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.
(This is the fifth in a series concerning the Wars of the Diadochi. 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. Or you can read the previous installment here. Stay tuned to this blog for future installments! Special thanks to Michael Park for his indispensable help in filling in the gaps in the sources and putting-up with my incessant questions!)
THE SITUATION AT THE END OF THE LAMIAN WAR
With both the Lamian War concluded and the revolt of the Greek settlers in Bactria crushed, the Greeks were once more reduced to submission. Any external threat to the Macedonian Empire was gone; and no existential threat to Macedon and Macedonian supremacy would arise till the coming of the Celts, 41 years later.
The Macedonian leaders could now turn their attention to the important matter of who would rule the Empire bequeathed to them by Alexander the Great.
The year 322 ended in Greece with Antipater and Craterus busily pacifying the Greek city-states; establishing client oligarchies and, as in Munychia overlooking the port of Athens, garrisons. Key Macedonian garrisons seem to have been at Athens; Chalcis (across a narrow strait, on the island of Euboea); the lofty mountain-top acropolis of the Acrocorinth (perhaps the strongest fortress in Greece and the key to passage in-and-out of the Peloponnese); and the Cadmeia of Thebes.
Two views of the impregnable Acrocorinth: Looming above the ruins of Corinth (top), and approaching the northwestern battlements. Nature and man combined to make this the strongest fortress in Greece. It was held by Macedonian garrisons for nearly a century.
This latter needs explanation, as Thebes was destroyed by Alexander in 335. However, the citadel, known as the Cadmeia, appears to have been restored and garrisoned as a Macedonian fortress, to keep Boeotia and central Greece under the Macedonian’s thumb.
Only isolated and isolationist Sparta in the south and wild Aetolia in the mountainous west remained free of Macedonian dominance. Antipater and Craterus (now acting as first-and-second in command of Macedonian forces in Europe) planned a campaign in the west to reduce Aetolia in the coming year (321).
At this stage in the game, both men had relatively good relations with the Regent, Perdiccas, in Asia; and there was as yet no hint of the trouble to come. As a sign of both good faith and acceptance of the Regent as spokesman for the Kings, Antipater had deferred to Perdiccas’ judgment the settlement of the Samian issue; important to Athens, now governed by Antipater’s men. Antipater would soon make moves to tie his house closer to the Regent, as well as the other great men of the empire. Perdiccas, perhaps as early as autumn of 323, insecure in his position and looking to shore it up with a marriage alliance, had negotiated with Antipater for his daughter Nicaea’s hand. While still pending, it was likely the two houses would be united in marriage, making strife between them unlikely.
Craterus’ position vis-à-vis the Regent was more ambiguous. At Babylon he had been named Guardian (“prostates”) of Philip Arrhidaeus kingship. This would seem to imply regency for the king, and in the past this term had been nearly synonymous with “regent”. The ambiguity in their respective roles and duties was perhaps deliberate: at the time of the Babylonian Settlement (see Part 2) Perdiccas was not yet secure enough in his authority to alienate Craterus, who some argued was the man Alexander had actually named on his deathbed as his regent (see Part 1). With Craterus waiting in Cilicia with an Army of his own, it behooved Perdiccas to placate him with a position seemingly on a par with his own. In theory, they were joint-regents for the kings.
But now, eighteen months later, Craterus was in Europe, and accepting a role as Antipater’s subordinate, while Perdiccas was solidifying his power and position with a successful campaign to pacify Cappadocia.
With the kings in Perdiccas’ custody, Craterus had to assert himself if he wished to gain a measure of the authority that should have been his. He needed Antipater’s help.
Returning to Macedon for the winter of 322-321, the two men cemented their relationship with a marriage alliance, Craterus taking for bride Phila, Antipater’s second daughter. Phila was the widow of Balacrus, one of Alexander’s earlier Somatophylakes (“Bodyguards”, the inner-circle of top staff-officers who assisted the king). No beauty, Phila was however a wise and level-headed woman who became a trusted adviser of the her more famous future husband, Demetius the Besieger. But that was in the future, and in 322-21 she was the peace-bond between her father, Antipater, and Craterus. For her this was a great marriage, to the handsome and famous general who had been Alexander’s strong right arm.
Antipater and Craterus now sought a peaceful accommodation with Perdiccas through yet another marriage alliance.
Views of the ruins of Pella, capital of the Macedonian kingdom. Located on the central plain of Macedon, Pella was a thriving city and seaport into the 2nd century BC; after which it declined as Thessalonike, capital of the new Roman province, grew in importance. It was here that Craterus married Antipater’s daughter, Phila, in the winter of 322-321 BC; cementing their alliance.
That winter Antipater agreed to Perdiccas earlier request for the hand of another of his daughters, Nicaea; uniting himself and (indirectly) Craterus to the Regent. Antipater hoped in this way that peace would be kept, that he would remain the power in Europe, and that Perdiccas would come to accommodation with Craterus over the rule of Asia and custody of the kings. In case this failed, however, the wily old player also made overtures towards Ptolemy, holed-up in Egypt, offering him his youngest daughter, Eurydice.
But if push-came-to-shove (as it ultimately would), Antipater and Craterus were in no weak position. They had a strong and victorious army at their disposal, as well as the Macedonian fleet (some 200-250 keels) that now controlled the Aegean, under the command of their admiral, Cleitus the White, victor of Amorgos.
They had the Macedonian homeland and Thessaly at their disposal, from which they could recruit first-class infantry and horse (though Macedon was beginning to show signs of the coming exhaustion of manpower that was to be acutely felt in the next century). Perhaps most importantly in the internal struggle to come, both men were highly esteemed by the rank-and-file Macedonian solders, the ultimate arbiters of all power in the empire. No leader, in fact, was more respected than Antipater, and none more beloved among the Macedonians than Craterus.
But war was the last resort in order to secure their rightful place in the empire. First Antipater hoped his web of marriage alliances would guarantee the balance of power. However, two arch-schemers were at work to upset this arrangement: Olympias, the late King’s mother; and Eumenes of Cardia, Alexander’s former secretary. Both had a vested interest in thwarting Antipater’s plan, and a move of their own to make upon the game board.
PERDICCAS COMES NORTH
While the Lamian War raged in Greece, events played out in the rest of the empire. As we have already discussed, in the “upper satrapies” a rising by the Greek settlers left there by Alexander had been crushed on Perdiccas’ order by Peithon, satrap of Media. Peithon then returned to Babylon, where he would serve as the Regent’s ambitious and not all-together happy subordinate.
In Egypt, another leader beloved by the Macedonians had consolidating his position.
Ptolemy son of Lagos had secured Egypt as his province at the Babylonian Settlement. Upon arriving he took charge from Cleomenes of Naucratis, the former satrap appointed by Alexander and tasked with building the city of Alexandria-in-Egypt at the mouth of the Nile. Perdiccas left Cleomenes in place as Ptolemy’s subordinate, in charge of finances and likely instructed by Perdiccas to keep an eye on Ptolemy. By fair dealing with the natives and subordinates, Ptolemy made himself well-liked in his province; and was beginning to attract to himself a force of Macedonians and Greek mercenaries.
In Asia Minor (Anatolia) Antigonas Monophthalmus (“One-Eyed”) ruled Phrygia, the satrapy he’d held since Alexander had conquered the land in 333. One of the oldest of the senior Macedonian leaders, he had watched as the tide of events passed him by. While Alexander and a younger generation had conquered the east, his province had been a crossroads. At his satrapal palace at Celaenae, the old soldier (and the handsome lad that was his eldest son, Demetrius) had entertained officers and detachments marching from Macedon to join the King’s far-off army; or disabled veterans returning home, bearing fantastic tales of mighty deeds, strange lands and even stranger animals. Now the great king was dead, the adventure over, and Antigonas watched as first Leonnatus and then Craterus had passed through on their way to Greece, taking leading parts in the great events of the day.
Antigonas watched, and contemplated his own place in this new world of opportunities opening before them all. We can only guess but that he looked upon the “great men” taking center stage; and thought himself no less capable than the best of them.
Western Anatolian plain near Dinar, Turkey; site of ancient Celaenae, capital of Antigonas’ satrapy Dinar, Turkey, site of ancient Celaenae. Once a crossroads town for travel from the Aegean coast to the Anatolian highlands, Alexander made Celaenae the capital of his province of Phrygia. Here his chosen satrap, Antigonas “One Eyed”, sat out Alexander’s wars while keeping this vital communications hub open. Here too his charismatic son, Demetrius, grew to manhood.
At this point Antigonas was a minor player, at best a mere knight on the chess board. But like the knight, he was tricky and capable of sudden and unexpected attack. Antigonas waited, utilizing that great gift that comes to some men over time and with age: patience.
But now, at the end of 322, Antigonas at Celaenae grew nervous. He had disobeyed the Regent in the matter of helping Eumenes to capture Cappadocia; an order likely impossible with the slender means available to him at the time (his satrapal army, if army it could be called, numbered no more than a few thousand mercenary horse and foot) and considering that the Cappadocian king, Ariarathes, had an army numbering perhaps 30,000 men. But the haughty Perdiccas was not one to take disobedience lightly, and Antigonas had reason to be nervous.
For the Regent had come north from Babylon, and was now on his doorstep.
In the summer of 322, while Craterus was crossing into Europe to come to Antipater’s aid, Perdiccas with the two kings, the court and the royal army marched north against Cappadocia. Here the 82 year old Ariarathes had maintained independence for some years, building up an army of some 30,000. With Perdiccas was Eumenes, the designated satrap of the province (yet to be conquered). Eumenes had returned to the court bearing news of Leonnatus’ plans to seize the Macedonian throne in the spring of 322 (riding some 2,300 kilometers to do so, a notable feat). Of course, by the time the royal army arrived in Cappadocia, Leonnatus had perished in battle in southern Thessaly. But by this act of loyalty Eumenes had earned a place in Perdiccas’ inner circle of advisers (synhedrion philoi). Perdiccas was rewarding him by conquering his satrapy for him (as well as removing a strong and independent Iranian threat in the heart of Anatolia).
Few details of the Cappadocian campaign remain. We know only that Perdiccas defeated Ariarathes in two battles. Numbers on both sides would have been largely comparable. The Cappadocians had excellent and numerous heavily armored cavalry, provided by the Cappadocian nobility and their retainers. They would provide Eumenes some 6,000 of these a year later. Likely the imperial war elephants Perdiccas brought with him were able to counter these, and along with the incomparable Macedonian phalanx gave victory to the Macedonians.
The Cappadocian nobility and their retainers fought as very heavily armored cavalry
This campaign saw out the summer of 322. Ariarathes was defeated and captured, and subsequently executed by Perdiccas. (Accounts of his death differ, stating that the old Cappadocian ruler was put to death alternately by crucifixion or by being burned at the stake. Neither of these methods were traditional Macedonian means of execution. Judged along with the use of elephants to execute by crushing the rabble-rousers among the infantry at Babylon in 323, we see a creeping of eastern cruelty into even this earliest of Macedonian Successors.)
In the autumn 322, Perdiccas and the court moved to Cilicia, where he ousted the governor, a partisan of Craterus; while Eumenes remained in Cappadocia, arranging his province. There they sat out the winter of 322-321.
ROYAL SCHEMERS AND ROYAL WOMEN
321 BC began with Perdiccas firmly in control of events, the reins of power tightly in his grip. He had proved himself in the Cappadocian campaign as a capable commander, always the first requisite for one wishing to establish himself as more than merely primus inter pares in Alexander’s Empire, where skilled and ambitious generals abounded. In Macedon, his chief rival Craterus was reduced to a mere client of the House of Antipater, with no clear place of his own in the current political landscape.
Perdiccas spent the spring and summer of 321 sorting out the recalcitrant hill tribes of Pisidia; a hard-fought campaign consumed with storming hill-forts and chasing brigands through the mountains. These hillmen, like their kind across the world, were expert light infantry. Adept with javelin and sling, they were past-master at ambuscade and hit-and-run tactics. Every hilltop had its own tribal fortress; and some were quite large towns, protected by nature in their inaccessibility. Alexander’s former Bodyguard and governor of Cilicia, Balacrus (first husband of Antipater’s daughter and Craterus’ new wife, Phila) had been slain trying to subdue them just a few years prior. Now they fought Perdiccas with desperate courage. At one of their strongholds, Isaura, the Isaurians fired their own town rather than surrender to the Macedonians; choosing immolation in the flames to submission.
The tough hill tribesmen of Cilicia, Lycia and Pisidia defied conquerors and provided light infantry mercenaries (and acted as pirates) in the eastern Mediterranean for centuries. (Image by Christos Giannopoulos)
In both these campaigns we see Perdiccas securing the lines of communication between the Macedonian homeland and the Imperial capital at Babylon. This could be seen by some as opening his way to Macedonia, should he decide to march on Antipater and demand his submission.
While so engaged during the summer of 321, a delegation arrived at the royal court from Europe. It was led by Iollus, Antipater’s son and Alexander’s former royal Cup-Bearer. He came escorting his sister Nicaea, and presented her to her betrothed, Perdiccas.
At this point the pieces were lined up, much to Antipater’s liking.
It was now that his old enemy, Queen Olympias, made her move.
The previous year she had seemed on the verge of “queening” her pawn (though Leonnatus would never have acknowledged or likely even understood that he was Olympias pawn in her old game against Antipater). But Leonnatus expedition into Thessaly had backfired on the aged Basilissa. He’d thrown his life away in battle, with (from Olympias’ view-point) the unfortunate side-effect of freeing Antipater from his confinement in Lamia. It had been a bitter series of events for Olympias; her play thwarted and the “Old Rope” once again on top.
Never one to concede the game, Olympias sat in Epirus like a spider, spinning her webs and plotted her next move. Now she made it, and once again it involved her daughter Cleopatra.
This most-eligible of royal widows arrived in Sardis. With Eumenes, long friend and now confederate of Olympias acting as intermediary, Cleopatra was offered to Perdiccas as an alternative to Antipater’s daughter as bride.
Macedonian beauty, thought to be Olympias. Cleopatra in 321 could well have looked like this.
An embarrassment of riches for Perdiccas, it would seem. In truth, it posed a dangerous and tempting choice. Go through with his marriage to Antipater’s daughter, and there would likely be peace in the empire. His European flank would be secure with Antipater as his father-in-law (and Craterus, his greatest potential, as brother-in-law by marriage). Yet Cleopatra offered something perhaps more valuable: royal legitimacy. The same promise she’d held out to the late Leonnatus was offered Perdiccas: that as her husband he would have a strong claim on the Argead throne of Macedon.
Being Regent and Protector of the Kings gave Perdiccas royal power in all but name. But such power was inherently temporary. Even if the mentally disabled Philip Arrhidaeus would ever need someone guiding him, soon enough Alexander’s son by Roxane would grow to manhood. As his parent’s son he was sure to be both strong-minded and (likely) hot-tempered, and would demand his royal prerogatives. Perdiccas would be lucky to be allowed to retire to a quiet obscurity. In Macedon’ bloody history few had given up power without losing their lives.
So his choices were clear: marry Nicaea and maintain the peace, though at best only a temporary hold on power. Or instead marry Cleopatra and claim the kingship himself. This latter option, however attractive to the ambitious Regent, did not come without great risk. It would certainly lead to war against Antipater, who would be mortally insulted at the rejection of his daughter; and against many other Macedonian leaders across the empire, who would turn against him either out of loyalty to the current “kings” or simple jealousy and fear of Perdiccas power.
The Regent’s advisers were divided. His younger brother, Alcetus, argued for Nicaea and keeping the peace. Eumenes, who was friend to both Olympias and Cleopatra made the case for a royal bride. Why Eumenes pushed for a course that would lead to civil war is understandable on personal terms.
As a partisan of Olympias, he inherited her grudge against the House of Antipater. He also had his own, more personal reasons to stand against the Antipatrids: one of the many tyrants and oligarchs maintained in power among the Greek cities by Antipater’s patronage was Hecataeus, the ruler of Eumenes own home city, Cardia. A personal enemy of Eumenes, and likely the reason for his exile among the Macedonians, Hecataeus was safe so long as Antipater ran affairs in Europe. To bring his enemy down and restore liberty to Cardia, Eumenes must bring Antipater down as well. We will never know how strongly such personal motives played into Eumenes counseling Perdiccas to marry Cleopatra. But it is possible that in aiding Olympias in her schemes he secretly harbored his own, very personal agenda.
Perdiccas was sorely tempted by Cleopatra’s offer. But he was not yet prepared for so bold a move. Instead of deciding one-way-or-another and announcing his intentions honestly, he chose the low-road, in an attempt to have his cake and eat it as well. To maintain the peace he married Nicaea, Antipater’s daughter. However, rather than lose the opportunity a match with Cleopatra presented, he sent Eumenes to reassure the princess (and through her Olympias) that this was only a temporary expedient, and that he would soon repudiate Nicaea in favor of the Cleopatra.
At about this same time, an unexpected threat to Perdiccas’ authority appeared from Macedon. A new player entered the game, as a second royal princess, another daughter of old king Philip, arrived in Asia. This was Kynane, Alexander’s elder half-sister. Accompanying her was her teenage daughter, Adea, whose grandfather on both her maternal and paternal sides had been kings of Macedon.
Kynane came demanding a royal match for her twice-royal daughter!
NEXT: THE POT BOILS OVER
- Errington argues that Craterus’ move from Cilicia into Macedon in summer 322 was in part due to his deteriorating political power in Asia, vis-à-vis the Regent. That Craterus waited deliberately in Cilicia with his veterans, through 323, an implied threat to Perdiccas and the leaders in Babylon, watching how the settlement fell out. That it was Perdiccas’ leading the royal army north towards Cappadocia (and Cilicia) that impelled Craterus to throw in his lot with Antipater in Europe, putting distance between himself and Perdiccas and tacitly accepting the protection and alliance of the old regent against the new. (R. M. Errington, The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 90 (1970), pp. 49-77)
- Cleitus had been an officer under Craterus’ command since the return from India. His assignment to command the fleet and its dispatch to the Aegean in the summer of 322 may be attributed to Craterus; and Cleitus’ defeat of the Athenian fleet and clearing of the Hellespont at Abydos opened the way to Craterus to cross into Europe. In this we can perhaps see Craterus’ clear strategic vision and grasp of the operational art. He had been Alexander’s chief subordinate for a reason, and was a general to be reckoned with.
- The provinces of Aria, Parthia, Arachosia, Bactria, and Sogdiana: roughly northern Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and north-eastern Iran.
- The derogatory term used by Olympias and her partisans for Antipater. The meaning likely being that he (Antipater) had long kept Olympia from doing as she saw fit, binding her actions like an (old) rope. But this is just speculative.