivals to unite against him: Ptolemy in Egypt; Lysimachos , Satrap of Thrace; Seleucus, who from Babylon took over the eastern Satrapies while Antigonus was occupied in the west; and Cassander, son of the late Antipater “the Regent”, who ruled Macedon.

While Antigonas held his own in Asia, he dispatched Demetrius with an army to Greece to establish control and to war against Cassander in Macedon and the Aegean. From Athens, where he was worshiped as a “Savior God” after reestablishing democratic governance, Demetius extended Antigonid control throughout central Greece. Using the excellent port of Athens, Piraeus as base for the large Antigonid fleet he soon controlled all the Islands of the Aegean as well. Advancing into Thessaly in 302 BC, Demetrius was preparing for a final showdown with  Cassander when he was recalled to support his father in Asia on the eve of the Ipsus Campaign. Demetrius left mercenary garrisons behind holding key fortresses.  The rest of his field army was brought to fight beside his father, Antigonus.

Diodachi 310bce 1

The Battle of Ipsus (301 BC) was the perhaps the greatest battle of the Successor Wars (we have no figures for the number of combatants who fought at Corupedion 281 BC, but it is likely to have rivaled the earlier battle). Antigonus was undone when Demetrius’ cavalry, after routing and pursuing those of Lysimachus’ was prevented from returning to the battle by Seleucus’ elephants. (Diodorus claims that Seleucus brought 480 elephants of the 500 he supposedly received from Chandragupta in return for ceding the Punjab 1.  Bar-Kochva argues persuasively for a number closer to 150 elephants.2)  Antigonus was slain amidst his phalanx, while Demetrius retreated with some survivors to Ephesus.

For the next 4 years Demetrius, reduced to a freebooter relied upon the strength of his fleet; ruling from Athens the island of the Aegean. After Cassander’s death in 297 BC, his sons fell out and civil war divided the Antipatrid family. Demetrius took advantage of the chaos by first supporting and then murdering one of the contenders; making himself King of Macedon in 294 BC.

Over the next few years, Demetrius succeeded in making himself dominant in Greece, reestablishing strong garrisons at Corinth (the Acrokorinth,  the mountain-top citadel towering over the city, was the strongest fortress in Greece); Chalcis on the Island of Euboea;  and at his newly-built fortress in Thessaly, Demetrias (near modern Volos).  These fortresses (which came in the next generation to be called “the fetters of Greece”) supported a network of lesser garrisons Demetrius established.

Demetrius coin

Tetradrachma of Demetrius I Poliorcetes

Demetrius was an unpopular king with the Macedonians. Raised in Asia at the Imperial Court of his father, he was ill-equipped to deal with the prickly and plain-spoken Macedonians. In 288 BC a coalition of Pyrrhus of Epirus and Lysimachos of Thrace invaded the country; and the Macedonian soldiers deserted him. Demetrius fled, taking to the sea again for a time, raiding his enemy’s possessions. Then, while campaigning in Cilicia against the Seleucids he was captured (285 BC); where he remained under “house arrest” until his death by natural causes three years later.

Demetrius left to his son, Antigonas Gonatas (possibly meaning either “Knock-Knees”, “Armored Knees”, or simply a man of Gonnoi in Thessaly) little more than a few loyal garrisons in Greece; his powerful fleet having deserted to Ptolemy in Egypt upon Demetrius’ capture. However, Antigonas proved an exceptionally patient and crafty statesman; exploiting every opportunity to his advantage. He had also learned his military lessons at the feet of his mighty grandfather and father, proving a very able general as well.


When the Celts invaded Macedon and Greece in 279 BC, they slew the Macedonian king, Ptolemy Keraunos (the murderer of Seleucus); leaving Macedon kingless and desperate. Antigonas led a force of mercenaries against the barbarians; ambushing and defeating a branch of the invading tribes at Lysimachia in Thrace (277 BC).  After this victory, Antigonas was acclaimed king of Macedon; and held the throne against many threats and contenders for the next 38 years.

He found Macedon destitute  and its manpower exhausted by losses and migration (Macedonian soldiers were highly sought-after mercenaries in the armies of the other Successor Kingdoms; and most who went abroad never returned, dying in service or settling down as  kleruchs in their new homelands). Throughout his long reign Antigonas relied on mercenaries, allowing the Macedonian population a generation to replenish. He maintained his hold on Greece by establishment of client-tyrants in the various cities; and by strong garrisons at Athens, Corinth, Chalcis, and Demetrias. He also painstakingly rebuilt the Antigonid fleet, with which he drove the Ptolemies out of the Aegean with the naval victories at Kos and Andros, 258-248 BC. (Tarn suggests that the famed Winged Victory of Samothrace was a dedication by Antigonas following one of these two victories).

Antigonas left his successors a strong, stable, modest kingdom. Unlike the other Successor states, the Antigonids never aspired to empire, being content to hold the Macedonian homeland; and to dominate Greece and the Aegean.  The army that they fielded was relatively small (only in its last days attaining a measure of the strength it had enjoyed in the days of Philip II and Alexander, prior to the Asian conquests); though its quality was highly respected in the Hellenistic world.


The Macedonian phalanx of the AntigonidKingdom was famed throughout the ancient world; and while antigonid_phalangitethe other Successor kingdoms had their own “Macedonians”, these were primarily kleruchs, descendants of the Graeco-Macedonian veterans settled by Alexander and his Diodachii, and their Asian/Egyptian wives.  The ancient world put great stock in blood, and only Macedon could field true Macedonians of pure blood. (The Macedonians were larger and heartier than the average Greek, an important factor when it came to the “push of pike” that was a feature of phalanx warfare.) Until finally defeated by the Romans, the Macedonian phalangite was considered the premiere heavy infantryman in the world.

Unlike the armies of the other Successors or of Alexander himself, in which cavalry and light troops comprised the majority of the army, the phalanx was the largest component of the Antigonid army. At Kynoscephalae, against the Romans, Philip V’s army was 62% phalangites (the phalanx never exceeded 40% of the troop totals in Alexander’s day).  Under his son, Perseus, who took pains to reestablish a balanced force structure, the phalanx shrunk proportionately to 49% of the army; still a far higher proportion than in other Successor armies.

The phalanx was divided into three divisions, or Strategiai (each commanded by a Strategos). These divisions were the Peltastoi, the Chalkaspides, and the Leukaspides. The first provided the “standing army” for the kingdom; while the other two were “reserve” formations. The strength of each fluctuated on campaign (and these divisions may in fact have been ad hoc), but “paper strength” of 5,000 has been suggested.

The Peltastoi (“Peltasts”, named for the small bronze shields they carried; not to be confused with the 4th century light troops of the same name) were the elite of the army. They were likely comprised of younger men, doing their “hitch” of regular army service before returning to civilian life and the ranks of one of the other two, reserve Strategiai.

Within this body was an elite force, the Agema (which means “Vanguard”; bb777a8d83e010f0c8f7a568c10f24c3and to whom Livy gives the colorful unit name of Nicatores, “The Conquerors”, “chosen for their strength and enduring energy” .3) ; though all of the Peltasts were crack troops. At Sellasia in 222BC Antigonas Doson had 3,000 Peltasts. At Kynoskephalai in 197BC Philip V had only 2,000 (though at 219BC the division had numbered 5,000; the difference in strength perhaps reflecting losses in earlier battles against the Romans). At Pydna in 168BC the number had risen again to 5,000; of which 2,000 were the Agema, or “Conquerors”.

The term “hypaspists” was used in Antigonid Macedon only for members of the King’s inner circle and bodyguards. It has been suggested, however, that either the Peltasts as a whole or the Agema within this corps could perform the same functions as the hypaspists of Alexander’s army. Which is to say, that they were a multipurpose force; capable either of being dispatched on light infantry missions, or taking their place in the line of battle as a division of the phalanx.

Antigonid Chalcaspides and dart slinger called kestrosThe second and third Strategiai in seniority was the Chalkaspides (the “Brazen/Bronze shields”), and the Leukaspides (“White Shields”). The Brazen Shields are often seen on distant expeditions, while the White Shields only appear in major wars of the Kingdom. It has been inferred from this that the Chalkaspides were more of an “Active Reserve”, comprised of younger men who either had served in the Peltasts; or were those younger men not selected for service in that elite corps. The Leukaspides may have been the older veterans, kept in reserve and called-up only when necessary. (It should be noted, however, that Nicholas Secunda doubts the existence of the Leukaspides as a unit of the Macedonian phalanx; suggesting instead that the many references in multiple ancient sources refers to a unit(s) of thureophoroi. 4)

Antig helmet

All Macedonian phalangites were armed much alike from the Royal Arsenal at Amphipolis. Cuirasses of  bronze (for officers and first rankers) or quilted linen (the Ptolemaic Egyptians called this type of linen cuirass as a kothybos) was augmented by a bronze helmet and greaves. Their shields, called alternatively either aspai  or peltai  were bronze (or bronze-faced) and relatively small, not more than 22” – 24” diameter and slightly concave. This was slung on a baldric over their shoulders till needed; when advancing to contact they swung these over their shoulder and into position, while leveling their pikes.

The main weapon of the phalanx was the two-handed pike, called a sarissa. This varied in length over time; from an estimated 15-18’ at the time of Alexander to an impressive 21’ at the time of Pydna (there was even experimentation with 24” sarissa during the mid-2nd century, but this extreme length was apparently  found to be unwieldy). It was composed of two sections of cornel (wild cherry) wood, or perhaps ash; joined by a 6” tubular metal sleeve. The two halves could be broken down, allowing for ease of storage on the march, and allowed the phalangite to use a half section as a spear when the longer pike was impractical (such as when climbing a siege ladder or fighting aboard ship).  The sarissa sported a 20” iron spear head at one end, and an 18” iron buttspike/counterweight at the back end. The head was narrow, allowing for great penetration.

1 phalangite

Phalangite of Philip II and  Alexander. Though his equipment differed in some particulars from the later Antigonid phalangites, the sarissa changed little over the ages except for length

The sarissa was a heavy, sturdy weapon, not easily broken or severed. There are several accounts of these pikes punching into the face of Roman “scutum” shields, and pushing the legionaries backwards as the phalangites steadily advanced. There are also accounts of Roman soldiers attempting to cut the heads off of sarissai with their gladius (short swords); with limited success. They were even capable of punching through light shields and armor, as seen in several incidents during Alexander’s reign.

The phalanx arrayed and advancing was apparently a terrifying sight. Livy writes of Aemelius Paulus, the Roman general who defeated the Macedonians at Pydna:

“Aemilius the consul, who had never seen a phalanx until this occasion in the war with Perseus, often confessed afterwards to certain persons in Rome that he had never seen anything more terrible and dreadful than a Macedonian phalanx, and this although he had witnessed and directed as many battles as any man.”


Each man would swing his shield from over his shoulder into position, the sun no doubt gleaming off of their bronze face. The sarissa would come down, the first four ranks level, the next four angled over the heads of the comrades ahead of them, and the pikes of the last eight ranks upright. To attack or withstand attack from this dense hedgehog of points must have demanded supreme confidence and courage. It is not surprising that the phalanx was the most feared fighting force of the ancient world for two hundred years.


Cavalry had been a major component in the armies of Philip II  and Alexander; both the elite Companions and Thessalian cavalry, and contingents of ethnic light horse from various Balkan allies. However, immigration by much of the Macedonian nobility to the new conquests in the East had depleted the ranks of the ethnic Macedonian cavalry to a few hundred.  The proportions of cavalry in the Antigonid army averaged a mere 5%; compared with that of 20% in the army of Alexander.

Whereas at the start of his reign Alexander had at his disposal 3,900 cavalry (3,300 of which were elite Companion heavy horse), at Sellasia Antigonus Doson had only 300 horse. A generation later, at Kynoskephalai,  Philip V had 2,000 Macedonian and Thessalian horse.  Perseus, with the benefit of a generation of peace and deliberate policies to grow the population, could raise 3,000 horse from Macedonia alone; the closest the Antigonid Kingdom was to come to the numbers enjoyed under Philip II and Alexander.

Within these numbers were a body of “Household” cavalry, called by the sources the Sacred Squadron (“hiera ile”).  Philip V had 400 in 219BC, and the 300 horsemen Doson had at Sellasia may have been this unit.

Philip and horse guard

Philip V, armed with xyston lance; followed by javelin-armed members of the “Sacred Squadron” (Hiera Ila)

Unlike Macedonian cavalry of Alexander’s day, who were lance-armed shock cavalry (using the 12’ long xyston), these later Macedonians were skirmish cavalry. Though wearing armor and bearing a large, Celtic-style shield,  they appear to have been armed with javelins. Livy describes their consternation when charged by Roman cavalry; being unaccustomed to close-quarter battle. The same author describes Philip V as fighting on horseback, throwing javelins.

Auxiliary cavalry provided by Balkan allies and mercenaries could mildly inflate the number of cavalry on campaign.  At Sellasia, 300 mercenary and 600 allied horse augmented Doson’s forces. For the Pydna campaign, Perseus had 1,000 “elite” Thracian/Bastarnae cavalry.



From the beginning, the Antigonids relied upon mercenaries to both spare the limited (and, at times, exhausted) Macedonian population and to augment them on campaign.  Mercenaries also formed the bulk of the garrisons of the major fortresses (though Acrokorinth was guarded by a mixed force including 500 Macedonians; presumably because such a key fortress required troops whose loyalty was assured).  After the Celtic invasion, Antigonas Gonatas made wide use of Galatians; at one time hiring a whole tribe! These were plentiful, fierce in battle, and relatively cheep. Later Antigonids primarily relied on Greek and Balkan mercenaries; particularly Illyrians and Thracians.


At Sellasia, Doson had 1,000 Agrianians, as well as 1,600 Illyrians, 1,000 Galatians, and some number of Cretan archers. At Kynoskephalai Philip V had 2,000 Trallians (an Illyrian tribe) mercenaries, as well as 2,000 Thracians. For the Pydna campaign, Perseus 3,000 Cretan archers, 1,000 assorted Greek mercenaries (mostly spear-and-javelin armed thureophoroi), 2,000 Galatian infantry, and 3,000 “free” Thracians (earlier in his reign, Perseus had settled a  mixed force of some 3,000 Agrianians,  Paionian and Thracian skirmish infantry in Macedonia; these may be that same force).


Interestingly, Philip V’s garrison in Sikyon in 198 BC included Italians. These were both deserters from the Roman fleet, and former Italian veterans of Hannibal’s army who dared not return to their homes in Italy.


Under Antigonas Gonatas, Macedon became (once again) briefly a naval power. Antigonas gathered or built a fleet of warships to challenge Ptolemaic supremacy at sea and dominance of the Aegean. Little is known about either the size of this fleet or the types of warships which composed it. Tarn has suggested they were the larger quadremes and penteres/quinqueremes, and that this fleet numbered roughly 150 ships. The flagship, whose original name is unknown, but which was later renamed the Isthmia (it was perhaps built at Corinth) was a wonder of its age; having supposedly 3 decks, two banks of oars with 9 rowers manning each sweep (called an “18er”). It was supposedly a fast and well built ship, leading the line of battle. Tarn further suggests that Antigonas won the Battles of Kos and Andros  by manning his fleet with his excellent Macedonian infantry; and like the Romans at Cape Ecnomus against the Carthaginians a decade earlier, turned the battle into a boarding action, favoring his superior “marines”. (It is speculated that the Macedonian phalangites used javelins or the upper half of their sarissa as spears when on ship-board as marines.) These victories drove the Ptolemies out of the Aegean; most of their islands passing to the victor, Antigonus.


Following these victories, Gonatas dedicated his flagship to Apollo at Delos.

After Gonatas, the fleet declined both in size of ships and overall number.

By Philip V, the main warship of the Macedonian state was the light Lemboi; an open-decked galley of 50 oars, smaller than the earlier pentekonter. In 219-215BC, Philip manned this fleet of light galleys with his own phalangites, teaching these to row and with this squadron campaigned in the Ionian Sea against the Western Islands.

In 201BC, Philip V brought a fleet of 200 warships to the Battle of Chios. Most of which only 53 were so-called cataphract (decked), and 150 were light Lemboi.  Here his fleet was badly defeated by a coalition which included Rhodes (the master seamen of their day) and the Seleucid break-away state of Pergamon.


Philip V

By the Roman Wars, Philip was facing a coalition which included the naval power of Rhodes and Pergamon as well as the Romans; who, since defeating Carthage in the First Punic War, had become a preeminent naval power. Faced by such strength at sea, the Macedonian fleet was disbanded for all intents and purposes. Macedon would never be a major naval power again.


The AntigonidKingdom was the dominant power in the southern Balkans and the Aegean throughout the 3rd century BC, until defeated and ultimately annexed by the Romans in the first half of the 2nd century. Throughout that time, its focus was in keeping its Greek possessions intact and the independent Greek states on its periphery weak and divided. Its chief rival was Ptolemaic Egypt in the first half of the 3rd century, till driving them out of the Aegean. Thereafter, their chief rival was the Achaean and Aetolian Leagues.  When the rising power of Rome in the west began to cast its dark shadow over Greece, Philip V attempted to forge a pan-Hellenic coalition to oppose this powerful threat. In this he had limited success, gaining the alliance of the Achaean League, but failing to bring into coalition the powerful Aetolian League. This latter power ultimately allied with and invited the Romans into Greece.


Macedon battled and failed against the Romans; Philip being defeated at Kynoskephalai in 197 BC. Following that defeat, Philip became a loyal ally of Rome while quietly rebuilding his kingdom’s strength. His son, Perseus, inherited a Macedonian kingdom and army stronger than it had been since the accession of Alexander the Great. He challenged Rome, but was also defeated at Pydna  in 168 BC.  After this, he was sent in chains to Rome and Macedon became a province of the Roman Empire.


1 Diodorus XX, 113

2 Bar-Kochva, Bezalel, “The Seleucid Army: Organization and Tactics in the Great Campaigns”; CambridgeUniversity Press, 1976. Page 75

3 Livy 42.51.4-5

4 Secunda, Nicholas, Macedonian Armies after Alexander 323 – 168 BC; Osprey Publishing LTD, 2012. P. 36-37

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When Alexander died in Babylon in 323BC, the Macedonian leadership reassigned the Satrapies (governorships) of the empire.  Ptolemy son of Lagos, Alexander’s childhood friend and one of the inner circle of “Bodyguards” and generals, was appointed Satrap of Egypt.

Ptolemy arrived with no soldiers and no treasury of his own. But he used the riches of Egypt to hire a large force of mercenaries; and wasted no time in stealing the body  of Alexander as it passed through Syria on the way to burial in Macedonia. He took it first to Memphis and then to rest in the newly constructed capital of Alexandria. This act was a declaration of revolt against the regency of Perdiccas in Babylon; and set off the subsequent Wars of the Diadochi. Throughout the next 50 years of near-continuous conflict, Ptolemy alone showed no interest in reuniting the Empire of Alexander; but single-mindedly worked to build a self-sufficient kingdom centered on the Lower-Nile.

Ptolemy Soter

Ptolemy I Soter

After Alexander, the Eastern Mediterranean was awash in unemployed fighting men. These mercenaries were of various types; the most desired being Macedonian or others trained to fight like Macedonian phalangites. These were the battle-winners in the wars of the Diadachi.  Cavalry were also prized, particularly the heavy cavalry lancers of Macedonian or Thessalian origin. These were in vary short supply, and when available served usually in the bodyguard regiments of the various Satraps, Successor kings and generals.

Light infantry were more readily available. Of these, Cretan archers, Rhodian slingers, and javelin-and-spear armed Peltasts/Thureophoroi (particularly those from Thrace) were the most valuable. In the 3rd century, after the Celtic invasion of Greece and Anatolia, these “Galatians” also became much sought after soldiers-for-hire.

With the wealth of Egypt to draw on, Ptolemy I was able to not only hire an army of such mercenaries and hold onto Egypt; he succeeded in creating the longest-lasting of all the Successor Kingdoms. He was remembered by his people and history as Ptolemy Soter (“The Savior”).

His first test came in 321 BC, when Egypt was invaded by Perdiccas, the Macedonian Regent for Alexander the Great’s infant child. Perdiccas led the “Grande Armee” of the Macedonian Empire, and should have had little trouble in unseating Ptolemy from his newly-held stronghold. However, he was daunted by the Nile; unable to cross in the face of resistance. Delay led to disaffection among his troops (who took particular exception to seeing comrades drown or eaten by Nile crocodiles!), who could see no reason they should be fighting the popular Ptolemy to further the ambitions of the haughty Perdiccas. The impasse was solved by Perdiccas’ subordinate generals: Seleucus (the future founder of the Seleucid Dynasty), Peithon, and  Antigenes (commander of the elite “Silver Shields” regiment) murdered the Regent in his tent.

The two armies joined as one, and peace between Macedonians was (briefly) restored. Some of the soldiers of the Imperial Army stayed in Egypt to serve Ptolemy; many of which settled in the country, becoming the nucleus for a Macedonian colony.

In 312 BC Ptolemy  faced yet another Diadachi foe at the Battle of Gaza; this time an Antigonid army led by the son and heir of Antigonus “One Eyed”  (Monophthalmus), 23 year old Demetrius (not-yet Poliorcetes, “the Besieger”). Ptolemy (and his now-ally and guest,  Seleucus) was triumphant, routing Demetrius and capturing all 43 elephants and some 8,000 infantry. Many of the latter were Macedonians or Greek mercenaries. These were taken back to Egypt as prisoners of war.


Demetrius’ Agema fighting Ptolemy’s Companions at Gaza, 312 BC

Throughout his reign, Ptolemy I Soter settled both discharged mercenaries and Macedonian and Greek prisoners-of-war in Lower Egypt (mostly in the Nile Delta region) as kleruch/military settlers. They and their descendents provided the “Macedonian” kleruch phalanx  that was the infantry home guard of the Ptolemaic kingdom in its first two centuries; and the Kleruch cavalry. They were also recruited into the Royal Guards of the Ptolemaic kings. Fresh drafts of mercenaries from Greece, Thrace, and Anatolia were ever recruited to garrison far-flung outposts, provide marines for Egypt’s superb navy, and to bolster the fighting effectiveness of the indigenous Ptolemaic army.

Unlike the Seleucids, who were a land power and had a large pool of European military settlers to draw upon, the Ptolemies were primarily a naval power. Their wealth (in part) and power derived  from their overseas’ interests in the Eastern Mediterranean (particularly Cyprus) and the Aegean islands, and from towns and cities they controlled along the Thracian and Anatolian littoral.

Reliance on Hellenic and “barbarian” mercenaries was to become a hallmark of the Ptolemaic kings that followed Soter on the throne. While money was seldom an issue, reliable indigenous troops were always in short supply. The Army reflected this, with the bulk of their forces comprised of mercenary garrisons holding towns and fortresses scattered across their empire; and serving as marines aboard their fleet.

As with the Seleucids, the army was comprised of three parts: The guards around the king in Alexandria; the reservists, at first predominantly Greco-Macedonian kleruchs, and later including Egyptian machimoi; and finally the mercenaries.


Unlike their rival Seleucids, the Ptolemies maintained a relatively small force of full-time soldiers to act as a Royal Guard around the sovereign.  These were drawn from the Macedonian and Greek kleruchs, settled in Egypt by the first Ptolemy.

yghThis consisted of a cavalry Royal Guard (Hetairoi?) 700 strong; and an infantry Royal Guard (Basilikon Agema) 3,000 strong. The cavalry were lance armed (xystophoroi), and as late as 200BC were shieldless. The infantry guard were phalangites, though a 1,000 man unit within the Agema may have been able to fight as more traditional hypaspists or as thorakitai (spear or spear-and-javelin armed, fast moving heavy infantry).

A further 2,000 “Peltast” are listed at the Battle of Raphia (217BC) as posted next to the Agema; and these too might have been a unit of the regular guards (though it is just as likely they were mercenaries). The name should not be confused with the traditional troop type called “peltasts” in Greek warfare; meaning light skirmish infantry. By the late 3rd century BC, the term was being used to mean phalangites carrying a small, bronze-faced round shield called a “pelta”. The traditional peltast-skirmishers of old were now called thureophoroi (having replaced their smaller pelta shields with a long, light oval shield called a thureos, and added a thrusting spear to their traditional javelins).

Ptolemaic guard cavalry

Royal Guard Cavalry

After Raphia a “picked” unit of native Egyptians joined the guard, referred to in the sources as Machimoi Epilektoi. Neither their numeric strength nor armament are known; but it is likely they were originally trained as phalangites, as this is the role the Egyptian Machimoi played at Raphia. As with much of the Ptolemaic army after the reforms of the Ptolemy VI Philometor, from the 160s onward they may have been trained and equipped as Thureophoroi.

Finally, the sons of the kleruch military settlers received their military training in a corps of cadets, called the Epigoni (“Heirs”). How long the young men had to serve in this force is unknown; but since they are unlisted at Raphia, it is likely that this not a combat unit; and that following their training they returned to their father’s farms, to be mobilized as part of the kleroi phalanx when needed.


The Graeco-Macedonian kleroi provided the phalanx of the Ptolemaic Empire. At Raphia, these numbered 25,000 (according to Polybius). These were men of Macedonian or Greek descent. However, it should be noted that the term “Macedonian”, when used in the ancient sources to refer to a body of troops, only meant men who fought in the “Macedonian style”,  as phalangites; and not necessarily to ethnicity.


The Ptolemaic “Macedonian” phalanx was equipped much as their counterparts in other Hellenistic kingdoms, with the two-handed sarissa (pike) and a smallish (22”-28”) shield (called a “pelte”  in the later Hellenistic Period). While all phalangites were equipped with a helmet, at least the front rankers (if not all) wore cuirass and greaves. In battle they formed-up 16-32 ranks deep (at Raphia the Ptolemaic phalanx formed 24 ranks deep; perhaps to gain extra weight against their better-quality Seleucid counterparts). The phalanx had two two density orders: pyknosis, the standard battle order in which each man occupied 3’ of frontage; and synaspismos (“locked shields”), in which each man occupied a mere 1.5’ frontage. This latter density was only used to receive an assault, and was seldom used when a phalanx was advancing as it allowed little room for maneuver.

The phalanx aside, small numbers of kleroi settlements were assigned to discharged Thracian and Galatian mercenaries; so that such “ethnic” troops, fighting in their own unique national styles, would be available indigenously. 4,000 such “mercenary kleruchs” were available for battle in 217BC; fighting in their own style.


Cavalry kleruchs numbered about 2,300 at the Battle of Raphia. The army by that time had degenerated after decades of neglect; and in the previous generation may have numbered twice as many. While their equipment likely came from government armories, each man had to supply his own horse. They likely fought in their traditional fashion, as either xystophoroi or armed with shield and javelin.  

As time went on, the quality of the Graeco-Macedonian kleruch soldiers deteriorated to the point where they ceased to be a military force. Mercenaries, particularly thorakitai and thureophoroi became the mainstay of the Ptolemaic army.


In 219 BC, the Fourth Syrian War began with the Seleucid king Antiochus III invading the Ptolemaic lands of Phoenicia and Coele-Syria (“Hollow-Syria”, Palestine). Fortunately for Ptolemaic fortunes, he paused to consolidate his control of these territories, rather than pressing on into Egypt. This gave the court of Alexandria time to prepare.

The Ptolemaic army had been idle for nearly a generation, and was in no condition to face the stronger Seleucid army under its energetic young king. Ptolemy IV, himself a young king newly risen to the throne (Ptolemy IV and Philip V of Macedon both came to their respective thrones in 221BC; just two years after Antiochus III). Unlike his Seleucid rival, he was a weak and dissolute creature, controlled by his corrupt ministers. However corrupt they may have been, they were resourceful. They used the time they had to prepare the army for battle.

The kleruchs reservists were called-up and drilled; mercenaries were hired from Greece and the Aegean. Most consequentially, for the first time, the Ptolemaic government began recruiting from the native Egyptian population.

Egypt was a very old land with a very long history. By the time Alexander the Great arrived in Egypt, the builders of the pyramids were as ancient to him as he is to our time! Under the Macedonians the hereditary Egyptian military caste, the machimoi, had not been called to fight in the army; though they did serve in the fleet.

But in face of Seleucid invasion, the Ptolemaic court made the decision to arm and train the Egyptian machimoi as phalangites. 20,000 were ready in 217 to face the invaders, to fight beside the 25,000 Graeco-Macedonian Kleruch phalangites. It was a bold (and, as it turned out, dangerous) move to arm the machimoi. Macedonian control of Egypt relied more on Egyptian apathy than on the loyalty of the people. Given arms and training equal to the Macedonians, the native Egyptians were soon agitating for greater equality. The next reign was plagued by revolts.

At the Battle of Raphia in 217BC, the machimoi phalanx gave good service; standing beside the Graeco-Macedonian kleruchs in the battle line against the Seleucid phalanx; ultimately routing it from the field.


As already stated, the bulk of the Ptolemaic army was comprised of mercenary garrisons and auxiliaries. Macedonian mercenaries were primarily available during the early years of the Diodachi Wars, while Macedon was in turmoil and remnants of Alexander’s army were still available for recruitment in Asia. However, as the political situation solidified in the early 3rd century, the later Ptolemies had no access to Macedonians; that kingdom now being ruled by their rivals, the Antigonids. Greek mercenaries were still both prized and available. 8,000 mercenary Greek phalangites fought in the Ptolemaic ranks at Raphia (217BC). At least 6,000 Aetolians were brought to Alexandria by the mercenary general, Scopas, in 200BC.


From their coastal possessions in Thrace and Anatolia, they were able to recruit the warlike peoples of the interiors: Thracians, Galatians, Lycians and Pamphlians.  Most of these fought as thureophoroi. Libyans are also mentioned, but wither these are from Greek Cyrene or the Libyan desert-dwelling tribes is unknown. Cretan archers and Rhodian slingers were also prized specialist troops. Judeans and Idumean Arabs were also recruited, but seem to have been used mostly as police and border patrol forces.

Oddly, the Ptolemies seem to have made no use of the Nubian archers of the Northern Sudan; which had served to good effect in the ancient armies of the Pharaohs, and in the Medieval armies of Muslim Egypt.


As the kingdom became a virtual client kingdom of Rome following Pompey‘s “Eastern Settlement” in the first half of the 1st century BC, Roman and Italian soldier’s of fortune joined the ranks of the Ptolemaic mercenaries. In 51BC, Ptolemy XII was restored to his throne by Roman intervention. A force of 2,000 Roman troops were left in Alexandria to keep him in power. These came to be known as the Gabiniani (in reference to the Roman general, Aulus Gabinius who had led the Roman expedition to Egypt); and soon adopted the manners of their new country and became just another group of mercenaries.

So alienated had they become from their mother country that when in 50BC the Governor of Syria, Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus sent his sons to Alexandria to summon them to Syria to oppose a Parthian attack, the Gabiniani (happy in their current station) not only refused; they murdered the Governor’s sons!

The Gabiniani became deeply involved in Alexandrian politics; and supported Ptolemy XIII against his older sister, Cleopatra VII. She had earned their enmity after she turned the murderers of Bibulus’ sons over to the Romans for justice. The following year, 49BC, they helped drive her out of Alexandria. When Caesar defeated Pompey at Pharsalus in August 48BC, Pompey fled to Egypt. Ptolemy XIII’s powerful advisors had supported Pompey with troops in the civil war, and now sought to curry favor with the victor by murdering Pompey. It was two leading members of the Gabiniani, the former Tribune Lucius Septimius and the Centurion Salvius who carried out the bloody treachery.

Caesar was not pleased by with the murder of his former son-in-law; and upon settling into Alexandria with a small force, he brought Cleopatra VII back to the capital. This led to conflict with Ptolemy, his advisors and the army (led by a general named Achillas). Caesar and the single legion which had accompanied him found themselves besieged in the capital; which came to be called the Alexandrian War. The Gabiniani played an important role as the core of Achillas’ army; and were reinforced by “fugitive criminals and exiles” from the neighboring Roman provinces, swelling their ranks. Caesar triumphed in the end, and the Gabiniani suffered annihilation in the final battles.

Cleopatras bodyguard

After the Alexandrian War, Caesar carried on an affair with Cleopatra. He left three legions in Egypt to safeguard her reign when he departed to continue the fight against his remaining enemies. After Caesar’s assassination in 44BC, Marc Antony became the most powerful man in Roman Empire (along with his partner-in-power, Octavian Caesar). He soon became Cleopatra’s lover and ultimately her husband. While resident in Alexandria, he reorganized her guard, now comprised of Romans loyal to the two of them.


The Ptolemies maintained a large arsenal of artillery at Alexandria. Machines of various sizes were built and maintained. These ranged from stone throwing ballistae to bolt-shooting catapults. The torsion-powered catapult was perfected in the Hellenistic Period, with Alexandria and Syracuse the chief centers of scientific experimentation and development of artillery.

This type of engine was the supreme artillery weapon of the world until gunpowder. As late as the second decade of the 18th century, a French military writer (the Chevalier de Folard) argued for returning to torsion-powered catapults; as they were as accurate as the cannon of the day and cheaper to operate! Torsion-powered machines had great range and power, the longest shot recorded being 800 yards, firing a 6’ long bolt. This was an extreme range from a large machine; the average catapult shooting a bolt half that size and half as far. Torsion power was provided by tightly bound skeins of sinew or human hair (there was a great market in the Hellenistic Kingdoms for hair, and women of the poorer-classes regularly sold their long locks).


Engines of various size were used in siege warfare (both for attacking and defending cities and fortresses). Tarn argued that they were not used in Hellenistic naval warfare, that it was the Romans who first mounted engines on shipboard; but this view is not generally accepted.1    Artillery was only used in battle during the Hellenistic Period on two occasions: once by Alexander to force a crossing of the Jaxartes River against the Massagetae; and at the third Battle of Mantinea in 207 BC by the Spartan Tyrant, Machanidas (and had no appreciable effect on the outcome of the battle). The main reason that the powerful and accurate ancient artillery was not more widely used is likely because of their lack of mobility, the fluid nature of field battles, and the time it took to construct these wooden engines on the battlefield (they were never moved about in one piece; but assembled on site as needed).

Elephants were another specialty force within the Ptolemaic army. Originally, Ptolemy I Soter may have had a few Indian elephants taken from the army of Perdiccas the Regent; and 43 more were captured from Demetrius following the victory at Gaza. But when these died, no source for Indian elephants was available. Starting with Ptolemy II Philadelphos expeditions were sent out to capture and train the smaller Forest Elephant; found along the Red Sea coast and south as far as Abyssinia. Originally these beasts were trained by imported Indian mahouts. Later mahouts were Greek or Egyptian; though they were still referred to as “Indians”. No record exists for the size of the Ptolemaic herd; but at Raphia in 217BC there were 73 elephants on the Ptolemaic side.


During this battle, the larger Seleucid Indian Elephants dominated their Ptolemaic opponents. According to Polybius, even the smell of the Indian beasts intimidated the smaller African Forest Elephants.


With possessions sprawled across the Eastern Mediterranean, the fleet was perhaps the most important element in the Ptolemaic military. While not technically within the scope of this discussion, a few words about this vital arm are appropriate.


Successor Penteres/Quinquereme (5-rower), ship-of-the-line of the Hellenistic and Roman world

From the beginning of the Wars of the Diadochi, fleet actions had played an important part. Demetrius Poliorcetes was able to wrest control of the sea (and Cyprus) from Ptolemy by victory in the Battle of Salamis-in-Cyprus, in 306 BC. For the next twenty years, Demetrius and the Antigonids controlled the largest fleet in the Mediterranean.  After his capture by Seleucus in Cilicia in 286 BC, the Antigonid fleet went over to Ptolemy. This gave the Ptolemies (on paper) somewhere between 300 – 400 warships; with Tarn’s estimate of 336 first-rate warships seeming persuasive.2

Hepteres of Cleopatra

An Octeres (8-rower). Several of these formed the vanguard of Antony’s fleet at Actium in 31 BC. The hypothetical arrangement of the rowers here depicted arranges them in three tiers, as seen in a trireme. Most scholars suggest a two-tier arrangement.

For most of the 3rd century, the Ptolemaic fleet was the most powerful fleet in the Mediterranean; surpassing in size that of either Carthage (max of 200 ships) or Rome (250 ships)3; and possessing a variety of much larger and more powerful ships than either (including the largest warship built in the ancient world, a tessarakonteres, or 40-rower).


Artist speculative reconstruction of the tessarakonteres of Ptolemy II. Some scholars have speculated that this ship may, in fact, have been a double-hauled catamaran; with the deck overlaying the two large hulls.

During the reign of the dissolute Ptolemy IV, the fleet was allowed to deteriorate (wooden fleets rot if left without maintenance and replacement). From 201 BC onward, the fleet only took to the sea in small squadrons. Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemies, was able to furnish but 60 ships for service under Antony for the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. These included some large warships, including a number of deceres (10-rowers). Due to malaria sweeping through the Antonine camp, the entire fleet was undermanned during the battle. This depletion in rowers meant a lack of propulsion; accounting for the unusual sluggishness of the entire fleet, and particularly the great “dreadnaughts”, the larger warships. Octavian’s light libernians were able to maintain a safe distance.


Though neither the largest or best of the Successor Kingdom armies, the Ptolemaic forces were able maintain an empire that controlled much of the Eastern Mediterranean for nearly three centuries. At its “high-water mark”, in the 240′s, a Ptolemaic army under the mercenary general Xanthippus the Spartan marched as far as Babylon (and, by one account, into the Eastern Satrapies). At Raphia in 217BC it managed to win the greatest Successor battle since Ipsus, 84 years earlier. At sea, the Ptolemaic fleet ruled the Eastern Mediterranean for generations. Long after their rivals, the Antigonids of Macedon and the Seleucids of Syria had fallen under the control of the Romans, the Ptolemaic kingdom remained the last independent Hellenistic Kingdom.


Under the last Ptolemaic kings, Egypt became a virtual client-kingdom of Rome. Even so, the last Ptolemaic ruler, the famed Cleopatra VII, nearly managed to restore the lost glory of her dynasty through the skilled manipulation of the two most powerful Romans of her day: Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. She was a woman of famous whit and charm, and undoubted intelligence. She has this distinction: Rome only feared two individuals. One was Hannibal; the other was Cleopatra.


Click here for an excellent write-up on the Battle of Raphia.

1  See Tarn, W.W., Hellenistic Military and Naval Developments; Ares Publishers Inc, Chicago, 1930; P.120

2 Tarn, W.W.,  Antigonos Gonatas; Appendix X

3 Polybius puts the Carthaginian and Roman fleets in the First Punic War at an impossibly high number of 330 and 350 warships, respectively. But Professor W. W. Tarn’s careful analysis of Polybius’ figures (JHS, vol. 27) downsizes both to a more acceptable number.

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